Between the 12th and 15th September I was in Portmeirion playing for Festival Number Six. This was a real experience and, considering I hesitated a little when originally asked to do it – I’m so glad I did.
The first day was chaos. There’s no other way to describe it. I thought I’d be clever and set off super early to allow for ‘getting lost’ time once we’d arrived. I was giving a lift to horn player Joel Roberts – hi Joel! – and we set off around 8am. The postcode we’d been sent to was an empty business park (later we realised it was only empty because we were so wonderfully early) – so we drove on to the main festival site – which I later realised I wasn’t allowed to drive on to … naughty me.
Anyway, fast forward about an hour of wondering if we’re in the right place we’d managed to find the Cassia String Quartet, fresh from driving up from the South of France, as well as our artist wristbands:
After being given wristbands I was told there was no way I was getting my car on to the Festival site to drop off the harp. Just no way. They offered to take it by golf buggy – I politely declined. I ended up having to put my harp into a Volvo four by four. I couldn’t believe it fit! The driver of the Volvo – Sid – was lovely and said they were there to give lifts to the artists when we needed them. I think he somewhat underestimated how busy they were going to be over the next few days as I was only able to use a Volvo at the beginning and the end of the Festival.
I left my car on the football field in the photo above – unfortunately due to the crazy weather this field turned into a muddy mess – it took me ages to get my car off the mud and onto the safety of an actual road. Getting off the field involved taking a ‘run up’ to the curb in order to get up the muddy slope and onto tarmac. There were three Welsh car park attendants egging me on telling me to go faster – I was so not in the mood for that.
My harp’s home for the next few days was the Town Hall. It wasn’t until later that evening that we (the ensemble) found our home for the weekend. ‘Artist Camping’ – when we eventually found it, was about 15 minutes walk from the main village, and completely devoid of showers/toilets. Not to be deterred though, we set up our tents in some sort of circle – some quicker than others. Joel had the unpleasant experience of a drunk festival-goer tumbling into his tent in the middle of the night, who somehow managed to crawl in between the inner and outer part of the tent… how? I have no idea.
So the camping part of the trip was cold. I won’t lie. It was cold, windy and damp, but I had my inflatable mattress and memory foam pillow, as well as lots of layers for the night. We’re talking strappy top, t-shirt, long-sleeved top, hoody AND blanket as well as sleeping bag. The weather got progressively worse as the weekend went on (Saturday – lovely then rain, Sunday – rain and so windy I saw three tents blow away).
The playing part of the weekend was great. The Cassia Quartet, formed of Amy, Tori, Laurie and Josh, as well as horn player Joel and percussionists Delia and Graham, along with myself we formed the Festival Number 6 Ensemble directed by Joe Duddell:
The ensemble was to accompany a few different acts during the festival. Daughter, Jackie Oates, and Cathal Mo Chroi (aka Chas Smash from Madness).
Working with Cathal was certainly fun. He did a set of six songs: Love Songs No. 9 and 7, A Comfortable Man, Do you Believe in Love? Goodbye Planet Earth, and The Wren’s Burial. The harp was needed for everything, yay! There’s also a youtube video of my favourite, which can be found here.
I remember during one of the breaks, Cathal met up with us in the cafe and showed us some poetry he’d written and recorded – very amusing and well written (and naughtily rude). The overall vibe I got from working with Cathal is that he’s very chilled out, and definitely doesn’t take himself too seriously. It’s so nice when the people you’re playing for actually make the effort to hang out and talk to you backstage. It doesn’t happen all that often.
Playing with Daughter was amazing as well – not only were they incredibly professional, punctual and efficient in setting up all their equipment – they also had a pleasing attention to detail in rehearsals. As well as that, they are absolutely lovely people, a real pleasure to work with.
The Daughter gig was on the Saturday night, which was followed by some drinks and dancing – loads of fun. On Sunday the weather turned really nasty. I was so worried my tent was going to blow away – I actually saw several tents blow over in the wind. It turned out that I wasn’t actually needed for any rehearsals or sets that day so I set about trying to take down the tent and pack all my things. By some miracle I was allowed to bring my car back on to the festival site to pick up my harp. Hurray!
On returning to Manchester, I had a new-found appreciation for lots of little things: getting dressed standing up for example, rather than awkwardly lying down in a confined space. The first night back in my bed was amazing! I think my harp was very happy to be back – I’d booking it in for a service the following day as a much needed treat.
So, lots of good things from the Festival, fun music, lovely people in the bands and the ensemble – but the weather could have been better/less muddy. Definitely an experience I’ll remember.