All photographs by Gaelle Beri.
Ah, Kent. The Garden of England, if you will- home to the pride of Paddock Wood each summer, The Hop Farm Festival. Attempting to live up to Prince’s magnificently memorable headline slot last year stand Peter Gabriel & The New Blood Orchestra, Bob Dylan and Suede. The family orientated festival is compact and comfortable, with an element of the nonchalant, reminiscent attitude of early, simpler festivals that refused to conform to sponsorship, branding or extortionate ticket prices. The stages are more intimate and the busking points throughout the site (PLEASE check out busker, Lewis Floyd Henry close the gaps between progressions of music, making each act equally welcome and a festival for every age, gender and music enthusiast.
As the punters nurse sunburnt shoulders, the first day of Hop Farm begins with blue skies and wide eyes as Swedish-Argentine; Jose Gonzalez graces the Main Stage. Mimicking the appearance of a gentle, bearded Italian rugby player, Gonzalez is left completely isolated onstage bearing nothing to hide behind as his continental, ringlet locks are swept by the tender Kentish breeze. Dressed all in black, Gonzalez leaves nothing to the imagination as the crowd are silenced in awe of his warm vocals and skilful guitar, especially during his first single and penultimate song in his set ‘Heartbeats’ followed by intriguing Kylie Minogue cover, ‘Put Your Hand in Your Heart’ and Massive Attack cover, ‘Teardrop’.
Walking over to the Big Tent, the epic hollering chorus of Lianne La Havas’ ‘Forget’ completely engulfs and obliterates any other sound from the other competitive stages. La Havas uses the festival to tactically promote her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough? (released within the next week) by showcasing her diverse talent and soulful potential throughout slow, melodic songs such as ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’ juxtaposed against playful hard hitters ‘Age’ and ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’
“We’re playing this song because there’s a verse about Kent!” yells a sweaty Barry Hyde of The Futureheads in a strong, bellowing Sunderland accent, playing their impressive cover of Richard Thompson’s, ‘Beeswing’ from their latest acapella album, Rant. Following the acapella route, the band play their cover of Kelis’ ‘Acapella’ later on in the set, after a warm welcome of indie favourites ‘Beginning of the Twist’ and ‘Heartbeat Song’. The crowd ranges from penguin-onesie-wearing teenagers to toddlers smothered by aluminous ear protectors. Even Lianne La Havas pops out into the crowd for a beer and a quick listen.
Just in front of their iconic backdrop in black and white, The Stranglers take to the stage with poignant, crunchy bass lines accompanied by the confident as ever vocals of ‘Nice N’ Sleazy’ and ‘Hanging Around’ before expressing that “it’s nice to be doing a British festival with decent fucking weather for a change!” The harpsichord riff of ‘Golden Brown’ produces an animalistic roar from the Big Tent crowd as the 1970s punks then conclude their set with ‘Peaches’. A short walk to the main stage reveals a disappointing performance from Ray Davies as iconic Kinks hits ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and ‘All Day and All of the Night’ lack the energy, power and seduction that they once had.
Headliners, Peter Gabriel & The New Blood Orchestra, Nitin Sawhney and British Sea Powerdivide the Friday night crowd with sets that could not be more different. On one hand lies Peter Gabriel complete with a gigantic and majestic orchestra (as well as ridiculously tacky illustrations projected) behind him, yet on the other is the well respected, Nitin Sawhney with very little to hide behind combining Asian influences with an interesting fusion twist.
Walking past the main stage before Slow Club’s set I catch a quick glimpse of Joan Armatrading on the main stageperforming a stunning guitar solo. Energetic as ever, Slow Club emit just as much chemistry performing as a four piece, as they do when Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor take the stage as their usual duo act- finishing their set with fan favourites ‘Two Cousins’ and ‘Giving Up On Love’…before telling everyone to take their tops off. And no, Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t there.
A seated Lucy Rose pulls the crowd into the Bread & Roses tent, giving a pitch perfect, gentle rendition of ‘Middle of The Bed’ with a full band before reassuring the crowd that “I don’t mind if you need to leave, I know I’m clashing a bit with Patti Smith!” Indeed up on the main stage, Patti Smith exhorts her raw dominance and authority like a hunting lioness amongst her band (with a certain Patrick Wolf on the violin), giving an unrefined and emotionally strong vocal performance throughout ‘Because the Night’.
The excitement and joint cynicism is contagious as the time for headliner, Bob Dylan, approaches. When Dylan finally did plonk onto the stage, his performance was what can only be described as very, very odd. Murmurs of “is it the one with the big hat?” and “which one even is he? Do you know?” were whispered amongst the confused crowd as the headliner apparently ‘refused’ close up shots on the large screens. The crowd began to scatter to other parts of the festival to watch the magnificent Primal Scream as Dylan’s voice became unrecognisable and almost slurry. If Dylan made half the effort as his support acts (Smith and Rice), it would have been a captivating and memorable night instead of a disappointing end to a wonderful day of music.
Finally the showers show their mischievous face and let loose on the last day of Hop Farm. First to Robert Pattinson’s best mate, Marcus Foster i.e. beautiful-voice-squinty-eye-man-extraordinaire. Pulling in an impressive crowd, the Londoner merges Jeff Buckley with Tom Waits as he charms and seduces the crowd’s ear drums. All day the weather had been switching the ‘rain’ button on and off like a disobedient toddler, but during Jonquil’s set the scurry of the drenched, rat-like crowd into the Bread & Roses tent (whilst they gave an average performance) reflected the poor weather…not the amount of fans they have.
With the drunk, embarrassing mothers cultivating a successful rain dance, the bad weather held off for 1970s legends, Kool & The Gang with a mesmerising showcase of musical precision and nostalgic positivity. Dance routines, horns and matching leopard print shirts and hats ahoy, the funk band were surely one of the highlights of the weekend. An hour later and surprise, surprise the sun was out again just to confuse everyone once more as Thomas Timothy Vernon-Kell AKA Tom Vek took to performing with his belly dancer-come-rapper dance moves. The two bass guitars used during ‘C-C (You Set The Fire In Me)’ gave the performance a poignant groove as Vek wormed his way around the stage with the bright red instrument just before crowd favourite, ‘Aroused’.
As a bunch of beer drinking lads watch the Euro 2012 final on one large screen in the middle of the site, Suede closed down this rare festival of high, nostalgic quality with a smorgasbord of greatest hits from ‘Animal Nitrate’ to new track ‘For The Strangers’. As Brett Anderson dived into the crowd urging to be smothered and adored, this low-key festival ends on a triumphant, supernatural high of festival uniqueness and quirkiness. Hop Farm doesn’t conform into any old bullcrap and it doesn’t care who’s the ‘in’ thing.