Bank holiday weekend in Southampton, all the cool kids are down at the beach right? Wrong. This weekend there’s a new festival on the scene brought to you by the wonderful wizards behind Bestival and Camp Bestival and it’s called Common People. Held on the beautiful Southampton Common smack bang in the middle of town, it’s easy to get to and find places to stay, family friendly and with an eclectic line-up sure to please each and every person in your squad.
Saturday sees the likes of George The Poet energising the main stage whilst the rolling thunder of The Portsmouth Batala band is going strong in the foodie area, and people are soaking up the sunshine and sipping pitchers of cocktails on the grass. Around the corner from the Uncommon stage hides the exciting kids area, featuring a tiny chair-carousel, a massive inflatable slide and a whole host of activities from crafts to stilt walking. A group of dads are also haphazardly trying to one-up each other with their hula-hooping skills.
Over on the main stage The South Sea Alternative Choir are looking decidedly mod but are banging out some classic covers from the likes of The Beatles and Blur. The VIP area is awash with sunbathing bodies on the woven canopy beds and the arena is starting to fill up for the masked Ninja DJ, Jaguar Skills. Jag’s set starts out loud and heavy, mixing in his musical influences and pop culture references, The Prodigy’s ‘Omen’ makes an appearance, as does the festival’s (already much played) namesake tune ‘Common People’ from Pulp. Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ gets a round of applause from the Dad contingent, and everyone loves a bit of Faithless ‘Insomnia’. It’s a powerful set, if a little weird to witness in the daytime, instead of a dark grimy warehouse.
DJ Yoda is up next, a Bestival stalwart who usually has an incredible AV show, which was advertised but doesn’t seem to have materialised. Nonetheless, Yoda’s mixes are seamless and the guy just looks permanently happy. From Macklemore to The Sugar Hill Gang, Chic to the Sesame Street theme, DJ Yoda just knows how to deliver a great set.
Following Yoda comes De La Soul, who spend the first few minutes of their show joking with the crowd and calling “Can all the photographers, all the journalists down here, just put their cameras down for a second and put one hand up in the air… and get down” as well as teasing the VIP area saying “VIP? We don’t do that bullshit”. Their no-nonsense style brings out the gangsta in the crowd, and there are random gang signs being thrown up all over.
Around 8pm appears to be dinner time in the south, as the queues stretch out in front of each food outlet, but the offerings are better than your average city festival. No dodgy burgers or disappointing noodles to be had here – it’s gourmet grilled cheese for us (brie, pear and walnut) from a little independent trader, washed down with a cocktail from the Day of the Dead Cocktail Bus.
Big Top headliners Waze & Odyssey are going off and the stripy tent is bouncing as the sun goes down. The Main stage welcomes firm festival favourite and long time Rob-da-Bank pal Norman Cook, also known as the epic Fatboy Slim. Bringing out a choir to intro ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’ is a touch of genius and something completely special, even to those who have had the pleasure of seeing a Fatboy Slim show before. With his creepy white mask torn off, and signature Hawaiian shirt out and proud, Norm hypes up the packed arena with a host of hits and mixes at ear-bleeding levels, and everyone loves it. There’s something pretty exciting about seeing parents and teens raving alongside each other, covered in neon paint and totally lost in the music together. Giant inflatable balls are thrown out for ‘Right Here, Right Now’ and the crowd is going absolutely mental. Finishing up with lasers and another choral rendition of ‘Praise You’, it’s clear that Fatboy Slim has made Common People his own, and to top it off a barrage of fireworks breaks out as the sitewide exodus into town begins.
Sunday starts out a little cooler and there are decidedly less people in early, though judging by the state of some of last night’s revellers, that may be down to hangover recovery in nearby hotels and homes. Over on The Uncommon Stage a decent crowd has gathered for young bid-winners The Costellos who thank everyone for coming out to see them, before diving headlong into a fun and energetic set.
People are dancing on benches and drinking cocktails out of hollowed out watermelons over at the Day of The Dead bus, whilst the West End Kids put on a great main stage show. It’s a pretty clever and creative idea for the early slot at a festival actually, something that is lively and entertaining but can be sat and watched, it’s a wonder more festivals haven’t yet tried it. DJ Craig Charles wants everyone to know that his alter egos from Red Dwarf, Coronation Street, Takeshi’s Castle and Robot Wars are ‘not him’, and that he’s just a DJ who loves to play funk and soul. Despite a bit of a mishap repeating ‘Uptown Funk’ at the beginning, it’s a set that dragged the masses from their bums to the front for a good old boogie.
Following on comes the unstoppable and lewd force of The Cuban Brothers. For those who’ve never seen them before, it is a life-lesson in exactly what the watershed exists for. The cheeky chaps bounce around the stage break dancing and throwing shapes like there’s no tomorrow, with a couple of big jumps and lifts from One-Erection and Kengo-San, some head-spinning and of course an almost-nude run around the gangway by Miguel. Archerio in a lycra fringed onesie is an image which could haunt a child, but luckily his moves are memorable and there are more than a few kids worryingly trying to imitate his twerking. Miguel carries a kids-only chant for “Kenny… the bastard” before making up his own little ditty about touching husbands’ wives whilst they go to the bar… #miguelitomumtouch. Yelling “I’ve had five punnets of nose-whisky” to explain why he can’t run for Mayor of Southampton, Miguel drops into ‘Mike for President’ and the crowd is loving it.
Next up, Kitty, Daisy and Lewis are joined onstage by enough equipment to power the London Philharmonic, which they swap and change frequently. They do a good job and play some truly beautiful music, but in terms of atmosphere, it is a bit of a comedown after the wild abandon of The Cubans. Hot band of the moment, neo-punk rockers Slaves strut onstage and launch into an aural assault of drums and riffs that would be right at home with Vyvyan and Rick from The Young Ones. Gurning like bosses they get everyone amped up, but it might be a bit more of a style over substance situation. At least ‘Cheer Up London’ is an anthem for those who’ve travelled down from the city.
Stand out performance of the day goes to BBC Sound of 2015 winners Years and Years. The unassuming electro-popsters take to their first ever festival main stage and completely blow everyone away with their mix of soulful style of house beats and beautiful vocals. ‘Titus’ and ‘Eyes Shut’ have the (extremely young and female) front row screaming at the highest pitch, and when lead singer Olly really gets into it and winds down to the stage – the mood is electric. New single ‘Shine’ is a surefire hit, and their already fan-favourites ‘Real’ and ‘Kings’ are standalone incredible.
Band of Skulls bring a rock and roll edge to the proceedings with ‘Hoochie Coochie’ and tell the crowd “We’re so proud to be here for the first Common People, thanks to Rob for inviting us, we hope this goes on for a very long time”. ‘Sweet Sour’ is raw and brilliant, but ‘The Devil Takes Care of His Own’ is the standout song of their set.
Up next Clean Bandit clearly have a following as a slight delay sees people chanting for them to come on, and ‘Come Over’ gets a warm welcome as we say goodbye to the last snippet of sun-sun-sun-sunshine for today. Jess Glynne collaboration ‘Rather Be’ is the final song of an amazing set, and seems like a perfect sentiment for a Sunday afternoon of revelry, especially considering it’s a bank holiday tomorrow.
As a black curtain is raised over the main stage, it’s time for the final act of the first ever Common People. The ever bonkers Grace Jones is a breath of fabulousness that comes from years of not giving a single eff what anyone thinks of her. Striding on in an ensemble that can only be attributed to the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, and high heels, Jones proves that she is the ultimate performer, gadding about the two layer stage and winding with an extremely buff male pole dancer. Hits ‘La Vie En Rose’ and ‘Pull up to the Bumper’ go down well, but it’s her combination of ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ and her mad hula-hooping skills that set the night alight. Grace Jones has been there, done it, got the tshirt and discarded it for a thong. As the fireworks explode over the Common, it’s clear that Rob-da-Bank and crew are onto another winner. With Bestival, Camp Bestival and Bestival Toronto all still to come this year, Southampton has had the first tasty smackerel of this summers’ winning formula, and it is spectacular.