after 10 years, Green Man really seems to have found its feet

The Green Man Festival 2012 review

published: Thu 27th Sep 2012

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Friday 17th to Sunday 19th August 2012
Glanusk Park, Usk Valley, Powys, Wales, NP8 1LP, Wales MAP
£145 adult weekend ticket
daily capacity: 10000
last updated: Tue 7th Aug 2012

The Far Out Stage is often the place to kick-start Greenman's Thursday night entertainment, and Adam Buxton's BUG show launches the festivities with much aplomb. As soggy as it already is, a dose of irreverent humour and way out there videos combine to provide a hilarious, undercover respite. Savages also offer an energetic dose of arty post punk, as dark and lithe as the weather.

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Neighbouring Chai Wallah hosts its regular eclectic array of new age chill to burlesquee brass bands, such as the visual delights of Gabby Young and Other Animals, or the bombastic, excellent Smerins Anti-Social Club – ever inclusive and guaranteed hotspot for the wide eyed, late night wanderer over the entire weekend.

Despite the best intentions of the GM woodchippers, the Far Out Tent remains a bit of a bog and draws plenty in for Remember Remember - their looping, experimental loveliness soothing all ills and giving way to the decidedly more upbeat Stealing Sheep. The percussion led trio bring a notably sugary retro sound, with unashamed psychedelic lyrics, they charm with grins and energy, and wake up the audience leaving us all with the infectious 'Shut Eye' firmly stuck in our brain. Toy continue the post rock – psychedelia theme, dropping the pace a little and tempting some over to the crowd pleasing King Charles, whose rousing rendition of 'We Didn't Start the Fire' inspires the mountain stage audience to song at the close of his set. Also housing sets from the post rock, intense Three Trapped Tigers, party stalwarts Friends and the luscious musical vision of Alt-J – this stage is definitely the place to party and dabble in different genres.

For those who could brave the muddy slopes of the Mountain Stage, Einstein's Garden sets itself back as a hub of tranquillity – housing book and craft shops alongside stages hosting scientific displays and eco delights for all ages. Beautifully decked out and a layout that gives a real labyrinthine feel, the garden offers talks on everything from Zombie Science. Mogees for the sound geeks and the fascinating Dissections Uncut with Simon Watt of 'Inside Natures Giants' fame, whose vivid descriptions of large scale dissection certainly make one wonder what lies inside Greenman's traditional pond side inflatable elephant.

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After ten years, this festival really seems to have found its feet. Confident enough to offer a feris wheel to a host of well toasted punters, it shows the trust organisers have in their audience is way beyond that of most, and stretches well into the musical offerings. A stroll through Einstein's Garden brings the wanderer to the cosy Walled Garden stage, and the real ale gem that is the Greenman Pub. Usually the training ground for future Mountain Stage performers, it arguably hosts the most 'Greenman' of Greenman acts – the folk theme is strong but with a great underlying air of experimentation and inclusion of new talent.

Certainly the likes of Laura J Martin, and Lucy Rose offer up a high standard of guitar based folk and quirky vocals to excite Huw Williams and the 6 Music session bookers alike, but the line-up exceeds expectations in places. Those who dared sacrifice viewing Mogwai on the main stage, were treated to a mesmerising set from Cate Le Bon who not only weaves worlds with her vocals but has such odd strong Welsh quirks and intonation that her album 'Cryk' seems to have hatched out of an egg in this century. A Welsh dragon's egg perhaps. Nonetheless, it fits this odd little stage with its nearby maypole, which I later saw Le Bon dancing around in a very fitting fashion.

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The Walled Garden also proves the place to be on Sunday afternoon as the gleaming white T-shirt and jean-ed Alaska charm the sun into the sky with an infectiously energetic shot of transatlantic psych-pop- rock, fluctuating between the downright surreal to the heartfelt carried on a rich Northern tinged vocal, inspiring dancing in the usually reserved crowd. Stand alone stuff.

Followed by a wistful set from the ever impressive Crybaby, who was robbed of a twilight slot, but delights with his 1950s ballads and will surely go on to a more prestigious slot next year. Jamie N Commons blew the audience away with subject matter and vocals seemingly ripped from the soul of a singer 50 years his senior, and Daughter hypnotised late night crowds, showcasing a flawless voice and breaking hearts with the stunning 'Youth'. The one real let down comes in the lack of Jen Long whose infamous 2011 DJ set brings many out in the rain for a repeat of excellence, which never appears. If she showed, she wasn't seen and if we can dance in the rain can't DJs play in it?

The Cinema tent offers a dramatically warmer and dry sitting place for those prone to a bit of odd viewing, and the now legendary 'Searching for Sugarman' is screened on the same bill as 'Passport to Pimlico' – eclectic with a capital 'eh?'. Sadly this area often falls foul of the increasing family element of the festival, which, while we all respect the need of families to attend events alongside child free groups, taints the grown up nature of some spaces.

It's a wonderful sight to see kids revelling in science in Future Generations events, but running about during a movie or mingling with the decidedly worse for wear in the Far Out After Dark area is less so. However, this is down to parenting and a general etiquette that those less familiar with the festival scene might need a bit of guidance with, and an area Greenman either need to cater for more inclusively for younger attendees or back away from before the more adult inclined become alienated.

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A short mud slide from the top fields, the Mountain Stage with it's stunning backdrop of the Brecon Beacons, naturally showcases the big guns. Conveniently close to the camp-sites and ringed with the usual food suspects, the main stage area rarely becomes over crowded and, unavoidable levels of Welsh mud aside, is much more accessible than most. Only the inexplicable lack of compost toilets which provide a much more human friendly alternative to the toxic Andyloos taints the area this year.

As headliners go, Greenman characteristically stick their neck out – combining the popular with the big names off the mainstream. Van Morrison is this year's main draw, and plays a set of solid standards to a sun soaked crowd who lap it up. The vocals are as smooth and irresistible as ever, and his version of 'Gloria' certainly get them going, but the whole thing seems a little lacklustre, but after all these years who can blame him?

In stark contrast, Yann Tiersen tears the main stage apart with a collective of passionate musicians with a set so tightly orchestrated and harmonious its hard to see who could follow – 'Fuck Me' is a spectacular highlight. Metronomy rise above any expectations to give a sterling set, driven by the stunning Anna Prior and hypnotic dancing of Gbenga Adelekan, while the much hyped Feist provides a few moments of delicate beauty, but soon wanders into the realms of the dull. A baffling choice for such a high profile slot at this festival.

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Rather, the magic is provided by lesser known acts, a case in point being ten time Greenman performer Pictish Trail whose punchy little set pops out of nowhere and leaves us all running for the Rough Trade tent. Dark Dark Dark give an unsurprisingly beautiful experience, tinged with eatern European folk and the gripping vocal of Nona Marie Invie from 'Daydreamingng' to 'In Your Dreams' it's enrapturing. Michael Kiwanuka trips soulfully along, earning his progression to the main stage and The Felice Brothers get the middle classes up out of their folding chairs and frolicking in the mud to their genre defying mix of piano accordion and electronica, with plenty of old timey fun country along the way and a back story to intrigue the interested.

The real headliner for some was the uncompromising bonkers fun of tUne-yArDs; looping, percussive and erratic she blasts her unique vision across any performance space winning over the masses – whether yo can understand her or not. Its this sort of incomprehensible strangeness, chaos and culmination of community feeling so strongly felt at the burning of the Greenman in the last hours of the festival, that makes this little event so special. Long may it continue.

around the festival site
review by: Helen Brown

Friday 17th to Sunday 19th August 2012
Glanusk Park, Usk Valley, Powys, Wales, NP8 1LP, Wales MAP
£145 adult weekend ticket
daily capacity: 10000
last updated: Tue 7th Aug 2012


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