Monday, August 22, 2011


All my festival eggs were in one basket for this year: Green Man Festival at Glanusk Park, Crickhowell. And with a line-up that was so wildly eclectic it could be accused of an incoherent, scattergun approach to programming, this year’s Green Man didn’t feel an unmissable selection (see the sold out End of the Road Festival - which I'm missing - for that).

However Green Man is always an enjoyable and welcoming experience and to arrive in sunshine and blue skies (particularly after the thunderous rain of last year) was a promising sign.

First up for me on the Main Stage was Londoners The Ramshackle Union Band. The four-piece, partially bearded and checked shirted of course, played indie-bluegrass given an emphatic rhythm from electric bass and drums to counterpoint the banjo-led folkiness. If their songs about crumbling empires, suffering, salvation and being cold were lyrically chilly they were a warm, convival start to Green Man.

In the Far Out Tent, Gareth Bonello aka The Gentle Good was making his sixth Green Man appearance and celebrating in grand fashion: five-piece band, changing line-up of backing singers including Lisa Jen from 9 Bach, and a string quartet. The sumptuous chamber-folk of record transferred beautifully to this setting and with the lighting gave the backdrop curtain a rich velvet sheen making the whole thing feel luxurious and special.

Next up in the Far Out tent was Admiral Fallow; and with lead singer Louis Abbott taking to the stage with a “Born In The USA” T-shirt and a bottle of Jamieson’s they promised a very different experience. This was my first time seeing the Glaswegian five-piece and they did not disappoint: combining jaw-jutting, foot-stomping, punchy tunes with quieter heart-melting ballads with a picked-on-at-school vulnerability and given classy touches with clarinet and flute. A highlight alongside songs from debut album “Boots Met My Face” was new song ‘The Way You Were Raised’, Buckfast themed and complete with crowd-singing.

Over at the Pub Stage, the weather had take a turn for the worse and was overcast and threatening rain. What better then than to be warmed up by the Snowdonian surf-rock of Y Niwl? I’ve gone on before about how good Y Niwl are and today only confirmed that. A reassuringly ace set of their instrumentals-named-after-numbers that saw them doing a roaring trade in records and T-shirts afterwards.

The Y Niwl set list:

On the Main Stage, Robyn Hitchcock promised a “compressed set of psychedelic classics”. He cut a striking figure in purple trousers, polka dot shirt and ageless shock of blond hair but the pop-psyche tunes (including covers of The Beatles ‘She Said She Said’ and to finish three Captain Beefheart songs: ‘Big Eyes Beans From Venus’, ‘Sun Zoom Spark’ and ‘Electricity’) were equally fresh and striking. It was a delight to see the all-ages Green Man crowd (including 8 year olds) avidly hooked on songs about "dreaming of an Ant Woman with her Audrey Hepburn feelers". Too idiosyncratic to fit the National Treasure tag but a fine songwriter that should be celebrated more.

I dipped in and out of a few things at this point. Caught enough of Villagers to confirm my partial opinion of their recorded music (bland) and a few songs of San Fran basement punk from Sic Alps in the Far Out Stage: much more interesting. And much louder.

Next I returned for Bellowhead on the Main Stage. Normally I would have pegged them to be too trad for my tastes but was won over by their bagpipe-and-bouzouki folk dance tunes. The 11-piece, including a three fiddle front line at times, proved to be great fun with front man Jon Boden acting as a long-limbed circus master for this motley big band. And it wasn’t just me that found it infectious: these songs about dead lovers, damned sailors, prostitutes and whisky had huge sections of the crowd in congas or linked arm reels.

Not quite sure what happened to the next few alcohol befuddled hours but I don’t think I saw any more music before hitting the sleeping bag. A good start to Green Man if no major surprises, but enough to reassure me that the Festival weekend - and not just the weather - would prove to be be good.

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