People who know me know that I’m not a particularly surprising character. They’re not surprised at the copious amount of caffeine I drink. They’re not surprised at the amount I love The Coen Brothers. They’re not even surprised that I own a small statue of a wild boar dressed in a business suit and smoking a pipe – genuinely the finest thing I do own. However, there are two things that do surprise people: that I like football (and I do, a lot), and that I’ve never been to a music festival.
The amount I listen to, or go on about, or play music, people naturally assume that I’ve spent summers tumbling through muddy fields in an alcohol-filled stupor, discovering hidden gems of songs that before hadn’t even crossed my path and thinking it’s entirely appropriate to start the day with a can of Strongbow in a tent.
Well, this year things are about to change. I’m losing my festival virginity, and in doing so am endeavouring to see some new people, some old favourites and some people to whom I haven’t really given a fair crack of the whip. Being a lover of folk music and all things that emanate therefrom, these are the five lineups that are getting me excited this year.
Last year was meant to be the year I lost my festival virginity. I was meant to go to Latitude, and I was meant to interview Paul Weller (I did interview him but I was meant to do it in person) and I was meant to see Bon Iver, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes and Alabama Shakes. Alas, the coffee shop where I worked had other ideas. Twats. Thankfully this year’s lineup is pretty great too. I’m stupid excited about The Tallest Man On Earth, probably my favourite “bloke with guitar” troubadour going these days – smart lyrics combined with interesting guitar playing and hook-laden melodies. Him followed by James Blake on The Obelisk Stage is superb programming.
The BBC 6 stage on the Friday night has the bearded folky in me salivating too: Willy Mason, Beth Orton, Richard Thompson’s Electric Trio, Calexico, Villagers, with Modest Mouse headlining. Yeah, I’m game. Mark Lanegan and the highly rated Daughter will make sure the BBC 6 stage resonates a kind of melancholic glow on the Saturday night, Stornoway will make for a nice wake up on the Friday, though not as explosive and electrifying a wake up as Charles Bradley will on Saturday, opening up the main stage with his shit-hot Extraordinaires.
This intimate little festival has been growing in fame over the past few years, hooking some great headliners along the way who have gone on to bigger things – Ben Howard being the first name that springs to mind - and this year’s two headliners seem to be headed in the same direction. Benjamin Francis Leftwich, who’s also at Latitude, and Matt Corby, whose song Brother is a absolute treat, are the marquee acts. Also, and I’m well aware that I might be the only one excited about this, but Nizlopi are reforming for the festival! (fuck you their first album is brilliant and so is the JCB song).
Also, it’s pretty cheap! That is to say, if there were any tickets left, it would be cheap - £60 for the whole weekend, camping including, is tremendous value I think, considering the beautiful location and the numerous quality acts. You’re bound to see someone you’ve not heard before, and probably drink great ale and have a generally great time. If you missed out on this one this year, keep an eye out next year, and go before it becomes the next...
...see what I’ve done there? I told a little lie before, I have been to festivals. I went to the very first Green Man Festival and played mandolin with my brother Jack on the Folky Dolky Stage. Back then it was at Clyro Court, a 15 minute drive from my house, and the scene of many a drunken piss against a wall and sick down a bank. I didn’t do the whole festival. Some harpist called Joanna Newsom was headlining...did I go and see her for free? Did I fuck. Good one Harry.
Their lineups have become progressively more mainstream as the festival has increased in size and reputation, whilst still nailing their colours firmly to the folk / indie-folk mast. Ben Howard headlines the Sunday night, presumably Brit Award in tow, though he’ll have to go some way to match a headline set from Band Of Horses, which is bound to echo throughout the Brecon Beacons long after they’ve switched off their amps. My personal favourite from the lineup? Phosphorescent, whose Song For Zula found its way into my inbox this week, and is genuinely the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in months. If your folk jam is rooted in the Appalachian Americana alt-country mould, a la Gillian Welch and the Be-Good Tanyas, then definitely check out Annie Dresner – she’s dead, dead great.
Surely the mecca for any folk lover is Cambridge, who at the time of writing still haven’t announced their full lineup, but you can bet your melodeon and autoharp that some of the big names in folk music will be there. Already confirmed for the Friday are Bellowhead and The Levellers, both of whom Mumford & Sons owe an enormous, loan-shark sized, “I’ma-break-your-legs-if-you-don’t-pay-this” debt to, and the sublime Martin Simpson is confirmed too – seriously, if you’re in any way a fan of acoustic guitar players and you’ve not seen Martin Simpson live, you just have to, it’s a sight and sound to behold. Hopefully this year Stephen Mangan won’t show up to go through his mid-life-crisis on stage either, so fingers crossed for that.
Another festival that in the same way as Green Man has built up a loyal following and a scintillating reputation, through a combination of interesting and eclectic acts dotted around a by-all-accounts marvellous site. I think End of the Road have pulled off two huge coups in terms of their big hitters this year. David Byrne & St Vincent are sure to be amazing, and Eels are probably the most consistent rock and roll band out there right now...maybe them and Dinosaur Jr...who are also playing. Incredible.
If you are going I’d definitely pick Jens Lekman out from the lineup as one to see. Scandinavia does a fine turn in singer/songwriters and Jens has been kicking about for a few years now, in a kind of Simon & Garfunkel / Nick Drake mould, with great writing. The criminally underrated Ed Harcourt and country goddess Caitlin Rose stand out in what is a particularly strong field, and at £165 for the weekend including camping, you’d be hard pushed to find better value for money in terms of the quality of lineup.