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Wales Online
Wales Online
Kathryn Williams

The 12-hour folk gig at a Welsh castle that became one of the UK's most successful festivals: Green Man at 20

Back in 2003, a small folk festival held at Craig-y-Nos Castle promised 12 hours of folktronica and more than 15 acts over two stages for just £12, fast forward to 2022 and the Green Man Festival is one of the UK's biggest independent festivals, attracting global headliners from Fontaines DC, Kraftwerk and Van Morrison and up-and-coming artists over 10 stages.

The festival is celebrating its 20th year in 2022 and after last year's post-Covid instalment, read more on that here, the Green Man is back to burn bright across this weekend, kicking off on August 18 until the 21st.

Festival director, Fiona Stewart took over Green Man after its 2005 edition and since its inception, it's given more than a quarter of a million people a great time and not only that, has started the Green Man Trust, a charity that's donated money to food banks, Ukrainian war relief and vulnerable people affected by Storm Dennis, amongst other things. She remembers the first lineup she put on back in 2006, when the headliners were Donovan and Jose Gonzalez.

"I remember Donovan and his Hurdy Gurdy man, I remember he wore a big green coat," she says. "Seasick Steve was on the bill too, I think. It was quite a small thing, it was lovely." The Green Man's tentative beginning have been mirrored in years gone by, by the roster of new artists who have gone on to become modern legends of the music landscape. Mumford & Sons brought their grandparents to their fourth-down-the-bill Sunday evening performance in 2010, Michael Kiwanuka, who first visited Glanusk a decade ago, has been heard the world over thanks to his song, Cold Little Heart, being used for HBO's Big Little Lies opening credits and 2022's indie darlings, Wet Leg, were one of the performers on last year's opening Thursday.

Read more : The best pictures from Green Man as Wales enjoyed its first major post-lockdown music festival

Fiona, who has worked for festivals like Glastonbury, The Big Chill, adds: "Alt-J was one of those acts who went on to be huge, Mumford & Sons, a long time ago, had their first big slot here and they asked their grandparents to come it was such a big deal. There are so many.... Michael Kiwanuka, who's headlining this year, he's been coming here since 2011. Kae Tempest, their first slot was on the soundstage at Einstein's Garden. And of course, Fontaines DC last year, that was just phenomenal the reaction to them.

The poster for Fiona's first Green Man in charge (Green Man)

"Of course, it works the other way, too. I remember when Van Morrison, an amazing artist, and his management wanted him to reengage with a younger audience. And some of the younger people amazingly didn't know who he was, but they certainly did by the end of it, you could see people suddenly connecting with this tremendous talent."

Michael Kiwanuka will be at Green Man 2022 (© Olivia Williams / Fanatic 2017)

For more on what Fiona's said about the Gilestone Farm purchase by the Welsh Government, click here.

Aside of the music what Green Man really promotes is a sense of exploration, togetherness, fun and more and really gives visitors who camp all week a holiday in one of Wales' most gorgeous locations, with added fun and music. What attracted Fiona to coming onto Green Man all those years ago still weaves through the festival today, despite it being much bigger.

She adds: "I really liked the concept of the Green Man. I'd seen events become very commercial, and kind of lose their soul lose, their identity. I like the roots of festivals, I like the idea that for millions of years people in every single culture have had festivals, a gathering point. It's a nice celebration, the need to be outside, the need for entertainment, to get bring people together. And I love bringing people together. I think that's why I really enjoy that. And I like the idea of Green Man because it's such an ancient image. You know, it's such a kind of an iconic image, but it's so contemporary right now. These ageless things which are probably even more relevant not, being in touch with the environment, being in touch with people, being present in our lives is something that we've lost a bit of in the modern world."

Fiona remarks that last year particularly, the first festival post-Covid, there was a tangible feeling of emotion, that people were appreciating being in the moment and the iconic Green Man burn, on the Sunday night, was something else.

"I totally see the positives of that you can see people change, how they are replenished, how they feel, invigorated, I mean, obviously on a Monday morning, they're quite tired. But you can see there's a real investment emotion," she says. "I think I particularly saw that last year with the event after Covid. The emotion in the festival was tangible people were crying with excitement, real people seeing each other for the first time. And when we did the burn last year, I think of it now it makes me weepy, the emotion for people who were saying goodbye to loved ones was a massive thing. We were contacted by loads of people before who wanted to us to bring their families, children and saying goodbye to relatives and grandmothers. Inside the Green Man there were lots of things like 'goodbye to Nana' I couldn't go in there I was, and what was really lovely. That was a wonderful experience, to feel that we could offer that to people. It definitely was one of the most emotional situations I've been in, I'm a soppy cow anyway! But yeah, it was a really lovely, beautiful thing to have happened really."

Fiona's affection of Wales started in the '80s when she travelled down with donations from the LGBT community (Richard Williams)

If the Green Man burn brings the festival full circle, then 2022's festival will certainly bring part of Fiona's backstory to a nice bookend, too. This year Green Man will celebrate its 20th anniversary alongside the 50th anniversary of Pride and one of her memorable trips to Wales was in the '80s as a - self-described - podgy punk from Camden when the lesbian and gay community rallied to raise money for striking miners. "We have a lot of people who attend from that community and we've never made an 'area' because .. you know, it doesn't matter. But I wanted to celebrate the fact that it was 50 years of Pride, And my first time coming to Wales, apart from when I was a child, was when I brought some money in a bucket to Wales. I was in the back of a van and got very car sick, threw up in the bucket and all I remember is being plonked in front of a Rayburn fire and given a hot cup of tea and everyone commenting on my green hair. Then I was put back in a van back to London.

"That feeling of affection for Wales started then. I was a very uncool punk from Camden but I tried to do my best and I was treated very well here."

The Green Man Pride march will take place on the Saturday afternoon of the festival and funnels back to the sense of community Fiona was talking about, which is the overall feeling you get at Green Man. She references the people who have got engaged here, the babies who are now teens and friendships forged over weekends in August. The way Green Man also approaches science and health and wellbeing with its Einstein's Garden makes those usually dry topics very accessible and focuses on topics like climate change, mental health. Comedy and spoken word make up other elements of the weekend. Last, but definitely not least, Green Man Rising, which identifies new artists and gives them a chance to perform on the Mountain Stage, and the festival's dedication to Welsh music means there's always new and local talent to discover.

This year there's a new secret cocktail bar, too, called Wishbone, the Walled Garden is going to have a complete makeover and headliners Kraftwerk will mark their first time in Wales with their famous 3-D set. And what of the Green Man burn, it has to be (even more) special for its 20th anniversary?

"It is, but I can't tell you more about that," Fiona teases. "The structure particularly is going to be much, much bigger than we've normally done. And with, I think quite a good message, as well. Last year it was all about cuddling people, another year it's all about having a big party, but this year it's about sending out the love, bringing people together, which will be nice.

"But so I'm looking forward to it, I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

Green Man Festival starts this Thursday, August 18, where acts Kraftwerk, Michael Kiwanuka, Metronomy and more will perform.

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