Words by Will Jones
The August bank holiday marked the return of Portsmouth’s Victorious Festival – the UK’s largest metropolitan festival. More importantly, for myself at least, it marked my return to weekend music events, something that I was unreservedly excited for.
Victorious prides itself on sculpting a music experience that remains central to the community that hosts it. In an attempt to reflect the naturally diverse tastes of the locality, they place emphasis on curating a roster of artists that everyone can enjoy elements of. One brief study of their stellar 2021 line up indicates this entirely. Crowd-pleasing, ‘everybody-knows-every-song’ acts are interspersed with some of the most exciting emerging artists.
Jerry Williams is a Portsmouth local and whilst she currently occupies the latter category, her time to achieve mainstream popularity is a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. The bedroom pop genre is booming, and Williams’ reverb-laden guitar tones and soft vocals ensured that a continuous flow of new fans got off their feet and huddled around the base of the stage. Spurred on by a receptive crowd, Williams was visibly happy to be playing her home festival again. Her performance of Velcro was a truly special moment.
Naturally, however, I found myself drawn towards the Common Stage, the cavernous main arena that dominates the green. At sunset – my favourite time of day at a festival – the beachside setting of the stage elevated the splendour of this period. Blossoms and The Kooks both delivered excellent sunset performances over the weekend. Blossoms opened with Your Girlfriend, the lead single from their most recent album Foolish Loving Spaces (2020). The band had recruited multiple additional members to bolster their live sound, and sonically, they were faultless. With three percussionists and a small army of synth players and guitarists, their performance sounded no less layered than their studio work. They filled the entirety of Southsea Common with their groovy, psychedelic indie rock; it was cacophonous. On the Friday, The Kooks guided the crowd through their string of indie classics, with a receptive audience bellowing the lyric: ‘do you want to go to the seaside?’. As the sun dipped over the Solent and the sound of the sea was washed out by two guitars and frontman Luke Pritchard’s discernible vocals, it was hard to think of a better place to be.
Exploring the site (and the extensive provision of bars) is always high up on my personal agenda at a festival, and Southsea Common was unrecognisable in its festival dress. Food stalls, drinking areas and small stages lined the paths and roadways – manufacturing the perfect environment in which to stage-hop and soak up the festival atmosphere that attendees had visibly missed so greatly. I purchased a very reasonably priced Victorious t-shirt (the first time I’ve ever bought festival merchandise) and semi-managed to watch some stand up at the comedy tent – although this was difficult because the temporary hay bale seating was flooded with those who fancied some time-out from the packed music schedule.
I instead found my greatest sanctuary in the Strongbow Yard – a shipping container bar with continuous DJ sets. Here, I saw another face to Victorious, this one appeared in the form of drum and bass, cold cider, and raving student-age attendees. This was one of those places in which you look down at your watch after what feels like 17 minutes, and just under two hours have passed. Two hours well spent, however.
Madness – Friday night’s headliner – remain one of those acts that can unite a crowd of various ages and backgrounds, rendering them a firm favourite with British festival-goers. As they launched into One Step Beyond, the huge throng of fans jumped in unison. They coursed their way through a catalogue of huge ska hits, their set failing to slow in pace until It Must Be Love, at which point the audience erupted into chorus.
If Jerry Williams and Madness represent the emerging talents and veteran stars that Victorious showcases, Mike Skinner’s fabled solo project, The Streets, perhaps occupies the middle-ground. Whilst Skinner was the Saturday night headliner, his garage sound and exploration of social themes is admittedly not for everyone. Skinner opened with Turn the Page, an orchestral-infused garage symphony that sent me to a new realm. The entire set was indescribably good. Skinner was in his element: pouring champagne into the mouths of the crowd, consistently announcing that he couldn’t sing and that he needed the audience to teach him. Whilst he ran out of champagne in the first few songs – a fact he bemoaned throughout the set – the energy of his performance did not wane. The army of fans echoed through the emotional chorus of Dry Your Eyes, before his other substantial hits Blinded by the Lights and Fit But You Know It rounded out the set. It’s hard to say whether the performance felt more like a religious experience or a fever dream, but I had just seen one of the greatest musical storytellers, so I didn’t really care.
Victorious also gifted me the opportunity to see one of my favourite bands. The Mercury Prize and Grammy-nominated Fontaines D.C. took to the Common Stage to deliver a genuinely unforgettable 45 minutes of post-punk goodness. Their set was divided between songs from their two critically acclaimed records, Dogrel (2019) and A Hero’s Death (2020), each one expressed in a live format that was arid and raw. The biggest mosh pit of the weekend opened as the skipping bassline of Televised Mind burst into life.
This was followed by Nile Rodgers & Chic, who I opted to see over Sunday night headliners Royal Blood. The influence of Nile Rodgers on the music industry is profound and often overlooked. He proudly named some of the artists he’d collaborated with: David Bowie, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Daft Punk – “and those are just the Ds” he exclaimed. With the enormous vocal talent of Chic, he coursed through these hits, rounding out the weekend with the south of England’s biggest disco.
In any other circumstances, the post-gig depression would have hit like a tonne of bricks on the morning after each night – however, the continued strength and sonic diversity of the line-up never allowed my excitement to dip below the level required to party in a field all day. Whether it was Craig David and Annie Mac delivering afternoon club floor-fillers, or legendary Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook acing his rendition of dance-infused synth-pop composition, Blue Monday, Victorious provided a musical experience that captivated thousands of people from all walks of life. For that bank holiday weekend, a new temporary community formed on Southsea Common, and it could not have been a much happier place to be.
Tickets for Victorious Festival 2022 are available here.
All image credits to Mark Enfield Photography
Edited by Rubie Barker