The rain’s back, but it can’t dampen the spirits as Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman revels in the delights at the Green Man Festival 2010.
Since 2003 the Green Man Festival has become one of the UK’s finest boutique festivals collecting together in one convenient and stunningly beautiful setting, a broad church of what could loosely be termed ‘folk’ music.
If this brings to mind all manner of hellish visions from Morris men to Clannad than you’d be mistaken for Green Man has in the past concerned itself with the more experimental end of things taking in the New Weird Americana of Devendra Banhart and Espers to the neo-psychedelia of Super Furry Animals and Animal Collective.
This year however things seem to be changing. Perhaps it’s a victim of its own success but a few of Green Man’s usual bankers are conspicuous by their absence. None of Fife’s exuberant Fence Collective (James Yorkeston, King Creosote, The Aliens) are here nor is there the usual slot reserved for older artists to get their well earned dues (the likes of Donovan, Pentangle and Rocky Eriksson have all played in recent years. Instead we’re left with a hotch potch of artists many of whom would be equally at home on the bill at the following week’s Reading Festival, leaving the folky gems that much harder to find.
One thing Green Man can usually guarantee is rain and as it began to fall steadily throughout Friday. Luckily there were highlights indoors over at the Far Out stage. O Children do their Joy Division/Bunnymen thing to much appreciation with front man Tobi O’Kandi a moody star in waiting.
Former Beta Band frontman Steve Mason produces the first spine tingling moment of the festival as he spontaneously pulls his band back on stage to encore with his old group’s classic Dry The Rain to appreciative bellowing from a thousand stoned thirty-somethings .
Back on the main stage John Grant plays a lovely set of damaged yet amusing ballads from his brilliant Queen of Denmark album while Beirut also impress with an irresistible combination of mariachi trumpets and Balkan folk.
Headliners Doves are left floundering in such surroundings with an uncharacteristic misfire of a set. Where inside venues, the likes of Pounding and The Cedar Room knock you sideways with their power and passion, a combination of rain and poor sound leave them sounding as weak as vocalist Jimi Goodwin‘s jokes.
Thankfully the clouds break a little on Saturday and the mood brightens with some outstanding performances across the site. Wolf People release their inner Jethro Tull with a wonderful set of English psych rock complete with mystical flutes, classic blues and tales of home counties murder.
Egyptian Hip Hop look young enough to have got in the festival for free but their updated version of Mancunian funk shows they’ve borrowed a few Happy Mondays records and put them to good use. Also from Manchester come Voice of the Seven Thunders who have changed a little since genius guitarist Rick Tomlinson first emerged trading as Voice of the Seven Woods.
Where before they dealt in John Fahey-esque acoustic soundscapes now with a full band and vocals from Tomlinson they’ve become Manchester’s own Mahavishnu Orchestra complete with any number of eastern-tinged guitar odysseys. Meanwhile over at the Green Man Pub Liverpool’s John Smith is showing why he could be folk’s next new star with his John Martyn-esque laments and a cheeky cover of Terence Trent D’arby’s Sign Your Name’.
So good is Saturday’s line up that I’m only able to catch a glimpse of the great These New Puritans and miss altogether one of 2010’s finest newcomers Wild Beasts. The reason? Billy Bragg of course. Bragg’s presence on the bill is a welcome reminder of folk’s traditional role as that of the music of protest – something conspicuously absent in the younger generation’s output – and the Bard of Barking plays a blinder tonight.
Full of anger he spits out Power In The Union but is just as tender when describing the human dramas of Milkman of Human Kindness or when dedicating an emotional New England to Kirsty MacColl.
If Bragg shows what can be done with just an electric guitar, a voice and a conscience, headliners Flaming Lips are a lesson in excess. I’ve always seen the Lips as something of a win for style over substance – if your songs were better would you need all the special effects?
Tonight though as Wayne Coyne surfs over the crowd in his giant trademark bubble, I’m completely won over. At times as the balloons fly into the air and confetti covers the crowd it all still feels a bit Rick Wakeman but when songs like Do You Realize tumble out into the night sky sung back at Coyne by thousands of grinning faces it’s hard not to join revelling in their majesty.
Sunday can’t help but feel like a comedown after Saturday night’s revelries but thankfully Je Suis Animal‘s fine blend of kraut rock, Stereolab and St Etienne makes for the perfect hair of the dog. Lone Wolf hint at something good but go all a bit Meat Loaf at the end of their set while Megafaun wearing matching basketball kits claim to have woken up that morning in Norway yet still turn in a great set of hoe down country.
Field Music are their ever reliable selves with their tuneful grab bag of new wave but it’s chart stars Mumford and Sons who draw the biggest crowd of the weekend, confirming their status as the new Levellers or if your feeling unkind the new Hothouse Flowers. Perhaps the most divisive of all the acts on over the weekend it’s hard to love a band that openly sport denim waistcoats but the fact they played the festival as an unsigned band just a few years before is emblematic of Green Man’s influence.
By the evening the rain returns and those that begin to drift tent-wards miss a stunning lesson in understated melancholy from Tindersticks. One of the UK’s finest bands for almost two decades their be-suited grandeur is a lovely antidote to the rising levels of mud.
‘When I came here I couldn’t wait to leave,‘ mumbled singer Stuart Staples. ‘But now I want to stay for ever‘. It’s a sentiment I can well understand.
Photographer: Al De Perez