Victorious is Britain’s biggest metropolitan festival. From humble beginnings a few years ago at a site in Portsmouth’s Historic Naval Dockyard, the event is now in its eighth year and has expanded to occupy a giant swathe of Southsea Common and promenade. There are a total of ten performance spaces but the majority of the big action takes place on the headline Common and Castle stages.
In 2017, the festival grew from a two day weekend to include a Friday night party on the (smaller) Castle stage and from 2018 the Friday activities were upgraded to the premiere Common arena.
Last year the weather was at times atrocious; rain pelted sideways aided by a hurricane force breeze off The Solent. Bands huddled under makeshift gazebos at the back of the stages. Boy what a difference a year makes. For 2019, three days of wall to wall sunshine with temperatures exceeding thirty degrees were forecast. So, with a pair of sunnies and the factor fifty in hand, I packed my camera and headed down the A3 to be beside the seaside.
Friday’s first action on the big stage came in the form of Dodgy, a band who sit smack bang in the 1990s Britpop nostalgia box. Dodgy headlined the very first Victorious in 2012. I didn’t see that performance, and as a result of bank holiday traffic, I didn’t see last Friday’s one either. I did see them in their heyday at the Kentish Town Forum, though I suspect it was called the ‘Town And Country Club’ back then. If I’m being brutally honest, the thing I remember most about that evening was how good the support (a little-known band at the time called Kula Shaker) were. I was keen to find out if Dodgy were going to make more of an impression second time around, but sadly I’ll never know. One thing I’d bet the mortgage on. They surely must have played Staying Out For The Summer and given the weather, the crowd would have lapped it up.
The Zutons followed and this one I did get to see, their brand of jangling guitar infused pop and rock going down very nicely with the late afternoon Victorious crowd. Frontman Dave McCabe’s brown mop of hair bounced in harmony with the audience whilst stage left, sax player and vocalist Abi Harding’s staccato dancing and facial expressions drew much warranted attention.
The band’s most popular tune, Valarie, was made more famous by the Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse collaboration. This came mid-way through the set and garnered a big reaction, but it was the foot-stomping/hand clapping You Will You Won’t that closed proceedings and was my personal highlight. It was made for an event such as this.
Doves are a band that I freely admit passed me by at their height, though given the sizeable number of tour shirts baring their name in evidence, there was significant support in the crowd. Another indie rock band from the late Britpop era, singer Jimi Goodwin played bass in the style of his namesake Hendrix (i.e. instrument upside down though fortunately not on fire). He also bore a passing resemblance to a bespectacled Guy Garvey – or put another way, a geography teacher without the elbow pads – but just like Garvey, Goodwin had a great rapport with the crowd.
As the set progressed, I was left wondering ‘there must be a song of theirs that I know’. Then they played There Goes The Fear and I was left wondering ‘how on earth did I not know this was a Doves song?’ I’m in no doubt the whole episode says more about my own ignorance than it does the Doves discography.
As the relentless blue skies gave way to a beautiful south coast sunset, The Specials came on to the Common stage.
The famed social conscience of the band was spelled out for all to see in the shape of placard props placed amongst the backline.
Terry Hall read lyrics from an iPad and sadly didn’t look like he had his heart in the performance, though super-animated Jamaican born guitarist Lynval Golding more than made up for this.
Highlights included the obvious, A Message To You, Rudy and Too Much, Too Young. This latter song came last and pork pie hats would have been thrown in the air, had anybody been wearing them. The band didn’t play Ghost Town. Perhaps it’s just too depressing with no deal Brexit and the suggestions of what might possibly follow around the corner? The absence of this fantastic piece of music was a shame, but notwithstanding that and Hall’s apparent ambivalence, The Specials still turned in a very enjoyable performance.
By late summer at nine-forty, the stage lighting had fully taken hold for Friday night headliner Two Door Cinema Club.
Whilst cementing the unashamed ‘retro/nostalgia’ vibe of Victorious’ opening day, the Northern Irish touring five-piece were comparative newcomers, given their massive debut album Tourist History is only nine years old.
Much of the instantly recognisable tunes the band played, such as What You Know and Something Good Can Work, come from that album and the entire audience it seemed sang along to the ringing guitar lines. After a while, you’re struck that a lot of the songs sound the same but when you’ve got some of the anthems Two Door Cinema Club have got it doesn’t really matter.
It certainly didn’t matter to the Friday night audience whose bouncing and singing helped generate one of the best atmospheres of the entire weekend. At the close, fireworks lit up the sky and the exodus began. Saturday brought the promise of a bit less nostalgia and a bit more eclecticism. I was looking forward to it before I’d even reached the car park.
Victorious Festival 2019: Friday Night At the Seaside: review and photography by Simon Reed. Simon has his own music photography website at www.musicalpictures.co.uk. RockShot’s review of Saturday/Sunday at Victorious 2019 to follow.