Last weekend we took ourselves and our Airstream to The Big Chill music festival at Eastnor in Herefordshire.
We arrived mid-afternoon on Thursday so that we could hopefully get a good pitch and start the ‘chilling’ as soon as possible. Of course we soon realised that we don’t need a festival to chill when we are living and travelling in an Airstream. Our life is currently one big chill.
The getting a good pitch theory was pretty dumb because you just got directed to the next place in line, regardless of whether you were in a large travel trailer, a camper van, converted bus or tee-pee. So we made the best we could of being sideways on a hill and having to hurry ourselves into our little spot while other vehicles were rapidly surrounding us and cramping our manoeuvrability. And what’s the problem with sloping sideways? Little things like the bathroom door slamming, disorientation if you change direction suddenly, water not running out of the shower or kitchen sink and, if you fry two eggs at once they merge as one inseparable conjoined twin yolk. Maybe that’s a bonus.
We were soon visited by some new friends who we had met the previous weekend at the Game Fair / first gathering of new European Airstreams. They were there in their 684 International. We also spotted a couple of vintage models, but we were completely outnumbered by VW campervans and some very creatively converted buses and vans.
As we were settling in the text messages started arriving thick and fast as we tried to communicate with some old friends from London. They were camping in tents (true festival credentials there) in another field a mile away, with a hill between us and them. Eventually and logically we met by the bar in the main open-air performance area.
And so began a long weekend of festivalness. You know the sort of thing, I’m sure. In short: laughter, beer, cider, world music, punk, reggae, dance, trance, sitting on grass, dancing in rain, eating all varieties of take-away food, putting off going to the toilet.
There was the ritual degeneration of the portable toilets. Actually they stayed pretty clean for a couple of days. Walking past the ones in our field we heard a shocked woman bellow, “They’re clean. What kind of f****ing festival is this?” But I don’t think festivalgoers are really happy unless they have a stomach-churning toilet tale to tell and so they silently conspire to stop flushing or aiming accurately. Drink less beer and do your pelvic floor exercises before you go and you should survive a festival with the minimum of gagging. Anyway, that’s the obligatory toilet mention out of the way, and not too graphic.
We saw all kinds of performances, some memorable and some that simply passed the time agreeably. Well, apart from some African psychedelic guitar rock which was pretty painful.
Personal favourites started with Nina Nastasia sounding beautifully gloomy as she sung to those of us sitting in the Friday sunshine. Martha Wainright huskily belted out a fantastic set at the Castle Stage. Roisin Murphy sang, danced wildly and wore many costumes. From where I was sheltering from the rain it looked and sounded like an exciting performance. But the highlight for me personally was the awesome presence, warmth and deep and stirring voice of the one and only Leonard Cohen. He had the audience rapt, and welcomed all applause with, “Thank you friends”. He looked like he was having as much fun as I was. Then he skipped off stage. What a legend.
Personal highlights for me were The Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir (a bizarre mix of folk, rock and bluegrass. It shouldn't have worked, but it was great), Beth Orton, Random Dance Company (strutting their stuff at nearly midnight),
Jilted John (who, despite having had only one hit, still managed to fill a 45 minute set) and the Buzzcocks, growing old discracefully.