The Weird, The Talented and the Sublime
Having never been to a festival before, I had no idea what to expect. I had heard people talk about the muddy fields and stinky portaloo’s of Glastonbury, something that never really tickled my fancy to be honest. I’d heard about the hippy stylings of the Leeds festival and the V festival, but in all honesty I had never heard much about Festival No. 6.
Let’s get this in perspective, I am a festival virgin, and at 41 years old that’s a slight embarrassment. You mustn’t forget that I grew up in the 1980’s and by the time I was of festival age, I was dancing in rave clubs, making the most of my skills of being able to make fish and box shapes with my hands! This hippy malarkey was far from my mind at that time, who wants to chill out when you can dance away to Black Box or The Prodigy?
Enough about my virginity now and on to the festival itself. What did I expect? Let’s start there, I was imagining big beer tents with a sign over them saying ‘STELLA’ and as you got closer to the main stage, perhaps flowery stalls selling receptacles for smoking something that shouldn’t be smoked due to its legality here in the UK. I didn’t see either, in fact Festival No. 6 blew every image I had of festival’s away.
Being taken from the well organised park and ride in nearby Porthmadog we approached Portmeirion, one of the most picturesque villages in the world, a little bit of Italy, right in the heart of the Welsh hills (if you haven’t visited before, you seriously must). There were numerous campsites on the way up to the village, where overnighters had been staying, they didn’t seem cramped or too busy, there was a mix of the standard tents to the ‘glamping’ style that has become so popular in recent times (quite honestly, if it hasn’t got a raised bed, an on-suite bathroom, a TV and a 5-lever mortice deadlock on the door, I am not interested). We got dropped off right next to the entrance of the village and my friends reaction said it all really, he stood there and simply said ‘WOW’, he hadn’t visited Portmeirion before.
The first thing to do was find somewhere for a coffee and buy a programme so we knew who was on and where, a quaint little coffee shop just inside the village was our place of choice for planning, sitting outside watching the vast array of people walking by was an experience in itself. There were people in their 60’s, a mother with a 4 month old baby, a white man with more dreadlocks than Bob Marley, a young child on a plastic trike and every possible combination of human! I quickly realised that this is no ordinary festival, this was compounded when I saw the shoe shining man setting up his street stall.
Following the coffee we wondered into the main village square, we looked over the balcony to see a myriad of people in deck chairs listening to poetry, followed by the most bizarre dance I have ever seen, a man and a women dancing apart but joined together by what seemed like a huge elastic band. In the background, a man dressed as a crazy inventor was entertaining children by giving them a ride on his winged cycle or his submarine bike.
As lunch time approached we felt it was time to perhaps find something to eat and drink, perhaps this is the festival would become more like I imagined, so expecting to find a burger van, a cous cous stall and a ‘Stella’ tent we went a wandering. Our choices, A wood fired Pizza Stall, a tea and crumpets van, a gin and tonic tent or perhaps we could have a freshly caught cod-fish finger sandwich (I have no idea what ocean they found fresh fish fingers, but that is efficiency and genetic engineering gone mad). So again, it was clear this was very very different. We chose the Pizza and I had a pint of Estrella, the Spanish beer (I had to have beer, it was a festival after all), my friend paid £9 for a cocktail with ginger and some other nonsense in it. The drinks were rather steeply priced, this being the only negative of this whole festival to be honest, but I guess that is the same at any big event.
It was time for us to have another look around and we found ourselves by the swimming pool overlooking the extraordinary views across the river. Groups of people dressed in summery clothes befitting of the beautiful day it was, my friend commented on the amount of pretty ladies, I assured him that they would all have to get personalities soon too as the winter was approaching. We sat there for around an hour, the peacefulness of the people reading with their feet dangling in the pool was only disturbed by a security guard being booed by everyone for throwing a young man out for daring to swim in the swimming pool. I guess the security guard once wanted to be a policeman so you can understand him using the authority a high visibility jacket gives him!
We then went for a wander to find the comedy tent, we wanted to see Josh Widdicombe of Mock the Week fame later on and needed to get our bearings right. We found it and got ourselves inside to watch 3 great comedy acts, they may not have been household names, but they are as good as any I have seen in recent times. The 4th act wasn’t so great in my opinion, a lesbian who’s jokes were all about lesbianism. I have no problem with people’s sexuality, what I do have an issue with is a comedian who can’t find anything else to talk about. It wasn’t just me thinking this, she didn’t get anywhere near as many laughs as the other three. You know what, 75% of the comedy I heard was exceptionally funny, and you’ll go a long way to find a comedy night that will give you a return like that. Now knowing where we had to come back to we wandered into the big field, where the main stage was.
Before getting to the field we passed through a food area, it resembled a Scandinavian market with nicely set out log stalls selling all manner of edible goodies. There was a posh pie shop, yes they do exist, selling anything from Steak and Ale, to Duck and Orange, they even had, and you won’t believe this, cheese and onion pasties, how out of character! There was a local sausage and bacon stall, hand-made sausages with chilli or madras or sage & garlic flavouring. The lady serving said to me, “We have madras, chilli and garlic, but I must tell you the chilli is hot.” I chose the chilli sausage, in hindsight perhaps I should have got the clue, she told me that the chilli was hot and by passed any mention of the Madras’ hotability…………..I struggled to stop sweating for a while.
Into the big field, surrounded by fringe tents with different acts performing, the first tent we went into had a Welsh electronica/chilled band on, singing in the mother tongue, they were called Casi. The singer had a beautiful voice and the band backing her up were equally as good. In fact the tent got busier as their set went on, people being pulled in by the catchy music. Impressed? Yes I was. I shall be looking out for Casi in the future and so should you.
The main stage was our next port of call, after walking past the huge four-poster beds just there in the middle of the field as you would expect. Where else could people be expected to have a mid afternoon/early evening nap? Or whatever else one might use a bed for.
As we approached the main stage, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, she was belting out all her hits from the 1960’s. People were loving it, singing along to one of Motown’s greatest ever acts. Personally, I didn’t like Motown music, but it’s pretty hard not to sing along.
As we pottered about we were listening to Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott on the main stage, otherwise known as Beautiful South or Housemartins. To hear Caravan of Love in all it’s glory was just brilliant, these guys still had it after all these years.
Then it was the turn of Kelis, this is the point at which my friend and I made our way to be as close to the stage as possible for the grand finale later, The Pet Shop Boys. We were lucky enough to be right at the front, considering that the field was as big as perhaps 30 football pitches (I have no idea why people use that analogy, but I’ll stick with it). I hadn’t really heard of Kelis, perhaps that’s because I am a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to modern music (I’m beginning to sound like my grandad now). As I was a big fan of Simply Red back in the day, the music of Kelis was right up my street, I was glad to have seen her live. Again, just like Casi, I will be searching out some of Kelis’ music for future musical enjoyment!
Then it began, the lights went down (that was all God’s doing as we were outdoors), the stage showed the words Pet Shop Boys, Electric, New Album Out Now. The crowds were building as the entire field filled up, there seemed to be a huge anticipation among the crowd, dance music was playing out of the speakers but not too loud, not at a level so you couldn’t hear the crowd talking. New lighting was bought onto stage, a huge Venetian blind erected in front of some huge white lights. The stage was set, you could just feel that this was about to get special. 30 years on from West End Girls becoming their first hit, the question on a lot of peoples minds was, ‘Can they still be as good now?’ people who hadn’t followed Pet Shop Boys since the 80’s hadn’t even realised that they were still making music, little did they know that they’ve released albums regularly over the past few years. This was a special night for the band too, this was to be their 100th concert on the Electric tour.
The screen that had been put up in front of the stage suddenly lit up with a huge orange triangle and the opening beats of Axis, the first track on the new album started to build up. The crescendo was rising into something that nobody who isn’t a fan expected, full on dance music produced by one of the worlds most respected dance producers, Stuart Price. I turned to see thousands of people with their arms in the air, getting caught up in the music, then from that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe appeared behind this (partially see through) screen and this most modern of dance songs morphed into one of their first ever songs ‘One More Chance’. What was incredible was the seamless move from a 2014 dance hit to an early 1980’s pop hit. The hits rolled, with West End Girls bringing out the screams from the crowd, a song that sounds like it was produced yesterday, never mind 1984. The light and laser show was incredible, especially during another of their older hits, ‘It’s a Sin’. As the beat comes in during that song, the green lasers and white flashing lights come into a world of their own. The entire audience was entranced by the show they were seeing.
Then came the finale to the Sunday evening, the encore for the Pet Shop Boys and the final act of the most amazing festival imaginable. Onto the stage walked the Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir, ready to join with the Pet Shop Boys in a rendition of their huge hit ‘Go West’. A dream for the choir, a dream also for Neil Tennant who announced what a huge moment it was for himself too. The choir can be proud of a brilliant performance, it made for a wonderful end to a wonderful weekend. But it wasn’t over then, after they left the stage, Pet Shop Boys finished off the festival with a bang, performing the song ‘Vocal’ again from their latest album. If you haven’t heard it, you must, the song brings out the old fish, box, fish, box dance moves again, those I mentioned at the start of this review. It is one of the best dance tracks I have ever heard and if Karen is kind enough, she may even embed the you tube video of the song for you. One tip, don’t listen to it quietly, turn it up!
This was a weekend to remember, everyone involved in planning this festival need to pat themselves on the back. They have managed to take a beautiful village in the heart of Snowdonia and create an event like no other. Will I return next year? You try to stop me!