Green Man Festival, Brecon Beacons
19th-22nd August 2021
Green Man’s 2021 instalment might be its greatest yet, with the festival continuing to prove why it’s one of Wales’ most beloved music events. Elliott Simpson reviews.
The fact that Green Man happened this year is nothing short of a miracle. In July, the festival was still waiting to get the go-ahead from the Welsh government with the full line-up only being announced a month before the event. Taking this into consideration, it’s incredible how good Green Man 2021 was and how many fantastic bands they managed to pull together.
There was something incredibly cathartic about the whole experience. A significant number of the bands that played last weekend – including Friday night headliner Caribou – were playing their first shows since lockdown. Most of them were also playing songs from albums, released either this or last year, that they hadn’t been able to tour behind yet as well. And, on the flip side, it’s fair to say that most of the people going to the festival hadn’t been to a proper standing gig since lockdown – making it a special weekend for everyone involved.
Although the experience of being at the festival was a little surreal at first (beyond the negative lateral flow test needed to get in and the additional hand sanitiser, everything felt normal as ever) Friday didn’t disappoint. The best acts from the festival’s first day were the ones that got the crowd moving – particularly the back-to-back sets from Django Django and Caribou on the Mountain Stage. Both bands delivered blistering performances, with Django Django offering a whirlwind tour of their discography, reaching back to their Mercury Prize-nominated debut. Caribou managed to seamlessly mix songs from last year’s Suddenly with older hits, such as Can’t Do Without You and Odessa. Suddenly stand-out Never Come Back was a real highlight, acting as the set’s scorching centrepiece.
There were plenty of other great acts spread throughout the day as well. Katy J Pearson’s dreamy brand of rock acted as the perfect soundtrack for the day’s mid-afternoon heatwave, while Nadine Shah and her band conquered the Mountain Stage with an unmatched sense of swagger.
It was also just fantastic just to be at the festival grounds again. Aided by the stunning mountain views that surround the site, Green Man has always had a certain sense of wonder to it, with all sorts of characters wandering around. A new addition this year was a post office set up in the main field, with a number of postmen and postwomen moving around the festival. Anyone could drop by and write a letter but would have to describe the recipient on the envelope so it could be properly delivered (it could be a friend or just someone you remember passing who was wearing a cool outfit.) It’s this kind of fun weirdness that Green Man has always excelled at.
It’s also a festival that always feels incredibly homey. There’s always the sense that you can strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and quickly make a new friend. It happened to me a number of times over the weekend. While groggily queuing for coffee in the rain on Saturday morning, the person behind me held their umbrella out over my head and struck up a conversation.
Saturday managed to continue Friday’s momentum, delivering killer set after killer set. An early stand-out in the day was Laura Marling, who delivered a secret set at the festival’s record shop armed only with her guitar. Having headlined the festival before, Marling is a veteran when it comes to Green Man. Though her set was only a brief three songs, it was nothing short of stunning.
There were plenty of other highlights throughout the day as well. Black Midi have long had a reputation for being a fantastic live act, but they outdid themselves during their set on Saturday night. When seeing the band on previous tours, they always felt a little too self-serious, but at Green Man they gave in fully to being ridiculous. From inviting a group of mimes on to the stage – who had been entertaining around the site during the day – to an unexpected cover of Kate Nash’s Foundations, it was a bizarrely fantastic set.
Similarly impressive were Giant Swan, who played the same stage later in the night – another act that has built up a reputation for their bold live shows. Their set-up was stark and stripped back, just two guys leaning over a desk filled with equipment, bobbling their heads and twisting dials, but their brand of industrial electronic is the exact stuff you want to be dancing to at 1am.
Finally, Sunday managed to bring the festival to a memorable close. Porridge Radio, who played two sets that day, were an easy highlight. The songs from last year’s Every Bad sounded incredible live, with frontwoman Dana Margolin’s voice tearing through the tent. She and the rest of the band are already a force to be reckoned with on stage, and there’s no doubt that they’re only going to get better.
Headliners Fontaines DC did a fine job of closing out the festival with their moody brand of indie rock, but there’s no doubt that Thundercat, who played the main stage just before them, was the hero of the night. The bass guitar virtuoso, backed with his equally terrific band, managed to balance crowd-pleasing hits – such as the fantastic Them Changes – with moments of technical ferocity. He was perhaps the most improbable booking that Green Man was able to retain from its planned 2020 line-up, and thank God they managed to hang on to him.
After taking 2020 off, there’s no doubt that Green Man Festival is better than ever. There was so much to see and do across the weekend that I haven’t even touched on – including the festival’s wonderful cinema, the excellent food truck line-up and a dozen other stunning acts. Roll on 2022!
All words by Elliott Simpson. More writing by Elliott for Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive and other work in his portfolio.
Official Green Man photos © Eric Aydin Barberini, Kirsty McLachlan and Parri Thomas