Since the late 2000’s, boutique festivals have not only become contenders on the festival circuit, but even preferred alternatives to patrons and artists alike. But in the year 2012 when the summer has not been dwarfed by the behemoth that is Glastonbury, the boutique festival has taken the lead as a vital, and sometimes only, lifeline for good music in the UK. Green Man is at the forefront of this movement as it successfully completed its 10th year. It already has an affectionate status in any Welsh music-lover’s heart, being the nation’s largest music festival. I’m not Welsh, and it was my second time at the festival.
Every festival has its category, and Green Man definitely falls under chilled. The majority groups are families, middle aged Londoners and post-A level students. This makes for a very relaxing festival, which to some may be disappointing. Indeed all live sets ended by 12, and there were two DJs that went until 4, leaving not much to do for the late night goers. But of course, everyone was friendly and my friends and I would chat until the early hours with our neighbours. And so, though not an obvious point, it is certainly one worth making, that this festival has zero intimidation: no one pissing on tents, no pill-poppers palpitating in the mud and no fear of things being stolen. Indeed the atmosphere is almost as calming as the beautiful surroundings in the Welsh valleys.
However, let not this compliment come as a caveat to the music-lover who fears being subdued into radio-friendly submission; may I remind the reader that we came for the music. While Green Man is often juggled with other leading boutique festivals, such as End of the Road and Beacons, it certainly had the best line-up. The festival traditionally has folk/psychedelic taste, which has mostly been reduced to the smaller venues. Some were good, such as the jam band Meanz Heinz, and some were appalling such as a band we saw with the chorus “Space is ace, doo doo doo doo doo”. Fortunately the festival has reached out to more eclectic tastes.
After enduring appalling rain, and inevitable mud, we finally set up camp and entered the site. The festival is based around a country estate with a house in the middle, and has two principal stages, the Main Stage, in an almost amphitheatre where one can set up deckchairs (a commodity my friends and I soon regretted, and also remembered that we regretted not bringing last time) and the Far Out tent, where the more unusual acts were. We spent the majority of the day at the Far Out tent. Our first act of the festival were the Scottish band Errors, who were an entertaining electronic band, but soon descended into generic looping. Lower Dens lived up to expectations with their droning psychedelia, concluding on their killer song “Brains”. While the enigmatic alt-country man Cass McCombs’s lingering voice remained crystalline throughout and mixed with sublime riffing throughout the set, which climaxed with “County Line”, the best song of the festival. We then returned to the Main Stage to see Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks play their latest album Mirror Traffic, which, similar to my review of them in the Constellations Festival, was entertaining but gave off a sense that Malkmus is in decline since his Pavement days. Although his thirty-second cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent” definitely ticked off one hypothetical box of scenarios I’d dreamt about. Green Man continued their string of post-rock bands with Mogwai as their first headline act. Though the band looked old, and the members seemed almost too appreciative to be there, the music was still fresh as ever, and the addition of a rock organ and synthesised vocals catalysed the chords into a moving experience. However, your trusty reporter must admit that he and his friends may have drunken too much, which meant that we were all sent pleasantly dreaming near the end of the Mogwai set, which meant we missed Mr Scruff.
Hangovers are easy when you realise all you need to do is keep drinking through the morning, which is how we spent the second day, as the music remained pretty unknown until the late evening. This also meant we were able to appreciate the other aspects of the festival, such as chainsaw art, the cinema tent, delicious (but extortionately priced) food and smaller acts. The first evening set was Michael Kiwanuka, who was surprisingly good, since I had classed him under “mum’s easy- listening” music, but he gave a very entertaining set as the sun finally broke through, including an excellent cover of Hendix’s “Waterfall”. Van Morrison managed to garner the largest audience for the whole festival as the sun set, and though he only arrived a minute before the show and didn’t speak to the audience for the whole hour and a half set, he did play all the classics with grace. Yann Tiersen, was an unlikely choice, as most people only knew him from the “Amelie” soundtrack, but his instruments worked satisfactorily well. However the highlight of day 2 was definitely going to be that folk enigma Tallest Man on Earth. He played a very intense solo set, with great skill in performance. But what was most striking was how well known he was, almost on minor pop star level. As the majority of the crowd were teenage girls mouthing every single lyric.
Our party fatigued was overcome by the most exciting day of them all. Ghostpoet, the seemingly only rap artist on the line-up, gave a welcomed performance, which would hopefully flagship more hip-hop perfomances in these country festivals. Damien Jurado was by far the most relaxed artist who would balance his emotional acoustic songs with song requests, and even requests for weed (which reflected on what kind of festival this was). However, the best set is certainly reserved for tUnE-yArDs. This was the last show of their year and a half tour, and so we got to see them at their peak of live performance, where every single beat was timed perfectly. Singer, drummer and core of the band Merrill Garbus was so funny and encapsulating, and managed to get the entire crowd to jump in the mud, which is no mild achievement. And perhaps the greatest achievement a live band can give is make someone who wasn’t a fan before become a dedicated follower. The Walkmen are one of my favourite bands, and so performed as incredibly as I’d expected (which is almost disappointing in a way, perhaps it is the contrast between expectation and performance, which causes the most impact). Feist was the final headliner, who gave a powerful performance of her album “Metals”, with her backing band Mountain Man, who had a huge following from former performances at this festival, and so Feist let them play a song of their own. Although Feist did not get on anyone’s side when she said “sucks that summer’s almost over, and you have to go back to your day jobs tomorrow”. But I chuckled to myself, because Durham has such long holidays that I didn’t need to be back for at least a month. So take that Feist.