The Green Man Festival, Baskerville Hall, Hay-on-Wye

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The Independent Culture

In its second year, the Green Man Festival has doubled in size, and now spans two days of folk, folktronica and plain old-fashioned singing and songwriting.

In its second year, the Green Man Festival has doubled in size, and now spans two days of folk, folktronica and plain old-fashioned singing and songwriting.This can seem like an awfully specialised genre, but the festival has a unique character, quite unlike any other. The flavour is one of sparse, laid-back passivity, much like the earliest days of festival-going must have been.

The main stage is in a small marquee, and the hall itself houses the Folkey Dokey platform, the Radio 1 acoustic room and has spaces devoted to film screenings and literature readings. The last two forums are emphatically dedicated to Welsh culture. In the gardens outside are a limited selection of counter-culture stalls. Consumerism is refreshingly absent.

The first impression is that too many of the artists involved appear to be merely toying with the vocabulary of traditional music. Often, the standard of actual singing, fiddling or guitar-playing is amateurish, lacking cohesion or communal drive.

Colleen doesn't quite fit in. She specialises in multi-instrumental dabbling, making sampled loops out of simple phrases. She builds up layers of cello, melodica, recorder, thumb piano and bowed guitar, but her results are overly precious, an unimaginative demonstration of limited technique. Pedro deploys laptop clatter to greater effect, but his input is more free jazz than folk twang.

Joanna Newsom has a mannered voice, nervily plucking her harp, while Ella Guru win the competition to be the quietest combo of the weekend. The Brighton-based Lucky Jim quartet initiated a Scottish sequence, although their organ-infused rock has a distinctly Stateside cast.

I prefer this folktronica business when it hits hard, as with the omnipresent laptopper Four Tet's climactic self-destruction on the first night, loading in his twinkling Indonesian gamelan chimes, then jacking up brutal gut-punch beats that defied any attempts at pagan dancing.

As the second day winds down, the lanky Green Man leads his parade around the grounds, and the evening boasts a marked improvement in musical quality. By this time I was gasping for some properly improper folk revelry, and the Scottish-Irish blending of Daimh fulfilled that need. They had the crowd dancing the clod-hop, playing with brilliance. Headliner Alasdair Roberts, whose wonderfully morose Scottishness uncurled to a twin-guitar accompaniment, drums rolling sensitively through a sitting-down set, ended the weekend with a melancholy flow.

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