Having lived in and around Southampton for the last 14 years, it’s been regularly drilled into me to hate everything about Portsmouth. As a result, I rarely ventured in the direction of Pompey and I was always convinced that Southampton had much more going for it than its rival city.
However, after spending more time in Portsmouth over the past few years, I’m not so sure anymore. Not only does Portsmouth seem to attract better bands to venues like the Wedgewood Rooms and Pyramids, but there are some great neighbourhoods to spend time in if you can avoid the town centre. As well as this, it’s by the sea, which isn’t strictly true about Southampton, despite technically being on the south coast.
One of my most enjoyable days out in Portsmouth was last year at the Victorious Festival, held on the Saturday and Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend. Tickets were only £20 per day, and even though most of the music (bar the Pigeon Detectives) wasn’t really to my taste, there was such a good atmosphere and so much other stuff going on it’s was hard not to have a great day. After Victorious, we remarked how we could never see anything like that happening in Southampton.
I was happy to see then that Southampton was indeed getting its own music festival – called “Common People” – on the Saturday and Sunday of the late-May bank holiday weekend. Initially though, I wasn’t that keen on it. Sure, it would be a good day out. But the line-ups for both days didn’t really excite me. In the end though, Tiff persuaded me – and our friends Danni, Al and Lana – that we should buy tickets.
On the day, we put Tilly in the boarding kennel for the night and started off with a few drinks in our garden in the sunshine. Al and I shared a few bottles of ale including a Sharp’s Doom Bar and an Old Speckled Hen while the girls drank Prosecco. (Tip: 500ml bottles Old Speckled Hen are currently around £1.20 in Tesco.) This washed down an impressive multi-layered sponge cake that Lana had baked for Danni’s birthday.
Then we caught the bus into Southampton and jumped off near the football stadium so that we could walk over to the common via The Rockstone pub. Tiff and I really like The Rockstone – there’s always a friendly, varied crowd and the food and beer is always good. Today, we sat under a parasol on a bench at the front of the pub, which is quite a nice spot even though it’s on a main road.
After just one round of drinks, we walked the 15 or so minutes up to Southampton Common, the atmosphere and crowds building each step of the way. By the time we reached the entrance to the common on the junction of the Avenue and Northlands road, we could hear the din of music and occassional cheering from the festival as well as the excited chatter of the growing crowd of people who had joined us on the walk up.
Soon we were at the gates and able to peer into the festival site as security checked our bags and gave us wristbands in exchange for our tickets. The staff were efficient and friendly. We only queued for 10 minutes or so.
Once inside, it was time to get our bearings. The main “Common Stage” was off to the left-hand side, flanked by a couple of large bar areas, while the “Big Top” tent was straight ahead beyond the Helter Skelter. The smaller stages, such as the “Uncommon Stage” and “Day of the Dead Cocktail Bus”, were on the northern part of the site to our right. Countless stalls offering food ranging from paella and gourmet burgers, to pizza and Thai cuisine dotted this area. There was also a large kids area through the trees right at the back of the site offering various activities including a bouncy castle and inflatable slide – tempting for us grown ups too.
Tiff, Danni and Lana insisted on a go on the Helter Skelter, so that was our first stop. Then, disappointed at the selection of beer (Tuborg and San Miguel) on offer at the nearby bar we headed off in search of some real ale. We found it at the Uncommon Stage. Unfortunately though, it was five or six people deep at the bar and after 15 minutes at a standstill we returned to the first bar where we were served pretty much straight away. Meanwhile, Tiff ordered some nachos and a burrito for us to share.
Now that we were fed and lubricated, we could really enjoy ourselves. So we headed into the Big Top tent to have a dance to Jeremy Underground’s DJ set. I think we pulled it off, despite clearly being the oldest group on the makeshift dancefloor. In general though, the crowd at the festival was incredibly diverse, with toddlers, teenagers and adults and of all ages and backgrounds enjoying the sunshine and the music on offer.
For some reason, the girls wanted a cocktail from the “Jam Jar Bar” on the other side of the site. I’ve never understood this weird craze for drinking out of jars, so I had a lay down on the grass while they joined the incredibly long queue for their (expensive) drinks. Attracted by the scores of people walking past us with beers in hand, Al and I decided to again brave the queues at the Uncommon Stage for our long-awaited real ale. The queue had shortened, so we didn’t have to wait too long to order four pints of Otter, which came in a plastic refillable bottle preventing the need to double up. There were quite a few beers in offer including another Otter and a couple of locally brewed ales from the Dancing Man Brewery. “Craft beer” was also available, but I put this in the same bracket as jam jar cocktails, especially when it’s up to £1.50 more expensive per pint.
By now, things were becoming blurry as they always do when I drink alcohol during the day and I barely noticed that the sun had finally sunk below the top of the trees on the edge of the common. The crowd were jostling for position in preparation for Fatboy Slim who was closing this first day of the festival. So after a helping of paella from another one of the food outlets, we made our way over to the Common Stage.
I was half-hoping that Fatboy Slim would play some of his classic tunes even though I knew his DJ sets had moved on since his first couple of albums and his work under monikers such as Mighty Dub Katz and Pizzaman. However, carried along by the atmosphere and the accompanying video show, I did enjoy his set. The tracks he played combined intense 4/4 beats with recognisable samples, snippets and accapellas from well-known hits, many of them his own such as “Star 69” and “Rockerfeller Skank”. He also incorporated a live choir at the beginning and end of his set performing “Right Here, Right Now” and “Praise You”. He even played a version of Pulp’s “Common People” – unfortunately it was the “Motiv8 Mix” which is quite frankly terrible. The crowd still lapped it up, though.
At the end of his performance, there were some fireworks to conclude the first day of the festival. Then, all was left for us was to make our way through the exit and funnel our way back down through the wooded path to the Avenue with the thousands of other smiling faces.
Considering that Tiff had to persuade me to buy a ticket, I really enjoyed myself and both of us were still smiling about what a fun a day we had well into the Sunday and Monday of the bank holiday. It was great that we had such a well-organised and fun event so close to home.
My only gripes were the lack of bars selling decent beer, the lack of bands and the lack of some soulful house music. But then, you can’t please everyone – especially a moany thirty-something like me!