Alight breeze gently rippled the colourful flags which adorned the festival site. Children played on hay bales, guzzling ice creams with the backdrop of a large ferris wheel. There was a mixed sense of adrenaline and relief in the air, an excitable buzz at the prospect of watching live music, and this time not through a glowing screen but solidly in the flesh.
For many of those attending Green Man Festival this year, it was the first live music experience they’d managed to get to since the start of the pandemic. Artists and punters alike were asked to present their covid-19 NHS pass before entering the festival, but once in, there were no restrictions, making this 25,000 person full capacity event feel like a total escape from the reality of life during a pandemic. It was striking how quickly people acclimatised back into a relaxed and anxiety-free mentality, almost as though, tucked away in the Welsh mountains, within the walls of the festival, we were granted permission to let go and play by our own rules once again. The performances were centred around four main stages, with many smaller stages scattered in and around offering poetry, lectures, film, wellbeing, comedy and kids activities. Taking to the stage were musicians from a range of practices and backgrounds throughout the UK. The first headline slot was given to Caribou, who stole the night with a hypnotic performance of pulses, textures, and rhythms, accompanied by striking and beautiful abstract visuals of shape and light.
For lovers of post-rock, Mogwai never fails to deliver. The sound they manage to create using a rock band set-up is something much more akin to orchestral music. They filled the space with expansive walls of sound, shifting dynamics to give the audience the sensation of being submerged by waves.
Fontaines DC brought energy from working-class Dublin, a striking intelligence in the half-sung, half-spoken lyrics of lead singer Grain Chatten, perfectly driving the energetic and beautifully put together instrumentals from his bandmates. They sent a ripple of energy and power through the crowd, their fans chanting lyrics back to them in one defiant breath “I don’t belong to anyone / I don’t belong to anyone / I don’t wanna belong to anyone.”
Many of the acts will be familiar names to Folk Radio UK readers: Richard Dawson, whose powerful set weaved effortlessly between personal stories of family relationships, friends (and a healthy sprinkling of football references!), to heart-wrenching folk tales of life, love, and loss. Katy J Pearson brought compelling confidence to the stage, her distinctive voice resonating beautifully in a way that creates the contagious urge to move. H Hawkline’s quirky songwriting, LUMP (the duo who seems to be on everyone’s lips right now), José Gonzalez in the run-up to his September album release, This is the Kit – always satisfying and effortlessly tight, Stephen Fretwell who struck the perfect balance between nonchalance and excitement, his emotive songs interspersed with jovial stage banter. Silky English-rose vocals from Billie Marten and fluent harmonies from The Staves. Other highlights included a mix of experimental pop, rock, dancehall, and jazz influences. Nadine Shah was probing the edges of pop with an eerie pallet of sounds and soulful vocals. Thundercat, navigating the fretboard with extra-human speed. Steam Down virtually dripped with life and vibrancy, using their instruments as their dance partners. Outrageous yet utterly genius Black Midi, who brought an impromptu entourage of mimers to join them onstage. Sinead O Brien, whose music is like a doorway into her mesmerising mind. The much-awaited secret set was taken by Squid, who rewarded the gambling crowd with an immaculate performance of unpredictable rhythmic changes and exigent vocals. Wet Leg (the other hot new duo on the scene) were fun, daring, and unafraid to make stark sexual references in the most refreshing matter-of-fact way.
As in true tradition, the end of the festival was marked with the burning of the Green Man – a giant sculpture made from wood, leaves and the secret notes written and placed inside. On the weekend of the full moon, what could have been a more perfect ceremonial ritual to celebrate the long, long-awaited reunion of artists, fans and friends.