The Hop Farm Music Festival is a comparatively new comer on the festival scene. Now in its 5th year, it is already on its way to establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with. This is a well organized, family friendly event with a selection of high end artists. It has an ethical post-woodstock vibe to it, no branding no sponsorship and plenty of vegan food! Perhaps this is one of the reasons it is able to attract the world conscious musician such as Bob Dylan, Damian Rice and Patti Smith.
Fridays line up for the festival was a great way to fire up the audience for the next few days. There were some great sets from James Levy and The Blood Red Rose and Dog is Dead in their pre Reading festival gig. Also from the post-punk band The Futureheads. Dr John helped the crowd ease into the afternoon festival feel with his New Orleans brand of blues. Nitin Sawhney also offered the audience a taste of his east/west fusion to end the evening. In anticipation of her new album singer songwriter Lianne La Havas wowed the Big Tent with her set. Her voice is pure and melodic and sings with heartfelt
emotion. She is definitely an act to watch over the next year.
Billy Ocean gave an amazingly energetic performance of his hits and even brought some sunshine along to his set. Red Light Spells Danger and When The Going Gets Tough were particularly popular with the crowd. He was accompanied by a fantastic band and accomplished backing singers.
Ray Davies who has a reputation for giving great performances made his Hop Farm appearance no exception. The audience flocked to see his set and were all singing and rocking along. It was really nice to see his music touching people of all ages. His set included classics such as Waterloo Sunset, Lola and Come Dancing. The sun even raised his head for a moment during a sing along of Sunny Afternoon. He really engaged with the audience and his set was one it was a really great moments of the weekend.
Headlining on Friday was Peter Gabriel and The New Blood Orchestra. Gabriels three year project, which is now drawing to a close, is a rearranging of his earlier works which he has been building on since his 2010 album Scratch My Back saw the reworking of other artists songs. There were murmurs among the crowd that Ray Davies should have headlined and whilst I am inclined to agree somewhat with them, Gabriel and his orchestra did put on a great show. His set started with a wonderfully orchestrated and rousing version of David Bowies Heroes. The lighting and video effects were simply stunning in the open air and made for a great visual spectacle. Although some of the audience may have been unfamiliar with these new orchestrations, by the end of the evening with performances of universally known tracks Solsbury hill and Don't Give Up the audience were inspired.
Saturday afternoon on the main stage was a brave choice for a festival but veteran performer and national treasure Sir Bruce Forsyth (making his first festival and outdoor appearance) had the audience firmly on his side and showed his prowess as a natural and gifted performer. One of the touching moments of the festival was a wonderful duet of Charlie Chaplin's Smile between him and his granddaughter, Sophie.
Randy Crawford and The Joe Sample Trio gave a astonishing set and have been playing together for over 30 years. The ease at which Randy sings is magical and her voice is still young. She's a generous performer in more ways than one, she threw one of her favourite scarf’s into the crowd and even added an extra song to her set list (a sublime rendition of Almaz) because a member of the audience requested it. She stated that her songs are 'old music that stays new', and how true that is! Her classic songs Rainy night in Georgia and One Day I'll Fly Away were just a fresh and new as they ever were.
Gary Numan had the Big Tent rocking and chanting his name. The electronic feel of his music had become much more heavy and
metal influenced over the years giving him longevity. A high spot was when he grabbed his guitar and gave a tempestuous version
of the titular track from the 2000 album Pure. Of course he also played his more established songs from his Tubeway Army
Primal Scream also played at the Big Tent on Saturday and drew in quite a large crowd (mostly drifting over from Bob Dylans set)
Lead singer Bobby Gillespie gave a punchy performance and the band were still on form after 21 years.
The Big tent has he great feel of an underground club which is fitting for some the acts on stage there, but sadly over the course of the weekend it became progressively louder to an intolerable level, which was a shame considering the great acts that appeared there.
Seminal English singer/ songwriter Joan Armatrading gave us a taster of her new album Starlight along with more well know hits. Another pioneer of the female singer/songwriter club was Patti Smith who the crowd adored. Patti was returning to hop farm, but this time with new material from her new albumBanga. For many the appearance of Irish songstress Mary Coughlan was also a highlight of Saturdays line up.
Bob Dylan was the head liner on Saturday with many people coming to the Hop Farm for the day to see his only UK concert. Baby Blue started the set and got off to a good start.As did Tangled Up In Blue. Sadly there seemed to be a disconnect with the audience at this performance partly due to the lack of his more well known songs which he is reluctant to play and his refusal to allow his image to be projected on the video screens meaning the performance is only filmed from a fixed camera. Many people left early and there seemed to be the feeling that some were just there to 'tick him off their bucket list'. His voice has deteriorated over the years making many of his lyrics unintelligible and his rearranging of Like A Rolling Stone took some of the audience a while to realise what song was playing but eventually they found their way to singing along. Despite this, it was an honour to at least hear the genius of the man who changed and influenced a generation of music, even if you couldn’t see him.
Sunday had a much more relaxed feel to it after the frenetic variety of music on Saturday.
Indie rock band Athlete and 80's punk rockers Psychedelic Furs help liven up the afternoon before The Levellers and Kool and The Gang stormed the stage both giving equally watchable performances.
Back in the Big Tent, things are not looking good. Poor Gilbert O' Sullivan's set was marred by technical problems which meant that his set started late and when it did his mic wasn’t working for the first three songs. But he carried on with true professionalism and when the sound finally got fixed it was met with cheers from the loyal crowd who had gathered to see him.
Richard Ashcroft, former singer of the Verve and gifted songwriter gave a measured performance but was great to watch. The crowd loved him and were really letting go and releasing their inner hippy. His music spoke to the audience and is a relevant to the current world climate as Dylans songs were to the 60s.
Sunday head liners were 90's indie rockers Suede. Their initial warm welcome by the crowd increased to stratospheric heat as their set progressed. In part helped by sulty lead singer Brett Anderson strutting like a peacock around the stage working the crowd. Their hits We Are The Pigs, and Film Star were well received. They also showcased a new song For the Strangers, from their forthcoming album. A rapturous encore of Still Life brings the festival to a satisfactory close.
I highly recommend this festival to old and new festival goers alike. If camping isn’t for you it's location just outside London makes it a great place to spend a day. There are great facilities on site and a free shuttle bus that runs regularly from the station throughout the weekend. For those with children there is a play area for the kids along with a toy stall, face painting (not just for kids) and funfair rides. And of course a variety of stalls selling unusual and wonderful things from vintage clothing to an oxygen bar. Also the festival has a great choice of food everything from a fantastic veggie and vegan selection to Argentinian steaks, Indian, spit roasts and even a few cocktail bars. I must take a moment to plug the Wide Awake Café with its awesome chick pea curry, which we really recommend it's, a total taste bud frenzy. The security and festival stewards maintained a comfortable presence throughout the weekend. A really great atmosphere and a thoroughly enjoyable weekend!