Random waffle-thoughts on our local music festival.
This is my sixth year at Victorious Festival (I’ve been every year since it started), and it is the first when I didn’t attend both days, so it was nice to find that the weather gods had turned Festival Weather to ‘full’. It boded well for the day, but nonetheless I packed a bag with seventeen layers of spare clothing, some wellies and a snorkel. It is still a festival after all. (I’m lying about the wellies and the snorkel)
A moderately early arrival ensured we had a quick entry, courtesy of cheerful and friendly gate staff, and Vespasian security who this year were handing out emergency contact cards. A clever, but thankfully un-needed, innovation aimed at fixing the ‘There’s Never One Around When you Need Them’ problem. Lanyard sellers, though, were not posted by the gates this year, which was a bit of a nuisance as it meant having to stop first at the Merchandise tent, where I accidentally bought another layer of clothing, along with my lanyard. It wasn’t my fault. They had a robot threatening to end the world if I didn’t indulge in unnecessary consumerism and a little crucible specifically purposed for customers to burn banknotes in. Actually, whilst we’re on the subject of lanyards the organisers could do far worse than bring the phone app back. It was reliable and versatile and it had a number of features that the lanyard lacks. (I’m lying about the robot. And the crucible.)
So, what were the good and bad points of the festival this year?
Well, let’s start, where I did. At the beer tent. Beer tents in the larger fields have been augmented by queue channelling this, which probably goes some way to explaining why the Vespasian Emergency Contact Cards didn’t seem to needed. Another explanation could be the concussion festival go-ers experienced on seeing the prices. I’ve been to a number of festivals, most recently Beautiful Days, and Victorious is noticeably one of the more expensive for food and drink. £5.50 a pint compared to Beautiful Days’ £4.00, and food with a general starting price of £6-7.00 (Beautiful Days £5.00) is a bit of a sting. You don’t have to be planning on gorging yourself stupid or drinking yourself senseless for this to push up the price of your day by an easy £50.00. On the other hand their merchandise is considerably cheaper, with festival t-shirts going for £12.00 against Beautiful Days’ £18.00. Interestingly, this was also true of band merchandise, which was available at Victorious for less than on some of the bands’ own websites. (I’m not lying about any of this. Except the concussion.)
Stages and Arenas, then. The World Music Stage and the associated area has grown considerably since last year, and is now home not only to some fantastic music but some great international food, and a Wishing Tree. The tree proved to be hugely popular and by the evening was so covered in wish cards that it looked like it was cloaked in Spanish Moss.
The Children’s Arena has also grown year on year. When I went to the first Victorious Vintage festival in the Dockyard, all those eons ago, there was one lonely carousel ride, and possibly a face-painter (singular: over-worked, harassed, possibly sobbing uncontrollably by 3pm and pleading for a quick death). It was clear at the time that the organisers had never personally experienced a bored child making their lives a living hell whilst they – as parents – pretend to casually sip a drink, nodding out of time with music they can’t actually hear over little Johnny’s whining, and pretending that they are still semi-sophisticated grown-ups exercising their freedom to drink a damn beer in the sun being cool…
There’s a whole extra level of suffering parents will go to get their money’s worth from a ticket price.
These days the kid’s area contains a raft of activities (bouncy castles & wall painting), as well as live act stage (Peppa Pig), crafting areas and a number of charity stalls (Air Ambulance; Home Start; Mobile Library) offering things to occupy the sprogs (an actual helicopter cockpit to sit in!) between the acts their parent’s actually paid to see. In fact charities were in abundance. The Southsea Alternative Choir were fundraising as usual for Enableability and some poor soul was made to dress up, in the sweltering heat, as big red heart for the British Heart Foundation. They wreaked their revenge by maliciously giving out free hugs. If you don’t think that’s much of a revenge imagine being squeezed hard by eight velour-covered sofa cushions in 25∘ of blazing sunshine.
The new stage this year was Butserfest, bringing it’s own brand of new talent exposure to the corner of Victorious that was previously occupied by the Real Ale tent. The Real Ale tent was, in turn, moved to the D-Day car Park.
Sadly the price for all this expansion in other areas has been the loss of the Silent Disco tent. The circus tent that has arrived is not nearly as participation-friendly and the sound of circus acts being performed simply does not inspire joy and lift the spirits like the sound of all the Silent Disco-ers singing along to their two different, and often surprisingly harmonious, DJ sets.
Stage sponsors are increasingly coming from the business and corporate sector (RadWeb and Strongbow both funded stages this year) so it was nice to see that Nick Courtney and Casement studios still have the Seaside Stage. This area is increasingly like a little festival-within-a-festival. In fact it’s starting to feel the Albert Road Mini Fest with stalwarts from the Southsea music scene, Al Burrito’s Bus, and Vintage clothing stalls as well as the Twisted Tearooms and The Board Game Tent. It has a similar air on independence, and a lot of the same faces as and seems appropriate that there should be an area of the festival that plays ‘Albert Road’ to Victorious’ ‘Portsmouth’.
Which segues nicely into the thing I only really finally noticed about Victorious this year: that it is one of the most dedicated music festivals I know. This country is a world-leader when it comes to music festivals. There are hundreds every year, the length and breadth of the U.K., and they all have their roots in live performances by bands. Some are huge and world-famous, others are small and independent and as I said earlier, I’ve been to a few but there is one thing about Victorious that is unique in my experience, and it’s where the soul of Victorious really lies.
The small stages.
It’s not the big-name acts like K.T.Tunstall, Franz Ferdinand or Elbow that make this festival, as good as they are. It’s the fact that you can never be out of earshot of music in this festival. And very often it’s local music. Local talent. Any tent with a bit of empty space is likely to have a performer, often one person with a guitar and mic. Stages are pitched so close that you move from one sound, through a weird fusion of noise to another distinct and different sound. If there is no performer on the stage you are sitting at you don’t really need the music loop they play because if you move three feet in any direction you’ll be able to hear another live performance from somewhere else. Music exists at Victorious with a continuity and density that others don’t seem to match. Maybe they can’t. Having a festival in a field limits the amount of local talent you can easily put onto a multitude of small stages, but the urban location and the incredibly rich and vibrant Portsmouth music scene not only provided the spark from which this festival was born, but enables it to easily and continuously fill all the minor stages dotted around the various arenas and loci. The original artists and the cover artists. From the Strong Island tent, through the Real Ale Tent and the Acoustic tent up to Butserfest: so much of the amazing music here is local where other festivals import every act on their line-up.
That is the soul of this festival. That is why Pompey is empty every year when the festival is on. It’s our biggest local event and it has huge local support. It is By Portsmouth, Of Portsmouth, and For Portsmouth.
It would be tragic if that were to change in the future.
But Dear God! Please, cover artists! Find something else to cover by next August because if I have to listen to one more version of ‘Valerie’ it won’t be bank notes going in the crucible!
This is an extended version of review written for AboutMyArea Portsmouth, pub. 28/08/17