Nestled in the dramatic surroundings of the Black Mountains in south Wales, the Glanusk estate has to be one of the UK’s most picturesque festival sites. Besides the widespread enthusing about the line-up, the most common praise heard every year at Green Man is for the landscape and the atmosphere. The River Usk runs alongside the site perimeter and the tree-filled valley rolls away to the horizon in all directions… it’s simply idyllic. The ambience complements the environment and there’s a palpable air of benevolence. Everyone is all smiles, and there’s not a whiff of intimidating wreckheads or lairy, lagered-up muppets.
There was plenty of ale to enjoy, though. The Courtyard area held the Welsh Beer Festival, with some 99 ales and ciders originally chalked up on the board swiftly rubbed out by thirsty revellers. There were some queues to contend with, and this year certainly felt like the crowd numbers had swelled, but it’s a small price to pay for staving off the Satan’s jizz stench of corporate festivals.
Blessed with good weather, this 12th instalment was another triumph. As always, the organisers have curated a fine selection of more than 1,500 artists covering a slew of musical genres. On Friday, James Yorkston graced the Far Out stage with the subdued lilt of his latest release and threw in a couple of foot stompers for good measure.
Sun Kil Moon seemed to cast a spell over most of the main stage crowd with narrative songs that painted a desolate Western image over the green beacons fields. TOY www.clashmusic.com/tags/TOY and Mac DeMarco went down a storm and, towards midnight, Caribou and Beirut battled it out as the closing headliners. We split our time between the bombastic polka-like parp of the latter and Caribou’s tripped-out and capricious electronica.
Come Saturday the sun had its hat on, and after a life-enhancing breakfast from one of the many gourmet food vendors we kicked off the day with the pop quiz hosted by comedy pairing Pete Paphides and Bob Stanley. We held our own and then sloped off to watch Domino’s We Are Catchers play a solid set of West Coast via the Mersey magic. The band reveals some new material and ‘Citadel’ seems a soaring instant classic.
The afternoon was a glorious sprawl in the main field soaking up the smouldering Angel Olsen and alt-country cult queen Neko Case as they blasted out the goods. This was to be the end of lolling about for the day, as Fat White Family proved an adrenalin hit.
They belted out an incendiary set and revelled in the audience chanting ‘Is It Raining In Your Mouth’ and ‘Touch The Leather’ back at them. Detractors claim that the grotty nonchalance and subversive edge to this band is all image-conscious construct, but we saw no grounds for such cynicism. We believed every ounce of energy invested into Fat White Family’s performance, and with a mix of insidiously infectious tunes and explosively visceral stage presence, they were one of the most compelling acts of the day.
The day continued with the stealthy allure of Sharon Van Etten and an all-guns-blazing performance from The War On Drugs, which for all its commitment still divided many, some leaving their influence-heavy brand of AOR for the more ramshackle Jeffrey Lewis and the Jrams on the lovely Walled Garden stage.
FIRST AID KIT
Mercury Rev brought the live music to a mesmerizing end playing the entire of their 1998 classic album ‘Deserter’s Songs’. Frontman Jonathan Donahue had a whale of a time, lapping up the positive energy emanating his way and flinging it back out there across the field and into the night sky. Posturing in the spotlight and swigging from a bottle of red wine, he ensured a cosmic close to proceedings.
Sunday can be tough as energy levels have been heartily expended, but there were still some final delights to be had. Nick Mulvey weaved African melodies and wistful folk into a beautiful performance, and Australians Boy & Bear kept the jangly sunshine feeling going strong. Anna Calvi played an uproariously fine set, her diminutive stature belying a ferocious pair of lungs to accompany her blistering guitar.
Bill Callahan was equally engaging and casting an eye around the main field it was obvious he had many entranced. The ludicrously talented Swedish sisters First Aid Kit followed with a flawless batch of songs that included covers of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’ and Jack White’s ‘Love Interruption’ – both of which were bang on the money.
The shambolic splendour of Neutral Milk Hotel put a rousing end to what was a vintage year for the Green Man.
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Words and photos: Nick Rice