Framed by the spellbinding natural beauty of the Black Mountains that tower behind – The Mountain’s stage, the main stage at Green Man, creates a perfect atmosphere for festival-goers to soak in the joys of Los Angeles quintet Local Natives, slow-core trio Low, British folk hero Roy Harper and plenty more besides. Perched high upon the sweeping arc of a tiered grass amphitheatre that slope down before it the sun, for the most part, shines down, and the music rings out and beyond.
This is my first Green Man festival, which now in its eleventh year returns to the stunning Glanusk Estate in Wales, and it is already my favourite. Intimate and independent, Green Man is a family run festival organised by Fiona Stewart and her friends. You will see lots of great music, meet good people, eat wonderful food, taste fine beer (frequent the cleanest loos) and leave having experienced all that a great music festival can offer.
In his book Electric Eden, Rob Young speaks of the British pop festival, that it has moved from small impromptu, mildly subversive gatherings to major landmarks on the British map of summer activities: media-sponsored calendar fixtures that draw together vast swathes of Britain’s diverse population. But you won’t see any big brands or sponsored stages here, a thoroughly independent ethos emits wherever you stumble on site, all set within a lush Welsh Wilderness.
Roy Harper, moving away from mid-song banter about masturbation recalls on the Mountain’s stage that Green Man felt to him a lot like the summer shows he played in Hyde Park in 1968. Then alongside Pink Floyd, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Jethro Tull, and now, wedged between the likes of Lord Huron, The Horrors and Band of Horses, he strides through a mid-afternoon set of potent recitals from his vast songbook losing nothing of the intensity heard on cornerstones like Stormcock. Singing of raining heavens yawning and the landscape being his next meal, his long white hair below peak cap flailing in the wind, Harper’s eyes roll back drawing lyrics penned and seemingly unsung for decades, and his fingers roll over his box guitar with a precision not unlike the late great Scottish hero Bert Jansch. Having lost nothing of the clarity and the conviction of his early recorded output, Harper is enjoying his first Green Man and the crowd are elevated by all his music has to offer. Visibly moved by the reception he receives as his set reaches its close, Harper confides in the audience that he often feels like he’s going to leave music for good but then a universal voice says ‘stay, you creep!’ – ‘so I’ll stick around for a bit’ he smiles, before jigging his way off stage.
As the temperatures drop and the folk/rock-by-numbers bands take to the main stage, it’s time to find what else the festival has to offer at the witching hour. Stumbling in to the Last Laugh tent we are treated to some great comedy courtesy of Peep Show’s Dobby aka Isy Suttie, who storms through renditions of Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga singing at the bottom of a well – to wonderful effect, this comes as light relief to some really, really terrible comedy which went before it. Time for more Growler house ale from the good folk of Green Man and down to the Somewhere stage, only discovered when seeking out the pulled-pork van which had earlier won the praises of the good people I arrived with. As I finished the last of the slaw remnants and did away with the carton my ears were drawn to a fierce sound check coming from yonder. “Somewhere”, a new tent for Green Man 2013, is aimed at teenagers and there are a lot of them here, and kids, and babies with ear-guards – cool! The tent is an exclusive multimedia adventure zone by day but tonight it is all about Towers. I wander in to the tent and the Bristol teen four-piece have taken to the stage. “We’re an all-female band” proclaims the lead-singer, not strictly true the drummer is definitely a bloke – but genders aside this band are technically very proficient and on point. Bringing to mind the razor-sharpness of Foals with their angular guitars all four members strike their instruments as if they’re playing for their lives, maybe they are. The lead singer hollers with soul that gives rise to the ghost of Amy Winehouse and the attitude of Shingai Shoniwa and the band confuse and conquer an audience who don’t quite know what they have just witnessed but leave better off for having experienced it. I can’t help but imagine this band will be gracing much bigger stages in the not-too-distant future. Towers, remember the name.
And so to personal highlight of the festival – Fuck Buttons. Tonight heard by less than the billions who tuned in to the Olympics this time last year to hear them and side project Blanck Mass over everything from the parading of the flag to David Beckham passing the torch to Steve Redgrave, Fuck Buttons are going from strength to strength. Facing each other on stage separated by a mess of analog equipment and disco ball Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power are here to give the beard-strokers amongst us a lesson in dance. Washes of sound pulsate from the more than capable PA rig applying pressure to the chests and minds of several thousand who look on, tribal rhythms pound forth and asunder and casio keyboards loop and repeat to infinity like mantras calling to mind Kosmische heavyweights like Klaus Schulze and Dieter Moebius while never losing sight of the beat. Fuck Buttons bring the noise to a field in Wales and these ears leave the tent blessed and grateful for them and the Green Man’s existence.
Words by Terence Antony
Photos by Kate Fryer