Festival No 6, review: Beautiful and diverse

Portmeirion, Gwynedd

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The Independent Culture

“Can we come back here every year?” Beck asks, peering wistfully at the night-darkened, lush green mountains behind the No. 6 Stage. “We’ll just buy one of those little houses up there...”

He was bewitched earlier wandering through Sir Clough William-Ellis’s fantasy Italianate village Portmeirion, which was once the Village in The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan’s Sixties TV stand for individuality against unreasoning authority. Founding a festival in this psychedelic landmark is No. 6’s first profoundly right decision. Hearing The Prisoner’s theme tune as I enter Portmeirion is the most intense musical rush of the weekend. You hardly need to find the adjacent park where most bands play to have a transformative time.

Beck celebrates being in this sympathetic spot by starting with hits including "Loser", settling into "Morning Phase"’s acoustic regret, and finishing as a psychedelic gospel preacher in "Where It’s At". Though his Nineties genre-bending has lost its lustre, he still plays brightly entertaining pop. London Grammar provide more downbeat, folk-dance English melancholy. Alexis Taylor cuts deeper into this terrain with the rueful "Closer to the Elderly", while his distant musical ancestor Peter Hook strips New Order tunes to venomous basics.

Sunday headliner the Pet Shop Boys remain the masters of filtering fragile human emotions through dance rhythms, and create the climax the crowd is waiting for. Twenty years ago, they performed "Go West" dressed as miners and backed by a Welsh choir, protesting pit closures. Tonight, with the Brythoniaid Welsh Male Voice Choir’s help, the West the Village People’s original version envisaged as a San Franciscan gay utopia also describes this North Welsh haven.

An array of welcoming Welsh culture is No. 6’s second special feature. Earlier, the Brythoniaid choir sing the beloved ballad "Myfanwy" in Portmeirion. But the song’s most moving appearance is at the late-night reunion of the cast of the iconoclastic 1997 Welsh film Twin Town. As Rhys Ifans and co. finish reading the foully funny script, voices in the packed crowd spontaneously sing the film’s closing song.

The Clough Stage is a hotspot for Welsh-language bands, where Geraint Jarman shows why he’s a legend of a scene he helped create. At 64 he remains a jerky, wiry performer, with an excellent band mixing over-driven rock guitars, reggae and tuneful punk snarl. When he equates Ethiopia and Cymru, you don’t need to speak his language to know how he feels. H. Hawkline’s Huw Evans mostly sticks to English lyrics, for slightly mannered guitar-pop from an art-soaked, bohemian brain.

Yucatan’s mystically questing songs are the entertainment at a Sunday morning Welsh lesson at Portmeirion Town Hall. This beautiful, tiny venue also hosts collaborations with Joe Duddell’s classical No. 6 Ensemble and singers including Steve Mason and Nadine Shah. As strings saw at the mental disquiet of Mason’s Dr. Baker, sunlight streams through the windows behind him. William-Ellis hoped his creation, Portmeirion, would remind people how life can be lived better with beauty. No. 6 honours that dream.

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