Festival Number 6 2013 review – Lovely day

Festival No 6

Festival No 6

Ever since I picked up a review of Festival Number 6 last October, I’ve wanted to go to this Welsh festival. It picked up two awards at the  prestigious Festival Awards at Christmas, including Best New Festival and Headline Performance of The Year from New Order. The whole event is themed round the epic 1960’s cult TV show The Prisoner, and is set in Portmeirion where the series was filmed. This is a truly stunning piece of the Welsh coastline, which was developed in the last century by William Clough Ellis to resemble a piece of the Italian Riviera. Legendary Welsh minstrels The Manic Street Preachers were set to break their festival exile to rock the Sunday night slot, providing the musical backdrop to what already promised to be one of the festivals of the year – throw acts like Norman Jay, Frankie Knuckles and Johnny Marr into the mix and you’ve got the formula for a smashing three day party in one of the most beautiful places in the world. 

The Journey… And The Problems… Commence

We started our journey about 14:00 on the Thursday. The plan was to use the iPhone’s sat-nav app to get us all the way to the park and ride, and we’d purchased a couple of little chargers to make sure the battery stayed topped up. Unfortunately we’d forgotten to test the compatibility, and we soon realised that we were not going to even make half the journey on the sat-nav. A three hour stop in the tropical destination of Grantham, a trip to Halfords, some bodged rewiring with the car lighter, and we finally found a solution – however, by now our early evening destination had been pushed back quite considerably.

The lights of Portmadog, the town just outside Portmeirion, greeted us at 12:15. The Park and Ride had shut, and after a frustrating time trying to get phone numbers of hotels off the internet only to find they were fully booked, we pulled the car into a farm gate and decided this would be our home for the evening.

Friday – The Festival and Rain Commences 

After a night’s sleep in the car, I woke. I expected it to be really early, but a quick check on the phone revealed it was actually 8:45. We busted it down to the park and ride and went to collect our wristbands, before heading off to queue for the bus. A couple of beardy cool guys pushed in front of us and turned round and said “press” flashing their green wristbands. I kept my mouth shut as I guess it made them feel important. 

Setting up the tent was quick, easy and generally without hassle, so off we strode to the festival site. This was split into two sections – the picturesque town of Portmeirion, and the Main Arena, where you could find food stalls and the big tents set to house the bands. Nothing was really happening  and we decided to go and sit down at the bar overlooking the estuary on which Portmeirion sits. You had to pay a pound for a deposit on your plastic glasses, which caused a little kerfuffle when the bar workers tried to clear off the tables, but the sun shone and things were working to a degree – although much of the festival was still getting set up behind schedule.


As we sat at our table a family came over and joined us. The father had a distinctive tartan t-shirt and the mother was concerned about how much control they should have over the itinerary of their two daughters. Apparently they had brought three tents with them – one for mum and dad, one for the girls and one for the girls’ special wardrobe tent, which was already a complete mess. This was definitely our first introduction to the type of visitor to Festival Number 6. It started raining so we decided to go back to the tent for a bit of wet weather gear and as we walked back through Portmeirion I started feeling rather youthful most of the attendees appeared to be older than me – well prepared with their wet weather clothing and cameras, ready to snap every living minute of the event lest their failing memories escaped them.

The afternoon’s entertainment was launched by Little Green Cars, who were in my opinion the best band of the Festival. Their evocative sound echoed round a fairly empty tent, punctuated by lonely vocals and strident guitars, with a theme and feeling not too far removed from an early REM. One of the things that shocked me about this performance were the number of people who’d brought camping chairs into the arena. One woman even sat reading a book by the tent entrance in her chair – I wondered what had happened to the spirit of Rock N Roll. It was then off to the Castle Gardens for our first slice of House beats, as put together by Ashley Beadle. More like Beadle’s About commented one dancefloor spectator as the London DJ clunked in the beats whilst preoccupied with something far more interesting on his iPhone. At least he didn’t have any problems with his battery.

By now the weather had taken a real turn for the worse and it was absolutely pelting down. Back to the tent to get my wellies… Or so I thought, having grabbed them from my parents’ garage where my stuff is still being stored due to my recent property relocation. They were in fact my mum’s wellies, so no dice as I tried to squeeze my toes into the confined space with little success. I was extremely scared having barely lived through Bestival 2008, when the whole affair had turned into a mudslide of epic proportion, however I’ve got to give it to the Festival Number 6 organisers, who really knew how to chuck down the wood shavings to prevent key areas of the site turning into an absolute landslide. These guys were well prepared and knew exactly what they were doing – an essential feat given the rather small size of the main arena.

After taking in the echoing tones of Jaguar Ma at the i-Stage, we decided to go back to the Castle Gardens to catch the legendary Justin Robertson, who managed to pull a set right out of his arse to entertain the bedraggled crowd – although he did drop the music at one point, and had to cover it by pretending he was stopping everything and rebuilding the mix from scratch. Whilst dancing out of the corner of my eye I caught the dad in the tartan t-shirt from earlier in the day standing up on the podium to give it the disco guns in the air move – fortunately for him and his sense of self esteem, his wife was there to pull him down from those heavenly heights.

With House music in our heads and our hearts we went off to catch the final frame from one of the godfathers of the art himself, Frankie Knuckles. By now I think the weather and damp had really caught the crowd, as few people danced, preferring to stand rather than reach for the stars. What should have been an epic set was more of a tick box moment, as the frustrated crowd filtered out to climb the hillside up to the camp-site. A few people milled around as the rain had stopped, and the general tone of conversation was about the lack of fire and excitement in the evening’s musical entertainment – it was like the feedback loop between crowd and performer had fed the people’s malaise into the on stage antics. The feeling was one of a little disappointment.

Saturday – Festival Number Six Shines

We woke up on Saturday to the most glorious sunshine. We had a plan for the day, so we headed off to the bar to watch some comedy. There were a bunch of benches set out behind some floor mats, and we sat on the most forward of these – then the compère came on and told everyone sitting on the benches to move forward. We obliged and everyone set their benches behind ours – leaving us exposed, just in front of the stage. Needless to say we were picked on by the comedians right the way through the first performances – the first comic flashed his crotch at my friend and proceeded to call him “cock-watcher” for the rest of the set. I felt like we were back at school. This was followed up by some great gags, reaching a crescendo with the mighty Mark Thomas, who despite some years in the doldrums managed to entertain with his powerful blend of political comedy.

Food was next. Over the course of the festival we tried just about everything. The jerk chicken was a bit average, but just because I’m good at influencing people, I sold it to one person who went off and bought some on the strength of the gravy alone. Recommendation karma had the last laugh as while I was eating a steak and ale pie from the camp-site concessions, a woman told me the pies in the main arena were better. They weren’t – they just looked good, but had way too much potato. All filler, no griller. The best snack stuff had to be the Chinese style pork buns, which gave you a slice of pork belly, nasi-goreng sauce and a few spring onions for £4 – but like all the food here, it hardly touched the sides.

Brythonaid Male Choir

As the sun continued to beat down we made our way into Portmeirion for the superb poetry of John Cooper Clarke, who held the audience in his hand as he stood magnificently reciting the most filthy poetry you’ve ever heard at a breakneck pace. There’s something a little disturbing about watching a forty year old blonde women with a ying-yang of neon dots painted on her face screaming “I love you” at a sixty year old man, but the atmosphere was so high it carried on through. Following this was the moment everyone was waiting for – the Brythonaid Male Choir. As we waited for the choir to make their way onto the stage a fat security guard with his baseball hat on backwards started to respond to the crowd’s chants with a bit of dad dancing. This didn’t go down too well with the clipboard carrying woman who chastised him for his horseplay. Whilst the choir sang a woman who introduced herself as Melanie, belted out the most off tune melody as she attempted to sing along with the vocal masters. She was a true politician as she put everyone into a double bind around her asking the question “you don’t mind me singing, do you?” – a rendition of The Manic’s A Design For Life and Blue Monday later and we made our way to the main arena for My Bloody Valentine.

After My Bloody Valentine’s slightly disappoint performance, made so by the failure of the sound engineer to balance the vocals and guitar, we made our way over to the Castle Gardens, which were absolutely throbbing with happy party people on the dancefloor. As the Crazy P Sound System banged out the numbers, a woman actually had the gall to bring a chair onto the dancefloor and start sitting on it. The dancers around her reacted accordingly and started a little baptism ceremony, anointing her with water from their bottles, together with a fair deal of pointing and laughing. Then it was Norman Jay, who his blend of Notting Hill carnival rhythms on the i-Stage followed by the eclectic mixing skills of Greg Wilson and the night was almost over – however, after a fantastic day when the festival had really come through, the crowd were now a-buzz talking about the warning of hurricane like gales and torrential rain on Sunday morning. We made our decision to get up early and drop our tent and stuff off at the car and then make our way back to the site.

Sunday – Manically Quick Changes

Sunday started with gusts like you’d never seen. As we packed up the tent we laughed at the rather crispy girls who were desperately trying to peg down their tent after a late night of party specials in their tent. Just as we got to the car park, the wind and rain were lashing out like no one’s business. A couple of seconds outside and you were soaked to the bone. A few hours sleep in the car and the rain subsided – it was time to go back on the site and asses the situation.

As we arrived on the site the main arena was shut down and many of the food concessions had got up and gone. Parts of Portmeirion were open, but the town was more stuffed than Oxford Street on a sunny summer afternoon. You couldn’t get a seat or food for love nor money and the pleasant festival vibe of Saturday was taking on a labrador eat labrador type vibe. We were repeatedly told that the Main Arena would be opening at various times, so all we could do was mill around in the rain waiting with everyone else for something to happen. Then after boredom had almost broke us, it was time for the gates to open and the festival resumed. Slowly but surely, as we got into the arena, the cloud broke and the sun started to shine. For the first time of the day the crowd applauded as the people cheered on the glowing globe in the sky as if god could hear their appreciation, bringing back a smile to everyone’s face.

Although the festival was up and running, people seemed to be struggling to shake off the exhaustion of the morning and as we lined up to watch I Am Kloot, the atmosphere failed to ignite despite the best attempts of the lead singer to joke around with the audience.  We decided to go back into Portmeirion where we were greeted with a mad little swing band who had an unbelievable amount of energy. A girl shouted at us through a megaphone and it was invigorating and exciting – forcing us to stomp around on the pavement, where the ill-thought out organisation of the impromptu musical mayhem forced pedestrians and dancers to bustle for space.

After picking up the excellent performance of Johnny Marr at the main stage, which was accompanied by what seemed like a hundred spotlights picking out the audience as he went full Manchester minstrel mode, we decided to scout out the rest of the festival and ask people a few questions as to their high point of the event. Most people told us that their favourite bit was still to come – The Manic Street Preachers – it seemed like loads of people had really just turned up to this event to catch these Welsh wizards break their festival exile, making this a true headline performance.

Manic Street Preachers

As we lined up for the Manics you could really taste the electric festival buzz. There was that drive and want in the crowd that had been a little lacking at some of the other performances and everyone was just so up for it as the band joined the stage. I’ve never been a big fan of this act, yet somehow I found myself knowing the lyrics to some of their biggest hits such as If You Tolerate This and Motorcycle Emptiness as we danced about hugging strangers as the golden lights played across the shining faces. What else could we get for an encore but A Design For Life, sealing what had been a terrible day for six hours with a final foray that will be forever stamped on my memory. Then just as we were leaving the arena, we heard some guys shout out “cock-watcher” – apparently they remembered us from the previous days comedy and we made a new bunch of friends as we drifted back to the bus queues, full of the golden glow and togetherness that music can bring. A mental car journey later and we were finally back home.

In Conclusion

Festival Number Six is definitely one for the older crowd. Portmeirion is a brilliant place set in some of the most evocative countryside you’ll ever visit in your life, and when the sun shines on the Mediterranean-like buildings it’s one of the most beautiful sights that you can get your eyes on round the UK. However, like all outdoor events, Festival Number Six is at the mercy of the weather, which can seem to change in a matter of hours in Wales – but then as one of the comedians pointed out on the Sunday, if you’re expecting the South of France, you should really go there.

The festival’s audience were really an older crowd, many of whom had brought kids and chairs, and the majority of younger people were of the cool, beardy variety. We sat at a table with two guys who didn’t know one another who both turned out to be furniture designers, making bespoke tables and chairs, which pretty much summed it all up. This is not the event to go to if you want a riotous party, but the one to go to if you want to be entertained with a palette of different events that all take in a slightly more highbrow look at the art and music of England than some of the more mainstream events.

All in all we had a bit of a roller-coaster time. There were definite highs and lows, but overall you came away with the sense you’d been surrounded by a bunch of good people who cared about one another without too much prejudice, hassle or main floor jostle. Memorable for all the right reasons,  you can see why the media are calling this event Latitude for the Welsh audience.

For more on this festival, click here.

Images courtesy of Festival No. 6