Greenman on film

As we squeeze out the last dregs of summer and start battening down the hatches and preparing to wrap up warm for winter, I couldn’t have collected my last batch of disposable pictures from festival season at a better time.

I’m hanging up my retro Speedos raincoat and retiring from the party (and camping) lifestyle until next year, so reminiscing about the smile-inducing memories we have made with colourful photos that bring them back to life makes the uneasy transition down to earth a little smoother.

We remembered to use flash this time (and there are significantly less errors with finger smudges across the lens) and the images have turned out to be some of my favourites yet; effortlessly portraying the carefree and euphoric weekend that was had by all.

So along with sharing the last of my festival lookbooks for 2019, this post is also an ode to the most peaceful and fun place I have had the pleasure of calling home for a few nights, and that I’m lucky to live down the road from. It looks like Greenman is set to become a tradition that will bring us old friends together again each year and introduce us to other likeminded people to enjoy the experience with.

Greenman is a haven of dreamy music and activities that is accessible to all, nestled deep in the drizzly Welsh hills – specifically located in Crickhowell. The mood is calm and gently bubbling with laughter and excitement, and the crowd that attends is genuine and friendly; making it safe, warm (not necessarily in temperature) and soulful.

This was my second attempt at the festival after a rather miserable and damp slog back in 2015, when a naive young Lily spent the entirety moping about the boyfriend of three months who dumped her by not answering any texts or calls for the previous week and awkwardly ending it via Facebook Messenger whilst she was in the ticket queue.

My stubbornness back then certainly wouldn’t allow me to let loose and enjoy the remedy that probably would have at least temporarily cured me of my superficial pain, if not have wholly proved to me that there’s far more to concern myself with than older boys that I had nothing in common with except drinking the same beer (which at 18 seemed like the most exciting fact ever) and who (quite pathetically) only seemed to rely on me for my car.

Of course I chose to ignore the rational option and instead cry into my pot noodles and drink myself so silly I can hardly remember the acts we saw. The relentless rain seemed to be a metaphor for my oh-so-tragic life and I used it as an excuse to moan about everything from the portaloos (which were actually like peeing as royalty compared to Reading Festival the year before) to the soggy tent. Obviously the photos from that weekend tell a very different story: one of a cheerful girl without a care in the world; but we all should know by now that social media is often a skewed perception of reality, especially when you’re trying to prove something you’re not to someone you think you ‘love’.

I wish I could shake that girl by the shoulders and tell her to snap out of it, to enjoy the precious and rare gift of time surrounded by close friends in that wonderful, sweet summer wedged inbetween leaving school and starting university. I’m not trying to say I’m less stubborn or dramatic these days, but I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things and I’d be wiser than to let silly boys ruin my fun.

Two of my best friends, who endured my endless monologues of flaky broken-heartedness like absolute troopers, returned to Greenman with me this year (with the addition of our longer term boyfriends) and were relieved that I’d grown out of being a whiny little diva (to some extent).

We’ve all grown up so much, in fact, that we have transformed into seasoned campers. I had the last-minute brainwave to bring my rusty old gazebo with us, which changed the game entirely. Gone are the days of useless plastic ponchos and nights spent sprawled on wafer-thin roll mats with faces squashed up against the wet wall of a dodgy two-man tent, which we had somehow managed to crush three people and their overly-packed rucksacks in.

Adult camping is like a different activity altogether: sailing gently off to sleep on a cosy double air bed in my own private pod; lounging in the dry, wind-free shelter of a marquee with WINDOWS; a fold-up chair that actually stays together for longer that 24 hours.

Although the set up was deliciously sophisticated we still have some youth in us, so of course we balanced out the classiness. My morning routine involved hobbling approximately two metres from my bed to the gazebo whilst wrapped in the spare duvet from home, which happened to be England football club themed, devouring a spicy Pot Noodle for breakfast and washing it down with a bottle of Corona (see first photo).

Unless we sat in the sanctuary of our impressive camp setup all weekend there were some unavoidable traditions we had to endure: rain, mud and tripping over guy-ropes being the main contenders. After an afternoon of relentless downpour I was hit with the reality that my Dad’s old Speedos raincoat wasn’t all that waterproof and maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I thought.

Four years ago I most likely would have found this extremely irritating, and crippling internal insecurity about how I looked would have encouraged me to flee and find dry cover for fear my make up would run. Instead I hung the coat up on one of the unprecedentedly useful poles in our gazebo and laughed at how the rain had seeped into my summery clothes and just embraced the unpredictability of nature (and my bedraggled appearance).

I howled at myself lying face down in a puddle after racing Beth back to our tent and slipping in view of all our gleefully watching friends. My Dr Martens are still sat in a carrier bag at home caked in dry mud from the festival – so what?

It’s difficult to soak up the charm of such an unconditionally accepting environment and not feel completely at ease and at peace with yourself – that being as long as you are willing to let that feeling swallow you up whole (which this time round I welcomed with open arms).

Despite considering myself a fairly confident person, I have never had the balls to go and watch an act by myself – which now seems like a bizarre occurrence to be afraid of. I took myself off to watch Julia Jacklin’s set on the main stage while my friends were preoccupied with other events. I stood alone – albeit surrounded by other fans and their colourful umbrellas – in the pouring rain, and have never experienced such a deep and ethereal connection to a musical performance.

I smoked a limp, soggy cigarette and sipped from a pint of lager that was eventually diluted by the falling water, and let myself feel every word that was sung out to the crowd. My sister moved to New Zealand over a year ago and I miss her dearly, and watching a set by a singer we both love forced emotions out of me that I probably wouldn’t let myself address with a group of friends. The song ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ in particular teased a mix of happy and nostalgic sobs, and rather than feeling sorry for myself I felt liberated. I let the rain wash away my salty tears, but would have let them slide down my cheeks just as freely had it have been sunny and dry.

Just moments before the set began I had been struggling to see because the hood of my raincoat was too big and drooping down over my eyes and my hands were too full to do anything about it. A man nearby noticed: ‘So annoying when that happens isn’t it – let me help you,’ and folded the material over on itself so that my vision cleared up again.

Several incidents like this revealed themselves throughout the course of the festival; the kindness and openness of strangers reminding me that there are certain times in life that we can pretend all the nasty shit that’s going on in the world just isn’t for a little while.

Because Greenman is so close to home I nipped out after setting up camp and returned in the evening to find my friends had already adopted a new pal – one of the reasons I love them so much. Jazz was attending alone and, having positioned her tent next to ours, wandered into the eclectic, buzzing cluster of our group.

She became a token member and participated in the activities of the following days with a fresh pair of eyes and a handy knack of having exactly what you needed at that second in time: some extra gnocchi; the costume design skills to fix a flaw in your outfit; the ability to untangle your horrifying knot of festival jewellery; a plaster or painkillers when a night partying got the better of you.

Speaking of which: it wouldn’t be a festival without a strike of disaster, so this time round Lol took one for the team. Whilst sneaking in she panicked on seeing a suspiciously authoritative-looking man with a bumbag, and immediately let go of the fence she was in the middle of climbing. So drunk was poor Lol that she didn’t feel a thing until we had spent hours boogieing to Four Tet and Shy FX and finally sobered up.

We found her curled up in a ball outside the disco tent and I’m pretty sure everyone else attending could have followed the deathly screams until they found her too. Lol’s a pretty tough cookie so it was evident something was really wrong, and ironically we had to take her to the medical tent where they told her to return in the morning once she’d slept off all the booze.

Waking up on Sunday morning to the soothing alarm of Lol’s screeches, I took it upon myself to seek out the paramedics. ‘Not you guys again,’ the man turned up by the portaloos in a buggy, which he let me sit on the back of to direct him through the muddy paths to our humble home.

Imagine me: pyjama-clad, wild-haired and glitter-stained, having the time of my life at approximately 8am sat on the back of the medical buggy, instructing the driver on which turns to take and waving to fellow festival-goers who replied with a jolly ‘good morning!’ whilst looking in equal parts bewildered and ecstatic. I’m not sure if she’d agree, but Lol’s hospital trip was 100% worth it for that ridiculously funny experience.

‘Ed Balls – everyone’s favourite inflatable beer pong game – made its first comeback since debuting at Bilbao BBK in 2016. Aptly named by combining the rules (to throw balls into cups positioned in an inflatable ‘table’ worn as a hat on the opponent’s head) with the politician. Harder than it looks and usually manages to last for about half a round before the novelty wears off and you start drinking the alcohol anyway out of desperation.

The main entertainment, though, was the rap that Meg and I conjured up between us on the notes section of my phone and performed to the group – and to our surprise the surrounding campers who clapped once we finished (understandable if it was purely because we’d stopped).

This rap is arguably my proudest achievement to date and features each character that shaped our experience at the festival with the anecdotes that defined them. Unfortunately this limits it to being relevant and interesting only to the people that attended with us, and really doesn’t have the intended effect when read as opposed to feebly mumbled out of sync by the original duo, so doesn’t have a place on here.

Although we didn’t take main stage with our (impressive) rap, I got to enjoy some pretty incredible artists and explore new musical territory. Beabadoobee were fun and bubbly, The Beths were enchanting and Big Thief was the dreamiest soundtrack to watch the sunset to.

I introduced the group to Willie J Healy, a folky favourite of mine, and we were all utterly obsessed by the end of his chilled set, swaying around our circle of camp chairs set up in the Walled Garden (adulting at its finest).

We caught the end of The Big Moon, one of the fucking coolest girl bands I know, and I danced like no one was watching and was so excited to sing every single word at the top of my lungs that I didn’t even care how ridiculous I must have looked.

As the final song ended a crowd swamped the stage and a man in a postman outfit began telling us all a tale about his love affair with the lead singer that began at this very festival five years previously. By the time we clicked what was happening he had proposed. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the tent, and even reminiscing about the tastefully romantic (and rock n’ roll) gesture now threatens a nostalgic lump in my throat. It’s one of those remarkable, fleeting memories that you had to be there to understand and that felt poignant in so many ways.

There were overlaps with some of the summer’s other line ups, so it was beautiful to see the immensely talented Khruangbin again in a different setting. Idles brought the weekend to a close with a rowdy set and captivated the audience as brilliantly as ever with their fierce, statement sound.

Just as quickly as the spirit of Greenman is released into the meadows of the Glanusk Estate for wandering souls to devour, it is immortalised with the traditional burning of the giant wicker statue and a breathtaking display of fireworks. This final signifier of closure is both heartbreaking and inspiring; not least because the bonfire turns to ash the thousands of hopes, wishes and dreams that attendees have tied to the wicker man.

I am a self-confessed cliche having for as long as I can remember wished for the same little phrase for every birthday candle blown out, shooting star apparently seen and note tied to the Green Man. And if I tell you it won’t come true. Reading the other optimistic messages scrawled on parcel tags and wrapped around the artistically designed wooden sculpture is a surreal treat. To know those people are stood somewhere in the darkness nearby, the warm, flickering fire connecting us together and half-illuminating the silhouettes of embracing families, friends, children and partners, is so inexplicably freeing that I never wanted the glow to fade.

But it does, and all we can do is carry the love of the festival around with us everyday.

Until next year Greenman.

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