Green Man is the prettiest festival in the UK. Its main stage, with the Black Mountains cresting above it, is a feast for the eyes. Choosing where to pitch our tent was a headache. Not due to the scarcity of options, but simply because we couldn’t decide which view of the hillsides we liked best. The line up also made for quite pretty viewing, especially given that the sun was shining. Oh, and did I mention there was a beer festival too?
All of the above contributed to me enjoying Jonathan Wilson’s laurel canyon-esque country riffing more than expected. Staying on an alt country tip, we lingered by the main Mountain Stage and caught Sun Kil Moon. Mark Eitzel is one of those guys who manages to keep making amazing music long after most musicians would have reached their sell by date. Eitzel’s latest LP Benji is no exception. He regaled the crowd with banter about “getting laid” and “not knowing what city it was” which would have been a bit lame if not for the quality of his spine-tingling balladry.
As I was on ‘critical duty’, I felt obliged to check out some of the smaller stages (instead of supinely lingering with my Celt Ales Bleddin and staring at the mountains). Which was lucky, as they had much to offer. The Green Man Rising stage played host to – you guessed it – rising acts. We stopped by to see Flo Morrisey (a dead ringer for a young Joan Baez) perform a nervous but charming set of acoustic ditties. The Walled Garden hosted french disco/rockers Francois and the Atlas Mountains who thoroughly owned their peak time slot. Their enthusiastic dancing provided a pleasing contrast to the plethora of stationary indie bands. A more unexpected delight was Typesun who played a live set in the bohemian tinged Chai Wallahs tent. To explain a little, this place was serving violently alcoholic irish coffee long after every other stage had shut. Its carnival like feel was suited to the Bristolian producer whose live show of heavy but soulful beats got everyone moving. The perfect finale was provided in “Last Home” whose strings brought a sentimental touch and plastered a grin on my face which didn’t leave for some time.
The non-musical tents are also worth a mention. Babbling Tongues hosted a variety of speakers with Howard Marks and Green Gartside of Scritti Pollitti being chief among them. Being so middle class these days (which is not a bad thing!) it seems de rigueur for festivals to provide a range of cultural succour, and Green Man duly delivered with book signings from critics and authors, with only tangential links to music.
Green Man also provided much sustenance of the gut filling kind. Yes, food. God, the food. For someone on a non-existent budget (me), it was a nightmare. I found it impossible to resist all the gluten-free veggie stands, North African street food vendors and fancy crepe slingers. The variety on offer was almost worth a ticket in itself. Though at about 8 quid a go, it took its toll on the purse strings. I overheard an incongruous Scouse family remark amongst themselves – “do they do bacon or sausages, or anything you boys might like?” “Nah, mum” “We going to go find summat else”. Unless that something else was a superfood halloumi wrap, I think they might have gone hungry this festival.
Back to the music. The Far Out tent was where the most interesting artists were at. Panda Bear’s set was appropriately ‘out’ there, using the two massive plasma screens erected either side of the stage to freak out the crowd with lysergic colours and what seemed to be, bizarrely, alien lesbians. This, combined with his trance inducing ambient sounds, sent my brain into funny mode. Amazing stuff. Caribou drew the biggest crowd to this tent. Their live set was one of energy and charisma with Snaith & co toeing the line between “dance” and “band” ably. A personal highlight was “Sun”, where Snaith chose not to sequence his vocals- opting instead to endlessly repeat-sing the word ‘sun’ with his own lungs. The effect was suitably uplifting and strangely cathartic, too. Oh, and the new songs sounded ace.
Such electronica was a pleasing diversion from what was essentially an indie rock festival. As such the main stage was suitably guitar-centric. Saturday saw the trio of War On Drugs, Sharon Van Etten and Mercury Rev follow each other on the Mountain Stage. Mercury Rev won the battle of these epic bands for me. They performed Deserters Songs (a long personal favourite) in its entirety. It’s a perfect album. And from the opening second of ‘Holes’ Donahue’s frail voice had me hooked. Things turned from the great to the sublime when, before their penultimate song, Donahue said “there’s been a lot of talk about depression recently. This one is for our friend. His name was Mark.” Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse was a hero. One of the most talented songwriters to tread the earth a mon avis. And as they played “Sea of Teeth” from his 2001 album, A Wonderful Life, I must confess I shed a tear.
The first thing I said the next day was “shit, did I cry to Mercury Rev last night?” Which my girlfriend answered in the affirmative. Damn, I must have been drunk. By 7-ish my hangover had just about cleared enough to start drinking again. So I ambled off to see Bill Callahan perform. I know I’ve gone on about the hills a bit already… but humour me… as the light played about the mountain behind him it was possible to see about 5 different weather conditions. A perfect backdrop to his dense yet laconic songs whose meanings danced in my mind much as the shadows flicked the hillside.
The festival drew to a satisfying close with Kurt Vile on Far Out rattling through his modern classics at breakneck speed. After this the ritual burning of “the green man” drew a line nicely under the weekends festivities. As the embers faded, many returned to their tents, or home. Alas, not me. I headed to Far Out for a final few hours of oblivion. This came in the form of DJ sets from Simian Mobile Disco and later, Ben UFO.
There are few festivals who can offer the breadth of musical styles on offer at Green Man, and even fewer who can do so in such magical surroundings. And when the rain holds off (as it did), there are few places I’d rather be.