In the past couple of years the Portsmouth music scene has been starting to make people sit up and take notice beyond our little island’s shores.
And no-one epitomises that shift more than Kassassin Street.
But the five-piece psychedelic rock group – and reigning WOW247 Best Band award winners – haven’t played on home turf since finishing their first UK tour with a triumphant sell-out gig at The Wedgewood Rooms last October.
It capped a great year for the band which saw them playing all over the UK and starting to establish themselves as an act with a national profile.
So expectations are high for their set at this year’s Victorious festival.
Frontman Rowan Bastable told WOW247: ‘It’s going to be an exciting time. Victorious is going to be pretty much a whole new set, bar one or two.
‘I’ve written not far off an album’s worth of new songs and we’re slowly going through them and getting them in the set.
‘Where we’ve been playing festivals over the summer they’ve been a good opportunity to chuck the odd new one in and see how they go down.
‘It’s great to play those songs together in a room but there’s no better test than seeing how they go down alongside the songs people already know, and the reaction’s been really exciting and positive.
‘It’s bolstered our confidence too. We’re certainly not changing our sound dramatically, but it is a more refined version of what we’ve been doing. It’s more streamlined.’
It’s going to be an exciting time. Victorious is going to be pretty much a whole new set, bar one or twoRowan Bastable
It was a conscious step for the band, rounded out by Ryan Hill on guitar, Nathan Hill on drums, Andy Hurst on keyboards and Tom Wells on bass, to pull back from playing live so much after last autumn’s tour.
‘We were very lucky last year – we had lots of nice things happen to us off the back of the few songs that we released,’ says Rowan.
The band released their debut EP on Record Store Day 2015 and put out a couple of other singles through iTunes.
‘But we kind of decided that we really needed to sit down and write as many songs as we could. Last year we were lucky with festival offers and tours and all these things, but what we didn’t get was the time to write, which I think is a problem that a lot of bands at our level face.
‘You spend all your time out on the road, you spend lots of time together as a band rehearsing and playing, so you get really tight, which is all good, but you don’t have the time to write anything new, bar one or two new songs.
‘We made the conscious decision to not go so crazy this summer. We still had an amazing summer and did lots of gigs, but last year every week from June through to September we were doing about two a week. This year we’ve turned down quite a few and said we’ll do the odd one and drop in the occasional new song, building towards maybe some more dates at the end of year. But we always love doing Victorious – it’s a good crowd and we’re lucky that people want to come and see us.
‘It will be an interesting one as well, we’ve been rehearsing a lot.
‘To be honest, the whole aim of this summer was to hit Victorious as the pinnacle at the end – when we’d flourish into this beautiful butterfly. Well, that’s the plan,’ he laughs.
There was one notable first for the band this summer – their first show on foreign shores. They were on the bill of the SOS4.8 Festival in Spain, under the likes of The Libertines and Manic Street Preachers.
‘It was a dream, we were looked after so well.
‘That was one thing we noticed and we’ve heard it from friends in other bands, you get looked after so well. It’s very different from here where you turn up and get one warm can of Carling each and told you can’t park your car there.
‘You’re picked up from the airport, we had a hotel that was far too posh for us, far too posh for Nath anyway’ – more laughter – ‘and we had a great crowd, and the stage was organised expertly. They had it nailed. Fingers crossed we’ll be back.’
For now, though, it’s all about the new material. And they recently got Jerry Williams, another rising star from the local scene on to a new track, Do Or Die.
‘I had that in mind for ages – how can I get Jerry singing on something of ours? I love her voice. We’d been working through one of these songs and it suddenly hit me that that little bit should be a woman’s voice, not a guy’s voice, so we got Jerry in and she did it in one take – it sounds amazing.’
So could a duet at Victorious be on the cards?
‘We’ll have to see about that – if we can get her up, we certainly will, but it probably comes down to logistics.’
In the best possible sense, Kassassin Street are band as gang. Rowan and the brothers have known each other since infant school, while they met Andy and Tom at college. But it took a few more years for the band to crystallise.
‘It started when we all finished university, which is probably a bit longer ago than people think.
‘I usually lie and tell people it’s about two years to sound more current! But it was actually about five years ago.
‘It was one of those things, we always said we’d start a band and it kind of took us a few years before we thought, “Ooh, some good things are happening here”. Maybe this isn’t just a laugh with your mates and a hobby, maybe we can turn this into something.
‘It was a year ago that it became more serious. It was when our manager came along, it was the realisation that, hang on a minute, there is someone in the industry taking us seriously, as opposed to us just wanting to making music.
‘That changed my opinion a lot – it was the moment that made me think, okay, we could really knuckle down and make this happen.’
However, while things are going well, they’re still enjoying the thrill of hearing their music in unexpected places.
‘It’s still weird. We were on that Made in Chelsea show a few times. It was the song Hand in My Pocket which is about austerity – the irony wasn’t lost on me.
‘Things like that happen – people send you video clips of the shows, and it’s amazing, really exciting.
‘I’m not particularly a football fan myself but a couple of the boys are and my housemate is always watching something on Sky Sports, and suddenly he’ll shout at me to come in and (early single) Centre Straight Atom is on.
‘I’ve had mates on holiday in Spain who say they’ve heard our songs on the radio, and in Italy. You do kind of get used to it, I guess, and forget how cool it is that our songs have got out there, and it’s not just local radio – which we’re always grateful for – but when you hear it on X Radio, or Absolute Radio and Radio 6 and things like that it’s: “Ooh...”’
Without a trace of arrogance, but acutely aware of their place, Rowan adds: ‘This is all part of us developing. It’s not that those old songs are gone and never going to come back, but you can’t keep playing the same songs over and over again.
‘There’s that fear of falling into being a “big fish in a small pond” local band.
‘I think we’ve developed a lot as a band in that time, and I think – hopefully – I’ve developed as a songwriter, so Victorious is going to be the big test as it’s a home crowd and it’s 90 per cent new material.
‘Fingers crossed it doesn’t all fall apart.’
n Kassassin Street are on the Seaside Stage at 5.45pm on Sunday, August 28.
Manic Street Preachers headline Saturday, Noel’s High Flying Birds headline Sunday. Travis, Annie Mac, Mark Ronson, Ash, Wolfmother and dozens more perform across nine stages over the weekend. Day tickets cost £35. Go to victoriousfestival.co.uk