SouthseaFest 2014 – The Review

So another year and another opportunity to walk to the end of my road and enjoy some live music. SouthseaFest, if you’ve never heard of it, is a showcase for up and coming acts from all over the place to play in a series of indoor venues that range from the size of a glorified front room to a full theatre. It centres around Albert Road in Southsea (obviously) and has run for several years. A number of bands have gone onto bigger and brighter things. Only last year George Ezra appeared in the Atrium (a tiny venue) to a small number of people, now you are going to have to visit large arenas to see him. Probably the biggest success would go to Bastille, from SouthseaFest to storming America in no time at all.

This years event began, as usual, around midday. Our first intended watch was to see The lion & The Wolf in the 5th Hants. Sadly they didn’t get to start on time so we missed out. In previous years my biggest complaint has been that the timings published and the time the bands actually appear are usually miles off. This makes trying to plan a challenge to say the least. When the first band of the day don’t start on time it sets off the fear that will be repeated. Thankfully, however, this was the exception and with the exception of Raglans set being moved forwards by about 3 hours, most bands started pretty much on time. This is very much a step forwards and the organisers should be congratulated.

So the first act we actually saw was Southsea Alternative Choir in the Kings Theatre – the historic playhouse that dominates the area – it’s a great place to play music, after all no greater act than The Who used it for the Pinball Wizard scene in Tommy. The guys from the Southsea Alternative Choir are a group of local talent who sing a variety of different song acoustically. They range from classics from Love and The Beach Boys through to more contemporary stuff. This time they focussed on the older stuff and for 30 minutes produced a highly entertaining set. One lesson I learnt is that if I’m going to sing along to the bands then the front row isn’t the place as I was spotted joining in on a couple of numbers (certainly they weren’t going to ask for a business card from me!). As they began to wind up, the place began to get fuller. This was down to the next act Kassassin Street.

Strongly backed locally, the lads from Kassasin Street produced a superb set to a very raucous crowd. Their music a mix between rock, indie and psychedelia certainly proved popular. I was transfixed by the drummer who managed to prove a very entertaining watch in the style of a young Keith Moon. You cannot help but feel these guys are close to that big break for which many would be a dream come true. It would be a worthy reward if they make it.

Another local band followed. For me one of the high points of every SouthseaFest is the appearance of The B of the Bang this year proved both something to look forwards to along with a moment steeped in the history of Portsmouth music. This was as a result of Chris ‘Wit’ Whitear – the front man and soul of the band announcing that this would be their final curtain call. Beginning with a darkened auditorium to the strains of the Jurassic Park theme, the band appeared – not on stage but – right in the heart of the audience. The opening number played using only a megaphone and some rudimentary instruments before they returned to the stage for an opening Salvo of ‘The End’ by the doors. Throughout Wit played to the crowd brilliantly, even joking that if their music was shit it no longer mattered as they wouldn’t be doing the songs again! It’s that kind of wit from Wit that will be missed so much. They played on for an hour and as they began the final song, Wit climbed into the crowd from the stage to a very emotional crowd. How tears were not shed will remain a mystery. Regardless of what they all do in the future, certainly my SouthseaFest’s in future won’t be quite the same again.

After sticking to the Kings Theatre for a bit, it was time to venture out to capture Beautiful Boy in Little Johnny Russell’s. Recommended to me as one to see, I was heavily impressed with their set. Superb guitar indie stuff and certainly worth the recommendation.

Whilst walking along the street where all you could seem to hear was music coming out of every window, we managed to head up to the Atrium (scene of the George Ezra set last year), caught the end of Lillian Todds set and whilst Lisa sipped her first cocktail of the festival, saw the first couple of Andy Oliveri tracks. Both acoustic guitarists, which were somewhat spoilt by a number of people who seemed to think that when watching acoustic music you should talk louder than the singer. It seems some people are incapable of showing respect to the artists. Both acts deserved better!

Next up was Uncle Luc in the Wine Vaults. Most of the stages are hosted by various local like mInded, business or collectives. The Wine Vaults Stage was promoted by the really rather brilliant Pie & Vinyl the home of all great music in Portsmouth. Uncle Luc again played a tight acoustic set to a more appreciative audience. We left after a few tracks as Lisa wanted to catch Big Sixes back at LJR. Luckily we caught the last couple of tracks as they finished earlier than we expected (that will teach me not to trust the times!). Again another great set of crafted pop was to be heard.

Having realised we had missed Raglans, it was time to grab a bite at Al’ Burrito and hope to catch Furs upstairs in the tiny room above Bar 56. Boy the room was hot, and with the band still setting up we sadly left before seeing them. From others I gather that was a mistake on my part!

We wanted to catch Racing Glaciers so headed off to the Wedgewood Rooms, had a chat with the Pie & Vinyl guys there and settled to watch the end of the Osca set. As they finished, we headed into the Edge of the Wedge, conveniently in the next room where an electrifying Emperor Yes played some great stuff. As they finished, Racing Glaciers had almost finished setting up. What followed was quite brilliant, some superb indie rock music from the 5 piece. Certainly one of my highlights of the day and (perhaps) the band who’ll break through to something huge by next year! I can’t wait to hear more of their stuff.

Straight away, after grabbing a quick drink we popped back into the Edge of the Wedge to enjoyTangled Hair another strong guitar led alternative act. It’s fair to say the Guitar is back and I salute that. The Wedge provided the next treat with some wonderful guitar friendly pop and Happyness another great set.

Planning to be back for Mazes, we headed back to the Kings Theatre to catch Flyte. It’s the third time I’ve seen them after last years SouthseaFest and a brilliant Sunday Lunchtime set at Reading. Needless to say they did not disappoint at all and the Theatre provided a suitable backdrop for their stuff.

From there it was time to trust the curators at Pie and Vinyl and head in to see Honeyblood a superb 2 piece all girl group playing some rather excellent loud rock. It’s a feature that recently the number of duos making loud music – thank the White Stripes for this I feel. With the brilliant Royal Blood showing how it’s done, Honeyblood certainly can hold their heads up in comparison.

Now it was time for Mazes a lo-if band from Manchester, having recently appeared on the Mark Riley show and released their third (and brilliant) album Wooden Aquarium I was looking forwards to this one and I left with my expectations enhanced. This is why I love SouthseaFest, a month ago I’d not heard of them, now I’ve enjoyed their set, bought their vinyl and want to see a fuller than 45 minute set given to us. It was a really treat all round.

That was it for me, 12 hours on my feet meant I wasn’t too worried if I missed Pulled Apart By Horses. So we both decided to call it a night but luckily noticed Eliza and the Bear hadn’t finished their set. A totally rammed LJR loved every minute and, whilst not entirely my thing, it was an enjoyable 15 minutes before heading home tired but very happy.

All in all this was my best SouthseaFest experience. I never saw anyone I didn’t enjoy, saw a couple of bands I loved and was there to wish the B of the Bang a happy farewell. The whole event was organised well, the pubs don’t look to rip you off and, best of all, it’s something else for the peop,e of our city to be proud of. The Cap’n and her crew deserve all our thanks and praise.

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