Wednesday, August 22, 2012


There are always going to be clashes at festivals. But come on Green Man, Withered Hand and Sweet Baboo on different stages at the same time?! This was just too, too cruel. In the end I opted for the performer I’d seen least live: Withered Hand, here in full band set-up. Dan Willson said he had elaborate stage costumes planned but a late night got in the way and so they were “dressed like The Wurzels”. Self-deprecation can only be expected from the man who wrote ‘I Am Nothing’. But even with the sound in the Far Tent being far too echoey for my liking, this was a great, engaging set of pathos, humour, compassion and yes self-deprecation. Two new songs plus the “punk-rock number” ‘New Dawn’ left me very, very happy – and this even without ‘Religious Songs’ being in the set.

Withered Hand Set List:
Cornflake / I Am Nothing / Gethsemane / Providence / Jubilee / New Song (Walls?) / New Dawn / Love In The Time Of Ecstasy / No Cigarettes / Heart Heart

And for completeness, I hear the Sweet Baboo set was all-new material except for 'I’m A Dancer' and 'Twelve Carrots Of Love'.

The Perch Creek Family Jug Band had come to Green Man from the Edinburgh Fringe which figures – they added a touch of chirpy Australian showmanship to their stomping five-part harmony hillbilly music. The band – two brothers and two sisters plus boyfriend James - used banjo-ukulele, bowed saw, washboard, tap-dancing and, as the name says, jug to whip up the Walled Garden stage crowd. And then produce the longest queue I’ve seen to buy their album. You would have had to be the worst kind of curmudgeonly indie-snob not to enjoy their performance. And to be very clear, I did enjoy it.

Back to the same stage for RM Hubbert. The bearded and tattoo’d Glaswegian actually looks like a metaller but plays intricate flamenco flavoured acoustic instrumentals about his ex-wife, his dog and a dead friend “so I get to think about him each time I play it”. He sang the Aidan Moffat part from ‘Car Song’ from his recent Chemikal Underground album plus a traditional folk song taught to him by Alasdair Roberts but I found the wordless songs deeply hypnotic and moving (and his between song chat very, very funny).

Each time I see The Wave Pictures I state that repeated viewing of the band cannot dent the view of what a brilliant live band they are. Today was no exception although that cavernous Far Out tent sound wasn’t ideal and a set-list spat did occur. One of my party thought it overly favoured the new album to the detriment of older songs; I didn’t. Plus if you are as prolific and relentless in your touring as the Loughborough trio, I reckon you have earned the right to play what’s newest and freshest.

Again the curse of multi-stage festivals: I’d missed Dark Dark Dark and then only managed to catch two songs of the Bowerbirds (one was ‘In Our Talons’ though). I did however get to see Dark Dark Dark do a short acoustic set in the Rough Trade tent. “So this is piano-based music...” the Minneapolis band joked hemmed in between trestle tables, before playing four songs on just banjo, clarinet, accordion and snare drum. It left me kicking myself I’d missed both their Green Man set and their Salford gig earlier that week.

I caught a few songs from Portico Quartet’s Nick Mulvey in the sun in the Walled Garden before heading off for a drink. Now the act I had no intention of seeing at this festival, and the sore thumb in the three day event, was Van Morrison, the Saturday night ‘headliner’ but here getting on stage at 7.30pm. Which meant I did inadvertently catch the opening four numbers of his set whilst in the main stage beer tent queue. “How can he mangle his own song so badly?” was the reaction to ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. All dues to his career achievements and admittedly I was inside a crowded, canvas beer tent but it did sound like Van The Man was turning in lame jazz-lounge covers of his most well-known songs. What a bizarre booking for Green Man.

You’ve got to give everyone you’re not familiar with two songs’ worth of your attention. And Benjamin Francis Leftwich in the Far Out tent got that from me but he’s not having anymore. More familiar and interesting territory was Liverpudlian flute- wrangler Laura J Martin. Despite several live encounters this year, I still find her performances fresh and winning and tonight’s felt the most assured I’d seen her. Maybe she was upping her game for Stealing Sheep who acted as her backing band for two songs plus drummer Lucy also joining her earlier for ‘The Lesson’. Classy, classy stuff.

Laura J Martin Set List:
Fire Horse / The Lesson / It's Taking So Long / Tom / Red Flag / The Hangman Tree / At The Close Of The Day / Spy / Salamander

Much-heralded, passionate American troubadours with a good back-story are two-a-penny and most don’t live up to either the hype or the myth. Ex-carpenter Joe Pug on acoustic guitar and accompanied by Greg on electric guitar, managed to combine some Springsteen heart-on-the-sleeve moments with raspy Dylan-like story-telling as promised and neatly so for his first visit to Wales and appearance before Willy Mason on the Walled Garden stage. He was entertaining without being exceptional and warmly witty: “my father who is a teacher is nervous about calls from The Authorities when I play the next song. It’s called ‘I Do My Father's Drugs’...”. Although as one sage man observed: could he just turn the sincerity down by one?

It was two years ago at this festival that grown men wept during the afternoon set from The Tallest Man On Earth. Here he was back with a larger following (check the venues for his UK autumn tour) and a 2012 album which relies heavily on piano to headline the Far Out stage. However the approach to his performance was similar to his previous one here: using just a – large – bank of acoustic guitars and a chair as prop, the vest-wearing Swede swept to every corner of the stage in a semi-crouch whilst playing. Was my memory playing tricks or had he made it even a touch more theatrical? Teasing the crowd by pausing between familiar lines, throwing a plectrum dramatically over his shoulder to flutter beneath the vari-lights or letting the crowd sing the final line for ‘The Gardener’ before returning to repeat it himself. Either way the packed tent lapped it up. I didn’t see any tears this time but a lot of happy faces. A star performer.

Day two at Green Man done and I didn't even mention the mud and rain.

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