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Festival No 6, Portmeirion, Wales, review: Despite continual rain, the magic still happens

The boutique music and arts event closes the country’s festival season with a whole lot of rain and undampened spirit

Emma Henderson
Wednesday 13 September 2017 13:36 BST
From learning how to play the ukulele to hip-hop karaoke, the little boutique festival is more than just its headliners
From learning how to play the ukulele to hip-hop karaoke, the little boutique festival is more than just its headliners (Lucy Whitehead)

It’s a recipe for typical British festival season: instead of beaming sunshine, it’s rain, mud, soggy clothes and wellies galore.

But the test of any good festival is how it copes with the impending doom of British weather. Not only practically – towing cars from the car park on Sunday (as last year was tainted by), but by what it backs its main acts and events up with.

It’s beyond a pain that you can’t sit and bask in the sunshine while you’re serenaded. Instead you’re standing shivering for hours, attempting to keep warm in your drenched rain coat by standing just a little too close to the strangers next to you for ultimate body warmth, and eating a soggy burger with a rain-watered-down pint.

So instead of congregating in the main areas that surrounding the main stage, guests are encouraged to head off to the little known places to discover everything from hip-hop karaoke in the Castell Gardens, or a ukulele workshop, mermaid yoga and gospeloke in the Old Mount Cider tent. And for me, that’s one of the best things about this small festival.

Despite the rain, the feeling at Festival No 6 – named so after Patrick McGoohan’s character in The Prisoner, the cult Sixties TV series filmed in Portmeirion – is practically near impossible to drop, especially when you’re in the village. And that’s what really sets this festival apart from the hundreds of others throughout the summer: the Italianate village created by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, which without doubt makes it the most Instagrammable festival in the UK – an accolade worth its weight in gold. With brightly coloured buildings protruding from cliffs, quaint cafes that surround the palm tree-dotted central piazza and views overlooking the enormous estuary, it looks more like something from Disney than a Welsh village.

The floating stage tips its hat to ‘The Prisoner’ in the shape of the show’s menacing ‘Rover’ floating white balls (Lucy Whitehead)

It was easier to keep in high spirits with my camping experience too. Well it wasn’t quite camping in the sense that I normally do it – a pathetic small tent, a roll matt and an inflatable pillow. This time, it was boutique camping: a pre-erected bell tent with a chunky blow-up mattress and bedding, which makes camping in the British summertime all that much more bearable.

Camping aside, the real find of the festival is the 70-acre Gwyllt woods. The endless meandering paths wind around the Chinese-inspired lake, where you’ll enter the Virgin Trains Village Limits with its floating stage that sits below a huge disco ball – along with numerous tiny stages (if you can find them), including Lost in the Woods and the Dugout, with DJ sets that become a great escape from the main arena.

The 70-strong Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir in the village’s piazza (Lucy Whitehead)

Headlining the main stage on Friday were Mogwai, with their mesmerising tunes from newly released album Every Country’s Sun (which failed to match their previous works). The British band’s show at times fell a little flat and unable to lead us into full throttle mode to set the scene for the weekend ahead. But sets from Annabel Fraser in the Castell Gardens tent and Howling Rhythm & The Howling Horns in the Team Peaks tent managed to finish the night off well.

Saturday’s intermittent showers finally cleared to reveal the sunshine, albeit for a few hours – but a glorious few they were. While the indie band Wild Beasts showed off their fifth album, Boy King, followed by Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow’s soulful melodies which practically beamed from the main stage to match the weather. As night fell, the well-known Saturday night spectacle – made up of illuminated white horse sculpture complete with the Llaregubb brass band dressed as white horses – made its way through the arena crowds and was just one of a handful of such processions over the weekend, alongside the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band on Sunday and Friday night’s lantern parade.

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Bloc Party’s Saturday headlining set inevitably rode on the band’s best known tracks, from “Hunting for Witches” to “Mercury” providing a rose-tinted time-warp back to the mid-2000s, while their new material from 2016’s album Hymns distinctly lacked the same momentum of the band’s yesteryear work.

Mogwai headlined the main stage on Friday (Festival No 6) (Festival No.6)

But on Sunday, the heavens opened once more, accompanied by strong winds to make it all the more worse, along with a whole lot of extra wood chippings to soak up the mud bath. The festival closed with the Flaming Lips headlining on the main stage, who are oddly (for younger ears) billed higher than Rag’n’Bone Man, whose album Human became the fastest selling male debut album of the decade earlier this year. But the real highlight was the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in the afternoon, an ode to the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album, that took over the whole village. The return of the 70-strong Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir, set in the atmospheric amphitheatre of the piazza, was another favoured part of Sunday’s line up.

It’s unfortunate that the weather wields so much power over UK events, and that we must persevere in holding them in this unreliable climate. But it’s a festival that’s as unique as it bills itself, a beautifully put-together event in a setting to match, and one even our miserable so-called Indian summer fails to dampen.

Emma travelled with Virgin Trains ( on the Festival No 6 Express train service, from Euston to Bangor

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