It hit me on the train on the way there. Here I was, on a high-speed train on my way to the Green Man Festival reading The Guardian. Moments of true self revelation don’t come too often, although this was made slightly less of an epiphany by the fact this carriage was packed with people like me doing exactly the same thing. Welcome to the world of the liberal middle-class twenty-something. This is what we do.
Mockery aside, we must all be doing something right, as anyone with the good sense to go to what is the finest UK festival around deserves affection – flowery wellies and wet wipes and all. Organisers had been adding to a mouth-watering line-up since February to construct a bill so fabulous on paper that it surely couldn’t live up to itself. In a rare example of expectations met, all the acts who promised much with big reputations delivered, while, of course, countless ‘small’ acts did enough to ensure a few thousand MySpace hits on the Monday morning afterwards.
Friday afternoon was a good start, Findlay Brown, a major talent, blew out the cobwebs of the journey with a rousing set that ended in appropriately funky style with Don’t You Know I Love You, his signature tune he describes as his ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash wig-out’. He also jumped off the stage for a little acapella sing-a-long with the audience – this being on the Friday, before the rain came, when jumping into the audience would not leave you shin-deep in mud.
Northumbria’s Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, amongst all this alleged ‘new folk’, was the most traditional act on this year’s bill. Singing songs steeped in the North-East, a crowd mostly lazing around on the grass soon picked up on the slew of history coming at them from this four-piece, while sounding totally contemporary at the same time. Even clog-dancing failed to place them as an anachronism. Folk is, like, so now.
Euros Childs is a bit of a strange fellow isn’t he? The former front man for Gorky’s Zycotic Mynci has hit upon gold in his solo career, and despite apparent uproar for not singing in Welsh in the past, here, at Crickhowell near Abergavenny, there was not a moan to be heard as he and his band triumphantly exhibited the very best from his growing catalogue. If pushed, he might be described as akin to a Welsh Syd Barrett given the child-like imagery and simple melodies, but that’s a comparison we should probably steer clear of given Childs’ evident dedication to being one of a kind.
After his set he was spotted in the audience watching Dead Meadow in the Folkey Dokey Tent. This fascinating American threesome have absolutely no songs and a singer who can’t sing, yet they end each clueless track with a space-rock jam of such soul and passion that one forgets their previous lack of imagination. Part Grateful Dead, part Allman Brothers with a little of the less irritating bits of The Stone Roses thrown in, Dead Meadow are a formidable live prospect and were a pleasant surprise.Bill Callahan has legions of fans in the UK. Most are introspective, bespectacled young men who are terrified of women. While the artist formerly known as Smog is clearly a deeply articulate and formidably talented man, he gave Green Man on Friday night a slightly gloomy front, engaging little with the crowd, as ever, and seemingly ambivalent to his own songs. Great lyrics though.
Headlining was his lady, Joanna Newsom. Anyone (there must be someone, somewhere) unconvinced by her must see her live, because it is here where one will finally ‘get it’, as I did. The woman is a force of nature, a talent so wild and unusual as to keep you awake at night. Pretty much all of Ys was performed and it was dazzling. Green Man has never seen the like before (except when she was last here, in 2005).
Spotted wandering around the site were Seasick Steve and members of Vetiver, which reminded one of the joys in store on Saturday and Sunday. Until then however, the night brought dreams of a diminutive lady sat at her harp.