Review: Hop Farm Festival 2012

The Hop Farm Festival is an annual musical event held in The Hop Farm Country Park in Kent. Founded in 2008 by Vince Power, the festival has a back to basics policy, with no sponsoring, branding or VIP areas. It may be because of this stance that the festival has attracted some big names over its 5 year run, including Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Prince and Van Morrison. I went there for the first time this year and found it to be a very enjoyable experience. Here are my personal highlights.

Friday

Arriving there on the Friday afternoon, I missed Gomez who I would have quite liked to see and Billy Ocean who I was told was excellent.

The first act I got to see was Dr John. The Dr and his band played some low key, groovy funk numbers, but failed to ignite any excitement for me, even with the skull.

Next up was George Clinton and Funkadelic. These guys really brought the funk, and some funky funk it was. George Clinton, now sheared of his rainbow dreadlocks, was the blue suited ringmaster of his circus of psychedelic freaks and dancers. A brilliant sound and very entertaining to watch.

Ray Davies was up next, and although I was interested in hearing some of the old Kinks songs, I was surprised at how well he performed them. With an excellent backing band and very easy going, professional stage manner, Davies had the crowd in the palm of his hand with some of the most well known songs in Rock and Roll history. He sang and played them well, and made me wonder how many modern bands would still be wowing audiences with their songs in 50 years time.

Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra finished off Friday night with a very serious, melancholy display of orchestral grandeur and  moody lighting. Peter Gabriel is a master of his voice, hitting every note with strength and clarity, whilst the blood red lighting eclipses his orchestra and the young, demonic looking conductor, Ben Foster.

Saturday

After a night of realising how useful earplugs would have been, me and my gang eventually got ourselves up and headed to the main stage. We caught the end of Bellowhead, but the main act we were looking forward to was Sir Bruce Forsyth. The all round entertainer has been in everyone’s lives at some point, be they 16 or 70, he is truly a living legend. We weren’t sure of what to expect from him, but after a slightly shaky start, Sir Bruce really came through. He sang some big band numbers, dueted with his grand daughter, enlisted the help of some crowd members and put down a heckler with the line “Don’t start with me son”. He was brilliant.

After the wonder of Bruce, the rest of the lineup was a bit bland. Patti Smith saved the day with some ragged rock and roll, still showing the passion and fervor that she is famous for. I decided to check out Gary Numan to see what he’s up to these days. As expected, his music is now much heavier than his synth based electro pop of old, with thundering heavy metal guitars and headbanging now being his preferred style. A shame, as 80% of the crowd would have loved to see him perform his songs in the way we all recognise, but some artists end up hating their past, he may be one of them.

We watched a bit of Bob Dylan, but having seen him before I knew he voice was not up to much these days, so headed over to see the Scottish Bob instead.  Primal Scream played a blistering set of loud, electro rock and roll. They included the majority of their hits, and extended some of them into long, loose jams. They ended the set with Loaded, and walked off to the sound of an earsplitting electronic avalanche, before the technicians came out to turn off their feedbacking effects pedals and amps.

Sunday

We got up early to catch the Canadian country rockers The Sheepdogs on the main stage. These grizzly bearded men played Neil Young and Creedence Clearwater Revival style rock and roll, very enjoyable on a sunny morning, and they even threw in a Neil Young cover as their last song, Down By the River. Great vocals and some nice groove based tunes, a great festival band.

Admittedly the rest of the day was spent waiting for the two main acts to play. But before them we had The Levellers, who put on a good set of songs and included a demented didgeridoo player.

I was looking forward to Kool and the Gang, but was slightly disappointed to find that “The Gang” seemed now to consist of blokes in their late twenties, and the original Kool was relegated to playing guitar at the side. Bit of a letdown to be honest.

Now came the act I was most looking forward to. Richard Ashcroft swaggered onto stage wearing a leather jacket and sang the first line of The Verve’s song Sonnet. With that he launched into a blinding set, spanning all The Verve’s hits and a few of his own solo songs too. Joined by Pete Salisbury from The Verve, Ashcroft’s voice was as solid as ever, reaching the high notes with ease.

During the middle of the set he put his sunglasses on “In case you didn’t recognise me”. At one point he had a rant about the Tories and David Cameron,before launching into the final song, Bittersweet Symphoy, saying to the crowd “I didn’t steal this song” referring to the legal troubles the song has caused him. It was a triumphant ending to a blinding set, as Bittersweet Symphony sped up to double time and came to its crashing conclusion, Ashcroft put his leather coat back on and walked off stage.

It was then time for the festival’s headliners to take to the stage. Suede walked on to the droning rock chant of Introducing the Band, and blasted into a greatest hits set, sprinkled with album tracks from their first three albums. Brett Anderson’s voice has not suffered from all the indulgences he is said to have partaken in, and he is still the flamboyant showman he has always been. Hitting every note and reaching some that other singers would have avoided, he seemed completely at ease and very happy to be there.

They played two new songs from their upcoming album, which seemed to settle in nicely with the old classics. The band did seem slightly lumpy at times, one or two of the songs sounded a bit too slow to me, but all the crowds focus was on the frontman, dropping the rock star attitude at the end of the set with a beautiful version of Still Life, running along the front of the crowd and smiling.

Hop Farm Festival was brilliant, there was a great atmosphere, good sound quality from the bands and only a short distance to walk between everything. I will definitely be going again.

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