Sunday was by far my busiest day. There was plenty on the main stage including Libertines’ front man Pete Doherty, Slaves and Elbow. Olly Murs and KT Tunstall were headlining the Castle Stage and local legends Emptifish were on the Seaside Stage. I wrote them all down on my ‘to see’ list but as it turned out, I was optimistic.
Once again, I was working early on but before I got to work, I went down with my boyfriend in the car to pick up his music equipment. As we pulled up a group of stewards directed us to the staff car park. With 20 minutes until my partner was playing with Ben Brookes, we sped off in that direction, only to be stopped by another group of stewards.
“You have to pay £15 for parking,” one said, “the car park was full yesterday so we are putting the public first.”
“But I have to be on stage soon and I have a heavy amp to carry,” my boyfriend replied, his face growing red.
They talked for a few minutes until we were told to wait for a supervisor. As we did and as the clock ticked away, my boyfriend and I discussed the events at hand.
If you don’t know, most local acts at Victorious don’t get paid to play. Instead, they play for free as it is a brilliant opportunity to gain exposure. I don’t know exactly how much Victorious made this year but it is certainly a lot more than when they first started at the Historic Dockyard in 2012. In 2015 it was assumed that 100,000 people attended the festival and 120,000 in 2016. This has increased to 200,000 this year.
Victorious organiser Andy March told The News in 2015 that they were ‘not putting this on for profit’ but the festival has grown significantly since it began, with the organisers selling a majority share in the event to Global Entertainment for an undisclosed sum earlier this year. As Global are the second largest festival promoter in the country, the grassroots, non-commercial element of Victorious might not survive.
Regardless, there’s no doubt Victorious helps the city in many ways. By prioritising local acts on the programme, the festival promotes the Portsmouth music scene, and raises the profile of local bands. The impact on local trade was reported by The News to be over £8 million last year, with Council leader Donna Jones estimating this year it will be even higher at £10 million. The organisers have also made donations to local causes and in 2016 unveiled their plans to create the Victorious Foundation to ‘help disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people, by helping to change their lives and help them get skills and employment opportunities in the arts and cultural scene.’
As Victorious grows bigger, one assumes so will their profit margin. This must of course be balanced against the increased overheads and costs of bigger and bigger acts, but as the profits grow, could the organisers accommodate even a token payment to local bands? Or even ensure that stewards honour the commitments made to local bands for things like parking?
Back in the car park and the time ticked closer to the moment my boyfriend was expected on stage. We’d been waiting 10 minutes when a man appeared to tell us we could park for free after all, pointing the way.
Unnecessarily he sneered, ‘Seems like you’ll miss your set, oh well.’
With 5 minutes to spare we sprinted to the buggies where another steward very kindly drove us to the Rhino AV stage. Thanks to him, we made it in time for Ben Brooke’s set.
The acoustic singer-songwriter normally plays solo but this time he had brought together a 13 piece band with an electric guitar, saxophone and some backing singers. It was his best performance in my view, and I particularly loved his jazzy cover of In the Summertime – very fitting with the sun on my back. His final song, Integration not Segregation, was an impressive end: relevant to modern day politics – both local and national – and complimented perfectly by the backing singers and electric guitar, it gave me shivers.
The audience stood up and clapped in impressive numbers. It was a shame Ben Brookes was on so early (at 11.50am) as his set really deserved a bigger crowd. However, nationally known acts take precedence over local acts. Again, I may be biased towards the local music scene, but Pompey legends like Emptifish shine just as bright, if not more brightly than stars like Olly Murs. Emptifish have been going for 34 years and I’d have loved to see them on a bigger stage, like the Castle stage, than on the Seaside Stage at 2pm.
The working and performing over, I was free to enjoy my final day so I headed over to the Beats and Swing tent to watch Minque. I’d hoped to see Marley Blandford but they clashed so I had to make a snap decision. I didn’t regret it.
Minque are an electro pop band who have played around Southsea plenty of times. They are always good and this time was no exception. The singer, 19 year old Dani Uziel, has an impressive voice and although she made a few mistakes, the crowd was huge and roaring with applause. There were a few new additions to their set including a cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill and rapper LST joining them for their last song. He added a new flare and energy and I would really love to see more of this synergy in the future.
I then headed to the Common Stage – my first time there over the weekend – where I found a huge crowd forming for Pete Doherty. There were more food stalls and on the left was a Strongbow party stage featuring an impressive sculpture and next to it, a circus. Many people were sat down in the field, exhausted, I assumed, after a long weekend of partying in the sun.
I have to say that for me, Pete was nothing special. Though I loved him with The Libertines, this time, he seemed to groan down the mic with little musical backing, apparently eventually being dragged off stage after Pete refused to leave. Even before this happened, I wasn’t impressed so I judged his haircut and slipped away to the Seaside stage to watch BigTopp, a local reggae band.
This was BigTopp’s last festival as they plan to disband by the end of the year. I hadn’t seen them before and am sad I haven’t found them before. Their with talented brass and sax players combine to deliver the very best upbeat ska songs. The male lead singer had a powerful voice and the entire crowd were dancing as frantically as he was by the end of the set. Hell, there was even a man in a wedding dress behind me: what more do I need to tell you?
Despite – or perhaps as a result of – the wild set from BigTopp, my energy plummeted and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see the rest of the bands on my list: Seething Akira, KT Tunstall and Olly Murs. I did, however, have enough oompf to see one more band, and of course I went for Slaves. I plan to see Seething Akira in the future, and I’ve seen KT at the Wickham festival years ago. As for Olly Murs, I was only going to see him on a whim (don’t judge me).
Slaves are a punk duo from Kent and I was very surprised to see them advertised. They were completely different from the rest of the main line up, and bring a combo of guitar, drums and a lot of screaming. It might not work for everyone but I liked it and found their angry lyrics, punctuated with swearing, quite funny. One song was entirely dedicated to finding Debbie’s car. The singer is also an incredibly talented drummer and I was fascinated with watching him on the big screens.
Given their consistent emphasis on this being a family-friendly festival, I was surprised Slaves made it onto the bill. I watched several parents covering their children’s ears in horror. At the end, cigarette in hand, I left the festival wishing for my bed and wondering if they ever did find Debbie’s car.
I’ve already been asked a few times since the weekend if I enjoyed Victorious.
I’m not sure I can give a clear yes or no to answer. I feel I would have enjoyed the weekend a lot more if I didn’t start Saturday and Sunday so early, as it meant three long days. With camping off site, next time I would pick one day to enjoy and throw all my energy there. Although I know many locals enjoy the ability to come and go – particularly to avoid queues and high prices – I found it harder to get into the festival spirit and stay all weekend.
Victorious is, above all, great value for money with early bird tickets at £20 a day. If there is a headliner you are excited about, like Olly Murs, then this is far cheaper than seeing him anywhere else, and you get to enjoy discovering a wide range of brilliant local acts too.
None of the big names on this year’s line-up particularly appealed to me, so I spent most of my time watching Portsmouth bands, despite the fact I could go and see them locally anytime. If I wasn’t working at the Festival over the weekend, I would have only gone to the Friday launch party to see Madness.
Will I go again? That will depend on the line-up.
The World Music Village and People’s Lounge was my favorite part of the festival, with chilled out vibes and a wide range of activities and acts going on throughout the weekend. My performer’s wristband also provided valuable perks such as queue jumping.
Victorious is an incredible asset to the city and keeps improving year after year. I hope in 2018, they iron out creases like the long queues, some issues with sound, and a few problems with security and stewarding. As it continues to grow and bring bigger acts to the city, I hope the local music scene remains integral to the festival, and I’d also like to see more made of the work of the Victorious Foundation, which seems to really capture the Pompey spirit; but I wasn’t able to easily find as I was writing this, beyond a mention on the website from last year.
Finally, I really hope that the new majority shareholders Global Entertainment stay true to the original ethos the Victorious team have strived so hard to create and maintain. Overall, a memorable weekend and I am very excited to see what next year has in store.
Photography by Emily Priest.