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Festival review: Festival No.6

13th September 2014

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Now in its third year Festival No.6 once again took over Portmeirion, the Italinate wonder from the mind of Clough William Ellis nestled in its own microclimate in a stunning estuary overseen by the mountains of Snowdonia.

Festival No.6Just the setting alone makes the trek to North Wales worth it, but a line-up that oozes arts, music and culture from every nook and cranny makes it more than unique. A gyspy jazz band covering Kate Bush, Bez talking his political revolution, illuminated drummers, woodland raves and seafront parties – all happened over the weekend.

There’s so much to talk about from three days in wonderland but here is a focus on the music we witnessed in Wales.


Festival No 6 is a place for surprises, this year not least the glorious sunshine and almost sweltering heat that kicked off the third year for Britain’s most unique festival. This first day is a half-full affair giving space to explore its grand setting and enjoy the musical smorgasbord unhindered by bustling crowds.

Laid-back vibes with the gypsy jazz of the Gypsies of Bohemia set the day up nicely with swinging versions of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears. In the first instance number six throws out an unexpected, and delightful musical highlight.

Love L.U.V are great at what they do, namely an unashamedly retro approximation of rock past. A band who have absorbed every note of the Nuggets compilation, 60s girl pop, C86 and 80s new wave and decided there is nothing more to do but play their selected parts of those sounds. They are an awkward bunch who perform well but bring no edge – for this they will never break the lower billings. Nice but nothing great.

The woodland seems like an apt setting for Kieran Leonard’s singular talent. There is something guttural, natural and primal about his discordant ditties built around his wailings and poetic meanderings. He is captivating in a ‘can’t look away’ fashion as he unravels his work and possibly his mind for all to see. Does it work? It might, but this is was interesting music is about – challenging expectations.

Comebacks are hit and miss affairs, but then most aren’t made by Neneh Cherry. Her stripped back return to music with experimental duo Rocketnumbernine showed her talent for releasing music that is right for that moment. It seems right then that today’s set comprises largely of brilliant new tracks, apart from a minimal version of classic ‘Buffalo Stance’. Time away hasn’t curbed Cherry’s penchant for reinvention, or her verve for performance.

Bonobo’s talent has been a slow-burning spark that has really ignited in his current live form touring the exception album The North Borders. The masses are finally coming round to the fact he is one of modern pop’s best producers, a maverick whose ability to blend disparate genres to a soulful whole. The organic edge that has always filled his electronic meanderings is fully realised in this full-band realisation of his sound- live percussion and live vocals add depth. This set was near flawless spanning his whole career from full on house tracks to the jazz-influenced downbeat soul that have been the signpost to his steps into mainstream success. Bonobo has mastered the art of live music, and this performance showed that beautifully.

Despite the hype London Grammar are not mavericks, not headliners. For all the talk of inventiveness, their music offers little and seems like a safe option.


The weird and wonderful sounds from the Finders Keepers DJs were the perfect precursor to another stunningly sunny day and for a band containing members of two wonderful former acts, namely electronic trailblazers Plone and future-retro pop geniuses Broadcast. Seeland don’t really do their exceptional pedigree justice, but performed a fine line in metronomic, retro-rock displaying a certain debt to German Kosmiche music (Neu et al). It was a nice rousing rock rabble to start the day.

Several hours lost in the woods turned up psychedelic sounds, acid house wonders and deep trance sounds in amongst a dog cemetery, estuary look-out points and art installations – a magical, musical woodland world unique to No6.

After leaving the woods, Temples main stage set (promoted from the smallest stage last year) promised to be something special and the Kettering psyche revivalists delivered in spades. This young band don’t have anything new, they sound classic 60s psyche, they dress classic psyche but they have something special. Their presence, their songs and their exceptional musicianship make them a great new rock band. This performance displayed this wonderfully, each song was executed with intense skill. The addition of the Festival No6. orchestra created something unique for the set and created one of the summers best music moments. Temples plus strings was something to behold.

Jon Hopkins was not much to watch but lead us into a electronic daze and through a rollercoaster of emotions that was on too early in the evening to have its proper impact.

Beck is one of the world’s greatest musicians and performers – this is a fact. Stood waiting for the show to start it was hard to know exactly what to expect from the musical chameleon, would we get a ‘hits’ set or maybe a set of new material comprising downbeat acoustic tracks and psychedelic creations?

The fact is the set was everything you’d want from Beck (and more). This incarnation of Beck’s live group is a full-on rocking affair, packed with exceptional musicians who are all born performers. The set itself exploded with a run of big numbers – the brilliant ‘Devil’s Haircut’ and ‘Black Tambourine’ straight into crowd-pleasing classic ‘Loser’ and the funky ‘The New Pollution’ and ‘Hell Yes’.

For most acts that would have been enough and the culmination of their best work, but Beck produced another hour of excellence that still managed to miss out some incredible songs. A big rocking finale of ‘E-Pro’ with Beck stretching Police Incident yellow tape across the stage as feedback rang out would have ended it nicely.

But declaring the stage now ‘safe’ the returned band kicked off the modern-funk of ‘Sexx Laws’ into an extended version of ‘Where It’s At’, during which the old clichéd introducing the band schtick was wheeled out. As each band member lead their improvised turn the music veered into much different genre territory including an impromptu blast of ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order before the band headed effortless back into ‘Where It’s At’ and brought the set to the end.

Beck declared this festival his favourite (easy to see why) and it could be that the festival felt the same way about his earth-shattering performance.


With yet more sun blazing outside, inside the i Stage something icy, dark and downbeat was occurring in the form of The Acid. Their debut is one of 2014’s most intriguing offerings from a new band, built on subtlety and nuances of sound to create something both organic and unreal at the same time, analogue and digital noise infused with human soul. The live rendering of noise may stick to the ‘less is more’ ethos of the record but does not short change the audience. The tunes were brilliantly executed, and the set took in deep reflective moments and pure danceable grooves as on ‘Creeper’. The Acid have something hard to define, and in the live arena they deliver on the promise of their recorded work.

Festival No.6 always feels like a place where things can happen and has a bill of interesting ideologies expressed through out. Listening to Happy Monday’s maraca-shaker Bez lead his revolutionary rants is a great moment. He was not the most articulate speaker but a truly passionate one, exposing his anti-fracking, perma-culture, bee-saving revolutionary views to an appreciative crowd. His new political party The Reality Party might not have all the answers but if they could shake up the political status quo would be welcome. As Bez said ‘It’s more frack than crack’ for him these days, and what is not to love about that!

No trip to this festival is complete without a viewing of the Brythoniad Welsh Male Voice Choir and this year they celebrated 50 years of brilliant voice performances with a set spanning the history of song in their lifetime. From classical numbers to pop classics this was the distillation of the power of the human voice.

Legends deserve praise and respect and Martha Reeves and The Vandellas certainly fit into that category. It’s true that these days the soul diva’s voice is sounding a little worn and withered, but with the years of honing her stage craft and THOSE songs she didn’t fail to get an afternoon party going.  The likes ‘Nowhere To Run’ and ‘Heatwave’ prove the Motown labels output has been never bettered in the pop pantheon.

Toy do what they do very well, namely a Neu-inspired metronomic rock but that’s it for every song. Same vibe, same tone and a down played stage presence leaves a taste of not a lot happening other than the great songs.

2014 has seen soul diva Kelis really find her feet again, with a wonderful soul record in Food and live sets that have brought the classic soul live-band vibe back to her performances. To an audience of fans and those with a vague idea of her work she won each and every person over track by track. Her exceptional voice, and live band renditions of her career best (‘Milkshake’, ‘Trick Me’, ‘Millionaire’) with the funky bombast of the new tunes proved her to be amongst the best female artists in the world. Even the frankly awful ‘Bounce’, her number with master of lifeless EDM blandness Calvin Harris, is just about likeable – and if that doesn’t count as a gargantuan feat nothing ever will!

Tom Vek’s brilliant set proved exactly why he is the noughties greatest nearly man. From a debut that was one of the eras best, to his recent comeback records years after the hype had died he has always deserved more. His brilliantly crafted electronic-indie songs were performed with inch-perfect precision from ‘classic’ ‘C-C (You set the fire in me)’ to his arguably stronger later work like ‘A Chore’. Intelligent, dancey and effortlessly cool his image and his live sound should be a mainstage fixture but alas is destined for less.

Unique visionaries don’t often get the plaudits they deserve, this is certainly the case with Tune-Yards. Forging music from a range of disparate “world” influences Merrill Garbus is a confounding and challenging prospect. This live performance is an explosion of frantic dancing, colour and percussion. With Garbus leading her band from the middle of the stage, her live sound is now bigger than her solo efforts armed with a loop-pedal. Although this is still in play now two additional musicians and two backing singers add depth to the complex sound. It was afro-electronic-tribal-indie-rock-funk wonderfulness and proved Tune-Yards to be one in a million.

The Pet Shop Boys played a nice set, with a big, theatrical stage show (with the Male Voice Choir at the finale) but largely prove 80% of their material is not that great.

For another year Festival No.6 put on a unique and challenging line-up in a place like no other and is fast establishing itself as Britain’s best event.

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