Neil Young, Primal Scream - Hop Farm Festival

Hop Farm, Kent, July 6

When a concert closes with one of the last genuine legends of rock playing the greatest song The Beatles ever wrote, you know you've just seen something special.

Drowned in feedback, the eyes in his grizzled face screwed tight shut, Neil Young - whose own back-catalogue stretches 40 years and at least as many albums - ended a jaw-dropping two-hour set with a surprisingly faithful cover of A Day in the Life.

And what a day.

Vince Power, the famously fearsome promoter behind the original Reading and Leeds festivals, is on a mission to wrench back the summer festival from The Man. No corporate sponsors, no photo-ID registration, no VIP-only enclosures (well, just the one).

No brands - just bands.

Ad-free, family-friendly and - because you don't spend 20 years as a concert promoter without making a few friends - packing a line-up that put some of this year's three-day events to shame.


Case in point? Rufus Wainwright, still wired from headlining a concert on Hampstead Heath the night before, was a lowly fifth on the bill.

Playing a solo slot with just piano or acoustic guitar for accompaniment, his warbling tenor cut through the gloom of a rainlashed mid-afternoon.

Highlights included a pared-down Going To A Town - the prettiest five minutes of total hate since Elvis Costello got happy - and an aching take on Leonard Cohen's mighty Hallelujah.

My Morning Jacket's bourbon-soaked signature sound is an anthemic heads-down roar - but even amid a frenzy of Flying V's and facial hair they looked a little out of place, and maybe out of their depth, among this roll-call of rock royalty.

Introducing Supergrass onto the stage, compere Mark Lamarr suggested that if the lads ever fall on hard times, they should receive government funding as a British institution.

On this showing, it's unlikely they'll ever need it.

Re-invigorated by this year's return-to-form LP, the Diamond Hoo-Ha men ripped through a crowd-pleasing set mixing muscular new tunes with the classic pop hits that brightened up the 90s.

I swear the clouds lifted at the first chords of Sun Hits the Sky - and by the closing rabble-rousers Caught By The Fuzz and Alright it was a full-on summer evening.


Just the time, then, for black cloud Bobby Gillespie to come and ruin everything with his dark lords of indie Primal Scream.

Except they don't.

Gone are the scattergun pneumatic-drill techno experiments that have been the Primals' meat-and-drink for the past decade.

They're writing songs again - with choruses and tunes and everything. And Bobby, easily the best-looking 45-year-old in pop, even smiled - a bit, once - during a jubilant bluesy Rocks.

Four songs from forthcoming album Beautiful Future suggest the boys are back on form mining more gold from that Stones/MC5 motherlode - and a joyous Movin' On Up brought the crowd together in a rapturous sing-along beneath the setting sun.


Neil Young doesn't use effects pedals anymore. Oh no.

As the towering No Hidden Path jam rumbled on for a full 30 minutes it became clear he is now playing his guitar through a washing machine full of spanners. On Krakatoa. The fuzz and crackle is primordial.

And at 63, the energy and passion Young injects into live performance is never less than breathtaking - from the spit'n'sawdust rockers to hushed acoustic gems.

Songs like Heart of Gold, Old Man, and Needle and the Damage Done are part of the fabric of rock music and yet hearing them live, with Young's howl-and-mew falsetto untouched by the passing decades, they remain fresh and vital and - I'm man enough to admit - just a little bit weepy.

After the raucous encore, Young's beat-up Gibson 'Old Black', all six strings shredded, is left alone on stage propped up against a shrieking amplifier. A biblically awesome finish. 

Vince Power has spoken of making next year's Hop Farm hop a 3-day affair.

If he can get some more loos, ban those bloody camping chairs, sort out the traffic mayhem and handpick a line-up to match this one, then it well deserves a permanent place at the classier end of the jam-packed summer calendar.




Your comments

Luke 88

great review .. it was amazing. but the best song the beatles ever wrote is IN MY LIFE. fact.


The sound system was shamefully poor. All the acts suffered because of this, particularly Primal Scream. Only Neil Young's acoustic set sounded decent. Shame on the promoters for not bothering to get this right.


Neil was awesome as ever - maybe better than ever - but Chris is right the sound system was awful - waves of sound messing up what was clearly excellent sets, too few loos, workers beer with no real ale on a Hop Farm, leaving the site was a nighmare. A 3 day festival - I dont think so.


For most of the festival we sat near the back chilling out on the grass and because of the wind the sound was pretty broken,going low then loud.When Neil Young came on we moved to the left of the stage nearer to the front and it sounded great and he put on a great performance with a lot of spirit and attitude.Maybe next year have some speakers at the rear of the field


We were sat at the right of the stage and the sound suffered with the wind. Not sure if you would have been able to hear at the back. Getting off the site at the end was a nightmare and took 2 hours longer to get back to Croydon by car than it should have done. However, despite all this and the wet afternoon Supergrass, Primal Scream and Neil Young were superb and really lifted the atmosphere. I liked My Morning Jacket and Laura Marling but happy to pass on Rufus Wainright. For those who don't like camping chairs spare a thought for those of us who are not as young and mobile as we used to be but still like to hear live music at a festival. It will happen to you one day!


Hop Farm.. been there, got soaked, queued forever for the loos, bought the t shirt... and saw one of the greatest rockers give one of the best gigs I've ever experienced! The mighty Neil Young! What a bloke!! Brilliant set, superb axework and the voice was in pretty damn good shape too. Everything has been said before about this man, but it's not enough. His back catalogue is phenomenal; he could have played all night and still not have gone through everyone's favourites. And then by way of an encore, he only goes and produces the definitive version of one of the Beatles most iconic songs. All the other artists did their bit, and their best to make the whole day a success, but ultimately they were all blown away by the master. As for the 3 hour chaos of 20,000 cars trying to exit through the eye of a needle, my wife and I watched it all from the warmth and comfort of our VW campervan, underneath a duvet, drinking a rather nice Oz red. After a great night's kip and a good fry-up, we drove out through empty gates. (How self-satisfyingly annoying can you get!) Neil Young is a complete treasure. But he won't be around for ever. It's days like this that are so important to experience and remember - and be able to say in the years to come "The first Hop Farm Festival when Neil Young did that fantastic gig? Oh yes, I was there!"


We arrived mid afternoon in drizzle just in time to catch Rufus Wainwright, and Hallelujah - the sun came out! Mooching about before Supergrass I remarked to my husband that this felt like a country fair - amiable and chilled. Yes the queues for the loo were humungous, but I only went once and really only queued for a short time, maybe by then the ladies and mens queues had kicked in? I danced the whole time Primal Scream were on stage, and could easily have gone home then a happy woman! Neil Young had moments of sublimity but those screeching guitar bits dont do it for me (sorry folks!) and the wind battled with the PA system, and we battled with the chairs and not standing on the picnics..... next year: more loos ( and ladies and gents in different bits so there's no confusion!) maybe a larger raised bit for the folding chair brigade so those who want to get down and dance can do so without falling over furniture, and more coaches home to South London- we were tucked in bed at 1.00am luckily living nearish to Paddington. How good was that!

Terry K

Having been to festivals for over twenty five years I can honestly say that this was not one of the more memorable. The sound was by far the worst festival sound I have heard and that includes a set of open air concerts in 1971-2. Completely ruined most of Neil Young's set. It was obviously a great set but drifted in and out. The rest of the bill was a strange mix really.

Loos seemed to be ok but there was always going to be potential hassle in getting out at the end - the car parking arrangements on the way in just gave me that feeling. Seemed you could recyle all sorts of stuff onsite but newspaper had to be general waste.

For me, a poor venue for that sort of event. I'll never revisit the Hop Farm.

Johnny B

I have loved every masterpiece ever created by the great man Neil Young, one summers day in 1969 whilst living in Coventry I was given two promo albums, After the Goldrush & James Taylor's Sweet Baby James
on July 6 2008 I fulfilled a liftimes ambition at the Hop Farm, having been a Beatles fan since 1966, my life became complete upon witnessing the unprecidented performance of "A Day in the Life" and to be surrounded by like minded people it was how I hope heaven or the afterlife might be, thank you Mr Power for a truly one off experience, never to be repeated, thank you NY & everyone

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