Despite only having been in existence for a few years, Hop Farm is already a mature event – helped no doubt by the many years of experience that organiser Vince Power brings to the table. And it’s an efficiently run experience – if a little light on numbers this year. There’s just enough going on to keep guests entertained over the full three days – but there’s never so much happening that you ever feel you are missing much more then you get to see.
Downsides? Yes, it’s got a few. But they’re not deal-breakers.
The Bread & Roses bar used to be a great source of real ales with the added benefit of some great bands. Now it’s moved position, lost its bar, and has become just another music stage. Admittedly it does now have some bigger names – but the atmosphere has changed.
It has been replaced of course – by the outdoor airstream pop-up that is the ‘Powers Bar Stage’. Here the younger bands get a chance to cut their festival teeth, but while the sound quality is excellent, the real ale is missing, and in its place there’s a selection of cocktails – which might be lovely, but they’re no replacement for a pint of something bitter-sweet and tasting of malted oats. More to the point, being outdoors, whilst it’s a great vibe in the sunshine, the stage briefly became a desolate and empty space when the weekend’s threatened rain finally hit the site on Sunday afternoon.If there is one other gripe then it’s the excessively strict checks on the passage of alcohol through the various security gates from the car park, and to and from the camp site and arena – with rules that seem to change daily, or dependent upon who is on the gate.
If these are license conditions then fair enough, but if it’s all about squeezing more money out of the bar takings then maybe nobody would mind too much if a little commercial sponsorship crept into the festival instead.
Musically, Hop Farm is a right-royal mixed-bag of allsorts. Old-timers rub shoulders comfortably with the latest batch of guitar-wielding wannabees, and no matter what your age or your favourite musical era then there’s likely to be something for you here. Peter Gabriel (8/10) might not have been quite the draw that was anticipated, but his show with the New Blood Orchestra was visually spectacular and chin-rubbingly interesting. However the consensus for Bob Dylan (6/10) was that his mumbled set and lack of acknowledgement of the audience was largely responsible for packed houses at the two main tents, where Primal Scream (9/10) and Peter Hook and the Light (9/10) were both on form and on fire.
And speaking of voices, it was a shame that Ray Davies (7/10) can’t quite make those high notes any more – however his performance was still a memorable moment. For those looking for something a little different, but pre-eminently familiar, Sir Bruce Forsyth (9/10) brought variety hall pizzazz to the Hop Farm main stage, where he charmed the crowd with simple old-school repartee, nimble footwork and total mastery of the audience.
Back on the nostalgia trip, a surprise highlight of the festival for many people was the joyful delight of Billy Ocean’s sweet 80‘s soul (9/10). Whilst the fantastic set and heartfelt angst of punk-poetess, Patti Smith (9/10) (joined on stage by Patrick Wolf) came as no surprise to anyone who has seen her play live before. Of course it’s always the headliners that catch the eye.
King Charles (8/10) can’t fail to impress. With an impressive musical training and a foppishly eye-catching style, this is a man whose voice simply works on every level, and whose stage-craft is improving with every show he does.And tucked away on the Power Bar Stage it was possible to stumble, every-so-often, onto something just a little bit special. The Midnight Barbers (9/10) were one such hidden gem. Two otherwise unassuming guys with a guitar and a drumkit – drawing the obvious White Stripes analogies – but with the raw energy of Jon Spencer crashing into an early Doors experience. We’d like to suggest they quote us on that in their press kits!
The closing few hours of Hop Farm were just a little bit special though. Richard Ashcroft (9/10) closed his set with an epic ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ and a wry comment on the positioning of the Wagon Train burger van next to a vegan stall – but for a real sense of going out on a high it was left to Suede (10/10) to prove why now is the right time for them to be playing live again.
Speaking to the band members before they went on stage they joked that despite what their manager had posted to their facebook page earlier that day and the fact that they were going to be playing some new stuff they thought the world would remain on its axis after the show.
The fact of the matter was – for a few moments during a rapturous set, the whole planet may really have wobbled along in harmony. Just a fraction at least.
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