Green Man 2013 (Festival Review: Day 1)
The adventure began with a coach journey, or rather, the lack of one. I had just written the following missive to the editor:
Already this is a different kind of festival.
I’m used to turning up to some suburban rail station with extra police on hand and a wide variety of technicolor semi crusty yoof piling off the train with beers in hand and shouts of ‘Masher, over here!’
Instead I’ve just passed through the sort of countryside that, on a sunny day, any human with eyes would be obliged to call gods’ country, pulled into a tiny rural station with only two ticket collectors, and followed a very tidy and civilised group of folk onto two immaculate coaches. No signs. No shouts. No loudspeakers saying ‘For green man festival please just leave us alone and get on something with wheels’.
There is a bit less banter.
It’s less rowdy and eagerly expectant.
It’s very calm subdued and, if I were in England, I’d say it was very English!
But as I waited and shared a rollie, the rumour passed round that the cash machines weren’t working on site. So, with only a few bob in pocket, I went into the local pub to negotiate some sort of cashback arrangement with the landlord. And upon emerging no richer than before, I saw that my coach had left, with all my bags on it…
I made the choice then and there that it was clearly going to be that kind of weekend, checked with coach driver number two that I could expect my bags to be waiting for me when I finally made it, and ambled into town to find a bank. I will only say that Abergavenny is the sort of place that a perennial Londoner like myself can forget exists…
…And by the time the second coach did arrive at the festival I had drowned a pint of delicious local ale, met a pyrotechnics expert who also works at Burning Man, and a member of the Junk Orchestra, who create interactive musical gardens from detritus and waste. My bags were there, and the coach driver – thank you Simon – was as good as his word.
The entrance gate was also unlike your usual festival entrance – hardly any queue to speak of, no police and no sniffer dogs. I was politely told that even if I was great friends with the head of markets, no I couldn’t borrow a radio to hail him down on channel 4. Further to the ‘not your usual festival’ vibe, my phone had reception, and the person I called answered me. I was shortly picked up by the Head of Markets, henceforth known as Q (and if that reminds you of James Bond, you’d be on the right track), and escorted past the crew security entrance ‘Are you sure that’s the right shade of blue on your wristband?’ to an immediately magical campfire with small children playing round it and reggae gently filling the air.
Introductions were made, we sat around and did what one does backstage at festivals, until a discovery was made…
‘Wow! Look at that!’ – my head certainly turned to the cry of a small child crouching down at a massive, moss-covered log, where he had discovered a gnarly looking earwig. My day job is running environmental education for young people, so I immediately launched myself out of my seat with equally enthusiastic cries of ‘What is it!?’ Then we spotted more bugs, and more kids came running. There were wood lice and slugs and spiders and holes into which some mini-beast would submerge, only to emerge from the other side of the log! Magic!
You may disagree – you’re thinking, ‘Tell me about the music you bloody hippy!’ – and I’m here to say that this is what Green Man is all about: Nature, shared experiences, kids, innocence and the sort of fun you can’t find anywhere else, that you’d forgotten you knew how to savour.
Eventually I managed to get Q to bring me around, outside the crew area, and introduce me to GM proper. What a magical mystery tour it was! You’d think he could take me the easy way, but apparently the easy way involved walking through a farmyard, moving two fences, squeezing between parked vans and emerging next to a food stall staffed by some truly charming and beautiful chefs (I’m sorry I can’t remember what you were serving, but I’m sure it would have been equally delicious).
Someone comes running – ‘We’ve got no waste-water pipe Q.’ ‘Oh…I’m sure I installed one on Wednesday…Hmmm.’ Moving on, we meet the fairies…
If you don’t know the fairies, you’re missing out. At this point Q was cajoled, not with any difficulty, into having half his face covered in glitter by the appropriately named Jester, a charming chap who was later to give me some Shiva-stripes across my forehead: ‘Androgynous, subtle yet powerful, god-like,’ I think was my request late on the Sunday afternoon. I’ll take this moment to give them their props…
The Fairylove stall is where you go when you feel like Joseph…that is to say, you need a technicolour dreamcoat. Unfortunately, the moments in which my dear friend and housemate, let’s call him S, emerged from their changing rooms in a spandex, neon onesie, were never captured on camera. His professional career will not be harmed. Do you want to become someone different? Do you want to become the person you could be? Do you want to look like a nutter who knows how to have fun and is having it? Look no further than the fairies. If ever you get the chance, join the ranks of the Glitterati, and let the fairies have their way with you!
Ah, the Mighty Booth was next on Q’s Magical Mystery Tour. That’s a Photo Booth on acid, with a soundsystem and attitude – as if you could have the first without the latter two?! And today they were Geordies – now, I can’t do a Geordie accent, but they’re not the type to judge. I’m going to take this chance to give them their due props as well, because at some point, on some evening, I entered the photo booth.
Two of the moods we were called on to express were ‘Your dog just died!’ and ‘You just found £150 on the floor!’. Emotional rollercoaster, yes. Beats, yes. Hilarity, irreverence and good times for all, yes. Let you plug your ipod into their soundsystem on the promise that, indeed, I do have good musical taste and love to boogie, yes. As a friend of mine told me in advance, find the Mighty Booth and all your dreams be answered. I’ve also heard much naughtier stories of what goes on behind that curtain, but I’ll let you write your own…
I was next brought to the Green Man, and I’ll take this chance to say something about who the Green Man is. He is basically Nature anthropomorphised – made human. There was some debate about his gender at one point this weekend, and I argued, somewhat controversially, that ‘Mother’ Nature need not always be feminine because, to my mind, when you do meet Him, the experience is that sort of experience that one has with a partner, lover, spouse – call them what you will – where your individuality melts away into an unmediated, reflexive sense of union that transcends gender.
‘You bloody hippy, get on with the music reviews!’ Right?
Tough. He defines the festival. He is the festival. And if you ask for his support, and make a good effort in return (try picking up litter, returning lost goods, dancing your heart out and socks off, clapping the bands you feel indifferent about since they are undoubtedly skilled musicians who make lots of other people happy, spending money freely and being nice to everyone), you’ll have the most magical festival you could imagine. I’ve been to a few, and the rumours are true. The Green Man is unique, magical, beautiful, transformative. Come along next year!
Q’s magical mystery tour ended with old friends of mine, whom I had not seen in many, many years. French and Grace is a fantastic place to eat at festivals. You can be sure of that before you indulge and despite the fact these are my mates, because there is a massive queue all day and night long. You don’t need to queue for food at GM, unlike at other festivals. But you have to queue if you want a chorizo and halloumi wrap with red cabbage and carrot, topped with delicious tahini, love and expertise! These are the sort of people who have flatbread masked parties – so you know they know just how to eat and party at the same time! I can’t tell you everything we got up to, but it was all part of the Green Man magic. Love you guys!
…But this is a music website, and I spent a lot of time listening and dancing to music at this festival. I’m not going to focus on the headliners. If you haven’t heard John Cale and Roy Harper, you won’t want to. It’s beautiful, dexterous, creative and, in their time, those two changed the musical world.
But I want to tell you about people who haven’t done that, yet.
So I went to Chaiwallahs.
On Friday night there, I was reassured that house music isn’t going to change the world, and I was disappointed to have missed Gringo Ska earlier in the day, who played about the time I was wandering around Abergavenny in search of cash. If only I could have stayed for the full 7 day holiday option…
But I was absolutely delighted to catch By the Rivers. Their song “Don’t Stand Alone” is moving and inspiring and, like all the songs they played, it achieved beautiful harmonies of voices supported by clear, confident instruments. Another of my favourites by them is Vulture, which certainly captivated me when they played it, and the rest of the audience seemed to agree with their applause.
I’m definitely going to see them in London on September 13th, at the Hootenanny in Brixton, and I suggest you do too.
Will and the People were great fun, and I’m also going to try to catch them on their tour which ends on September 26th in Brighton. They seemed reminiscent of The Police – it’s the tapping of the drumstick on the edge of a drum, offset by a heavy bass line, that I suppose would explain why you can dance to them as if they were playing drum and bass! Their videos online that reproduce some of that effect include Salamander and Holiday, the latter which also has an affinity with songs by Skool of Thought. I’d love to see them live too, and they’re well exploited by dj’s who make you want to dance, with songs like Life Gets Better
and When I Was A Youth
which itself samples lyrics made famous in the Prodigy’s Fire, that originally come from the little known reggae dub track Hard Times by Pablo Gad.
And just to bring that back full circle, check out a get-up-and-shake-it reworking of the Prodigy’s Firestarter, by Coda (more on their amazingness in the Day 2 post), which they played at Chaiwallahs the next night.
After a bit of a boogie to some tantalising but ultimately unfulfilling house music, I found myself disappointed that it was Friday night at a festival and I couldn’t locate any proper tear-up-the-dance-floor, bounce around and big-up-the-dj BEATS!
So I went on the Ferris Wheel instead, and was more blissful than I had been all night.
Not only could I see the whole festival, with Green Man glowing in his glory; not only did the wind blow my hair and demand that I dangled my legs vigourously; but as we zoomed down above the queue of expectant to-be-wheelers, we whooshed through the arms of the Ferris, bedecked with speakers bashing out electro-swing! And then in reverse, waving goodbye to the diminishing figures on the ground, the air cooled, the music dimmed, and the moonlit Welsh night embraced us like birds on the wing.
Rides at festivals cannot be recommended enough. How often do you go to a fairground? Never? Same here. But the previous weekend at Boomtown I suddenly found myself on an absolutely silly, scream your lungs out and hang on for dear life ride….and when I got off, against all my expectations, I ran about shouting ‘I want to go again!’ I felt the same way after the comparatively tame Ferris Wheel, especially at the humble price of £2.50, and it’s a great way, the only way in fact, to see a festival all at once.
Green Man has music for every ear. But you can only listen to one band, visit one bar, eat one wrap and ride one ride at a time, so as I returned to my tent with the dawn I felt that I must have missed out on 95% of the rest of the festival (and so feared my editor’s wrath); and yet I was convinced that I had just had one of the richest, most easygoing and enjoyable nights of the year. That’s a good festival feeling, and Green Man has them in spades.
I should mention one other reason why you should go to Chaiwallahs late at night, at any festival which they grace: Rum & Chai. They’re not called Chaiwallahs for nothing, and when most the other bars have closed, you’ll have charming staff smiling and asking which cocktail, hot or cold, you prefer. Caffeine-rich cocktails can of course, be a recipe for disaster. But chai can never be a bad idea, and it’s even better on a cold Welsh night, laced with a double shot of rum or brandy, with beats on in the background, and a huge Buddha beaming down over the bar and its tenders. Half chillout room, half dancefloor, when the only festival lights you can see lead back to the campsite, turn, turn again to Chaiwallahs’ bar!