"Continuing to embrace the the left of the dial while retaining a maverick Welsh spirit"
Dean Hodge reviews some of the highlight acts from this year’s Green Man Festival held on 16 – 19 August 2018. (Photography by Nick Evans)
The imposing sight of the famous green figure in the middle of the site, surrounded by a sea of spectators adorned with glitter on their faces and stack cups in hand, is the unmistakable sight that once again greets me (and photographer Nick Evans) upon arrival at Green Man for my fourth visit here in as many years.
But one part of the festival that has become so synonymous with each of my previous three visits here is missing this year though – the rain. Green Man and wet weather is a natural marriage that has become so ingrained in each of my previous visits here, that it is almost difficult for me to get used to what is actually for once a mostly hot and dry weekend in the Brecon Beacons – to the extent that I actually leave the festival more bronzed rather than soaked.
But a far more important characteristic of Green Man has remained and that is the quality of the music. For a festival that firmly embraces the left of the dial while retaining a maverick Welsh spirit, this year’s Thursday night headliners are a natural fit for both of these reasons. The music of London’s Public Service Broadcasting is a compelling concept in itself – with instrumental kraut-rock grooves interspersed with samples of public information films, and in the confines of the Far Out Stage accompanied by old film footage on each screen. Furthermore, their second album Every Valley celebrates and mourns the rise and decline of the Welsh coal mining industry.
PSB are a interesting concept for sure and their headline billing is a summation of the ability of Green Man to celebrate the leftfield side of the music scene. But while the inventive use of samples put to music grabs my attention for the first two songs, I am not how well the concept translates to a live setting and in my opinion, it is not a natural headline performance.
(Grizzly Bear, Mountain Stage)
The same verdict can be applied to many of the Mountain Stage headliners this year in my opinion such as Australian psych-punk rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, who return to headline the Mountain Stage on Friday just two years after their last Green Man performance. You’d be hard pressed to think of any other festival (in the world) that would give such a prestigious slot to a band who, even after a career spanning eight years and a highly prolific output (thirteen albums to be precise), are still largely unheard of in most quarters.
In all fairness that may largely be down to the chaotic blend of genres within their sound which, while it can make for intriguing listening and usually succeeds in driving spectators into body-shaking delirium – as it did at their last appearance and as it does on this showing – it can at times be too much to chew on.
No doubt though that they fully make the most of a rare headline slot with an enthrallingly energetic performance – even if their pre-performance interview in the Babbling Tongues Talking Shop tent feels like a wasted opportunity. The singer reduced to just fielding banal questions from the audience instead on such fascinating subjects such as his favourite Simpsons episode and the old cliché of what his favourite album he has ever recorded is (as if most artists can even answer that).
For me personally, the first proper highlight comes on Saturday with the electrifying turn of homegrown heroes Boy Azooga in the Far Out Stage. Hailing from further down the road in Cardiff, the band fish out every one of their musical influences that they can just about cram in – among them acts as varied as Sly & The Family Stone, Black Sabbath, Outkast, and The Beastie Boys – and dish out hook after foot-stomping hook wrapped up in their heady blend of sultry riffs and disco-tinted grooves.
(Teenage Fanclub, Farout Stage)
Frontman Davey Newington cuts a charismatic figure at front of stage, with a finely-tuned ear for a melody distilled into him by a music-dominated upbringing – his parents both met while performing in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The band as a whole are a tight ship musically and Newington is the pivot for the band’s tightly-knit grooves.
They take things up a notch for the finale with the addition of Monico Blonde axeman Jack Butler, the brass section of Afro Cluster and local legend Jeffrey ‘Big Jeff’ Johns – a man that has become just as much of a mascot of Green Man as the eponymous figure himself and whom no annual visit to the festival would be complete without the sight of him at the front of the crowd moving to the music with mettlesome abandon.
Those iconic moves (complete with maracas in hand) are the perfect counterpart to the resulting supergroup’s barnstorming cover of Jungle Boogie by Kool & The Gang (familiar to many for its inclusion on the Pulp Fictionsoundtrack) – with the audience adding to the fun by joining in a sit-down dance towards the end. A dynamic performance by a band clearly enjoying every minute of their golden opportunity, and fully embracing the interaction between act and audience that has become an essential part of the Green Man ethos.
(Goat Girl, Walled Garden Stage)
Another part of that ethos is that you will never fail to find at least one act that, having slipped under your radar for so long, becomes your surprise discovery of the weekend and a new favourite band. This year, that honour is bestowed upon Brixton post-punk quartet Goat Girl. Lead singer Lottie Pendlebury‘s (also going by the awesome alias Clottie Cream) dry lyrical delivery is laced with stark guitar hooks and murky melodies. The resulting aural tapestry is a perfect pairing of punk and poise – most notably on single The Man – and forms a soundtrack for the angst felt by the modern generation, with the matured spectre of classic punk imbued in Lottie’s wry vocal.
It is easy to see why Saturday Mountain Stage headliners Fleet Foxes would be a popular choice of headliner given that their soaring heart-worn-on-sleeve indie-folk ballads seems to suit the festival’s vibe perfectly. It’s hard to completely criticise their performance as musically there is nothing to fault. But in the context of being a headline band, it feels more like watching a band warming up for the final act than being the main attraction themselves. They just don’t seem to naturally own the headline slot at all.
For a band that came from the Creation Records roster curated by the great maverick Alan McGee, Scottish indie veterans Teenage Fanclub perhaps don’t possess the same wild reputation as their Creation contemporaries Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis. However, they do possess the yang side of the Creation coin in abundance which is pristine melodies and incandescent harmonies. In contrast to Fleet Foxes, the Far Out headliners do at least have a fistful of great tunes to backup their billing – three decades worth of tunes in fact – and they put in a performance of pure jangle-pop joy.
As the concluding Sunday comes around quicker than it takes for the number of spectators adorned with glitter to multiply – and the glitter mob is in fine force this year – US neo-soul artist Curtis Harding graces the Mountain Stage with his psychedelic soul approach to R’n’B. Within his husky vocal delivery are hints of the classic soul singers of old, which are dusted off and distilled to give a new voice to the modern generation. The music he makes sweats with the spirit of old soul, but beats with the heart of modern pop.
One of the standout moments of the set comes when Harding asks what has happened to the sun and addresses it to come out from behind the clouds. His plea is answered with perfect poignancy as the yellow beam of light emerges to the ebullient earth-shaking melody of Keep On Shining – a modern northern-soul anthem that could just as easily be a tribute to the glitter-glazed spectators who applaud with aplomb.
It is easy to see why Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are stirring up a critical storm. Adopting a more-is-more ethos and a triple-salvo guitar assault, the Aussie quintet blend intoxicating riffs with sobering jangle-pop melodies – with single Talking Straight being a particular live highlight. Perhaps the best way to label them would be a workingman’s Smiths with the low-key bite of Violent Femmes and the anarchic energy of The Libertines.
(Anton Newcombe, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Far Out Stage)
US psych-pop purists Grizzly Bear – barely visible in a cloud of dry ice on the Mountain Stage – craft music that is just as misty and mysterious as their stage design, with cotton-draped melodies drifting above soaring electro-pop textures. Recent single Mourning Sound is a memorable high point of their set with its slinky synth-pop riffs, immediately followed by the recognisable hook of Two Weeks.
As Green Man edges closer to its fiery finale, I am met once again with the inevitable dilemma of who I should see out of the two final headliners so cruelly scheduled at the same time. While The War On Drugs on the Mountain Stage is pitched hard to me, for me there is one band I have anticipated above every other act. That is US neo-psychedelic punk outlaws and Far Out Stage headliners The Brian Jonestown Massacre – a band who not only embody the rock ‘n’ roll ethos but drive it to new depths of debauchery
My confidently informed decision is rewarded with a tour-de-force performance by the San Francisco collective. Percussionist Joel Gion looks every bit the consummate rock’n’roll star with his impressive mutton-chops and glassy-eyed gaze – and surely marks the only time in Green Man history that a tambourine player has stolen the central spotlight. Band chief Anton Newcombe patrols proceedings from the left flank and is the orbit round which the band’s tight-but-loose grooves gravitate. From the reverberated riffs of Pish to the tremolo guitar chime of When Jokers Attack, BJM transform the Far Out tent into a simmering cauldron of chaos and cool. I even go as far as to say it is my favourite performance not just from the weekend, but in all the four years I have attended Green Man.
A kaleidoscope of noise concludes a notably fiery turn from the band and on the subject of all things fiery, the festival itself finishes with the iconic burning of the Green Man himself – celebrated by many as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. For that reason, it is a fitting finale to a festival that, with each passing year, unfailingly retains the same maverick streak that has made it a highlight in many a festival calendar for the past sixteen years. Here is hoping the flame continues to burn brightly for many more years to come.
(Public Service Broadcasting, Far Out Stage)
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