Big Chill Festival at Eastnor Castle

The Big Chill first came to Eastnor in 2001 as a small festival with a dedicated following of fewer than 10,000 fans.  It was not a festival that aimed to attract huge crowds to mainstream acts, but rather specialised in up-and-coming performers, including a number of DJs.  The festival also had a cinema, poetry area and arts trail, and as we soon discovered, delicious food stalls and some very good shops selling clothes, music etc. The audience mostly camped in fields we made available around the main site which was in the Deer Park.

The licensing authority was generally supportive as they were keen to see an event like this come to Herefordshire and bring the delights of the county to the attention of a wider audience, whilst local people, who were understandably nervous of  the possible noise and disruption, were willing to give it as chance, perhaps encouraged by the prospect of free tickets if they lived close enough to be affected.  All went well at the first Festival, although the event caterers bought all the bread from the local supermarket on the Saturday morning, which was not popular with regular customers.  On the other hand, the organisers also spent several hundred thousand pounds with local suppliers and recruited local students to work on the site during the festival, so the economic benefits were well appreciated.

Over the last ten years, the Big Chill grew bigger, but it kept its relaxed attitude and low-profile security. At its height, it attracted 25,000 festival goers, with a further 5000 working on site.  It became an important event in the Herefordshire summer calendar and a useful way for us to fill the Park programme over the month of setting up and dismantling. More famous acts included Leonard Cohen, Lillie Allen and Kanye West when the main stage area was heaving with spectators.  The weather never let us down, amazingly, and the Park recovered, free of litter, after a few weeks. 

After missing 2012 because of a clash of dates with the Olympics, sadly the Big Chill decided it should close.  It had not attracted quite enough visitors and competition in the middle of the summer for the few headline acts every festival needs was too intense.

I am very sad it has gone as it was an exciting event and unfailingly attracted my elder children to come home for the weekend!  I understand the tradesmen of Ledbury will miss it too, but we are on the look out for a replacement event…

JH-B  10th February 2013

The Big Chill is opening its gates to early bird ticket holders today, and the festival starts in earnest on Thursday evening. Over the last two weeks, a team of festival workers has been setting up the site. The image with this blog shows the main stage nearly complete, but without wiring for sound and lighting. The duck that can be observed in front of the stage will move on to a more welcoming environment before the first chord is struck. Elsewhere on site, other stages are appearing, the fences are mostly up and a few festival goers are appearing in the area and buying last minute tickets.

This year, there is a great line up, headlined by Kanye West, the Chemical Brothers and rodrigo y gabriela. The famous DJ, Mr Scruff, is back, and there is an Art Trail presented by Saatchi Online. There is storytelling for the younger element and, importantly, cocktail bars, real ale and gourmet food for everyone else.

For those who want every day items, an hourly bus service is being run into Ledbury, two miles away. This should boost business and provide a safer transit than the verges of the local roads. Big Chill radio is about to go live, and we have had the great benefit of having a mobile phone signal here for the past week as the temporary transmitters in the Park have been turned on. The weather has been kind during the last two weeks, and we hope it lasts over the festival period. Glastonbury is for mud, and we do not want to compete.

JH-B
3rd August 2011

 

Big Chill Set Up

The Big Chill has rolled into town, or rather into the Deer Park at Eastnor. Yellow signs warning of possible delays and denying access to area not normally associated with the event, except by the seriously, lost, have appeared like pilot fish in advance of the progress of a whale. Aggreko generators have sprung up amongst the oaks and whispered to life as well, providing power to the Production and Licensing Offices and other facilities for the team on site.

Before the stages are constructed, up to 15 miles of fencing is put up to make the site secure. The articulated lorries delivering these weighty loads arrived in good weather with firm ground conditions, which was a great help. Trackway goes down to make a temporary, all-weather road across areas where we cannot put new tracks, and bridges are thrown across streams and ditches to allow access from camping areas to the main site. Lighting in the form of strings of light bulbs stretches across the fields to guide the Chillers to and from the main arenas. Day by day, more elements of the festival appear, with the first arrivals due in a week.

It is a great activity to observe. All has to be in place before the authorities will allow the festival to start, so there is a great sense of urgency. Strange items are delivered to the Castle by mistake, so they are quickly transferred to the Park. As the start approaches, access to the Park gets harder, and 24 hour a day buzz increases. It will all look and sound wonderful when the time comes, and we hope thousands will have a memorable visit to Herefordshire and Eastnor for this great event. They always have so far.

JH-B
28th July 2011

We were asked to talk to Countryfile about the Big Chill and the effects on the natural environment in the Park as a result of the festival and camping. It was part of a John Craven investigation for the programme, and with over twenty years’ experience of looking at country issues for the BBC, John was likely to be a wise and perceptive interviewer.

The Park at Eastnor is in the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and parts of it are within a Site of Special Scientific Interest, although the sensitive flora and fauna are not in the part used by the Big Chill. There is also a herd of red deer, which have traditionally grazed the grassland and sheltered amongst the oaks, but for health and safety reasons they are confined to an area outside the event and public camping sites. So Countryfile would have some pertinent questions to ask about the impact of the Chill, and how the park could recover after the event.

The Big Chill agreed to let the cameras in, and the festival director, Melvin Benn, gave the lead interview. He explained how the Chill was motivated to work as far as possible on green principles, maximising recycling and minimising its carbon footprint. He emphasised the effort made after the Festival to clear all litter and the Chill’s Leave no trace policy.

John then came to see me at the Castle, where we could see the site from a distance in the setting of the Malvern Hills. He arrived in an authentic VW Camperbus, a reminder that he had attended an early, if not the first, Glastonbury festival. We discussed how the ground recovered and also the positive economic impact of the Chill on Ledbury and Herefordshire in general. Luckily, Melvin and I seemed to say much the same, and the litter pickers have been covering the ground since the festival closed with Lily Allen’s closing performance on 8th August.

We look forward to the Big Chill’s return in 2011. 

To see the Countryfile progrramme click on to BBCi player – http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00tl5fv/Countryfile_22_08_2010/

The Big Chill returned to our Park at the beginning of August, under new management but with the same guiding spirit. For nearly three weeks before the event and for about two weeks after it, the Park is transformed from a relatively peaceful area of woodland pasture into a festival site, with temporary trackway, security fencing, lighting, Aggreko generating sets, Portacabins, tents and, of course, stages for the performers. It is an amazing process to watch, but with experience from Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading and Latitude festivals, the organisers had everything ready for the three-day programme.

The weather, the key factor in determining how the ground fares and the comfort of the festival goers, was good, if not hot. A little rain in the build up period helped to make the grass green, so the Park looked fine. All grazing stock had to be removed four weeks before the start, so we had to mow the grass, in long straight lines, before the set up started, but the trees helped to create a good rural atmosphere, and no-one felt they were on a golf course.

The Big Chill employed a number of local teenagers, but also including the son of Belgian friends of ours, who finished the fortnight speaking much better English, although with a slight Yorkshire accent. A number of businesses in the area also benefited by supplying good and services to the festival, balancing the inconvenience that some will have suffered when the traffic to and from the site was heavy. There were about 30,000 festival goers and workers in the Park altogether, and most of them seemed to be in front of the main stage for Lily Allen’s closing act on the Sunday night. There was a great atmosphere.

We are lucky to have the Big Chill in Herefordshire and look forward to their return in 2011.     JH-B  20th August 2010

This year’s Big Chill attracted record numbers to our Park and they are booked to return next year, which is good news. In the meantime, the clear up has been going on for the last week or so, with litter picking being an important part of the job.

Everyone knows that litter is a feature of modern life, like queues at airports, speed cameras and unreliable weather. Put over 35,000 people in a relatively confined space with plenty of food and drink, and, luckily, warm and dry weather, and you have a formula for a litter problem. But it is a predictable one, and the organisers of the Big Chill believe their own “Leave no trace” motto, so picking up the litter, both during and after the event, is an absolute priority.

Here is an image of the team at work, sweeping up and down the main event field and doing an excellent job. I would like to have heard their comments, but am not fluent in eastern European languages, which also means I could not thank them eloquently enough for their work. After the Big Chill has left, our Park is litter free, which cannot always be said for the rest of the year. Then we will start restoring the areas of damaged grassland which could not be protected by Trackway, so that absolutely all trace will have disappeared…  JH-B    19/8/09

We have hosted the Big Chill in our Deer Park since 2002, and it gets better every year. The image shows what it looks like from the top of the castle, mostly camping on the left and mostly event on the right. The full details are all on the Big Chill website: www.bigchill.net and images of this year’s event from the site and there are highlights on www.youtube.com

Before the festival got going, there was an opportunity to take part in an attempt to make the largest zombie movie ever, called I spit on your rave, led by Noel Fielding of Mighty Boosh fame, and produced in a collaboration between Warp Films and Film4. Early arrivals dressed up and had their faces painted and then followed directions from the film companies on site, with the first rushes being shown at the end of the festival.

Our works team have the stressful job of ensuring that drinking water, which arrives in huge road tankers, and supplies for the showers reach all the areas of the camp sites. The Big Chill prides itself on providing good services to its ticket holders, and the same standards apply in the main arena as far as food and drink are concerned. Organic, exotic, local, hot & cold refreshment is all available, as are Thai massages and a Victorian funfair. It is a family-friendly mixture, which this attracted record numbers in sunny weather. We love having it here.   JH-B     11th August

Eastnor Park

As we prepare for the Big Chill which is taking place in the Park and on surrounding land between 7th & 9th August, a friend has sent me a quotation from the letter of Henry James to Charles Eliot Norton, written at the time James was staying in Malvern in March 1870 trying to recover his health after an extended visit to Italy.

He wrote: “I walked away across the country to the ancient town of Ledbury, an hour of the way across the deer-cropped slopes & thro’ the dappled avenues of Eastnor Park…,a vast & glorious domain & as immensely idle & charming & uncared for as anything in Italy”.

It is nice to have had a mention, if perhaps not entirely a flattering one. Although much of the Park remains deliberately as wild and uncared for as we and Natural England would like it to be, some of the area covered by the distinguished author would not match his description, as the image shows. It is tidily mown and awaiting thousands of visitors. However, readers can follow the changes in the Park over the next ten days and beyond on the Big Chill blog spot: http://bigchilldiary.blogspot.com/2009/07/looking-good.html written by veteran journalist, Simon Gandolfi. I hope the after images look as good as the before images.

JH-B
30th July 2009

Every year, in August, we host the Big Chill festival using the deer park. Its a very popular mid sized family festival with many side shows and events. There is quite a bit to post about the festival, both past ones and the next one on August 7th, 8th and 9th 2009.

So maybe the headline facts and figures as a start?

Who plays at Big Chill?

Well, there is lots of variety. Last year, 2008, our headline artist was Leonard Cohen who provided a wonderful finale. However, there is plenty of variety and other performers included Roots Manuva and Roisin Murphy. The full list for 2008 is here.

These photographs of Leonard Cohen and Roisin Murphy are courtesy of Alan Davies and Dan Goodfellow respectively.

What else is there at the festival?

Well in 2008 we had the Art Trail, which was a mixture of storytelling, theatre and games all interwoven within the marvelous Eastnor landscape.

Then there is Body and Soul which is created within their own enchanted garden. They offer a wide range of activities from massages through pottery , laughter workshops, pilates and yoga.

There was a Victorian fair with carousel rides and plenty of helpers all dressed up in period costume.

New in 2008 were

The Big Warm.…basically bonfires and story telling around the lake

A moonlit picture house…….or outdoor cinema after dark

A comedy tent and a family playground specifically for small children.

So all in all there was plenty to see and do in 2008. There will be more postings, both about what you can see and do as well as news for 2009.

Have fun 🙂

This year’s Big Chill was the biggest and best yet, with over 35,000 attending and great acts from Roisin Murphy, The Mighty Boosh, Camille and Leonard Cohen ensuring everyone had a great time.  Altogether, there were 400 artists performing across 7 arenas over three days.  There was a small traditional fun fair for children.  Even the weather was kind, despite some rain, and the festival had excellent reviews.  More day tickets were available to local people, which proved very popular.

 The Big Chill is booked again to take place in the Eastnor Deer Park on 7, 8 & 9 August 2009, and the first big acts have been announced.  They will include: Orbital, Basement Jaxx and Pharaoh Sanders.  More space will be available, and the site should work even better, with shorter distances between car parks and camp sites.

The festival will continue to be family friendly and relaxed, with a high-quality mixture of music, art and culture.  The Art Trail, which winds through a grove of ancient oak trees, will continue to be an important feature, with the chance to see the work of some of the finest young artists in the country.

We love the Big Chill.  It is exciting and fun, and it is great to see so many people having a good time at Eastnor.  Only 230 days to go……more Big Chill news to follow as it breaks.         J H-B