Green Man is eclectic and strives for diversity — more than half of the people on stage reviewed here from Saturday’s lineup are non-male. There is an almost cosmopolitan feel to the weekend, as there seem to be more long-distance festival goers in attendance from the US, Spain, Germany and elsewhere than last year.
But among the non-English languages spoken around the site, Welsh predominates. And it’s a Welsh national treasure who opens the Mountain stage on Saturday, with a noon start for Sweet Baboo, the mercurial creation of local boy Stephen Black. Nowadays a three piece (“last time we played Green Man we had 12 people; now we’re having to economise”), Sweet Baboo have embarked on an intriguing new dance direction since last year’s ‘Wild Imagination’ LP.
Early in the set, with Black swapping from bass to guitar and back again, Sweet Baboo treat the audience to that album’s drum-machine-led title track, as well as the delightful ‘Swallows’. This is naif-europop of a charming kind. The older and self-descriptive ‘Bounce’ (from 2011, crooning rock like Vic Godard and The Subway Sect on ‘Songs for Sale’ — “this is a danceable song, and then we’re going to bring it up to a frenzy”) is followed not by a frenzy but by ‘Let’s Go Swimming Wild’, “about the University of Wales electronic library system”, he says, deadpan. The first sign of the band’s new dance direction is a super-funky keyboard solo in ‘If I Died Would You Remember That You Loved Me’.
The keys make another fantastic contribution to an extended groovy workout of ‘Pink Rainbow’, featuring a drum machine and Chic-style guitar, while Sweet Baboo’s conversion to dance music is most clearly shown when they play this year’s hit that should have been, ‘Lost Out on the Floor’, reminiscent of ’70s disco classics as well as New Order and danceable Blur. After ending with the spaceship dreampop of ‘Clear Blue Skies’, a self-effacing Black stands by the side of the Mountain stage to sell his merchandise. There are just 10 copies left of the 150 limited edition experimental vinyl LP ‘The Vending Machine Project’, as well as t-shirts featuring his death mask.
The Rising stage for new bands highlights more Welsh talent, with BITW singing in the ancient language to a curious crowd. The group is the brainchild of Gruff ab Arwel who’s played guitar with Meilyr Jones and arranged strings on ‘American Interior’ for Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals.
Saturday afternoon at the Mountain stage epitomises the eclectic and open-minded scheduling of Green Man. Shaggy London-based Irish folk singer Seamus Fogarty follows Sweet Baboo, accompanied by bass, drums and his partner Emma Smith on fiddle and vocals. “Last time we played here we were so hungover we had to sit down for the whole set,” Fogarty says. “It’s the first festival we’ve done with our six week old child,” he adds later. “She’s actually ten weeks old,” Smith fires back. A passing teenager says to his mates: “I’m staying to watch this geezer, he’s funny.”
In between his banter, Fogarty’s band rattles through tunes from the 2017 album ‘The Curious Hand’ (opener ‘Short Ballad For A Long Man’, ‘Van Gogh’s Ear’, ‘Carlow Town’, which ends with some choreographed dance moves — “we made it look easy but it’s fucking difficult” — ‘Mexico’, and the found-sound shouting contest of ‘Tommy The Cat’) interspersed with older material such as the folk-drone, electronics and sampled voices of ‘The Evening Lay Down Upon Us’, electro-folk closer ‘Ducks and Drakes’, ’Holyhead’ (“the most Welsh song I have”) and the hauntingly beautiful, unaccompanied ‘God Damn You Mountain’ with its tale of a lost t-shirt entwined with the grief of a girlfriend lost to the sea. Fogarty kisses Smith as they leave to warm applause. Job done.
Next on the Mountain stage is saxophonist and band leader Nubya Garcia — a potent blast of youthful jazz infused with dance rhythms. From opener ‘Fly Free’ it’s clear that Garcia’s compositions refresh the genre, but respect its forms, giving space for solos from her and her band members. ‘Source’ experiments with reggae lines on a double bass played by Daniel Casimir and trap beats from Jake Long on the drums. The tunes are bookended by her superb sax playing.
‘Hold’, with its smooth bass and shuffling Afro-pop beat, includes a burst of dance-savvy keyboards from Joe Armon-Jones. When Garcia’s not blowing, she stands to one side, dancing to the beats. Just when it seems she can’t pull any more tricks on her sax, she starts using pedals to echo her smoky riffs, while Casimir plays with modern R&B basslines and Armon-Jones’ electric piano produces delicate waterfalls. Watching each other intently as they improvise, her band members are clearly inspired by Garcia’s invigorating take on jazz.