REVIEW: HOP FARM FESTIVAL 2012
Run by Mean Fiddler mastermind Vince Power, Hop Farm is a textbook festival. Everything about it is right. From the site’s location (less than an hour from central London), the ease of getting there (free parking, regular shuttle buses to the nearby train station etc) and site layout (just a short walk between stages and between car parks and campsite and campsite and arena) to the line-up (massive musical legends, old timers and hot new bands), extra entertainment (comedy, indie disco and fairground rides) to food and drink (Pieminister, veggie options and ale bar). This is how you do a festival.
Friday night’s headliner was WOMAD founder and Wiltshire resident Peter Gabriel. He played a set of spun out, dramatic original songs and well-picked covers (including Arcade Fire’s ‘My Body Is A Cage’ and David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’) with his Blood Orchestra, which was magnetizing to watch, especially the tall and commanding conductor. The bizarre frog spawn imagery less so. This rare festival performance was slightly cringey in places for those under the age of 30, but not as much as his predecessor – Ray Davies, from The Kinks, who falls into the Brian Wilson school of old timers – ones who should’ve given up years ago, instead of riding the wave of nostalgia. Thankfully, British Sea Power came to the rescue for the young ones, with a set of rousing indie in the neighbouring tent. Donned in their signature leaves and branches they played a storming set of anthems, including ‘No Lucifer’.
Those who managed to get up before lunchtime on Saturday morning were rewarded with a beautiful set from London’s Treetop Flyers. The UK’s answer to Fleet Foxes played a tiny tent at Hop Farm last year, and went down so well they were upgraded to the main stage this year. The vocals of singer Reid Morrison have echoes of the great Neil Young, so much so that some campsite dwellers headed over to see if it’s the big man himself; but it’s Sam Beer’s guitar playing which seals the deal here. Just brilliant. Ramping it up as the sun came out is Bellowhead. Embracing that traditional English folk sound, a la Eliza Carthy, they get the crowd going with uplifting, merry folk and a brief lesson in how to do a bit of a jig. Their set is perfect for the afternoon crowd and quite rightly goes down a storm. A hard act to follow, but if anyone can do it, Sir Bruce Forsyth can…
His first ever festival appearance starts of a little shaky for Brucey. As the octogenarian enters the stage to chants of ‘Brucey, Brucey’, he bumbles his way through some shit jokes – clearly overwhelmed by the situation. But then things start to pick up, he throws in some show tunes, sat down tap dancing, some risque impressions – including a hilarious drunken spoof of Dean Martin – a bit of nepotism by bringing his grandaughter out to showcase her Mariah Carey/Shakira combo singing style and a bit of audience participation (getting some unsuspecting guys and one penguin to head up on stage and dance with a top hat and stick). It’s truly inspired and, against all odds, works very well indeed. Brucey bonus.
The legendary Patti Smith stole Saturday with her effortlessly cool (apart from the bit where she spat in her own hair) set of New York flavoured punk rock. Here we have a true icon, dressed in boots, baggy pants a jacket and hat she sauntered on with her massive grin and unkempt locks and launched into a compelling set of beautifully crafted songs – including ‘Dancing Barefoot’, ‘Easy Money’ and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Because The Night’ (which she pulls off way better than The Boss). But it’s the final track ‘Gloria’ which demands the biggest reaction – a field full of waving hands and swaying hips join in with her perfect performance of one of her biggest songs. What. A. Woman.
Away from the main stage, Gary Numan rocked out in the Big Top – showcasing his timeless, thrashing, synth sounds to a thoroughly up-for-it crowd. A dark and deep set of his timeless metal-tinged rock, including songs such as ‘Are Friends Electric’, prove why Numan is still important today. The mop-haired Ben Kweller (formerly of Radish) played to a small but appreciative crowd on the Bread and Roses stage, darting between keys and guitar he played a solid set of catchy indie – in a similar vein to Jesse Malin. The highlight came in the form of the singalong number ‘Fight’. But alas, we could not stay for the whole set, as Irish acoustic darling Damien Rice was playing his tear-jerking songs over on the main stage – from ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Blower’s Daughter’ to ‘9 Crimes’, the set proved a beautiful, if not somewhat sedentry part of the day.
Saturday night headliner Bob Dylan is undoubtedly the main reason most people are at this festival (judging by the sheer number of day wristband wearers), but the singer/songwriter giant sure aint what he used to be. Having seen his forgettable performance at Feis in Finsbury Park last year, I was tempted to forsake this for Primal Scream in the Big Top, but I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. And, um, well, it was the same deal. His forced, croaky, not quite Tom Waitsy voice stumbled through a set of almost indecipherable songs and it was only cos of the crowds singing that some numbers, such as ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ and ‘All Along The Watchtower’ were obvious. But, he is what he is and you can’t deny he deserves his place as a proper musical legend. Fortunately, I made it over to the tent to catch Primal Scream’s epic rendition of their biggest hit ‘Rocks’. Banging.
Sunday saw the likes of US crooner Robert Francis, radio-friendly Athlete, the Bowie-esque Psychedelic Furs and Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys all nailing their sets. But the standout acts were King Charles, who’s Patrick Wolf-esque drama combined with a larger Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros type sound made for a truly excellent stage show. Special mention must go to his female singer/percussionist who was spellbinding to watch, the charisma between the pair obvious for all to see; and Levellers, whose sincere, political modern day folk got the crowd going in a similar way that Bellowhead did – ‘One Way’, ‘Cholera Well’ and ‘Carry Me’ proving particular highlights of an energetic set; to Kool and the Gang (yes, them!) who got everyone into the groove with their renditions of songs such as ‘Celebrate’ and ‘Ladies’ Night’ hit the spot right on. Then there was Richard Ashcroft, who treated us to a Verve heavy set of songs such as ‘Lucky Man’, ‘Drugs Don’t Work’ and the epic anthem ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ – where thousands of voices chanted back: “try to make ends meet, try to find some money then you die”. Was one of those unforgettable festival moments which leaves you buzzing for hours.
Wrapping up an excellent weekend was Britpop big guns Suede, in what they say is their last UK gig for a while. Which is a massive shame, not only cos their impeccable execution of the old favourites, including ‘Trash’, ‘Animal Nitrate’ and ‘The Wild Ones’ was so awesome, but also because they showcased a new song, ‘For The Strangers’, which wasn’t half bad. The way frontman Brett Anderson commands the stage, shaking his hips to the hits (sic), flanked by the jaw-dropping guitar playing from Westcountry lad Richard Oakes is as fresh and appealing as it was when they nailed their place in music history with album after album of ace music in the late 90s. The piece de resistance, however, was the ending – a grandiose rendition of the heartbreaking ‘Still Life’, a rare and welcome addition to the Suede setlist.
We wandered off, with ‘Still Life’ ringing in our ears and drove straight out of the site with that warm fuzzy feeling of having been to one of the best festivals in the UK and witnessed some of the best acts in the world. Power to the people indeed.
Words and photo: Laura Willliams
by 247 Magazine