It’s late August bank holiday weekend. I’ve got Friday off work and I’m shoving a hastily packed bag into the truck. It’s festival time! I’m not going that far. Southsea. The trendy bit of Portsmouth. Further than Wickham, but only about half an hour’s drive from home. I do go to festivals further afield, but not this year. Victorious Festival is the destination, on Southsea seafront, with 13 stages (counted them in the programme) of live music over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Luckily for me, I have a friend who lives in a flat on Southsea seafront. And she wasn’t there this particular weekend. Keys were passed over, instructions given for the various appliances, and I had a highly desirable residence for the duration. Five minutes walk from the venue, each evening, I was relaxing with a G&T watching everyone else struggle homewards, from the sixth floor window.
The venue opened at 4pm. Finishing my pre-festival beer, I locked up and made my way to Southsea Common. The real ale tent was in the same location as last year, and as per last year, they didn’t know how to run it this early in the festival. After doing the English thing and standing in a queue for the best part of half an hour (made bearable by the fact that Craig Charles, him of Red Dwarf and BBC 6 Music fame, was playing a funk and soul DJ set next to the queue), a nice security man directed me to a gap at the counter. Selecting my beverage from the 40 on offer, the girl serving took my money to the cashier and returned with my change and a receipt. She then went and asked one of the ‘pourers’ to dispense 568ml of said liquid into a plastic glass, then brought it to me. By the end of the weekend, they were somewhat more streamlined.
A really naff shot of Craig Charles on the wheels of steel…
I made my way over to the Castle Stage (the only one open apart from the Real Ale Stage on Friday) and was treated with a blast from my youth. As a lot of this festival was. The Charlatans. Highlights have to be North Country Boy and The Only One I Know. When the Charlatans finished, there was a half hour break until the headliners, Madness. I thought I’d get a drink. Didn’t really fancy the trek to the real ale bar, then the queue, so I opted for one of the bars next to the stage. Less of an ordeal to get to the front, but when I got there, the reason for opting for the ordeal was obvious. It was an ordeal of taste. Fosters, Strongbow, Strongbow Dark Fruits or bottles. Bugger. As I’d fought hard to get where I was, and I definitely didn’t fancy a rematch for a second dubious drink, I bit the bullet and bought two pints of Strongbow, then retreated to the centre of the crowd, waiting for the Nutty Boys to put in an appearance.
Waiting for the Nutty Boys
Madness opened with My Girl. It was apparent at this point what shape the evening was going to take. The audience knew every word, and we all stood there, singing enthusiastically, watching the instigators of our musical discord doing it properly on stage.
Does what it says on the tin…
It’s a festival. I have a beard and lengthy moustache. I put a fair bit of wax onto said top lip hirsute growth and tend to curl it into points, in a cross between Hercule Poirot and Salvador Dali. Today wasn’t an exception. I was enjoying Madness with a bunch of random people wearing bowler hats with lightbulbs protruding from the top. I, myself, was wearing a bowler hat with two strings of fairy lights wrapped around it. We had a vague synergy going on. Still. I digress. A lady in one of said illuminated bowlers rushes up to two suitably clad gentlemen beside me and, making expert use of an eyebrow pencil, draws a curly moustache on each of them. On closer examination, she also has a curly eyebrow-pencil-moustache. She works along the line and, coming to me, draws a curly moustache behind my curly moustache, then disappears into the crowd. There’s something about festivals. I like it.
The evening progressed with signs that Suggs and the boys really aren’t tired with their back catalogue. All the classics followed, with a cover of Max Romeo’s Chase The Devil for good measure. I’ll cut to the encore, to save blog space. Rapturous applause and clapping brought the guys back to the stage for two more songs. Madness, followed by Night Boat To Cairo. A perfect finale.
Frank Turner. Local boy made good. Singing his accepted brand of songs about life and the passing of the seasons, Frank remenisced about ‘getting fucked up’ on the very field on which the main Common Stage was now situated. Turner’s local roots came out in Wessex Boy, the song I discovered him through. Mass audience participation ensued. This was a fairly rare local performance from Turner, originally from Meonstoke, now living in London. He was off to play a gig to help out The Joiners in Southampton. A great little venue that has recently fallen on hard times.
The tiny Frank Turner
Some friends of mine were up not long after Frank. The Bog Rolling Stones, half of which are in Thee Sultan Sheiks, were on the Castle Stage at Victorious. It’s the Portsmouth equivalent of the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.
The Bog Rollers were on form. Dressed and sounding like the originals, in both singing and inter-song banter, they knocked out Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Women, Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, and Paint It Black all featured in a spot-on set from a spot-on tribute act.
Later that afternoon, someone I’d been waiting for. Feeder. I used to follow these guys avidly in the late ’90s. They might be showing their age a little, but they still know how to do it. They are still Feeder. Lots of the classics were dished out to the hungry audience. Feeling A Moment, with video footage of a starling murmuration on the big screen at the back of the stage, which bizarre as it seems, works, Just The Way I’m Feeling, High and Buck Rogers really hit home with the thirty-somethings like me who remember their early days, and hopefully spurred off some new interest from the younger crowd. Something from Polythene would have been good, but with a back catalogue as big as that of Feeder, there’s only a certain amount you can fit into a festival set.
The evening was closed by Stereophonics. I was feeling rather under the weather at this point, with some kind of cold thing lurking in the background and every now and then, making its presence known, hence I was at the back of the crowd.
Stereophonics know how to work a crowd. The entirety of Southsea Common was dancing and singing to the songs that have been constant reminders of their existence for a good few years now. Local Boy In The Photograph, Have A Nice Day, I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio and Maybe Tomorrow came before a request for everyone to hold their phones or lighters in the air, for a song I didn’t recognise. Later in the set, we are told of Kelly Jones’ youth, in which he discovered music by borrowing tapes from his older brothers. In true Stereophonics style, he launches into a solo acoustic cover of AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, which morphs into Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. The drums kick in. ZZ Top’s Gimme All Your Lovin’ furthers the medley, followed by Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark and Led Zep’s Rock And Roll.
The Stereophonics crowd
When the medley is over, the cold is getting the better of me. I decide now is a good time to make my retreat, and on my way to the exit, a well-spoken man strides purposefully up to me and exclaims “This man looks like he sells cigarettes!” It was almost a shame to disappoint him, but disappoint him I must. I am not the nocturnal festival tobacconist. I bade my farewells to the nicotine-craving individual, got back to the flat, poured a G&T and opened the windows to hear the muffled end to the Stereophonics’ set, which was accompanied by a small firework display. Most pleasant.
My Sunday began with a trip to the Common Stage to see the Dandy Warhols. I’ve liked the odd song of theirs, but was given an album earlier this summer. They really are quite good! They had a guest on trumpet – John Read of The Specials, who occasionally pops up at their UK gigs.
Too early in the day… People are still asleep and aren’t drunk yet…
Courtney Taylor-Taylor on vocals had three mics – one clean and two with effects. He led the band (and audience) through a psychedelic journey through American surf-rock. The 90s anthems were coming thick and fast. Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth, Get Off, and one track that went rather prog in the middle, with what must’ve been close to a ten minute instrumental in the middle, synth, phaser and distortion throughout. They had to end their set with Bohemian Like You. It’s the law. The somewhat sober crowd were bouncing merrily in the hot afternoon sun, singing their heads off.
Whilst sipping a cool beer some time later, I hear strains of 90s dance music eminating from the direction of the Common Stage. I finish the beer in the shade and amble over to be greeted by Rhythm Of The 90s – a live dance covers band. When I arrived, they were playing Underworld’s Born Slippy, with slightly odd lyrics. The feeling was all there, but if you’ve listened to that track as much as I have, you know the lyrics back to front. These weren’t back or front. Still, the sentiment was there! They went on to play Ecuador by Sash and finished up with a great cover of N Trance’s Set You Free.
I had a wander at this point. There wasn’t anything I especially wanted to see, so I thought I’d tour the stages and see what was going down.
A good Kate Bush tribute was playing on the Real Ale Stage, followed by Mayfield – the house band of Mayfield Studios, who were running the stage. They played soul, with great female vocals.
Wandering through the festival I paused to watch a couple of guys with a 30′ pole dangling a wig on a length of string onto bald people’s heads. Surreal, yet hilarious. Whilst this was going on, a young female solo artist by the name of Lauran Hibberd was playing on the Radweb Showcase Stage. I’d guess she was in her late teens (the website says 20, so I wasn’t far off), and was playing self-penned songs on an acoustic guitar. Nice, chilled, Tunstall and Melua-esque stuff. Her clear, confident vocals were a hit with the chilled Sunday afternoon punters.
The crowd enjoy Lauran Hibberd
The World Music Stage had some cracking bass-heavy dub playing between sets. The DJ was a local chap, called something along the lines of Wayne Godley. I stayed around for a bit of the next act on that stage – a dub reggae outfit (possibly solo with backing band) from London, Mechelle Melledee. There were twin female vocals, some kind of sampler or synth for what I called in my notes ‘all the funky dub shit’, a drummer and percussionist on bongos and conga, a couple of guitarists, a bassist and a DJ (who may have been the provider of ‘all the funky dub shit’ I mentioned above). They were playing a great mix of their own stuff and some covers, including Dawn Penn’s No No No.
Drifting across from the Common Stage was what to all intents and purposes sounded like a very angry man ranting away to a heavy soundtrack. I was intrigued. I made my way through the crowd and discovered it was emanating from Slaves. I’ve heard them on 6 Music in the past and not been really fussed by them, but to see them live, I was immediately drawn in. Slaves consist of two blokes with drums and a guitar. The drummer also sings, and has arranged his kit vertically so he can stand up, beat out a rhythm and sing. They had a moshpit going at the front, which is always good to see. My moshing days are over, after going home from too many gigs with self-induced whiplash…
They played one song I recognised from the radio – Spit It Out. Lots of venom was coming from the stage which the crowd were eagerly feeding off. Later in their set, they announced a song called Cheer Up London which, as the singer told, is “all about the miserable wankers I’ve had the mispleasure to sit opposite on public transport”. This was rapidly changed to Cheer Up Portsmouth, delivered in their usual powerful energy-filled way.
It was soon time for Franz Ferdinand to take up where Slaves left off. I gradually made my way back to the stage (after obtaining beer), was briefly distracted by the dance tent where I had to go and enjoy that ’90s classic, Underworld’s Born Slippy, and arrived to the crowd happily bouncing and singing along to Matinee.
Ulysses followed, and as their set drew to a close, the obligatory Take Me Out became an immediate audience favourite. Even if you don’t know much of their music, you know that one. Much singing. This built up to their finale – This Fire.
There was a bit of time to wait for the set changeover for the headliners. In the meantime, lots of ’90s anthems were played. The whole crowd was singing, the tension (good tension, not bad tension) for the arrival of Mr Garvey and co. Which soon came around. Elbow were here. They had a great stage presence, with two female backing singers and a two-piece string section. Lots of songs I don’t know were played very well, to a great reception. Most people knew a little more than I did. The live videography was, as per the rest of the festival, spot on. A camera on a boom was located stage left, which produced some cracking close-ups of the band and panning shots of the crowd.
Cheating shot of the big screen… Guy Garvey telling a joke…
A reverse Mexican wave was instigated from the stage, with people ducking down instead of waving their hands in the air. Then a song I knew! Magnificent. And it was. The new single, out the next day, was given an airing. Following the success of the Mexican wave, the crowd then joined in with singing Happy Birthday to Pete – he was playing something guitar / bass-based. Lippy Kids followed, then the finale… It has to be the song to end all festivals, and they did it. Ended Victorious with One Day Like This. There was lots of singing, which Guy exploited, even getting some harmonies going. I’m watching someone’s video of it as I type. Although the sound quality isn’t great, I’m loving it. The atmosphere was amazing. So much energy and so many smiling people hugging random strangers. This is how festivals should end.
I took a brisk walk to the exit. The amount of plastic glasses strewn across the ground made that crunch you get walking on fresh deep snow. On my way, I noticed a chap attempting to steal one of the flags that said ‘Toilets’. He was doing rather well until the pole snapped. After a power walk past the armed police, I got back to the flat for a well-earned G&T and turned the radio on to hear Guy Garvey doing his 6 Music show. Now that was one hell of a weekend.
There’s updates to come for the next couple of weeks. I’m hoping I can catch up before September is out!
Until then, keep rockin!