Monday, August 23, 2010


Arriving at Glanusk Park Estate in thunder and lightning and then having to put the tent up in a torrential downpour was not the start for Green Man Festival promised by the druids. Ah well, even mystics can get it wrong sometimes. The best way to forget about being soaked to skin within 20 minutes of arriving on site was to start watching some bands. Especially with this year's visit being an extended group trip with many first-timers - they needed to be distracted from the rain and convinced of the merits of being here quickly.

Given the conditions and delays in putting up the tent we missed the opening acts on each stage and instead the first band we saw was the thirteen piece Spencer McGarry Season. This was dapper soul-pop with an occasional touch of The Divine Comedy and a natty wardrobe of bowties, braces, cocktail dresses; plus the first appearances of many this weekend for grand piano and a string section on the Main Stage. A fun start despite the rain – and also first sighting of several of the weekend of Sweet Baboo here playing guitar.

Undeterred by the rain and eager for more music we (an extended group trip this) then tried to catch the end of Matthew and the Atlas. But in what would be a theme for the weekend we managed to edge into the packed Far Out Tent (the only music stage with shelter for the audience) as the band walked off stage earlier than advertised. Ah well the walk had done us good and helped to churn up some of that Welsh mud.

Then it was back to the Main Stage for The Wave Pictures making their first Green Man Festival appearance. I may not be objective in this but they did not disappoint even with just a thirty minute set. After 3 songs the band invited audience requests – Mr P and myself managed to get three in starting with ‘Now You Are Pregnant’ sung by drummer Jonny Helm - but a fourth (for ‘Strawberry Cables’) proved too much. But there was nothing to argue with about this uplifting set.

The Wave Pictures Set List: Canary Wharf / Long Island / Leave The Scene Behind / Now You Are Pregnant / We Dress Up With Snowmen / Friday Night in Loughborough / I Love You Like A Madman / Sleepy Eye / Too Many Questions / Blind Drunk

Up at the Green Man Pub we then caught the second half of Katell Keineg. Backed by guitarist and bassist she delivered a very engaging downbeat folk including a lovely cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen”. Worth further investigation.

A return trip to the Main Stage found us waiting for Mountain Man in the rain. Alas they had been delayed en route (probably followed the open-to-interpretation directions of the Green Man website?). Instead we were treated to four acoustic songs from the exceptionally talented Sweet Baboo.

After playing with The Spencer McGarry Season and not expecting to play this afternoon he had got “twatted. So don’t expect any fast ones”. Instead he played four new songs of about super brains, zombie collages, balloon rides and dancing, most from his third album due imminently. The video below is the one about balloons from his collaboration with The Voluntary Butler Scheme and others as Wickes. With banter as good as the songs this was a hilarious and inspired turn that never felt like a ‘fill-in’.

Further re-jigging of the main stage running order followed with Caitlin Rose moved across from the Pub.

Wearing sunglasses through the set was a touch odd given the weather but her brand of Nashville country was very soothing despite the shockingly young appearance of her and her band.

More sunglasses on the main stage followed with Erland And The Carnival. I find it difficult to categorise their music still (psyche-folk-rock just doesn't do it) or capture what makes it so thrilling. But the pounding rhythm section and the frazzled guitars and garagey keyboard sounds continue to impress live – even more than on record. A great live band and a stirring appetiser for a Pieminister tea-time visit.

Following pies, next on the main stage was Fionn Regan. I only know his first album of quiet folksy songs. I think for his second he has decided to move and live in 1967 - large sunglass, head band, amulet around his neck. The sound is similarly up-dated – or is that back-dated - a sixties tinged rock that just didn’t hold my attention on first listen.

Instead we went to catch the re-scheduled Mountain Man on in the Green Man Pub. Only to arrive as they finished their last song of course.

Sleepy Sun are on the new Rough Trade Records Psych-Folk compilation. This was my first encounter with them live or on record and they weren’t particularly folky. In fact after 1967 we now seemed to find ourselves in Far Out Tent visiting 1972. For Sleepy Sun played a sensuous heavy rock with much throwing of long hair and thrusting of hips from the long-haired male and female co-vocalists. Plus full-throated wailing and some possible prima donna reactions to technical malfunctions - which all shouted hairy 70s rock. For the most part they got a good reaction but I need more convincing.

Next on the Main Stage was John Grant whose “Queen of Denmark” album is one of my favourites of the year. He performed either seated at grand piano or singing at microphone with one other musician who would either alternate playing the grand or provide acoustic guitar/keyboard accompaniment and backing vocals.

It was an astonishingly beautiful recreation of the record with just one/two performers. Highlights included ‘I Wanna Go To Marz’ with simple piano accompaniment for Grant’s singing, a solo performance of ‘Queen of Denmark’ (“some more gloomy shit”) from Grant seated at grand piano and this acapella rendition of ‘Chicken Bones’ as requested by several in the front few rows.

John Grant Set List: Drug / New Song / Sigourney Weaver / Where Dreams Go To Die / It’s Easier / Outer Space / Queen of Denmark / Paint The Moon / Chicken Bones / Caramel

Forsaking a good spot for Beirut, I hot-footed it to the Far Out Tent to catch Steve Mason. I entered to see the band finish a song and (I thought) the set as per the theme of the day. However there was one more song to play – an impromptu (“I don’t do this often but since it’s you”) version of The Beta Band’s ‘Dry The Rain’ performed just on acoustic guitar, bongos with occasional percussion and electric bass. It transformed the tent into an arms-aloft revivalist meeting. Quite beautiful and a special moment to catch but as Steve said “Keep it quiet I played this”. So shhh.

Beirut was one of the must-see acts for me especially having always missed previous tours. There was equal anticipation amongst the crowd including quite a few teenagers – clearly a bigger and broader following than I thought. So when Zach Condon, looking relaxed and fresh-faced, walked on stage with a seven-piece band there was a rapturous welcome and later impressive word-for-word singing of songs like opener ‘Mount Wroclai’ or ‘A Sunday Smile’. It took me the first three songs to put away my nervousness and high expectations and enjoy this set of songs from all three albums and a new one (or two?) too.

It wasn’t just that this was a festival that earned such applause for a band whose front line includes an accordion, trumpet, French horn and trombone. It’s the glorious sound they bring to the songs and how they conjure faraway places. As beautiful as the Brecon Beacons are, when Beirut hit their stride you couldn’t help but feel transported to a Mexican street corner or East European street cafe. This was consistently impressive but occasionally exceptional. Headline act and longer set next year please?

Sticking with the extended group, I hung around for Friday Main Stage night headliners Doves. I only know one Doves song. And they didn’t play it. Instead they seemed to play one thin and insubstantial song over and over. I gave them the benefit of the doubt initially and thought they would work in this slot (and they did for the vocal fan club at the front) but soon it was apparent this was in my view a rare and under-powered misfire in the programme.

A shame but this or the constant rain were not enough to spoil the many, many delights of the first day of Green Man 2010. Reports on day two and three to follow.

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