It’s with a huge amount of sadness that I’ve just learned that Pete Lawrence has stepped down as head honcho of The Big Chill. Easily my favourite festival on the planet, and having provided me with some of the most spine-tinglingly brilliant experiences of my life (as performer, participant and member of the paying public), it’s a festival that Pete has steered with partner Katrina Larkin from small beginnings to something truly massive and global.

Every summer tens of thousands of people get excited about the prospect of going to Eastnor Deer Park (or previously Larmer Tree Gardens) or one of their many overseas excursions (most recently Goa, but most memorably an amazing week on the Greek island of Naxos). And yet despite the growth of the festival from the tiny 1000 capacity ones I remember in the late nineties Pete has managed to steer it so that it has retained it’s independent, smiley feel. And his influence obviously goes far, with him managing to organise for blazing sunshine to bathe the festival almost every year!

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve just wandered around a Big Chill festival on my own, a huge smile on my face, just meeting people, chatting and enjoying the sights and sounds alongside likeminded souls. From our very first performance at The Big Chill’s Enchanted Garden – hundreds of grinning loons, several peacocks, and an impromptu jam with a stilt-walking percussion group – to 2006 when we performed live with the amazing Bent vocalist Katty Heath and saw over 1000 crazy people go mad to every single tune we played (see the footage from the stage here and here), I can honestly say that I owe Pete Lawrence a huge amount. In fact, thousands of us do, whether we realise it or not. Pete’s dedication to independent, individual and life-affirming music events has had an unmeasurable effect on the landscape of music in this country and beyond. And the Big Chill events make it easy for even photo-duffers like me to take the occasional decent pic:

Naxos 2001

Eastnor 2006

It’ll be really sad not to see Pete perform his traditional (quite bad!) dancing on stage, during Norman Jay’s Sunday set. Good luck in everything you do from now on, Pete!

Read Pete’s official statement here.

edit: In fact, I’ve just remembered that The Big Chill is also partly responsible for my career as a club and event promoter, as the first event I ever organised (alongside my Phantom Beats cohort Matt) was a Big Chill benefit night after we read about how they’d been the victims of horrific weather and a short-sighted local council. I seem to remember we raised a fairly paltry amount for them, and Pete slept in my bed. Not with me in it, obviously.

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