When I get to Hop Farm on Saturday still blessed-out on memories of Van Morrison’s set the night before, I find it a very different place.
There are as many as 20,000 more people here today than there were yesterday, possibly an even greater number than that according to some estimates. Whatever, the field that last night had comfortably hosted a significantly smaller crowd is now unbelievably packed. There are queues everywhere. You get the feeling that you’d have to in fact queue just to actually join a queue and the queue itself you’ve just joined isn’t going to take you anywhere in a rush.
To get from, say, here to there or a bit further involves the complicated negotiation of many bodies, clumps of people who seem simply to have collapsed in the heat. There are vast snaking lines of thirsty folk at the bars, others desperate to get to what seems to be the only water tap that’s running. It’s all a bit of a nightmare.
To make matters worse, Laura Marling is on stage, doing something that involves communal whistling. I want to flee, but there’s nowhere to run. She does a version of Jackson C Frank’s “Blues Run The Game”, so she’s obviously not deaf to a good song, although listening to her own twee whimsies makes me wish for a temporary loss of my own hearing. Whatever connections to a noble folk tradition are claimed by admirers on her behalf, what I’m listening to sounds not much more than fey, a bit too precious.
The audience largely loves her, though. And given their palpable affection for the demure songstress, you wonder how they’ll take to a celebrated reprobate like Pete Doherty. In the event, they find him irresistible, his bleary charm winning them over from the opening strum of “Arcady”. He’s nattily dressed in a black suit and white short, his usual uniform, if you like, both of which are soaked through in about 10 minutes. He’s also sporting a very large plaster on his neck, just under his left ear, which slowly begins to peel off in the heat, nothing apparently under it that I can see.
Two ballerinas in tutus appear as he starts “For Lovers”, twirling attractively, if somewhat bizarrely, behind him as he plays. “I’ve been dusting off me Chas and Dave records,” he announces, introducing the first of several hilarious versions of “Hopping Down In Kent”, which turns things into a regular knees-up. “Can’t Stand Me Now”, “Music When The Lights Go Out”, “Down In Albion”, “What A Waster”, “Last Of The English Roses” and a rapturously received “Fuck Forever” follow and then he’s gone.
Backstage about now, there’s quite a crisis. They’ve run out of beer and just about everything else. This makes someone called Keith Hatch, who according to a sign on a tent pole is in charge of things here, almost as popular in my personal lexicon of prejudice as Seasick Steve, who unbelievably is hauling his sorry self around the festival circuit for another summer and is on stage at the moment giving the blues a bad name.
Mumford & Sons, on next, sound like a firm of undertakers in a Keith Waterhouse novel involving comic tribulations Oop North, whose services it strikes me now I could probably do with, so fast is what they’re playing making me lose the will to live. What is the point of these people? They get everybody going, though, including me. After about 20 minutes, I’m gone, man, I’m out of there.
Ray Davies, a while later, starts promisingly with a defiantly raspy “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”, one of many Kinks classics he revisits this afternoon with an increasingly heavy hand. “All Day And All Of The Night” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” – great, great songs – are somewhat boorishly dispatched by a leaden band. How much better he might have been playing them on his own, not bellowing hoarsely over their stodgy hard rock. “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” is ruined entirely when for reasons I couldn’t begin to explain he decides to play the second half of it in the style, as he puts it, of Waylon Jennings.
“Many years ago I was in a band called The Kinks,” he reminds us, perhaps unnecessarily, but to huge cheers anyway, introducing an ugly version of “You Really Got Me”. “They were a pain in the arse,” he adds and doesn’t seem to be joking, instead hinting at levels of residual bitterness, an oddly off-hand attitude to a past he is nevertheless not beyond exploiting even as he may resent the crowd’s preference for these old hits (he plays “Sunny Afternoon” next) over newer material like “The Tourist”, which recounts his shooting by a mugger in New Orleans and is delivered in an excruciating American accent. “Apeman” is even worse and when he starts up with the bits of “The Banana Boat Song” that used to mar Kinks’ concerts in days of yore you simply cringe.
Around the time he does “Come Dancing”, he seems to be told that he needs to cut his set short because things are overrunning. This sends him into a right strop. “Fuck you,” he yaps at someone in the wings. “I’ll play all night if I want to.” His stand would be a lot more admirable if what he was playing was more worth listening to, but by now he’s ruining the immaculate “Days”, which screams out for a more delicate treatment than it’s currently afforded.
We get, eventually, “Lola”, which the crowd love, and sing along to with much gusto. But who among us doesn’t feel deflated when he leaves the stage without playing “Waterloo Sunset”?
Still, we have Bob Dylan still to look forward to. He’ll be on in about 20 minutes. See you back here then.