Green Man @ Brecon Beacons, Wales, August 19-22, 2021 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, June 15th, 2024  

BC Camplight, Fontaines D.C., Self Esteem, Jockstrap, Caribou, Richard Dawson, LUMP

Green Man @ Brecon Beacons, Wales, UK, August 19-22, 2021,

Aug 25, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

For the lucky 20,000, what defined this weekend above all else was not the gathering of elite talent from across the musical spectrum or the chance to dance off the lockdown pounds in the small hours, fuelled by the hundreds of local independent beverages on sale. It was something much more primal than that.

The most central aspect of our lives that Covid stole was that sense of being part of a community, a life force larger than our own four walls can contain. Within minutes of arrival at Glanusk Park, the memory of that spirit is rekindled, awakened from the recesses; by the time the first bands strike a chord, the site is engulfed in communal love.

Virtually every set features a moment when somebody on stage feels moved to put into words the nearly overwhelming outpouring of love that they are witnessing. After a point, it is hard to avoid falling into cliche, but the truth is there truly was something special at work at Green Man 2021.

The return to formality itself is exciting. The first time you move through a crowd to your favourite spot (on the left near the front, please) has its own Proustian rush of excitement. Yard Act welcome the crowd on Thursday afternoon on the Far Out Stage by asking all the two-home-owners in the house to make some noise. It introduces their brilliantly sly and cynical single “Fixer Upper”, singer James Smith somewhere between the foppish cool of Jarvis Cocker and the profane wit of John Cooper Clarke.

Thursday has become nearly as packed as any other day at Green Man now and rounding out the night at the quaint Walled Garden Stage are Jockstrap, the sonic deconstructionists that strip down the tracks of their astounding EP Wicked City before building them back up again in new, warped forms. An open-minded and hungry crowd eat it all up, reacting more positively the weirder it gets.

Friday’s cobwebs are blasted into oblivion by the Wilhelm screaming Nuha Ruby Ra, the first of the many representatives of South London’s Windmill scene to grace the festival. If her set is provocative and scabrous, then H. Hawkline’s is tender and restorative. With Cate Le Bon providing backing vocals, the Cardiff psych popper comes from a Welsh melodic tradition that is familiar, but his colourful, twinkling guitar ripples win him a swathe of new fans; the right set at the right time in exactly the right place.

Time is running out to be ahead of the curve on Wu-Lu. The South Londoner blasts a new hole in the Far Out roof; his raw, unvarnished attack on rock music may be a little on the unfocused side, but the sheer force of his playing and the urgency with which he smashes musical histories together confirms him as one of the most unignorable new talents in British music. He will achieve everything he wants to, make no mistake about it.

Perhaps the most unexpectedly rapturous reception is reserved for Los Bitchos. The London-based quartet blend a spirited, anarchic punk ethos with a love of cumbia rhythms to make an alchemical high that has Far Out caught between a dance, a chant and a smile. “The Link is About to Die”, their breakout single from 2019, is met by a full minute’s sustained and unbroken ovation that carries a momentum all of its own. For a Friday evening, with energy levels still reasonably high, Los Bitchos steal the day.

Headlining on the Mountain Stage is Caribou, on hand to supply a catharsis to a day of high emotion. Tracks from across his career fill the Black Mountain skies and join together the crowd of thousands into one heaving love bomb. With almost sadistic cunning, he saves “Can’t Do Without You” for the encore, the track an ultimate expression of what the day, and this festival in general, has represented.

Saturday begins in necessarily hushed fashion, with the angelic duo of Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita massaging pulsing temples. The mood shifts for Emma-Jean Thackray, whose complex, Alice Coltrane-inspired headspace jazz strikes life back into wearing limbs and puts real meaning into the Far Out Stage’s name.

It’s been a long journey for Richard Dawson to get to main stage feature slot status at major festivals, but absolutely no compromise has been made along the way. Taking to the stage entirely alone, he bookends his set with two extended a cappella pieces familiar to any fans: “Joe the Quilt-Maker” and “The Ghost of a Tree”. The looks of wonder, confusion and eventual awe on the faces of the crowd are a joy to observe as they absorb Dawson’s extraordinary vocal power and style of intonation that seems to recall medieval pagan practices. Tracks that go on to refer to Lionel Messi and RightMove, then, are understandably jarring, but such is the unique fusion that Dawson has made his own. It feels like no festival should be complete without his presence at the moment, especially with his band Hen Ogledd also in the running. They headline the Walled Garden on the same day, an acid-tinged trip into pan-Celtic traditions and updated pop weirdness.

Manchester cult hero BC Camplight brings his all-drinking, all-self-deprecating show to Far Out on Saturday evening, shuffling between “Fire in England”, his stinging attack on Theresa May, the Home Secretary that once deported him, to “Cemetery Lifestyle”, the single he was due to release just as the pandemic hit, only for the BBC to ban it. Unfortunately, as with so many of the Far Out shows this weekend, the sound is somewhat muffled and it hampers the connection between stage and crowd, to the fault of neither.

It doesn’t stop LUMP from drawing a huge crowd, however. Laura Marling played a secret solo set at the Green Man Records tent minutes before taking the stage with her bandmate, Tunng’s Mike Lindsay, and together they deliver a set that oozes class. The duo’s work together is at once stately and subversive, with surrealistic images meshing with intricately chaotic electronic hisses and swooshes. They bring different characters out of each other and with LUMP, both musicians have found a new artistic freedom that could have an intriguing effect on their respective futures.

Green Man’s best kept secret is the Rising Stage, and on Saturday it is headlined in ecstatic fashion by Nottingham band Do Nothing. The energy is different as the crowd waits for their arrival: younger, spikier and seemingly determined to let the new generation’s voice be heard. The band storm through a set of taut, angular post-punk that could be seen as a throwback if it wasn’t so confident in its own skin. The opening strains of “LeBron James” ignite the crowd into a pogoing mess and the reception is the one moment when singer Chris Bailey’s cool demeanour is cracked.

Rising early on Sunday are LYR, the band fronted by current poet laureate Simon Armitage. It’s fair to say the pressure is on lyrically for LYR but they more than rise to the challenge, showing off Armitage’s ability to extract great longing and poignancy from quotidian observations from our everyday lives. In Armitage’s hands, hard shoulders become profound. With Richard Walter’s spare, post-rock arrangements adorning the spoken word delivery, it comes off like Arab Strap with a PhD and signals that after many years of dreaming it into existence, Armitage has finally found his musical home.

Next year will be the twentieth birthday for Green Man and what made it rise so quickly to its place at the top of the independent festival circuit and what continues to maintain its status as the festival fan’s festival of choice is its ongoing ability to identify emerging trends and to stay on top of changing tastes. Jazz has a strong presence this year, as demonstrated by the one-two punch of Steam Down and Nubya Garcia on the Mountain Stage on Sunday afternoon, although two more different sets you could not imagine.

The former essentially lead a group session with the crowd, bringing boundless percussive energy and chanting vocals. The crowd are encouraged to provide their own improvisations at one stage, with hilariously scatalogical results, but the South London crew, known for their open weekly workshops, leave everyone in attendance filled with joy. Garcia is an altogether more serious affair, with tracks from her masterpiece “Source” enchanting and beguiling a considerable crowd. Her tenor sax solos slide from stabbing provocation to sliding indulgence at her discretion and she is generous with allowing time for her three bandmates to flourish too. A spiritual salve as the weekend begins to draw in, her well-articulated appreciation of the moment is reflected straight back by her audience.

Self Esteem might be the buzziest name in British music at the moment and her Far Out set is a beacon of positivity. Her rise from indie cult status into emerging pop queen has been meteoric and with her message of inclusivity and female empowerment striking at the heart of what the music industry needs to hear at the moment, it may not be long before we see Self Esteem headlining Green Man.

A very different kind of artist graduates to official headliner status to round out the weekend, though, on the Mountain Stage in the form of Dublin punks Fontaines D.C. Through the flare smoke and flailing limbs, the inscrutably cool band sprint through their two thrilling albums of political and social anthems, wisely resisting the temptation to over-inflate the set just to make it somehow more ‘headline-worthy’. As the crowd pile up the hill to watch the green man burn, it is hard not to feel that as society begins to return to normal, we should be looking to places like Green Man as a model to aim for.

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