Victorious Festival 2019 marks 50 years of rock concerts on Southsea Common

Rosemary play on Southsea Common in 1969. Dave Allen second from left.
Rosemary play on Southsea Common in 1969. Dave Allen second from left.
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He knows more about Portsmouth’s music history than most.

But writer and musician Dave Allen doesn’t dwell in the past – he is performing twice at next weekend’s Victorious Festival.

On Saturday he sings with the eight-piece Scarlet Town, then on Sunday he leads Southsea Skiffle Orchestra.

Here he gives us the lowdown on why this year’s Victorious is on an anniversary most people probably aren’t aware of.

This year’s Victorious Festival takes place one weekend after the 50th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock Festival, and one weekend before the same anniversary of Bob Dylan & The Band at the second of the three big festivals on the Isle of Wight.

That was a time when rock and pop music was taking to the open air in a big way.

Southsea Skiffle Orchestra open the Acoustic stage on Sunday at 10.30am at Victorious Festival, 2019

Southsea Skiffle Orchestra open the Acoustic stage on Sunday at 10.30am at Victorious Festival, 2019

In the summer of 1967, the Monterey Pop Festival in California helped to make stars of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, while the hippy hordes who invaded San Francisco in that ‘Summer of Love’ were often entertained by the leading bands in Golden Gate Park or the streets of Haight Ashbury.

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In England, the major festivals from the late 1950s onwards, at Beaulieu and Richmond, had focused initially on jazz, but from the mid-1960s Richmond added the new R&B groups like The Rolling Stones, Yardbirds and Animals.

By 1967, that festival had moved to Windsor with a bill that included Cream, Rod Stewart with Jeff Beck, the Small Faces and Donovan, in addition to the familiar jazz acts – by the 1970s it shifted again, to Reading where it remains, albeit with a very different musical focus.

Scarlet Town are first on the Acoustic stage on Saturday at 10.30am at Victorious Festival 2019

Scarlet Town are first on the Acoustic stage on Saturday at 10.30am at Victorious Festival 2019

All these events were ticketed – at Windsor in 1967 prices were £15 for the evening sessions and half that for the afternoons, while on the Isle of Wight, the Bob Dylan Sunday two years later was £2.

But the ‘spirit of ‘67’ was often for bands to play for free, and in 1968 London’s Blackhill Enterprises took up that idea and began their free festivals in Hyde Park with a Saturday afternoon show featuring Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Roy Harper and Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex.

There were three more that year, featuring acts like Traffic, Family, Fleetwood Mac and the Move, then in 1969, the debut of Blind Faith and on July 5, 1969 the most famous of them all – The Stones in the Park – just days after the death of Brian Jones. Five more followed, ending in September 1971.

The popularity of outdoor events, whether free or not, grew. In 1970 farmer Michael Eavis attended the Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music which gave him the idea of organising something similar on his farm between Shepton Mallet and Glastonbury. It worked rather well.

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In Portsmouth, also 50 years ago, some local musicians wanted to replicate what was happening in San Francisco and Hyde Park and applied to the council to be allowed to organise a free event in Victoria Park.

The city’s parks sub-committee considered this in mid-June 1969 but turned down the application. But a group of schoolboys from Southern Grammar School, Richard Thomas, Paul Sevier, Phil Alton and John Plowman, took up the cause and got a green light.

Attempts to get sponsorship were fruitless so the main bands involved organised gigs in local church halls and with the ticket money raised, hired a generator and simple staging of scaffolding and wooden boards. Southsea’s first outdoor free concert took place on Sunday afternoon, September 28, 1969 on The Common, almost opposite the Queen’s Hotel.

Local bands included Riverside, Absence, Internal Combustion and headliners Rosemary and the bands pooled gear to create an adequate PA system.

There were two solo acts, local man Steve Cray, and Gary Farr, brother of Rikki of The Birdcage and Isle of Wight festivals.

There was a brief ‘intervention’ from local skinheads who were not too keen on the event, but press reports and letters in the Evening News were mostly positive and the 3,000-strong crowd was complimented for leaving the Common in a tidy state.

At that time Rolling Stone magazine published a London edition which carried a report, noting that a group of visiting American sailors enjoyed the afternoon. Rosemary, ending the show were ‘obviously, the crowd’s favourites’ and performed to a ‘very enthusiastic accompaniment’, although a strip-tease story was ‘fake news’.

There was a suggestion of further events in the city, but these did not happen immediately.

Then some years later came the Heineken Festivals, the Bandstand, and more recently Victorious. But it all began here 50 years ago.

* While I am claiming September 1969 as the first rock/pop live event on Southsea Common, I am aware of live music on Southsea Common at the original Bandstand, now Southsea Skatepark, which was established 91 years ago. It ceased to operate at the start of the Second World War.

VICTORIOUS FESTIVAL

Southsea Common

August 23-25

victoriousfestival.co.uk