It is hard to believe that in 2003, equidistant between Swansea and Brecon, a festival took place in Adelina Patti’s majestic Craig Y Nos Castle. Looking at the festival’s 20,000 body capacity now and comparing that with a crowd of 300 rammed into a picturesque castle… well, nobody would believe it is the same event.
In ten years, the rapid growth of this renowned festival is testament to its quality. Green Man provides such an eclectic programme that thousands flock to the Brecon Beacons for the week, all ages, all tastes. The location, which has varied over the years but finally settled on the Glanusk Estate near Crickhowell, Powys in 2006, is ideal. The Beacons encompass the site, providing a rather breathtaking backdrop to the main Mountain Stage. Considering its unique location and the fact that it is so easily accessible from all directions, it is no wonder the festival is attracting such a crowd. It is also relatively cheap for the modern-day festival, so that undoubtedly plays a part in its success too. The festival caters for absolutely everybody, and whilst you may think that this may create a strange dynamic, it really doesn’t. Green Man genuinely has such a rounded, co-existing feel to it. Mixing such a range of ages with different tastes is challenging, but thanks to the well structured programme of the event, there never seemed to be any conflict of interests.
Headliners over the past years have certainly been very impressive, from Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and Feist to this year’s Ben Howard and Band of Horses. These underground indie bands, though perhaps not so well known to the whole world as some artists are, have massive and loyal followings, so the fact that they wind up on a stage in Crickhowell is utterly wonderful.
But it is not only the impressive headliners that draw a crowd. The festival also invites some real indie/rock legends. This year saw Edwyn Collins take Friday’s main stage, followed by John Cale and Low on the Saturday. Edwyn Collins’ set was impressive. Inviting his son onstage to sing a few songs too, the set was varied and appealed to everybody. He was also possibly the nicest performer at the festival. He chatted throughout, and really engaged with the audience. John Cale’s set was loaded with awesome sounds. His guitarist was notably fantastic. These true legends are the artists who inspired the headliners. As Band of Horses front man Ben Bridwell announced at the end of their epic set on Saturday night, ‘We don’t deserve this’. There really is no other word to describe Band of Horses’ set other than ‘phenomenal’. Almost two hours flew by, with a mix of acoustic, low-key and rock performances. Band of Horses were inspired by the likes of John Cale and Low. That’s why the Main Stage line-up works so well. The sounds are streamlined through the different eras.
Like any good festival, there are of course, different sounds. It was easy to get drawn in by the calming tones floating from Einstein’s Garden. The Ballina Whalers, three musicians who are inspired by the old, traditional sea shanty music, were able to draw their audience in with their dreamlike melodies. Wonderful harmonising, thoughtful lyrics, and a pure sound made them an extremely enjoyable watch. Blaenavon on Saturday’s Far Out stage gave an impressive performance and are surely ones to watch. Their sound was reminiscent of an edgier Two Door Cinema Club, soft indie, very exciting, fresh and young. The Chai Wallah tent provided more of a grunge, rave vibe for those in need of a dance. Green Man Rising tent was a space for the up and coming musicians, a chance for artists to perform for an open-minded audience. The range of music at Green Man is so different from perhaps a more conventional festival like V Fest. Here you can find all kinds of music to suit any mood.
The Cinema tent was such a great touch. The cinema showed alternative films, mostly films that play in perhaps two or three cinemas in Wales. Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom followed by Richard Ayoade’s Submarine played on Saturday afternoon, the perfect chill out space or antidote to a hangover or rainy afternoon. To continue with this relaxation, there was a chance to head over to the hot tub or therapy area, where you could get any kind of treatment from reflexology or aromatherapy to reiki: a really fantastic, innovative addition to a music festival. The Last Laugh tent also provided a much needed change of scene after an afternoon of live music, somewhere where you could laugh into the early hours. Not just one type of comedian either. Brian Gittins performed on the same stage as Ellis James, different styles for different tastes.
The food tents were out of this world; the festival catered for everybody. The choice on display was more than a token ‘we have every cuisine here’. There was perhaps too much to choose from. Moroccan Souk food, Goan fish curry, pie and chips, pizza and pasta, paella. These smells were so wonderfully inviting, it was difficult to choose one dish. There was also plenty for children to enjoy, plenty of sweets, crepes and candy floss stalls. Real Ale tents were also ample, hinting more towards the quality not quantity mentality. That was surely one of the festival’s greatest strengths: that it is all about the best of things, not just how much of it you can get.
Green Man is a magnificent microcosm where every kind of person of every age can find something to enjoy. The evening performances saw thousands flock to the main stage, whether right at the front worshipping and dancing or sitting further back admiring from afar. There is no concentration of one kind of people, and maybe that’s why it is such an enjoyable place to be. Green Man will undoubtedly continue to grow and grow.
original illustration by Dean Lewis