• Adventures at Festival No. 6, Portmeirion

    The full moon hung in the black sky over the Festival No. 6 site. I glimpsed it hanging over the Estuary earlier in a sky still blue, too, a haunting day moon. It filtered into the lyrics of artists such as Beck. Indeed, there was no escaping the moon at Festival No. 6 and it was perhaps the star of the show, popping up when least expected, peering down at events, casting its eerie light by night and by day.

    Literature was interwoven with music and art and film at the festival, and as such each form was set into high relief by being complemented by others. After listening to writers talk, the lyrics of certain musicians shone in meaning as never before, such as the words of Beck; it was haunting to hear the lyrics for the song Blue Moon and watch the imagery of the moon on the stage even as the real moon shone directly above the stage. Here we saw the very best lyrics as a form of literature in themselves. I bumped into the man himself in the Castle afterwards. “Did you enjoy the show?”, he asked and I mentioned how powerful it looked illuminated by the moon, after which Beck proceeded to give advice on the best photography to capture such natural phenomena - clearly knowledgeable about moons as well as music. It was such chance encounters between events that also made the festival delightful.

    Portmeirion is in Gwynedd, North Wales, a tourist village designed by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975, set in the estuary of the River Dwyrd and famous as the location where the cult television series The Prisoner was filmed. Its idiosyncratic landscape includes a medieval castle, Castell Deudraeth, which has an appending restaurant area and during the festival a few lucky people get to sleep in its grand rooms upstairs. Stepping out from the Castle, I wander through streets lined with brightly-coloured Mediterranean-style architecture with dramatic views over the Piazza area and estuary.

    The beauty of the magnificent setting complemented events, and the stunning Central Piazza area hosted events such as Letters Live, an event based around the excellent Letters of Note book filled with inspiring and thought-provoking correspondence between notable figures throughout history. The Central Piazza was also the location for events including Andy Miller’s popular festival talk based around his new book The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life. Elsewhere, other authors in the line up included Will Hodgkinson discussing his engrossing new book, The House is Full of Yogis, a highly entertaining tale of a childhood turned upside down.

    It wasn’t only the outdoor settings that charmed but indoors, too. Films were well supplied by Heavenly Films in the Heavenly Films Screening Room including How We Used to Live, the script written by Bob Stanley and Travis Elborough and directed by Paul Kelly.

    The setting is the kind of place where it’s a pleasure to wander around for the joy of getting lost and stumbling upon something unexpected. The surrounding woods play host to Lost in the Woods, and it was a delight to stroll in the beautiful woodland and discover Andrew Weatherall DJ-ing.

    Other highlights include seeing Viv Albertine speak on the Estuary State discussing her memoir Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys, and her honesty resounds; she speaks of how she hoped it might “resonate with people” if she was honest about being beaten up, honest about being too scared to go on stage, honest about life’s downs as well as ups. She “deconstructs the image of cool girl and shows what’s behind it - all the failures, all the mistakes”. People only see the projected image of success, they don’t see the inbetween bits, the struggle - and it is this that she so entertainingly elaborates on. “What I really wanted girls and anyone reading it to know was how to fuck up and to fail to get a bit of success”. She speaks openly about moments of lack of self-confidence yet also the trait of “bolshiness” - how “that which made me unable to get a boyfriend also saved my life - being bolshy. We said our mind. We said what we thought”. She also sheds light into the 70s, how it was a violent time, detailing violent incidents that she endured, the dangers faced since “it was very political what we were doing”. She speaks of a certain gratitude, of making a little go a long way: “Sometimes you have to take every crumb of support”, whether that might be voices on the radio or a stranger on a train. Albertine was an inspiration indeed.

    “I write what’s essential”, said Julian Cope in an entertaining session on his new novel, One Three One, in which he is asked about the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction and being both a writer and musician.

    It wasn’t so much as a full house as a full garden, a full town hall, a full estuary stage - and a full stomach, too, after sampling the scrumptious meal at Dinner at Clough’s by chef Aiden Byrne sumptuously laid out on a banqueting table right near the Estuary on a beautiful Summer’s evening, offering glorious views. Starters included pea mousse, parma ham and lemon emulsion, followed by longhorn beef fillet and cheek, salsify and clay potatoes and a delicious dessert called Manchester Tart and cocktails. As we finish off the meal and stroll back along the Estuary, I glimpse a sliver of bone-white in the clear sky, the day moon.

    It’s not often that I’m awoken by the sound of the Pet Shop Boys serenading me live, but thanks to my Tangerine Fields pre-erected tent, I’ve been sleeping just behind the Castle, so there is not far to walk each day to the main site. The Tangerine Fields area also includes a “Pamper Parlour” for those preferring to start the days in style. The Pet Shop Boys give a rousing and energetic performance and it’s a fitting finale to a fine festival. As my train speeds away from Wales, I take with me many moonlit memories.

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  DISPATCH FROM PORTUGAL

  The National Travel section
  April 2012

writing, broadcasting, speaking