Fontaines DC were the stand-out band at Green Man Festival this year, with one of the most intense sets I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing. But the organisers could have run an open-mic session on the main stage and it would still have been a wonderful festival, such was the anticipation for Green Man 2021 in the markontour household. As it was, this was a bumper year, with a slew of great performances from a mostly British and Irish line up, particularly from bands who have yet to get an album under their belts. And, with my nieces attending for the first time this year, I also got to enjoy the science, archaeology and craft spaces, as well as been cajoled onto the ferris wheel – a good place from which to admire the beautiful Brecon Beacon backdrop to this chilled-out festival. So, reflecting the especially chilled out nature of this festival, and the impossibility of ranking the performances, I am dispensing with my normal star system and going for a stage-by-stage review.
The Walled Garden
Forced to choose just one stage for the entirety of Green Man, the Walled Garden is where I would have laid my all-weather rubble sack. From intriguing introductions to new bands at the start of the day, banging late night dancing and vegan street food, this little area had it all.
Katy J Pearson, 4pm Friday
I was anticipating seeing Katy J Pearson for the first time almost as much as Fontaines DC, as it turned out so were a few hundred other people. The singer herself seemed bowled over by the reaction, perhaps because while a couple of singles from her debut album were fixtures on the BBC Radio 6 Music’s playlist last year, it’s only in the last few weeks she can have had chance to perform them to a live audience. There’s a country feel to her sound and look, mixed with shades of Fleetwood Mac, and a voice that can’t help but induce smiles even from songs about heartache. A star being born in front of our eyes.
The Golden Dregs, 1.15pm Sunday
This band were a revelation. Why only a few thousand others have sampled their music on Spotify I don’t know, but an appreciative audience at Green Man lapped up the lead singer’s Matt Beringer-esque baritone, the all white- clad band’s alt-country sound, and their musical swagger – swapping instruments seemingly between every song.
Charlotte Church’s Late Nite Pop Dungeon, 1am Friday/Saturday
Karaoke from the top drawer, with Charlotte Church and similarly talented friends belting out pop classics and guilty pleasures for our late night dancing pleasure.
Greentea Peng, 9.45pm Friday
From her incredible look, which tonight had a North African Berber feel to it, to a genre-mixing musical style, it’s hard to categorise Greentea Peng. This performance was perfectly judged for for a night-time setting, exuding soulful grooves and mystery, along with punch lyrics and political messages. Despite a slight wrong note at the start, when the singer referred to the festival as if it was just a stopping off point on a long tour, the warmth of the crowd seemed to convince Greentea that she has a home from home at this festival, which has its roots in a kind of folk/psychedelia that echoes at least part of Greentea Peng’s ecelctic ouevre.
Fenne Lily, 1.30pm Friday
If you were half-listening this was a gorgeously gentle start to the day, but it was worth focusing enough to follow the lyrics too. I was hooked by her fantastic put-down, “I used to hate my body, but now I just hate you” and there was plenty more of a similar ilk, accompanied by beautiful, folk-ish melodies
Liz Lawrence, 9.45pm Saturday
We sacrificed a bit of Liz Lawrence to watch the whole of Gruff Rhys on the Mountain Stage, but it was still wonderful to hear ‘None of my Friends’ and other great songs that have livened up the lockdown months.
The venue for introducing new bands – or “the beginners’ stage” as my friend called it.
Blood Wizard, 3pm Sunday
”My baby wears a halo / I use it sometimes” they explained in the stand-out song of an impressive set, from an artist for whom this is apparently a side-project. A bloody good one.
The Goa Express, 6.30pm Saturday
Proper indie-pop from this lot, which I hugely enjoyed.
Hanya, 11.45am Friday
I noted down admiringly that they sang about Logans Run “because we’re sci-fi people”. Dreamy indie guitar-pop from a band that, according to the programme, “are fuelled by sea air and long-time friendships”.
The main arena, framed by the Black Mountains, surrounded by greenery and in a field large and wide enough that it is always possible to find space if you want it.
Fontaines DC, 10.40pm Sunday
I elected to see only one of the headline acts, but I was so bent on catching Fontaines DC that we arrived uncharacteristically early at the Mountain Stage and bagged a spot front and centre. The band themselves seemed even more pumped up, with frontman, Grian Chatten, prowling around the stage like he’d just been let off a leash. From the first bars of opening song, ‘A Televised Mind’, it was clear that this was going to be a belter of a performance. High octane, with total commitment from the band throughout, it reminded me of seeing Nirvana at Rock City a lifetime ago, or what I imagine a Clash gig would have been like, had I been privileged enough to see one. In that vein, there was also a lively, sizeable and ultra-friendly moshpit, welcoming all genders and ages in proper festival style. The only missing bit was banter from the band. The best we got was a mumbled “Nice moon, tonight” (it was a stunner, posted above Sugar Loaf mountain). But that is finding fault for the sake of it – this was a performance for the all-time greatest gig lists, delivered by a band who set out with exactly that single-minded intention.
Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, 1pm Saturday
A Welsh harpist and a Senegalese kora player in a performance full of love, happiness and harmony. I just love the kora and Seckou Keita played his 21-stringed lute, which gains its resonance through a gourd, to mesmerising effect. I can’t say I know anything about the Welsh harp, but Catrin Finch’s playing was equally captivating, and when she wasn’t plucking out spine-tingling solos, she provided an almost blues-like backing rhythm to Keita’s cascading melodies. The second album these two musicians have produced together – ‘Soar’, about the migration of Osprey / Pandion Haliaetus from Africa to Wales and back, is as beautiful as their live performance of it.
Gruff Rhys, 9pm Saturday
Ah, Gruff – beloved indeed and relentlessly creative. I would watch him anywhere, but performing beneath Welsh hills is his natural setting and we were treated to a Greatest Hits set from his solo career (but not a Super Furries number that I recall). Benefiting from the rhythmic support of former Flaming Lips drummer, Kliph Scurlock, Gruff’s band sounded great, particularly on ‘Hiking in Lightning’ from his latest album. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t offer as much banter as usual, wanting to get through the songs, although there were the customary Dylanesque throwaway command cards at the end to raise a laugh.
Nadine Shah, 7.30pm Friday
Nadine Shah is lauded by so many DJs whose musical recommendations I follow that I have felt almost compelled to like her. Nevertheless, I had never quite connected with her music until she performed on Green Man’s Mountain Stage. Now I am a complete convert. The festival programme described her as “the Tyneside poet of our times, fixing an uncompromising eye on modern Britain”, and that assessment was lyrically vindicated, but also accompanied by danceable rhythms and eclectic melodies to accompany Shah’s deep-to-sweet voice. There will be a fair bit more Nadine Shah on markontour’s turntable from now on.
Teddy Hunter, 11.30am Sunday
I only heard a bit of the Green Man Rising winner’s set, but she sounded fantastic: exuding gorgeous, layered pop out across the Usk-valley.
The reggae, jazz, ‘world music’ stage. I wanted to see virtually everything on one day, but seem to have managed only a sliver.
Horseman & the Upper Cut Band, 8pm Thursday
A cracking reggae set that got our feet moving and face smiling on the first night. Veteran reggae singer, Horseman, succeeded in getting audience participation from the outset, as well as selling his “live and love” philosophy.
Afla Sackey & Afri Bawantu, Midnight Saturday
I noted this down as a 5/5 performance but with no further description, so I’ll resort to the programme: “Traditional Ghanian music with sizzling Afro-beat grooves and an irresistable shake-yer booty twist”. That must have been it.
The Showhawk Duo, 3.30pm Sunday
Real crowd-pleasers, strumming and drumming out dance anthems on acoustic guitars for the audience to sing-along to!
Luke Potter, 12.30 Sunday
There was a lovely moment in this set of gravelly-voiced Americana when Luke Potter invited his partner on stage to sing what I think was a John Martyn song, but certainly had lyrics along the lines of “From the moment you wake me up / Until you kiss me goodnight / It’s everything that you do / That makes me want more of you”. It brought a tear to the eye.
The big tent, largely featuring indie-rock
Porridge Radio, 4.30pm Sunday
The firm favourites of the Far Out tent in markontour’s crowd, who delivered a blisteringly intense and emotional set, full of heart-stabbing lyrics and jagged guitars.
NewDad, 4.30pm Saturday
Got to be honest – I only saw a couple of songs, but they were great! A bit late-eighties Cure-like? Or more early 90s dream pop? Very good in a retro kind of way, evoking a musical era I hugely enjoyed the first time around anyway.
Yard Act, 4.45pm Thursday
Benefiting from considerable Radio 6 Music playlisting for their wry ‘Fixer Upper’, Yard Act drew a big crowd for their brand of spoken-word punk. The kind of band who thrive on frission, it wasn’t an entirely comfortable experience, but this lot have a lot of potential.