Portsmouth's Victoria Park plays host to debut Open Ya Mouth Festival

A new family-friendly festival is coming to the city centre later this month.
Neptune Girls will be performing at the Open Ya Mouth Festival in Victoria Park, Southsea on September 25, 2021Neptune Girls will be performing at the Open Ya Mouth Festival in Victoria Park, Southsea on September 25, 2021
Neptune Girls will be performing at the Open Ya Mouth Festival in Victoria Park, Southsea on September 25, 2021

Open Ya Mouth Festival is an extension of the popular open mic night which has been running around Southsea for the past six years.

But it will also be featuring a whole host of other performers – from the body-positive dance troupe Neptune Girls, to Guide Award-winning singer/songwriter Megan Linford, rappers KAYXYXY and Rishky Patel, circus acts, sea shanty singers and more – as well as the open mic aspect.

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As co-organiser Rocky Harkiss explains: ‘Our humble beginnings were as an open mic that was more welcoming to things like spoken word and alternative styles of performance.

‘It was just a meet-up for artists and different performers, and we realised we were attracting a crowd that was overlooked – we've got musicians who are perhaps a bit older who struggle to get conventional gigs, and a lot of performance styles that are overlooked – out-there comedians, we’ve had magicians – we're a bit of a melting pot for the off-the-beaten-path artists.

‘From there we started to think how we could more to develop these artists. It's all very well and good giving these people their first gig, but we started to really grow and connect.

‘We're all artists ourselves, so we started to think about what it is we could actually do to develop people, so we've gone for various different forms of funding and trying to do different events that would benefit not only these kind of artists, but something more for the community of Portsmouth – free events that people can just go to.’

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To that end Open Ya Mouth gained community interest company (CIC) status.

‘We've been doing this for so long is that we have contacts with this wide variety of artists around Portsmouth. The reason for us putting together a line-up was this idea of developing and paying artists – where we're getting funding now, that was a big part of our ethos.

‘At a lot of bars and that you just get the line: “Oh, it's exposure for you.” They're the ones bringing entertainment into your venue! So it's a big focus for us, treating artists in the right way.

‘Having said that there will also be open mic at the festival – that's still a big part of what we do – we like a certain amount of chaos! Who knows what's going to come on stage next? And we want to keep that spontaneity to what we're doing. We always advise people to turn up ready to go onstage. Our usual technique is raised hands and first-come, first-served, but we might revise that for the festival…

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‘The number of people we've had contacting us asking, “Can we play?” has been crazy.’

And Open Ya Mouth recently held their first regular in-person event since the start of the pandemic, at The Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea.

‘We did livestreams during lockdown and that was good, but that was almost a different sort of audience – it was great in building our online presence and we found international artists asking who we are and asking to send content in.

‘But what we didn't know was what would happen when we came back to Portsmouth doing live shows.

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‘The Wedgewood Rooms were lovely enough to give us the main stage for our first night back and it was amazing.

‘It was overjoying the reaction we got. There were faces of people we had missed over the year, people who were already part of our established audience, but then there was also this mass of new faces.’

Open Ya Mouth Festival is at Victoria Park in Portsmouth from 10am to 6pm on Saturday, September 25. Entry is free. For more information go to facebook.com.

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