Green Man Festival 2008

Glanusk Park, Brecon Beacons. 15-17 August

Green Man Festival 2008

Photographer: Trevor Eales20 August 2008

The sight of a group of friends stubbornly keeping the previous night's party alive is nothing new, but oblivious to this drunken scene are the three little boys splashing about in the stream in front of them, watched on by their mother, her face glistening with fresh glitter.
Set in the glorious Glanusk Park, near Abergavenny, Green Man is a labour of love originally set up as a quaint 300 capacity festival in 2003 by Jo and Danny from, err, It's Jo and Danny. Crowd numbers have since risen to 10,000, causing some to fear the festival may begin to lose it's unique boutique feel. It's a credit to the Green Man team then that the enigmatic vision prevails, ensuring a glorious atmosphere where conifers sparkle with fairy lights and bubbles mix with the smiles of thousands of skipping children, floating through the air and up into the Beacons.

Of course, it being the Welsh hills crow-black clouds threatening to create carnage stir constantly above the site all weekend. Not that you would know from the persistent grins you see wherever you go. Whether it's the inspired bill of Americana and leftfield indie, the bubbles or the sight of mums and dads in Sonic Youth shirts, the ambience feels like Jo and Danny have stumbled across a key leyline that channels positivity and great music.

Or maybe it's a chakra buried beneath the main stage, because the affective energy that Truckers of Husk's instrumental intricacy creates is a magnificent way to kick start the weekend. 'Panther Party' sounds like Ennio Morricone duelling with Dick Dale, but it's the haunting chorus of (appropriately titled) 'Greenman Singalong' that resonates long after they've left the stage.

Green Man nicely ensures pre-teens are catered for with puppet shows and gargoyle-making in the kids field, before their folks drag them over to next door's Folky Dokey for the tempting noise of Fuck Buttons and Magik Markers. Magik Markers' Sunday performance is threatening and relentless enough to give even grown-ups nightmares. But Fuck Buttons' delicious take swirls with the kind of fantasy and dark wonder that suggests Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine being mixed together by Guillermo Del Toro.

After Drive By Truckers' blistering country'n'roll, Friday closes with Spiritualized, Jason Pierce expertly morphing the gospel of 'Come Together' and 'Soul On Fire' with a heavy, psychedelic rush that harks back to his own days with Spacemen 3.

Saturday opens with a dad, a pram and a hill. Pram, complete with child, is repeatedly sprinted down the hill overlooking the main stage by dad - watched by an amused Zoe Ball and Norman Cook. Later, the Celebrity Green Man Olympics will continue with Rhys Ifans hopping through the crowd, dressed head to toe in bin bags, before Super Furry Animals deny the rain any superiority with a storming set and a gorgeous 'Juxtaposed With U'.

Bristol's Babel create an absorbing, but slightly chilling, folk which follows the same route as DeVotchKa. Their Saturday main stage set is a joy. 'Police Car' is endearing, while new single 'Make Your Bed' is a stirring romp with the same mischievous glint in the eye as Nick Cave.

Archie Bronson Outfit's last album, Derdang Derdang, was recorded in Tennessee with Kings of Leon producer Jacquire King, which should give an idea of the brooding intensity that these marvellously-bearded fellows deliver live. King has also engineered most of Tom Waits 21st Century output, and alongside their southern gothic rock, driving blues and garage, there's an intriguing attention to the same dark, gruelling tales that fascinate Waits.

By the time Badly Drawn Boy takes the tiny stage at the courtyard of the Green Man Café, the clouds have been chucking everything they can at us for most of the day. Yet it's hard to find a single sour face on the soggy figures as they sway in the rain to a startling 'The Shining'.

Sunday brings sun, those freshly-awake kids splashing about in streams and singers jumping into the crowd. First Gareth from Los Campesinos takes advantage of the main stage's welcome lack of security (how often do you see that at a festival?), to dive-in to the enthusiastically-welcomed set. Then, during a brooding and graceful hour from The National - by far one of the finest bands of the weekend - Matt Berninger takes a beaming shaven-headed man and hugs the life out of him during a rapturous 'Mr November'.
A few hours ahead of her own rapturous main stage performance, Laura Marling joins Mumford and Sons for a blinding set of joyous bluegrass, country and folk. In classic Green Man fashion, as they play their riveting Americana, a tiny field mouse pokes out from a hole in tree next to stage, gives the band a curious glance and scurries back home.
With her short sailor dress and super-long eyelashes, Beth Jeans Houghton strikes a beguiling figure, effectively matched by a bittersweet vocal delivery that is somewhere between Jenny Lewis, Keren Ann, Nico and Joni Mitchell. The light build and fluffy coo's of 'Milk Bottles' are one of the highlight of the day. Even the excellent Simone White on the main stage can't better such a colourful performance.

The Peth couldn't be further apart from such sweetness. Gnarly, raucous and debauched as wild dogs, their MC5-orientated, lager-fuelled take on 70s rock is fronted by the swagger of Rhys Ifans, taking time off from acting duties. They are shambolic, messy and absolutely fascinating, Ifans wandering around the stage like a lost Shaun Ryder, chucking a beer keg into the audience with the cheek and arrogance of Liam Gallagher.

Half the audience looks confused, wondering if they should own up to disliking the debacle. The other half is loving it, admiring the sentiment of a gang of mates honestly revelling in their own filth and mischief. Or 'Let's Go Fucking Mental', as their debut single puts it.

After the filth of The Peth the heart-rendering acoustic and hushed, delicate tones of Iron and Wine is like a warm cwtch from your mam after grazing your knee (as we say in Wales). And if it's tempting to drift off listening to Samual Beam's soothing vocals. It's even harder watching Pentangle close a wondrous weekend with their psychedelic folk and not think you're floating off into the Beacons with the bubbles.

by Kai Jones

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