REVIEW: Gill Sutherland goes down on the farm for the Bank Holiday weekend Big Feastival near Kingham
There was little sign of the cost-of-living crisis at Big Feastival last weekend.
The good people of the local shires happily flocked in their thousands to Alex James’ farm to party heartily and forget about any personal, political and financial woes they might have (abetted slightly by the 20 per cent discount offered to those in nearby postcodes).
Having made the words to Blur’s big hit Country House a reality (Oh, he lives in a house/A very big house/In the country…) pop titan James launched the first festival at his Cotswold estate back in 2011. Called Harvest, the festival went belly up after backers went bust. But the following year he partnered with Jamie Oliver for the first Big Feastival, and ten years on it seems to get bigger every year, and 2022 was again sold out.
Even though Oliver is no longer involved, the ethos of Feastival remains. As James told Herald Arts: “It’s a celebration of country living. I guess if you were coming to see Blur back in the day, you’ve got a couple of kids now, and you are still into music but you like the idea of lobster and chips as well.”
He added: “We are always trying to think of ways of making it better. I think you’ve got to have a really clear proposition and you have got to execute it really well. I’ve made five kids, six cheeses and eight albums — so I can do music, food and family!”
By the time Herald Arts arrives on Friday afternoon, the cider is flowing and gin bars blasting out dance muzak from mini sound systems are doing a roaring trade. Frugging customers form party poses: glass in one hand while the spare hand goes into finger-pointing rave mode. The vibe is hair-down unadulterated joy.
My companion and I speculate that having regularly spotted Jeremy Clarkson and David Cameron at previous Feastivals, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Boris Johnson shaking his booty stage-front… And funnily enough, we were indeed privy to the sight of the slightly-worse-for-wear PM in dance mode. While trying out a glass of El Bandarra (a new kind of Spanish fortified wine – delish), the bottle-juggling barman flashed a photo of Boris partying he’d taken on is iPhone while working the bar at his recent second wedding with Carrie. It’s an image I now can’t unsee.
Besides exotic booze, the festival really is a foodie’s paradise. The myriad dining options offer a gastronomic gallop around the world. We tried: Korean noodles, veggie bhajis with a parsley yoghurt and an Oh My Dog American hot dog – all yummy, although a tad pricey.
As the summer sun sinks low on the horizon, a radiant glow casts a magic spell over the Feastival farm. Kiddies climb over golden bales of freshly harvested straw strewn about the impeccably clean site. Colourful and bewitching stalls beg to be visited; while an old-fashioned fun fair adds a gleeful aesthetic. Bunting and fairy lights bejazzle all; wooden decking provides elegant seating and potted plants add a touch of aspirational decor.
Just in case you hadn’t spotted it yet, this is a fairly middle-class affair. One of the bars is called Not Just Any Bar… run by Marks and Spencer, obviously. Still who are we to argue? We sit down and are flogged a glass of Romanian white for £7.50 (splutter).
Even the eye-watering prices fail to dampen the sold-out crowds up-for-it demeanour. By the time the first proper act of the evening comes on, Sugababes, the mums and dads bounce about happily, while the younger kids snuggle down in hand-pulled carts, which seem to be a must-have for discerning families this year.
Human League’s dose of 1980s singalong nostalgia and impeccable new wave pop turns the atmosphere all the way up to 11. A pitch nicely maintained throughout the remainder of this rocking little festival.