Hop Farm has a quiet first day

The Hop Farm 2009 review

published: Fri 10th Jul 2009

The Fratellis

Saturday 4th to Sunday 5th July 2009
The Hop Farm, Paddock Wood, Tonbridge, Kent, TN12 6PY, England MAP
weekend with camping £125, day tickets £65
daily capacity: 52000
last updated: Fri 9th Aug 2013

Time to try out a new festival – Hop Farm! I had been attracted by the way the festival was promoted – no sponsorship, no branding, a maximum capacity of 20,000, no VIP area and children under 12 get in free. I was also dying to see acts like Paul Weller, the Editors, Florence and the Machine, Ladyhawke and Fight Like Apes, so to get them playing in one festival was sure to be a true delight. I just hoped that Hop Farm lived up to its promises!

I found it hard to believe that I was only an hour away from London as I wound my way through the picturesque Kent country roads to get to Hop Farm in Paddock Wood. I followed the well signposted route and soon spotted the unique and surreal collection of oast houses (the largest collection in the world) of this once stunning hop farm that offer a totally different backdrop to the sea of fields that I was efficiently directed through to get to the car parking area.

around the festival site (Day 1)
This was only the 2nd year of the Hop Farm Festival, but Vince Power (the organiser, and founder of the Mean Fiddler group) had already made the decision to extend the festival to two days and offer weekend camping too! As a result, I was surprised just how organised it felt as I quickly found a free, yes free, car parking space and went to pick up my wristband to gain entrance. As I made my way through the entrance gates, with no queuing whatsoever, I was surprised just how lax the security was, with little or no checks being made to our bags of camera equipment and food. Anyone could have brought almost anything in on Saturday!

The place seemed deserted as I settled into the backstage press tent. The weather was with us though, and as the sun beat down upon me I slapped on the factor 30 and went off exploring. I noticed that behind Main Stage there was a huge tent hidden from view. This was for friends and family of the bands (no VIP area? PAH!). Out on the main field there was the Main Stage for all the headline acts, the Dance Tent (that looked surprisingly like the Big Top at the IOW Festival) and the small Third Stage. These were contained in the same field, in amongst fair rides, bars, merchandise stands and the usual smattering of overpriced food stalls, so getting around was really easy! They were true to their word though in one sense though– there was no branding or commercialisation!

Howling Bells
I stayed in the refreshing breeze with a very small crowd to watch the second act on the Main Stage, Howling Bells. I'd heard that this indie rock band (originally from Sydney but now based in London) were truly underrated as a live band, and boy were they right. After a few initial sound problems, photogenic lead singer Juanita Stein led us through atmospheric music, full of thought provoking lyrics from tracks like 'Blessed Night', 'Broken Bones', 'Setting Sun' and 'Cities Burning Down'. The country twang of many of the tunes and Stein's almost Sheryl Crow-like vocals was music to my ears; just a shame that most people weren't paying attention and seemed far more focussed on relaxing with a drink in the sun. Try as Stein might, she could only muster a few woos and claps of appreciation as she shouted, "a few more of you should stand up" and beat drumsticks in the air to funky and interesting 'Treasure Hunt'. The loud marching drums of 'Radio Wars', and Stein bashing away on a kettle drum at front of stage through their best song of the day, did seem to wake more people up though!

Florence And The Machine
A more sizeable group of people, although still minute, started to crowd round the Main Stage ready for Florence & the Machine, who have been promoted endlessly on the airwaves in the last few months. I was excited to see Florence and her soul inspired indie, and as hooters hooted and cameras were at the ready, she tripped on stage in a wicked, billowing cream dress emblazoned with flowers. As the dress and her flame red hair floated in the breeze (offering a glimpse of gold sequinned pants every now and again), you could feel the beat of 'Between Two Lungs' (from her newly released album 'Lungs') in your bones. She's as eccentric as Bjork and Kate Bush as she trips her way effortlessly through 'My Boy Builds Coffins', clambers onto a tower of speakers in her bare feet to belt out 'Drumming Song', and gets the audience to clap overhead as she dances and prances on stage to 'Dog Days Are Over'. She's a bit bonkers, with a bit of a marmite voice (you love it or you hate it) but she definitely captured the audience’s attention. Even though all her songs seemed to sound the same after a time, I stayed to the bitter end to hear 'Cosmic Love' and 'Blinding', coming away disappointed with the hype.

Whilst I was watching Florence and The Machine I noticed two old decrepit men standing by the stage, and had a bet with the eFestivals photographer that they were from Echo and the Bunnymen. I was soon proved right as they appeared as the guitarists! Lead vocalist Ian McCullough must have been boiling in his huge black overcoat as he sang! Unfortunately, I don't think Echo and the Bunnymen were right for Hop Farm. So far, Saturday had attracted a largely young crowd of Londoners who didn't want to hear an 80's post punk band, and even I left after their first three songs which included 'Villiers Terrace' and 'Seven Seas'.

It was still disappointingly empty at Hop Farm as I took a look at the food stalls – your usual pie and mash, burgers, ice cream and hot dogs, mixed in with a health food stall and Churros. Prices standard really – averaging from £4.50 to £6 for a meal, with a Magnum lolly costing +£2 and a pint +£3! You never had to queue on Saturday though, as there wasn't many people there in all honesty!

Thankfully, Ash got the crowd going and generated some kind of atmosphere. There was a huge cheer when this alternative rock band from Northern Ireland kicked off with well renowned 'Girl From Mars', their breakthrough song from way back in 1995. The largest crowd of the day so far jumped, danced and sang very word as led vocalist and guitarist Tim Wheeler then whipped through 'A Life Less Ordinary' (with an amazing guitar riff that got everyone going). He stopped to shout "what a beautiful day" before announcing that they were moving away from releasing albums and were going to release a new single every two weeks – that's 26 singles in the next year alone! 'Oh Yeah' had the fans singing their hearts out once again, and 'Orpheus' plus 'Twilight of Innocence' showed Ash playing indie rock just as it should be – loud, proud and brilliant! Lots of finger pointing ensued for obvious favourite anthem 'Shining Light' and huge appreciation was shown for their finale, one of their latest single releases 'Return of the White Rabbit'. Finally some energy and enthusiasm!

The Joy Formidable
I started to wonder whether it was the fact that there wasn't a particularly large crowd of people that made the Main Stage lack atmosphere. So off I trekked to the Third Stage in the early yet still hot evening, to take a peek at The Joy Formidable. This was one of those surreal moments, where I went to listen to something new and ended up finding a new band for my repertoire and experiencing the best live set of the day. Poppy, post punk The Joy Formidable, standing on a stage that was bigger than the space for the audience, were amazing from start to finish. The music, the vocals, the lyrics, the Ting Ting-esque full of attitude stance of lead vocalist Ritzy Bryan, all had me staring and captivated throughout the short set. So much so that I missed the names of most songs, but I do know that they played 'The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade' and others from their debut EP 'A Balloon Called Moaning'. There should be more press about this North Wales band! There are fantastic to see live and even if there was only enough room for a small crowd at Hop Farm, they got huge cheers and whoops.

The Pigeon Detectives
I had hoped that by the time I returned to Main Stage to see The Pigeon Detectives, people would have appeared out of the woodwork, or should that be hay bales, in their droves to see the band. Yes, the crowd was increasing, but it still wasn't brimming! It wasn't the weather or the location that had kept people away, so I could only assume that it was the weak headliners, The Fratellis, that had stopped people coming all weekend and just buying Sunday passes instead. Well that was what I hoped anyway, as the lack of bodies was becoming slightly embarrassing and I didn't think I could go through another day of no ambience!

Matt Bowman, frontman from The Pigeon Detectives, was his usual energetic self, jumping off speakers, bounding all over the stage, drenching himself in water and throwing water into the fans huddled around the stage. He flung his microphone in circles around him and whacked out hit after hit including 'I Found Out', 'I'm Not Gonna Take This', 'This Is An Emergency' and 'Say it Like You Mean It'. Some of his boundless enthusiasm did rub off on the crowd who bounded around, chanted lyrics and even started crowd surfing! When Bowman shouted "Come on all you sexy b*tches – hands in the air everybody" they dutifully obliged! Even though I don't like the Pigeon Detectives, I have to admit that they are fascinating to watch live!

The Fratellis
As the sun finally set for the headliners The Fratellis and people were worse for wear, a mediocre sea of teenagers jostled for pole position to see them. This Scottish alternative rock band treated their young fans to poppy, rocky, happy tunes with lyrics like "ba ba ba", "la la la la", and "ha ha ha" to sing along to! I managed to fight my way through 'Flat Head', 'For The Girl' and their first ever released single 'Henrietta' before giving up the ghost and covering my ears! Yes they won Best British Breakthrough Act at the Brit Awards in 2007, but did they really deserve to be headliners for Saturday night? Perhaps Hop Farm tried for someone else and it fell through at the last minute? I let the crowd do the talking, as although there was a sizeable bunch of people around Main Stage, the rest went home or back to their tents!

As I made my way back to my car, and my comfortable hotel nearby, I pinned all my hopes on Sunday's line up of bands including the Fight Like Apes, Editors and Paul Weller, to blow me away and make the trip worthwhile!
review by: Tricia Owen-Williams

photos by: Michelle Owen-Williams

Saturday 4th to Sunday 5th July 2009
The Hop Farm, Paddock Wood, Tonbridge, Kent, TN12 6PY, England MAP
weekend with camping £125, day tickets £65
daily capacity: 52000
last updated: Fri 9th Aug 2013

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