Portmeirion, North Wales, September 14 - 16
The coloured houses, cobbled streets and fairytale bandstands of Portmeirion are usually only enjoyed by fans of cult ’60s TV series The Prisoner visiting the place where the series was filmed. The show’s script reads like warped John Le Carré, and follows a secret agent known as Number 6 who’s imprisoned on a mysterious island and chased around by a giant balloon. The festival’s named after him.
Set in the village and the surrounding forests and sandy beaches, it’s a brain-bending location, as Bobby Gillespie can attest. “Is anybody tripping here?” he asks as Primal Scream take to the stage for their Saturday headline slot. “It sure is fucking something, eh?” Opening with sultry new jam ‘2012’, they blast into heaving renditions of ‘Swastika Eyes’ and ‘Movin’ On Up’ before Gillespie bounds over to embrace the band’s new bassist, My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe. Another new song – the guitar strut of ‘Relativity’ – follows, along with an unnamed track from the band’s forthcoming LP, which is a hedonistic ‘Movin’ On Up’-style stomp with the party mantra: “I don’t care about tomorrow when I feel like this today”. But it’s ‘Come Together’ that bathes the crowd in red light and ends with everyone hugging each other.
Earlier, Palma Violets had kicked the weekend off with a gloriously shambolic cover of The Gun Club’s ‘Sex Beat’ and their own heart-thumping ‘Best Of Friends’, all as a pink sun streamed over the bay. Later, Richard Hawley shows why his latest record ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ deserves its Mercury nod, opening with the smouldering title track before dedicating ‘Leave Your Body Behind You’ “to the cunts who lied to us about the Hillsborough disaster”. It’s followed by a limp Spiritualized, who are rescued only by Jason Pierce’s searing finale of ‘She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)’. Elsewhere, Beth Jeans Houghton livens up a soggy crowd with acid-tinged alt.pop, showcasing new tracks and dedicating one to late heavyweight boxer Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
Sunday’s apocalyptic rain doesn’t deter an all-star London line-up, kicking off with a storming Television-meets-Richard-Hell set from newcomers Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs. They’re watched by Toy, who – after Savages’ rousing post-punk – infuse the place with krautrock. New Order close the festival amid spooky interludes of footage from The Prisoner, but are still upstaged by the Brythoniad Male Voice Choir, whose nightly rendition of ‘Blue Monday’ has reached cult status by this point. This place won’t just be for TV bods for much longer.
Jenny ‘I’m not a number, I’m a free woman’ Stevens