I sit here in front of my computer, coffee freshly poured, lacking any form of necessary sleep , trying to recall the events of last nights Hop Farm Festival. When I crawled into bed at 2:30am this morning my eye’s were still awash with purple flashing lights, my ears still tingling from the kick ass slap bass and my foot still involuntarily tapping from the funky guitar riff’s! If this was to be, as it’s been reported, Prince’s only UK show for 2011 then he can walk away knowing that the 30,000+ crowd walked out of Hop Farm hoping that wouldn’t be the case.
When I first read that Prince would be headlining the Hop Farm Festival this year my first thought was, obviously, where do I get a ticket? This was swiftly followed by Hop Farm? Never heard of it! With Glastonbury still fresh in people’s memory and easily the biggest musical event on the planet it is easy for other similar festivals to be over looked. Amazingly, it is pretty new on the festival seen as it began in 2008 and was founded by Vince Power. Mr Power is arguably the king of festivities, helping to organise such events as, the already mentioned, Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds and Homelands. Although it’s fresh on the scene of festivals, Hop Farm attracted some huge performers at this years event, The Eagles, Morrissey, Iggy Pop and of course Prince. So what was the reason for Prince travelling into the Kent countryside to play this festival? Maybe he is great friends with Mr Power and they hook up regularly for a beer and Sunday roast? Maybe he digged the acts that were billed to perform? or maybe, and I think this is most likely, he likes the idea of being a little different! It would have been easy for Prince to say yes to Michael Eavis the Glastonbury festival founder who has, reportedly, been trying to lure Prince to play there for years! It would of been easy for Prince to headline at Glastonbury, filing Beyonce’s spot on Sunday evening would have gained him headlines across the world but to play a smaller festival, certainly in stature and reputation, is our mini maestro all over! Throughout his 3 decades in the music industry he has always produced the opposite of what ‘people’ thought he should or would whether that’s musically, performance based or simply wearing high heels and eye-liner!
Attending Hop Farm this year was to be my first ever festival experience. To be honest festivals have never really appealed to me, wet clothes, mud, out of their face weirdo’s and stinky pits just don’t tickle me but with Prince playing, those small dislikes could be over-looked As we walked the never ending distance from the car, over the small footbridge, through the metal barriers to receive our luminous orange wristband I could feel my anticipation growing and the funky cries of James Brown echoing from the small DJ booth only added to that. UK rapper and ‘Pass Out’ star Tinie Tempah had been given the difficult task of playing before the day’s headliner which must be daunting in normal circumstances but to be asked to go on before arguably the best live performer on the planet must be worrying!! We continued in, passed the porta-loo’s and towards the main arena. Already a few of the festival goers had made me chuckle to myself with their choice of attire. One guy had decided it was hot enough (which it was) for him to be shirtless but, just incase, he had coupled that a full length fur coat! After devouring the biggest ever steak and onion baguette I’d ever seen I made my way into the crowds to find a good view point.
There were 30,000+ people at the festival but after negotiating a few blankets and countless fold out chairs I found a good spot quite easily, centre stage. Preparations were already under way and seeing the infamous purple piano being wheeled on gave me another kick of adrenalin fuelled anticipation for the performance I was about to see.
Finally the technicians, roadies, lighting engineers and countless other important persons cleared the stage. By this point it was just before 9pm and with Prince rumoured to start at approx 8:30pm anticipation had turned into impatience! Then, Ida Nielson, Prince’s bass player walks on followed by Morris Hayes (keyboards), John Blackwell Jnr (drummer) and Andy Allo (Guitar) until the whole band where in position. After 2 or 3 minutes of thunder effects and a few kick drum beats Prince wanders onto stage to cheers and screams! Prince knows what he is here to do, he knows what he has in store for me and 29,999 others and that is reflected in his casual swagger. Across the stage he strolls, looking from left to right and raising the palm of his hand up to his brow to look off into the distance. The coolness oozes from his petit posture as he wanders to the mic………”What’s happening?” ”We need to check this sound out right quick” With that he starts the opening riff of jamming new track ‘We live to get funky’ and with a cry of ”C’mon” the band join in effortlessly and it’s on!!
After 5 or 6 minutes of jamming and Prince calling out various requests to the sound desk we realised that this note perfect, funk drizzled groove was just the sound check!! Damn!! “Turn my guitar up” , “Switch it up on stage” or “right side too low” where some of the instructions dished out and just makes you realise how brilliant this man is, without any effort at all he manages to monitor the sound levels of each instrument on stage and make the necessary requests with most of the crowd completely unaware.
After a simple “were good” call into the mic the ‘sound check’ is over and Prince then moves into hits ‘Let’s go crazy’ , Delirious, 1999 and the slow and sexy version of Little Red Corvette. “Slow Down!” he sings as he playfully dances around the microphone encouraging the ‘fella’s” of the audience to sing it with him. Audience participation is always key during all Prince performances and his falsetto screams, twists and thrusts get the ladies whipped up during this track.
Not only is Prince the ultimate performer and musician he also has the ability to crack jokes that get the crowd laughing as they sway. During next track ‘Nothing Compares to you’, sung with the always vocally brilliant Shelby J, Prince joked “This ain’t my song, this is Sinead O’Conner’s song”, the crowd harmoniously chuckles “No I’m serious now, I bought me a house off this song” Laughter erupts as Prince smirks and continues to swoon “All the flowers that you planted baby….”
“Let me play you something you will all know!” he says as the band burst into ‘Take me with you’ from the Purple Rain soundtrack. The crowd becomes a sea of boobing heads as he counts “1,2,1…2….3..4″ and seamlessly into ‘Raspberry beret’ then ‘Cream’ and ‘Cool’ with , just for the hell of it, Michael Jacksons ‘Don’t stop till you get enough” thrown into the mix. By this point, about 30/40 minutes in and like every Prince show I’ve been to, he has all the Purple hippies in the palm of his hand and we respond to his every request, vocal or physical. ‘Let’s Work’ into ‘U got the look’ which one British tabloid quoted as a Roxette cover (someone got confused!)
At this point Prince leaves stage after announcing “this next song just needs the Female contingency of the New Power Generation”. Shelby J is backed up by the full female ensemble in Prince’s band to sing their version of Adele’s ‘Make you feel my love’. Again Shelby J’s vocals are faultless as are Prince’s new, very attractive, guitar player Andy Allo who’s rather large afro sways from left to right in a rather hypnotic fashion while she funks out!
With the natural light fading, the stage lighting becomes more and more noticeable and starts to slip into a purple glow. Mr Hayes (on keys) begins the infamous notes of the massive rock ballad Purple Rain. Still without Prince on stage, the band play on loop for a few minutes before I spot him, wandering around at the back of the stage behind John on drums. Prince knows that letting this intro brew will only encourage more screams of delight when he utters the opening lines “I never ment to cause you any sorrow”. He makes his way to the microphone with the crowd already singing ”HOO HOO…HOO HOO”. “Do you mind if we take our time with this one?” he asks. Of course an obvious scream of “NO!” is the answer and Prince opens with some beautifully plucked guitar riffs. Every time I see Prince perform this song live, from the moment I hear those opening chords, something get’s me. It’s hard to explain but those simple melodic notes conjure up emotions that make me feel sentimental, tearful, part of something and as if I am witnessing some sort of epic moment in musical history. I remember feeling exactly the same when I saw him play Purple Rain at the O2 in London during his 21 night run. As I looked around Hop Farm with the crowd singing along I could see couples hugging, people kissing and some men even high fiving each other. As Prince erupted into his ever impressive guitar solo thousands of pieces of Purple confetti shot over the audience and twinkled as they fell! Another Prince moment that will never be forgotten. With cries of “Thank you Hop Farm………..goodnight” throughout the ear ripping solo this marked the end of an amazing 1st half at Hop Farm.
The 1st encore started with the stage in total darkness and Prince’s echoing over the speakers “you know how many hits I got?” the crowd erupts, ”Seriously” he says “we’ll be here till this time next year!”. Kiss kicks in and, as I’m sure you can imagine and not for the first time during the show, the crowd burst back into life. Prince encourages the crowd to sing along, replaces ‘Dynasty’ with Big Brother as he did during the ’07 shows and then screams “hold on John!” Prince steps into the centre spot with just the beat pounding around arena and performs, what has become a regularity in his shows of late, the Kiss dance breakdown. Call it body bopping , electric boogoloo or whatever you want but it’s genius and hilarious all at once. I wish I had managed to film a piece so you can appreciate what I mean. The only thing I will say, and it’s unlike me to say anything negative about Prince, is that he did look slightly weary in stages during this piece. It’s understandable considering a few hours earlier he had performed another 2 and a half hour set in Poland and had literally hopped from one stage to another. I would find that difficult at 29 but for Prince to still do this at 53 is remarkable!
An extended funky jam of Controversy followed Prince’s grooving and as the crowd chanted ‘We like Funky music’ the charismatic conjurer and his NPG flowed seamlessly into Average White Bands ‘Play that Funky Music’ . It don’t get much better than this, 30,000+ people all uncontrollably rocking and jumping on a warm Summer’s evening while Prince stops the band with a simple finger or phrase, holds it for a few seconds, and then “2…3…Cmon!”. All that was missing from this groove was the brilliant Maceo Parker who’s unmistakable sax would have truly caused some people to ‘pass out’ as Tinnie Tempah had encouraged earlier in the day! Another “Thank you Hop Farm….We love you….Goodnight” before ending the 1st encore with “Who in this house know about the Quake?” chant before slipping back into Controversy! ………….God Damn!!!!
The lights stayed up for the second return of Prince and the NPG but this time the tall, gangly, stetson wearing Larry Graham joined him on stage. The funk continued with People Everyday, The Beatle’s Come together and Higher. All throughout Prince and the Bass whacking Larry Graham bounced off each other with Prince stopping the band with “On the 1″ so that the two of them could funk off with guitar and bass causing many people throughout the audience to pull out their funk faces Again Prince cried “Goodnight” as Larry Graham’s Higher reached its pinnacle. Would this be the last encore?! Many people believed so as they started their long journey back towards the entrance. I knew there had to be one more
I was right!!
The third and final encore started with Prince walking back into stage proclaiming “I hate curfews but we got to go!”. The band then flew into ‘If I was your Girlfreind’ while Prince danced on top of the Purple Piano, unfortunately it’s only use for the evening. Even as it drew closer to the end of the show Prince still had all 30,000+ crowd members in his pocket as he commanded them to sway their arms from side to side at each chorus. As he performed Andy Allo, Prince’s new female guitarist, was sketching on a note pad something that I have noticed her doing at other performances this year. “What is she sketching?” and “What for?”……….. “Tour book maybe?
The show concluded with Dance Disco heat merging with Baby I’m a star and Prince screaming “Jump up and down” during the horn section( provided by Mr.Hayes on the keys). ”Hop Farm, I wanna thank you from the bottom of my heart” Prince say’s while tapping his chest “We love you……..goodnight”
With that Prince ends the nights proceedings with his trademark “ooowwwaa” screech and punches the air before he, and the band, are plunged into darkness!
I waited, hoping that Prince would break the curfew, hoping that he would return to the stage with “Hold on Y’all, we ain’t through!” but that really was it. There was no piano medley of When Doves Cry or Darling Nikki and his Purple Piano sat the whole night looking on wishing the eccentric performer would tickle it’s ivories but, he never did. The crowd slowly dispersed back towards the car park with the occasional sporadic ”Purple Rain” or “We like Funky music” chants being heard over the festival muffle reaffirming the fact that Prince’s show’s, songs and enigmatic performances live on long after the lights go down.
I always leave a Prince show with a slight feeling of disappointment, a slight element of “What he didn’t continue right through the night!?”, ”I haven’t had enough!” and “He has gotta be coming out again any minute!”. I put this down to the fact that by no means am I dis-satisfied with any part of the show nor do I feel short changed or unimpressed but I know that it could be another 4 years,or more, before I get to witness this legendary,world class & ever impressive man again!
Thank you for reading this, my first ever Prince review. Hopefully there will be many more
Total show running time: 2 Hours 10 minutes -approx
We live to get funky (Sound check)
Lets go crazy
Little Red Corvette
Nothing Compares 2 U
Take me with you
Cool/Don’t stop till you get enough
U Got the look
Make you feel my love (Adele cover) – just Shelby J & the girls
Kiss (with breakdown)
Play that funky music
2nd Encore (with Larry Graham)
If I was you girlfriend
Dance disco heat
Baby I’m a star