The Hop Farm Music Festival 2014 is a reconfigured broad based festival. While previous years included Neil Young, Dylan and The Eagles, the new promoters focused on striking a musical balance that pleased more than it alienated. The result was an enjoyable three days with decent weather, a well attended main (outdoor) stage and a constant ebb and flow of fans in the supporting 3 tents, comprising the unimaginatively titled Jazz & Blues Lounge, Terry’s Stage and The Comedy Stage.
First things first though, with Dr. John and Deacon Blue failing to make the cut, Mark Almond benefited from a mid afternoon spot. He hogged the spotlight like a veteran, while Chas & Dave provided their middle aged audience with a fish and chip supper sing-a-long set that was later mirrored by Kink Ray Davies.
But cutting to the chase, and headliners aside – your correspondent missed Brian Wilson Grace Jones due to MCing duties, while Ray Davies played the expected favourites – the real successes were to be found elsewhere. 10 CC rolled back the years with hit after hit on a pristine set that was so perfect, it could almost have been a CD. The Lightning Seeds brand of well crafted harmony pop also appeared to have lost nothing along the years, while Paul Carrack’s soulful phrasing and slick horns mirrored 10cc’s stab at perfection.
The Royal Southern Brotherhood were far more edgy and rocked hard, filling their spacious tent with southern roots rock of the highest order. The metronomic soul singer and percussionist Cyril Neville was the band’s focal point, being flanked by Devon Allman and Mike Zito on dual guitar lines and vocals, as they weaved in and out of a thunderous rhythm section towards a well merited encore.
Tony Joe White was every inch the legendary man in black, thumbing some deep swampy chords, offset by electric wah-wah squalls and a drawled baritone. He mesmerised the crowd with stomping boogie and swamp rock that climaxed with ‘Polk Salad Annie’.
Courtney Pine was a revelation, transforming the Jazz and Blues Lounge into a clubby vibe of mass dancing, with a mix of town ship jazz, soaring melodies, sparkling horn work, dual guitars (including a second appearance of the day for the impressive Cameron Pierre) and world music, including soca, ska and reggae. It was an assault on the senses that struck a chord and he was given a rapturous reception.
Big Boy Bloater (& The Limits) also ripped things up with unashamed retro style rhythm & blues show. He launched himself into a succession of solos and passionate vocals as if they were to be his last, endearing himself to the vociferous crowd.
Back in Terry’s, it was a case of pinch me, it’s The Pink Faires! Their percussive wall of sound featured 2 drummers and Jacqui Windmill on African drum. They clunked, droned and rocked their way through a well received set, while Stan Webb (Chicken Shack) cranked things up to remind us of the power of psychedelic tinged rock blues. 10 minutes into his set, he upped the volume, and started playing magisterial slide, while the melodic ‘Sweetest Little Thing’ proved to be aptly titled and the riff led ‘CS Opera’ boomed across the festival field, and magically filled the tent. By the time of the thunderous ‘Poor Boy’, Stan’s cod operatic vocals (I kid you not), big toned slide playing and an avalanche of psychedelic notes brought him a huge reception.
Curiously, day 2 was hampered by some of the bill appearing up an hour ahead of the scheduled time. Ian McNabb and Virgil & The Accelerators effectively played the last 10 minutes of their respective sets to fans that had only just arrived. Unperturbed Virgil and his power trio steamrollered their way through a high octane set that impressed all the late comers.
The music started midday on Friday, a working day. The fiery Laurence Jones had to work hard to translate his bluster across to a small but appreciative crowd. Happily he was to return later and jam with Joanne Shaw Taylor in front of a more sizeable gathering. She premiered her new band on several grooves and mixed confident stage craft with sizzling guitar playing and rounded things off with Laurence on ‘Going Down’.
The Soft Machine Legacy almost suffered from volume overspill from the main stage but recovered well with horn player Theo Travis and guitarist John Etheridge enjoying some spirited improvised interplay.
Brassroots was a powerful 6 horn outfit and drummer who were led by front man Jermome Harper, while back in Terry’s The acoustic Strawbs in trio mode resurrected ‘The Hangman and The Papist’ impressively, while Nick Lowe explored socially conscious lyrics over an acoustic guitar
Saturday brunch in Terry’s saw the impressive multi instrumental Polly And the Billet Doux add killer harmonies and hugely original arrangements to songs like Pretty Thing and House of the Rising Sun’, while headliners Maximo Park, were a blend of Bowie style drama and hi-energy rock.
It was back to rocking blues with fine guitarist and vocalist Chris Newland and harp playing Paul Pacifico resurrected blues standards with the polished Pacifico Blues while Ian McLagan and John Notar Thomas reeled off some Faces and Ronnie Lane favourites, plus the highlights from his new ‘United States’ album with fine voice that many of us didn’t think he had. His encore was fully merited.
The 12 piece All Stars Collective featured three vocalist including soulful Marcus Malone, while Curtis Stigers and his band played to the faithful (lots of women), but left me thinking I’d walked into a cabaret tent by mistake.
Incredible vibes player Roger Beaujolais’s Quartet ripped into Sunday with gusto, leaving Virgil to crank things, up, while Toby Jepson’s booming vocals and acoustic were offset by an energetic sax player. It was left to Babajack to bring back the dancers as the sensual Becky Tate, incredible drummer Tosh Murase and Trevor Steger wine box guitars stoked up wave after wave of rhythmic delight.
The 10 piece Daptone Soul Review, rounded things off with the purple suited soul man Charles Bradley giving the packed crowd what they wanted, which on refection was exactly what the festival did as a whole. Here’s to next year.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes (MHP Studios)
Additional photos: Martin Lewis (Virgil/Babajack), Bryan Payne (Stan Webb) and Paul Pacifico (All Stars Collective)
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