Common People is one of the first festivals of summer calendar and undoubtedly, a tough event for others to follow. With thousands invading Southampton grassy common, the eclectic bill offered something for everyone.
The bank holiday lineup included up-and-coming acts alongside some familiar names – for those who were experiencing their first festival in the city centre, the world’s biggest bouncy castle proved literally to be a huge attraction. Whether young or old, what could be more fun?
Despite reports of huge queues, anyone arriving at the festival site around lunchtime could have strolled in without delay relatively easy. With so much to see throughout the day, it would have been foolish to delay.
As Craig David stated, locals came here to enjoy every minute, not just the headliners. It’s difficult to say who enjoyed the arrival of the Chuckle Brothers onstage the most however – it’s unclear if it was the excited crowd or the bewildered performers themselves.
Mr Paul Chuckle was seen across the site taking undoubtedly the best selfies with all the other performers throughout the day – after posting a photo with legend Chuck D, a truly frightening prospect of a collaboration between Public Enemy and the brothers now appears closer to reality.
Their “To-Me-To-You” jokes may been the same ones they’ve used since the early 90’s, but it was impossible not to smile at the two loons and their attempted “rapping” – if something is this entertaining, can it really be described as a guilty pleasure? Well, if nothing else, they encouraged the sun to come out for the rest of the artists.
Following her powerful performance on last year’s Glastonbury Introducing stage, Lady Leshurr is fast becoming one to watch and her intense style couldn’t be more different than her predecessors on the Common. Due to traffic delays, she arrived thirty minutes late in true diva fashion, but the crowd soon forgot when she eventually stormed the stage in her US Army fatigues. Executing deadly tunes from her Queens Speech EP, she clearly had a story to tell to rapturous applause from the patient crowd.
The hugely influential Sugarhill Gang followed shortly after – following the death of Big Bank Hank, surviving members Wonder Mike and Master Gee were joined by legendary freestyler Melle Mel and the Furious Five. They entertained the crowd with the timeless “Rappers Delight” and even covered fellow Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It)”, demonstrating how hip hop culture has come a long way since their big hit in 1979 to go on and conquer the world. It was a privilege to watch the legends at work.
In the mid-afternoon haze, with his unique gritty baritone, lyrical acrobat Ghostpoet played a mix of his heartfelt musings, including the brilliantly titled “Sorry My Love, It’s You Not Me”. Dressed all in black, maybe one day he’ll get in festival spirit and come in fancy dress –I wouldn’t bet on it, with his powerful lyrics covering dark subjects of domestic abuse and violence.
Next up, was former Supergrass singer, Gaz Coombes. His beautiful sideburns have now been replaced by a full beard, and it’s clear he wants to be taken seriously as a revived songwriter. Like a red rag to a bull, the crowd loved songs from both his solo albums Matador and Here Comes The Bombs. While there were chants from the crowd for his previous hits, including Alright, he is now so much more. If his previous band ever do reform, it would be a shame for him not to mix in a selection of his solo material.
With the sun still shining on the merry crowd sipping their cocktails from the nearby Jam-Jar bar, Public Enemy stormed onto stage encouraging everyone to wave their hands in the air, like they just don’t care …the crowd sighed in disappointment when the only original member, Chuck D, announced the government had yet again thwarted them – Flavor Flav was not allowed into the country. Maybe he didn’t know what time it is.
As with the Sugarhill Gang. few bands have impacted not only a genre but culture in general. All too soon their set came to an end – you got the feeling they could have played for another hour – at any other festival, they would have headlined – such is the strength of Rob Da Bank in recruiting a strong line up of artists for his festivals.
Another band which could have easily headlined are Primal Scream. Clearly they set out to get everyone’s rocks off – full of energy, they made sure everyone had a good time and got their dancing shoes on. He might be 53 now, but Bobby Gillespie is still the living embodiment of a rock star. Sounding better than ever in his beautiful pink jacket and polka dot blouse, he strutted and swanned around the stage like he wanted to Kill All Hippies. Old songs such as Loaded and Moving On Up sounded as fresh as ever, and their new song “It’s alright, It’s ok” showed Bobby still knows how to write a crowd pleaser. Always a highlight of any festival when on form, and far more than just alright or ok.
Craig David headlining felt like a homecoming party with the crowd going wild for their local hero who grew up on the nearby Holyrood estate. Still fresh despite an appearance earlier in the day at BBC Big Weekend in Exeter, it was clear he was happy to be back in Southamptn. His set was full of classics like 7 Days, Re-Rewind, Fill Me In, and his new material including Nothing Like This. The hits keep rolling and he covered songs by TLC and Justin Beiber, sounding far better than the originals – not difficult it could be argued. Bo Selecta indeed.
The crowd were left flooding back onto The Avenue afterwards singing his tunes on the same local Southampton streets where Craig had originally wrote the lyrics. As Craig said himself “You can take the boy out of Southampton – but you can’t take Southampton out of the boy.”
Sunday certainly felt more chilled. Again, contrary to cynics complaining about poor security and lengthy queues, anyone who arrived at Southampton Common for a lunchtime workout with lycra leotard clad Mr Motivator would have left with a big smile on their face. Who better to loosen the crowd up for a spectacular day on entertainment?
Mr Motivator, showed no sign that he was now grand age of 63, getting hearts racing across the festival site with his energetic warm up. Demanding to see everyone moving, even the ladies from the security team behind the crush barriers obliged – it was a miracle that they were still on their feet ten hours later when the festival shenanigans came to a close.
Closely following their workout, the crowd were given a little time to catch their breath with local New Forest band The Magic Gang coming onstage. Some of the biggest cheers of the day greeted pub sing-along favourites Chas’n’Dave when they took to the stage. Often imitated but never bettered, the duo started with their breakthrough hit “Gertcha” followed by “Snooker Loopy” and of course “Rabbit” – the crowd had a royal cockney knees-up.
Next up were the even more cheeky Cuban Brothers who took their regular slot at Rob Da Bank’s festival. The Los Hermanos Cubanos have toured the world, been hired exclusively by Robbie Williams, Damien Hirst and Elton John for private parties and it’s easy to see why.
Beginning with their breath-taking breakdancing, head-spinning and smooth moves, the posse are one of the most entertaining acts around. Mixing a variety of music, humour, and, unfortunately for many far too close for comfort, tight pants and swan-shaped posing pouches, the brothers truly have to be seen to be believed – words simply fail to do the irrepressible showmen justice. So wrong but so good. With the compere bravely trying but failing to usher them off stage early, singer Miguel Mantovani resisted the woman’s advances like a lothario and launched into a fitting tribute to their enigmatically perverse and controversial hero, Prince.
Following such an act is never easy and singer-songwriter Jamie Lawson’s appeared far too sombre for the lively crowd who had spent the afternoon laughing and singing over a few too many beers – when he began recent No. 1 hit “Wasn’t Expecting that” however, the young adoring fans in crowd had their chance to sing along again.
As the sun started to set, the crowds became larger, the music louder and the crowds became more energetic again. Before the final headliner, Katy B bounced onstage exuding great enthusiasm like a flame haired Kylie. Her arrival onstage was greeted by a shrill cheer from the teenage audience. Following some early technical issues where her microphone worked only intermittently, she found her stride. When she introduce 90s club classic “Let Me Be Your Fantasy” replete with a full set of backing dancers, the crowd really stepped things up– it’s clear Katy loves dancing, and the younger generation loved Katy – the elders waited patiently for the main headliners.
Many loyal Duran Duran fans had occupied spots close to the front of the stage all day and they were rewarded for their patience – they began with Paper Gods from their new album of the same name. Another tune from the wild boys included the apt lyric “We’re gonna live this night, yeah, like it’s our last night” and the way Le Bon prowls across the stage, you truly believed he meant it.
With a set studded with hits across the decades, they slipped from their own first hit Planet Earth into a fitting tribute to the late David Bowie with a brief rendition of Space Oddity – the starman’s breakthrough success also. The tributes didn’t end there – as they came onstage for their encore of “Save a Prayer” and “Rio”, the lights turned purple in memory for the late great Prince.
Rob Da Bank has already confirmed he’s looking to host a third event next year, and the Southampton Common People will be in for another treat I’m sure.
All Words and Pictures: Graham Tarrant