Green Man Festival 2009: Rated!
Glanusk Park, Brecon Beacons, Wales - 21-23 August
Bon Iver: 'goosebump-inducing'
- Photographer:Mike Gatiss
Francis Whittaker - 26 August 2009
Overall - 9.5/10
Any former or current student of GCSE Geography will tell you that the Welsh mountains are notorious for almost constant hissing rain. As such, prior editions of Green Man, set in the heart of the soggy Brecon Beacons, have universally had to deal with the baggage of unrelenting downpours, soup-like mud and the ensuing churned-up festival site.
As the temporary inhabitants of Glanusk Park wake up on Friday to the clattering of raindrops on canvas - and in many cases the sodden discomfort of a leaking tent - they very much fear the worst. However, moments before the first band take to the stage, the raven-black clouds part with such suddenness that all of those below share a moment of bleary-eyed disbelief, before smiling at each other, removing their ponchos and looking forward to a largely rain-free weekend.
Being able to boast fine weather means that Green Man 2009 can finally tick the last box in offering the complete boutique festival experience. With an imaginative line-up of high-quality bands that straddles the very best of alternative music, combined with a beautiful mountainside setting that has rightfully been described as ‘the best field in Britain’ by The Times, organisers Jo and Danny are already onto a winner.
Add into the mix an unending list of charming little touches, such as the delicious and extensive array of real cider, ale and good food, the five kilometers of pretty garland lighting, the processions of druids, the late-night bonfires, the laid back stewarding, the beautiful rose gardens, the shisha and tea-filled chai tent, clean toilets, an impressive firework display and the end-of-weekend burning of a giant Green Man (I could go on) and you’re well and truly in festival dreamland.
Much like the above 30-foot effigy of the mythological figure from which the event gets its name, Green Man is beginning to tower head and shoulders above its competitors. Superbly organised, relaxed and friendly, Green Man is now an essential part of the festival calendar, and is becoming an almost religious pilgrimage for anyone with even a passing interest in new-folk and alternative music.
Getting there and back - 5/10
If you live reasonably close to the festival site, it’s probably fairly easy to get to and from Glanusk Park. However, it is a nightmare for those taking the train from further afield. There are severe delays on the Paddington-Newport line on the Thursday, while Arriva Trains have the fantastic idea of ignoring the inevitable influx of thousands of people wanting to use the Newport-Abergavenny line. A tiny service of two carriages leaves many festival-goers unable to fit on the packed train.
That said the free shuttle buses to and from the station are a godsend, and a nice touch from the festival organisers.
Atmosphere - 9/10
The folky bill of music, relaxed attitude of the stewards and the family-orientated environment gives Green Man a peaceful, mellow and - above all - welcoming atmosphere. Pre-teens toddle, giggle and blow bubbles beneath the feet of older festival-goers woozy on independently-brewed scrumpy with no problems at all, and the overall feeling is of a mass-meeting of like-minded, friendly music fans all out to mingle and have a good time together.
Site - 10/10
The strikingly green hills of the Brecon Beacons that tower behind the main stage must be one of the best backdrops of any festival in the world and the way Glanusk Park itself is used as a festival site is nothing short of magical.
Stages can be found in the ivy-covered walled courtyards of the estate’s outhouses or in highly-manicured garden areas decorated with bunting and fairy lights. It also has one of the most audience-friendly main stage areas around. The man-made grass terraces at the far end of the field mean that even those choosing to sit at the back have an excellent view.
It is highly navigable, there is always something interesting to see or explore and it manages to achieve that difficult balance of feeling both being super-intimate and extremely spacious at the same time. The aforementioned gushing superlatives from The Times might not be far off the mark…
Music - 9/10
While ostensibly a folk festival, Green Man also takes in its fair share of top notch Americana, alt-rock and – particularly this year – psychedelia, with the former Folkey Dokey stage renamed the Far Out Tent in honour of the likes of Amorphous Androgynous, Wooden Shjips and (filling the token oldie slot) Hawkwind who all grace the arena over the course of the weekend.
Roky Erickson - 8.5/10
Another psychedelic oldie occupies a surprisingly lofty perch before Animal Collective’s main stage headline slot on the Friday and utterly justifies his booking. The legendary acid casualty and frontman of 60’s pioneers 13th Floor Elevators was sectioned and subjected to involuntary electroconvulsive therapy in the early 70’s before disappearing off the radar. A fittingly ‘rock-y’ set and a supremely tight backing band adds to the inevitably euphoric “look, he’s still alive!” factor that surrounds his gig.
Bon Iver - 9.5/10
It’s difficult to comprehend how Bon Iver can improve on the recorded versions of his achingly beautiful arsenal of songs in the live arena yet, somehow, he manages it. The cacophony of three drummers is a brilliant if unlikely addition to the slowly building fragility of ‘Skinny Love’ while the mass sing-a-long to the closing refrain of ‘The Wolves Act II’ is so goosebump-inducing that even the berk at the back shining the green laser pointer can’t ruin it. Truly marvelous.
Peter Broderick - 9/10
This talented, little-known Portland, Oregon musician solitarily builds a delicate, multi-layered crescendo of beautiful noise using just voice, guitar, violin and musical saw piped through his loop pedal leaving the crowd crying out in adoration come the end of his set in the Far Out Tent.
Dirty Three - 9/10
Rarely have weather conditions offered such an appropriate environment for a band’s set as during the Dirty Three’s late evening main stage slot. The night time breeze and drizzly mist that roll down from the hills to accompany their doom-laden, violin-led instrumentals only serve to add to their stirring, apocalyptic sound.
Wiry, bearded, classically trained main man Warren Ellis high-kicks and strides across the stage like a knarled, possessed, sooth-saying shaman and his affable antipodean persona only endears him to the crowd more. A massive highlight.
We Aeronauts - 8/10
If descending mist lends itself perfectly to the Dirty Three’s sound, then it’s equally apt that main stage openers We Aeronauts have Glanusk Park basking in sudden sunshine. The Oxford-via-Brighton collective’s soaring folk-pop arrangements and tales of lazy countryside summers are a fitting start to an astonishing weekend of live music.
Special mentions must also go to James Yuill’s glitchy folktronica (8/10), the insane, yelping chaos of Zun Zun Egui (9/10), the delicate beauty of Blue Roses (8/10), the triumphant quirky alt-rock of Grizzly Bear (8/10) and the unbelievable Sunday night knees up caused by the flute-led gypsy folk of Sheelanagig (9/10) in the wonderful Chai Wallah Tent.
Animal Collective - 3/10
A massive damp squib of a headliner, particularly considering how anticipated their set had been. On record their experimental, feel-good skewed alt-pop is nothing short of groundbreaking. However, live the harmonies are less than half-baked and the joyous bounce of tracks like ‘My Girls’ are needlessly morphed into some inconsequential piece of pseudo-ambient drivel. The crowd’s patience is tested throughout and the frustration is audible.
Gang Gang Dancer
The young lad wearing a cap and – inexplicably – an inflatable neck-supporting pillow throwing shapes at the side of the stage throughout Gang Gang Dance’s set. Whether he was an unfeasibly youthful roadie who got carried away and ventured onstage after one too many cloudy ciders or just their terrible attempt at Bez or Flava Flav is anyone’s guess.
Sunshine and McClouds
The award for random celebrity spot of the weekend goes to ‘Grand Designs’ presenter Kevin McCloud. Seems he’s as much a fan of Wilco as he is of ambitious housing projects…