(Photo by Simon Reed)
Every year Victorious causes a massive shutdown of the city, as the festival performances expand to dominate every square inch that southern Portsmouth has to spare, and more. One can’t begin to imagine what pressure is on the musicians, to be the centre of a city’s attention.
The sheer size of the crowd seeking that energy even seems to perplex a traditionally blunt Bob Geldof of Eighties new wavers The Boomtown Rats – “what the f— are you all doing up so early on a Saturday afternoon?”. The energy takes a different alternative R&B form on the second ‘Castle Stage’, where Raleigh Ritchie delivers just as much, albeit without ‘cool’ onstage banter that sounds decades out of date (“WE ARE MEGA!” – Bob Geldof). Despite many knowing Ritchie best from his acting role in Game of Thrones, he must not be overlooked onstage.
DMA’s, hailing from Sydney, ironically draw most of their influences from Nineties Britpop, and they make no secret of it, right down to singer Matt Mason’s posture, resembling that of Liam Gallagher. It is just as well that Noel Gallagher headlines tomorrow, or he may have had something to say on the matter.
It is the Levellers who are first to create a true party atmosphere, as they somewhat shed their political raving and ranting in favour of fun. One might have expected once upon a time that to open with their playful biggest hit ‘What a Beautiful Day’ would be only to ironically follow it up with pleas for revolution. However, in 2016 this is not the case, and the happiness remains until the very end. Whether it is due to moving on from anarchic youth, or wanting to create a chaotic show appropriate for all the family on their day out by the seaside, their mish-mash of folk and punk create a brilliant frenzy.
The Coral also sound terrific, but besides their biggest hits (such as ‘Dreaming of You’ and ‘In the Morning’), they fail to engage the audience quite as much, standing deadly still, with frontman James Skelly very much in his own bubble. Early single ‘Goodbye’ was a pleaser, but the countdown in its lyrics wasn’t followed by anything especially explosive. That is unless following performers Travis count.
The indie rock foursome perform what might be the most ideal ‘festival setlist’ of the whole weekend, featuring all of their biggest hits. They shamelessly accept that casual observers will not be nearly as excited for their latest singles, and so include novelties to keep everyone engaged. Frontman Fran Healy daringly rides an audience member’s shoulders into the crowd during ‘Where You Stand’ and choreographs a dance for the audience during ‘Magnificent’, calling it the “next Macarena”. As Healy sings “such a lovely day, I’m glad you feel the same” during the acoustic ‘Flowers in the Window’, band members reach around his body to play the guitar for him. Even at these quieter moments, Travis are clearly enjoying themselves, and nobody is having any trouble joining in. This clash of interactivity with the crowd, sentimentality and playfulness somewhat defines Saturday.
This is only confirmed by headliners Manic Street Preachers, albeit ten times louder (even before the deafening snap of their streamer cannons shake Portsmouth). A lone James Dean Bradfield performs ‘Ocean Spray’, and acoustic tribute to his late mother, laced with an excerpt of The Clash’s ‘Train in Vain’, at request of an audience member. Bradfield sniggers “no more songs from London Calling!” as requests keep coming.
After all they are here to celebrate a landmark in their own career, devoting a large portion of the set to mark the twentieth anniversary of seminal British rock album Everything Must Go. Besides this, it is remarkable just how big an arsenal of loud hits that they have, recognised by all, and how with such huge sing-alongs as ‘You Love Us’ and grand finale ‘A Design for Life’, they are never in danger of being anything short of excellence.
On Sunday, the sky looks like death, and there are plenty waterproof jackets about. This still does little to bring down the mood. On the opposite side of Victorious, the site is less of an arena as the main stage, and far more of a bustling scene of food, merchandise and art stands, as well as many other smaller stages. The tiny Mayfield Real Age Stage, hidden in the heart of the market, is devoted entirely to aspiring acts assembled from highly talented students, alumni and lecturers of the local South Downs College.
At the Castle Stage, electronic dance pop singer Dagny says that she and her band arrived from their home city of Tromso in Northern Norway, where it has already started snowing. Perhaps it really is time that we stop complaining about the weather and succumb to her stream of jolliness. She does not stop smiling throughout her entire performance – a mixture of pleasant memory (as she points out that she had written a song in Portsmouth) and glee as she spots that happiness is clearly rubbing on her dancing fans in the front row.
Pretty Vicious and their teenage garage punk seem to have every intention of making everyone a bit angrier, if only for fun. They perform against a sickening, glitchy and flashing screen on which we can just about make out someone playing Space Invaders, and a suited man with an amplifier for a face, for little other reason than “because we can”. It is somewhat generic, but through their thrash they successfully channeling fury – definitely exactly what they set out to achieve.
Ash are another rock band who are under serious pressure after a big countdown entrance, followed by a loud bass grumble – a bold statement signifying that they have no choice but to deliver something explosive. After all, what else should be expected of a band stood against the cover of their latest album, entitled Kablammo!? In another set built almost entirely on their best known tracks (such as ‘Shining Light’ and fittingly ‘Burn Baby Burn’), they are the spark of hard rock ecstasy at the Castle Stage, that lights the rage of Australia’s Wolfmother whose sound is bigger than frontman Andrew Stockdale’s hair (quite the achievement). They even claim that they pulled out classic ‘Victorious’ especially for Victorious Festival – a crowd-pleasing fib as it’s a mainstay of their sets.
Curiously, Wolfmother perform their best known track ‘Woman’ just ten-minutes into their set, justifying their huge confidence in how no matter what they play, the euphoria and fast-paced virtuosic guitar solo will not end until the plug is pulled.
This racket is countered at the Acoustic Stage by young Irish soloist Orla Gartland, who alone onstage performing an enthralling set, peaking with recent EP title track ‘Lonely People’, which provokes deadly silence from a mesmerised crowd. Her fame might have stemmed from attention on YouTube, but any stigma of being a viral sensation, unjustly thrown to the top, is shaken off. However even she can’t keep quiet and calm for long, ending on Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’. She laments that “no, I don’t know the rap bit”. Luckily the audience were very happy to fill in the blanks.
At the top of the bill, serving as a grand finale to the weekend is Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Gallagher’s touring band are solid and heavy sounding. However, Gallagher is incredibly casual in his performance, introducing Oasis tracks with such a calm demeanour that to begin with, one can’t be entirely sure that his attitude is that of sincere communication with his audience, or genuine irritation that he must perform songs of the past era – “erm… this is ‘Wonderwall’“.
That is until the songs enthusiastically begin, and any fear of reluctance in performance and any flimsiness without his former bandmates, is defused. In fact, they may well benefit, as one now knows for a fact that these songs are entirely in the state that Noel had envisioned, whether it be one of the many songs from latest album ‘Chasing Yesterday’, best known Gallagher solo track ‘AKA… What a Life!’, or the powerful rendition (and deafening reply of a singing audience) of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. Needless to say, Victorious Festival approves.