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Live Review: Hop Farm Festival (Friday)

Reunions and returns to grace have dominated the festival circuit in the 2000s, with everyone from The Verve and Pulp to The Rolling Stones and Rage Against The Machine getting in on the act. Nostalgia has become dominant in our culture  (on TV, in music, and in the arts) as our attention is continually cast back.

Still, when Vince Power promised a festival that would get back to good old fashion values, eyebrows were raised. His promise of no major sponsors, no garish advertising, and no bullshit seemed exciting. Unfortunately, his line-ups suggested that his old fashioned vision, also included getting back to “proper”, i.e. old, music.

Regardless, Hop Farm remains an important experiment. Rock and pop is getting older, the biggest buying groups are getting greyer and greyer, and so are the leading guitar driven festival draws. If Hop Farm can look forward and back simultaneously, it might just hold the key to helping rock grow old in style while helping the new generation translate to an older audience..

It’s a tall order, but Vince Power has got one thing right: the atmosphere. Hop Farm is immensely relaxed, it has the feeling of a casual and entirely natural gathering of music fans. Girls with wild afros stroll past metallers in Download 2012 shirts, as kids and families run and play, men in floppy hats get slowly stoned. There is no blaring corporate presence, the atmosphere is relaxed, and the festival is wholly inclusive regardless of age.

Dr. John can certainly claim to represent the forward thinking older generation. His 2012 release Locked Down was a genuine revelation: a luscious mix of thick blues and soul. The Dr. is more than happy to welcome a slowly assembling after office hours Hop Farm crowd. His sound is soulful and slick, but a little too jam heavy to truly move a sun soaked crowd. [3.0/5.0]

Lianne La Havas may be battling an imbalanced sound system on the festival’s second stage, as her smooth sounds echo endlessly inside a cavernous tent. Still she manages to blend stark unguarded soul with booming pop to brilliant effect, thrilling a surprisingly thick afternoon crowd. Accusations of Radio 2 blandness are brushed aside with a charming display of girl next-door charm, and the resounding chorus of set closers “Is Your Love Big Enough?” [3.5/5.0]


The crowd at Hop Farm is certainly diverse but not as wildly diverse as George Clinton’s Parliament/Funakdelic. The frankly ridiculous funk collective may no longer have virtuoso guitarist Eddie Hazel, but they have more than enough energy to win over an entirely alien crowd. The sing-alongs don’t quite come off, but as one luscious jam and sax solo rolls into the next, the resistance subsides, and by the end of their set the have a reserved Hop Farm crowd bouncing as one. [3.5/5.0] 

Ray Davies may be 68 but he’s got the energy of a 21-year-old faced with his first festival field. He goes straight into the crowd interaction games, he leaps across stage, and he ad-libs constantly. “I Need You” starts proceedings on a high, but it’s “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” that sets the tone. After the first chorus, Davies playfully reminds the crowd that it’s “Dedicated” not “Medicated” follower of fashion, before showing off his Johnny Cash impression during the final verse. From that point on Ray holds the crowd in the palm of his hand, and has a riot as he works through “Sunny Afternoon”, “Waterloo Sunset”, “All Of The Day And All Of The Night”, and “You Really Got Me”. His voice might not hold up, and he’s routinely flat, but Davies knows how to have a good time, and he seems intent on spending his twilight years messing around and having fun. [4.0/5.0]

Sandwiched in between two legends I Am Kloot draw a big crowd to the Bread & Roses stage for a quiet and beautiful set, that slowly wins over a clearly unfamiliar audience. Excitement and spontaneity are lacking, but professionalism holds the set together. [2.5/5.0] 

Latest year, crowd fled the main stage in droves during The Eagles’ headline set. The same spectacle reoccurs this year as Peter Gabriel works his way through a daring headline set. There is one key difference of course. The Eagles performance was atrocious, and the exodus took place during a greatest hits set. Peter Gabriel drives fans away with his own considered artistic choice.

Tonight’s set with The New Blood orchestra is challenging. Classic tracks and covers are rearranged by a full orchestra as unsettling graphics are married to unnerving strings. The atmosphere is cold, and still. The trappings of a rock show (jump along riffs, handclaps, and sing-alongs) are entirely absent. They’ve been replaced by dramatic swells, wrenching jabbing strings, and slow, pained builds.

At times the set is crushingly bleak, Peter Gabriel’s suffocating cover of Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage” is melodramatic in the extreme, but it does slowly build. “Signal To Noise” is the turning point, as the set gains the thudding momentum of Bond score, before exploding with “Red Rain”, “Solsbury Hill” and of course “Biko”.

Hands are finally raised and the crowd roars at the end of a long journey. The set was always going to alienate, and in truth, it was blighted by mediocre moments, but at its best, Peter Gabriel and The New Blood orchestra create a sense of drama and ache rarely seen on a festival stage. Nostalgia and modernity; Peter Gabriel delivered it, but sadly, the crowd seemed more interested in cosy memory than breaking new ground. [3.0/5.0]



Author: david

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