Depending on where you are in life, time is judged differently. For some two years wouldn’t be considered a substantial amount of time., for others it would feel like an age. Either way in two years, things can change, and that was my concern before I got to this year’s Green Man Festival.
The feeling of knowing that you have found something genuinely good before other people can sometimes make you want to protect that which you’ve found, almost keep it exclusive to yourself. In a way, this selfish sentiment is one that I’ve held since I went to Green Man for the first time in 2010. It was my first festival and, although I don’t have a wealth of experience to draw on, it’s the only one I ever really want to go to.
What drives me to feel like Green Man is my festival is that it is to a large extent one of Wales’ best kept secrets, and despite a sell-out crowd last year and a continual plethora (yes, plethora) of bands that could easily headline most major UK festivals, the atmosphere remains the same: there’s the feel of a community, who are there for the music and not much else.
Isn’t every festival crowd there for the music, I hear you say. No, unfortunately a lot of festivals these days have become playgrounds for people to go and get mashed and that feeling of universal enjoyment that is palpable at Green Man doesn’t exist for some that used to have it.
As I imagine most music enthusiasts do, I kept my eyes peeled for the announcement of every festival I knew of during the winter and spring months of 2012, and to be frank, I only ever had eyes for Green Man. While Latitude boasted what I considered to be arguably one of the best festival line-ups I’ve ever seen, my proverbial heart had been won.
With a host of acts that ranged from the ever-green Kevin Rowland’s Dexys to a DJ set by one of the break out artists of 2011, James Blake, the line-up demonstrated the diversity that Green Man seems to love. It’s a diversity that draws in an audience of punters ranging from the weekend warriors freed of their 9-5 jobs to families who brought a generation or two along with them, from impractically dressed hipsters to the wizened hippies of times gone by.
For those that haven’t been to Green Man before, it’s worth pointing out that this festival is as small as I make it out to be. Unlike the vast majority of major UK festivals, the trek from the campsite to the arena can take about 20 minutes at best, while there are 5 stages in total (Mountain, Far Out, Einstein’s Garden, Chai Wallahs, Walled Garden… yep, 5). Otherwise, it’s as you would expect from any festival – a variety of street food vendors, innumerable arts & crafts stalls, vintage clothing & record sellers etc. I would say it’s almost like having an equivalent to Brick Lane Market spaced over the Glanusk Estate.
Suffice to say that every festival-goer will always have a pre-determined list in their mind of who they need to see in order to say they’ve had a good festival, and I was no different. My list included the likes of the aforementioned Dexys, Ghostpoet, The Tallest Man On Earth (a deal-breaker), Alt-J, Bowerbirds, Daughter and Feist.
The thing that most impressed me, or which won me over in 2010 was the amount of new music and new bands that I found while I was there. Copious amounts of artists that I hadn’t even known existed before going were suddenly the focal point of my listening habit, and I would assume that is the draw of the music festival.
Unsurprisingly then that I found the same this time round, with the likes of The Felice Brothers (I was won over by their southern swagger and their lyrics, an example being “Could I love you in a bathroom stall / Could I love you at the Union Hall”), Alaska, tUnE-yArDs, Yann Tiersen and Dark Dark Dark proving that no matter what I say to myself, I don’t listen to enough music. The stand out performances from those would have to be Alaska, who I had never heard of before, tUnE-yArDs, who I knew of vaguely (I’ll come back to just how good she was), and Yann Tiersen, who I only ever associated with Amelie.
Alaska proved to be a surprise for everyone who was there watching them on the Walled Garden stage, I think. Everyone except for a punter of an advanced age, who was pogoing, kicking up mud and running around in what I can only describe as pure, unashamed enjoyment of the music. Their uniform of hand-drawn t-shirts and white drainpipes compounded their energetic and involving sound; they are definitely a band that I would keep an eye out for.
As I mentioned briefly above, Yann Tiersen was someone who I had only previously associated with the Amelie soundtrack and a quiet, but enjoyable tune called Fuck Me, but I was left satisfyingly shocked – a recurring theme of my time at Green Man – by the music that I witnessed. I say music, it was more of a wall of sound that left the notion that indie/alternative music is too quiet to trudge home with its tail, quite rightly, between its legs.
The pinnacle of my unknowns was Merill Garbus’ freak-folk venture, tUnE-yArDs. After half a bottle of vodka and the break out of some well overdue sun, her music polished off what had been an interesting Saturday day, and I could have easily spent the rest of the evening dancing to her music. Although not everyone in the crowd had drunk half a bottle of vodka, I got the feeling that they felt the same. She was bizarre and captivating, with her music creating an energy that you couldn’t stand still against – definitely one of my highlights of the weekend.
If tUnE-yArDs were the pick of the bunch that I didn’t know, then The Tallest Man On Earth was her peer in the category of bands that I was familiar with. It should be noted that I have become a great fan of Mr Mattson’s music in the past 18 months, as he has become one of my favourite artists around, so to say that I have seen him play live is nothing short of a genuine music ambition achieved. A reservation of mine before I saw his set was that he might make use of a band, as Sam Beam has chosen to do since he’s moved on from the one-man-and-his-guitar sound. Thankfully, and I am genuinely thankful, that wasn’t the case and I, along with what must have numbered in the thousands, stood to appreciate a set that consisted of what I suppose you could call Tallest Man classics and songs from his new album, There’s No Leaving Now. If it’s any testament to the man and his skill in songwriting, then I would refer to when he played King of Spain – his vocals were matched by the crowd for volume, a moment that I’m unlikely to forget.
I think it says something for the strength of Green Man’s diversity that while someone like The Tallest Man On Earth, who has established themselves as a contemporary folk icon, was playing there was an equal number of people watching a group who have become a favourite of electro fanatics, Metronomy.
Notable mentions, for their performances, would be Ghostpoet, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Vondelpark, Feist and Lazy Habits, a group from Bristol that infused ska with rap. While everyone else who I’ve spoken to seems to think they had a storming set, I couldn’t help but feel that a band who had promised so much in the time leading up to the festival were a bit flat, almost underwhelming. That band being Alt-J, and while their hype over the summer has ranged from mild enthusiasm to borderline hysteria, they were one of the acts I was most looking forward to seeing. Maybe it’s because they’re still very young and raw, maybe it’s because my incessant and repeated listening of their album put them on a pedestal in my mind, I don’t know.
Daughter, someone who I truly believe is destined for the sharp end of the pyramid was the penultimate act for my Green Man weekend, and she was delicately beautiful, both in sound and appearance. Without a doubt, she is someone who I think has the brightest of futures ahead of her in music; she played her way through a nervous and enthralling set which showcased the fragility and sleek elegance of her voice and music. Like The Tallest Man on Earth, she is also gifted with a technical musical ability that puts most of us to shame.
In summary then, what could have altered the memory of a weekend that was as near to perfection as my youth afforded, this year’s Green Man did nothing short of justifying why it has been a place and an event I’ve been longing for since I left its gates in 2010. Would I go again? I think that we all know the answer to that question.