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Green Man Review

The Brecon Beacons hosts Wales’ greenest festival

The Green Man Festival has come far from its humble origins as a tiny, one-day event held indoors.  2012 saw it celebrate its 10th birthday in style, with 15,000 people, an amazing spread of acts, and to top it all off, a glorious backdrop of misty Welsh mountains.  Originally dealing exclusively in folk, the festival has branched out over the years, with this summer’s headliners (Mogwai, Van Morrison and Feist) showing the variety available.

There was an abundance of musical treats to enjoy over the four stages.  Green Man’s main stage (appropriately dubbed the Mountain stage) hosted dozens of big names in the worlds of folk, rock and pop.  Friday witnessed post-rock giants Mogwai induce the audience in to a trance-like state with their dense, distorted guitar textures.  It did, however, seem somewhat of an anti-climax following an intense set from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.  Although Malkmus’ current output is perhaps not as fresh as when he was recording with indie icons Pavement, it still sounded stuffed with youthful energy.

Possibly the highlight of the festival was the wonderful tUnE-yArDs, who had everyone dancing along with their groove-driven and highly infectious soungs.  Frontwoman Merrill Garbus is without doubt one of the most fascinating characters in music today; her captivating personality and vocal acrobatics ensured that she not only entertained her current fans, but also gained many more.  After such an incredible set, Feist’s comparatively mellow pop-rock could have been a disappointing end to the weekend.  Thankfully her live sound was considerably rawer than on record and unexpectedly, quite bluesy.

Photo: Jo Southerd

Elsewhere the festival’s second stage, Far Out, was home to numerous bands on the up, including Stealing Sheep (pictured above), TOY and Errors.  Alt-J has been attracting huge audiences to all of their festival shows this year and Green Man was no exception; they completely packed out the tent thanks to the success of their recently released debut, An Awesome Wave.  A few more well-established acts also performed on the stage.  The Tallest Man on Earth headlined on the Saturday, filling the stage with his massive voice (even though he is actually quite short).  Flailing passionately with his guitar, his honest songs had the huge crowd singing along.

Chai Wallahs proved itself to be far more than simply a cafe with a stage, showcasing some of the most innovative music at the festival.  Highlights included Disraeli and the Small Gods, who pedalled fiercely political, clever and comical lyrics, underpinned by incredible beatboxing from female world champion Bellatrix.  Also adding to the feel good mood were King Porter Stomp with some funky ska, Yes Sir Boss with beats and brass, Hidden Orchestra with their dual-drumming pyrotechnics and Polaroid 85 with their piano-led, soulful drum ‘n’ bass.

The site also included a fun science area called Einstein’s Garden for kids, a comedy tent and a cinema tent, which in addition to regular films showed psychedelic images accompanied by live bands.  These all proved extremely popular with soggy punters, providing some respite from the unrelenting rain on Friday and Saturday.  However, the wet weather did not dampen the spirits of the festival goers – a healthy mixture of students and teens, families and folky-types.

While the festival appeared to have maintained at least a degree of its folk music roots, there was notable deficiency of Welsh talent on offer.  Aberystwyth’s Georgia Ruth was one of the few Welsh acts to make an appearance over the weekend.  Fortunately, her brand of harp-laden folk left a lasting impression on the audience at the charming Walled Garden stage.  Further Welsh folk exploration came from Pen Pastwn, who played the Far Out stage on Saturday, while a slightly mediocre alternative rock set came from Islet on Sunday.  As one of the largest Welsh festivals, shouldn’t there be more emphasis on supporting local musicians, rather than attracting so many international artists?  In spreading its wings, is Green Man losing sight of its traditional roots and core principles?

But  thankfully Green Man still holds a lot of alternative ideals.  It lacks the hectic atmosphere of many of the bigger festivals this summer, thanks to its manageable size and lush garden surroundings.  With an emphasis on independent businesses and trade, Green Man festival provides a welcome alternative to the increasingly corporate experience of larger festivals.  In both it’s approach to music, and its mountainous setting, Green Man festival is a breath of fresh air.

Words: Kit Denison and Rosey Brown

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