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My last Big Chill

In 2009, the Big Chill suffered huge losses and went into liquidation. This wasn’t the first time that this had happened; in actual fact it was about the third or fourth time. However, with a brand and a following as strong as the Big Chill it was inevitable that there’d be interest from other parties to come on board to offer financial assistance and a slice of the pie. In this case, it was the big Daddy of UK festivals, Festival Republic…

Melvin Benn, the guy who heads up this massive organisation has a fearsome reputation and is legendary for making things work from a purely commercial point of view, so things were bound to change; whether or not they were to change for the better was open to debate. So it was with an open mind that I made the journey to the festival site on the Thursday. My old buddy Stuart Nisbet was my only free guest this year – the company had tightened up on the whole freebie vibe which enabled me to get a whole host of family and friends in the previous  year, so it was just as well that we’d seen the last one out with a bang in retrospect.

As is customary, Stuart and I had spent the previous evening enjoying some music and a few drinks. Consequently, our departure from Harrow on the Hill was undertaken with a vague headspace and due to ongoing home and bathroom renovations, quite hurriedly. The journey there proved pretty uneventful, really – upon arrival outside of the site we encountered some of the worst jams that I’ve ever experienced getting onto a Big Chill site. What was markedly different this year seemed to be the general demographic – whereas in past years the agegroup seemed to vary from the mid-twenties up to the late forties with a sprinkling of adolescents to redress the balance, this year there seemed to be a 60:40 split in favour of the latter. Or maybe I’m just getting older and more intolerant. On the drive down the lane into the festival we were hassled to carry bags, give lifts etc. I’m afraid to say I refused. Doing a festival is like a rite of passage – you bring the weight, you gotta do the walk. Tight? Maybe, but who cares.

This year was the first time that we hasn’t camped over the big hill that separates the main site from the quiet camping. In actual fact, I’m not sure that Quiet Camping even existed! We were directed to Purple Guest Camping, which I’m glad to say had its own security – not a bad thing considering some of the stories that I heard about people getting hassled and tents busted into. Not a good scene. We managed to park at the top of the field next to a guy called Tim, who extricated himself from a 7.4 litre V8 Winnebago with a bottle of champers to introduce himself. First impressions were that he seemed like a nice enough chap, albeit rather flash. But hey; if you’ve got it, flaunt it. At this point, it was early evening, and so Stuart and I cooked some food and relaxed with a couple of beers. Since the speedy departure from Harrow earlier in the day, I’d been getting that niggling feeling that I’d forgotten something crucial to the operation, and it was only whilst checking the contents of my studio bag that my worst fears were confirmed – I’d forgotten the mains cable for my laptop! My laptop was a clunky old thing, about five years old with an non-too impressive battery life of somewhere in the region of thirty minutes. I was initially stressing about it, but then my stress gave way to ambivilence – after all, I could still do my set off audio CDs – fortunately, being the geek I am, I’d backed up my set… also, it kind of let me off the hook, as in previous years I’d gotten to thinking that I should be doing something ‘interesting’ up on stage – looking busy with a keyboard or two; basically getting stressed. So once I’d decided I was going to DJ my own material rather than try and play it live, I relaxed and it was as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Thursday night passed in a traditional drunken blur, imbibing Burrow Hill cider from their converted double decker bus, which is a Glastonbury Festival mainstay. This was the first year that they’d decamped at a Big Chill festival, and in was a welcome, albeit dangerous addition. Their cider is quite unlike anything else, after two pints, you feel as though you’ve been sunk at least double that. My cousin Patrick Bickerton runs a famed travelling disco with his mate Aidan Larkin, which they’ve named the Disco Shed. They’d been an attraction at three or four Chills before this one, and this year, they were situated pretty much next door to the Burrow Hill Cider bus – in some respects a good thing, but it just meant that if you wanted to catch up with old faces and hang with friends and relations, then the lure of the delicious cider was not far away. Much merriment was had on the Thursday night, chatting to old mates and meeting new ones.

Friday was greeted with a rather sore head, which was alleviated by the preparation and consumption of some brunch consisting of scrambled eggs, toast and beans. I didn’t have anything to do apart from go and listen to my old mate Stuart DJ in the shed during the early part of the afternoon. Friday saw the arrival of our camping buddies; this year I was happy to share some space with Mark Pedersen and Graina, who used to look after all the Big Chill’s visuals back in the day. Also Laura B turned up later on, after having a few problems finding us. So what with them and the addition of Mixmaster Morris parked a few doors up, we had a nice little crew back at base to rely on for a social and a cup of sugar if we happened to run out.

To be honest, I don’t recall how I spent the Friday night, so it must have been good. Saturday saw my first gig, doing a DJ slot in the Shed; I played to an enthusiastic crowd of about 4, later swelling to about 10 people, one of whom was a crazed acid casualty in his late forties who insisted on throwing things at the booth. I decided to take it easy all day, as I had a very early start on the Sunday morning. Consequently I was in bed by about 11pm; however I found it tricky to get to sleep, due to the close proximity of teenage campers, many of whom were noisy little sods boasting about the amount of ketamine that they’d consumed over the last 24hrs. Add to this the constant hollering for a fictional character  called Alan… it reminded me of my early festival-going days when the rallying call of ‘bollocks’ or ‘wally’ could be heard throughout the night. All good fun. Albeit a bit tiresome.

So, Sunday came. My busy day; the alarm went off at about 7am as I needed to be at the radio station to do my 2hr breakfast show at 8. I wandered over to the site entrance, only to be told be a rather obstinate security woman that I wasn’t allowed on site. I made the usual protestations, but she was hardcore – there was no way I was going in even if I did have a radio show to do. What really got my goat is that she let a couple of facepainters in, and it was at that point that I decided enough was enough and asked to see her boss. Needless to say, he let me in, although I think by this point she’d taken a genuine dislike to me for whatever reason and was still arguing that I shouldn’t be let in. People; they get a sniff of power and it goes straight to their heads…

I managed to get the to station on time, and took over the helm from Tom Sweet who’d been doing a super job for the previous two hours. The plan had been for me to do my 2hr set and then Mr Scruff was to take over. However, Paul Noble [the station controller] got the news at about 9am that Andy Scruff wasn’t going to be able to make it due to extra-curricular activities the night before; could I carry on? It wasn’t a problem – I had shed-loads of decent tunes and also Pete Lawrence popped in for an interview about his forthcoming project, PicNic Village.

All was going swimmingly until about 10.30, when we were supposed to switch over for a live session with the Afro Dub SoundSystem, but at the last minute, we lost the live feed, so I had to carry on for a further hour until things had settled down a bit. So I’d ended up doing a three and half hour show! Still, it was all good fun.

My next gig that day was at the Igloo, a huge geodesic dome with a 360 degree visual projection system. After the success of the Tate Britain gig earlier in the year, John Rixon, previously the visuals co-ordinator at the Big Chill, had been asked by the festival if he’d like to curate an evening of ambient audio visual work. He’d agreed, and so consequently a few of us were invited to play ambient DJ sets throughout the Sunday evening and night. I played from about 8pm til 9, spacing the audience out with some beautiful sounds. Then it was a case of dashing up the hill to get ready for my final gig of the weekend at the LazyLand stage.

This year, it was based in a similar spot to where the ‘Stop the City’ stage had been the year before. However this year, the stage was larger, the sound system was much more serious and they had a proper engineer and projections crew manning the whole operation. Also, I’d prepared all of my visuals in advance [with the help of dear old Ed] so that tended to take the heat off things. I’d also made my mind up that I was going to try to wing it with the laptop, so I plumbed it in as soon as I hit the stage and kicked off with a couple of vocal tracks whilst there was still some life in the battery. As I mentioned before, my laptop was pretty ancient; well over 5 years old, and, whilst reliable, isn’t the world’s best in terms of battery life – I manged to squeeze about 35 minutes out of it which equated to around three and a half vocal tracks. The engineer, Jim, was doing some great stuff with my voice and I was genuinely enjoying my set! A rarity!! So much so that I was joking with my [quite large] audience about having to put up with the sound spill from Lily Allen who was performing on the main stage down in the valley. I even managed some self promotion, letting people know that I had a few copies of ‘Get Lost’ up for sale if anyone was interested. And it appeared that they were – a steady stream of punters came up throughout my set to purchase copies.

To be freed of the headache of trying to look busy on stage was an absolute Godsend and I really got into things. I was able to let the audience hear what the music should sound like on a big system, and by the end, the crowd of about 700 people were loving it. Morris arrived on stage and cued up his first record as my last one was ending, and I left the stage to rapturous applause… a great gig; really special.

After that, it was simply a case of wandering around the site with Stu, hearing some fantastic edits of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ by the Beatles, ‘Drivers Seat’ by Sniff & the Tears and then partying at the Shed [again] until the small hours.

Laura B left to retire to her tent, and Stu and I ended up down at some food stalls with Jake and Trev having a giggle until the first vestiges of light appeared in the sky. I know a lot of people dissed the 2010 Big Chill, but I had a really good time. Admittedly I had to turn a blind eye to the sheer amount of rubbish that a lot of the younger audience had left behind in their wake, but let’s face it; the days of the Big Chill being a boutique festival with a committed following of eco-friendly late twenty-somethings are long gone.

And it turned out that this Big Chill was also my last.

Fortunately, Tom Green captured some snippets in the short film below; there’s a little bit of my performance from around the 1m50s mark.