Welcome to Day Two of Wales Arts Review’s Green Man Live. Our team will be bringing you the latest from one of the UK’s most beloved independent festivals, set deep in the rolling hills of southern Powys. Over the next three days we will be reviewing, interviewing, and writing up any other little bits of interest to do with the festival right from the heart of the action. So check out our daily Live Pages, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates, and find out all about the music, the films, theatre, art, and everything else that goes on at this marvellous event, including the new National Theatre Wales show Green Man // Red Woman, NoFit State Circus, Neutral Milk Hotel, First Aid Kit, Caribou, The Waterboys and much much more. Follow Gary Raymond, John Lavin, Amelia Fae and Michou Burckett St. Laurent for the words, and Dean Lewis for the artwork.
After the lights go down and the other stages pull the tarp over the drum-kits, After Dark kicks into gear, and Gary Raymond is very much looking forward to seeing The Field…
The first time you come across the music of Swedish producer Alex Willner, aka The Field, you may be forgiven for thinking you have zoned out, entered a glassy trance from which no-one would blame you for not wanting to ever leave. The Field’s music has been crow-barred into categories such as ‘Minimal Techno’, and ‘Microhouse’, but its essence is a driving loop, a play on a theme, closer to the works of Steve Reich conceptually than anything in Agia Napa nightclubs (although I’m sure it probably goes down really well at the Castle Club, too). The Field will certainly be a class act after dark tonight. Last year the slot was filled with an aggressively brilliant set by the Fuck Buttons, who drove the tent into a black hole of rutting overlapping beats. If Willner gets anywhere near my favourite Field album, 2011’s Looping State of Mind, the Far Out Tent might be a slightly more laid back place to be tonight, but if the latest album, Cupid’s Head (from 2013), is the foundation for Willner’s set, then it could go anywhere. It is a much darker record, much closer to your face. That Willner is not a DJ, but plays with a live band, makes the prospect all the more exciting. Jamming with yourself is never as much fun.
Looping State of Mind, if I can return to one of my favourite albums of recent years for a moment, is no ordinary ambient techno record, with tracks like ‘It’s Up There’ and ‘Arpeggiated Love’ evolving on record from narrow walkways to vast open spaces. The live experience may throw up some real surprises. In fact ‘Arpeggiated Love’ feels like, for the first four minutes, it could break into a samba at any moment, possibly the kind of samba you’d dance on an airless space station. It has a cinematic undercurrent to it, one that suggests there is a horizon looming, but looping is what it continues to do, away and away until it has run your brainwaves ragged.
The album also likes to turn corners onto some delicious nods to math rock, and tracks like ‘Burned Out’, if they get a live airing, could really wrong-foot some of the regular dance fans. You’ll find ticks and sweeps in the music of The Field that will remind you of Battles or Dom Caballero, but you’ll also find in there some My Bloody Valentine and (not the first time, and probably not the last time I’ll mention this band over the weekend) a splodge of Slowdive.
Aside: Could Slowdive be making a cultural comeback? – or have I just missed it up until now? Are they going to be the most influential band of the 2010s? It seems from every direction comes ambient shoegazing – and I’d be interested to know how many of the younger acts have Slowdive albums.
But away from that light concern: Willner is a veteran producer, giving birth to The Field ‘pen name’ just over ten years ago in an attempt to create a platform for his love of pop. Previous work has been scagged with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it samples of some classic pop tunes that you normally wouldn’t imagine coming anywhere near a techno record – and the result is something entirely new. The Field is one of the most interesting composers working anywhere in music right now, and Looping State of Mind is one of my albums of the decade. At my age, you need a good reason to be up all night, and in The Field, Green Man has given me one.
Michou Burckett St. Laurent gives us a whirling, swirling snap-shot of Francois & The Atlas Mountains’ set:
Francois & The Atlas Mountains are a French/Bristolian band well known for their bi-lingual jangly indie-pop. The band members are often to be found among the musicians in other bands. The main singer Francois Marry is also a touring member of Camera Obscura and there are shades of the same jangly ennui that optimise that band’s sound. FATAM burst onto stage and celebrated their first song with synchronised twirling. From this moment their energy, enriched by their African and Malian influences, did not abate. This in turn was reflected in the enthusiasm of the crowd. The high-energy highlights included the undeniably catchy song ‘La Verite’ whilst they still managed to provide their own brand of considered, sometimes melancholy lyrics with lower-fi beats in ‘The Way to The Forest’.
Gary Raymond gets the deep, sheer necessity of Neko Case’s D minor art.
Songwriters have special relationships with chords – or at least the best, most original ones do. To each writer, every chord has its own attitude, its own characteristics – not just a mood, but a personality. The reason why an artist like Neko Case can write songs that sound and feel like the work of no-one else, is because of this creative phenomenon. A D minor, for instance, in a Neko Case song, is wholly different from a D minor placed anywhere else by anyone else, in the same way that Emma Bovary would have been different had she been a Karenin. Case’s relationship with her songs, with the individual chords, is the same as the way a great novelist builds a narrative landscape, finely moving from one tone to the next, bringing in the relevant characters and sending them on their way with similar expertise. It is integral to the positioning of her excellent lyrics, the platform for her own micro-novels – Case is is like a William Faulkner, or a Eudora Welty, in her best moments.
In a festival where even the best newer bands wear their influences like maritime paint, and are often guilty of being a part of the heavy shelling from the front lines of musical fashion, Case sounds singular, vital, fresh and yet classic; assured and yet beautifully naive. Live she can be mesmerising. That voice… my goodness that voice! – it’s like she’s swallowed a barber shop quartet of rusty bolts. Even today, under the thick sheets of Welsh cloud, and with a battered and bruised larynx – part illness and part the result of this being the final gig of a fifteen month tour – she hits notes of such power and passion the crowd cheer them as they’re hit. Her band of seasoned session players look just as weary for their fifteen months on the road, but sound crisp and forceful. Kelly Hogan, the second vocalist and, it comes across, the big sister of the band, entertains the crowd with witticisms between songs. This is a warm and intimate gig from a fine band backing one of the finest talents America has produced in many years.
Case’s ouevre now is broad and established, and her latest album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You,is as stark – and darkly funny – as anything she has done before. There are a few other bands at Green Man this weekend who owe Case a great deal – they owe her their sound, they owe her the freedom alt. country has been afforded with the help of her powerful presence in the last twenty years or so. But when Neko Case hits that D minor, the others feel less than pretenders to the thrown.
War on Drugs will be performing on Mountain Stage tonight Saturday, and Gary Raymond, for one, has learned to embrace their hazy retro sound…
It’s very difficult not to like War on Drugs; they have an affable , melancholic, old school East Coast feel to their music – it is the music of the beard, a romantic hunch that sucks up and says, ‘Hey, dude, let me get that for you.’ Their new record, Lost in the Dream, is one of my musical highlights of 2014. It has a deceptive ease to it, a lightness that lingers. At its clearest, it is a beautiful album of confident, world-weary songsmithery. At the strong end, there is smatterings of Springsteen and a healthy nod to seventies Dylan, maybe a bit of Simon and Garfunkel in their infrequent playful moments. This is about songwriting as craft, from the spark of an idea to the studio consummation with your other band members, and everything War on Drugs has going for them is rooted in this tradition. Listening to Lost in the Dream you become sure that there is an outtake in Almost Famous where little William Miller interviews the band about their time travelling exploits. But the joys of that wonderful Cameron Crowe movie are the same joys of listening to War on Drugs – just lose yourself in how good it makes you feel.
You should be aware that there are downsides, too. ‘Burning’, for instance, takes its riff directly (including synth intonation) from one of Rod Stewart’s many public defecations, ‘Young Turks’; and there is more than one moment when the fevered snotting rotting smug leathery ghost of Don Henley rears his ugly face. But all of this, I can attest, can be successfully ignored, and when it is, songs such as ‘Red Eyes’, the sublime ‘Eyes to the Wind’, and the title track, are the sort of tunes that can give a past summer its vital memorial soundtrack. War on Drugs have the potential to be the defining moment of this year’s Green Man, as the sun sets behind the Mountain Stage and Adam Granduciel, in his lightest Dylan Blood on the Tracks lilt, sings, ‘There’s a cold wind blowing down my old road/ Down the backstreets where the pines grow/ As the river splits the undertows.’
It’s probably also worth pointing out that War on Drugs co-founder Kurt Vile (he left after the first album in 2008) is appearing at this year’s festival, and both bands will be within shouting distance of each other’s performances; so, in grand festival tradition, expect rumours of a guest appearance to be abound for at least a few hours in the lead up.
Green Man // Red Woman: Elegant and surreal – Emma could be the queen of the Walled Garden.
Green Man // Red Woman: Anna and Maya are great. They weren’t wearing shoes which we thought was pretty cool.
John Lavin reviews the highs and lows of an eventful Friday at Green Man.
Despite the ominous skies and brief apocalyptic downpour on Thursday afternoon, Green Man has since been gifted with the kind of glorious August sunshine that elevates this most magnificently situated of festivals to the next level. With the River Usk glittering under your feet as you enter the site and the rugged presence of the Sugarloaf dominating the skyline, Green Man can truly claim to be situated in one of the most beautiful locations in the UK.
Friday looked by far the weakest day musically when the line up was announced and unfortunately so it proved, with Sun Kil Moon a particular low point. Looking like a cross between a ravaged Michael Buble and the snooker player Shaun Murphy, Mark Kozelek contrived to court a bad boy image first by pondering whether he could ‘get laid in Crickhowell tonight’ and then by losing his temper with his band mates. His music, an unsophisticated, dirge-like pop-blues, was peppered with banal lyrics delivered in an untutored monotone, the nadir of which proved to be a lengthy song about his grandmother featuring the refrain ‘and I said ‘fuck no.’’
Inexplicable as Sun Kil Moon’s presence on the bill was there was, nevertheless, plenty to enjoy on Friday, from the expert folk-guitar-picking of Michael Chapman to the Belle and Sebastian-tinged pop of Teleman. However it was Shirley Collins in conversation with Pete Paphides that was the glorious standout moment; full of interesting anecdotes about the British folk scene, as well as her time studying with some of the greats of the blues tradition in ‘50s America. The heartbreaking story of Collins’ break-up from her second husband and the subsequent loss of her singing voice had the entire Wales Arts Review contingent on the verge of tears, something that was only compounded by the event concluding with one of her finest recordings, a spellbinding take on the British folk classic Gilderoy.
All in all this was a perfect encapsulation of the Friday at Green Man, a day when the smaller events stole the show.
Patrick Keiller challenged the staid assumptions of economic growth and discussed his extraordinary career on Green Man’s Talking Shop stage earlier. Michou Burckett St. Laurent was on hand to contemplate his ideas.
Patrick Keiller is an architect-come-filmmaker who rose to critical prominence with a series of films featuring the protagonist Robinson. Patrick is a big thinker, a radical thinker and one who introduces the topics of social order, the ways in which we live and the problems of capitalism, with a casual wave of the hand. For this reason the talk was a denser exploration of the above topics than would be usual at a festival and the audience seemed at best overwhelmed and at worst a little bored. Keiller admitted as much with a bashful tale of refusing to cut an eight minute still of a combine harvester! Nevertheless, Keiller comes across as a staunch enthusiast when it comes to his interests and this alone was enough to keep Wales Arts Review engaged.
As introduced above, Keiller’s films chart a history of struggles with place and placement, whilst being part of a wider aesthetic and socio-economic critique of the ‘problem of England’. The problem as he attempted to explicate was not only aesthetic – he claimed that all attempts at contemporary building were in the main pretty hideous – but also that there is no correlation between art and design and the models of functionality/production that we socially ally ourselves to. To have utility, something must have no intrinsic value; it must be ugly or uninspiring. For example, we would rather produce bombs and small polystyrene balls than trade in textiles or cars. In the same way we produce houses which have utility and purpose but not much function or design. They are stranded between being ‘like’ old houses whilst at the same time meeting the demands of economies of scale. In the same way art, as an industry or part of the intellectual property of a society, is displaced by the capitalist economies of finance. Education is an export rather than a right or something to be valued for its own sake.
The capitalist model of viewing the world as a series of economic units also does so because it wants to protect itself from the question – why do we live like this? Keiller says the question is interesting in terms of the response it receives. Capitalism and free markets taken to their natural conclusion would implode, so to survive it relies on careful and strategic protection. But from whom and why? This is where the ‘problem’ resurfaces. Keiller’s films explore how these aspects shape and change our physical (and so our intellectual and interior) environments. His early fascination with ‘found architecture’ – discovering what can and will not be built is the origin of this conflict. The preoccupation with how to ‘dwell’, both emotionally and physically with a system which resists all attempts to challenge and improve it, seems as relevant today as it ever will.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Gary Raymond scans the Green Man line up and considers what makes a good band name.
Everybody has their own idea of what is cool and what is not. And most people even have an idea of whether such things matter. There are even some people out there who admit to their true feelings about it. But it seems there is often common ground when it comes to discussion about band names. Although difficult to pin down, what makes a good band name and what makes for an awful one, it seems, we all know a good one when we see it on a poster, and we all know a stinker when it wafts under the nose. I am not as young as I used to be, and I was never cool (one day, maybe), but I don’t think I’m alone this year in looking at the line up for Green Man and offering up a few snarky double takes when I read some of the names the young hipster imps have given their bands nowadays.
But what makes a good band name? A touch of mystery, a solid reference to the image you’re trying portray (I think of ‘the doors of perception). Perhaps something bristling with a touch of straight forward poetry, a bit of alliteration, maybe? Maybe. Essentially a band name should be saying to its audience, ‘We’re just like you, only better.’ It is so easy to get this wrong, to eschew the dynamic of ‘like us but better’ and just come across as snide, arrogant, or just like a bunch of dicks.
Good names this Green man:
Sweet Benfica – a kind of strange street poetry to that. Simian Mobile Disco has always been a favourite of mine. Sun Kil Moon, The Gentle Good, My Sad Captains and, of course, Caribou (great name just for its Pixies association) are all pretty good band names.
But there are enough stinkers on display at this festival to suggest terrible band names are more than just a sprinkle of ill-judged errors, and may actually be a trend. I pray to almighty Zeus that I am wrong on this front. But Highasakite, Heavy Petting Zoo, and Deep Throat Choir cannot be coincidences. How can you hope to write lyrics and arrange songs if you can’t get the sign on the front door right? What makes for a terrible band name?
Pretentiousness is the killer. And Memory Palace fell at the first hurdle. A name that sounds like it was decided on whilst the band showered beneath a waterfall in a jungle is also a bad idea: Wildest Dreams, I believe have already changed their name, though. Names that remind most people of tedium, or, even, wankers, may be a bad idea: Real Estate don’t make me desperate to spend an hour in their company – buying a house a few years ago was all I needed of that. Happyness is spelled wrong, and just makes me think they could possibly be as bloody awful as that shitty Will Smith film the title of which was also spelled wrong.
First Aid Kit, however much brotherly affection I have for the Scandi C&W girls, is a shitty name for a band. I can’t quite figure out why. It’s just a bit ‘school nurse office’, not to mention it’s just a bit bleurgh, really. The sad thing is, apart from First Aid Kit, who are very minor offenders in this area anyway, I cannot think of a good band with a bad name. So, my advice, not that it was asked for, is get the sign on the door right, and what goes on behind it will have a much better chance.
And at this point I think I should mention that still no-one has taken the name of my teenage thrash punk outfit that I never actually got around to forming: Pepto Dismal. We are available for festivals like Green Man if there are any booking agents reading.
The cameras are clicking and Francesca Kay gives us her own, Haiku snapshot: ‘Selfies’:
On this spot, right here –
Stand with the mountain behind,
Smile for the camera
The main attraction of this year’s Green Man will be centre stage tonight, as Mercury Rev perform the whole of their classic Deserter’s Songs. John Lavin pays a very personal tribute to the influential album…
Deserter’s Songs came out the year I went to university and is forever in my mind associated with the Autumn and Winter of 1998. I moved from the South East of England to Lampeter in West Wales, not in reality such a very long distance apart, but at the time somewhere as far-away-seeming as the Catskill Mountains, where the fractured and addled Rev had decamped to record their lovelorn masterpiece. To my addled mind, after several years of reckless teenage living – which, in hindsight, hadn’t amounted to very much more than getting consistently drunk with friends by a nearby river – I was making a similar pilgrimage to a place of rural solitude and eerie beauty, hoping to encounter some kind of artistic rebirth. This might well have been overly optimistic, perhaps even wilfully self-delusional, but for all that, the Catskill’s sound of Deserter’s Songs is, for me, always intertwined with the undulating hills and roads of the strange but lovely county of Ceredigion.
It’s there in Jonathan Donahue’s lost, plaintive opening vocal on ‘Holes’. The sound of someone who has not only travelled a long distance from their customary urban environment but also the sound of someone who has travelled a long way from their initial idea of themselves. Whether ‘Holes’ is about heroin or not (and the Rev’s drug habits in their early Dave Baker-fronted years are well-documented) doesn’t really matter, because the song has an effortless universality stored within the tremor lines of its unstable architecture. It is about paradise being lost not found, and who cannot relate to that?
Having said that, as heartsick as this album undoubtedly is, it is also a work that is full of childlike wonder, an album indeed that is concerned with regaining childlike wonder. It is there in the nods to Gershwin and to Disney’s Fantasia on the sumptuous likes of ‘Endlessly’ and ‘Tonite it Shows’, as well as in Dave Fridmann’s marvellous, sepia-drenched production.
Funnily enough it has now become an album which brings back sepia-tinted memories for me. Guaranteed to get me all wistful and misty-eyed as I recall being driven by a friend too fast around undulating Ceredigion roads at night with ‘Goddess on a Hiway’ blaring out of the speakers. ‘When I see your eyes arrive, they explode like two bugs on glass,’ Donahue sings (intriguingly/ inexplicably/ winningly), the music swelling, and you know that no matter how far away from home you might have come, there will always be romance waiting around the corner for you somewhere along the line. There will always be a place for wonder and the unknown. ‘Paradise’, to uncharacteristically quote Damon Albarn, ‘is not lost, it’s in you.’
Sixteen years on Deserter’s Songs is an album that still sounds completely timeless and unique. That the Rev are going to be performing the record in its entirety, here in the heart of the Beacons, under the sleepy-watchful eye of Sugarloaf Mountain, feels perfect somehow. A home away from home. Don’t miss it.
Bright strands, water, soap,
Metamorphosis of wool
Gary Raymond is full of folksy charm as he reflects on the first full day at the Green Man Festival.
There is an old saying, passed down from generation to generation in agricultural communities, and one which I just made up, that goes like this: ‘The tallest wheat grows in the farthest field.’ Now this resonates for a number of reasons as I reflect on the Friday happenings at Green Man Festival. Firstly, my initial reservation at finding we were pitched a good smiling-taxi-driver away from the site has been assuaged both by the fact there is a more direct route to the rear end of the festival that opened almost as soon as the bags were dropped, but also that I have become swiftly aware of my own mortality. A good night’s sleep is a thing to be cherished, and to be honest, after a hot shower, the morning fuzz has been so light, I’m not entirely sure I didn’t dream the whiskey mac escapades last night. Being this far from the main site, also, has not left the Wales Arts Review team ‘out of the action’. The plume from the industrial towers of amplifiers makes it’s way over the hills like rainbow smoke. And this morning I was awakened by the sound of fellow festival goers dive bombing into the river over which our camp looks. The sound, I should say was that of screaming regret rather than splashing bodies, as the swimmers landed in the water under gaze of an equally regretfully brass monkey on the riverbank, towelling himself dry whilst looking for his balls.
So, the sky is a shivering silver, and the ground lights up at intervals as the sun breaks through and down. On site, the party is going, pop up artists sprout every couple of hundred yards or so, and it can take a while to get to the bar, or to the loo, as you find yourself stopping to appreciate, for instance, a dreadlocked guitarist and a frat-boy saxophonist gather a crowd at the bottom of a hillock with their improvised funk. Two hundred yards later, in the yard where the ale tent wonderfully compliments the stew stall that is its neighbour, a shanty kicks up, and with it a jig, and a skiffle band, complete with banjo and tea chest bass, crackle in their tiny corner of the festival.
But back to that made up folk saying. In the Far Out Tent last night, much as was expected (but these things always promise to disappoint, don’t they?) Caribou were, quite simply, immense. One of the finest, and most interesting live acts I have seen in a long time. It was glorious, thumping, joyous dance music. The band made a compact unit in the centre of the stage, all in white jeans and t-shirt, reminiscent of the ‘lounge’ set in Stop Making Sense. Daniel Snaith spent much of the time grinning from ear to ear as he attacked his sampler and synths like a bird of prey picking off dashing voles in the grass. The tent was bulging with enthusiastic revelry. A mighty performance.
I could just say a few quick words about the other bands I was lucky enough to see yesterday. Sun Kil Moon were as dour and depressing as their latest mournful album. I spent the whole gig (not the whole gig) wanting to kick them in the shins just to perk them up a bit. Daughter bored me into submission. Elena Tonra is a fascinating talent, mainly as a lyricist, but, as I have suspected for some time now, Daughter are a one trick pony musically, and I’m surprised they manage to hold festival crowds the way they do, unless it is the moment when everyone naps. They seem like a good bunch of people, though, and it’s hard to take a swing at folk who create art with such sincerity, but, seriously, try a different effects pedal or something.
There were more significant contributions from the likes of the Augustines (not my cup of tea, really – but they are BIG and bold, I’ll give them that), Francois and the Atlas Mountains, and the irrepressible Belle and Sebasti…sorry, Teleman.
But if the dead of night belonged to Caribou, then the rest of the day belonged to Polica. A stunningly intense and quick-fire performance that showed that although I find the new album, Shulamith, a little overlong and grating in parts, this is a band that is here to mke its mark. Channy Leaneagh gave a dazzlingly cool and sexy performance, her voice, shod of much of the cloying effects she is given on record, was a thing of real power. And today, they proved that ‘Dark Star’ is a future classic song. Already a favourite and a hit, live it pounded and soared – it is a beautifully constructed piece of music, an unusually complex thing for such a catchy tune – you could probably write a book about it, or a chapter in a book at least, but really, it’s about the vocal performance and those horns. God, those, horns!
Some great stuff coming up at the Talking Shop today, and, of course, our very own Craig Austin has written wonderfully on some of the subjects and people being talked about/to.
Here are his thoughts on the return of Scritti Politti ahead of Green Gartside’s chat…
And here is Craig’s review of Viv Albertine’s autobiography before she is interviewed about her life in punk – don’t miss her tonight!
Neko Case will be tearing up the Mountain Stage this afternoon with her own caustic brand of country music, and Gary Raymond here remembers his first encounter with her…
My enduring memory of seeing Neko Case at Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach in 2007 is that she’s as hard as nails. I don’t remember there being a specific instance that gave me this impression – it was more a question of attitude, character, of me spending the duration of the gig staring at the implacable alt. country heroine with that scintillating voice that occupies the indefinable sonic space somewhere between indestructible and utterly vulnerable. I believed then that you could understand a force by staring at it, I suppose; treating a potency like Case as if she was a character in a novel. That her personal problems have never been much of a secret seemed inconsequential to my idea of her; gossip compared to literature. Case, on stage, flings the clichés at you, hoping you’ll choke on them – Country and Western belle, fiery redhead – fuck you all. She is a songwriter of real innovation in a musical landscape where innovation is often a deadbeat fantasy, a drinker’s nonsense. She is a rare thing: a completely identifiable artist.
In 2007, I had fallen head over heels for Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and if I hadn’t done then, I would have done this year for her new album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (a bit of a ‘fuck you’ album title, if ever there was one). It is a glorious hangover of an album, (the kind of hangover that becomes an important part of the previous night out), that bears familiar fruit from the Case book of turns of phrase. This is thick, sticky Southern gothic, dark and punky, and if you’re not careful you may just as likely be a prisoner-not-taken as an innocent swept into Case’s whirlwind tragi-comic feminist mould-breaking romance. Look out for how the A Cappella ‘Nearly Midnight, Honolulu’ goes down live, and how first single from the latest record, ‘Man’, pumps up in the wide open spaces. A highlight of Case’s career is her involvement with Americana rockers The New Pornographers, and her best upbeat material brings them to mind. ‘Man’ is hardly ‘Letter from an Occupant’, but it is a tune, and a subject, to get the best out of its author and singer if she’s in the mood. I’d just advise to not be stood down the front if she is.
We are continuing to follow Llinos and Hannah, from Green Man // Red Woman, and their video adventures.
Uh oh. Rainbow has gone missing. She was rehearsing a scene from the show with us and well, you’d better watch the video and hear for yourself…
Francesca Kay greets us with Haiku request concerning ‘Knees’:
Ugly scowling things,
Stranded between shorts and boots –
Please cover them up!
Wales’ very own harpist and songwriter Georgia Ruth opens the Mountain Stage today with music from her award-winning album, Week of Pines. Check out Gary Raymond’s review of the album from last year…
We kick off Day 2 of Wales Arts Review Live with a look at the folklore that underpins the festival, with Amelia Fae’s 8 Things You May or May Not Have Known About The Green Man…
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower drives my green age.
1. Have you seen Jack-In-The-Green?
The Green Man is a pre-Christian symbol found carved into the wood and stone of pagan temples and graves. It can also be found on medieval churches and cathedrals, and is used as a Victorian architectural motif. The common image of the Green Man is that of a face either surrounded by foliage or composed entirely of leaf or leaves. Commonly considered to be of ancient Celtic origin, its original meaning is shrouded in mystery.
2. Mr Green? Jack? What do we call him?
The name was coined by 20th century folklorist Lady Raglan. She drew the connection between the leafy motifs in English churches and the Jack of the Green tales of folklore, becoming the Green Man as we know him today.
3. Does the Green Man have a girlfriend?
The female counterpart is the ‘Green Woman’ or the ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’ usually depicted in stone carvings. Being much harder to adapt into Christian iconography and therefore Victorian decoration, Mrs Green is much less common. Sheela-Na-Gig is usually portrayed as a primitive female form giving birth to the natural world, tying together with the image of Mother Nature.
4. So what is the Green Man’s job?
An icon of several religions from the goat-legged Pan of Greek mythology to Khidr of Islamic tradition, the Green Man looks in good health for an ancient global traveller. So what does he do? Most religions agree that the Green Man represents rebirth; being present in vegetation, seasons, cycles and every aspect of nature.
5. Would the Green Man wear tights?
Some scholars suggest that the tales of Robin Hood evolved from the Green Man mythology, a metaphor for the old ways and religions. Legends connecting the archetypical Green Man are everywhere, from the Arthurian Legend, the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Peter Pan – an eternally youthful boy, dressed in green and living in the forest. The mischievous Puck, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummers Night’s Dream is possibly the most famous example of The Green Man myth being shaped into one of the most famous and popular figures in the English Fairy tradition.
6. Made in Asia?
Although the Green Man may be a descendent of old Celtic and European culture, there is evidence to suggest that his origins can actually be traced to South and East Asia. Green Man researchers have argued that the most common representations of the European Green man, bears a striking resemblance to the Kirtimukha of India. It is possible that the motif travelled along the trade routes linking Europe and Asia, adding more mystery to the origin.
7. Just how human is he?
In Jane Gardam’s short story, ‘The Green Man’, she explores the nature of the Green Man through his darkness and light. Of all the interpretations this has to be my favourite. Prefaced by a line from Ronald Blythe – ‘the Green Man is no enemy of Christ’ – her Green Man can be mistaken for a tree stump in Winter and a scarecrow in Spring, but when Summer comes he strides about his kingdom, attractive and permanent but flawed and human. He sits on the moon debating with the devil; seeing his own image in both the Fallen Angel and in Christ. ‘But I am the Green Man. The earth is my element. This is my tragedy. You know this. I am bound and tied.’ He is truly a wonderful creation.
8. What if you fancy a pint in The Green Man?
Once a popular pub name, it is now less common as the myth fades from history. However the Green Man still abounds in popular culture; in a number of English towns the Jack pageant is still re-enacted each year. If you are unfamiliar with the ‘Jack Pageant’, it is very similar to the closing scenes of The Wicker Man (only, hopefully, without the human sacrifice). You can also find similar celebrations in Wales: The Mari Lwyd involving all the usual antics of the pageant (much ‘wassailing’ to be had). Of course, Green Man Festival is testimony to the success of combining old folklore with popular culture, and is perhaps the best example of how contemporary society always harks back to a perceived simpler time.
Day 2 kicks off with our second Green Man Playlist to start your day, including a main attraction, festival headliners Mercury Rev, who will be performing the entirety of their seminal 1998 album, Deserter’s Songs.
original illustration by Dean Lewis
The Wales Arts Review gratefully acknowledges a grant from Arts Council Wales in support of our rolling coverage of Green Man.