Festivals · Music

Hop Farm 2013

Hop Farm Festival not 2013

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d bought Early Bird tickets to this year’s Hop Farm festival, without sight of the bill and wondered rhetorically how bad the bill could actually be; surely I was on a winner, paying a mere early-bird £125 a throw for three days of music?

The NME website broke a story one Wednesday a few weeks ago naming the acts which had not been paid for performing at last year’s festival; they were substantial acts owed substantial amounts. Later that morning on Facebook came an announcement from the organisers insisting that Hop Farm 2013 would go ahead and that there would be an announcement of the bill soon.

On 25 March, the bill went up on the Hop farm website.   The first thing that leaps out at one is that it is now a two day festival rather than three days; the second is that there is an absence of acts of the stature of those from the last four years (Dylan twice, Ray Davies twice, Neil Young, Prince, Patti Smith twice, Primal Scream etc.)  Headliners on Friday are My Bloody Valentine and on Saturday, Rodriguez.

To be absolutely fair on this last point, the bill for 2013 as it is seems to be perfectly good value for money at £110 for a two day weekend compared to what is on offer at other UK festivals of this size; I think it’s more the case that Hop Farm has been outrageously lucky (or something) to have been able to offer the bills it has for the price it has over the last four years.

Anyway, I didn’t make a mistake there when I said it was £110 for the weekend ticket; this is the price for the revised two day event, rather than the £125 I had paid for the advertised three day event as an early bird.

At first, I thought this was a good thing – I knew I’d bought tickets for an event advertised as over three days and given the strength of the two day bill, it didn’t seem massively cost effective for us to travel from Edinburgh to Kent for just two days. Surely I could just ask for the money back as I had bought one product (a three day festival) and was now being offered given another (a two day festival?)

Sadly, on checking the tickets, there was no reference to a number of days, only that the festival would be “on the weekend of 6 July.” The Terms & Conditions which had now appeared on the Hop farm website also reserved the right to change the form of the festival, so I knew this ploy wouldn’t fly; I had the tickets, like it or not.

There was also an 0207 number on the website for contact, which I called and was delighted to speak to a really helpful woman, when I was expecting an answering machine or automated service. It was late in the day and she told me they had been trying to find a way of sorting the early adopters out for the £15 difference in the ticket price; she said she would call me the next day and did so, subsequent to which I sent scans of the tickets on her request over a week ago. Still haven’t heard anything back.

With no disrespect to the artists performing this year (Dinosuar Jr – yup, MBV, yup, First Aid Kit, probably,) I can’t quite justify the trip for only two days – strangely, for a similar bill over three days, there would have been no question. Apparently Tracy Chapman was booked for the Sunday but pulled out, which made it ineffective to run anything on the Sunday…) Looks like the tickets might be going up on eBay soon…

Hop Farm Festival 2012

  Thanks again to Marie for Hop Farm 2012 images.

Festivals · Gigs · Music

Hop Farm Festival – Part Four, Day Three

Hop Farm shuttle bus

On to Sunday and the last day of the festival…on to cider today. Sadly, I can’t remember which brand it was, but it seemed a good way to start and indeed, continue, the day.
For the first time, the weather wasn’t too promising; in fact there was some rain, which lasted for about half an hour, but I guess in terms of what fell at other UK festivals this year that’s nothing to complain about. It did mean that we stayed in the tent housing the Bread & Roses stage for quite a while and watched the whole of Lights’ set. Lights are a North American combo who seem beholden to a certain sound from the eighties – if I say everything they played was a derivative of Little Red Corvette, you’ll get the picture. But that’s not all bad, and they did make an attempt to put on a bit of a show and engage with the audience.
A consequence of being in a field with a load of bands for three days is that you come across and listen to some things that you normally wouldn’t; so I was surprised to quite enjoy some of Athlete, who’ve never really appealled before (great bass guitar sound) and surprised how good The Psychedelic Furs were as they distracted me on a drizzly trip to the bar. I don’t remember their records having sax all the time over everything, but there you go, maybe their current sax player (who plays all the time, over everything) is somebody’s mate.
I would have liked to have seen more than a couple of songs by Kool & The Gang, but I was by that time on the way to the Big Tent to see Ian Hunter and The Rant Band, another of the handful of acts I definitely wanted to see.
I haven’t seen Hunter since he was in Mott the Hoople in the very early seventies (which was probably the first proper rock show I went to.) There were a few Mott the Hoople reunion shows a couple of years back, but as much as I hoped there would be a bigger tour, it didn’t come to pass – maybe there were just too many unresolvable issues between the members of the band…anyway, Ian Hunter and The Rant Band is a pretty entertaining propostion and he did bring on Mick Ralphs for All The Young Dudes right at the end of the set. I imagine Tommy Saxondale may have been stage managing…
We then waited for Gilbert O’Sullivan, who was also on my list of want-to-sees…and waited, then waited a bit more. His crew were being very fastidious about setting up the stage and it looked like it was going to be a big band, about ten pieces. There was quite a bit of tension as the stage was being set and it seemed (probably was) the longest changeover of the whole weekend.
Which would have been nice if it had all been worthwhile, but when the band eventually kicked off the first song (lovely sound) and Gilbert started to sing, there was one thing missing.
Which was the lead vocal.
You’d think somebody would have noticed, sharpish. Then I realised that the whole band had in-ear monitors; they were blissfully unaware of this lack of melody, lyrics, voice…they seemed to be getting Right Into It, in fact.
First song over, there was an amount of loud protest from the audience, but of course, the artist and his band were unaware of this and probably took what they could hear as rabid approbation. Some people at the front were trying to draw Gilbert’s attention to what was happening, but he didn’t have a clue. They launched into the second song, then the third…by this time, somebody should really have been wondering at the chants of “off, off,” which were starting; certainly, if the artist was even vaguely aware of what was (not happening) he may have wondered why his greatest song, Nothing Rhymed, was merely stirring up howls of protest.
Did the guy on the mixing desk have in-ear monitors too? Maybe…
It was about the fifth song when some lead vocal came through the mix, not loud, but at least there; and only after the sixth song did Gilbert get up from the piano and go and have some presumably terse words in the wings. He then checked with the audience; “So; am I right? You didn’t hear any vocal on anything so far?” The poor man shook his head at the affirmative reply…
That all kind of put a damper on the rest of the set, which deflatedly trundled along and I imagine someone in his organisation was no longer in his organisation after that night.
Happily, I’d missed Richard Ashcroft and there was time for a quick grub break before getting back to the main stage to catch Suede, who were much better than they had any right to be. These guys certainly still know how to work the stage and the audience (I saw them a couple of times when they started out;) but once again, the finger-deadening cold was setting in and as good as Suede were proving to be, getting back to the car and going home for some wine was fast becoming a preferred option.
So, goodbye to the Hop Farm for 2012. Probably as civilised a festival experience as could be had.

Thanks to Marie for the picture again.

Festivals · Gigs · Music

Hop Farm Festival – Part Three, Day Two

Oast houses Hop Farm Festival 2012
The festival site, showing oast houses. Hence, Hop Farm

On day two, at least I knew the ropes of how to do this festival thing…but there had to be a bit of variation. So after a day of lager on day one, the changes were rung and the soup du jour was Spitfire bitter. Any incipient guilt at having a beer at 1pm, or at least the first of a day’s worth of beer, was left at the gate.

It was another main stage day, from Bellowhead as second act onward. For the sort of people who like that sort of thing, Bellowhead is what they like. And that’s OK.

In the afternoon kitsch spot was Sir Bruce Forsyth, who did the old-school entertainer thing to a T; he played the piano, sung, told a few jokes, danced. I especially enjoyed the blond willow-creatures behind us (with small children) who would frequently implore the kids to “watch grandad playing the piano” or “watch grandad tap dancing…” Got it.

Joan Armatrading was worthy and professional. By this time, we were at the edge of the stage again, as we’d got a space for a couple of friends who had come over for the day and who like…Joan Armatrading. At least gave us a good vantage point for a blissed-out Randy Crawford with the Joe Sample Trio, who made it all look so easy.

Patti Smith and her Band (i.e. not the Patti Smith Group) were definitely the highlight of the weekend. Apart from the headliners of each day, all the acts have to perform a truncated set to fit in with the schedule and this can work to great advantage if material is thin; if material is profuse, as is the case with this band, the shortness of the set makes the cream rise to the top.

There’s a tremendous grace and ease with this band; Patti, Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty have been playing together for upward of thirty years and still give the impression that every night they are going out to play the band’s best set ever; even the newer members of the group have been there about ten years and between the five of them, the band play lithe, lissome rock and roll music which is probably not vastly different in tone and temperament to what they did in the seventies; as they approach their seventies, it’s only getting better.

Patti Smith at Hop Farm
My photograph of photographers waiting for a particularly impressive ball of phlegm coming out of Patti – Bobcat from Leicester on the left..

And Patti is a world class gob-hawker; at least three massive, blissful, balls of phlegm emanated from her throughout the set. It’s not just about the music with this woman…

When Patti had finished, we vacated our place at the front of the stage to picnic, have ostrich burgers (yes, the food was as eclectic as that) and more beer. We left the two young guys we had met at the front who had come from Leicester for their premiere Bob experience. They weren’t too talkative, but I admired the dedication of standing in the same spot for hours to be as close to Bob as possible.

The sun was going down when Damien Rice came on stage. Clearly, there was no way that Dylan would have followed Patti Smith and her Band, so some poor bugger had to fill in the gap in the middle.

Now I like some of the first Damien Rice album very much; it’s a quiet, intimate wee lo-fi thing (apart from the strings recorded at Abbey Road right enough…) and has three great songs on it. It was very popular in its time. But when an artist’s third album, following his not very good second one, is a live rendition of the first album, that’s not so much a career arc as a downward spiral. It’s such a shame people don’t get the chance to develop at a reasonable pace any more…still, he played a pleasant enough hour or so opening for Bob.

The only remarkable thing about Dylan’s set on this night was that he was playing the grand piano (which was audible, unlike the usual electric piano he has favoured since about 2000;) I like to think he saw Sir Bruce Forsyth playing it and asked for a shot.

Bob does rather tend to trot out bluesy r&b by the yard at his shows these days; I wish he’d give the audience credit for maybe wanting something a little beyond superior pub-rock (OK, it’s very, very, superior pub-rock…) Shame that the cantankerous old boy is still so camera shy that he wouldn’t allow any worthwhile images on the big screens at either side of the stage, just a sweep of the stage from a camera which must have been at about the mixing desk, so the images were no bigger than the actual size of the band.

But still, it was Bob, and you know what you,ve signed up for when you go. Every time I see him I think it will be the last time, because he does tend to play in the sort of dreadful arenas which I’ve stopped going to, but I somehow seem to have lucked out enough to have seen him in a few times in theatres in the last years.

Hand were frozen again. Must remember to take gloves if attending in future.

To be continued; thanks to Marie, again, for the first picture.

Festivals · Gigs · Music

Hop Farm Festival – Part Two, Day One

Hop Farm t-shirts

There were about half a dozen acts I was looking forward to seeing over the weekend of the festival, which doesn’t sound much, but that was just the known quantities, there were loads of other people playing who could be of interest.
Looking at the running orders of the three stages, there was only one obvious clash, which was that Dylan and Primal Scream were headlining on different stages on the Saturday. So I’d have to miss The Scream Team, which was a shame, because I was looking forward to my display of Bobby Gillespie Dancing for the good people of and visitors to Kent. Bobby Gillespie Dancing probably still carries the death penalty in many Arab states (not even he pulls it off very well,) and I was sad to forego my moment in the sun, but I wasn’t going to miss Dylan.
As promised, it was indeed a twenty minute drive to Paddock Wood and we got parked up in a field, next to another field, which abutted several other fields. I don’t like fields; they’re in the country and I’m from the city. I get antsy when there’s no pavements, buildings, traffic and noise. Weird things happen in the country.

Looking for Bob Dylan Hop Farm 2012
Baffled in a field in Kent. This picture actually appeared on the big screens either side of the stage on several occasions.

A ten minute walk got us to the festival site, we got programmes to clock the running orders we’d been poring over for the last weeks and set forth into a field. By now, the reassuring sound of amplified music was getting through and calming me a bit, as did the burger stall. I reckoned this would be the end of eating opportunities for the day, so got a burger to eat as we approached the main stage.
Hey, this was OK (not the music at that particular time admittedly;) it was not crowded, there were no fights in progress, no signs of carnage. A quick recce showed me that there was no bother getting nice and near to the stage should that be necessary, I could see two big bars…I got the beers in. Ooooh, just over £4 for a pint of lager, I could get to like it here.
One thing which had given me pause about this outing was that kids under twelve get into the festival free, so I had a vision of loads of distracted Chloes and Jacks running about and annoying me. But not so, as the organisers of the festival control the wee darlings with BEER!
Let me expand on that a bit. Although you can buy a souvenir Hop Farm plastic pint beaker, you quickly find you’re spending a lot of time walking about with an empty souvenir plastic beaker, so common sense dictates that you buy your next drink in a paper cup, which paper cups attract a bounty of 10p when returned to the bar. The Chloes and Jacks quickly pick up on this, then spend the whole weekend collecting discarded paper pint pots. This serves the wonderful triple-ripple purposes of keeping the dear souls busy, keeping the place tidy and making the patrons think they are doing some sort of recycling. You can spot the different firms of kids looking for empties over the weekend; Tony Soprano himself wouldn’t muscle in on their patches.
There was still nothing very interesting on-stage, so I went for a wander. I had also been wrong about the food; every sort of grub you can imagine was on offer over the site; there were shops, play areas, busking areas; the other two tented stages were accessible and seemed hospitable.
By this time, Billy Ocean was on stage, in what must be the afternoon “kitsch spot.” I didn’t realise how many hits he’d had until I half-watched his set, but I had always realised how “creative” he had been in his use of “influences”. So “Carribean Queen” is not unlike “Billie Jean;” “Suddenly” is not unlike “Hello;” and for “Red Light” you can perm any number of R. Dean Taylor hits. I can’t quite place “When the Going Gets Tough,” but delight in the how much it sounds like he’s singing “go and get stuffed.” Anyway, Alex Chilton was a fan of “Love Really Hurts Without You,” so that’s good enough for me.
The first top-drawer music happened with Dr John, who seemed to be going through the motions a bit, but he’s probably earned that. The band was hot though.
We got down to the front for George Clinton Parliament Funkadelic (as it was billed,) which was one of the half-dozen acts I was really keen to see and turned out to be the highlight of the day. The band had a very relaxed entrance, ambling onstage apparently to check the equipment and then being announced to the audience, which seemed to cause some upset, as one of the guitar amps wasn’t working and was hauled off and replaced during the first number. No matter, the band slid into an easy p-funk groove and spent the next hour going through the high points of the Clintoparliafunkadelicmentthang catalogue.

George Clinton at Hop Farm Festival 2012
George Clinton with nursie at far right.

Not ambling but roller-skating on was a beautiful young backing vocalist in a rubber nurse’s uniform with side vents, straight out of a Pedro Bell album sleeve rather than an NHS ward. I couldn’t see Clinton, then realised that he was the big guy in the blue suit – I was looking for multi-coloured dreadlocks, but that look has gone.
A real live Sir Funk D’Void soon joined the band on stage and did some pretty amazing acrobatic dancing, even hauled a couple of girls out from the audience to dance with him.
The sun was just beginning to go down as the band achieved lift-off…
That was pretty much it for music for the day. We had a wander round the site again, got some food and half-listened to Ray Davies after watching a bit of Field Music and I Am Kloot in the Bread & Roses tent.
Davies, whom I’ve seen before, really does under-sell himself; he can turn some of the loveliest songs written into boozed-up singalongs, which is a shame.
Which left Peter Gabriel to headline, tremendously earnest and boring. I couldn’t feel my fingers any more, which I think was more the early summer chill, but might not have been.

To be continued – thank you, Marie, for the first picture.

Festivals · Gigs · Music

Hop Farm Festival – Part One

Hop Farm Music Festival line-up 2012

I bought tickets for the Hop Farm Festival 2013 the other day. They’re early bird tickets, which means buying blind, as no acts have been announced for this year’s festival yet, but they’re also £25 cheaper than last year…I guess I will shortly be finding out exactly how many acts I can’t stand will be performing in that field in Kent in the first weekend of July.

I’m surprised the festival is happening at all, because I thought I’d jinxed it by attending last year; Hop Farm 2012 was my loss of festival virginity and toward the end of the year, it was announced that the promoter’s firm was in administration. Vince Power promotes Hop Farm and Bencassim (in Spain) and between the uncertainties of the British summer and the certainty of high youth unemployment in Spain, had taken a kicking financially over the two events. So I was surprised to see tickets on sale for 2013. Good luck to him.

I never meant to go to a festival. I didn’t think it’s a good way to experience music and millions of years of evolution haven’t fitted me to lie in a puddle under wet canvas practising Tantric paranoia or wander amongst walking bags of Tennent’s lager for days on end. So the obvious candidates were out.

My partner, however, has always wanted to go to a festival, specifically Glastonbury (not gonna happen.) So there was some pressure on me to re-think.

Working in London at the start of the year, I met a fine new friend, who made it known that if we were ever to want to go to the Hop Farm festival (which he had attended the previous year – Prince headlined,) he lived twenty minutes away, would happily put us up, drive us to and from the festival each day, pick us up from the airport, take us back to the airport…you see where this is going…

Couldn’t really say no to an offer like that.

So we got tickets; almost all acts had been announced by this time and there were enough people I quite liked, or like an awful lot, to make it worthwhile going for the whole three days. The clincher was that it was Bob Dylan’s only UK show for 2012.

So; Thursday 28 June we were on the plane to Gatwick and were picked up and whisked off to our base in Tonbridge.

Tonbridge has no mean streets and is unlike Gorgie in many respects…see the picture of Tonbridge school below. The band Keane went here (figures) and the script of Lindsay Anderson’s film If…was written by two former boarders, though if you’ve seen the film, you’d have to doubt if the school shouts about that in its publicity material.

Tonbridge School near Hop Farm

We had a nice curry with mine host and prepared for the first day of the festival.

To be continued.