(Photos by Strong Island Media)
A review of Victorious Festival, written for NOISE CANNON.
From atop a hill in Southsea’s Castle Field, you can see that the normally grey seaside town is busier, and more alive than it has been in a long time. Years. Into the distance are the Southsea Kite Festival, a funfair and a circus, all bustling like such a town should in the summer. A rare day of beaming sun only adds to the ideal day on the seafront. Under the beaming sun, it’s a sight to behold, heard of only in myths of beach holidays before everyone could flee to Spain for the summer. However, in place of donkey rides is something for noisier – Victorious Festival 2014.
X Factor contestants are easy to shrug off, but Lucy Spraggan proves her energetic worth live. And as the first act of the day to have their name on the bass drum skin, who is anyone to doubt her? Yet even more stunning is Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who with a recent bewitching folk-tinted album Wanderlust (“This is a song about a witch…” – Sophie), and a huge backing band, brings unlikely theatrics to the stage. She later takes on the role of a magician’s assistant, as a fed up looking stage hand lifts a small curtain, only to drop it and reveal a more revealing costume. Then came the inevitable mood lifters in the form of a panorama of ‘Groovejet’, ‘Murder on the Dance Floor’ and Cher’s ‘Take Me Home’.
A band normally best remembered as better off forgotten, comes in the form of Scouting For Girls, and similarly manage go down a sweet treat with most. For a piano pop-rock band whose biggest hit is entitled ‘She’s So Lovely’, they convincingly provoke madness in the crowd, only aided by a surprisingly loud and not-as-sacrilegious-as-you-might-expect cover of ‘Live And Let Die’.
Penultimate performers Razorlight however, are disappointingly lifeless. Neither the crowd nor the band seem keen, not helped by a technical fault that silences the band for five minutes, without explanation from the band. In fact, there is barely a single word from Borrell throughout their hour slot. After promises to become more of a gentleman from Borrell, Razorlight might need his obnoxious diva attitude back to be slightly more interesting. When the grand finale big hit single is the mid-tempo crawl of ‘America’, the atmosphere became slightly awkward.
Still, this serves well as an extended break before Day 1 headliner Dizzee Rascal. All of a sudden the lyrics aren’t nearly as family friendly, as Dizzee’s filthy “fucking bonkers” tongue is here to turn the air blue. And red. And green. And just about every other colour that his ridiculous laser, strobes, fireworks and CO2 cannon stage show can provide. It is all very intricate for just sixty minutes, fronted by a brilliant enough showman to get away with performing ‘Dance Wiv Me’ and ‘You’ve Got the Dirtee Love’ wivvout either a Calvin Harris or Florence Welch on the premises.
“But Mummy! I want to see the ladies singing!” A young girl moans when dragged instead to the circus, as the hauntingly in-harmony Cadbury Sisters coo on the main ‘Castle Stage’ at Victorious Festival 2014.
Menswear aren’t amazingly energetic, but towards the end of their set, they make no secret of causing entertaining chaos, when the band refuse to stop playing, visibly aggravating the crew as they overran by ten minutes, to the point of yanking a guitar from the guitarist’s hands. This was important to continue the Nineties Britpop revival medley, and usher Shed Seven onto the stage. Sneaking in a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’, and closing on hit single ‘Chasing Rainbows’, provokes what is undeniably the biggest singalong of the day, and the biggest boo of the weekend – when frontman Rick Witter announces that there are only two songs to go.
And so comes grand finale ex-hobo bluesman Seasick Steve, whose minimal stage show is the polar opposite of Dizzee yesterday – two aging men, unusual decrepit guitars and drums (which still sound incredible at the hands of Steve) and… that’s about it.
However, it is often unbelievable just how destructive the rumbling crunch of Steve’s sound can be, especially noticeable during the raw grind of ‘Diddley Bo’ (played on a single string) and as feedback screeches over the naughty words during the autobiographical tales of ‘Dog House Boogie’: “I sat there waitin’ to shoot that motherfu-“. As per tradition, pieces fell from the drummer’s kit, only for him to leave it about half an hour before picking it up – only after almost tripping over it when standing up to play the broom. Yes, really. Brushing the stage floor, next to a microphone provided a subtle hushed rhythm.
It’s something that stands against the energy of the weekend, and festival headliners in general, yet he draws everybody in. The regular, satisfied “lordy lordy lordy” from Steve makes no secret that the almost capacity crowd was well and truly won.
Steve is the last of many musicians to call out the festival’s bold title, and the even bolder illuminated Hollywood-style sign bearing the name. Call it prophetic, or just to fuel positive reviewers with a hyperbole with a tempting word for praise, either way it might not have been an exaggeration after all. Victorious indeed.