British festival-goers and bands are so used to wading around muddy fields that when it doesn’t rain it almost feels like something has gone wrong. However, despite some real quagmire’s in 2017 (Y-Not, Truck and Kendal Calling were all hit by bad weather to a greater or lesser extent) not every event has been a wash-out. Glastonbury had a mini heatwave in part, Latitude experienced a shower for just 10 minutes and last weekend’s Victorious Festival in Southsea, Portsmouth was non-stop sun from start to finish. It didn’t go unnoticed by many of the bands playing, with the likes of Frightened Rabbit, KT Tunstall and Bad Sounds all referencing how pleasant it was to play somewhere that wasn’t sodden and filthy.
The unique selling point of Victorious is its price and situation. It may be a city event, but its location on Southsea Common, with stunning views of the sea plus a castle with a champagne bar inside makes it like no other festival. Tickets are sold on a per-day basis with early bird adults tickets retailing at just £25 a day and £20 for Friday. This cheap cost means it appeals to local residents and families as much as seasoned festival goers, so there’s a community feel to it, despite its size. Grannies, parents, 20-somethings, teens and toddlers were all present with a line-up to suit all ages ranging from the likes of Elbow and Stereophonics to Olly Murs and Rita Ora.
This year Victorious expanded from two days to add a Friday night opening party using half the site. Headlined by Madness and with solid supporting sets from the likes of The Charlatans and Sundara Karma the main talking point of the night was the very long queues for the bars at the Castle Stage which clearly couldn’t cope with demand, partly it seems due to poorly trained bar staff and a lack of planning for the inevitable peaks that an evening only event brings.
However, this teething point aside apart from a few minor quibbles about the lack of visibility of water points, the organisation seemed very good. Performers ran exactly to time, the site layout allowed easy movement of people from stage to stage without bottlenecking, the toilets were well maintained with queues that were relatively short most of the time and there was a good variety of food stalls and for those with very small children good baby changing facilities with free nappies. The event was laid-back and friendly and due to the virtually flat mud free site was really easy to get around.
Running on the same weekend as the now ever more eclectic Reading festival just 50 miles up the road, and considering the cheap ticket price, Victorious was never going to attract the strongest festival line-up in the UK, however there was still plenty of quality on offer to satisfy ticket holders.
After Friday night’s opening party which saw Madness thrill with a hit packed set and a bunch of comedy quips from Suggs: “My wife’s out there tonight. I told her to wait in the van,” Saturday found the site initially filling slowly with the first band on the Castle Stage, Otherkin, playing to just a handful of punters. It was therefore a credit to the band that they pumped out their raucous indie rock ‘n’ roll as if they were in a packed small sweaty club, jumping off stage and encouraging the audience to dance.
Later in the afternoon Lady Leshurr drew one of the biggest and most youthful crowds of the day to the same stage. “Make some noise if you’ve got clean underwear on,” she shouted, before getting everyone to take four jumps left and four jumps right which created a packed and uncoordinated mess to her mischievous grime sound.
After Lady Leshurr things turned a little calmer with rock stalwarts British Sea Power and Frightened Rabbit providing sets that were both in their own ways graceful and emotional. In many ways Frightened Rabbit was a bit like the rock version of Adele, with the same sort of funny sweary banter and love, lead singer Scott Hutchinson calling out to the people sitting on the Castle Field slope at the back: “How’s everyone doing on the hill there? You lazy shits.” By the end of their set numerous couples at the front were seen to be hugging and swaying together – showing that ultimately irrespective of the genre, music can have the same effect on people, be it Scottish guitar heroes or big-lunged mainstream singers from London.
Saturday night belonged to Stereophonics though. Kelly Jones voice still sounded as strong and gravelly as it did 20 years ago and he still had the looks to make plenty of middle aged women and quite possibly a few men swoon. New song Caught By The Wind showed he could still pen a good tune and his husky croon on Mr Writer was surprisingly powerful. Hit followed hit and the band even threw in a medley of covers to show some of their early influences which included AC/DC, ZZ Top and Springsteen. Ending with a trio of A Thousand Trees, The Bartender And The Thief (which included a nod to Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades) and arguably their most popular tune Dakota then confetti canons and fireworks, Stereophonics could rest happy with a job well done. It was a masterclass in how to do a crowd-pleasing festival set.
Sunday started with a clutch of relatively new acts. Portsmouth’s answer to Beyoncé, Mollie Skott and her band played a sun kissed r ‘n’ b set amongst the hay bale seats of the Acoustic Stage, whilst Chippenham five-piece Bad Sounds found that their name would come back to haunt them as they suffered from pretty bad sound on the Castle Stage, meaning that their sample based grooves got lost a little.
Later in the day the Isle of Wight’s Lauran Hibberd continued to impress with a set of stripped back quietly charming folk pop, noting to the crowd that due to her positioning on stage she was getting a nice sun tan on just one leg. A song called I'm No Good (clearly incorrect - she was) had a lilting country tilt reminiscent of Caitlin Rose and sounded perfect for the lazy tea hazy sunny late afternoon slot. Another Portsmouth act Jerry Williams played her second set of the weekend on the acoustic stage drawing a big crowd with a set that included old songs and some impressive new ones that suggest that her fan base is going to get even better over the next year. Soul-pop singer Raye also brought in the numbers on the Castle Stage, but there was a sense that despite her clear vocal talents and enthusiasm from the audience she’s yet to develop the depth of material to match some of her contemporaries.
Slaves attacked the main stage for three quarters of an hour of punk brutalism, noise and some funny chat in between. It’s wasn't their first time in Portsmouth, having played a small pub in Southsea Fest in 2014 and the Pyramids centre in 2015 as part of an NME tour. Introducing themselves as ‘a two-piece boy band from the garden of England’ they went on to explain that they’re a two piece because nobody else wanted to join. Their set might have sounded as damaged and violent as you’d hear all weekend, but there was a lot of love from the band as well – asking stage security to give each other hugs and checking when a girl was pulled out of the crowd that she was OK.
Sunday at Victorious wasn't all about new music though. There were plenty of old stagers on hand to deliver the goods. The Dandy Warhols looked every part the rock band, various members sporting beards, long hair and keyboard player Zia in a ‘global citizen’ t-shirt. They were another band not afraid to wheel out all the old favourites such as Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth and Bohemian Like You and their sound was perfect; the guitars were dirty but you could still hear the space and intricacies within the noise. “That was f*ckin’ great,” lead singer Courtney announced at the end. He wasn’t wrong.
Franz Ferdinand is another blast from the past whose jerky, stylish indie disco sound succeeded in bringing the stomp to Pompey. A closing trio of Take Me Out, Darts Of Pleasure and This Fire were enough to make even the most cynical new music fan admit that those songs from 2003/4 still sound a lot better than most indie rock records released in 2017.
Closing Victorious there was a definite musical split between the two main stages. Olly Murs kept a younger and more mainstream crowd happy, whilst the rest of us enjoyed the serenity and beauty of Elbow. Guy Garvey might look like your dad or geography teacher, but he has an entertainer’s charisma, encouraging the crowd at one point to create a ripple like effect through the audience with a reverse wave and chatting between virtually every song. His voice was beautiful, his band’s sound soothing. A majestic and closing One Day Like This expressed the atmosphere perfectly; the screens to the side of the stage capturing the image of someone in the crowd on someone’s shoulders being visibility moved to tears from the beauty of it all.
“It’s looking like a beautiful day,” Garvey and the crowd sang together. It was more than that. It had been a beautiful weekend.