Ah, Green Man. A dreamy festival bursting with beguiling folk and indie music, where the views of Table Mountain (original Welsh version) compete for attention with the bands on the main stage; where the range of craft beers is so extensive it required a menu the length of a short novel; where there’s more vegan food than you could shake a tofu-skewer at; and which this year was dedicated to the National Health Service (NHS), whose founder, Nye Bevan, grew up and developed his passions for social justice, song and art in nearby Tredegar.
Markontour’s first visit to Green Man started with a cycle and walk in the surrounding Brecon Beacons, followed by a forage into Crickhowell, a market town resplendent with quintessence, along with a high street entirely comprised of unique local stores. Not only can you buy the best chocolate-coated ginger in the west in Natural-Weigh, a plastic-free zone where everything is dispensed into reusable jars, but the butchers sell some of the best vegan pies I’ve ever tasted.
Meanwhile the festival itself was waking up, with a classic Thursday night set from Public Service Broadcasting, and as that is what I am supposed to be writing about, I’d better get to it. Thus follows the markontour review of Green Man 2018 (normal rules apply*):
Headline acts: King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard, Fleet Foxes, The War on Drugs
Contemporaneous events: a long, hot-British climate-changed summer
Authors’ festival credentials: punter, commuting in from the nearby Mon & Brec canal.
5 star-plus performances
John Grant – the Michigan-born Abba fan with a voice that grabs hold of your soul was in superb form, both in song and conversation (revealing his passion for languages by explaining that the Icelandic phrase for “to have a nap” literally translates as “to have an Arctic Tern pause” – that moment when said sea-bird appears to hesitate before diving for fish). ‘Glacier’ was truly awesome tonight, breathing love and insight not only into the rapt crowd, but out into the valleys and hills beyond. (Mountain Stage, 9pm & Babbling Tongues, 2.45pm Saturday)
Alex Cameron – a low-rent Father John Misty, with all guilt but little of the stardom, Alex Cameron pranced on stage looking like a sleazeball, slicked back hair and a white shirt over a white string vest. I was ready to leave, but a brilliant show, full of sharp lyrics and great singing, plus the befuddled Roy Molloy’s stool reviews, made this one of the highlights of Green Man. (11.30pm, Friday, Walled Garden)
Public Service Broadcasting – playing songs from ‘Every Valley’ near the former coal mining communities it described ensured additional inspiration and it was spine-tingling to hear the Beaufort male voice choir join to close with ‘Take Me Home’. (Far Out, 10.30pm, Thursday)
Insecure Men – a brown corduroy suit, cracking vocals and great lyrics, this threesome were apparently formed in the Fat White Family’s practice space, although there was none of the chaos you might expect from that association – more John Grant mixed with Father John Misty. (Walled Garden, 6.45pm, Friday)
Owen Sheers – reading excerpts from his passionate homage to the NHS, To Provide All The People, the local boy gave us all something to be both proud and angry about. (Babbling Tongues, noon, Saturday)
Seamus Fogarty – a wholly unexpected pleasure. “Last time we were here”, Fogarty explained, “we were so hungover we had to sit for the entire show and then it started raining. This year we’re standing and the sun is shining!”. Great story-songs, from missing the bus back to Dublin and waking up in church to the mumble of scores of old women intoning mass, to losing a favourite yellow t-shirt up a mountain, and quitting a construction job to go to Mexico (except he didn’t). Glorious stuff. (Mountain Stage, 1.30pm, Saturday).
Stella Donnelly – “I get homesick before I go away”, complained this travelling Aussie with a Welsh mum, but I’m so glad she made this trip. There was a wonderful song about a family Xmas & putting down a drunken Aunt with the verdict “My Mum was a punk / And you’re still shit”. A little bit Courtney Barnett. (Walled Garden, 1.15pm, Sunday)
Pictish Trail – sounding a bit like Jesus Jones at times, I need to listen more to this proud Scotsman. I wrote down ‘Don’t blink your eyes’, but can’t remember what it referred to now. (Far Out, 9pm, Thursday)
King Tuff – looking a bit like Chas and Dave, but sounding nothing like them. (4pm, Mountain, Friday)
Courtney Marie-Andrews – an extraordinarily powerful country voice, singing some sharp lyrics – “Stuck in Nickel City / On the tainted side of a coin / El Nino brought a blizzard / The Greyhound brought a boy”. I should have given her 5-stars and her record is now on repeat. (Mountain, 4.30pm, Saturday)
Amy True – “No-one likes to be a victim, so let’s not make any”. Mixing rap and politics and looking like she was enjoying it as much as we were, I want to see Amy True again. (Chai Wallahs, 7pm, Saturday)
9 Bach – featuring Lisa Jen (who sings so beguilingly on PSB’s ‘Every Valley’), a harp and dub beats, this was engaging Welsh-language soundscape. (Walled Garden, 11.15pm, Saturday)
Friendly Fire – it’s about this time annually that I start to lament the fact that another year has passed without me discovering a new reggae band. 2018 will be different because of this Birmingham-based collective! (Chai Wallahs, 9.20pm, Sunday)
The War on Drugs – dreamy but vital, a worthy headliner, who’s about 70% Springsteen. (Mountain, 10.15pm, Sunday)
Tom Wrigglesworth – funny man from Yorkshire who talks to his parents a lot. (Babbling Tongues, 12.30am, Sunday)
Deptford Northern Soul Club – a great DJ set in an amazing location to end a beautiful festival.
And the rest
Well no-one reads the stuff after 4-stars do they? But Peggy Seeger was again good value in conversation; Fleet Foxes drew the biggest crowd of the weekend but we drifted off to the sic-sculpture when the tunes started to meld into each other; the ever-wonderful Sweet Baboo was ever-wonderful but we only caught the end; Accu and Sock are ones to watch; and I did enjoy the Bert Jaksch Workshop, even if there was a moment of terror when I thought they were going to make everyone who had a guitar with them get up on stage and play a song!
* The normal markontourblog festival review rules are observed above, meaning all the scores and most of the comments are ones I jotted down in the moment of experiencing the performance, or of immediate reflection afterwards.