Hop Farm Festival 2012 Review

Hop Farm Festival is something else, something different, something fresh. A festival that puts the fans first, not the brands. It takes place in the sunny Kent village of Paddock Wood as a small army of cultured music fans gather together for a great eclectic lineup, a nice relaxed vibe and some memorable performances from music legends.

Friday saw the sun shining and fun party atmosphere set by George Clinton and the Parliament/Funkadelic. Clinton filled the stage with about 15 different performers including a sexy roller-skating nurse.’Give Up The Funk’ was an early contender for the best song of festival. Ray Davies kept the good mood going with Kinks classics like ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘Days’. There was a real sense that Ray was enjoying himself and the audience gave the love back.

Peter Gabriel headlined on Friday night backed by the talented New Blood Orchestra, as might be expected from the former Genesis front man who has consistently pushed the boundaries of Pop music, his set was very serious, deep and challenging. People wanting to dance, with the exception of Solsbury Hill, might have been disappointed as well as casual fans wanting to hear hits like ‘Sledgehammer’. Gabriel’s cover of Arcade Fire’s ‘My Body Is A Cage’ was spine chilling and he finished the set with an emotional version of ‘Don’t Give Up’.

The great weather continued through to Saturday, which was by far the busiest day of the festival, and with big names like Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Gary Numan and, well, Bruce Forsyth it’s easy to see why.

It was the first ever festival appearance from the Strictly Come Dancing presenter, and I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect from Brucie, not even the man himself. He brought a great sense of fun to the festival. The entertainment was light, the jokes were awful and the crowd loved it. Members of the audience holding up huge playing cards, wearing Bruce Forsyth maks, and Bruce even tap danced sitting down. The highlight of this, as Bruce called it, “madhouse,” was however his “Big Production Number,” where four lucky festival goers, including one dressed as a penguin got given top hats, and walking sticks and danced quite badly and out of time to each other behind an 84 year old man. It was magnificent.

Patti Smith’s punk poetry translated nicely to the festival stage, hits like ‘Because The Night’ and ‘Gloria’ closed a very successful set, having played an acoustic set last year it was nice to see her backed by a full band. Slightly overlapping with Patti Smith was Gary Numan, who’s heavy industrial set would have entertained fans, but those who only know him for ‘Cars’ and being sampled by the Sugarbabes might have been confused. Luckily for the younger festival goers Maximo Park provided an injection of bouncy indie pop.

The headliners on Saturday clashed with Bob Dylan on the Main Stage and Primal Scream in the Big Tent. Dylan attracted a large crowd and as a huge fan I was expecting an incredible set. Unfortunately Bob’s voice is not what it used to be, and all the bite, snarl and character had been lost. Dylan was static on stage, and it wasn’t long before people started to look elsewhere. After Bob had croaked his way through a personal favourite of mine ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ I decided it was time to see Bobby Gillespie and co.

My previous experiences of Primal Scream live have, admittedly, all been through the television and always seemed a little ropey, but they genuinely surprised me. They had the tent absolutely bouncing and their performance was simply electric. Classics like ‘Loaded’ and ‘Movin’ On Up’ loosened the crowd for a final push a of great songs, including ‘Come Together’ where the audience performed the chorus acapella at least 7 times before Bobby Gillespie dropped the beat for the final time round. Following this was ‘Country Girl’ and finally a triumphant version of ‘Rocks’. I hadn’t given up on Dylan completely however, and managed a couple of runs between the tents managing to catch Bob playing ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘All Along The Watchtower’. The, by this point, much depleted crowd was doing their best to interject some life with these anthems, but it was all coming from the memory of how the songs should have been played, not how they were being.

Sunday did not start well with Athlete bringing their dull, middle of the road indie to the festival. The band were by a long, long way the worst performance I saw at the whole festival. Perhaps the timing of early on Sunday (hungover) and the weather (wet) didn’t help them. Their set was as weak as the lager on sale, and their sub par Coldplay impression just completely failed to connect. Even triumphant set closer and number four hit in 2004 ‘Wires’ was lacklustre and didn’t wake anyone up from their morning slump. What they desperately needed was some kind of flashing wristbands gimmick to hide their boring performance.

Making up for this however was Sunday’s highlight King Charles who was an unknown to me before the festival, but I went on the recommendation of several strangers around the arena, and he did not disappoint. Playing a Prince style brand funk pop, he lit up the stage for the whole of his set, which culminated in his cover of ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ with updated lyrics for the 21st Century. It is possible however, that I only enjoyed King Charles so much because he wasn’t Athlete.

Gruff Rhys’ successful blend of experimental psychedelia and power pop is a niche market, but he drew a large crowd for the third stage and did not disappoint. As is always a risk with power pop, some songs came off as slightly twee, but Rhys’ “on a different planet” stage manner made up for this. Another stand out moment was Richard Ashcroft, who dutifully went through his hits from the 90s. It was slightly odd hearing his “demonisation of the working class.” rant at the start of ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, which was met with great applause from the very middle class audience who would be commuting back to London after Suede had finished.

Suede have been festival regulars since reforming in 2009 and did exactly what was expected of them in their closing set. The band attracted a decent sized crowd and Brett Anderson gave every ounce of effort possible to entertain. ‘Animal Nitrate’ got the crowd moving early on and they kept going right through to ‘Beautiful Ones’ just before the encore of classics like ‘Saturday Night’ and ‘Still Life’. It was a strong finish to a successful festival, which provided a great mix of music for the fans and a decent alternative to the more commercial events.