Whether your poison is Malian blues, classic jazz, heavy psychedelia or folk nostalgia, you’d have found yourself at home during the infectious four day jaunt known as Green Man. The annual festival, now in its 14th year, brought a colourful cast of musical personalities to the sometimes-gloomy landscape of the Brecon Beacons, where not even the thick Welsh drizzle could dampen the spirits of party-goers; nor the severe wind warnings stop the minds being blown by the awesome range of performances.
Thursday 18th August:
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Far Out Stage
Aussie space-rock royalty King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard were the standout act of the opening Thursday night’s Far Out stage lineup. The flowing psychedelia of ‘The River’ from last year’s warped lo-fi experiment ‘Quarters’, along with the classic fuzzed-out weirdness of tracks like ‘I’m in Your Mind’ and ‘Cellophane’ added some extra angles to their looping ‘Nonagon Infinity’ record which came out earlier this year. The electrifying ‘Gamma Knife’ in particular forced the energy into radioactive levels.
Friday 19th August:
Tony Njoku – Mountain Stage
Kamasi Washington – Far Out Stage
Connan Mockasin – Mountain Stage
White Denim – Mountain Stage
The oddities didn’t end with King Gizzard, though. After the soulful electronica of Tony Njoku opening the Mountain stage on Friday morning and the seminal modern jazz stylings of Kamasi Washington (full review) leading the way on the Far Out stage, Connan Mockasin was let loose with his peculiar brand of freaky psych-pop. Appearing in what looked like his pyjamas, the New Zealander ran through the fan favourites from his latest album ‘Caramel,’ complete with his uniquely sugar-coated vocal drawl and weedy angular guitar bends.
Texas rock’n’rollers White Denim upped the tempo with a late set on the Mountain stage. It wasn’t the first time they’d been stranded among the picturesque peaks of Wales. Known for their creative music videos, they shot some scenes in the far north-west of the country in 2009 for their single ‘I Start to Run’. “It was where they filmed Mortal Kombat 2, in an old mine shaft place,” bassist Steven Terebecki told me earlier in the day. Singer and guitarist James Petralli added: “Those are still my favourite ones. A guy named Tom Haines directed them. Since then we’ve made a bunch, with varying amounts of effort going in!”
Saturday 20th August:
Ryley Walker – Mountain Stage
Cate Le Bon – Mountain Stage
Fat White Family – Far Out Stage (After Dark)
Mid-west American folkster Ryley Walker was the first highlight of Saturday, performing stripped back versions from his acclaimed new album ‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’ (full review).
The homecoming slot on the Mountain stage for Welsh-born California-based songstress Cate Le Bon had a sort of deadpan euphoria about it. The title track from her latest album ‘Crab Day’ kicked off a performance characterised by garagey-pop tunes with a wonderful ebb and flow. The more avant-garde elements of living in California and working with the likes of Tim Presley were also distinctly audible, in jagged guitar riffs, Beefheart-esque rhythms and Velvet Underground-style jamming. What next for Cate Le Bon? Maybe she’ll give up music for a year and become a furniture maker in the Lake District.
The most striking performance of the day came from post-punk hooligans Fat White Family, though, in a late night slot at the Far Out stage. Frontman Lias Kaci Saoudi swiftly dispensed of his dapper suit jacket, before executing some shamanic Iggy Pop-esque locomotions and confronting the audience at close range with some savage yells. The tweaked-out lo-fi bass and synth-heavy production of their latest album ‘Songs For Our Mothers’ became an all-out guitar driven assault, with ‘Whitest Boy On The Beach’, ‘Satisfied’ and ‘Touch The Leather’ providing the primary shout-along moments.
Sunday 21st August:
Exploded View – Far Out Stage
Songhoy Blues – Mountain Stage
Ezra Furman – Round the Twist/Far Out Stage
An early slot on the Far Out stage for improvisational jammers Exploded View was the first point of interest on Sunday. If the sparse crowd began the performance by rubbing the sleep from their eyes, they left stroking their chins in contemplation of lead lady Anika’s edgy half-sung poetry.
Next up was Ezra Furman. “How did you all find out about this? It was supposed to be secret,” the androgynous Chicago rock’n’roller enquired of the eager pack of listeners who had sniffed out his “secret” acoustic set at Round the Twist, a small club-like venue usually reserved for late night disco sessions. “The band doesn’t even know about it,” he added, glancing around with sheepish irony at the empty stage space. Some choice numbers from his latest LPs ‘Day of the Dog’ and ‘Perpetual Motion People’ were given added rawness through the solo approach, but it was the anomalies which made the performance special. A gritty Lucinda Williams cover and a nervy rendition of ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ were the set surprises. “I don’t even feel comfortable playing this, so maybe that’s a good reason to play it,” Ezra explained. Perhaps the lipstick and casual cross-dressing are no longer enough to express his self-professed “gender issues”.
Shortly after the Malian group Songhoy Blues brought their funky desert blues style and frenetic dance moves to the Mountain Stage, Ezra Furman re-emerged at Far Out to round off the weekend in superb fashion. ‘Tell ‘em All to Go to Hell’ sounded particularly sharp with an extended build-up exploding into a final rapturous chorus. The crowd still reeling, Ezra threw down his instrument and launched into an ecstatic rendition of Jackie Wilson’s ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’, strutting and showboating in true soul-man style.
With a new highlight each day Green Man was always bound to lift festival-goers “higher and higher” and, just when the surprises seem to be over, the giant green tree-beast which presides over the weekend’s shenanigans roars into flame with a dazzling display of fireworks. Roll on Green Man number 15.
This Green Man article was written by Tadgh Shiels, a GIGsoup contributor. Photography by Daisy Jones. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.