Green Man Festival, a festival right in the heart of the Brecon Beacons on Glanusk Estate, lit up a quiet valley for the fourteenth year running. Green Man was, well, muddy this year. There’s only so much torrential rain and Brecon Beacons winds a tent can take before you wake up in one at 3AM wondering where all this water came from (I’m not speaking from experience, honest). Even though people may have had to endure a Japanese-style water torture whilst they slept at Green Man this year, the rain, mud and damp didn’t negatively impact the experience; it seemed as though the muddier it got, the more communal the festival became.
The festival prides itself on being available for everyone – “Green Man is for all” was mentioned on a few occasions – and this was reflected in the variety and sense of community the festival propagated. The Cinedrome, a tent which acted as a quasi-outdoor cinema, provided a visual break from all the music by offering a wide variety of films (‘Purple Rain’, ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘The Man Who Fell From Space’ were on the billings as tributes to Prince and Bowie – a nice touch). The variation in stages, too, was welcoming; there was something there to satisfy every musical palette. The ‘Far Out’ stage was for smaller, but more rockier or experimental acts whereas the ‘Mountain Stage’ was reserved for the headliners and bigger acts with the hulking influence of Pen y Fan in the background. The ‘After Dark’ stage was for electronic music and was there for people who wanted a more dance-orientated festival, whereas the ‘Walled Garden’ accommodated the slower bands.
Entertainment for kids this year was inventive. An entire area of the festival was reserved for kid’s activities entitled ‘Einstein’s Garden’. Einstein’s Garden proved to be a fun, educational place for kids (packed to the brim with those over-enthusiastic teacher types, y’know?), but was also fun for adults, too. Essentially, there was so much Green Man had to offer that it’s difficult to cover it all in enough depth, so this article will deal with highlights from each day of the festival.
The first thing you notice about Green Man is perhaps the greatest highlight of all: the surroundings. The fervent, almost never-ending, green that surrounds the festival never stops being breath-taking, it is the show that never stops at the festival. Of course, being cuddled (‘cwtched’, rather) by the Brecon Beacons isn’t the only positive of the festival. The other positive is the sense of community the area facilitates through its use of space for camping. You’re always close to something happening, without it feeling too overcrowded. It may seem like a small concern, but it is incredibly important how a festival utilises its space, and Green Man does it to great effect. The facilities, too, are top notch. The first day was rather slow due to the amount of people travelling to the festival, setting-up etc., but there was enough time to get an overall vibe for the place. Green Man, it seemed, was a place with a lot going on, but it was all brimming under the surface on the first day.
However, there was still plenty to enjoy with Cigarettes After Sex being one of the musical highlights from the day. The band oozed style whilst singing their lovesick songs, even the bands lyrics seemed monochrome, matching the set design they put forward. This was in the Far Out tent, and this is where you really got a feel for the potential of this stage. The sound was great, and there was plenty of room for people to stand, sit, dance, have an epiphany moment, etc.
The Cinedrome presented a special screening of ‘Metropolis’ with a live score by Dmytro Morykit which was special experience; it was a taster for the uniqueness Green Man had to offer. Thursday finished with Wild Beasts at the Far Out stage. The performance was verbose, loud and passionate. In addition, their use of stage lighting was excellent with their album artwork illuminated in the background. After a two-song encore, the crowd were left satisfied – it was a performance the maximised the hype of the crowd, yet still left them with enough energy to take in the rest of the festival.
A culinary highlight from Friday was Happy Maki which specialised in vegan sushi. The vegan sushi was the best meal at the festival, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the food at Green Man was bad. Pricing was as you would expect for a festival – i.e. expensive – but this was matched by the quality of the food. Vegan, gluten-free and meat options were available; the variety of food mirrored the variety in the festival. The server at Happy Maki, whilst serving another customer, simply stated that “[Thursday] was one of the craziest opening days of a festival I’ve ever experience,the crowd was so loud!” – this sense of crowd participation was a theme that extended from Thursday until the end of the festival.
Musical highlights from this day included Mothers, Connan Mockasin, and James Blake. We’ve already discussed the quality of live performance Mothers puts out here at Tuppence, and they were even better at Green Man. Their set was every much as intimate as their one from Clwb Ifor Bach in May thanks to the sense of closeness at the Walled Garden stage. They, once again, presented themselves as a band going places, but they also signified Green Man’s legacy of opportunity; the festival is always willing to take risks on upcoming bands. Connan Mockasin, from a technical standpoint, was the highlight of the festival. His signature sound was replicated perfectly live with casual ease. Mockasin mastered the stage with a mellow aplomb, weaving his tales of seduction like he was in the studio, but in front of a crowd of hundreds. He even managed to charm Mother Nature as the rain stopped for his set – a small miracle – leaving a rainbow behind the Mountain Stage. Pathetic fallacy was manifesting itself at Green Man, it seemed. The rainbow showed that the bipolar temperament of the Welsh climate wasn’t all doom and gloom, it can be beautiful, too.
SUUNS followed up with an intense set at the Far Out stage and, to put it best, they shredded. James Blake finished off the day as the headliner and his set was a perfect display of minimalism taken to a maximalist level. His sparse stage design and his positioning to the side of the stage implied that his performance would be subdued, but his sound was loud, organic and perfectly transposed from his studio work. Much of ‘The Colour in Anything’ was played, along with his classic songs (‘Life Round Here’, ‘Willhelm Scream’, etc.) The best track, however, was ‘Lindisfarne’; James’s ability to change tempo from a banger to a ballad was the most interesting thing about his set. The quiet, timid dubstep producer from London has bloomed into quite the showman. His sense of sound and positional awareness on stage was a marvel.
Highlights from Saturday included a band called Formation. I caught this band by accident, but they surprised me with their interesting use of percussion. They played a tight set and seemed to take the stage with a matured temperament for such a young band. This mature temperament was taken further by BEAK>, a band of seasoned professionals and ex-Portishead member Geoff Barrow. They played an interesting set with their “disco lights”. As a Portishead fan who has never seen them live, seeing Barrow drum was close enough. Tindersticks followed with a live set that mirrored their own studio work; a vibe of whiskied breath, bar stories and stubbled sorrow filled the air, but the set wasn’t overtly depressing, just meditative.
The best band of the day, by far, was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. Not really being a fan of their studio work, their live show won me over. Charisma is the word that comes to mind when describing lead vocalist Alex Ebert; he formed a real connection with the crowd immediately and walked the stage with a combination of passion and comfort. It was startling how he took the Mountain Stage, stared a crowd where not a lot of people knew who he was, and won them over with his performance. Dipping into the crowd, asking random audience members “to tell a story” and moving around the stage introducing members of the band ensured everyone – the crowd included – was involved. A singalong to ‘Home’ was a real highlight, it was symptomatic of a vocalist at the top of his game.
Sunday teased everyone with a little bit of sun before returning to the downpour, but the spottiness in the weather wasn’t matched by the Sunday line-up; Sunday was the best day of the festival. Whitney played a really tight set at the Walled Garden with some really good crowd banter. Their slick, unique guitar tones translated well live (thanks to the excellent sound technicians at the festival) and drummer/vocalist Julien Ehrlich performed the difficult task of being both a percussionist and vocalist well. The band shouted out Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO) before the end of their set who were on next and for good reason. UMO played one of the best sets of the festival. Vocalist Ruban Nielson got a bit too into it when he climbed the staging, but it was a symptom of the whole attitude of the festival – it was fun, impulsive and good spirited. More than anything, his climbing of the stage was a thank you to the huge crowd that turned out for a 7:30 showing; the crowd was one you would expect for a headline act. Songs such as ‘Multi-Love’ and ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ were blistering live. Belle & Sebastian closed the festival and, well, I’ll just let the below video do the talking. (Hint: they were fantastic).
The festival closed with its annual burning of the Green Man – a large Wicker Man-esque figure – and it was here that I realised what Green Man was about. Surrounded by the lingering smell of fireworks, noticing all the people in their fancy dress, all the different sorts of people who attended the festival, I noticed Green Man was a celebration of what it means to be yourself – the festival’s variety comes from accepting everyone. Green Man may not be as large as Reading or Glastonbury, but it makes up for its small size in charm, ingenuity and imagination. It is an experience that is difficult to forget as it is so unique. This is what I realised as the Green Man burned: Green Man simply isn’t a festival, it is an experience.
Photographs by Mary Ocana.