Review: Hop Farm Festival 2012Tweet
“Did you shave half your head to look like Hunter S. Thompson?” Hunter turned around, in full Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas regalia, said nothing, then offered everyone a cigarette. All the time he was swaying and staring wild eyed at nothing in particular. “Has he not broken character all weekend then?”, asked a man in a pink pig onesie, complete with hood. His companion, dressed as Dr. Gonzo, proudly proclaimed “nope”.
Hop Farm is the kind of festival where Raoul Duke can get down to George Clinton whilst middle aged Britons clap along politely, sipping Pimms from the comfort of their picnic blankets. It’s kind of like Electric Picnic with some good old British reserve thrown in. Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket, Kool and the Gang, Peter Gabriel and British Sea Power amongst the attractions. Lots of polite middle class British families having a nice weekend in the country, alongside an assortment of hippies and party people.
A genuinely family friendly affair, this 30,000 capacity festival feels a lot smaller and warmer than others half its size. It helps a lot that its incredibly well run and laid out. Seemingly simple decisions such as putting the campsite next to the car park and coach drop off mean happy campers instead of lost and irate punters dragging their booze and tents through mud for forty minutes.
Apart from George Clinton’s fantastic P-Funk spectacle, other Friday musical highlights included an unexpectedly tight performance by The Stranglers. They delivered classics such as Peaches, Golden Brown and No More Heroes to an enthusiastic Big Tent made up of die-hard fans and younger, curious converts who had happened to wander in. British Sea Power headlined the Bread and Roses Stage, which offered music by day and comedy by night. Famous for their wacky live performances, this time around the stage and equipment was covered with ivy branches and Hamilton was wearing a tartan bathrobe. They also inexplicably were joined on stage by a seven-foot tall bear for their last two songs.
They were playing at the same time as Peter Gabriel & The New Blood Orchestra were wrapping up their tour on the main stage, so did well to have a full tent of happy moshers, although it was clever to pit them against each other as both acts have a hardcore following that’s not likely to cross over too much. Peter Gabriel takes himself very seriously. His orchestra and stage show were impressive but if you weren’t already a huge fan who knows his material well, it may have been lost. I guess at that level of superstardom, you can play what you like. We’ll get to Dylan in a minute.
The weather for Saturday was glorious (more Pimms, please). Folk collective Bellowhead warmed the main stage crowd up nicely for an endearing performance from Sir Bruce Forsyth. A mixture of jokes, one liners, songs and banter with the audience, topped off with random dancing and a song with his granddaughter Sophie, everyone (apart from a few complainers who must not enjoy being entertained) left with huge smiles on their faces and ready to face day two of Hop Farm.
Up and coming Aussies The Jezabels belted through a note perfect rendition of Endless Summer as their opener. Unfortunately lost a good deal of their already sparse crowd during the first few songs due to the sound levels in the Big Tent being obnoxiously loud, with some people complaining of feeling sick due to the bass being so high. Damien Rice talked a lot less than usual and delivered a solid performance of well-known hits to a content and sunburnt main stage tribe. For a lot of the attendees, there was one reason for attending the festival, to see Bob Dylan. Amusingly, this group was split in two. Group A is those who have seen, who know what (not to) expect, but let him away with it because “It’s Dylan”. Group B is those who have not seen, have been told what (not to) expect, but as a young fan called Chloe told me, simply “want to see him before he dies”. Really.
He rasped through some new material, mangled a couple of classics and no one complained out loud; ‘cos “it’s Dylan”. Many did head over to the Big Tent to watch Primal Scream deliver one of the highlights of the weekend. Possibly invigorated after the constraints of a long Screamadelica tour last season, they tore through hit after hit. Watching Bobby holding the mic out to the crowd as they roared along to Come Together with a look of pure joy on his face, summed up what music festival sets are supposed to be about.
Anyone lucky enough to be camping next to the Pootopia eco-loos were woken at 9am by their in-house (in jacks?) radio station “Poo FM” starting the days entertainment by blasting out Easy Like Sunday Morning, before continuing with their daily offering of “Trivial Poo-suit” quizzes and weather appropriate music. Saskatchewan blues rockers The Sheepdogs celebrated Canada Day by opening a not-quite-as-sunny-as-yesterday final day of main stage proceedings with a solid set. If you like The Black Keys, check these guys out.
Athlete are not only still a band, but have a core following of British people who know all the words to their songs. The Levellers, who released their 10th album last week, were fantastic. They have so much energy on stage and unlike Peter Gabriel on Friday night, you don’t have to know their material to enjoy it. Kool and the Gang were the surprise smash success of the weekend. Strutting on stage in what can only be described as pimp suits to deliver all the hits, everyone loosened up and let the hair down. Richard Ashcroft dropped the attitude to deliver a mix of hits from The Verve and solo goodness to a crowd still buzzing from Kool and the Gang who were more than happy to sing along. Starting with Sonnet and finishing with Bittersweet Symphony, even though he still doesn’t seem to ever open his eyes on stage (does Richard Ashcroft have eyes?) his voice sounded as great as ever.
As bearded Kentucky heroes My Morning Jacket opened with a stunning rendition of Circuital , people flocked to the tent to join the already frantic crowd in the big tent to see what was going on. As individual musicians, MMJ are all disgustingly talented, but as a band they are mesmerising. Grown men shed tears when Jim James performed Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt.2. His voice shines even more in person than on their records. “My Morning Who? I’m here to see Suede!” said one woman who could not be convinced to come have her mind blown in the Big Tent. Hop Farm has been accused of being safe or even a little self-indulgent with its line up, but they know their demographic well and seem to carefully hand-pick acts that will impress all sides of it. They also take great care to treat them like honored guests for the weekend and it makes a huge difference to the atmosphere.
Treat a festival goer like a bothersome sheep, that sheep will poo on your lawn then kick your fence down. Give them good music, food, courtesy and Poo FM to wake up to instead, they will be loyal to your festival year after year.
Hop Farm Festival 2012 Photo Gallery
All Photos by Claire Beck