Green Man Festival 2012 review

What does Green Man feel like?

Kai Jones - 20 August 2012

What does Green Man feel like? The festival as you experience it feels slightly unreal, an annual awakening of Druids, folksters, left field music fans and real ale enthusiasts. This journey to a softer, gentler home, bathed in the Black Mountain hills of Mid Wales. A gathering of all ages, from baby buggies to big bearded guys.

It feels light like the bubbles that float continually over head in the main stage field; a beautifully-landscaped lawn in a country park that provides natural tiered seating at the rear. But it's also Savages' (9/10) visceral darkness, their Thursday night set quickly wiping away the smiles that Adam Buxton (8/10) plastered on everyone earlier in the evening with his incredible Bug stage show.

It feels like the skies that turn as dark as Toy's (6/10) we're-on-work-experience-with-the-Horrors-psychedelic-grind on Friday, as the regular Green Man rain hurtles down. Crowds find dry solace under trees or huddle in bars, obeying bar staff by adding a "rrraaarrr!" with every order of Growler Ale.

Goodbye Lenin (5/10) benefit from the deluge, but do little to impress a packed Far Out arena with their Dylan and Neil Young-inspired folk that suggests promise but feels too Mumford and Sons-lite. Stealing Sheep (7/10) fare much better, enchanting us with endearing, psychedelic hymns, that sound like the Wicker Man soundtrack as done by Warpaint.

Dexys (7/10) feels like Kevin Rowlands is acting out a Mile Leigh film, as he argues and swears through a domestic narrative of love and bitterness. 'Come on Eileen' is ecstatic of course, turning the field into a massive hoe-down. Greta Isaac (7/10) confuses us with her early set at the Swn Festival-curated stage in the Walled Garden. She says she's only 16, yet her delicate Rufus Wainwright and Joni Mitchell-inspired songs defy her tender years.

Stephen Malkmus (7/10) has the staple American drawl that Green Man goes giddy for, that coupled with the offbeat guitar, extended solos and teased feedback feels like a bar room brawl with his band the Jicks. It's a perfect warm-up for Mogwai's (9/10) triumphant headline set, as dark and cathartic as the apocalyptic skies of the day, with moments of teary, burning intimacy. 

What does Green Man feel like? It feels like toddlers in buggies carted about the site on their own little adventure; children repeatedly rolling down the muddy banks at the back of the main stage; the guy overheard in the car park on the phone to his brother, revealing he's just about to propose to his girlfriend. It feels like the cheekiest ligger of the weekend who hanglides into the site on Saturday and is promptly marched by security to the festival's organisers, who absorb his inventive break-in and cheerily let him stay.

Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny (8/10) clearly fall through a vaudeville dressing room on the way to the stage, the Hooves looking like psychedelic hooligans from Yellow Submarine, while Houghton sports hot pants, a tiny black and white jacket and sparkly white back-combed hair that leads one lark to call out "Sexy Beetlejuice!" Houghton's set is incredible, a musical magic realism of horns, strings and glorious, sparkling choruses.

Never one for procrastination, Van Morrison (9/10) kicks off a rousing 75 minute set with 'Brown Eyed Girl', gives us rapturous performances of 'Baby, Please Don't Go' and 'Jackie Wilson Said' and is in a helicopter before his band has even finished a stupendous Gloria. "Who says I can't fucking party" the notoriously cranky legend says. It's such an astonishing experience that Yann Tierson's (7/10) filmic, tender crescendos and Metronomy's (8/10) delicious headline set pale into distant memory.

What does Green Man feel like? On Sunday it feels like blazing sunshine, and Islet's (8/10) compelling experimentation of African rhythms, choral chanting and mud-diving bassists. It feels like Tune-Yards' (9/10) smile and incredible invention, a lesson in turning tired limbs into party legs. It feels like John Peel's Shed, (8/10), John Osbourne reminding us of our Diana moment, when John Peel died and Radio 1 played 'Teenage Kicks' on the hour every hour. It feels like Leslie Feist's (7/10) delicate voice and compelling intimacy, denying us '1, 2, 3, 4', instead opting for a soft, slow closing headline set that feels as spiritual as the burning of the giant Green Man bonfire that follows.

But what does Green Man really feel like? Well, it can't help but feel like the torrential rain and crow-black crowds that pester the festival all weekend. But it also feels like the Green Man regulars who are so used to the annual downpours that they huddles in tents and bars with smiles and conversation. There's many a Green Man regular that have had some of their best moments, not in the company of Joanna Newsom and Dead Meadow or Dirty Three and Beirut over the years, but in each other's company, an ode to the Green Man spirit.

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