Notes from the Big Chill 2010

Back from Big Chill, attempting to decipher the notes scribbled in the Moleskine in the one man flower tent in the dark after each day’s activities. Here are the bits I can read or remember:

It’s a year of transition, the year that the kids of the original Big Chillers, who have grown up coming here every year, have taken over the festival and have started to make it their own. They started as toddlers, then they were allowed to wander round the site with mates for half an hour, then an hour then half the day. Now they come in packs, pitch up together on the other side of the site from the parents and run riot from sun set to sun rise. This is a good thing. This is the future. The oldies have their haven in the enchanted garden where there is still mellow music and massage, and the main stage in the afternoon, but as soon as the sun goes down behind the hill everything begins to change.

But I am here to work, to try and make my mark in the shoals of talent washing round this little valley this weekend. I am tempted to just post pictures of words and slogans, to keep it simple, to try and make a story like that. The first one I find is perfect. It says – MAKE ART NOT FRIENDS.
That’s how I feel today, I am the artist, part of but somehow outside the festivities, my greatest pleasure perhaps the last rehearsal before coming down here.

So to Friday and the day begins well with a bacon butty and a coffee and two hours on Big Chill FM. I love doing radio. It’s communicating without being anywhere, making as set, a flow that can be so much broader than gig in a club or a bar, making an atmosphere, building slowly into the day, waking up with the festival, getting embedded.

Then it’s out into the world: Zoo Kid @ Buskers’, voice so strong, solid emotional songs, I still want him on my next album; Hope @ Deer Park, beautiful as ever but strange to see her and her band in sunlight, like Dead Weather, she works so much better in the dark; Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane, amazing energy and musical madness (heavy metal easy listening) especially the wolf man on the laptop and theremin; Thom Yorke, perhaps a little too self-indulgent but when you are that talented and that clever it’s allowed; and Massive Attack, one of the best, most powerful live shows I have ever seen, so strong and simple and beautiful.

And then our little thing on the Clash Stage; after Massive Attack throwing into sharp focus how playing some CDs with Nick on guitar is not enough of a show, it’s more of an interesting experiment, a stepping stone to something better.

Saturday I wake up late and it’s raining. I’m lying here wondering why I choose to have these in tents experiences. I still love that joke.

Today feels better. I am filled with poise and purpose. I photograph a sign that says, simply, THE FUTURE. I see MIA be futuristic and intensely empty and ultimately pointless, all sub bass and shouty treble, like watching giant MTV. Nick tells me MIA is Belgian slang for kind of rubbish and this is kind of rubbish, like a run through, a playback, fast and bright and futile, and I say to Nick, this is the future, and we both feel a little sad.
Then MIA stops the set, like someone pressed pause on the playback. Perhaps it’s the end, perhaps she’s not happy. Then she comes back on for Paper Planes, her biggest tune, and starts a stage invasion. The teenagers respond, in their hundreds, overwhelming the defences, they take their rightful place, in the future, on the stage, dancing for us, dancing for themselves, better entertainment than MIA because she’s just a playback with some shouting on top and this is scary, out of control anarchy adrenaline madness.

The kids have taken over and there’s nothing we can do, I sing, in a madrigal type round as I march back to the VIP to witness the happy throngs descending the ramp, rushing back into the festival from behind the lines.

A voice comes through to Melvin Benn’s walkie talkie. Your call Melvin on whether she goes back on. No, the show is over, he shouts. He thinks he’s still in control but he’s not. The kids have taken over and there’s nothing we can do.

My sets are a little calmer but no less satisfying.

First Lazyland, up the hill, turn right, go down a path into the bracken. It’s like the Big Chill used to be, people sitting around in the sunshine, a little dancing, some beautiful mellow music, all smiles.
Nick plays his guitar on My Beach House and it sounds sublime, a ripple rises as we finish. We also try the new song, How I Feel, and it works. I am particularly pleased with the kick drum, if you want some detail, it sounds immense.

The other set in the VIP is pure house, like I like it, like I should always play, deep, groovy, party music and I think I know what to do now, to get to my little bit of the the future. I must make records that I really like, records that I can play out, records with heavy bass and rough production and great vocals and hooks. It’s just so hard to be that simple.

Sunday I wake up and the tent is an oven, the sun is shining and in the night this appeared in my notebook: field so full of tents, our hearts so full of hope that this time, yes, this time, we can build the utopia of our dreams.
Sunday turns out to be one of those proper days of our lives when something really happens. I meet Paloma in the VIP. Which is nice. She is wearing very high shoes and says she can’t do festivals. I carry tent and spent clothes over the hill, sweating mojito. Paloma’s in and out model starts to seem appealing until…

We hook up with the Mavis group @ Revellers’, Ashley and Darren and John Turrell and Ed Harcourt and Kurt Wagner and stories unfold. Sonic Alan mexican waves and other tales of the night before are laid on the table and festivals make sense again, the way we do it, the rough and tumble, a little bit messy, a lot bit ragged, but really engaging with the energy.

Then we play and inevitably it’s over in a flash. I am glad that I am wearing my suit, it feels so right on stage. I try to perfect a nonchalant, disengaged, poetic stare, hopefully it looks suitably somewhere else. And before I know it my song is finished and all that marching round the festival reciting the words was worthwhile. I got it 90% right at least.

Then after the journey a couple of Jamesons with Kurt in K-West, talking about country, the similarities between Lambchop and Dubstep, silent disco, soundtrack sharing for lovers and feeding the dogs.
Beautiful is not a big enough word to describe it.