Green Man Festival 2016 @ Brecon Beacons, 18 – 21/08/2016

Green Man Festival 2016What better spot for a lo fi, folk and indie festival than the rolling hills of the Brecon Beacons in Wales? Tucked away from everything in the Black Mountains, Green Man Festival 2016 exudes the air of a calm and relaxing retreat. It’s not just the lovely vibe that Green Man has going for it: it’s got a huge line-up, to boot. This year boasts headline slots from James Blake, Laura Marling, Belle & Sebastian and Wild Beasts that certainly cast away the 'small festival' label.

Thursday evening only has a smattering of bands to gently ease us into the long weekend. Cigarettes After Sex are the first on my bill and bring a lovely, mellow calm to the otherwise lively line-up of the Far Out tent. Their cover of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You” is warmly received by the gentle crowd, as is a mix of old tracks from I and tracks from an upcoming album.

The Chai Wallahs’ tent is a whole different vibe altogether. Mixing ska with reggae and jazz, Chai Wallah offers something for everybody’s fancy. Leicester ska act, By The Rivers, lead the festival into the dusk with a fast-paced and energetic set.

Thursday night headliners are indie band, Wild Beasts. Following a 20 minute delay due to faulty lighting, we get an appearance from festival organiser, Fiona Stewart, who riles the Far Out tent into a frenzy. Not that she really needs to: the Green Man Festival 2016 clientele seem pretty laid back, and happy enough to sit and wait for the lights to work, rather than bitch and moan until the band adjourns the stage. When they do it’s worth the wait, with some colourful lighting effects that could have been taken straight from new album artwork, Boy King. Ending their set on “All The King’s Men”, it’s clear Wild Beasts are what the crowd have been waiting all Thursday for.

Friday morning and feeling fresh as a daisy, we find Tony Njoku on the first slot for the Mountain Stage. Green Man’s Rising Award winner has a really unusual voice but is very aesthetically pleasing. Tony’s emotional and impassioned singing, and his humble gratitude for the turn out, makes for a lovely start to the day.

The weather takes a turn from sun to storm, and we take shelter in the Babbling Tongues tent, just in time for Pete Brown’s Beer and Music Symposium. You may wonder what kind of magic joins beer and music together, and Pete Brown has found it. Pete matches his fave tracks to specially chosen beers, explaining the actual science behind his choices (though this can be taken with a pinch of salt). It may have been far too much beer for that early in the morning, but who’s to say?

The selection of beers in the talk can be bought from the beer and cider tents splattered around the festival. Offering over 100 different craft beers, ales and ciders, Green Man take festival drinking to a new, sophisticated level... And at prices that don’t break the bank; I can’t remember the last festival I went to where you could get a pint for £4.

Connan Mockasin are on next and their performance is as strange as you’d imagine it to be. Wearing a silver shiny tracksuit, he taunts the crowd with seductive hips and over-head-jacket-spinning. His guitar missing half of its body, he closes his set with “Forever Dolphin Love”, blowing kisses into the crowd. Floating Points takes over at the Far Out stage, bringing with him the cyclical and hypnotic lasers he’s come to trademark. The synths seem quiet though, prompting someone nearby to rightfully assert that “you shouldn’t be able to have a conversation during a Flo Po gig."

Going from heavy strobes to haunting vocals, James Blake closes the Friday with a chillingly good set. The bleak rainy mountains paired with Blake’s long winding synths fit all too perfectly. He pulls material from all three albums, with an appearance from “Lindesfarne” among newer material from The Colour in Anything. Accompanied by two musicians and a stage adorned with ethereal lights, James rounds off the perfect performance with “Wilhelm Scream”.

Hangovers vanish after an early morning Saturday Bloody Mary with the press team and Fiona Stewart, Green Man owner. I catch up with her somewhere quieter, where we talk wasp stings and dog paddles (interview to come).

We shoot off to see FEWS, the band that have just released their debut album with Dan Carey of Speedy Wunderground. They politely profess their shock at the size of the crowd; “This tent is basically full, fuck,” prompting a photographer down in the pit to get on stage and take a photo of the audience instead. They finish their set with “Ill”, the 8-minute-long track that sealed their debut album deal.

The sun’s out as we head to the Walled Garden stage which perfects Green Man’s cutesy village fete atmos with a large enclosed area, and a floraly decorated stage. We catch BC Camplight here, who’s also pleasantly surprised at the sheer niceness of the stage area. Following a cancellation due to deportation last year, they show Green Man exactly what they missed out on, drawing heavily on the new-ish, aptly named album, How To Die In The North. Their songs are sung back to them from the crowd, prompting an invite to a party in their tent later.

Having been riding on the well-earned success of Howlin’ for nearly three years now, Jagwar Ma are up next on the Far Out stage. Granting us a glimpse of new songs to come at the Far Out tent, the crowd is excited for the promise of new material from the Australian trio.

Saturday’s headliner requires no screens or fancy lighting. Laura Marling recreates the feeling of an intimate gig with a completely stripped back performance and solitary white lighting. But from the far end of the Mountain stage, the lack of screen proves to be more of an annoyance than anything. The bowl shape of the main stage helps though, creating an enclosed space for her chilled and quiet set, closing her third performance at Green Man beautifully.

The next morning entails a cup of tea and a Mojo interview with Belle & Sebastian in the Babbling Tongues tent. The lax interview proves that although they’ve achieved headline status and have been group for 20+years, Belle & Sebastian are still so grounded. Despite the interviewer driving hard questions for a windy Sunday morning, the band remained collected and show that they did things “because they wanted to, and not because anyone else was doing them."

Gengahr and Slow Club introduce the afternoon on the Mountain Stage, bringing with them all the chill you need from the last day of a festival. Amber Arcades follows the same tread with an intimate set at the tiny Rough Trade tent. With just one guitarist accompanying her, the Rough Trade tent is deadly silent and her voice is given the solitude it excels in.

Moving on to psychedelic rock, Unknown Mortal Orchestra have come a long way since the release of II. They blend their set list with heavy drum and keyboard solos with silhouette lighting before a seamless intro in the next song that is performed to perfection. Ruban himself climbs up onto staging rig at the side of the stage during final track, “Can’t keep checking my phone”.

Warpaint’s eerie tones are next to echo round the Black Mountains with a beautiful set list, showcasing the American quartet’s live gig talents. Only one of 2 UK festival appearances this summer, they showcase their brilliantly titled new song, “New Song” plus a plethora of tracks from Warpaint and The Fool to boot.

Bringing the whole festival to a close is the delightful Belle & Sebastian. Celebrating 20 years since their release of Tiger Milk and If You’re Feeling Sinister, Belle & Sebastian overwhelm the Mountain Stage with their 7 band members and instruments for a show that’s been in the making for years. During “The Boy With The Arab Strap”, Stuart Murdoch welcomes a couple of stranglers at the front up onto the stage. Before he knows it, there are at least 100 people up there with him. Completely reiterating the cute festival vibes, the stage invasion ends the festival in the most fitting fashion albeit a bit cheesy.

Green Man Festival is, above anything, a lot of fun. It combines the best things about both small and large festivals without feeling overly small or large. There are no ungodly queues for anything, no overwhelming crowds, no overpriced corporate bullshit. But it’s still as lively and bustling as some of the larger UK festivals. The village fete ideal is brought to life, with more hay bales and bunting than you can shake a stick at. It’s also more than family friendly; its family welcoming, with a cute garden for the kids and tons of kiddie activities which often makes it so cute you could vom. There are no sponsors of the festival, no profit quota to fill and no artist label running it. By every meaning of the word, Green Man Festival 2016 is independent. But it doesn’t just offer a generally better festival experience; it’s a weekend filled with some of the best musicians around right now. With their 15 year anniversary approaching next year and the promise of a ‘big one’ floating around, I can safely say that Green Man is one to go to.

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