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Friendly Fires
Festival review...
The Big Chill
Mark Gordon lets us in on seven great (and two slightly less great) things about The Big Chill festival in Herefordshire...
 
1) It's The Original Boutique Festival
Before every promoter in the land with a tent, a samba band, and a thai food stand, called themselves a "boutique" festival, there was The Big Chill. Starting out in the mid 1990s in The Black Mountains in Wales with DJs like Coldcut and Tom Middleton, its now happily ensconced at Eastnor Castle in the heart of middle England. With lakes and wickermen, second-hand book stalls and the (now obligatory) Guardian stand, and more under 5s in attendance than you can shake a lolly at, the festival has retained its uniquely iconoclastic stature in the UK summer calendar.
 
2) Gruff Tees Things Up
If there's a better way to start a festival than the woozy sounds of Pavement being spun by Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys as the sun splits the sky, then this reviewer will eat his (panama) hat. 'The Final Countdown', on the other hand, was a little surprising coming from the great Welshman - however Rhys's whole musical career has been built on a series of magnificent curveballs, and we couldn't begrudge him one iota.
 
3) James Yuill - Surprisingly Banging
Having caught James three times in the last six months - from his Belfast show in The Menagerie to a tiny pub in Camden at a Moshi Moshi night, one thing is becoming clear: the man is struggling to decide whether to become Nick Drake, or Justice. The house wig-outs have become more extended, and when he offers us the choice of a song acoustically, or electronically, he then corrects himself and says "actually I think I know what you'd like" before banging out another squelchy folk-house monster. Unfailingly polite, and with tracks like 'No Surprise' sounding better than ever, it'll be very interesting to see in which direction the next album heads.

4) Sailor Jerry's Rum Bar
Fake tattoos, mohitos, a lot of Betty Page look-alikes, and music supplied by (amongst others) Don "I was The Clash's tour DJ" Letts, it was the place to chill out between bands. Noel Fielding (playing in The Comedy tent nearby) seemed to agree.

5) Old-Schoolin'
Probably most synonymous with The Big Chill are DJs such as Norman Jay and Mr Scruff-the latter's tea tent, situated next to the lake, was a haven of exciting and exotic brews, Ninja Tunes 12"s, and seriously relaxed individuals.

6) The Good, The Bad... and Calexico
What other festival would choose an (occasionally instrumental) spaghetti western-tinged band to play after Friendly Fires (more on whom later)?! Only The Chill one suspects. At 9.30pm on Friday night, the Arizonians, complete with mariachi trumpets and double-bass, play a greatest (near) hits set that ranges from the Ennio Morricone infused 'Minas De Cobre', through to a tub-thumping cover of Love's 'Alone Again Or'. They thank us in Spanish and English. And we thank them.

7) Chris Cunningham's AV Set
Actually this is a bad thing. His time was changed and we missed him - which means we missed three massive video screens showing scary Aphex Twin videos. Grrr, the bar people nearby said it was astounding.

8) Basement Jaxx. Zzzzz...
Perhaps it's the over-familiarity with the material. Perhaps its because they've essentially not (visually) moved on from the set they toured about 7 years ago. The Brixton purveyors of bombastic soundclash funk leave this reviewer pretty cold. Take it back to the Rooty nights at The Fridge, build a pyramid, change it up. The clock is officially ticking...

9) Friendly Fires Light A Match
They were the hit of Glastonbury, and have had the (now officially not a sleeper) hit album of the last 12 months. And The Mercury Prize is looking more likely every day. There's still nothing about them that makes sense or ignites when written down - ferocious My Bloody Valentine guitars meets... samba? A lead singer who's increasingly looking like a credible version of (eer) Brandon Flowers, but who used to release music on (serious dance label) Skam? Its better not to think about all of this, and to be honest it doesn't matter anyway. With a muscular brass section, and (shudder) a "drum circle" for forthcoming single 'Kiss of Life' (which also has three Brazilian dancers getting down at the front of the stage), the set is a series of blissfully executed perfect pop moments. Ed Macfarlane, who busts a move like it was 1980 in Studio 54, looks shattered by the end, but its been a barnstorming performance, and one that'll live long in the minds of the audience.

Mark Gordon

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Gig Details
Venue: Eastnor Castle Deer Park
Location: Malvern Hills, Herefordshire
Date: 6/8/2009


Related Links
+ The Big Chill