Monday, September 03, 2007

SWSL Green Man Festival Diary 2007

Saturday 18th August

(With photos courtesy of Mel.)

Rain, bloody rain. O weather, why hast thou forsaken us?

Does every festival have its own unique type of mud? Here it's a rich red colour.

Still drizzling. There's only one thing for it - another Pieminister (a Mr Porky this time), a coffee and then onto the cider...

Mancunian quintet THE BEEP SEALS (Main Stage) have drawn the short straw of having to open up in the rain, and the initial signs aren't too promising. But, grudgingly venturing out of the bar tent for a closer look, I find I'm very pleasantly surprised, their heady cocktail of Pavement at their most melodic, jangly 60s psychedelia and Olivia Tremor Control covers dispersing all thoughts of the clouds if not the clouds themselves. Signing off with a fine approximation of pre Soft Bulletin Flaming Lips, 'I Used To Work At The Zoo' (which I'm amazed to discover was only deemed good enough for a B-side), they disappear off in search of the merchandise stall where they plan to leave a pile of CDs.

The flip side of bands playing outdoors in the rain struggling to attract an audience is that those under canvas invariably play to swollen crowds. Beneficiaries of the elements on the Folkey Dokey Stage are THISTLETOWN, who live together on a boat in a Cornish village. Hannah's comment should give you some indication of what they're like: "I bet these guys use Timotei" Jenni has a stab too: "I might like this if I was a medieval wench with chiffon flowing from my pointy hat". Might as well just give up this reviewing malarkey now and hand the reins over to her...

I don't know about you, but for me the name MONKEY SWALLOWS THE UNIVERSE (Main Stage) just doesn't conjure up images of sensitive and effortlessly charming folky acoustic pop bands - but that's what the Sheffield outfit are, not to mention influenced by the leading lights of C86 and possessed of the sass and style which comes of knowing the impact value of posh frocks. No surprise to learn, then, that they've toured with both Camera Obscura and fellow Steel City natives The Long Blondes, who are among those to have enthusiastically championed their cause. Former single 'Science' is loveliness itself, enough to melt a cynic's heart, even though vocalist Nat is singing about planes falling out of the sky, while 'Ballad Of The Breakneck Bride', also from newly released second LP The Casket Letters and a duet performed with guest vocals from one Rhys Lightning, reinforces my impression of them as Sons & Daughters if they drank less gin.

Back to the Folkey Dokey Stage and - hang on... Drums, passion, volume, sonic tumult! No more evocations of wandering bare-footed and daisy-chained around the fields hugging trees and searching out special mushrooms - someone's obviously belatedly pissed on Thistletown's pasties...

All this entertainment, and it seems the kids are as happy squelching around in the mud as they were rolling down the hill yesterday.

The concept was a good one: a collection of short stories, each taking its name from a different Fall song, published in conjunction with the inaugural Manchester International Festival under the title 'Perverted By Language', after the 1983 album which kicks off with 'Eat Y'self Fitter'. And here in the Literature Tent to read from their pieces are three of the authors (none of them Niall Griffiths as has been billed, unfortunately). Looking every inch the writer he is, MATT THORNE - who was roped into the project by another contributor, Stewart Lee - is first up with a teaser from his story 'My Ex-Classmate's Kids', leaving us wondering exactly what happens when the protagonist and his friend try it on with a couple of girls they meet at a noise rave in a primary school. JOHN WILLIAMS follows, the Cardiffian's 'An Older Lover Etc' a factual memoir of a youth not at all misspent with and around The Fall which masquerades only very loosely as fiction. We miss Stav Sherez reading from 'God-Box' but, although Mark E Smith may have "distanced" himself from the book by ripping up a copy on stage, what I've heard suggests it may well be worth investing in.

VOICE OF THE SEVEN WOODS (Folkey Dokey Stage)? Cry Of The Discontented Musician, more like. Rick Tomlinson - backed by a full band (as he was at Supersonic) plus an added violinist - is mightily disgruntled with the sound his amp's chucking out, and he lets everyone know. His hypnotic riffs which wheel around like hungry vultures never really get the chance to entrance, and the set is curtailed almost before it's begun.

In the space of about two years between 1999 and 2001 I must have seen CLINIC (Main Stage) four or five times, but this is my first opportunity to see them since then - and it's not one I'm about to pass up, what with them being arguably our finest and most original pop group and everything. Don't just take my word for it, though: having been personally invited to support Radiohead in the past, they're now gearing up for a slot on The Arcade Fire's autumn arena tour. Bringing a sinister edge to proceedings with their attire - they've returned to the surgical masks of their early days, and added brown outfits and tall hats (honest, it's like when Kiss went back to wearing make-up) - Clinic are that rarest of beasts, a band who sound like no-one but themselves. Over the course of four albums (five if you count Funf, their recent B-sides collection) and a handful of EPs, they've perfected a fusion of reverb-laden surf guitar riffs, heavy organ drones, Krautrock repetition and hissing rattlesnake vocals that's entirely their own. The set is heavy on material from last year's Visitations LP - 'Tusk', 'Animal Human', 'Paradise', 'Family', 'The Seeker' - with nothing at all from striking debut Internal Wrangler, the brilliant single 'Walking With Thee' their only real dip into the back catalogue, but we are at least treated to a new song, 'Fortune Teller', which bodes well for whatever comes next. If there's a problem, it's that they're, well, rather clinical in their delivery - short, sharp and to the point, and then they're off. Otherwise - dare I say it? Oh, go on then - just what the doctor ordered.

Turns out Voice Of The Seven Woods don't have the monopoly on technical problems. EMMY THE GREAT (Green Man Cafe) waits patiently before belatedly getting underway. "The Great" is quite an epithet to give yourself; Kenny might feel it's justified, but I'm largely deprived of the opportunity to make up my own mind by the ditherings of a plastered barmaid who keeps serving those who've arrived after me and then forgetting what they've ordered. Nice vocals, is about all I can say.

What a shame. A full-throttle Voice Of The Seven Woods set would have been the perfect aperitif for SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE (Folkey Dokey Stage). San Franciscan Ben Chasny might moonlight with Comets On Fire, but the dense and drone-heavy psych-blues of Six Organs Of Admittance is his real concern. For the European tour of which this show is part, he's partnered on electric guitar by Elisa Ambrogio, who overlays everything with a delectable howling scree and ensures the duo come across like a freer, less structured Kills. Gloriously intoxicating stuff, and I'm not talking about the contents of my nearly empty pint pot.

A saunter to the tent for more wine, and then back to the arena for half a very tasty smoked mackerel wrap. The Newcastle v Villa game now over and my phone reception non-existent, I think of Schrodinger's cat: the game hasn't been either won or lost until I actually find out the score.

Woozy with cider - that's me, currently. 'Woozy With Cider' - that's a JAMES YORKSTON (Folkey Dokey Stage) song. Alt-folkie Yorkston is a bit of a legend round these parts, having played every single Green Man Festival since its inception in 2003. And every year since that first festival the same punter has got up out of the crowd to lend vocals to one particular song. When he does so tonight, to a massive roar of approval, I can't help but think that Yorkston won't ever be allowed to drop it from his set. But he and his band don't play in a way that suggests any feelings of constraint - their looseness and sense of showmanship is striking, while the final song is a 20 minute long prog epic that sticks two fingers up to anyone who tries to pigeonhole him with the knitted jumper and Scoutmaster beard set.

I must confess that the presence on the bill of Clinic and James Yorkston's Domino labelmates FRIDGE (Folkey Dokey Stage) hadn't really grabbed my attention, but then even when post-rock was my staple diet (thanks to him) around 2000, I somehow never found myself seduced by the trio. In recent years, Kieran Hebden and Adem Ilhan's critically fawned-over side-projects - Four Tet and Adem respectively - have pushed Fridge to one side, but this year's album The Sun, their first since 2001's Happiness, has marked a fruitful return to their roots. Having not played together for so long either, a certain rustiness would be understandable, but they're right on the money from the get-go - and much more forceful than I'd imagined they might be, too, the ambient interludes separated by exhilarating passages of fluid basslines and pummelling drums. It's impossible not to mirror their grins at being reunited - or to reflect ruefully on their contemporaries Mogwai's going-through-the-motions headlining set at Supersonic in July. We won't get another opportunity to see them again for a while, they warn, so best savour the experience while we can - and I certainly do.

All of which leaves Folkey Dokey Stage headliners BATTLES, one of the bands I was most looking forward to, with a fight on their hands - can they wrestle back the crown of the day's best band? The answer's no, for reasons I find it difficult to quite put my finger on. Perhaps it's just a natural antipathy for drummers intent on being the centre of attention (I'm thinking of Lars Ulrich and Phil Collins here - Dave Grohl for a long time being the exception that proved the rule). Ex-Helmet man John Stanier has his kit centre stage, his cymbals set so high the stands are like flagpoles, while the other protagonists - including former Don Caballero guitarist Ian Williams - cluster around him parasitically feeding off the grooves he kicks out. Or perhaps it's the disappointment of discovering that nothing else in their arsenal comes close to matching the impact of superb single 'Atlas', no doubt a favourite down the cyborg's glam rock disco. The Mars Volta are unsurprisingly appreciative of their twitching metallic funk, but I'm left rather cold - and yes, Fridge are probably largely responsible.

12 midnight
One wonders whether ROBERT PLANT (Main Stage) thought up the name for his backing band while recalling Led Zeppelin's 1970s heyday when tourbus liaisons with lady fans were often followed by bouts of scratching and mysterious discharge. The Strange Sensation feature everyone from Massive Attack collaborator John Baggott and Clive Deamer, the drummer from Roni Size's Lifeforms, to Tinariwen producer Justin Adams and a former member of Cast, Skin Tyson. I reach the top of the hill overlooking the stage just in time for THAT riff for 'Whole Lotta Love' to ring out, but the shiver only gets halfway down my spine before they're off crowbarring in what seems like a medley of other songs. As Plant crassly dedicates another song to Welsh nationalist folk hero Owain Glyndwr, I reach for the wine and try to block it out with the thought of a Bonham-inspired 'Good Times, Bad Times'.

For those in search of afterhours amusement, there's not a great deal on offer at Green Man in comparison with, say, Glastonbury (even relatively speaking), so the Rumpus Room - a tent at the outer limits of the site where the music goes on until 3am - inevitably proves a big draw to those not yet felled by their own alcohol consumption. When the final DJ takes to the decks, his trucker's cap and beard is an indication of what to expect - 'Deliverance' disco - and we all join in with a frenetic arhythmic hoedown like there's no tomorrow. (There is, but I don't want to contemplate the hangover.)


skif said...

Really enjoyed Battles when I saw them a couple of weeks ago. Mind you, as I had suspected their schtick might not fly in a big venue, I decided not to bother with their London KOKO show, and head back up to Liverpool for their gig at the Barfly.

Small venue, packed out, right down the front, it was lovely stuff, although not as faultlessly wonderful as I had hyped myself up to expect.

Definitely wouldn't want to see them in a larger joint, nor a festival tent, as I think some of the energy would dissipate, so I can appreciate your thoughts.

Also, it is true that 'Atlas' lords it over their other tracks like a school bully on stolen sweets, but I'd say thats more on record than live.

Sounds like a wonderful fest though. Ta for the thorough write-up.

Ben said...

Cheers Skif. More to come when I get round to finishing it off...

As I said, I didn't think Battles were bad at all - they were just upstaged by a band who I honestly hadn't expected that much from. They played again in Cardiff the Monday after the festival - would have liked to have seen them in a more intimate enclosed space.

gareth said...

I could have died of boredom when we saw that Mark E Smith thing. I've heard more interesting ramblings coming out of the gas ventilation pipe attached to my house.

Good write up tho. Agree with Fridge being hella good.