Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Live review: The Green Man Festival, Crickhowell, Breacon Beacons

My festival of choice was pretty much made for me this year. Glastonbury sold out quickly and Bestival clashed with my son's starting school (oh to be growing up...) V and Reading are for people 20 years younger and the Big Chill clashed with something else so a return to the Green Man it was...

The Green Man has well established itself in the festival calendar in recent years with its niche as the subversive folk festival. Yes, you'll catch the latest alt-country act or folkie troubadour but you'll also find dance music or funk too if you want to dance through the night. I went for the first time two years ago and was struck by its friendly vibe, attention to detail and high quality music control.

This year we left home earlish Friday morning to a soundtrack of Wooden Shjips, Bigstar and Neil Young - its an hour and a half from Gloucestershire - just far enough to feel like an adventure. The parking was easy enough and we walked through the campsites to get a good pitch - the site is stunning with the imposing Brecon Beacons providing the backdrop to the main stage. As we make our way through the site one is transfixed by the huge array of quality food options - no greasy burgers here but plenty of North African Borek, Roast dinners or the near legendary Cornish fish goan curry. The bars too are of the highest quality with an array of wonderful local ales and ciders being consumed with enthusiasm by the marauding hoards.

We start by making our way to the intimate Chai Wallah's tent which is an excellent vantage point from which to begin our adventure. The first act we see are fairly typical of what you can expect in Chai Wallah's - a group of young lads who look like Hanson but sound like authentic Jamaican reggae. Four men dressed as old ladies raise their inflatable zimmer frames with joy...We stick around for the Alternative Dubstep Orchestra who do exactly what it says on the tin with massive sub bass interplaying with jubilant brass - not unlike some of Masssive Attack's more dubby material.

Its to the main stage though and Bellowhead who usher in the festival proper. I was very sceptical given their supposed feel good 'cross-over' folk and I'm not sure I could stomach a whole record but for this time and place they are perfect with a jubilant set of orchestrated sea shanties interspersed with everything from funk to disco - terrific fun. It's then over to the Far Out stage for Pilooski, 2 Bears and Horse Meat Disco. Two Bears in particular rip things up with Pseudo Echo's Funky town and invitations for everyone to 'do the bearhug' - a tent full of inebriated punters are only too happy to oblige.

Saturday morning gives the opportunity to explore the site again. Off the main stages there are small but enjoyable pleasures to be had - buy a machete perhaps from Friends of the Earth, or spot a New Orleans Voodoo Man complete with pinkie rings on the way to the toilet. Again we make our way to Chai Wallahs - the funky heart of the festival - which is hosting some gentle folk from the heart of London's Broadway Market. I head off to see Josh T Pearson being interviewed and get to ask a question. 'What do you think of the state of America today?' this correspondent asks. 'Um, uh, I don't know really, I've lived in Paris for the last two years' doesn't really give much insight. We later catch the bearded troubadour in the Far Out tent, his electric guitar distorting over his oak soaked voice.

Early evening and its back to Chai Wallah's for an extraordinary performance from New Yorkan Joe Driscoll, essentially a one man soundsystem who highlights the overall ethos of folk spliced genres. Folky Hip Hop anyone? A steel guitar version of I Want You Back over a funky breakbeat lifts everybody before Joe calls in his friends from other bands who have played the tent earlier in the day. A fiddle rendition of Can I Kick It is interspersed with reggae toasting and mass hysteria. We take some time out, chilling to Destroyer - an ever so slightly psychedelic take on Hall and Oates but there is only one band to see tonight and that is Fleet Foxes. The main stage is rammed and the Foxes prove worthy headline material with their west coast harmonies bringing everyone together under a cracked moon in peace and love. The second album tracks are OK but its the oldies that hit home the hardest. By the end of the set tiredness has begun to set in and I resist the temptation of Warp DJs to get some much needed sleep.

Sunday starts with blazing sunshine, fully exposing the beautiful backdrop. I fill a flask with Tequila, orange and lime and head into the main arena for some sunbathing. James Blake might seem like an odd choice for the Green Man and especially on the main stage in daylight. Many are underwhelmed by his operatic vocals and slow leftfield beats but I thoroughly enjoy the dub spliced sounds. Limit To Your Love is accompanied by enormous sub bass which rattles the ribcage. Its Laura Marling though that most people in the main arena have waited to see. She really is a precocious talent with her husky voice and bitter but tuneful songs making perfect sense as the sun begins to dip. Three albums in and she already has a strong body of work.

We take some time out to a minimal (and dare I say boring?) Low Anthem before choosing Gruff Rhys over Iron and Wine. The eccentric Welshman's delayed set is predictably fun with his gorgeous melodies bringing everyone together in applause. Ending the set with a 15 minute song might sound like commercial suicide to some but Gruff brings so much humour out that its a joy.We spill out of the tent to watch the Green Man himself go up in flames accompanied by fireworks - a magical end to a magical festival. Andy Weatherall brings it all home with a funky dance set but by then I'm on my way back to my tent.

The weather was wonderful, the food and drink a real treat and the music (despite looking a little bit weak on paper) perfectly complemented the mood of everyone on site. The Green Man has something special - it doesn't feel part of the mainstream at all but a lovingly crafted fun fair for those who understand that music, nature, peace and love have all the answers. I for one will be back next year.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had fun brother. Very jealous. And nice little round up/review too. Nice one