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Festival No.6 - Portmeirion, North Wales - September 13-15 2013 (Live Review)

Friday, 20 September 2013 Written by Andy Rea, founder of 2000trees Festival

Festival No. 6 has the kind of wow factor most events can only dream of. With picturesque Portmeirion as a backdrop, it creates an enchanting dreamland of settings to float around: the village, woodlands, sunset viewpoint, estuary beaches, main arena field and castle grounds. It all adds up to an eclectic, exciting and fun festival and the organisers should be proud of their achievements in only their second year.

As ever, the weather played its part. It rained a fair bit on Friday, while heavy rain and strong winds forced the arena and outdoor stages to close for a few hours on Sunday. But Saturday was fine and spirits were far from dampened as thousands of wellington-clad, well dressed 30-somethings partied like there was no tomorrow.

There were downsides - uneven hillside camping, expensive merch (£26 festival hoodie, £10 programme), a lack of up-to-date information, especially on stage changes/cancellations. But there was enough eccentricity, magic and a variety of scenery to keep anyone inspired and entertained over the course of the weekend.

Evergreen rockers Manic Street Preachers crowned Sunday night with a powerful, moving and upbeat set, showing exactly why they’ve been successful for decades. Masterful frontman James Dean Bradfield said it was “a dream come true” to play in Portmeirion, and they sounded superb. Romping through classics like Revol from ‘The Holy Bible’, an acoustic version of The Everlasting and finishing with A Design for Life, the crowd was hooked. They also introduced songs from their latest album, ‘Rewind The Film’, which came out the next day.

Also creating a stir on closing night were the genuinely original Public Service Broadcasting, who combined guitar, drums, banjo and other instruments with sampling and electronica, set to visuals of old public information and propaganda films on old TV sets from yesteryear. Entertaining, infectious and cultured.

Top of the bill on Friday night was James Blake, whose haunting vocals weren’t very clear but when combined with soaring electronics and a great light show did create a trance-inducing atmosphere among the thousands of fans. At times it was slow and lacking edge, but it was popular.

Saturday night headliners My Bloody Valentine enjoyed a rousing reception on their return to the fray, bringing their super-loud indie tunes to the masses with all the distortion, pitch bending and digital reverse reverb that made them famous. But, the sound wasn’t great and they were deafening - we can but wonder if that’s what they were aiming for.

Saturday was the festival’s high point. The day started serenely in the sunshine as deckchairs were commandeered in the Central Piazza to watch the crowd take a ukulele lesson, including one burly security guard who picked up a pink uke and joined in. The Oakley Brass Band and the now famous, 60-strong, Brythoniaid Welsh Male Voice Choir were also in fine voice. Free to wander around the village viewpoints, woodlands and arena stalls, festivalgoers sampled the delights of the diverse food and drink offerings, but mainly watched bands – good bands.

Cate le Bon was soulful and inspiring, three-piece Stealing Sheep were superb, merging organic country and electronica with post-punk and bright face paint. And the Harlequin Dynamite Marching Band (who supported Stealing Sheep for a few songs and were seen performing everywhere throughout the festival site) brought a curious and light-hearted hugeness to the set.

London Grammar’s Hannah Reid was at times breathtaking, her dreamy vocals carried the band and recalled Florence and the Machine. They’ve only just released their debut album and they could be massive – catch them quick and be captivated.

The soothing, serene sounds of Daughter were a pleasant start to the evening. They could not be more different to the heaving, rich and bountiful entertainment of Tricky, who successfully raised the bar with a party-starting set that your grandmother couldn’t fail to jump up for.

There was a diverse mix of music, arts and culture, comedy, a carnival, cinema, activities, dance troupes and much more. Take your pick from storytelling, literature, pop-up theatre, intimate readings, art installations, string quartets, Museum No.6, torch-lit and neon drum processions, mixology, yoga, human chess, paddle boarding and power kiting. Or as the festival ethos puts it, an event for “those who enjoy life’s finer things”. Special mentions are deserved for the comic genius of Mark Thomas and the humour of writer Caitlin Moran.

Other musical highlights included Australia’s hottest psychedelic export Jagwar Ma, fast becoming a festival favourite with an early ‘90s feel combining house and indie and a modern twist. Oozing oomph and cool were psych/progsters Temples, for fans of the Doors, Pink Floyd, Kasabian and anyone who likes to rock. And Welsh rockers Islet were phenomenally energetic, free and definitely under-supported.

Badly Drawn Boy’s secret Woodland set, accompanied by two female singers, was enjoyable. It was intimate, engaging, soulful and tender. Resident crowd-pleasers Gypsies of Bohemia played acoustic cover sets throughout the weekend, which inspired the crowd to get up and dance and sing along.

Festival No.6 deserves the title ‘the last major festival of the summer’. It has one of the most beautiful settings imaginable, a wide range of accommodation options, great food and drink choices, an interesting and diverse line-up, and lots of friendly people.

The first Festival No.6 last year won Best New Festival at the UK Festival Awards and Best Small Festival at the NME Awards. On present showing the event lives up to its boast to be ‘a festival unlike any other, in a place like no other’.



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