Green Man Festival 2013: Behind The Scenes

Chatting legendary punks and fantastic punters...

Clash is chuffed as… wait, what’s a very chuffed thing, typically? One of those. Anyway, Clash is very pleased to be partnering this summer’s Green Man Festival, a four-day (August 15th-18th) extravaganza of brilliant music and so much more held in the beautiful Brecon Beacons.

With some 1,500 performers, across music and poetry, comedy and science, literature and stuff for the come-along kids, Green Man is well established as one of those special festival experiences that connects with a superbly varied audience.

2013’s musical attractions include, in no particular order: Patti Smith and Tony Shanahan, Band Of Horses, Swans, Fuck Buttons, Jon Hopkins, The Horrors, Midlake, Kings Of Convenience, Villagers, Steve Mason, Low, John Cale, Julia Holter, Darkstar, James Yorkston, Rachel Zeffira, Veronica Falls, Unknown Mortal Orchestra…

We did already say it was brilliant, pretty much, right?

Wanting to know more about the festival, which began in a rather more modest form back in 2003 (a single day, just 300 attendees) but today attracts more like 20,000 punters, Clash slung some questions the way of Ben Coleman. He’s one of the key people behind the scenes of the festival, responsible for bringing 2013’s awesome bill together.

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Green Man 2013 presents another varied bill – have you found the audience of the festival diversifying, as well as growing in size, over the years?

In a natural way the audience demographic has diversified over the years. It's clear that the bill is more varied than it was in 2003, but it is still very much a left-of-kilter line-up. We have a like-minded, music-loving audience that trusts us to book artists that they will want to see and be some of the first to discover. Every act on the bill adds to the overall experience and brings something special to the festival, whether that’s Patti Smith on Thursday, Fuck Buttons on Friday, Band Of Horses on Saturday or Swans on Sunday.

The festival has retained an intimate atmosphere, even as it’s grown. Do you put that down to the organisation, the booking, the site… or perhaps simply the attitude of your typical Green Man punter?

Green Man's guests definitely play the biggest part in the intimate and special atmosphere at the festival. We love going to festivals, and have been to many, and I can say without doubt that Green Man's audience is the friendliest in the land.

Following each festival, we ask for the thoughts of attendees and each and every person mentions the atmosphere as one of the standout elements about the festival. That's a pretty special thing. The festival is a family run event, so I think that plays a part too, and we see the people who attend as part of that.

Maybe it’s a mixture of a wonderful audience, beautiful site, happy crew and thoughtfully curated content. As organisers, we have always wanted to keep the intimate feel of the festival intact and have designed the site so that it is easy to navigate, with multiple ways to get to all of the different areas. The site is fairly small too, so that helps.

On the subject of the site, it’s in a location that’s known for its precipitation. Do you embrace meteorological challenges, and revel in them; or does a bad weather forecast set nerves tingling amongst Green Man organisers?

A few drops of rain here and there can be a bit of a pain for any outdoor event organiser. We prepare for it to be sunny or rainy with lots of covered areas around the site. You have to embrace the elements and go with it. 

While this year’s bill features a host of well-known artists, there’s plenty of room for smaller, emerging acts. If you had to name three to make an effort to catch, lower down the bill, who would they be and why are they standing out for you right now?

We have always wanted to support new and emerging artists. It's always incredibly exciting to hear a new band and think, “Yes, this band would be great at Green Man,” on whichever stage. It's extremely difficult to pick out bands, but off the top of my head... 

The Far Out tent is more far out than ever this year, and the Sunday will be a particularly hazy day in there. Trwbador start proceedings and are a brilliantly experimental Welsh duo, who bring elements of folk and electronica to the stage. Flamingods, Gulp and everything else in the Far Out tent that day could blow your mind. 

Anna Von Hausswolff is an exciting, beautifully haunting prospect for me, and somebody I’m really looking forward to seeing in the Walled Garden. Sam Amidon’s latest LP, ‘Bright Sunny South’, is one of my favourites of the year, so very much looking forward to welcoming him back. The Hypnotic Beak> followed by Darkstar in the Far Out tent on the Friday will be great, too! 

When a legend like Patti Smith is confirmed for an event like Green Man, how does that make the team feel? Is it a victorious feeling? Relief, that your efforts have paid off? As naturally the festival market is a competitive one, and these sort of bookings really help sell the event to newcomers, as well as repeat visitors.

It is incredible to have Patti Smith playing Green Man, and is very exciting for the team! There may have been some whooping when the confirmation email came through. There were, and still are, most definitely some very broad smiles about it! People always pencil the bands they would most like to see at a festival. Patti Smith is an artist most people would love to see, so is a fantastic addition to our bill and will be a brilliant start to the long weekend when she plays on the Thursday.

Clash is pretty pleased to partner the festival. Of the bigger acts, which do you see as being most ‘Clash-friendly’, and which do you think might catch us journo types unawares with their brilliance?

We're delighted to team up with Clash once again. It's difficult to pick out particular acts from our very Clash friendly line-up, as we've chosen the bands that we and our audience love... 

Kings Of Convenience playing only their second ever UK festival – the last time was 2004! – will be beautiful, and a very rare performance. Unknown Mortal Orchestra in the Far Out tent on the Sunday… they’ll be perfect on a Sunday where Woods, Melody's Echo Chamber and Mikal Cronin join them. 

Jon Hopkins on the Saturday night, in the Far Out After Dark tent, will be unmissable, as will Fuck Buttons on the Friday – their new albums are both immense! I have heard a couple of tracks from Johnny Flynn's new record and it sounds like it will be very strong. So we’re looking forward to welcoming Johnny back.  

I could go on and on though, really – those those are just the first that come to mind. The legends Patti Smith, John Cale and Roy Harper will be brilliant. Oh, and Swans to polish things off on Sunday. 

How does Green Man handle its associations? You must have a lot of commercial interest from people wanting to piggyback the festival’s reputation; but at the same time I’ve always seen Green Man as a fairly independently minded event, almost like ATP in a field How does that balance play out, and have you found yourselves turning down opportunities that might prove financially beneficial but didn’t ‘fit’ with the festival aesthetic?

We have offers of commercial sponsorship every year that we refuse. It is difficult and sometimes tempting, though. We're not totally against it but haven't ever found a sponsor that can bring more than we can offer.

We had a well-known ice cream brand offer a lot of money to be the exclusive ice cream vendor at the festival, but it would have meant our local ice cream provider – who makes handmade, fresh ice cream with locally sourced ingredients – would not be able to attend. We stuck with the local provider over the big brand as we felt they offered something deliciously different.

Our objective is always to offer a completely unique experience to the people that choose to come to the festival. To be true to that you have to give up offers of sponsorship, otherwise you risk losing the individuality of the festival. 

Do you see the future of Green Man gravitating towards one or two brands of music; or can its multi-faceted booking policy continue to produce results? 

Music is so freely available these days that it seems fewer people are into just one particular genre of music. We like there to be a crescendo to a day's music, and think that lots of people like a little dance or head nod, and a greater tempo of an evening. Personally I think you can be a fan of the ethereal Roy Harper and cathartic Fuck Buttons. I hope the bookings that we make capture imaginations ahead of the festival and evoke emotions at it.

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More Green Man-associated content will run on these very pages in the coming weeks.

Clash is among the judges of this year's Green Man Rising competition for new bands, the final of which is held in Camden on July 18th. Find information on the event here.

Find the official Green Man Festival website here.

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