Festival Number 6 in review

Three opinions on the inaugural Festival Number 6

Photographer:Jamie Boynton

Chris Swindells, Chris Eustace, Rebecca Laurence - 18 September 2012

The best festivals have always been able to take you out of reality for a few days, and, in using the beautiful, quirky and slightly sinister surroundings of Portmeirion, the Welsh tourist village famous for being the setting for cult 60’s TV show The Prisoner, as its’ base, Festival No.6 certainly achieved this.

The village centre and town hall became a forum for writers and thinkers (plus the odd surprise musical guest) to hold court, while a beachside stage became an atmospheric, intimate alternative to the bigger stages, as semi-secret raves went on in the woods. Heading up to the tent next to the Castle, you weren’t sure what you’d encounter next, with everything from Detroit techno to string quartets on offer over the weekend.

The main arena brought comedy, children’s entertainment, and the two biggest music stages. Situated close to one another, timings were staggered so that most of the time as the act on one was finishing, the next act on the other was about to start, so with less headaches about clashes, you could enjoy the newer acts on the i Stage, whose highlights included the nu-garage moves of Palma Violets, NZCA/Lines’ sweeping Metronomy-like electropop, Splashh’s attempts to kickstart the grunge revival and a louche, loose, Roxy Music-go-on-the-nightbus set from Kindness, without worrying about missing the bigger acts on the Main Stage.

Spiritualized, Primal Scream and New Order were the 6Music listener-friendly headliners. Jason Pierce and co. delivered a feedback-heavy set, featuring Spaceman 3 songs and 10-minute psych-pop freak outs that thrilled the die-hards at the front, but appeared to test the patience of more casual fans.

Primal Scream, meanwhile, used their Saturday bill-topping slot not only to celebrate their impressive past, with several ‘Screamadelica’ songs and singles like ‘Country Girl’ and ‘Rocks' given an airing, but also to emphasise that, 30 years into their career, the future still looks bright. Playing several new tracks, ‘Relativity’ in particular suggested their next album could be up there with their best.

Decked out in Patrick McGoohan-style Prisoner jackets, New Order closed things out with a well-judged greatest hits set, featuring their own pioneering staples like ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘True Faith’ and ‘Blue Monday’ plus fierce takes on iconic Joy Division songs, finishing up with a cathartic ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.

Other star turns in the tented big stage (thankfully only really necessary on a soggy Sunday) included classy electro from Jessie Ware, a mesmerising Death In Vegas, charming chamber pop from Gruff Rhys and Everything Everything’s only festival show of the year as they showed off catchy new numbers from their forthcoming second album.

If there were any gripes to be had, a sloping campsite wasn’t ideal, and initially it appeared the amount of space needed to accommodate campers had been underestimated. That said, this was quickly dealt with, and can be excused on a festival’s first run.

In every other sense, the unique surroundings were used well to create a festival site that was compact, yet still full of surprises, with performers and punters mingling to create a friendly community feel, with the numbers just about right, so while popular events were well-attended, it never felt too crowded.

Many events try and foster a “village mentality”, this one had it from the start – an impressive first go.

By Chris Eustace

Portmeirion holds a little bit of mystique, a little bit of charm and for the first time in 2012 a whole lot of festival. It's a village built on the designs of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and took a total of 51 years to finish. The Welsh architect lived with the motto, "cherish the past, adorn the present, construct for the future", which seems a good fit with the concept of Festival No.6.

There's plenty of old here, the headliners have a heritage and beauty befitting of the site. Spiritualized may bewilder as much as they entertain, but Primal Scream and New Order stack hit upon hit and surface with crowd pleasing and tent rousing truimph. They all benefit from the homely setting of a big tent, which houses the main stage, and helps to avoid nasty problems with precipitation that Wales seems to deal with so tirelessly. Fortunately for the most part it's just a precaution as two of the three days of the event stay dry, relief to the campers who are pitched on a sloping field up-site, though the singular downpour on Sunday does leave much of the hilly terrain treacherous underfoot.

From the main stage, and the field that houses it, you only need to take a short five minute walk to the village. This remains open for business as usual, so you can make sure to pick up your souvenir tea towel then take afternoon tea with scone or two out on the central piazza. A serenity and almost mediterranean feel befalls the village, purportedly based on the designs of Portofino in Italy, and with the estuary looking out to sea and the wild forest hills lining it there's a real sense of escapism in the isolation. Book readings, site tours and hillside 'rave huts' mean that there's plenty to keep people of all ages entertained. Most won't be able to afford the four figure sums to stay in the village cottages, which keeping with both Portofino and Welsh coastal tradition are painted in a spectrum of pastel colours, but there's no sense of exclusivity to the proceedings and every experience, including coastal walk and lighthouse, is open free-of-charge to festival-goers.

The Estuary Stage overlooking the shoreline plays as home to many new acts on the line-up, the likes of TOY and Savages both giving heart-felt, guitar-ladden late evening sets as the tides come in and the village awakes to a new electric hue in the dusk of evening. The Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir each night perform centre stage in the square as a procession of lanterns walk through the site, followed by the curious folk, transfixed by the mysticism and romantic charm of the occasion.

In the festival arena you can anything from local lamb to 'Gandhi's flip flop' - serving up the freshest vegetarian indian cuisine. All the necessary amenities are here, and with colour coded portoloo's in pink and blue, plus a children's play area there's really nothing you need sacrifice. In the comedy tent you can find a mixture of circuit regulars like Ben Van der Velde and Dan Nightingale, alongside TV familiar faces like Andrew Maxwell and Marcus Brigstocke, most taking the highlights of their Edinburgh show out for another round.

The total of 6,500 people who turned out for this the first - and hopefully not the last - Festival No.6 event help to give it much of its intimate and serene ambience. It's a brave and bold move to bring a festival to Wales in mid-September but one that in this instance has suceeded. Let's hope with another year and some fine tweaking this event can become a mainstay of the festival calender.

By Chris Swindells

In 2012, launching a new event into a crowded festival market could be seen as a risky business. But the organisers of Festival No. 6 had two aces up their sleeves – firstly, the village of Portmeirion, and secondly, the spooky, Orwellian cult 1960s TV series, ‘The Prisoner’, which was filmed there.

The brainchild of architect Clough Williams-Ellis, the tiny village of Portmeirion is a pastel-hued Italianite folly, perched amongst the verdant forests and craggy rocks of a rugged Welsh estuary. The main performance and camping areas of Festival no.6 are situated in fields adjacent to the village, creating an easily traversable, contrasting panorama of entertainments.

The organisers beautifully integrated the festival within the village. Down on the coast, there was a beach-side stage nestled in front of the estuary where Liverpudlian trio, Stealing Sheep mesmerised with their medieval chants, even conjuring up a momentary rainbow.

Portmeirion’s central piazza provided the ideal setting for spectacle and congregation, which over the weekend played host to morning Prisoner-style human chess reenactments and afternoon chats.

BBC 6 Music’s Stuart Maconie compered, giggling his way through interviews with Twitter queen and columnist, Grace Dent, while shock-Jock novelist John Niven tried to get a word in edgewise interviewing The Times writer-turned-superstar-feminist, Caitlin Moran.

When conditions turned decidedly damp on Sunday afternoon, everyone decamped to the nearby Town Hall, where Mary Epworth, Stealing Sheep and Tim Burgess joined Stuart Maconie for a cosy and intimate series of ‘Earlier…with’ sessions.

As dusk descended each night, the Brythoniad Male Voice Choir enchanted the assembled throng with their cover of headliners’ ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

Topping the festival’s main stage bill were a trio of 80s and 90s superheroes, featuring the space-psych of Spiritualized and a Primal Scream greatest hits set, while New Order pulled a blinding finale, sporting The Prisoner blazers, incorporating ‘I am not a number, I am a free man’ samples into ‘586’ and projecting images of the show’s iconic murderous white ball behind them.

Late-night ravers weren’t to be disappointed, with attractions from the packed out rum bar through to the comedy tent-turned disco and a selection of interesting DJs, from Andrew Weatherall to Erol Alkan. With the surrounding village, a castle and a couple of hotel bars as well as the usual festival tents, the event often felt more like a holiday visit crossed with a very posh house party than a traditional festival.

Apart from their musical line-ups, festivals now lay on an abundance of other attractions, from arts and comedy bills to late-night happenings and installations, all contrived to create an aurally and visually arresting ‘experience’. By contrast, the real star of Festival No. 6 is its location – there felt less of a need for tricks and enforced mysticism – Portmeirion already has wonderous eccentricity and beauty in spades.

On a more practical note, the fact that Portmeirion is already a visitor-ready attraction supports the more prosaic but essential festival infrastructure, from ready-built public toilets to more reasonably-priced cafes.

With the only disappointing note being that the village closed at 9pm each night, we think that the weird and wonderful Festival no. 6 is onto a winner – with the birth of a cracking new festival providing a fitting finale to the end of another season.

By Rebecca Laurence

Click here for our full Festival No.6 coverage.


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