Features

Hop Farm Festival - The Review

Paul Cook 17/07/2009

On one of the sunniest weekends of the summer the Hop Farm Festival was a refreshing addition to the cluttered festival calendar in which the 30,000 strong crowd were treated to a number of very special performances, a chilled atmosphere and all for 125.

Although the “No Sponsorship, No Branding” message was driven home a little too often, it certainly did make for a unique festival experience. A wide array of food and drink was on offer from Indonesian to Sushi to Australian Steak Sandwiches and the trusty burger and hotdog combinations too of course. Real ales and ciders were a welcome change from the typical beer brands and the 3.50 pricing per pint, although not a lot cheaper than the competition was also satisfactory.

The festival was set out like any other with food and drink stalls around the edges of the main arena with the dance tent and third stage a short walk away. Seeing a few songs by one band and a few from another, a luxury in Glastonbury-goers eyes, was something I took full advantage of, most notably seeing the first half of British Sea Power's set and the last half (and incredible double encore) of Paul Weller's set.

SATURDAY

And so the first day of the festival kicked off in gloriously baking hot sunshine in the Kent countryside. The first band I saw on the main stage were the first of a few Australian acts in attendance at Hop Farm, Sydney's Howling Bells. With an ever so slight tinge of Yeah Yeah Yeahs about the vocals and some powerfully motivational riffs and drum beats, they were a perfect start to the weekend and a great warm up for the main stage's Saturday lineup.

Noah and the Whale followed kicking off their set with Jocasta and mixing new, yet to be released material with debut album material such as the wonderfully soaring Rocks and Daggers. The band do however need to develop some more up-tempo material for their live sets as the new material was quite slow and in comparison to fellow folk newcomers and their closest competition, Mumford and Sons, is a tad dull.

The first truly impressive act of the weekend was, as some might have expected, Florence and the Machine. Just three days before debut album Lungs was released, Florence' was energetic, powerful and clearly looking to impress both vocally and visually. A floating, stylish dress and on-the-nose power house delivery of vocals made her set one to remember. The set consisted quite predictably of album tracks such as Dog Days Are Over, Kiss with a Fist, Blinding and My Boy Builds Coffins but to her credit, I thought her NME set a few months back couldn't be topped and it was. A great live prospect on every level.

Florence and the Machine

The next band were one of my most anticipated and Echo and the Bunnymen didn't disappoint. Professionalism and nostalgia went hand in hand to make the hour long set one of the most memorable of the weekend. The Cutter and The Killing Moon went down expectedly well and despite a hugely arrogant performance from guitarist Gordy Goudie (posing for the cameras for the entire set) was hugely enjoyable start to finish. Ian McCulloch is as brilliant as ever, vocally unwavering and humble 'til the final track.

Echo&TheBunnymen

Irish three-piece Ash were on-stage next, unfortunately at the same time as the Welsh trio The Joy Formidable and so the latter was a quick dash across the arena to the third stage at the end of Ash's set. Ash were enjoyably energetic, clearly having a blast themselves with a hugely positive reaction from the audience. The Joy Formidable sounded impressively polished with Ritzy Bryan's vocals carrying across the arena out of the tent. Cradle was a brilliant indie-pop track to kick off the evening's entertainment as were The Last Drop and Whirring. A band I will strive to see again this year in full.

Scotland's The View followed on the main stage playing to a much smaller and somewhat subdued crowd than Ash. Best known tracks Same Jeans and Superstar Tradesmen went down very well but the newer material (and lead singer Kyle Falconer's profanity in front of the family audience) were received less positively!

The Pigeon Detectives, a band I've seen on several occasions and despite having grown out of their music somewhat in the past 6 months were once again fantastic live. Matt Bowman is one of the liveliest and most watchable frontmen of any of the bands at the festival, energetically bounding around the stage, leaping on top of speakers and drum kits and generally enjoying himself as much as the crowd did. A balanced mix of first and second album material comprised the set list and in particular Romantic Type (incidentally the track that first caught my ear almost two and a half years ago) was by far still the most enjoyably poppy, feel-good track of the performance.

MattBowman

The headline act of the evening, rounding up the first day of the festival were The Fratellis. As withThe View they did not attract a sizeable crowd, most of which sat and watched from a distance but did put on a worthwhile show. Personal preference led me to check out The Sunshine Underground and the dance tent after a few tracks before returning to see The Fratellis end on Chelsea Dagger and a few from the latest long-player.

SUNDAY

Sunday promised to be the better half of the festival all along, boasting two brilliant headline acts Paul Weller and British Sea Power. Furthermore, for dance and dubstep fans like myself the dance tent's triple-bill of Kissy Sell Out and Scratch Perverts followed by the headliners 2ManyDJ's was all too tempting to get to in the 20 minute intervals between main stage and third stage bands.

The day was kicked off on the main stage by That Petrol Emotion a band formed out of the remaining members of The Undertones. There energetic rock and pop style was a fantastic way to begin the day and having The Rifles on straight after continued the enjoyment.

Another of the weekends eye-opening performances was New Zealand's Ladyhawke whose electro-tainted rock-chick style was a refreshing change from the majority of male performers over the weekend. My Delirium and Paris is Burning were fantastic live tracks with Pip Brown's (Ladyhawke) vocals and guitar solos impressing fans and newcomers alike. A natural stage performer she also kept the crowd entertained with some banter whilst some electrical faults were fixed, one crowd member yelling “Marry me!” to which she replied “Well, I do need a visa to work over here.”

Two chalk and cheese acts followed, with indie kids The Mystery Jets and rock/pop band The Twang taking to the main stage in mid-afternoon. The Mystery Jets delivered an all round performance of new and old material with catchy singles Two Doors Down and personal favourite Veiled in Grey proving crowd pleasers. The Twang performed some new material also which to put it quite bluntly was some of the worst music heard all weekend. “Da-da-da's” and “Do-do-do's” comprising the majority of the band's new choruses and very little substance in between. Wide Awake and Two Lovers book-ended the disappointing set before Super Furry Animals took to the stage.

However, Danananaykroyd were due to begin on the much smaller third stage and given their status as a hugely energetic, exciting live band it was an opportunity not to miss. Their heavy rock tracks from debut album Hey Everyone! were as lively and visceral to watch as they were to hear. All 6 members of the band played like it was the gig of their lives. The “wall of hugs” they had the crowd do also made it a highly memorable performance of the weekend.

Doves

The 'big 4' of the weekend were still to come, beginning with Doves on the main stage. A set list consisting of almost entirely Kingdom of Rust tracks with just Black and White Town thrown in from the far superior debut it was rather disappointing. In fact, Kissy Sell Out in the dance tent was far more tempting and after forty minutes of Doves I was soon enjoying some dubstep classics that took me right back to my first few terms at University. The Kiss was a highlight of his set with the tent teaming with dubstep and dance fans.

Editors were next on the main stage before Paul Weller came on to headline to a near capacity 40,000 crowd. Starting with All Sparks' thundering drums and an almost Ian Curtis-like vocal performance full of dedication and control the set was simply fantastic. Bullets, Fingers in the Factories and Munich were full of the grandeur many have come to love about Editors' music. Bones, Escape the Nest, The Racing Rats and Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors were just as impressive live as they steadily built to a crescendo ending of Blood. A perfect way to lift the crowd after the rather dull Doves before them.

Editors
And so the time was upon us to decide between the “modfather” himself Paul Weller and the fantastic opportunity to see British Sea Power in the intimate third stage tent amongst maybe 300 others. It was an opportunity that was too good and so the first half an hour of the headline slots was enjoyed watching British Sea Power perform everything from the mellow, relaxing Lights Out for Darker Skies and Be Gone to the more up tempo pop-rock tracks Atom and Apologies to Insect Life.

It then proved to be the best decision of the weekend to catch the latter two thirds of Paul Weller who amongst performing selected tracks from his latest album 22 Dreams also treated the audience to The Jam classics Eton Rifles, Town Called Malice and That's Entertainment. Then a succession of tracks from his earliest solo work included Wild Wood, Peacock Suit, Come On/Lets Go, Broken Stones and You're the Best Thing. It was a performance that was so effortless and yet so refined and professional that simply highlighted Weller's status as one of Britain's best singer/songwriters and performers.

Weller

An expected encore followed and the Hop Farm crowd were then treated to a duet of two legends of British music as Weller introduced Roger Daltrey on stage as his “very special guest.” They immediately began to perform The Who's infamous track Magic Bus at which point the crowd started bundling toward the front. It was (excuse the cliché) a magical moment as we stood enjoying something that no one had predicted. Once they had finished it seemed the night had ended, we had had our encore and we started to disperse from the arena. Paul Weller then came back on stage for a second encore and the crowd once again piled toward the stage. He finished on Sunflower and left the stage to football-like chants of “Weller, Weller!” A third encore was certainly out of the question and we returned to a half empty camp site to reflect on an astonishing day of music feeling utterly privileged to have enjoyed a once in a lifetime Weller/Daltrey duet.