Festival No 6 review – Charlotte Church throws curveballs and the Flaming Lips ride unicorns

Portmeirion, Wales
The headliners in Portmeirion were as eccentric as the location, with operatic pop covers from Church and a typically psychedelic turn from Wayne Coyne

‘Remarkable things can be achieved by the British in the rain,” announces Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe on day one of Festival No 6. Nestled in a far corner of Wales in the final splutter of summer, it is all but guaranteed to face testing weather, and last year that test was an extreme one – torrential downpours flooded the car park and stranded hundreds. This year, the organisers have taken stock, making structural changes and reducing the capacity, and though there are cascading downpours aplenty, the festival holds up.

When it’s visible through the deluges, the site is a remarkable thing indeed. With its backdrop of undulating hills and vast ocean, it spills out into the local village of Portmeirion, a bizarre, pastel-coloured collage of out-of-place fragments. A metal sheep hangs from a balcony; a golden Buddha sits in a baby-blue enclave; a giant chess board sprawls across the central village green. Though its designer, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, was aiming to recreate a quaint Italian town, it looks more like a cartoon village come to life.

Charlotte Church at Festival No 6
Glorious, glorified karaoke … Charlotte Church at Festival No 6. Photograph: Dosfotos/Rex/Shutterstock

The site’s eccentricities are matched by a handful of events on the line-up. Charlotte Church’s Pop Dungeon is an hour of operatically transformed pop covers with a sprinkling of perfectly judged curveballs – Willy Wonka’s Pure Imagination glides into Sugababes’ Overload as a Jefferson Airplane bass riff rumbles underneath. Sure, it’s glorified karaoke, but boy, is it glorious. Then there’s the Beatles parade, marking 50 years of Sgt Pepper. Complete with enormous effigies and a brass band, it marches through town and on to the main stage, culminating in an infectious, frequently uncanny performance from the Bootleg Beatles.

The headliners, meanwhile, become progressively more unhinged as the weekend progresses. Scottish post-rockers Mogwai provide an expansive, shoegazey soundscape that is beautiful to listen to – but given their music’s cinematic scope, there’s surprisingly little in the way of visuals. Bloc Party put on a hyperactive show, where Kele Okereke’s bouts of sardonic abuse – “Come on you bougie fucks” – just serve to fuel the crowd’s enthusiasm. And there’s a characteristically bonkers performance from Flaming Lips. With at least four costume changes, an inflatable robot, multicoloured hanging tentacles and a rideable unicorn, the whole thing could be unbearably gimmicky if it weren’t for the strength of the band’s strange, jittery psychedelic rock. “We feel like we’re in the exact place we should be,” beams Wayne Coyne. The feeling’s mutual.

  • The Guardian is media partner of Festival No 6

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Alexandra Pollard

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