Freya Saulsbury Martin ventured to the wilds of South Wales for the return of Green Man Festival 2021, a haven of exceptional music.
After a seemingly endless drought of gigs and the constant linger of covid-induced uncertainties shadowing the music scene, to return to the muddy campsites and heaving crowds of a restriction-less music festival felt like a distant dream. Green Man 2021 made its triumphant return to the Black Mountains of South Wales in mid-August after a 2 year hiatus, the 25,000 capacity festival proudly boasting one hell of a line-up headlined by Caribou, Mogwai and Fontaines D.C.
The latter of these, Fontaines D.C., played their first ever festival headline slot at GM21, performing at Mountain Stage on Sunday evening and rounding off a truly staggering weekend of fresh and exciting new music before the ceremonial burning of the Green Man itself to close the festival. Frontman Grian Chatten strode around the stage resplendent in Gallagher-esque full tracksuit bottoms while his bandmates supported his every move, none of them showing a hint of nerves as they blasted through their catalogue of hits from Boys in the Better Land to A Hero’s Death, all with a rousing reaction from the packed out crowd.
''It was moments like these which made GM21 such a joy to attend, to see first hand how grateful and how excited everyone was to finally, finally, be back watching and appreciating live music once again''
Indeed, the crowds at GM21 were a hive of energy and excitement, buzzing with enthusiasm for the bands and musicians onstage. The pure joy and gratitude of each and every person attending Green Man, both as punters and performers, was plain to see, as we all finally felt a sense of long-lost normality and a shared solidarity in the beauty of live music. Festival openers Wet Leg, a band which emerged during the throes of lockdown with cult single Chaise Lounge, were visibly shocked at the size of the crowd at their Thursday set on the Far Out stage, as well as the reaction from their onlookers, singing along with their previously unknown songs and riotously dancing to their most well-known track as they closed the set. It was moments like these which made GM21 such a joy to attend, to see first hand how grateful and how excited everyone was to finally, finally, be back watching and appreciating live music once again.
The calibre of musicians performing at Green Man was staggeringly high, and the quality as well as diversity of performances was a joy to behold, varying from established acts to emerging new artists. The Green Man Rising stage played host to a smattering of new and upcoming bands, including Lazarus Kane, Tiña and Nottingham’s own Do Nothing, who roused a crowd much bigger than the band expected, and elicited a mosh to thumping banger LeBron James. If my review were limitless, I could happily write many more paragraphs extolling the talent at GM21 and relaying each and every performance from the bewilderingly good line-up: Porridge Radio, Self Esteem, Kelly Lee Owens, Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, Goat Girl, Thundercat, Working Men’s Club, Kokoroko, Richard Dawson and NewDad to name a few, as well as a not-so-secret set from festival legends Squid, however I will limit myself to the truly standout performances of the weekend.
Katy J Pearson rallied a crowd that spilled beyond the confines of the quaint Walled Garden stage. She is an absolute gem of an artist whose onstage poppy Americana-folk translates to a sparkling yet humble personality and a collection of songs that are both beautiful and entertaining, as well as meticulously played. Cowboy hats were numerous among the crowd, as well as an inflatable cow dressed fittingly in a KJP T-shirt. As with Wet Leg, it was clear to see how grateful Katy J Pearson and her band were to simply be back playing at a festival again, let alone receive the kind of uproarious and eager reception that they did, playing a faultless set which included a spine-tingling rendition of ballad Return and finishing with disco-infused tune Take Back The Radio, leaving a grin on everyone’s faces.
At almost the other end of the spectrum, the arrival of Lynks in a bespoke sequinned gimp suit and sandals at the Walled Garden on Thursday afternoon prompted a quick replacement of bemused families by hoards of enthusiastic fans at no surprise to the techno-pop performer. Already a minor legend in their native South London stomping ground, Lynks brought anthemic queer energy as well as one heck of a dance performance to the Welsh countryside, featuring a host of hits both old and new including classic Str8 Acting whilst encouraging audience participation on Stay On Trend. The audience stomped and grooved along to Lynks’ latest standout banger This is The Hit, which, though sadly bereft of its collaborator, shame’s Charlie Steen, still got the crown wild with energy and joyous dancing.
''shame surpassed even the highest expectations with one of the truly greatest performances of the festival''
Charlie Steen and co. were however present and correct for shame’s set the following day, closing the Far Out stage with an astounding and energetic set of tracks from both their esteemed debut album and recently second offering, Drunk Tank Pink. One of the first restriction-less performances by the band, shame surpassed even the highest expectations with one of the truly greatest performances of the festival. Though there was a frustrating clash with festival headliner Caribou, those who attended shame’s set were well rewarded with faultless performances and endless energy as Steen flew across the stage and through the crowd. Instrumentalists of fellow bands Sorry and Caroline were invited to feature for a beautiful rendition Human For A Minute, taking down the tempo of the set and bringing goosebumps to the arms of everyone in attendance, whilst the bands performances of killer tracks Snow Day, Water in The Well and of course One Rizla were as epic as could be expected.
Returning home feels like a slap back to reality, and I don’t think I’ll be alone when I say that this festival will take a long time to process. “Words cannot express how incredible it was to be reunited in the Black Mountains at GM21!”, the festival organisers wrote in a message to their attendees, “The idea of running a festival felt like a distant dream and the road getting here wasn't an easy one …The collective joy you folk created has renewed our soul and will be something we will never forget”.
A Green Man is representative of rebirth and renewal, and GM21 certainly felt like a fresh start, dominated by the mutual feeling of shared relief to finally be back outside in the crowds revelling in live music. Green Man Festival felt like a safe space nestled in the Welsh hills, almost like a musical Narnia, where the pints of Green Man Growler were endlessly flowing and Covid was but a distance memory, if for four sweet days. A glint of long-lost normality seems to be appearing, and my God, isn’t it glorious.
Written by: Freya Saulsbury Martin
Edited by: Amrit Virdi
Featured image and in-article images courtesy of Green Man Festival via Facebook.