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Hop Farm Festival, Paddock Wood, Kent, July 3rd 2010

July 11, 2010

Two years ago, the first Hop Farm Festival featured a storming headlining set from Neil Young, but as a one-day festival it had its drawbacks – the main one being the inability of most people to get out of the car-park for two or three hours after the show. This year, the festival included camping and had spread to Friday night too, but I wasn’t tempted by Friday’s headliner, Van Morrison. Last time I saw him nearly twenty years ago he seemed to be almost as bored as I was. It was dull and I left, vowing never to see him again.

Saturday’s headliner was Bob Dylan, with Ray Davies in the number two slot, which was very tempting – and the addition of special late trains back to London sealed it for me, so I got myself a cheap day-ticket, a cheap day return on the train, lots of suntan lotion, a hat and a bottle of water. Devendra Banhart, Tunng and Pete Molinari were also on the bill, so it was worth making a day of it, and I met up with Big Steve and his missus, both of them avid Dylan fans.

A quick real ale in the Bread And Roses beer tent at the back of the main arena brought back memories of the Neil Young show two years ago, with its pouring rain which necessitated staying in the bar between Everest’s opening set and Neil’s brilliant set some seven hours later. As it turned out, this was my penultimate beer of the day – the queues for the bars were huge and didn’t get any shorter, so I stuck to re-filling my water as it was scorchingly hot until late into the evening.

I heard some of the early acts from a distance – Foy Vance and the Magic Numbers, who created a pleasant background to my wandering around the stalls and doing some people-watching. I was struck by the range of ages there, but I suppose you could have come along to see, say, Laura Marling, Mumford and Sons and Pete Doherty, without caring a hoot for Ray and Bob. They were also lots of old geezers getting very drunk, so I felt strangely in the middle of the age range, which is unusual for my gig-going.

The first act I actually wanted to see up-close was Chatham troubadour Pete Molinari, a fine exponent of country-blues-folk-rock-‘n’-roll of the old-fashioned variety. However, things in the big tent (the second stage) were already running so late by mid-afternoon that I positioned myself right near the front just as the act before Pete was about to come out… which allowed me to see up close the full horror that is Alan Pownall. Not that he looked horrific – far from it, he might well be the world’s vainest man – just look at his bloody picture (left). However, everything about his act was horrible: his coiffed matinee idol ‘good looks’, his well-rehearsed naughty boy pout, the casually casual clothes, the tedious 80s-style lounge-soul that his band played, his dull ballady songs, the stupid (and probably expensive) neon sign with his name illuminated on it at the front of the stage, and finally the smiley young men who came out after his set to hand out promo posters and glossy cards to the crowd. It all smacked of record company cash backing a man of limited talent, and lots of posh boys using daddy’s money to play at the ‘music biz’, which, if they hadn’t noticed, is dying – music’s alive and well, but this crappy slick record-label marketing biz increasingly doesn’t work any more. Bleeurgh!

Seeing Pete Molinari was a blissful contrast to this soulless tripe. About a dozen members of his family (seemingly including mum, dad, siblings, cousins and relatives from Malta) were right down the front too, and they cheered proudly as he took to the stage. Pete grinned back at them and launched into his set, which was anything but slick – his amp didn’t work at first and then his guitar strap broke, which he laughed off and carried on, supported by his fine band. His brand of rocking folk-blues isn’t unique, but he creates an attractive and individual mixture of all that’s best from the music of the Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Woody Guthrie and early Bob Dylan.

I suppose the nearest equivalent this side of the pond would be Elvis Costello in his earlier T-Bone Burnett phase back in the mid-80s. Like Costello, Pete managed to attract interest from some of the old greats of American music and got The Jordanaires to back him on his Today, Tomorrow And Forever EP last year. His latest album, A Train Bound For Glory, is just out, and this set gave us a taster of some of that album’s songs – and the verdict is they’re rockier, which is all good. Pete’s also let his hair grow back to curly black rather than slicked back, though he is wearing the fetching red and blue polka-dot shirt seen on the album cover (left).

There was lots to like about Pete’s set, including a lovely version of relative oldie Absolutely Sweet Louise, catchy new songs New York City, Streetcar Named Desire and What A Day, What A Night, What A Girl, and a positively Stonesish rocking version of Joe South’s Walk A Mile In My Shoes. Great stuff.

By now, things were running seriously late, so I’d (mercifully) missed Pete Doherty and Seasick Steve on the big stage. The information desk posted up new timings and I realised that I’d miss seeing Tunng if I wanted to see Ray Davies, which was a shame, but Devendra was now pencilled in for 11.00pm, after Bob’s set, so that would be worth a look. I decided that if I wanted to be near the front for Ray and Bob, I’d move in as Mumford and Sons finished, as I figured a lot of younger folk would want to bugger off to buy drink and so on at that point – leaving the oldies to move in.

That meant listening to Mumford and Sons relatively up-close and, boy, were they disappointing. Lots of speedy kerching-kerching on acoustic guitars and although they’ve been described as indie-folk, that’s nonsense. A mandolin, dobro and accordion do not a folk band make. They’re indie, full stop. And they do the same quick/slow, quiet/loud routine that I railed against Grizzly Bear for. These anthemic songs with stirring crescendos get so tiring after a while and I’m surprised that the crowd can keep up with so many musical mini-orgasms. I certainly can’t…

Anyway, enough impure thoughts – it was time to listen to Ray Davies, the king of the Kinks. The old curmudgeon wandered onstage and launched into a set packed with Kinks hits, played with great punch by his band – Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, All Day And All Of The Night, You Really Got Me, the lovely Days and the dubious Apeman, sung in a cod Caribbean accent, which just made it even more dubious. It was all good fun, but Ray’s an awkward performer, not knowing whether or not to enjoy himself or stir the crowd up without just whooping at them. Such a festival set also lays bare just how painfully empty his song cupboard is after the early 70s – Come Dancing really won’t cut the musical mustard, I’m afraid.

Being a curmudgeon, Ray had to moan about something and, not content with dissing Bob by saying that some of the big acts on the bill don’t live in gated communities, he then had a right go at promoter Vince Power for getting his people to tell Ray to leave the stage. Everything was running late, so I presume a request for ‘one more song’ came from stage right. Ray exploded and said he was going to carry on f***ing playing and hadn’t met any promoter who was so rude and that he’d worked with Bill Graham back in the day and Bill was a real gentleman… You get the picture.

The funny thing was he soon changed his tune, despite carrying on playing. He must have realised that this was a big gig for him these days, so it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to bite one of the few hands that’s feeding you. After the next song he said how much he appreciated ‘Hop Fest’ and remembered going hop-picking when he was a lad. Later he wished the ‘Hop Fest’ great success in the future, thus completing one of the greatest onstage ‘reverse ferrets’ I’ve ever witnessed.

After a short break, Bob and his band came on, dressed in dapper suits very much in the manner of Neil Young’s Prairie Wind outfits. We were treated to a disappointingly curtailed set, but one played wonderfully by the band, as they took old songs and gave them stylistic twists to breathe new life into them. Things started well with a rollicking Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, where it seemed the whole crowd joined in with ‘Everybody must get stoned’ – and by the smell of the front area, the demand was likely to be fulfilled…

Oldies Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, Just Like A Woman and Simple Twist Of Fate received their radical re-workings, but much of the crowd seemed unaware that this is Bob’s way. Many also seemed ignorant of Bob’s vocal eccentricities these days, which is odd, because he’s been singing like this for years now. And you get used to it – of course he can’t sing like he once did, which is a shame, but it doesn’t mean he should shut up for ever.

Bob and the band also played fine versions of more recent songs such as High Water (For Charley Patton) and Honest With Me from Love And Theft, Workingman’s Blues #2 and Thunder On The Mountain from Modern Times, and one of the few really good songs he wrote in the 80s, Blind Willie McTell. It was nice to see how many of the younger folks up front knew the songs – old and new – although given Bob’s vocal style, it’s not advised to attempt to sing along, though many tried.

It’s all a long way from when I saw Bob for the first time, at Earl’s Court in 1978. That was a magical evening and it can’t be matched, which is perhaps a shame, but there’s no point worrying about the trials and tribulations of the ageing process – they’re going to happen to us all unless we fall under a tram first. The last two songs were the hugely predictable Like A Rolling Stone and Forever Young, and the crowd streamed off into the night – many of them towards the big tent to catch Devendra Banhart’s set. I did likewise briefly, but then had to hop on a shuttle bus to get one of the late special trains back to London. Oh, and I managed to grab a pint just as I was leaving, to make it a heady two pints for the day. Cheers!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Dr. Syn permalink
    July 12, 2010 1:46 am

    “Such a festival set also lays bare just how painfully empty his song cupboard is after the early 70s”?!?! What an asshole you are.

  2. Dr.Syn permalink
    July 12, 2010 5:26 pm

    Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t have the balls to approve my comment.

    As for Ray Davies, you would not know genius if it bit you on the ass.

    • brandnewguy permalink*
      July 13, 2010 11:09 pm

      I was offline and busy, actually (and my balls were still there last time I looked). Tell you what, it might have been good if you’d spent a minute or two listing some of Ray’s songs since the mid-70s that you think are genius, then I’d pay attention. As it is, you seem like just another internet potty-mouth.

      • Dr.Syn permalink
        July 14, 2010 6:37 pm

        I may be a potty mouth, but Ray Davies is still a genius. I have listened to Ray’s work past 1970 and can attest to that.

        It’s sad that such a closed-minded person is reviewing anything … but that’s the Internet for you.

  3. brandnewguy permalink*
    July 14, 2010 7:00 pm

    You state he’s a genius and then you ‘attest’ to it. That’s not going to persuade me or anyone else. And why do you think my mind is closed because I don’t agree with your tastes? A glance at the rest of my blog might convince you that I’m always listening to new music, seeing new bands and old, and exposing myself to a great variety of genres, ages and everything else. Mention a few Ray-related leads and I might just follow them up…

    • Dr. Syn permalink
      July 14, 2010 11:01 pm

      “Might just follow them up”…? That’s hardly enough incentive to waste my time trying to convince you of anything. Thanks for the offer, though.

      • brandnewguy permalink*
        July 14, 2010 11:03 pm

        And thanks for your great contribution.

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