Oh, this is good. Green Man is now entering its third decade, and its reputation for sustainable, inclusive fun just keeps growing. There’s a lesson here about how important governance is: Green Man is free from corporate sponsorship, and benefits from a female owner, Fiona Stewart. The festival has a 50/50 gender-split line-up this year, and everything – from the locally sourced food and drink to the abundance of things to do – supports the idea that this festival is designed to maximise joy rather than profit.
The festival eases us in on its first day: many people have travelled some distance to get to this rural corner of Wales, so that’s a relief. The main Mountain Stage doesn’t open until Friday, leaving Far Out – a large tent up the hill – to host Thursday’s biggest names. These include Girl Ray, who give a decent but slightly one-note performance, and Spiritualized, who use their headline set as an opportunity to showcase some of their more recent music.
Both bands suffer a little from the acoustics in here, which are pretty bass-dominant at the expense of vocals. Spiritualized lives up to the shoegaze epithet, making very little eye contact with the audience, but their talent for tension and release is as clear three decades into their career as it’s ever been.
Friday sees the Mountain Stage open with the Eve Appleton Band, winner of the Green Man Rising 2023 award. Appleton sets the scene well for later acts on the stage, including Dur-Dur Band Int. – who get a bit geographically confused, and keep shouting “Thank you Cardiff!” as though Crickhowell were somehow a suburb of the Welsh capital 26 miles away – and Beth Orton, whose folky yodel has become even more gorgeous over the years. She’s one of Friday’s true highlights, carrying us through torrential rain in a bright yellow jumpsuit, and interspersing delicate performances of songs like ‘Central Reservation’ with stage banter that’s giggly, chaotic and delightful.
The rain pushes large crowds towards the covered venues, including the Rising Stage, which hosts up-and-coming acts. One of the standouts here is Butch Kassidy, a post-rock band from London whose intense, sprawling compositions have been a highlight at several of the more leftfield festivals this year. There are also large crowds over at Far Out: we barely get near Squid, try as we might to push our way through the single block of testosterone crowding the tent. Slowdive gives a lovely, dreamlike set there later in the evening, but it’s Devo’s headline slot on the Mountain Stage that’s the better choice, despite the rain and the mud. This brilliant, infectiously silly hour of music shows surprising depth and range, although some songs (notably ‘Mongoloid’) have aged less well than others.
Saturday is packed with hotly anticipated acts, and it’s hard to know where to start. Julie Byrne turns out to be the right choice: pairing her soft-toned guitar folk with the warm ambience of a synthesier, she leads us through song after song of dazzling beauty, despite some brief technical issues with her instrument. It’s a wonderful, almost ghostly set, and one that deserved higher billing.
Beyond the more official line-ups is a host of goings-on to discover, and we take time to explore. There’s areas for kids, adults and in-betweens: we join in with an impromptu game of rounders, and stumble across someone doing a handstand walk down the hill. He, at least, doesn’t seem to mind the mud.
At Rising, we catch wacky, energetic newcomers like SUEP and Mandy, Indiana, while Far Out hosts a more veteran act in the Wedding Present. The jangle pop group get a warm reception, though they’re another victim to the dodgy acoustics in here: it’s never quite clear whether David Gedge is thanking the crowd, introducing the next song, or mumbling a recipe for French toast.
The evening is pretty much a non-stop tour-de-force, starting with Lankum’s mesmerising set on the Mountain Stage. They’re one of three Mercury Prize nominees performing at Green Man, and their hour of atmospheric drone/folk shows just how musically innovative they are: we lose count of the instruments circulating on stage, from a hurdy-gurdy to what looks like some kind of barrel organ. The high point of Friday and arguably the weekend is Self Esteem, who takes full ownership of her headline slot on the Mountain Stage. Accompanied by a retinue of balaclava-wearing dancers, she gives a triumphant performance to a rapturous crowd, many of whom are screaming along to every word. From here, it’s a quick hop, step and jump up the hill to Confidence Man, who lead us into the late-night proceedings with flair, sweaty bangers, and a very spiky cone bra.
Even World Cup defeat can’t dampen the mood on Sunday, and blazing sunshine helps end the festival on a high note. Congolese musician Kanda Bongo Man starts up the Mountain Stage with some extraordinary gyrating, while the Walled Garden – a venue with the feel of a village fête, complete with its own “Green Man Pub” – plays host to the punky Sprechgesang of Nuha Ruby Ra and the slow-burning ambience of Arushi Jain, who interweaves modular synths with her own expressive voice.
Those suffering from too little sleep and too much Growler IPA have two options in the evening: relax and take in the mellow tunes of headliner First Aid Kit, or feed on the infectious energy of the Far Out tent, where a one-two hit of Sudan Archives and Young Fathers makes sitting down to rest seem like a cardinal sin. Sudan Archives storms about the stage in an elaborate headpiece, winning the crowd over to her weird and wonderful world, where Irish jigs morph into trap beats and playing the violin is cool. But Young Fathers are arguably even better: their perversely genre-twisting set has everyone dancing their feet off, including an elated Charlotte Church who we spot having the time of her life just outside the tent.
It’s the perfect prelude to the burning of the Green Man himself, a large wicker fellow adorned with the handwritten wishes of festivalgoers. As sparks light up the sky and the consecrated ashes of our hopes and dreams drift steadily downwards, the sense of community is palpable. Whoever you are, and whatever your ideal festival looks like, you can be pretty sure that there’s a place for you at Green Man.
Words: Tom Kinglsey
Photography: Patrick Gunning, Parri Thomas, Nici Eberl, Kate Davies