Having spent the last few years with Glastonbury as my only festival event of the year, last weekend I got the chance to broaden my horizons and try out some of the competition, ie “The Big Chill” in Herefordshire. Running from the 5th to the 8th of August, the line-up consisted of a similar range of bands to Glastonbury but on a smaller scale. Household names such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Lily Allen shared the bill with acts such as “Tinariwen” a group of Malian Tuareg nomadic musicians and indie group “Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions”. All in all, quite an eclectic mix.

The first thing that struck me was that I had to stop comparing what I was seeing to Glastonbury as the maximum capacity at Big Chill is 40,000, less than a third of the size of Glasto. Once the initial thoughts of “Christ, this is TINY” had passed, I could slow down to the pace of the event and enjoy the more intimate feel.

Having been sent to the festival with the main aim of covering Sunday’s shoot by American artist Spencer Tunick, I had the pleasure of having no pressure to charge around shooting all of the bands. Having said that, when I’m at a festival, I can’t just sit back and drink so I still found myself trudging around with a 300mm over my shoulder, a belt pack round my waist and a backpack weighing me down.

One thing that stands out to the first timer here is the amount of kids and teens wandering about. While thirty-somethings with no desire to hang up their festival boots push prams around, gangs of teenage boys huddle excitedly around a baggy single-skin that one of them has managed to put together. Having said that, don’t think it makes it a bad thing as once Max is old enough, I’m sure we’ll be throwing ear defenders on him and pushing him around one of these more “family-friendly” festivals.

While the site is indeed smaller than Glasto (ok, I’ll shut up about the “G word” now), it still manages to have an explorable feel to it with one stage hidden behind an area of bracken, a mass of glowing inflatable balls surrounding a tree on the hill, a giant rubber duck in the lake and a traditional fairground. While walking through the fair, I bumped into a couple that had just got married earlier that day then rushed to the site to enjoy the weekend. With the bride still in her gown, myself and fellow photographer Nick Pickles took them onto a nearby merry-go-round for an impromptu wedding shoot. Their plan was to set up a Facebook page so that everyone who had taken pictures over the weekend could mail in their shots to help them make a wedding day album. A great idea from a good fun couple. Good luck!

One of the musical highlights was Thom Yorke‘s solo set on the main stage. As usual, we only had access for the first three tracks but what I heard sounded great. Martina Topley-Bird was a pleasant surprise as I’d never heard her before and the style was different to the usual solo female singer sound. My award for most unusual set of the weekend however has to go to “Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane & The Heritage Orchestra”. Having grown up listening to Faith No More in the 1990s, I was intrigued to hear what he’d be up to and it’s safe to say that he’s still prepared to take some musical risks. Using an orchestra and full band, the band play cover versions of Italian pop music from the 1950s and 60s with Patton providing his usual vocal flair over the top. The few tracks we got to hear ranged from out and out crooning to full-on anger music, all in Italian. Hats off, says I.

Massive Attack managed to prove themselves to be a massive pain in the arse twice in one day by both arranging then cancelling a photo-call after the photographers had been waiting at the venue for twenty minutes and then blocking agency access to the photo pit during their set. Thankfully, a monochrome backlit stage didn’t make many good frames anyway so I can’t say I was weeping too much.

After Saturday’s stage invasion which got out of hand after MIA invited the audience to come over the barriers, her performance was cut short with some cynics backstage suggesting that it could have been a rather elaborate way to cover up a lack of material. Not knowing her back catalogue, I can’t comment but it did seem an odd thing to do half way through your set.

Sunday morning saw the main reason for my attendance with Spencer Tunick’s photo-call on the hill, overlooking the lake. With a press area arranged that included rules such as a ban on leaving the pen for two hours during the shoot, I decided that I’d rather do my own thing so broke out the trusty 400mm and headed to a different position. Heading up to an area next to a row of snack food and drinks stalls, the long wait was filled with much amusement at the guy who owned the milkshake stand who was listening to a full-on American business motivation CD before opening the shutters. “Be your own goal. Envisage your dreams and action your inventions”. I’d never realised that there was so much effort in making a Snickers milkshake.

In the end, my alternate choice of position was definitely the right call as Tunick shot a whole selection of pictures with the body-painted volunteers in the other corner of the field from the pen and never actually did the shoot that the organisers had been telling us about. Take note, people; the PR company arranging an event shouldn’t always be listened to.

Immediately after the event, I decided to focus on shooting portraits of some of the people as they came back onto the main site and thankfully found a solid black sheet on the end of “Mr Scruff’s tea stall” to act as a temporary backdrop. The body-paint and recent nakedness seemed to have relaxed everyone’s reservations and I got some great expressions as each person tried to out-perform the previous model.

With Spencer all wrapped up, all that was left to shoot on the bill were Paloma Faith and Lily Allen with a quick stop off to grab a protrait of Spinal Tap legend and the voice of Princial Skinner, Harry Shearer. A top chap who was more than happy to pose up for a quick shoot before going on-stage in the “Words and Motion” tent to discuss the world of cinema.

With the weekend out of the way and finding myself home and showered, I’ve been mailed links to an article by whole heap of people. It turns out that one of my shots was used to illustrate the soon-to-be-infamous Wanky Balls story. For those of you not in the know, a national newspaper in England decided to run a little piece on the festival and the journalist took the information for the extended caption directly from Wikipedia without checking the facts.

This happens an awful lot in the media as it’s seen to be a quick and helpful source for basic knowledge but in this case, the writer believed the recently-altered information posted that the festival used to be known as the “Wanky Balls Festival” so proceeded to include it in the article, right above my byline. Class. With a handful of sites “crediting” me as the Independent journo that was behind the mistake, I’ve had a barrage of mails, tweets and facebook messages asking if I was responsible. Not so class. While David Beckham is known as Golden Balls, I can only hope that I remain the Tabascokid…

7 Responses to “Licensed to Chill”

  1. Beautiful Pics Leon!x (and fab blog btw.x)

    Posted by Sophie Laslett
  2. I love this blog, my liege. Love the portraits of the ‘smurfs’and I see you got Tom W in one of the shots. As for the ‘Wanky Balls’ piece, well…. :-)

    Posted by pixgremlin
  3. Heh, not me Akin! Would never use on-camera flash *cough*…

    Outstanding work Leon, was a pleasure hanging out with you. And don’t forget the purveyor of ‘warm balls’ either…

    Posted by Tom
  4. Great stuff as usual but the body paint portraits are particularly top notch, inspired idea on your part. Great job Wanky :)

    Posted by Miles
  5. As ever a fantastic blog and stunning images, and such terrible luck with the Independent article. Hopefully the correction will feature a nice big frame to compensate!

    Can’t beat a bird in a bikini covered in glitter as man BAIT!

    Posted by Nick P
  6. Absolutely awesome work as always.. How you manage to get such an array of shots each and everytime is a credit to your skill. Keep up the good work.

    Posted by Gary Fox
  7. Lovely shots. The ethos and vibe of the festival captured. The portraits of the Tunick people are particularly interesting – somehow the facepaint can exaggerate the facial expressions. And nicely done to pick out Mike Patton – certainly my highlight of the festival.

    Posted by martsharm

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