Review: Green Man Festival 2016

What do you get, if you put together a late night pop dungeon with Charlotte Church, a field dedicated to science experiments, a hot-tub bus, a big game of Twister, a midday performance from the National Dance Company Wales, a Jungle-themed kids’ parade, a stage invasion, hundreds of beer kegs and four sensational headliners…one of the finest festivals of the year of course!

With much excitement, we arrived at the Orange gate for Green Man 2016 on the Thursday night, a little later than planned, but ready and eager to get stuck in to our favourite festival of the season. Having erected our TFFT HQ in the pitch black, (proving that teamwork is always the winner), we strolled up to the nearest bar for our first Growler (the festival’s legendary home-brewed beer) and made our way to the Far Out Tent. Fresh from the release of their fifth album Boy King, we were greeted with the evening’s headliner, the one and only Wild Beasts. Thanking the audience for making sure this was ‘not shit’, the boys from Kendal mixed a couple of oldies with a predominantly new set, including recent singles Get My Bang and Big Cat, before ending with a sumptuous rendition of fan-favourite All The King’s Men – a glorious opening set to kick-off a wonderful weekend.

Friday began with an early showing of Labyrinth in the Cinedrome, the first of several dedications throughout the weekend to the late and so much more than great, David Bowie. The early afternoon was then spent exploring the festival site, which, while small in comparison to others, offers wondrous nooks and crannies with so much to see, do and discover. Take Einstein’s Garden for example; a field dedicated to science experiments, conservation programme’s, butterfly tents, a solar-powered stage and even an edible garden. Nowhere else offers such a beautifully curated area that can bring a huge, excitable grin to small and big kids alike, whilst the mesmerizing melodies of Emma Pollock, for example, drift over from the Walled Garden – another area soon to be explored.

Having grabbed another Growler and picked our first of many delicious meals of the weekend (opting for a scrummy veg curry from Ghandi’s Flip-Flop on this occasion), we checked out several of the fantastic independent shops and stalls, before heading to the Chai Wallahs tent, to enjoy the sounds of TFFT faves, Coco’s Lovers. This sparked an afternoon of excellent sets, including Rachael Dadd at the Cinedrome, Julianna Barwick in the Far Out Tent, and a spectacular performance from jazz genius Kamasi Washington – one of the stand-out moments of the festival. The evening then welcomed a trio of belters on the picturesque Mountain Stage, which lies in the valley surrounded by the beautiful and imposing, misty Black Mountains. First off was a real highlight from Alabama’s Jason Isbell, telling stories from his back catalogue, including 2015’s Grammy Award-winning Something More Than Free. As the rain then began to pour, White Denim entered the arena, delivering a roaring performance and gaining a couple of new fans from this merry bunch along the way! The stage was then set for an epic headlining set from James Blake, who, alongside a minimised band of two, provided his rather fitting, atmospheric swoops and dips, both gloriously textured and unnervingly stripped-back. A superb performance from one of Britain’s finest talents.

And then, without further ado, it was time for the main event. Not James Blake I hear you say? Nope, not on this occasion. For this evening, was the home of Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon! Much hype had surrounded this moment, following extremely high praise from ATP curator Stewart Lee (of all people!) earlier this year. And boy was it worth the hype. Think karaoke, then add Church in a sequin dress, then add a brilliant backing band, then add a big bottle of fizz, then add a couple of thousand punters of all ages, and finally, add an eclectic bunch of superb tunes – and you pretty much have one of the most entertaining hours on offer! From Hometown Unicorn to Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, from Holland, 1945 to a bit of opera, it was a wide and varied set, ending, as every performance should, with an R Kelly medley. Yes. Please.

Unsurprisingly, the next day began with a bit of a sore head, so we eased ourselves in with a pop quiz hosted by Pete Paphides and Bob Stanley in the Talking Shop. It’s fair to say the TFFT team didn’t do particularly brilliantly, but it was bloody good fun! We then took a stroll from stage to stage, taking in the inventive and impressive Yorkston Thorne Khan on the Mountain Stage, Mr. Will Varley over at Chai Wallah’s, and the exceptional Ryley Walker, who handled a hefty storm pretty bloomin’ well, without it effecting his ace performance. Taking an opportunity to hide from the dreary weather, we returned to the Talking Shop, to catch a discussion between James Yorkston and Vic Galloway about the latter’s new book Songs In The Key Of Fife. The book explores the links between a number of world class musicians, including Yorkston, The Beta Band, King Creosote and KT Tunstall, who all emerged from the East Neuk of Fife around the same time and have crossed each others paths on numerous occasions throughout their careers – definitely a read worth picking up.

Unfortunately, the fun had to come to a halt for a brief period, as TFFT HQ (the tent), had been battered so hard by the wind and rain, that it got a little bit beaten up, requiring some urgent gaffer tape action and plenty of non-broadcast-able language! This unfortunately meant that we were forced to miss the wonderful Unthanks girls, but we did manage to catch the last few tracks of Cate Le Bon, before grabbing more beer and delicious food (this time from Barnaby Sykes Pie Maker), and settling in for bit of comedy, courtesy of John Shuttleworth, Alex Horne and the fantastic sketch trio, Sheeps. We then returned to the Mountain Stage, just in time to see another of the weekend’s highlights, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros! Alex Ebert and co. put on a helluva show, mixing their punchy and highly-catchy melodies with a stage presence that is second to none. As predicted, the biggest cheer came with the set closer, a belting rendition of their hit, Home, made even more lovely by a proposal in the crowd – a moment that pretty much sums up the vibe of Green Man!

The headline set then came from TFFT favourite Laura Marling. To be honest, we’d been a little uncertain about this performance, as Marling has had a tendency in the past to be a bit hit and miss on the festival circuit. Her tracks have sometimes been washed away a bit in open arena’s, when they are often better suited to the intimate surroundings of an internal show. However, this evening it came as a pleasant surprise, that Laura has finally found her festival sound. Picking suitable tracks for the occasion, Marling was accompanied by a brilliant backing band, including singers to add an extra oomph to her delivery. It worked with aplomb, and captivated the crowd with performances of Rambling Man, I Feel Your Love, Townes Van Zandt’s Waitin’ Around To Die, and an exquisite Goodbye England (Covered In Snow). Another stunning performance from this consistent English rose.

And then, out of nowhere, it was the final day. After a wet and windy weekend, we woke up foggy-headed to a fairly calm morning, with even a slight burst of sunlight making its way through the clouds. It was the ideal weather for a midday performance from the National Dance Company Wales, who premiered their beautiful new piece Animatorium at Green Man. A riveting set from Hot Feet then followed over at Chai Wallahs’s, before we checked out the MOJO interview with Belle & Sebastian. But it was Sheffield’s Slow Club that really kicked-off our final day, thanks to the epic vocals of Rebecca Taylor and the instrumental talent of Charles Watson. They’re a band that have never really hit the heady-heights of supreme stardom, but in a way, it’s better that way. They consistently produce stunning albums in their own, unique way, and long may they continue.

Late afternoon, early Sunday evening began to set in, following the legendary Little Folk’s Parade which had a fun-filled jungle theme this year (plus one of the catchiest songs ever written, blaring out of the Mountain Stage on loop!) and it was time to stick on the dancing-wellies. Last year’s Green Man provided a hidden-gem with a sensational performance from Mali’s Songhoy Blues in the Far Out Tent. A year on, they were rightly promoted to the main stage, and boy did they deliver. A solid hour of blissfully enthralling beats and pulsating grooves ensued, flying by a little too quickly for our liking! It set up the evening perfectly, and after a good giggle with the Horne Section and a final meal, courtesy of the Dosa Deli, we nestled in at the damp and soggy Mountain Stage once more, for a knockout set from Warpaint, who were pipped at the post for highlight of the weekend, by the Sunday headliner – the incredible Belle & Sebastian.

Admittedly, we had never properly explored Stuart Murdoch and co’s back catalogue extensively before, aside from some of the more well known tracks and recent releases. However, it only took us approximately thirty-seconds to realise we’d been missing out on something special. The giddy Murdoch and the excitable Stevie Jackson delivered a magnificent festival-closing set to a joyous crowd, playing tune after tune whilst making some wonderfully witty remarks in-between, only beaten by the declaration of ‘fuck Brexit’ by one of the many stage invaders – a sentiment echoed by 99.9% of the crowd who had not managed to jump up to join the onstage party. It was a fun and fantastic finish to the festival, and one that will go down in history for the organisers…they’ll have to pull out all the stops for the 15th anniversary next year, but we’re pretty certain they will!