Green Man Festival feels different to many of its competitors in a vast season of musical shindigs that stretches out from the end of May until the beginning of September. It’s a festival not reliant on image and genre to be a success, instead embracing an eclectic, unpretentious approach to its musical bookings along with the other varied pleasures it offers to provide its thrills. Although it arrives on A Level results day, it also doesn’t provoke the apocalyptic indulgences that can spoil it for all and sundry, and this year, the notoriously wet festival also booked the sunshine!
The Thursday start certainly contributes to this equanimous personality. Guests of the Black Mountains are allowed to ease themselves in to their new surroundings, exchange greetings and share an ale with new neighbours as they soak up the green and pleasant vibe that this Welsh valley invokes every August. It is particularly pertinent therefore that Public Service Broadcasting are the first headliners of the weekend. Their evocative and highly emotional chronicle of the mining industry in this part of the world is flawless and the huge crowd in the Far Out tent is swept up in the majesty of the presentation before the The Beaufort Male Choir join the London band to conclude matters with a rousing rendition of Take Me Home.
Friday stumbles out of the blocks somewhat, heavy-headed and blurry-eyed perhaps. It is tradition for the main stage to host the Green Man Rising winner, but Park Motive don’t really cut it this year. The band’s musical invention is never in question, but it is not matched by a vocal approach that drifts without direction and the whole thing becomes a tad forgettable. The sparkly glitz of Horsey and their sequined suits do manage to blow away a few of those early morning cobwebs however. Difficult to pigeonhole and suitably off the wall, they are only slightly outdone by The Lovely Eggs’ whimsical observation that People are Twats. Not here at Green Man though; this year is really shaping up to be one of the most good-natured, civilised affairs.
This year’s festival generates two specific observations regarding the state of music in the twenty-first century. Number 1: female artists rule. Number 2: guitar music is certainly NOT dead. These observations are encapsulated by the next two acts on the Mountain Stage. Eleanor Friedberger’s solo performance is full of poise, passion and poetic mellifluousness and this is followed by King Tuff’s thrilling fusion of garage rock swagger and 1970s vocals à la Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac. Opener The Other from the new album of the same name is a deceptive slow-burner before Raindrop Blue joins the fray; a vital riff and some particularly skillful shredding ensues and is a pleasing foil to the ramshackle glamour inherent in yet more sparkly suits and hats. Less flamboyant perhaps but no less accomplished is Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. The band’s Far Out performance is a hypnotic joy, magically combining the sweeping lacerations of her guitar with the more rhythmic and meticulous synths which fully justify the move away from the more orthodox indie-folk of earlier albums.
A trip to the cinema tent breaks up the evening after these early joys and the legendary Spinal Tap reminds us all that we should never do heavy metal in Dubly, or even take this music business too seriously!
Green Man organizers never took a chance offering King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard a headline slot! Their 2016 performance on the Far Out stage already confirmed that they would be a mind-bending, compelling proposition; the Mountain Stage just gave them a larger canvas to demonstrate their uniquely intoxicating concoction and by the end of a visually stunning and brain-rattling ninety minutes the Australians leave us all completely shaken and utterly stirred.
The weather is holding! We’ve not had a dry Green Man for several years and although it has threatened, Saturday is still flip-flop weather! It makes all the difference. Aching limbs can be rested on the green grass and the beer festival brews go untainted by Welsh rain. Boy Azooga are on the rise and this joyful, infectious set in front of a warm and appreciative crowd demonstrates how far they have come since their last slot, opening the Far Out tent a couple of years ago. Courtney Marie Andrews‘ journey has been a fraught one, but her music has evolved to unparalleled heights during her travails; in the mid-afternoon sun the singer-songwriter belts out the performance of the entire festival, demonstrating her creative powers and easy-going charm to a crowd that swells as her show develops. Although it’s a similar set to the one performed on her last tour in the spring, her music seems to match the majestic setting and it surges among us passionately as her vocals soar amidst the alt-country melodies of her flawless band. She ends the oh so brief set with a tribute to Aretha Franklin’s Chain of Fools which has children and parents alike on their feet, bellowing out the chorus. “That’s for the King of Soul… Queen! Queen of Soul!”, she exhorts, clearly caught up in the passion of this impromptu cover. Saturday’s alt-country afternoons on the Mountain Stage have traditionally been a highlight but this surpasses the lot and Baxter Dury et al sadly have to follow without making the same impact as this talented Arizona native clearly has.
There seems to be more intrigue than real fervour for the Fleet Foxes headline show tonight. The band possess a mythical quality and thousands descend upon the Mountain Stage to see if they live up to this status. The set is certainly in possession of a winsome elegance and tracks like the effervescent Mykonos get the crowd moving and it impossible not to dislike what we’re hearing; it may lack the unpredictability of the previous night’s headliners but that’s the beauty of this little festival in Wales.
Sunday! It’s hot. The sun is at its most intense as we descend upon a heaving Walled Garden to experience the gentle whimsy of Haley Heynderickx. Songs about garden bugs and not knowing what to do with your life fall effortlessly in-between charming vignettes explaining their genesis from the Portland resident. Today is not really about fragile acoustic tones though. This is a day for the guitar hero in us all as some alternative giants of the instrument emerge in our midst and slay us with their prowess upon the Mountain Stage. First up is Curtis Harding. Blessed with a collection of tracks ripped with high tempo riffs, lofty solos and hip melodies, the ‘Slop and Roll’ artist is an absolute joy from start to finish and the crowd dance and groove with abandon.
Kevin Morby may be a bit more of an introspective performer, but his guitar-led compositions are no less thrilling and numerous jagged solos compliment the jangly melodies tied serendipitously to the Dylan-esque vocals which provide the laid back, folky vibe. This affable period of the afternoon does not remain for long. Anna Calvi arrives full of menace, offering a blood-tingling demonstration of her own inimitable guitar work which compliments her brooding, snarling vocals and bold synths which match the scale of epic new songs like Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Girl.
Grizzly Bear have always proved slightly aloof on record, forgoing melody and tempo for a more aristocratic version of Americana. These misgivings thankfully never come to pass on the Mountain Stage tonight. Simple but convincing stage design creates a cave-like effect and much of latest album ‘Painted Ruins’ up-tempo atmospherics provide many of the highlights of a wonderfully varied set including the jaunty Losing All Sense and Midlake-esque Mourning Sound.
When The War on Drugs toured latest album ‘A Deeper Understanding’ there was a sense that Adam Granduciel and co. were going through the motions. Tracks were almost identical in presentation to their album counterparts; it wasall just a bit too clinical, and with very little interaction in-between songs, there was a lack of personality about proceedings. This evening is a different proposition. Adam Granducielteases us with the breezy Buenos Aires Beachand Baby Missiles, prowling before a pedal board the size of a car. Pain galvanises proceedings but it is An Ocean In Between the Waves which demonstrates the imaginative flourishes that were possibly missing last time around; there’s an unpredictability to the song as subtle tempo shifts and key changes redefine a song that has become so familiar. This is Adam Granduciel‘s approach for the rest of the show; subtle shifts in the gravity of a song make for a more fluid and enjoyable performance. Textured sax tones are more up-front and the animalistic percussion from Charlie Hall is an absolute joy.
As we head towards the conclusion of the entire festival Under the Pressure cements its place in Green Man folklore as one of the mightiest, magisterial moments ever to grace the Mountain Stage. The elongated introductionis seductive and the crowd start bouncing once the beat kicks in after several minutes, but the real thrill occurs as the song contorts from its tangible composition into something beautifully flagrant. Fluid solos soar and morph as Granduciel develops the song’s natural conclusion into a vast feedback-driven panorama, augmented by swirling synths and textured horns that refuse to acquiesceto Granducielgrowling feedback. Thank you, Green Man.