Green Man 2015 @ Glanusk Estate, 20 – 23/08/2015

Green Man 2015Despite only being in its teens, Green Man has already built up a reputation as an intimate gem of a festival, seated delightfully in the valleys and invulnerable to the elements should they come. Or, as headliner Father John Misty puts it in his interview in the programme; Green Man is “a small boutique English festival…”, albeit in Wales. Certainly it has boutique, pagan qualities. Undeniably there is hemp and mushroom carving for those who want it, and certainly bands of perfectly formed children do roam around holding impromptu lectures on the superior ethical source of the quinoa they serve in their food stall behind the Druids Knee stage. Or do they?

On Friday, Calexico play a warm set on The Mountain Stage. A mix of old and new songs, some of the stompier numbers flirt with the tag of dad music, but stay the wrong (and therefore right) side of safe by dint of the band’s Spanish influence. At 10pm, and looking as if tonight he's happy to have been released from his crypt for his usual dinner of Lapwing’s blood, Mark E. Smith wobbles onto The Far Out stage to a reception of proudly cultish fervour. They play like The Fall play. That is, E. Smith lurches around the stage like an old crow in a schoolmaster’s funeral suit, freed from the moderate concerns of self-expression lesser artists embrace as cathartic scripture. He surveys the inevitable mosh pit with total indifference. He encourages his second drummer to teasingly donate a fan what looks like filo pastry, after dispassionately dismantling his kit. He is intelligible at one instance only - when repeating the line "I wannarr Facebook talkkkk" amid crushing feedback. Nice young men in the front row confer and wonder when he plans to grant them this opportunity. He is impossible to read; he mostly looks disgusted, but almost certainly he is actually having the greatest time. His guitarist won’t make eye contact with him and looks like he hasn't recovered from being told he plays too violently for Roxy Music, but not violently enough for The Fall. They disappear after an hour without a word. Compelling stuff. Possibly.

Hot Chip close The Mountain Stage on Friday with a very fun, polished set in the rain. Highlights are an extended "Over and Over" and observing the general bonhomie which clearly exists between them all. Sarah Jones looks supremely cool (as well as being the only band member who looks like she lives to play live) on drums; her arms metronomic, rapid and languid at the same time.

In The Walled Garden on Saturday afternoon, Richard Dawson gives possibly the performance of the festival to a couple of hundred audience members who see a man bellow sad, and in turn hilarious ballads and reworked folk poems about horses, death and drinking that are unfailingly affecting. His appearance as a man haunted by the material lends the atmosphere a reverence that is extraordinary.

Charles Bradley is Saturday’s towering preacher of light, to Father John Misty’s more drug savvy preacher on Sunday. Bradley is announced in awesome fashion by his drummer and changes into a glittery cloak halfway through his set, before being coaxed back by the same announcer. Bradley’s voice is astonishing and he looks close to tears at various points when calling for the crowd to never let their dreams die.

On Sunday, the rain stops after sending home the part timers and those whose height ensures puddles become health concerns. But by the afternoon, the sky has cleared and when Mathew E White wanders onstage to play a kicking set taken mostly from his acclaimed album Fresh Blood. People are hungry for some rock n’ roll. He is joined by the members of Deep Throat Choir for rousing closer "Rock and Roll is Cold".

Over in Far Out, Sylvan Esso are deeply likeable. Producer Nick Sanborn whirls his arms in exaggerated, Napoelon Dynamite like shapes as if trying to convince himself he can simultaneously dance with a dead arm and fend off wasps. They go very smoothly until Sanborn presses “the wrong button” on his Apple and brings the same song to a premature end (twice) and then detonates the two following songs in the same manner. Singer Amelia Meath handles it well (taking her line from how well the audience take the glitch, or perhaps from watching Mark E Smith insist on anarchy on the same stage the night before) but it’s somehow an appropriate end to their set. The Staves come onto The Mountain Stage at 7pm to blousy sunshine. A set of songs about cherry blossom, death and slow walks in autumn glades follow and their billing this late in the evening feels wrong.

For an hour and a half in the press tent on Sunday afternoon, Father John Misty has been happy to educate a journalist, attempting rudimentary privacy for his inquisition behind a ragged sheet hung from the ceiling. On a variety of subjects, Misty patiently demonstrates his cultural qualifications to the attendant dictaphone owner with a slow LA drawl. But at 8:45pm, it is a different man who prowls onto The Mountain Stage. A little friendly sexual innuendo after opener Honeybear and some veiled digs at the cost of those who claim to enjoy the missionary position, and Father John Misty opens his account at Green Man 2015. Misty reckoned I Love You Honeybear to be a “dud” but the songs are undeniably brilliant. His in-between song manner is a little dry and cool (ironically, given how much warts he allows into his songs) and without knowing Tillman’s personal history, he appears a man in search of a cult to lead and tremendously self-conscious. Whereas to those who do know his personal history, he simply appears a drummer finally allowed to be a front man. And tremendously self-conscious. He leaves the stage to rapturous declarations of love after singing such songs himself.

Misty is followed by St Vincent, recently designated acceptably weird by Vogue. Playing a bombastic set, her light display is reminiscent of Queen’s dictum that the audience be stunned into submission. She is technically virtuosic, to the point of being outrageously discordant at times; mesmeric and extraordinarily precise in her movements.

Her performance is a wonderful reminder (as if needed) of the extraordinary variety of musical riches that pass through these fields in such a short period of time. It commands a certain intimacy that the larger festivals inevitably lose amid the crush of vague bodies. We are immensely lucky to have it so close. Long may it continue.

Green Man has a forthcoming beer & ale festival ‘Courtyard’, taking place 10-13 Sept, and it’s free! Info here: http://courtyard.greenman.net
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