Wales has a long tradition of hosting arts festivals – the annual National Eisteddfod was established in its modern guise in 1861, but its roots stretch back to 1176.
Festival Number 6, held in Portmerion, is a rather newer event, now in its second year. Its organisers have, again, curated an impeccable line-up of music, comedy, poetry and more, against a great setting famously used as the backdrop to The Prisoner.
It’s still an intimate affair, relatively speaking, attracting around 9,000 punters to take in the stunning architecture and forest-clad cliffs – and some music, of course. The festival’s first evening sees Welsh language acts come to the fore, with Cardiff five-piece Yr Ods getting things off to a positive start with a set of snappy guitar pop – think Super Furry Animals meets The View.
Geraint Jarman, a legend in Welsh language youth culture, follows, and his audience is expectedly reverent. There’s a great feeling of frivolity within the Clough Stage’s tent, tonight hosted by Swn Festival, as laidback rhythms evoking images of the Caribbean are loosed upon the crowd.
Over on the main stage, James Blake delivers his trademark combination of deep, rumbling low frequencies counterweighted by enchanting vocals. This is his first festival headline set, and all of those on stage take to the task with a sublime sense of showmanship.
On the Studio 6 stage, Andrew Weatherall proves to be the hottest after-party ticket on 6’s Friday night. Come sun-up on Saturday, it’s Liverpool’s best new band Outfit that impresses first. Their ‘I Want What’s Best’ is one of this summer’s finest underground anthems – given just a little more exposure, it’d be a certified classic of its kind.
From the same part of the country, roughly speaking, is former guitarist with The Coral, Bill Ryder-Jones. He takes to the shoreline Estuary Stage, one of 6’s prettier locations, and proceeds to unfold a set of introverted, poignant lyricism combined with simple, Beatles-y guitar. It couldn’t complement the surroundings better.
Contrastingly, main stage headliners My Bloody Valentine offer a far more complex set of cuts, driven by a stack of amps that’s surely a few too many, given the number of musicians up there. They play so loudly that festival organisers have, wisely, invested in 5,000 pairs of complementary earplugs. And even with protection the band still generates a frightening racket. It works, of course, the volume merely another element in this music’s power, a dream-like abduction of the senses by sound alone.
Sunday rains send Clash to the shelter of Castell Deudraeth, a decadent hotel in the village that’s also home to a variety of Welsh ales and a welcomed log fire. Once the storm passes it’s on to Tim Peaks, a pop-up coffee shop and music venue run by Charaltans frontman Tim Burgess. To the delight of all who’ve crowded in, he plays a brief set of greatest hits.
On the main stage, Johnny Marr proves a popular attraction. Those watching express considerable appreciate for the guitarist’s solo fare, but it’s when songs from The Smiths’ catalogue are played – like ‘Big Mouth Strikes Again’ and ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ – that things really become frenzied.
Chic, featuring Nile Rodgers, are up as main support to tonight’s headliners. As you’d expect, hits are in abundance, and the atmosphere is at a contact high. It peaks when ‘Good Times’ is aired, and production crew joins the band on stage for a party.
Bringing 6 to a close is Manic Street Preachers. “This is a dream come true,” remarks frontman James Dean Bradfield, emotion evident in his voice. Watching this proudly Welsh band perform in this part of their home country is a moving experience, indeed.
The Manics take the opportunity to not only showcase their new LP, ‘Rewind The Film’ (Clash review), but also revisit material from a record celebrating its 15th anniversary, 1998’s ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’.
The band’s dipping into the best of their older material is started by a visit to 1994’s ‘The Holy Bible’ LP, as ‘Revol’ shudders from the stage. It’s an old Wire/Edwards co-write, of course – but the Manics’ catalogue since features plenty of equally strong, similarly heavy rocking tracks.
The Manics are the most memorable performers of the weekend, and a band that generations to come will aspire to reach the heights of. They cap a magical festival that Clash is sad to say goodbye to.
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Words: Cai Trefor
Photos: Spectre Photography
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