Southsea Common 27 28 29 August 2021
My first post-Lockdown festival outing. It’s outside yes but a lot of people to mill around and drink with for three days – circa 65,000. I hope the vaccines work.
This is a great value festival. Early bird tickets were about £25 a day the first year I came and a three day ticket for next year is just £125. I first came here in 2014, a few years after it started, and have returned every year since, aside from the 2020 Covid postponement. The gamble on the bands and buying blind has always paid off.
No camping on site with a camp and ride scheme that is a more recent addition means this attracts a significant local audience from Portsmouth and Southampton – not that the camping arrangements have ever come into my thinking as a variety of hotels, pubs and other establishments of various quality have been my bases of choice. It’s now a regular holiday that has blossomed with the addition of Fridays and opportunity to access to the upgrade area in more recent years – eases tired legs and the queues for drink, food and yes toilets. Toilets in the ‘VIP’ area for those not content with a urinal are a winner. My mate Dave (DPi) even caught photo of a VIP, Miles Kane, on the viewing platform in front of us during the Supergrass set just after his on Sunday.
There is loads of choice – the substantial 5,000 plus capacity Castle Stage, other smaller stages such as a World Music Stage and the pleasant relaxing hay bales of the Acoustic Stage. 16 stages in all, including one where kids can meet The Gruffalo (maybe you drop ‘The’ as in Buzzcocks in kid cool) and someone recently brought to my consciousness… Hey Duggie 🙄.
My only diversion from the main Common Stage and secondary Castle Stage this year was on Sunday at midday where I chanced upon the powerful voice of Mollie Scott… a great start to the Sunday tunes.
Each year there is the initial excitement of the first announced acts… then the final bill… then the timings and the pre-fest homework comes in, looking at timings and compromise. (The clashfinder website is a cracker to negotiate your way through a multi-stage event…any idea of rapid stage hopping being enjoyable needs to be quashed mind.)
This was the menu I was feasting from, with 21 of the 22 acts I watched fully being on either the Common or Castle Stage. It all started on Friday afternoon with Terrorvision and finished on Sunday night with Nile Rodgers and Chic.
For me today’s highlights were Peter Hook and the Light and The Kooks.
A concise 40 minute set from Hooky and his throbbing bass, swinging as low as ever, with New Order and Joy Division classics. What a great selection starting with Digital and Transmission and moving through to end with Love Will Tear us Apart (“Gonna dedicate this to Ian, God rest his sole”) and Ceremony.
No real surprises as the set list could be made out on the big screen taped up next to the drummer.
Hooky looked passionate and fabulously grumpy throughout, giving it everything. I loved it. Taking those bass lines and showcasing them up front like this is quite novel.
I didn’t give Feeder much of a go. They started with some sound problem with a key onstage amp and I don’t know their stuff so I drifted for a beer and a rest, returning for The Kooks.
My one and only Kooks gig was at Southampton University in Oct 2005 (The Subways supporting). It’s that first album Inside In/ Inside Out that they are celebrating the anniversary of on their latest tour, which is handy as I don’t know much else…. yes Oo Lah and So Naiive stand out but a strong set and today’s silver medal on my rostrum.
Yes the crowd is growing and a lot of people are here for the headliners Madness – sporting the supportive fez.
I’ve seen Madness before..only once, at the Bournemouth BIC. Plenty of hits to roll out and they are appreciating their return after Covid. A bit rusty in parts and a few stop starts.
Suggs seemed to have indulged in the bar but hey ho everyone enjoyed the party. I’d manoeuvred a fair way back by the end to feast at the paella stand and enjoy the bench that came with it, serenaded by Baggy Trousers, Our House and Embarrassment. They finished with It Must Be Love, Madness and Night Boat to Cairo.
The Castle Stage held the appeal for much of Saturday. Having spent day one with a knee support on I was pleased we established a base camp on the rear slope of the Castle Stage arena.
So let’s go, in order….
Rews on first – a bit of a female Royal Blood – punchy rock. Sound.
Drummers start to gather in front of us before one stage change and this looked like load of fun to get involved with. They are Batala Portsmouth, an Afro Brazilian samba reggae group. (My YouTube clip)
Next notable ones were The Mysterines stirring a forward wander for some indie jangly pop rock.
Shortly after were indie rockers Porridge Radio who held more interest – Mercury Prize nominated in 2020. Someone I’d like to see again and listen to more.
And next another Brighton based band Black Honey – more rocky but you might not expect so given the afternoon tea dress.
Been listening to them a fair bit recently…. they’re winning so far but here come The Lathums.
The Lathums – that’s Lathums, not Lay-thums, from Wigan – the main man said so. The best of the newer bands of the festival in my book..well blog. I bought their live album and this band live up to the promise of that.
Great Escape a highlight. Frontman Alex Moore has a quiet confidence about him. He must know how good they are. I’m reminded of The Smiths at times.
…and back to The Common Stage for Blossoms. Tucked into a favoured corner near to the left screen we view the the ever blossoming Blossoms from Stockport. It’s busy.
I first saw them at Glastonbury 2017 and more recently they were the last band I saw before Lockdown, at The O2 Academy Bournemouth…a nervy occasion.
The set includes Miss You by the Stones as a tribute to Charlie Watts and main man Tom Ogden is wearing a Stones t-shirt. They also played Reading Festival this weekend and the virtually identical set can be found on the BBC iplayer footage… all rounded off with Charlamagne from their first album in 2015.
Rag ‘n’ Bone Man is next. A big star in every way. I was going to duck him but I’m glad I didn’t – I do get it and see why he pulls in the crowds. I even recognised some of the songs but not the sort of thing I listen to generally.
“Good evening Portsmouth- you slaaaags!” …. and he had the audience with him from there. Through the set an ocassional “are you with me Portsmouth, are you with me?” just to check.
All you Ever Wanted to start with a stand out Alone shortly afterwards: I recognised a fair bit from radio play. A performer that’s hard not to like. Skin, most familiar, was maybe the top pick. To end Human and Giants as I weaved my way to the back to make my way over to my inevitable festival highlight….
The Saturday night finale for me is found back at the Castle Stage: The Manic Street Preachers.
It was way back on 19 May 1996 that I first saw the Manics, at Pheonix Festival near Stratford-upon-Avon. A hot dusty day, on just after the Foo Fighters and on a night Neil Young was headlining later. The CD cabinet is now bulging with every album but despite V and Reading festivals I didn’t see them indoors for ages and have made up for that in last 10 years.
They rev up with Motorcycle Emptiness as they get back on their bikes again after their pandemic downtime.
Any setlist would do me from the Manics but this one (Setlist) had a few surprises: the Bunneymen’s Bring on the Dancing Horses for one – doesn’t strike me as an obvious Manics choice but it works.
Of the newer albums International Blue has earned its place as a new classic. A few leaps from Nicky Wire. They’re bouncing again.
We are able to move up to the mixing desk with reasonable ease so I guess The Streets are packing them in at the main stage – I would have but this is one clash I didn’t think too hard about.
A great rendition of Ocean Spray and the other surprise one was Sweet Child of Mine …bit of an over covered cover but hey ho:
They finish, as they started for me in 1996, when I stood up in a dusty Warwickshire field and asked, after numerous repeats of the chorus, what’s that one called? “Design for Life” replied a guy I was with…. smiling at my overt ignorance (the late and long departed Richard B).
Day three – we’re still going. The knee support is off. Still blessed with the weather but without any blistering heat either. If you’re still reading you’ll be feeling the staying power of a three day festival.
After the initial Acoustic Stage visit it was Castle Stage upgrade/VIP area for Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs or Pigs x7 as they are more easily referred to. An endearing noise – quite heavy metally – and a great front man you can’t take your eyes off: Matthew Baty.
With bare feet and Basil Fawlty moustache, Baty stalks the stage like a rock god with an occasional leap and a fair bit of screaming. The appeal is reminiscent of Napalm Death.
Next Annie Mac has a slot. Knob twiddling booop boop stuff that I clearly don’t appreciate so I’ll say no more. We endured it from afar eating pizza.
Into the Common Stage arena next, right on the centre barrier near the front for Cast. A short set packed with top quality vintage songs, starting with Flying. Great tunes: Sandstorm, Let it Out, Walk Away…
It’s feel good bouncy stuff and the band look happy, as well as hairy. The time goes fast with Get Up and Alright as we near the end of this bright afternoon set.
….and over to the Castle Stage to see Glasvegas. They sounded quite good but it all seemed a bit flat and a little dour. No talking or introductions, they just played the tunes intently. I like the sound and OK I don’t know their material well – listened to plenty over last year – but I left for the main stage afterwards, a bit disappointed.
Fontaines DC next. Main stage. Bodies are moving forward and it’s looking a bit steamy down the front. People are on shoulders and expectant. This feels like a big one and they don’t disappoint. Front man Grian Chatten comes out to a roar, sporting an estate hooligan look – can a cagool look cooler? Anti-fashion at its best.
Televised Mind is an early winner. The repetition and chant of the chorus of this and several of their songs are tunes you bash your head against the wall to if you were so inclined… a bit depressive at times but I like it.
I saw a livestream of theirs in Lockdown, from Brixton Academy, and without a crowd they really did miss something. Today Grian can perform at and feed off the enthusiasm in the crowd – he doesn’t have to say much…beyond the poetry of the lyrics of course.
The Boys from the Better Land is the one all are waiting for….well I am. A cracker.
Next Supergrass filled the stage and arena with their full sound. Satisfying and familiar. I was up on the platform in the VIP area so not too good for pics.
The last choice of the weekend. Do I stay at the main Common Stage and see Royal Blood or take Nile Rodgers and Chic to close the festival on. I’ve seen Royal Blood a few times: Glastonbury 2017 where they were new and impressive and Bournemouth BIC a year or so later when they just had too few songs and originality for the long set time given. It has to be Nile Rodgers.
That’s it. The marathon over. 22 bands over three days. The knee support is back on and it’s back to the hotel to recover ….and book for next year.