Image by Willow Colios

Green Man Festival
Wales
17 –  19 August 2012

We brought you a couple of reviews during Green Man (Dexys here and Tom Williams and the Boat here) but having washed the mud off our reporter Willow Colios now rounds up the best bits of the festival for us.

Stephen Malkmus

Stephen Malkmus likes to rock and so do his band of 12 years’ the Jicks. There is Fuzz and bluesy jams here with Malkmus’ loose yet fluid guitar style and Mike Clark’s keyboard wizadry hanging off of a rhythm section that is meaty as ever.

Even following the departure of two of the great US indie rock drummers of the past two decades (Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney / Wild Flag and John Moen, now playing in The Decemberists), they still pack a punch with Joanna Bolm on Bass and new sticksman Jake Morris handling drumming duties.

Perhaps not the happy pop set this festival crowd is looking for but we all enjoy it anyway. Always entertaining with wry humour and surreal lyrics of unrivalled ingenuity, Malkmus is a joy to watch and by the end the crowd all know that they have been watching one of indie-rock’s high priests.

Cate le Bon

Cate le Bon takes up where Stephen Malkmus left off. Her loose but also at times jagged and sharp guitar style adding extra edge.

A home favourite with every song receiving whoops, cheers and rapturous applause from the welsh crowd.

Green Man it appears is very much a perennial fixture for South Wales music fans, with one chap telling me that he sees more friends from Cardiff at Green Man than he does actually in Cardiff on a weekend.

Pen Postwn

Another welsh artist, Richard James (ex Of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci not Aphex Twin) , brought his new six-piece outfit Pen Postwn to the Far Out stage on Saturday.

Including synth, guitars, violin, pedal steel and even a harp they produce Stereolab-like krautrock instrumentals with real grinding rhythms. Changing pace mid song with driving momentum, the guitars always threatening to unleash something more violent at any moment but then just remaining below the surface.

“From the heart of Wales , Pen Postwn” they shout as leaving the stage. So far this weekend Welsh music in 2012 is sounding very exciting indeed.

Richard King – How Soon Is Now

Green Man isn’t all about bands, there is a whole host of films, comedy and literature too. And I just couldn’t miss Richard King at the Literature Tent talking about new book, “How Soon Is Now”.

“I wrote this book, because the independent in the word indie didn’t mean anything anymore. And I’m going to demonstrate thus with local independent cider.” Richard says as he takes to the stage. He isn’t joking.

Living in South Wales Richard King has brought free cider for us all. And it’s as strong and delicious as his new book is a comprehensive and hilarious guide to the history of UK independent record labels.

Over the next hour we hear how 4AD’s Ivo Watts Russell was nearly destroyed by the label’s first number 1 hit. And it wasn’t the Pixies, oh no, It was Pump up the Volume by M/A/R/R/S. It was also Rough Trade distribution’s first number 1. Strangely we learn that it also provided a test case for the sampling of records when Stock, Aitken and Waterman attempted to sue.

We then hear the strange and wonderful tale of the KLF at the 1992 Brit Awards. They had a No.1 hit themselves as The Timelords with Doctor in the House. With their plans to take a dead sheep on stage and cover the music industry in blood thwarted in advance the band decided instead to go on stage with Extreme Noise Terror and perform 3am Eternal.

Bill Drummond with machine gun in hand fired blanks at the audience while the two bands thrashed through the song, scaring the audience so much that the night’s lifetime achievement winner, conductor Georg Solti fled the building perused by people with clipboards. The KLF’s Jimmy Corty buried his Brit Award at Stonehenge only for The National Trust dig it up. So he went back and buried it deeper.

There is perhaps no other story in music history as compelling or anti-establishment as that of the KLF and that and more can be found in this comprehensive work.

Richard King ends by asking the audience whether they would like a story about Postcard Records or one about New Order taking loads and loads of drugs.

Well, you can probably guess which the festival crowd chose. Just a taste of this late ’80’s debauchery follows with the story of New Order recording Technique their last album for Factory Records in ’89. Recording at Peter Gabriel’s Real World in Bath, the wrap party was a lost 24 hours when a convoy from Manchester including Happy Mondays and members of the wider Factory circle just about made it down to Wiltshire fuelled with very strong ecstasy.

For the finer details you’ll have to buy the book. This is just one of hundreds of stories of the independent music pioneers that made their way in Britain against a backdrop of Thatcherism and continued to evolve in the Blair/Britpop era.

Barney Hoskyns

Next up is a legend of rock biography writing, Barney Hoskyns, former NME and Melody Maker journalist and biographer of Tom Waits and most recently Led Zeppelin, the subject of today’s reading.

The Led Zepellin story has been told from numerous angles in debauched detail but the access Barney Hoskyns has managed to get to all the key players through meticulous research and travelling the world to get close to Page, Plant and others looks to have made this biography, that he is now reading to this hungry croud of Led Zep fans, definitive.

He begins with the tale of Peter Grant who was the first manager in rock to fight for his artists and really change the music industry. He realised Jimmy Page was a genius and convinced them to sign with him by saying he would fight for them with labels and venues to get Led Zep the best deals. No rock manager had promised to be manager / hustler / career-shaper in this way before.

And then there’s the music itself. “To me”, says Hoskyns with little apology, “Led Zep II made Hendrix and Cream sound out of date. The rhythm section made led zep a funk band. The greatest rock rhythm section of all time.”

“Led Zep came off doing sessions with everyone from The Kinks to Val Doonican. To be free to make their own record was a tremendous freedom for them.”

As we are in the beautiful Welsh countryside it is important that Hoskyns makes mention of the influence of Wales and Welsh mythology on Robert Plant in particular. Particularly on the acoustic side of the band’s sound with the remote Welsh Cottage Bron-Yr-Aur being central to the writing of Led Zeppelin III. With the whole touring scene so debauched and relentless Plant would always come back to Wales or Kidderminster for rest and relaxation. Jimmy…..didn’t.

On their riotous tours of the United States, Hoskyns says that Led Zeppelin were above the law, only a US President having the same level of power. “They had the police, the mob, even the DEA in their pocket. Their motorcade would leave the airport and go through red lights.”

These stories from the pages of Barney Hoskyns’ new work seem from not just a different era but a different planet. Can you imagine any band being given this level of freedom in America today? It’s just inconceivable. Bizarre even that it happened at all, but this isn’t an ordinary band. This is Led Zepellin.

So what of the band’s legacy. “On a very basic level in the 1970’s they spawned some stupid wannabee metal bands with hair, Les Pauls and Marshall stacks.” says Hoskyns. “The 1980s forgot Zep but then, post Guns ‘N’ Roses, leather trousers and rehab came back into fashion with bands like Primal Scream and The Black Crowes. Then even Jeff Buckley declared himself a fan. And now they are unassailable.”

The crowd have been rapt with these stories, glowing with the vitality of a lost era and Barney Hoskyns leaves us with a thought to ponder – “Communication Breakdown invented punk rock.” He tells us.

Discuss. I’m sure you will enjoy it, but maybe read the book first!

The Wave Pictures

I move from listening to a talk featuring one guitar genius in Jimmy Page to seeing another. I sprint as well as you can in wellies through a muddy bog, to the Far Out Stage and can already hear David Tattersall’s exquisite guitar playing calling me. Green Man he tells us towards the end of the set is “the only festival that’s asked The Wave Pictures back for a second time.”

This almost certainly isn’t true and the crowd howls in disbelief but even though the tent is close to full, one wonders what is between The Wave Pictures and domination of FM radio and the upper echelons of festival bills across Europe.

Perhaps the lyrics are just too interesting , refined and complex and they may, like the brilliant Hefner before them, be destined to be Britain’s biggest small band. That is certainly no bad thing to be.

Van Morrison

Van Morrison by Willow Colios

Van Morrison is known for being a temperamental performer but there is nothing of it in his Saturday night set. He tops and tails his set with big hits, Brown Eyed Girl and a triumphant Gloria. There are old standards including ‘Baby please don’t go’ and modern van classics such as ‘Days like this’. An echo of Dexys from the previous day also comes, in the form of a song Dexys covered 30 years ago, Van’s “Jackie Wilson said (I’m in heaven when you smile)”.

Van Morrison tour concerts may seem like a Mum and Dad event but Van is really one of the only musicians that has all ages and demographics of fans. The CD in your parent’s car, the 180g vinyl Astral Weeks reissue in your music geek uncle’s collection, hipsters, young kids, everyone loves a bit of Van. And the great thing is, he’s still on top. Unlike other 60’s survivors, Van The Man still has the voice, still has the stage presence, and has an excellent band. They don’t carry him and it doesn’t feel like a thrown together all star band either. In 2012 I would take Van the live performer over Dylan or McCartney and day of the week.

Metronomy

There is a young and excited crowd assembling for Metronomy. Somehow this little group from Torquay has made it big. Really big. I am seeing them live for the first time after I didn’t get near a tent at Bestival last September because it was bulging at the seams an hour before the set even started. Metronomy look like they feel at home tonight. The South Wales countryside doesn’t seem too disimilar to that of their native South Devon. At it is from hit LP, The English Riviera that the bulk of tonight’s set is drawn. Single ‘Everything goes my way’ has the whole crowd swaying together in unison, and there is some kind of communal euphoria in the air on this green but now very muddy Welsh estate which is our home for the weekend. A fan of their first LP, Im hoping for the robo-clash of lead off track \’You could easily have me’ and when it comes it is electric and staccato and glorious, really breaking the set up the set with its layers of guitars, beats and synths. The crowd are in the festival mood tonight and Metronomy ride that wave keeping them bouncing \’til the very end.

Tune-Yards

Image by Willow Colios

As Sunday, and Green Man Festival as a whole begins drawing to a close I am expecting to wind down with headliner Feist looming. Clearly I hadn’t reckoned on Tune-Yards twin sax assault with bass and looped drums and precision second to none.

Alto and tenor sax action rides along with everything Tune-Yards do. Merrill Garbus loops her vocals with drum beats conceived in the same instant. She even samples the crowd at one point. Then takes the rapturous applause, responding with a little ‘thank you’.

I had no preconceptions of what this would be like having listened to Tune-Yards very fleetingly a few weeks previously for the first time. But I am astounded. This is Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield , Nina Simone , Doctor John, George Clinton. It’s all in there and more, Tune-Yards are extraordinary.

There is so much good humour too as Merrill strums her electric ukulele with a massive smile on her face. “This is a rock n roll fantasy,” she tells us before thanking her band for getting through 18 months of touring with her. “It’s such an honour to play shows like this for people like you.”

The highlight of the set is when she sings “I’m a new kind of woman, I’m a new kind of woman, I’m a don’t take shit from you kind of woman” and it feels like she is summoning the spirit of of Gil Scott-Heron.

The final song is then dedicated to Pussy Riot to loud cheers from the crowd.

This is fucking political ladies and gentleman. Listen to Tune-Yards and be converted.

Jonathan Richman 

Image by Willow Colios

There is nothing quite as stripped down and visceral this weekend as Jonathan Richman strumming a Spanish guitar as drummer Tommy Larkins plays his drum kit with brushes. It sounds relaxing and almost sedate, but the biggest party of the weekend is in this tent right now. “I don’t wanna go back to an arcane old world” Jonathan sings and the thousands in the packed tent are all with him.

‘I apologise for this moat between us . There must be a good reason. But if it were up to us there would be no gap between us’. Despite the metal barrier it feels like there are no barriers between Jonathan and the audience and even the mud all around doesnt stop some enthusiastic dancing among the crowd. And then we soon realise that the party has barely begun.

“If this next song has 17 words in Hebrew and Arabic they just mean come to the party” the multi-lingual Mr Richman then regales us with translations of a string of party-themed songs in Italian and Spanish.

I wonder if anyone can enthrall and hold a crowd like Jonathan Richman, and with such unique lyrics, going from a song about a lesbian bar to singing about Rolling Stones guitar hero Keith Richard. “Keith Richards no one plays guitar like you. You make it whine like a pining alley cat.”

In a weekend of performances by mavericks and true originals Jonathan Richman shines among them.

Feist

Image by Willow Colios

Feist comes on stage and promises to “pummel you like storm, squish in between your body parts and pat your heads because we are so tired.” She does all of these and more.

Playing almost all of recent LP \’Metals’ she wows the Green Man audience, bringing the 2012 festival to a close.

There is a knowing jokiness about Feist but she never appears cocky. Just enjoys the banter with the crowd (and the photographers in front of the stage). The songs just burst out of her accompanied by an amazing band which includes all girl trio, and Green Man favourites, Mountain Man on backing vocals.

The crowd sing-a-long has also become a permanent fixture of Feist gigs and there is plenty of crowd singing including Feist constructing a chord with each audience member being assigned a note based on the colour of their tent. She even gives a wry smile in awarding \’non-campers’ an almost impossible high note.

For 90 minutes she preaches to the converted, as well as winning over many new fans, with a combination of melancholia infused tapestries of loss and longing alongside rocking stomps like \’My Moon, My Man’ and “I feel it all”. These get the whole crowd bouncing and they forget the absence of hit single \’1-2-3-4 \’ from the set.

Each song is pure gold and the concept of hits or singles just seems redundant. “We love Feist” reads a homemade banner in the front row. She jokes that “I feel like Bon Jovi “which is apt as Feist at Green Man is this crowd’s equivalent of Bon Jovi at Wembley Stadium.

Unstoppable, triumphant and a perfect end to the weekend.

All words and images by Willow Colios. You can read more from Willow on LTW here or follow him on Twitter.

You can see our full set of images from Dexys set on our Facebook page.

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