Green Man Festival: Glanusk Park, 17-19/08/12

Just as soon as I’d finished pitching my tent at this year’s Green Man festival, I was approached by a very cheery man in a nifty Hawaiian shirt.
“D’ya fancy some festival breakfast?” he said, waving a bottle with palm trees on the label at the closest campers. While I politely declined as it was 10 A.M, Ouzo guy, as my brother and I came to call him, though odd, was a pretty friendly guy. One of the best things about Green Man is the people: the vast majority come here solely because they love the music, and love sharing it with others; this makes for a great atmosphere – to put it crudely, the festival as a whole is, for the most part, twat-free.

This cheery, beardy clientele might not appeal to everyone, but with four stages spanning main acts to world music and DJ sets, alongside a literature and comedy tent and film screenings, a multitude of tastes are catered for. All this set against the backdrop of the beautiful mountains and fields of the Glanusk Estate make for something pretty special.
To remain true to my semi-Welsh heritage, it seemed only fair that I saw a couple of Welsh bands at the festival, and as always, Green Man offered plenty of local talent to accompany the bigger names on site. Both Islet and Sen Segur showcased the wide variety of sounds and talent on the Welsh scene; the latter, particularly, with their unique brand of psychedelic indie-folk, are well worth a listen.

Green Man’s relaxed and serene vibe is enhanced by the tens of brilliant folk acts signed up each year. 2012 was no different, with acts ranging from Benjamin Francis Leftwich (a Yorkshireman, no less) to The Felice Brothers. Two especially memorable sets were those of Daughter and Lucy Rose, both ones to watch on the scene in upcoming months. Daughter, consisting of Elena Tonra and Igor Haefeli, have moved from simple acoustic on earlier tracks to atmospheric and ambient explorations of the genre, adorned with startlingly honest lyrics and haunting vocals.

Both ‘Candles’ and ‘Youth’ are tracks that capture the (albeit somewhat stereotyped) musings of the young, and the latter, which ended the set, had the crowd enthralled. Lucy Rose, on the opposite side of the spectrum, kept things simple and completely free of pretention as she worked her way through various tracks for her upcoming album, Like I Used To. Previously a backing vocalist for Bombay Bicycle Club, her solo material mixes the feel of an early Laura Marling record with tinges of older folk classics.

Taking things to a livelier level was Tallest Man on Earth, who, for an actually quite small Swedish man, really packs a punch. The level of intricacy he implements in his music has previously earned him comparisons to a young Bob Dylan, but his voice and style introduces a tone that is wholly his own. The only disappointment here came in the lack of older material; previous album The Wild Hunt was almost completely disregarded in favour of the newer There’s No Leaving Now, which, while pleasant, lacks the same volume of great tracks. Despite this, Matsson’s stage presence kept the audience enthralled throughout, and his sound live is one of the most impressive folk sets I have ever witnessed. Highlights came in the form of ‘King of Spain’ (after numerous cries from the crowd) and new track ‘1904’, both of which involve mind-blowing finger picking speed and beautifully bizarre crooning vocals.

Not to be ignored was the ethereal and melancholic beauty of King Creosote & Jon Hopkins’ collaborative set. Simple, precise and stunning: there was no need for frills here, with the lulling accent of Anderson and the accompanying piano of Hopkins evoking something very difficult to approach without cliché – the loneliness of aging, the concerns of the middle aged. Perhaps it sounds odd for me to appreciate something like this, but without seeing this partnership live, it’s difficult to describe the profoundly moving and therapeutic effect this set had on me on a somewhat grey afternoon.

But Green Man is so much more than a folk festival: from the surprisingly enjoyable cheese of Van Morrison to the bluesy satisfaction of tUnE-yArDs, there’s plenty to satiate various musical longings. From the ethereal Bowerbirds, as recommended by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (worthily, I might add – theirs was one of the festival’s prettiest sets) to the upbeat, almost jazzy Dark Dark Dark and the melancholic indie-rock of Field Music, who worked through much of their new album Plumb, there are too many great acts to namedrop in one article. There was hardly one group that didn’t deliver throughout the three days.

One band that stood out as a future headliner was Alt-J (Δ). Their music holds a very distinctive character, offering up a remarkably intelligent indie. With songs referencing everything from the work of MC Escher to war poetry and the French film Léon, fleshed out with striking harmonies and intricate keyboard and guitar riffs, their experimental style, invoking styles from gentle acoustic to heavy bass, warranted more than a Sunday afternoon slot. ‘Something Good’ and ‘Tessellate’ were two especially notable tracks from the gig, but ‘Taro/Handmade’ demonstrated the various directions the band could go next, with weird and exciting possibilities beckoning.

As the final night drew to a close, I chose to see of Montreal, a decision I definitely didn’t regret. Moving from the stunning opener ‘Suffer for Fashion’, they played a surprising and pleasing amount of tracks from the 2007 album ‘Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?’ while also incorporating a surreal but brilliant cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ among various tracks from this year’s album ‘Paralytic Stalks’. I genuinely couldn’t have asked for a more memorable ending to the festival musically.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Green Man, which meant the annual closing ceremony (which involves fireworks and the burning of a giant wicker Green Man) was on an even bigger scale. I’ve come to this festival for three years running now, and at the risk of sounding like a terrible cliché, watching the bonfire feels almost like a ceremonial ending to the summer at this stage. And I know, with quality building year upon year, that I’ll be watching exactly the same spectacle come August 2013.

Alex Morden Osborne

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