Green Man 2021 – A Reflection

by Phil Scarisbrick

It’s a funny thing returning to watching live music. I hadn’t been to a gig since January 2020, which is by far my longest absence since I started attending them in my mid-teens. Going to watch bands and artists just became part of my lifestyle. Whether it is one of the many times I’ve seen someone, or further investigation of an artist that has just hit my radar, live performance has provided some of the greatest experiences of my life. It wasn’t until it was taken away from me that I realised how important it was. 

The setting for my return couldn’t be any more stunning. A drive through the heart of Wales led us to a final tight, twisty road before unveiling a hidden temporary community in the shadows of the Black Mountains. Arriving at the rain-drenched site on the Saturday morning, the festival was well under way – with some people already wearing the invisible scars of over indulgence from the previous evening. The atmosphere, though, was unlike any I’d experienced at a festival before. I don’t think this is exactly what Joni Mitchell was referring to when she sang, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,‘ but it definitely works.

For a festival that has in the past showcased some of the best US’ talent of recent years – such as Fleet Foxes, The War On Drugs and Big Thief – the line-up constructed in their absence was hugely impressive. Headlined by Caribou, Mogwai and Fontaines DC, the blend of cult favourites and ascendant newcomers was superb.

Our day started on The Rising Stage, with Sad Club Records’ Bugs. The four piece’s half hour set commenced as the rain started to dissipate, and the sun decided to make an appearance. Lead singer, Alice Western, urged the crowd to wish her mum a happy birthday, before the band showcased a set of songs that really build on the promise shown on their debut single, Nick Gowland, released earlier this year.

Recent Bingo Records’ signings, Melin Melyn, were also on The Rising Stage, and ended up being one of the real highlights of the day. Playing tracks from their recent EP, Blomonj, they also threw in a crowd-pleasing cover of Orange Juice’s Rip It Up. Blending the whimsical humour of The Divine Comedy, with hints of Teleman and fellow Welsh band, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, it felt like the perfect festival set to showcase yourself to a new audience.

After sampling some delicious Tibetan curry and dumplings, we headed across to The Far Out Stage to check out Emma-Jean Thackray. After hearing her singles on BBC 6Music, we were intrigued to see how it translated live, and weren’t disappointed. The blend of jazz and and electronica had the packed tent bouncing for the duration of her set with a deeply impressive band backing Thackray’s illuminating presence.

Our first sojourn to The Mountain Stage was to see Richard Dawson. The large crowd laughed when Dawson said that he was going to do a twelve-minute acapella rendition of a song about a 17th Century quilt maker, but that’s exactly what he did. Flying solo, he kept the huge crowd gripped, including Friday night acts Nadine Shah and Goat Girl, who had stuck around to enjoy the rest of this unique event.

During Dawson’s set, we received word that a previous Green Man headliner was going to be doing a guest spot in the tiny record shop tent. We decamped there before word got out and experienced a wonderful three song set from Laura Marling. Playing later on with her group LUMP, she treated us to a selection of her solo work that was completely captivating. 

Grabbing some Vietnamese Deep Fried Squid en route, we had a wander around some of the other stages, taking in parts of the sets of The Goa Express and The Orielles, before returning to the Mountain Stage for This Is The Kit. The Kate Stables fronted group rattled through songs from their back catalogue, as well as a selection from their great recent record, Off Off On. Having played the festival before on smaller stages or earlier slots, it was wonderful to see them play such a prominent position on the bill, and completely deliver.

The best festival in Wales wouldn’t be complete without having some of the best Welsh talent involved, and few fit that description as accurately as Gruff Rhys. Entering the stage with he and his band draped head to toe in white, he used his traditional signage to instruct the audience to to ‘Applaud’ and go ‘Ape Shit’. Opening with Frontier Man and Candylion, he was playing tracks from recent album, Seeking New Gods, live for first time. The way they slotted in with some of his older work was seamless, enthralling the biggest audience of the day so far. 

As we headed toward the midnight hour, the only thing left to do was to experience our headliners, Mogwai. Having finally got their first No.1 album earlier in the year with their tenth longplayer, As The Love Continues, the Glaswegians are enjoying something of an Indian summer after a quarter of a century of releasing music. The joy of the crowd watching was matched only by the joy of the band themselves, racing through a career-spanning set as Saturday turned into Sunday. The idea of having an almost entirely instrumental set topping the bill sounds incredibly bold on paper, but it was a transcendent experience.

As we left the site after a day to remember, plans were already afoot to return for the full weekend in 2022. What has always made the best festivals great is a level of trust. You can spend your hard-earned money on a ticket safe in the knowledge that there will always be artists playing who you want to see, and things on site that you want to do. Green Man falls squarely into this category. What was a day trip in 2021 may well become a yearly pilgrimage. Whoever they book, you know it is going to be brilliant.

Photo credit: Marieke Macklon

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