"Hold on to your festival because this is a good one. Hop Farm is the people's festival." Patti Smith 30/6/12
Hop Farm Music Festival this year was, as Patti said, a good one - some great music and comedy, a mélange of aging folksters, drunken teenagers, beard strokers and summered students, and a Dickensian frenzy of children scavenging pint cups for their 10p from the 'redemption' stall. The people's festival - it eschews sponsorship and has no VIP area (although the blessed relief of clean toilets and seating can be found in the guest area backstage).
Is it the people's music? The line-up spans 50 years, more if you include Sir Bruce Forsyth, and features songs embedded in the popular consciousness.
Bob Dylan's here - the man whose music the people claimed before he made clear that it wasn't theirs to keep. These songs are his to do with as he wills. I don't begrudge him that. This weekend he's plodding them out in solid blues arrangements rather than mangling them beyond recognition. I love Dylan, still, but felt no compunction to stay the distance. Perhaps if his band showed the dexterity and nuance of Dr John's, I might've (the Dr's 'I Walk on Gilded Splinters' particularly sublime on Friday).
Another songwriter holding his work close was Richard Ashcroft. "No one can take it away from me" he says during a "fuck the Tories" (and their demonization of the working class) ranted intro to 'Bittersweet Symphony'. But with "That's enough of the politics, here's the music" he gives the people what they want, his set an exercise in crowd pleasing nostalgia. A solo performance, it features seven Verve songs and two from his early solo albums, without a new single in sight.
It's nostalgia to the fore here. I'm a teenager of the nineties and on Sunday I watched Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals) followed by Ashcroft and then Suede. Magic. Elsewhere on the bill are George Clinton, Joan Armatrading, Kool and the Gang, Billy Ocean, Peter Hook, The Psychedelic Furs, The Stranglers and Peter Gabriel. Some threw in new material but it's the nostalgia hit for which the crowds are here, half of them on fold-up seats and under knitted blankets.
I'm not knocking the festival, it was great, and I'm not even pining for more new music. There are plenty of festivals doing that (besides, Cashier No. 9 and Race Horses were both great here). I'm wondering where the nostalgia comes from, and whether I want it.
Ashcroft's voice has never been better and the songs are brilliant (yes, yes naysayers), and although it misses Nick McCabe's liquid guitar, I loved every minute. But what was I loving? The memories sparked? The echoes of youthful hero worship? The crowd's communal love (of what)?
Does it matter that the songwriter himself is on stage 30 yards away? When you listen at home, or walking, a song becomes about you, it reflects your own life. It doesn't matter who the author is. If a computer can bring a tear to my eye then so be it.
This is all unfair of course. There are moments when I forget where I am, moments where the music is in that moment, not anchored elsewhere - none more so than during a set (for which I left Dylan) from some other veterans.
'2012', a new song (now for just six more months?), kicks off Primal Scream's Saturday headline set in the Big Tent and, although they may lean heavily on 1991's Screamadelica, for much of that time I, like the rest of the crowd, am nowhere else, no time else, but on that dance floor.
Oh and Bob - when you're on stage those songs are yours, but those records are ours.
Follow Andre Langlois on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@seldonmoore