September marked the unveiling of the inaugural ‘Festival No.6’ at Portmeirion, the Clough Ellis designed Mediterranean utopia nestled on the North Wales coast. I was hugely excited by the line-up which included New Order, Primal Scream, Richard Hawley, Gruff Rhys and Spiritualized. It was as if someone had broken into my house in the middle of the night, trawled through my CD collection and booked the acts using the spoils of the crime as their basis. The lure of the unique location was the final decider that this would be the perfect introduction to festival life for my six year old twin daughters. So my wife and I piled them into our camper van and set off for a weekend of homemade cider and bacon sandwiches, memories of scaling the fence at Glastonbury in the mid 90s at the forefront of our minds.
Fans of The Prisoner would have been in their element. For the uninitiated, The Prisoner was a TV series that ran for 17 episodes between 1967 and 1968. Starring Patrick McGoohan it was a psychological drama blended with a mixture of science and spy fiction. Banished to live out the rest of his days in The Village, he strives to discover why he is now known simply as Number 6. Mock-ups of key moments added to the whole otherworldliness of the experience with mini mokes, lampshade hats and human chess games on the village green. What sounds like nerd hell was actually a charming antidote to the occasional monotony of the working week.
September’s weather in recent years has outperformed that of August and July. Unfortunately that was not true of this weekend. Whilst the rain did hold off, the arrival of autumn was very much evident in the falling leaves and the unwelcome creeping of night. But the final bows of summer did nothing to dispel the mood of the revellers. Like us many seemed to be families with young children who all remembered the joys of festival life and were reluctant to admit those may be dead days.
On Saturday lunchtime we took a walk through the surrounding woods and found several gems off the beaten track: a clearing where one could lounge in a hammock composing poetry to hang in the branches; an Ibizan style bar hidden amongst the trees; a spellbinding puppet show created by two performers sharing a stage for a dress. All of these elements combined beautifully and served to sum up this fascinating weekend. Whilst my family napped in the van in the afternoon I found myself sitting on the village green listening to Caitlin Moran and Guy Garvey discussing their work and seeming as bewitched by the locale as their audience.
With the children tired we split our time to close an eventful day. My wife took first watch as I threw myself headlong into enjoying a blistering set by Primal Scream. In 1994 I remembered watching Bobby Gillespie and co getting their rocks off at my introduction to festival life, Reading. How he manages to look and sound the same two decades and countless gigs later is quite beyond me. We tagged at midnight and my wife left the three of us to sleep as she sought out Mr Scruff who closed the day with a DJ set that had everyone up and dancing.
My highlight of the weekend was just before we left on the Sunday afternoon. Despite the rain Y Niwl were to be found playing a set in an intimate tent on the shores of the estuary. Everyone was swiftly swept along with their unique brand of Northwalian surf rock, the steam from our collective damp coats rising up into the ether. If you only know Y Niwl from the fact that they happen to have written the current theme to Football Focus then my advice to you is to check them out live. It is not an experience to be forgotten. No nonsense Welsh language numbers introduce track after track after track, no filler, no time wasting; Sunday was up and running.
To summarise, Festival No.6 makes a welcome and unique addition to what is already a rather crowded festival calendar. The price may be a little steep, the Welsh climate a little unpredictable, but if you’re looking for a weekend like no other, head to Portmeirion in September 2013 and declare yourself – more than just a number.
Banner illustration by Dean Lewis