Big Chill Event – The Saga ….
This is one hell of a tale: It may make you wonder why any organiser might still find it worth while, putting on a gig ….. An extraordinary saga surrounded this year’s Big Chill Gala. The story started back in January when I visited Norfolk market town Diss at the invitation of a Mr Selwyn Burr, to see some land a mile or so outside the town. Burr was extremely sympathetic to the idea of a Big Chill, having staged a halloween event several years before, and an agreement was soon struck up to put on the Gala in the first week of August.
Mr Burr visited the local police and South Norfolk Council who stated that it could go ahead as a private event if it wasn’t advertised locally. As 95’s Gala had been such a success, word-of-mouth soon spread when we announced the new date.
On June 8th, with tickets already selling well, the NME picked up on a press release from Propaganda PR, who had been promoting my ‘Eyelid Movies’ mix CD and ran a news story. This story had been researched and written by a woman called Jody Thompson, freshly arrived at the NME newsdesk from the Eastern Daily Press – a paper that was to play a significant part in developments over the summer. It mistakenly described the upcoming Big Chill as “one of the year’s biggest dance music festivals” – we were neither big nor dance – but went on to quote East Anglian Police spokesman PC Mel Lacey (who Jody admitted to me privately was a personal friend and contact from her recent days on the East Anglian paper) who had not heard anything about the festival, as Diss Police had obviously not deemed it big enough to be over-concerned about. I called Jody immediately, fearful that the story would lead precisely to the sort of local publicity that would cause the whole thing to flare up. She passed me on to news editor Tommy Udo, who was rude and aprupt. He accused me of being “petty.”
Unsurprisingly, Malcolm Perkins, co-incidentally from the EDP, picked up on Jody’s story five days later and telephoned to ask me about our planned “rave.” He then ran a piece in the paper again using NME’s description “Mystery surrounds a three-day Norfolk event which has been billed as one of the summer’s biggest dance festivals.” It was this story that alerted both the police and council. On Tuesday June 11th, South Norfolk Council called us and informed us that the event could not go ahead as a private event and that we would have to apply for a full Public Entertainments License. We attended a meeting with most of the influential members of the Council as well as Police and Fire officers in Long Stratton on June 18th and were told in no uncertain terms that “no stone would be left unturned in uncovering our past.” They seemed fairly hostile, to put it mildly.
A week later, we appeared to have been given a clean bill of health. The licence application had gone in, tickets were selling well, there had been a site inspection and everyone appeared to be happy, except a handful of local residents.
It soon became apparent that all was not well with the immediate neighbour Barbara Forrer. She lived in Wolsey Bridge Farm, adjacent to the site. The large farmhouse had previously belonged to Selwyn Burr who had apparently sold it to Mr and Mrs Forrer to raise cash, with an option to buy back before it was offered to a third party. It also appeared obvious to us that there was no love lost between the Burr and Forrer camps, for whatever reason, and we soon started receiving concerned phone calls from the other immediate neighbours. Worse still, the weekly local paper The Diss Express picked up the EDP story and on July 5th splashed a ridiculous tabloid style banner headline over the front page IS THIS FESTIVAL RAVE? when I had already explained to them in some detail that it was not.
The effect of this grossly irresponsible piece of reporting was quickly felt. Before we could even explain our story to the people of Diss, public meetings were being organised, petitions were being presented in pubs to keep the ‘rave’ out. The upshot was that the immediate neighbours put so much pressure on Bennie Gaze, a wealthy landowner who was set to provide us with a car parking field and a supplementary camping field, that he reversed his decision to let us use his land and we were subsequently forced to withdraw our license application, which we agreed to do at a horrendous meeting with the residents at Mrs Forrer’s house on July 10th. Not, as NME subsequently reported, because we feared that we wouldn’t be granted our license, but purely because technically, some of the land we had applied for licensing permission for, had fallen through, rendering our application null and void by law. The worst aspect of the whole NME debacle was the attitude of the news editor Tommy Udo. After we’d been forced to postpone, we issued a press release, initially on the internet, stating the sequence of events. This is what it said:
LOCAL NEWSPAPER TABLOID ‘RAVE’ HYSTERIA LEADS TO BIG CHILL GALA RESCHEDULING…
. First Tribal Gathering, now unbelievably The Big Chill. The summer of discontent continues. We have been forced to reschedule the date and location of our three day Gala scheduled for East Anglian farmland on August 2-4 as a result of objections from local residents. Hysteria had been created locally since the weekly Diss Express newspaper splashed a banner headline ‘Is This Festival Rave?’ over its front page at the beginning of July, at a time when no major objections were being placed by local council or police officials.
Widespread support has already ensured that virtually all of the original line-up are available for the rescheduled date, planned for the weekend of August 30, 31, September 1st at another site, the location of which will be revealed to existing ticket holders.
The problems started when the Eastern Daily Press picked up on an NME news item written by Jody Thompson, a new assistant news editor (who used to work for the East Anglian paper) inaccurately describing the Gala as “one of the year’s biggest dance music festivals” which immediately started spreading ‘rave’ panic in the area.
The local paper’s tabloid style of reporting which dubbed The Big Chill as “The Big Mistake”, concentrated solely on local concerns without one quote of support from other neighbours, some of whom had already booked their tickets…….
Although it was not e-mailed to them, a copy reached the NME. Jody Thompson called me claiming that it was “libellous”. She eventually put me onto Udo who was fuming. He cut me short, barking and “I’m going to make it my fucking mission in life to make sure your festival never goes ahead.” I pointed out that we’d not accused NME of anything, other than saying that their story had sparked the local press hysteria. He calmed down a little when I promised him that I’d fax a draft for his approval. The following weeks story was, for the most part, a little more balanced – unlike Udo’s temper.
Down, but not out, we resolved to find another site. Obviously, the early August date could not possibly be met, so we had to ring round all our artists (over 100), our contractors, our staff, quite a major task in itself. We looked at the Bank Holiday but many were unavailable. Maybe later in September, but school was starting again, and the weather would be risky. We plumped for August 30, 31, September 1st. Amazingly, virtually everyone – including headliner LTJ Bukem – could make the new date.
Back to finding a site. What had taken months during the winter had to be done in days – hours even. Much soul searching, desperate conversations on the phone, blind alleys, red herrings. Three days later, it looked probable that we would be applying for a site just outside a village near Huntingdon. The owner was an ex bank robber, but seemed a nice guy. If we didn’t find somewhere quick, we’d lose thousands of pounds.
Then, out of the blue, a man called Ashe Windham called one morning from a town we’d never heard of – a small town west of Norwich called Hingham. A well spoken retired gent who had done service with the Foreign Office, Ashe had read about our plight in the local paper and was convinced that we could help each other. He reckoned that Hingham could at very least provide a warmer welcome than Diss and find benefits for itself and its local community. It was a dying town – a village in size and spirit – that the railways had by-passed. Wymondham and Attleborough had been lucky and the transport systems had provided the network and the infrastructure for growth and (relative) prosperity. Hingham was a different story. Shops and businesses had closed down. More were scheduled to close. People came there to die. The only alternative seemed to be building modern housing estates, or taking the festival route which had the potential to stimulate local trade. He rang off, saying that he’d make a couple of calls. He rang back hours later. Ashe had already found us around 30 acres of land, and had arranged a meeting for us with police and district council – for the very next day.
With no time to lose, we drove up to Hingham on Tuesday July 23rd, myself flu ridden, to inspect the land. The meeting started in Ashe’s living room with seats already allocated, then proceeded to the proposed site. I don’t think I’d be over doing it if I said that both police and council seemed pretty enthusiastic about the site. All the problems of Diss seemed to pale into insignificance as Tony Burgess from South Norfolk Council surveyed the fields, imagining what could go where. Inspector Martin Wynn, so critical at that first meeting in Long Stratton, was fast emerging as one of our real allies in the area, without ever stating his support outright. The land owner, John Peacock, later admitted that it was Wynn’s approval of the site that persuaded him to hire us his land.
So we were in business again. Another epic drive with my partner (now wife) Katrina to Long Stratton the following day, with me still flu ridden and wrapped in a sweaty blanket on the back seat on one of the hottest days of the year, just to put my signature on the license application. Only …… days until the Gala. We were beginning to get more than a little unsettled by the numbers of refund applications coming in. Holidays, people preparing to go back to college. Up until the postponement, our admittedly ambitious projections had proven to be uncannily correct. Suddenly, with the postponement, it seemed that confidence in us pulling it off had taken a dive.
Then a welcome boost. Katrina was once more Norfolk bound, this time for the crucial town council (as distinct from the all powerful district council – South Norfolk) meeting where the vote would be taken as to how welcome the Big Chill really was. An 11-0 victory was the final verdict – cut and dried. Or so we thought. Not that the town council’s verdict would have necessarily been the ultimate arbiter. Just that it was comforting to know we were wanted. One of the prime movers in Hingham was a colourful character called Barry Flaxman, who owned the Army and Navy surplus stores which were located centrally on the High St. Here, the self appointed King of Hingham would sit inside his gloomy counting house observing every passing movement in Hingham (interestingly his shop looked out directly onto the post office, stronghold of the principle objector Pat Dore. We quickly came to realise that Barry ruled the roost. Rumours of prison sentences and exposés for blackmail in the News Of The World were swept under the carpet. “Don’t ask about that” he barked when I enquired. “Money talks” seemed to be his main motto. Any talk of artistic endeavour or creativity was met with an unnerving cross-eyed stare. We may as well have been talking a foreign language.
The dialogue with Ashe continued apace. Phone lines between London and Hingham were humming every day. I went up a week after the town council meeting to give a press conference at The White Hart, the only remaining pub in the village. Only one member of the press turned up. There were about a dozen local residents, mostly objectors led by Mr and Mrs Peters who had recently moved to the town to retire, the elderly but respected Maureen Watson and Dr Stickland. Meanwhile, the telephone companies were also coining it in as South Norfolk Council were throwing new and ever more demanding challenges at Katrina on a daily basis. They candidly admitted that we were being used as “guinea pigs” as they had never put on an event like this before, and were having to call more experienced festival councils like Mendip and Reading to get advice on most matters. We estimate that over 100 calls were made between Long Stratton and Finsbury Park ironing out the finer points of the licence conditions.
But now a new threat reared its head. We had made a point of visiting all the immediate neighbours in Hingham at the first opportunity after the painful lessons learned in Diss. Hingham did seem a less hostile place on first impressions, and to our relief no one that we visited seemed to have a particular problem with what we were doing. One such resident lived at the nearest house. Andy Hamilton, a micro brewer in his mid 30s who seemed so unconcerned that we were on our way in less than five minutes of ringing his doorbell, However, a different side of Andy Hamilton emerged within a days of the town council whitewash. He had appointed himself as figurehead of the official opposition, and someone somewhere had struck on the unfortunate tag of RAGE (Residents Against Gala Event). A particularly uncharismatic frontman, he nevertheless knocked the motley opposition into shape – a few immediate residents here, pensioners there. Wew had to admit that the speed and organisation with which the troops rallied was impressive.
But we were caught in the midst of local politics in a way I had not experienced before. It seemed that the Gala itself was taking a back seat to the local bickering that had obviously been simmering for a while, and people were using the event for their own ends.
RAGE was the turning point. Whilst Malcolm Perkins and his cronies at the EDP were lapping up the local opposition and giving their hysterical case far more prominence than our own, I decided that RAGE would be best countered by setting up something that was…well, more chilled, completely in the spirit of The Big Chill. And so CALM was born (Chillers Against Local Mis-information) – an altogether more ordered, considered and rational approach to the hysteria. I called Ashe and told him the plan. He laughed heartily in his own unique and loveable manner for at least 30 seconds.
He called back later that day, bubbling. Why not take our case even further. RAGE could be killed if we could somehow come and give a taster of The Big Chill in one of Peacock’s fields, with Bruce Kent (veteran CND icon and known Big Chill supporter) speaking in favour. Just one tent would do. It was totally impractical and would cost dearly just to bring one tent up. I pondered. A flash of inspiration – how about the local church???? After all, this was the focal point of Ashe’s original thinking in bringing us to Hingham – to raise money for the church, which seemed to be the uniting factor (if there was one in this strangely divided community) that pulled people together.
Next day, he called back. He’d discussed it with Canon John Bourne and we’d got the green light. A Big Chill in St Andrews Church, dressed up as a service so that we could get around the licensing laws. The date was set for Friday August 16th with Bruce Kent top of the bill, Another Fine Day, Hexstatic Visuals and DJ Pete Lawrence.
Another scorching journey up to Norfolk. Barry Flaxman gave us one of his spare windows to paint on – HQ of calm. A day or two later it had been smashed by RAGE protesters but it didn’t matter. We were taking the calm approach and it seemed to be working. The church concert was the strangest gig I’ve ever done. Not just because the average age of the audience was probably above 50. It just seemed odd to be having to do it at all, but the visuals worked a treat, Bruce said his bit and I played the most spiritual, downbeat set I’ve ever played, at one point crying with the emotion and absurdity of it all. My best memory was Bruce Kent launching himself into the protesters (all six of them) who stood outside chanting “Drugs,Drugs, Drugs” and singling out a young teenager, who I believe was Hamilton’s son. “Are drugs available in your school playground?”. “Yes” “Well, don’t blame The Big Chill then.”
We were on the home straight.
Only days to D day. We were given a fright when, at the last Council meeting before the hearing, the Fire officers – up to that point entirely happy with all our arrangements – suddenly dropped the bombshell that our camping area must have gaps of six metres between all tents!! We eventually persuaded them that it was a ludicrous demand for a supervised camping area at a festival, and that other festivals had even documented evidence that two metres was completely unenforceable. But only after it had caused us major panic and stress, having to line up extra fields for overflow purposes.
Katrina and I drove up on Wednesday night in preparation for the final showdown – the hearing at South Norfolk Council, where our case would be heard and decided by a sub committee who had virtually no experience in dealing with licensing matters. We met up in the early evening sunlight in Ashe’s garden, with what we felt was a good team in tow. Andrew Muir, by reputation one of the top barristers around dealing with licensing law, and Dawn Parker, QC, who had represented The Mean Fiddler in their notorious Tribal Gathering, and had come in at short notice to represent us.
After a hearty meal in the back room at The White Hart, Katrina and I hardly slept a wink on one of the floors in town councillor Jane Owen’s nursery as we went over the events of the following day in our minds. In the morning, even the vastly experienced Andrew looked nervous. We drove the back lanes to Long Stratton as the sun rose higher in the sky and filed into the room. It was like being in court. We put our case, the opposition put theirs, rather too emotionally I felt. At lunch, we adjourned after three hours of tension, Dawn and I sat down and tried to assess the situation. She confessed that she couldn’t tell which way it would go. Jane Owen, who studied body language seemed much more confident. After an eternity (about an hour) the sub committee re-emerged. We’d won the day (unanimously, I heard in confidence). Well, sort of. We’d won our license at great extra expense, but attached to it, we were the proud owners of the most far-reaching and extensive license conditions and restrictions – 35 pages of them – ever imposed on a festival.
So, it was late Thursday and we had a week until the festival. The hard work really started here. Since the postponement, we’d received a lot of refund requests, and already processed a large batch, but new ticket orders probably matched them in number. I telephoned Tim and Paul back at the office to urge them get the pre-prepared victory press releases out. Would NME run anything? A lot depended on Jody Thompson, who seemed to be sympathetic to us again and had been incredibly friendly a few days ago, at least when asking if she could have free tickets. Her last words were to make sure we called on Thursday to let her know the outcome. Trouble was, she’d already left for Reading Festival and Tommy Udo was not only unhelpful, but downright rude.
Unfortunately, it was August Bank Holiday on the Monday but we still staffed the office all weekend thanks to dedication beyond the call of duty from Tim, Paul and Chrissie – the dream team, where calls were coming thick and fast. Nothing appeared in either NME or Melody Maker on the Tuesday and to make matters worse, there was the sudden announcement of a postal strike for several days (not just the one day affairs that we’d had to get used to). We could process no last minute tickets. All we could do was direct people to one of our fifteen ticket outlets, if they were lucky enough to live near to one, or add them to a long list of names on the gate for ticket collection. We were still confident of a healthy “walk-up” particularly from locals, after all the TV and press publicity. All week, the phones were going crazy “Is it true that you’ve finally got your licence??!!” We were confident, with over 2,500 advance sales and so much interest.
Then, when it looked like fortune was finally smiling, came that final arbiter, the ‘act of God’ as it is described in a thousand insurance policies and legal documents the world over – the natural elements. Just as spirits onsite were raised after Tuesday and Wednesday’s work, overnight a fearsome storm was brewing. Several members of the crew had their tents blown from under them in the middle of the night. Next day, the damage was there to be seen – marquees and tents ripped torn by the unremitting gale force winds. The storms were the worst that Norfolk had seen for years with boats sinking and having to be rescued. Helicopters couldn’t reach them. Lifeboats had to be sent out. Norfolk’s weather made the national news. Back in the office, the phones still rang, but this time for a different reason. “We’ve seen the news – film of campsites being evacuated. Surely the Gala can’t be on.”
The crew waited patiently. Nothing could be done all day Thursday as it continued raining solidly with the winds driving in at a 90 degree angle – things were desperate. The forecast was that it would die down, but not until first light on Friday, leaving a few hours to do two days work. It told its own sad tale. I arrived on site early on Friday morning and it was a complete mudbath. Every single vehicle arriving on site had to be towed by tractor through the mud. Anyone who anticipated that the event was still going ahead, must have had any enthusiasm tempered by the thoughts that the site would have turned into a mudbath. As ever, the EDP offered their own unique tabloid vision of our troubles “Fears that The Big Chill may become The Big Swill” put paid to Norwich and surrounding areas taking a chance at the last minute.
Other dramas were going on throughout Friday. South Norfolk Council called no less than three crisis meetings, and were fully intending to pull the plug as we hadn’t complied with every single licence condition by starting time. As far as we were concerned it was a major triumph against all the odds that we’d got the tents back up and secure and that all the electricals were working. Full inspections and safety certificates were another matter. As were the long list of things we couldn’t do : No re-admission to site, no glass bottles, no drugs, no weapons, no camp fires, no kite flying without steward supervision. They may as well have added “No Fun”. As Tony Marcus says in his review in Mixmag “A security guard walks past the tent. “Hang on,” he says into his mic, “we’ve got someone breathing in here. We can’t have that. That’s the council’s air.”
Generally, all the people I spoke to understood the incredible pressure and surveillance that we were under, and resolved to join us in the fight for change. The genuine feeling was that our whole way of life was in the process of being stamped out by draconian rules and regulations, and we hardly considered ourselves to be a social deviants. My friends are teachers, doctors, lawyers, writers in their thirties, a business consultants in his late 40s – hardly crazed teenage ravers. We started the Big Chill exactly because we wanted an alternative to raves. Something with a range of musical pulses and non musical attractions, a place where we could relax, converse and enjoy beautiful natural countryside. Much closer than, say, WOMAD than Tribal Gathering. Now, with the confiscation of their Camping Gas stoves, people felt more like caged children in the Councils arms.
Sound levels were the most contentious issue of all. We’d already had our licensed hours of entertainment cut back from 1am to midnight (11.30 on Sunday) by a sub-committee who had to be seen to be placing further cosmetic restrictions on us once they’d granted the license. They left the actual decibel levels blank on the license, only setting them on the day before the festival was due to start. This was our biggest problem with our paying public. The levels were so ludicrously low that it just didn’t allow the festival to take off. NME writer Ben Willmott was certain that this was one of the major factors that hit our attendance on Saturday. The site was full of mobile phones, and the word going out on Friday night was “don’t bother.”
All weekend, the site was crawling with council officials – over twenty were counted at one point – and they maintained a presence all day. Every time sound levels went above 56db (as measured from the nearest residence – Mr Hamilton’s) our sound technician Sybil Watt had to instruct our sound crew to pull it back down. Most of our major artists struggled on in the conditions, and many left stage early because of the futility of it all. As Willmott said in his NME review “Main stage headliners Squarepusher and Autechre are all forced to play so quietly they’re continually drowned out by the crowd yelling for it to be turned up…. By the time Springheel Jack arrive, it’s so quiet they throw in the towel after much shaking of heads and on-stage run-ins. Nobody can blame them. Ludicrous isn’t the word.”
On the council’s insistence, we’d installed a special noise complaints line for neighbours to ring in on. Over ninety per cent of the complaints are from Andy Hamilton, who clearly seems to be spending his weekend standing by his window, decibel meter in hand “It’s just gone up to 68 decibels” is his latest call. He’s also been calling the council. They have just about had enough and I hear reports that they want to have him prosecuted for causing a public nuisance. Sad man.
Saturday night almost turned nasty when the music had to be turned off again at midnight. I’d heard of similar things happening at Phoenix a couple of years ago when there was almost a riot because people had nowhere to go but bed at midnight, but never believed that would happen at The Big Chill. We’d already made very strong recommendations that we should be allowed to keep something going at very low levels – the Cafe Party tent seemed the obvious choice as it’s volume levels are exceptionally low during the day anyway, but this was met with complete inflexibility. Now, I get a glimpse of what could turn ugly before my eyes as drummers start to hammer out an insistent tribal rhythm and others start pounding the metal supports of the main tent. They are desperate for something, anything to happen. After all, it’s only just turned midnight. Eventually, we calm them down by telling them that the cafe will be staying open through the night. Close call though.
Saturday and Sunday are mellow warm days with cool nights. By the Saturday evening, people are adjusting to fact that the regulations are more akin to the running of a steam rally or village fete than a music festival. But still people come up – many of them – and say “Well Done!” We remain philosophical. We have no choice. We need more people in.
The result of all the extra expense – the cost of postponement, paying booking and cancellation fees, the cost of another licence, a new set of legal fees, another 30,000 flyers not to mention getting them distributed around the country, several hundred requests for refunds because the new date was inconvenient, then the lack of sales due to postal strike – means that the sums just don’t add up. We still had every confidence that we’d pull through, but the weather put paid to that. We knew at the end of the weekend that we’d not made our target. The fact that six weeks later we have not yet seen any money or even accounts relating to the bar – run by Hingham Town Council for the duration of the weekend as a concession on our part – adds insult to injury.
The cruel truth hit home the following week as we added up the shortfall. We’d lost around £60,000 and the company, Global Headz Limited could no longer trade. Not only that, but we’d worked passionately and tirelessly for six months on a totally independent festival only to have a queue of angry creditors, many already devastated from Harvest Fair going bust the previous week, at our heels. The promoters are always the ones that take the biggest risk, but it’s easy for everyone else to believe that they’ve run off with the money. The reality is a very different picture. We feel like victims, but victims of what? Licensing laws? The ‘not-in-my-backyard’ mentality of conservative middle England? A misguided NME news report? The Eastern Daily Press? The weather? Our own bad judgement? Or just an extraordinary sequence of bad luck?
Since then, we’ve lost our office, our staff, our assets, not to mention our pride. Initially, we were forced to remain silent for legal reasons and until the extent of the loss was known. We were subsequently advised by our lawyers and accountants that Global Headz Limited should cease trading and that the company should be wound up.
If we’d been allowed to run on the original date, that picture would have been so different.
The only thing that has kept us going is the number of letters and e-mails from people who loved the festival, and the support of virtually all our staff and artists. They know what really happened. The NME, against all the odds, was ultimately supportive in its final analysis, probably because they realised that the very fabric of real festival culture was under serious threat. “If The Big Chill was a victory over impossible odds, both natural and bureaucratic, it was a strangely unjubilant one. Frustrating because all the elements were in place, namely an up-for-it crowd and an inspired, never-done-before bill, but ultimately it’s a no-cigar situation. Unless you’re a council officer that is.”
That’s the crux of the biscuit, to quote Zappa. The goodwill and encouragement to carry the flag for a sustainable alternative to corporate festivals has been overwhelming. We owe it to a lot of people to fight on.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact it may be necessary to encounter defeat so we can know who the hell we are, what can be overcome, what makes us stumble and fall, and go on”
Maya Angelou, sampled on LTJ Bukem’s ‘Moodswings’ 1996
The Social and Political Context :
The Future For Independent Festivals
The Big Chill Gala event almost didn’t go ahead at all. It’s easy to see why there are still a large number of illegal and unlicensed events all over the UK, as it becomes more and more difficult to sift through the huge amount of red tape involved in applying for a public entertainments licence, not to mention the financial requirements of such an undertaking.
For an event that would have a maximum capacity of 5,000, it does not make any financial or logistical sense to go through these proceedures, which seem more suited to large festivals or night time dance parties such as Tribal Gathering. Even when we were granted the licence, the conditions were such that we were stifled before we’d even begun.
Because of this, we have since been involved in an open dialogue with the Home Office, bearing in mind the difficulties of putting on any outdoor event at present, and ever mindful of the proposed amendments to the Criminal Justice Act and the current review of public entertainment licensing legislation.
A Home Office circular paper ‘Police, Drug Misusers and the Community’ was circulated earlier in the year addressing issues relating to drug misuse in clubs and public entertainment license conditions in relation to health and safety of young people at clubs and similar venues. It seems that there is specific legislation aimed at so called ‘dance’ events, particularly in relation to drug use and misuse, and it is important that these definitions and distinctions are examined.
The Big Chill in particular had suffered at the hands of South Norfolk Council over this year’s Big Chill Gala in Hingham, Norfolk, which was seen as a “guinea pig” case by a district council that had virtually no previous experience of licensing events of this nature. As a result, the licence conditions and restrictions imposed on the Big Chill – one of the mellowest events of its kind – were vast and wide ranging, and came close to causing major problems at the event, not to mention the significant extra costs involved in complying with these regulations. In particular, the extreme decibel limits brought widespread complaints from many of the audience, who were remarkably tolerant in view of the conditions imposed. Other factors affecting the mood of the weekend were the stipulations that no one was allowed offsite, no amplifed music after midnight and no campfires.
One of the first press reviews of the Gala was in De Montfort Students Magazine The Voice (Leicester). They are particularly concerned about the future for independent festivals.
“It’s difficult to apportion blame in a situation like this, because it’s certain that the Gala wasn’t all that it could have been. The narrow minds of the local and press, and the pathetic and fascistic attempts of the government of this poxy country to stamp out anything that they can’t get a grip on are pretty high up there on the hit list. The Big Chill, more than the other festivals will suffer from the conditions that are imposed on anyone trying to organise an event like this because they aren’t about big money, and money is what festivals are beginning to boil down to.
Whilst the Mean Fiddlers and Universes of this world can afford to pay for the licences and meet all the stringent laws that are placed upon them, The Big Chill can’t do this without losing the essence of what it’s all about. When something as peaceful as this has the full weight of the authorities breathing down its neck, it’s time now more than ever to question exactly what the future holds for events such this, which at the end of the day, is simply a celebration of a different attitude to life.”
At a meeting earlier in September, Katrina Larkin from The Big Chill was impressed with the open minded attitude displayed by government officials that seemed to be genuinely interested in finding out what the feelings of club and festival goers were.
“It’s refreshing and positive to feel that we are finally being listened to, not to mention being taken seriously as an industry. We have just got a foot in the door, and now we have place pressure on the Home Office so they realise the vast numbers of people who enjoy and depend on events such as The Big Chill, The Harvest Fair and The Earth Energy Festival – which have all been severely burnt financially this year – as a creative outlet and a money earner.”