In the north-west corner of Wales, the magical village of Portmeirion was once more the setting for the second edition of Festival Number 6, a boutique festival named in reference to The Prisoner, a TV series filmed in the village.
Having received a shedload of awards for their inaugural festival, I returned to this stunning part of the country to see if Festival Number 6 Round 2 could possibly be anywhere near as good. With such an amazing setting – a hilly estuary on the outskirts of Snowdonia – half the job is already done, but lessons had been learnt and mistakes rectified, ensuring that this year’s festival was considerably more organised and more tightly run, and it was just that little bit worse for it.
After a wet Thursday evening spent in the supermarket and checking out the local pubs (when in Rome…), Friday saw the music begin, with Mary Epworth‘s singer-songwriting West Coast folk kicking things off for Impact. We nipped over to the main stage where the dull anthemic indie of Little Green Cars was certainly trumped by a stunning Badly Drawn Boy set, during which his self-confessed nervousness didn’t affect a captivating display of British singer-songwriting.
A quick real ale break was followed by our first musical experience in the village itself at The Estuary Stage with Temples. Their 60s psychedelia was as well-received as ever, yet something just wasn’t quite right; the deafening drums unfortunately drowning out James Bagshaw’s guitar, which often carries the songs. Manchester’s ‘Coldplay hipsters’, Money, played to a largely Mancunian crowd on The I Stage and, despite guitar difficulties, their intricate, well-crafted atmospheric pop was as good as anything all weekend.
Sydney’s psychedelic dance act, Jagwar Ma, then received one of the warmest reactions of the weekend, allowing punters their first proper dancing opportunity. As fun as they are, whether they would sound quite as good minus the seven pints of Snowdonia pale ale, I’m not so sure. Either way, the positive atmosphere they created soon vanished as James Blake bored me to the verge of an untimely sleep. I just don’t get it – an awfully dull choice for a headline act. After a couple of lukewarm Kronenbourgs and free Prosecco, it was time to check out some DJs. Thankfully, the near constant drizzle didn’t detract from what was a superb first day.
Saturday morning came about and we had sunshine. Sunshine! My decision not to bring suncream was looking decidedly dodgy. After watching my beloved Burnley throw away a chance of a first victory over bitter rivals, Blackburn Rovers, in over 34 years in a Porthmadog pub, Chapel Club‘s newer, more upbeat electronica went some way to cheering me up. It was their older, more post-punk-inspired and noticably heavier material that impressed the most, however.
The University of Nottingham’s London Grammar spoke of their amazement at attracting such a large crowd, and no, I can’t explain it either. Hannah Reid’s vocals are of an undoubtedly high standard, yet there is little thought and imagination behind the songs; a cliché mix of xx minimalism and lounge techno – simply a showcase for her excellent voice.
Next, it was time to take a trip into the woods, where Teleman, whose members include former Pete & The Pirates, played in an enchanting wooden cabin. Their cheerful indie-pop sounds promising, even if all too similar to the aforementioned Pirates’ material – not necessarily a bad thing, may I add. The Wave Pictures maintained the feel-good factor with their witty, C86-inspired jangly pop, before Mount Kimbie‘s complete lack of humanity (two men stood behind desks pressing buttons) momentarily destroyed my faith in music.
After taking twenty minutes to compose myself in the Real Ale Tent, it was time for My Bloody Valentine; the weekend’s big draw for me and arguably the line-up’s biggest coup. They more than lived up to expectations, showcasing their groundbreaking older material and equally good tracks from 2013’s mbv. Finishing with the infamous, deafening experience that is the ‘Holocaust section’ of ‘You Made Me Realise’, MBV were the standout performers of the weekend. Once you’ve got it, you never lose it. Sunshine and great music, not a bad day. Not bad at all.
My Sunday started earlier than planned, having been woken at 5.30am with my tent unpegged and flying about with me still inside. Until just after midday, these hurricane winds and heavy rain threatened to prematurely end the weekend, but thankfully, the weather tired itself out and we were even treated to some early evening sunshine (oh stop it, you’re spoiling us) and a beautiful sunset.
With a slightly revised, weather-hit schedule causing the cancellation of Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs and Wire, it was not until dinner time that Impact actually saw anyone worth seeing. The teen indie of Dan Croll; the derivative folk of Fryars and the horrid fence-sitting mediocrity of I Am Kloot all failed to impress. Step up Johnny Marr! As is now customary, Marr played a selection of solo songs, safe in the knowledge that his Smiths renditions will please the crowd. Sadly, he’s grown into quite the performer now, drawing out the ‘There Is A Light…’ refrain for a good three or four minutes. Yes Johnny, you’re very good, but please don’t go all cabaret on us.
These New Puritans‘ newer material is exceedingly deathly and morose, yet unexpectedly transfers very well to the live setting, showing their diversion from nu-rave to more mature pastures. Their ‘Eternal Organ’ is a particular festival highlight. The final act of Impact‘s No. 6 is the quirky Public Service Broadcasting, who never fail to please, whether musically or visually. A post-rock / electro backing to computerised public announcements, with 50s-style TVs decorating the stage? What’s not to like? Giving Manic Street Preachers a very wide berth, it was time to get absolutely, royally slaughtered with my old Spanish friend, Miguel.
So, an amazing weekend was had by all at Festival Number 6. It remains my favourite of the UK festivals, despite the heavy-handed security, extortionate beer prices and considerably weaker line-up. Being able to wander about the woods and the village with a can of beer last year made me about a very satisfied man, but the security team on the lookout for beers this year put a stop to that. Obviously a ploy to make more money, but a little touch that was missed very much.
The crowd was effectively the same as last year, attracting a generally older audience, with the odd 20s couple here and there. However, the Saturday evening saw coachloads of local youngsters arrive, presumably on cheap tickets, with the sole intention of getting off their faces and with zero interest in the music. Trying to immerse yourself in MBV’s Holocaust whilst being distracted by a group of jabbering Welsh 16-year-olds is quite a challenge. This is only a minor gripe, however, and certainly didn’t even come close to ruining the weekend.
In terms of the line-up, this year’s was quite clearly not as good as last year’s (Spiritualized, Primal Scream and New Order) but by no means was this year’s in any way, shape or form ‘bad’. There were plenty of good acts on offer, as you’ve seen above, and also a reasonable variety; just the absence of anything remotely heavy was a little frustrating, as the likes of Eagulls, Fucked Up and Amazing Snakeheads would have provided a nice change.
And finally, a special shoutout to Mission for being so accomodating and helpful, we’ll hopefully work with you again soon. Thank you to the Tafarn Pencei in Porthmadog, where the locals put up with my angry football rants and Jordan Rhodes death threats. And a huge, huge thank you to the four fantastic Belgians I met who left me those cans of Jupiler – the kindest gesture (and best beer I drank) all weekend.
See you next year Festival Number 6!
…Alex is listening to My Bloody Valentine – Loveless…