First, there was Glastonbury (or to be more accurate, the Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival). Entry for a quid, T-Rex on the bill, promises of a ‘lightshow, lightship, freaks and funny things’, and free milk for all attendees. Not bad – but surely, thought the establishment, it would never catch on. Paying to spend a weekend thigh-high in mud and (depending on the quality of the Portaloos) other dubious substances? To be jammed up against the great unwashed before being flooded out of your tent? To spend days in wellies fortified only by peanut butter, cold baked beans and Special Brew?
Fast forward to 2018, though, and ‘festival culture’ has never been stronger. A slew of promoters discovering that by appending the word ‘Fest’ to any noun, they can charge double for tickets. Midlife crises made manifest in the quiet joy of fairy wings and glitter, under the guise of ‘festival chic’. Girl Guides can now attain a badge in ‘festival going’ and even political parties are jumping on the bandwagon (no pun intended). So, in this frankly overcrowded market, how can a festival stand out without selling out?
Judging by this weekend, it seems that Green Man Festival has it sussed. Nestled cosily in the heart of the Brecon Beacons mountains, it wears its Welsh heart proudly on its sleeve. Thursday night opens with Public Service Broadcasting and their many songs about coal mining, and rounds things off with a male voice choir. There’s a strong focus on eco-friendliness, and on community, and a garden showing how scientific principles can inform the development of local landscapes. All the signs, and the programme, are dual language. There’s a stall selling ‘super tidy’ burgers and a man who spends his weekend peddling Welsh cakes for 50p a pop. The bars don’t sell fizzy US imports, but 99 local beers and ciders with names like ‘Dark Side of the Moose’ and ‘Cwtch’, and with ABVs not lower than 6%. It’s all very lovely, very warming, very unique.
For this alone, it’d be worth spending a weekend at Green Man. But we’re here for the music, we’re here to dance. A well-curated (though notably very white) line up swings unapologetically from psychedelia to folk, via ceilidh-rock, indie pop and whatever the hell HMLTD classify themselves as. Here are our highlights from 2018 – diolch yn fawr, Green Man, and see you next year.
Winners of the Green Man Rising competition, Park Motive were given the opportunity to open the main stage at this year’s festival, an opportunity they grasped with both hands. Combining jazz fusion with samba-like rhythms and a little dash of latter-day Daft Punk, the Welsh five-piece took little time to get the early risers on their feet.
With only two singles to their name so far, Park Motive are still quite raw but, on this evidence, have the potential to be one of Wales’ best exports since Gareth Bale’s manbun.
Satirical crooner Matt Maltese was a late addition to this year’s line-up, replacing fellow South London-based Insecure Men on the Walled Garden stage, where much of this year’s highlights played, its location next to the cider bar being an added bonus… Maltese’s debut record ‘Bad Contestant’ is one of our favourite records of the year so far and he showcased all that’s good about it in just over 40 minutes, despite being a band member short.
Maltese’s self-deprecating humour and brutally honest lyrics are amplified by his soaring vocal, providing the ideal atmosphere for a pint of 7% cider on a sunny Friday evening. Matt plays Dublin in The Workman’s Club later this year, don’t miss it. (Phew, a whole Matt Maltese review without mentioning the Father John Misty similarities.)
Also representing South London – one of four acts in this list to do so – were the far-too-good-for-their-age Black Midi, demonstrating in an altogether too-short 30-minute set why they’re one of the buzziest bands in the underground scene right now. A chaotic blend of post punk and math rock with the feedback turned up to 11 and frontman Geordie Greep’s frenetic, almost hysterical yelps create a noise that teeters on the unlistenable, however, Morgan Simpson on drums knits it altogether, just.
It’s a sound that deserves to shatter the thin ice it’s skating on but somehow it works. If you don’t believe us when we say Black Midi are going to be huge, just ask any of the numerous members of other bands who were there too. A memorable set.
Having got a taste for what King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s first UK headline slot had to offer, the Springsteen-esque vocals emanating from the Walled Garden proved intriguing enough for us to pop our head in to see Alex Cameron and his excellently named band (Roy Molloy is endlessly pleasing to say out loud. Try it) take the crowd through a journey of seemingly unreleased Killers tracks. We weren’t surprised to later find out Brandon Flowers had named Cameron’s debut album as his favourite of 2016.
Cameron, while perhaps not hugely original, has a warmth about his stage presence that would keep even the thinnest tent in the Brecon Beacons quite toasty at 5am. Fans of The Killers need to check this dude out.
The aforementioned genre-defying HMLTD were given the 1am slot a band of their ilk need to truly showcase their live show. An unfortunate late-night lowering of volumes on all stages didn’t help but frontman Henry Spychalski wasted no time in doing what HMLTD do best, making their show every bit a visual spectacle as an aurul one, as he contorts, jolts and propels himself around the stage.
HMLTD still have work to do, mainly on how they build their setlist, with Proxy Love, perhaps their best song, opening proceedings to a mostly cold, unexpecting audience. As the show builds though, so does the pent-up energy, which is eventually unleashed for the barrelling spaghetti-western behemoth that is To The Door. HMLTD aren’t for everyone, but you’ll regret not finding that out for yourself.
Welsh indie darlings, or darling, depending on how you look at it, Boy Azooga (the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Davey Newington) played the biggest gig of their short careers so far on the Far Out stage on Saturday afternoon. Interviewing Davey, who wrote every song and played every instrument on the album, backstage before the show though, you’d never have guessed he was the leader of the gang as he enthused about his acquired bandmates and for good reason too.
Boy Azooga, who throw a heap of genres into a pleasantly listenable indie melting pot, are precise and well drilled. Not that you’d know from looking them as they beam from ear to ear throughout. A closing duo of lead single and radio hit Loner Boogie and a cover of Kool & The Gang’s Jungle Boogie (the latter featuring an extended band) showcase everything Boy Azooga have to offer. Joyous. Boy Azooga play Dublin, Limerick and Belfast in October.
The fourth and final South London representative, Sorry, formerly known as Fish, blasted through a set of chaotic, multi-faceted tunes that are equally disjointed as they are polished. While Asha Lorenz’s off-kilter vocal is what sets Sorry apart from their peers, it’s when guitarist Louis O’Bryen comes in on backing vocals that the band’s sound truly reaches its pinnacle.
None more so than on jewel in the crown Showgirl, released in June, which if you haven’t heard yet, where have you been? Sorry don’t offer a whole lot of personality on stage, but such is the standard of the songwriting and melody on show that it scarcely matters. Wolf Alice comparisons will stick around for a while but it won’t be long before Sorry are looking back over their shoulder at their London counterparts.
Anyone who covers Outkast’s Roses in their set instantly gets a pass into the review. It’s the unwritten rule of music journalism. That said, Ider genuinely do deserve their spot in the list. For Irish music fans, if you were to find that sweet spot between Saint Sister, Wyvern Lingo and Heathers you’d find this North London two-piece playing their gentle electropop with an R&B edge, having a blast.
The duo were thoroughly relaxed and jovial throughout their set, bantering with each other and the crowd. The songs – especially most recent single You’ve Got Your Whole Life Ahead Of You Baby, which they admit is a bit of a mouthful – are perfectly suited to being played outdoors in the sun and even the compére was saddened to turn down the crowds pleas for one more tune.
If this writer was told he could only see one act over the weekend when he’d arrived, Stella Donnelly would have prevailed. The Aussie’s debut EP ‘Thrush Metal’ – a name she regrets but has come to embrace – is one of the best releases of 2018, with lead single Boys Will Be Boys, which challenges victim blaming as well as the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ itself, being one of the year’s most important songs.
On Sunday afternoon, a hush descended over the Walled Garden a number of times as Stella’s stunning vocals soared among the many bubbles that dotted the air. Combine the superb performance with equally good between-song chatter and her booking for the Other Voices stage at Electric Picnic. Be there.
Pictures from Nici Eberl and Marieke Macklon, provided by Green Man Festival.