Hop Farm 2010
A hugely entertaining event, which manages to live up to the strength of it’s line up.Read more on Laura Marling Listen to Laura Marling on Spotify
There is always that niggling feeling at the back of your mind whenever these type of events come around that you should pack wellies despite the weather forecast promising the contrary. Fortunately it was a sun cream manufacturers dream as a wave of minimally clothed revellers flocked to the heart of Kent for what could almost be described as a modern folk festival.
Playing a midday set to a relatively small crowd is far from easy but the passionate traditionalism of Foy Vance managed to win the majority over far more successfully then any of our recent prime ministerial candidates. Next up were perennial festival band The Magic Numbers who managed to strike just the right balance between the familiar (in the shape of hit singles 'Forever Lost' and 'Love Me Like You') and the new with sisterly duet 'Why Did You Call?' in particular pointing to a bright future.
Laura Marling has come a long way from her early nervous performances and this growing confidence was evident. Her accomplished band provide a backdrop which compliments her expressive voice and wide eyed demeanour without removing the focus from it’s ringleader. She kicked off with the furious 'Devil’s Spoke' and drew heavily on recent album 'I Speak Because I Can'in her choice of songs. The middle part of her set saw her perform solo including a faultless cover of Jackson C. Frank‘s 'Blues Run The Game' and a glimpse into the future with 'Don’t Ask Me Why'. The way in which she squeezes every last drop of emotion from lyric after lyric is compelling and whistling her way through the violin solo of 'Night Terror' brought deserved applause. The title track to her latest album provided a suitably epic finale, bold and loud in all the right places but with a dash of fragility. A truly special talent and a real joy to witness first hand.
On the opposite end of the chemically enhanced spectrum is Pete Doherty who performed an unaccompanied set on the main stage joined by a pair of ballerinas for the majority of his performance. Smartly dressed, he looked the picture of health although the half attached plaster hanging of the top of his neck can surely only be explained by the man himself. What he did manage was to reinvent familiar songs as engaging acoustic strumalongs which were quickly picked up by the crowd and sung with utter gusto. Focussing mostly on Libertines and Babyshambles with a handful of solo numbers thrown in was a smart move though his cheeky reference to Chas & Dave may have been mildly amusing the first time round but became altogether more infuriating with every repeat mention.
With just a short gap between bands there wasn’t long to wait before the appearance of Seasick Steve whose captivating set provided quite possibly the highlight of the festival. After a blistering opener, started in spoken form, he declared 'I need me a girl' and proceeded to find himself one from the audience. Sitting down face to face they exchanged swigs of wine from a bottle before singing 'Walkin Man' to her and dedicating the ending to his ill friend. Having rested his feet the mood took him to roam around the stage, exhorting the crowd to repeat his call of 'I’m burning up' whilst showcasing his mind-blowing guitar skills. What equally sets him apart is his homemade instruments like the diddley bo (with it‘s corresponding tribute song), a piece of wood with a string attached and another which was effectively two Morris Minor hubcaps on a broomstick, both creating sounds that their simplicity should have no right to do so. At the end of his set you feel like you’ve got to know Steve as he shares his stories and experiences whilst his undoubted charm wins you over.
Where Laura Marling is Mumford and Sons are never far behind though they steered clear of collaboration on this occasion. Starting with a string of their most well known songs meant those in attendance were hooked from the outset, 'Sigh No More', 'Roll Away Your Stone' and 'Winter Winds' (dedicated to Kid British) dispatched upon Marcus confession to how terrifying it was playing in front of such a large audience. For part of their set they were joined by a brass section who provided an interesting though not strictly necessary twist on their folk template. We were treated to a glimpse of the future in the form of a brace of new tracks. 'Nothing Is Written' was the more conventional whilst Lover Of The Light' with singer Marcus on drums had an almost electronic feel with bursts of keyboard blips. In some ways it was easy to see why the latter was left of their debut as it’s stylistically quite different whilst both were latched onto with enthusiasm despite their unfamiliarity. The quasi religious fervour reached it’s epitaph on a cataclysmic 'Awake My Soul' as if the very roof of a cathedral had been lifted off and the beaming smiles emanating from the stage were a cast iron sign as to how much the band were enjoying themselves. Closing song 'The Cave' completed it was time to exit the stage but the baying shouts for more rang out loud and long.
With the word of the youth boldly proclaimed it was the turn of the old guard to step up. It was clearly apparent that many present had come predominantly to witness the Kinks front man first hand and a string of hits from the band that made his name were received with greater fondness than a hit and miss selection of solo material. Ever single voice from the youngest to the oldest sang along with the likes of 'Sunny Afternoon', 'You Really Got Me', 'All Day And All Of The Night' and 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion', introduced by the sexagenarian as 'an old English folk song'. Throughout a set which he defiantly refused to cut short there were stories aplenty to keep the crowd going through the more mundane sections. The meandering 'The Tourist' was damning proof that his best song writing moments are chronicling British rather than American life whilst ill advised forays into sub Paolo Nutini reggae and cheesy calypso (Come Dancing) were musical cannon folder at best. Despite the repeated shouts of a rather drunk Scotsman there was no place for the classic 'Waterloo Sunset' but ending with 'Lola' left a sweet taste in the mouth where it could otherwise have been bitter.
From one legend to another and it was the job of Bob Dylan to headline the final night of the Vince Power organised festival. To still be performing live at the grand old age of 69 is a testament to his dogged tenacity but tonight was somewhat of disappointment even for the most diehard of fans. This may come as an affront to those who believe the great man is beyond reproach but reality is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow. Once you accept that in contrast to the other performers he prefers not to be filmed close up, communicates little with the audience beyond a cursory thank you and staunchly refuses to play to the crowd means that his headliner status is inherently fraught with difficulty. As is customary with his more recent live shows he was backed with a carefully assembled band who didn’t put a step wrong but seemed afraid to truly let themselves go. Complete with trademark hat, Dylan spent much of the set facing sideways at his piano, venturing centre stage occasionally when letting loose on his beloved harmonica to the shrieking delight of the congregation. We were treated to a selection of tracks from across his vast back catalogue, the best of which 'Highway 51 Blues' and gospel favourite 'I Believe In You' shudder and shook with vitality but others were twistedly sung in a way which thrusted them beyond the point of recognition. The biggest cheers of all were reserved for 'Like A Rolling Stone', rolled out as part of a two song encore where the tangible crowd relief was akin to a wanderer finding an oasis in the desert.
Disappointing headliner and fractured organisation aside this was a hugely entertaining event which managed to live up to the strength of it’s line up and proof if ever was needed that folk music is well and truly alive.