It can surely be said that to be able to stand the test of time as a festival and repeatedly conjure up a magical spectacle year after year is a remarkable achievement. Having now existed for two decades, the excitement that always surrounds Green Man was especially palpable for their twentieth anniversary, and as scores of people descended on the picturesque Welsh mountains, only one thing was certain – it was not going to disappoint. A bumper edition of the festival with an expanded line up and duration could only mean unbridled joy for returning punters, and a life-changing experience for first-timers.
A long weekend of electrifying performances kicked off with a double bill of nine-piece acts, the first being the psychedelic jamboree that is Oxfordshire’s Mandrake Handshake. Possessing more than a slight air of Stereolab about them – an influence they proudly wear on their sleeve – their introduction was a sure-fire way to initiate those who were not yet in festival spirits. If it wasn’t enough, then The Umlauts would put an end to that with their fusion of post-punk and techno influences on the Mountain Stage. Their first performance of what would end up being a busy weekend playing in-store shows and DJ sets was charged to the max and boasted incredible energy, presenting tracks from their hotly anticipated Another Fact’ EP as well as crowd favourites such as ‘Boiler Suits & Combat Boots’. As though their large member base wasn’t enough, they even managed to invite guest dancer Paul (who appears in the ‘Another Fact’ music video) to throw shapes and flail arms, well and truly injecting life into the festival atmosphere and setting a high bar for any other acts to trump their party atmosphere.
Further into the evening, Honeyglaze showed why they’ve won the hearts of so many in the last twelve months with their tender indie balladry. For those familiar with their debut record, it’s clear how much they’ve managed to bottle that live feeling and recreate it so effortlessly, and with time they’ll be climbing their way up the bill to future glory. On the flipside, someone who has proven their live show to be an unpredictable beast is Yves Tumor. Having previously caught them playing a set of harsh noise without the backing of a live band, to see them unleash an arsenal of rockstar moves backed by shredding guitar solos and unwavering bravado shows not just how much the project has evolved over time, but how much potential they have to continue shapeshifting and evolving into the future. If you wanted to see the spirit of Prince live on in a multitalented modern artist, this was it.
The thrill of the Thursday would be carried on into the night by two acts seemingly incapable of anything other than fun. Dutch indie darlings Pip Blom may possess something of a sweetness in their sound, but can equally thrash around and let out a snarling side, with the group finding a delicate balance between the vigour of debut album ‘Boat’ and the introspection of follow-up ‘Welcome Break’. After a day largely made up of relative newcomers, proceedings were wrapped up by the much-cherished Metronomy. As they slowly approach two decades in the business and settle into a calmer stage of their career, their set now acts as a vehicle for displaying everything that has made their career exceptional, and while it may not have been as dazzling as in years gone by, their steadfast professionalism oozed class and underlined just why they’ve long remained the perfect festival headliners.
The Umlauts on…
First impressions of Green Man…
Annabelle: It’s already my favourite one I’ve been to – I’m fully convinced.
The pressure of performing as most people arrive to the Mountain Stage…
Maria: I think the pressure made us perform better than usual.
Freya: I think there’s less expectations actually, a lot of people are comfortable in their deckchairs or sitting down, but then their lower expectations are raised.
Annabelle: It was also good to just get it done and then be able to feel good about it afterwards and have a good time.
Alfred: It’s always quite nice as nine people to get on a big stage with a big sound system and just have fun.
Freya: It was also just beautiful with all the mountains, sun and wind in our hair.
Toby: It was a great crowd as well, they were so responsive, especially the young boy with the drumsticks at the front. He was a real rocker and I wish I had his love for music.
Showcasing new material to a festival crowd…
Oliver: It’s taken a while to get used to them but some of them we’ve been playing since a while back, ‘Non È Ancora’ had been part of the set even before we did the recording. It’s been fun getting ‘Another Fact’ down as part of the show. It was especially fun having Paul, who appeared in the video up on stage with us.
Meeting Paul and having him dance on stage…
Annabelle: We had a gig at Venue MOT but had been arguing about what sort of music video to make and time was running out. Paul came up to us after the gig the same way he was dressed in the video and said he loved us and wanted to dance on stage with us. We asked him to star in the video instead but then we kind of went from there.
Oliver: Paul is an absolute legend, big up to Paul. I wouldn’t do that. I spoke to him after the set and he said he’d arrived twenty minutes before he heard his name being called.
Maria: When he was trying to get on stage security didn’t believe him.
Oliver: We were worried when we asked “is Paul out there?” that fifty blokes would come up at once and claim it was them.
Translating the studio recordings to an expansive live show…
Oliver: We wrote a lot of the ‘Another Fact’ EP about a year or so ago, maybe even longer, and we had a long hiatus where it didn’t feel like it was coming together for some weeks. We went back to the studio in Margate and worked constantly for about a week without sleeping. It kind of came together somehow, but we’d already been playing a few tracks live. It’s been easier translating this one to playing live than the first record as we were still quite a new band and trying to work out what to do, this one has felt more plain sailing.
Toby: We knew how to learn them.
Oliver: We’ve still got one to learn.
Annabelle: It’s also quite nice bringing it to the band, once it becomes a group experience our recordings never sound quite like our live set at all. It’s almost like two sets.
Maria: We’ve had people say before that we’re a different beast live than we are on record, which I like.
Alfred: The record’s always there, there’s no need to replicate it.
Working alongside PRAH…
Maria: It’s been great, big shoutout to Minna who has been our festival mum. She brought us some salted caramel vodka which went down really well last night.
Annabelle: We’re being treated very well.
Toby: We’ve played a few times with Pozi who are always great.
Oliver: Orbury Common and Uh as well.
Annabelle: It’s all like family really
The importance of their multilingual approach…
Toby: I’ve got a French GCSE.
Annabelle: I don’t think we started out thinking of any importance, but Maria and I felt quite comfortable writing in our languages, and I think through that personal choice it almost became quite political, but it wasn’t a deliberate choice to transfer some kind of message.
Maria: At first it started as a comfort blanket where we could express ourselves in our mother tongues. When we were just doing bits in the studio, we were just getting comfortable with our voices and it also felt good to say things and not have people judge you for what you’re singing. Certain things you want to say just feel better in a certain language.
Oliver: It’s almost got quite a surreal quality, with songs like ‘Um Politik’ which is in French and German there’s this weird space which has lots of different narratives in it.
Annabelle: We should do a song in Magda’s special language – Ladin.
Magda: It’s from Northern Italy, it’s kind of like the Welsh language of Italy.
Annabelle: It was weird performing in front of German crowds for the first time last weekend in Switzerland because I thought, “shit, they actually know what I’m saying now”.
Maria: It’s quite fun seeing how people from different countries respond to it as well, we get a lot of messages on Instagram from all over and it’s fun to see it travel around the world and have them understand different bits of it.
What’s coming next…
Oliver: We’ve got some demos for new material but none of it feels quite there yet. We’d like to put out a compilation of the first two EPs with some other things on it, but there’s no real solid plans. We’re on tour in November and then we’ll see what happens.
Their dream Green Man headliners…
Alfred: Jonathan Richman would be pretty good.
Oliver: I’d love to see Björk. I’d also quite like to see the Fall with a fifty foot Mark E Smith hologram, but he’d be turning in his grave at that.
A high-energy Thursday called for a mellower beginning to the Friday, yet the set from Ethan P Flynn was certainly not short of emotional weight. There’s a heartfelt and earnest passion in Flynn’s delivery, and every croak in his voice and gradual crescendo was felt in the pit of the stomach as he worked through a set of slightly rearranged songs from his repertoire. Far less mellow on the other hand were Melin Melyn, an act whose return to Green Man had been eagerly anticipated by many. Touted as the breakout stars of last year’s festival, their promotion to the Walled Garden stage went down a treat, and it’s hard to wonder why. While their approach to psychedelic pop is packed with indelible hooks, it’s the fact their show is largely built upon foundations of humour, theatrics and pure cabaret that makes them a riot. It’s all very well being talented musicians, but Melin Melyn ask the question, “what if we added a mysterious painter and a giant dancing crow” as though it were the logical way to heighten a live performance, and for them, it most definitely is. Their original material alone was enough to conjure a beaming grin out of most of the audience, but throwing in covers of Ian Dury and Glen Campbell brought the proverbial house down. Melin Melyn provide entertainment in its purest form, and with no disrespect to other acts, it’s hard to imagine many others being able to pull it off in quite the same way.
Grove’s set packed a different kind of wild energy, fusing garage, dancehall and noise to create a powerful and politically charged onslaught to stir up the Friday afternoon, while the creative abandon of English Teacher lit up the Rising Stage as darkness slowly fell upon the valleys. If you were after something with a little more grit and grime however, then perhaps the Viagra Boys set might have been what you were waiting for. As debauched as ever and continuing to hone their craft with the recent release of their stellar third album ‘Cave World’, all the wit and sardonic punk posturing of the slovenly frontman Sebastian Murphy is backed by the unrelenting tightness of the band. As much as their lyrics that satirise all of the worst people imaginable might make your skin crawl, they’ve become even more comfortable in their own skin, and performances like this one were enough to prove that they’re only going to become more of a force of nature as they continue their hot streak.
On a similarly upward trajectory are Dry Cleaning, who whilst more deadpan and drole in their delivery provided just as raucous a set. Anyone concerned that the speed of their output might be gearing towards a sophomore slump with second album ‘Stumpwork’ on the horizon will have had their fears quashed as Florence Shaw’s abstract wordplay floated formlessly around the complex guitar lines of Tom Dowse on the new material, but old favourites such as ‘Viking Hair’ and ‘Unsmart Lady’ also felt like they’d been given a harder edge in their stellar set. Filling the headline slot were electronic pioneers Kraftwerk with perhaps the most hyped set of the weekend, delivering a mindbending 3D show and working through an unmatchable barrage of hits. Their minimalistic stage presence in conjunction with the stark visuals proved to be a sensational affair, and a testament to how much of an inspiration they continue to be within modern music. Rather fittingly, two acts rounded up the night with sets that could be argued to hold tangential flames to the krautrock legends. Cate Le Bon wowed with an exhibition of squelchy art rock in her typically maverick fashion, a sign that her constant reinvention of form knows no limit and will continue to stun for years to come, but the real spectacle was from Scalping, whose mesmerising set of hardcore techno would put an end to anyone’s ideas of getting a good night’s kip in. To simply view their set may have been incredible, but to fully immerse yourself in the onslaught was nothing short of transcendental.
melin melyn on…
Returning to Green Man…
Gruff: It’s so great to be back, and to be honest the main reason behind starting the band four years ago was to be able to play at Green Man. Rhodri, our pedal steel player, said it was the most fun he’s had on stage. I was worried our joy might have peaked, but it was absolutely packed to the rafters. It’s such a great festival and so welcoming, and great to have people come up afterwards and tell you how much they enjoyed it.
The significance of the festival to Melin Melyn and the wider Welsh music scene…
Gruff: To play here amongst familiar faces and to friends, and also see their loyalty towards Welsh-speaking bands is great, but it’s also great to play other places where people aren’t so familiar. I enjoy it all equally, but Green Man is somewhere I’ve been coming regularly and I genuinely can’t believe it. Sometimes I even pinch myself that I’m even in a band.
Only beginning writing music four years ago…
Gruff: I’m very lucky to be in a band with not just great people but amazing musicians, that’s another thing that gives me such a buzz. One of the things people say to us is how tight we are as a band, which is quite extraordinary because half of us are in London and half are in Cardiff so we rarely get to rehearse. I think because we’re such good friends we have that understanding. If you’ve got ramshackle and moments to land together with madness all around it. I’ve always played music and am from a musical family; I started playing saxophone when I was ten and did jazz exams, but honestly didn’t enjoy it as much as I should so put it away for about ten years. I just never thought I could get to where we are.
The theatrical world-building of the band…
Gruff: There’s two actors in the band and an amazing designer on drums, so a lot of us have a passion for creativity, and then we’ve got an amazing designer called Edie Morris who made the bird costume for our last music video, ‘Nefoedd yr Adar’. I think it’s also a lot to do with our sense of humour, I’ve always preferred seeing a band that puts on a show. I love music in every form, but if the live performance is just how they do it on record, I’m just not as into it as when they do something a little different with it. We want to push that further for sure, it would be great if we could travel with a set and props. Dr. Sausage (live painter) I don’t know, I’ve never met him before. I don’t know why he’s there and keeps coming on stage with us and makes pictures. He actually sold his picture yesterday for for £300. It seems strange but we’re just doing something that comes naturally to us, and it’s really great that that seems to tickle people.
Adding further elements…
Gruff: We’d like to make some short films, or maybe a musical. I’d love to write a song about the song ‘Rebecca’, which is about the Rebecca Riots of the 19th century, where frustrated farmers who were being pummelled by greedy landowners, so they dressed up in women’s clothes and ran down with flaming torches screaming the word ‘Rebecca’. I think that would make a great musical that represents everyone in society.
What’s coming next…
Gruff: We’ve just received our latest single ‘Hold the Line’, which is about my frustration on a phone call with an energy supplier. On September 30th we have the new EP, ‘Happy Gathering’ coming out, and then we’d love to write an album. It’d be great to get a label on board, and we’re really excited about doing that when the funds are available. We’re always writing demos. We’ve also just been asked to play at Ara Deg, which is Gruff Rhys’ festival in North Wales – that’s a big bucket list tick for us. He’s such an inspiration for us and for Wales.
Throwing covers in festival sets…
Gruff: I realise it’s quite fun to do covers at festivals. There were a lot of people there who knew about us and have seen us before, but others who were seeing us for the first time, but it’s great to invite them to have a little boogie. Last year we did ‘Rip It Up’ by Orange Juice.
Their dream Green Man headliners…
Gruff: Us, obviously. We’re willing to do it.
After a punishing end to Friday, it was a pleasant welcome into day three to pay a visit to see Montreal’s Cola. Comprised of former members of Ought and U.S. Girls, catching them felt like reuniting with an old friend, and while their music isn’t a direct copy of their previous projects, there’s enough familiarity for you to feel immediately settled in their new sound if you held their old work so dearly. Following this was a sleazy step into the scorching heat with the sultry moods Donny Benet ringing around the mountains, and a roaring howl of joy from Green Man stalwarts Pictish Trail who were primed as ever to sing their serenade to their beloved festival faithful.
Venturing further into the afternoon was perhaps the most beguiling set of the weekend from Blue Bendy, occupying the mid-point on the Rising Stage. For the uninitiated, their music may sound a little off-kilter at first, but as the nervous tension in their delivery slowly unravels, their knotty structures begin to resemble works of art school genius. It’s hard to tell exactly what they’re all about, but there’s a sneaking suspicion amongst the crowd that they might be onto something special. On the other hand, an act that many already knew was onto something special was Katy J Pearson, whose set only consolidated the notion that she’s destined for greatness. Having borne witness to the beginning of her solo journey merely three years ago, to see her cast a spell over one of the biggest and most receptive crowds of the weekend and lure them in with an impeccable display of her gift for songwriting felt special. There’s a real charisma and passion that has always driven her performances, but off the back of having shone during last year’s festival season, that charm seems to have only grown exponentially and become more beloved.
A career-spanning set from Alex G lured us into the latter stages of the Saturday, brimming with passion from the beginning and interspersing deep cuts from his catalogue alongside stellar material from his upcoming record ‘God Save the Animals’. The set served as a brilliant indicator that even after nine albums, the inventiveness is in no way dwindling and the magic he creates in the studio makes for magic in a live setting too, allowing the quirks of his songwriting to take fascinating turns on stage. In spite of all the incredible performances witnessed to this point, perhaps the most stunning set of the weekend has to go to Black Country, New Road. A band whose very existence was in question following the departure of frontman Isaac Wood shortly before the release of their masterpiece ‘Ants From Up There’, their transition from jazz-inflected post-punk act to chamber pop visionaries has seemingly taken another significant leap, and as members now share vocal and songwriting duties, their prowess has become even more apparent and continues to flourish in surprising ways. Having touched the hearts of many over their previous records, their Green Man set remarkably felt a cut above their previous work, playing an entirely new set of luscious tracks designed to leave not a dry eye in the tent. The results were a marvel to behold, and a confirmation that BCNR are not simply gifted musicians, but a once in a generation talent. With a tough act to follow, and legs weary from three days of barely interrupted standing/dancing, the day drew to a close (for me, at least) with Tune-Yards, and their vibrant mix of varying styles of music from across the globe with a distinctly art pop flavour. Having previously graced the Mountain Stage ten years ago, the career they’ve had since has gone from strength to strength, and the sheer power behind their performances – not least Merrill Garbus’ thunderous voice – still holds the ability to captivate even when suffering from festival fatigue. They’ll always remain a favourite, and for this reason alone it was a special way to finish day three.
Taking a raincheck on the late-night offerings of Saturday meant that a fresh start on Sunday with the bizarre art rock of KEG was able to fill this weary body with vigour. Balancing eccentric riffs with impenetrable grooves and topped off with unruly stage antics, the Brighton-based septet were equal parts endearing and unsettling in their presence, but their set was almighty fun all the same. Ramping up the terror an extra notch were Bristol’s LICE; a brash and often theatrical explosion of noise and experimentalism. Playing songs from their surreal and satirical concept album ‘Wasteland: What Ails Our People Is Clear’, frontman Alastair Shuttleworth largely spent the set parading the stage donning a cape, sweeping his arms around like a magician showing off an array of tricks, and boy did LICE have plenty up their sleeves.
The respite from the noise was only brief, with an excursion to the Walled Garden to see a set of soothing folk from Naima Bock. Her exquisite arrangements of tracks from debut album ‘Giant Palm’ possessed a warmth unlike anything else seen that day, especially when compared to the set that followed from Bingo Fury on the Rising Stage. Their blend of cacophonous no-wave put through a lounge filter is disarming at the best of times, but seeing them on even more dynamic form than usual made for an unsettling experience.
The festivities continued with an electrifying set of Afro-Cuban insanity from BCUC, a band that always prove to be a stand out act at any festival. Relentlessly energetic percussion with powerful vocals echoing over the top, the frantic polyrhythms in their music are unforgiving and impossible not to move to. A last minute appearance from Bristol punks Grandmas House was a much welcomed one as well, and their fearlessness on record is something they capture live with ease along with the sheer grittiness of their riffs. Boasting just as much fervour but with added moments of tenderness were The Murder Capital. While it seems like ages since their stunning arrival, the passion and charisma that underpins their music hasn’t faded in the slightest, and while they can be boisterous at times, it’s the moments of tenderness that stick out as the most enchanting parts of their set.
While the intention might have been to go out with a bang, it was perhaps unfortunate that Ty Segall opted to turn his hand to a slightly more reserved set than usual, but despite this it can’t be denied that he remains a cult hero for many and his supremely talented Freedom Band back that up with aplomb. Joe & the Shitboys on the other hand were able to go in hard enough for two acts at once, racing through approximately thirty songs in little over thirty minutes. You’ll walk away from any Shitboys set bruised yet beaming from the unfiltered chaos that ensues as the Faroese punks dispense as many ‘fuck you’s’ as possible and go for the jugular in their sarcastic takes on social issues, and their showing at Green Man was no different. It might be ridiculous in all aspects, but you’ll be hard pressed to find another band that can take punk music to such extremes and still make it feel like one big laugh. Proceedings could have ended there comfortably, but it felt rude to not close a special weekend with Parquet Courts, a band that defined much of the last decade for me on a personal level. While largely opting to play songs from their more subdued recent effort ‘Sympathy For Life’, it was fitting that they chose to draw the curtain on festivities with a trio of tracks from ‘Light Up Gold’, offering one last wild hurrah.
It’s pretty safe to say that Green Man is and will remain an important institution on the festival circuit, and the enchantment it provided once again only goes to show just how cherished it is by everyone in attendance. Its celebration of music from far and wide, and of such varying styles only goes to show how on the pulse the organisers are with both burgeoning musical talent and respect for established greatness. Diolch yn fawr, Green Man – here’s to twenty more years.
Photos by Kalisha Quinlan
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