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Hop Farm Festival 2010

Monday 19 July 2010
Words Spindle

Hop Farm claims to be a festival with a difference. It prides itself on it’s non-corporate attitude and a back-to-basics mentality. No sponsorship! No branding! And no VIP, every ticket holder is to have the same experience. It’s a home grown festival born in 2008, whose creator, Vince Powers, believes in doing it the old fashioned way, pulling focus back onto the musicians and away from heavy branding. ‘It’s about bringing the ownership of the festival back to the music’

With all this in mind I expect the weekend to resemble some modern day Woodstock; anti establishment, lax rules and Dylan – the love of my life. It’s looking hopeful; I’m in a suitable camper van decorated with sunflowers; I’m dressed accordingly (like some sort of 60’s throwback) and as I meander towards the festival entrance, music wafts towards me, as does the smell of falafel.

Yet my dreams are dashed as a Marshall grabs my bottle of Evian water and
reassures me that I can’t take any fluids into the arena but there are
plenty of taps on site. The ideal attitude of a non corporate festival has
just gone out the window, as I look towards the bar charging £4 for a cup
of water or to the taps whose queues stretch around the entire field. At
least I can make out the aged warbling of Blondie, who on closer
inspection is still looking gloriously sexy for a 65 year old woman and
rocking it just as hard as she ever did. She gets everyone a bit hot
under the collar as she shouts ‘Whose going to take me out tonight? Huh?
Where we going?’ The influx of men to the front of the stage was
inevitable.

It’s definitely a muso’s festival, apart from the main stage and big tent
there isn’t much else to see, except for a few shops and two obnoxiously
loud funfair rides which seem intent on drowning out the music from the
main stage (and continues to do so all weekend). The fact Hop Farm is a
fairly small festival is appealing, it’s condensed onto one field and
appears to be extremely intimate, but as the evening draws on it becomes
apparent that unless you are positioned directly in front of the main
stage you are going to struggle to hear anything.

Multi instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and diva Van Morrison headlines
the Friday, and strolls on to the stage pimped out head to toe in white.
True to form he sounds no different to his albums, and puts on a
spectacular show surrounded by an array of talented supporting musicians
who are commanded at random to solo at the point of Van’s finger. He
remains understated in his performance and only moves to switch instrument
from song to song and yet this is startlingly captivating, which only
illustrates the fact that his music speaks for itself. He truly lives up
to his legendary reputation and presents to the audience a man who is
musically and vocally still as talented as he was 30 years ago.

Those who didn’t watch Van Morrison would have caught the collaborative
group that is Afro Celt Sound System in The Big Tent. The vibrancy of this
performance was outstanding, musically and visually, the stage illuminated
with primary colours and filled with tribal looking musicians bringing
together a fusion of dance/ afro/ and Celt music. Unlike many of their
main stage contemporaries they were more than happy to oblige to the
audience who chanted for at least 3 encores.

But I’ll be honest. The reason for buying a ticket to this festival was
purely so I could chant these five words: ‘I’ve seen Bob Dylan live’ and
I’m pretty sure he’s the reason that by the Saturday, audience numbers had
tripled.

Warming up the crowd for him were Foy Vance, The Magic Numbers, Johnny Flynn, Laura Marling, Peter Doherty, Sea Sick Steve, Mumford and Sons and Ray Davies. Yes, it was a folk-rock lovers heaven and I made the most of it, I didn’t leave my seat for about 12 hours (which is not advisable in 30 degrees of heat). Although Marling and Flynn’s records are favourites of mine, their soft tones were lost in the festival atmosphere, you had to strain to hear their voices over the background noise and though both can
usually pride themselves on their charming stage presence, their drab
performances didn’t help get the festival spirit going. The Magic
Numbers, Seasick Steve and Mumford and Sons were refreshingly upbeat in
quite a sombre line up. Mumford and Sons popularity seems to have rocketed
sky high within the past few months with the release of hits off of debut
album‘ Sigh No More’ and this was displayed as the crowds sung along
adoringly leaving the band genuinely shocked: ‘This is the most people I
have ever seen, let alone played to’.

Ray Davies was ultimately the star of the Hop farm show. He gave the crowd
what they wanted, renditions of “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, “You
Really Got Me”, “Lola”, “Sunny Afternoon”, “Apeman”, the beautiful “Days”
and “All Day and All of the Night” were just some of the songs off the
amazing set list. Not only was his crowd interaction demonstrative of a
true performer, it was encouraging to see a legend like Davies want to
please his audience, and disapprove of others that didn’t, he jibed at
Dylan: ‘I don’t live in a gated community like some of the acts on the
bill tonight’.

Although it’s almost blasphemous to say, Dylan’s performance was
unsatisfactory. He must have disallowed any close ups of the performance
so all that could be seen on the screen was what looked like a stickman
with a wide brimmed hat and a guitar, the typical Dylan Silhouette, yet
when he began to sing or cough, I couldn’t make out which, it could have
been any Dylan impersonator/ spoof. In all fairness I had been previously
warned that I would have to decipher his lyrics, due to the fact he has
changed his melodies beyond recognition but that didn’t console me. You
could not sing along if your life depended on it.

Now if you love Dylan and all he does no matter how he does it, then this
gig wouldn’t have disappointed but it came across as an artist who no
longer cares for his audience, and in turn half the audience turned on
their heels and left Paddock Wood, including me. I still heart Bob Dylan
though.

Lana McDonagh