Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Green Man 2017

As usual, the end of my long enforced summer absence ends with this short celebration of what was, as usual, the best long weekend of the year.

Last year Green Man managed to raise its already very high bar even higher.  If there was a concern that 2017 would see an understandable fall in quality due to those impossibly high standards, the festival managed to defy any such worries to once again meet and even exceed expectations.

The latter was certainly true in the case of the Green Man Rising stage.  My minor concern that this stage was the one area of the Green Man that could be safely ignored by the discerning festival goer was, this year, brushed aside in some style.  The inclusion of excellent bands like Saps and Hotel Lux had already ensured this was the stage's best ever line-up even before the extraordinary Madonnatron (below) stepped up on Sunday evening to deliver one of the festival's most glorious sets.

Now that Einstein's Garden's Solar Stage seems sadly more preoccupied with the gimmicky and pseudo-educational, GMR might now be ready to replace it as the place to go for quirky and innovative offerings.  Let's hope so.

Madonnatron weren't the only all-female band to make an impact this year.  Serafina Steer brought her new trio to the Saturday afternoon Cinedrome and managed to mesmerise with songs about such worldly matters as changing your Facebook photo - it's something only Steer can probably get away with, along with the false starts and 'oops I went too fast' declarations.  She'd delighted us at the old courtyard stage years ago and it was great to see her back with a new project that clearly promises much.

By that point the always wonderful Hinds had dazzled the Far Out stage on Friday night with their idiosyncratic brand of indie pop.  The 'Sexy Thing' intro and elements of mock choreography emphasise, if it needs emphasising, that Hinds are very aware of what they're about when it comes to challenging preconceived ideas of the girl band aesthetic and they pulled it off magnificently.

Indeed, by the time PJ Harvey headlined on Sunday night, there had already been so many highlights if seemed difficult to see how even Polly Jean could trump them.  Moddi's return to the Walled Garden on Friday night had been as poignant and unsettling as it had magical; Alasdair Roberts had once again made the same stage his own the following night and Michael Chapman's return to the festival to make fifty years as a performer was ever bit as special as we'd anticipated. 

Bands like WH Lung and Doomsquad had delighted us at the Far Out Stage and the fact that this most vibrant of all GM stages now appears to have no problem attracting a few thousand to its afternoon sets is yet another thing to celebrate, giving bands like the excellent Kikagaku Moyo the audience they deserve.  By the time Julian Cope wandered onto it on Sunday evening to deliver a memorable set of oddball humour and solo renditions of old songs it had already done enough to cement again its status as the jewel in the Green Man's increasingly glittering crown.  And yes, I stayed to see much of the Sleaford Mods set there but have to report that I still see them as an interesting curiosity rather than the national treasures so many appear to regard them as.

Anyway, PJ Harvey still delivered magnificently.  She's become more adept than anyone at ignoring conventions and doing things her own way and the gradually evolving mood she created through careful selections from recent albums and her now considerable back catalogue left us - again - with the impression that this was something no other artist in the world could quite have pulled off.  She left out early classics like 'Sheela-Na-Gig' and 'Rid Of Me' and didn't play anything from the 'Stories of the City...' album that brought her to the attention of so many people, opting instead for the a rendition of the understated 'White Chalk' and the naked blast of energy that is '50 Foot Queenie' before finishing off, not with the easy choice of spectacular favourite but with the beautiful, understated 'River Anacostia'.

It was mesmerising.  And yet, when choosing the festival's highlight, I'm going to say it was beaten into second place by the raw, savage attack delivered by Thee Oh Sees in the Far Out tent on the Saturday night.  As has been the case in recent years, the buzz generated by the crowd in that place at that time was very much part of it, but the LA four-piece rode it magnificently, producing a set that managed even to rival the one produced by Battles in that slot last year.

High praise indeed.  But then this was a Green Man Festival that once again delivered something worthy of the very highest praise.

Green Man 2017 - A personal top ten

1. Thee Oh Sees (Far Out, Saturday)
2. PJ Harvey (Mountain Stage, Sunday)
3. Hinds (Far Out, Friday)
4. Kikagaku Moyo (Far out, Friday)
5. Moddi (Walled Garden, Friday)
6. Madonnatron (Rising, Sunday)
7. Serafina Steer (Cinedrome, Saturday)
8. Alasdair Roberts (Walled Garden, Saturday)
9. Michael Chapman (Walled Garden, Sunday)
10. Julian Cope (Far Out, Friday)