Green Man Festival 2015: Sexwitch & Other Delights

Mark E Smith mourns ‘normal’ crisps, St Vincent hymns Greggs and Natasha Khan’s eldtritch alter ego: a surprising Green Man 2015 by MOJO’s Will Hodgkinson.

Green Man 2015

There was one truly unmissable event at this year’s sodden but celebratory Green Man Festival: the live MOJO Interview with Mark E Smith.

“If you’re from MOJO you’ll ask me about guitar strings,” cackled The Fall’s leader, before dismissing stoic interviewer Ben Thompson as “one of them” for favouring Captain Beefheart’s Clear Spot over Trout Mask Replica and pronouncing with exquisite surrealism that you can’t buy a normal packet of crisps anymore because “it’s all focus groups, isn’t it?”

“If you’re from MOJO you’ll ask me about guitar strings.”

Mark E Smith

Smith was hilarious throughout, with moments of poignancy as he reflected on his belief in God, and it ended as all good Fall good gigs should: with the vocalist chucking the microphone on the floor and wandering off stage. Thompson took the relentless mockery in his stride.

The Green Man is, encounters with mardy Mancunian legends aside, a benign affair, where the guaranteed rain (it’s in a Welsh valley) brings something of a Blitz spirit and a good set is always appreciated. So it was that Songhoy Blues played one of the standout gigs of the weekend. Luck had it that these Northern Malians in exile, driven from their homeland by Islamist uprisings, played in a covered tent just as the rain turned apocalyptic, but it was their effervescent electric blues licks and the irrepressible joie de vivre of dancing front man Aliou Touré that won the crowd over.

Super Furry Animals at Green Man 2015
Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys at Green Man 2015. The man don’t give a f–––– about adverse weather conditions.

Super Furry Animals headlined the outdoor Mountain stage on Saturday night as the rain bucketed it down, but the music was so inventive and the animation-heavy stagecraft such a perfect example of pop art zest that few left in search of shelter. A highlight in an extended set that included favourites Slow Life and The Man Don’t Give A F*** was a new song called Earth. “We’ve been working on it for the last nine years,” announced singer Gruff Rhys. The band members harmonised on a single note for ten seconds, stopped, and Rhys said: “That’s as far as we’ve got.”

“Time stood still for Marquee Moon. Even the rain held off.”

Television’s performance of their peerless 1977 debut Marquee Moon in its entirety was an exercise in minimalism: no screens, simple blue or red stage lights, nothing in the way of banter beyond Tom Verlaine introducing drummer Billy Ficca but not, oddly, fellow founder member Fred Smith on bass or Jimmy Rip on guitar, replacing the estranged Richard Lloyd. That left a note-perfect rendition of the alt.rock template album, although not in original running order, allowing Verlaine to built up to a shimmering finale of a 15-minute version of the title track. Few left or even moved, transfixed as they were by one of the most perfect evocations of the romance of youth ever written. Time stood still. Even the rain held off until that song’s unforgettable twin-guitar majesty came to an end.

The Green Man has an image as a folky affair, but rock’n’roll won out this year. When Temples emerged in 2013 they seemed like an overly literal contribution to the psychedelic revival, but they have since developed into a tight outfit with more than a dash of glam. They performed in silhouette, highlighting singer James Bagshaw’s Marc Bolan curls and sequined jacket and bringing visual precision to accompany the pop hooks of Shelter Song and Keep In The Dark. It’s ersatz, but consistently, successfully ersatz.

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We’ll have what she’s having. Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan reincarnates as Sexwitch.

Far wilder but in the same ballpark were Yak, who offered Black Sabbath riffs and the sight of singer Oli Burslem attempting to play keyboards and guitar at the same time, with limited success. Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes got on the scene with a secret set as Sexwitch, performing Iranian and Moroccan psych covers while backed by glum-looking members of underground favourites Toy. It was less a portal to another world, more like what one of the comely stars of Hammer Horror’s Twins Of Evil might have sounded like had she decided to form a band. Still, Khan is a magnetic performer, not to mention sexy and witchlike, and Sexwitch’s unconvincing first gig followed a single rehearsal so there may be better things to come.

Then there was Meilyr Jones, former lead singer of the Welsh psych-pop band Racehorses. Jones was an effete but strutting presence, leaping about the stage with the air of a man who knows his virtuosity and way with melody deserve greater recognition. Finishing the set with a self-mocking ode to fame called Featured Artist, he stamped about as a medieval trumpet fanfare blasted out behind him as if in the throes of a tantrum – surely the sign of a star in the making.

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St Vincent, aka Annie Clark. She’ll have a cheese and onion slice.

Green Man 2015 had high-profile moments, including a Saturday night dance-off from electronic disco favourites Hot Chip and Sunday’s headliner St Vincent extolling the virtues of Greggs the Bakers, but its real charm lay in the abundance of real ale, the general air of rugged bonhomie, and the chance discoveries. And true to form, Mark E Smith followed his grilling of MOJO with a set by The Fall that included his attempting to dismantle the drum kit, yelping his way through The Other Half’s 1966 garage classic Mr Pharmacist, and wandering off midway through a number, leaving the band to bash on regardless before calling it quits. What more could we ask from him?

PHOTOS: Citrus Arts by Daniel Alexander Harris; Sexwitch by Caitlin Mogridge; Super Furry Animals and St Vincent by Wumni Onibudo.