Sunday, 3 July 2011

Morrissey, Patti Smith, Lou Reed & Iggy Pop - Hop Farm 2011

It’s amazing how much joy so many people can get out of standing squished together for hours with little food and drink and absolutely shattered by the end. I doubt more than a handful who went to the Saturday of this year’s Hop Farm Festival in Kent, however, regretted it.

All the main acts – apart from Prince, who plays today – were on the Saturday, and the organisers kept up the theme of having largely ageing stars from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Before the ‘big four’ who I’ll go on to talk about at length, were Brother, Newton Faulkner and Magazine.

I'd seen Brother when they supported The Streets in the spring, and didn’t particularly wish to again, so I used the time they were on to have lunch and sit down to prepare myself for the hours of standing I was to do starting from Newton Faulkner. I’d never listened to any of his stuff, but like most of the people around me, was soon drawn to his tuneful songs and unusual guitar playing style. Extremely likeable, he played a lovely mix of his own material and cover versions, thrilling the crowd with part of 'Send Me On My Way' by Rusted Root before finishing with a distinctive cover of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. A good entertainer, people flocked to the front to see him, there having been only a small number (as you’d expect) up close to see Brother.

Magazine were next. It may have been because most of the crowd (like myself) hadn’t listened to them rather than because they were bad that no-one (bar the man in front of me who knew every lyric to every song they played) went mad for them. Their lack of volition to converse with the crowd in the wake of Newton Faulkner’s charisma led to some awkward silences in between tracks. I was counting down the time until they finished and looking at my friend's watch, but that’s largely because I was so excited about who was to follow.

Patti Smith appeared on stage to wild cheers and great enthusiasm for her ‘acoustic’ set alongside a couple of versatile musicians who switched between playing the piano, violin and harp. She didn’t perform for long, but ‘quality over quantity’ is more apt than ever to describe her performance. Her endearing charm immediately got the crowd on side, and no-one minded in the slightest when she made – and admitted to making – a couple of mistakes in her first song. Her anti-corporate rhetoric embodied the spirit of the festival well-known for its refusal to be sponsored, and she paid tribute to 'the great voices we have lost'. Perhaps the highlight of her set was the gorgeous version of 'Ghost Dance' she sang with her talented lead guitarist. She finished with ‘Because the Night’ and ‘Gloria’, two of my favourite songs of the 70s, played with such beauty that the Patti Smith of that era would have struggled to better them.

Next was Lou Reed, a genius and former frontman of The Velvet Underground now less than a year shy of his 70th birthday. As you’d expect, his arrival on stage caused great excitement in what was a very diverse crowd. From youngsters who had joined myself in wearing a The Velvet Underground & Nico t-shirt to older people like the guy in his fifties I got chatting to who’d seen Lou in 1974 (a socialist and fan of Billy Bragg, who he used to know, we unsurprisingly got on well). Reed’s choice of songs was eccentric and a little puzzling. It wasn’t so much that the majority were relatively obscure, but that so many were melancholy, angry and lasted as much as 10 minutes apiece. His extended cover of John Lennon’s 'Mother' epitomised this. While he was perfectly entitled to play what he wanted and not necessarily his best-known songs, his track selection did result in a slight loss of energy in the crowd, dampening the mood slightly.

The shout the audience gave when he played ‘Sunday Morning’ towards the end of his set was a mixture of joy and relief. He followed it with the equally melodic ‘Femme Fatale’, also from the Nico album. Yet even these choices were slightly surprising, considering that they both heavily feature her voice in the original versions and there was no female vocalist on stage with him. A lot of people were scratching their heads wondering why he didn’t play ‘Perfect Day’, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ or at least something from Transformer, though he did at least finish with a memorable version of ‘Sweet Jane’.

Very different were Iggy Pop & The Stooges, who raised the noise levels around Hop Farm considerably with a tremendously loud and energetic show. How does Iggy do it? How does a 64-year-old continue to find the energy to run around and crowd surf topless for an hour whilst belting out songs at the top of his voice? A freak of nature. I must admit, I wasn’t really able to concentrate on the sound, clinging as I was onto a girl I'd befriended for dear life amidst the moshing of which I hadn't imagined there could ever be quite so much. My phone, sunglasses and camera would have been destroyed if she hadn’t suggested I pick my bag up off the floor before he started. His songs did seem fairly repetitive and similar to one another: it almost sounded like he was just playing the whole of Fun House – who knows, maybe he was... While a shame he didn’t play anything from Lust For Life, my favourite of his albums, it was perhaps to be expected considering he had the original Stooges, who he made full use of, on stage with him (Lust For Life was a solo effort/collaboration with David Bowie), and he was very enjoyable to watch.

Some had questioned the choice of Morrissey to headline; but I don’t think they could have chosen anyone better to bring the day to a close. The pair of Mancunians who’d travelled all the way down ‘just for Moz’ that we spoke to typified the excitement generated by the icon’s arrival on stage. The highlight of the day, his set was truly outstanding. Those who had stayed (or indeed just arrived late) to see him were rewarded with a brilliant performance, a mixture of solo material and Smiths songs. Of course, Johnny Marr and co. were nowhere to be seen, but the young backing band did a fine job of supporting him, allowing him to play a number of songs by the iconic group. With typical chutzpah, he spoke of ‘the biggest threat to the planet’s survival: the meat industry’ before singing ‘Meat Is Murder’, which I felt (probably like most of the rest of the crowd) a massive hypocrite for joining in with. It hasn’t quite turned me vegetarian, though it made me regret eating the Pastrami sandwich I’d had for lunch.

Equally unforgettable were ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ and ‘This Charming Man’, the atmosphere during which was truly incredible. A surprise addition was Lou Reed’s 'Satellite of Love' which he played impeccably with every word crystal clear. His solo stuff – which included ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ and ‘First of the Gang to Die’ – was just as wonderful, and we were all left wanting more after he returned to play ‘Panic’ for his encore.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day and a very well organised festival. I shall certainly be hoping to come back next year if the line-up is as good as it was this time.

Note: I just focused on the performers on the main stage, because that’s where I was, but I heard Manu Chao, Gang of Four and Noisettes, among the performers on the smaller stages, were good too.

No comments:

Post a Comment