There is something magical about Green Man Festival. I mean it, truly magical. I don’t know whether the Druids gave an extra blessing to the laylines this year but really, there was magic in the air. Green Man is the sort of place where your ID can fall out of your pocket and somehow turn up the next day*. Any other festival, lost property can just feel like false hope but here, anything is possible and that magic extends to the other festival-goers, the staff, the musicians, for the most part even the weather, just look at that beautiful, mostly cloud-free sky below. Now going into its 16th year, I think we can safely call Green Man a festival institution, based in the Black Mountains of Wales, just a few miles from the town of Crickhowell, the scene was set for another fantastic long weekend, let’s find out if it could pull it out of the bag…
Having arrived later than expected, I jumped straight in with what turned out to be a highlight of the entire festival in the form of Snazzback, a modern jazz-funk fusion band with party energy to spare, great theatrics, musicianship and charisma. The expansive influences, especially behind the drumming here were quite marvellous, do seek them out. From here we went to the self-consciously 80s New Wave Baz Jan, the smooth groove stylings of Groovelator & the surprisingly energetic Pictish Trail, a man who has gone so far beyond being just another folk musician that he’s basically a rock star even though what he does isn’t folk rock. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go find out where he is and what you’re missing. The evening winded down but not exactly quietly with the classic Reggae brilliance of Hempolics practically setting alight Chai Wallahs with what was for this critic’s opinion, a perfect set. I can’t recommend these lot more highly, everything was just so perfectly in place, it almost seemed a shame that here they were not in a bigger tent on a bigger night, followed by Public Service Broadcasting. What was wonderful was seeing how thoroughly into the wild, atmospherics of the modern post-punk greats but sadly, I was left feeling personally just a little exhausted from travelling five hours to the festival. It’s unfair on the band who were great but I wasn’t quite as up for this as I might have been with more energy. That said, they truly had something special going on. With that, I decided to let the young people go off into the night, whereas I got an early one.
I Started off on a bit of anime goodness (because the music hadn’t started yet) with Mary and the Witches Flower. Good for fans of Harry Potter, Studio Ghibli and Jim Broadbent doing hilarious voices. Then, the music actually started with HMS Morris on the Walled Garden stage bringing some solid Portishead-esque vibes and some fabulous nautical headwear. Still not the finished product but with a little polish, we could be seeing the start of something special. This was followed by
How to Hack into Space, an Entertaining, mildly informative, delightfully whimsical, occasionally melancholic, kid-friendly Sci-not Fi fun. From here we get into two of the best of this weekend in the form of The Lovely Eggs & Duds, somewhat similar in their punk sensibility but where Eggs excelled in their raw, visceral focus, think The White Stripes if they hadn’t disappeared somewhere inside themselves, Duds were closer to a midpoint between PiL and a Brazillian carnival band and potentially even better than that description makes them sound. Also worth noting that The Lovely Eggs as well as having brilliant songs, also had incredible live visuals going on that were psychedelic, hilarious and utterly brilliant. Somewhere between the two of them, I also saw Eleanor Friedberger who was very pleasant.
Talking of words like Ok and pleasant, we come to The Hungry Ghosts, Ari Wolf, & Gringo Ska. Three very different acts, being Garage Rock, Melancholic Americana & Ska respectively and none were really particularly bad but none really shone as much as the sun outside. A with our trip to the Science Tent earlier to hack into space, I thought I’d try and see a bit of everything the festival had to offer so over to the Cabaret stage we went, seeing Kitsch N Sync & Madam Mango’s Tango, the former a trio of absurdist dancers that delivered a bizarre and hilarious show, the latter an impressive aerial display. The two of them were a good change of pace while also being nicely succinct and never outstaying their welcome. From here to the Far Out stage for Wye Oak, the American band delivering a strong set of synth-laden anthemic indie. Really connected with the crowd and made for a special moment. Never quite had that one hook to really send it stratospheric but it didn’t really matter.
Back on the main stage for The Lemon Twigs who came with cathartic pop delivered to an adoring audience. Not for me but clearly worked for their fans. Now for comedy from Callum Stewart & Stuart Laws. Two men with very different acts but both of them delivered big laughs by the spadeful. Laws, delivered as always but Stewart was something of a revelation. Sadly, I had to miss the last few minutes of Laws’ set in order to get over to main stage for what were one of the main reasons for me coming to the festival, Dirty Projectors. Luckily for me, they were genuinely perfect. Musically tight as you could want, harmonies practically as good as the Coffman days anwell-chosenosen set that wasn’t too heavy on the new material. If there was one criticism, it’s that we didn’t get ‘Stillness is the Move’ but really, it wouldn’t have been right to here it anyway. This was their first UK set since 2012. Please don’t stay away that long in future, Dave. The evening climaxed with King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, a band who are exactly what you’d expect with a name like that and equally, exactly what you’d want with psych rock bangers and wild performance techniques that seemed to blow the audience’s mind. But would you expect anything less? A lovely first full day of a festival and with the festival still in full swing around me, I huddled by a bonfire, enjoyed some late-night Churros with good friends and let the evening take us away.
Luckily the evening didn’t take us too far as we were back in the Cinema Tent for Paddington 2, for fans of Paddington, bears and Marmalade. Straight back into the music, we enjoyed some of the finest young Welsh musicians there are in the form of Seazoo and their blissful Belle and Sebastian meets Pavement jangle rock. A great way to start an afternoon. Heading back to Chai Wallahs, we took in the gentle acoustics of Potts Music who had a good set of covers, performed respectfully. At one point he brought his wife up on stage to perform a duet in what was either one of the sweetest or most nauseating moments of the festival. I still can’t decide. On the way to see Seamus Fogerty, we encountered some Mermaids riding upon the back of belligerent Fishermen courtesy of The Legendary Stilts Company who seemed to be a true delight for all around but epecially for the children, back to Fogerty who stood out as a songwriter and performer of rare craft. Infusing his alt-country styling with a definite nod to his clear Irish heritage, it was lovely stuff with just the right hint of folk. Back to the cinema tent and a return to the psychedelic visuals of The Lovely Eggs as their videographer presented an afternoon of delights, beginning with Stung, a band that were sold as re-interpreting the music of Sting in the past tense and while they weren’t that, what they were was a furious and technically accomplished jam band who seemed to build nearly an hour of music out of about two riffs but what a pair of riffs and what a show. Mental but brilliant.Passing through some pleasant folk from Shannon Lay, we encountered a Literary Death Match that even if it lacked the necessary venom from the judges to make it feel like an actual ‘death match’, the material was very strong, especially a piece by Pariah Khan that had a lot of the audience in stitches.Of course, even a death match couldn’t compare to what came next as Bo Ningen stole the entire festival with their wild noise-rock-metal-other hybrid from everyone’s favourite middle finger to genre classification. At Twenty to Six they announced they were playing the last song of the set. They eventually finished at Five to, the last song could’ve been longer, to be honest.
Now with our next act, Baxter Dury, you have to go in accepting that he’s not his dad but as long as you accept that no one is, he has a pretty decent line in oddball gloom pop and a very unique presence. Baxter led a run of acts, in this instance Goat Girl and Cate le Bon, who while they had no real issues with the actual music they played, presenting scuzzed-up indie rock and gallic-tinged chillout pop but with an issue of seeming too cool, not engaging enough with the crowds, luckily this was rectified by Solomon OB & Sankofa3. Hitting a nice Venn diagram mid-allignment between Performance Poetry with a Grime edge and a classic Hip-Hop grounding. well-produced backing, strong lyrical content, great connection and some of the strongest performances of the weekend. Solomon deserves to be a massive star if he can deliver like that. Props to Snazzback‘s lead singer for adding some great vocal hooks to some of the tracks. With the evening starting to come to a close, we have the last great act of Saturday in Teenage Fanclub, Sounding as good as ever, the jangle pop kings returned to claim their throne and even though the sun was going down, they brought it back out just for this. Wonderful. Rounding out the evening saw main stage headliners Fleet Foxes deliver a set that was technically proficient and utterly tasteful but that really didn’t alight any sort of fire, unlike the final of Sunday but we’ll get to that. Luckily, Simian Mobile Disco w/ Deep Throat Choir & Lazy Habits were on hand to bring the party back to the other stages, providing a feel-good soundtrack to close the day, Habits, in particular, providing a fun hip-hop vibe and brassy energy that would stay with us long after their songs had washed over.
The final day saw our final trip to the Cinema tent for Early Man. One for fans of Aardman, Caveman & football, man. The music, itself, started with Sock, a young band with some good, lazy Summery feeling perfect for a Sunday afternoon, this was followed by Lost Horizon, a very clearly Kate Bush-inspired band that didn’t do much to transcend its influences but was well-presented within them, one half of Slow Club, Charles Watson borught his sun-flecked 70s/90s guitar pop out with an all-star band including Guillemots‘ Fyfe Dangerfield and rewarded the audience with some of the purest songwriting of the weekend, Accü and Kevin Morby brought an energy and intensity to their respective stages aswell as an amount of rock authenticity but once again, neither exactly excelled, seeming quite happy to be there but not fully doing much with it. Luckily, this was followed by Lucy Dacus, a young, American songwriter who seems to be positioned to be the next big thing and I can see why with her gutsy take on Alternative/Indie reminding somewhat of Katie Crutchfield but perhaps a less introspective version. While she might not be as incredible as the press seemed to be hailing her yet, at this rate, she very well could be. Back in the comedy tent and we saw Phil Wang proceed with a triumphant set of practically nothing but killer lines. Bringing a great focus to his materials and a receptive crowd made for something of a coming out party for a hard-working comedian who was nothing but deserving of the response be got. Transcendentally hilarious and for my money, the main reason to be there on Sunday.
Though with that in mind you can’t count out quite how good Grizzly Bear are and how much better they seem to get each time I see them. Bringing their absolute best to the main stage, this was exactly the sort of set the festival needed and also, a great reminder for Radiohead fans of what it could sound like if the band hadn’t decided to give up making music for humans. Before we get to the main event of the night, we had some good, old fashioned Rock with a capital RAWK from Dark Angels and War on Drugs bringing their collection of 80s-esque soft rock & power ballads to the Main Stage to close it in frequently lovely fashion. Of course, Sunday nights at Green Man are less about the music but the burning of the Man himself, a fantastic creation of wicker and greenery with a surprising heart of fireworks that set off as he went back to the Earth. While the man burnt, you have to commend Mark Olver for still commanding a room at the comedy tent and putting on a staged production of Die Hard with and for a delighted crowd. The night finished for me, with Tom Wrigglesworth anf it was nice of Green Man to put on a Sheffield comedian late on the bill just to thematically send me home from Wales back to the North. I can only assume they did so just for me and no-one else. Some nerves early on but he recovered well and delivered a set that certainly if sending me home, did so very happily.
This late into the game, Green Man doesn’t need me to tell you how fantastic they are. Even if not every set on the line-up was killer, such is their incredible atmosphere building that almost whether the music is any good or not is irrelevant because as mentioned earlier, there’s magic in the air. It just so happens that there was so much that I saw that was infinitely loveable. If you can make it to the Black Mountains next year, be sure that you’re going to find something unbelieveable. I’ll see you there.
Green Man Festival 2019 Tickets will go on sale on 27th September. You can find more information here.
*You may have guessed, this was something that happened to me. Thanks to the Greater Manchester Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for their assistance in recovering it.