The Kings Theatre on Albert Road. Taken by James Davis

Southsea Fest 2016

Last weekend Southsea welcomed an old friend in the form of Southsea Fest. The one day, multi-venue festival was the most ambitious to date and the team behind the event well and truly delivered.

Strong Island Recordings are no stranger to Southsea Fest as we have been hosting stages since 2012. This year we were involved in two venues, upstairs in the Festings for the heavy psychedelic stuff and a more chilled acoustic vibe in our Strong Island shop. With so much to choose from it was hurting my brain so I opted to spend my day time within our shop to enjoy the likes of Number 9, Jerry WilliamsDanny Wright & His Imaginary Friends and Vulcan.

Our special guest in the shop was local singer songwriter Jerry Williams and she drew what was easily the biggest crowd of the day. The crowd were hungry to hear tracks from her EP which was released just 24 hours earlier. As soon as she arrived you could see that Jerry was excited to share her new music and test it out prior to her short UK tour which began the following day. If there were any nerves then she hid them well. Jerry put on an assured and mature performance. The audience seemed to be hugely receptive of new tracks such as ‘Let’s Just Forget It‘ and ‘Mother.’

From our perspective it was great experiment to see if the shop would be work as a venue for smaller gigs and it seemed to work well. Fingers crossed we might be able to host a few more similar events in the future.

Horseflies are a band with serious capability and intent. Only a recent project, the two sets they played at Southsea Fest are only the third and fourth sets to date, meaning us spectators were blessed to see half of their entire live music catalogue over at the Honest Politician at 3pm and Coastguard Studios at 4.30pm. What they delivered was well beyond the expected of something so new and more like someone had made a deal with the devil behind closed doors. I’m guessing Matt.

They make a ferocious sound. Sassy, intimidating and coloured with such artistic spectrum you could paint a picture that would upset your Auntie Doris. There are the disjointed notes of bands such as Future of the Left, Fugazi and Metz held together with the more melodic tones of Pixies and Les Savy Fav. These create attitude riddled songs such as ‘Past me, present you’, giving way to soaring anthemesque solos and something completely different, such as ‘Snowflake in an Avalanche’, a song that Jeff Wayne would be proud of, with its deeply ominous opening taking inspiration from War of the Worlds.

The sets were played quite differently. At the Honest Politician it was tight and well organised. Joe is a brilliant twist of frontman, joking and sentimental between songs but from the first note a beast let loose with screams and wails, swaying into the crowd, intimating and exciting. He’s a magnanimous underpinning of their strength of tone. Watching them is like being thrown around inside a piggy bank by a kid eager for an ice cream, but the ice cream is black and about to explode at any moment.

The Coastguard Studio was a brilliant little place venue if not slightly out of the way of the rest of the festival. There was less room and still lots of people. They chose to take a more experimental approach with this set and it really paid off. What’s apparent is they are as in tune with each other as much as their instruments and watching them create is a special and intimate experience.

While Horseflies were killing it in the Coastguard Studio Kassassin Street taking to the stage at the Pyramids. The quintet have now amassed a fiercely loyal following who packed into the largest of all twenty venues. The crowd loved it and if you are lucky enough to have got tickets for their winter tour then it is clear that you are in for a treat!

For those of you that missed Eagulls, ‘Nerve Endings’ is a good start for any new listener and ‘Skipping’ is beautifully sultry, with definite undertones of The Smiths ‘How soon is now’. There’s a surging undercurrent of angst and misunderstanding, frustration and self-infliction. Live they played steadily, taking moments to tune as lights filtered down with sounds not too dissimilar to the distorted chopping of helicopters coming to rescue those lost in a dark future. Little was said between songs and it felt almost, uncomfortable. But maybe that was the point. George Mitchell certainly looked it, and the crowd certainly felt it too. Either something wasn’t right, or it was exactly as it was meant to be.

Within the unlikely venue that was Trinity Church were the most fantastically unique and surprisingly exciting bands of the year; Happy Meal Ltd.

1970s British Glam Rock was clearly a heavy influence on Happy Meal Ltd’s style. Just picture The Rapture going back in time to recruit David Bowie and Adam Ant. The young guys caught the attention of the audience with their out-there costume clothing and new romantic hairstyles. Complete with reckless dancing, chaotic vocals, and amazing rhythm guitar, the whole performance divided the room unlike any other band to be found at Southsea Fest. The music was unforgiving, leaving the front rows dancing like maniacs and screaming at each other, while the stragglers at the back scratched their heads and wandered off to find another stage.

Happy Meal Ltd was an unexpected addition to the list of my favourite gigs this year. Unfortunately they don’t have an ounce of music available online and hardly any authority on social media. Perhaps with our parents taking over Facebook, this lack of online presence is the modern day equivalent of the rebellion of the 1970s Glam Rock scene. Either way, we’ll be keeping my eyes peeled in all the indie newsletters for another chance to catch this wonderfully eclectic band.

The beauty of Southsea Fest is that the vast majority of venues are nearby so clashes were not anything to panic about. Half way through the Happy Meal Ltd I dashed off to the Wedgewood Rooms to see the lovely Lucy Rose. During the quieter songs you could hear lots of chat going on from the bar and rear of the venue. This was quite frustrating and I wonder if these parts of the audience were leftovers from the heavier Lonely The Brave who’d played just prior. I wished they had been more respectful or just wandered off elsewhere, it’s not like there wasn’t plenty of other performances to choose from. Despite that this was still a hugely enjoyable performance and Lucy Rose was her usual charming self. The audience was treated to tracks taken from her debut Like I Used To and last year’s release Work It Out. Lucy even gave us a glimpse of her next album by throwing in some new unreleased music.

Whenever I have seen the mighty British Sea Power at a festival they steal the show and Southsea Fest was no different. The Brighton based band returned to the Wedgewood Rooms to headline the venue. Sitting in the photo pit I could see some unsurprisingly weary faces after a long day of festivities, however from the first chord of their opening track ‘Machineries of Joy‘ the crowd dipped into their reserves for one last performance.

The stage was adorned with their trademark foliage as well as parts of the crowd having their own branches to wave during the set. After the initial burst of energy with ‘Remember Me‘ and ‘Waving Flags‘ the band calmed things down with the fantastic instrumental ‘Great Skua.’ It’s all a bit of a blur but not long after that (possibly during ‘No Lucifer‘) saw the arrival of what must have been an 8 foot tall polar and grizzly bear into the crowd. Dancing between the two of them felt slightly surreal but I loved every second of it. Fingers crossed they come back soon!

Closing out the Wine Vaults stage were Zegema Beach. The hot and heady, hustle and bustle of the Wine Vaults made the ideal sanctuary from a dusky evening that shivered in the grip of Autumn’s chilly fingers. They played with pleasure and radiated warmth creating a wonderful atmosphere. Swaying shoulder to shoulder to such genuinely sentimental reggae was like sitting by the fire with good friends.

Meanwhile over on the seafront in the biggest venue were arguably the biggest name of the festival, the Mystery Jets. They treated the audience to plenty of their old favourites as well as new tracks from their sixth and most recent studio album  ‘Curve of the Earth.’

As Joni Mitchell once said, you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone. Dials Festival did a good job at filling the void left during the festival’s fallow year but it was great to see it return and it was a pleasure to be part of it. Hopefully we’ll see Southsea Fest back again next year.

After Common People, Blissfields, Camp Bestival, Victorious, Bestival and Southsea Fest I can safely say that we are all festivaled out and looking forward to putting our feet up. Not that Strong Islanders ever get too much time to rest with so many exciting projects on the horizon.


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