Thursday, August 25, 2011


Sunday was a warm, blue-sky greeting after the mixed weather on Saturday. And fitting in perfectly with the weather was the Welsh country-and-western of Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog. These cowboy songs were slowly unwinding, graceful anthems all sung in Welsh by youthful singer Iwan Glyn Hughes fronting the six-piece band. There was a swelling beauty that never became epic or overblown but made you feel in touch with humanity and connected to something larger. The spell was not even broken by finding out that one song was about a roundabout near Swansea. A gorgeous start to the final day of Green Man.

The Travelling Band were a more familiar offering up next on the same stage – particularly having seen some of the band perform just a few weeks earlier. However they are dependable, congenial entertainment. And even with their meticulous attention to detail and the extra orchestration (cello, violin and three-piece horn section) work brilliantly on a festival stage – calling out to different parts of the crowd, finishing songs with singalong sections, knocking over cymbal stands when lost “in the moment”. Tales of making plectrums out of old credit and loyalty cards ("this one's Travelodge 2008") and needing to sell some T-shirts as their van has broken down suggests empty-pocketed penury but there’s nothing cheap or impoverished about their lush, detailed folk-rock.

If the first part of Sunday had been spent leisurely in front of the same stage, the next couple of hours became a pacy flit around the site to dip in and out of what was on offer. So I saw Matthew and the Atlas on the Main Stage (can see why they got the Mumford support slot), was scared off from the Welsh surf-folk of Under The Driftwood Tree by the appearance of a didgeridoo, then caught the “post-drone baroque beachcore” (their words) of Bleeding Heart Narrative who were most entertaining of that trio: post-rock dynamics with frequent instrument swaps.

In the Cinema Tent I caught the drum and trumpet duo Eyebrow accompanying a 30 min film of abstract images of dancers (produced to be projected onto Newport Civic Centre for its opening) and then a couple of songs of arty pop-rock from Efterklang member Anna Bronsted's own band Our Broken Garden.

Then I settled down for The Sleeping Years on the Pub Stage. These were gentle acoustic songs about hometowns, rivers and family from Dale Grundle accompanied occasionally by melodica or accordion (the latter from Gill Sandell). I’d come across The Sleeping Years via their cover of The Go-Betweens but these original songs were gently captivating. Must hear more.

I then popped my head in to The Far Out stage on spec and was so glad I did. In total contrast to The Sleeping Years here was Tweak Bird. The two brothers combine thunderous drums and heavily distorted guitar into an electrifying, experimental noise-rock at times so pacy and intense it feels like speed-metal. The intensity of the playing and sudden changes of pace and direction were thrilling, driven by some seemingly telepathic connection between the Bird brothers. Did they play a whole series of short songs or a couple of long ones? No idea but there was huge love and appreciation for Tweak Bird in the tent. Best surprise of the weekend.

Next up in the Far Out Tent was Brooklyn’s The Antlers, originally a solo project of Peter Silberman now expanded and here as a four piece. This was my first time seeing them and although undeniably high quality it didn’t quite meet my lofty expectations – it was a close reproduction of the last two albums, subtle textures and steady momentum with only the drums sounding more aggressive than on record, but it never soared. The band’s attention seemed to be on replicating studio sounds rather than playing out and at the audience.

And to finish off my Sunday night The Low Anthem. Now here’s a band I’m much more familiar with live so no surprises and no disappointments here – just a spell-binding performance from the quartet. It was a set filled with hush and intimacy despite being on the Main Stage. I think The Low Anthem had taken it literally that Green Man was a ‘folk’ festival. Only one of their more raucous numbers (‘Home I’ll Never Be’) and no drunken or unpredictable behaviour just a set that got quieter and quieter. Magnificent.

The Low Anthem Set List: Smart Flesh / Ticket Taker / Ghost Woman Blues / Sally Where D’You Get Your Liquor From? / To Ohio / Home I’ll Never Be / Apothecary Blues / Love and Altar / Matter of Time / This God Damn House / Charlie Darwin; encore of Bird On The Wire

I started these posts about Green Man with a grumble about scattergun programming. Looking back however the route I took through the festival was an impressive span of bands and acts, both firm favourites and new experiences. It was never random just eclectic. There were some disappointments for me (AND I managed to miss Josh T Pearson, The Cave Singers, Ellen and The Escapades, Emily Barker, Treecreeper, Lia Ices, Neverest Songs, Destroyer, Gruff Rhys and Laura J Martin) but Green Man still feels like a special happening and one in a beautiful setting. Whatever the vagaries of the programming or weather I’ll definitely be back next year. Diolch Green Man!

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