After a quick-ish two-and-a-bit hour train journey, we found ourselves in the Brecon Beacons: home to loads of sheep, deadly military training exercises, and, for a few days each year, Green Man Festival.
Arriving a little earlier than planned, we still needed to rush to pitch our tents and get to the cavernous Far Out stage in time to catch viral DIY popstar Jimothy Lacoste’s late-afternoon set. Playful garageband beats underpinned Jimothy’s earnest, deadpan takes on everyday life – from the joys of public transport (“this train has mad flow”) to the benefits of learning a second language (“I’d rather learn a language than learn boring maths”). Everything about Jimothy’s performance seems designed to be equal parts relatable and entertaining – even the most cynical onlookers couldn’t escape its grasp. Jimothy led the crowd in a chant of “Life is getting quite exciting!” before leaving the stage, and we were happy to follow.
Thursday evening gave us a chance to explore the festival site. Nearly all of the stages at Green Man open on Friday afternoon, but everything else opens on Thursday. Taking in the sights, it’s immediately clear how many families and kids are pitching up for the weekend. This gives Green Man a wholesome, exciting, family-holiday-when-you’re-a-kid sort of vibe. It’s this atmosphere, along with the cheap fish finger shop in the kids area, that seems to make Green Man a special time for a lot of people and their families. And there’s still plenty of opportunity for the old and childless to drink and dance later in the evening.
After taking a look around and eating a lot of carbs, the noise and lights of Public Service Broadcasting seemed a bit intense, so we sat by a big fire while the sounds of Agbeko drifted over from the Chai Wallahs stage. Have you ever watched hundreds of burning embers slowly rise into the night sky while listening to distant afro-rock-funk-psych? Music + fire = good? Apparently?
Friday saw South London’s Horsey open Far Out in dazzling golden jackets, ready to bring their warped cabaret-rock to the rolling hills of Wales. At times their weird lyrics evoked cringes and squirms from those around us. A lot of the crowd had probably only just woken up, maybe eaten a bacon roll, and were now having to deal with some pretty dark imagery. This only seemed to fuel Horsey, whose rollercoaster song structures and croony-shouty vocals were some of the most entertaining of the weekend. Their rendition of “Park Outside Your Mother’s House” was beautiful for what’s basically a Disney-inspired song about meeting a dealer in a park.
The rest of Friday was very busy. We caught most of Amber Arcades’s early show on the main stage, singing sad songs about the EU to a field of lefties lounging on the grass. Meanwhile, The Lovely Eggs produced a storming set to a packed Far Out, pausing between songs to chat about the realities of being a long-touring DIY band with a full tent of people who tried their hardest to respond with shouts and cheers.
Over in the Walled Garden, new Bella Union signing Ari Roar played one of the most intimate and engaging festival sets we’ve ever seen. The full-band had been stripped down to just two; armed with a tiny travel guitar (to fit under the plane seat), and a little keyboard. This could have made the songs sound sparse or empty, but they were performed with such clear amazement-at-being-there that it was a genuinely touching moment to witness. We loved it so much that we missed most of Omni doing their jagged-guitar post-punk thing in Far Out.
It didn’t matter too much that we missed Omni though, because Squid took to the Rising stage to show off their ability to play really interesting post-punk and somehow seamlessly switch instruments at the same time. The sound on the Rising stage is always great, and it was refreshing to see such a promising band play on a smaller stage.
As the sun began to set, Snail Mail played an inspiring show to a very busy Walled Garden. They fought through some sound problems but the complexity and emotions of Lindsay Jordan’s songwriting shone through, transfixing the young crowd.
After Snail Mail, Friday evening got a bit confusing. Black Midi, Alex Cameron and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard played at roughly the same time, and while they’re all critically acclaimed acts, there wasn’t a whole lot of variety on offer. Walking between the stages, everything sort of blended into each other.
We went to get a drink and checked out Round the Twist – Green Man’s party tent – where an 80s night was happening. All was good again. We stumbled upon Mount Kimbie’s late-night set, which, coupled with a mind-bending light show, kept everyone in Far Out super happy. Someone emerged from the dizzy crowd and asked us to roll a cigarette for them to share with their partner. We obliged, and their minds were blown. They were the most thankful anybody has ever been. “I like playing Friday nights”, says Mount Kimbie over the giant speakers, “there’s always so much hope in the air”.
Seamus Fogarty opened the Mountain Stage on Saturday afternoon with talk of hangovers and songs about getting drunk in Ireland and everybody was into it. “We make it look easy but it’s actually very fucking difficult”, he announces: neatly summing up what it’s like to do anything with a hangover. After, The KVB brought creepy darkwave to Far Out – their synth wizardry was spellbinding to watch, and was almost as hypnotising as the retro-futuristic visuals projected behind them on the stage’s huge screens.
Over in the cinema tent, Casey and Ewan’s Crystal Massage was getting into full swing – that is, a lineup of DIY artists performing while 4-and-a-half hours of funny, scary, colourful visuals are projected behind them. We got to catch Islet absolutely smash their set: gang vocals, people running around the tent hitting cowbells and a bassist who thrashed across the stage for a whole 30-or-so-minutes, while skulls, crystals, kittens, grainy VHS footage and flying pizza chaotically flashed up on the screen behind them. Graham Dunning performed his ‘Mechanical Techno’ afterwards, which involved rolling ping pong balls on several spinning vinyl discs, which triggered sounds that were manipulated to sound like techno. It’s hard to explain why, but we watched all 30 minutes of this. Probably best to just google it.
After Graham’s set finished, we emerged from the Cinedrome and went for another wander. Bo Ningen had just ignited the Far Out stage, ending with a bass guitar swung about with very little regard for its well-being. Baxter Dury seemed to have a pretty uncomfortable time on the Mountain Stage, where he looked visibly irritated by having to perform to a busy field of people, at one point announcing that he hated the song that he was about to play. It’s your song, Baxter. Why not just take it out of your set? Cate Le Bon took the stage afterwards though, and her presence was the complete opposite – a warm and assured performance, alongside a band made up of friends and guest musicians.
We opted to go and see Teenage Fanclub rather than stay at the Mountain Stage for Fleet Foxes’s headline show, and we were rewarded with the best set of the weekend. There was a tangible feeling that a lot of people had waited years to get to see Teenage Fanclub play, and their hour-long set was an hour-long celebration.
As Fleet Foxes and the sounds of 2011 floated over to us from the main stage, the thought of trying to find a good spot in their sprawling crowd was daunting, so we headed to Chai Wallahs where time disappeared and we were suddenly in bed.
Sunday Morning started slowly and gently, which is pretty much exactly what’s called for on the final morning of a festival. Cosmic Array opened the Walled Garden sounding like a sunnier Comet Gain, while Group Listening played their beautiful, slow, creeping woodwind and piano music over cassette tape samples to a Far Out tent full of people lying on the floor. Simon Raymonde’s Lost Horizons opened the Mountain Stage with a Cocteau Twins-esque spectacle. It would be great if every day of our lives started like this.
A bit later, Spinning Coin upped the ante in Far Out, managing to sound like one of The Classic Scottish Bands though clearly not anywhere near the peak of their musical careers yet. Haley Heynderickx’s performance in the walled garden was magic – super-engaging songs and a really comforting, funny stage presence. Anna Calvi brought her epic stage show to the Mountain Stage, playing songs that sounded like every Bond theme rolled into one.
We caught a little bit of Frankie Cosmos in the Walled Garden, leaving early to see Grizzly Bear and The War on Drugs on the main stage. Their sets were okay, but we left during The War on Drugs’s one-thousandth guitar solo to check out The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and couldn’t stop thinking about the horrible things that they said on stage earlier this year in Sydney. Turns out, being gross and mean can really turn people off of your band.
We decided to make our way to the Green Man: the massive, leafy sculpture in the centre of the festival, due to be ritually destroyed within the hour. Throughout the festival, people write down wishes and hang them on the Green Man, which is burned at midnight on the final night.
As the Green Man’s face, then head, then body became engulfed in flame, the fire cast an orange glow over the 20,000 people gathered to watch. Once again, hundreds of embers rose into the sky. We love Green Man Festival. Its atmosphere is unrivalled by any UK festival; the Brecon Beacons are beautiful, the food and drink is great and reasonably priced, and they do a fantastic job of booking an eclectic lineup of artists that are just on the cusp of the next stage of their careers.
Before the Green Man went up in flame, though, we wrote a wish and tied it to him. We know that you’re not supposed to tell people what you’ve wished for, but we know you won’t tell anyone: we wished for a few more relevant and diverse headliners next year. Let’s hope it comes true.
Visit the Green Man Festival website for information on next year’s festival.