New act contest Green Man Rising culminated in a splendid gig at Camden Assembly on 5th July, with Glasgow’s Siobhan Wilson declared the winner after a spellbinding set.
The final in Camden featured five performances by musicians chosen from over a thousand entrants. All five will perform at the Green Man festival (on the Green Man Rising stage) and the winner — namely, Siobhan Wilson — will open the festival’s Mountain stage on Friday 18 August, ahead of shows by Future Islands, Lift To Experience, British Sea Power, Hurray For The Riff Raff and others. Sadly, sixth finalist Omaloma had to cancel because of ill-health.
London-based three piece SAP opened the live final, tearing into 20 minutes of heavy, loud rock. Some of the guitar work sounded post-punk and arty, but a lot of the riffing was pretty much classic hard rocking. SAP have been gaining a lot of friends on the north London gig circuit, with comparisons made to Manchester’s The Blinders. On a hot and sweaty evening, SAP’s guitarist and drummer wore string vests but still got energetically bothered. In a trio like SAP, the singing sometimes ends up accompanied by just bass and drums, with the elaborate axe work only shining when there are no vocals, which is a shame.
The next outburst of loud noise was from the final performance of the night, by Swedish-Londoners Francobollo (it means stamp in Italian). The two guitarists and bass player ended the night largely on their knees, fiddling with pedals to generate a real racket and several false feedback endings to their sixth song. One guitarist forced beeps and screams out of a tiny vintage synth, the other led the vocals and banter. Francobollo opened with single ‘Worried Times’ — a poppy, indie slice of fun like Mungo Jerry’s ‘In The Summertime’ put through a washing machine. A really fast new song followed, “nice and messy and loud”.
The churning grunge of ‘Good Times’ was next, owing a debt to Pixies. Like a weird Blur, the following track was frenetic, while the fifth was slow and cutting. Fast, furious, slow and curious — Francobollo did not win Green Man Rising but they are winning a lot of friends and if they manage to hold it together while experiencing the excesses of deviant rock, they will soon be playing big festival stages anyway.
The three acts between the high-energy of SAP and Francobollo were all more in the folk or nu-folk tradition that Green Man is often associated with despite the fact that it has vastly widened out its musical scope in recent years.
Nottingham’s Keto managed just three long songs in her 20-minute slot. Initially sitting with an acoustic guitar, her delicate voice was accompanied by an electric keyboard and violin. There was no doubting the musicianship and compositional skill, but Keto somehow failed to connect fully with the Camden crowd. Oddly, her singing sounded a bit like Bjork — somehow Scandinavian or Nordic, rather than fully Nottinghamshire. Keto is certainly original, but it would be hard to see her holding the crowd at a large festival stage.
London’s Bad Parents packed seven jaunty numbers into their allotted time. Their bass/guitar combination makes for an enjoyable post-hippy/slacker folk vibe, with plastic flowers adorning the mic stands. Clever lyrics aren’t the only thing about them that’s reminiscent of early Slow Club in ‘Model’ — “we don’t have to get married maybe we could just start a band” — a quiet starter, until Tom Shelton’s resonant bass and vocal harmonising with lead singer/guitarist Misty Miller added new dimensions. ‘Cemetery’ was bouncy and fun, as that bass thudded. When Miller strummed an acoustic guitar, it was impossible not to make comparisons with Laura Marling, but it was all about the bass as some of the songs developed a feeling of Americana, building to classic big finishes.
Siobhan Wilson was second on stage, but a clear first for originality and sheer talent. Her sidekick Matthew forgot to take his tambourine on stage, but Wilson’s easy charm made light of his dash to recover it. Her beautiful voice and smart guitar playing captivated the room. A song called ‘Dark Matter’ was “deep”, she said, after revealing to cheers that she’d come all the way down from Glasgow for the final. Not surprisingly, some of her folkiness had a decidedly Celtic tinge.
Wilson’s lyrics are intriguing, touching and clever. The fourth number of her set was “an evil song” she said — it had a bitter-sweet country and western feel. Matthew played guitar on some tracks, switching between rhythm and lead, but left Wilson alone on stage for her fifth and final song: “It must have been the moon who woke me from my dreams of half past twenty something in the middle of the night”. You could have heard a pin drop as the Camden Assembly audience stood rapt.
Green Man director Fiona Stewart got the biggest cheer of the night when she pointed out that she’s the country’s only female festival owner. She then brought Wilson on stage to celebrate her victory. The judging panel was made up of The Guardian, The Evening Standard, Mojo, 4AD, Domino Records and Noisey (Vice’s music channel).
Green Man takes place on 17-20 August in the Brecon Beacons, Wales, and this year’s is the 15th anniversary festival. Headliners this year are PJ Harvey, Future Islands, Ryan Adams and Ride. The festival sold out in record time this year, with tickets all gone by the start of June.