Ahead of this summer’s Green Man Festival, which is due to take place next month, here at tQ we present a series of preview pieces, focusing on some of the artists you’ll be able to see at this year’s event.
Last week, Katy J Pearson opened up about performing Green Man for the first time in 2016 with her former band Ardyn, as well as the acts she’s looking forward to seeing at this year’s event. This week, Lost Map label founder Johnny Lynch, aka The Pictish Trail, talks about performing at this year’s festival following the release of his recent album Island family through Fire Records.
Read on below to find out more about his experience at the very first edition of Green Man in 2003, as well as the challenges of hosting your own festival on a remote island in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides.
In addition to The Pictish Trail, this year’s Green Man will also host Kraftwerk, Beach House, Metronomy, Mary Lattimore, Low, Jenny Hval and Parquest Courts, among others. The festival will take place from August 18 to 21, 2022. Find more information here.
Can you tell us about the first time you went to Green Man?
Johnny Lynch: I was at the very first! Holiday Monday, August 2003, at Craig-y-nos Castle. We had booked for a King Creosote/Fence Collective set, and so a group of us traveled from Fife in a few cars, arriving late at night on a Sunday. Pre-SatNav, God knows how we found the campsite. I had finished college a few months before and was unemployed, trying to make it as a musician. Fence was my life, and we didn’t tend to leave Fife all that much, so getting a gig somewhere in rural Wales was really exotic. A total newbie, I had only attended one festival before (Leeds 2000, an event as dark and apocalyptic as its name suggests). I had no tent. I didn’t even have a sleeping bag, I thought my big anorak would do. I was wrong.
I couldn’t sleep much anyway. I had just started seeing Kate [Canaveral] – who came from Reading – and we had agreed to meet at Swansea station on Monday morning. Let me tell you, Swansea, in the early hours of Bank Holiday Monday is a wasteland. Oddly, I have a very vivid memory of us taking a taxi back to Craig-y-nos, hurtling down all those twisty, weird Welsh roads, with OutKast’s ‘Ghettomusik’ on the radio. Musically, about a million miles from what we were going to spend the day listening to.
The event itself is a bit of a blur. The music took place in a few different rooms in this former stately home. It felt a bit like a strange marriage – loads of people who were friends hugging each other, loads of people making new friends, lots of kids running around. The partner of the event, The Bard Of Ely, was dressed all in white, like the bride and the priest together. James Yorkston, headlining that night, the naturally nervous groom. I remember the weather was amazing and the heaters inside the building were on full blast so many of us were outside getting drunk, sitting around the gardens. Occasionally you would go back into the “castle” and watch someone sing in a darkened room for 30 minutes, before heading back out into the sun for more booze.
Years later, Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip told me he was first introduced to us at this Green Man in 2003. He was playing with The Memory Band and working for Domino, who had a big presence there . He thought I was Lone Pigeon because during the Fence set I jumped out of the crowd to join in a rendition of one of the LP songs, “Summertyme Beeswing”. This is the kind of thing that often happened at our concerts, we joined on each other’s songs, we harmonized, we played percussion. God, that sounds awful, doesn’t it? Honestly, it was fine.
I remember people more than music. There was this immediate sense of community. In addition to the musicians, a lot of people from the indie/DIY scene were there, both helping and letting go. I’m pretty sure Anna, who runs Melting Vinyl in Brighton, was at the box office. I remember Ken, who was handling public relations for the event, being quite cheerful. Billy from Rough Trade, who was launching his own label, held court at the bar. Loads of folks from Domino Records are pouring in. But above all, music fans. There are people I met that day who then joined our message board, accumulating literally tens of thousands of posts over the next decade. Before social media, it was a big part of how a music community came together. Events like Green Man have become a breeding ground and gathering place for small online communities of music fans.
We all walked away from this totally buzzing Green Man. My main “job” at Fence (to begin with) was to organize live shows and of course our first “Home Game” event was in the spring of 2004. A weekend of live music in small village venues intimate, Home The Game quickly became the label’s flagship annual event. It’s all up to Green Man, really. It was inspiring.
What is your favorite Green Man memory?
JL: In a way, I’ve managed to attend and play every Green Man from the start, so there are a lot of great memories. The most significant for me was 2013 when we launched Lost Map. It was ten years after the first Green Man and the start of a new chapter in my own life. I had moved to the Isle of Eigg by then, and what remained of Fence in Fife had collapsed, earlier that year. 10 years of hard work went by, it was a really stressful time. I was determined to keep working with the rest of the artists on the label, and our team, and keep the momentum going. Green Man saved us.
Event organizer Ben Coleman graciously gave us carte blanche to set up a display in the cinema tent. We resumed on Saturday night, and decided to launch Lost Map with an entire evening of music from the label, featuring visuals from our Glasgow mates Forest Of Black. We gave everyone who entered the tent a postcard containing a code for a compilation of all acts played – our first official release. It was really exciting, all of us together. I brought in The Massacre Cave, a death metal band from Eigg, as a backing band, and played an intensely loud set. It was cathartic to say the least.
This weekend there were performances from our entire list of labels – Rozi Plain, Seamus Fogarty, Monoganon, Randolph’s Leap, Kid Canaveral, Eagleowl, DJ Hardsparrow and The Pictish Trail. We were all there. Our friend Stephanie Gibson took a bunch of pictures of us all together in the back of the Cinema tent. Green Man had become a huge playground of musical adventure by this point, quite different from his humble beginnings at Craig-y-nos Castle, but still retaining that vital spirit of friends together. We hugged each other all weekend.
It was the best start we could have dreamed of. Green Man was so supportive and it really meant a lot. Having this platform gave me the confidence to keep going, and I’m forever grateful to Ben and the entire GM team for that. 2023 marks our 10th anniversary as a label, which I run with Kate, and we’ve never felt stronger.
The Lost Map team at Green Man 2013
Who are you looking forward to seeing at Green Man this year?
JL: The programming is always organized so expertly. If I had to pick one number, Nathan Fake is someone I always look forward to seeing. His music has been a constant companion, over the past 12 years or so. I love how it manages to balance ethereal warmth with visceral electronic bite. I find his sound really moving – and that’s something I keep coming back to. All the work he’s done with Border Community, and the recent releases he’s done through his own Cambria Instruments label, they blow me away.
You make another edit of your Howlin’ Fling! events this summer on your home port of the Isle of Eigg. Can you tell us about the Howlin’ Fling! concept, your plans for this particular event and the difficulties that might arise in hosting an event like this in such a remote location?
JL: The first Howlin’ Fling! was in 2014, and was a continuation of the Away Game and Home Game festivals before that, dating back to 2004. My whole life in music has centered around these all-day/weekend events. There have been opportunities to go further and expand it, but the essence of something like Howlin’ Fling! is its intimacy. Green Man is a testament to the fact that you can go further without sacrificing that sense of togetherness – but, yes, with my own events, the main thing is that I also make sure to have a good time. Ha! This usually means that the capacity of the event is between 200 and 400 people. Beyond that, it gets a little unmanageable. I’m not very good at delegating.
Taking people to a beautiful place, putting on good music, having a good drink and dancing, and just hanging out – those are the main ingredients. And the best thing is that musicians want to experience that as much as music fans. There’s no room for egos, no big rider demands or anything else. Booking the event is easy, as it’s usually artists who approach me, ask me to play, as opposed to the other way around. Over the years, in addition to the Lost Map label roster, we’ve been blessed with Jon Hopkins, Cate Le Bon, Steve Mason, Nathan Fake, Gruff Rhys, Beth Orton, KT Tunstall, James Holden, Trash Kit , Sea Power, Jens Lekman, Jason Lytle, Gwenno, Alexis Taylor, Brigid Mae Power, Golden Teacher, Luke Abbott, Blanck Mass, Jane Weaver, Bill Ryder-Jones and many more. Just writing that makes me dizzy. We don’t advertise any lineups before we put tickets on sale, and they manage to sell out within 10 minutes every time. This is a dream.
The trickiest part is the logistics. Specifically, handing everything over to Eigg. Equipment, catering, bar stock, dizzying band members, ticket holders. Sort out necessary vehicle permits and accommodation. I sometimes get quite stressed about it and have to remind myself of the following mantra: “as long as everyone comes, something will happen”.
I have just purchased a new sound system for Ceilidh Hall on Eigg, using funds I received from a Highland Council COVID-19 grant, plus my own money. Hopefully this will take the headache out of bringing gear to the island and make regular annual events more likely – as well as encouraging the local community to hold events as well. The festival runs on the island’s renewable energy, so we’re completely off-grid, but I have to make sure we limit ourselves to 10kW of power or the system kicks in. So punters attending Howlin’ Fling! do not expect pyrotechnics. We have to be careful using the kettle, even – once all the electricity went out during a Euros Childs set, because someone ordered a cup of tea from the bar. Ha!