Hop Farm Festival
July 2011

It’s the festival that refuses to suck corporate cock.

Stood before us bathed in neon purple floodlights Prince – the pint-sized man of the moment – nails Hop Farm’s unique selling point: “Real music man”¦ from a real band.”

There are no reality TV stars or WAGs hogging the limelight here; no elitist subsidised bars; no towering billboards or rampant commercialism”¦ just blue Kent skies, happy pockets of friends and family and bona fide music legends on tap.

He may well have travelled the 80ft distance from his dressing room (custom-built, obviously) to the stage in a chartered purple limo, but from the top of his perfectly coiffeured bouffant to the well-stacked heels of his shoes Prince is all about the licks and the lyrics. No gimmicks – just great music from a great man at this his first ever UK festival.

After opening up with crackers like ”ËœLet’s Go Crazy’, ”ËœDelirious’, ”Ëœ1999′, and ”ËœLittle Red Corvette’ we get to gorge ourselves silly on the vintage cheddar of ”ËœPurple Rain’ and all this from the tiny dot of a man whose star quality ignites the dying embers of Sunday night.

It’s been a long journey to get here ”“ one that started out with a perfectly serviceable set from Bryan Ferry, called in on a spectacularly sulky Lou Reed and whistled by uber-cool producer Labrinth (easily rivalling heavy weight contender Tinie Tempah for best rock/hip-hop fusion act of the weekend).

Shunning The Eagles (who moved at least one hardcore fan to virtual tears of disappointment) I opted to watch The Human League instead ”“ a popular choice that left the Big Tent heaving to feelgood hits like ”ËœFascination’, ”ËœMirror Man’ and ”ËœDon’t You Want Me’ as well as signature eighties classics ”ËœHuman’ and ”ËœTogether In Electric Dreams’.

The meaty prospects on Saturday’s billing kicked off modestly with The Bluetones, who humbly announced their intention to retire from the music scene after their current round of gigs. “Prince himself insisted we only play half an hour. He heard about our thunder,” lead singer Mark Morriss quipped before tearing into indie staple ”ËœSlight Return’. The revelation added extra poignancy to closer ”ËœIf”¦’.

Over on the Main Stage, which suffered from occasional but distracting aural bleed from the adjacent tent, Newton Faulkner won over the crowd with a jaw-dropping take on ”ËœBohemian Rhapsody’ ”“ raising the bar for covers over the weekend.

Magazine ”Ëœversion 6.0′ (Howard Devoto’s words, not mine) cranked up the post-punk credibility stakes with a ”ËœBest Of’ performance including ”ËœBecause You’re Frightened’, ”ËœShot By Both Sides’ and ”ËœA Song From Under The Floorboards’. The only obvious omission from an otherwise superlative set was ”ËœRhythm of Cruelty’. This is serious nit-picking.

Pure perfection then arrived in the form of Patti Smith ”“ her eyes glowing with fierce intelligence through the thick thatch of her fringe. Her acoustic performance bordered on shamanic – lulling the rapt audience with talk of crossing over, revolution and the spiritual plains. “We’re letting governments and corporations know we exist!” she proclaimed ”“ her hand knotted into a breastbone-beating fist. ”ËœMy Blakean Road’. ”ËœPissing in a River’ and ”ËœBecause The Night’ all got an airing before a rabble-rousing ”ËœGloria’ snapped us back wide awake.

And then she was gone ”“ vacating the stage for Lou Reed. No introductions, no niceties”¦ straight into a curmudgeonly version of ”ËœWho Loves The Sun’ he goes. So far so good and then it starts”¦ the now-familiar descent into an extended jam that disconnects ”Ëœus’ from ”Ëœthem’ ”“ the seemingly terrified band who are at the mercy of Reed’s obnoxious attitude. “Give me something man!” he barks at the violinist who is already playing his heart out. As a terminal case of foot-shuffling breaks out among my neighbouring festival-goers even Lou senses he’s losing us. There’s time ”“ just enough ”“ to toss us a few bones”¦. ”ËœSunday Morning’, ”ËœFemme Fatale’ and show closer ”ËœSweet Jane’ but it’s too little too late. Thanking his musicians, Lou signs off: “And him over there who plays whatever”¦ and yeah, how about me?” he harrumphs. I feel genuinely deflated.

Thank heavens then for Iggy and The Stooges, who catapult out on stage like a pack of wolves on heat and go straight into ”ËœRaw Power’. A Curpinol-brown wood-stain coloured face fills the big screen”¦ it’s Iggy Pop grinning through a set of Simon Cowell-white dentures that leave me temporarily blinded. “We’re a real band, man!” he drawls to a roar of appreciation from the crowd who surge forward when he calls a lucky 12 disciples up on stage. Grinning broadly and dad-dancing in his chequered shirt next to Iggy one grey-haired fan looks like all his Christmases and birthdays have come at once. “Thank you to the generous and charming Kent dancers,” Iggy says ”“ flicking his Jennifer Aniston-esque hair from his mischievously twinkling eyes. What follows is the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of a crowd-pleasing set ”“ ”ËœSearch and Destroy’, ”ËœI Need Somebody, Baby’, ”Ëœ1970 (I Feel Alright)’, ”ËœFunhouse’, ”ËœCock In My Pocket’, ”ËœI Wanna Be Your Dog’ and ”ËœNo Fun’ to name but a few.

It prompts even egomaniac Morrissey (half an hour late on stage, naturally) to ask: “How do you follow Iggy and The Stooges?” not once but twice. Fair question, but Manchester’s finest has a few tricks up his tailored sleeve – namely a groaning back catalogue of hits to cherry-pick from. ”ËœI Want The One I Can’t Have’ opens proceedings after a collection of video clips depicting everyone from The New York Dolls to Sparks. It’s all very camp and overblown ”“ a bit like Morrissey himself – but it sets the stage perfectly for a stunning performance from our buoyant and exuberant headliner.

“This is the most civilised and most pleasant music festival in England,” he declares. “So for God’s sake do whatever it takes to enjoy yourself.” Don’t mind if we do Morrissey! It’s easily done when the likes of ”ËœThere Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, ”ËœEveryday Is Like Sunday’, ”ËœIrish Blood, English Heart’, ”ËœFirst Of The Gang To Die’ and ”ËœPanic’ are ringing sonorously out over the entire arena. Framed within this context, new songs like ”ËœAction Is My Middle Name’ slot in perfectly ”“ definite growers that improve with each listen.

Slightly portlier than usual, Morrissey wrestles with the urge to strip off and settles for three backstage shirt changes instead. No lucky souvenirs for the front row tonight folks, but we all take a piece of him home instead in the form of a truly memorable performance.

Sunday and it’s nearly time for Prince and the biggest contemporary act of the weekend ”“ Tinie Tempah. Sheltering from the crucifying mid-afternoon heat in the Big Tent brings its own rewards however”¦ a decent Cee-Lo Green cover from up-and-coming girlband Parade”¦ an excellent version of NWA’s ”ËœExpress Yourself’ by Labrinth and a weather-appropriate sunny set from Brighton-based sextet The Go! Team.

New York-based sisters The Pierces serve up a couple of gems – namely ”ËœBoring’ with its ”ËœVogue’-style delivery and ”ËœGlorious’, which is evocative of Jefferson Airplane.

Tinie Tempah is impressively cool ”“ clearly undaunted by the pantheon of big names that have gone before him. He watches us through the eyeless lenses of superstar-black sunglasses; his back is straight, no hint of nerves. We go straight in with ”ËœFrisky’, ”ËœWonderman’ and ”ËœInvincible’. It’s immediately apparent his Radio 1-friendly sound has had a dirty makeover with rock guitars. The bass sounds dangerous, throatier. The crowd is loving it. “This isn’t just any song. That guy over there has got the T-shirt” Tinie says. It’s ”ËœPass Out’ of course and my forearms bristle as a droning thump vibrates the ground at our feet. It’s the perfect grimy kiss-off as somewhere behind the scenes a chauffeur fires up the engine of an ostentatious purple limo. Royalty is on its way”¦

On Friday the showground was comfortably full. Saturday was busy. Sunday ”“ ”ËœPrince Day’ – is heaving. Distinctive orange-coloured one-day wristbands have appeared like a rash. Anticipation is high. Pockets of purple have popped up everywhere”¦ purple rugs, jackets, deckchairs ”“ everyone wants in. The super-confident gaze of a bare-chested Prince stares out from T-shirts wherever the eye falls. By 8.15pm we’re ready to burst. A full 35 minutes later, He finally arrives”¦ and doesn’t leave for two-and-a-half hours. Larry Graham ”“ Sly and The Family Stone’s legendary bassist ”“ calls by to jam on versions of ”ËœEveryday People’ and ”ËœI Want to Take You Higher,’ the latter of which turns into an impromptu groove-fest. Time and again Prince leaves the stage only to return. Too many hits ”“ that’s the trouble.
Reportedly Prince went home £1.5 million richer after his outing to the Home Counties”¦ If that’s true he was worth every penny.

Now as I look at the old-school programme which (gasp) actually tells you about the musicians instead of flogging holidays, trains and credit cards I understand why event organiser Vince Power’s black-and-white profile shot on the introduction page is so damn smug.

He has pulled off THE festival of the summer and secured a history-making headlining performance from Prince without any input from the likes of Richard Branson and co.

”ËœPower To The People’ indeed!

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