Green Man Festival 2019 review: Father John Misty brings old-fashioned schmaltz to the Brecon Beacons


There's romance in the air in the Brecon Beacons

There have been many Father John Misty‘s. Misty mark one, born with 2012’s ‘Fear Fun’ album, was a drug-addled shaman with delusions of grandeur about his own creative and spiritual prowess. He was reborn as a punch-drunk romantic on 2015’s ‘I Love You, Honeybear’. Since then we’ve had the social media-obsessed, know-it-all cynic (‘Pure Comedy’), and the heartbroken deadbeat (‘God’s Favourite Customer’). Which Misty would we get at Green Man 2019?

Well, given the festival’s setting – amid the sweeping landscapes and candy floss sunsets of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales – we of course got the romantic: the beard full-grown and the shades tinted dark purple, all the better for seducing you with his lush chamber pop. Closing the festival’s main stage on the Sunday evening, he slow danced through a ‘Honeybear’-heavy set, the routine adorned with kitsch touches – a knowingly cheesy sax solo here, a Billy Joel piano flourish there – that proves he’s retained his playful side.

“It’s quite an honour to be headlining this thing,” he says mid-way through the show. “Usually on the main stage we’re a couple slots before The Cure. Which means the first couple rows is the most miserable fucking Cure fans. They’re not so big on a bunch of bearded males harmonising.” It’s bizarre to remember that Misty played tiny east London venue The Shacklewell Arms on that first ‘Fear Fun’ tour; he’s since become an indie institution.

There’s romance elsewhere at Green Man, too, when The Big Moons Juliette Jackson receives an onstage marriage proposal from her partner on the Saturday afternoon. He’s one of the Royal Mail posties who deliver mail around the site and explains, “I have something in here that I want to give to her,” before producing an engagement ring. Readers, she says yes. It’s tempting to call Green Man the most romantic festival of the summer, though on the Sunday evening they burn a huge figure made of wood that’s filled with punters’ wishes etched on card, one written in a child’s adorable scrawl that reads, “I wish my mum and dad would stop lying to each other,” so perhaps let’s not get carried away.

Still, the natural amphitheatre formed by the gentle hills that face the main stage seems tailor-made for creating Kodak moments, and Four Tet forges an improbably overwhelming spectacle with his minimalist dance music. The electronic musician’s famed light show is in full effect: a disco ball punctured by red lazers, green LEDs that shudder in time to his tommy gun rhythms. He effectively uses silence as an instrument, creating a sense of space that befits the bracing environment; the chanted ‘Only Human’ takes on a ritualistic quality.

Self Esteem, the fantastic pop project from Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor, provides a highlight of the weekend, her down-to-earth stage persona at odds with her band’s slick, choreographed dance moves. She laughs her way through some of the songs and, at the show’s end, she and her bandmates carry one another offstage to ‘Move Ya Body’ by Nina Sky; the freewheeling sense of fun is infectious. Pottery enjoy a sense of the absurd at the quaint Walled Garden stage, too, the Montreal post-punker yelping with abandon through their choppy guitar anthems.

Green Man; The Big Moon

The happy couple at Green Man festival

Given that Green Man is a festival at which you can buy candle-powered miniature steamboats, it’s perhaps no wonder that eccentricity is encouraged. Aldous Harding embraces the opportunity, pulling a series of fabulously cartoonish faces as the music melted from finger-picked ditties to full-blown chamber-pop. This audiences cheers off-beat ballad ‘The Barrel’ as though it’s ‘Old Town Road’, an indication of the festival’s left-field tastes. Similar reverence is reserved for south London nu-jazz heroes Ezra Collective, who perform to a packed Far Out tent and present their trumpet player Ife Ogunjobi with a cake as the crowd sings him happy birthday. Siri, show me the definition of ‘wholesome’.

Sharon Van Etten brings a sense of hard-learned wisdom to the main stage, the songs from this year’s wistful ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’ sounding tougher than they do on record; it’s absolutely spine-tingling when she screams “I know that you’re gonna be” on ‘Seventeen’. Cali garage rockers Growlers offer a touch of Americana to the Far Out tent, while punk icons Idles are quintessentially British, frontman Joe Talbot referencing retro TV show Blind Date when he asks an audience member, “What’s your name and where do you come from?”

And then it’s up to Misty to play us out, his own wisecracks a little more sardonic. “This one’s for all the babies in the audience,” he says before rolling into loved-up folk weepie ‘Real Love Baby’. “Shouldn’t these babies be in bed?” Well, he’s got a point, but who can sleep when the vibes are this good? Green Man is what all festivals should be: escapist and eccentric, with a certain romance.