Port­meiri­on is awe-inspir­ing on even the gloomi­est, most driz­zly day in Jan­u­ary. So last week­end’s vision of the Ital­ianate vil­lage set against a blue sky, fizzing with all the music, ener­gy and colour of Fes­ti­val No 6 2014, made it even more spec­tac­u­lar. The com­bi­na­tion of Port­meiri­on’s ridicu­lous­ly seduc­tive charms com­bined with the glow of the Indi­an sum­mer sun coat­ed every­thing and every­one at Fes­ti­val No 6 with a pati­na of glamour.

This is Fes­ti­val No 6’s third year. I had been curi­ous to find out how they pack a fes­ti­val into the vil­lage’s wind­ing streets. What they have done is use the fields just above the vil­lage, which now sport the usu­al para­pher­na­lia: camp­ing areas, main stage, food stalls, bars. Except it’s all done with a lit­tle more aplomb, and there’s always the jaw­drop­ping­ly beau­ti­ful back­drop of the estu­ary and moun­tains beyond, vying with the main stage action for visu­al glory.

You descend through an arch­way into the woods to find a mar­ket offer­ing local Welsh pro­duce from local shops: deli­cious veg­gie pies, game pates, and oth­er local good­ies to sup­ple­ment the food stalls at the are­na. From there you drop fur­ther down into Port­meiri­on vil­lage itself, where every cor­ner appears to have some­thing going on… cafes, bars, poets, pro­ces­sions, talks. Dur­ing the day, crowds form order­ly queues out­side the Town Hall for sets by Steve Mason, East India Youth and North­ern Soul dance class­es; dur­ing the evening, crowds min­gle with torch­lit pro­ces­sions in the wind­ing vil­lage streets.

Dancing at Portmeirion Festival No 6

If there is any­thing that feels like the cen­tre­piece of the fes­ti­val, it is the Bry­tho­ni­aid Male Voice Choir, who hap­pen to be cel­e­brat­ing their 50th anniver­sary over the week­end. Their rous­ing har­monies fill the Cen­tral Piaz­za and echo round the build­ings, adding to the dra­ma. On Sun­day their per­for­mance of Go West is a tan­ta­lis­ing clue to the evening’s main stage act.

Of the many acts we man­age to catch: Fri­day evening on the main stage sees Bonobo deliv­er a swirling, atmos­pher­ic set to a large crowd. Bonobo’s chilled, sophis­ti­cat­ed, dreamy music is per­fect for a sun­down set; each num­ber clev­er­ly adds lay­ers to the mix, with the addi­tion of vocals by Szjer­dene Fox.

I recall Radio 6 pre­sen­ters announc­ing Lon­don Gram­mar as a head­lin­er with bemuse­ment –  should such a young band achieve this acco­lade? They cer­tain­ly deliv­er a pow­er­ful per­for­mance and Han­nah Rei­d’s voice has extra­or­di­nary range. From the open­ing notes of Hey Now to final num­ber Met­al & Dust, this is a note-per­fect set.

London Grammar at Festival No 6

Saturday and Sunday…

Sat­ur­day is spent drift­ing from one bliss­ful dis­cov­ery to anoth­er. From the hotel ter­race look­ing over the estu­ary where rev­ellers soak up the sun, watch­ing paraglid­ers, drink­ing Pros­ec­co… to walks through to the Lost in the Woods stage where emerg­ing bands are play­ing. Beyond this is what became a week­end fave – Vil­lage Lim­its – a mag­i­cal secret clear­ing with a pond set in the mid­dle of dense, lush foliage. You hop over the bridge and onto a pon­toon to dance, while bal­loons and bub­ble mak­ers add to the atmosphere.

Down by the water, almost hid­den under the rock face is the Estu­ary Stage, a per­fect set­ting for more inti­mate per­for­mances. Jimi Good­win plays an engag­ing evening set and it was fan­tas­tic to be stand­ing so close.

I haven’t seen him since see­ing Doves sev­er­al years ago, so this was a per­fect chance to hear his new­er mate­r­i­al from lat­est release Odludek. Half way through the set, Jimi sug­gests we turn round and admire the view instead the band… an almost full moon in a clear sky; the hotel pool glow­ing, the estu­ary with its dra­mat­ic, black mountains.

Tom Hickox at Portmeirion Festival No 6

Tom Hick­ox deliv­ers one of the most mem­o­rable sets of the fes­ti­val. Intel­li­gent, sen­si­tive­ly-craft­ed lyrics, a voice with the com­mand of Tom Waits, yet with more than a touch of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, this was a cap­ti­vat­ing per­for­mance. Red Ros­es White is one of his stronger songs, with more than a touch of Nick Cave-style goth dra­ma, and there’s some­thing rem­i­nis­cent of the 60s in the string arrangement.

The crowds – espe­cial­ly the Man­cu­ni­ans present – are then sent down mem­o­ry lane with a fan­tas­ti­cal­ly ener­getic set by Peter Hook & the Light who delights every­one with some old favourites such as Love will tear us Apart from Joy Divi­sion days. Lat­er on, Beck assem­ble a mas­sive audi­ence for a head­line set.

We enjoyed a talk by vocal coach Juli­et Rus­sell (www.voicecouncil.com), who teach­es us dif­fer­ent vocal styles. We improved our own voice tech­niques by singing along with Beau­ti­ful by Chris­tine Aguil­era. One mem­ber of the Welsh choir was sit­ting direct­ly in front of me and hope­ful­ly was­n’t too offend­ed by my singing.

Festival No 6 estuary

It is dif­fi­cult to pin­point the most spec­tac­u­lar events at Fes­ti­val No 6. Bands. DJ sets, cham­pagne by a cas­tle along with Balearic style DJs, danc­ing on a pon­toon. It melts into one blur­ry euphor­ic experience.

Arriving at Festival No 6

So – after so many superla­tives, are there any down­sides to Fes­ti­val No 6? The begin­ning is not very promis­ing. Due to its loca­tion, all car park­ing is at near­by town Porth­madog’s rug­by club. Depend­ing on the time you arrive, queues form for park­ing. After leav­ing your car, you drag all your stuff (ALL of it – there’s not real­ly any ‘going back to the car’ as the park and ride is a has­sle), to anoth­er queue which can last over two hours, to be processed through wrist­band exchange, and then to the car park for a coach to the site. My advice is to try and avoid 12–4pm on Fri­day. Those arriv­ing ear­ly Fri­day appar­ent­ly breezed through. Drinks are some­what over­priced, espe­cial­ly the cider. I was expect­ing a pint and instead got a ring-pull can cost­ing over £4.

Curat­ing Fes­ti­val No 6 can­not be an easy process. No fes­ti­val in my expe­ri­ence has such a huge span of ages in atten­dance – there were younger peo­ple enjoy­ing the fan­tas­tic line­up of DJs (Lau­rent Gar­nier in par­tic­u­lar was superb), to ‘Cheshire set’ types at the hotel and cham­pagne bars (where a Veuve Cliquot cost £13.80 for a small glass), to old­er rev­ellers in their 70s and 80s.

Fes­ti­val No 6 offers a range of dif­fer­ent types of expe­ri­ences, rather than a more lin­ear cura­tion as offered by some oth­er fes­ti­vals. There is a lot to take in and the site takes a good half day to fig­ure out, even now I’m not sure I dis­cov­ered every­thing. Shops and food stalls had been thought­ful­ly put togeth­er with the unusu­al tak­ing prece­dence, and the pre­pon­der­ance of Welsh busi­ness­es tak­ing part was com­mend­able. This year’s event has no doubt been a suc­cess (atten­dance fig­ures are cer­tain­ly high­er), and the event will now be a per­ma­nent fixture.

Did you attend? What did you think?

8 thoughts on “Review: Festival No 6 2014 at Portmeirion

  1. I went to this bril­liant and unusu­al fes­ti­val last week­end with my longest stand­ing school friend Olivia Rosen. Her devo­tion to good emerg­ing music , as well as to old­er estab­lished acts ensured we expe­ri­enced the widest range of all the enter­tain­ment and life enhanc­ing moments on offer. This know how and enthu­si­asm fizzes over in her long run­ning and inti­mate blog: Gourmet Gigs !

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