This year’s Green Man Festival, tucked away in the sprawling beauty of the foothills of the Black Mountains, opened amidst a confusion of rain and shine. Yet as Bangor-based We Are Animal took to the Far Out stage and opened with a raucous set, the showers cleared and the tenth year of Green Man began to quietly thrum with excitement. A curious festival that has enjoyed ten years of near-unanimous acclaim, swollen attendances year on year and attracted increasing attention across the UK, Green Man has managed to maintain its own unique, independent identity without fuss and has clearly been the better for this. More importantly, its musical offerings remain outstanding.
The contrasting opening night acts of comedian-turned-musician Matt Berry and headliner Patti Smith turned Thursday night at Far Out into the sort of entertaining fare that promised much for the following three days. Patti Smith’s set in particular was memorable for several touching moments, including a dedication to the late Amy Winehouse and a spine-tingling cover of John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy.”
Friday saw the festival truly spark into life as, despite problems with the on-site cash point, the quirky independent stalls and vendors that have become a hallmark for festivals like these were thriving, selling everything from handmade dresses to candle-powered steam boats. The music also stepped up a gear, as Green Man Rising winners Haiku Salut opened the Mountain Stage with typical gusto, capping off a hugely impressive twelve months for the Derbyshire trio. Following up on the Main Stage, and Midlake invigorated the watching masses, provoking comparisons with Fleetwood Mac in their pomp. With nightfall came the headliners, and Kings of Convenience delivered a rousing and enchanting act; renditions of “Misread,” ‘Know How” and “I’d rather dance with you’ signed off Friday with a truly vintage festival moment. As the Far Out tent continued the party late into the night, the boldly named Fuck Buttons provided the perfect late night festival experience, leaving the revellers keenly anticipating more.
With Green Man 2013 reaching its halfway mark, the near-euphoric atmosphere that embraced the festival refused to die down in the face of the ominous weather. Several of today’s highlights were found at the Walled Garden stage, where Fossil Collective, who declared this their favourite festival of all, produced a set laced with beautiful tunes including “Let it Go,” and “Rivers Edge,“ lifting the crowds despite the bursts of rain. South Wales’ own Sweet Baboo delivered a barnstorming yet sweetly moving performance; opener “The Morse Code for Love is Beep Beep” had his impressively large crowd keen for more and he did not disappoint, delivering an uplifting set complete with brass section. At the Mountain Stage, on-trend Essex outfit The Horrors stirred the crowds on the hill with a hugely enjoyable set drawn mostly from their last two studio albums, a decision that went down well on the main stage. Finally, Saturday headliners Band of Horses took to the stage, with many curious to see how their style of rock goes down with the expectant crowd. Inevitably, armed with the sort of charged, arena rock anthems seemingly made for the Saturday night headline slot, the Seattle quintet deliver a truly thunderous set. Standout tracks “Noone’s Gonna Love You More” and set closer “Funeral” produced one of those spine-tingling festival moments you long for, with the bands sound filling every inch of the shimmering night sky.
Sunday saw the best weather yet to close out another glorious year of this curious, intriguing little festival. The music matched this, with highlights being Melody’s Echo Chamber, who produced a breath taking display for the packed Far Out tent. A notable mention must also to be given to Marika Hackman, whose gentle, melancholic folk and offbeat charm won over the crowd at the Walled Garden Stage, serving notice of her considerable, understated talent. As Sunday moved into twilight, British Sea Power offered up a slice of thumping, powerful rock mixed with their unique stage show, the trademark Polar Bear making a well-received appearance. As Sunday night neared, the energy growing amongst the several thousand-strong crowd at the main stage demonstrated the sheer excitement building for headliner Ben Howard. He inevitably produced a set full of energy and familiar, hook-laden tunes, though I couldn’t help but think whether the man whose reputation has been founded upon gentle, intricate and catchy acoustic ballads will ever truly be comfortable playing venues of this size. Yet, on this occasion, the beauty of the Mountain Stage and its surroundings enhanced a back catalogue containing the likes of “Only Love,” “The Fear” and “Old Pine.” True to form, this tender and surprisingly intimate hour long set provided a final flourish to the music festivities of the past four days, a memory many will cherish as they departed the glorious Mountain Stage on final time.
As midnight and the ceremonial burning of the giant Green Man neared, the 22,000 in attendance at this year’s festival could reflect on another phenomenal, unforgettable four days of music and enjoyment in the beautiful wilderness of west Wales. Such a varied and talented array of musicians proves just why this festival keeps growing, year on year, yet remains one of Wales’ best-kept secrets.