Festivals: Green Man Festival 2019 Review

Now in its 17th year, Green Man Festival has developed and evolved from a small, grass-roots, folk-heavy gathering; to a four-day, 20,000-strong, eclectic blowout of a festival. Yet, unlike other major events of the Summer period, this beautifully crafted weekend has maintained its ethos of being a nature-loving, child-educating, family-friendly, compassionate and charitable beauty of a festival, that many of us feel is needed more than ever during these dark and shitty times. Green Man 2019 was not only a tonic to what is going on across the land and beyond, but a celebration of diversity, equality and the creative triumphs of bands, artists, crafts, food, booze, charities, science and our future generations.

In a Welsh valley situated between the stunning Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons at Glanusk Estate, we once again joined the masses for a few days of tranquillity, with loved ones young and old, an ever-changing forecast and a soundtrack to die for.

With Amadou & Mariam running late on the Thursday evening, The Wedding Present stepped in for a sensational, last-minute headline slot, following a mighty set from industrial post-rockers These New Puritans; making sure the weekend’s festivities were truly opened-up with a bang.

Friday then brought us the first bulk of delights, with Green Man Rising winners Jerry kicking things off. Their unique blend of scuzzy punk and infectious ska built an early crowd at The Mountain Stage, despite the drizzle turning to heavier-stuff. Over in the Walled Garden, Penelope Isles produced a mesmerising early-afternoon performance, Durand Jones & The Indications brought the funk and soul, and the sensational Julia Jacklin displayed her incredible vocals and songwriting skills, playing tracks from her debut record Don’t Let The Kids Win, and this year’s wonderful Crushing.

Further Friday highlights included the glorious Whitney, (despite the bone-soaking downpour!) and the infectious tunes of Marika Hackman over in the Far Out tent. Having refuelled on tangy cider and delicious ales from Green Man’s famous range of boozy bars, we headed to the Last Laugh stage (aka the Babbling Tongues tent), for a little comedic-hit. And boy, did we get one, in the form of Mawaan Rizwan…what an absolute star!

Back to the music, and the Malian-duo Amadou & Mariam had finally turned up to put on a tent-busting, dance-inducing, almighty gem of a set. With the crowd jigging away to their catchy, Afro-blues, the scene was set for a glorious evening of live music. An absolute highlight of the weekend then came, thanks to Conor O’Brien and his glorious group, Villagers. Lighting up The Mountain Stage, they delivered a quite stunning show, playing songs from all four of their records as the clouds dispersed and the moon shone over the gathering congregation. Friday then ended with eclectic and curious headliners Yo La Tengo on the main stage, and two brilliant sets from Texan trio Khruangbin and then the mighty soundscape of Maribou State in the Far Out tent, highlighting the incredible diversity that this festival brings.

With a heavy head and tired eyes, is there a better way of welcoming the day than with a pub quiz? Well, yes, there probably is, which is why we inevitably flopped once again with our attempts at Pete Paphides and Bob Stanley’s annual test…but what fun we all had! Plus it secured us seats in the Babbling Tongues tent for Jarvis Cocker in conversation. In fact, it was more of a presentation, during which the Pulp-frontman explained how we are all creative geniuses, using his personally-created Powerpoint slides. This was followed by a surprise DJ set – so all in all, worth every second!

After a jaunt around Einstein’s Garden, where kids of all ages can immerse themselves in sciencey-fun, the delicate voice of Hollie Fullbrook, aka Tiny Ruins, eased us into the afternoon at the Walled Garden. Lee Fields & The Expressions then began our evening fun in the sun, with a funk-filled masterclass on The Mountain Stage, before the mesmerising Big Thief put on one of the finest performances of the weekend. Playing tracks from their recently-released album U.F.O.F., glorious back-catalogue and forthcoming new record Two Hands, Adrianne Lenker and co. were truly on top form.

Following a wonderfully rhythmic set from Anglo-French legends Stereolab, who were returning to the live scene after a ten-year hiatus, up-stepped the wonderful Four Tet. DJ Kieran Hebden’s performance was truly awe-inspiring, drawing inspiration from techno, jazz, psychedelia, hip-hop and more, to create a hypnotising, immersive set that showcased just how exciting Green Man Festival is, with a party atmosphere which ran late into the night.

Having come close to jumping in for the past five years, we finally took the plunge this weekend and began our Sunday morning in a hot tub! Two hours sipping Prosecco and zenning out in the Nature Nurture field was quite the way to kick off the final day and despite initial reservations, worth every penny! Others began their preparations for the afternoon’s Little Folk Parade with their little-ones, whilst on the Rising stage, the music of Bert Jansch was celebrated throughout the morning.

Having relaxed until we could relax no more, we then headed to the Babbling Tongues tent, to enjoy foodie tales from Matthew Fort and Felicity Cloake, before the incredible Anais Mitchell discussed her three favourite tracks for the ‘Three Track Podcast’, ahead of her sublime set on The Mountain Stage. Playing tracks from her folk opera ‘Hadestown’ and the stunning Young Man In America, her performance was very much a TFFT highlight of the weekend.

Later that afternoon, we gathered under a blue and cloudless sky for another mesmerising performance, this time from Aldous Harding, who brought her sensational new record Designer to the Black Mountains. Gurning, pouting and rolling her eyes back into her skull, her weird and wonderful facial expressions contrast with her beautiful, lilting vocals.

Eels then kicked-off the Sunday evening, bolting out of the blocks with a fun-filled, joke-a-minute, hit-smashing set which covered all bases – from early, crowd-rousing takes on The Who’s ‘Out In The Street’ and Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’, to fan-favourites ‘Novocaine For The Soul’ and ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’, they supplied one of the biggest sets of the weekend. Then, having ran over to the Rising stage to witness a beautiful performance from TFFT fave Chloe Foy, we made it back just in time to see Sharon Van Etten deliver one of the finest shows we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing. Having followed her from the early records of epic and Tramp, this was the best we’ve ever seen her. Now accompanied by a multi-talented band and at times, free to roam the stage without her guitar, Van Etten gave a commanding and confident performance, one which will stay in our memory for a long time to come. Furthermore, she had set us all up for a night of incredible headline acts.

It was always going to be a tricky one, having to choose between the exceptional Nilüfer Yanya, the mighty showmanship of Father John Misty and the UK’s most vital band of the moment, Idles. Whichever act that people decided to opt for, they were always going to be in for a treat, and we plumped for the latter of the three, having been won over by Idles’ exhilarating 2019 record, Joy As Act Of Resistance. Without sounding too overwhelmed, it was honestly the best thing we’ve seen or heard all year. Granted, they don’t exactly fit the ‘theme’ of this website, but the warmth, wit and inspiration that this band can muster, whilst all the while making people scream at the top of their lungs and bounce around for hours, truly summed up the past four days. Idles bring people together, celebrate diversity and champion the power of optimism – exactly the same as Green Man Festival. A perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Dom Kay