What a difference a day – or two –makes. Saturday saw the Festival No. 6 site at Portmeirion, North Wales, lit up by sunshine and backdropped by blue skies and far-reaching views. Friday’s rain was a distant memory, the ponchos had vanished and the facepaint was out in full force.
Down in the village proper, the stone boat rocked to sets by Richard Hector-Jones and Justin Robertson, while poet John Cooper Clarke ruled the central piazza with his punchy oration. As he performed, the members of the Brythoniaid Welsh Male Voice Choir gathered in their best bibs and tucker, raising a few eyebrows at his swearier sections.
As night fell and the moon rose, the choir – last year’s surprise hit – showed off its range with moving versions of “Kumbaya” and traditional hymns, before bringing out the big guns with covers of Chic’s “Good Times”, New Order’s “Blue Monday” (so popular last year that it went viral online) and Muse’s “Uprising”. A true highlight of the weekend, the magical experience repeated on Sunday.
Outside the town hall, a snaking queue of Daughter fans waited patiently to hear the low-key but lush vocals in an extremely intimate (read small) setting. A crowd dressed in glowing hats, DIY antlers and plenty of fairy lights surged up to the main area – halted momentarily by the neon spectacle of illuminated drumming troupe Spark! weaving its way in the other direction – to be engulfed by the waves of sound crashing through Stage No. 6 courtesy of My Bloody Valentine and their new material from MBV.
The waves crashing on Sunday morning were meteorological rather than aural, as gale-force winds and torrential rain hit at 7am, leading to acts such as Islet, The Staves and Sam Airey being cancelled, the piazza and woods being closed and warnings from the official Twitter feed about campers making sure their tents were securely battened down.
By mid-afternoon, thankfully, the deluge had abated, and the hardcore who stayed (thousands left first thing to the chagrin of the bus and cab drivers who’d only just got to bed) were treated to woodland raves at 3pm.
Then, come evening, the ultimate treat came in the form of a triumphant appearance by Johnny Marr, featuring new material as well as well-chosen Smiths hits that had the audience spinning, punching the air and, in the case of your reviewer, wiping a tear from their eye. A pitch-perfect set ended with a euphoric version of “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” (it has never sounded better) sungalong by a crowd with their hands in the air.
Another treat for the diehards was Chic, featuring Nile Rodgers – a much-needed disco hit for damp dancers who couldn’t believe the skies had finally cleared.
And then the Manics appeared. With a new album out today and an until-now self-imposed exile from British festivals, to say that anticipation ran high before their appearance would be a hopeless understatement. Babes in arms (sporting neon headphones), alongside fans young and old rocked out to a band that reached out to anyone who appreciated a band who cared. Mud, sweat, tears - this was what what Festival No. 6 was about, post weather warning. Those who stayed the distance got the reward. Those who didn't still experienced a festival like no other.
Estimates said that 10,000 would be attending this year’s Festival No. 6 and, despite the wild weather (and a few locations that vanished overnight thanks to the high winds), it never felt less than full of people here for a last blast of festival fun. Next year’s festival? Be seeing you there.