I don’t want to sound like world-weary-amateur-music-circuit-dickhead-#5, but I’ve seen a few festivals at this point and I’m familiar with many of their characteristic tastes: the joy of checking out the poorly-erected tents, the queues for the agonising toilets, the sensation of watching a dubstep band playing extremely loudly at eleven in the morning, conscious that one of your eyes is a fair bit larger than the other. I love it all. But I’ve never before been to a festival where nothing went wrong; never been to one where there were no unpleasant people amongst the staff or volunteers, where the food was universally above board, where the stages were run so efficiently that you never thought about the fact that there was anybody running them at all. I’d never been to a festival that worked.
Ladies and gentlemen, The Green Man.
Everyone goes on about this festival, and I understand why now. It’s superbly curated, it’s managed brilliantly, it’s exactly the right size (there’s always variety, but you’re never overwhelmed), and at the end of it they burn an enormous wicker effigy which is stuffed full of fireworks. What’s not to like?
One thing I especially enjoyed was my own ignorance. I had heard of about five of the bands on this year’s list, so it was a sheer delight to just wander the hills (part of Green Man’s perfection, anyone will tell you, comes from the idyllic setting provided by the Welsh mountains) popping into various stages and seeing what was on. For some of this I was joined by my old Australian confrère Jamie “Skip Dizzle” Doe who, despite a morbid fascination with the Comedy Tent, to which he returned like an awful boomerang every hour or so, made an excellent travelling companion between the acts. He was playing one of the smaller stages with his band The Ballina Whalers, but with his nautical companions summoned back to the capital on other business he and I swiftly resumed our happy-go-lucky tour spirit and got straight back to trading insults over pints of various hot and cold fluids.
Jamie knows literally every musician in the entire world. “Oh hey, it’s Pete!”, he’d cry, six inches post-Jerome, before veering towards a Rebecca or two tacking in from the Starboard. A selection of wild-eyed, bearded jumper-wearers, many of them probably jazz flautists and/or cajon soloists, danced in front of my addled handshakes. “And how is Greg these days?”, Jamie would ask affably. “Still playing with The Corrugated Prunes?” I spent a lot of these conversations fixedly examining my lanyard-dangling festival timetable, wondering vaguely what time Crash In The Attic were playing (all made up band names in this post are copyright FaceOmeter MMXIII).
Green Man is obviously a – no, fuck it, the – destination for a certain type of slightly-leftfield music, but the only lot with whom I could claim any level of acquaintanceship were the large posse of Bristol legends loosely cohering around the band This Is The Kit, who played beautifully on the Walled Garden stage on the Saturday and whose various associated projects (ICHI, Rachael Dadd, Rozi Plain, Lori Campbell, Polly and the Billets-Doux) provided numerous treats over the whole weekend. I know Kate a little bit, having supported her back in the day, but our interactions in the last few years have consisted almost solely of me gushing about her music in an immediately post-show euphoria, and I suspect that has led her to the understandable conclusion that I am ‘a mental’ (as an aside, Lori knows me solely as ‘Weird Train Guy’ for reasons I won’t go into). Because of this, I refrained from bouncing up to them on this occasion, but their sets were a real highlight of the festival. Those of you who don’t know their work, especially the This Is The Kit album Wriggle Out The Restless, need to get on it quickly. Kate filled the Rough Trade tent with her solo set and was signing CDs in it for ages afterwards – she’s going to be very famous quite soon.
Perhaps more exciting were the bands I hadn’t heard of before. Heymoonshaker were the first lot I came across, and, well, just click the link. I also really, really enjoyed sets from More Like Trees and Gypsy Hill – I suspect it wasn’t a coincidence that all of these acts were on the same stage, Chai Wallahs (I detest the name for some reason, but the stage itself was amazing). Amongst the headline acts, there’s nothing really to say about Patti Smith that you haven’t heard already, but she’s a legend for a reason. I am late joining the Kings of Convenience train, but boy have I joined it. They killed Friday.
I’m normally quite cautious about checking out new stuff, and for me exposure to all these brilliant new things to listen to justified the weekend by itself. But of course every festival aims to be more than the sum of its headliners, and from the food to the scenery Green Man had everything nailed. The Guardian review points out the lack of advertising and corporate sponsorship, and it’s right to do so – this felt like a festival designed for its punters, not for a wider scene or out of a sense of its own reputation. But not enough people are talking about the sound. Every stage had unbelievable sound, which is impressive in an outdoor setup of any kind, but genuinely incredible on a huge rig like the Mountain Stage, which handled two-person acoustic sets and massive rock-outs equally without a trace of buzz, distortion, or interference. Sitting in front of it was like having very expensive headphones on. The Kings of Convenience came through like crystal, as if they were playing on a sofa next to you instead of on a massive platform in front of thousands.
When you’re a DIY singer-songwriter, attending Green Man as a punter is a joy tempered only by the frustration of not being able to get up on one of the stages and join in. I really hope I can manage it one day: it’s exactly the right audience for me, I think, and there’s nothing I’d like to do with my tunes more than play them in their company. Well, now I have something to aim for.