Green Man Festival – Saturday review (19th August 2017)

The sun shines through the clouds over the Brecon Beacons on Saturday, making for a perfect festival day, and the sold-out Green Man is packed with 20,000 happy campers.

Up at the crack of noon, The Orielles are on at the Walled Garden stage, where bubble gum pop meets post-punk psych rock. Guitar prodigy Henry Carlyle Wade asks the crowd to “waltz or boogie” to the twisted country twang of ‘Liminal Spaces’ but, realising that he’s faced with punters who’ve had only four hours sleep, adds: “Or just stand still. It’s early innit.” He reveals that their debut album is due out in February and latest single ‘I Only Bought It For The Bottle’ gets a vibrant airing, featuring a cowbell solo from the bright and breezy guitarist. 

Bassist Esme Dee Hand-Halford takes on most of the singing, but all three harmonise on opener ‘Mango’ while ‘Henry’s Pocket’ unsurprisingly features the lad himself on vocals and he also joins in on the fast pop gone mad of ‘Jobin’. Throughout the 10-song set Esme’s bass sings sweetly, leading the key changes, while sister Sid controls the songs’ myriad changes in pace from her trusty drum kit. The Orielles’ brilliant nine-minute epic closer ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt’ has more changes in tempo than most bands’ entire sets. A bracing start to the day. 

The Minnie Mouse folk of Jessica Pratt drifts over the half empty bowl in front of the Mountain Stage at lunchtime — a woman and her guitar alone on the vast stage. The laid back vibe sums up the Saturday afternoon mood at Green Man. 

At Babbling Tongues, the talking shop helps to redress the festival’s slight WASP (white, anglo-saxon, pagan) bias, as Anita Sethi discusses “writers of colour” with Nikesh Shukla, #proudsonofanimmigrant on social media and editor of a collection of essays called ‘The Good Immigrant’. “Language is important,” failed rapper Shukla insists. 

He’s delighted to discover that octogenarian folk hero Shirley Collins, performing at 6pm on the Mountain Stage, is the mother of Asian Dub Foundation’s manager, Bobby Raf Marshall. Music, like literature and journalism, can and should help promote diverse representation. 

Green Man talent competition winner Siobhan Wilson is on the Rising Stage following her opening slot on the Mountain Stage the previous day, accompanied by her guitarist/tambourinist Matt and a quiet percussionist. Like her first track, she’s ‘All Dressed Up’ for the festival, donning a bright red cape. Midway through the number, she interjects that she’s starting with a “really evil song”. She beams at the crowd sitting on the grass before her, and silences them with her pure voice on the captivating ‘Dear God’ and ‘Dark Matter’. 

For a smart folk singer/songwriter, toying with darkness and fragility, she reveals a curious love of metal, and covers ‘Chop Suey’ by System Of A Down. Wilson jokes between numbers but is deadly serious as she ends with ‘Make You Mine’ and ‘Whatever Helps’, guitars gently distorting. Green Man have spotted a massive talent. This is very much her festival — and she heads off to record two tracks for Distiller TV.

Back at Far Out, Allah-Las are deep into a set of Californian jangly rock, packing in number after number. After ‘Had It All’ and the instrumental ‘Sacred Sands’, lead singer Miles Michaud looks out and says, “There’s a lot of people in this tent,” echoing Hinds’ comments from the day before. He takes his shades off, and Allah-Las carry on with their melodic, cinematic and laid back tunes. The bassist takes a turn on guitar and vocals, and on song after song Michaud’s careful plucky guitar solos emerge from lightweight rock, as if West Coast versions of The Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground met on the breach near LA.

Some of Allah-Las sounds like Oasis’ influences mixed up but with the overwhelming Beatles ingredient removed, or like The Monkees with modern US production values. The drummer, upholding the tradition that stickmen should wear daft headgear by sporting a green beret, takes a turn on lead vocals for ‘Calm Me Down’ The final number is by far their best — the up-tempo ‘Could Be You’ has the crowd is wiggling happily. Chopping guitars and a beat like The Velvet Underground carry the song along, although it’s more breezy and less dark than underground East Coast sounds, with echoes of The Modern Lovers at their most Velvety, late ’60s Bob Dylan or The Jesus And Mary Chain without the feedback.

Liars are 15 minutes late, unusual for a festival marked by polite punctuality. But it’s worth the wait, as Angus Andrew careers onto the stage in a wedding dress and veil amid purple and yellow lighting and atmospheric waves of sound, cymbals crashing. His bride character is miming or singing — it’s hard to make out but it’s compelling. A drummer and a bassist/guitarist with a synth take up their positions in the shadows behind him, while Andrew has his own tiny synth. Together they create an industrial electronic racket, as fast and furious as early Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds or, whisper it, an electronic rendering of The Birthday Party’s use of noise. After the initial tumult, a softly spoken Andrew says “thanks for having us”. 

His singing voice is processed and unnatural— verging from falsetto to subterranean to screech. “I won’t be God,” sings the bride. Synth blasts from the Gary Numan school of nose-bleed depth have the Far Out tent entranced, spellbound. Andrew whirls and thrashes to music of religious intensity and his voice takes on Iggy Pop’s intonations from the Bowie Berlin days. 

The drummer uses subtle tambourine and hi hat but also unleashes massive pumping Krautock beats or punk stick riffs. The sequencers send out trouser-trembling waves of sound and a joyous mosh starts up at the front of the tent. The fat, throbbing electronic sounds and arcane lyrics about facts and fictions (“crystals flying everywhere”) are theatrically repetitive, deceptively simple and beguilingly gripping. 

As the set builds, Andrew gesticulates wildly and makes peace signs — singing “nothing in the air” and “out of my mind”. Liars win over festival goers previously ignorant of the genius of their robust and idiosyncratic drum and bass industrial electronic racket. It’s the sort of set that leaves absolute strangers in the mosh pit at the front smiling daftly at each other with their eyes when the lights come up. 

Just as on Friday night, when Dead Pretties smashed it, one of the night-time highlights of the festival is at the Rising Stage, where Francobollo are in complete control of a mesmerised crowd. Participation is crucial at Green Man — watch all the children and teenagers learning new performance skills at Back of Beyond or science in Einstein’s Garden. True to this tradition, Francobollo bring on a couple of small people — Rowan and then Alfred — to dance and play guitar as their set builds to its exuberant climax. 

In a strange twist on the Green Man tradition of participation and sharing, Francobollo appear to have a stand-in bassist who’s only done two sets with them. Undaunted, he does some Freddie Mercury gags and the madcap half-Swedish band really get going with ‘Good Times’. They get going even more with ‘Trees’, and pull off yet another surprise — they have a saxophonist. ‘Kinky Cola’ is really weird, in a good way, with its mandolin guitar solo, and ‘Uso’ is apparently a make-out song — festival goers have had a few of those this weekend, including one from Madrid’s Hinds on Friday. 

The rest of the set is joyfully directed disintegration: child-dancing, band torsos exposed, shoes jettisoned, instruments swapped and a vintage synth kicking in. The sublime, tight disjointedness of Gang of Four comes to mind in ‘Radio’, while the arch pop of Supergrass and The Kinks is echoed in ‘Worried Times’. Set finale ‘Future Lover’ seems to be on the verge of falling apart, but never does. If Sweden is concerned about finding a replacement for the post-punk energy of The Hives, the land of the midnight sun need worry no more.

Meanwhile. on the Mountain Stage, headliner Ryan Adams is all in denim, knocking out his alt-country rock amid clouds of billowing dry ice. The rumour is that the cantankerous chap has asked for no press contacts and no media photographers. If we’re not welcome, he can hardly expect reviews. 

GIGsoup’s outdoors musical night ends in the lovely Walled Garden, where the day started with that excellent set by The Orielles. Twelve hours later, Melt Yourself Down are on stage, dishing out north African-influenced punk jazz, blended with ska and the hip hop of Young Fathers. Bits of their set sound like Disney’s elephants from the Jungle Book (a good thing). But each and every song is in a constant driving dance rhythm, with little appreciation of the benefit of space and the silent beat. A few numbers sound too close to Pigbag for comfort, and it seems this bunch of guys don’t have a brand new bag.