25th – 27th August 2023 saw The Big Feastival return to its home on Alex James’ Farm in Kingham for a fantastic weekend. Although the bank holiday saw a mixed bag of weather including sunshine, clouds, rain and even hail; the attendees didn’t let the occasional downpour dampen their spirits as they enjoyed some of the tastiest food and drink around, along with family friendly fun and sets from huge artists.
After setting up the tent, I took a quick walk down the hill from the campsite and was greeted by the mouth-watering scents of roasted meat and vegetables in The Smokery field, as fire chefs cooked for attendees and did demos on the Fire Pit Stage. DJ BBQ and Chris ‘Choppy’ Taylor did the first demo of the day, showing everyone how to make some tasty looking loaded hot dogs.
After being made to feel very hungry watching that demo, I ventured through the rest of the festival site to the Main Arena, where I grabbed a lovely chicken tikka naan wrap from the Curry on Naanstop stand, before checking out my first artist of the weekend on the Main Stage; 90s rock band, The Lightning Seeds. The band line-up may have changed somewhat since the early days, but they played all of their hits none-the-less, and it was quite sweet to see Ian Brodie performing The Life of Riley with his grown up son Riley, who inspired the track as a child and is now a full time member of the band.
Later, we were informed by Friday’s stage host Oti Mabuse that Natalie Imbruglia would be taking to the stage a little later than expected, as there had been an issue with her band’s equipment arriving at the site in time. When she did finally take to the stage at 3.45pm, her band were still missing their gear, but had luckily managed to borrow some from Alex James and Jake Shears, so the show could go on with a short but sweet acoustic set. It may not have been the full show that everyone was hoping for, but it was actually quite beautiful to hear Wrong Impression, Shiver and Torn in a stripped-back manner and everyone sang along.
One of the best performances on Friday came from Jake Shears. He is already an icon from his days as the frontman of Scissor Sisters, but two solo albums in, he has already proved that he is also iconic on his own. His jubilant energy was absolutely infectious from the get-go, as he ran around on stage in a glittery blue tracksuit, which was followed by a white vest and red shorts ensemble. It was smiles all around as he blasted through a set of camp classics both from the Scissor Sisters back catalogue and his last two albums, Jake Shears and Last Man Dancing.
Jake was a hard act to follow, but Example did a pretty good job of it with hits such as We’ll Be Coming Back and Kickstarts which got everyone dancing around. However, indie rock band The Vaccines just didn’t seem to have the same appeal during their set, and I took this as an opportunity to try some more of the festival’s edible offerings, as I went to DJ BBQ’s stand and ate the most heavenly slow-cooked steak sandwich that I have ever been lucky enough to try. The steak was melt in your mouth tender and the salsa verde and the charred onions were a taste sensation. It was one of the best meals of the weekend.
Headliner Sigrid was the perfect way to end a blissfully relaxing start to the festival, as the Norwegian singer-songwriter smashed her set out of the park with her own unique charm and vocals. She might only be relatively early on in her musical career, but she has already released hit song after hit song such as It Gets Dark, Don’t Kill My Vibe, Head On Fire and Strangers. The songs show the sheer strength of her songwriting, and that makes me excited to see what will come from her in the not-so-distant future.
Saturday morning saw several early risers get stuck into some of the family-friendly fun dotted around the festival site, such as Yoga, Flower Crown Making, Reynard the Fox (interactive theatre), and Little Cooks (cooking workshops); meanwhile many others visited the festival showers to freshen up, or the M&S Cafe to grab some breakfast. M&S were also this year’s main sponsor; but as much as it was very tempting to eat a packet of Percy Pigs for breakfast, I abstained and opted for some fruit and pastries instead.
On the AO Kitchen stage in the morning, we were treated to the bizarreness of Youtube food comedian, George Egg as he created all manner of weird and wonderful creations including the ultimate egg mayo sandwich and the Greggs fish pie, which Alex James sampled far too eagerly. Then I took a short walk across to the Main Stage to watch beatbox trio Duke, followed by a soulful set from singer-songwriter Ruti.
While looking around the arena, I decided to try a Shrimp Po Boy from the Poor Boys stand, which had juicy buttermilk battered prawns on top of Cajun fries. It was tasty, but definitely wasn’t as spicy as I expected it to be. I then watched Newton Faulkner’s wonderful set on the Main Stage, and he proved that you don’t always need an over the top stage set up or a big budget show to enthral your audience, sometimes you can do it purely with outstanding songs and bucket loads of quirky charm.
As Vernon Kay introduced the next act to the vast sea of people in front of the Main Stage, he warned everyone that The Cuban Brothers‘ set might be a bit naughty. They performed a somewhat toned down show compared to usual, as Big Feastival is a family friendly festival; but there were still lots of suggestive comments and subtle innuendos that kept the grown-up members of the family giggling.
In The Cheese Hub, we were treated to early evening DJ sets from the likes of actor Simon Pegg and Geronimo, but the dance set that really impressed me on Saturday was from Woody Cook. It might seem like he is destined to become an amazing DJ since his mum is Zoe Ball and his Dad is Fatboy Slim, but Woody pulled an enormous crowd into the Hub and proved why he is a mind-blowing DJ in his own right with his electrifying set.
Back on the Main Stage, the party kept going with sets from Katy B and Sister Bliss from Faithless, before we were treated to a headline set from Tom Grennan. As kids were hoisted onto their parents’ shoulders to watch the set, Tom burst onto the stage with all the energy of a Duracell bunny and commanded the audience with unwavering power. As hit song after hit song was performed including How Does It Feel? and Lionheart, his infectious charm had everybody joining in.
I started the day back at the Fire Pit watching an interesting demo from Pasture’s Sam Elliot, before venturing to the Main Stage to watch talented singer-songwriter, Alice Merton. There might be a lot of singer-songwriter pop artists in the charts at the moment, but Merton’s own brand of unique bittersweet pop is completely relatable and the audience seemed enthralled by her set, so I think that she is definitely someone to look out for in the next few years.
For lunch, I ventured to the Little Viet Kitchen stand to sample their lemongrass chicken dish. It was a hot one, but also mouthwatering, with tender smoker cooked chicken in among lashings of spicy broth and delicate noodles. I followed this up with a quick half pint of deliciously sweet mango cider from the Kent Cider Company, before venturing back to the Main Stage to catch Eurovision’s Mae Muller.
Sunday’s Main Stage host was TV presenter, Laura Whitmore, and even she seemed excited at the prospect of a Spice Girl taking to the stage, as she introduced Melanie C. Taking to the stage in a shimmery blue tracksuit, the popstar was buzzing with energy as she ran, danced, jumped and even twirled her way across the stage, hyping up the audience from the get-go. With all that movement, Sporty Spice soon wanted to remove her tracksuit jacket but got a little stuck in the process; however, ever the professional she kept on singing despite this minor problem and we were treated to a set packed with hits and Mel’s flawless, reassuring vocals.
It’s got to be tough to follow a Spice Girl on stage, but Rick Astley certainly didn’t have this problem as cheers for the star bounced around the field even before he had taken to the stage. He may have had somewhat of a resurgence into popular culture in the last ten or so years thanks to things like internet videos, but anyone who has seen his band live will know that they actually do a superb show. Sure, you get all the hits like Never Gonna Give You Up and Together Forever, but newer tracks like Keep Singing and Never Gonna Stop also stand their ground.
As the sun set on the final night of 2023’s Big Feastival, indie band Blossoms took to the stage for their headline set. The mood all around was electric, as fans enjoyed hits such as Your Girlfriend and Charlemagne, and front man Tom Ogden strutted across the stage and did microphone tricks akin to a young Jarvis Cocker. Overall, the Stockport band were effortlessly marvellous throughout their set, with hints of vintage eccentricity both in styling and music, and it was the perfect end to a lovely weekend in the Cotswolds.