The images conjured up at the mention of the Green Man festival have, sadly, not quite matched the reality in the last couple of years. Where young children should have been gaily running amok in the secret garden, instead they’ve been whining about the mud. And when you’ve been dying to just stretch out on the grass and let the music wash over you, all that washed over you was the rain.
This year though, we had three gloriously dry days in the Brecon Beacons and Green Man came good – all those bucolic dreams finally realised.
With such great weather, the music just sounded better. 6 Day Riots’ shanties and jigs were perfect afternoon fare, Wave Machines disco-tinged tunes were fun in the sun, and Emmy the Great’s finely honed festival set fitted the bill perfectly (“Why does the sun keep on shining?” she asked during her cover of Skeeter Davis’ ‘End of the World’).
A more adventurous line-up also improved this year’s festival. On the main stage Gang Gang Dance were super-sexy, while over in the Far Out tent Errors, Wooden Shjips and then Four Tet successively raised the bar. Starting from energetic electro rock, through seriously psyched-out guitar bliss and finally on to some gloriously fuzzy bass-heavy electronica from Kieren Hebden’s gang, this was far out stuff indeed.
Only Animal Collective, noodling around on the main stage for over an hour without really playing any songs, disappointed on an exciting first day. The icing on the cake? Great disco DJ sets from Bill Brewster and friends into the wee small hours.
Saturday begins chilled and pretty much stays that way. The Soundcarriers ease us collectively into the day with a laid back soundtrack for us to munch our Thali café breakfasts to. Rising folky stars Stornoway – perhaps the least fashionable looking band all weekend – endear themselves to the audience with some great tunes (‘Zorbing’, ‘Free Range Humans’) and a host of random facts about Wales. The Leisure Society – much better dressed – have a great time and even get a few folk dancing to recent country-tinged B-side ‘A Matter of Time’.
If one band misjudge the mood of the weekend though, it’s Noah and the Whale. Their miserable songs about broken hearts have us all sobbing into our pints when we want to be singing and dancing. When Charlie mumbles “It’s great to be here” but looking like he’s about to start crying, he could hardly sound less convincing.
Over in the Far Out tent, meanwhile, and a collaboration between Euros Childs from Gorky’s and Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub is much better entertainment. It’s ramshackle, but the songs are from the heart and it’s inspiring stuff. Watch out for a future release from their Jonny project, it should be worth a listen.
The mood heads into a bit of an early-evening lull at this point, which is a bit weird for a Saturday evening. Where are the bands to dance and sing to? Beach House and Vetiver are both great – Vetiver in particular create a perfect place to zone out in – but they are hardly going to wake us up after an afternoon of drinking in the sun.
Instead, it’s the unlikely figure of Justin Vernon from Bon Iver who raises us from our slumber, with his gorgeously poignant songs, which have already become cherished sing-alongs. His tingly, electric set ends with several thousand people chanting “What might have been lost” and then screaming.
Awake now, the main stage audience is primed for a headline appearance from Jarvis Cocker. He might not have much in the way of folk credentials, but he sure knows how to put on a show, and he feels curiously at home here. As flamboyant and entertaining as ever, Jarvis delivers a genuinely triumphant set, the silky smooth finale of ‘You’re In My Eyes (Discosong)’ finally providing something for us to get our groove on to before we shimmy off into the night for a cosmic Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve DJ set.
Come Sunday and it’s really starting to hot up. The beautiful sound of 9Bach gets things off to a gentle start, before the Fence Collective take over. First up is the endearing Rozi Plain, followed by The Three Craws (James Yorkston, Pictish Trail and King Creosote), who are in playful mood and whose unique vocals compliment each other perfectly. The Pictish Trail then takes to the stage in his own right and is a surprise hit, weaving electronic embellishments into his folky sound.
On the main stage, Camera Obscura entertain with their blend of 60s girl-group pop and jangley 80s indie. It’s good, but it’s not Belle and Sebastian good. Rodriguez plays a slightly subdued set to a smallish crowd but it’s clear he’s very happy to be here. With some great between-song advice (“Give your friends hugs, not drugs”), he’s clearly still as passionate about the subjects he wrote about in the 60s.
Over at the Green Man Pub, Joe Giddeon and the Shark come across as a Shoreditch Wildbirds and Peacedrums, if you can imagine such a thing. Joe Giddeon seems like a nice bloke, but shit-hot drummer and multi-instrumentalist the Shark is probably the more talented (and definitely the more photogenic).
Festival organiser’s Jo and Danny’s Yellow Moon Band play every year, and each time they get looser and heavier. Definitely movin’ in the right direction.
As the weather finally breaks, the festival closes with a headline set from Wilco who, I have to admit, never really lit my fire in the past, but tonight they’re excellent. Maybe I’m just in the right mood, but those kraut-rocky whig-outs really are brilliant.
The weekend isn’t quite over though. This is Green Man after all, and there is still the business of setting fire to the Green Man effigy, in a Wickerman stylee. It’s all done with a suitable level of mock-seriousness and, as the Green Man burns, a (very quiet) fireworks display marks the end of a fantastic festival finally allowed to deliver on its promise.
Words: Joe Downie
Photo: Jeanette Ward