Festival Review: Festival No.6 2017

Festival No.6


Words: Rebecca Worthington

For the sixth year running, the peculiar, pastel-coloured village of Portmeirion, home of the 1967 TV Series The Prisoner, transformed into the bijou beauty that is Festival No.6. This idyllic, Italianate village sits on the southern shores of Snowdonia, providing an undulating backdrop of exquisite hillside and sandy coastlines. But, at the tail end of the festival season, this peninsula inevitably gambles on the British weather. Twelve months on from the flooding faced last year, we confronted the elements once again and it was totally worth it.

Friday evening was a blissful blend of The Cinematic Orchestra, who delivered a dazzling performance over on the No.6 stage, the ethereal harmonies of Brythoniad Welsh Male Voice Choir, which echoed through the dimly lit, cobbled streets and a ritual Torchlit Procession. The fiery procession of festivalgoers carrying burning wax torches led me through Castell Park and onto Friday’s central attraction, Mogwai.

Two prolific decades and eight studio albums later, the Scottish post-rock outfit took to the No.6 stage for a mesmerising set of beautiful, guitar-based instrumentals. What’s lacking in lyrics is certainly made up for in moodily atmospheric soundscapes. At one point the music quietened to a whisper, until a sudden wall of sound hit the crowd all at once. There was rapturous response from the audience for new song Party in the Dark, perhaps their most fully realised art-pop sing-along song.

Despite the drizzly start to Saturday, many lapped up the stunning views down at the Estuary. In true British spirit, the central piazza was filled with festival-goers chilling in deck chairs, beers in hand, enjoying a spot of spoken word poetry. Even the outside swimming pool was bursting with activity. But for those wanting a drier experience, there were intimate Town Hall sessions with the composer Joe Duddell and the No.6 Ensemble, cabaret shows and dinner banquets. VIP ticket holders could even cosy-up by the roaring fire and grand piano in Hotel Portmeirion and Castell Deudraeth- a far cry from the standard take on a music festival.

If you go down to the woods at No.6, you’re sure of a big surprise. The 70-acre Gwyllt woods host pop-up raves, a floating stage beneath a giant disco ball and the Lost in The Woods stage, which, last year, was curated by Liverpool promoter EVOL. This year, the stage belonged to various Welsh artists and collaborators. 26-year-old producer Twinfield was having a hard time in the weather with his old school analogue synths. Unfortunately, the oscillators couldn’t hack the cold weather and eventually the entire stage lost sound. Our brief encounter with his experimental lo-fi electronica and dystopian lyrics left us intrigued and wanting more.

On route back to Castell Gardens, The Egg People emerged from the Town Hall. The buzzing colony of playful bumblebee performers, alongside Human log flumes and numerous comedy shows kept the laughter flowing, even during the heaviest of downpours. It was just a slight coincidence that the next band I saw was Black Honey. Their grungey girlband-shoegaze anthems, along with lead singer Izzy Phillips’s vocals, captivated the crowd at the Grand Pavillion – which had now turned into a mud bath. From sweet to savoury, the funky-fresh Superfood and politicised punk-rockers Cabbage provided a nutritious afternoon of music.

A festival highlight was hearing a book reading from the legendary Irvine Welsh, who also sat down for an entertaining and inspiring Q&A session. We learnt about his former life as a DJ, his favourite realisation of one of his characters (James McAvoy in Filth) and the possibility of Trainspotting 3. Elsewhere, Wakefield’s finest export, The Cribs, took us back to the indie glory days with songs such as Mirror Kisses, Men’s Needs and crowd favourite Be Safe, complete with Lee Ranaldo’s monologue on the projector.

Saturday’s headliners Bloc Party took to the stage for what was to be their last show of the year for them. Tracks from their 2016 album Hymns were somewhat lost on the crowd but hits Hunting for Witches, Helicopter, Flux, Banquet and The Prayer followed to an audience in full voice and buzzing with energy.

Just as last year celebrated David Bowie, this year centred on The Beatles iconic album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club on its 50th anniversary. The festivities included a brass-orchestra-led parade with enormous effergies of the Fab Four and a performance from The Bootleg Beatles, who played the record from start to finish with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

The sun making an appearance on Sunday didn’t stop many making the muddy climb up to Tim Peaks Diner for psychedelic folk rockers The Sundowners and their dreamy harmonies. Nor did the soothing tones of Nick Mulvey, which were resonating from the main stage below. But it was Public Service Broadcasting that were to be Sunday’s standout. Showcasing their newest album Every Valley, which depicts the history of the mining industry in Wales, there was not a more fitting festival for them to be performing at. The corduroy-clad Londoners, who have raided the British Film Institute archives, weave in samples from public information films on topics such as Everest, the Spitfire and the Race for Space. To top it off, their high energy live show came complete with trumpeters, making for a goose-bump worthy, gripping journey of a performance.

The festival finale was a theatrical spectacle from The Flaming lips. Streamers, balloons and balls were sprinkled onto the audience during set opener Race for the Prize. The surreal fairytale continued with a giant, inflatable robot, googly eyes and crazy-haired Frontman, Wayne Coyne, riding in on an enormous unicorn during There Should Be Unicorns. “We feel like were in the exact place we should be,” he professed to the fascinated crowd. I couldn’t agree more. Their eccentricity almost certainly matching that of the creator of Portmeirion, Sir Clough Willliams-Ellis.

Stage No.6

At times, Coyne’s frail falsetto was drowned out behind his band, but tunes such as The W.A.N.D, The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song and a cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, which he performed from within a hamster ball, certainly compensated for that. He talked of how, earlier that day at Portmeirion, the band had all remarked they had never seen the end of rainbow but there, on the Portmeirion estuary, they saw “THREE fucking rainbows” and it was Gods way of saying “Here’s three fucking rainbows now go and play a show!” Their spellbinding performance drew to a close with the life-affirming Do You Realise??,  The Flaming Lips found the end of their rainbow and we found ourselves at the end of another enchanting weekend in Wales. We’ll ‘be seeing you’ next year, No.6.


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