Our first destination was the Cinema Tent – not because it was dry but because of the great line-up for the “Disappointing Crazy Golf Tent” strand in which Welsh bands performed in front of the “whacked-out art-trash video projections” of Casey Raymond and Ewan Jones. First band we saw was H Hawkline fronted by Huw Evans on guitar and accompanied by drummer and (that man again) Sweet Baboo on guitar. Their extraordinary set was only three songs: the first two were extended krautrock jams with occasional distorted shouting. The third (“Steve just reminded me this is the first and only proper song we will play”) was a cover from a Welsh 80s post-punk band – I missed the name but must track it down. Shockingly good and given an extra edge by those surreal images. H Hawkline have an album due later this year on Shape Records.
After a short break the next band Sweet Baboo appeared. Or rather it shuffled around. With a new drummer, Sweet Baboo took over the guitar and vocals and Huw played bass. This was an electric set that reprised all the songs from yesterday’s acoustic set and more but was just as hilarious and engaging if a little more hungover: they’d been drinking with The Flaming Lips drummer the night before – who later came into watch wearing a Cymru shirt. These new Sweet Baboo songs are sounding mighty fine – my favourite lyric being “Daniel Johnston has got hundreds of good songs / And I’ve got six / So there’s catching up to do”. Maybe it doesn’t translate on the page. Sweet Baboo live is a delightful package of self-deprecation and comical boasts, casual mistakes (“this is the one Huw is most likely to get wrong, so watch out for that”) and rambling stories but ultimately clever, witty and moving songs. A talent to be celebrated.
Next was Richard James and band - here performing under the alias Pen Pastwn. Sadly I only caught 20 minutes or so but what I saw was a hushed and mesmerising set of instrumentals and Welsh language songs lovingly played - like the one below (the video playing behind the band is for ‘When You See Me In The Pouring Rain’ from this year’s highly recommended “We Went Riding” album).
Leaving the cover of the Cinema Tent, I was pleasantly surprised to find the rain had stopped and there were patches of clear blue sky ahead. So it was back to the Main Stage to see Race Horses – another Welsh band releasing a highly recommended album this year (and so a shame they clashed with Y Niwl playing in the Cinema Tent). The four piece play psyche-pop in the tradition of Gorky’s and SFA but with youthful dashes of music hall, glam and even (on record) sea shanty.
Towards the end of the set singer Meilyr Jones broke a bass guitar string. The comment from Dylan on keyboards was “That’s the fourth gig in which we’ve broken a bass string. I believe in their whole career Led Zeppelin only broke one. And they did alright didn’t they?”. Smart boys who won new fans here and deserve much more attention and acclaim.
The Race Horses Set List:
Last year at Green Man Festival I spend much of my time at the Pub or the Far Out Stage. This year and today particularly the Main Stage was an irresistible draw. Next on was Montreal’s psychedelic rockers The Besnard Lakes. My last encounter with them was in a tiny pub upstairs room with smoke machine. How would they fare in the open air? Pretty well is the answer – the loud epic nature of their songs suited the expansive setting. There were a few dissenters in my group (“crap”) but to hear songs like ‘Devastation’ and ‘Albatross’ roll out across the Welsh hills whilst the beer can I held was vibrating with the volume was pure joy. The band were mostly tight-lipped but singer/guitarist Jace eventually gave us a smile as the sun broke back through the clouds during ‘And This Is What We Call Progress”.
The Besnard Lakes Set List: Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent / Devastation / Glass Printer / Albatross / And This Is What We Call Progress / Disaster / You Lied To Me
On a quick visit to the Far Out Stage I caught two songs from Rick Tomlinson’s Voice of The Seven Thunders including an impressive psych-folk instrumental that somehow built in intensity section-by-section without you even noticing. Must make sure I catch their full-set at End of the Road in September.
Instead for me it was back to the Main Stage for Fanfarlo, a late but perfect addition to the Festival line-up. And the sun was still out. Despite their apparent non-stop touring the five-piece looked fresh and relaxed. Their set included oldies like the gorgeous ‘We Live By Lake’ (“a song about a village far away in Sweden”) plus the two new songs I’ve heard before – growing on me slowly – and even possibly a third new song. I was right at the front so couldn’t tell how big the crowd support for them was behind me but certainly ‘The Walls Are Coming Down’ got huge cheers and a hefty singalong. New album. Soon please?
Fanfarlo Set List
Atlas / Finish Line / Harold T Wilkins / We Live By The Lake / The Walls Are Coming Down / ? / Fire Escape / Waiting in the Wings / Luna
Next: Mexican food at the top of the hill with Johnny Flynn in the background.
I then caught the first two songs from The Unthanks. At first I thought they had misjudged their opening song. A slow dirge-like number with just voice and tap-shoes. But as they added in the string quartet and piano it took on a life of its own. One day live or on record I will give The Unthanks some proper attention.
Instead I was intrigued to see how These New Puritans would fare live presenting their new album ‘Hidden’. As I arrived, the empty stage was strafed with searchlight beams. At the side of the stage two bassoon players looked on nervously. Ominous rumbles turned into ‘We Want War’ and three of the band (no keyboard player Sophie? Unless she was one of the bassoon players?) appeared to play drums, keyboards/samplers and guitar/vocals.
For just five performers they made a hell of a racket – I think the drums and roto toms were double if not treble-micced. The combination of all the elements played loud together with the lighting effects was thrillingly dramatic. A nice touch mid-set was when singer Jack Barnett took off his jacket to reveal a chain mail vest. Like on ‘Hidden’ it does feel as though they are spinning out the same trick – but you can’t fault the band for ambition or for a sense of dark theatre.
By now the mud and late night was definitely catching up with me – and I watched the remaining two Main Stage acts sat down from the top of the hill. Billy Bragg’s solo set included stories about tea-drinking, GCSE results, Ingrid Bergman and a basic guide to politics (“whatever The Daily Mail says, do or think the opposite”) mixed with ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’, ‘The Milkman of Human Kindness’, ‘Sexuality’ and a new song about bankers moving to Dubai (“he says he’s an ex-pat but we all know he’s an economic migrant”). He finished with “let’s have a singalong” ‘A New England’ and then to the tune of ‘One Love’ a chant to politicians urging them to drop international debt. Elder statesman in so many senses.
Saturday headliners The Flaming Lips were never likely to be shrinking violets. I’m not a fan but was intrigued to see the latest stage show. And if you wanted razzle-dazzle it didn’t not disappoint: giant animated visuals, confetti cannons, oversized beach balls, Wayne Coyne surfing the crowd in a giant hamster ball and then singing sitting on the shoulders of a bear. At one point Wayne wore giant hands (lobster claws?) that then starting emitting green laser beams. However I couldn’t help think it was disguising a deficit in the music which was mostly noodling and directionless. Also Wayne’s continual urging to the crowd in the lull between songs (“come on, come on, come on, come on Green Man”) became a bit tiresome. We left during the encores to avoid the crush.
Trudging through the mud in the campsite the music and crowds were far in the distance. But in the still night air there was still confetti falling peacefully around us like snowflakes. Confetti and mud: a fitting combination for another special day.