“How many more trips?”
“I don’t know – I’ve lost the will to live”.
The familiar, sad exchanges were heard during the annual, biblical migration up the steep hill rising from the Green Man festival site to it’s seemingly so far off car park – trolleys squeaking, packages falling off, exhausted punters squatting resting and regretting their decisions to bring the solar powered wine chillers and the like.
But it had been hot – splendidly so – and only rained quite minimally. Additionally, the nights were warm. We had all felt very snug in the heart of the Brecon Beacons, indulging in hippy musical hedonism.
It wasn’t ALL about the music, though, and, in fact stage based and individual conversations help creating the special festival ambiance – other campers, stewards, stall holders as well as the couple of official interviews I watched. These were Julian Cope and John Cale. The interactive- cum-chatting science stalls were somewhat subdued but had their moments. Liverpool University’s Microbiologists were so much fun but I’ll come back to them elsewhere [on Biomedical Science blog] and the British Ecological Society noble – one hundred years old and still looking at poos. Whilst discussing said deposits I was viciously stung by an obviously well trained wasp operative and quite soon had to stop talking as I’d developed a Mick Jagger bottom lip! Ouch.
Julian Cope, musician and communicator, on Friday afternoon, came over as slightly didactic, very directed and just possibly mildly deranged. He also provided me with such an excellent quote I can forgive any mild imperfections in his engaging, positive and entertaining personality. So:
“Woe betide the man who attempts to teach people faster than the speed at which they can learn.”
Brilliant or what? I didn’t get the original source, and Google don’t recognise it but, hey, it’s a good one, no?
Twenty four hours later John Cale was a combination of Welsh farmer and Tom Jones – craftsman purveyor of fine music, raised on the lean but sweetly nutritious turf of a mind frequently sprinkled with the rains pouring out of many tortured lives – including, sometimes, his own. Later, on the open air amphitheric “Mountain” stage with band, that same feel was there. The superficially simply quality mainstream R&B based rock would suddenly grab you harshly, push you back against a wall and shout into your mind dark thoughts and heart rending angst.
They’d thankfully restored the stage side screens and so one viewed an admirable visual triptych, of which this is but one side:
I’m getting harder to please musically, some would say, but I always love good musicianship, well used, even if the sound is not wholly pleasing. It’s the second qualifier that causes me to move on most frequently – the pain of hearing wasted talents is often too much to bare. Hey, maybe they’ve just not yet “got there” but there’s many one feels never will! Green Man shares with WOMAD a love of sprinkling a heady spice of mature musicians into its programme, as described above, which greatly enriches the feast. If they act as exemplars and models to younger musicians the festival is providing another vital service.
Ska band “The Resonators” were pulsating the Chai Wallah tent to nourish me after we’d all set up camp. Let’s have a picture:
I know, it’s only a phone snapshot but you see what I mean? It takes you there, don’t it? What d’ya say, you can’t ‘ear de beat? Man, it’s sooo clear. Takes you dere, takes you dere, takes you there, takes you there.
We had a New York shaft shone thro’ this year’s collection and first was the venerated survivress Patti Smith. All hail and all that but I’se never “got” her so stuck wid de pure pleasure of de reggae rhythms. Yeah, I did give her ten minutes and no, I still don’t “get” her!
Friday had “King’s of Convenience” as main headliners who were exactly as sold: “Norwegian indie folk-pop duo” with band for later in their set. I’ve gotta say it: “Simon and Garfunkel”. There, I’ve said it. Next?
Hang on, I’ve got to put a CD on. “rachel zeffira the deserters” says it’s case and record of transfixing, tingle factor, spine chilling beauty it is. I’d listened to “Will and the [moreska] People” for a few minutes but they’re not for me. In the Walled Garden half an hour earlier I’d watched Rachel doing sound checks with a lot of musicians on a rather small stage, including three singers about whose mikes she was very concerned. She sounded collected in a difficult situation.
So I missed the start and walked into this mist of ethereal enchanted resonances. I have them in my ears now and would without the CD but, you know, it heightens the impact to have the physical presence! Aligned across the front of the stage were piano on the left, organ on the right and centrally a vibraphone. Crucially too, as far as I could understand, were clusters of artificial candles which, before she commenced each piece, would change colour. So, green and she’d play the piano, red, the organ and yellow could be vibraphone. In this folly I was happy to indulge her because the music was stunning, mesmerising, tranquil, heavenly and of Gaia, for sure.
Three female voices in choir and the same number of string players, plus a rhythm section, supported her in producing a rich tapestry of tonal colours, in Impressionist style, intertwining joy and melancholy, light and darkness and several emotions one did not know one had! In totality, tho’, it was simply uplifting.
Earlier, Shama Rahman was also a very refreshing input. Playing on the tiny Solar stage and working with supporting guitarist she sang and played sitar to create more interesting patterns. Caught in the mood of the moment, baking in the afternoon sunshine, her music carried glowing overlays of sublime melody and she herself seemed to glow anyway. By some bizarre modern multi-tasking construct she also has a PhD in neuroscience. Now that’s an interesting duality!
Saturday was the big Mountain Stage’s day, ending with John Cale then “The Horrors” and finally “Band of Horses”. These latter two were excellent main stage bands, full of drive and spirit and were both well received despite the temporary and not overstated arrival of precipitation. There was a bit of rain!
Sunday, tho’, was Chai Wallah’s for the best festival finale you could imagine. Yeah, I did see other bands elsewhere – Stornoway, British Sea Power, the Llyn penninsula’s very own Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog, folksy Lau and a competent student band called Early Ghost, who’s drummer is my cousin’s son. What does the name signify, Hugh?
Anyway, though, I digress, for the climax of the weekend was from 8.30 onwards in Chai’s.
London’s Southern African/reggae music celebrants and evangelista “Mankala” left no-one standing still or without a great big smile on their face playing inclusive, joyful, surging township tunes, full of percussion and hypnotic, mesmerising guitar riffs laced with a driving brass section and the two lead vocalists. Happy, happy, happy.
Whereas Gypsy Hill, next on, were crazy, zany and totally wild but, oddly enough, even more addictively danceable. Not just a brass band on acid, tho’ that was there, these were Serbia’s reply, their testimony to humanity – and to dance! But what can one say? How does one describe the sheer preposterousness of tuba, trombone and trumpet being modern, cutting edge dance? I don’t really care because it just felt liberating – it also felt a tad non-PC but I didn’t know why. They were mad and it was totally infective. Simples.
I suppose the final ensemble were then somehow resolution of any puzzlement in the above. A blending of sharp New York guitar picking rap vocalist with also singing virtuoso West African cora player. “How the Hell…..?” Two years ago, at WOMAD, I was left unsure but now as they followed each other in and out of driving, ascending streams of notes, with their voices echoing the patterns and adding extra complexities I could see, hear and feel what had brought them together. So Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate, with tight, drum and bass rhythm section, provided an outstanding, exhausting and exhilarating crescendo to another oh so worthwhile pilgrimage to the Black Mountain, deep in the wildly beating heart of the Beacons.