If anything, the temperatures for Victorious Festival’s middle day were set to outstrip those of day one. One of the many benefits of the Victorious site is its seaside location. On offshore blast may have conspired against the festival last year, but for 2019, temperatures well into the thirties were being offset by a beautiful, cooling sea breeze. I imagine those enduring the sweatfest at Reading would have killed for it.
I had hoped to see nineties pop princess foursome All Saints second up on the Common Stage, but once again, events conspired against. I was left wondering why they were on so early. Mses. Appleton, Appleton, Blatt and Lewis always were a Pound Shop Spice Girls but if the latter were able to play Wembley Stadium in 2019, surely the former deserved better than a 1.15pm slot? Perhaps they had another show to do later in the day. I may not have seen them, but given the numbers who did, it’s fair to say that All Saints still carry a significant degree of heft.
There were certainly fewer people at the Common Stage for my first action of the day, an appointment with another nineties indie rock/pop act, Republica. They’re a band that have successfully dined out for over two decades on the strength of two songs, Drop Dead Gorgeous and Ready To Go. To be fair, they are both pretty infectious and of course they both got an airing in a rapid fire six-song, thirty-minute set.
Out front, Saffron Sprackling was exceptionally exuberant and did her best to whoop the crowd into a frenzy, though you got the impression that under the broiling mid-afternoon sun, the audience were saving themselves for what was still to come.
Damon Gough a.k.a Badly Drawn Boy was next on the Common Stage though to be honest, you didn’t need to reserve too much energy for his performance. With just a beanie and a guitar for company, it was as minimalist as you could get – and in stark contrast to what had just gone before, though none the worse for that. It was still early in the day but the crowds were once again swelling in the Common Arena: “Last time I was in Portsmouth, I was at The Wedgewood Rooms” [five hundred capacity Southsea venue] he remarked with impressive nonchalance.
My first trip to the Castle Stage was to see The Rifles. A band who have never quite fulfilled their commercial promise, there was nevertheless a very big audience congregating around the marginally smaller of the two show stages – though this may have been partially because of who was scheduled to follow.
Given the prominent number of nineties Britpop/Indie bands in the Victorious line up, it was quite refreshing to catch Fun Lovin’ Criminals back on the Common Stage. The three-piece came out to Sinatra’s New York, frontman Huey Morgan conducting the crowd and encouraging community singing. Like many here I suspect, I didn’t know much more about them than the song Scooby Snacks, a tune that’s had so many mainstream radio plays it has probably sustained their entire career.
So, I was in unchartered territory but their blend of styles (hip hop, funk, rock, blues) was an absolute blast. Definitely one of my Saturday highlights, FLC were highly entertaining and a band I would certainly like to see again.
In a festival that has always run scrupulously to time, it was a surprise that Ocean Colour Scene were over ten minutes late coming out for their early evening slot. When they did appear, I could have done without their intro Green Onions playing out seemingly in full, which further delayed the band’s entrance. I had time only for The Riverboat Song before I had to be elsewhere with the camera. What I saw didn’t convince me that the rest really deserved to be hung around for.
It would be nice to be have been proved wrong about OCS, but I had an appointment with Lewis Capaldi on the Castle Stage.
I’ve always liked the Castle Field arena. Hemmed in on two sides by banks that are on the flip side of WW2 battlements facing The Solent and with Southsea Castle as a backdrop, it has an intimacy and atmosphere that is lost on Southsea Common in front of the main Common Stage. It was certainly intimate for Capaldi because it was absolutely rammed. It’s been suggested there were upwards of 50,000 to see him and I’ve certainly never seen the arena so full.
The young Scot’s phenomenal rise in the last six months could not have been predicted by Victorious at the time he was booked otherwise he wouldn’t have had an early slot on the second stage.
Quite why Capaldi has become such a phenom is a little hard to quantify. He’s got a good voice, some nice tunes and an engaging self-deprecating sense of humour but I’d never have had him penned as a potential superstar. Still, being entirely unremarkable hasn’t hurt Ed Sheeran and perhaps in the current turbulent political climate, we are in need of clinging onto something a little more ‘normal’. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying his pulling power.
I read some retrospective concerns expressed by some on social media that there were just too many people in the Castle Field arena. I’m pleased to report that it all went off without a hitch, although the exodus when the collective made tracks for James Bay, who followed on the common was apparently quite a squeeze. This probably wasn’t the best scheduling decision, given fans of Capaldi were quite likely to also want to see Bay. I was there with a couple of stray dogs and a burger salesman for the beginning of James’s set. By the end, it was packed. The Capaldi crowd missed a trick because what I saw at the beginning was excellent.
In fact, I was making my way back to the Castle Stage for The Hives as the throng were coming in the opposite direction for Bay. Victorious is a fantastic festival, but if I’ve one complaint it is that the two main stages are a long way apart and the only way to traverse between them is via a pair of narrow pathways that are invariably swamped with people. You feel like a grain of sand being squeezed through an hourglass. Except that in this hourglass, at least as many grains are going up as well as down.
I’d not seen The Hives before and wasn’t sure what to expect. If I’d had expectations, they’d have been exceeded. Emerging in white dinner jackets and black bow ties, the band proceeded to blow the place apart with a set of extreme high energy manoeuvres. Wildly charismatic frontman ‘Howlin’’ Pelle Almqvist apologised for his lack of leaping around: “I perform all my own stunts and one went wrong, I’ve hurt my foot”.
He was still plenty energetic and The Hives were definitely my highlight from the day. A makeshift ladder bound to the front of the stage indicated that Almqvist would be making close acquaintance with the audience later in the set.
By now mercifully, darkness had fallen on the festival site and the sun was in abeyance until Sunday. All that was left were the two headliners on the two main stages. London drum and bass outfit Rudimental were first up on the Common. Given a prevalence of nineties indie Britpop through Friday night, it was good that the Saturday fayre was a little more eclectic, though personally I find it very hard to get excited about the sort of music that Rudimental make.
As a music photographer however, it’s not necessarily just about the music – you want to try and capture beautiful imagery too. It was a double whammy then that Rudimental played practically in the dark.
So, Rudimental not for me sadly, and opinions seemed to be equally polarised on my social media feeds. There was one bit of music left to see and snap in the form of Bloc Party back on the Castle Stage. With a start time only ten minutes behind Rudimental, Bloc Party would have unfortunately already started by the time I got there, but whilst there was fatigue in the legs, it was so worth the walk one final time.
Firstly, their more rock orientated output is more my cup of tea. Secondly, they played their award-winning debut album from 2005, Silent Alarm in full (though in reverse, which was an interesting twist).
Thirdly, after the gloom on the Common Stage, Bloc Party had some of the best concert lighting I’ve seen for a long time – really dramatic high-contrast stuff that made for nice photos. Frontman Kele Okereke announced that this was the last time anybody would be seeing a live Bloc Party performance for a long time.
Given the band’s past history on hiatus, this was unlikely to be an idle threat. I’m pleased to say that none of us at the Castle Stage at Victorious 2019 wasted the opportunity.
Victorious Festival 2019: Saturday 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 Sunday at Victorious 2019 to follow. RockShot’s review of Friday at Victorious 2019 is here.