Last weekend saw the 13th Green Man festival in the Brecon Beacons. As a musically diverse, varieties of beer aplenty, child friendly, vegan friendly, chilled out but lively four day event there is something for everyone. Views of the mountains captured the imagination as much as this years brilliant music line-up.
Before the festival goers could get too excited about how many Real Ales were on offer. The Bristol based band Bombs did a stand out set in the Chai Wallah tent with their combination of Afro beats and soul like vocals. Lead singer Charlie Fitzgerald especially stood out for her flawless soul vocals and rapping. She was supported by a horn section, guitar, bass and occasionally a very high pitched whistle.
Despite it’s slightly hippie and folk music reputation Friday the festival had a decidedly rock vibe. To start this off on the main (mountain) stage was the baby faced three piece C Duncan. Floating melodic, almost chorister smooth vocals over guitar, bass and drums with keyboard and synth sounds, tied well with their slightly geek chic look. Looking slightly as though they had just left a teenage bedroom band rehearsal, their set and tunes were very well balanced. There were some unexpected moments with one involving very proficient Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah style whistling. And their penultimate song was a relaxing version in a jazz standard style.
The most frequently seen face who appeared in many different bands on various instruments was Welsh musician Sweet Baboo. The first incarnation from the multi-instrumentalist was leading his own band. The band had a classic soft rock style, keeping up momentum and interest with Baboo himself introducing his songs. For one song ‘You Got Me Time Keeping’ he announced, ‘we’re doing a seven minute prog rock epic, so bare with us’. Not the most comforting but quite amusing intro to a tune. Many of the songs also included excellent interjections and flowing harmonies from a string quartet.
But the most impressive performance of the day for multiple reasons came in the form of the Sun Ra Arkestra. The band was formed by Sun Ra in 1946 (an amazingly long run for any band). Since his death in 1993 the band has been continued by its new leader 91 year old, Marshall Allen. As well as a saxophone plate, he picked up a sort of electronic recorder half way through making his solos exciting despite him looking quite frail. The rest of the band, especially the singer and other sax player (who during one song started doing flips and hand stands) brought the whole set together with strong, slightly free rhythms and melodic mix of blues, jazz and African music. Their music is as eccentric as their shiny glitter robe and hat combo costumes, throughout keeping alive the spirit of Sun Ra who would now be 101.
The Friday was bought to a close with the rock electro vibe of Hot Chip. Drummer Sarah Jones was particularly rocking with her solid rhythms and lively but not over powering beats. They closed The Mountain Stage for the day with their epic cover of a Bruce Springsteen song ‘Dancing In The Dark’.
The hungover were gently eased back to life as Saturday at Green Man began with folky duet The Left Outsides. The two were very well suited with musicians taking it in turns for different tunes to do vocals or instrumental. In contrast to folk in the Far Out Tent, Saturday was bought in with some drum and bass in the form of Meilyr Jones’ psych pop band. Citing Sun Ra as one of his influences many of the tunes involved sudden speed changes with short bursts of melody. The strong vocals were well supported especially in the final tune which has a real rock classic feel.
By 2pm everything stepped up a gear in speed and volume of sound. Summed up by the first words of singer Carwyn Ellis of Welsh pop group Colorama’s to the audience ‘do you fancy a boogie?’
The previously un-named act of the festival was Bat For Lashes. Even though the performance was very high energy with some great tunes to rock out to ; the set didn’t seem to highly excite the audience. With a slightly lukewarm reception from the audience, either because the music was not to the audiences taste or because they weren’t sure who this ‘special guest’ was.
The most unexpectedly brilliant musician and entertainer of the entire four days was Charles Bradley. Packing out The Mountain Stage, the audience flocked over to experience not only Bradley’s dynamic personality, dancing and vocals but also out of intrigue about the man who has such a difficult yet interesting background. As an African American growing up in the 1950s, Bradley has talked about his struggles with racism. Then in 1966 after seeing a James Brown gig at aged 14 he was inspired to begin performing as a JB impersonator. It wasn’t until 40 years later that his talent was discovered and he was signed as a solo artists. His stage behaviour shows how excited he still is about this opportunity, constantly announcing to the audience his love and appreciation for coming to see him. His music combines all the best elements of blues and soul. This along with his ‘booty shaking’ and the long break he took to change into a shiny cape led to a surprising yet entirely engaging performance. Many songs allowed the musicians prolonged instrumental sections with the horn section lively. Drawing the biggest crowd of the festival with several audience sing-a-longs was the newly reformed Super Furry Animals. As a front man Gruff Rhys is baffling, while listening earlier in the day to SFA in conversation the number of gaps in between sentences and his easy distraction would never lead you to believe he was such a great musician and performer. In fact on stage Rhys is a man of little words, instead opting at points for hiding up signs with ‘applause’ and ‘thanks’ written on them. They went through a variety of their songs, such as classic ‘Golden Retriever’ and Welsh language tune ‘Ymaelodi a’r Ymylon’ with quite a few songs coming from their album Mwng which was re-released this year. Having installed their own screen the swiftly changing graphics added to their predominantly electronic sound live. In fact before the last song the keyboard was left on its own to hold the audience with an in depth techno/electronic improv, while the rest of the band changed from white boiler suites into their infamous Golden Retriever costumes. As one of the best rock bands to come out of Wales with mix of languages, tempos and often bizarre song themes it’s great to see SFA together again. The last day began with so much rain it was like waking up inside a Welsh stereotype. The non hardcore ducked out very quickly, abandoning ship as fast as half drowned rats, eyebrow deep in mud can. The rest of us peered from dripping tents, thinking ‘God I hope St.Vincent is worth this’. Fortunately before the headline of the day the rain held off long enough to check out some new bands. The most notably were the Django Reinhardt inspired Gypsies of Bohemia, whose swinging jazz style alongside ‘90s covers got everyone jiving, regardless of the weather. Another was Welsh language electronic techno duo, Carcharorion. Using a combination of samples to great effect the two drew quite a crowd to the Green Man Rising stage with their unique beat and rhythm focused music. Wrapping up the music for the festival was the weirdly wonderful St.Vincent. Her tunes are impress not only because she writes them on her own but because of her huge musical talent. She is like a combination of Madonna and Lady GaGa, with heavily choreographed dance routines. Standing at the beginning on a raised stage, she does clearly have a lot of confidence in her performance and herself as shown by the leather bikini on top of a body stocking worn by her and her guitarist/keyboard player. At one point she in fact went into the crowd on the shoulders of her security, allowing people along the way to strum her guitar, which later seemed to disappear into the masses. It was thoroughly entertaining, with St.Vincent making sure she put on a real show with her captivating energy and slightly electro soft rock (with heavy rock guitar solos) music. Although it is clear, not just from the fact that Annie Clark adopts a different name to perform, the artists treats her on stage persona like playing a theatre character. To end their performance , the four members bow sequentially to a cheering crowd.
What a finale! GM15 up in flames – what an amazing year.. Thank you to everyone who made this year so special x A photo posted by Green Man (@greenmanfest) on
The festival throughout was as much about the performances as the music itself, with impressive costumes, banter and background settings. It gave a positive outlook for the future of live music as it adapts to be more electric, exciting and eccentric.