FESTIVAL NO. 6 in the rain, a slate-grey sky, stair rods from the Giants Causeway blowing in across the Irish Sea. The ubiquitous ponchos are out in force, flapping in the breeze, sticking to the skin. The bars are rammed, the atmosphere stoic. The surrounding scenery still looks magnificent though, hills shrouded in mist, the slow-moving estuary waters gliding by.
Regardless of the weather, the best way to ‘get’ this festival is to pitch yourself into the myriad charms it holds and work out the details later. GERRY AND THE HOLOGRAMS are doing their zany best to make the sun shine, through a false (Garcia-like) beard and psych rock blues. “We’d like to do a number by Bob Dylan but he never plays any of ours so fuck him, here’s a new one of ours”. They’re spilling out of The Gatehouse for the Ricky Tomlinson/Johnny Vegas chat, and a Welsh bard is holding a crowd in the Piazza with what initially sounds like a traditional medieval ballad until I hear them happily joining in with a chorus of “A-dogging I will go”. He is followed by a jitterbugging, Lindy-hopping troupe who quickly have the crowd spinning beneath a canopy of whirling umbrellas.
Saturday afternoon, and events in the woods and at the Estuary Stage have sadly been cancelled but such is the multifarious nature of the No. 6 site that there are still an incredible number of nooks and crannies for the inquisitive to explore and delight in. You could actually not go and see a band and you’d still hear some fabulous tunes, the food stalls, bar tents, and the boom bike pumping out a classic mix of funk, soul, disco and rap. In the Town Hall, the Uke Can Do It! ukulele workshop has packed them in and wandering vagabond Gary’s witty repartee and A & E notation has them strumming along in no time. Outside, the fish girls swim upstream, mouths opening and closing, and the No. 6 bus disco dances its way through the smiling crowd.
I’m picking up good vibrations from the full tent where A CERTAIN RATIO’s electro-funk is in full flow. The heavy bass, funky drumming, skipping guitar and clarinet flourishes are topped off with Denise Johnson’s superb soul funk vocal. Across the field, Can vocalist MALCOLM MOONEY performs the album Monster Movie with a young band. “Who are those guys?” my co-pilot asks. I’ve no idea, but they smash the hell out of it with fuzzed-up guitars and driving rhythms. Mooney looking genuinely moved and elated by their performance.
The stair rods have softened to a Scotch mist and nothing can dampen the expectations of a huge crowd in the Central Piazza for the performance of Dr JOHN COOPER CLARKE. Hire Car, Twat (joyfully concluded by the crowd), Beasley Street and the stand-up patter have me in tears of laughter as always. As the rain gets heavier, a stage hand comes out to put Clarke’s notepad under cover. “Oh, I see, I stay out here and catch pneumonia, don’t let the fuckin’ notebook get wet.”
Aloft in the tower of the Dome Galley, NATALIE MCCOOL follows up last year’s set with an assured performance, the reverb of her guitar washes underscoring her soaring vocal. The Galley is full to bursting by the time Bear Growls’ Bowie Disco swings into action, and people are singing and dancing on the terrace outside and peering in through the windows to capture a slice of the celebratory atmosphere. As darkness falls, the Kazimier Collective begin a lantern-lit, silver-robed procession towards their rendezvous with space-traveller Captain Kronos, whose appearance is for some a reminder of the happy days of Wolstenholme Square and for others a spectacular introduction to Krunk consciousness. Later, HOT CHIP defy the elements and inspire surely one of the muddiest, spectacularly-lit mass pogoes ever.
Sunday dawns, drier, brighter, and by midday there is already a disco party happening at the vodka bar, top hats and feathers ringing our bells. A lovely moment comes at the Lost At Sea Stage, the bird’s nest of a look-out high above the estuary. The beautiful country folk of LUCY AND VIRGINIA – guitars, mandolins, violin and bewitching harmonies – has drawn an enchanted audience when a distant drumbeat is heard. It gets louder and louder as a parade winds its way through the village, threatening to drown out the siren calls and provoking looks of amused concern amongst our company until a rhythmic handclap breaks out to help the song to its conclusion amidst laughter and applause.
Today we can go down to the woods – techno, house and disco are blasting out amongst tangled limbs and branches and the Lost In The Woods stage hosts some excellent, diverse performances: FICKLE FRIENDS’ synth pop groove, THE VRYLL SOCIETY’s psych dream ride and CRAZY P’s polished disco/funk all play to acolytes and converts in equal measure. Walking down the hill from the woods, the techno beats thunder in my left ear whilst, in my right, the voices of the BRYTHONIAID MALE VOICE CHOIR float ethereally up from the Piazza, equally powerful and rather more moving.
Back at the Clough Stage there’s a one-to-watch performance by HMS MORRIS – rock-solid rhythm and loopy synth, some great hooks and poppy melodies, all fronted by Heledd Watkins’ driving guitar and riveting vocal contortions. The crowd is rightly knocked out.
The Main Stage pulls the largest crowds for BOWIE RE-IMAGINED, SUPER FURRY ANIMALS and NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS, but the nooks and crannies have it. Does the beastly mud and oomska ruin No. 6? Nah – it has a go, but people rise above it, with no little style: the onesied, the sequined, the top-hatted, the tu-tued and the be-suited pull on their Wellington boots and dance and sing through it all. No. 6 is not just a number.