We have been around long enough to remember when Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard was home to Victorious Festival. That event was great fun, in such a beautiful and unique location. Since then the festival has evolved into one of the best in the country and very few can boast to be in such an amazing seaside location, with a Tudor Castle within its grounds.
This summer’s event was impacted by work going on to strengthen the city’s sea defences, the iconic bandstand area was taking a year off and will no doubt return next summer. Also to the disappointment of many, there was no Real Ale Stage which used to be a firm favourite to so many festival goers.
Other than that the site looked very similar to previous years, back was the glorious World Music Stage, which was surrounded by some of the best food from around the globe. The Comedy Tent was back and bigger than ever, with headliners Russell Kane, Joel Dommett and Katheryn Ryan taking stage during the day, but into the late afternoon and evening this turned into a space for tribute bands.
The festival opened earlier than ever to glorious sunshine on Friday morning, with what felt like bigger than usual crowds for the Friday opening. This was most likely helped by the legendary Primal Scream opening the event at 1 pm. The sizeable crowd loved every moment as the band made their way through hit after hit including ‘Come Together,’ ‘Movin’ On Up’, ‘Rocks’ and ‘Country Girl.’ What a start to the festival on the main stage!
In addition to the Common Stage, the World Music Stage opened from 11:30. This is an eclectic, culturally-diverse area that has become one of my favourites over the years, with its creative community feel and interactive installations to get stuck into.
London-based singer-songwriter Jinju Uncia, couldn’t have been more perfect for Southsea’s golden hour. Hailing from Switzerland and of French-Korean origin, Jinju’s sound is a dreamy fusion of musical influences, from trip-hop to funk, electro to rap. Her voice was absolutely sublime, effortlessly switching between sweetly-soaring melodies and soothing spoken word, French to English, and back again.
She gathered the crowd close to the stage, encouraging us to move with her to each song, and the lush beats and gorgeous vocals were impossible not to sway along to. Check out tracks Kairos & Chronos and Marco Polo for a feel of Jinju’s music, which is unlike anything I’d heard before. Get streaming her. You can thank us later.
Following Primal Scream a few hours later was Rebecca Lucy Taylor AKA Self Esteem. Her second album, ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ has been the soundtrack to the summer for many and her appearance was highly anticipated. Straight from the off, she didn’t disappoint with the almost chant-like ‘I’m Fine’. Its lyrical themes of female strength and power are repeated through many of her songs in a set that mixes R&B style harmonies, pop group dance moves and dirty electro beats. It’s the analogue sound of an actual drum kit which offers one of the highlights though – the pounding beat of ‘How Can I Help You?’ is immense as Taylor joins in on drums herself.
Looking over the back projection behind the stage, the repeated written lines of ‘I’m Tired Now’ are knowingly ironic. The pace moves from occasional club banger (‘You Forever’ does not disappoint in getting everyone moving) to pop ballad-esque magic; all of which are interlaced with Taylor’s beautiful and powerful voice backed by harmonies from her constant backing singers. The vocals from all three women on stage for ‘Fucking Wizardry’ are, well, fucking wizardry. Penultimate song ‘I Do This All The Time’ provides a real ‘festival moment’ for those watching – the late afternoon sun shining, beers in hand and an absolute beaut of a singalong chorus. The show is great. Well crafted, fun and enjoyable and one which helps cement Self Esteem as one of the UK’s most intelligent, forward-thinking artists.
Indie bands James, Anna Calvi and Bombay Bicycle Club proceeded and complemented Friday night’s Common Stage headliners Stereophonics, who were brilliant, as usual for the Welsh rockers. Kelly Jones’ rasping voice was on top form as they worked through a lengthy twenty-one-song set list of hits including ‘Traffic’, “A Thousand Trees’ and ‘Maybe Tomorrow’. The band finished with three perfect festival songs, ‘Bartender & The Thief’, ‘Just Looking’ and ‘Dakota’ to cap the night off brilliantly.
Kelly Jones’ rasping voice was on top form as they worked through a lengthy twenty-one-song set
Saturday began early as the whole festival site opened up and The K’s took to the common stage, an unsigned 4 piece from Earlestown. A full on energetic guitar-wrenching indie rock set that included ‘Glass Towns’ and ‘Sarajevo’, but was over far too quickly! The set included the band getting young Portsmouth lad ‘Dylan’ up to the stage on backing vocals followed by him crowd surfing.
Local father & son Irish duo Dicey Riley performed on the Showcase Stage to a crowd that grew and gathered momentum through their set to become a huge party atmosphere, finalising in a mass singalong.
Arguably Sugababes stole the show on Saturday with their special guest slot on the Common Stage. The original line-up of Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy reunited after their 1998 debut album, Overload. They danced and sang through an epic set of hits including ‘Push The Button’, ‘Hole In The Head’, ‘Stronger’, ‘Too Lost In You.’ Round Round’ and ‘Freak Like Me.’ These afternoon special guest sets are a real treat and get the day going perfectly.
The most die-hard musos will carefully plan a music festival, where they have to be and when but every now and again you can accidentally stumble onto an absolute gem, this is what happened on Saturday afternoon at the Castle Stage – Reading-based indie four-piece Only the Poets. A last-minute addition to the festival bill, the boys all but exploded onto the stage, all energy and enthusiasm.
They got our attention instantly with their summery, bouncy indie pop (think Larkins and the South Coast’s own Crystal Tides) and choruses so catchy we’d memorised them before the end of each song. They seemed truly stoked to be there, with lead singer Tommy bantering easily with the crowd and each of the boys visibly feeding off the thrill they were creating in the audience. It’s pretty much impossible not to enjoy an act who are so obviously having a ball while performing, and Only the Poets were one of the most exciting bands I saw all weekend.
At the time of writing, they’re still unsigned but if the way they charmed the Saturday punters at Victorious was anything to go by, they won’t be much longer. Listen to Every Song I Ever Wrote, Speak Out and Emotional for a taste of their ludicrously likeable sound.
Sometimes one song is enough to make you want to see an artist live. That’s why we stuck around at the Castle Stage on Saturday afternoon to watch South African-born singer Baby Queen. And the song? Want Me, fresh from the soundtrack of Netflix’s recent megahit series Heartstopper.
Liz Parsons describes, “‘Want Me’ was love at first listen for me – 80s inspired synth-laden spoken word verses with a super-cute singalong chorus (like Wolf Alice’s Don’t Delete the Kisses meets Wet Leg’s Wet Dream). I thought this meant I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from her set, but I soon realised it’s probably best to expect the unexpected with Baby Queen.”
Born in Durban and based in London since 2015, Baby Queen (aka Arabella Latham) got her record deal with Polydor over Zoom in 2020. Since then, she’s become known for an infectious style of grungy anti-pop full of razor-sharp lyrics, coming-of-age defiance and genderfluid sexual expression.
Her lyrics are brilliant (my personal favourite – “Tell your boyfriend that it’s over, write a song for Jodie Comer”) and her set gave them all the playful rebelliousness they deserve. Playing a pink guitar for some songs and using every inch of the stage when just on the mic, Baby Queen bearhugged her bandmembers as they rocked out together, took a high-five victory lap along the front row and chucked beer over her head to keep herself cool. Reminding us all how much fun it is to watch an act when you’ve no idea what they’re going to do next, she had the crowd in the palm of her hand as she busted out fan faves including Buzzkill, Nobody Really Cares and Raw Thoughts.
It was a performance that totally embodied her two-fingers-up stance to social conformity. If you’ve ever fantasised about travelling back in time and delivering the perfect comeback to the school bully, Baby Queen’s got your back.
Britpop legends Ocean Colour Scene treated us to a hit-laden set on the Common Stage, opening with a beautiful acoustic version of ‘Robin Hood’ performed solo by Simon Fowler. Before the rest of the band joined for the rousing classic that is ‘Hundred Mile High City’ with that familiar opening guitar riff fired out by the stylish Steve Craddock. The hits and singalongs carried on from there as they flowed through an epic set that included ‘The Circle,’ ‘The Day We Caught The Train’, ‘The Riverboat Song’ and a touching version of ‘Profit In Peace.’
From its earliest incarnation down at the Historic Dockyard to its current form as the biggest metropolitan festival in the country, Victorious has incorporated much of Southsea and Portsmouth’s independent spirit into proceedings. This year was no different with not only local businesses (including Strong Island Clothing of course) having stalls but also a dedicated neighbourhood eats area where a whole host of city-based eateries had their own festival-ready establishments serving the punters.
Natty’s Jerk right next door to the Southsea Deli both proved popular haunts for the hungry and it was great to see Victorious first-timers Baffled too – their Rueben sandwich and fries, in particular, being a highlight. Another stand out local food offering came from Southampton’s Fine Brownie Company – a range of different brownie flavours in generously sized slices provided a suitblae sweet fix to recharge the batteries.
What all of this amazing choice of delicious food could have done with though was some locally brewed beer! We are so lucky to have a whole raft of local craft brewers from Pompey’s own Staggeringly Good and Southsea Brewing to Gosport’s Fallen Acorn and Southampton’s Unity so it was a disappointment of this year’s festival the Real Ale tent (and accompanying stage) were not included for the first time. Although we did hear that Staggeringly Good beers were stocked at Watkins & Faux but we’ve not been able to confirm that. It’s not like anyone can accuse organisers of not supporting local but this is a real missed opportunity. It was slim pickings for premium beers in the bars with many beer aficionados opting for Brixton Brewery’s Reliance Pale Ale.
There is an urban myth going around Portsmouth of people burying alcohol prior to the event. It’s a nice story and raises a smile but we don’t believe it. However, if you saw someone walking around with a shovel or digging at the ground like a dog with a bone then do let us know.
We Are Scientists returned to the Common Stage on Saturday afternoon to offer a feel-good set packed with an almost embarrassing abundance of hook-laden tunes. A case-in-point is their second song of the set ‘Buckle’, an under-the-radar-should-have-been-huge power pop splurge with a great sing-along chorus which sets the scene for the next 25 minutes. Almost straight after we hear ‘The Great Escape’ that rolls along at a fine pace whilst the double hit of set closers ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ and ‘After Hours’ once again reminds us of the arsenal of tunes this duo possess. Bathed in the afternoon sun, the festival crowd lap it up, applauding what is arguably one of the highlights of the Common Stage today.
Briskly switching over to the Castle Stage were more mid-noughties tunes in the form of rock trio The Subways. Never quite breaking through to the mainstream as they once threatened, they are now nearly 20 years(!) into their career. The group still has an obviously dedicated fanbase however and many are down the front to catch the set. The trio blast their way through a series of riff-heavy power pop with bare-chested singer Billy Lunn looking and sounding every bit the classic rock God, guitar-playing front man as he urges the crowd to ‘go fucking crazy.’
It’s a rollicking, pulsating set from the band, Lunn’s vocals working well with bassist Charlotte Cooper on ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang‘. The pair are on great form as they race around the stage, pulling all of the rock n roll cliches you could ask for and possibly don’t even realise you need on a Saturday afternoon on Southsea Common. The infectious energy emanating from the stage gets the whole crowd – and not just the hardcore Subways contingent – moving. They, of course, finish with ‘Rock and Roll Queen’ with its thumping bassline sounding sublime and its huge singalong chorus being sung back to them as they leave the stage. An unexpectedly great afternoon set.
Early on Sunday, Emsworth based Harvey Jay Dodgson took the the Castle Stage and drew a good sized ‘local’ crowd. Clearly enjoying every moment of his time on the stage, he gave us a great set that was accompanied by other local talent on backing vocals, one to look out for in the future.
The Sunday special goes were non-other than The Libertines, celebrating the 20-year anniversary of their seminal album ‘Up The Bracket’. The boys were on fine form with a set including ‘Vertigo’, ‘Can’t Stand Me now’ and ‘Don’t Look back Into The Sun’.
Doncaster band The Reytons delivered a full-on in-your-face set, with opener ‘Red Smoke’ being accompanied by a red flare from a young lad in the mosh pit. They followed this up with the sort of energy you come to expect from this band, belting out ‘Antibiotic’, ‘On The Back Burner’, ‘Kids Off The Estate’ and ‘Broke Boys Cartel’, all with a mosh pit that was going off (not bad for a set at 14.15 in the afternoon)
The Comedy Stage was packed out with people standing all around the edges 6 or 7 deep for the afternoon sessions by Russell Kane & Katherine Ryan (along with compare Rosie Jones) this made for a nice break in the music and was a real treat. This follows well-received sets from Joel Dommett and returning Pompey ex-pat Suzi Ruffell. Ruffell has been going from strength to strength in recent years. She is a regular on BBC Radio 4 including The News Quiz and The Now Show, as well as co-hosting the hit podcast Like Minded Friends with Tom Allen.
On paper, Metronomy may well have been better placed on the Castle Stage with its slightly more intimate surroundings possibly being more suited to the stripped-back sound of Devon’s finest purveyors of electronic indie pop music. However, when you have a bag of tunes as big as this band’s any stage size will find a crowd willing to dance and sing back at you. ‘The Bay’ is a case in point; played early doors it sets up the tone for the rest of the performance with its rhythmic, off-kilter electronica feeling almost tropical in the Southsea sun.
Another classic from their breakthrough album ‘The English Riviera’ comes soon after. ‘Everything Goes My Way’ seems to slink from the stage, drummer Anna Prior’s sardonic melodies are sung with a slight grin and, for someone sitting in one place throughout, it’s an excellent performance caught on the big screens. With a range of albums to draw on, the songs offer a variety of musical styles to the set. At the midpoint we get ‘Things Will Be Fine’.
Front man Joe Mount dons an acoustic guitar for what is as close to a regular ‘indie tune standard’ as the band have conjured. Its optimistic lyrics of hope and calm are certainly appreciated. After this the band lurch into a fuzzed up version of ‘Salted Caramel Ice Cream’, the song being given a more beefed up presence live but all the better for it. They finish with crowd favourite ‘The Look’ before playing the motown stomp of ‘Love Letters’, its lush chorus and pounding rhythm again providing another new musical turn.
There’s an audible buzz around the crowd as Suede takes to the stage. These are Britpop royalty and in frontman Brett Anderson, they possess one of the best frontmen in the business. Famed for their impressive live shows they launch straight into ‘She Still Turns Me On,’ the lead single from their latest record ‘Autofiction’. It’s a full on blast of energy, its pulsating chorus already sounding like a long-lost Suede classic. What follows is essentially a best of playlist by the band and absolutely perfect for the festival setting. ‘Trash’ begins the mass singalongs and is quickly followed by ‘Animal Nitrate’ – the song still retaining its epic sleaziness – then ‘We Are The Pigs’ with its dystopian coda of “We will watch them burn” sounding both glorious and sinister in the fading evening light.
Anderson is in fine form tonight, racing around the stage like a man half his age, still fabulously sexy and lithe. He’s also playing with the crowd throughout, coming down to the front rows to meet his hardcore obsessives as well as bringing the rest of the Common Stage crowd into the fold. A few times between songs and with a slight smile on his face he urges us to ‘make some fucking noise.’ It’s a wry joke we’re all very much in on as it’s hard to fathom the applause greeting these tunes being any louder.
As the show continues, so do the Suede classics. ‘Pantomime Horse’ is perfectly placed, allowing its dark and mournful sweep of a chorus to act as perfect breathing space. ‘The Drowners’ kicks off the second half of the show, as the band and Anderson wind themselves up to go again. By the time ‘So Young’ is belted out it’s hard to think the band have any more hits left in them but low and behold, they finish off with the double bill of ‘Metal Mickey’ and ‘Beautiful Ones’, the latter producing an even louder sing-a-long from those watching.
Sunday evening was filled with a real sense of anticipation for one of the UK’s biggest and most popular current artists/bands. Sam Fender has had a meteoric rise over the last twelve months but remains a man of the people. This makes him even more appealing to the crowds and the Common Stage was packed solid ahead of this entrance onto the stage.
The anticipation rose the deafening cheers & screams as Sam hit the stage, with the bands heading straight into ‘Will We Talk’ followed up with ‘Getting Started’ and ‘Dead Boys’, what a start to his set.
The crowd loved every second of his set, yet despite this adulation, Sam Fender always stays humble. To the point, he looked emotional and taken aback when thanking his band “it’s my name on the tin, but without these guys I’m nothing!” His encore was one of the best I have seen at the festival and the atmosphere was electric as the crowd joined in a rendition of ‘Saturday’, followed by huge hit ‘Seventeen Going Under’ and ‘Hypersonic Missiles.’ What a performance!
While Sam was doing his thing on the Common Stage, Anne Marie was wowing the crowd. Taking to a Castle Stage set with two giant inflatable teddy bears, Anne-Marie definitely understood the festival-finale assignment. She launched straight into huge hits including the double-platinum-selling Ciao Adios and debut single Alarm, complete with on-stage flame cannons that made me momentarily worried about the blow-up teddies. She was clearly having a great time, feeling every lyric, interacting with the audience and giving all her trademark warmth and swagger.
The highlights included a crowd-singalong moment to Rockabye (a collab with Sean Paul and 2019 Castle Stage closers, Clean Bandit) and when top-ten single 2002 merged into a mix up of early 00s hits, including Dr Dre’s Next Episode and Britney’s One More Time. She gave us a few slower moments too, like self-love anthem Perfect while perched on the edge of the stage, and Niall Horan breakup duet Our Song.
If you love a chatty headliner and Anne-Marie didn’t disappoint, giving us funny little anecdotes between songs and telling us how happy she was to be back on the festival circuit. At one point, she complimented a little girl’s light-up jacket as she sat on her dad’s shoulders near us in the crowd, and I’ve never seen anyone look so ecstatic.
Anne-Marie rounded off her performance with early banger and Marshmello collab FRIENDS, ending the Victorious party on a high. I reckon festival headliners should get you dancing with your hands in the air (fully ready for that all-day sofa recovery on Bank Holiday Monday). Mission accomplished.
Victorious Festival 2022 was exactly that ‘Victorious’. The festival bathed in the seaside sunshine for a weekend with a line up featuring the best current artists and bands from the local music scene.
Mixing big names such us Sam Fender, Anne-Marie, Bastille, Stereophonics & Becky Hill, breakthrough bands such as The K’s, The Reytons and Inhalers along with local artists including Crystal Tides, Jerry Williams & Harvey Jay Dodgson.
Add to that some amazing comedy acts (Rosie Jones, Russell Kane & Katherine Ryan plus others), awesome tribute acts such as Fleetingwood Mac and The Bog Rolling Stones and a whole kids area.
This is, and always has been, a festival for everyone and this year was a banger.
If you want to be there next year then you’ll be silly not to pick up some early bird tickets. Next year Friday’s reduced opening will be a thing of the past as the whole site will be open which means access to The Common and Castle Stage, as well as the Kids Arena, Fringe Fields, Comedy and Acoustic Arena. Get yours here.
Written: Stuart Barker, Chris Horton, Liz Parsons and Mike Butler
Photo: Strong Island Media