During its short but eventful five year history Dan Wiltshire's One Love Festival has survived repeated venue changes, unsympathetic authorities and rival promoters. This year the event faced battles with their site's owners, stringent noise regulations and a couple of artist no-shows, yet maintained its mix of good music and low key relaxed vibes - blessed by one of the most gorgeously sunny weekends of the year. After two years based in Hainault, Essex, Wiltshire decided to return his event to Kent – to the site of Vince Power's Hop Farm Festival in Paddock Wood. The traditional growery of hops, a crucial ingredient in beer and a member of the cannabis family, seemed the perfect place to continue the uniquely chilled out reggae and dub vibe of the gathering in bucolic seclusion.
Where the previous Hainault Country Forest Park setting was leafy and green, the farm's fields were drier and dusty from preceding festive foot traffic - with straw mixed in with worn grass in front of the main stage and oasthouses quaintly peaking over the fence to its right. According to Wiltshire, a total of three and a half thousand visitors of all ages wandered between the main stage and four big tents - Saxon Sound, the ever popular Dub Shack (which contained the bar), the Lively Up Yourself Marquee and the Reggae Film Festival cinema.
However, behind the scenes Wiltshire and his staff were facing difficulties with the venue. Noise complaints led to the overall volume of the various zones being low on the Friday (which United Reggae was unable to attend) and Saturday. The Lively Up Yourself marquee was forced to close at 5pm Saturday and the non public VIP area shut for the entire day while Saxon and Iration Steppas sets were switched off by Hop Farm Management at the end of the night. With echoes of 2010 - when Gappy Ranks missed his spot at Hainault - connoisseurs' veteran Tony Tuff arrived too late to the farm for his Saturday main afternoon slot. The same day Dub Syndicate were unable to make their appearance due to drummer Style Scott's failure to obtain a UK visa in time.
Despite these problems, the weekend saw many excellent performances. On the Saturday Kevin Isaacs, backed by the Netherlands' Tallawah band, offered a nice impression of his father Gregory, starting with My Number One and Love Overdue, and ending with Night Nurse. The deejay half of disbanded duo Michigan and Smiley, Papa Michigan, who had seemed angry and keen to forget his past when performing at Germany's Reggae Jam 2011 - even telling the people that henceforth his name was "Badingo" - was another highlight. Introduced by journalist, producer Mandingo, and assisted by South East London's The Worries, the now comfortably named Michigan, shared hits from his partnership with General Smiley like Diseases; a cover of Sizzla's Praise Ye Jah (changing its contentious lyric to "Rasta no mix up with 'those guys'"); and tracks from latest album Empress By My Side.
Meanwhile, the eminent producer Bunny Lee, flanked by two of his children, gave a talk in the cinema tent. Its proximity to the live music left some of his answers almost inaudible but sharp ears could glean insights and opinion: such as who killed King Tubbys (a producer who died last year, said Lee “You will have to Google the rest”), and the invention of the "flying cymbals sound" being inspired by his love of chicken wings! The remainder of the audience would have to buy a copy of his new book Reggae Gone International - which "Striker" dutifully signed for his fans afterwards.
Back on the stage, the master dancehall improviser Frankie Paul, in a purple Gambian boubou, and accompanied by the Ruff Cutt band, belted out a spread of his own tunes (Worries In The Dance, Tu Sheng Peng), those of others on shared rhythms (Cocoa Tea, Michael Prophet) and oddities such as rapping, singing in Wolof and doing the Macarena. He told United Reggae that "Whatever comes to my brain when I perform, that's what I put out" adding "One Love means peace - and I think it is a great aspiration and a great thing".
Also in flawless voice was the great Freddie McGregor, who, having thrilled a large congregation with his own material like Let Them Try, and I Was Born A Winner returned for a lengthy encore. A true professional, spying that the no-shows meant he was finishing half an hour ahead of curfew, he sang a suite of covers: Dennis Brown's Here I Come and Revolution, plus, in honour of Jamaican independence, the ska of Justin Hinds Carry Go Bring Come and Blues Busters Wings of a Dove.
If anything the Sunday was even hotter, with improved sound levels, and brought a slightly younger, trendier crowd. One Love has a family vibe and many of the day's performers had appeared the previous year or the year before. The lovers rock legend Don Campbell, as well as drawing some supplementary Bob tunes to please the people, also emphasized the community feel to the festival by dedicating his 1993 song See It In Her Eyes to a couple who were having their wedding on site.
With the Lively Up Yourself marquee now open at last, fans of ragga-jungle and other bass music were finally able to get their fix. So a series of performances over tracks by Dennis Alcapone, Winston Reedy and Tappa Zukie (with records spun by Earl Gateshead), as well as Dawn Penn (with her trusty sidekick Fenomeno) had much of their audience drained by selector Daddy Streets and his vivacious Jungle Warfare entourage. Nevertheless, those who remained were entertained - with Tappa later making an unplanned appearance at the Dub Shack (this year's answer to Luciano guesting at Saxon in 2010). Dawn, meanwhile, teased by saying she didn't want to play her bittersweet hit No No No but relented, of course.
As the sun went down, the punters were spoilt for choice between Saxon's friendly clash with Sir Coxsone Downbeat, Earl Sixteen singing with France's Miniman in the Shack and the legendary Cornell Campbell backed by Soothsayers on the stage. Soothsayers did a good job of getting back the crowd from the tents (the South London afrobeat reggae collective had been assigned exactly the same task before backing Michael Prophet in 2010). They and the ice cream falsetto voiced Campbell were concluding a fantastically well received UK tour that had included Brixton Hootananny in July LINK. This time, though, they had the engineer from their records Nick Manasseh (fresh from his own set at the dub bar) at the controls, bolstering their loving renditions of Gorgon, Queen of the Minstrel and My Country to absolute perfection. One of the impressed spectators was Campbell's fellow child star turned veteran and headliner Earl 16 who had this to say on the festival:
"I've been coming to One Love for the past few years as a punter and checking it out. I think it's a great effort the guys are putting on. It could do with a few more people but every year the line up is superb and the sound system tents are booming. Nuff respect to the One Love promoters and I hope that next year it be much bigger and much better".
In an official statement exclusive to United Reggae Dan Wiltshire gave some background to some of the issues he encountered with the festival this year.
"The problem with Hop Farm is it is a multi event venue - where hirers suffer from the legacy left by other events not only micro-environmental factors like long standing local suffering residents but by factors such as the state previous events left the site in - be it litter or churned up grounds and political ones such as council noise restrictions imposed on site:
Unfortunately the problems our event incurred were a victim of the venue:
Three days before the event during build we were asked to move fields for the Leonard Cohen event (who subsequently pulled venue two weeks before his show)
Friday there was a delay in opening the festival by 40mins because only two hours earlier we were informed by Council someone had died at the event two weeks previously in a stream and they asked us to fence that area off -- Hop Farm didn't think this was important info for us to know.
All of Friday we were battling with Venue on sound levels but nothing was turned off early.
On Saturday we were asked to turn down the music for a wedding which was double booked at the venue!!
One Love Festival team or security did not turn off Lively Up Yourself on Saturday afternoon, Saxon Sound on Saturday night, or Iration Steppas on Saturday night.
Electricity was turned off on two occasions on Saturday without any explanation or acceptance of who did it by Hop Farm. On only one occasion we were told electricity was going to be cut.
Regarding Dub Syndicate - Style Scott posted his passport to get a UK visa by 2nd class post to UK border control mid-July while he was in the Netherlands - systematically cancelling each one of his Europeans shows as the dates came and went because he was unable to travel due to no passport - last I heard he was still stranded in Amsterdam!! We were all very disappointed with deposits, sponsorship letters, hotels, tech specs and taxis all paid for and were only told about no show on the Friday of the festival.
Apart from the small problems incurred the festival was everything we could have hoped for and more and we are very proud of what we achieved - we are going to another site can’t wait to make announcements about this soon."