Green Man Festival 2003
Danny and I founded the Green Man Festival in 2003 and programmed it until our departure in November 2011. Some of the many artists I booked include, Robert Plant, The National, Bon Iver, The Flaming Lips, Wilco, Animal Collective, Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling, James Blake, Four Tet, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Fleet Foxes, Billy Bragg, Jarvis Cocker and so many more. We watched it grow from 1 day and under 500 people in 2003 to 4 days and nights and 15,000 attendees in 2011.
I’m only going to write about the first three festivals in detail though: 2003 – 2005. From its conception in 2002 up until the insanity of 2005. After that we moved site again, (to the beautiful Glan Usk where it remains today), we got a team around us and things changed. It’s what it took from us and out of us in those early years, I want to capture.
Do you know the answer to this question, asked on a tv quiz show, 12th May 2017?:
Danny and I had moved from London to to Wales in early 2000. We had been signed by RCA/ BMG after the excitement our debut, self-released album, ‘Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy’ had stirred up.
I was 7 months pregnant when we moved, so our lives changed quite a lot, quite quickly. Quite quickly after that, we also got dropped. So, now we were living in Wales with a baby and no income, just the last of our BMG money to survive on.
The first thing we did, after licking our wounds for a bit was to start on an album. We recorded ‘But We Have The Music‘ in 2002.
One night when ideas were flying back and forth, Danny suggested we should start a festival at Penpont. So we sat up late, drinking wine and then coffee really getting into the idea. Penpont is a stately home a couple of miles outside Brecon. Gavin and Devina Hogg, the wonderful couple who live there, had very kindly let us take photos in the house and gardens, for our ’Thugs Lounge’ album that we released on RCA.
So, we knocked on their door and asked Gavin if ‘we could start a festival on your land please….?’
We had experience of booking bands from our Buzz Club days. I had worked at Ultimate Records and Danny had worked at Cherry Red Records. Plus, we were musicians who had the fresh experience of being signed and then dropped!
Gavin and Vina thankfully said ‘yes’ and the concept grew fantastically at this point – we had a site.
The Hoggs had planted a Green Man maze to celebrate the millennium in the grounds of Penpont and we thought given the Green Man is a symbol of regeneration, which perfectly represented where we were at in life, the festival should be named in his honour.
And so we started work on the initial ideas of the Green Man Festival. This was about September 2002. These were actually a tough couple of years, we lost a few close family members. But we had the children and the mountains. We listened to Lambchop, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Calexico in our converted barn in the Brecon Beacons.
We had no television and luckily it was pre-boxsets and Netflix. We’d talk endlessly about the festival and how best to get ‘But We Have The Music’ heard.
We decided to release a compilation album by artists playing the festival. We wanted our newly resurrected label, Double Snazzy to feel proper, so along with the new It’s Jo and Danny album, we also scheduled the compilation’s release and an electronic instrumental album called ’Eurocentric’ by me, under the guise of Christine X.
The next move was to get a press officer in London. We had the three albums on Double Snazzy coming out plus, the first Green Man Festival, was to be in August 2003 – we needed previews and a press campaign. I guess this would have been late 2002 / early 2003.
Someone suggested Ken Lower at Hermana PR. I called him up and explained the albums and the festival. This was one of those conversations that was meant to be. Ken’s wife Maree was originally from Brecon and he was a regular visitor – he loved the idea.
James Yorkston was important for us at this time. I heard ‘Moving Up Country’ on an ’Uncut’ cover mount cd, and knew this was our musical starting point. James was on Domino Records and Ken was his press officer too – the stars were aligning.
Billy Campbell told us about the Fence Collective, part of the scene that James Yorkston was with, including King Creosote.
We spoke to our friend , the journalist, Iestyn George and told him about the the festival. I wanted there to be literature and film sections, and Iestyn suggested the Cardiff writer, John Williams and film collective Those People.
At night we listened to our album and music by the bands and singers we were booking for that first Green Man festival and we read books by John Williams and the authors he was curating.
By day we would walk and walk and talk and talk. Up to the Mountain Centre for a cup of tea and slice of millionaire’s shortcake and then back down again. Sometimes up to the Trig or the walk we called ‘The Circuit’. Always a good few hours. We’d talk about the festival – the ideas, the logistics, the colours, the music.
This was pretty much our daily walk – further if the children weren’t with us as far as we could get if they were!
Here we are looking a bit intense for the ‘But We Have The Music’ cover shoot in the gardens at Penpont in Brecon. Photos taken by a our friend, the celebrated photographer, Justin Thomas.
The Christine X Album got some great reviews – we had made up a bit of a back story, that she was a lone female living in Berlin, as we wanted to look like we’d actually signed someone to the label!
’….wistful, mellow, unhurried and gorgeous.’ 4 stars D.J. Magazine
’…unfathomably beautiful music.’ Careless Talk Costs Lives
The Green Man compilation album featured everyone who played that first year. James Yorkston, King Creosote, The Memory Band, Jeb Loy Nichols, It’s Jo and Danny and more. It’s a lovely album There’s something very special about it. It really captures the magic. We asked all the artists to send us a track, preferably previously unheard, and sat listening to them all for a while, working out a running order. We worked with Cherry Red sleeve designer Jim Phelan and the cover was finished – the photo is of the crowd and stage at Bob Dylan at Blackbushe Airport in 1978.
We recorded ‘But We Have The Music‘ at Rockfield just outside Monmouth and Bark in East London. We were joined by some fantastic musicians – Damon Reece (Spirituailzed / Massive Attack / Echo and the Bunnymen) on drums, Lee Goodall (Van Morrison) on flute and Gary Aylesbroke (Super Fury Animals live band) on trumpet. Plus Nathan Da Watcha, a rapper from Cardiff and Ali Byworth, who had drummed on a few tracks ‘Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy’ and is now in Welsh folk band 9 Bach.
Penpont always had wonderful artists staying there and Gavin put us in touch with the designer Matthew Richardson who came up with our first logo. We got some post-cards printed.
We had regular meetings at Penpont, but the costs of staging the festival there grew and grew. None of us had done this before, so it was very much a learning curve for all of us.
After a few months in, the figures simply didn’t add up and we decided we could not hold the first Green Man at Penpont. It was pretty tough for the four of us I think, but it was the right decision to make, we all knew that.
For a few weeks Danny and I had no venue for the festival, but we carried on as if we did. We said to ourselves, that basically, if we staged something in our garden with James Yorkston and It’s Jo and Danny playing, year one would take place. We told James about the venue problem and he stayed with us on the journey, which was very cool of him.
The Memory Band who performed at the first Green Man Festival.
Luckily, the 10,000 postcards we had just got printed only said in ‘the Brecon Beacons’ and had our website address. So we spent a long 21 days and nights trying to think what we could do, calling venues, scratching our heads and pacing the floor.
Then, Gavin came over and told us about a small castle towards Swansea he had drum lessons at. Craig-Y-Nos Castle was just inside the Brecon Beacons, a really ragged exciting area. Even driving there from Brecon it always felt like you were driving into a different, wilder world.
As luck would have it, yes, they were free on that Bank Holiday Monday in August, in three months time, and we were able to book the place.
Thank **** for that.
We also got posters made at Publicity and Display – where we used to get our Buzz Club ones made! We pasted these to wooden boards and hammered them into the ground all along the route between Brecon and Craig-y-nos.
So here’s where Ken from Hermana really steps in. The idea of the festival and it being organised by musicians really caught hold of people’s imaginations and we were getting loads of great press.
The Big Issue even gave the green man its own word search!
‘South Wales Echo’
The Green Man compilation album along with ‘But We Have The Music’, the It’s Jo and Danny album, were getting great reviews.
We were Album of the Week in The Sunday Times.
We had small marketing budget and so placed these adverts in the local press, plus our one national advert – this in ‘Uncut’ magazine:
These are the local Welsh adverts, this from ‘Tacsi’
The Brecon and Radnor Express
Broad Sheep Magazine
Sheep Music Magazine.
But, it was this full page feature written by Bob Stanley, in The Times, the Friday before the festival was due to take place, that really propelled everything forward brilliantly for us. The phone started to ring like mad while we were having our breakfast that morning – that’s how we actually found out about the article.
The day itself arrived. Needless to say I hadn’t slept a wink the night before.
We had family with us, looking after the kids while we went to set up at Craig-Y-Nos Castle. They all joined us later. Our daughter was 18 months old and our son was 2 ½.
Craig -Y – Nos was a neo-gothic castle, built in 1843 with a rich history of the arts.
In 1878 the castle was bought and renovated by a leading opera singer of the day, Adeline Patti, who built a 150 capacity theatre, based on the Theatre Drury Lane, a gorgeous space, which is now a Grade 1 listed building.
We used the ball room upstairs for the main stage, the theatre for literature and short films and the basement cafe / bar for the acoustic stage we called the Folkey Dokey stage, originally the name of a club night run by Jonny Trunk at The Foundry bar in Shoreditch – he gave us permission to use the name!
Here’s the running order for that stage:
Here’s the main stage timings:
While we were setting up, we realised that the sound guy only had a Phil Collins album to play in between the artists. Danny got in the car and drove the 30 minutes back to our barn to grab a load of cds.
We also soon realised that the car park was no where big enough – it was pretty much full with just with the crew and artists vehicles. With only a couple of hours until the gates were due to open, we ran around knocking on farmer’s doors – asking if they had a field we could hire for the day. We got a couple sorted out – and got stewards to direct the way.
Noon arrived and there was a queue of people waiting to be let in.
I don’t remember too much – I know that Danny and myself didn’t stop running round, seemingly always needed to sort something out. I remember chatting to family and friends, including Jasonand Helen, the first people to ever camp at Green Man. Arriving after dark, they put their tent up in the castle’s gardens, not realising the camp site was across at the road at the Dan-Yr-Ogof caves park. I remember Adam putting food in our hands and insisting we eat! I remember at about 3pm realising that was it, no more people would be arriving.
Danny and I did a rough head count – not quite as many as we had hoped, but just enough to weave magic and have fun.
The merch stall was manned by Sheila, a retired headmistress and her husband Graeme from Brecon. The wonderful Charlotte Davies, our child-minder from Brecon helped out brilliantly too. Everyone who played is on the tee shirt!
We used some It’s Jo and Danny postcards as the artists drink vouchers!
Just some of the tons of paper we had all over the barn with notes!
The first band to play the Green Man Festival was in fact Gavin’s band, Field Trip. Here’s their guitarist, Gareth – a very fine man.
The green man himself – Gavin’s brother, Kit, lead singer of Field Trip.
The wonderful Gavin – without Gavin and his fantastic wife Vina’s belief in the early days and support long afterwards the festival would never have started.
The stilt walkers!
The fortune teller, Lyn
The main stage!
The Bard of Ely, who’s ‘Druid’s Prayer’ started both the compilation album and the festival.
It’s Jo and Danny band, Mathew Priest, Richard King, Gary Aylesbroke and Lee Goodall.
The sublime Julie Murphy.
The main stage crowd!
Ian and Kenny Anderson – AKA Pip Dylan and King Creosote part of the fabulous Fence Collective from Fife.
When the day was finished and the crowd had gone, we had a party in the basement cafe. We still had the pile of cds Danny had brought from home at the start of the day. We only had a cd Walkman to put through the down stairs PA so we plugged it in and played tracks by John Martyn, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Elliot Smith – what a wonderful night – all the artists, friends and family who were staying at the hotel dancing, singing and drinking until early in the morning.
351 paying customers came. We lost £9.10.
Ken had organised loads of reviews. This one by Stephen Dalton in The Times came out a few days later and we were walking on air.