Ben Parkinson harks back to the festivals of old at Hop Farm to witness the UK return of Bob Dylan.
Overall – 8/10
Hop Farm Music Festival, only in its third edition but now cemented into the national collective consciousness, aims to offer a stage to some of the finest new folk-based acts, as well as their musical forefathers, with a uniquely classic line-up condensed into two days in ‘The Garden of England’.
An event for the whole family, Hop Farm Music Festival rejects monopolisation by sponsors in search of the ultimate punter experience. With the likes of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Peter Green lining up alongside the superstars of tomorrow - Laura Marling, Mumford and Sons et al - it is hard not to be impressed by the quality of the atmosphere produced on such a compact and accessible site.
It might be the tropical heat or the special edition ‘Festival Ale’ but with glowing women adorned in floral crowns and the general chilled enthusiasm of the crowd, it’s impossible not to find your mind wandering back forty years to the golden beginnings of modern music festivals.
Getting there and back – 9/10
Travelling by car is a straightforward jaunt from the M25 thanks to the directions given on the Hop Farm website, as well as the abundance of signage and a free car park, which remained organised until the mass exodus on Sunday morning.
The Big Green Coach Company runs services from various transport hubs in London and around Kent at admirably low prices and will drop you less than five minutes walk from the ticket exchange. Extra train services are put on to Paddock Wood Station with a free shuttle-bus service to take you the final leg, whilst this year also saw the advent of the ‘FestivalBUDi’ car-share scheme.
The car park and bus drop entrance are both situated less than ten minutes walk from the ticket exchange, which in turn is only five minutes walk to the campsite, so there’s no enforced route march before you’ve even got in.
The site - 7/10
Situated in a picturesque 90-acre corner of the rolling Kent countryside, on the near five-hundred-year-old Hop Farm (now named the Hop Farm Country Park), Hop Farm Music Festival is surrounded by woodland and remained green despite heat that temporarily has the crowd withering. Though traversing the seemingly spacious site is not a problem on Friday, the influx of music-lovers waiting to see Bob Dylan, coupled with their insistence on taking picnic blankets right up to the front, makes Saturday feel more cramped.
The campsite is a more than adequate size but could be improved by the introduction of urinals, which should reduce wince-inducing queues that beset both the toilets and showers. On that subject, the toilets also obtain a special ripeness after obviously not getting a clean for the duration.
Despite an impressive and varied array of food stalls in the main arena, queuing at the bar is a constant bugbear, as is trying to buy food in the campsite and the bizarre law that prevented alcohol being taken out of the arena.
Atmosphere - 9/10
The crowd is a veritable cocktail of old and young, friends and families, all united in pursuit of an almost lost festival atmosphere of fun and freedom to watch music largely comprised of acts whose appeal has been passed on like antique furniture through the generations. There is very little lairy behaviour and no violence to speak of, whilst the only minor black mark seems to be the inability of a few of the younger generation to appreciate the sheer scale of the back catalogue of some of the older artists, as they vocally rejected some of the material that hadn’t made it onto a ‘greatest hits’ album.
Music – 8/10
The music is, for the most part, folk-orientated, with artists such as Peter Doherty choosing to adopt sets based around acoustic instruments. This is not your typical folk-fandango, though: most acts have successfully fused their style, beards are kept to a minimum and you can expect the odd belting solo.
On Friday, Dr. John and Peter Green perform with both the wisdom and pace of age before the incendiary Blondie bombshell drops and Van Morrison appears, unaware of the responsibility placed on his shoulders.
Folk fans are elated with the quality of emerging talent in the form of Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn on Saturday afternoon before a bizarre dose of Peter Doherty through the looking glass and a dynamic performance by Seasick Steve. The evening, however, belongs to the home-counties local Ray Davies, whilst Bob Dylan delivered just enough to keep the crowd happy.
Dr. John - 7/10
New Orleans jazz aficionado Dr. John takes the audience on a welcomed tour through Zydeco and boogie woogie, becoming notably fired during classic albums ‘Gris Gris’ and ‘Gumbo’. He dabbles in blues with his own version of ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’, adopting a hypnotic stare that rose over his sunglasses. The voodoo-hoodoo could do with being bolstered by his old female backing vocalists and the ticket situation on Friday means the audiences are relatively small all day, but he sure lets the good times roll.
Blondie - 9/10
Debbie Harry sheds thirty years as she struts the planks, owning the stage with her classic catalogue of hits. The women seem particularly impressed, belting back her smooth and empowering lyrics, whilst men are trapped by her mesmerising shimmy. The band she has put together is truly atomic; unafraid to break from tradition and perform in their own right, they had the whole festival moving.
Laura Marling - 8/10
After starting explosively, Marling reveals her sweet and humble side, bantering with the crowd about the weather and showing her whistling talents before plunging into an often haunting set reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. She rouses the crowd with talent and musical understanding above her years, managing to incorporate material off both her critically acclaimed debut ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ and her latest offering ‘I Speak Because I Can’, resembling an image of purity in comparison to the roasting festival crowd.
Seasick Steve - 8/10
At Hop Farm, Seasick Steve proves why he is arguably the most exciting blues act on the planet today. With his wild tub-thumper Dan Magnusson looking like animal from Sesame Street, Seasick Steve has the crowd swinging to a different beat before coolly plucking one lucky lady from the crowd to serenade and share his Budweiser. He showcases his talent on anything with strings as he made a spectacle of his single-stringed ‘Diddley Bow’ (comprised of a plank, coke can and car door handle) and his iconic ‘Morris Minor Guitar’ made of two hubcaps.
Ray Davies - 8/10
The ex-Kinks frontman is in his element as he gets the entire crowd singing to his mainly London-themed hits, such as ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’. He clearly tells organisers where to put it when they inform him that he will have to cut his set short due to problems with production earlier in the day, which goes down a storm, as does thanking his once estranged brother Dave Davies, with whom he admitted he was equally at fault for the Kinks’ split.
Van Morrison - 5/10
The notoriously moody Irishman goes through the motions at Hop Farm, paying little attention to the crowd and becoming bogged down as the volume of his vocals leave him largely incoherent. At times his set is repetitive, however, his hit ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ is a highlight, whilst the band he had assembled is tight, with special mention going to his saxophonist.
Peter Doherty - 4/10
45 minutes of ‘What is he thinking?’ descends as the revamped Peter Doherty takes to the stage with no backing artists apart from a ballerina dressed in black and pink tutu, who wandesd aimlessly behind him waving a Union Jack. Without more instruments, his hits are never given the chance to get off the ground and his overly repeated rendition of a verse from Chas and Dave’s ‘That’s What I Like, Mick’ containing the line, ‘going down hopping in Kent’ wore out its welcome the first time.
The Magic Numbers - 5/10
Musically adept for the most part and with a number of successful releases, it was surprising that The Magic Numbers can do little to get the crowd going. At times they hark back to the mellowest yet blandest aspects of the hippie years, although the new material they perform seems to be pushing in a more involving direction.
Before Mumford and Sons, the main stage crowd, who are being gently simmered in the heat, erupt with a spontaneous rendition of Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex on Fire’ with the new line, “Oh, your face is on fire.”
In the Big Tent on Friday night, the London Cuban All-stars have the entire crowd picking a partner (or many) and salsa dancing late into the night.
Incredibly exciting prospect The Minutes usher a crowd invasion of the Bread and Roses Stage during their encore of the classic ‘In My Time of Dying’, with the invaders quickly proceeding to trash the lot.
Wednesday 7 July :
We all enjoyed Hop farm , You are correct the event was almost timeless, any outsider looking in would be hard pushed to put a decade on it. The atmosphere and friendliness of the festival was helped by the mix of people there. It was good to see teenagers enjoying the music their parents and grandparents had enjoyed in their youth , and enjoying it together. Yes there were queues but not excessive ones. Festivals are about the music but they are also about meeting new friends and discovering new music, both for me were achieved at Hop Farm Julia x