HE has been staging Oxfordshire’s biggest and best-loved, open-house party for nine years, but Alex James refuses to rest on his laurels.

The bassist with indie-rockers Blur is busy preparing his west Oxfordshire farm for his annual Big Feastival – and he can’t resist making it even more fun.

“It comes round quickly!” he laughs, as he inspects work on his Cotswold mixed arable and dairy farm in the village of Kingham, near Chipping Norton.

“It doesn’t seem to get any easier either, but that’s because it’s bigger, more sophisticated and has more moving parts,” he grins.

“The first year I did this I had everything written on a piece of paper but now it’s more like a telephone directory. But you’ve got to look for new things no one else is doing. I’ve been talking to cocktail mixologists today and tomorrow it’ll be the Royal Ballet.

"It’s all about filling the farm with everything I love – with great fun, great music and great people.”

Even with a track record such as his, the line-up is impressive, a reflection, perhaps, of his bulging contacts book, number of A-list friends and favours owed.

Singer Jess Glynn, drum & bass act Rudimental and indie-rockers Elbow will be headlining next weekend’s event. They will be joined by chart star Lewis Capaldi, hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, Sleeper, The Zutons, Nina Nesbitt, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Jade Bird, Craig Charles, Barns Courtney, DJ Luck & Mc Neat, The Cuban Brothers, Ailie Hughes, Four of Diamonds, Dodgy and Duke.

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Alongside the musical talent is a Who’s Who of culinary stars with demonstrations by top chefs, with guests including Oxfordshire’s own Raymond Blanc, Prue Leith, Gennaro Contaldo, Andi Oliver, James Lowe, Tom Brown, Daniel Clifford and Martin Morales.

Considering his farm is about to be invaded by 25,000 festival-goers, Alex seems relaxed and more than a little excited.

The rock star and cheese maker talks with passion about his plans for the festival – which has grown from little more than a village fete to one of the highlights of the summer, attracting fans from around the country.

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As usual, Alex’s base at the festival will be his cheese hub – a double-story structure celebrating his twin passions: cheese and music, and which also boasts the event’s best cocktail bar and club venue. He says work on the wooden structure is well underway.

“One of the new things I wanted to try this year was bringing in brilliant food to the Cheese Hub,” he says. Among the innovations he has developed, alongside Michelin-starred chef Pascal Aussignac of London’s Club Gascon, is a treat he calls the Apple Boom Boom: baked blue cheese-stuffed apples steeped in apple spirit.

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His other big passion is making sure there is plenty to keep younger Feastival-goers happy, after all, his own children Galileo, Geronimo, Artemis, Beatrix and Sable, have grown up with the event. Geronimo has become a star DJ in his own right, keeping dancers moving into the night with a canny mix of disco classics, arms-in-the-air club anthems and suitably ‘cheesy’ pop.

“It’s important to keep the kids happy,” he smiles. “It’s often the simple things – like our hay bales and tree climbing – which keep them happy.”

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They will also be treated to their own line-up, including TV favourites Dick and Dom and Justin Fletcher alongside Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol’s Chase and Marshall.

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“You need the big bands and names to tempt people to come along,” he goes on.

“But if you’re doing it right, the reasons you go aren’t the things that give people the most fun. “It’s about building another world where magic happens – but one lasting for three days.”

He goes on: “Blur never filled my life in this way, and I don’t think I’ve had so much fun before either – apart from that time we played Buenos Aires, maybe!

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“After all that I wondered what I was going to do... but this turns out to be more fun!

“You can’t beat that sense of achievement with everyone jumping up and down.”

Asked who is he most looking forward to seeing, the ever charming Alex remains diplomatic, but does reveal a few personal highlights. “Pru Leith and Mark Hix are good value and Fun Lovin’ Criminals and The Cuban Brothers will be good,” he says. “And Jack Savoretti, who is a local lad.

“It’s just like a party – with great food, music and a place to keep the kids happy. We’ll have more Michelin stars than London, plus everything from Elbow to Peppa Pig.

“When it’s all over I just need to lie down and be quiet!”

  • The Big Feastival takes place at Alex James’s farm in Kingham, near Chipping Norton, from August 23-25.
  • For tickets see thebigfeastival.com
  • Ticket competition has now closed

It’s the Fun Lovin’ Criminals

GET Outta here! New York’s finest are back on the block – and heading to the Cotswolds.

The sharp-suited The Fun Lovin’ Criminals, whose soul and funk-infused street-smart rock provided a Manhattan-flavoured soundtrack for the mid-90s, are fighting fit and rocking up at Alex James’s farm in Kingham for next weekend’s Big Feastival.

They bring with them such classic Big Apple anthems as Scooby Snacks and Fun Lovin’ Criminal – which still sound fresh now, a decade and a half since we first heard them.

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It is, frontman Huey Morgan insists, a New York thing. “They still sound ‘in the moment’,” he says.

“It’s that mix of blues, jazz, funk, soul and hip-hop. The mindset of a New Yorker is to go to new places and explore something different – artistically and musically.

“And because we’ve been trying different styles, our music has elements other bands don’t have. It’s nurture not nature; as New Yorkers we were nurtured to have an eclectic source of music to draw from.

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“We don’t live in an ivory tower; we are blue-collar dudes, making music for the people.”

And, still, no one else sounds anything like them. “We were once described as the Tom Waits of rock, which is cool,” he says. “We have to focus on our strengths – and that’s playing music for people.

“There’s this thing called ‘noetics’,” he elaborates. “It says if everybody thinks the same good thoughts, good things will happen.

“Likewise negative thoughts – it’s not rocket science. And we all want the same thing, to be a Fun Lovin’ Criminal!”

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