Green Man festival – review

Glanusk Park Estate, Brecon Beacons

In a year in which many festivals have struggled, Green Man has sold more tickets than ever. It's thrived not by getting big acts (though there have been a few of those in its nine-year history) as much as through its adherence to that most old-fashioned of weekend-away virtues – being a place where people want to spend time. Growth has diluted its folky ethos a little, but while it remains very much about the music, a great deal of the fun comes from mooching about the relaxed, hill-fringed site, past kids splashing in streams, real ale tents, quirky films and candle-powered boat sellers.

Indeed, Friday's headliners, Explosions in the Sky, struggled to assert themselves, building their textured post-rock up nicely without ever really getting anywhere. There was more entertainment to be had beforehand – a quick yomp through the site let you check out Bellowhead's flamboyant and funky tales of revelry and Holy Fuck, who shimmered and crunched their way through a splendid set of breakneck drumming, space rock and dancefloor grooves. Friday closed with Horse Meat Disco, the London club's DJs mixing deep disco with party tracks and underlining that Green Man can do a raveup as well as it does family-friendly merriment.

Saturday's rootsy bill fared well in the drizzle. Josh T Pearson was beautifully raw and rather funny, while Noah & the Whale played big pop songs at a festival that's rarely full of them, singer Charlie Fink moving with a happy swagger. Fleet Foxes should be an ideal fit for Green Man, and when they came together, trembling with melody and emotion, the harmony-loving Americans felt immense. But their urgency came and went, and the mood drifted with it.

A lesson in how to wow a crowd came the next day from Laura Marling, who followed James Blake's tousled, bass-heavy crooning with a wonderful set. In between songs she was shyly cheerful, during them she was transformed, whether raising her voice in anguish or emoting over the benign hum of a cello. There were new songs aplenty, and as sunshine flecked the surrounding hills, they only reinforced the sense that you were in the presence of a star.

Contributor

James Smart

The GuardianTramp

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