This year was the 15th anniversary of Green Man, the bucolic festival set in the Brecon Beacons. It is – since the demise of Big Chill – my favourite festival venue, with its lush mountainous setting and main stage framed dramatically by the Black Mountains. For those short of stature (like myself), you’ll always have a good view of main-stage acts due to the steep rake of the amphitheatre, a perfect spot to laze about during those occasional sunny moments before the next rain shower drifts along.
The Mountain Stage may be Green Man’s focal point but, like last year, we found ourselves at the Far Out tent and the Walled Garden for much of the time. Thursday opened with a powerful, punchy set by BBC 6 Music favourites Bad Bad Not Good. Much-anticipated Ride followed. Their new release Weather Diaries contains some beautiful numbers such as the haunting Cali. The band played an impeccable set but they distanced themselves from the crowd. While I don’t expect artists to go overboard with the banter, some engagement with the crowd wouldn’t have gone amiss, especially as they had the honour of first headline act.
Krautrock-inspired W H Lung, who I was impressed by recently at Bluedot festival, opened proceedings at the Far Out tent on Friday – the Manchester project have kept a low profile but their strong material and distinctive sound mean they are getting noticed.
Next up was a blistering performance by Warm Digits, a clever, dancey set with impactful visuals. Later I wandered over to The Walled Garden, the perfect environment to enjoy a collection of insightful and thoughtful songs by troubadour Gill Landry, ex member of Old Crow Medicine Show.
British Sea Power defied the drizzle and brought the bears along for a hit-filled and very uplifting performance. Despite threatening to sing Sechs Freunde, BSP closed their set with a beautiful rendition of The Great Skua.
The Far Out tent was filled to capacity for Kate Tempest. She powered through her album Let Them Eat Chaos, to a crowd utterly transfixed by her, her material and her message.
Young Halifax-based garage band The Orielles have developed their sound over the past couple of years; their Walled Garden Sunday appearance was their best yet; the trio closed their set with the proggy 8-minute-long number Sugar Tastes like Salt, bringing their set to a rousing conclusion.
There have been criticisms of certain festivals for a lack of female artists, something you couldn’t accuse Green Man of, with headliner PJ Harvey and several girl bands in evidence. Aldous Harding played a mesmerising set, likewise Julia Jacklin, who I reviewed after her Bristol appearance.
I would never have thought you could fill the Mountain Stage area to capacity but it did feel that way for Michael Kiwanuka. I remember his 2012 appearance at Green Man just before Van Morrison headlined. His performance in the early evening was all the more dramatic for its simplicity and honesty.
On Sunday we loved the Allah-Las with their upbeat, sunny, jangly indie. I’m entranced by Wolf People and saw them twice last year, their prog-folk psychedelia harks back to the late 70s but they’ve moved on from their early more classic folk to a more muscular style, infused with drama, such as on Night Witch from latest album Ruins.
Food Green Man excels at offering imaginative and very varied food with plenty of veggie and vegan options (for meat eaters, there are venison, lamb and duck speciality stalls too). A popular stop for us on the way back to our tent at night was the crumpet stall for giant square crumpets doused with melting butter (the crispy pancetta choice looked especially delicious but I’ll have to wait for that next year). Vegan Junk Food served yummy fried cauliflower chunks in a rich tamari style sauce, topped with chilli. I’d go back to Green Man for the food alone.
Showers this year the campsite had excellent free showers with endless hot water, manned by friendly staff. The toilets were the cleanest I’ve seen too.
Activities There’s a workshop area where I once spent a blissful Sunday morning making organic hand cream; the activities this year seemed (sorry if this is sounding a bit sexist) to be of the more masculine persuasion – wood whittling and arrow making, where men were getting in touch with their inner warrior.
Haiku caravan: For those of poetic bent, there was the chance to write a haiku – and then either pin it up outside or blast it to all and sundry, by megaphone. I developed writer’s block despite the delightfully encouraging team – it is yet to be completed.
Are there any downsides to Green Man you may wonder? Well, for those of us without families in tow, the festival did seem a tad overrun by small children at times, especially in the Far Out tent, but as this is billed as a family festival, we could hardly complain. It also did seem more crowded than previous years.
For every act you saw at Green Man, you were not seeing someone else, FOMO in the extreme. I managed to miss Richard Dawson, Melt Yourself Down and Lift to Experience for starters. But as always, Green Man was an enjoyable few days in an especially beautiful part of the country. You return home having seen a few favourite acts and added a collection of new ones, artists to add to your gig roster, adding a note of cheer to the darkening days of autumn.