Thursday, September 13, 2007

SWSL Green Man Festival Diary 2007

Sunday 19th August

(With photos courtesy of Jenni and Mel.)

Urgh - wine headache. Back to sleep...

We pack up the tents and load up the car - my how organised we are! We may be hemmed in on all sides by ominous-looking clouds, but directly overhead it's blue skies and the hot sunshine is enough to warrant breaking out the suncream.

I finally find out the Newcastle v Villa score - 0-0. The cat was dead.

The Literature Tent is packed for what is billed as a Mojo interview with STEPHEN MALKMUS, but which turns out to be a few fumbling questions from a grizzled old hack from the aforementioned publication (aren't they all?) and a lot of questions from the floor. In his drawling American accent that's so laid-back it's practically horizontal, Malkmus talks about everything from his childhood and spending a night in the cells as a teenager after being caught walking across roofs, to Pavement's first British gig, in Derby, after which a hen party came downstairs and demanded to be kissed by all the men present: "We thought, 'Wow, if this is what gigs in England are like...". When he discusses his influences and musical passions, it's revealing that he's as enthusiastic about Fairport Convention as he is about the Dead Kennedys. We learn that he and the Jicks are here at least partly on the recommendation of David Berman, whose Silver Jews played the festival last year, and more importantly that given the choice of sharing a desert island with a robot or a gorilla, he'd choose the latter, particularly if it was female...

If Lou Barlow hadn't already nabbed the name The Folk Implosion for himself, it would have been the perfect moniker for THREATMANTICS (Green Man Cafe) - not that the one they've chosen doesn't convey something of their thrashing, gnashing folk-punk spirit. Unfortunately, though, with half of Cardiff again seemingly in attendance, it's only 'Don't Care' that really shines, and that primarily because the ongoing technical issues result in an exasperated Ceri taking his frustrations out on his guitar.

My third Pieminister pie of the weekend, a Chicken of Aragon. Swiftly followed by another half, this time a PM. Jenni has started measuring out how much money we have left between us in terms of how many pies it'll buy. Honestly, we'll be nicking TVs soon to fund our habit...

I may often enthusiastically embrace music at the more avant-garde end of the spectrum, but surely DIRECTING HAND (Green Man Cafe) are just taking the piss? Alex Neilson may be an impressive free-drummer (which means he hears and plays rhythms all of his own), but the wailing vocalist is unbearable. Her sharpest critic turns out to be one of the barmen: "WHATEVER YOU'RE DOING TO HER, SHE DOESN'T LIKE IT! That's the sound of cats in a bag in the river..."

MISTY'S BIG ADVENTURE (Main Stage) are firm favourites around Andy Pryke's way (which is, incidentally, their own - Moseley in Birmingham), and with their answer to Bez - a blue-faced man in a red smock with blue stuffed gloves attached to it who goes by the name of Erotic Volvo - jigging about the stage, it's not hard to see why. The polar opposite of Directing Hand's po-faced "serious" art, Misty's nevertheless only succeed in inspiring the same reaction in me - one of revulsion. Musically I soon find their mish-mash of chirpy pop and two tone with liberal doses of brass unfathomably irritating; add to that the curious combination of a Colin Hunt style wackiness that feels forced and a sneeringly superior attitude to others that shines through 'Fashion Parade', and you've got a band I don't want to go near again in a hurry.

Parents, time to cover your children's ears: here comes MALCOLM MIDDLETON (Main Stage), the incorrigibly and delightfully foul-mouthed "other half" of Arab Strap, armed with songs like the cheerily and stoically upbeat 'We're All Going To Die' and recent single 'Fuck It I Love You', dedicated to the nearby Moorish food stall. Most affecting of all is 'Blue Plastic Bags', performed solo, though everything he plays showcases perfectly that familiar blacker-than-black humour and pathetic lyrical scrabbling around for crumbs of comfort. Having stepped out from behind the drunkenly swaying shadow of Aidan Moffat, Middleton proves himself a more than capable frontman in his own right, chastising us as "a bunch of bastards" for not joining in when urged to do so by the lyrics and complaining: "We were planning on doing a cover - we'd rehearsed 'Whole Lotta Love', but some cunt played it last night". The only hope for those parents whose kids' ears remain uncovered is that the Glaswegian accent renders all this unintelligible.

Away from the stages it's time for the annual children's parade, for which assorted youngsters have been busy preparing all morning. Now they file past wearing cardboard antlers and bashing bongos like Keith Moon with a sugar rush, soaking up the applause of rather longer-in-the-tooth festival-goers like myself.

A stranger sidles up to me to share a knock knock joke. It turns out to be eminently groanworthy, but I appreciate the sentiment all the same.

Free copies of the latest Mojo, the music magazine with the policy of only haivng dead people as cover stars. This issue it's Keith Richards - OK, so not technically dead, but he certainly ought to be dead, the stuff he's put himself through.

Ahoy there, it's THE EARLIES (Main Stage)! Our paths seemed destined never to cross, but at last they have and I find myself stood next to a bunch of drunkards wearing animal masks, watching the nine-strong psych-pop combo (is it really nine, or is the cider making my eyesight go wobbly?) that's equal parts Texas and Burnley launch into another jam. But with nothing quite igniting despite the force of numbers, and with the spectre of The Beta Band lurking in the shadows, my interest soon wanes and I wander off in search of more cider.

If anyone can be assured of an enthusiastic reception at Green Man, it's GRUFF RHYS (Main Stage). The latest fruits of his day job with Super Furry Animals, Hey Venus!, may be on the verge of release, but here he is, sat behind a desk inside a giant cardboard mock-up of a TV screen and the BBC2 test card, playing in support of this year's solo adventure Candylion. The album's title track might bear testimony to Rhys's claim that its "cornerstones" are "the soft vocal sound of Psychocandy-era Jesus & Mary Chain coupled with the sonic sweetshop of daisy age hip-hop", but the relentless rhythm of opener 'Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru' and the layered experimentation of 'Cycle Of Violence' are equally arresting. But inevitably it's 'Skylon!', the 14 minute opus which brings Candylion to a close, that steals the show; a tale of a hijacked plane and a defused bomb, it sees Rhys performing at the front of the stage in a lifejacket, his musician accomplices in pilots' uniforms and a terrorist appearing from the wings with some TNT to act out the drama. All very daft, but more than enough to make me think I should have probably caught him at Glastonbury as well.

If anything, though, the response which greets grizzled old bluesman SEASICK STEVE (Folkey Dokey Stage) is even more rapturous. With his Southern drawl, enormous beard, well-worn baseball cap and dungarees, he is every inch ZZ Top's gas-pumpin', gun-totin', cotton-pickin' dad, and when the former trainhopping hobo who was taught guitar at the age of eight by someone who used to play with Tommy Johnson (yes, really) starts singing slide-guitar-heavy songs about goddamn bitin' bugs and fantasies of shooting abusive stepfathers, you can almost hear the spirit of Jack White circa 2002 purring with excitement. No doubt he would have felt right at home in the Rumpus Room late last night. But he's not quite as easy to pigeon-hole as that might suggest, having produced Modest Mouse's first two albums, and the rapport he quickly creates and establishes with the crowd, as much through his affable between-song banter as through the songs themselves, is the warmest I witness all weekend.

More beards, which I was expecting, but an absence of quirky acid-fried folk, which I wasn't. DEVENDRA BANHART (Main Stage) seems instead to be content to plow a ponderous 70s rock furrow, drifting occasionally off into Grateful Deadisms and country that's been drugged into submission. We're already on our way back to the Folkey Dokey Stage when he and his band surrender the stage and limelight to a singer-songwriter from Newcastle whom they've plucked out of the crowd. A nice touch? Well, perhaps - except, as someone points out, it's a bit lazy even for a twenty-something hippy to grab the money and get someone else to do part of the work for nothing. And what if her choice of song turns out to be a 20 minute long prog-rock epic? We're not around to find out.

HERMAN DUNE (Folkey Dokey Stage) - bearded, naturally - already have something of an affinity with Wales. Associates of Cardiff oddball popsters The Wave Pictures, the cosmopolitan trio much beloved by John Peel recorded their latest album Giant at a studio (or should I say "stiwdio"?) near Mount Snowdon. Brewers of a strangely compelling concoction of anti-folk, bittersweet pop and surf guitar, they're one of the festival's more understatedly charming bands, and with the tent filling gradually throughout the set, it's evident that Wales has something of an affinity with them.

"Festivals schmestivals" was Herman Dune frontman David's perspective until he went to Reading '95, where he saw Pavement - and suddenly everything changed. And here's STEPHEN MALKMUS himself, to close out the festival on the Main Stage with his outfit The Jicks. His first words are "We've been told there's no leeway for running over - that sounds kinda cryptic" and though I'm not quite close enough to see, I can tell there's a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Judging by his apparent inability to remember how some of the songs kick off and the between-song ramblings (about everything from "1987 shirts" and the shitness of Kasabian via the robot v gorilla dilemma from the Q&A to the merits of getting your butthole waxed), he's spent all afternoon as I have: on the cider. A couple of old favourites aside (never knew 'Pencil Rot' was about impotence, but it figures), the set is comprised almost entirely of new material. This is a gamble that could backfire, but so good are the new songs that that's never even remotely a possibility. The poppy 'Walk Into A Mirror' is a definite single-in-waiting, but by contrast most of the new tracks aired tonight - 'Hopscotch Willie', 'Baltimore Again', 'Out Of Reaches' - are long, free, groovy hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck indie rock jams, with the emphasis on "rock" thanks to Malkmus's guitar wizardry and the skin-pounding of newest Jick, former Sleater-Kinney and current Bright Eyes drummer Janet Weiss (having heard him talking up her influence on the band earlier in the day, I can really see what he meant). Put simply, it's light years better than my previous encounter with him, and the new record is now an absolute must-have. Reappearing for an encore of 'Animal Midnight' and 'Baby C'mon', Malkmus jokes that he's texted the local farmers and they've given permission for the show to go on. If only it could go on even longer.

They say good things come to those who wait. Well, bad things come to those who enjoy themselves heartily at music festivals - namely, Monday mornings. As we head back to Cardiff, I find myself wishing our car had actually been stuck in the mud - that way, we could have prolonged the fun for a little more.


swisslet said...

When I saw Devendra Banhart he did the same trick of pulling someone out of the crowd, apparently at random...who then played a fairly decent song, albeit one in which he rather painfully imitated Banhart's folky singing style. Fair enough, I supposed, he has paid to get in after all, so presumably he's a fan. Hm. He turned out to be mates with Banhart's guitarist and had been following the tour.

They're plants!

Pie Minister rules.


skif said...

Well, reaction to music is a personal thing indeed, but for me Misty's are the best fun-time pop band around. My ladyfriend is obsessed with them, more so than I, but there has never been any time when I've seen MBA when they haven't improved my mood.

I take your points about 'Fashion Parade', but then again I don't mind the Shoreditch bubble taking a vaguely absurdist pin-prick every now and then, however pious the stabber might come across.

Also, Grandmaster Gareth is possibly the nicest man in the world which for me makes his curmedgeonly stage-schtick all the more amusing.

Ben said...

ST: The Devendra Banhart thing was a bit suspicious. A few years ago I think Green Day were getting people out of the crowd to play guitar with them on one song - but they definitely weren't plants. I'm having a long overdue weekend in Abingdon next weekend - which inevitably means we'll be heading into Oxford for a slap-up Pieminister meal...

Skif: I'd honestly expected to like Misty's Big Adventure, so when I finally saw them and not only disliked them but disliked them a lot, it genuinely surprised me. I take your point about 'Fashion Parade' - the Shoreditch bubble does need bursting every now and again - but I just thought it's rather clumsily done. That's music, though, eh? I say tomato, you say potato...

skif said...

Quite so. I think it's fair to say that 'Fashion Parade' is my least favourite MBA lyric, so I can certainly understand how it's approach might get under the skin somewhat.

Enjoy the pies!