“You can’t really be in an indie band anymore, the big ones are getting bigger and the small ones are disappearing all together,” explains Blur bassist Alex James, ahead of his food and music event The Big Feastival (Aug 31-Sept 1). “The spirit of independence lives on in independent food products. If you can make a niche product like tomato jam, then it’s unusual and works as a market.” A lot has changed.
Alex James has swapped his debauched touring with Blur in the '90s for the flavoured cheese industry. He currently lives on a quaint 200-acre farm in the Costwolds, Oxfordshire, where he makes recipes for artisan cheeses such as Good Queen Maude, Blue Monday and Little Wallop. He’s holding The Big Feastival there this summer, with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
Not only are the public invited to this weekend of music and food, but so are chefs like Rachel Khoo (The Little Paris Kitchen), Tom Kitchin (Masterchef) and the Michelin-starred Simon Hulstone (featured on Saturday Kitchen), all of whom will be doing free demos. In addition, there will be cooking schools, a food market and pop acts Rizzle Kicks, Mark Owen, KT Tunstel and Basement Jaxx on the bill.
The Big Feastival couldn’t be further from Blur playing the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury to a 100,000 crowd of pogoing lunatics, hanging off Daman Albarn’s every word. Instead, this village fate-type foodie festival attracts “nice, happy, gentle people,” says James. “We didn’t have to throw anybody out last year.”
We ask James if chefs are the rock 'n' roll stars of today, “Well, yeah. Chefs are the only people that can tell everyone to shove off,” he says. He hints at the fact he’ll join Jamie Oliver (who plays drums) again for a live session on stage. “[In 2012] Our band joined forces with some of Trevor Horn’s band The Producers and we played [Frankie Goes to Hollywood's] ‘Relax’ with them. I don’t want to overpromise, but I’m sure something like that will happen again.”
James says The Big Feastival currently has all his attention, but since Blur played in Hyde Park during London 2012, the full band has started touring again. Blur will play Open’er Festival, Rock Werchter, Sziget and Berlin Festival this summer, and there could be a slither of hope for a new album. “We did a bit of recording in Hong Kong and it was brilliant,” says James, “but I don’t know what it is yet. The festival has been the main focus for me.”
The rest of Blur could also make an appearance at The Big Feastival this year. “Graham came [to The Big Feastival] last year. They‘re all invited,” says James.
Alex James will be releasing a new blue artisan cheese at The Big Feastival, plus a Blue Monday Martini.
Expect “happy, smiling people surrounded by good food and Rizzle Kicks going crackers,” says James.
Jamie Oliver and Alex James present The Big Feastival, a feel good festival of food and music for all the family on August 31 – September 1. For more info and tickets, click here.
Visit the Costwolds with Radio Times Travel, see here for more info