Thursday 22 August 2013

Green Man Festival 2013 | Review

Credit: Amy Forrester

No matter how many photographs you see of the Brecon Beacons nothing can truly prepare you for it's innate beauty. With jagged clifftops and rolling countryside views that stretch as far as the eye can see nothing makes for a more beautiful festival setting than Wales's very own National Park. Even during torrential downpours it's breathtaking views just become even more phenomenal. A good job too as I reached the summit before heading down to the festival site on a dreary Thursday afternoon. Nothing was going to dampen this weekend's spirits though with the fantastic line-up that lay ahead featuring brand new emerging artists performing alongside musical legends this looked set to be Green Man's biggest year yet. Not to mention a fabulously wild and mystical rebrand courtesy of YCN Studio's Green Man now has a whole new individual identity to set itself even further from the monotonous mainstream festival circuit. A real breath of fresh air.


Money - Far Out Stage

With Green Man now in to its 11th year it's quite shameful that this was my very first visit (especially when you come to learn how close I live) but nonetheless I was determined to suck every last drop of excitement from the weekend's activities all beginning with a valiant display of poetic justice from Manchester's Money. After a brief soundcheck the band departed the stage only for moments later a wail to come from the crowd. Lead singer Jamie Lee had positioned himself central for an impromptu poetic styled acapella warmly received by the attentive audience as he doused himself with a bottle of water. As he returns to the stage his band mates emerge as they break in to their latest single Hold Me Forever. Having only been around for merely a year their confidence is something truly special and being renowned for stripping off it doesn't take Lee long before he loses the shirt and oddly kicks off his shoes in to the crowd. Their music produces a profound urgency. Captivating the audience, Money are a band the musical world really needs to wake up to.
Shortly afterwards Patti Smith brought her punk inspired ethic to close the Far Out stage. Packing out the large tent the New York female frontier brought ripples of excitement throughout as her delicate yet thought provoking melodies bounced from head to head, shoulder to shoulder.

There's one thing that's already certain about Green Man, it definitely caters for everyone. Watching all the families arrive earlier on in the afternoon with kids alongside couples, Indie kids, Students and bearded rockers was truly a delightful sight. All here to bond over the love of music whilst creating some brilliant and ever lasting memories. If the opening night was anything to go by the rest of the weekend was only to get better as the music continued long in to the night provided by the excellent Chai Wallahs stage.

After a torrential downpour Thursday night it was great to wake up to an early morning sunrise with the mountainous backdrop really setting the mood. Whilst Thursday provided plenty of entertainment Friday saw all the stages and areas open up marking the official start to the weekend. Even though Green Man is a medium sized family run festival the true scale of the site is really special as it packs 10 unique areas in to beautiful surroundings creating a magical feel that most commercialised festivals lose out on. Even down to the themed bars. Every little detail has been painstakingly thought out.

Opening the Friday proceedings for me was the delightful Peggy Sue on the Mountain stage. As the sun beat down she delivered a fantastic performance in her own unique style that forms a cross between Coco Rosie and Kate Nash. Rounding up with two new tracks one being 'Two Shots' fans have a lot to look forward to from the London band. Next up was the brilliant Sam Amidon. His folky renditions glide perfectly over the Mountain Stage creating a lasting impression on the audience basking in the heat whilst his chat between songs gained the laughs (albeit very confusing).

The Cinema Tent
I managed to catch the last few songs by Jacco Gardener, someone I've been meaning to see since missing his Cardiff show recently and he didn't disappoint. Plenty of psychedelic loving. By this stage the heat was beginning to get to me. That and being a total lightweight from the night before meant a quick stop off at the Cinema tent (once again the detailing was delightful; popcorn stand, carpet and the sound was spot on) to catch my favourite film Submarine was in order, which surprisingly attracted a fair sized crowd.

Warming up the main stage for Kings Of Convenience was the Texan based band Midlake. Their take on American Rock is a sight to be seen. Even after the departure of lead singer Tim Smith the band seem stronger than ever as they blast through a high energy set offering up tracks from across their vast catalogue. The new songs sounding equally as good as the band depart on a "we're still Midlake" consolation to reassure fans. Whilst I would have liked to catch the headliners I opted for a stroll around the grounds to take in some of the sights and sounds on offer as I made my way to the Walled Garden Stage for Mt Wolf. Having previously seen them play Cardiff back in March I was eagerly looking forward to catching them again in such a beautiful location. I can't help but feel if their name was printed in the programme rather than a 'TBA' more people might have been there but that aside their set glistened in all its purity as Kate Sproule's vocals soar above the commandeering percussion. Mixing up their blend of elemental guitars and layered samples Mt. Wolf manage to, once again, produce something of pure indulgence.

Mt Wolf - Walled Garden

Blaenavon - Far Out Stage

It's scary how quickly the weather can change up high on the Brecon Beacons. Yesterdays heatwave seems a thing of the past as I awaken on Saturday to grey clouds and fog over the mountain (it does make for a dramatic view). The rain seemed to hold off for most of the morning though as I headed to the Far Out stage to catch a promising set by new act Blaenavon. With them only being 16/17 I was expecting their live show to fall short of their recorded material but how wrong I was as they delivered one of the most powerful sets over the weekend. Their piercingly sharp guitars and searing vocals hit hard with a strong emotion as they end on their latest single Prague asking if they have time for one more but sadly don't.

Next up was a short but sweet set from Wild Smiles. Their hard hitting energetic rock makes for a diverse crowd as they blend subtle harmonies and melodic vocals with much darker infused crescendos. Lord Huron meanwhile on the Mountain Stage made us all forget about the inevitable rain which had finally arrived on site as the band brought their sunny folk inspired melodies to the Welsh Countryside. By the time Radstewart took to the newly executed Green Man Rising stage, the festivals continued involvement in helping new and emerging talents breakthrough, the rain had really started to fall so it was nice to be under cover for a short while. It's hard not to make comparisons here with Talking Heads as their sarcastic vocals and DIY jangly guitars echo around the packed out tent. Having recently signed to Alcopop Records the band are continuing with success and sound a lot more promising since the last time I heard them way back in October. 

Off to catch another Welsh musician, Sweet Baboo, I headed up the hill to the ever gorgeous Walled Garden area. His set was well under way and even though the relentless Welsh drizzle was pouring down the crowd was smiles ear to ear as they enjoyed a soothing and reassuringly warm performance. Accompanied by a small brass section his sweet and innocent pop songs were truly brought to life.

Beside the excitement and buzzing atmosphere of Einsteins Garden and Fortune Falls the sun momentarily breaks through the clouds to give Low the setting they deserved as they move through melodic rock and psychedelic sounds.

The Horrors - Mountain Stage. Credit: Daniel Mackie

Following a quick recharge at my tent The Horrors emerged to a rapturous applause. Playing through a dramatic set as glowing red lights shine down on the crowd the acclaimed art-rock outfit channel everything they've got in to a very sub-headline worthy show. The new songs sound great as the band play across their broad selection of songs with danceable synths, long drawn out vocals and hair splitting bass to get the crowd moving.

Band of Horses - Mountain Stage
The highlight of the night though would have to go to headliners Band of Horses as they pull in the biggest crowd thus far. Through sporadic heavy downpours the Seattle based rockers show us exactly why they're so popular amongst music lovers as they open with my favourite track The Great Salt Lake. As they swap and change instruments amongst themselves its clear to see their talent and ability as musicians definitely so as they form a 3 way vocal harmony all huddled around the keyboard. One of the more touching moments coming as the band end on Funeral, I couldn't get over just how quiet the crowd became as the song unfolded through blissful vocals and an unhindered lonesome guitar. No shouting or jeering. Just pure atmosphere and respect for a band who whole heartedly deserve it. With plenty of guitar music filling my ears all day I felt it was only fitting that Jon Hopkins closed my Saturday night. Twiddling various knobs and dials behind the glow of his laptop laid out on a table Hopkins works through a comprehensive set list consisting of all his own material. The epilepsy-inducing flickers of the projector screen’s flashes of light patterns all adding to the experience.

After a slight drowning on Saturday it was a delight to wake up to another blazing hot day. Crystal clear blue skies and a slight breeze made for perfect weather to enjoy the last day of the festival as everyone gathered in the natural amphitheatre that is the Mountain Stage. This is where I spent most of the morning, laying on the grass getting my sun burnt face even more sun burnt. Ouch. Elen and the Escapades were up first with their breezy happy-go-lucky melodies. Shortly followed by one of my favourite discoveries of the weekend Fanfarlo. The London based five-piece make some of the most sun-kissed anthems I've heard to date and quite rightfully so attracted a small crowd of festival goers flailing under the sun. This is what every festival should be about. Letting loose and having fun. Their new-wave 80s inspired synths make for perfect listening and have the alltogether vibe for a Sunday afternoon. Flawlessly commanding a multitude of instrumentation including trumpet, synth and not to mention super-soft vocals Fanfarlo manage to create a charming aesthetic of Indie Pop perfection. A band definitely worth checking out should you get the chance.

After their performance I headed on up to the Far Out stage to catch a big favourite of mine Mikal Cronin. Having fallen in love with his single Weight back in March I was excited to see it replicated in a live setting. As he mixed up a cross between soft Pop Indie with falsetto style vocals and a heavier Rock image it was great to witness his sing along anthems live. His music is simple yet expressed in such a way you can't help but fall in love with its textures of warming guitars that get lapped up by loud percussion.

Being a Folk festival at heart it made sense to head to the main stage once more to check out Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit. Returning having played 2007 & 2010 Johnny Flynn has become a regular feature of the Green Man Festival forever bringing his A-game. Emerging with a beautifully harmonised rendition of Ghost Of O'Donahue with his sister, their vocals fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle, they're shortly joined by the rest of the band (The Sussex Wit). For me it's always been a thin line between good folk and bad so it was nice for Johnny Flynn to confirm his place whole heartedly on the good side of the line through a very promising performance.

With some slight technical difficulties over on the Far Out stage for Unknown Mortal Ochestra's set (quickly remedied by the fantastic sound tech's) they got off to a great start. Plenty of jangly guitar solos and Lo-Fi greatness to set the mood. If there ever was a band to nail down psychedelic Indie then these are your guys.

Watching bands I've missed on recent tours seems to be the theme of the weekend for me with Public Service Broadcasting taking to the Walled Garden stage. For anyone who's not familiar with their set up there's two band members. Wrigglesworth on drums, J. willgoose esq on everything else. Their only communication comes in the form of synthesised vocals played out through a computer. Hilariously funny and such a breath of fresh air to see something so unique and truly original. With some comedic crowd interaction it's hard not to fall in love with their charming wit and keen intelligence. Ending on possibly my favourite song Everest as the sun started to disappear from the sky and cast a shadow on the Walled Garden is an image and experience that will stay with me for quite some time. It would seem each time I claim a favourite performance from the weekend the next act tops it.

Local Natives do just that. Blowing me away, quite literally with their heavy bass and kick drum, their set is filled with their best hits building and curating a fantastic performance. Slow and harmonising vocals are backed with rolling, thunderous percussion, online videos don't do their high energetic rhythms enough justice as tonight was quite literally the best performance of the weekend for me. Even at the point where everyone's feet and legs are about to give way from the constant walking and standing around the crowd find enough energy to dance and go a little wild. Thanking the crowd profusely throughout (The band even pay homage to Bristol legend Big Jeff as they spot him in the crowd. Lucky guy!) they comment on the cleanliness of the festival which in its own right is pretty damn beautiful. It would seem everyone here has a genuine respect for the surroundings something you wouldn't see at other corporate events. Which reminds me, I am yet to see anyone throw cups of beer at each other in the crowd. I wish more places were like this.

Ben Howard - Mountain Stage. Credit: Codie Hobbs

It's only a short wait for the final act on the main stage, Ben Howard. I'm sure a lot of people have come here just for this and it's someone I've also been waiting a long time to see since missing his most recent UK tour. Drawing in the biggest crowd of the weekend as people make themselves comfortable way up high on the grass bank surrounding the arena it's clear to see just how popular Ben has become. Accompanied by truly breathtaking visuals featuring ocean waves and waterfalls played backwards an enchanting and powerful atmosphere was created (almost ruined at its very early stages from a group of fans near the front who decided it would be a great idea to erect a giant cardboard sign for Ben to see. This was quickly removed as the rest of the audience began to boo, hopefully Ben didn't think it was for him). Treating the crowd to a brand new song to be taken from a forthcoming new album that the band are currently hard at work on (which sounded great) Ben's headline performance was equally as worthy as it was endearing. A fitting culmination to a fantastic weekend of music and good times.

I might be sun burnt. Lost my coat (and possible my voice). And spent a months rent in 4 days on food but Green Man festival is truly one of the most beautiful things I have had the pleasure of experiencing. Its independent and family run organisational structure is truly a force to be reckoned with. From designated kids areas and uniquely themed music stages to live comedy and interactive workshops Green Man really does have it all. I'm already counting down the days 'till 2014.


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