The folk festival decamps from the Black Mountains to Camden’s legendary folk venue for a day of Welsh music and merriment.
Cecil Sharpe House, home of the English folk dance and song society, was the appropriately rustic location of Green Man’s one day festival, Hwyl. In the wood-panelled Kennedy Hall, children with pudding bowl hair cuts and tiny Doc Marten boots played among the hay bales and oversized bunting. So far, so much rural idyll. And the vibe played out on stage too, with music from BBC Radiophonic Workshop, 9 Bach, The Gentle Good’s Gareth Bonello, Pictish Trail, Valleyers and more.
Pembrokeshire trio, Valleyers’, haunting melodies encapsulated Hwyl, a Welsh word meaning a stirring feeling of emotional motivation and energy. Lively traditional folk sounds made me want to grab a passing toddler for a dance. Singer, Nayfe Slusjan, told of how his banjo had belonged to his grandfather throughout his imprisonment in a Siberian concentration camp. As he played his own music on it for the first time, the delicate sounds provided a beautiful juxtaposition by way of tribute.
Meanwhile, in the bar, as empty pint glasses began to outnumber the daffodils and leeks on every table, acrobats amazed and magic astounded (or maybe that was the Festival Ale).
Later, six-piece, 9 Bach(below), wove gorgeous vocal harmonies, a Welsh harp and electro beats into mournful tales of the loneliness of life in Snowdonia and the folly of a hunted fox. “We’re quite depressing,” acknowledged front woman, Lisa Jen Brown, in a rare moment of English language. Perhaps, but as evening fell these modern interpretations of traditional folk songs kept the audience rapt.
Just as these soporific sounds began to have an effect on the booze-soothed crowd, a change of pace was called: it was time to take your partners by the hand and do-se-do into some Welsh country dancing. Not your typical pre-festival headliner entertainment, but it certainly guaranteed a fully warmed up crowd for BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
These legendary composers once formed a BBC department charged with creating sound effects and music for broadcast, notably for Doctor Who and The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. Now, they perform delightfully bizarre electro pieces featuring effects from these shows, samples from obscure 1960s records and other unidentifiable space age beepings. Every watching face was plastered with grins as abstract video art accompanied the utterly unique sounds, a wonderfully weird way to end a day of eclectic entertainment.
Hywl could have been a London-friendly version of Green Man, watering down folk festival traditions with hipster lo-fi sounds and American style craft beers. Instead the beards and ales remained resplendent and created instead a distilled version of the original festival’s most charmingly eccentric elements.
From the free Welsh cakes to the lilting accents of the crowd, there was no mistaking the roots of this line up and I left longing to run to the hills.
Green Man festival is taking place between 14 – 17 August 2014. Click here for more info and to buy tickets. www.greenman.net/tickets