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Green Man Preview #2: The Pictish Trail
Christian Eede , July 22nd, 2022 15:56

In the second of a series of preview pieces for this year's Green Man festival, Johnny Lynch, AKA The Pictish Trail, talks playing the very first edition of the event and who he's looking forward to catching this year

Ahead of this summer's Green Man festival, scheduled to take place next month, we are presenting a series of preview pieces here at tQ, centred around some of the artists that you'll be able to catch at this year's event.

Last week, Katy J Pearson discussed playing Green Man for the first time in 2016 with her former band Ardyn, as well as the acts she's looking forward to seeing at this year's event. This week, Lost Map label founder Johnny Lynch, AKA The Pictish Trail, discusses playing this year's festival in the wake of the release of his recent album Island Family via Fire Records.

Keep reading below to find out about his experience attending the very first edition of Green Man in 2003, as well as the challenges of putting on your own festival on a remote island location in Scotland's Inner Hebrides.

In addition to The Pictish Trail, this year's Green Man will also welcome the likes of Kraftwerk, Beach House, Metronomy, Mary Lattimore, Low, Jenny Hval and Parquet Courts, among many others. The festival will take place from August 18 to 21, 2022. Find more information here.

Can you tell us about the first time you ever went to Green Man?

Johnny Lynch: I was at the very first one! Bank Holiday Monday, August 2003, at Craig-y-nos Castle. We had been booked for a King Creosote / Fence Collective set, and so a bunch of us traveled down from Fife in a few cars, arriving late at night on the Sunday. Pre-SatNav, God knows how we found the campsite. I had completed university a few months before, and was on the dole, trying to make a go of it as a musician. Fence was my life, and we didn't tend to leave Fife all that much, so getting a gig somewhere in rural Wales felt really exotic. A total newbie, I had only ever been to one festival before (Leeds 2000, an event as bleakly apocalyptic as the name suggests). I didn't have a tent. I didn't even have a sleeping bag, I figured my thick anorak would do. I was wrong.

I couldn't sleep much anyway. I had just started seeing Kate [Canaveral] – who was traveling up from Reading – and we had arranged to meet up at Swansea train station on the Monday morning. Let me tell you, Swansea, in the early hours of Bank Holiday Monday is a wasteland. Bizarrely, I have a very vivid memory of us getting a cab back towards Craig-y-nos, hurtling through all these weird winding Welsh roads, with 'Ghettomusik' by OutKast blasting on the radio. Musically, about a million miles away from what we were about to spend the day listening to.

The event itself is a bit of a blur. The music was all taking place inside a few different rooms in this old stately home. It felt kinda like a weird wedding – loads of people who were pals hugging one another, loads of people making new pals, lots of kids running about. The event's compére, The Bard Of Ely, dressed all in white, like the bride and priest rolled into one. James Yorkston, headlining that night, the understandably nervous groom. I remember the weather being amazing, and that the radiators inside the building were on full-blast, so a lot of us were outside getting boozed up, sitting around the gardens. Occasionally you'd shuffle back into the 'castle' and watch someone singing in a dark room for 30 minutes, before shuffling back out into the sunshine for more booze.

Years later, Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip told me he was first introduced to us at that Green Man in 2003. He was playing with The Memory Band, and was working for Domino, who had a big presence there. He thought I was Lone Pigeon, as during the Fence set I had jumped out of the crowd to join in with a rendition of one of LP's songs, 'Summertyme Beeswing'. This is the sort of thing that happened a lot at our gigs, we'd join in on one another's tunes, harmonising, playing percussion. God, it sounds horrendous, doesn't it? Honestly, it was fine.

I remember the people more than I remember the music. There was this immediate sense of community. In addition to the musicians, lots of folks from the independent / DIY scene were there, both helping out and letting their hair down. I'm pretty sure Anna who runs Melting Vinyl in Brighton was on the box office. I remember Ken who was handling PR for the event being quite merry. Billy from Rough Trade, who was starting his own label, holding court at the bar. Loads of the Domino Records folks spilling about. But, most importantly, music fans. There's people that I met that day who then joined our message board, literally racking up tens of thousands of posts over the course of the next decade. Pre-social media, this was a big part of how a music community came together. Events like Green Man became a breeding ground and a gathering place for little online communities of music fans.

We all went away from that Green Man totally buzzing. My main 'job' at Fence (to begin with) was to put on live shows, and, sure enough, our first 'Home Game' event took place in Spring 2004. A weekend of live music in small, intimate village halls, Home Game quickly became the label's signature annual event. That's all down to Green Man, really. It was inspiring.

What is your favourite Green Man memory?

JL: Somehow, I've managed to attend and perform at every single Green Man since it started, so there are a lot of great memories. The most meaningful for me was 2013, when we started Lost Map. It was ten years after the first Green Man had taken place, and the start of a new chapter in my own life. I had moved to the Isle of Eigg by this point, and what remained of Fence in Fife had collapsed, earlier that year. 10 years of hard work unravelled, it was a really stressful time. I was determined to continue working with the rest of the artists on the label, and our staff, and keep momentum going. Green Man saved us.

Event organiser Ben Coleman graciously gave us free reign to put on a showcase in the Cinema Tent. We took over the Saturday night, and decided to launch Lost Map with an entire evening of music from the label, with visuals from our Glasgow pals Forest Of Black. We gave everyone who entered the tent a postcard which had a code for a compilation of all the acts playing – our first official release. It was really exciting, us all being together. I brought down The Massacre Cave, a death-metal act from Eigg, as my backing band, and played an intensely loud set. It was cathartic to say the least.

That weekend, there was performances from our entire label roster – Rozi Plain, Seamus Fogarty, Monoganon, Randolph's Leap, Kid Canaveral, eagleowl, DJ Hardsparrow and The Pictish Trail. We were all there. Our pal Stephanie Gibson took a bunch of photos of us all together, round the back of the Cinema tent. Green Man had grown into a massive adventure playground of music by this point, quite different from its humble beginnings at Craig-y-nos Castle, but still retaining that vital spirit of friends being together. We hugged the living crap out of each other all weekend.

It was the best start we could have dreamed of. Green Man were so supportive and it really meant a lot. Having that platform gave me the confidence to continue, and I'm eternally grateful to Ben and all the GM team for that. 2023 marks our 10th anniversary as a label, which I run with Kate, and we've never felt stronger.

Lost Map team at Green Man 2013

Who are you looking forward to watching at Green Man this year?

JL: The lineup is always so expertly curated. If I had to pick one act, Nathan Fake is someone I'm always excited to see. His music has been a constant companion, over the past 12 years or so. I love the way in which he manages to balance an ethereal warmth with a visceral electronic bite. I find his sound really emotive – and it's something I keep coming back to. All the work he did with Border Community, and the recent releases he's done through his own Cambria Instruments label, they blow my mind.

You're doing another edition of your Howlin' Fling! events this summer on your home base of the Isle of Eigg. Can you talk us through the Howlin' Fling! concept, your plans for this particular event, and the difficulties that might be thrown up by putting an event like this on in such a remote location?

JL: The first Howlin' Fling! was in 2014, and was a continuation of the Away Game and Home Game festivals before that, going back to 2004. My whole life in music has been centred around these all-day / weekender events. There have been opportunities to go bigger, and expand it, but the core essence of something like Howlin' Fling! is the intimacy of it. Green Man is testament to the fact that you can go bigger without sacrificing that sense of togetherness – but, aye, with my own events the main thing is for me to make sure I can have a good time, too. Ha! This usually means the event capacity is between 200 and 400 people. Anything beyond that, and it becomes a bit unmanageable. I'm not very good at delegating.

Taking people to a beautiful location, putting on some good music, having a nice booze and a dance, and just hanging out – these are the main ingredients. And the best thing is that musicians want to experience that every bit as much as music fans do. There's not room for egos, no big rider demands or any of that. Booking the event is easy, because it's usually artists approaching me, asking to play, as opposed to the other way around. Over the years, in addition to the Lost Map label roster, we've been lucky to have Jon Hopkins, Cate Le Bon, Steve Mason, Nathan Fake, Gruff Rhys, Beth Orton, KT Tunstall, James Holden, Trash Kit, Sea Power, Jens Lekman, Jason Lytle, Gwenno, Alexis Taylor, Brigid Mae Power, Golden Teacher, Luke Abbott, Blanck Mass, Jane Weaver, Bill Ryder-Jones and tons more. Just writing that down is making me feel giddy. We don't announce any of the lineup before we put tickets on sale, and they manage to sell out within 10 minutes every time. It's a dream.

The tricky bit is the logistics. Specifically, getting everything over to Eigg. Equipment, catering, bar stock, dizzy band members, ticket-holders. Sorting out the necessary vehicle permits, and accommodation. I get quite stressed out about it sometimes, and have to remind myself of the following mantra – 'as long as everyone gets here, something will happen'.

I've just bought a new PA for the Ceilidh Hall on Eigg, using some funds I got from a COVID-19 grant from Highland Council, plus my own money. I'm hoping it'll take some of the headache out of bringing over equipment to the island, and make regular annual events more likely – plus encourage the local community to put on events, too. The festival runs off the island's renewable energy, so we're completely off-grid, but I have to make sure we limit ourselves to 10kW of power, otherwise the system trips. So punters attending Howlin' Fling! shouldn't expect any pyrotechnics. We have to be careful using the kettle, even – once all the power cut out during a Euros Childs set, because someone ordered a cup of tea at the bar. Ha!