Green Man Festival 2013 Review - Edwyn Collins, The Horrors, Low, Fuck Buttons, Band of Horses, and more | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Green Man Festival 2013, Edwyn Collins, Low, The Horrors, Girls Names, Fuck Buttons, Band of Horses

Green Man Festival 2013 - Edwyn Collins, The Horrors, Low, Fuck Buttons, Band of Horses, and more,

Sep 06, 2013 Photography by Dan Lucas Green Man Festival 2013
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The Green Man Festival has, in the 10 years since its inception, evolved from a one-day, 300-capacity campfire folk show into a week-long, eclectic event playing home to some 22,000 guests. Amongst British festival-goers it has a reputation as one of the summer’s highlights and is spoken of as being a world away from the laddish, lager lout-infested, drug-peddling havens that make up the larger part of the Brit festival circuit. Regular visitors will tell you that, intriguingly, it’s rarely the bands that are the festival’s highlight, and this was very much the feeling that I got making Under the Radar‘s first excursion to the Glanusk estate in South Wales between the 15th and 18th of August.

I have to make a disclaimer at this point and note that I didn’t catch everything I’d hoped to at the festival. Personal issues meant that I had to leave Fuck Buttons’ (by all accounts fantastic) set at the very early stages, and two (self-inflicted) cracked ribs meant I spent Sunday evening—including Swans set—in pain in my tent. Nevertheless, there was plenty on offer across the rest of the four days to easily pull out seven highlights.

1. The Setting

The Glanusk Estate, situated just a couple of miles (not the 20 minute walk stewards told us prior to an ill-feted walk) outside of the picturesque town of Crickhowell, is a popular destination for holiday-making fans of the outdoors all year round. Located in the Brecon Beacons National Park, the main Mountain Stage is backdropped by the southern edge of Wales’ famous Black Mountains. Our first real glimpse of its breathtaking beauty came early on Friday afternoon, as we took a seat on the terraced lawn to catch the gorgeous electro-folk instrumental melodies of Haiku Salut, winners of 2012’s Green Man Rising contest for undiscovered bands.

On Saturday morning we crossed over one of the estate’s many medieval bridges and took a walk along the River Usk towards the town. Here, away from the revellers and the unbelievable number of wasps, we saw the venue at its most idyllic: embodied by the perfect picturesque cottage complete with pond, hens in the garden and two donkeys shading under the tree. Indeed the tranquillity of the moment was only really spoiled when the donkeys began having sex for a less-than-aroused audience.

2. The People

One of the key selling points of The Green Man Festival is the strength of the bond between the local people and the eclectic crowd. The townsfolk seemed genuinely happy to see new visitors discovering an area of which they can quite rightly be proud. Our sojourns into Crickhowell for a change of scenery were made all the more enjoyable by the locals who seemed genuinely interested in how we were enjoying our festival experience. Particular highlights include gushing enthusiastically to the lady who asked about Edwyn Collins’ set (more on that later), and having to tell one elderly shop customer that the band she could hear from her garden the night before was called Fuck Buttons.

I spent the festival camping with our friends from British webzine Drowned in Sound, and together we were delighted to make a number of new friends. Camped next to us and joining in our game of cricket was the lovely New York folk singer Annie Dressner and her husband, and I later stayed up until 5 a.m. drinking beer and whiskey with a few guys in the artists’ camping area. Particular thanks has to go to the group we met on the Ferris Wheel, with whom we were happy to shout back and forth our favourite Arrested Development quotes and discuss theories on Breaking Bad and the A Song of Ice and Fire book series on which Game of Thrones is based.

Unlike most festivals, every single person we met, from fellow journalists to punters stood nearby to PR reps to stewards and security to mums and dads bringing their kids along, couldn’t have been lovelier. The sole exception is the steward who wouldn’t let us back into our car park despite our displaying a clear permit. The dick.

3. Edwyn Collins

Understated, the recent album from former Orange Juice frontman Edwyn Collins is truly wonderful and an outside contender for 2013’s album of the year. His second album since the 2005 double brain haemorrhage that nearly cost him his life, it’s an improvement on 2010’s Losing Sleep but more importantly a wonderfully uplifting, life-affirming record that’s emotional without being saccharine. It’s a celebration of life by a pop craftsman good enough to know how to pitch it perfectly. The same can be said of his set at Green Man, which leans heavily on the album. He gives off an air of genuine happiness when he clocks our cries of “We love you Edwyn!” (yes, we’d had a drink by then), and moved by the receptions given to his son William joining him onstage for “In Your Eyes” and when he stands up with the aid of a crutch.

Collins’ backing band—which aside from William also includes former Sex Pistol Paul Cook—is in fantastic form, showcasing perfect indie pop musicianship throughout the set. As well as proudly demonstrating the newer material, we’re treated to Orange Juice favorites such as “Falling and Laughing” and “Rip It Up,” which has a nearby group of 15 year old girls and a middle-aged dad with his young kids dancing equally excitedly. The set closes with, naturally, his 1994 hit “A Girl Like You,” with an extended outro solo from Little Barrie. It’s arguably the best single of the 1990s and almost certainly the best thing we hear all weekend.

4. Neil Young Saturday

Before you get too jealous, no, we sadly did not get a surprise appearance from Mr. Young. Indeed to give the third day of the festival this name is perhaps a little unfair to the likes of The Horrors, Roy Harper, Jon Hopkins, Villagers, and John Cale. Okay maybe not Cale, who in all honesty disappointed us a little with a grouchy and uncommunicative set, albeit one improved by his outfit of shorts, pink blazer, and tie. It would also be remiss to go without mentioning Girls Names, whose perfectly judged droney, shoegazing punk made them one of the event’s real breakthrough acts.

Minnesotans Low were one of two bands playing tonight that were due to play on the same bill as Young during his now-cancelled European tour. They open with “On My Own” from new album The Invisible Way and, although it drags a little on record, Alan Sparhawk’s feedback-laden guitar combines perfectly with Mimi Parker’s soft percussion to create a work of sparse, textured beauty. The rest of the set—including captivating versions of “Murderer,” “Witches,” and “Clarence White”—follows in much the same pattern as their vocals interweave and the captivated crowd is able to appreciate what a versatile guitarist Sparhawk is. They close with their unique take on “Down by the River,” with excitement visibly running through the crowd as they slowly realise what the song is.

Towards the end of the night we’re persuaded to catch Bland of Horses (typo is deliberate), and in their defence they are probably the best—and, if the immense size of the crowd is anything to go by, the most popular—pub rock plodders I’ve ever seen. They seem to capture the imagination of a presumably inebriated crowd with “No One’s Gonna Love You” and “Funeral,” but the only thing that gets me excited is their rendition of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” which is The. Best. Song. Ever.

5. The Food and Drink

No, it wasn’t just Welsh rarebit, thank god. The selection of food available is like no festival I’ve ever seen before; every imaginable ethnic food group from around the world is represented here, from bacon rolls and burgers through to actual insect eating. Particular highlights include the venison chilli, the local cheeses (we resisted the temptation to go all Alan Partridge and run around yelling “Smell my cheese!”), the burrito bar, the mixed Meze and North African vegetarian platter, and something that I don’t remember but was a sort of chilli/curry hybrid. The organizers deserve credit not only for catering for every taste imaginable, but for actively encouraging visitors to expand their culinary horizons.

There was also a wonderful selection of alcohol available, the headliner of which was the ale festival with 100 real beers from around the world. Sadly by the time we reached this many of the better choices had sold out, but it was still an enjoyable tasting experience. One of the best I tried was the festival’s own Growler, a medium ale with just 3.7% ABV that went down perfectly in late mornings and early afternoons.

6. The Horrors

Ask any regular visitor to live rock nights around the U.K., and they will no doubt tell you that The Horrors are rapidly becoming one of the most exciting bands on the circuit and that after finally releasing a great record in 2011’s Skying are likely to make it big on this side of the pond when they put out their fourth album, hopefully later this year or next year.

Their set is thankfully light on material from brown rock debut Strange House, and the band makes the wise decision to draw from their rise to one of the most intriguing alternative rock bands out there. Skying and Primary Colours saw the band begin to straddle the line between artful drones and mainstream appeal, and it’s these two albums that make up the bulk of the setlist with the likes of “Sea Within a Sea,” “Still Life,” and “Who Can Say” getting the full Phil Spector wall of noise treatment to lend the set a visceral, emotive vibe.

7. The Other Attractions

Green Man has always prided itself on being a, er, green festival. The most overt exhibition of its environmental friendliness was to be found in “Einstein’s Garden,” where stands ranged from The British Ecological Society taking a swab of punters’ bodily fluids and allowing them to watch cultures grow, to the SusTrans stall that allows you to charge your phone by cycling (also thanks have to go to the guys running this for providing a free crate of beer in the early hours of Sunday morning), to cute farmyard animals for the soft hearted kids. “You won’t find anything like it at any other festival” boasted the website, and for once the PR was not hyperbole.

In addition to this were comedy and cinema tents and, although we didn’t get to visit these ourselves, friends reported on late evening dance freakouts to LCD Soundsystem’s Shut Up and Play the Hits, as well as great laughs provided by the likes of Isy Suttie on the stand up stage. Finally it’s also worth mentioning the great DJ sets on offer (the guy playing bad ‘90s dance at the crew bar and keeping us awake until early Monday morning notwithstanding): Mike Diver spinning late afternoon hip hop records in a giant pair of teeth, Heavenly Jukebox sending the crowd crazy with Jackie Wilson and Fleetwood Mac at 4 a.m. and Pete Paphides sending us off to sleep on Sunday with a mixture of early ‘90s indie, ‘80s art rock, and guilty pleasures that ranged from Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” to Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.”


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