Common People Southampton has a twin festival in Oxford, so while Saturday’s bands headed over there, we got Oxford’s performers here instead. Traditionally Sunday afternoons at festivals are usually quiet affairs with people chilling out in the sun (or avoiding the rain) and listening to gentle sounds form some singer strumming an acoustic guitar… Except this message clearly hadn’t got to the organisers of the Uncommon Stage who thought that everyone needed to be woken up, opening their stage with Arid Wave, a local alt-rock trio whose blistering set bought to mind the the Irish bands of Therapy? and Ash. Thankfully they were proved right and drew quite a crowd given the early hour of the day.
One of the things that Bestival has given to it’s younger sibling is a love of the unexpected – at Bestival over the years we have been treated to ice cream men singing of lost love and a giant inflatable Lionel Richie head. Common People’s offering of the day was a roving ‘horse (piggy back) race’ where you could place a free bet on the winning pair for a chance of a lollipop. It’s the little things like this that I think is the real secret to the success of the Bestival brand – it creates genuine moments away from the music stages. People may come for the bands, but ask anyone about what makes them come back and they’ll invariably start to talk about circus performers, odd little bars that they stumble across in the small hours, or some odd little performance they stumbled over while on their way to somewhere else. Once you add all the other elements that you expect from a festival it adds up to a great weekend.
Sometimes you see a band and you can instantly peg their background, and M.E.R.C.Y. are such a group. Standing in for the billed Xylaroo this band just shouted ‘youth group project’ with about 20 members including half a dozen rappers, plus a full complement of brass section, DJ, musicians and dancers aged from about 12 to 17 years by my estimate. Despite their young age and clearly performing on the largest stage they’d ever been on, they were largely unfazed by the responsibility and put on a performance that would have put more experienced acts to shame. How far this collective will go I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of it’s members going further in the music industry.
Next up was a Bestival regular to get the party started, or at least a bit more limbered up for the party to come. Mr. Motivator is a man on a mission to get everyone fit, and joined by his wife Palmer, got a lethargic crowd on their feet, as well as the security staff who were joining in the fun.
Thus limbered up the crowd were ready for The Magic Gang whose classic pop sound bought to mind Beach Boys and classic 50s American rock-n-roll. For me this band were the big discovery of the weekend, and certainly ones to watch in the future - if they come to a stage near you I certainly recommend making time for them.
The rest of the afternoon passes by in a blur, with acts to see on both stages, first up is pub singalong favourites Chas & Dave (although this does a disservice to pianist Chas Hodges, who is probably one of the finest boogie boogie pianists this side of Jools Holland). Then up to the Uncommon stage for old skool reggae and ska from local favourites Bigtopp.
Meanwhile more Bestival regulars were taking to the main stage. The Cuban Brothers never fail to delight. Equal parts novelty act and serious dancers, it takes a pretty cold person not to be won over by the energy and humour of their sets. This year sees a new addition to the team with the double entendre-friendly One Erection, whose acrobatic breakdancing makes your eyes water.
As Jamie Lawson took to the stage with his Ed Sheehan tribute act, we instead headed off for personal favourites of recent years Kassasin Street. A band who originally started out as a psychedelic rock band, their new material has seen them move to a more radio-friendly anthemic rock sound, but this is not a bad thing as evidenced by the crowd reaction. Frontman Rowan Bastable is a charismatic performer who can build up a crowd and quickly have them eating out of his hands. and backed by a really tight band they have a clear recipe for success and it’s only a matter of time before they break big.
One thing that does deserve a mention at Common People is the food and drink, prices are typical festival rates (£7 for a meal/£5 for a pint) however the festival has a wide range of different food stalls with virtually no duplication, yes you can get a burger and chips if you want, but when options such as Pad Thai, freshly made Indian food or our personal favourite of the weekend – the Mac and Cheese stall, why would you want to be so boring? Beer lovers were well served too, as alongside the usual Heineken and Bullmers you also had seven real ales on offer – a little slice of heaven for those of us who like our beer with a bit more flavour (and a hoppy finish!).
Most bands have a lifespan, and after a while they naturally move from innovators to greatest hits packages. But every so often an artist emerges whose music spans decades but they are rare. One surprising addition to this list are tonight's headliners Duran Duran. Originally only one step above a boy band during their hey day in the 80s as known as much for their clothes, girlfriends and music videos as they were for their music, it wasn’t until the 90s resurgence of ‘Ordinary World’ that people started to re-evaluate them. With the release of last years Paper Gods album they showed once again that they still have some mileage in them.
On stage they still have the energy and dynamic that helped make their name in the 80s. Although Simon LeBon’s leather jacket doesn’t quite cover his middle aged spread, he is still a charismatic frontman who’s rockstar posturing never somehow looks as dated as it should. The new music sits well alongside the old classics, although it’s the latter that gets the biggest cheer - and when they move form the brooding opener ‘Paper Gods’ into ‘Wild Boys’ the crowd go ecstatic. More hits follow and we’re treated to what will be the first of many David Bowie tributes of the summer with a cover of Space Oddity. Live they are a ‘turn up to 11’ kind of band with confetti cannons, lasers and video walls aplenty - given the fairly spartan stages of the rest of the weekend (one fellow photographer commented that it’s been a weekend of black suits on black background, and he wasn’t far wrong) their colour is refreshing and welcome. A great end to a great weekend. This was our first common people, but I suspect it won’t be our last.
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