Not surprisingly after fourteen years of multiplying chills you pretty much know what to expect of this festival. There’s the consistent line-up full of regulars and the crowds of usual suspects – from pleasant family folk, to relaxed hippies and lots of Antipodeans – all served with the perennial dollop of sunshine.
However, when we set up camp on Friday evening it’s absolutely chucking it down. Not only have I prepared hideously for the festival by forgetting my waterproofs we’ve also forgotten the tent pegs. I erect the dome and my girlfriend dives in, leaving me to sneak around our neighbours’ tents and surreptitiously steal pegs. You don’t need guy ropes at a festival anyway. Although I have to admit a pang of guilt when I pull up a peg from a toddler’s miniature tent.
The rain stops and we head over The Big Hill and descend upon the site. It’s fair to say without headliners The Orb, the history of chill-out would be very different indeed and despite a new album release their set reclines back on the old comfy favourites. The inevitable edited down version of epic The Blue Room and Little Fluffy Clouds are played out accompanied by a set of retina searing psychedelic visuals.
After taking in the site and having a boogie to Greg Wilson at the Rizla stage along with a touch of Luke Vibert in the dance tent, we head up to the Art Trail for further visuals . We first see Juneau Projects’ installation, which to all intents and purposes is essentially a big jamming session inviting festival guests onto the stage for some rock antics. We wander elsewhere and get our AV fix, watching footage of horses clomp around a deserted Victorian building. Soothing even if we haven’t managed to grasp what it’s about.
Saturday kicks off with the much hyped new talent of Lykke Li. Armed with a drumstick to bash along with the drummer, the Swedish pop princess delivers some infectiously catchy nuggets to bring on the boogie in the afternoon sun.
Along with seemingly the entire festival crowd, we head down for Bill Bailey at the Big Chill Nights. We arrive in the field and can’t get close to the tent let alone inside it. Instead we listen to the set relayed via the onsite radio station. Bill provides a solid festival set aping Jay Z’s Wonderwall entrance before playing some new parodies and some firm sing-a-long favourites.
Beth Orton makes a welcome return after a self imposed baby-hiatus. Accompanied by a guitarist and occasional violinist (who resembles an Electric Dylan), Beth delicately and timidly picks her way through her back catalogue.
The Mighty Boosh are playing the main stage equipped with quick costume changes and plenty of references and in-jokes to the main show. Though maybe I’m too chilled out to really enjoy it.
Back in Big Chill Nights Adam Buxton sums it up succinctly before he gets down to the business of performing a version of his Bug night. “Anyone can do that can’t they? Wear face glitter and sing songs about shit.” We’ve come to see Buxton play interesting and incredibly surreal music promos – but his re-telling of Youtube comments about shoe gazing is the highlight.
Once again in the mood for a live act we march back to the Castle stage for Matthew Herbert’s Big Band. They bombastically blast out future soul jazz standards twisted by Herbert’s many gizmos and he treats us to The Audience at the end of the set.
Ever true to tradition the night is topped with the broken-beat noodling and trademark doodlings of Mr Scruff; and the usual Sunday brunch is supplied by Norman Jay, though sadly this year not served sunny-side up.
Although we miss a set from John Shuttleworth, Graham Fellows’ other alter-ego Jilted John takes once more to the stage after thirty years in retirement. He does have one new song about Kiera Knightley [eat your dinner] which does sound like a slightly more aggressive Shuttleworth track. Jilted is at his best when he’s playing the songs about getting dumped. He closes with Gordon Is A Moron, which annoys Gordon who these days is backing singer in the band!
We meet up with friends at the Cocktail bar and take in some more Jay Z, lovers rock and heavy dub courtesy of Don Letts – listening from the confines of the tent as there’s an extended downpour outside.
The sun’s out again and the afternoon gets back into swing with another female pop auteur in the tangerine tunic’d shape of Camille. Supported by a group of vocally dextrous singers and beatboxers she playfully knocks out a distinctive set resembling a hybrid of Medula era Bjork and Saian Supa Crew. Camille is zanely idiosyncratic and multi-talented – at one point she runs around in a tight circle whilst barking like a dog. As the sun sets we consider seeing Leonard Cohen but decide to head to the Big Chill Nights for some comedy instead.
We catch the end of a superbly twisted set from Tony Law who has a deep knowledge of worldwide accents to draw upon when playing up to national stereo-types. Offsetting the potential right wing element by explaining how easy it is to get a festival crowd on your side – you just have to slag off the Daily Mail. Adam Buxton’s next up performing his Famous Guy and has a difficult act to follow, and although it’s a sign of plenty more material for the character seen on the MeeBOX pilot but unfortunately it doesn’t click tonight. Our final comedy turn comes from Radio 4 regular Mitch Benn who takes us through his satirical repertoire – which he jokes is somewhat strange when it’s no longer in the news.
The festival finishes in style with a unique collaboration between improvisational dance band The Bays and the staggeringly technically proficient The Heritage Orchestra. Tonight, a score is written on stage and projected to the conductor and onto the orchestra’s flat screens whilst The Bays jam alongside them. Throughout the night the musicians breeze through dub, techno, electro, house and finish with a blast of drum and bass. All regular festival motifs, delivered by two solid favourites, are shaken up and re-shaped to sound completely fresh and new. That’s the beauty of The Big Chill, even after fourteen years.