Sunday got off to a punchy start with sunshine and the “seventh live concert performance” from The Singing Adams. The band features Steven Adams, ex-Broken Family Band, plus Matt Ashton on guitar, Melinda Bronstein on drums and Michael Wood on bass. As the band pointed out they were appearing on the Main Stage directing after Saturday’s headliners The Flaming Lips: “good to see they didn’t appear too disconcerted about going on before us”.
At first listen to these songs live there clearly is a debt to BFB as you would expect from a band formed around their main songwriter but The Singing Adams seem to concentrate more on the ‘indie’ than the ‘country’. And the themes of the songs appear to be more about flight and starting over but contain the same wit and sarcasm as BFB. And if the music wasn’t enough to wake us up, the band made the front rows turn around and sing a line of one song repeatedly to the hill. Just the sort of enthusiastic start the final day of Green Man needed. The Singing Adams are starting work on their debut album this month.
I then caught two songs from eight-piece (or so) Sons of Noel and Adrian in the Cinema Tent. These two new songs, including one about “eighty bottles of gin”, are a natural continuation of the slow-moving doom-folk sounds of the first record and therefore an essential purchase.
Shame not to stay but I wanted to see Je Suis Animal on the Far Out Stage. I tend to narrowly categorise the Norwegian five-piece as indie-pop but forget there is much more to them than this. And also seeing them in the flesh I realised they were not the youthful striplings I imagined.
Mixing songs from “Self Taught Magic From A Book” album with new songs plus a couple of instrumentals their sound is closer to early Broadcast or even in one drone-motorik number, Electrelane. The sound didn’t bring out any subtleties of the melodies so it was the louder numbers that worked best here.
Back at the Main Stage for Alasdair Roberts. During the set, he introduced one song as being inspired by reading an academic book on dying which featured the tales of an Arabic traveller recalling burial rituals he had witnessed in Russia in the 9th century. Simple songs about fancying the girl next door these ain’t. Instead the four-piece band mixed Alasdair Roberts originals with traditional ballads from places as diverse as Newfoundland and Derby, including two from new album “Too Long In This Condition”
His final song had an extended spoken word introduction about St Columba and medicinal herbs before turning into a separate song which ended with another crowd singalong of the refrain of “all days will end in joy”. Most songs may have been slow-paced and quite serious folk ruminations but by the end you realised not only how varied and engaging the forty-five minutes had been but were left with a silly smile and a hopeful heart.
The rest of Sunday has an open book. Most of the bands we had wanted to see had been and gone so it was time to make some random choices. The only expectation I had of Megafaun was that they would probably play some gloomy Appalachian folk. I didn’t expect their set in the Far Out Stage to be on of the uncontested highlights of the whole three days.
The trio of two brothers, Phil and Brad, and childhood friend Joe, do play hillbilly music – but as though it was high-octane rock and roll. These baskeball-loving, heavily bearded dudes were also some of the funniest and most genuine entertainers I have come across – they talked about cricket, Norwegian food, temporary tattoos and how they’d turned down a signing session in the Rough Trade tent because they would rather set up an NBA Discussion Table to talk basketball. Not many takers for this but there were plenty of takers for the music.
Not knowing any of the material was irrelevant. Performed on banjo, acoustic guitar and drums, two or three-part harmonies were at the core of most songs - some were simple, almost acapella numbers, others larger-than-life performed with shouts, glee and gusto. Even Phil playing two harmonicas at once didn't feel like a gimmick. The overall vibe was party but there were moments like the song about their grandmother that were intensely moving.
The reception was off-the-scale: not sure if this was people who seen them before live and knew what to expect or from those, like me, caught up in the emotion and exuberance on stage. This included their song ‘Worried Mind’ sung with The Tallest Man on Earth and members of Bear In Heaven. Astonishing. Afterwards I got to shake Phil’s hand and get Brad to sign my freshly-purchased CD. Just need to track Joe down next time they visit the UK.
After the emotion, a break and some food was called for so I caught a few songs from Laura Marling, watching from on top of the hill. I’ve never seen her live before so would have been tempted to stay but instead opted for another act I’ve never seen live.
The Tallest Man on Earth is Kristian Matsson who performs with just guitar and voice. But what a voice. For such a slight, unimposing figure in skinny jeans and T-shirt, he has a deep growl of a voice with a huge range that filled The Far Out Tent with ease. Walking around the stage, occasionally crouching or leaning out towards the crowd, he turned his songs about “flowers, insecurities and death” into little pieces of theatre without ever appearing precious or forced.
This was another powerful emotional performance that was met with an equally emotional response. Returning the favour Megafaun and others came on the stage for the final song a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free Now” (caught on camera here). If it had been emotional before this moving scene left grown men weeping. At least it did the two I was with.
It was unlikely that anything else would touch the magic of Megafaun or The Tallest Man on Earth. So the rest of Sunday became a bit disjointed as I caught part of different acts to wind up the final day of Green Man.
Girls in The Far Out Tent got a good reception. The first half of their show mixed songs from “Album” with a few new ones – all mainly mid-tempo and a very straight rendition of the recorded ones. It was well delivered but felt a bit flat after the earlier scenes on the same stage. So after the excellent ‘Lust For Life’ I headed back to the Main Stage.
Here Tindersticks were halfway through their set and the rain had started again. This was another band who surprised me with how well they fared in an outdoor festival setting. Stuart Staples said he had hated the first half-hour “but now I don’t want to leave”. I don’t know if this was earlier nerves or if they got a rough reception in that first half-hour but the second half I watched was deeply moving (finishing with ‘Harmony Around My Table’) and enjoyed by a respectful if soggy audience.
More running about: I caught a few Efterklang songs in the Far Out Stage and then ten minutes of Joanna Newsom on the Main Stage. Watching the harp being played on the big screen was engaging but those ten minutes like the other ten minutes I’ve spent with her records made me again realise: I can’t really take more than ten minutes of Newsom tweeness. The grand piano or harp-playing accompanied by string quartet, bass and drums was beautifully arranged but I can’t find a way past that voice or the complex melodies.
So the end to my Green Man was instead spent warming up and drying out around the bonfire. This year’s Green Man Festival had some exceptional music programming on offer. Inevitably there's the occasional disappointment and the rain and mud took its toll but there was so much good and unexpected stuff in such a beautiful setting that a return visit next year will be an essential part of 2011 whatever the weather.