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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

More Like Trees and Band of Horses at Green Man

There was a moment at Green Man, sitting on a bale of straw outside a beer tent in the sunshine, when a bubble from a stall quite a long way away that seemed entirely devoted to blowing them, landed directly in front of us and burst, leading to the smoke that unexpectedly turned out to be filling it breaking in little crawling waves over the grass. I was sitting with a friend and when it was over we just looked at each other, slightly amazed, then looked around, only to see that the lady sitting on the next bale along had also seen it and was also amazed. We all sat there for a little while looking mildly amazed at each other.

Green Man was full of these kinds of episodes: more than any other festival I've been to, it was visually spectacular, as much in the detail - a night time parade of girls with umbrellas lit like blue phosphorescent jellyfish, the quality of the programming in the Einstein science garden where among other things there was a demonstration of a technology called Mogees - as the bigger picture.  From the grounds of the Glanusk estate themselves, which have a beautiful natural arena that could have been landscaped with a music festival in mind; to the mountain stage that seems to crop out of the ground itself, echoing the shape of the peak behind it; to the enormous green man statue inside which festival-goers were encouraged to tie labels with their wishes written on them for burning on the last night ("Don't climb into the green man!" I wanted to tell the people doing exactly that. "Haven't you seen the movie about his wicker friend?") there was just nothing ordinary about the place. Even the rain felt sweet.

And then, inevitably, there was the mobile phone relay station, clearly visible on the mountainside above, quietly letting the proceedings down by failing to cope with the heavy 3G traffic: it failed after six hours on the Thursday and it would have been in keeping if it had exploded spectacularly as 10,000 people gazed in its general direction over the main stage. The festival wifi also conked out. Just saying: one day in the not-too-distant future, the technology will catch up with us and we will take it for granted. I, for one, am looking forward to that day.

Musically there were a couple of things that stood out for me. I'd only heard of Band of Horses before this weekend - I realise I'm coming late to this one - and they said something during their set that suggested they're not used to headlining festivals. This was almost certainly modesty - the evidence suggested otherwise - but either way they were wonderful: a proper rock band making the noises of the southern USA. They were in turns anthemic, harmonising and complex but never less than uplifting. Bliss.

And then on the Sunday afternoon in the Chai Wallah tent at the top of the site there were this lot - More Like Trees - who seemed to come out of nowhere (London, in fact, via New Zealand) but had me heading for the guy with the CDs in his canvas shoulder bag after two tunes.

One of them played flamenco guitar against the most unlikely accompaniment and wore a tin hat that could have come straight out of Mash or Catch 22 - let's call him Guitarian, though his name actually turned out to be Joshua Whitehouse. Afterwards I asked him "You're more like trees than what?" and got this answer: "We're more like trees than leaves. Leaves fall from the branches and have no responsibility to the place they came from. Whereas we are more like the trees themselves. We're very rooted." He clenched his fists and made a hunkering down gesture, acting what he meant.

They were entrancing. The festival was magic. My heart aches for it already in a way that only the mild exhaustion of several nights under canvas can produce.

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