The second weekend in September, and the end of the festival season is finally upon me, and what a magical place to end it, entering the festival site at Portmeirion, the memories of last year's festival come flooding back, with the sky bright blue over the majestic north Wales countryside. Could there be any finer surroundings for a festival I find my self asking?
Having been on crutches last year, I made a conscious effort to wander every inch of the festival this year. After a brief look around the village, I sat to enjoy the No.6 carnival, a samba band led procession of fancy dress and color down into the village culminating in the piazza. Once over I decided to go for a wander through the woods, last year I had heard the thump of sound systems in the distance, but being on crutches I had given the wood walk a miss. This year I was not going to be denied again! I read on the information boards that it should be a 40-minute walk, this wander ended up taking me roughly three hours!
There were art installations popping up all around the woods, at every corner it seemed, and a total of 5 forest stages to explore. The first I stumbled upon was the Lost In The Woods Stage, tucked away amongst a thicket of trees. It was not much bigger than your average garden shed, and surreally adorned with a plethora of stuffed animals and decked out to look like a bedsit from the 70s. I carried on deeper into the woods, and discovered the National Geographic Kids area, where there was teams doing many amazing things to keep kids entertained. From forest art, and making tree faces out of clay, to going on adventure rambles, there was more than enough to keep the most active of kids enthralled. I then passed a den building master class, which I secretly longed to join in with, however without my son with me to act as my foil, I thought better of it, and all of this and only a mere 5 minute walk into the forest! I wondered how much I had missed last year.
I soon found myself ending up at an old castle tump with the most amazing views over the whole village. I sat for a good 10 minutes just admiring the obscurity of the buildings basking in all their glory in the sunshine. I followed the woodland path further and came across The Dugout, with a huge sound system booming out some deep progressive house, all covered over in a hollow with camouflage netting. There were great vantage points, for jaw dropping views over the village, out to sea, Snowdonia and on towards the Llyn peninsula dotted around the trail, and it was easy to see how you could while away hours in amongst the woods. After finding two more tiny shed raves, I found the Dogon stage tucked in some of the most magical tree formations I have ever seen. Here the peninsula had its own micro climate, and is home to many tropical plants and trees, so on times it was like exploring the amazon.
Throw in the option of taking in art workshops and poetry readings all around the wood, this was a magical place and very unique to the festival.
I descended back down into the village via a beautiful viewing area over looking the estuary. There was a small guerilla gig going on it seemed which drew me in, with the back drop of the Irish sea and the coast, a young singer songwriter named Andy Hickie was singing his heart out! With a beautiful soulful folk voice, this lad really deserves to be up on the main stages in coming years. Search this lad out.
I then continued back to the Piazza where I caught Kermit, of Black Grape fame reciting some of his body of poetry covering many aspects of his life, including a beautiful verse about his wife who is bearing a child.
I decided to try the food at the Caffi Glas, where I must say I was served the single most delicious pizza I have ever eaten, with very swift service. I had finished in time to walk over the Piazza in time to watch the poet Mike Garry. This was no ordinary spoken word recital it was set to compositions by Joe Duddell, who has gained fame arranging strings for Elbow, The Halle and NERO, with a body of work entitled Psalms for the Dead. The 8 piece orchestra brought the words to life. It was a real choking moment listening to poems written to commemorate all the things his mother had taught him, and the premier of a single they will be releasing together to raise money for cancer research in memory of Tony Wilson, a tear jerking moment.
Following on the same stage was the great ‘Punk Poet’ John Cooper Clarke, rattling off quick fire poems at a rate of knots, he had the crowd in the palm of his hands. With tales of his lifestyle throughout the years, the mainly Manchester based crowd, lapped up his tales from the halcyon days of the Hacienda. The final act of the day on the Piazza stage were the Brythoniaid Welsh Male Voice Choir. After taking the festival by storm last year, with their cover version of 'Blue Monday' which went viral, they were back to deliver more amazing mastery of song. Presenting a mixture of classical welsh hymns and cherry picked covers. This year the two acts on the line up they picked to cover were, Chic's 'Good Times' and Wales' own Manic Street Preachers' 'Design For Life'. Both amazing covers. The end of the choir's performance brought about the procession for the closing of the village for the evening.
This year the procession was led by a percussion troupe called Spark! Lit up by neon lights on their instruments and costumes, they were like robots being controlled by a master puppeteer, and another highlight of the festival for me. To round off the night I watched half an hour of My Bloody Valentine, a huge booking coup for the festival, the critically acclaimed act had the main tent rammed to capacity, and in true MBV style all were left with the blissful sound of ringing bells in the inner ears! Everyone seemed to enjoy the masterful performance, but I myself am not a fan and they just didn’t push my buttons.
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