A little quirky, a little geeky and a little unique
Green Man Festival 2011

Green Man, along with other smaller independent festivals, provides a refreshing antidote to larger festivals where you have to trek across large swathes of anonymous campsite to capture a glimpse of a band; endure a weekend on salmonella and chips; and contend with the number of arseholes you’re statistically likely to encounter in any large gathering.

The festival site is surrounded by the stunning scenery of the Brecon Beacons, with the distinctive Sugar Loaf Mountain framing the main stage; the food is varied and gorgeous, and will make a constant reappearance during this review; lastly, the festival goers are friendly and welcoming, with families forming a large proportion.

Arriving mid-afternoon on Thursday, it was easy to find a pitch for eight campers just a minute’s walk from the main arena entrance. After an evening of exploring the site and sampling some of the food on offer (veggie burritos) we headed to the second stage to watch Tim Minchin open the festival.

While becoming increasingly confident with stand up, Minchin’s songs still remain his main strength populating his set with gems such as ‘Lullaby’, a heartfelt plea begging his young child to shut the fuck up and go to sleep; the rationalist’s love song, ‘If I Didn’t Have You (I’d Probably Have Someone Else)’; and the ‘Pope Song’, a rather candid assessment of the Holy Roman Father (he’s not too keen on him). Ending with a cover of ‘Hallelujah’, that still manages to sound more sincere than Alexandra Burke’s version despite being sung by a comic and a pissed festival crowd, the wild haired Aussie kicks the festival off with aplomb.

There must be few better ways to start the first full day of a festival than sitting back on a sunny hill, sipping a cold cider and listening to The Ramshackle Union Band’s gorgeous brand of emotive, upbeat bluegrass.

The weather deteriorates through the day but not the acts. John Boden and his merry minstrels in Bellowhead deliver a storming set of their own supercharged version of traditional folk. The sight of so many people on stage clearly enjoying themselves is infectious leading to many displays of enthusiastic limb flailing from the audience, including from yours truly.

Post rockers Explosions in the Sky close the Friday night. While more hard work for the casual listener than many other acts on the bill, their epic and atmospheric soundscapes soar in the natural amphitheatre of the main stage, as they wring out every inch of power and creativity that can be found in two guitars, bass and drums.

A mild hangover on a drizzly Saturday morning is cured with a helping of Breakfast Stew (a fried breakfast mixed with rice, trust me it works) before catching Parisians We Were Evergreen on the intimidate Green Man Pub stage. While perhaps a bit too twee for some (“this song is about children flying south for winter”), their enthusiastically sunny pop tinged with the occasional spirited burst of, admittedly not particularly proficient, trumpet manages to raise spirits at the start of an overcast afternoon.

Passing the Rough Trade tent later we overhear a band performing inside to an impressively large crowd. After finding out Ellen and the Escapades have a full set on the second stage later that afternoon, we decide to check them out. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of the weekend. Ellen Smith’s captivating vocals are the highlight in a fantastically catchy collection of songs that tread a line between folk, pop and rock, with plenty of harmonica thrown in for good measure, as well as a sublime cover of The Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’. The set is well executed with the band obviously having a good time and flattered by the size of their audience. With their album due out later this year, these guys are definitely one to watch.

Some time over the past few years Noah & the Whale have become consummate entertainers. Their indie folk anthems provide a perfect soundtrack for a gin and cider drenched dance in the evening drizzle, with front man Charlie Fink, dapper in suit and tie, confidently striding the stage and masterfully handling the crowd.

Seattle’s Fleet Foxes continue a trend, started on Friday, of the headliner being more accomplished but harder work than the easy joys of previous acts. However, for those prepared to listen, their impeccable folk song writing accompanied by soaring harmonies could not fail to enthral.

The musical highlight of Sunday, indeed of the whole festival, was Laura Marling’s special guest appearance on the in the early evening just as the sun started to set behind the Sugar Loaf. Treating the audience to a selection of cuts from second album, I Speak Because I Can, as well as some new songs, most notably the surprisingly positive ‘All My Rage’, Marling and her band manage to create a huge sound which is both epic and emotive, melancholic yet life affirming. The one small disappointment came from the virtual ignoring of superb debut album, Alas I Cannot Swim, with only the title track getting an airing. However, it may have been a wise decision as its charming naïveté may have jarred somewhat with her current, fuller, more mature sound.

The non-musical highlight of the day was of course the burning of the Green Man marking the end of a fantastic festival. For all the human race has come along, there is something in our nature that is still fascinated by fire, especially if it happens to be destroying a three storey, slightly camp posing, wicker man structure (the urge to burst into “sing cuckoo, cuckoo!” to an imaginary burning and screaming Edward Woodward was resisted).

Unlike other medium sized festivals currently gaining momentum, Green Man endearingly remains resistant to cool, being populated by families, folk aficionados, music geeks and those looking for something a bit off the beaten track. Let’s hope that its increasing popularity doesn’t change this. May it long remain family friendly, a little quirky, a little geeky and a little unique.

Words by Nick Staines

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