If I’ve learned anything this week, it’s that Southsea Fest is truly a unique and memorable experience. As far as festivals go, the atmosphere on the day was thoroughly relaxed and friendly, despite the large presence of alcohol. The bands – both big and small – were incredible, and the variety of music on display was particularly impressive.
As it was my first Southsea Fest experience, I went into the day with an action plan in mind. An itinerary of bands throughout the day ensured that for the most part my day was filled with bands – some I knew, some I didn’t. If I could do it all again, I probably wouldn’t have done it this way.
To me, the greatest beauty of Southsea Fest is that because all of the venues are within a small 10 minute radius on the same street, if you have a spare half hour you can simply wander into a venue of your choice and witness an artist you may never have seen or heard otherwise. It’s a fantastic opportunity to discover great new bands whilst also getting the chance to see some of your favourites, all for a fraction of the cost of any mainstream festival. I managed to catch a fairly reasonable amount of bands – more than you would normally see on a single day in any of the big weekend festivals, that’s for sure – and I began my journey at noon, at The One Eyed Dog; a fitting beginning with the venue standing at the very start of Albert Road.
I settled in to watch the first band of the day, Exeter born The Fairweather Band. With a modest following and a less than favourable slot in the day’s line-up, The Fairweather Band still managed to bring in a decent crowd. Their sound was an amalgamation of all the biggest and most successful indie bands of the past 10 years and they performed it well, with cleverly constructed and largely enjoyable songs. They encapsulated a modern indie vibe with the addition of some very 70s rock sounding guitar work. A pleasing way to start the day, The Fairweather Band impressed and despite their slightly nervous and wooden on stage disposition, they certainly have potential.
After a brief lunch break to Southsea’s best loved (and only) Record Café Pie & Vinyl, it was time to head to The Kings Theatre for the next two bands on my list. A truly stunning setting for any band, The Kings has a certain grandeur that would only suit a small minority of bands. Luckily, Kassassin Street stepped up to the challenge and excelled with blatant ease. The band pulled in an enthusiastic and loyal crowd, which was unsurprising considering they’re local boys. A number of fans were out of their theatre seats, dancing along and sporting their Kassassin Street merch. Their eccentric frontman coupled with a modern psychedelic sound – like a current, updated Pink Floyd – made for a truly spectacular performance and one that filled The Kings Theatre with good vibes and happy faces.
The atmosphere changed as Kassassin Street exited the theatre and we awaited the next band. As many would have known beforehand (and would be aware of regardless by the end of their set) The B of the Bang was to perform their last ever show at this year’s Southsea Fest and it was difficult not to pick up on the air of sadness they brought with them. Beginning their set in the aisle of the stalls, surrounded by their crowd, they performed their opener acoustically and armed only with their instruments and a megaphone. It was beautifully executed and the entire theatre fell into an almost mournful silence.
Continuing the set on stage, The B of the Bang filled The Kings with earthy folk rock, drenched in soul and passion that could be seen on the faces of each band member, along with their obvious sadness. Their sound was one that could fill stadiums and even in amongst the slip ups and imperfections (the occasional wrong chord and feedback from the mics) the set was emotional and beautiful, even for those of us who’d never heard the band before. After a comical compilation of ‘Bootylicious’ by Destiny’s Child and ‘Eye of The Tiger’ by Survivor and a requested encore, the band bowed on stage, shared embraces and walked away with the Spice Girls’ ‘Goodbye’ playing in the background. Tongue in cheek, but strangely appropriate. I’m certain they will be missed.
Next up, we looked to Rickyfitts for a change in genre. From the folky edge of The B of the Bang we were thrown into louder and darker depths. Rickyfitts brought shed loads of hardcore to the tiny Wine Vaults venue with a large crowd in attendance. The twosome, signed to Pie & Vinyl Records much alike The B of the Bang, combined a sense of teen angst with genuine, stripped back punk, hardcore bangers. With a few dedicated head bangers at the front, it was for sure an engaging show but it seemed a shame that a few lone head bangers was as far as the show went, as the Wine Vaults small space combined with Rickyfitts’ Rage Against the Machine/Gallows sound had the potential to become a crowded, messy and sweaty punk moshpit. Regardless, they put on a hell of a show in their 30 minutes.
I next caught the tail end of Eighteen Nightmares at the Lux who performed to a decent crowd, packed into the dark and unbearably warm Bar 56 like sardines. It resembled more of a mate’s garage turned rehearsal space, decorated with fairy lights and electric fans to try and ventilate the insanely humid room. The band soldiered on though, playing their gothic punk tunes with an air of confidence and enthusiasm that wasn’t wasted on the crowd. Even if unimpressed by their music (which I’m almost certain they weren’t) they could at least appreciate that they were giving it all they had in the discomfort and heat. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite able to cope, so a brief trip home was in order, but not before I’d made my first visit to The Wedgewood Rooms.
Before nipping home for a quick dinner (because what other festival allows such privileges?!) I visited one of Portsmouth’s best loved venues, The Wedgewood Rooms which would be the biggest venue of the festival and I first saw its stage graced by Southampton’s Laurel. Her dreamy and melancholy tones are sensational and reminiscent of Lana Del Rey both in her vocal abilities and her songs, tinged with sadness. Her stage presence is oddly alluring and she manages to make every inch of it her own, despite her music not warranting a lot of movement. Laurel proved to everyone in TheWedgewood Rooms that she was incredibly talented, and that her classical sounding voice can be made to sound utterly current and accessible in today’s industry. She’s a bit of a niche artist (she introduced us to her happiest song at one point, which still managed to sound mildly miserable), but one can’t deny that she has a certain element of class about her.
My afternoon at Southsea Fest did not fail to impress, and considering previous to the festival I hadn’t heard music from that many of the bands on my itinerary, I was positively converted to most of the bands I’d managed to see. A shame it was that The B of the Bang were no more, as I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had been given a wonderful taste of what they could offer, just to have it immediately snatched from our mouths. Regardless, I was excited for what the evening’s performances had to offer me.
I bravely went back to Bar 56 and attempted to cope with the heat in order to see Nottingham’s Kagoule in action. They played to a crowd of perhaps 25 or 30, which steadily grew as the set went on. Despite this, Kagoule played as if they were playing to thousands and absolutely blew me away with not only their outstanding music, built on inventive riffs and killer bass lines, but also their fantastically mad stage presence that I could not take my eyes off. It’s an impressive feat, having such wonderful charisma whilst still so young. The entire set was crowd pleasing to the point of near moshing from the crowd and everyone was moving along to the music, entirely absorbed by it. Their punk sound was flawless and even during the slower songs they showed huge amounts of promise.
I headed back to the Wine Vaults for the next act, one I’d been looking forward to for the entire day. The band in question was Honeyblood, who released their debut self-titled album this year – one of my favourite albums of the year, in fact. Having steadily picked up exposure and praise over the last couple of years, Honeyblood drew in a formidable crowd to the Wine Vaults, punters even crowding around the window adjacent to the stage to get a look in, as they couldn’t fit in the venue. The twosome performed a hit filled show, cramming in the majority of their debut album into their 30 minute set which made for an energetic, flawless performance with the audience loving every second. The girls were unfazed by their crowd and the handfuls of feedback that threatened to blemish what was otherwise an incredibly impressive show, and I heard passers-by for the rest of the evening asking one other if they managed to catch Honeyblood as they were just amazing.
Crossing the road to the cosy Little Johnny Russells, I waited for Prides to take the stage. After a delayed start, they jumped into life with their electro pop laced tunes. Prides have had more than their fair share of decent exposure this year, having played Reading & Leeds Festivals and supported the mighty blink-182 at London’s O2 Academy Brixton. Despite this, their sound was suited to the close confinements of Little Johnny Russells and the crowd reacted excitably. During this set, I probably experienced the best atmosphere and crowd of the entire festival, with many a fan and newcomer swarmed around the band, jumping and dancing along in unison. Glaswegian Prides made a lasting impression on those they’d played to at Little Johnny Russells, with many people approaching them outside the venue after the show, looking for photos with the band. All in all, it was a great set by anyone’s standard.
Before heading off back to The Wedgewood Rooms to see the headlining act, I stuck around at Little Johnny Russells for a while to catch some of Eliza and the Bear’s set. Having seen them once a few years back in a supporting slot, I was eager to at least give them another go. If you’ve never heard them before, you’ll certainly recognise their best known song ‘Friends’ from a recent Bulmers advert on TV and it seems that everyone else did too. They got a good crowd reaction, but despite their popular first song, I wasn’t entirely taken by their music. But then again, I must be in the minority as the whole of the venue seemed to be enjoying it.
By the time the headlining act came along, I was absolutely exhausted from my day at Southsea Fest, but in spite of this, I loved every second. Almost every band I saw was a new adventure for me and the atmosphere was something I’ve never experienced. As I entered the packed out Wedgewood Rooms, while queues of people still remained outside, still hoping to be let in the venue which had hit full capacity, I was ready to call it a day but in the fondest way possible.
Hitting the stage a little later than expected, we were finally give the privilege of seeing Pulled Apart By Horses tear the stage to bits with their hardcore rock. For the first time in the festival, I saw absolute, pure unrelenting passion from both band and crowd as a full blown mosh pit erupted and crowd surfers were thrown back and forth around the crowd. The band submerged themselves into the front row of the crowd several times and threw equipment carelessly around the stage in pure punk rock fashion. Their performance was utterly impassioned and although the room was filled with both hardcore fans and the casual bystander, they set the entire room alight with furious rock and a confession of “shit happens” when technical difficulties arose.
Pulled Apart By Horses was the perfect choice to end a festival of this ilk, showing that in amongst the multiple genres of indie, folk, acoustic and punk, any band is welcome at Southsea Fest and respectfully appreciated in any circumstances. Their electric performance left the whole of Southsea and Portsmouth alive with joy from both their performance the day they’d had. A few people walked away disappointed, having still not been able to enter The Wedgewood Rooms to see Pulled Apart By Horses but I’m sure that in the grand scheme of things, they can’t have been disappointed with the outcome of this festival, as each band I’d seen brought something unique and memorable to this day. Southsea Fest, I hope to see you again one day but if not, thanks for one hell of a day.