You’ve survived the journey, managed to set up your tent without mishap, and taken your first steps into the Green Man world on the hunt for a Growler. The first thing people notice when they arrive is how perfect and unique the location is for a festival. Lying serenely within the four hundred acres of parkland that make up the Glanusk Estate, a lush valley has been created by the strong current of the River Usk deep within the Brecon Beacons National Park and the festival uses the parkland’s natural and man-made features to create a magical world that captures the imagination in a way that no other festival can claim to achieve. It really is no surprise that JRR Tolkien used this very landscape as inspiration for Middle Earth in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
A Settler’s Pass allows campers to arrive on the Monday of the festival and if you really want to explore the diverse range of entertainment on offer then this is certainly the best way to achieve this. For the majority of us though, the main event begins on Thursday evening and this year the organisers have selected some diverse acts to keep us entertained in the Far Out Stage until things really kick off on the Friday. Meat Raffle have the honour of opening proceedings in typically unconventional manner with their off-kilter rhythms inspired by everything from ska to heavy metal. Imagine Don from Sexy Beast having a go at Karaoke with Rage Against the Machine as the backing band and you get some idea of the intriguing start to the evening. True to Green Man’s ideology when it comes to curating their musical offerings, the next band are completely different. Cigarettes After Sex have taken the shoegaze genre to fragile, almost ethereal levels and their gently shimmering guitars prove quite hypnotic on their version of Keep on Loving You. If there is an opposite to the shoegaze genre then King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard embody it completely. The Australian seven-piece’s soundcheck is an unexpected joy that is fascinating to observe but when they launch into Robot Stop the band’s crazy energy swirls uncontrollably amongst the throngs and the evening descends into unadulterated pleasures as bodies writhe to the psychedelic surf-rock, which actually does not really go anywhere near describing what they produce for the hour they perform on stage. The ten year old boy and his eight year old sister stood by the rail next to me certainly have an experience they will never forget, if only they could describe it!
The former Broken Family Band frontman Steven James Adams opens the Friday at the Walled Garden Stage and is an early highlight for those arriving bleary-eyed into the venue’s secret garden. The intimacy of the stage means it’s a favourite haunt for many at the festival and his honest love songs and political musings prove to be the perfect tonic for those suffering from the excesses of the night before. Hearing the gorgeous Give and Take certainly helps and his dry and self-deprecating humour is a great way to start the day.
A particular pleasure of the Green Man is the way a previously unknown band or artist can quickly become one of your favourites. This was the case with the next couple of acts. The Oh Hellos did not seem to be on many people’s radars but their double-drum set up sparks a display of awesome, kinetic energy that is enhanced by infectiously catchy tunes and glorious harmonies that has the Mountain Stage jumping. Trevor Sensor is equally unfamiliar to many but his set is enhanced by the brief appearance of the sun’s scorching rays and his relatable, personal songs and twitchy, uncontrollable stage presence create a captivating performance that transcends the Joe Bugg/Tallest Man on Earth/Dylan comparisons.
Back on the Main Stage, the festival’s Americana/Blues fans are kept enthralled by Phil Cook and the Guitar Heels. The front man flawlessly demonstrates his contemporary take on the genre, once again enhancing the appeal of his songs through the relatable subject matter along with a thrilling sense of authenticity that is immensely entertaining to watch.
A schedule change results in the Mothers‘ slot moving forward a day and this clearly means that some fans miss their riveting set. The critical response to the debut record has been impressive and Kristine Leschper and her band are greeted by warm sunshine, if not the crowds they deserve. Their math rock rhythms combine intriguingly with Kristine’s earnest, despondent vocals and the band’s consistently dramatic and unconventional melodies are fascinating to see and hear as they unfold before the lucky few.
The Mountain Stage’s Americana fans are being spoiled by the next slice on offer. Jason Isbell has found an insightful voice on his solo offerings and the Alabama native provides a dose of authentic southern hospitality with a smile and a flourish as he flawlessly performs tracks from Something More Than Free and Southeastern in particular. An incredibly tight band, immense vocals, a thrilling guitar solo duel and a huge accordion make this set a highlight of the entire weekend!
White Denim’s garage rock of previous albums has morphed in to a more satisfying bluesy soul concoction and they easily justify their high billing on the main stage but I find myself retreating to the Walled Garden for the rest of the evening and am thrilled by Charlotte Church’s party atmosphere as she reinvents all manner of classics and obscurities in her own singular way. This concludes a Green Man Friday to remember and it is one that not even the persistent Welsh drizzle can spoil.
Clare Maguire opens her Saturday slot by ambiguously stating that this would probably be her last performance ever. Almost immediately it becomes clear that her brutally honest songs are very difficult to perform in front of an audience and she breaks down in heartbreaking fashion after her second song, finding it very difficult to continue for several moments. This outpouring of emotion effects her voice but the compassion felt by the crowd as she performs Elizabeth Taylor is tangible and provides the most moving moment of the festival. Fews are a multi-national post-punk band that fuse contemporary indie sensibilities with the dark undertones of Pixies and The Cure amongst others, but are unknown to most; after all, their debut record was only released in May. Their early afternoon slot in the Far Out stage is therefore a revelation. “Why are you here? It’s sunny outside you know!” shouts frontman Frederick Rundqvist as he appears to be repeatedly bemused at the number of people enthralled by the band’s brooding intensity. Dragging a photographer from the pit, he asks her to document the moment to prove it really happened. Ill concludes an immense set and the jarring feedback of this epic track resonates in the bones long after the band have vanished.
The Rising Stage hosts Sarah Howells AKA Bryde and it is no surprise that the tent is packed to bursting as she performs acclaimed tracks from her first EP, but it is her new material that really resonates. Her voice has always been a particular focal point but her underrated guitar work on the songs from EP2 is sublime and the grittier, angrier sound suggests the collaboration with Bill Ryder-Jones is paying dividends.
Back at the Walled Garden The Weather Station’s delicate compositions are imbued with a distinct sense of melancholy and as the hot sunshine breaks through once again, conditions are perfect for lying back, drinking a Growler and appreciating the band’s sublime brand of Americana. BC Camplight follows, demonstrating The Green Man’s impressive ability to create such a broad range of emotional experiences and atmospheres and the Beach Boy rhythms are complimented by an energetic soul reminiscent of The Blues Brothers. It provides a thrilling change of pace and the crowd flock forward as Brian Christinzio generously comes into the pit to sign records after the set.
If one set defines the whole Green Man experience this weekend then it is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ Saturday evening slot on the Mountain Stage. This is a truly transcendent experience complete with spontaneous audience contributions and even marriage proposals. Alex Ebert conducts the performance with thrilling panache and his vast stage of musical collaborators produce genuine moments of awe worthy of a headliner on the biggest stage. Live music does not get more thrilling than this and Laura Marling has the unenviable job of following Alex and co. which must be an incredibly daunting task but one which she pulls off with a bold set of songs that emphasise the sheer quality of the material on Short Movie in particular.
The festival comedown is inevitable and the Sunday of any festival can be a bit of a fraught experience but Margaret Glaspy is an immaculate joy and tracks from her debut Emotion and Math are performed with a gutsy passion that continues into Daniel Norgren’s authentic set full of blistering guitar work from the Swedish native that combines the sincerity of Hiss Golden Messenger along with rich vocals comparable to Band of Horses front man Ben Bridwell. Bill Baird is an amusing and energetic discovery on the Walled Garden stage but the rest of the day is spent camped out at the Mountain Stage as Julia Holter bewitches, Songhoy Blues stimulates and Warpaint produce moments of dramatic intensity but it is closers Belle and Sebastian who ensure that the party continues late into the night as hundreds of youthful revelers barrell past security to join the band on stage shouting “fuck Brexit!” as they go. It proves to be a suitably unexpected end to yet another unpredictable, damp, but ultimately satisfying Green Man festival. Next year is the fifteenth anniversary and will no doubt be an equally thrilling and kaleidoscopic event. I’m already looking forward to it.
BC Camplight, Bryde, Cigarettes After Sex, Clare Maguire, Daniel Norgren, Fews, Jason Isbell, Julia Holter, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Kiran Leonard, Margaret Glaspy, Meat Raffle, Mothers, The Oh Hellos, Phil Cook, Songhoy Blues, Steven James Adams, The Weather Station, Tony Njoku, Trevor Sensor, Warpaint
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto