Friday

An unexpectedly sunny day greeted festival goers in the beautiful Brecon Beacons on Friday at Green Man. Tents were left open to air, shirtless men lolled about drunkenly and people began to feel optimistic. Naturally, this optimism was unfounded and rain reared it's unwelcome, but inevitable head as the day wore on.

Musically however the assorted hippy-types (Green Man must have the highest beard per capita ratio of any festival) were in for a treat. The Ramshackle Union Band, and Other Dyes both provided some excellent folk melodies to help settle people into the mindset they would occupy for the next three days. Admiral Fallow, who have attracted a lot of attention to their unchallenging, but emotionally deep Scottish folk-rock songs were the first band to really get a crowd going. Admiral Fallow are an excellent live act who are able to transmit all of the joy, and sadness behind their songs to a crowd who are all too happy to lap it up.

Shortly after, on the main stage, Treefight for Sunlight began playing. While I would hesitate to call the band rubbish, there wasn't really much that endeared them to me. Their wailing vocals were interesting, but the fairly basic indie-pop backing wasn't anything to rave about. The group essentially sounded like Dirty Projectors, but lacked the expansive creativity or weird charm to really make their music work. The Cave Singers were a very different story. While nearly completely incomprehensible, their earthy folk sounded brilliant projected over a large area. Sitting at the top of the hill, staring at the beautiful view while listening to powerful, but deeply melodic folk music is a festival experience that only Greenman can provide.

Slightly later at the Pub Stage, genre-less, looping wonders Duotone lulled the occasionally noisy crowd into a happy state of being. While the band were hard to pay attention to, their ability to provide the best background music is unrivalled. I would attend a festival that was exclusively sound-tracked by the duo. This does not mean that the group did not put everything into their performance. Some impressive cello playing was seen and the pair seemed to be genuinely having fun on the stage.

Holy Fuck were the first band I saw in the day who did didn't have any folk elements within, and so seeing them was like a gasp of fresh air. Not that I don't like folk, but it begins to all sound the same after a while. Holy Fuck therefore were always going to endear themselves to me, but they did more than that. Arriving on stage in a red fog they began to silently play through a set that kept on building. Electronic rhythms pounded throughout the tent and had an entire audience bobbing their heads dutifully. Regrettably Holy Fuck weren't much to look at. The group were pretty much invisible in the colourful haze on stage, and I kept on completely losing sight of band members. However the group were loud and exciting enough to stimulate an audience leaving them demanding, and getting more.

This meant it was time for Friday night headliners Explosions in the Sky. The group were announced by the unbelievably annoying announcer as “the most intense live experience ever!” They then strolled on stage and began playing their subtle and not especially lively brand of post-rock. The un-intimate environment and huge quantity of people talking did not do the group any favours. Attempts to create a real atmosphere or to build up tension fell rather flat. The sound simply wasn't strong enough to spread across the whole main stage with any real intensity. While the group put a lot into their performance, spending half the set kneeling on floor ferociously strumming, the lack of respect paid to Explosions by the audience meant that they could never really hit their true potential. Quiet sections of songs were ruined by shouting drunken idiots and the louder parts simply weren't loud enough. Explosions in the Sky were far from bad, managing to create some very pleasant music that wafted nicely over what had become a nice evening. However, it would be very difficult to ever describe this as a classic headlining performance.

Saturday

Saturday began with resolute failure at the music quiz, followed by the nice surprise of discovering We Were Evergreen. The indie folk-pop group (with electronic elements) produced music that was both uplifting and lively. A sprightly way to start the day. In addition of this the band were very strong performers, holding a great stage presence that drew people in from the surrounding area. Shortly after, on the Main Stage, the incredibly welsh 9Bach played a pleasant, but unexceptional set. Those who did not speak Welsh, such as myself, were slightly alienated, but the folk melodies and pretty singing were enough to make it an enjoyable half an hour.

She Keeps Bees were the first band of the day to draw a sizeable crowd. The former duo have a formidable live reputation, and many were interested to see how the occasionally nerve wracken Jess would react to playing on the main stage. As it turned out, she looked and sounded very comfortable in front of a huge crowd. Oh Ruin joined the duo on stage and fleshed out their sound to blues rock perfection. Jess's voice was brilliant as always and her inter-song banter was hilarious. I have my doubts about the strength of their newer material but here it held up remarkably well. Older favourites such as 'Gimmie' were the real highlights of the set, but the group showed that they do have more to offer. She Keeps Bees were also one of the few bands to have an encore demanded of them, and they were all too happy to oblige.

The Leisure Society followed and played as well as they have ever done. The group always play with a happy spring in their step and they were able to lift the spirits of a slightly damp crowd. Arriving on stage playing their instruments as they walked, the group were in high spirits from the beginning. Material was drawn from both of their albums, but 'You Could Keep Me Talking', 'Dust on the Dancefloor' and 'Save it for Someone Who Cares' were particular highlights. The Leisure Society proved to me yet again that they are as good, if not better, than any of the folk heavyweights playing presently.

After a brief break where not much was on (Greenman was unfortunately filled with these), which I spent happily in the comedy tent, it was time for Oh Ruin to play his own material on the pub stage. Producing an excellent blues-rock performance underlaid by his strong voice and passionately excellent guitar playing (I've never seen him play without breaking a string) Oh Ruin was a treat for those in the know. Joined on stage by Jess from She Keeps Bees briefly, this was a very enjoyable set.

I managed to catch just the end of Josh T.Pearson's set, and was greeting by the singer rambling on stage for a good amount of time, simply telling jokes. When he finally got to playing both his powerful voice and excellent guitar playing were hugely impressive. It's rare a lone folk singer manages to fill a tent with sound so convincingly but Pearson had an entire audience spellbound. Mike Wozniak at the comedy tent followed, who's weird charm and rambling style was both hilarious and very impressive. A very funny man who knew how to win over and work a crowd.>/P>

I was particularly excited to see Destroyer play, and arrived dutifully early to stand near the front. This turned out to be a terrible decision. The sound was mixed particularly badly so that those at the front could barely hear what was actually being played over the overblown bass sound. Kaputt is a bass driven album, and when I finally stood further back the group sounded brilliant. However my experience, for the most part, was ruined as each bass note thundered towards me ruining the clean, intimate nature of the music. Aside from this Destroyer put in a good performance. Dan Bejar was in his typical lazy state, but the rest of the band were lively and enjoying themselves. Most of the audience were up for a sing along, and aside from the bad sound, Destroyer were enjoyed by all.

I then ran to catch the second half of Tony Law's set. A cult figure, but a very funny man. Tony Law takes the current trend of meta-comedy (of which Stewart Lee is the flagship icon) and takes it further. Each joke is a weird swing at comedy itself, and are all uniquely brilliant in their own way. Possibly beyond description, but my favourite comedian operating today. An under-appreciated master of comedy, and one that should not be ignored.

I then had to do more running to catch Fleet Foxes. Fleet Foxes are not a band I have ever had any particular love for, and it was difficult to motivate myself to stand in the rain listening to their particular brand of folk. The best thing I can say for them, is that they played a nice set. 'Sun It Rises' was great as was 'Mykonos', but the talkative audience and damp atmosphere prevented them from being brilliant. I am not sure about folk groups playing to huge audiences. Folk music usually works better in an intimate setting, and Fleet Foxes got a little lost in the expanses of the Brecon Beacons. Additionally technical problems slightly ruined the lovely sound that the group were attempting to produce. The group were by no means bad, but I'd struggle to really call them excellent.

Sunday

In a festival full of summer day bands The Travelling Band rose above the others as the best group to soundtrack the lovely day Sunday was becoming. Intricate melodies rose above the shouted lyrics and the group seemed to put a lot into their performance and it was appreciated by all. As Alessi's Ark was clashing with Iron and Wine, I went to go and see her play an intimate instore gig in the rough trade tent. Personally, I prefer seeing Alessi play by herself rather than in a larger group. She's a particularly adorable performer, growing in confidence always. The Horse and The Robot were particular highlights, but this was a lovely little gig that I was very pleased to catch.

Thomas Dybanhl played a strong, but fairly unexceptional set that made the wait for James Blake go somewhat faster. Blake, on the other hand, drew a huge crowd and he deserved it. The sound was amazing, his voice very strong and each song was played to perfection. A newer, entirely piano based track was played, which didn't really seem to have much of any interest to it, but apart from that this was a very good set. 'CYMK' and 'The Willhem Scream' were particular highlights. Blake feeds of an intimate atmosphere for his shows, and it's difficult to create such an atmosphere in a large outside area. However the audience were very respectful, and hung on to his every word.

The Antlers were probably my most anticipated band of the weekend. I was obsessed with Hopsice, and had a soft spot for Burst Apart so I was eager to see what the group could provide me with this time. It was clear that many others felt the same way, as the tent was packed with (mostly) silent people. The group were as excellent as always. Their set was dominated by Burst Apart songs, all of which were beautiful. The version of 'Kettering' that was played was a little odd, and I would have liked more songs from Hopsice, but what they did play was fine. 'Putting The Dog To Sleep', 'I Don't Want Love' and 'Every Night My Teeth are Falling Out' were particular highlights. The Antlers exceeded by unreasonably high expectations, creating an intimate, emotionally powerful atmosphere. Probably a contender for band of the festival.

Moddi, with his odd voice and slightly odd music was an interesting listen. Playing indie-rock that pretty sounded like everything else, yet had a very distinct quality to it, Moddi managed to provide something different to most of what I'd heard. While part of this was his accent coming through in his singing, his music definitely had an odd quality to it too. The Low Anthem were perhaps a little too quiet and subtle to work a festival crowd. The band would have been good in a intimate environment, but considering the size of the crowd they were playing to they just got completely lost. A shame maybe but not an entirely unexpected one.

Iron And Wine on the other hand knew how to work a big crowd perfectly. Each song lead immediately into the next so there were no spaces for the crowd to get bored. The music was loud and forceful, and the group had enough energy and stage presence to make them interesting to watch. Iron And Wine are not a band I've ever had any great love for, but they very much won me around with this performance. A very good closing act for the festival. However their refusal to do an encore possibly left a slightly sour taste at the end of the whole thing. A shame maybe but this was a good end to a very good festival. A recommended trip for all next year.