SOUTHSEA FEST, 17TH SEPTEMBER 2011
No rain. No mud. Seating. Flushable toilets. Southsea Fest is a million miles away from your average summer music festival - which is why it's important to do all you can to get into that special festival "place" beforehand. This I've successfully achieved thanks to something called Somerset Special Blend - homemade "wine" which had the consistency of mead and which was concocted by one of my companion's tenant - and several beers (for the killer hangover), three hours of late-night/early-morning SingStar (for the shredded vocal chords) and a mound of fried food (for the general feeling of grease and unhealthiness).
In another nod to festival normality, by the time we get to the One-Eyed Dog the schedule has already slipped, Glass Avalanche's broken-down van leaving them stranded on Teesside - not a fate you'd want to wish on anybody. MUNCIE GIRLS (One-Eyed Dog) muster all of three songs, a grungey mush that sounds like primeval soup before anything remotely developed has crawled out of it. The trio are flogging T-shirts, but would perhaps be best advised to learn to walk before attempting to run.
It's a sign of age that my deployment of the adjective "young", particularly when applied to a band, is increasingly preceded by the qualifying term "horribly". But THE PLANES (Little Johnny Russell's) are just that. I'd describe them as a bunch of straight-up Libertines lovers who appear to have closed the curtains and put in their earplugs in about 2003 and therefore missed out on the subsequent indie festishes for Afrobeat rhythms and 80s lo-fi (among other things) - if it wasn't for the fact that they probably weren't even born then. Such are the vagaries of fashion that the youngsters' tinny rattle is rather quaint, the musical equivalent of a Laura Ashley doily.
Like yours truly, ADAM BARNES (Little Johnny Russell's) has travelled down from Oxfordshire to join in the fun. The spitting image of Jonquil and Chad Valley man Hugo Manuel, he's excruciatingly earnest, emoting like it's going out of style and overplaying the "Singing without a mic" card. Nevertheless, you have to have some sympathy for the fact that he has to contend with a host of braying gobshites, and some respect for the way he smiles good-naturedly at those who walk out.
RACE CAR HEARTS (Loft), starring Pompey scene veteran Chris Perrin, fail to get pulses racing, and would be blown to smithereens by fellow locals AEROPLANE ATTACK (One-Eyed Dog). Since I last encountered them, at Southsea Fest in 2009, bassist K.O. Desai has departed (in controversial circumstances, or so I gather), replaced by someone rejoicing under the moniker Tom Dangerous, but is nevertheless present to check out his former bandmates. Mogwai by way of metal, they're pleasingly punishing.
Soothing sounds are in equally short supply in the Loft, courtesy of WATASHI CALCUTECS and their spazzy Shellac meets early Foals racket. The drummer is sporting a X-rated T-shirt parodying the ubiquitous "KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON" ("FUCK OFF AND DIE", in case you're wondering), while the singer delivers half the last song with his back to us Mark E Smith style. Their recommended must-sees of the day include Anthrax and Mark Morrison. Must have missed them when I was scanning the bill.
Two minutes of pop-rock-rap from their successors on the Loft stage, WHITE POWDER GOLD, and exposure to 'Return Of The Mack' - even as the soundtrack to a particularly thorough waterboarding - suddenly seems like a blissful alternative. Liberally scattered business cards flaunt the fact that they're signed (as if that matters any more), and I'm not the only one smirking when the technical gremlins choose a particularly opportune moment to come out and play, leaving the baseball-capped earpiece-wearing poseurs floundering in a silence as deliciously awkward as it is welcome.
That's our cue to swap the grime and gloom of the Loft for the altogether more opulent environs of the Kings Theatre, a venue which boasts an Edwardian splendour to match the Edwardian toilet facilities. Flyers in the bar announce that in just a few months' time Richard Keys and Andy Gray will be gracing the stage with a live and uncensored show which will be stuffed brimful with banter and "anectodes".
The ever modest duo have claimed to have effectively invented modern football broadcasting, and while KYLA LA GRANGE hasn't oversold herself to a similar degree, the job has nevertheless been done for her by the festival website, which calculatedly dropped in references to Phil Spector and The Jesus & Mary Chain and as a result had me crossing fingers for another Lykke Li. Sadly, the reality is more mundane: some non-descript semi-Americana and MOR guff from a nervous if proficient performer who looks destined to remain at best fourth in line to Watford's pop throne behind Elton John, George Michael and Geri Halliwell.
Let's try another venue new to me: the Deco, which - as the name suggests - features a striking mock Art Deco exterior but is disappointingly dull inside. False advertising, arguably. Anyway, I'm not entirely sure who it is we're watching (probably the unbilled CONTRA rather than BELLIGERENCE?). Either way, they deal in shifting, swerving metalcore, are fronted by someone who bears (from this distance, at least) a passing resemblance to Steve Albini, and possess a band member whose WWF T-shirt depicts one panda smacking another panda over the head with a chair.
KILL IT KID finish the instant we arrive at the Kings Theatre. The music press have drawn comparisons to Gomez and yet one excitable spectator barges past declaring the final song to have been "like The Birthday Party" - who to believe?
The odds of FEAR OF MEN (Loft) being anything other than a feminist indiepop band from Brighton would have been pretty long (and my suspicions are immediately confirmed as correct) - though not quite as long as the odds of me finding myself raving about a feminist indiepop band, albeit one daubed in the same gloomy warpaint as Warpaint. Frontwoman Jessica Weiss throws a bit of a diva strop about the monitors and one of my companions is aggrieved at the cheekily unacknowledged cover of The Chills' 'Pink Frost' (after all, they could be doing a whole set of covers, for all we know), but otherwise there's much to admire - not least the sort of floppy fringe flicking not seen since The Smiths were in their prime.
Another ill-timed jaunt to the Kings Theatre results in us catching all of a minute of the Fleet Foxy TREETOP FLYERS, while over in Little Johnny Russell's I'm distracted from CURXES' electro-pop by the fact that we now appear to have stumbled upon a bona fide Steve Albini lookalike convention.
Meanwhile, BEANS ON TOAST (Globe Inn) doesn't divulge whether he's a Heinz or a Crosse & Blackwell man (the latter, surely, if he's got any claim to be a man of discerning taste like myself), but does come across as a libidinous Billy Bragg for morons, railing against the coalition one minute and lusting droolily after Laura Marling the next.
Thankfully there are much more palatable singer-songwriterly goings-on back over at the Kings Theatre, where arguably the day's biggest name, FIONN REGAN, is stood alone on the massive stage, in a circle of light and surrounded by a crescent of guitars on stands, showcasing tracks from new album 100 Acres Of Sycamore. These are sensitive songs played by a sensitive soul, and his careful plucking and Dylanesque wordsmithery holds the audience rapt - though that's perhaps partly because the seated auditorium makes it feel awkward to dip in and then out again.
I wouldn't recommend searching online for information about WORSHIP (Loft) unless you fancy wading around knee-deep in a faecal slurry of Christian rock bands. This lot don't fall into that category and turn out to have something of the night about them - largely Depeche Mode, though with a shade of Interpol too - though they're not as moody or effective as either. Imploring punters to move closer to the stage only results in the space being occupied by a clutch of fat, beery, braying wankers. It's good to see people here who wouldn't normally be at a gig and all that, but, y'know, couldn't they just fuck off elsewhere?
Not Southsea Social Club, mind, as that's our next destination, for RACE HORSES. It's a somewhat odd place, resplendent in its well-worn 1970s decor, the little fringe of a curtain across the top of the stage a nice touch. The stage itself is incredibly narrow but bizarrely deep, meaning that drummer Gwion Llewelyn appears to be playing at the end of a tunnel, while vocalist/guitarist Meilyr Jones is so lanky and the platform so high that he's able to push up ceiling tiles just by raising his hand above his head. In truth, it's the perfect marriage of venue and band, the latter also genuinely quirky without being affectedly or self-consciously so - a winning combination of early Franz Ferdinand, power pop, Talking Heads and fellow Welshies Gorkys Zygotic Mynci. Despite the disparate tastes of my companions, agreement is unanimous that they're the best act of the day.
Our final port of call is the Wedgewood Rooms, where I get a first opportunity to witness TROPHY WIFE, a Jonquil offshoot much hyped round my neck of the woods. They seem to go down well enough with the locals, though personally I find this sort of airbrushed post-ironic 80s indie-pop-soul thoroughly uninteresting and am inclined to blame Foals' largely dud second album Total Life Forever for its pernicious influence over those around them. Perhaps the most eloquent comment is passed by the person in front of us, who unleashes a massive torrent of spew onto the floor - ironic, really, as they're clearly not in any state to be remotely articulate otherwise.
Pete & The Pirates are next, but we're just about done, and decide to repair to a nearby curry house to digest the day's events - and, more to the point, soak up some of the alcohol. There have been hits, there have certainly been misses - but it's without doubt been well worth the bargain ticket price.