STUDENT REVIEW: By Jamie Ngo - A Level English Literature & Language, History and Politics. Tangier Road Campus.
PHOTOGRAPHY: By Ebony Imade - A Level Photography, Media Studies and BTEC Level 3 Foundation Diploma in Music Performance. Tangier Road Campus.
Before this year, I’d never been to a music festival. I wouldn’t even call myself especially musically literate. However, for several years now there’s always been one event which my friends have talked about during the summer: Victorious. So when the opportunity came up to write a story on it, I jumped at the opportunity. And so here I am, after three days of manic action and excitement, to set out my thoughts and feelings.
Arriving at Victorious on Friday, the first thing I noticed was this large structure looming above the Common. I soon learned it was called, coincidentally I’m sure, the Common Stage. Taking a couple of minutes to explore the area, I was soon struck by how expansive the festival was. Heading from the Common Stage, lines of street stalls emitting smoky smells lay in front in ordered lines. Past them, the World Music Stage and the People’s Lounge, the former decorated with colourful art and the latter set up with a more chilled atmosphere in mind. As the day progressed, the crowds began to fill and I began to get a good sense of who goes to these sorts of stuff.
The biggest thing that struck me was how eclectic the collection of people that came: young and old, male and female and everything in between. The fashion styles and choices many sported were unique, usually unseen outside of these sorts of events. Adults wore glitter and face paint with confidence, something which would be greeted with ridicule anywhere else! One of the questions which I asked myself was why? Why do people feel so confident to express themselves in such a public space? The answer came whilst part of the crowd during the main acts, which I’ll be writing about later.
Now, I should talk about the college bands. The four bands, The Cupboard People, SISITV, Room 10 and The Laws all played on the Beats and Swing stage in the early mornings of Saturday and Sunday. Despite this, the crowds swelled in significant numbers to watch them all, bolstered by many proud parents and friends. Each one provided something different to their audiences, The Cupboard People brought some rap and reggae, SISITV provided us with brilliant performances on the drums, Room 10 invigorated the audience with extraordinary energy and The Laws gave us excellent covers of classic pop songs. One of the standout performers was Harry Fitzgerald, lead singer for the band Room 10, with the incredible energy that he put into his performances. For him and the band, everything was driven by their passion for music “We’re not in it for the money” he said. Even more astonishing is that his performance was driven purely by what he naturally felt he should do. Inspired by the Beatles and the Smiths, he told me afterwards that all the energy he channelled in his performance came to him by instinct. It just felt right. Gareth Howells, the teacher overseeing the bands at Victorious, was effusive in his praise. “I’m very proud,” he said, “both first- and second-year bands have been great. Their talent, their enthusiasm you could see all that on the stage.”
Now to the Main Acts. Throughout the weekend, a procession of musicians and bands came and went on the Common and Castle stages, most of whom I didn’t have a clue who they were. My main thought from watching and listening to all these performances is how similar much of the music is to each other. Loud drums and guitars accompanied by the singing of various topics, usually about love, relationship and defiance at some perceived wrongdoing, often linked to the former two topics. Frankly, there was very little difference to my ears between the college bands and professionals. Eventually, I was able to identify a couple of standout acts. On Friday, The Lottery Winners turned out to be very entertaining and the Kooks were excellent; on Saturday Frank Turner was insightful yet funny whilst Craig David and Rag n Bone man electrified the Common Stage. Finally, Sunday saw the headline acts of Mel C, Ella Eyre and Nile Rodgers and Chic rock the Castle Stage with a series of universally recognised songs (even by me!), one after another. Furthermore, I was amused by the measures taken by various artists to endear themselves to the crowd. Kojaks (without the apostrophe) Revenge emphasised their “common scumbag” status similar to the rest of us, whilst others focused on their local connections to the city. All of which are legitimate tactics, though fairly transparent and not particularly effective.
For all the acts mentioned above, the crowds were enormous. Caught within the throng of people, you could barely find room to stand as great masses of people gathered to sing along. Surrounded by all the variations of humanity you could think of, the ghastly smell of tobacco thick in the air from those happy to provide themselves with a shortcut to cancer, it was at this stage when I finally recognised a reason why people enjoy going to festivals: the pure, unadulterated liberty which you experience. For as everyone focuses their eyes and ears towards the front, towards the main attraction, no one focuses on you. As only one bee part of a great hive, you are insignificant compared to the queen bees at the front and the hive as a whole. Nobody looks at you, focuses on you, examines you, judges you. And that allows a person to express themselves in however eccentric a way they wish. Social norms and expectations are temporarily suspended for three magical days, allowing for true creativity and imagination in crafting their self-image. For me, that was wearing a pair of shorts that were black AND white! Truly revolutionary.
To wrap up I really ought to follow the trend and talk about how the pandemic has affected the festival. The answer? Pretty positively. Finally unshackled by government-mandated measures such as social distancing, it was nice to see friends reunite after many months spent apart. Perhaps it even augmented the festive mood, people, able to release all the pent-up energy built over lockdowns and cancelled gigs. For the musicians themselves, they expressed their delight in finally being back on a live stage and performing. After 18 months with one of their primary sources of income dried up, it must’ve been a relief both financially and emotionally to be able to play again. But most of all, it was good for the community I feel, to come together like this. As Frank Turner said, “it’s about community, it’s about culture, it’s about singing songs you know with the people you know but most importantly it’s about singing songs you don’t know with people you don’t know.” And that may be the most important legacy of them all.