(review n pix by Denise Baker-McClearn)
My favourite thing about the Green Man Festival is that it is a voyage of exploration and discovery. Unlike some bigger festivals where I spend my time frantically running between stages to fulfil a long list of must-see acts, here I mooch about, stop and chat to friends, experience everything the festival has to offer at a leisurely pace and in doing so inevitably stumble accidentally across some outstanding and memorable music.
No work at the Green Man for me this year (I took the season off). Also for the first time in 10 years, I experienced the festival without a huge entourage of friends and family in tow. Both of my kids are of the age where their own agenda took precedence. My daughter was working on the main stage (one of the riggers responsible for putting up that amazing decor), while my younger son found himself a job with the Pirate Technics crew who were building the Green Man.
Thus, my festival experience was much more laid-back than previous years. I also had the added luxury of camping smack bang in the centre of the festival, facing the courtyard bar; just a short dash for a pint of cider and a central point to stagger back to later with unlimited access to my friend’s warm, dry flat and a bath!
The festival began early this year with the opening of the ‘settlement’ on Monday. I say early, because the site was busier than previous years. Many more holiday campers appeared to be taking advantage of the full week of entertainment. The first evening we checked out the holiday camping bar and stage, with my son immediately disappearing off to the inflatable football pitch (new this year) while the rest of us enjoyed a bit of music over a pint of Grumbler. The Gentle Good, Georgia Ruth and Threatmantics opened proceedings playing to a busy and appreciative audience. As the evening drew in and a warm fuzzy cider glow enveloped us, I spotted that my boy had resurfaced with a huge posse of kids;
“Ah, you’ve made new friends” I said.
“No”, he replied, “they’re old friends, we all met last year and we’re meeting up again tomorrow”
I’m sure I have said it before, but this festival really is like coming home. Once hooked return visits are obligatory. It has its own comfortable familiarity that keeps a dedicated contingent returning, year after year.
That was the only evening I ventured into holiday camping, even missing the pub quiz, while my son gave it a good go. In between working, he also tried his hand at mountain boarding and a whole host of other activities. Families can sign up to everything from yoga and baby rave to food foraging, kayaking and a variety of craft workshops. I instead saved myself until Thursday when the festival officially opened.
Thursday afternoon arrived and being child-free, I took off on a wander around the healing fields (somewhere I very rarely venture), indulging in some reflexology (my channels definitely needed unblocking!), booking in for some Friday morning yoga and getting my palm read (apparently I’m weird, as if anyone needed telling, but now it’s official).
The evening was all about Leftfield. The Far Out tent hummed with excitement and a huge vocal crowd greeted the band, loving every minute of their set and dancing with pure abandon. The dancing didn’t stop as we meandered from the Far Out tent to Chai Wallahs to catch a bit of Mouse Outfit, followed by some late night Jungle at the Round the Twist bar and stage (a new addition to the festival this year) then finally winding up as it began to get light.
As a result, Friday began slowly. Anticipating a late one, I had thoughtfully booked my morning yoga class for a decent time. Once it finished and I got my laid back arse into gear, it was 3pm and time for Sweet Baboo who seemed to be performing everywhere at this festival. I actually saw him play on two other occasions in different guises; once on the main stage, and again with Pictish Trail in the Walled Garden on Saturday. His dry Welsh humour and lack of overt showmanship always curiously reminds me of Gruff Rhys and I love his music.
Continuing on my slow amble, cider in hand, I caught a brief snippet from Viet Cong in the Far Out, missing Calexico as I opted to go and see Gringo Ska (the Green Man site manager’s band) at Chai Wallahs where a familiar crowd of usual suspects (crew and friends) gathered for a good dance. Following this, I watched a hugely colourful and vibrant Sun Ra Arkestra before wandering down to the Walled Garden for some buzzing, psychedelic rock from Kiran Leonard. Comparisons to Frank Zappa, Kurt Cobain and re-invented prog rock I certainly get, but only a youngster can get away with telling the crowd he had not practised a song for 6 months, and then bang out a mind-blowing rendition. None surpassed his energy that weekend!
Friday evening began with a bit of Dizraeli and the Small Gods, who played more of a serious and politically charged set than they have in the past. I was sad to hear that they were disbanding to move on to pastures new. This was followed up by the first of two, pre-planned weekend dates with my son. The first being Hot Chip at the Mountain Stage, who travelled a path of old and new tunes opening with Huarache Lights, and finishing with a highly entertaining cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’. All this accompanied by light-mapped stage decor and giant inflatable colour changing balls. We danced and danced and finally drifted back up the hill to the warmth of the flat humming to ourselves as the set closed with a bit of LCD Sound System ‘All my Friends’.
Benefitting from an earlyish night on Friday, Saturday promised to be a more energetic day. Determined not to miss as many bands, get side tracked by the real ale and cider bar, or sit chatting endlessly to friends, I set off on a mission…only to stumble at the first hurdle. I encountered mates, was distracted, and instead of going to watch Colorama as intended, ended up at the Walled Garden watching The Drink. Apparently, they were the first unsigned band to have their album stocked by Rough Trade; I immediately warmed to their Celtic folk and singer Dearbhla Minogue’s lilting voice. Rather weirdly, parts of their set reminded me of Paul Simon circa 1986.
Next was a trip to the Far Out to watch H Hawkline followed by one of the weekend’s highlights, Songhoy Blues; four musicians from Mali, who fled their home in the North of the country where rock is banned, to take up residence in the South. Their energetic and infectiously upbeat African dance rhythms got the crowd jumping. They clearly loved what they were doing and that shone through in their performance. I was not sure if I had heard them before until they played their most well-known tune, Soubour, which was instantly recognisable (although I’m still unsure from where).
Later, after a break for dinner, I met with friends at Chai Wallahs for more psychedelic rock, this time a band called Birth Of Joy. If sweaty, longhaired shirtless men thrashing away at guitars are your thing, then they tick all the boxes. We were like a band of sex-starved housewives at a Chippendale’s performance, standing on benches to get a better look and donning our air-guitar in unison. It may also have had something to do with the rum. However, it was Manchester band Fingathing (and not his mother’s humiliating antics) that stood out from my son’s night. Their unique brand of double bass tinged hip-hop was infectious. More dancing ensued.
Soon after, I had to make a very serious (and extremely difficult) decision. Super Furry Animals or Slowdive? I love the former, have watched them live several times and knew I would be disappointed to miss them. On the other hand, I hadn’t ever watched Slowdive live and I was intrigued. Their tour manager, a friend of mine, had also offered me a stage pass and it was that which eventually won me over. It was a difficult choice but the photographer in me knew I would get some great pictures! I’ve always sat on the fence in regards to that ‘shoe gazing’ brand of Indie-rock. I’m still not sure. It lacks the full on oomph of full on rock that I love, but at the same time, I wasn’t disappointed. Singer Rachel Goswell’s ethereal vocals drifted across a packed Far Out accompanied by their distinctive experimental sound that is almost more electronic music than guitar based rock. It was just as Slowdive left the stage and Jamie XX took over with a pounding DJ set, that the heavens opened. A surreal twist of fate ended up with me chatting backstage to Jamie XX’s driver (or perhaps minder, judging by the size of him I was never sure) who gave me his umbrella so I didn’t get wet walking back.
By Sunday, a sea of mud had claimed the festival. Although still warm and almost tropical, there was no denying it was damp and I was tired.
A trip to the Green Man Rising stage started my day (at 4.30pm) to support and watch local singer and friend Chris Jones. Once an incredibly nervous performer, he now looks comfortable and relaxed. Lounging, and probably recovering, spectators lay on the grass listening to his beautifully sung traditional Welsh folk songs of love won and lost. As glints of sun came through the drizzle, I felt almost ready to start all over again; rejuvenated and fixed. It was wonderful to see Chris receive such a positive reception. From here I wandered to the Walled Garden and the ubiquitous Stephen Black (Sweet Baboo) playing with Pictish Trail and then embarked on the second of those dates with my son.
Public Service Broadcasting was – as I expected, having watched them play live twice already – brilliant. Songs from The Race For Space album predictably dominated, although much to my son’s delight they also played his favourite ‘Everest’. The impressive stage set came complete with an ascending satellite, as well as the familiar grainy films.
As the mud took its toll on our legs and burning hour approached, we headed up to Chai Wallahs for Mr Benn and a bit of a dance, bypassing Goat and Courtney Barnett. As one of the Green Man builders, my son had bagged an enviable spot to watch, inside the fence along with the rest of the crew. I got to go along for the ride and take photographs.
Despite the damp, mud and drizzle, my enthusiasm did not diminish. I always have Green Man regrets (THAT act I missed, forgot to see, overlooked, clashed with someone else I also wanted to see); this year it was Courtney Barnett, The Staves, Super Furries and Sexwitch, but that takes nothing away from what is and will remain, my favourite family festival.