By Jimmy Blake
July 1, 2012
The morning after whatever side of the fence you sat on the night before. The final day may have been in the wake of some of the weekend’s most revered acts but this worked in its favor as the pressure was lifted from artists across the site. This led to a busy line-up that had the potential to be a logistical nightmare (some resorting to neon highlighters!), and offered smaller acts adequate exposure with mixed results.
Ligers offered a sound yet fairly nondescript relief to the regular late morning shower under the canvas of the Bread and Roses Stage while Marcus Foster worked hard captivate the Big Tent with a striking vocal that would have perhaps been used better in small doses. The Main Stage’s first mainstream act saw Athlete breeze through a familiar but easily forgettable set. As the Psychedelic Furs continued in the same vein, the masses dispersed around the site. Jonquil represented Oxford’s Blessing Force with catchy indie-pop hooks and infectious choruses, closer ‘Mexico’ doing well to connect with the small crowd. King Charles carried this lilting momentum to the Big Tent with an intriguingly diverse set that even kept his band guessing. Then emerged the hypocritically small figure of Kristian Matsson A.K.A. The Tallest Man on Earth. His uncouth, wild presence plucked guitars seemingly from random as he spanned across three wonderfully crafted albums. The Swedish singer-songwriter took his time to settle but eventually unleashed a level musicality that matched his energy. Switching between a range of emotive dynamics he delivered material from his latest release more effectively than on the relatively over-produced studio versions (see my review). Being somewhat of a cult act, lesser known works were lost on those sheltering from an unprecedented second downpour as he struggled through not being the center of attention and some particularly poor festival technician work. Attempts to hold the crowd weren’t helped by speech that resembled the undignified growl of the previous night’s headliner but aided by a lyrical prowess and melodic delivery that mirrored his hero. Matsson held his own during closer King Of Spain with the sizable remainder of the crowd being either devoted fans or persuaded passers-by. Benjamin Francis Leftwich followed to a less captivating effect with limited vigour, struggling to engage as well as the previous act and, as the weather cleared once more, saw many leaving the big tent.
– The Tallest Man on Earth
The Levelers added an air of organised chaos to Matsson’s folk foundations, taunting the crowd until the focus returned to the Main Stage, as we learnt the frightening statistic that the next act had sold over 70 million albums. Kool and The Gang proceeded to deliver what appeared to be the slickest wedding disco known to man, leopard skin print and all. Living up to expected cliches with a set bulging with dance routines and tag team solos, the funk legends gave the crowd a well needed early evening boost. That said, dancing ‘like it it’s 1974’ as prescribed seemed harder for the band and fans alike as saxophonist and founding member Ronald Bell required a hand up after a particularly strenuous effort. It was an effort wittily acknowledged by Ex-Super Fury Animals member Gruff Rhys as ‘Celebration’ provided a back drop to one of his opening tracks. The all-rounder went on to be the first act to build a significant rapport with at the Bread and Roses stage with the aid of well-timed jokes and oversized cue cards. His charismatic stage presence was well balanced with displays of musical talent and proof of his songwriting capabilities, with strong deliveries of tracks from 2011’s Hotel Shampoo. He did however fall victim to the now all-too-often failings of the soundman, being punished for trying to use an invisible drum kit.
Fellow ex-frontman Richard Ashcroft took to the main stage to emphatically display why his solo career has been just as successful. ‘XXYY’ followed by ‘A Song For The Lovers’ were safe openers and were expertly executed to secure the masses in were his palm, before weaving solo work into a set riddled with bonafide Verve classics. Ashcroft faultlessly showcased some of the most well crafted songs of a generation, fittingly topped off with a euphoric rendition of ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. In just four minutes the combined delivery and response of the anthem encapsulated what many artists try to achieve in their whole career and seemed almost planned to tie in with coverage of dejected Italian footballers on screens towards the back of the stage.
– Richard Ashcroft
A final glance of the spreadsheet shows Hops Farm’s continual awareness of the age range in offering suitable alternatives to headliners Suede. Relieved of the pressure (self-inflicted or not) bestowed on previous headliners the Britpop stalwarts enjoyed a well worked festival closer with Brett Anderson showing his quality and prevailing as stand out frontman of the weekend. Fans weren’t disappointed by the final greatest hits selection of the festival being transported to the height of Britpop with the undeniable grit of 90’s guitar.
Big tent headliners My Morning Jacket were well placed to bring the stage to a close, albeit in disappointingly tame comparison to the main stage, struggling to compete or keep the attention of those opting out of the headliners. Capitalising on limited expectations, the best of the three closing acts were Frightened Rabbit on the Bread and Roses stage. The Scottish indie rockers proved an impeccable choice, combining the best elements of the smallest stage’s output. A heartfelt set was made intimate by polite invitation of crowd participation throughout, with ‘Swim Till You Can’t See Land’ leaving a gracious smirk on the face of Scott Hutchison. In something of a role reversal, younger fans invited older revellers to this memorable final set of the festival, the sound of ‘The Loneliness & The Scream’ faded into the night as fans returned to the campsite looking for just one more song.
– Frightened Rabbit