Now into its fifth year, Kent’s Hop Farm Festival has gone from a one-day event to a fully established part of the summer festival circuit in a rather short space of time. Having seemingly established itself as the go-to festival for classic acts and ageing veterans, this year continued to follow precedent. Headlining acts included Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra, Bob Dylan and Suede, and the likes of George Clinton, Patti Smith, The Psychedelic Furs and Billy Ocean rounded out the bill. With bands like Primal Scream, White Denim, My Morning Jacket and Tom Vek also playing over the weekend, there was something for almost everyone.
As good as this all sounds, this year’s festival did suffer from quite a considerable amount of filler during the day. With Vince Power at the helm and the obvious ability to secure an exclusive headline set from Prince, there’s no real excuse for this. As well known as Slow Club, The Datsuns and Benjamin Francis Leftwich are, none of their performances were weekend-defining or left anyone longing for more. The bands that were worth seeing, however few though they were, made the festival worth attending.
The funkiest man alive, George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic), brought all the insanity, endless grooves, mindless jammings and fur-clad pimps you could ever wish for. No one was entirely sure what was going on, and that’s just how a P-Funk set should be. It was the type of set that the phrase, "They don’t make 'em like this anymore," was meant for. In direct contrast to this, over in the Big Tent, Lianne La Havas was potently and unrelentingly pleasant. The Stranglers, however, rectified this and showed many of the weekend’s newer acts exactly how it should be done. Their post-punk swagger remained intact and was perfectly embodied in a rampant 'Peaches' and a cover of 'All of the Day and All of the Night,' which they played while Ray Davies performed on the main stage.
Bringing Friday to an epic close, Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra were very impressive. Anyone who chooses to have an orchestra as his backing band deserves abundant credit. Cheesy as the concept may seem, it really did work as the orchestra switched from minimalism to grandiosity and from melancholy to optimism at the drop of a hat.
Just before The Datsuns played the Big Tent, Little Barrie did The Datsuns better than they themselves did. Little Barrie presented the timeless 'power trio' format with just the right amount of garage and a splattering of surf rock. They sounded a lot like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s more balls-out moments, which could only be a good thing. The standout set of the day, however, came in the form of an imperious performance by White Denim. Whether or not you enjoy their recorded sound, their live show was an undeniably mesmerising display of musicianship. 'Street Joy' in particular stood out amidst what was essentially one long, relentless jam.
For those with even an inkling of sense, Bob Dylan headline sets are to be avoided at all costs. As his 2010 set at this very festival proved, even the most die-hard Dylan fan would simply be lying to themselves if they said they enjoyed watching him live nowadays. You could play 'What song is this meant to be?' throughout his set and be wrong every time. It’s more or less Bob Dylan covering Bob Dylan--really, really badly. Meanwhile, thankfully, Primal Scream took the Big Tent to pieces. With their Screamadelica tour behind them, they produced a supremely loud set of their greatest hits, reintroducing the likes of 'Swastika Eyes,' 'Accelerator' and 'Shoot Speed/Kill Light' from XTRMNTR to their live performance. Their set fully placated the ever-increasing crowd of disgruntled Dylan fans.
The first highlight of Sunday was the Taj Mahal Trio. The blues legend and his fantastically gruff voice succeeded in bringing a smile to everyone’s face, which was an ideal start to the final day. Of course, on a day where Kool and the Gang were performing, no one could rival their ability to induce smiles and start a party. Playing an hour of nothing but hits, Kool and his gang drew by far the biggest crowd of the day--and probably of the whole weekend. They’re one of those bands which is impossible not to enjoy if you’re in possession of any kind of soul. Continuing on from this, Richard Ashcroft conjured the weekend’s biggest sing-alongs, playing a no-nonsense greatest hits set heavy on material from The Verve’s seminal Urban Hymns.
Everything up to this point, though, paled in comparison to My Morning Jacket’s Big Tent headlining slot. Playing an hour-and-fifty-minute set that drew heavily on their latest album Circuital, it was the perfect demonstration of how to put on a rock and roll gig. With a seemingly endless saxophone solo including a rendition of 'Dondante'; an admirably eclectic range of songs; and Jim James’ unbelievable vocal range (and arguably music’s finest beard) on full show, My Morning Jacket was engaging throughout. A euphoric rendition of 'One Big Holiday' brought the festival to a perfect finish. As another reviewer put it, it was 'surely one of the best performances I’ve ever seen…delivering the embodiment of a headlining performance.' And that’s no exaggeration; it was that good.
And there you have it, the Hop Farm Festival 2012. Flawed as the lineup may have been in parts and as indifferent as the weather most certainly was, the sponsorship-less, no(t quite) VIP policy, lack-of-bullshit festival that is the Hop Farm was once again a very worthwhile weekend. Sadly, the crowds were not present in the volumes of previous years, but those who did attend were treated to some absolute gems at, as Morrissey described it, 'the most civilized and the best festival in the country.' Glastonbury might have a few words to say about the second part of that; then again, it’s not around to pipe up this year.