Staggering off to Hop Farm in a post-Glastonbury haze my expectations were very, very low. I was not looking forward to covering another festival and to top it all off I had the 'Glastonbury flu' to boot, all in all a very inauspicious start to any festival.
Hop Farm is branded as completely non-commercial and free of sponsorship, this year Hop Farm reached its fourth birthday and had been extended to three days due to the fact that festival organiser Vince Power had bagged himself an exclusive UK festival performance from non other than Prince himself.
Blah, blah - yeah, yeah I thought to myself as we approached the venue, I really was the grumpy old woman and nothing, but nothing was going to lift my spirits this weekend - or so I thought.
For once in a true festival shocker the weather was glorious, perfect temperature, green grass underfoot - no slithering around at this event, it was really easy to get about and see everything - promising! Getting into the festival arena I could hear Death Cab for Cutie on the main stage - I really had wanted to see them and 10CC who had been on earlier - damn the M25 car park!
Once organised and orientated I wandered off to catch Brandon Flowers, he of the Killers fame. I confess to not having very high expectations. The first number was a tad country for me so my initial thought was "aye, aye - here we go this is Flowers' new direction then hmmm" - nope - there followed a stupendously good set full of hard hitting numbers, he even brought Mike Stoermer from the Killers on stage having "found him hanging around backstage" to perform 'Read my Mind.' All in all we got a great smattering of Killers tracks and it was obvious that Flowers could quite easily have sustained a headline slot.
Bryan Ferry delivered a slick hit-laden set that brought us all the required classics "Jealous Guy", "Slave to Love", "Avalon", "Let's Stick Together" and a brilliant version of Lennon's "Jealous Guy" - another set that could easily have occupied the headline slot with ease, Bryan Ferry can still belt it out and still has that indefinable suave, sophisticated demeanor - a definition that has always fitted.
The Big Tent was also going a bit retro with Ocean Colour Scene's mod inspired tracks paving the way for The Human League who brought a heavy portion of the 80s with their classic back catalogue. It was a great set that got the crowd moving from the off and included all we wanted to hear from them - "Don’t You Want Me", "Mirror Man", "Fascination", "Human" and "Together In Electric Dreams" were played to a rapturous reception.
Opting for the Human League meant that I missed the opportunity to watch all of the Eagles' set as I'd intended, having planned to watch at least the second half of their set. I was mortified to learn that they had opened with 'Hotel California' - I mean what sort of band opens with the closing hit? The arena was packed with Eagles fans who seemed happy enough with the chosen headliner and they certainly drew in the crowds, but even so I couldn't help thinking that Bryan Ferry would have been the more appropriate choice to end the evening.
The Eagles set ended just in time for the whole arena to leg it over to Bread and Roses to catch Stornoway. Slowly rising on the radar Stornoway have garnered a strong following by playing gorgeous Nu-folk sets.
Saturday for us began with The Bluetones over in the Big Tent. They told us that they plan to retire following this round of performances so I guess this turned out to be one of the last few opportunities to see them live. However, we've been hearing that for some time, so we'll see.
We caught some action from Damien Dempsey, Viva Brother and a phenomenal set from Dry the River. Dry the River is another buzz band, and having watched them I can see why, playing with real gusto and skillfully building up tracks to crescendos.
Newton Faulkner woke up the main stage with quite a loud act for a lone performer. He tends to split opinion, but for me it is guaranteed to be a brilliant performance, and Newton has a knack of connecting with the crowd with his own songs and his festival favourite, a phenominal rendition of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" finished the set.
Frankie and the Heartstrings are a fascinating and quite mesmerising act to watch as frontman Frankie Francis gyrates around the stage commanding attention effortlessly. The Sunderland lads are cheeky chappies; charming, engaging and they were belting out some impressive pop.
We were treated to some memorable performances from post punksters Magazine who gave us an amazing set that included "Shot By Both Sides" but for energy you'd be hard pushed to beat Tim Booth, who's ability to gyrate his way around the stage and into the audience never diminishes along with his boundless energy the voice remains firmly intact. Graham Coxon, Gang of Four, Noisettes and Manu Chao La Ventura completed an impressive line up over on the Big Top and we were lucky enough to catch bits of those eclectic artists whose performances all brought differing, yet delightful moments to Hop Farm.
The rapidly returning Guillemots showed why they are just as compulsive as ever and were followed by cigarette toting Carl Barat who ended the sessions over at Bread and Roses with a mix of his own songs and from the Libertines.
Today the festival belonged to the legendary line up on the main stage, kicking off with the one and only Patti Smith. This woman, now in her 60s, showed the young pretenders just how it's done, and anyone who has listened to acts like PJ Harvey will see her influence in their music. Many have tried to emulate this visionary performer, none have truly succeeded. This is one of nature’s true pioneers, as poignant and relevant now as she ever was. "People have the Power" is her mantra - and the first lady of punk believes it with a passion. With non other than the hugely talented Patrick Wolf joining the band on violin and harp this was a particularly impressive performance from one of those rare artists whose talent in so many different spheres leaves you breathless. A truly inspired and inspirational performance that left Hop Farm reeling in her wake; passionate doesn't quite explain what happened on that stage but it will be talked about for a long time to come.
Next up was the curmudgeonly Lou Reed, who arrived with no fanfare and was clearly aggravated by what seemed to be down to the sound that was not to his liking and he sure let his crew know. We thought he might actually deck one of them at one stage, it was actually hysterically funny to realise that this was Lou Reed being as difficult, avante-guard and sometimes inaccessible as he ever was. It was also quite telling to watch an interview conducted with the great man when he was young and to understand that he was always curmudgeonly and difficult. It's always a treat to be in the presence of genius but it's often so very disappointing, the hilarity caused by the on-stage antics was measured only by the disappointment of not getting the big numbers we wanted. With the back catalogue that Lou Reed has at his disposal the big hits we wanted and never got would have tempered a typically difficult performance - there's no doubting the man but pleeeeease add some of those numbers in future, sir. Don't do a "Dylan".
Iggy bounded on stage full of his usual energy and generating a huge buzz with his Stooges. It was a typically energetic performance but I will not forgive him for not adding 'Passenger' to the repertoire, even if it wasn't a Stooges track. Once you've seen him a few times you realise that the performance is contrived and follows a set course, which means that in terms of having that edge that so defined him, the one where you never quite knew what to expect, you can now set your watch by the move that will follow and the inevitable 'stage dancing' or 'invasion'. A seasoned performer but one who has become a bit predictable with his execution, there's still a hint of the old Iggy and a promise that you can never be quite sure that he won't slip back into the anarchic demon he once was. And that slender hope will always keep me going back for more. This is, after all, real music and that's something to be valued.
Landing on stage fashionably late and proclaiming "How do you follow Iggy and The Stooges?" was one icon that I hadn't realised had reached quite such impressive heights: Morrissey. I'd looked forward to the performance but hadn't been prepared for the fact that this would turn out to be a totally sublime set. It was just Morrissey wasn't it? Well no actually, this was Morrissey taking it to a whole new level. Declaring Hop Farm to be the "Most civilised festival of all" he was off. It has to be said that his back catalogue is stunning, "First Of The Gang To Die", "Panic", "Everyday Is Like Sunday", the most powerful rendition of "Meat is Murder" I'm ever likely to hear and the newer "Action Is My Middle Name". So many more big hitting numbers were belted out including a homage to Lou Reed with "Satellite of Love'. This was Morrissey at the pinnacle of his game, self-assured, comfortable, at ease and producing one of the most memorable performance we are likely to see this year, spine tingling and painful - it was that good and defines Morrissey as one of our most precious musical heroes.
Sunday produces another fine day for Hop Farm and the buzz is all about Prince - will we or won't we get the performance we hope for? Briefly, we did, and it will be one that will be talked about for some time.
With people already getting their places at the front of the barrier for Prince's set proceedings got under way on the main stage with Aloe Blacc's funky soul music that set the tone for a rather laid back few hours, even managing to squeeze a few bars out of the crowd.
Parade started their set with great gusto, but their cries of "make some noise Hop Farm" fell on deaf ears when they realised, giggling, that there was no crowd beyond a few recovering people and a gaggle of photographers. Fortunately when people recognised who they were they were rewarded with much greater numbers. Labrinth, on the other hand, really drew them in. The guy just gets better and better every time we see him, and it's great that he's doing the festival circuit now as this producer and performer has it in bucket loads. Vibrant, exciting and very cool - Labrinth is becoming unmissable.
Eliza Doolittle is a perfect choice for the main stage early afternoon slot; gentle, laid back, fun and joyous. It won't set the world alight but it's just plain nice. Imelda May's classy and brassy act was worlds away from Eliza's bubblegum set and won everybody over as she always does with an impressive rockabilly set. Looking like a wasp with her black and yellow frock Imelda proceeded to show just what a class act she is - and of course we got the cover of "Tainted Love" that she does so well.
The Go! Team sextet bring a huge amount of energy, joy and fun to the Big Tent with a typically stunning performance that allows front woman Ninja to display her athletic prowess and six pack while also stunning us with her vocals. The Pierces are gentle, dreamy and quite laid back whilst simultaneously breathing life into some pretty impressive songs, no wonder this duo are getting so much attention, even if you don't take their looks into consideration you must prepare yourself to hear a lot more from The Pierces.
I have to admit that I was not prepared for Larry Graham as in keeping with a number of others I am ashamed to say that I hadn't clicked just who he was: Larry Graham from funksters Sly and the Family Stone and Grand Central Station. We were kept waiting and I admit to thinking it would be a boring set and not my cup of tea at all - wrong, so very wrong. They came marching into the pit and the funkiest sounds started to emerge, I found myself unable to stand still - funky as f**k - genius. I now call him the wonderful Larry Graham!
Tinie Tempah is another high-octane, exciting, exuberant act that never fails to deliver. The crowds flocked to the main stage (okay - so many were there in preparation for the purple one but still) this man has absolutely no trouble in making an instant connection with the crowd and today was no exception as Tempah interacted with aplomb. We all had to make the W sign for 'Wonderman' of course. 'Written in the Stars' was cut short much to my chagrin, we had an 'audience' chorus instead - NO Tinie, stop it! "That guy over there has got the T-shirt" he proclaimed pointing to a young kid with green writing on a bare chest. Everyone, but everyone got into the spirit of this performance, plenty of bouncing, hands in the air and participation, family friendly toned down swearing and everyone was happy. Of course it was "Pass Out" that everyone was waiting for - oh Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu you are indeed a star.
And so we waited and waited for the right royal purple one to make his appearance and he blew us all away …
Overall this was an old school style festival, Vince Power has, without doubt, pulled off THE festival of the summer with Hop Farm version 4.0. Gentle, laid back, refreshing and with a unique and envious line-up Hop Farm has just about everything going for it, there will be many great festivals this summer but if any one of them generates the magic that was to be found at Paddock Farm this weekend I will be stunned.
For the past four years this event has been something of a well-kept secret, there can be no escaping the fact that after this years coup the genie is well and truly out of the bottle and future demand will be high. We hope that in an over crowded festival market place Vince and the team are able to keep Hop Farm true to its roots - this is, without doubt, a true and extraordinary festival experience with added integrity.
There is only one complaint about the whole event, the traffic. For some obscure reason the most impressive mis-management of the car park resulted in chaos, anarchy and frustration on each and every night. Please don't use this company again. That's the only grumble from the whole festival and whilst it was unacceptable on every level I don't want it to be a focus for this exceptional event.
Prince's performance at this event was sublime (read the Prince review here) to say it was awesome is the understatement of the year, this was the festival coup to top them all and every other festival organiser out there must have been spitting when this was announced. But the event was about far more than one mega-stars astonishing performance, this was a festival awash with legendary stand out performances from Morrissey, Patti Smith, Eagles, Bryan Ferry, Lou Reed and many more providing the Hop Farm faithful with far more than any had bargained for in a truly breathtaking example of how 'back to basics' can, if executed properly, bring something quite unique and joyous to a cynical, over commercialised industry.
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