Review: The Green Man Festival 2008

Michèle Weydert
Friday 29 August 2008 12:51

Co-founder of the festival Jo Bartlett once said: “I look upon each Green Man as a work of art.” Although largely painted in various shades of grey, this year’s event was exactly that.

Set in the gorgeous Glanusk Park Estate surrounded by black mountains and the bulging river Usk, the non-corporate Green Man is a magic event where artists mingle with their audience, children chase bubbles through the air and fairy lights puncture the dark.

There are no metal detectors, body searches or enormous security guards. Instead you find massage parlours, healing stations and children’s playgrounds. Weak lager and greasy burgers are replaced by local beer and cider, fair-trade cola and culinary treats from all over the world.

The eclectic line-up kicked off on the Friday as Paul Marshall lulled his audience in with a solo performance of delicate finger-plucking and soft vocals. Anyone who has seen Marshall’s previous band Concentration Champ playing death metal with stockings over their faces was in for a surprise.

The folky atmosphere, however, was soon dismantled by the refreshingly electronic Fuck Buttons. Barely visible in a cloud of dry ice, the Bristol duo astounded with distorted synths and an attractive lack of conventional structure.

Over on the tiny Green Man café stage Lou Rhodes’ hushed voice soothed the crowd to silence. Finishing with her single “The Rain” despite light-hearted protests from the audience, Rhodes’ performance set a mesmerizing stage for the torrential downpour that followed.

While the stunning green fields were slowly transformed into a dark, slimy mud bath, the crowd in the marquee was entranced by the mix of hypnotizing folk beats and ominous, nasal vocals that is the Cave Singers.

Spiritualized headlined the main stage with a confident performance. The bulk of the set came from their latest album Songs in A&E but old favourites like “Shine a Light” and “Take me to the other Side” did not miss their mark. At times however, Jason Pierce’s songs of love, loss, God and redemption somehow seemed to merge into one and the front man’s lack of interaction with the crowd left the performance a little flat.

Saturday was dominated by unrelenting rain. But this being Wales, everyone came prepared for the worst with colourful wellies, vast umbrellas and children stashed in wheelbarrows. The home made pie and mash stall attracted deservedly long queues of water-logged festival goers looking for comfort food.

The afternoon welcomed the official live debut of hotly tipped Clare Maguire with an intense performance and powerful a cappella encore.

The highlight of the day was Lightspeed Champion. Retaining the frenetic performing style of previous band Test Icicles, Dev Hynes’ eloquent pop songs display a softer more thoughtful side to the once post hardcore rocker. However, the distorted guitars are not completely forsaken as a fuzzed out medley of Star Wars themes punctuated the folk friendly set with endearingly geeky bombast.

The rain finally took leave just in time for local Welsh heroes Super Furry Animals. Their infamous mix of lush harmonies and dense psychedelia had people flock out of the bars into the mud. Combining material from the latest album Hey Venus with older hits such as the aptly titled “Hello Sunshine”, the Furries delivered an extensive and crowd pleasing set.

On Sunday, Los Campesinos!’ bouncy hooks demonstrated what separates the Cardiff seven-piece from the currently saturated indie canon.

Still on the main stage, Laura Marling performed potent indie-folk songs with a maturity far beyond her years.

Festival favourites The National attracted a crowd of adoring fans. With comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and The Smiths already awarded them the New Yorkers’ performance deftly validated the merit of such plaudits.

Behind the main stage the brooding Sugar Loaf Mountain provided a suitable setting for Matt Berninger’s haunting baritone, contemplative lyrics and gloomy melodies. The performance climaxed with the front man jumping from the stage and into the crowd whist leading them in a fervent sing-along of standout track “Mr November”.

So once again, Green Man has proved to be a magnificent place to discover new music, rejoice in the awe-inspiring Welsh scenery and get willingly soaked to the skin. Having grown from an audience of 300 people in 2003 to almost 10,000 this year the festival has lost nothing of its spirit.

As the last bubble of the weekend popped to the jazzy folk sounds of Bert Jansch’s Pentangle, Green Man 2008 was officially confirmed as a glorious piece of muddy festival art.

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