There’s no denying the UK festival circuit is getting very overcrowded. Only a matter of weeks ago Blur’s Alex James spoke out saying there are too many of them, and it’s fair to say the boutiquey Festival No.6 joined the end of a very long list when it launched last year – albeit, it got off to a very healthy, critically-acclaimed start, and it’s little wonder why. Both the festival’s remote storybook setting (the beautiful tourist village of Portmeirion, and an adjoining field and woodland boasting stunning views) and its thoughtfully-curated content (this is not one of those set-ups where all the attention has been expended securing big-name headliners) are major selling points.
Unfortunately, its lack of timeliness also sets it apart from its competitors: taking place at the end of summer and the beginning of autumn (or ‘high summer’ if you’re feeling generous), at this time of year the gorgeous, rugged Welsh countryside in which No.6 resides (Snowdonia, to be precise) is inevitably subject to rapidly dropping temperatures and (whisper it) rain. It’s last on an as-previously-mentioned packed schedule – yes, it’s even later than Bestival, which at least benefits from being on the Southern coast – and it suffers for it. This year, the Friday and Sunday saw wind and rain so freakishly powerful that, on the latter day, entire areas were closed off and rejigs/rescheduling (Caitlin Moran) and cancellations (the Staves) were abundant. Twitter was the only place to get regular, reliable updates, but given the site’s weak internet connection, a lot of highly-disappointed people completely missed their favourite acts.
Of course, good will and laugh-it-off spirit are a prerequisite if you’re attending any outdoor festival, and those who stuck it out were rewarded with blistering, tented sets from James Blake and Manic Street Preachers (Friday’s and Sunday’s headlining acts, respectively). Nevertheless, the stand out day was Saturday, when the personality-disordered weather took a turn for the better, and the village was drenched in sunlight. Daughter were a revelation, delivering a powerful set that exchanged delicacy for industrial beats and soaring vocals, hinting at a capacity for presence that could push them to even greater success by album two. My Bloody Valentine’s rich, dense, characteristically inaccessible soundscape was also movingly epic (albeit the feel-good factor of disco titans Chic the following evening is infinitely more conducive to a night of partying). However, the weekend’s most memorable moments did not take place on traditional stages: the nonchalant acrobatics of a woman suspended from a lit-up balloon in the night air known as The Dream Engine Heliosphere were breathtaking. Meanwhile, uncanny, illuminated drumming troupe SPARK! generated waves of excitement as they marched throughout the site in a tightly-choreographed routine.
The stand-out act, however, were undoubtedly the tuxedo-clad Brythoniaid Welsh Male Voice Choir, who apparently stole the show last year as well. Their gorgeous interpretations of Welsh hymns and dignified covers of the likes of Chic’s Good Times and New Order’s Blue Monday are crowd-pleasing in the best possible way, and the memory of them atop the pillared Bristol Colonnade in the village gardens, their voices projecting out into the seascape, is unforgettable.