There aren’t many festivals where you have to cross a drawbridge and go through a keep just to get in. Sat on the drawbridge were two stewards in fluorescent jackets smoking joints talking to members of the band Circulus, a troupe of musicians in robes and outrageous hats who look more like a gaggle of travelling players than your typical folk-rock group. They were smoking joints, too.
And thus the Arcadian, bohemian scene is set for the fourth Green Man Festival, for better or worse. For better, we have the location. The site has moved to the foot of the Sugarloaf mountains about twenty miles from Abergavenny, a spot of such eerie beauty as to lend the festival an especially reflective vibe that verged on the apocalyptic when the mist descended down from the hills on the first night. Remote.
For worse, the festival had been dealt a bitter blow the day before when Martha Wainwright was forced to cancel her set on the Sunday after flying back to America to attend to a personal matter. This was a pain, as she was the biggest draw of the festival – but knowing her if it is a real family crisis we’ll surely hear about it in song fairly soon. She was to be replaced by Cerys Matthews.
Donovan‘s headlining set on Friday was weird. The man wrote half a dozen good pop tunes that plugged into the wistful zeitgeist of the mid-sixties, but was never an icon and is now slightly embarrassing. I imagine the real heavyweights of the ’60s folk scene, some of whom such as Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Joe Boyd would provide some of Green Man’s finest moments, scoffed at his wannabe-Boho posturing that he keeps up to this day.
His on stage patter and the Mojo interview with him in the literature tent the following day, concentrated on telling us over and over how ‘alternative’ and ‘bohemian’ he was and how On The Road changed his life, man. It changed all our lives daddio, but really, have you nothing more to say than repeat all this in every sentence? Banging on about the Beatles and the Maharishi was equally tiresome.
For some reason he spoke in a Jamaican accent throughout his performance, rendering him even more annoying. Sunshine Superman, Hurdy Gurdy Man, Catch the Wind and Season of the Witch were all churned out, and it was kinda nice. But he is a very strange man.
In amongst the stalls there was a man in a caravan carrying out a survey into what it means to be British. One question was why one came to the festival. Peering over a middle-aged woman’s shoulder, I saw she had written in answer “to see if instant community can really exist”.
These small festivals should engender a sense of community and friendship, but Green Man suffers from the implications of that hateful label – ’boutique’ festival. Firstly, the extreme prices of food and drink preclude a sense of communal bliss, while it also seems that in Glastonbury’s absence, many well-heeled young people picked this as a replacement. Hence countless kids strung out on a myriad of drugs – actually a very depressing sight.
Anyway, early afternoon on day one brought Deptford’s Shortwave Set, whose lush Flaming Lips-esque pop rock had the loops and samples you come to expect from 21st century ‘folk’ artists. The Aliens, the new vehicle for the nutter that is ex-Beta Band frontman Gordon Anderson (and two other former Betas) were proper kick up this festival’s ass. His maniacal leaping and jumping around on stage and the throbbing indie/hip-hop/funk his band purveyed perked everyone up while we were all being drowned by Wales’s inevitable rain.
Then there was the mighty Circulus. Dragons, warlocks and bringing in the harvest were the songs’ subject matter, all in a style combining Jefferson Airplane with the prog indulgences of Jethro Tull or Wishbone Ash.
Gruff Rhys played a packed out Folkey Dokey Tent, but unfortunately he clashed with Teddy Thompson on the main stage, who was the best thing on this first day. The majority of those he attracted to his feet were in their forties, most likely brought there by a familiarity with his parents. But musically, Teddy is not really his parents’ son and is closer in style – with his songs of delicate romance and vocals with extended vowels and hanging notes – to his pal Rufus Wainwright.
Post-Donovan entertainment was provided by a DJ Tent and a bonfire, lit at midnight every night, around which we had unconfirmed reports of naked dancing.