Festivals

Green Man -- Devendra, "olde English folk" and rain, rain and more rain

Michael Bonner

Barely off site, but here’s how it was. Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks just wound it up on the main stage with the new addition of Sleater Kinney’s Janet Weiss behind the drum kit, and with a few choice words to some of their UK friends: “We endorse The Cribs, but not fucking Kasabian”.

It’s something to do with a recent weekend at V Festival, apparently, and frankly we can’t say we blame him. The Jicks themselves remain something of an acquired taste – you can’t help but feel Malkmus’ skill is in elegantly slack guitar playing and couplets of the tossed-off variety, while sometime here feels overwrought or overdone. But still, there’s some fine moments and it’s worth staying to hear Malkmus’ between-song bon mots.

Prior to The Jicks, Herman Dune played one of the sets of the weekend, David Herman Dune and his band play eerily beautiful songs like ‘Wish That I Could See You Soon’, tales of long-distance romance and life on the road beat out on trebly acoustic guitar and slipshod drums. There’s Devendra Banhart, looking sharp in tight black waistcoat and crisp white shirt, debuting a number of tracks from his new album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon backed by his Hairy Fairy band and bouncing round the stage rapping a shaker for a climactic ‘Just Like A Child’.

Seasick Steve keeps it stripped down in the Folkey Dokey tent, a set of gnarled, bare-ass blues that lack gloss but make up for it with raw, earthy showmanship. Meanwhile, Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys flipped the notion solo sets have to be earnest yawn fests, wheeling onstage a billboard-sized testcard, dressing as a newsreader and an aeroplane captain, and during a climactic ‘Skylon’, relating the tale of a dramatic mid-air terrorist attack as friends dressed as air marshals and terrorists act out the warfare with fake TNT canisters and plastic guns. Although why the terrorist is wearing a Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers helmet remains unclear.

In many ways, Green Man has moved far from its roots in bread-and-butter folk, so former Pentangle man John Renbourn feels pretty special, his set of dexterous baroque guitar and Celtic traditionals received with hushed awe. Meanwhile, out on the Literature tent, Shirley Collins performed the last of her three academic talks, a historical piece on old Romany song complete with ancient-sounding recordings of traveller’s songs.

Directing Hand find their roots in the traditionals, too, although they spin out the influence in strange, experimental directions. Led by Alex Neilson, a young Scottish percussionist who’s been sharing the stage with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Directing Hand recast olde English folk as a broiling, improvised racket of freeform drums, sweeping harp, and throaty, undulating yodeling courtesy of his collaborator Vinnie Blackwall. It’s impressive stuff, but like the shins-deep mud plains that now cover much of the site, rather something of an endurance test.

Still, it’s testament to Green Man’s spirit that even a spot of rain can’t ruin a good time. Roll on next year.

LOUIS PATTISON


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