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Green Man Festival 2005


I like folk music for two reasons. One is that even if it’s “hey nonny no” and Morris dancing there is always guaranteed to be a totally white hot instrumentalist in there. Like some guy who lives in a hollowed out tree and eats bugs with his feet but has built himself a cross between a set of bagpipes and an acoustic guitar with 19 strings and – even though he plays it naked – it’s amazing to watch.

The second is that folk music is frequently staggeringly dark.

So in theory if you set this eccentricity and occasional sinister purpose in the Welsh hills, in the grounds to a slightly run down stately home that inspired the Hound Of the Baskervilles then I would have imagined we would be talking transcendental experience.

(I bought a load of scrumpy just in case).

We got there pretty late on the Friday after our driver Dave Change thoughtfully stopped off at some choice country boozers en route. The man in the car park put me in a bad mood by telling is to “park next to the red Mercedes” which was in fact a far superior 1973 Alfa Spyder. The festival is on the right side of small and the main stage is outdoors, but it’s not Reading – the field itself is tiny.

It was walking through this field carrying the tent that I started to remember exactly what I hate about camping. So I occupied myself with a million things other than putting the tent up, until I turned round and Johnson had done it already. Things weren’t helped by finding out our friends Will & Ruth had not only managed to get a hotel room, but had the largest room, in the middle of the front of the house with a balcony overlooking the lawn and the main stage. I started thinking about the last time I camped at a festival: the last night of Reading 1996. I didn’t take a tent, and my mate Deano got drunk and wouldn’t let us get in his tent. We slept outside and someone actually took a whizz on my friend Ross. To make matters worse, we thought our other friends were asleep in their tent all night, but it turned out they were in the car and they’d told Deano to unlock the tent and let us sleep there – but he thought it would be funny not to.

Anyway, I felt like that when I saw Will & Ruth’s room.

Adem is apparently very popular. There is certainly a big crowd. But in a trend that maybe defined the weekend, he actually played a sort of MOR rock with acoustic instrumentation, but that was really not enough of any one thing to be interesting. Sonically pushing at least some of the right buttons, but structurally and emotionally like wallpaper. Or cardboard. Or rich tea biscuits.

The second stage was actually the bar in the hotel and it was too rammed to get in for Josephine Foster, so we decided to make an educated decision and hit the scrumpy hard. I ran into Piers from Econoline who was dressed in dungarees and straw hat and looked like he was off to a Klan meet.

We watched a bit of The Incredible String Band and, like the patch on the inner left thigh of my cords, it was so polished it was almost non existent. That’s not to say it wasn’t entertaining in places or beautifully played. But still, I began to feel like I’d made a mistake. I sent rude drunken text messages to my girlfriend and sang Iron Man in my head to try and tip the scales back, but I felt I was being twee-ed into the ground.

The disco and the emergence of Dancing Daniel from Leeds perked things up. Until security shut it down at half eleven. The guy from St Etienne was DJing and got told he had one song left.


I mean, at least play some Curtis Mayfield. But no, they finished with the folk then we were kicked out. I watched Will & Ruth ascend to their royal stable and Ian Scanlon and Jane disappear to their hippy B&B down the lane, and trudged back to my tent in a cider monk-on to listen to Johnson snore really loudly for seven hours, interspersed with people playing flute and acoustic guitar in the campsite and me calling Johnson a bastard.

* * *


What is it with tents? The sun goes down: it’s freezing. You wake up: it’s so hot and stinky it’s like you crawled into someone’s ass. But the inside of the tent is covered in freezing cold condensation, so when you sit up and your bare back hits the tent lining it’s like a thousand volt shock. I think next year’s Green Man should have a lecture on this phenomenon in their Science Room.

There is one part of camping that I do understand the science of. That is, if you drink loads the night before you will need a massive dump the next morning. So when the sun comes up and burns your retina through the £20 borrowed Argos tent, don’t fight it, get up and revel in the empty and relatively clean festival toilets. I experienced deep faecal joy at 7 am on Saturday, and celebrated with a cup of Earl Grey tea and a sit down while most of the campsite slept. Our camping partners (assorted ladies and gents from the bands Seachange, Sweet Briar and Hush The Many) were up already, because they are all achingly well practised at being outdoors. I suspect most of them can ride horses and I know for a fact that James Vyner (aka International Man Of Leisure) can make fire just by looking at two pieces of wood, and can probably fashion cutlery from bird bone. The people next to us had got the morning papers and were sitting in deck chairs eating bacon sandwiches and laughing.

I reflected on our stoveless position as I ate a soggy bourbon biscuit and decided that if I ever get to play Green Man I am changing the band name to Piss Wizard (don’t even think about it – I’ve copyrighted it already) and playing Thin Lizzy covers.

The first band on the main stage started at 11 am and they sounded like Starsailor. We piled into the Folky Dokey stage (they may as well have called it the Ned Flanders’ Folkily Dokily Stage) to see our camping partners Hush The Many. They benefit from having the most charming frontman alive in Nima, and instantly won everyone over despite sound problems and the drummer not showing up. Dave Change and myself marked Nima out of 10 throughout the set for ‘hippy content’. He peaked at a 9.5 with a comment about ‘plucking sounds from the air’, but then crashed down low at the end by asking people to sign the mailing list, when what he should have done is give the band’s equipment away and finish the set holding a new born baby in one hand and a sunflower in the other.

We decided the thing to do is to ‘hang‘. So we lounged on the lawn and then went up to Will & Ruth’s to climb out the window onto the (frankly terrifyingly-constructed) balcony. The great feeling of looking down on people cheered me further, as did Ruth popping a champagne cork and taking out two passers-by.

I caught the first few songs from Cambridge’s Lionshare who do sinister very well, in a kind of Arise, Therefore Palace kind of way. We further ‘hung’. Talking of Palace, Will Oldham appeared on the balcony next door in a towel. We then watched him wander the grounds being photographed on digital cameras arm-in-arm with different men by said men’s girlfriends (and Daniel). It didn’t seem to bother him too much.

Everyone decided to play cricket. I stopped off for a Strongbow and a little watch of Half Cousin on the way. I appreciated the volume, the roughness and the rhythms. I am not sure if I would listen to it at home, but by this point my boundaries had become blurred.

Cricket was in a boiling hot dustbowl. A gent called Del let us use his posh BBQ to get some sausage action going. I finally began to feel the fun. Sadly I didn’t feel the radiation-style sunburn enough at this point to put any lotion on. By Sunday, I looked like a red-faced angry drunk (which I sort of was).

Johnson and myself decided that it was important that by midway through Superwolf we were drunk enough to cry, so we set about the delicate task of timing things to perfection. We all watched Malcolm Middleton from the balcony again. Not half bad. His lyrics are really painfully simple, but the relentlessness of his misery makes them mantra-like and I dug.

We moved to the front for Alastair Roberts, who was a highlight. For one thing, the crazy instrumental skills I associate with folk were present, all the people up there were unique and amazing and above all sympathetic to the songs – the best way to project this quiet music to a field of drunken people without losing its intimacy. There seemed to be a thing at Green Man of cramming the stage with as many people as could fit playing as many things as possible. It was such a relief to see an electric guitar player hardly play, or a keyboard barely used or two drummers employed at the same time in such a minimal way and to such effect and all with the player’s individual personality shining through.

As soon as he finished, everyone’s politeness seemed to fail them and I was no different. What was a relaxed sit down affair suddenly became a gig again, and everyone stood up for Superwolf and packed to the front of the stage.

Luckily Johnson had foreseen this occurrence and was wielding a massive sports bag full of San Miguel, allowing us to steam to the front and dump the bag on the front of the stage, creating our own mini bar.

A girl squeezed through into a non-existent gap next to us, pushing people out of her way as she went. It was refreshing to see my normally apologetic over-polite friend tell her to “fucking do one” and get out the way. You see, we are all Will Oldham geeks and I make no bones about it. His songs are amazing – they stand up well for two reasons separate to each other.

Firstly, they’re always amazing on record because the sounds are picked perfectly and are just so seemingly random and wonderful that the question of how they were done is removed, leaving a big space in which to marvel at the result you’re confronted with. The second is that this first thing never gets in the way of them being amazing songs, so live gigs can be totally different every time, and still be wonderful experiences because the question of recreating the record is not important. With other artists Oldham gets compared to, it’s usually one or the other.

At Green Man Superwolf drove the songs into the floor at times. For a folk festival this was easily the most rocking I’ve seen a Will Oldham band. He was joined by his brother Paul on bass, Alex Neilson (who had already played in Scatter and with Alastair Roberts at the festival) on drums and Ben Chasny (Comets On Fire/Six Organs Of Admittance) on electric guitar. And of course, the other half of Superwolf, Matt Sweeney on guitar and vocals. The three electric guitars (and sporadic keyboards from Oldham) made it sound more like Crazy Horse than anything else.

I expected a set of mainly the Superwolf record, but what we got was effectively a greatest hits set delivered with good humour and enthusiasm and it was perfect. At the point the chorus of ‘I See A Darkness’ came in, a lone firework shot from the oak tree in the garden, arcing over the stage and out of sight. For ‘I Am A Cinematographer’, three young kids sang the main vocals while Oldham jumped up and down like a clown to prompt them to remember the words, before instructing them to go crazy for the end of the song by jigging in front of them with a shit-eating grin.

A power cut in the encore even lead him to sing a capella into an errant glo-stick thrown on stage. We got ‘Gulf Shores’, ‘Horses’, ‘Riding’, ‘Ohio River Boat Song’ and wonderful rocking versions of the Superwolf material propelled by Neilson’s octopus-like drumming and Chasny’s glorious and unashamed rock outs. I even managed to nick off for a piss twice in the set by bargaining with San Miguel for people to let me back through. The plan to be so drunk we could cry was achieved, and by the end I am a dribbling mess from all ends – as everyone else seems to be.

Even the news that the disco was not going to happen because the Young Farmers had hired the hall didn’t dampen my mood, and I slept well (face down in a load of bourbons and scrumpy dribble).

* * *


The general good feeling created by Alastair Roberts and Will Oldham crushed my hangover flat, and a massive sausage, egg and bacon cob brought glorious golden triumph shining down on my morning. I invaded Will & Ruth’s room to take a large luxurious poo, during which I learned that Courtney Love is having Alan Partridge’s baby. I followed this with a hot shower and some general lounging.

Delirious hippiedom had by now set in, and a shoeless Johnson led us to feed apples to horses. I believe this represented the peak of our good vibes. Even two horses kicking shit out of each other over an apple quarter couldn’t dampen our mood. One of the horses even looked like Iggy Pop.

We caught a truncated set by Jeffrey Lewis on the main stage, which featured the weekend’s best song – a long, hilarious tale about meeting Will Oldham on a train and asking him about whether being creative was worthwhile or just something that inevitably leads to misery. The song culminates in “Will, Bonnie Prince whateverthefuckyou’recalled” beating Jeffrey to a pulp and fucking him “like he does in his songs”.

Next up we peeled ourselves into the small stage to see Broken Family Band, except I hacked about 20 seconds of them setting up before bailing to the outside world with booze-induced heat queasiness. Ian assured me they were a highlight. I sat on the lawn for a bit and watched a parade of kids circle the grounds holding aloft a huge paper and cloth dragon that was the result of a craft workshop that day. They thrust the head into the face of a man sitting on the lawn opposite me only for him to freak out and scream “DON’T FUCKING DO THAT, I’M TRIPPINGGGGG!!!!!”.

The power cuts that plagued Superwolf’s finale hit The Earlies throughout their set, and I concluded that it was God herself doing this. In the case of Superwolf it was for the benefit of everyone, in that we couldn’t take any more gloriousness. In the case of The Earlies it was because they were bollocks. I don’t see what The Earlies, or any of the crappy offshoots of The Beta Band that seemed to be playing every 10 mins have to do with ‘folk’ or anything apart from a peculiar fashion for over-instrumentation and a cowardliness to either turn up or turn down. It’s the new MOR. Not that I cared at this point, as I was laying into another flagon of scrumpy.

Sadly the glorious weather didn’t hold out, and Joanna Newsom‘s appearance onstage brought with it the rain that had threatened all weekend. She seemed to go over equally as well as Superwolf but my concentration wouldn’t hold and I thought it all sounded the same after a while. Which I guess it does, really, and that’s a virtue if you’re in the mood for it and a curse if you’re not.

We ended up sneaking into Will & Ruth’s room again for something of a party, in the hope that the security on the front door would go home and we could convince them to open the hotel bar after hours. Unfortunately the folkies went wild and started some sort of impromptu dance and clap party on the lawn which tempted us out of the room and onto the balcony to see what was going on – only to get busted by security. So we bailed, in search of a last night party.

Which we didn’t get. The night ended for me with a left-handed throwing competition as we wasted a 50 pack of Bourbon biscuits, throwing them like girls at a posh tent 20 metres from ours


Great festival to hang out at. Amazing location.
Quality of the bill is a bit up and down though.
Cider is amazing.
Fuck camping, next year I’m getting Will & Ruth’s room

Photos by Daniel