It’s a little known fact that God likes The Big Chill. As proof, the big man set about bestowing three days of uninterrupted, skin-sizzling sunshine upon the lesser-trod hills of Herefordshire. Coupled with which, the whole weekend retains a hard-to-come-by sense of laidback, communal magnanimity true to its name, from the sanctioned Big Issue vendors selling programmes to the hoards of children chasing bright balloons, bare-footed, around the site. It’s a festival you’d take your mum to, and then pop her in a tent in the quiet area after sundown and embrace the night with your mates. The line-up isn’t bursting with the cream of currently touring bands, but there’s so much more to this weekender than music, from gourmet foodstalls to big name comedians, to endless pockets of lesser-known entertainers, that there’s hardly time to notice.
There are a few artists that demand recognition, however, and Emmy The Great sits firmly in that box alongside the best of them, her mid-afternoon Castle Stage set bringing together a hillside’s worth of lazing sunbathers ripe for a little good-humoured folk. She plays the best of 2009 album ‘First Love’, alongside some excavated ‘new-to-you’ songs that have just been released on the Edward EP. The audience swells as the set advances, and Emmy’s cheered back for an encore (a rare occurrence at festivals, constrained as they are by time restrictions), performing the dreamy ‘Everything Reminds Me Of You’.
Who can predict the collective mind of the festival mass? Mercury Prize nominees The Invisible are scheduled for the Main Stage on Saturday, but fail to even really draw enough people to fill a tent. It’s a mad state of affairs, especially considering that the band have such an industry buzz about them and have been blowing people’s socks off with their eponymous debut album. Clearly this doesn’t immediately translate into popular recognition – a great shame given that their swirling, jazz punctured sound is one of the best to emanate from the Big Chill this year.
There is a heavy emphasis on nostalgia on Saturday night, as Orbital officially reform to snatch the headline slot at midnight. The swelling crowd barely squeezes into the huge field before the stage, where they are treated to a visual-audio treat of astounding proportions. Countless people are overheard reminiscing about the duo’s legendary Glastonbury performances 1994/2004 as lasers, bubbles, lanterns and lights punctuate the cloudless night sky late into the night. The Hartnoll brothers appeared humbled by their reception – there can be no doubt that this is a gig worth reforming for.
Saturday night is conventionally ‘the big one’ at any festival; post-Orbital, most are primed for a messy night of raving. Horse Meat Disco in The Coop serves up a side of nu-disco, having garnered increasingly impressive reviews for their south London residency over the last couple of years. Though heavy on the cheese, the set goes down swimmingly as the huge tent filled with movers and shakers under the spangled lights of a giant disco ball.
Meanwhile, for those that like their afters heavy on the bass, Annie Nightingale mashes toxic levels of the stuff at the Frisky Bison, playing with the wide-eyed punters like puppets on strings, at the every whim of her prolonged intros and sliced up tempo changes. She might be sixty-something and have the appearance to prove it, but Nightingale stomps all over the BBC’s ageist policies by playing to the kids better than most of their peers.
After sound restrictions put paid to late night fun around 4am, the Crap Stage becomes the central spot for those who can’t face their sleeping bag. A wee DJ box positioned at the top of the Big Chill hill, its location makes dancing near logistically impossible thanks to the gradient, but that doesn’t seem to matter to most of those present, who likely lost touch with the ground several hours ago. The dancing continues until the rising sun threatens an end to proceedings, and as a chill hits the air festivallers stumble back, thoroughly entertained, even if not yet sleepy.