Written 28th June 2015, and spattered with not especially good photos. They’re better if you click to maximize them. Honest!
Alesha Dixon has made no secret of her transition from pop singer, to a much broader stage-and-screen entertainer, lacing ‘The Boy Does Nothing’ with as much “put your phones in the air” and “put your crutches in the air. Get well soon” as possible. In her legendary trademark cackle, of course. It would come as no surprise were there another list beside her setlist, of items to order the crowd to wave in the air. Like they just don’t care. However daft, it is just the energy that today calls for.
After all, this is the maiden voyage of the Portsmouth Summer Show – with its line-up of pop stars and X Factor personalities, and a sold-out family-dominated crowd, it possibly lays claim to being southern Britain’s biggest pop picnic. Against a glorious backdrop of sunshine and funfair, today promises a massive array of fun pop in bite-size half-hour chunks. The five-year-old girls brought onstage from the audience to dance to a nostalgic performance of Mis-Teeq’s ‘Scandalous’ (sadly backed by pre-recorded vocals, rather than Dixon’s ex-girl-bandmates) perhaps already define the show’s personality by lunchtime.
Even though 2003 seems to be alien enough for the young crowd, electricity is hiked up further in a throwback to 1969 by Beatles tribute The Silver Beatles, bringing with them the biggest party atmosphere of the afternoon, something shamelessly mentioned by ‘George Harrison’ – “Have you taken enough drugs to sing this one Ringo?”. Upon noticing that there are five-minutes to spare, they even blitz back to the stage for a rousing impromptu rendition of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. Whether it is for everyone’s amusement, or to compensate for the horror of seeing ‘John Lennon’ and ‘Paul McCartney’ discussing twerking and Kanye West, everyone is understandably beaming.
Unfortunately, faced with following a mass singalong of ‘Hey Jude’, Starsailor’s James Walsh, performing alone, doesn’t attract nearly as much joy, and the crowd visibly disperse. No amount of “Come on Portsmouth, one more time!” kicks much energy into the crowd. However, this is more than resolved by Lucy Spraggan, who in little time has everyone around her little finger, especially come her closer ‘Jeremy Kyle’ (although one refuses to believe that there are more fans of Jeremy Kyle than there are attendees of the Portsmouth Summer Show). The X Factor contestant section of the bill, continues with Luke Friend who proves of similar worth, even without Spraggan’s folk-rock Snoop Dogg and Sir Mix-a-Lot medleys. In their place is a peculiarly energetic and mature-sounding growl. Not long since his rise to fame, and with a history of just one song released, his set-closer ‘Hole in My Heart’, Friend sounds far more imposing than one might expect, making his future output strangely intriguing.
While the karaoke flavour of so many covers is somewhat shaken off by the earlier contestants, that is sadly more than can be said for X Factor winner Matt Cardle, who comes across of Friend’s polar opposite. There is a curious irony as the man who turned his back on the show’s artificiality, brings his guitar to very few songs, and performs more covers than anybody not a tribute act. While the small stage might justify not being backed by a live band, the pre-recorded backing track (complete with backing vocals) are at such a blaring volume that he almost appears to mime his best known cover of Biffy Clyro’s ‘Many of Horror’ (aka ‘When We Collide’). Not that any of this prevent squeals and even roses thrown from the audience.
Whereas Cardle spends most of his onstage banter time ranting about Ed Sheeran’s alleged plagiarism (“#justsayin” – Matt Cardle. And yes, he said “hashtag”), Professor Green is far more joyous and playful in his even more daring chatter – “I’m not in Southampton am I?”. Judging from the deafening response, the answer can reliably be considered ‘no’. An unusual booking against the Technicolored backdrop of the family festival, Green, in leaving his band at home, beyond a fellow singer and DJ, and not performing in a dark miserable corner, he sheds almost all of his signature not-so-PG grit.
As Green yacks through a half-hour grin with enough force to drive the crowd nuts, it is somewhat unusual that one is allowed to breathe so easily in the front row. The true audience squeeze awaits the headliners – Blue.
Blue are all shamelessly self-deprecating in spite of their their spectacular success at the dawn of the Naughties, so a final demographic of anyone who felt old in the company of many-thousands of tweens were final fully satisfied – assuming that Antony Costa’s claim to being “One Direction’s uncles” was more to do with age than incredible mentorship. Lee Ryan’s warning that he was no longer able to hit the highest notes in ‘Breathe Easy’ confirms the former, but considering the sheer glee of everyone pleasant, it might not have been too shocking to overstate their importance. Costa pointing out that back in the day that “Lee Ryan’s balls hadn’t dropped” confirms who tonight’s demographic is. Simon Webbe’s regular “hello ladies” is for anyone with any doubts of whether they belong.
From entering to debut ‘All Rise’ to ‘Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word’, whether it’s down to their voices, audience nostalgia, or just the boys plain looking good (presumably a mixture of all three), it’s boisterous to the end. By set closer ‘One Love’, opened with a speech following Blue’s performance earlier in the day at the London Gay Pride rally, the mood isn’t just fun. It’s one of celebration.
That aura of pride continues through the encore, as Costa successfully provokes a mass ‘Play Up Pompey’ chant, followed by a smirking apology – “Shame I’m a Spurs fan”. The giggly groan that he gets back is a sign. Portsmouth truthfully lays claim to yet another successful and in this case very importantly, fun music festival, following the massive successes of Southsea’s Victorious Festival.
Same time next year? Just don’t expect any mosh pits.