Stretched folk to its most elastic

Covering the whole spectrum from traditional to freak by way of alt-country with a little post-rock thrown in for good measure, Green Man stretched folk to its most elastic, and was all the better for it.

Friday took traditional and gave it a little twist, combining classical instruments with imaginative modern arrangements.

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset mixed lilting harmonies with charming covers, including a beautiful version of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Sea Song’. Indigo Moss sounded like Buffalo Springfield meeting Natalie Merchant, mixing raucous sound and quiet menace. Euros Childs’ solo material sounded very like the stuff he did with Gorky’s, but with the added bonus of a couple of tracks sounding like Wales’ entry to Eurovision. Bill Callahan brought an angular, spiky minimalism into play with a set of controlled power.

Joanna Newsom had her usual Marmite effect, half hailing her as genius, but more memorably described as ’sounding like a bag of kittens being slammed against a wall’!.

And then it rained. From Friday night to Saturday afternoon it was relentless, reducing the site to a scene all too familiar to this season’s festival goers. Clinic pulled in the still-soggy crowds, providing a dose of amped-up indie energy. Dressed in a sinister combination of brown boiler suits, top hats and surgical masks they sounded like an evil Inspiral Carpets playing skewed party music.

Saturday late afternoon and early evening on the main stage was an all-Americana affair. The Broken Family Band gave us some good old-fashioned country-rock in a Gram Parsons style. Vetiver’s West Coast stylings started well, but didn’t really go anywhere, but the highlight was Richmond Fontaine. Combining Steinbeck storylines with some kick-ass country sounds they had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands.

It was a shame then that Vashti Bunyan’s set felt so one-dimensional. After the ubiquitous T-Mobile moment, it was time to take in something more raw. Fridge sounded like Sonic Youth attacking Slowdive. Epic builds and chaotic climaxes attracted a large crowd eager for something a little less polite.

The Super Furry DJs gave us eclecticism under one roof with everything from 70s Welsh pop to Bollywood funk, with Eric & Ernie’s ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ providing a perfect festival moment. John Power proved a surprise hit, blending swamp blues with campfire philosophy in an engaging style that still maintained his pop sensibilities.

Sunday saw the sun return, albeit fitfully, for arguably the strongest line-up of the weekend.

Malcom Middleton’s dry wit can’t save us from further showers, but was a perfect combination to his infectious songs about love, loss and longing. Alisadair Roberts showed us there’s more to life than death with a new, slightly less sombre, set.

Gruff Rhys gave the most theatrical performances of the weekend. With the stage set out like a press conference (complete with microphone-laden table and a backdrop of his Candy Lion in a test card milieu), we were treated to an epic version of ‘Skylon’, ably assisted by the lovely Lisa Jen from 9Bach acting her heart out.

Seasick Steve came on stage looking slightly bewildered, then begins a set that totally rocks. Somewhere between a gig and standup, he cracks jokes that are genuinely funny, and the crowd can’t help but truly warm to him. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks may not have played any old Pavement favourites, but they did produce a tight and focused set that avoided the highs, but also the lows and musical meanderings of his previous incarnation.

If you’re going to get wet, Green Man is the place to do it. Nestled in the Usk valley, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, Glanusk Park is a truly beautiful setting for a festival. Well laid out, the site easily absorbed the crowds, and even some of the mud, with the biggest queues of the weekend saved for the ever-popular Pieminister stall. The main stage is at the bottom of gently terraced lawn, creating a natural amphitheatre that provides perfect acoustics. The Folkey Dokey stage and the Rumpus Room (unfortunately minus any soft play toys) were more traditional big tents, but the Green Man Café, a 3-sided canvas covered bandstand set in an old stable block, provided a more intimate environment. With good food, clean toilets and great energy, the whole thing was very pleasant.

There were times when it was all a bit too pleasant, and some of the acts were in danger of becoming aural wallpaper, but the variety, short sets and tight turnaround meant that there was always something interesting around the corner.

All in all, it was rainy, but folky.
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