IT’S poised to be one of best music festivals Portsmouth has seen in many years.
We revisit an interview with the people behind Victorious Festival....
They started off as three young guys with a passion for live music and beer.
Now long-term friends and business partners James Ralls, Ben Miles and Andy Marsh are major players in Portsmouth’s cultural scene – and are the brains behind Victorious Festival.
Not to mention they are responsible for putting on the music at the Portsmouth Live! concert at the America’s Cup World Series, and recently held Cosham’s first Summer Show with star-studded acts including Blue and X Factor winner Matt Cardle.
The trio also manage to find the time to run their own pubs and a restaurant.
It’s not bad for an eager group of Portsmouth lads from the building trade who took a huge risk giving up previous jobs to jump into business together.
James and Andy, both 37, were friends at Purbrook Park School, in Purbrook, and linked up later with Ben, 30, through Portsmouth’s pub scene.
Realising they had similar interests, they decided to set up Little Johnny Russell’s, in Albert Road, Southsea – and things took off from there.
Looking back on the early days, James, who grew up in Fratton, Portsmouth, says: ‘We all used to go out drinking, and then one day, we decided to open up our own business.
‘We left our other jobs and set up Little Johnny Russell’s. It was empty, it was a derelict building.
‘We just wanted to work with all of our friends, rather than strangers all the time.
‘And we knew we would get along fine with other people who enjoyed live music and good beer.’
But it wasn’t all plain sailing from the beginning and they had to really graft for results, as Andy recalls.
Andy, who studied music and business at university, recalls: ‘I remember being at Little Johnny Russell’s working 120 hours a week thinking, this wasn’t what I signed up for.
‘It’s taken years and years to build everything up.
‘It’s just a case of putting in hard work.
‘But you can’t just decide you don’t want to open the doors.
‘You have to work at it every single day.
He adds: ‘Because we had been going to gigs for years, that’s where we got our back catalogue of work from.
‘We know Portsmouth, we know what we like and what families like.’
As LJR’s grew, the team decided to expand and set up the Belle Isle restaurant, in Osborne Road, Southsea, before setting up another in Chichester two years later.
And before long, they took their love of music to another level, and came up with the concept of Victorious Festival. The first was held at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard two years ago.
James says he never had doubts about how successful it would become.
He says: ‘I was never concerned about the size of the event. We knew we had a good team around us, people we’ve been with from the start.
‘The biggest challenge that year was following up the Queen’s Jubilee Weekend, which was the wettest June on record.’
The team say the key to their success is a lot of hard work, and knowing what supporters want.
Ben says: ‘We have all grown up in the city, it hadn’t had large scale events for some time, and so this has been a long time in the making. It’s maybe a case of us being in the right place at the right time. We buy into that.’
But despite their achievements, they haven’t took their feet off the pedal.
Looking back at their recent success, James says: ‘The summer show was a new thing, and I really enjoyed that.
‘It was a different demographic, with people who wouldn’t normally be able to afford to go to a festival.
‘The enjoyment for us came out of seeing the big crowd of people and seeing people happy.’
Looking forward, James, Andy and Ben are in initial talks with Portsmouth City Council about setting up an apprenticeship scheme for school leavers so they can get a taste of what it’s like to help put on major events like Victorious.
‘We are always looking at doing new things,’ James says.
‘We are looking at ways of getting young people into the management side of things so they can get a taste of putting on events locally.
‘I want to see people come to us who are 18, 19, get experience of our organisation.
‘Then five years down the line, they could be a part of the events team putting on the Summer Show.’
And the hope is to build on the success of Portsmouth’s music events even more, and expand on the food side of the team’s business.
James also says his long-term aspiration is to see rock giants AC/DC headline Victorious and the festival pull in 100,000 spectators on Southsea Common.
‘We are looking at places like Brighton and Bournemouth,’ James says.
‘But we believe the heart of our events is in Portsmouth.
‘I can’t see that change in the near future.
‘We want events like Victorious and the Summer Show to benefit the city even more.’