Having never been to Green Man before, which is ridiculous as we both live very close and have friends that attend each year, we were encouraged by the hugely positive feedback that the festival had accumulated over previous years. Arriving early and eager, we trudged round the back of the site to pitch our trusty four-man tent (which subsequently got destroyed in the wind). After a beer and a quick game of footy, we ventured into the heart of the festival.
Green Man is laid out in such a beautiful way, with two main zones. Zone A, if you like, is where all the stages and food stalls are set up. These are all in close proximity of one another, which makes for a fairly easy jog if you’re looking to catch bands back-to-back. Zone B is essentially a ring of camp sites that completely encircle Zone A. The layout ensures that you’re never too far away from your tent – a godsend in the early hours of the morning when guy ropes become lethal and every tent looks identical. Most spectacular of all though is the layout of the main stage, or Mountain Stage. It is fronted by a half-moon, two-tiered grassy hill – a place for tired feet to lie back and soak up the sun while still getting a great view. The hill makes the Mountain Stage area feel like an amphitheatre, and must be an absolute joy for bands that step out to play their music.
Our entire Thursday, however, was spent at the Far Out Stage, and first up on our list to see was Boy Azooga. Dave Newington – guitarist, singer and man of many talents – is the face of this clever outfit. The five-piece looked exceptionally excited to be opening the festival, and what a superb job they did. Each and every song was decorated with subtle intricacies in guitar, drums and synth. The entire band showed no sign of strain when turning on a dime and taking a song in a completely different direction – a feat that they performed a few times to the surprise of everyone bopping along. A pleasure to watch; we look forward to hearing and seeing more of Boy Azooga.
Anna Meredith was on shortly after. She had grasped our attention way ahead of the festival with her unique blend of electronica. The influence of her experience in classical music was unmistakable, as strings and brass sections took a prominent role throughout the performance. At times, the lead guitarist perhaps seemed a little overly keen to rip into a two-minute Santana-like solo, but otherwise the band gelled well and played faultlessly.
Our residency at the Far Out Stage ended with what was potentially the highlight of the day – the spectacular BadBadNotGood. To reduce this act as just another “Jazz Band” does not do them justice. They effortlessly weave between hip-hop beats and soulful grooves while displaying a technical proficiency that many bands would dream of possessing. Coupled with the fact that they sounded implausibly crisp within a reasonably large tent, they were at times utterly entrancing. Nevertheless, amidst their beguiling musical competences, BadBadNotGood are quite simply a great live act. There is a certain accessibility to their music which transpires through to their live shows. Drummer, Alexander Sowinski, would interject their set to “jive” with the audience, and really made an effort to create an atmosphere (however clichéd that sounds).
The Big Moon were one of the first acts we saw on Friday. We were not expecting to see one of our favourite performances of the weekend so early, but they were simply superb from start to finish. The four-piece came out on stage with a swagger that said, “we deserve to be here” – and boy did they. Stand out songs like ‘Sucker’ and ‘Formidable’ were delivered with pin-point precision and fierce emotion. Personal favourite ‘The Road’ had neck-hairs stood up, and despite a genuine on-stage fall from lead guitarist Soph Nathan during her solo, the band continued with wide grins spreading across their faces. All four members were evidently having the time of their lives, frequently huddling together and looking out onto the enthusiastic crowd to enjoy their moment as a unit. It was a pleasure to be there, taking in the atmosphere created by an outpouring of emotion-filled songs and this very special band.
Following The Big Moon was the irrepressible D.D. Dumbo, the solo project of Oliver Hugh Perry. It cannot be overstated how talented this man is; nowhere else will you hear the most irresistibly catchy pop music intertwined with odd time signatures and complexity. The songs from Utopia Defeated were performed with aplomb and a manic frenzy that, as good as it is, could not be captured in the recorded album.
Friday was always a day that would be overshadowed by the fact that each band we saw would simply be a precursor for Future Islands. Sadly, we would have to miss Kate Tempest (who was supposedly incredible), to see their full set. It is difficult to describe seeing this band live. The Mountain Stage was almost blindingly bright from the lighting setup, and although we were intimately close to the front of the stage it was still, at times, difficult to always have a full view of the stage at all times. Their set began with a few songs from before their dizzying success with, ‘Give Us the Wind’ and ‘Beauty of the Road’. However, it was when they played ‘Ran’ that it felt like the performance exploded (in a good way). Sam Herring would writhe, gyrate, and move his body in whichever way he pleased as he hungrily roamed the stage with his famous growls and screams. It was a nicely balanced and varied set that basically touched upon each part of their back catalogue. It felt like a daze at times with the energy that was coming from the stage and the audience, and the slow loveliness of closer ‘Little Dreamer’ was very welcome at the end as throats were beginning to get stretched and sweat was beginning to accumulate. To be a little more succinct: it was loud and it was brilliant.
Still feeling slightly weary from Future Islands the night before, Jessica Pratt served as a nice, gentle introduction to Saturday. The weather was unusually pleasant for a Welsh festival and her 13.30 slot was perfect for some sitting, drinking, and sunbathing action.
The relaxation continued with This Is The Kit, who brought their inimitable folk stylings to the main stage. It must be said that to know This Is The Kit is to love them. Kate Stables and her talented backing band captivate a fine blend of indie-folk characterised with twee guitar parts, smoky vocals and the occasional slice of brass instruments. It must also be said that the Jeremy Corbyn T-shirts that the band sported went down a treat – they most certainly knew their crowd.
We managed to watch three more bands on the Saturday before the alcohol caught up with us: Allah-Las, Michael Kiwanuka, and Thee Oh Sees. Allah-Las were fun enough, though lead singer Miles Michaud was wearing sunglasses in a dark tent… very Liam Gallagher. They delivered a performance of their usually jangly guitar rock, which we found very easy to dance to.
Michael Kiwanuka was, as expected, simply ethereal in everything he did. There was little need for any audience interaction; why speak when you can sing so well? It’s hard to fathom how perfect his voice is when singing live, and his backing band were also utterly bombastic. The highlight was definitely ‘Love and Hate’, which seems to encompass all the talents that Michael Kiwanuka has.
Thee Oh Sees/The Oh Sees/Oh Sees were also, as expected, loud. This band divides opinion like no other and we followed suit by disagreeing about their performance. It has to be said firstly that John Dwyer, quite frankly, plays guitar like an alien. I’m not quite sure how he makes some of the noises that he does whilst simultaneously bouncing around like a drugged-up ferret (a strange compliment, but a compliment no less). However, it can also be argued that to hear one song by The Oh Sees is to hear them all. They do have a certain formula they unfailingly stick to, and for all their weirdness, they can also be seen as strangely conservative in some ways. Nonetheless, they are an absolute spectacle to see live.
Sunday. Ah, Sunday. By this time, we were beginning to pay the price for the trauma that we had put our bodies through, learning the lesson the hard way – we cannot take the amount of self-inflicted alcohol abuse we used to. However, it was this set of circumstances that led us to seeing another of our favourite acts of the weekend.
Feeling disorientated, vulnerable, and looking for some giant cotton balls to collapse into, we spotted Gaelynn Lea playing at the wonderfully intimate Walled Garden Stage. This artist has an inspiring backstory, but we had never heard her music so decided to give it a try. It was simple setup: Gaelynn Lea on vocals and violin, and Dave Mehling on electric guitar. Lea’s voice has an almost magical, spectral feel to it that is akin to Joanna Newsom in its ability to convey any emotion. There was anger in ‘I wait’, as she sang about her experiences of being disabled, and there was tremendous joy in ‘Grace and a Tender Joy’. However, the highlight was ‘Breathe, You Are Alive!’, which is a spoken word poem that Gaelynn wrote, accompanied with just her violin. To listen to a recorded version of this piece doesn’t do it justice – there was an unsaid consensus that we were all lucky to have been there. To cap a perfect performance, the set ended with a tremendously raucous cover of ‘The King of Carrot Flowers’ by Neutral Milk Hotel. Adam Walton from BBC Radio Wales was seen behind the stage at this point, looking in awe of both the performance and the unbelievably lively reception she was receiving.
Our first and only visit to the Rising Stage was to catch Brooke Bentham. Having listened and become addicted to her currently small discography on Spotify leading up to the festival, we got there nice and early, choosing the optimum centre-stage spot to sit on the grass. We were soon joined by a decent crowd, which included another group of friends that were attending the festival. The singer-songwriter did not disappoint. Guitars and drums were simple, clean and provided the ideal platform for Bentham to deliver her alluring lyrics, which are often drenched in melancholy when describing both love and loneliness. ‘I Need Your Body’ and ‘Heavy and Ephemeral’ stood out, and although a member short, the band managed to create a sense of intimacy with the crowd that made the entire experience unforgettable.
The weekend was capped off with Fruit Bats, The Shins, and PJ Harvey. Fruit Bats were first with an awkward slot, just after 5pm, on the main Mountain Stage. The rain had started to look threatening and there was a sense that the festival was coming to a close. However, this didn’t seem to affect Fruit Bats as Eric D Johnson and Co delivered a flawless performance with songs from new album Absolute Loser and a mixture from their back catalogue. Being one of the more underrated indie bands of that era, we were surprised and pleased to see a reasonably large gathering to witness this supremely talented band.
Indie stalwarts, The Shins were next. We were amazed at the enthusiasm that James Mercer still exerts, as after countless reincarnations of the band, he seems to be the only constant. His voice seemed unaffected as he sang with the gusto of a man years younger. The band rattled off every classic they have ever written from ‘Oh, Inverted World, and ‘Chutes Too Narrow’, to ‘Wincing the Night Away’. The newer songs from ‘Port of Morrow’ and ‘Heartworms’ also seemed to have new life breathed into them when performed live.
We were nearing the end at this point. After a disastrously timed attempt at packing up our tent amidst a five-minute Armageddon-esque downpour, we arrived to see PJ Harvey on main stage. The scope of live set was just immense. From huge stage props to a full orchestra – PJ Harvey live seems more akin to theatre than anything else. She has an indescribable stage presence, and with the torrid rain and incoming thunderstorms, the show had an almost eerie setting. It may seem strange, but it feels like the power of her voice is often put to one side due to the quality of her song writing. However, when heard and seen live, her voice is quite simply captivating in its clarity and flawlessness. Even songs from the slightly disappointing Hope Six Demolition Project seemed to have an energy injected into them that made much more sense when listening to them live. There was more of a focus on her later albums, which seems understandable due to the radical change in her style, but there was also an old treat in ‘Bring you my love’.
Our first experience of Green Man was a treat, and the general atmosphere was summed up during the final trudge to the car when a woman who was busy packing up her own tent asked us if we needed help carrying anything before offering us a tipple. We look ahead now with eager anticipation for the first group of bands to be announced at Green Man 2018, having both agreed to pop it into the calendar and make it an annual outing.