Review: Green Man 2017
This fifteenth instalment of the Green Man Festival, an event held with the impressive backdrop of the Brecon Beacons surrounding, is so polite that even fag butts are put in bins. The use of £1 plastic pint pots is a smart move used at European festivals for years, but bizarrely isn't the norm here in the UK, that plus the proactive approach to clearing litter means Green Man is probably the cleanest festival you’ll ever go to.
The reformed and revitalised legendary shoegaze four-piece Ride are the main draw of the Thursday night, and with a fresh album under their belt (Weather Diaries) which holds its own among their 90’s material, their set is one which does look back, but is also of the new, executed with vigour. Recent tracks such as the spiky ‘Charm Assault’ and the beaty ‘All I Want’ sit easily amongst older much loved material such as ‘Seagull’, or as Mark Gardener describes during the show as ‘the hit’, their 1992 top ten hit ‘Leave Them All Behind’. Although staples such as ‘Twisterella’ and ‘Chelsea Girl’ are left out of the set, the closing eight-minute dirge of ‘Drive Blind’ with bonus sheets of head crushing white noise, making their own holocaust section more than makes up for their omission.
Friday sees impressive sets by Hinds, a shrubbery covered stage encasing British Sea Power’s catchy angst, Kate Tempest who continues her ascent to an essential additional to any festival and reformed 90’s act Lift To Spill who gather an impressively sized audience for the cranium crushing mixture of post rock and grunge, but the highlight of the day is from a much newer act. Originally breaking through back in 2015 with a series of impressive EP releases, London five piece Pumarosa finally released their debut long player, ‘The Witch’, earlier this year. Captivating a medium but totally engaged crowd, lead singer Isobel Munoz-Newsome’s background as a dancer results in a performance which is part gothic witch, part early Kate Bush videos with the occasional dash of Lady Gaga-esque exhibitionism. The dark pleasures of their music goes perfectly with the late night sky as songs such as the saxophone heavy ‘Priestess, the piano based slow build drama of ‘Lion’s Den’, and the shoegaze rage of ‘Honey’ are perfect examples of how you can fuse the spectre of weird with pop sensibility and come up with something brilliant.
Aligned with the unpredictability of the weather: hot ten minutes, freezing for twenty, spot of rain-repeat, apart from the final day where a constant deluge of rain results in the area becoming a boggy mess, the music on offer is equally as unpredictable as the stages host some quality acts. Beachwood Sparks member Brent Rademaker brings his cosmic-country act Gospelbeach, the sun-drenched alt-psychedelia fused with Gram Parsons first two solo albums proves to be a massive hit, as do The Allah-Las, cut from the same teeth, but replace the country vibes with gentle woozy psych.
Liars provide an electrifying set of angsty doom set to furious electronic gothic rock, frontman Angus Andrew screams out his fury and rage and looks ready to combust or fight, if it weren’t for the flowing wedding dress he wore. The Oh Sees, on their nineteenth album enjoy a reputation for being one of the best underground rock bands and one of most thrilling live acts in the World. That reputation is realised at Green Man. Frontman John Dwyer is known as the godfather of new wave psychedelia and live he attacks his guitar like a man possessed, taking the freakiness of Roky Erickson and the guitar posturing of Pete Townsend, they spit out nuggets of psychedelic of rage, with two drummers, as performed by Big Black at their most fuck you.
As the rain sets in on the final day and the Green Man effigy prepares for its ceremonial burning at the close of the festival, The Shins perform a set of harmony and gentleness, their lullabyesque quieter moments and colour-bursting backdrop is just the kind of musical sunshine required when you’re sinking into the ground by standing still in a mud pool. An acoustic Julian Cope proves his weirdness with strange anecdotes, while Saint Etienne wheel out the hits alongside their recently released ‘Home Counties’ album.
The entire festival, however, belongs to PJ Harvey. Polly Jean, flanked by eight musicians plays a set heavy on 2011’s fantastic ‘Let England Shake’ and last year’s ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ album. Dark and dramatic, and playing saxophone on the sleek opening tracks ‘Chain of Keys’ and ‘The Ministry of Defence’, PJ evokes images of witchcraft and wonder as the realisation sets in that we have a performer who can match Nick Cave and Kate Bush at their very weirdest. The full band, shrouded in darkness with only the slightest glimmer of light and no sound at all from the audience who are captured under their spell, they perform ‘River Anacostia’ and as the whispered coda of “Wade in the water / God’s gonna trouble the water’ fades out, the lights go out and a procession of black clad figures carrying fire torches walk towards the Green Man to close the festival by setting it alight.
The usual behaviour of those who have failed to get into the (add your own festival name here, but it's mainly Glastonbury) complain about it losing its edge and being middle class. Yep, Green Man compared to say Reading or V is massively middle class, but who's looking, if a middle class festival means litter is being picked up the second it’s dropped and almost apologetic bar queues and shit hot food is being provided then bring it on. Yep, it gets a bit craft beer-tastic and pulled blah blah, but there aren’t many festivals in the UK as shockingly pleasant as this one.