Victory at Sea: Festival Review 


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This August Bank Holiday I attended Victorious Festival in Southsea, Portsmouth. Boasting a heavyweight line-up at a remarkably modest price; I enjoyed a belated birthday weekend of Britpop and beer. But I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Despite a variety of festivals under my belt — from the juggernauts of Glastonbury and Reading to much smaller, cheaper affairs — this was my first year at the seaside. And with a number of my favourite artists on the bill, coupled with the promise of a shower and a clean bed every night, I entered with an open mind.

What I found was rather exciting. Victorious offers something of a mediation. A sweet-spot between the larger festivals that I’ve become increasingly jaded with something far more accessible — if not inherently more enjoyable. Big names, a cheap ticket and an interesting site to boot? It seems almost too good to be true.


No doubt the obvious attraction to Victorious is its lineup and respective price point. For £35 a day (£25 for those who purchased earlier) we are given a more than generous selection of live music. Saturday highlights included Travis, Editors and the Manic Street Preachers, with Sunday ranging from Will Young and Mark Ronson to the King of the North himself, Noel Gallagher. With larger festivals asking well over £200 for three days of music, this affordability is worth praising. Even the smaller festivals I’ve come to celebrate (2000 Trees, Y-Not, Truck etc) struggle to match this, demanding much higher prices for the likes of Noel G and the Manics.


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As for the quality of such a line-up? The acts themselves were all, generally, on good form. Despite a relatively padded opening half — tarred by a rather forgettable appearance from Bob Geldof — Saturday evening set in well with an enclave of big names. Set-lengths varied, which may well be a reflection of scrupulous wages, with The Leveller’s  criminally short thirty minutes compounded by The Coral and Travis. The latter came as a rather wonderful surprise: opening with three of their biggest hits to date. It’s hard to process that the only Glastonbury headliner of the day were billed below the top and Fran Healey’s charming stage presence made us all ask where the last fifteen years went.

The Caste Stage were also treated to a dazzling set by Editors, who remain in my opinion one of the most consistent rock bands of their time. ‘The Racing Rats’ and ‘Munich’ fared much better than the deeper cuts from their (exceptional) 2015 record, In Dream, but it was hard to fault their pyrotechnic performance. In fact, if there ever was a festival to shut up and play this hits: it’s Victorious. The line-up was clearly nostalgically marketed and with 60,000 people turning up; it’s not necessarily setting to drop those experimental B-sides. At times, it felt like a celebration explicitly for Britpop and this early/mid-noughties brand of indie. Which was perhaps best demonstrated by the Manic Street Preachers, who tailored their setlist accordingly. Off the batt of their Everything Must Go Anniversary Tour, the Welsh giants burned through a plethora of sing-along hits. Whilst I wish they’d stop pretending their greatest work never happened (The Holy Bible, Journal For Plague Lovers, Lifeblood), their nineties inspired set made perfect sense. The crowd response to ‘Australia’, ‘Kevin Carter’ and to my surprise, ‘Masses Against The Classes’, really gave weight to those anthems. And their performance — enthusiasm and humour — reminded us all precisely why they garner such respect.


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The following day brought a slightly different tone and weather to the site. The range of paisley shirts; Gallagher haircuts and Oasis merchandise on show indicated there was greater anticipation for the closing act. We were, of course, in the presence of rock royalty. But acts like Will Young were tasked with warming the crowd and clearing any hangovers from the previous night. His performance, whilst the antithesis to my taste, was professional and entertaining enough to deserve praise. He also demonstrated the diversity this supposedly ‘small’ festival caters to, which can only be a positive thing.

My personal highlight, however, goes to local legends Kassasin Street, whose blend of electronic indie is a live act to behold. Their set at the Seaside Stage, rather aptly positioned on the water front, was little short of electric. This was clearly their comfort zone — playing to family and friends — which made it all the more endearing. This was soon followed by the fiery Pretty Vicious and the delectable Public Service Broadcasting. Who, whilst offering another change in tempo, provided a well-overdue breather before the headliners kicked in.

Other acts of the evening included Irish indie legends Ash, sporting a greatest hits set that gave little pause for the uninitiated. Despite my penchant for their more obscure material, it’s hard to deny that an anthems like ‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Burn Baby Burn’ are festival gold-dust. This was swiftly followed by Echo and the Bunnymen who offered a rather downplayed performance. Whilst sonically one of the tightest sets of the weekend, their lack of cameras (or lighting for that matter) seemed to null the atmosphere somewhat. Although ‘the best song ever written’ (‘The Killing Moon’, to quote Ian McCulloch), was well received. And I do suspect they’re more comfortable, if not more appreciated, at their own concerts.


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But any absent enthusiasm was long forgotten with the presence of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Undoubtedly the biggest name on the bill and the King of Britpop lived up to his monolithic reputation. Prefacing the set with a variety solo hits, his band went on to deliver a number of well-loved Oasis tunes to great avail. From ‘Half The World Away’ to ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, he certainly delivered on the mantra of playing the hits. It’s clear that the Victorious demographic, which was mix of young and old, bonded over a mutual love of this music. Which was actually rather touching. The family friendly direction and nostalgic (but fantastic) line-up came into fruition with this set. And there is no doubt Noel commanded the crowd with his finger tips. Even his solo material was remarkably polished, despite feeling like a quick album plug before acquiescing into fan favourites.


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Music aside, the festival site itself deserves some attention. It merges the Wartime Museum, Southsea Castle, The Pyramids and the everyday aspects of the Common amongst the various stages. This provides a variety of attractions: from an extensive ‘kids zone’ to world music section, a silent disco and a Prosecco Bar within the Castle itself. It’s admittedly much larger than I anticipated and I only scratched the surface during my weekend. But it’s comforting to know that the ticket goes further than the music, which proves a wider appeal and longevity to the event.

The emphasis on local businesses was also a nice touch. Pie & Vinyl were out in force, as were various vintage clothing and local coffee stalls. Whilst it would be naive to dismiss the gross commercialisation at music festivals, Victorious embeds itself within something more homely. That overpriced coffee is a little more digestible when it is a local business that has overheads, rent and contributes to the local economy every other day of the week. The same outlook extends to the tourism: where the Castle and museums become more welcoming than ever. It is as much a celebration of Southsea as it is the music, which came at quite a surprise given the low entry price.


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In fact, the only shortcomings at Victorious are easily remedied. Drink prices soon undermine the cheap admission and £5 Carling hurts regardless of how prestigious the lineup may be. It would be nice to see more variety or localised alcohol to justify the premium price, as food succeeds rather well in taking this approach. Things like queues and overcrowded stages can be easily worked out in time and I’ll excuse a great deal of this as teething problems. Perhaps the only intricate issue regards some shortsightedness in the timetabling. Many similar bands clashed when they needn’t do: I recall many running from Editors to see the Manics whilst others pilled in for Annie Mac. This could be easily avoided by curating stages for different genres when the names — and their crowds — start getting bigger.

But on the whole, Victorious offered a promising and exciting festival. I rather stubbornly predicted it to be ‘Y-not without the Camping’ but it was actually a much larger event. It also had a character and identity of its own. This blend of a local community, on the gorgeous Southsea seafront with bands and family activities really shows potential. And I cannot wait to see what 2017 brings.


 

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