The Big Chill, Eastnor Castle Deer Park

Eastnor Castle Deer Park

There's a plaque under one of Eastnor Castle Deer Park's countless trees commemorating the occasion when 10,000 scouts and guides gathered to celebrate King George VI's coronation. Seven decades later, the annual Big Chill jamboree ensures the park is still the place for wholesome, outdoor family fun. The event has firmly established itself as My First Festival for hordes of toddlers, brought by thirtysomething parents hoping to reprise their hedonistic days while keeping little Ella or Josh entertained. Finally able to justify their off-road pushchairs, they hack merrily around the picturesque site, pausing to enjoy the dressing up area, croquet green, art trail, cabaret, belly dancing lessons and market stalls (the chap selling bubble-blowing paraphernalia surely went home a millionaire).

Oh yes, and there's music. Back in 1937, the scouts enjoyed a star guest appearance from Lord Baden-Powell, no less. But the Big Chill's organisers wear their lack of big-name headliners as a badge of pride, insisting the event "is about so much more than the lineup". That's partially true, but it's still a music festival whose £120 tickets were as pricey as any this summer. There were some great performances - notably from Lambchop, X-Press 2 and Amadou & Mariam - but the weekend was crying out for big names who could unite the 30,000 crowd for a defining moment. That was well beyond the capabilities of Sparks, who topped Saturday night's main-stage bill playing their new album to a tiny audience. Instead, Nizlopi, Arrested Development and Lily Allen enjoyed bumper crowds, largely because they offered songs most people knew.

Tellingly, the Big Chill was unique among this summer's big festivals in not selling out in advance. You can understand why when you see a smaller, cheaper, family-friendly event like September's Bestival offering Scissor Sisters and Pet Shops Boys (both of whom would have gone down a storm here).

If the Big Chill is to maintain its position among the UK festival elite, they must learn from Baden-Powell and be prepared to splash the cash on some genuine headline acts.


Chris Salmon

The GuardianTramp

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