The Big Chill: 'The magic years were over'

By Clare Lissaman
BBC News

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Image caption,
Pete Lawrence said the festival's six-year heyday "had a great spirit"

Organisers of The Big Chill music festival say they have "no plans" to stage the event in 2013 - a year after it was cancelled because it clashed with the Olympics.

The move has led to speculation the event, held at Eastnor Castle in Ledbury, Herefordshire, will not return and that organiser Festival Republic will concentrate on other festivals such as Leeds and Latitude.

But for Pete Lawrence, who co-founded The Big Chill in 1994, the "magic years" of the festival were long gone.

It began as a series of parties in the Union Chapel, Islington, which had recently opened as an arts centre.

Mr Lawrence, the founder of the Cooking Vinyl music label, said its labyrinth of rooms became the basis for an "all-day multimedia event".

The event's popularity grew through word of mouth and people gathered to enjoy music, relax on mattresses and try out the art gallery and bookshop.

It was dubbed a "festival-in-a-club" but two years later turned into an outdoor event after Mr Lawrence camped out in Llanthony, Wales, and imagined people chilling out in the beautiful Black Mountains.

Mr Lawrence said it was born "almost by accident" after a farmer agreed to stage an event on his land.

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Image caption,
Just under 40,000 attended the festival in Herefordshire in its later years

It led to excited conversations between Mr Lawrence and Katrina Larkin, his then partner and Big Chill co-founder, as they considered the possibilities.

They became "obsessed" with the project and discussed the finite details of staging an alternative event, which also had the "wow factor".

"The location was always hugely important for me. A site of outstanding natural beauty was top of my checklist and I spent a large percentage of my time trying to find such a place," he said.

'Shelf life'

Mr Lawrence said his first festival in 1996 was "semi legal" and led to visit from local police and the reading of the new Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. However, he said officers decided the event was not a "rave" and some even returned to hang out when they were later off duty.

He said although the line-up of DJs and musicians was always good, people came for the whole event, which included arts and comedy.

The event has moved around several beautiful sites around the country, eventually settling at Eastnor Castle in 2002.

"My idea was to keep it moving, so it would be interesting," he said.

Mr Lawrence sought quality acts and events and did not want the event to become predictable.

"The Big Chill was about the spirit, the place and the ethos," he said.

He said he believed the event's "peak years" came to an end in 2004.

"It just had a spirit about it. It was uplifting. People came and just loved it.

"It was just exhilarating. These were the magic years."

He said it was also about a meeting of minds and spawned a website where people would chat about anything - from music to the best curry places in west London and also relationship problems.

Mr Lawrence, who gave up his role in the Big Chill festival in 2007, said he believed in later years it "lost its direction". As it expanded and booked more mainstream headline acts so the original festival goers gradually fell away.

"We're lucky we had so many years but everything has a shelf life," he added.

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