Never, ever, jinx the weather

‘IT’S PRACTICALLY TROPICAL’ I say, foolishly, on arrival at Wales’ Green Man Festival as the sun temporarily beats down.

If there’s one rule to be learned at Green Man, it’s to never, ever, jinx the weather. Excitable cries of ‘IT’S STOPPED RAINING’ are instantly followed with torrential outbursts - God’s having a right laugh this weekend.

But while God’s water bomb blitz rages, so does the music. Come teatime O’Death is blazing through a set of punky folk. Aptly reflecting its name O’Death plays its instruments, quite literally, to death – strings are broken and a cymbal is smashed at the edges. Half way through the set the band has stripped bare, revealing tattoo-clad bodies and well-fed beer bellies. The set is a mix of sombre material (Only Daughter), livelier stomps and brooding numbers. Adelita’s wild quirks on violin and start-stop timing make the song a dark, unpredictable beast. As the song progresses, strings become fierce, possessed and scratchy – like a sped-up scene from Psycho.


SATURDAY

Today it’s pissing it down, relentlessly. As a result, most of the day is spent in the bizarre Science Tent, whose entertainment this afternoon is two women pretending to be ‘experts’ on grass. Speaking in faux/real European accents two young women with Scandanavian cheekbones and fifties hair introduce some basic grass facts – i.e. it grows all over the world, it has a stem and a blade, and that ‘David Attenborough is a very nice man’. This is Green Man’s oddest performance but totally gripping and in a dry place.

Needless to say it’s still pouring. But while hats and heads drip with rain, the water isn’t dampening spirits – merely breeding new Olympic sports. Mud sliding becomes tonight’s focal point – with celebrity endorsement, even Zoe Ball and her glamorous clan are mesmerised by the sport.

Eventually the mud becomes a greater spectacle than the music. As Richard Thompson introduces Dad’s Gonna Kill You with ‘This is a song about Iraq’ a huge ‘WHHHHHOOOO’ emanates from the hill, as one slider breaks the record.

But at last the sliders pack up and Thompson’s well into his set of classics (I Misunderstood/1952 Vincent Black Lightening) and numbers off his latest album, Sweet Warrior (Sunset Song/Dad’s Gonna Kill You). Playing solo with just a guitar, it’s Thompson’s delicate tracks that are tonight’s gems. The fragile tragic tale of 1952 Vincent Black Lightening is a crowd favourite and its opening notes are met with a huge cheer.

Sunset Song’s delicate, rolling melody flows and the crowd is gripped. As the song intensifies during the chorus Thompson’s playing becomes increasingly intricate. Tonight’s delivery is above and beyond his performances with a band. Solo, Thompson has an enigmatic quality. With his band, he is an exceptional musician among other exceptional musicians.


SUNDAY

STANDING on stage in a baggy lacy shirt and cropped hair the pixie-like Laura Marling dominates the stage. Her set is packed with string-led numbers coupled with Marling’s acoustic guitar playing. Blackberry Stone starts of as a tender track but soon Marling’s delivery roughens, with moody vocals building up to a climax as the song reaches its end. Marling’s mythical folk imagery (‘No I couldn’t turn my back on the Blackberry Stone’) rings harmoniously with the stage’s backdrop - the lush hills of the Brecon Beacons.

But tonight’s heroes – experientially at least, is sixties’ jazz-fusion super group Pentangle, whose incredible line up of Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Jacqui McShee and Danny Thompson have reformed this year. The set’s packed with classics including Hunting Song and Once I Had a Sweetheart.

McShee remains graceful throughout the set, politely addressing the crowd and introducing tracks. With the exception of covering Charlie Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Pentangle’s focus tonight is their folk material – which McShee excels at. Even four decades after the band formed, McShee’s vocals retain their steely ethereal quality. Come the end of the set the crowd is shouting for more but Pentangle do not return. Hundreds chant ‘MORE’ and clap in unison, proving that Pentangle have definitely ended on a high. We are left with a sea of mud, the Beacons and a lot of wet tents to go home to but the Green Man spirit is higher than ever. Without the rain, after all, it wouldn’t be very green. Perhaps we – not God, have the last laugh after all.
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