Things Learned At: Green Man

Beauty, mystery, weeping, dancing, and shitting on croissants in lush South Wales with Cate Le Bon, Horsey, King Gizzard and friends

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard photograph by Rowan Allen

There is truly something magical about Green Man Festival. The specific source of this magic is impossible to pinpoint, but there’s a lot to be said for the festival’s location, nestled in the heart of the Black Mountains. You feel its connection to the land, and the watchful eye of the gigantic beautiful Green Man effigy who presides over the site until he is burnt at midnight on Sunday.

The Green Man works in mysterious ways

On Thursday evening, as we half-arsedly boogied in the Green Man’s shadow to something dancey, brassy and fairly annoying, after becoming far too involved in a box of horrible wine, someone complimented my friend on her Jerkcurb t-shirt. “Thanks,” she replied. “I hope I don’t run into him, that would be really embarrassing.” Lo and behold, not five minutes later, a deep mysterious voice from nowhere said “Nice t-shirt” and Jacob Read himself emerged from the doob-smoke ether. Thankfully, the resulting interaction was cordial and not weird, and so we didn’t have to cancel our plans to catch Jerkcurb’s side project, Horsey, on the Far Out stage the next morning.

Horsey, clad in exceedingly shiny silver trousers and sequinned gold blazers, are quite a way to start the day. Swoony, croony, sometimes surfy and othertimes post-punky, they paint some extremely memorable pictures (“I met a French man / He gets what he wants / He shat on my head / And then on my croissants” is just one example), and keep things just about serious enough that they can get away with looking and sounding like a washed-out wedding band. Genius.

It’s okay to cry

…even – or perhaps especially – if you’re a hard-as-nails King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard devotee. After a thundering, graphics-heavy headline performance on the main stage on Friday night, the unfuckwithable psychsters brought hordes of their long-haired, sweaty, mosh-partial man fans to tears, and into each other’s arms, with a super-rare live outing of 16-minute audio-trip ‘Head On/Pill’.

And in news that will shock absolutely nobody, the following night I too was reduced to embarrassingly fat, plopping tears by live music for the first time in my life, as unrivalled queen of my heart Cate Le Bon and her band (a supremely talented supergroup of sorts, containing, among others, Sweet Baboo, H Hawkline and White Fence’s Tim Presley) noodled their way through the beautiful ‘Are You With Me Now?’. Written after the death of Le Bon’s maternal grandmother, and heard a long way from home just after the death of mine, the song’s message of love was, I think – I hope, felt in other planes.

Cate Le Bon photograph by Rowan Allen

Special guest collaborations are gold

The funny thing about festival lineups is that they throw together people who you’d probably never otherwise get the opportunity to see in the same place – fertile ground for some unexpected spur-of-the-moment collaborations. To enthuse just a little more about the Cate Le Bon set: she unexpectedly welcomed John Grant onto the stage for a version of ‘I Think I Knew’, which, what with Grant’s deep smoky voice, ended up sounding oddly and fantastically Nancy & Lee-ish. What a treat.

See things by accident

One of the nicest aspects of festival-going is finding that you really like something you’d never intended to watch. Such was the case with Courtney Marie Andrews (formerly of Damien Jurado’s band), whose sweet Western ballads soothed the disgusting hangover I was still shamefully nursing at 5pm on Saturday. Best of all, on a weekend where I’d begrudgingly prepared myself to hear 1000 or more completely butchered Aretha Franklin covers, was CMA’s perfectly pitched (and apparently impromptu) rendition of ‘Chain of Fools’: a perfect tribute to the Queen of Soul from a Queen of Country.

Don’t forget to look up

It’s fairly inevitable that a festival whose entire identity is formed around an ancient symbol of the natural world should be hosted on a site of such supreme natural beauty. Green Man has, undoubtedly, the most picturesque site of any UK festival, and the music works perfectly in harmony with its surroundings. It does you good to remember where you are once in a while: take a second to look up and the likelihood is that you’ll see, depending on the time of day, lush green mountains, towering pine forests, thousands upon thousands of stars… dragonflies, red kites, owls, bats… and so on. Such environs could not be more suited to a Kevin Morby soundtrack. Especially apt is ‘I Have Been to the Mountain’, sung against the backdrop of a misty Crug Hywel on Sunday afternoon: “I have been to the mountain / And I have walked on his shore / I have seen but I can’t see him no more… I have been to the valley / And I have sung all her songs / Watch me sing / Watch me sing along.”

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