In the past, I have lauded Southsea’s amazing luck regarding the weather over the course of Victorious Festival. This is now my fourth visit after three years of gorgeous weather. However, the frontman of Beatles tribute project Come Together, here to perform the seminal 1969 album Abbey Road in its entirety, unknowingly and poetically warned us all of what was to come before ‘Here Comes the Sun’ –“Onto the B-side now. Stick with us. It gets dark in places.”. 2018 is going to get wet.
And so that darkness began with The Lightning Seeds. Ian Broudie’s characteristically calm voice seems even more leisurely when set against the weather (at this point, the wind was so fast, that the rain fell almost horizontally), a more aggressive guitar sound to compensate for the lack of a keyboard, and a very enthusiastic crowd. With the World Cup over, they might not have played Three Lions, but everybody is more than content with hits such as Lucky You and The Life of Riley.
On the other hand, Shed Seven have no intention of throwing away their best known tracks, giving everybody a brilliant, albeit swift and sometimes hilarious tour of their Nineties prime. Or rather some of it, as frontman Rick Witter laments “Who remembers the Nineties? I don’t.”.
Understandably, 10-year-old Ava in the audience, wearing a ‘Chasing Rainbows’ t-shirt has no recollection either – “Do you remember? No? You were probably out partying all the time.”. Witter even disappears into the crowd during fan-favourite Going For Gold, handing the mic around for fans to sing along. He seems very surprised by just how friendly Portsmouth are when he returns to the stage – “Wow, that’s a first. I’ve never been offered fish and chips during a song before.”.
Kaiser Chiefs also definitely recognise the kind of crowd that they are performing to, and intend to satisfy everyone with a set constructed entirely of hits, turning their backs almost entirely on recent material. Time that could of been room for a recent song is allotted to a cover of The Who’s Pinball Wizard. That said, Victorious is also lucky enough to witness the performance of new track People Know, as well as Ricky Wilson risking his life by selflessly climbing the stage girders.
Friday’s headliners are indie rock icons The Libertines, here for their penultimate performance before they hopefully fulfil fans’ fantasies of recording a fourth album. Tonight is not about teasers. It’s about performing the best of ‘The Good Old Times’ before moving on, and they definitely succeed.
They even perform a decent cover of the late Aretha Franklin’s Say a Little Prayer in her memory. There is a bizarre sense of freshness and glamour to the show, setting 2018 far aside from their grubby back-alley image of early 2000s Libertines. One can’t help but wonder what is to come, due to the elephant in the room. These songs were infamously created under the heavy influence of drugs. Today, a cleaner band still makes it sound terrific.
Day 2 begins with a similar situation as Shaun Ryder of The Happy Mondays invites the crowd back to dancer Bez’s house to rapturous applause. They are yet another institution whose party practices are now looked back upon with a tongue firmly in one’s cheek, however lucky they are to be alive.
Like Shed Seven, their memories have escaped them, and the band playfully bicker between themselves about which year certain tracks were released. It is great to see Ryder with far more self-control than he had at the time of the song’s releases, even if he did still screw up the introduction of set closer Wrote For Luck when the rest of the band began before he had counted to four. It’s a very friendly forty-five minutes, which ends with dancer Bez giving away his maracas to children in the crowd.
Happily, the weather on Saturday is a vast improvement on that of the previous evening. The sun is bright, the sky is blue – and if the (apocalyptic) forecast for Sunday is to believed, we’d better make the most of it.
Happier still are the brilliant Portsmouth-based covers troupe The Smiley Campbell Band, who despite being on the Acoustic Stage, were nothing close to acoustic. They bring to it some brilliant covers of disco hits such as Blame it on the Boogie and Murder on the Dancefloor. That pure joy turns the setting to halfway between a dancefloor and a family picnic.
On the Castle Stage though, things are a bit angrier. All-female Mancunian rock trio PINS deliver a great set. Leather-clad frontwoman Faith Vern’s enthusiastic and distorted whoops pierce through the shimmer and buzz of her guitar. It is far more glamourous than what can be said about Cabbage. They seem to venture to be as vulgar as possible – deceptively generic indie punk, dripping with vitriol, and sadly some other substances, as singer Lee Broadbent bragged about having “a wank in the quiche” at school. It is obnoxious, but more irritating than it is genuinely offensive.
The attitude suddenly brightens once more in a reflective, celebratory set by Coasts, who revealed that they intend to split up by the end of the year, and that this is their final festival performance. This attitude is most definitely one of “Don’t be upset that it’s over. Be happy that it ever happened”, as many fans sing along to their biggest hit Oceans, and the band can’t hide their grins. The only thing missing is confetti.
Back on the main Common Stage, indie rockers The Cribs are also having fun, riding the fine line between a serious facial demeanour, and plain old mischief. Ryan Jarman jumps from the drum kit, and screams a call-and-response at the audience. That said, I didn’t here many people trying to replicate its grand finale – a monolithic belch. Oh. And the music is great too.
Fittingly on a beach, although not nearly as exotic as the beach one can imagine that he had in mind, Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson concludes his Pet Sounds tour, during which he performed the classic album end to end.
It is somewhat bittersweet to see one of the most iconic albums of all time performed start to finish, but for its lone present member to be engulfed by a band of another eleven men. One must remember that Brian Wilson was not the only Beach Boy. Today he was only there to perform the parts that were always his, and he sits behind a piano, motionless in the centre of the stage whenever he isn’t needed, and for the replacement Al Jardine to do most of the talking. Still as a whole, the performance sounds incredible, it’s a privilege to witness it in person, and it certainly doesn’t look as though anyone disagrees, with everybody swaying to God Only Knows and shaking their hips to Surfin’ USA.
It is the legendary ‘Modfather’ Paul Weller who headlines Day 2, and despite his huge back catalogue of tracks with The Jam and The Style Council, he digs up very few tracks from those eras over the course of his ninety-minute set. He is no stranger to dipping his toes into politics, or rather diving in head first, so there is an unusually inconsistent ebb and flow mood that inevitably peaks with The Jam’s That’s Entertainment and Town Called Malice. Still. As his voice continues to personify sandpaper more and more as he matures, he sounds more irritated with the world than ever, and quite rightly so. Victorious is more than happy to join in.
Sunday dawns and the forecast was sadly correct. Southsea Common is under enough water that Brian Wilson might be able to go Surfin’ UK as well as stateside. The rain is heavy enough that one band, the unfortunate Bang Bang Romeo, have to cancel their performance. In an inconvenient makeshift solution, bands are repositioned on the Common Stage so that they would be right at the back, barely visible unless being viewed head-on. Those who have splashed out premium prices to be in the sheltered, elevated VIP area, might be grateful that they are dry. It now comes at the price of having to watch an empty stage.
This doesn’t stop big beat legends Dub Pistols from braving the rain, with the two frontmen becoming soaked through within five minutes, despite dancing with umbrellas. As they unleash Nineties Britpop upon Southsea Swamp, Mark Morriss of The Bluetones is equally defiant, reflecting upon how “When you are wet, you are wet, right?”, even if he too finds it unusual that he has the entire stage to himself, while his band hides behind the screen.
Unfortunately for Marika Hackman, with a guitar in her hand she can’t show off such bravery. Her performance is actually more light-hearted and care-free than one might expect from the heavily reverberated atmosphere and cryptic lyrics, as she giggles even upon noticing that her name is on a screen behind her. She is nonetheless enthralling, and a brilliant distraction from the sogginess.
Youthful hard indie rockers The Amazons face this problem tenfold, as their sound constitutes a lot more movement than the climate will allow them. Still, they are brutally glorious sounding, and well deserving of getting one of the biggest reactions of the weekend, delivered most during dark cloud punching anthem Junk Food Forever.
Sleaford Mods on the other hand is well deserving of sheer confusion, and that is exactly what they receive today, as two men and one laptop seek to splutter profanity at the crowd with little in the way of rhythm. Vocalist Jason Williamson’s abrasive growls of the word “shithole” are drilled into everyone’s skulls. Luckily, this is counteracted by a much more colourful show, courtesy of the alternative dance-punk of Friendly Fires, who perform against a hypnotic lava lamp style background. The warmth and energy that radiates from their ‘Hawaiian Air’ is exactly what Victorious needs right now.
The rain clears just in time for the final headliners of the weekend. The wash-out ends with The Prodigy, who have brought their entire retina-frazzling stage show with them. Strobes, sirens, spiders and all.
One long bass grumble as they take to the stage is already enough for everyone to forget where they are, and simultaneously snarl along with Keith Flint when their trademark apocalyptic rave opens on Breathe.
All of the classics are there, if sometimes difficult to spot beneath their signature sensory overload, but nonetheless have everyone jumping, at least to the best of their ability, beckoned regularly by vocalist Maxim – “Where are my Voodoo People?”.
The aquatic nature of two-thirds of Victorious Festival 2018 has made the weekend a difficult one, but one can only respect those behind it even more than during the revered events of the last few years, for keeping tens of thousands of Maxim’s Voodoo People in high spirits and maintain relatively high energy. Of the non-headline bands, Shed Seven, The Cribs and The Amazons delivered and delighted in particular. Hopefully, Victorious will never stop surprising us.
Victorious Festival, Southsea 24-26 August 2018. Live review by Nick Pollard. Photography by Simon Reed. Simon has his personal music photography website Musical Pictures.