The good, the bad and the muddy…
On a positive note, Festival Number 6 yet again had its moments of music, magic and discovery. The location is Portmeirion, the beautiful and quirky Italian village in north Wales. And it was commendable to note just how many of the artists appearing on Festival No 6’s various stages were from Wales and the north west. But there were some negative points this year due to the weekend’s biblical rainfall, which resulted in a quagmire at the festival site (to be fair, that is a fairly standard state of affairs at UK festivals when it rains). What went disastrously wrong was the park n ride, situated on a known flood plain. With this year’s seismic rainfall, the car park fields flooded, leading to hundreds of cars getting stuck in the estuarine sludge, with some car owners put up overnight in a local leisure centre, and many vehicles written off.
There were certainly some highlights over the weekend. Miranda Sawyer gave an amusing and engaging talk about how she landed her career in the music business, and also talked about the ‘new middle age’ which, looking around the Gatehouse tent, was something affecting a good 80 percent of the crowd. She’s covered the subject in her latest book Out of Time.
Sean Ryder was next in the hot seat and he was quizzed about his appearances on Come Dine with Me and Celebrity Big Brother (where he developed an admiration for Gillian McKeith for her rise up the fame ladder and poo-analysing talents, despite a lack of qualifications). We learnt, somewhat with relief, that he isn’t planning on appearing on Strictly Come Dancing.
Once Saturday’s deluge appeared to have passed over, we ventured over to the Village Green where Mr Wilson’s Second Liners popped up to entertain crowds with their New Orleans-style renditions of Firestarter, plus other unexpected tunes. At the Village Hall Gorwelion stage which features new Welsh artists, we discovered the fantastic Seazoo who played an engaging, uplifting and quirky set. I hope to see this band again.
Stockport indie boys Blossoms have, well, blossomed, and looked quite at home up on the main stage for their early evening set. Later, Roisin Murphy valiantly performed holding an umbrella as protection against yet another squall.
Easing gently into Sunday at the Lost at Sea Bandstand, we listened to Lucy and Virginia, a Manchester duo with beautiful dreamy harmonies. During the afternoon, postponed from Saturday’s rain, the carnival procession took place, winding its way through Portmeirion’s streets.
Teleman, who I hadn’t seen since they were support to Suede in 2013, played a rousing set which included the catchy Dusseldorf, plus Glory Hallelujah and Not in Control - and the sun briefly made its only appearance of the day.
Bowie-related events these days tend to sound a warning bell in my head – just how overblown or just plain daft will it be? However the Bowie Reimagined main stage performance on Sunday was a joy in its simplicity, quality of musicianship and respect to the artist. The Manchester Camerata orchestra lead by Joe Duddell accompanied the four female vocalists, who each took turns to sing a couple of Bowie numbers. Jacqui Abbott sang Changes, followed by Jane Weaver who was the perfect choice for Moonage Daydream. Nadine Shah’s deep, soulful voice (whose solo set I unfortunately missed) was heart-stopping for Lazarus. Charlotte Church took over for Starman. The last number was Heroes, with all four taking part. This was an emotional and beautiful finale and possibly my highlight of the festival.
I allowed 15 minutes to get to the main tent for Echo and the Bunnymen but it was already rammed to the rafters. What a shame they couldn’t have played on the main stage. I did manage to squeeze in and got reasonably up close to Mr McCulloch, still a brooding presence just oozing charisma. The strength and power of their material remains undimmed.
There was much that I missed over the weekend, partly through events being cancelled (the Woods area was shut for part of Saturday), and because the trudge through the site became more difficult as the terrain became more muddy. We did catch Wolf People who I found utterly mesmerising, and I was sorry to miss Nadine Shah solo, Pumarosa and John Bramwell.
Festival Number 6 was conceived five years ago as a ’boutique’ event, but that began to change in 2015 when it morphed into a bigger, brasher and certainly more crowded affair. More stages, more bars, more of everything in fact.
There were signs before the festival took place this year that organisational planning and direction was losing its way. Boutique camping, hot tubs, banquets, spas, weekend tickets, day tickets… the sheer amount on offer was starting to sound like a logistical nightmare. Where was the calm, the vision, the simplicity of a thoughtful and well-curated event?
For next year, Festival Number 6 needs to go ‘back to basics’ and re-establish what the festival is all about, and who its target audience is. In catering for as wide an audience as possible, it has certainly sold itself short instead of having the confidence to pursue a more streamlined event. The organisers firstly need to address the parking issue, and find an alternative to the flood-plain site used for the past five years.
Bar offerings and pricing also need to be overhauled: a plastic cup half filled with watery rose should not have cost £8. I suggest the F6 bar management team look to Green Man, the Welsh festival I attended two weeks before F6, for good bar planning, both in terms of pricing and their excellent cup recycling system.
There were some fine moments this year, and many people certainly enjoyed the festival and will return, but let’s hope there’s a new and clearer vision for 2017.
Festival Number 6, Portmeirion, North Wales