Disclaimer – You’ll see by the photographs, this was a fairly muddy festival. It didn’t rain all weekend long (in fact Saturday and Sunday afternoons were blazing hot). But there was enough rain to make it pretty squishy underfoot. I’ll try and keep the mud and rain descriptions to a minimum and concentrate on the “festival experience”. Mkay?
You all know how the weeks leading up to any UK festival go these days. Every morning, you check the weather. Before you go to bed, you check the weather. The week before, you check the weather at least three times a day, and usually on at least three different websites before assuring yourself – no, it’s not going to be a mud bath this year…
In the week leading up to Green Man, there were no such happy thoughts. I’m a 100 per cent fair weather festival fan – I’ve never relished the idea of wading around through mud soup for three days. So it was with some trepidation that I arrived at the festival site on Friday afternoon, right in the middle of a three hour downpour, to go and fetch tickets and then park my camper van in the live in vehicle field. (See? Told you I was a fair weather festival goer. No tent for me).
After managing to dodge various caravans and horse boxes that had got stuck in the mud around the live in vehicle area, my companion and I parked up next to some friends, who were having their first weekend away from their two young kids since before the first one was born (around four years ago). (Their family situation will become relevant later, so read on).
They had already put away the best part of a bottle of rum by the time we got there, so we hurried on with the wellies and ponchos, packed away some bladders of cider in a rucksack and headed into the festival.
For those of you who’ve never been before, Green Man festival is situated in the beautiful Black Mountains near the River Usk. The site is in the middle of beautiful rolling countryside, mountains and hills. Even with a touch of light drizzle, it’s blimming beautiful.
Friday was spent doing that first exciting ‘let’s explore the festival!’ for a couple of hours. This consisted of hiding from the rain in every bar tent we came across, before making it up the slippery hill to the Far Out! tent, where the Friday night line up was a breathy, electronic indiepop affair, with Errors, Lower Dens, Cass McCombs and Junior Boys providing the warm up for psychedelic rock headliners, The Bees. Highlight of this tent was definitely Glasgow band Errors – a pleasingly noisy start to Friday night.
We then headed to Chai Wallahs for some of New York’s finest, rapper and beatboxer Joe Driscoll.
After we’d got a bit funky to that, we thought we’d investigate some comedy, as Robin Ince was on in the Comedy Stage. Unfortunately, due to usual amounts of ‘buying drinks/buying food/need to roll a fag/need to buy some chewing gum/can I just eat a pie’ faffing, we got to the stage just as the throngs were leaving as Robin Ince had just finished.
We made the journey back up the hill to Chai Wallahs to see Bristol funk band Yes Sir Boss. I had so many plans – going to see main stage headliners Mogwai, going to listen to the sweet sweet voice of Cate le Bon. But no. Without the responsibility of their children for the weekend, my friends (remember them?) went a bit nuts. They drank their cider, downed a bottle of rum, drank every warm drink on offer in Chai Wallahs (chai brandy, whiskey coffee, rum hot chocolate …mmm). They wanted beats, dammit! So the sludgy ground and orange candle glow of Chai Wallahs became our home for the next six hours.
I’ll run you briefly through the excellent acts we saw: after Yes Sir Boss was Solid Steel new school talent, DJ Cheeba, who played an excellent DJ/AV set. All your standard big party tunes with accompanying visuals and effects. After Cheeba was Hackney live hip hop band, Lazy Habits, followed by a dark and bass heavy set from DJ Switch – electro, house, classic hip hop, dubstep – it was all there, plus a tent full of friendly people who were fairly mud free – apart from one girl who was trying to do some rock and roll dancing with a guy she’d just pulled, and ended up instead doing a face plant into the mud. Ouch.
At 5am, we dragged ourselves round the entire perimeter of the festival trying to find our way back to where we were camped, to try and sleep and get ready for round two.
There aren’t many mornings where you can lie in bed and listen to the sounds of Cardiff’s Sweet Baboo playing his first set with a full live band as the songs waft up the hill towards you. Saturday was one of those mornings. Sweet Baboo must have been the busiest musician on the Green Man roster for 2012, with five appearances in total (by himself and also in other bands). When he plays solo, his tunes are quirky and intimate. With a full band behind him, they’re warm and inviting, and wrap themselves around you like an off kilter cuddle at 3am. In short, it was very good. If you get the chance to see him play like that, I’d recommend it.
Given the epic Friday night session we had had, Saturday was a much more relaxed affair. Highlights were beat boxer and guitarist Philip Henry with violin player Hannah Martin (truly amazing), experimental electro-rock duo Rocketnumbernine who scared the crap out of everyone with their stage show (that consisted of a young boy wearing a tiger mask and doing weird movements to the music), lovely American folk from Dark Dark Dark, and upbeat Senegalese rhythms from Nuru Kane.
I’m pretty ashamed to say that by about 7pm on the Saturday, my resolve to see everything on that night was starting to fade. We headed back to the campervan for some booze and food, but got distracted by the prospect of a warm, log fire-heated shower. We were, of course, absolutely stinking with mud by this point. So we fetched towels and headed to the Buddha Field where I enjoyed the best festival shower ever. Best two pounds I spent all weekend.
After getting back to the campervan and getting clean clothes on, I realised there was no way back out for me. So I got a cup of hot chocolate, got into bed, opened the windows and listened to Yann Tiersen and Metronomy as their sets rolled up the hill and into my van. It was most, most agreeable.
One of my favourite parts of any festival is the festival radio. Lying around in your tent on a Sunday morning, trying to muster the energy to get up and eat a Mars Bar or at least drink some Lucozade. Unfortunately there was no festival radio at Green Man this year, so Sunday morning’s soundtrack was the plinky plonky folk of Seamus Fogarty (check his Soundcloud http://soundcloud.com/seamus-fogarty) followed by a walk around Einstein’s Garden.
Einstein’s Garden is one of my favourite parts of Green Man, where there are stalls and stands around with learning activities for kids. When I say ‘learning activity’, you think – ‘boring’. But actually there were stands called things like ‘The Egg and Sperm race’, and Cardiff and Bristol Universities teaching kids about the solar system and about how molecules in corn flour and water work. There were also enormous hula hoops to play with. It was awesome. My friend Matt compered at the solar stage there, and did some freestyle poetry about Higgs Boson. I’m not even kidding.
Einstein’s Garden was followed up by some time spent sitting on a wall listening to the wonderful rhythms of Ghostpoet and then some serious headnodding to Alt-J, Cardiff band Islet, and Three Trapped Tigers all up at the Far Out Tent (and it was, truly, far out).
I missed headliner Feist, but you can see part of her set here:
This was my first festival experience with kids in tow, and although the line up for this year’s Green Man wasn’t as strong as previous years, it’s still for my money the best UK festival of its size, in no small part down to all the extra little bits that you can do if you’re there with family. We spent ages in the Future Generations area playing massive Hungry Hungry Hippos and listening to a samba drum workshop – but the festival is small enough to walk across in about ten minutes. A great time at Green Man, as expected – let’s just pray for less mud next year!