Portsmouth. A city sat on the south coast, famous for its Naval Base and being Charles Dickens's birthplace. As a location for a festival it isn’t an obvious one, but Victorious Festival has made its home here over the last decade. Named after Lord Nelson’s warship, which can be found in the nearby Naval base, it’s sited on Southsea Common, right on the edge of the coast. This position creates a slightly surreal experience, as although you have no real sense of being on the edge of the coast (thanks to the 8ft fences surrounding the site), it’s not uncommon to see cruise liners gliding past behind the food stalls and bars. It also means that you can be caught off guard by some quite biting winds, particularly in the early evening.
For a large festival it’s surprisingly spacious, and even at peak times never feels too overcrowded or packed. The site is dominated by the main arena, with the Common (main) stage at one end, and the usual food stalls and bars around the edge. New for this year is the cabaret and comedy tent. Comedy is a recent venture for the festival, and it’s good to see it finally given a proper space. Previous years saw it stuffed into a far corner, and often so crowded as to make it difficult to get in and out of. At the far end of the festival is the Castle stage - the second largest stage on site.
With the big names performing on these two stages they’re naturally the most popular. However spread between these areas is a maze of smaller venues and street markets, and you can quickly get sidetracked by a large range of local acts that perform these stages. There is a wide range of styles on these stages too - while the festival does, like most events, lean towards pop and rock, fans of marginal styles are well served here, whether it’s punk ska from Nice One Reg, Hip Hop from South Coast Ghosts, or full-on metal from Seething Akira and Body Crisis. I always feel that the sign of a good festival is one where you can not go near a big stage all weekend and still have a great time, and in this Victorious really does deliver.
Victorious has a reputation for getting a pretty good lineup, and this year is no exception, with three decent headliners, two of which are exclusives - supported by a mix of classic, and up-and-coming acts. Of the headliners on the main stage, the best of the weekend had to be Mumford and Sons playing their first UK show in several years. They clearly have missed performing, and the crowd obviously missed them too. Performing a set that leant heavily into their first album, it was a great way to close out the festival and a reminder that they really are a great live band with some fantastic songs.
By contrast the other two - Jamiroquai and Kasabian - just didn’t quite match up. I don’t know what it was about the Jamiroquai set. On the surface it should have been fantastic - great songs, a good band, decent audience engagement from Jay Kay - he had a natural manner that was pretty engaging. However, for me something didn’t quite gel. It may have been that he was a little too polished, and so the songs sounded exactly like the recordings. As such the spark that a live performance has was missing for me. Plenty of others seemed to like it.
Weakest of the three was Kasabian. While Serge proved that he’s equal to the task of leading the band and singing with gusto, it seemed to be at the cost of cohesion with rest of the group, who had to sit at the back in semi-darkness, while Serge strutted around the stage - clearly enjoying playing the star, but not actually cementing this spot.
By contrast the Kaiser Chiefs, who performed before them, showed just what a class act they are - performing hit after hit and rousing the crowd ever higher and higher with bangers such as ‘Ruby’ and ‘I Predict a Riot’. One of their strengths as a band is their ear for an anthem, and ability to give the crowd something to sing. The other is Ricky Wilson’s natural charisma - funny, energetic and genuine - brings the crowd along with him rather than just singing at them. In my opinion they should have been the headliners on Saturday. Hopefully the Victorious team will realise and correct this at a future festival.
Underneath this was a pretty solid line up - with standout performances from both established acts such as The Charlatans, Friendly Fires, Hard-Fi, The Vaccines and The Divine Comedy, as well as newer acts such as Crystal Tides and Billy Nomates.
Apart form Kaiser Chiefs, two acts for me were the standout of the weekend. One wasn’t a surprise - Jake Bugg is someone who I’ve loved since I first saw him opening a festival years ago - alone on the stage with just a guitar and a brace of great songs. Tonight’s performance shows how far he’s come as an artist. As well as the simple acoustic songs, from the skiffle infused ‘Lightning Bolt’ to the achingly beautiful ‘Broken’. He also has developed a rock side too and ‘Two Fingers’ and ‘Kiss Like the Sun’ show off that range. Highlight of the set though was his version of ‘Simple Pleasures’ - this live version saw a more controlled guitar than the recording that bought to mind Dave Gilmour, and lent the song a really epic feel.
The other however, blind-sided me - McFly were surprise guests on the Saturday, and being in the area after watching local legends, The Southsea Alternative Choir, we decided to give them a go. As a band I’ve always found their music enjoyable when it came on the radio, but never enough to actually seek them out, and probably at the time sniffily dismissed them as a ‘kid's band’. Live however, their true brilliance shines though. The songs are really good, and the band perform them with passion and more than a little tongue-in-cheek humour. Combine this with energetic performances that see them leaping high in the air and performing routines. Yes it’s all very cheesy, but it’s also really fun. If you think you’re ‘too cool for McFly’, I’d recommend putting aside your prejudices and giving them a go - you may be surprised.
At Victorious there’s plenty to keep younger ones entertained - the kids area is possibly one of the best I’ve seen at a festival, with plenty for all ages - zip wires, beach football, craft sessions, and ball pits, and best of all most of it is free. It’s a refreshing change from other festivals that either pay lip service or charge the earth.
Food options are pretty good, with plenty of options. As with most places these days the price is a little on the high side at around £15 for a meal, but portions are generous, and we didn’t have a bad meal. Drinks are similarly high at £7-8 for a large can or pint. But there is a good selection of lagers, ciders, and ales at all the bars.
Some festivals have an angle to make them stand out - whether it’s the star power of Glastonbury, the theatrics at Boomtown, or the chilled out holiday camp vibe of Rockaway Beach. Victorious doesn’t have anything specific, but what it does have is a great attitude - it’s one of the few festivals that manages to appeal to all ages - there really is something to appeal to everyone, and the vibe is pitched just right. It’s not perfect though - this year to discourage cars coming into the city centre they stopped on site parking and encouraged use of their park and ride. But it wasn’t cheap - at £13.50 return for adults and £7.50 for kids, plus a £5 parking fee per day. A family of four would find themselves shelling out almost £150 over the weekend to use this service. And when the nearby streets have spaces at only £13 per day it’s not that attractive.
But this gripe aside, it’s still easily the best large festival on the south coast, and definitely well worth considering if you’re on the look out for a great way to cap off the summer festival season.
Check out all our photos from Victorious Festival 2023!
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Family-friendly seaside vibes at Victorious Festival 2023
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plus Ben Howard, Alt-J, Pete Tong Ibiza Classics, Ellie Goulding, Friendly Fires, and Kaiser Chiefs