Another day, another sky, deep blue from horizon to horizon. The Ambre Solaire salesman was sweating on August, but the targets came in, right at the end.
Yesterday I walked seven and a half miles back and forth between the Castle and Common stages and my plates of meat were feeling the effects. Today, I was determined to slacken the pace and take in a little more than just the two main stages and the routes in between. That said, my first action was at the Castle stage to see Scottish alt-rock band Fatherson.
This was a particular interest as the band were one of the first artists I shot when I started music photography as a house snapper at London’s KOKO and consequently, I’ve always felt an affinity with them. That was in 2014. Five years, two further albums (them), and an awful lot of photographs (me) later, it felt good to be reunited. It helps that the music of Fatherson has a depth than eclipses most of what occupies the alt/indie genres. Their third album released in 2018, Sum Of All Your Parts, was critically acclaimed everywhere and rightly so; it is an excellent record. Several tracks from it are aired in their all too brief thirty-minute set.
The Castle Field end of the Victorious site is by far the nicest. Nothing is grabbing my attention on the Common for a bit, so I hang around. There are plenty of trees here and the shade is most welcome. There’s also the D Day Story Museum – a free entry to Victorious ticket holders throughout the festival and a very worthwhile visit. Outside is a beautifully maintained floral garden tribute to the events of seventy-five years ago. The children’s arena and fairground are close by and the whole vibe results in this being a very nice place to spend time.
There are also a couple of other notable stages at this end of the site. The Acoustic Stage (a misnomer – it’s small but the performances are not exclusively acoustic) is delightful. Straw bales form the seating and families gravitate towards it.
This year, it’s guarded by a petite ‘Victorious’ sign upon which people pose for pictures. There’s a queue for the photo op that never seems to diminish.
Just the other side of Castle Field lies Southsea Castle itself and beyond that is the Seaside Stage; another amphitheatre formed out of WW2 battlements. There is no shade here whatsoever.
The area is a little less attractive than that which surrounds it, but it has the benefit of being right on the beach – and there aren’t many festival sites that can offer views of thirty-thousand tonne car ferries cruising to and fro.
I take time out to see Welsh singer/songwriter John Adams perform whilst I’m here. Adams financed his first commercial release through busking whilst still working full time as a maths teacher. From humble beginnings, he’s built a substantial online fanbase and it was good to see some very vocal support on the barrier.
Before a walk back to the Common I catch two more performances on the Castle Stage: Laurel and The Sherlocks.
Laurel, or Laurel Arnell-Cullen to be more precise is the epitome of a self-made musician of the digital age. Recording and producing her own music in a bedroom, her not inconsiderable following has been garnered through Soundcloud and YouTube. Performing in isolation with a Fender Telecaster for company, her sparse indie rock sound was well appreciated by the mid-afternoon crowd.
The Sherlocks have received considerable radio support and had the honour of being nominated to play SXSW by BBC Introducing. You don’t get that kind of attention without having something about you. Whilst they did bang out a tune, to my ears they sounded a pretty formulaic indie rock band and there was nothing about the performance which jumped. Perhaps Fatherson had spoiled me.
I move on. Having got back to the Common Stage, I save the feet by basing myself there for a bit. Starsailor are up next; they’re another band who have far more recognisable songs than you think you’re going to get. It was a nice wallow in nostalgia.
Razorlight follow. I remember buying their self-titled CD in 2006, back when CD’s were actually a thing. I got it on the strength of what I’d heard on the radio and I remember being very underwhelmed by the rest of it. And then there’s Jonny Borrell, who is a goon of almost unimaginable proportions. Choosing Razorlight to be the only band not to give any revenues from Live 8 to charity wasn’t a smart move mate. His faux agonised, tortured performance up front today does nothing to dispel my feelings.
We move on to The Vaccines, a band and in Justin Hayward-Young, a frontman that are everything Razorlight and Borrell are not. The band are genuinely exciting and the frontman is genuinely charismatic.
At this time of day, the sets are getting long enough to promote new material whilst giving the fans plenty of instantly recognisable bangers of old. Hence, we get five songs from debut album What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? That will do very nicely.
There was so much bouncing on Southsea Common that we were in danger of affecting the tide.
Plan B was next on the biggest stage. Rap is not my thing but I can’t deny Plan B has some pretty smart lyrics and the crowd were going wild for them. They were chanting for him to play Charmaine, a cautionary tale about discovering after the event you’d just fallen for and had sex with a fourteen-year-old girl. He says he’ll do it provided the audience sing the last line: ‘I say “Yeah”, he replies, “Blood, that girl’s fourteen”.
The audience scream the words with wild enthusiasm. If I was ever in any doubt I’m too old for this, the doubt was dispelled here.
After a while on the Common, I make my penultimate trip to the Castle Stage to see Tom Grennan. Last time I photographed him (which was almost exactly a year ago), he was playing the Acoustic Stage at Victorious. The time before that (two years ago), he was playing a bandstand. That’s not a joke – it was literally a bandstand.
From this, you can correctly deduce that Grennan has come a long way in a short time. It’s well deserved – the songs are catchy, his band are excellent and he has real stage presence.
The audience adore him and I’m pleased for them all.
So, to the final act on the Common Stage and it’s New Order – certainly a classic act for people of a certain generation and one the festival has rightly dined out on – though for me, previous headline acts as Victorious has grown (Elbow, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Paul Weller, The Prodigy to name four without having to think too hard) carried more gravitas.
It was a slightly weird setup. Very little spotlighting, a myriad of stage furniture getting in the way and the positioning of all band members towards the back of the stage made photography a real struggle and it must surely have resulted in a sense of detachment for the audience.
A bit of Joy Division was thrown in early on (She’s Lost Control, Transmission) but what I saw beyond that outside of a brief sojourn to the other stage for Clean Bandit didn’t leave me wildly inspired – and given I was the target age demographic, I struggled to imagine what those in their teens/twenties made of it. Of course, it went mental when they played Blue Monday and during the encore (Atmosphere, Love Will Tear Us Apart) Ian Curtis’s sunken eyes stared down at us all from the video screen behind the band. I get it’s a tribute, but it doesn’t necessarily send you home with a spring in your step.
So, that was Victorious 2019 – a year when the weather really delivered. My endeavour to walk a little less on Sunday failed miserably (nine and a half miles in the end) but over the course of three days all those steps took me to an awful lot of really, really good music.
For me (and of course it’s strictly a personal view), the headline acts left me slightly underwhelmed, but the undercard was extremely strong and there were some really excellent performances to be found. Two Door Cinema Club, The Hives, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and The Vaccines were an absolute blast but perhaps the most memorable event was seeing the Castle field bursting at the seams for Lewis Capaldi.
Whatever your musical taste, Victorious goes from strength to strength and nothing that occurred this year looks likely to buck that trend.
Early bird tickets are already on sale for Victorious 2020 here. The first-tier pricing of £90 (plus fees) for the entire weekend makes the festival pretty much the best bang for the buck you’ll find anywhere.
Victorious Festival 2019: Sunday 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 Friday at Victorious 2019 is here.
RockShot’s review of Saturday at Victorious 2019 is here.