[FESTIVAL REVIEW] Green Man 2019

Nestling in the Brecon Beacons, Wales’ biggest festival returned for its 17th year, showing once again that there is so much more here than just the music. To state “there’s a bit of something for everyone” in writing a review of a festival rallies so close to the cliché that it’s almost as close to describing “positive vibes” (ergh) and complaining about the toilets. But when it comes to Green Man Festival, it isn’t too far from the truth. Wellbeing and crafts, a fantastic selection of ales and cider and an incredible line up; Green Man has it all. Perhaps this is why Green Man has become a consistent sell-out event every year. From the array of circus and kids’ areas to incredible music and fantastic night-life entertainment (until 4am), the festival offers something for everyone. Punters range from the familiar student-age attendees to families and children, as well as the average Radio 4 or 6music listener and then your more astute music lovers.

Main stage crowd

Being my third pilgrimage, with a 5-year absence, the journey did not disappoint – not even the weather could put us off. After only moments after arriving on-site, you get a feel of the sense of community and togetherness. People helping people with no ulterior motive – a rarity in today’s modern society.  In contrast to Glastonbury‘s vast size and straggly hedonism, Green Man is small enough to feel personal. It has expanded rapidly since its first iteration in 2003 – now catering for more than 20,000 people – but has not lost any of its charm: families are well-catered for with science exhibitions and workshops in Einstein’s Garden, foodies with stalls of international and local fare, partiers with late-night DJs and enchanting forest installations. Between stalls offering Japanese kumihimo braiding, tree ring printing and candle wax powered boats, the only gripe you could have is that you may miss more than you will see. There’s a lot to fit into just 3/4 days.

This beautifully crafted weekend has maintained its ethos of being a nature-loving, child-educating, family-friendly, compassionate and charitable staple on the festival circuit, that many of us feel is needed more than ever during these “shitty times”. Green Man 2019 was not only a refresher 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.

And now that’s before all the music…

Green Man champions a phenomenal booking team – each year garnering the best of the current crop of folk, indie/rock and cult heroes, as well as the alternative old-schoolers and local talent. Each year, a line-up which is unlike any other in the UK (or Europe for that matter) – something which is hard to come by nowadays. In its history, Green Man has progressively twisted its folky image into exciting and intriguing new shapes, perhaps best displayed this year by the top billing of Four Tet. His undulating left-field electronica turns his Saturday night headline slot into a mega-party that confidently dispels the idea that Green Man can’t “large it up”.

Despite a delayed arrival (thanks to our ‘driver’ and ‘navigator’ – not naming names), we weren’t able to catch the delightful Bess Atwell. So, first up were New York’s Bodega. Drawing the first ‘big’ crowd of the festival at the Far Out stage, their dance-punk set, featuring one drum kit split between two band members, went down a treat with all those in attendance. For those unaware, the frontperson drumming could seem one-dimensional – I disagree. Tunes such as ‘Shiny New Model’ and those from album ‘Endless Scroll’ all hit the mark and set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’ and late arrival, Thursday’s headliners Amadou & Mariam were moved to Friday evening and as a result, The Wedding Present made their second consecutive ‘surprise’ appearance at Green Man. Stepping in here, the band delivered a pristine set – all aligned to the fans, but for those of us not very much in the club, a hard win.

Chai Wallahs, tucked away in a quiet corner of the park, was home to some of the weekends more eclectic acts. And this was the set for majority of the late nights – with a variety of acts including Broken Brass Ensemble, The Mauskovic Dance Band and the Urban Folk Quartet.

Moving into Friday, while the music made a very encouraging start, it is when you look in all the other corners of this compact site that you begin to realise why Green Man thrives; the stalls covering everything from knife-throwing to candle-powered boats, cinema and the Babbling Tongues tent. It was here that the inimitable Caitlin Moran delivered a profound yet very funny hour of reflection in conversation with Nadia Shireen to arguably the largest audience of the weekend (in this tent). The best-selling author was full of pointed anecdotes and send-ups as she mused on her unique brand of feminism. So I heard, at least.

The multi-generational crowd are the hardy souls prepared to go that extra mile when the weather takes a downward turn on Friday. I would argue it was torrential rain for at least 9 hours straight. This comes as no surprise to the festival’s many veterans who come appropriately attired, but it’s impossible not to feel sorry for one unfortunate Snapped Ankles fan who apparently really did snap one of his sliding in the mud while waiting for their late night turn in the Walled Garden. Their appearance last year in the same location saw the band set an impressively high bar. This time round they clear it with metres to spare. And while it’s a joy to see the converts (a theme at Green Man, with many people open minded) properly lose their shit to the throbbing pulses of ‘I Want My Minutes Back’, it pales in comparison to seeing the novices who get sucked in by ‘Tailpipe’. Surely the Far Out stage beckons next year?

Earlier in the day, Penelope Isles produced a mesmerizing early-afternoon performance, showing genuine gratitude to playing “a festival with such a great line-up”. Elsewhere, the recently expanded TVAM delivered a flawless but somewhat lost set (for this crowd). Yet, despite a lengthy delay in set-up and a lost guitar, The Beths sped through their back catalogue with undeniable aplomb. Crunchy rock tunes ‘Future Me Hates Me’ and ‘Happy Unhappy’ serving up that feel-good feel despite the lack of sun. And while the Far Out (for which the weather at least reaped rewards for many bands playing this stage on Friday), Babbling Tongues, and cinema tents offered protection from the never-ending rain – the real highlights of the day were found at the main Mountain stage, a perfectly located ampitheatre at the foot of the Black Mountains. 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’. Her hour-long set is split between the two, with Jacklin’s confessional lyrics at times being so stark and blunt that watching her at times feels borderline voyeuristic; it’s no small feat to hold a main stage crowd enraptured, but she manages this with seeming ease and for a festival, the crowd is remarkably respectful and, believe it or not, quiet.

Julia Jacklin

Next up, Whitney. A cheerful bunch as always, no matter the weather. The lads strolled their way through old favourites ‘Golden Days’, ‘No Matter Where We Go’ and ‘Dave’s Song’, but also shared with us songs off their new album ‘Forever Turned Around’. The likes of ‘Giving Up’ suggesting the band have continued to lace their sunny, easygoing melodies with woeful lyircs. It’s a set that draws a large crowd, and deservedly so – I expect big, big things in the future for this band. And as always, it’s refreshing to see a band genuinely enjoy themselves onstage and not take themselves too seriously.

As the rain persisted and Friday evening set in, there was more unorthodox joy to be found in Stealing Sheep’s bonkers early-evening set at Walled Garden, combining smart stage routines, giant inflatables and irresistible hooks. The all-female three-piece from Liverpool are nearly a decade old, but their unique set-up remained fresh.
The nature of festivals mean it is impossible to see and do everything, so it was with a heavy heart we were forced to miss Squid, Pigs x7, Villagers, Bill Ryder-Jones, and first headliners Yo La Tengo – where one punter described their set as “so good that it made every other band on the planet redundant” (for us, it seemed like the greatest show nobody else knew about, verging on the indulgent and ridiculous). But this was more than made up for by the triple whammy of recently added Fat White Family, Khruangbin and Maribou State.


Fat White Family performed an anthemic, rewarding and exhilarating set for fans. As the heavens lash downwards and mist shrouds the peaks of the Black Mountains that loom behind them, it’s as if the cover of their new album Serfs Up! had come to life. Since that record’s release they’ve been on colossal form as performers, but the scene around them lends that extra air of power to their sleaziness, particularly as the low chorus opens ‘Tastes Good With The Money’ and the sun sets behind thick dark clouds. It was as if we were all subject to some ancient energy. Khruangbin brought their 1970s grooves to bear – with bassist Laura Lee, as usual, utterly captivating on stage dressed in a frilly pink prom dress. With her, leather-clad guitarist Mark Speer and drummer Donald Johnson produced 75 minutes of funk splendour. To finish the proceedings, the mighty soundscape of Maribou State highlighted the incredible diversity that this festival brings. The massive ‘Turnmills’ bringing one the greatest dancing moments of the weekend (maybe other than Father John Misty Shy FX). Bringing with them a variety of special guests, including the impressive Holly Walker and including the aforementioned Khruangbin for ‘Feel Good’, the band have come a long way and were greeted by an open-minded mixture of young and old.

Fat White Family

Saturday started as Friday didn’t – for it was sunny. First on our agenda was the charismatic Stella Donnelly. There’s not much to say here other than what I’ve said before in a prior blog post here. As always, she remained hilarious and perfectly executing of her tales and tuns of the anxieties of a 20-something year old. This time adding some Welsh spice to her arsenal – as she is half Welsh after all. A delight for the local crowd. For those who wanted something a bit different, Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker made his festival debut packing out the Babbling Tongues tent for his presentation around the extraordinary and mastering your creativity. Also, there was time for The Big Moon frontwoman Juliette Jacklin to receive – and accept – a marriage proposal from her boyfriend at the end of their set, having met here 4 years earlier (congratulations!).

The fascinating thing about Green Man is the aforementioned open-mindedness of all punters to the acts performing. It’s a theme which is seen the whole weekend – not many big singalongs or massive crowd moments, but many intrigued and nodding heads. Perhaps this was best demonstrated by the size of the crowd that gathered to watch Sons of Kemet take to the main stage later, in addition to the numbers there later on for Stereolab and Four Tet. The band shed light on how far the British jazz scene has come, shown also be the inclusion of The Comet Is Coming and Ezra Collective on the bill. All of which maintained their large crowds, and were greeted with respect and rousing applause.
Camped very much at the mainstage, Lee Fields & The Expressions then began our evening 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. Highlights included ‘Shark Smile’, ‘Cattails’ and the immersive ‘Not’.

Stella Donnelly

Other standouts included performances from newcomers Black Country, New Road on both the Far Out and the Rising stage, respectively. As a seven-piece consisting of three guitarists, a saxophonist, a violinist, a drummer, and a keyboardist, the result is something truly unique and unusual, with their song ‘Sunglasses’ being a truly spine-tingling and exhilarating release. This band are set to be cult heroes – surpassing the enigmatic Squid (sorry). The mix of genuine musical skill and shouty lyrics and abrasiveness were not to everyone’s taste but second showing (after they replaced KOKOKO! oOn the Far Out earlier) of the day was keenly lapped up by a strong hardcore following.
After making the decision to skip Car Seat Headrest, despite seeing their engaging and raucous performances in Paris last year, we set up stall for an evening of electronic music. First, a wonderfully rhythmic set from Anglo-French stalwarts Stereolab, who were returning to the live scene after a 10-year hiatus. The chilled-out experience brought all aspects to the varied crowd on the rolling hills, before Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, delivered a scintillating live set quite literally illuminated by a vivid AV and light show. Rolling through his back catalogue, he really up-stepped the set, throwing in some techno, jazz, psychedelia, trip hop and much more. Even the somewhat quitter songs like ‘Two Thousand and Seventeen’ seemed gigantic. The 90-minute showcase dispelled any notion that Green Man is a boring affair. This was a hypnotism, an immersion, and a eye-opening moment for many folks unaccustomed to this type of music. From the delicate chimes of ‘Planet’ through to the more considered grooves of ‘Lush’, this a welcome primer not just for the excesses that follow into the early hours, but hopefully for more frequent “bangers” on the Mountain Stage in the years to come.


Four Tet (on a blurry, wet phone)

The party didn’t end there though. Moving back to the Far Out stage for the late evening, Shy FX delivered an old school of D’n’B and jungle – something which brought joy to those men who wanted to be young again.

Moving into the final day, there were a lot of sore heads and sore bodies. But there was no time to moan, as arguably the biggest day of music was ahead of us. And yet again the sun remained! Despite missing hotly-tipped Self Esteem early doors, the high-spirited Yak surely made up for it. The perfect antidote to a hangover (or is it?). Dialling back the more chaotic and improvised elements of their previous tours, the band serve up smart and sharp renditions. They still remained on explosive form nonetheless, erupting the audience with the loud ‘Blinded By The Lies’ – and singer Oliver Henry Burslem finding himself crowdsurging throughout the closer.

Later, was the weird but captivating Aldous Harding. With her, it was easy to see why those in the critical classes have compared her to Kate Bush. She bewitched the Mountain Stage crowd with her unpredictable mix of folk and chamber pop. A new song closed the set, which featured Harding banging a mug with a drumstick (casual Sunday right?). It should be terrible, shouldn’t it? The fact it wasn’t, illustrates how good she was.

Despite not headlining, Eels draw the biggest audience of the week – essentially packing out the main stage. They are an absolute treat, reeling off crowd-pleasing numbers – from ‘I Like Birds’ to ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ to an early cover of Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’. Mark E Everett was on fine as always – charismatic, funny (a joke a minute at times), and nicely arrogant. His somewhat brash and manic form were extended in his hilarious and foulmouthed monologues – “We played the fucking Shrek song for the kids, to make up for all the ‘fucks’,” he jokes after ‘I Need Some Sleep’ or ‘My Beloved Monster’, which were used in Shrek films. Fan, and personal, favourite, ‘Novacaine for the Soul’ was the highlight – offering jilted cheers, pints downed, and sunblock applied.
It was also clear that this wasn’t just a case of “let’s set up camp at the main stage and stay all day” sort of afternoon, as tempting as it was. In fact, Ezra Collective drew a large crowd for their vibrant distinctive take on the modern London Jazz sound at the Far Out Stage. To near capacity, the superb sounds ensured that even those on the outside felt like they were in it. Simple.


Sharon van Etten offered more somber reflection as the sun set and Sunday winded to its conclusion. With her almost punk rocker vibe and intense display of humility and energy that so embodies the festival, this was, in my opinion, arguably the set of the weekend. Having followed her from her early records of ‘Tramp’ and ‘Are We There’, she is 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. Flying through emotions during her hour set, from ‘Jupiter 4’ to ‘Serpents’ and ‘Comeback Kid’, the hyped mood crescendoed during the back-to-back performance of ‘Seventeen’ and ‘Every Time the Sun Comes Up’. She had it all. Since expanding her sound with lavish and opulent new layers, her music has taken on an intricate kind of power, and as a live performer she wields it with breathtaking skill. Her set sparkles and glooms in equal parts. It is hard not to see her as a future headliner of not only Green Man, but the world’s very biggest stages.

Before heading to Chai Wallahs and checking out the unstoppable John Talabot to close out the festival, it was always going to be a tricky decision regarding the Sunday night headlinder – 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. We opted for parts of the second and all of the first – sorry Idles (although we are sure to see you soon) – with some saying “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”. Whichever act that people decided to opt for, they were always going to be in for a treat.

Father John Misty brought people together, celebrated diversity and championed the power of optimism – exactly the same as the philosophy of Green Man festival. Backed by an orchestra, dressed in a sharp suit and armed with an enviable arsenal back catalogue of wit, in many ways there’s more than a touch of the classic performer about him. He’s thrilled to be headlining, too – having spent a festival season more often than not playing a few hours before legends, such as The Cure, to a front row of unimpressed oldies. Though his longer, more wandering ballads grow a little wearing after a while, he creates a grand sense of occasion that makes him nothing but a crowd-pleasing closer. Nilüfer Yanya, on the other hand, delivered a supreme set of dreamy indie-pop captivating the evening crowd in the Walled Garden. Radio favourites ‘Baby Blu’ and ‘Heavyweight Champion of the Year’ stand out, yet it is ‘Safety Net’ and ‘In Your Head’ which show her true skill and diverse discography. Growing up listening to the likes of Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse and Pixies, is expressed through her husky voice and sparse, lo-fi sound – which is a fit between soul, R&B, indie and rock. There are hints of King Krule. She is certainly one to watch for the future.

Father John Misty

Nilufer Yanya

Finally, the annual gathering ended with the usual burning of the Green Man effigy and fireworks display, bringing everyone to the same space one final time. The ashes of which are the wishes we all wrote and tied beforehand, to be send to the heavens. We’d be surprised if our wish to return next year didn’t come true. At times like this, it becomes easy to forget that beyond these fields, there exists a world that is becoming increasingly devoid of Green Man’s core values of compassion and community.

Come Monday morning and there’s a slight sadness in the air knowing that it’s all over for another year. But even as we pull away from one last glance at that spot to return to what’s deemed as civilisation, the road ahead becomes that little bit easier to navigate in the knowledge that it will all happen again in 12 months.

Get onboard for 2020. Early bird tickets available in September from the Green Man site - https://www.greenman.net/

All photos courtesy of // EDWARD BOWER (@edward_bower).

Written by // RICHARD MAVER (@richmaver)

All photos and videos below from RICHARD MAVER.

The Beths