Green Man Festival: Folkies in a big tent. Now that's a festival!

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The Independent Culture

In the old days, going to a pop festival was all about sitting cross-legged in a field listening to the bands.

In the old days, going to a pop festival was all about sitting cross-legged in a field listening to the bands. Well, that and taking drugs, obviously. Then, as festivals got more sophisticated, with portable loos instead of trenches, listening to the bands became less and less important. Between the shopping, the shiatsu, the drugs and the dance-tent, there just wasn't enough time.

This syndrome reached its apotheosis with The Big Chill, where festival-goers were only too happy to pay a hundred quid to sit in a field and read The Guardian. So welcome, then, to The Green Man at Clyro in Powys, which promotes exactly the kind of back-to-basics regime that the by-now decadent format needs.

At the ungodly festival-hour of 1pm last Sunday, the main marquee was packed with people sitting cross-legged and listening intently to the best new band in Britain, the Earlies. It was an astonishing, spine-tingling show. But in order to remember it, you had to be aware you were experiencing it in the first place, and that's where the relatively slow pace - comparable to the slow food movement, if you like - of Green Man really works. Started by two local musicians, and now in its second year, with a capacity upped to a sold-out thousand people or so, The Green Man cost 35 quid for two days, with camping a fiver. You could also stay in the slightly-decayed splendour of the Conan-Doyle-related Baskerville Hall, in whose house and grounds the festival - just across the tracks from Hay on Wye - takes place.

The music is nominally folk and folktronica, but in practice this proved a very broad church. Take Lucky Luke, from Glasgow, who appear to operate at a mid-point between Fairport Convention and the Velvet Underground, which, when you think about it, is a really interesting place to be. Or Ella Guru from Liverpool, whose blend of pedal-steel and good old gloomy indie, provided more perfect afternoon fare. Or the incredible solo vocalist-harpist Joanna Newsom (right), from San Francisco, who sings what could be twee songs to the accompaniment of surprisingly muscular plucked-strings.

Among the other acts, James Yorkston and the Athletes and the Fence Collective (in which Yorkston also played), from Fife, had an air of such innocence and enthusiasm that their performances proved entirely winning, while the Memory Band and Clayhill, from London, wore their slightly older hearts on their sleeves to similar effect. But if the excellent Yorkston sounds a bit like Nick Drake, and the others sound a bit like someone else, the Earlies are entirely themselves. True, there's a touch of Brian Wilson in the doubling of instruments, the harmonies and the attention to sonic detail, but the 11-piece, Burnley-based, Lancashire-Texas aggregation are so ambitious that what could come across as mere charm ended up approaching the monumental; they even made me, gulp, believe in rock music again.

The "tronica" in the folk arrived late on Saturday night with the performance of Fourtet, the cult DJ, mixer and laptop-artiste. Playing a solo set in which deconstruction played a formidable part, Fourtet challenged our tender folkie sensibilities with huge slabs of unreconstructed noise. Some of it was good, too. But as the cynical sound engineer said, it's always worrying when the audience applauds a beat.