Gig Review: VICTORIOUS FESTIVAL, Southsea Sea Front – 30/08/2015 (Day Two)

CA - Victorious Festival 2015 The mere mention of Ray Davies was enough to get Mark K to part with fifty quid for a Victorious Festival ticket for both days. Day one was a blinder – how about day two and the star attraction that got him to stump up the cash in the first place? Read on and find out…

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In contrast to yesterday’s rocking start, Sunday at the Victorious Festival starts with something of a whimper. It’s just before 2pm, Texas are onstage, and for some reason it just ain’t happening. Sharleen Spiteri is in great voice, and looks as if she hasn’t visibly altered one jot in the last couple of decades, but quite frankly I’ve seen more engaged singers fronting bands at wedding receptions. Maybe it’s their lowly position on the bill. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a rather dull and dismal Sunday afternoon. However, the fact remains that Texas are taking the concept of going through the motions to a whole new level.

That’s a pity as apparently this is the band’s twenty-fifth anniversary. What should be a party instead appears to be a bit of a chore. They drag out a re-tooled I Don’t Want A Lover, which gets a strumalong treatment and has lost the pedal steel guitar of the original, and provides pretty much the only moment of interest in Texas’ set.

We next amble over to the Castle Stage at the other end of the site to see what’s happening there. Just arriving onstage as we arrive are Fickle Friends who apparently are from Brighton. Well, at least they haven’t had too far to travel. They alternate between keyboard heavy funky pop candy floss, and indie guitar pop lite. It’s pleasant enough background muzak for a summer afternoon. There’s little or no depth to it however.

CA - The Wytches Next up on the Castle Stage are The Wytches. I saw them back in March at Kentish Town Forum, fourth on the bill to Palma Violets, Fat White Family and Slaves. At the time I thought that they looked a little out of their depth on the large Forum stage, and I get the same impression here. However, they do seem more self-assured than they did then. Maybe they’ve had an attitude injection. They are still very much a work in progress though, hinting at a great deal of promise for the future.
Back on the Common Stage we catch Hayseed Dixie. I had seen them before at Guilfest in 2006, and was under the impression that it was really only necessary to see this band once. However, the joke continues to amuse. They may very much be crowd-pleasers, but the musicianship is ace and they entertain with a capital E. LE - Oct - Hayseed Dixie Logo
I suspect that you may have to be of a ‘certain age’ to fully appreciate this band, but in a bluegrass style we get (amongst others) Eye Of The Tiger, War Pigs, Bohemian Rhapsody, Highway To Hell and Freebird. They really are funny – especially if you’ve had a couple of pints of cider…

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They’re followed in pretty short order by Cast, who I last saw when they were in their prime about two decades ago. They present a pretty standard festival greatest hits set including Finetime, Sandstorm, Guiding Star, Walk Awayand Alright. John Power’s voice seems untouched by time and the band seem every bit as good as when I saw them way back when. In contrast to Texas they go at it with some gusto too. They ooze commitment and enthusiasm and I wouldn’t have minded in the least if they’d carried on beyond their allotted hour. There’s even a drum solo! Albeit a short one. Ah, but are they still relevant in the 21st Century? Who cares! Does it matter? A good band is a good band, irrespective of their vintage.

CA - VF - The Darkness Which brings us to a younger band than Cast: The Darkness. This is a band that the music industry effectively chewed up and spat out, as after releasing two albums they crashed in an explosion of egos and excess in 2006. They re-formed in 2011 and have gradually been rebuilding their career ever since, releasing their fourth album Last Of Our Kind this year.
As they take the stage, Justin Hawkins is resplendent in a powder blue suit, but otherwise looks unusually normal! They commence with Black Shuck from their first album Permission To Land, and from that point the audience are eating out of their hands. The band are majestic, being one of the finest purveyors of the Les Paul and Marshall stack sound on the stage today.

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Justin Hawkins remains the consummate showman and by the third song he is bare chested. In fact, I’m delighted to report that The Darkness remain completely over the top. Every song ending is drawn out to the nth degree. All too soon we realise that we’re heading towards the end of the set as I Believe In A Thing Called Love is unveiled, and brother Ben carries the elder Hawkins on his shoulders down the walkway to the sound desk and back. As Love On The Rocks With Ice ends the set, the crowd salute the resurgence of one of the last traditional British rock bands.

Johnny Marr is clearly much cooler than any gentleman pushing 52 has a right to be. He inspires fanatical support from his followers and he’s even managed to mould his band so that they have the look and feel of a gang. Marr’s gang to be precise. He pursues and achieves perfection, and that’s before we even begin to discuss his music. A couple of years ago, having recorded with just about everybody else (The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs – and that’s without even mentioning The Smiths!) Marr finally took the decision to make music under his own name. Since then we have been delivered two Johnny Marr albums: The Messenger and last year’s Playland, and very fine they are too. CA - VF - Johnny Marr

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It is fitting therefore that the set commences with The Right Thing Right, the opening track from The Messenger, and a song that stands up alongside anything from Marr’s illustrious back catalogue. This is amply demonstrated by the positioning of The Smiths’ Panic as the second song in the set. The crowd predictably go apeshit, but not necessarily more so than for the opener.

The set is ‘festival short’, but what a wealth of riches we’re treated to! We get Easy Money, and Back In The Box from last year’s Playland, plus Newtown Velocity from The Messenger, which are all understandably well received.

The second half is clearly ‘greatest hits’ time. As Bigmouth Strikes Again makes its entrance the crowd step up another gear and for some reason numerous bog rolls are thrown around for the remainder of the set, to a sort of surreal effect. Electronic’s Getting Away With It is introduced as “a disco song from Manchester, England”. I’m sure Bernard Sumner, from Salford, would have been delighted by that!

A highlight for me is How Soon Is Now? Which is surely one of the greatest Smiths songs. However, I’m frustrated (as I was when I saw Johnny at Brixton in October last year) that the second guitarist plays the eeeeeeeyyyyyoooowwwww! bits rather than Johnny, as he’s concentrating on his singing. I want to hear it played by its originator!!! Still, you can’t have everything.

We’re surprised (or at least I was) by a cover of I Fought The Law, a song made famous by The Bobby Fuller Four and The Clash, but written by Sonny Curtis of The Crickets (Buddy Holly’s erstwhile band). Irrespective of its origins, Marr makes a more than creditable fist of it.

The band make as if to leave the stage, but quickly return for an utterly sublime version of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. If during his years as a guitar slinger for hire Johnny Marr was trying to hide from his legendary status, it’s certainly caught up with him now. And quite deservedly, he seems to be enjoying it.

Having seen one legend, we head off to the Common Stage to see another (albeit much bigger) one. Excellent though this festival is, I find it astonishing that someone of Ray Davies’ stature is playing here. What I find even more amazing is that crowds of people are heading over to the Castle Stage to see Basement Jaxx instead! Are they mad?! One of Britain’s finest songwriters of the last fifty years is playing and they would rather see Basement Jaxx? (All due respect to Basement Jaxx obviously.)

CA - VF - Ray Davies Unfortunately Ray Davies has a relatively low profile. This may be something that he has chosen, but it still seems somehow wrong. There are many younger people who will have heard of The Kinks, but they may not necessarily know who Ray Davies is. Part of the problem is that The Kinks did not re-form for their 50th anniversary. The Rolling Stones and The Who have both had high profile 50th anniversary tours. Indeed, The Who are still schlepping around the USA as I type. The Kinks didn’t manage to do that. If they had, their profiles as a group and individually would be much higher than they are now. Dave Davies has said that there is still an outside chance of The Kinks re-forming, but I wouldn’t hold your breath…

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No matter. Ray’s lack of globe straddling fame means that we get to see him at a relatively small festival like this one. The band get onstage early and start cranking out the riff to You Really Got Me until Ray appears and they go straight into I Need You. There are no close-ups on the video screens, and it strikes me that the guitarist on Ray’s left looks an awful lot like his brother Dave. It’s just wishful thinking though, as Ray later introduces him as ‘Bill’.

What follows is essentially a set of Kinks classics, with highlights almost too numerous to list, especially as many of the performances stick close to the original recordings. There are exceptions however. Dedicated Follower Of Fashion has a strange trad Irish tinged intro, and Ray sings the second half of the song in the style of Johnny Cash! Victoria is very laid back compared to the original version. However, at the end of the song Ray bellows: “it used to sound like this!” and they play a verse in the original style, just in case anybody should be disappointed! A Long Way From Home was written for, and is dedicated to Ray’s brother Dave. It is “a message of love” and is about the temptations of life on the road. Throughout Ray as a very down to earth and conversational way of addressing the audience, so much so that it feels as if he is sitting across the table from you, chatting.

Amongst all of the Kinks classics (Klassiks?) there are a couple of new songs: I’ve Heard That Beat Before which appears to be about domestic violence, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboys, which is very New Orleans jazz influenced, and is reputedly destined for Ray’s Americana album.

We quickly return to the classics with All Day And All Of The Night being dedicated to Ray’s late sister Rosie. Waterloo Sunset and You Really Got Me bring the set to a close, but Ray and the band are quickly back onstage for an encore of Days, which is quite a poignant choice as it feels like Ray is thanking everybody he’s known in the last half century.

If this is as close as we’re going to get to seeing The Kinks live, it’s a very worthy substitute. The vocals are a bit ropey occasionally, but it doesn’t matter as the audience sing almost everything anyway! It’s been a superb gig that has transcended nostalgia, with many of the songs sounding just as vital as when they were written. Now, if Ray could just get his brother and that Avory bloke to come out to play…

Mark Kelly