Urban festivals are a modern phenomena, and interesting events. For those who are used to the traditional view of a festival as a collection of tents and stages spreading out across fields in the countryside, to be presented with a festival surrounded by office blocks and flats is a bit odd. Sat on the edge of the city of Portsmouth and taking over most of Southsea Common, Victorious splits its view with tower blocks on one side, offsetting this with impressive seaside views across the Solent looking towards the Isle of Wight.
Spread over three days Victorious has grown to become the largest urban festival in the UK, with multiple stages hosting a mix of big name acts, and a selection of local acts spread out across the many small stages across the site. This balance is definitely one of the festival’s strengths, as it manages to maintain a small and intimate atmosphere, even when playing host to large names.
The Friday programme is a more relaxed affair than the rest of the weekend, with only a few stages open and focussed around the main stage (the Common Stage), where performances from The Doves, The Specials, and tonight’s headliners Two Door Cinema Club provide a strong start to the weekend. Although Two Door Cinema Club where the headliners, most of the crowd seemed to be there for The Specials - Ska always seems to have a special place in the hearts of UK music lovers, and Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and co performed a sublime set of their old classics as well as the first new material from the band in over 20 years. For those who hadn’t tired of Ska, in the Beats and Swing tent there was a chance to catch the Dub Pistols, who perhaps inspired by the show from ex band-member Terry Hall, rose to the occasion to give one of the best performances I’ve seen from them – with plenty of crowd surfing, dancing and singing, the band gave their all, and left the crowd hot, sweaty and tired, but buzzing as they left the tent.
Saturday saw the festival kick off proper, and seemed to be really packed out (one of the other down sides of an urban festival is that it can be difficult to get to – although we were staying only 20 minutes away, traffic meant it took almost two and a half hours to get in), not just with revellers but families too - Victorious regards itself as a family friendly festival, and has a pretty extensive children’s area offering plenty of opportunities to do crafts, see their favourites from kids TV, as well as become performers in shows themselves.
As the temperatures topped the mid 20s one thing that was in demand was plenty of drinks, and this was one area where the festival seemed to slip up this year. The bars seemed to be a bit chaotically run, and backlogs to them meant that queues snaked well beyond the official barriers, and out into the main arenas - the two bars at Castle and Acoustic stages had queues so long that they weren’t far off meeting up with each other. Once you made it to the bar, it was disappointing to find that they had dropped an ale from the lineup – relegating it to a single bar across the site. It’s also worth noting that one of the fruit ciders actually ran out on the first night at the bar we went too - unfortunate at the end of the weekend, but unforgivable on the first night.
Music on Saturday was the typically eclectic selection that the festival is known for, with a diverse range of artists with established acts like Badly Drawn Boy, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, and Ocean Colour Scene taking place alongside newcomers such as Lewis Capaldi, James Bay and Headliners Rudimental.
Highlights of the day for us were ones of two contrasts, with Swedish rockers The Hives, traditionally dressed in dinner suits and determined to make the most of the show before “Brexit screws up our ability to come and play for you people”. Despite nursing a broken foot and telling the audience that we would have to imagine him “jumping about the stage” he then proceeded to jump about the stage, and in and out the audience, while his ninja-dressed roadies struggled to keep his mike leads organised. Hopefully our country’s self destructive nature won’t prevent them coming back to play in future.
At the other end of the spectrum the acoustic performance from Space was about as laid back as you could get – surprising given that they are also a band known for going all out (not two weeks previously we had seen Tommy Scott literally climbing the stage), but was welcome for it. the simplified nature showed how strong their songs are, and with a calmer performance, why Tommy Scott is one of the best pop songwriters this country has.
Sunday continued in much the same vein as the previous day, although it was definitely quieter on the site - one thing was noticeable over the weekend was most of the people there had day wristbands on, I guess for residents of Portsmouth taking advantage of the festival on their doorstep is that they can dip in for their favourite day. Music on the main stages was again a mix of crowd-pleasing established acts such as Ziggy Marley (whose mix of own original material was overshadowed by the covers of his father’s songs), Starsailor, Vaccines, and Ash, alongside new acts such as Tom Grennan, Clean Bandit and Plastic Mermaids.
Best of the day for us on the Acoustic stage were local musicians Alex Francis and Will Varley, with the former providing a laid-back set of mellow, soulful ballads, while Will’s songs about politics and the environment were offset by a whimsical humour that made for one of the highlights of the weekend.
Headliners for tonight, and the weekend, were New Order – a band that having grown up in the 80s and early 90s, I really should like more than I do. While on record they have some great songs, I just never seem to get them live - maybe the electronic sound is just too perfect, or maybe Bernard Sumner’s performance isn’t up there (even the most ardent fan couldn’t deny that his voice isn’t what it was, and there were several bum notes on show tonight). Certainly the light show was easily the best of the weekend, but somehow it just fails to gel, and leaves me a little bored after a while.
Niggles around the bars aside, Victorious is still a great weekend overall, providing something for almost everyone, no matter your age or taste in music. Definitely worth checking out if your looking for a friendly weekend in the city.
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