A dark cloud hangs over Green Man Festival 2015. And that’s not just directly proportional to the lack of sleep or heavy (but largely flat) gin intake, oh no, we are uncertain. After a ropey night’s sleep contemplating the safety of our, now rather damp, valuables, we’re feeling glum at the prospect of having to sit out the storms for day four in the Brecon valleys. It’s then we see her, of course. Clad in ripped jeans and a hoodie, Annie Clarke is tearing through an 11am soundcheck with her band like it’s the most regular thing in the world to have ditched the guitar engineer and picked up the mechanics of it all herself. St Vincent makes this whole weekend seem like the most blissful feeling on earth.
And she’s not the only badass woman we’ve encountered along the way. Compared to Melvin Benn’s unnecessary homage to the lad rock of the 90s at this year’s Latitude Festival and Reading and Leeds clear ignorance around diversity, Green Man offers a refreshing host of women from around the globe performing across his stages. Here are just a few of them we stood in the rain to watch.
Briana Marela, The Walled Garden
Somewhere between the 90s grunge era fading and all that organic gentrification, Scandi pop has made its way over to the West Coast. Jagjaguwar signed newcomer, Briana Marela is certainly testament to that: all swirling vocals on a breeze, and pitched exhalations, thanks to Sigur Ros producer Alex Somers. Sashaying pop waltz, ‘Take Care Of Me’ is tender and vulnerable whilst ‘Dani’ could be her answer to Bat For Lashes’ equally intimate ‘Laura’ she she coos: “Danny, you’re not the only one lonely”. Heartfelt and instrumentally ethereal, watching Marela loop and layer in a one woman show, we’re more than a little grateful to those Nords. Expect her in the background of a tear-inducing break up in a Girls episode soon.
Rozi Plain, The Walled Garden
What soars and sweeps in the air but falls more like rain than a crane? Yup, our attempts at a witty riddle are met with about as much success as Winchester born Rozi Plain’s opening bid. Staying within the heart of The Walled Garden, we’re met with a charming (and inadvertently hilarious) quip around a questioning and running stream (The Wye, geddit?) which turns out, of course, isn’t all that proximate. Puns aside, Plain turns her attention to doing what she does best: crafting whimsical feats through the conscious and unconscious. “What kind of quality is your sleep?”, she questions in set opener, ‘Actually’, whilst split single ‘Jog Along’ gives Plain time to gush over fellow Green Man performer Rachel Daad. Set closer, ‘Friend City’, with its plum trees and twitching percussion, sums up Plain’s beguiling take on a hotch potch anti-folk in an ambient nutshell.
Girl Ray, Green Man Rising
Much like the tentative first steps of asking someone to dance at a school disco – utterly self-aware with reassuring glances back and forth that you’re doing it right – up on the Green Man Rising stage, Girl Ray are similarly doe-eyed as they take to the stage. ‘By The Lake’ finds the trio pick up a tighter drum rhythm and confident tremolo swagger, and there’s some heartfelt soul in there of roots rock gang, Alabama Shakes alongside an uncanny resemblance to Fiery Furnace’s Eleanor Friedberg in lead guitarist Poppy’s melodic monologue. The mid set switch over between instruments for a rendition of La Sera’s ‘Please Be On Your Way’ is a nice touch, particularly the nifty take on that solo, but sometimes throughout the set, it’s that guitar tone that irks – if we could only have a wee bit more treble and a little less mid? That and some more of the gutsy show-womanship that lead Poppy has bags of across the board, Girl Ray would surely ditch that trepidation.
Hannah Lou Clark, The Walled Garden
As she enters solo onto The Walled Garden’s stage, soaked in a rare slash of midday sunshine, Hannah Lou Clark has come a long way since launching her career half a decade ago. A firm favourite on any late night, DIY radio show (well, certainly mine) this side of the English songwriter was tiara wearing, bubblegum coloured, grunge tinkering like some sort of PJ/Peaches polymath. Setting down the slashy guitars for something a little more subdued, today Clark is colourful in more subtle ways: tugging at tender minor chords whilst layering over tight melodies with sister, Charlotte backing her with sibling synchronicity. Former single from the EP of the same name, and stand out set closer, ‘Silent Type’ paints quite a different shade with its bruised and blue lyricism: “You can see the doldrums in our faces”. Ironic really for an artist who, so far, seems quite adept to chopping and changing her sounds and all with admirable aplomb.
The Lovely Eggs, Cinedrome
Taking over the Cinedrome and welcoming a slew of campers keen to avoid yet another mid-afternoon downpour, Casey & Ewan’s Crystal Massage tent has managed to drum up the sort of enchanting and eclectic line up the name would suggest. A bunch of bands who have wooed the multi-media film makers with their wonky pop mega hits and Lancaster’s Lovely Eggs sit at the helm of such eccentricity. Have you ever stopped to wonder what it might take to make their oddball odes even better? Could it be the backdrop of cosmic cats and psychedelic horses which gives off a sugary pop glaze to the punk rock romancer, ‘Someone To Fall In Love With’ whilst fan favourite ‘Food’ finds a whole bunch of microwavable delicacies flitting and flying across the big screens. It’s the cheeky kind of popcore Kenicke would’ve served up, although thanks to Casey and Ewan, the spread for today’s Lovely Eggs’ set is even more gaudy and gluttonous than usual. And it’s great.
Deep Throat Choir, Greenman Rising
The East London collective, Deep Throat Choir take to the stage and conjure up a feeling that’s a far cry from a stuffy Sunday church service. Long gone are the awkward song sheets and those musty old pew pillars with a country scene tapestried onto its front. Instead, stage centre, sits a lead percussionist flanked by a 20 strong gang of powerful women, all with their own individual stories and melodies to share. Led by founder Luisa Gerstein, Deep Throat Choir are uplifting but not in some happy-clappy overbearing way. Theirs is the sound of self-worth and a collective strength, with each singer stepping forward to spin their own sounds over the mic. From soul genius Sade’s, ‘Sweetest Taboo’ to the heart-wrenching closer of Amy Winehouse’s ‘In My Bed’, Deep Throat Choir raise their voices for singing sisters everywhere and this last one leaves us with happy tears and weak knees. Devoutly brilliant.
Aurora, The Walled Garden
We’re back in the leafy confines of The Walled Garden this morning and we are wet. Thankfully, our friendly Welsh Greenman knew our spirits might’ve waned slightly for day four and sent for a little something across the Norwegian sea. Through the crisp white snow, weaving amongst the spindly silver birch, she came to us: a little fairytale, a little sinister. Aurora is the Brothers Grimm of Nordic pop. The band’s entrance is mighty, opening with iron-clad pop hit, ‘Warrior’ all rousing battle chorus and battle troop drums meanwhile ‘Runaway’ toys with our longing for escapism and ocean spray. There’s everything we love here from the tribal pop brilliance of Haim’s ‘Running If You Call My Name’ for the equally kinetic ‘Running With Wolves’ and new song set closer has something of fellow Nordic, Ninsun Poli in its skipping keys and flange bass. Adorably humble and unequivocally gifted, Aurora could warm even the coldest of ice hearts. She always was my favourite Disney princess.
Waxahatchee, Far Out
When you’ve seen a band in quick succession from front row (in this case, June’s Electric Ballroom set with ultimate support, Girlpool) to festival throng, it can be a little unclear whether or not you’ve sidled down to the barrier to only catch the same cookie-cuttered set of a few months back- I’m looking at you, Haim. Thankfully, Katie Crutchfield and co are no such laurel resters and although the set is shaped around most recent- and utterly blissful – release, Ivy Trail, Waxahatchee’s set even inside this cirque de soleil tent is captivating and, at times, intoxicatingly uncomfortable. Opener ‘Under A Rock’ chimes in with electric gusto and a summery spring whilst rumbling and self-deprecating ‘Less Than’ shudders with bittersweet melancholy: “You’re less than me and I am nothing”. If Cerulean Salt was Crutchfield’s mineral, Ivy Tripp is a gas effortlessly twisting between the scaffolding and damp mac moisture. Although much like the Electric Ballroom set, we are most charmed by Crutchfield’s solo return to the stage playing out a few quieter songs on the keys before bowing out in a ghostly fug.
Courtney Barnett, Far Out
Similarly, Melbourne musician Courtney Barnett is no stranger to this online forum as we caught the rambling raconteur’s intimate set at Rough Trade East earlier this year, which coincided with the release of her recent full length, Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit. Only I suppose, we sort of did sit at the in-store session with its laissez-faire approach to hosting the latest touring band pitching up with their new record. Tonight, just moments before those who have braved the storms to see out the headline performance from Annie Clarke herself, we are treated to Barnett in full tonal glory, turned up to 11. Gone is the modest and meek singer, awkwardly bumbling through mid set banter to a crowd of fifty and in her place is this guitar wielding, fuzz box maven screeching around on the floor of the Far Out tent like some by gone grunge deity. Reviewers everywhere are so eager to knight Barnett with that slacker rock title but perhaps, that’s just all this fretwork voodoo that she makes look so alarmingly effortless. All the album picks are there from community commentary, ‘Elevator Operator’ and marvellously mundane ‘Deprestown’ but we’re most thrilled to hear horticultural homage ‘Avant Gardener’ make it into this evening’s set list. Slacker or not, sling me a T shirt and that old pair of jeans and let’s get riffing, that Barnett’s onto something here…
St Vincent, Mountain’s Foot
And so from those fond acts we may have caught over the summer (but nevertheless, still turned out a less than tired set) to an act we have never, as yet, set eyes on. A unique and alluring breed of pop-star, made up of all of your favourite heroes.: there’s some David Bowie in that ability to change face and throw out the theatrics, our wild rocker Joan Jett in that leather clad swagger and fretwork majesty and a sprinkling of Madge but, like the really great 80s pop hit kind, rather than the party-all-hours-until-the-police-get-called Mom. The futuristic staccato strums of ‘Digital Witness’ play out across the Main Stage to the irony of the man filming the entire song on his shitty iPhone as Clarke coos: “I want all of your mind”. We are all utterly captivated (and mostly without phone signal or battery but you get the point….)
It’s then that Clarke takes a moment to dedicate her set to “The Others, The Weirdos, The Queers and The Domanatrix”. She toys with us with some interstellar stage banter, wittily addressing our “unsavoury obsession with Edward Scissorhands (as she looks down at her own noir get up and frazzled fro) and our favourite Gregg’s dining choice (a steak bake, sure) whilst tottering around in some otherworldly, higher stance. From the way she conducts herself on stage – is it actually clockwork? – to her utterly frenetic fretwork, this is a woman like no other. A musician like no other for that matter. ‘Cruel’ is a soothing side step back from the self titled number whilst ‘Cheerleader’ provides a most fitting cry: “I don’t want to be your cheerleader no more”. Perhaps not, but in her otherworldly glory lit up on the stage tonight in the Brecon Valleys, St Vincent is our beacon. And that’s something to be very cheery about, no matter how hard that rain falls.