Green Man -- Joanna Newsom, Vashti Bunyan and Robert Plant
Green Man. It’s all sylvan meadows, scampering deer, Hobits dancing in secluded woodland glades. Oh, OK, like all festivals this summer it’s a big sheet of grey mud and a big sheet of grey sky. But Green Man is different.
Active since 2003, this festival’s distinct positioning, sat in various progressively burgeoning locations in the heart of the South Wales countryside, and its selective spirit – olde-tyme English folk, wyrd American psychedelia and the occasional burst of electronica just to confuse matters – has shaped up to be something of a gem for punters tired of festival homogenity. Little wonder a spree of similar boutique festivals like Latitude have sprung up in its wake.
So yeah, it’s muddy. But it’s fun. On Friday night, the artist formerly known as [Smog], Bill Callahan and his harpist beau Joanna Newsom lit the wicker. But it’s Saturday things really get going. Six Organs Of Admittance is the best of the afternoon’s entertainment. Today consisting of Six Organs helmsman and sometime Comet On Fire Ben Chasny and his girl, Elise Ambrogio of Magik Markers, Six Organs whip up a savage, distinctly erotic storm of folk, acid rock and dirty blues. He’s on rhythm guitar, she’s onlead, and they face each other, leaning in, lips almost touching, weaving out beautiful fingerpicked folk songs or letting rip with caterwauling rock solos that strip the enamel off your teeth. And there’s even a cover of ‘Fire Of The Mind’ by Coil just to show you what sort of freaky headspace these two share.
Yeah, Green Man might be a folk festival, but anyone coming here expecting oak-smelling traditionals might be in for a shock. PG Six battles off the downpour with cranked up, jammy electric folk. Manchester’s Rick Tomlinson, aka Voice Of The Seven Woods, switches between guitar and a Turkish saz, stringing out druggy Eastern melodies augmented by screaming violin and the funkiest drumming this side of ‘Sex Machine’. Oh, and there’s James Yorkston, who barely seems to have started his set as he announces “this is the last song” and launches into a twenty minute take on ‘The Lang Toun’ that builds to numerous cacophonic climaxes. Put it this way, if you’re expecting a day of rustic folk, this’ll be Dylan at Manchester Free Trade Hall all over again.
What else? Well, genuinely with hand on heart, Green Man has the best food of any festival I’ve ever attended. Yesterday’s spicy fish and goat’s cheese wrap from the Arabic café was beyond excellent, and although I’m yet to brave the twenty minute queue for Pieminister, everyone who has done so has described the food in religious terms.
Less certain about the rest of the shopping fare – the world’s first biodiesel fuelled pinball arcade, anyone? – but the site’s well worth a bit of an explore regardless. After Saturday night’s headliners, then – a beautiful,serene set from freak-folk’s leading lady Vashti Bunyan, a well-received set from New York’s proggy, complex Battles, and a show closer from Robert Plant And The Strange Sensation who dust down ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and play it note perfect – it’s up the hill in search of the party.
We couldn’t find the campfire, but we did find the Rumpus Room, which far from resembling Ned Flanders’ basement, is instead a tent of chemically enhanced punters frugging into the night to a soundtrack of glam rock, Arabian funk, and other 7” curios from the likes of DJing old hands like Richard Norris from The Grid. It’s like Sean Rowley’s Guilty Pleasures, except you don’t recognise any of the tune, but it really doesn’t matter. In short, then, Green Man: it’s wet, but a whole lot of fun.
Catch you tomorrow.