Friday, December 28, 2012

Hop Farm Festival - 30th June 2012

My stamina for festivals keeps fading the older I get, but Hop Farm was more bearable than most. It is held conveniently close to where I live in England's South East and goes for 3 days, though I only attended one. There's no branding, no corporate sponsorship and a line-up very much aimed at middle-aged hippies. It was one of the most chilled out festival experiences I've had. Though this combination resulted in a pleasant day, it did not apparently result in financial success. The company behind it is in trouble and the Hop Farm Festival is unlikely to go ahead in 2013.

The Jezabels are one of the few bands out of Australia in recent years who have interested me. It was good to see them play an impressive set to a decent sized, enthusiastic crowd, so far from home. It helps that the lead singer is super hot and somewhat hypnotic to watch. I challenge anyone to watch her perform and not fall a little bit in love.

After their set I headed to the main stage to watch Patti Smith. Watching her perform, I came to the conclusion that Smith is seriously underrated. It was clear from the outset that she was genuinely happy to be there. She comes across as being perpetually stuck in the 70s and she clearly approves of Hop Farm's rejection of big business. She belted through a range of old and new tracks (though not the guttural Summer Cannibals, which I love to bits), her voice unchanged from the sound it had on 1975's Horses. I was depressed by the fact that there were several groups of music fans (from a generation or two before me) who were standing around me and didn't seem to know who they were watching till Smith started singing Because the Night. She's an amazing musician who is overlooked by many. Festival goers who are there to see Bob Dylan should at least know who Patti Smith is. 

Damien Rice was the name on the line-up that prompted me to part with my cash. I was surprised by his inclusion on the bill because he's yet to release a follow-up to 2006's '9'. He delivered a sparse, heartfelt set, commenting on the way at the remarkable focus of the crowd's attention on him. For many who's conversations I overheard, Rice was the stand-out performer of the day. My only complaint? I Remember was absolutely blistering and if a song can be that powerful with just an acoustic guitar and vocals, I'd like to hear Rice with an entire band behind him. Lisa Hannigan's vocals were missed, particularly on 9 Crimes which sounded unfinished in her absence  Though their split resulted in her brilliant solo albums, I regret not seeing Rice live when she was in the backing band.

Bob Dylan sucked.

If Dylan had been a major draw-card for me, I would have walked away disappointed. Though I am a Dylan fan, enough of my friends have seen him live in recent years for me to be adequately prepared for his live performance. His singing voice was never particularly strong, but he COULD sing, once upon a time. He can't any more  Glass half full - his band are wonderful and he still busts out the harmonica. But his vocals are appalling  He rasps his way through the tracks, so dramatically re-arranged that they are unrecognisable  They were over 2 minutes into Tangled Up In Blue before I realised what song they were playing. There's an episode of Friends where Phoebe tries to teach Joey to speak French and Joey approximates the sounds and spews out total gibberish. That's how Dylan sounds now.
I wonder how Bob must feel, watching his contemporaries like Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks, Paul Simon and Springsteen, all touring and singing with practically the same voices they had 40 years ago. I wonder how he still performs knowing that his ability hasn't lasted the way theirs has. I actually left halfway through his set. Bed was a more attractive prospect than hanging around to hear him murder Like A Rolling Stone.