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.
Patti Smith appeared on stage to wild cheers and great enthusiasm for her ‘acoustic’ set alongside 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 – 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 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, genius and former frontman of The Velvet Underground now less than a year shy of 70. 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, 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, and followed it with the equally melodic Femme Fatale. 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. Many 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. 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, 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. 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.
A longer version of this article appeared here http://modern-life-rubbish.blogspot.com/2011/07/morrissey-patti-smith-lou-reed-iggy-pop.html