Last weekend in the south of the UK, within 70 miles of each other, two large music festivals took place. One cost £205 and featured the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, Blink 182 and Arctic Monkeys. The other cost £40 and had a line-up that included Dizzee Rascal, Seastick Steve and British Sea Power. The £205 event was set on some fields next to a non-descript industrial estate, the other was by the seaside, with the £40 ticket also giving access to an aquarium, a castle and a D-Day museum as well as the music.
Of course that doesn’t tell the whole story. Whilst Portsmouth’s Victorious Festival was undoubtedly much more affordable, it was also only over 2 days rather than 3 of Reading. Also it didn’t have camping included and the quality and consistency throughout the complete bill was lacking. The undercard at Victorious featured a raft of local bands that varied in ability and experience, novelty acts such as a Beatles tribute and X-Factor’s Lucy Spraggan, plus way past their commercial hey-day bands such as Razorlight (once Reading Festival main stagers themselves) and Scouting For Girls. The two festivals were also aimed at very different markets. Reading catered for the post GCSE hedonists and the vaguely alternative indie / rock lovers whilst Victorious threw its net wider – from locals who just fancied a day out, to families looking for bank holiday entertainment, to music heads attracted by the cheap price.
Following a move from its previous location at Portsmouth’s historic dockyard the 2014 edition of Victorious was bigger (a 40,000 sold out capacity on the Saturday, although somewhat less busy on the Sunday) and undoubtedly better organised than the year before. The site was more spacious, the staging and sound was generally very good and the relaxed crowd was free to roam across the different areas of the site that included a cocktail garden, a large boutique market, a silent disco, an excellent real ale festival, a large kids area and of course the main music stages themselves. There was also a distinct lack of large corporate sponsorship, the majority of partners being local, giving the festival a strong community spirit.
There were some issues with queues for the bars and toilets on Saturday, although with a smaller crowd on Sunday these were eliminated, but these were minor quibbles in what was otherwise a well-run and enjoyable event.
Our favourite stage was without doubt the Seaside Stage. Set in a bowl shaped arena unsurprisingly just yards from the sea there was something quite surreal about watching large cruise ships and ferries sail past just a few hundred metres away as the bands played. Highlights on this stage included Tom Odell who seemed genuinely honoured to be finishing his tour in a city just a few miles down the road from Chichester where he used to live. A sensitive version of Elton John’s Your Song and his own composition Grow Old With Me was enough to make anyone with even the tiniest spark of sentimentality feel emotionally touched and by the time he reached Another Love the audience was his choir.
On the same stage on Sunday Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip played their second to last gig ever together, complete with a mini-moshpit, Pip jumping into the audience to rap and Le Sac firing off all sorts of hard hitting beats and techno fizzes. Later that evening British Sea Power (what better named band to play a festival stage next to the ocean) played a soaring but enigmatic set that deserved far more time than the brutal half an hour that they had been allocated to play – the same length as some of the much lower quality local acts on the bill. It was a puzzling piece of curation.
Over on the main Castle Stage on Sunday there was more questionable scheduling with The Cadbury Sisters, Bristol’s answer to The Staves being given a mid-bill placement, despite the fact they’re a very new band. Surely they would have fared better at the same time on the acoustic stage?
It was the acoustic stage that provided our highlight of the weekend though. Slow Club (pictured above) found themselves stripped back to their original two piece and with that bringing heart-warming / breaking intimacy through beautiful soul / country harmonies and songs. Gone are the days of the bands twee ramshackle performances, now they’re a beautifully oiled song machine with bags of mature beauty. As Charles played solo to the crowd Rebecca stood to the side of the stage watching him with what appeared to be awe – two characters that seemed to compliment and respect each other perfectly, even down to the comedy facial hair Rebecca was wearing for the gig.
Of the best local acts we saw psychedelic indie rockers Kassassin Street (not to be confused with Tom Odell, although according to lead singer Rowan one punter was and asked ‘Tom’ for a photo) pulled a big crowd on the Seaside Stage and provided psychedelic groovy rock thrills a plenty after a slow start due to a poor sound mix, Megan Linford charmed the south coast with her gentle folk, Americana and country influences in DM boots whilst the melted candy tones of Eloise Keating wielded the prettiest mint guitar and found people muttering the word ‘future potential’ for her short solo set.
In an over-saturated and often over-priced festival market Victorious seems to have found something to separate it from the masses; a real value for money festival set in a unique location. May its reign be happy and glorious.