Playlist #20: Green Man 2012

In his latest playlist, Marc Hall reflects on last weekend’s Green Man Festival.

I’ve been to many festivals over the years. I cut my teeth at Glastonbury, enriched my musical landscape with ATP and dabbled with the delights of End of the Roads, but The Green Man Festival is the one I consider my own.

I first attended in 2006, the year it expanded to its current site in the Brecon Beacons, with its main The Mountain Stage, overlooked by the stunning peaks of the Sugar Loaf Mountain. By far the most beautiful of locations for any festival I’ve attended.

I took a year off in 2011; after 5 years in a row I wanted to expand my horizons somewhat, making a dreadful decision to attend Camp Bestival. I’ll save my disdain for another time, but one thing it did do was make me realise how foolish I was to forego the Green Man.  Something I wasn’t going to do again in a hurry.

Following a rather pleasant country road trek from Liverpool, occasionally interrupted by my whoops of joy thinking I was a rally driver, or swearing at slow moving flat bed trucks blocking my path, we arrive on site to the accompaniment of what was to be a major factor across the whole weekend – the heavens opening.

No matter. Preparation was key; waterproofs aplenty, nothing was stopping me. The tents went up, the booze started flowing and the smile on my face said it was good to be home.

“The smile on my face said it was good to be home”

This year Green Man expanded with a full evening’s offerings on the Thursday. We head off to check out Adam Buxton’s Bug where he makes an art of imbuing the most innocuous of you tube comments with comedy gold. A great start to the weekend’s festivities.

A quick wander round the site reintroduces me to some old favourites from La Grand Bouffe food stall, to the Rough Trade pop up shop, to the courtyard bar. There’s even been the introduction of a big wheel since my last visit, although this strangely pumps out standard fairground music which is a little out of place in the folksy roots of Green Man.

Following a night serenaded by the familiar sound of rain crackling upon the tent, we awake to the first full day of music. Though still resplendent in green, some muddy patches have appeared in key walkways, but the sponge-like feel under foot suggests the green shall soon be brown. And boy did it turn brown by the end of the weekend.

First up for us was the Liverpool-based Stealing Sheep. Attracting a fair sized crowd to the Far Out tent, they take the stage with a gentle confidence, enchanting the audience over the next 40 minutes, which included a well-received guest slot from Laura J Martin. Naturally fitting the Green Man demographic, it will be a great pleasure to watch Stealing Sheep move up the billing where no doubt a main stage slot awaits them.

“It will be a great pleasure to watch Stealing Sheep move up the billing”

We meander around for several hours, taking in the sights (bars) before heading off to the Mountain Stage to take up a well worn spot on the tiered lawn. Next up and generating one of the biggest crowds of the weekend was Dexys.  Let’s face it; everybody was there for one reason and one reason only. Disappoint they did not. The opening chords of Come on Eileen strike, and the audience start to dance like they’re back at a school disco/cheesy wedding/your Nan’s 70th birthday party.

For five minutes we danced our hearts out but then they kept playing – the same bloody song, on and on and on and on….eight minutes still going, ten minutes this isn’t funny anymore. I lost count after that but I know somewhere, someplace Kevin Rowland is still chanting “toora loora toora loo rye aye”.

The remainder of the night was highlighted by a return to form of Stephen Malkmus. I had trepidations on seeing Malkmus again. While remaining one of my all time musical heroes, things have soured in recent years with below par shows (including a previous Green Man headline appearance). But here, his performance was infused with a joy not seen of late, and it made all the difference.

30 seconds of Cate Le Bon in the Walled Garden stage was enough to know we’d regret giving up our prized tiered lawn spot for the evening. We head back to watch the second half of headliners’ Mogwai, who sounded great.

Saturday arrives, and we are now living in the inevitable mud bath. Getting around the site was tricky, meaning that joy of stage hopping at festivals slowed down. Any movement was problematic enough, and usually reserved for bar/food/toilet trips. The Mountain Stage is now the weekend’s default destination of choice.

Not that that’s a problem. We’re treated to Trembling Bells, Dark Dark Dark and The Bowerbirds in a nice triple bill. Michael Kiwanuka gave us an excuse to return to base to refresh for the night before another trio – Van Morrison, Yann Tiersen and Metronomy – closed the night.

I’ve seen Van Morrison several times. Noted for his barbed approach he seemed in good spirits after being dropped off by helicopter shortly prior to his set. I’ve held a lingering dislike for him since a show at the Empire several years ago, when as an encore he spat out his more famous songs with the vitriol of “here’s your fucking pop songs”. Thankfully he started with Brown Eyed Girl sans outburst, so we escaped his wrath on this occasion.

Tiersen proved a pleasant surprise, as months earlier I’d been unimpressed with an ATP appearance. His electronic-heavy set filled the stage nicely as night time set in. I wasn’t too familiar with Metronomy before their set, and was surprised to see them closing. However they handled the occasion magnificently, with the crowd going crazy for heavily rotated Barclays advert song ‘The Look’.

On paper, Sunday looked – and proved to be – the best day. With conditions now making walking round hazardous it become a challenge getting to, never mind finding a place to perch. After some casual viewings from the bar (Pictish Trail, Ghostpoet) we head over to the Far Out Stage to catch the weekend’s buzz band Alt-J. Walking over, the sun shines so we take some time out to embrace the sun’s rays. In doing so we miss the throngs of people rushing into the tent and settle for some time in the Sun with Alt-J’s muffled sounds emanating from the stage.

“We head over to the Far Out Stage to catch the weekend’s buzz band Alt-J”

Back on the Mountain Stage for the home run, King Creosote and Jon Hopkins provide us with beautiful soundscapes from last year’s album, Diamond Mine. KC is one of the UKs hidden gems; his thick Fife accent washes over every song and Hopkins’ simplistic piano-work evoking thoughts of Eno.

tUnE-yArDs are next up. I’ve never quite got Merril Garbus’ act before. I tried but it never clicked.  Within a couple of minutes of her performance something clicked. I get it. Using nothing but her voice and layered samples, Garbus introduces her show. Joined by her band and own multi instrumental abilities tUnE-yArDs go on to provide the performance of the weekend (by far), whipping the crowd into an energetic stupor; not bad considering they were all literally stuck in the mud. At the sets close there was a collective sense of “top that”.

The Walkmen tried. They’re a strong live band. A nice change in stylings with some raw rocky energy that was lacking at times over the weekend. My own personal delight was finally seeing them play the greatest song of all time™, ‘The Rat’.

Closing the festival was Canadian songstress Feist. Quite what the DJ was thinking before her set by playing Alanis Morrisette is anybody’s guess. Yes: female, Canadian, singer, guitar. This provided an unintentional humorous moment. Thankfully they held back on playing Shania Twain. Feist’s set was mostly made up of tracks from her latest album, Metals. Don’t be expecting any Mushabooms here. Feist’s sound has evolved over the years and her current outings are deserving of their headline slot.  With stunning use of on stage video and Feist’s effortless, unforced vocals, the Green Man comes to a close for another successful year.

Marc Hall

Posted on 24/08/2012 by thedoublenegative