A couple of weekends ago, DiS ventured to Wales to brave the incessant downpour for the sixth annual Green Man Festival. And what a time was had – plenty of great food, good cheer, lashings of beer and a fair few bands to remember.
Set against the beautiful backdrop (when you could see it through the cloud!) of the Brecon Beacons, Green Man is the sort of festival that really reminds you why you trudged through slop and spent four nights in a tent back in Glastonbury’s rainiest days. It’s a delight, three days solid, and re-energising to those who’ve restricted festival adventures to ATP and hotel-provided events in recent years (namely me – MD).
These are our high- and low-lights – band-centric – from Green Man 2008. Words by Alex Denney, James Skinner (and his father Nigel), and Mike Diver. Photography by Lucy Johnston.
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To my mind Black Mountain have their shit well and truly sussed. By having Amber Webber placed centre stage, pouting and swaying and thwacking her tambourine with no great enthusiasm, the svelte revisionists of ‘70s riffola are able to sidestep the cock-rock accusations in one sneakily-executed swoop. Well, not quite, but it helps – that, and the fact their flash, Zep-like licks are actually wedded to a skulking, stoner vibe that treasures beautifully-wrought atmosphere over showboating histrionics every time. As ‘Wucan’ pulses and throbs with consummate, mausoleum restraint, it’s impossible not to be drawn to their polished marble textures and surprisingly disciplined songcraft, and the spell doesn’t let up ‘til long after the curtain falls. AD
The War On Drugs
Melding leftfield atmospherics with widescreen Americana to great effect over in the Folkey Dokey tent are The War On Drugs, echoes of ‘Judas’-era Dylan glancing off satellite mirrors into the winking cosmos. And while they’re not exactly radiating on full beam in the dissipating clutches of an awry mix this evening, songs like ‘A Needle In Your Eye #16’ and ‘Arms Like Boulders’ still sound like ingenious inversions of the Big Music template, like a shoegazing Springsteen or even The Waterboys minus the reeking pomp. Just swallow down the fact that ‘Taking The Farm’s melancholy organ blares sound uncomfortably akin to Dire Straits and we’re left with plenty of reasons to celebrate. AD
Failing to harness the goodwill generated by a rare sunny spell on the main stage are Sennen, who play derivative post-rock sounding like the sublimated Star Wars dreams of a generation’s inner nine-year-old scamp, mixed with dispiritingly competent facsimiles of Spiritualized’s ethereal noise and epically numb balladeering. With that night’s headline set reminding us that not even Spiritualized do convincing Spiritualized these days (that the gospel singers looked so transparently a token insert in itself made me die a little on the inside), it kinda makes you wonder why they bothered in the first place. AD
One Little Plane
Kathryn Bint aka One Little Plane’s folksy pop takes in some ambient and even trip-hoppy elements but feels somehow lightweight and not fully formed. Perhaps with a less timid approach to her stranger inclinations there might be the ghost of something interesting here – and ‘Lotus Flower’ is a racy delight. A far better bet for now though, is Gruff Rhys cohort and erstwhile Neon Neon acolyte Cate Le Bon, whose mellifluous, countrified folk takes some interesting left turns and actually masks some pretty darkly engaging subject matter. AD
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Sheets of synthesized noise emanate from the stage at ear-splitting level, lasers oscillate around the marquee and gazes are firmly trained on Fuck Buttons’ two halves as they none-more-emphatically throw themselves into their deft sonic trickery. Perhaps not the archetypal ‘Green Man Band’ (though this is a notion that’s been steadily shifting over the years – the Folkey Dokey Tent seeing headline sets from both Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid and Battles these two festivals previous), they nevertheless pull off a blinder; one that takes this scribe a short while to adjust to but soon hypnotises in its majestic, icy pull. As the set rolls onwards to an ecstatic reception, it tangibly ups its step some: urgency levels are ramped up and beats less oblique, more tribal are introduced – by the time the band make their exit the audience significantly and wholly enraptured. JS
Padding around in a comfortable cider haze, scooting through mud in fine company and being repeatedly drawn towards the Duke Of Uke stall as if held in some sort of magnetic tract are but a few of the memories this’un will take home from Green Man 2008. Throw that net wider and a number of beautiful musical introductions have taken place in this drizzly corner of the Brecon Beacons over the last few years: Fionn Regan and Bat For Lashes notably. Now, O’Death fail to elevate themselves quite to this level this time ‘round, but make their appearance with considerable and worthy aplomb. Perhaps even too much so, as despite sterling delivery from lead vocalist Greg Jamie and admirable fluidity throughout, this dark and heavy (unflatteringly topless) amalgamation of bluegrass and roots music with the bolshy aesthetic of modern guitar-wielding titans impresses to a greater degree when they rein it in slightly. That said, it’s a cracking, energetic and certainly endearing set. JS
Well-documented on this site is a love almost unanimous for these Brooklynites, who look relaxed and comfortable on a main stage this dreary afternoon. Semantic trouble getting across their happiness at both their appearance at Wales’ finest / bowing out of touring life for a while aside, Matt Berninger’s drawl is welcome (though oddly clipped), the band on stately, imperious form. ‘Start A War’ is followed up by ‘Brainy’, while throughout the set brass and strings add to the performance the same sense of drama that’s won so many over on their slow-burning, recorded counterparts. Highlights pour thick and fast – perhaps given that Boxer kicked off this writer’s love affair with the band, ‘Slow Show’ reigns supreme; its dually cinematic/heartbreaking refrain gaining immeasurably in stature live. And strike me down if it – and indeed The National – weren’t outrageously, tear-jerkingly brilliant already. JS
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Iron & Wine
Where Green Man’s 2006 and 2007 saw first encounters o’mine with such long established favourites Battles, Joanna Newsom and M. Ward, this year it’s the turn of – as well as the immediately above – fellow stateside luminaries (luminary?) Iron & Wine to impress himself upon Glanusk Park and these eyes. An octet this evening, Sam Beam fronts a backing band faultless in their stride, as they roll through much material courtesy of recent The Shepherd’s Dog album. ‘He Lays In The Reins’ (from the esteemed Calexico split EP) is grand while ‘Woman King’ enraptures also, in its addictive, heavily percussive drive. Yet for all the gracefulness and adept performance – not to mention the gentle warmth of Beam’s (flawless) vocals, the general impression felt is one of disappointment; that he’s not up there flying solo – doling out moments more wistful than the set we receive this afternoon. Indeed, notable omissions abound – ‘Each Coming Night’, ‘Passing Afternoon’ – even ‘Carousel’ or ‘Flightless Bird, American Mouth’ fail to make an appearance. Yet. Yet… something shifts as the set draws to a close – applause lengthy and well deserved, (“are you kidding? Bert Jansch is playing later!”) and following a short exchange with sister Beam, the two offer an unplanned, superlative take on ‘The Trapeze Swinger’ that ranks up there with ‘Atlas’, ‘Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie’ and ‘Undertaker’ in terms of unimpeachable greatness. JS
Sunday night, and following a stellar host of acts on the Main Stage, seeing Pentangle step up to the plate and deliver a set rising to the sense of occasion proves a delight. A solitary firework marks the festival’s closing minutes of live music aptly solidifying said notion, while for now it feels only right that a voice more seasoned than my own describes the performance (JS):
“The festival closed with the recently reformed Pentangle recreating the musical magic they displayed at a 1968 concert and recorded on their album Sweet Child. ‘Bruton Town’ and ‘Cruel Sister’ were among the highlights of their set, Jacqui McShee’s sweet and pure vocals complemented by the intricate guitar interplay between John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Terry Cox’s understated, artful drumming provided a subtle pulse throughout, the highlight perhaps being the instantly recognisable, supreme artistry of Danny Thompson on double bass – particularly on Charlie Mingus number ‘Good Bye Pork Pie Hat’. The consummate musicianship of the band and the manner in which they combine folk, jazz and blues remains mesmerising.” NS
Super Furry Animals
I’ve consumed a few and can’t stop requesting ‘Herman Loves Pauline’ – apologies to those standing around me for the Furries’ Saturday night headline set. The ground’s a sodden, swampy mess – the rain began to fall in earnest during the previous night’s headliners Spiritualized (pictured top), who barely made an impression on these senses with a set of largely new material – but the party’s kicking off in fine form as the relatively local heroes plough through delights such as ‘Golden Retriever’, ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ and ‘If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You’; the timeless number ‘Juxtaposed With U’ proves a turning point for personal spirits after surviving quite the deluge. It’s a set that touches down on fine moments from across the oddball-pop five-piece’s critically acclaimed catalogue, but as ‘Keep The Cosmic Trigger Happy’ closes proceedings with no encore, all are left wanting more. More that never comes. It leaves a tinge of disappointment, but looking back days later: what a great set. MD
I’m scurrying on Sunday afternoon and barely make front and centre for Los Campesinos!’s mid-afternoon main stage set – they’re into their stride long before vocalist Gareth takes a (perhaps ill-advised) step forward off the stage and into the mire, bare-footed. As he wiggles and jiggles with the melee, on stage the remaining six keep their summery indie-pop tight despite the inclement weather. ‘You, Me, Dancing!’ is a highlight, but to be honest the mood of joviality the seven-piece spread across the assembled throng is the lasting memory of a set that won’t rank amongst the band’s best-ever, but served its purpose at a vital time during a rain-lashed festival. MD
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Delivering what must be the most charming set of the weekend, Mercury Prize-nominee Laura Marling (with assistance from members of Mumford & Sons) brings tracks from her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim to brilliant life before a sea of waterproofed converts in the making. I, with hood up and cup of lager diluting as the clouds crack open for the nth time in too few hours, reach the point of understanding having been previously less-than-moved by Marling’s on-record form. Sure, she’s a sweet voice and capable of a tender turn of lyric, but here, with odds against her, she leaves all before her hugely impressed with delicate tales soaked in ache beyond her tender years. Talk in the bar afterwards is universally positive – if she gets the Mercury gong come September 9, it’ll be well deserved on the basis of a performance like this. MD
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DiScuss: Who impressed you the most at this year’s Green Man? Did you have a great time despite the rain? Will you be back next year?
Find the official Green Man website here.