FESTIVAL REPORT: Festival No. 6
, September 23rd, 2014 12:15
Andy Thomas reports back from a weekend in Portmeirion, Wales. Featuring Pet Shop Boys, Love L.U.V, Jane Weaver and more. Photos by Katja Ogrin
Since our first visit three years ago, Festival No.6 has grown into an event that can entice acts like Pet Shop Boys to appear on the main stage on the closing night. But despite other headliners like Beck and Kelis, the delights of this year's festival are once again to be found in the many little corners around this unique and surreal site.
Created by eccentric architect Clough Williams-Ellis in the 1920s, the dream like village of Portmeirion provides a unique and beautifully bizarre setting for a festival. The two previous years have been blighted by the kind of weather that keeps the Snowdonia hills and rather mystical Gwyllt woodland that surround the village so green. So arriving in bright sunshine makes a welcome change as we head to the estuary, past the magical piazza where we have previously sheltered under umbrellas. There we find early arrivals dangling their feet in the hotel swimming pool and walking along the beach in the early afternoon sun. With a backdrop of the rolling Snowdonia Hills and shimmering waters of the River Dwyryd Estuary, this is once again the setting for the Caught By The River stage.
At last year's festival Caught By The River welcomed Temples to the festival. Their billing on the main stage on Saturday night this year was proof of the year the band have had. It felt like their ascendency had started here looking out onto the most beautiful setting of any festival stage. This year it was the turn of the young band Love L.U.V to open proceedings on the Heavenly Records curated stage. "Spellbinding garage pop-stomp saturated with primal riffs and beats and spikily sugar-coated vocals," promised the programme and we were not disappointed. We had checked their Soundcloud page on the way to Portmeirion, and so the beautifully crafted spectral pop of 'You Do Something' already sounds like a classic to our ears. Their girl group harmonies will draw comparisons with Phil Spector's pop aesthetic, but theirs is a harder psyche edged sound displayed on the storming garage pop of 'Lily Anne'. Don't be surprised to see the band follow Temples onto the main stage next year.
Such were the joys of Love L.U.V and lounging to the Heavenly Jukebox DJs in the mid afternoon sun, that we miss our very own editor John Doran in discussion with Luke Haines and Tim Burgess in The Gatehouse. That tent would host various talks over the weekend as well as doubling as the comedy tent. Come midnight it would be transformed into the Finders Keepers Speedlearn Cinema. There psychedelic classics like Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain and even more cultish lost Welsh Horror films mingled with Giallo DJ sets by Andy Votel. Finders Keepers once again curated the Clough Stage on Saturday afternoon.
Unlike the previous year where the rain and winds dampened proceedings, the warm sunshine and bales of hay creates a perfect setting for Finders Keepers and their friends. A walk around the woodland raves (the Dugout proving to be our favourite over the weekend) meant we only catch the end of Seeland's set but heard good things about this latest project from members of Plone and Broadcast. We are there well in time for Emma Tricca though. Signed to Bird Records whose label owner Jane Weaver will appear later that night, the Italian born London based singer creates a kind of deep eerie folk somewhere between Nico and Bonny Dobson. Checking the Finders Keepers site the name of English-Italian 70s artist Mark Fry is also mentioned. And there are certainly touches of LPs like Dreaming Of Alice in the acidic folk of Tricca's music. The show opens with the ghostly sparse 'Golden Chimes' from her recent LP Relic and closes with the stunning 'Paris Rain' from Minor White. Emma Tricca was a new name for us at last year's festival as are Tender Prey this year. The band is headed by Cardiff singer Laura Bryon who like Love L.U.V has an obvious affinity for Spector's girl groups. But her sound is spun from much darker wool. The sleazy blues of tracks like 'The Tequila Worm' and 'Hold Me Down' have us eagerly waiting her debut LP on Bird Records.
The Manchester label's owner Jane Weaver arrives on stage dressed in a black and silver cape. All she is missing is the wand as she begins to wave her spectral magic over the crowd. She opens with the dreamy cinematic synth pop of 'The Fallen By Watch Bird', the title track from her 2010 LP. But the set is otherwise made up of tracks from her forthcoming LP The Silver Globe. It's a sign of her song writing genius that tracks like 'Argent' and 'The Electric Mountain' swirl around the tent with a familiarity of old classics. Hook ridden but slightly unsettling she shares a not too dissimilar aesthetic to both Broadcast and Stereolab. The latter band's Laetitia Sadier follows Weaver for an intimate acoustic set but struggles to lift the crowd. The tent becomes even more packed with the arrival of Cate Le Bon. It's a great set from Penboyr's finest and a harder edged sound than when we saw her last year. So next to the infectious acid folk of 'Are You With Me Now' sit garage rock nuggets like 'Sisters' that ends in a barrage of organ and guitar.
Another Welsh band residing on Turnstile Records are R.Seilog. We manage to tear ourselves away from the Finders Keepers tent to catch the end of their set on the Estuary stage. On the way we head into the woods where an afternoon of psychedelic music on Lost in Woods stage is unfolding. With the sun's rays fracturing through the wooded canopy above, the rare psych beats from DJs Andrew Weatherall, Justin Robertson and Richard Hector Jones sound tailor made for the setting. The kosmiche pulse of R.Seiliog provides a perfect segue from the more freaky sounds pounding through the woods. As we had mentioned in our first review, one of the great things about Festival No.6 is the way it embraces both the local community and culture. The biggest crowds in the piazza are once again there for the Brythoniaid Welsh Male Voice Choir. Their renditions of 'Blue Monday' and the spine tingling Arglwydd Dyma Fi are always highlights of the weekend, as the nightly procession weaves its way around the village walls. As well as newer Welsh bands like H. Hawkline and Yr Ods, Geraint Jarman was here to once again remind us of a true legend of Wales post punk scene. As a poet in the late sixties he wrote for Heather Jones who Jarman joined in the band Bara Menyn with local folk legend Meic Stevens. But it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s that he made his most important music, releasing a series of pivotal LPs with his band on the Sain label.
In the liner notes to the Welsh Rare Beat album, Gruff Rhys summed up his impact on Welsh music: "His cosmopolitan musical outlook and lyrical sense of modernity would outclass the previous generation. Jarman helped to sever ties with Celtic folk and serve as a bridge to a new wave of post punk/post Sain Welsh language artists in the 1980s." But despite Jarman being championed by John Peel he remains a cultish figure in England. That is certainly not the case across the border as shown by the cross-generational crowd who welcome him like the local hero he is. As well as being a pioneer of Welsh punk he also did much to promote reggae in Wales. And the lilting roots of tracks like 'Methu Dal y Pwysa' from his 1978 LP Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau prove why Peel was such a fan. It's a brilliant set and one that makes us late for Grumbling Fur. We do arrive in time to hear 'Protogenesis' weave it's hypnotic magic for a small crowd in the Town Hall.
Over the weekend the Town Hall sees Tim Burgess curate the Tim Peak's Diner with various DJ sets, acoustic sessions, discussions, and Northern Soul dance classes. The highlight though is hearing Steve Mason singing tracks like 'Boys Outside' and 'All Come Down' with the No.6 Ensemble. It was one of a series of collaborations with this classical orchestra created by composer in residence Joe Durrell. The No.6 Ensemble would appear later on Saturday night for a triumphant gig by Temples on the main stage. But the queues that snaked down to the estuary meant we miss East India Youth given the strings treatment as well as a tribute to Philip Glass. We do however catch the orchestra on Sunday performing the moving and darkly humorous Psalms For The Dead with Manchester poet Mike Garry. Down in the estuary a more upbeat affair is occurring as the raucous Harlequin Marching Band shake the crowd from their Sunday afternoon hangovers. Made up of members of various bands from Liverpool (including Steeling Sheep) they mix klezmer, prog and avant garde jazz, and leftfield pop into a ragged sound clash tailor made for the festival circuit. It is just one of the highlights of another varied Caught by the River Sunday which had begun with the recollections of Viv Albertine and ended with the symphonic electronic beats of James Holden as the moon rose over the estuary.
All that is left is to head to the main stage to be stunned by the theatrical brilliance of the Pet Shop Boys. But it's a sign of what Festival No.6 is about that the biggest cheer of their spectacular show is saved for the arrival of the Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir. Over the last three years they have made 'Go West' their own before a packed crowd in the Piazza. They have also made many new friends in the Castell Deudraeth bar after their shows. So when they appear on stage to sing with Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant, in front of friends and family and a few thousand smiling faces it's a genuinely moving moment. A fitting finale to another life affirming weekend at this unique festival.