REPORT: Festival No.6

Andy Thomas returns to the peculiar architecture of Prisoner village Portmeirion for music by the Manics, Temples, Gruff Rhys and more. Main photo and Temples shot by Kirsty Wright, other images by Vel Ilic

At the first Festival No.6 in the dream like village of Portmeirion, created by architect Clough Williams-Ellis in the 1920s, we had wandered through the woods to chance upon pop up raves and interactive art and theatre trails. So after grabbing a local beer from a real ale bar that looks onto the surreal piazza, our weekend starts by heading back into the rather mystical Gwyllt woodland. 

While dancing in this botanical playground may have provided one of the highlights of last year’s festival, we also thought the ancient forest was crying out for a live stage. Set back in a clearing amongst the trees, The Lost in The Woods Stage is having some last minute adjustments as we arrive. The addition of a stuffed fox provides the finishing touch to a stage already adorned with various works of taxidermy, branches and bird boxes. It proves the perfect setting for the opening act. As the drizzle falls through the canopy of leaves above, the sound of Liverpool three-piece Bird warms the early afternoon air.

Along with Steeling Sheep, who have been invited back to No. 6 after their exquisite set last year, Bird are part of a quiet movement of psych tinged folk in Liverpool right now. Somewhere between Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins, their music is also enriched by the spiritual pull of the Mersey. ‘Ophelia’, which sounds great in the undergrowth, was produced by Bill Ryder Jones, another Liverpool artist to appear over the weekend. We arrive too late to catch the ex Coral man on The Estuary Stage early on Saturday evening, delayed by the strains of Teleman’s ‘Cristina’ echoing through the greenery around the Lost In The Woods Stage. But the mutant folk of Serafina Steer is there to welcome us. The small crowd that has gathered are treated to one of the highlights of the day as the harpist shows why comparisons with Joanne Newsom are far too lazy. It is an elegant and at times dark performance with a psychedelic edge that reaches a peak on ‘Lady Fortune’.

Caught By The River is once again curating this great little stage, with its backdrop of the glistening River Dwyryd Estuary and the rolling Welsh Hills. It’s not often you get the chance to see a band like Temples in such a majestic setting. Their first two EPs on Heavenly have been coloured by a similar kaleidoscopic glow as label mates Toy, who had lit up this stage at last year’s Festival. The Kettering band’s melodic psych pop glistens even brighter as the sun goes down over the estuary. After kissing the mic in the midst of a storming ‘Colours To Life’, singer James Bagshaw (with touches of both Marc Bolan and Syd Barrett) smiles mischievously at the crowd and offers: “This is called ‘Shelter Song’ – let’s fucking have it.”  

One band dipping into a heavier psychedelic pallet is My Bloody Valentine. Their sonic assault early on Saturday evening proves too much for our tinnitus though, and we head to the calmer surrounds of the Clough Stage. There we find Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip spinning an exotic mix of Eastern delights under the ‘Neon Neon Communist Party’ banner. It is one of many esoteric offerings from Andy Votel’s Finders Keepers. Earlier in the day we joined a handful of people being treated to the DIY improvisation of Supernatural Lancashire emitting dark cinematic noise from a collection of self-made instruments.

As the day moves on we feel this tent should be attracting a bigger crowd, but the sun that finally appears on Saturday afternoon has most people heading to the estuary. The crowds have grown by early evening when the brilliant surf rock band Y Niwl take to the stage for a biker movie inspired set. They are another reminder of the depth of Welsh music that is well represented over the weekend – be it The Brythoniaid Welsh Male Voice Choir singing ‘Blue Monday’, a Welsh language set by Cate Le Bon, or the post punk dub of John Peel favourite Geraint Jerman. Friday in the same tent had been curated by Cardiff’s Sŵn Festival and included local bands Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog along with a lovely set by folk harpist Georgia Ruth singing sea shanties to the Llŷn Peninsula. 

Aside from the No.6 Stage where Tricky and Chic draw some of the biggest crowds over the weekend, the main other tent this year is the I Stage. Its size and acoustics are perfect for the much anticipated Radiophonic Workshop. Soaking into the nation’s psyche from the myriad TV scores they recorded over the years their influence has probably been more subliminal than the Festival programme’s ‘Britain’s answer to Kraftwerk’ tag implied. When Dick Mills reunited the Workshop for a gig at the Roundhouse in 2009 it was in dedication to late members Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire. And tonight’s show, peaking on heavyweight renditions of ‘The Hitch Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy’ and ‘Doctor Who’, is another fitting tribute to both those unsung figures on the stage and those who have passed on. 

Sunday morning brings the forecast storm with warnings for people to peg down their tents sending some home. We use the warning as an excuse to head for a Sunday lunch in the nearby fishing hamlet of Borth-y-Gest and a trip down the stunning Llŷn Peninsula. When the winds finally subside and the sun appears, we make our way back onto the site to find most of the schedule in tact, apart from The Estuary Stage, but the mood somewhat subdued. The crowd needs a lift and it comes in the form of Public Service Broadcasting, one of the bands clearly indebted to the Radiophonic Workshop. Their mix of vintage video and cinematic sound brings to mind both British Sea Power’s work on Man Of Aran and the aesthetic of Ghostbox.

It is a stirring nostalgia trip and sends the crowd smiling through the mud to the main stage, where anticipation is building for Manic Street Preachers. It is a memorable and often moving home coming for the band on the cusp of the release of their new LP. Of all the classics played tonight their emotional rendition of ‘If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next’, dedicated to Michael Gove by a witty Nicky Wire, touches the crowd the most. But our highlight is when Richard Hawley joins the band for ‘Rewind The Film’ the title track off the new LP, a breathtaking hymn to the communities in the Welsh valleys. Joining members of the Welsh choir for a beer in the castle bar, just as Horse Meat Disco take to the decks in the gardens, feels like a fitting end to this most friendly and multi-faceted festival.

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