GREEN MAN 2014
Set on the picturesque Glanusk Estate in the Brecon Beacons, Green Man is a breath of fresh air in the festival scene. Its decidedly unpretentious and friendly atmosphere resonates through every aspect of the festival, making for an unforgettable experience year after year. For its 12th edition, the festival featured a particularly strong line-up with performances from Neutral Milk Hotel, Sharon Van Etten, The War on Drugs, Beirut and many more. It would be somewhat reductive, however, to say that Green Man is just about great live music.
Whatever your age and disposition, the festival has something in store for you. Amongst other things this year, you were invited to sample any of the 99 varieties of ales, ciders and perries at Green Man's very own Beer and Cider Festival. Those in an acrobatic mood could book a trapeze lesson at the Strumpets with Crumpets van or watch their burlesque show to the sound of Tom Waits while eating tasty crumpets. Wandering through Einstein's Garden, you might have found yourself roped in one of the wildlife walks or watched the Ugly Animal Roadshow at the Omni Tent. On Saturday, music journalist Bob Stanley and The Times’ former chief rock critic Pete Paphides welcomed you to take part in their pop quiz at the Babbling Tongues tent, while the Cinedrome offered to take you back to your childhood with the Muppet Movie. You could play Scrabble with the Oh Comely magazine team, or go put a coin in for Pip, the human jukebox with an impressive repertoire ranging from Elliott Smith to MIA and even Ariel the Mermaid. Art in all its forms was ever present at Green Man with NoFit State Circus and National Theatre Wales part of the experience this year. Finally, there was plenty on offer to satisfy your tastebuds, from Goan fish curry to wild boar hotdogs and even lobster rolls.
All this, added to remarkable weather conditions, made for the perfect setting to enjoy a particularly rich lineup throughout the weekend.
Green Man Rising competition winners Wildest Dreams have the honour to officially kick off festivities on the Mountain Stage, followed by Norwegian quintet Highasakite, who supported London Grammar on their North American tour earlier this year. The band delivers a particularly mesmerising performance topped by impeccable vocals from charismatic frontwoman Ingrid Helene Håvik.
The evening is spent going back and forth between the Mountain Stage (Augustines, Daughter, Beirut) and the Far Out tent (Poliça, Mac Demarco, Caribou). Green Man's clever scheduling means that these don't clash entirely and if you move fast enough between stages you can catch all of them.
Augustines arrive on stage under a bright blue sky, very suited to the band's first hit 'Chapel Song'. The crowd breaks into a 'happy birthday' song for frontman Billy McCarthy and band's co-founder Eric Sanderson, prompting them to joke 'Okay, so you can sing. Now can you dance?' before going on to deliver a set full of energy. Visibly delighted by the crowd's response, the band succeeds in its aim to have us forget about the news and celebrate summer and music, as announced a few songs into their set.
A little later, a packed tent awaits Poliça, who play an almost uninterrupted flow of songs with Channy Leaneagh's vocals consistently rising above the bass and percussion of their dub/trip-hop tunes.
Next are Daughter, welcomed on the Mountain Stage by rapturous applause. The band has grown in confidence since playing the intimate Walled Garden back in 2012 but they remain humble. 'We're a bit quiet, but that's just who we are,' they tell the crowd as they run through songs from debut album 'If You Leave', accompanied by an audience sing-along during breakthrough hit 'Youth'.
Meanwhile back at the Far Out tent, it is a very different atmosphere. Mac DeMarco, mainly playing material from his latest album 'Salad Days', concludes his energetic set on 'Still Together' and ends up jumping backwards into the crowd after climbing up the tent's scaffolding.
Back on the Mountain Stage, headliner Beirut bring their brass-filled music to Glanusk just as a huge orange moon can be seen rising behind the trees. The air is crisp and 'Santa Fe', 'Elephant Gun' and 'A Sunday Smile' are a welcome invitation to dance and be merry, thus celebrating a superb first day at Green Man.
Those who happened to miss Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains the previous day can head to a catch-up acoustic session with the French five-piece at the Rough Trade tent. Their catchy tunes, which frontman François Marry introduces as 'breakfast music', are a mix of pop and African beats, and the perfect way to start the day.
A little later, we're told it's time to swoon and fall in love with Angel Olsen as she is introduced to the Mountain Stage. Despite what her name evokes, Angel is looking ever so slightly austere. Interacting fairly little with the audience, the 27-year-old folk/country singer-songwriter remains focused on her pitch-perfect vocals throughout her set in front of an audience who, far from minding her seemingly blasée attitude, has come in large numbers to watch her.
In the afternoon, Woman's Hour are on at Far Out. Surrounded by white 3D pyramids that match the cover of their debut album 'Conversations', the London-based pop four-piece delivers a smooth set of indie synth pop, reminiscent of the XX at times.
Ought offer a change of scenery as they take their Canadian punk to the stage, for the delight of the compact crowd under the tent. Their music oscillates somewhere between the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, with hints of Violent Femmes. Charismatic frontman Tim Beeler gives a particularly riveting performance on ‘Today More Than Any Other Day’, a spoken word song and the band’s debut album’s title track.
Next on is Sharon Van Etten, arguably the loveliest act of the day. Looking perfectly comfortable on the Mountain Stage, she cracks jokes about aiming for the stars and hitting the ceiling. Van Etten gives a heartfelt performance featuring mostly songs from the critically-acclaimed 'Are We There'. Hamilton Leithauser, who played earlier on the same stage, joins her for a duet of 'Everytime The Sun Comes Up', marking the end of her set.
It is night time by the time The War on Drugs take to the Mountain Stage in front of a packed audience, and launch into their set with 9-minute track "Under the Pressure". Adam Granduciel is wearing a t-shirt from Brittany-based festival La Route du Rock, where the band played earlier that weekend, and jokes about not knowing how to use his pedal. Yet the band's performance is flawless throughout and the audience is left wanting more.
The evening finishes with sets from headliners Mercury Rev (Mountain Stage), Slint (Far Out) and East India Youth (Walled Garden).
After a notable absence of rain for two consecutive days, Green Man wakes up to brief showers but the ominous grey clouds soon give way to spectacular blue skies.
At midday, Vancouver Sleep Clinic are on at Far Out. Singer-songwriter Tim Bettinson’s delicate falsetto works beautifully with the band’s ethereal sound and hearing the lyrics of ‘Stakes’, it is difficult to believe that Bettinson is only 17. The Brisbane frontman repeatedly thanks the audience for coming out to watch them, explaining they expected they would be playing to no more than ten people.
Other Lives are on next at the Mountain Stage. With cinematic music perfectly suited to the idyllic surroundings, the multi-instrumentalist five-piece effortlessly goes through complex compositions. The band’s rich instrumentation is showcased beautifully on songs like ‘For 12’, ‘Tamer Animals’ and ‘Dust Bowl III’, which ends their set.
Later on at the Walled Garden, Australian-born singer-songwriter Ry X (real name Ry Cuming) starts his set in front of a sat-down audience after tying a rosary to his mic, matching the one around his wrist. Performing with eyes closed, Ry X delivers a set of sad atmospheric tunes verging on the spiritual. Debut single 'Berlin' leaves him teary, and Ry X thanks the Green Man crowd for having him there in the wild and for creating 'such beautiful energy'.
First Aid Kit, another act that started out at the Walled Garden back in 2010, are next on the Mountain Stage. Supporting their latest opus 'Stay Gold', the Swedish sisters have revamped the stage with a gold curtain and are wearing matching golden outfits. Despite two covers and a set somewhat polarised between cheesy ballads ('Blue', 'Waitress Song') and darker, powerful laments ('Wolf', 'Lion's Roar', 'Silver Lining'), the country-folk duo sway the crowd with their pitch-perfect harmonies throughout.
Reformed Neutral Milk Hotel will soon be playing to a packed audience. For now the screens on either side of the Mountain Stage warn that no pictures or videos shall be taken and remain off for the whole performance. Singer Jeff Mangum opens the much-awaited set with a solo version of 'Two-Headed Boy' before the rest of the band joins him on stage. The crowd is ecstatic as NMH launch into 'Holland, 1945', singing along and dancing vigorously to virtually every song of the set. The band's epic performance is the perfect climax to the festival. Mangum, describing Green Man as a 'very real, very humane' festival, thanks the audience for what has been a 'truly moving experience', prompting spontaneous group hugs in the crowd. The band leaves after playing 'Engine', described as a ‘lullaby for everyone to have sweet dreams'.
"Make path to my verdant heart, I am all and urge you burn"
As is the tradition after the headliner on Sunday night, people rush up the hill next to Chai Wallahs to watch the burning of the Green Man, followed by fireworks under a starlit sky.
It has gone past midnight by the time Simian Mobile Disco take over the Far Out tent for their After Dark DJ set while Feeling Gloomy DJ Cliff Gloom invests the Walled Garden, playing the best of melancholic indie music, from the Pet Shop Boys to Blur and The Strokes. The set ends at 3pm with The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" and while the most enduring will head straight to Chai Wallahs for the rest of the night, there is a sense that Green Man is truly coming to an end.
More than just a music festival, Green Man is a mindset; other revellers a chosen family. And as the monday morning packing ritual starts under blue skies, many say goodbye to Glanusk with the implicit promise of being back next year.
Published by: Naouel Zenaidi