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28th August 2023

Victorious Festival: Big names and local talent shine alike at Southsea’s bank holiday party

Southsea Common’s bank holiday bash returned for 2023, and hosted some of the most exciting talent in the UK. Find out the lowdown on the weekend here.
Victorious Festival: Big names and local talent shine alike at Southsea’s bank holiday party
Credit: Steve Stringer

On a weekend that hosted some of the biggest names in UK pop and indie, Victorious Festival’s strength lay in the local talent that played alongside the established names. Excitement and jaw-dropping moments came from all stages across Southsea Common.

Opening the weekend was Stockport’s most lucrative export, Blossoms, to a remarkably packed Common Stage for a lunchtime slot. Now celebrating 10 years as a band, Blossoms have their show pinned down to almost a residency, with smooth transitions and a receptive crowd to their glistening loud and proud love songs. Second album single ‘There’s a Reason Why (I Never Returned Your Calls)’ sounded colossal in the early afternoon sunshine, while an extended version of ‘Charlemagne’ was timed to perfection. After 10 years of constant development from Madchester-owing psychedelic rock to indie music with ABBA’s fingerprints, Blossoms appear to be in a happy and balanced form, and are willing to open up festival stages as well as close them. They are a gun for hire in getting a party started.

victorious festival
Credit: Tom Langford

A walk across the Common to the smaller stages nestled in the walkways and streets sees a different, more unsung side to the festival, with hundreds of local bands playing that are reflective of the emerging scene around the South Coast. The Portsmouth Creates Stage and Casemates Stage both provided well-curated line-ups of the next big thing.

victorious festival
Credit: Matt Sills

The most exceptional of these I saw was Southampton-based Welly, a sports-day themed five-piece with no drummer, anti-Beatles style harmonies and a love of supermarket-based lyricism. Where emerging bands like Welly may have tried to model themselves on the seriousness of the post-punk revival a few years ago, the fun-loving paradigm shift provided by bands such as Wet Leg and Yard Act has seen the scene flooding with fun-focused countercultural music. The frontman repeatedly asked his mum for reassurance as to how well it was going throughout the set, and repeatedly noted the diminishing stage time. It’s cool to not be cool anymore.

Victorious Festival’s second stage, placed directly next to the Tudor Southsea Castle, played host to an equally impressive line-up as the main stage. Recently reformed Dundee hitmakers The View celebrated their new Top 10 album Exorcism of Youth by delivering a tight set to a vast crowd of young and old. Those less inclined to be up close could sit on the bank with the castle mounted behind them, and get a picturesque view of the stage, crowd, and the sprawling urban site of the Common and wider Southsea area.

After a rain-threatened Jake Bugg performed his well-established range of rock, and Raye performed an inspiring set fusing her new and broad-ranging independent music with her previous work as the self-confessed ‘dance features girl’, Jamiroquai took to the stage. Dormant in the UK in recent years, but still holding the credentials as the third biggest selling artist of the 90s, it’s easy to see why Jay Kay and Co are continually cited as a reference point for artists such as SZA and Tyler, The Creator. Kay’s voice is still as clear as it was 30 years ago, and despite admitting his ageing through frequent asides, the audience continually got lost in the acid jazz euphoria as Friday night of Victorious Festival drew to a close.

victorious festival
Credit: Elliot McRae

On Saturday, the eclectic mix of abrasive punk on the Castle Stage and uplifting indie on the Common Stage made it one to remember. However, starting off the day was a hard choice between Natalie Imbruglia or a secret (not-so-secret) set from pop-punk darlings McFly. Punters flocked to each, in a burst of energy at lunchtime that didn’t calm down as the day progressed, with Dirty Hit talents Pale Waves’ guitar lines shimmering like the sunshine overlooking the Solent.

Liverpool upstarts STONE followed suit, with frontman Fin Power battling his way through technical difficulties in the opening minutes to deliver an uplifting set with arena-ready songs ‘Let’s Dance To The Real Thing’ and ‘Leave It Out’. Post-punk staples shame continued the party with crowd surfing and frontflips, on a festival victory lap following their third album Food For Worms. It was a post-punk celebration in the sun on the Castle Stage, cemented by Power crowd surfing during ‘One Rizla’, giving a loving middle finger to frontman Charlie Steen. It’s not a revival anymore; it’s here to stay.

A ten-minute walk across the common, and passing a hundred-strong Batala samba band, saw a different scene. Glasgow’s Belle and Sebastian led the crowd on a pre-sunset trip through their discography and landed up at the magnificent ‘The Boy With the Arab Strap’, inviting some lucky members of the crowd to dance on stage. The sky seemed bluer, and the sunshine brighter, as cruise ships passed the festival site, seemingly floating on the horizon. Belle and Sebastian eased us into an action-packed evening.

Amyl and the Sniffers brought their brand of no-fucks-given punk as the Castle Stage slowly plunged into darkness, setting the scene for kaleidoscopic indie heroes Alt-j. Between international legs of their tour supporting their fourth album, the trio performed a career-spanning hour and a bit set, visibly still enjoying playing all of their songs, and celebrating the now 11th anniversary of their Mercury Prize-winning debut An Awesome Wave. Frontman Joe Newman jumped up and down ritualistically to the hook of ‘Matilda’, while the closing run of songs twisted through the bittersweet war photographers’ tale of love ‘Taro’, to the incredibly catchy written-in-five-minutes-flat ‘Left Hand Free’, to the impossible to beat festival singalong of ‘Breezeblocks’. A perfect festival set, that competed with the Leicester hitmakers Kasabian on the Main Stage. Victorious Festival’s lineup frequently made you want to be in two places at once; a sign of a great festival.

Credit: Emma Wurfel

Sunday’s tired punters were woken up by the recently reformed 00s indie darlings Hard-Fi, playing their only festival show of the year. Hits ‘Living For The Weekend’ and ‘Hard To Beat’ from the seminal Stars Of CCTV rung out across the Common, Hard-Fi still clearly loved by their fans and ready for their comeback tour in October. Later on in the afternoon, shirt-and-tied indie four-piece Sea Girls got the crowd bouncing, Sigrid showed her natural and joyous talent with pop bangers, and Ben Howard packed out the Castle Stage with an hour of urgent and dreamy laments of love and loss. Again, Victorious Festival has you running between stages, trying to catch every emotion it throws at you with some of the greatest artists in the world.

Sunday night at a festival is always hard to pitch; you want to save the artists who will rouse the crowd into one final frenzy before we all return to our normal lives. The masses split between Ellie Goulding and Mumford and Sons on the main stage, and The Vaccines and Johnny Marr on the Castle Stage. Closing out the weekend on ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ was more favourable to me than ‘I Will Wait’, but there’s no doubt that Victorious Festival left no one behind.

victorious festival
Credit: Russ Leggatt

The Vaccines quipped their way through a tight and energetic set, with frontman Justin Young keen to hide his Southampton upbringing but only too glad to provide all the hits to his rival city’s crowd. From their debut single ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ to newer material, Young and the band captivated the crowd with their showmanship, all the way to the final notes of the moving ‘All in White’.

Pyrotechnics may have been reserved for Mumford and Sons, but that didn’t stop Johnny Marr from showing his class, effortlessly playing his headline hour as if it was as easy and routine as making a cup of tea on a Sunday morning. Songs from The Smiths, Electronic, or solo material – it didn’t really matter. Marr had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the iconic opening of ‘Panic’ to the fan favourite ‘Easy Money’. It was the Mancunian legend who saw home the weekend, sealing a set of memories that thousands of fans will look back on fondly.

victorious festival
Credit: Elliot McRae

Victorious Festival has consistently upped its game every year since its inception; this year saw it have three full days of music for the first time, and it can only go from strength to strength. A keen eye for local talent is displayed alongside the greatest names in mainstream pop and indie, with a few wildcards thrown in to keep you on your toes. Its idyllic seaside location as well as the access of being in the city makes for a perfect bank holiday away. Make sure to mark it on your calendars for the festival season next year.

Early bird tickets for 2024 are now on sale for £145 for the weekend and day tickets from £55. Find out more here.

Alex Cooper

Alex Cooper

Head Music Editor and Writer for the Mancunion. Once walked past Nick Cave in Zagreb. Enquiries: [email protected]

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