The Big Feastival or to give it its full name - Jamie Oliver presents the Big Feastival with Alex James – a, perhaps aptly, mouthful of a name.
Last year saw the inaugural, very successful; Big Feastival launched by Jamie Oliver and held on Clapham Common. It also saw the short-lived and somewhat notorious Alex James Presents Harvest Festival promoted by the now defunct Big Wheel Promotions Ltd Company. The latter being held on the west Oxfordshire farm of Alex James the Cheese maker, and Blur bassist.
Both were billed as the perfect music festival for a foodie and their family. This year’s Big Feastival combined the two with Oliver’s festival relocating to James’ farm. The site layout has changed since last year; the old arena is now the car park and the festival is in the field next door, a big improvement during the event but not so much before and after.
The car park entrance being moved from its original back road to the train station has slowed traffic down considerably. However, the boredom of sitting in your car is significantly reduced by trying to identify the wonderful aromas that drift towards you from the site. Some areas of the site were a little too soft underfoot but efforts had been made to address this with bark chips or areas being cordoned off. Overall it seemed much busier than 2011, a positive note given the current economic lows.
Usually at a festival you have a number of stages offering music, the Big Feastival is slightly different, one music stage, two food stages, an artisan food market and an onsite fairground. The Big Kitchen ‘stage’ has big name chefs known to the majority of the audience through their television or newspaper appearances. On the Chefs’ Table ‘stage’ less well known but nevertheless accomplished chefs offer tips and answer questions from the punters.
Also at festivals you can expect a selection of food and drink. This is where Feastivalexcels, aside from the usual suspects of tea, coffee, soft drinks and beer a wide selection of wines and spirits were available. On the food side the usual was accompanied by organic deli, chocolate, ice cream, gourmet burgers, Asian, Australian, Spanish and Italian pies and pastries. A few of the outlets even had chefs cooking the food, freshly prepared on site, and its quality showed. Although expensive compared to the usual fare available at Festival the higher taste and quality of the food made its pricing reasonable – you get what you pay for.
Over the weekend the weather was mostly dry and, on Saturday at least, a bit sunnier than you would expect at the beginning of September. The only downside was the noticeable chill in the air as the nights drew in. Food wise Saturday’s highlights offered Simon Rogan, best known through his achievements on the Great British Menu, and one of only two chefs to achieve a perfect 10 from the Good Food Guide; the other being one Heston Blumenthal.
His demonstration to an eager audience was of great grouse roll faggots with baked beetroot. Great chatter and cooking made simple. Australian Bill Granger opened Sunday’s Big Kitchen with an oiled and spiced rump steak fried in six minutes with pepper, chilli and pineapple salsa. He reminisced about his childhood food experiences back in Australia and how his liking for spicy food came from his parents. His main focus was to give meal ideas that were quick and tasty to help families to eat great food without spending hours in the kitchen or resorting to mass produced, highly processed, convenience food.
Next came Jamie Oliver and John Ralehan from ‘Fifteen’, Oliver’s chef training scheme, produced his signature BBQ sauce and pulled pork with a fresh slaw with apple, cabbage, and onion. This was followed by Jia, also from ‘Fifteen’ - vajora mista – peppers, zucchini, asparagus and aubergine. Finally, Gennaro Contaldo came on with Spaghetti Vongole, anchovies and clams Neapolitan style. Gennaro, Jamie’s Italian Cooking mentor, has a great stage presence with his wonderful Italian mannerisms and kept the youthful exuberance of Jamie in check.
Musically Saturday offered a mixed selection of musical styles starting with the winner of a competition for unsigned acts, Sahand, and topped off with the eclectic dynamo that isPaloma Faith. Sweet Lights, from Philadelpia, a lone musician surrounded by equipment - providing a backing track and apparently popular with DJs in the know, offered a reasonable set. Alas for him it didn’t receive the full attention of the audience due to a certain Mr. Oliver being on stage elsewhere.
Next were the Cuban Brothers with a quirky comedy music routine including risqué jokes and over the top dancing to a backing track. Despite the backing track the lead performer had a surprisingly good voice. They drew a big frenetic crowd, including Jamie Oliver who really enjoyed this unusual act. Following on were the Producers, a supergroup who are all musical royalty in their own right – Lol Crème, Trevor Horn, Stephen Lipson, and Ash Soan.
Their set consisted of songs they wrote, recorded or produced during their individual careers or have developed together for their new joint album as Producers includingCounty Jail by Godley & Cream; Slave to the Rhythm by Grace Jones; All the Things She Said from Russian duo Tattoo (with fabulous singing from the backing singers); Frankie Goes to Hollywood's - The Power of Love.
The Producers main vocalist, Ryan, did not have the roundness of Holly Johnson’s but a great rendition nevertheless and the crowd sang along. He did, however have hints of Rod Stewart/Robert Plant on their last album track. The last song of the set was the classic Buggles song Video Killed the Radio Star. They stayed on stage and were joined by Alex James, on bass guitar and Jamie Oliver, on a second set of drums, creating 'The Farm Loving Criminals' to perform the infamous FGH song Relax.
Gaz Coombes, one time front man for Supergrass, arrived on stage to perform tracks from his new album Here Comes the Bombs alongside this was an interesting cover of The Beat’s track Mirror in the bathroom'. Then the musical tempo and enthusiasm from the audience really began to climb with the Noisettes’ performing a of a string of recognisable hits including That Girl’s in Love With You, Don't Upset The Rhythm and ending with a rousing rendition of Remember Me.
The audience showed their appreciation with loud applause while Paloma Faith watched from the pit, supporting her fellow Brit School graduates. J P Cooper then quietened things down with a special extra three song acoustic set while the stage was set for headline act of the day - Paloma Faith. Her set had songs from both her albums. She started the set standing on a miniature grand piano that was being played by one of her backing group.
Once off the piano she shook what she termed “what my Mama gave me” for all she was worth. Watching from the pit was Shingai Shoniwa, lead vocalist of the Noisettes. Faith closed with 'New York' and 'Streets of Glory'. If Paloma and Shingai are truly representative of the talent that can be found at Brit School long may it help shape our future performers.
Sunday opened, at least for me, with a rather loud rock band called the Chevin. I much preferred the next act, Josh Osho from south London, an up and coming performer who has performed with both Tom Jones and Jessie J. He delivered a mostly acoustic guitar based set with a hint of the blues in a soulful and deep toned voice. Australian actor come chef, Adam Garcia was introduced to the crowd by Kirsten O’Brien, as a celebrity chef of a slightly different kind.
Guillemots followed producing a rousing set. Before Razorlight took to the stage Jamieand Alex came on to thank everyone for supporting the festival and by doing so helping raise money Jamie's charity by simply buying tickets and even the food. Razorlight started their set with 'Back to the stars' and continued with great energy. They did an up tempo cover of Edwin Collins' Never Met a Girl Like You. They played the intro of America and the crowd erupted.
Texas opened with I Don't Want a Lover to cheers from the crowd and bopping, in the wings at the back of the stage, from a new stage dancer in the lanky form of Alex James. Recently, they have been recording new material – their return to the studio being delayed by the brain aneurysm and subsequent recovery of guitarist Ally McErlaine.They played 'Detroit City', one of their latest songs, this being well received by the audience.
An upbeat rendition of 'Black Eyed Boy' really got the crowd bouncing. Followed by 'Summer Son' which was, or at least sounded, fitting as the weather held and the sun was setting to the right of the stage. With the crowd demanding an encore, the band returned to the stage with 'Inner smile' and, as Sharleen Spiteri put it ‘the best song ever written’River Deep Mountain High. Once Texas’ encore was over Alex came on stage with Kirsten O’Brien, with a big grin on his face and said he'd do it again next year – “it’s a keeper!”