This year was our seventh Green Man Festival. 2011 was our first, ‘peak beard’ we called it at the time, when everyone was sporting that disheveled folksy look and Fleet Foxes were headlining. Not that we saw them as I insisted we see Squarepusher on the Far Out stage instead, he was on absolutely super form as well and played with a live drummer to boot! Although Green Man is a music festival, to be honest the music only forms part of the reason we keep going back. We treat it as a proper family holiday. It’s a very relaxed and family friendly place to escape to, with the added bonus of great music. Thinking back to when our boy was 12, he wanted to see Mr Scruff who was on at 2am but at about 9pm he went to bed tired. We asked how he’d slept next morning and was told ‘ok, I got up and went to watch Mr Scruff’. No problems though, as I said, its family friendly.
Glastonbury may loom large in the national consciousness when it comes to festivals, having been myself I can also tell you it’s bloody large in reality as well. It truly is a monster and one of the few clear memories I have of it is how tiring it is just to get in, get set up and then walk about the place over the weekend. As for organizing meeting up with people during the day and trying to figure out how that works in relation to what bands people are watching it’s a complete arse. I don’t want 500 bands to choose from and an hour or more trek back to the tent, dodgy toilets, 180,000 too many people and an overt police presence.
What I do ‘need’ is what the Green Man gives; 4 or 5 stages with carefully selected acts, close proximity to the tent, good toilets, good food and an atmosphere where the kids feel they can be free of us for as little or as much as they like (without us worrying about them either). Here you are no more than a ten-minute walk away from anywhere in the festival no matter where you are in it. Left something in the tent? No problem I’ll be back in a bit, over excessed and need a little lay down… no problem, watching Anna Meredith come on in 2017 and owning the place with a truly breath-taking Nautilus but without your boy, no problem… a quick text and he’s there well before it finishes (the very same thing happened when Kikagaku Moyo played that year as well).
The festival to use a well-worn cliché is ‘always the same, always different’. There is a wonderful familiarity about the place… The excellent Goan fish curry stand has been in exactly the same place every year I’ve been as has Tea and Toast, the Rough Trade shop and numerous other stands. The food there is exceptionally good, whether you eat meat, are vegetarian or vegan you get loads of options. Apart from the music there is the Little Folk area for kids up to 12, Einstein’s Garden full of science stuff, Babbling Tongues for talks and comedy and craft areas as well. That familiarity I really like and the quality in depth for all the family is what brings us back time and again.
Which brings us to opening night on the Thursday when we are drinking in the fire area and I’m told ‘the bloody Wedding Present are playing in a minute’. This is real news to me as they aren’t even on the bill, apparently there is a problem with Amadou and Mariam who were meant to be on and the organizers have managed to triumph in the face of adversity. Despite being full of vodka I’m there in double time. I’ve not seen them before and to be honest I’m only a casual fan but Jesus Christ they are good, I’m there watching them and thinking of all the times I could have seen them but didn’t, foolish wasted opportunities. They won me and everyone I went with over completely.
After a light and easy start on Thursday I know I’ve got endurance problems for Friday. Lined up I’ve got TVAM, The Beths, PigsX7 in the afternoon and then Gwenno, Stealing Sheep, Villagers and Yo La Tengo in the evening until gone midnight. It’s forecast to piss with rain pretty much all day as well, thankfully everything up to Gwenno is in the Far Out tent which I correctly predict would be busy with people sheltering as much as there for the music.
We are already drenched when TVAM come on. There has been some discussion recently about bands drawing on their influences, what they do with them and what the end result is like and I’ve been fairly direct about my views but I tell you TVAM do it right. They are truly compelling live, bringing together influences such as Tobacco, Moon Duo and Ride and making them entirely their own. Combining their sound with their visuals plus my intake it’s a wonderful psych experience. I’ll be seeing them again sure. Unlike the Beth’s, something has to give today and I’ve got to miss them. Annoying but what can you do, I only have so much stamina.
I’m back out again in time for Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs though because despite seeing them a few times this year I’m not missing them for anything. Although they are by far the heaviest band at the festival they fit right in and belong here. Truth is EVERYONE LOVE BIG BASTARD RIFFS and bring the riffs they do; my only complaint is I’m not nearer the front.
7pm to 8.30 and we are spoilt for choice, Gwenno, Squid or Fat White Family? Gwenno wins, she got Cornish and Welsh lyrics, she’s got strings, she’s got pop sensibilities and although I didn’t know it in advance she’s got a song about Cheese that she coaches us to sing along to in Cornish ‘Mars eus keus, dro keus, A po nag eus keus – dro’n pyth eus!’ (If there’s cheese, bring cheese And if there isn’t cheese – bring what’s easy!). Sage advice, for sure. Everyone loves Gwenno, she’s so relaxed and confident with the audience it’s impossible to not enjoy yourself.
The good vibes are carried over in the Walled Garden (which seems a bit more electric and up tempo this year) with Stealing Sheep. They clearly love playing their electronic indie pop as much as everyone here loves listening to it, despite the fact that the weather is shite the area is absolutely rammed (apologies for that pun). They didn’t need the giant inflatable sheep for the audience to keep aloft it did add to the already healthy festivities though.
After all the good stuff today I’m very psyched by the prospect of seeing Yo La Tengo for the first time since the 90’s, my wife likes them but hasn’t seen them before so I’m even psyched for her. I’m not quite sure how or why but the performance isn’t quite right, the noise sections are ineffectual and the set is a mismatch of overly quiet and overly noisy numbers that don’t gel. I get told by my wife she isn’t feeling it after about 40 minutes and she’s only saying what I’m thinking. It’s time to head back to the fire with 50 or so other like-minded people to get blitzed in the heat.
A quick look on FB tonight, shows YLT only playing 6 gigs so far this year, if lack of recent playing is the cause of YLT’s misfire that really is quite lame considering they were headlining.
The rain has gone! The sun is out and the there is a strong breeze. I’m not fooled though so will be taking a winter coat later as from 8pm until gone midnight I’ll be sat in a chair in the tiered section of the Mountain Stage to see Lee Fields, Big Thief, Stereolab and Four Tet and I’ll need more than a bottle of Baileys to keep me warm. Before that though we have nothing planned…
We stumble upon Mapache on the Mountain Stage in the warm sunshine and it’s the perfect afternoon soundtrack, pure Acid Folk Americana with harmonies to die for. The guys are so pleased to be on they are virtually beaming throughout and remark that we are the biggest audience they have ever played for. It’s just so laid back I’m really, really happy I got to lounge around in the sun listening to them for an hour.
Over to the Walled Garden and it’s a change to pure indie pop from Beabadoobee who like Mapache I have to confess to not knowing anything about before hearing them at the festival. My daughter knows them though and so do some of my son’s mates who are apparently massive fans already, the garden is pretty much full again. They could really be from anytime between 1990 and now, have a bit of Veruca Salt about them but with the fun factor racked up to max which I reckon is no bad thing at all.
Lee Fields has got some stage presence, and wearing that fantastic white suit it’s a good job too. The Expressions are as tight as a band can get and Lee Fields is about as soulful a singer as I can imagine. It’s an ultra-cool and charismatic performance and lives up to everything I hoped it would be.
Saturday it seems was a day for musical discoveries. Big Thief played a set full of heart-rending songs with a wonderful mix of melody and alternately delicate and tortured guitar. I now need all their records. I’d been recommended them before but somehow didn’t recall that and claimed the discovery for my own.
Like Yo La Tengo I absolutely adore Stereolab, who I’ve also not seen since the 90’s. Despite not playing together for years the recent tour has resulted in them playing an absolute blinder at Green Man. They knew what we all wanted and we got it. Ping Pong, French Disko lots of mid 90’s crowd pleasers all executed perfectly. Shut up and play the hits indeed. I can only imagine how many new fans they made here.
Four Tet has long been a musical staple in our house. It’s refreshing and fairly brave to see Green Man put a purely electronic act on the Mountain Stage to headline on Saturday night. I’d welcome more of this and would call it a resounding success. The sound it awesome, the lights equally so. Considering the very large numbers of families who come each year and have kids to look after in the morning it makes absolute sense to program acts like this in that finish at ‘normal o’clock’ instead of 4am, because pulling an all-nighter just isn’t realistic.
Getting up at well past 11 and feeling rough, I’ve missed ‘Celebrating Bert Jansch’ again and also Gwenifer Raymond. Vegan food for lunch today in the Walled Garden and we find Grimm Grimm who have just started. The people next to us are there by accident as well, they are talking about how good he is, he is bloody good as well. Neo Psychedelic Acid Folk soundscapes, I’m sat on the floor eating so I can’t see anything. Sounds like a Theremin though, tape loops, noise generating shit, guitar noise with a million pedals, droning keyboard / organ and hushed vocals. This is what music discovery and festivals are all about for me.
YAK fucking ruled… they were not as I expected them to be. Their 60’s infused indie rock turned into full on ROCK with massive chords, huge walls of feedback and driving noise. We got stage diving guitarist shenanigans and a very weird command of the audience that Idles completely failed to achieve, it was a sight and sound to behold. ‘Make a Square. Make a circle. Make a hexagon. The bigger the better’ And the crowd did, no messing, a big fuck off space and with a beautifully choreographed build up from the band got filled by people in an instant creating a mosh pit to rival the best. I’ll add that along with us on the front row there were at least half a dozen kids under 10 along with the rest of us oldies. Shout out to the very on-it security guy at the front who handed out much needed earplugs any kids without them.
We stumbled on Pottery next, having missed them earlier we find them playing inside the Rough Trade shop, there are only about 25 of us which is ideal as the stage area is microscopic. They aren’t playing anything new musically, but that’s not the point (what is new anyway? Everything is informed by everything else). They serve up perfect acidic garage punk, it’s not experimental it’s just good. They run out of time but somehow manage to wangle an encore from whoever is running the tent and give us a wildy funky R&B number. Shit hot.
Throughout the day there was much discussion about Idles playing in the Far Out tent vs Father John Misty playing the Mountain Stage. We saw Misty here a few years ago, off the back of his Honey Bear album and he was ridiculously good. I needed to see Idles though despite not really being a fan (yeah I know I’m in a minority), I’m not going to pay good money to see them gig so this was my chance to see if the hype was hype. Needless to say, the tent was rammed. I’d already decided to sit outside and listen while watching it on the screen but everyone else had the same idea. No idea how many people were left down on the Mountain Stage, can’t help thinking Misty’s ego may have taken a small dent with the number of people up here though. Idles were pretty good, a bit unfocused and sprawling perhaps but they had numbers on their side, the number of Idles fans on site was huge, Idles T shirts everywhere on all days they really couldn’t fail with the support they had, and they gave everything they had in return.
The festival always finishes with the burning of the Green Man and firework display in the top field, with everyone already there for Idles all we could do was keep our place and turn around to watch. We shuffled off to bed to face the dreaded pack up and return to reality. Over for another 12 months.