Victorious, always on the last bank holiday of August, 25th – 27th, aims to squeeze out the last of summer. With headliners this year including Rita Ora and Stereophonics, local music, amazing weather and too much glitter, the Portsmouth festival is a crescendo to the city’s summer events programme.
The festival is in its 5th year and has gotten each time with sets from big names like Tinie Tempah and Annie Mac in past years. This the first festival since Global Entertainment acquired majority stakes in Victorious earlier this year. While some fans may fear the acquisition will lead to the festival taking a more corporate turn and lose its local charm, more financial support secures larger acts and has seen the addition of a third day to the programme, alongside camping facilities.
Victorious is one of the biggest events on the Portsmouth calendar. After moving to the city just under a year ago, I was eager to see what it was all about and working at the festival gave me a great opportunity to do so. I worked on Saturday and Sunday at The People’s Lounge from 1.30pm to 3pm, helping run a special takeover on behalf of The Front Room with acoustic music, poetry and an open mic segment. Because of this, I was given a ‘performers wristband’ which came with valuable perks and allowed me to experience a new side of the festival.
But, enough plugging, let’s get on with it. How was the Friday night?
I’ve never been to a festival before Victorious – unless I can count evenings spent hours enviously watching videos of Boomtown – so I didn’t know what to expect and have little to compare it to. I headed down around 6pm and thanks to my performer’s pass, managed to skip the huge queue forming outside. Many people told me it took them just over an hour to get inside as the entrances acted as a bottleneck and thorough bag searches took some time.
My boyfriend was playing saxophone with ska band, The Silhouettes, at 8pm but we wanted to catch Grant Sharkey just before at the Beats and Swing tent. He was a large man with a black hat, playing a double bass (I thought it was a cello, but was quickly corrected). Sharkey isn’t the most musical act: he shouted into a microphone whilst strumming chords that reminded me of a Tim Burton soundtrack. I thought he was great, like a musical poet, though it took me a while to warm to him at first. In the end, Grant’s lyrics made the set with comical lines discussing everything from Nazis to onesies. Very satirical, Sharkey also had brilliant crowd control and managed to get everyone singing and involved from the start.
The Silhouettes played 45 minutes later and they were amazing. OK, I may be biased but they did manage to fill up the entire tent and had everyone on their feet skanking and jumping around. They were a perfect warm up for Madness, playing original songs and covers of reggae classics like Iron Shirt.
After all the dancing I was thirsty so headed over to a nearby bar to grab myself a pint. I took one look of the queue and headed the other way. I understand at festivals that, just like everything is more expensive, the lines are always that much longer but this seemed ludicrous. The line was about a hundred people deep! After checking out a couple of other bars with similar queues, I told myself the wait was clearly part of the festival experience.
As I waited for Madness at 9.40pm on Castle Field, I sat on a haybale by the Rhino AV stage and listened to local band, The Heir of The Dog. I’ve seen them before but this was their best show with an added trombone, backing singer and sax. They played a jazzy, memorable cover of Gay Bar by Electric Six. Full of funk, they got me back into the dancing mood as I shimmied my way over to watch Madness.
The crowd was immense. There were thousands of people packed in from the stage all the way back to Southsea Castle, the seafront and Pyramids. I found a spot just by the Victorious sign and watched Madness through the big screens at either side of the stage. They played a good mix of new and old songs, including Our House and One Step Beyond, starting their set with Embarrassment. The entire crowd were singing and dancing, even as far back as I was. It was the perfect way to kick off the festival and I couldn’t think of a better band to capture the character of Portsmouth.
When the set ended, everyone snapped out of their trance and surged in the same direction at once. There were no signs or stewards leading us to the Clarence Parade exit so thousands of people suddenly found themselves stuck in a dead end. Everyone was confused and the whole ordeal felt quite dangerous. What if someone fell over? Mufasa’s death in Lion King comes to mind. Eventually half of us found the official exit while the other half found a hole in a fence and squeezed through.
Friday night was a brilliant night with Madness and local bands proving my particular highlights, but I had already seen a few problems at Victorious. Although having a ‘performer’ wristband proved priceless, I wondered how stressful the night might have been without it, particularly the long queues coming in; although even the magical wristband couldn’t prevent the chaos of leaving. After more of a wander, I realised that the bar queues were so long because many of the bars were shut, but I assumed many of these issues would be resolved the next day when the whole festival got underway.
I made sure to go straight to bed as I had a lot more madness to go over the Victorious weekend. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had bitten off far more than I could chew.
Photography by Emily Priest.