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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Hop Farm Festival 2011, Kent

Just one hour away from London, in an open field, music lovers gathered in their masses to witness a weekend of musical phenomena. Hop Farm’s fourth year role-call was the best yet with headlining performances from none other than The Eagles, Morrissey and Prince! Luckily, unlike for the poor Glasto crowd, we had gloriously fine weather, blue skies and sunshine all weekend. Vince Power’s Kent festival prides itself on no sponsorship, branding or VIPism, focusing solely on the music - a vision that has set his festival apart from all the others. I can confirm, after my second year at Hop Farm that there is certainly something special about this relaxed, but musically rich event.

We drove down on Friday lunchtime with a car full of bits and bobs prepared for any possibility! Parking is free, but Hop Farm also caters for non-drivers with frequent coach rides to and from London, and is conveniently close to Paddock Wood train station. After setting up our £20 (!) Sainsbury’s tent in the field of excited campers, we grabbed a cold beer and trundled off to check out some bands. Hop Farm offers three stages: the Main Stage, Big Tent and the Bread & Roses tent - I spent most of the weekend darting between the first two arenas catching as many sets as possible.

Independent food stalls provide sustenance of every variety and from every culture: Indian, Mexican, American, Italian, vegan - anything you could ever desire, and prices are relatively reasonable. Cider and beer is served in reusable hard plastic cups that you are encouraged to ‘rent’ for £3, keep and use for the whole festival, then return at the end for a full refund... a brilliant idea that avoids excess rubbish, saving money and resources.

On the Friday night it was the Big Tent that was most exciting. We saw a sublime performance from Ocean Colour Scene, the much loved Birmingham band who celebrated their 21st anniversary last year. The set was varied and exciting with tuneful singing and some contagious groovy bass riffs, their enthusiasm and enjoyment was clear in an assured and diverse performance. The Walkmen also deserve a mention, the New York based five-piece have been getting a lot of hype and critical acclaim from the press. At Hop Farm they didn’t disappoint, playing some extraordinary songs and impressing the crowds. I look forward to hearing more from them when they take to the Word stage at Latitude festival. It felt very special to see the Eagles together on stage, their musical ability is still very much intact and they easily made it through a 90 minute set; however I felt there was a slight lack of chemistry on stage which definitely affected the audience’s enjoyment of their much loved music.

Saturday was an all star line-up, unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the whole day (I was seeing Don Airy from Deep Purple play in a private shindig) and was particularly sad to miss my childhood favourite Manu Chao. I did manage to fit in a quick music fix before leaving though, and saw an absolutely magnificent performance from quirky singer Newton Faulkner. A born musician, Faulkner exceeded all my expectations with his magical set, his distinctive way of playing the guitar is a wonder and his voice is soothingly beautiful. His charismatic and witty stage demeanor made him a memorable highlight of the weekend for me. It was also fun to see The Paris Riots and Frankie and the Heartstrings who both made an impact on the audience in the Big Tent on Saturday.

Extra crowds seemed to flock to Kent for the final day of Hop Farm Festival, no doubt to see the quite extraordinary icon Prince, who as the Sunday headliner, made his first ever UK Festival Appearance. But there were treats in store before this finale in the form of: Eliza Doolittle, Imelda May and Tinie Tempah who all graced the Main Stage with their very individual characters and gave strong, energetic performances. I also enjoyed a very natural performance from sister act The Pierces; the audience were transfixed, some blowing bubbles. I felt almost brainwashed by the girls delicious voices and hippy dancing. I completely adored the enthusiastic band The Go! Team who jumped about on stage joyously singing wonderfully and playing a variety of makeshift instruments, including a percussive typewriter. Their newest album ‘Rolling Blackouts’ is going on my ‘to buy’ list.

After a 30 minute delay, and a lot of crowd pushing and shoving the fabulously eccentric Prince arrived on stage, smiling and ready to party. It was, quite possibly the best live show I have ever seen, but perhaps I say that still under the influence of his spellbinding performance. Everything you could hope to see from Prince was there plus a great deal more: staggering guitar playing, funky dancing, theatrical solos, glitter and glory... and as Prince kept reminding us, “all REAL music”.

Even in his sparkly designer heels he wasn’t afraid to get down, sprinting from one side of the stage to another, almost launching himself into the desperately excited crowds. Prince left the audience after three encores, but would clearly have been happy playing all night, "I wish there wasn't no such thing as a curfew. Parties are supposed to go on till everyone's asleep". Unfortunately there was a curfew and eventually the hysteria subsided. Prince certainly had an effect on this crowd, even those who weren’t particularly fans left feeling like the most die-hard followers, only missing the worn out faded tour t-shirts. The audience seemed shocked by the quite unbelievable effect of this man’s music - some were crying, others commenting “I can’t believe it, was it a dream?”

I left Hop Farm 2011 on a euphoric high, and despite the two hour traffic jam to leave I couldn’t help but smile. How Hop Farm manages to always come up trumps with their legendary headliners I just don’t know, they sure have beaten Glastonbury’s Beyonce offering. Bob Dylan last year, and then Prince this, who knows what 2012 will bring for this festival? One thing is for sure, with names THIS big, the festival won’t remain a well kept secret for long.

Visit Hop Farm website here.

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