Take the most densely-populated area of the UK. Find the least-densely populated part of it, add some stages, plenty of talented acts both new and old and upwards of 120,000 people and you have Victorious, the best thing to come out of Southsea since the late, great Peter Sellers. For decidedly more contemporary cultural references, read on.
Victorious was the ideal festival for all the people who weren’t at Reading. Indeed, it looked like it was populated by many people who had packed their budding tent-abandoner offspring onto the train, bound for the Thames valley and then kicked back for a weekend of essentially nostalgic fun. The next biggest noticeable demographic was families with younger children – the future generation of Reading revellers (or Victorious returners, of course), who depending on their age, could still delight in the joys of Lewis Capaldi or Mr Bloom from CBeebies.
The manner in which the organisers repurpose the municipal space of Southsea Common and transform it for a weekend is a real asset. People who have kicked footballs, flown kites and generally lingered there over many years could genuinely lose track of where they were. Only a glimpse of The Spinnaker Tower on the skyline, or a Brittany Ferry looming impossibly large next to the Main Stage would re-centre those who’d temporarily and pleasantly lost themselves.
To say there’s a Main Stage belies the fact that Victorious basically has two such things, both in quality and capacity of audience. Pedantically speaking, The Common Stage is the main one, but The Castle Stage has a natural bowl, ample space, crisper sound and a more intimate atmosphere. It gave us two of the stand-out sets of the weekend in The Futureheads and Bloc Party. Elsewhere, the Acoustic Stage provided the other two stand-outs, from Miles Hunt & Erica Nockalls and from AK Patterson.
When The Futureheads sang “You’re old enough to know better,” from 2004’s Carnival Kids, they couldn’t have sounded more fresh. To make such an impression in a only a half-hour set was a substantial achievement. Thought of by some as ‘that band that did that cover of that Kate Bush song’, their new material from the album Powers, songs like Good Night Out, ought to radically redefine them in so many people’s minds. That cover of that Kate Bush song was bloody intense, by the way.
The weekend was launched good and proper on Friday night with the relentless force of Doves. Anyone with Kingdom of Rust, Pounding and There Goes The Fear up their sleeves is bound to make an impact, but in songs like 10:03, they also showed how they can do quiet and slow with conspicuous effect (before exploding into a hail of emotions halfway through, of course).
One of Saturday’s key questions was, “How goddamn hot would it have to be for Badly Drawn Boy not to wear a woolly hat?” While our audience was struggling not to baste in their own juices, the half-hour of Bewilderbeast was kicked off with The Shining (“Soleil all over you”) delivered by a man wearing black jeans and a substantial jacket. The forces of irony and lush musical quality were both strong in this particular Jedi.
Also on Saturday, the appearance of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals confirmed several things. Firstly, the vast majority of people had forgotten about the fruity Amanda Plummer quotation from Pulp Fiction at the start of Scooby Snacks, but were pleased to be reminded. It also reinforced that beyond the well-known tracks, there’s plenty more to offer – tight musicianship and plenty of charisma to still justify their fun-lovin’ status emanating from all band members.
AK Patterson on The Acoustic Stage and The Dhol Foundation on The World Stage were scheduled to clash. The latter stage was sufficiently, mercifully delayed, enabling many fortunate beneficiaries to appreciate both. AK Patterson gave us the perfect combination of Eddi Reader, Natasha Khan and Björk. As visually arresting as it was aurally satisfying, the subtleties of the cello, double bass and guitar/violin combinations were further enhanced by the quality sound reproduction served up by stage sponsors, Rhino. Tracks like Lady Greyling and My Body Is A Spacesuit gave this rising three-piece an impact far above their billing.
Johnny Kalsi and the rest of The Dhol Foundation have played in much grander settings than Victorious (on film soundtracks, for the Queen’s 92nd birthday). The attack they gave to playing on a smaller stage somewhere in a field in Hampshire (as Jarvis Cocker would say), brought the immediacy and relevance of their 2001 album title, Big Drum Small World, very much to our attention.
“This will be our final UK performance for probably a very long time,” announced Bloc Party frontman, Kele Okereke, on Saturday night, “so let’s have fun.” Clearly not “afraid of the future,” they hit us early on with Plans, before making it abundantly clear with all tracks just what we’re going to be missing. To talk of high points might be getting a tad Himalayan within the metaphor, but Helicopter and She’s Hearing Voices were pinnacles. There was even an encore: three more songs, including Two More Years. They closed the set with Ratchet, Okereke declaring, “No more chit-chat; this is the banger.” It was a salutary message to bow out on, with its prominent cry of “Make it loud. Make it proud. Make it count.”
Miles Hunt & Erica Nockalls brought stripped-down Wonder Stuff songs to Sunday night. “So you like ’em frivolous?” he asked us after the roar that followed Golden Green. Maybe it was the infectious frivolity. Maybe it was Erica’s violin solo. Such was the singalong to the chorus of Size of a Cow, Miles pondered whether we might be heard from the Main Stage, where New Order were headlining. “We wouldn’t want to put Mr Sumner off his stride,” he said with his fiftysomething-going-on-fifteen boyish grin. By the time they ended with Here Comes Everyone, they hadn’t quite lured the masses away from the festival headliners, but they would have in a perfect world.
Elsewhere, Idlewild proved that their latest releases are as vibrant as their earliest material. Plastic Mermaids and Fatherson flew the flag for new music further. Ash breathed new life into the end of the summer with Oh Yeah and Buzzkill. Clean Bandit were slick, James Bay gave us one of the strongest vocal performances of the weekend and The Specials reminded us that there’s plenty of new life in their music with tracks like Embarrassed By You and 10 Commandments from their 2019 album. Saffiyah Khan’s brief intervention into Friday night, on 10 Commadnments, sobered many a listener up, even if temporarily.
This festival offered things that some festivals struggle to manage: plenty of space despite large crowds, plenty of places where you could obtain food and drink, plus plenty of places you could go without a half-hour queue once your body had processed that food and drink. It had plenty to satisfy a broad audience. Victorious – happy and glorious.
Photos by Jon Kean, James White, Becca Egerstrom and Elliot McRae.