southsea fest 2013
5th Hants Pub
Over 140 bands playing at fifteen different venues in a single street between noon and midnight. Welcome to Southsea Fest, the biggest Treasure Hunt in the indie music world.
With each venue being given over to a single promoter and hosting between eight and fourteen acts over the course of the day, the fun begins some weeks before kick-off as you trawl through innumerable SoundCloud pages to pick out any likely tips, and meticulously plan your schedule. This is made a little easier by the odd dedicated venue: DJs play all day at the Wine Vaults 2, the Magick Bean Cafe has a fill of acoustic acts, The One Eyed Dog hosts hardcore punk, while Little Johnny Russell’s acquires a psychedelic edge. If those genres aren’t to your taste, it knocks a few off the list, but there is still an awful lot of material to wade through before you finally mark your cards.

Twelve hours of music and an awful lot of footslogging (if you are not too lazy to move) requires an abundance of energy so the Isolation crew met up at Horsham station to fill up on a full English before hitting the fast train to Fratton. Arriving around midday, it was off to the Wine Vaults to collect our wristbands (allowing entrance to all venues) and Southsea was ours for the taking. First trip was upstairs at the Social Club (below) to take in one of the day’s opening acts, and definitely the best named band of the day, You're Smiling Now But We'll All Turn Into Demons, who were just embarking on their last number when we arrived to witness a guitar barrage in conditions that resembled a mangrove swamp. It was to be the steamiest venue we came across all day; just as well as twelve hours in such conditions would have finished us off in short time. As it was, dripping wet, we submerged into ‘Social Down’ to take in Jesse Wyldes & The Stallions, a band largely improvised from a number of Portsmouth groups to back up the idiosyncratic singer who has produced a number of extraordinary ‘bedroom’ songs over the past few months and is only just beginning to take firmed up versions on to the live circuit. No doubt the haphazard nature of the backing band helped to explain the lack of any coherent image on stage, with Wyldes looking hot to trot but his musicians rather a motley collection, and whilst standing up drummers are definitely something to be admired, wearing a flat cap and tie sort of kills the romance stone dead despite defiantly sending the cowbell crashing off stage on numerous occasions. Close your eyes, though, and Mr. Wyldes appears to have much to offer, his music dark and brooding with an American edge, reminiscent in places to Simon Bonney in a contemplative mood, and it should be well worth keeping an open ear.

the social club
Emerging into the daylight (ahem, it’s only one o’clock), we weigh up our first impressions. First, hats are great. We wear hats and we like hats. But only good hats and we’ve already run into poor hattage and not for the last time today. Secondly, it’s not hard to find razors and you can change the blades in them as regularly as you like. What is this obsession with bloody beards? It’s wrong on every level and it looks shit. Surely independent music is about standards?

We struggle to maintain these standards as we arrive at the well known Wedgewood Rooms, the largest of the day’s venues, to catch Kassassin Street and walk in on the previous band with three songs left to play. OK, it must be difficult to drag in 140 quality bands on one day, but this lot are awful, churning out uninspiring standard rock, with the singer wearing a flowery shirt and an alpine hat (no, no, no!). Towards the end of his song he shouts out “Wham bam, thank you ma’am” and it turns our stomachs. He starts the next one with “This one’s for the party people”, and we buy whisky – not for the last time through necessity and not thirst. Eventually Kassassin Street take to the stage and we wonder what we have walked in to. Everybody knows the cardinal rule is that if a band lights joss sticks on stage it is compulsory to take them out into the street and bludgeon them to death, but as it is not even lunch time we are feeling mellow, even given the further affrontery of the bassist’s Pink Floyd t-shirt. Braced for the worst kind of hippy slop, we are encouraged by the singer’s Neu! t-shirt and what eventually emerges is far removed from the pyschedelic dribblings we feared. In fact, the opening numbers sound quite a lot like The Music which is alright in our book and the Street manage to rock out with some style on occasion, and we record our first encounter with noisy distorted guitars. Young, this lot, and obviously a with lot to learn. It seems the band are still trying to find their own identity, with a variety of approaches thrown into the mix, though we wouldn’t bet against them emerging as something pretty worthwhile a little bit down the line. Great drummer, obviously slightly deranged, but great to watch.

With the street hosting such a large event, it would appear the traders of Southsea have not yet woken up to the commercial opportunities open to them with virtually every restaurant (and there are plenty of them) closed at lunch time. Eventually finding one with unbarred doors, we nip into ‘Wok the Duck’ for some Chinese ‘street’ food and are served a fantastic meal of gargantuan proportions to which we fail to do justice, eventually waddling across the street to settle into The 5th Hants Volunteer Arms (top pic) for our first prolonged stop of the day. Blimey, this is a tight one and we struggle to squeeze into the small public bar where the bands are playing at the far end. It probably contains no more than fifty maximum and we just manage to make it through the doorway to capture Essex lads The Jorneta Stream whose syncopated approach goes down very well with part of the Isolation crew who after the show make their first purchases of the day. We are just thinking they are a particularly speccy and beardy lot when they introduce their song ‘Speccy Four Eyes’ which just goes to prove were are right, but there is an appeal to their tangental look at the world captured in such numbers as ‘Do You Know The Fireman, Who Lives On Pudding Lane?’ and ‘Rain, Rain Go Away, Rain On Someone Else Today’.

Having managed to nab a comfy seat against the wall from where we see the crowds turn up, look in and walk away, the unaccustomed comfort, along with excess food, warmth and whisky, sends us half to dreamland before the next act opens up and obviously people had marked their cards well as the venue is busting at the seams for Noyo Mathis who express their delight at playing in front of more than six people. Having just put out their first EP on Animal Defence, the band claim to be “intricate and delicate, but at the same time powerful and abrasive”, which is no mean self-recommendation, and their approach is not a million miles removed from that of the Jorneta lads: stuttering songs full of tempo changes with a singing bass, clattering drums and the guitar fighting for space in which to work. It’s a decent performance and as the crowd ebbs and flows, we remain a firm fixture in our comfy chairs as Manchester duo Bad Grammar (below) take the next slot and blast our ears with a huge cacophony of noise. Whatever Ben Forrester is singing we don’t have the slightest idea as not a single word is distinguishable under his thrashing guitar while Lucy Brown beats at her drums with a calm assurance. The duo are obviously loving this, Forrester completely lost in his art as he crashes about the room and we think they are terrific.

bad grammar
Twenty past five and our ears are already ringing as we emerge with half an hour to kill before the eagerly awaited assignment with Sisters back down the road at the Wedgewood Rooms. We choose to take in some air and let the lugholes have a quick nap before walking into the packed venue just as the preceding act is closing. We hang in the bar with more whisky before strolling into the arena to have the shock of our lives as the place is empty. Now all of us have marked Sisters down as one of the bands to catch but there’s barely forty in the cavernous hall as the Irish trio (now based in London) take to the stage. And what a treat for those clever few as Sisters put on the best show of the day so far, flooding the hall with their distorted ‘dreamgrunge’, Nile's guitar telling little stories under the waves of chaos, all decorated by Aoife’s uncomplicated basslines and contrasting vocal asides. It’s top stuff and we’re amazed there aren’t more people around to witness it.

Six-thirty now and an hour and twenty minutes before another of our most keenly-anticipated performers, Tripwires at The Fat Fox (below). We check out the record stall above the Wine Vaults and reach the Fox as Kassassin Street are playing a guest set in place of the booked Wild Smiles and there is some concern as we cannot even get into the part of the venue that is hosting the bands because of the crush. We do what anyone would in such circumstances and go for a cup of tea before emerging at a quarter to eight and walking straight into the now empty venue to secure places right at the front. It’s about three-quarters full when the Thames Valley boys stir into life, four boxes full of effects pedals on the small stage with some shoes being removed to get a firmer grip on them. The band’s recent Spacehopper album (reviewed here) is quite remarkable in places and overflowing with promise and ideas, and pleasingly Tripwires touch on most of its best moments, including the superb ‘Plasticine’ as they produce the set of the day – guitar, bass, guitar in a solid line up front teasing, crashing and driving with considerable force and not a little grace. There’s some nice Loop-esque moments of formidable power but as the band prepare to play their final song, they are told their time is up and are forced to down tools in what is a disappointment and a bit of an anti-climax.

Our plan for the best part of the evening had been to move on to the Wine Vaults for another extended stint to take in Traams, Cheatahs and Splashh before ending the festival back at the Wedgewood Rooms, but we are now hit by the biggest disappointment of the day as the venue’s schedule has been shot to pieces by a late arrival and is running nearly an hour and half behind time. This completely throws our plans and we reckon that if a band doesn’t turn up on time then they should be dropped and the schedule maintained as many of the paying public have planned their movements down to the fine detail. A quick re-think leads to the acceptance that we will now miss the last two of those bands, a real bugger as the line-up booked by Portsmouth’s Pie & Vinyl record store is a terrific one, also originally taking in our old friends Girl Band before they were unfortunately obliged to cancel all of their planned UK tour. As it is, we make a quick dash across the road to the King’s Theatre to catch Veronica Falls whose light, monochrome indie pop doesn’t go down too well with all of the Isolation crew but the seats are extremely welcoming after some nine hours on the go and it is a slightly more rested group who wander back to the Vaults to capture Brighton’s Traams who have been lighting up our part of the world for some time now and whose debut album is just about to hit the streets. A fair number of followers have cut across the coast to support the trio and there is plenty of bopping going on as the Sussex boys put on a tremendous show in their usual powerhouse fashion. Traams’ secret is to draw you into their music quickly and then leave you hanging as they wander off into some lengthy instrumental bombardments before finally rousing themselves to bang in the final nail with a late burst of activity. It’s a great show and it leaves us half an hour in which to trot back down the road for the major headline act of the day, Future of the Left.

It is one-out, one-in at the Wedgewood Rooms but we are in good time and manage to catch the last ten minutes of Temples, whose light hippy rock is not completely to our taste, before we end the day rather appropriately in a hail of noise with Andy Falkous screaming blue murder to a backdrop of cascading chaos. After twelve hours every bit of us is hurting and there is nothing like a good helping of venomous rage to keep the mind focused and rouse any flagging spirits. Full of righteous anger we haul our tired limbs up to Fratton station to meet our planned lift and hit the sack at two in the morning, ears ringing, limbs aching and backs breaking. Another successful day ...


Words Adam, Pics Gary


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