Review: Common People Southampton 2016

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Last year saw the launch of Rob da Bank’s first city based festival in Southampton, Common People. After an impressive debut, the real test this second time around is whether Common People would continue to impress, now that the novelty of Southampton having its own high-profile festival has worn off?

Arriving on site on the Saturday afternoon the sun was out on the common, if a little overcast at times. Getting to the Common was easy as ever due to its centralized location, however, entry to the festival was tedious. Owing to an issue with ticket scanners, lengthy queues were backed up from the entrance to the mouth of the park.

Evidently the majority of the team’s efforts were focused towards launching Common People’s twin in Oxford and the arrangement of the festival was near identical to the previous year, with the exception of the notable addition of the world’s largest bouncy castle to the right of the entrance, and the substitution of the big top marquee for a new open-air area named the Uncontained Stage. Delayed by the slow moving queues I headed straight to the latter so as not to miss out on Kurupt FM.

Common People 2016 Review

Credit: Chris Evans

Decorated with parasols and colourful bunting, strung up between masts and the Bollywood cocktail bus, the arena was a feast of colour. The stage itself was a simple covered booth with a dancefloor a couple of metres square in front of it that provided ample room for the boys from Brentford’s antics. The low-profile staging made for a more engaging performance as it allowed Grindah, Beats, Chabuddy G and co. far greater opportunity for crowd interaction than if they were perched atop a stage. Kurupt FM’s live performances thrive upon these improvisational moments with fans, and whilst you can’t fault the lads for the energy that they cooked up, it was moments like when Grindah took the mic to the crowd to ask their most ardent fans ‘What’s you name and where do you come from?’ that provided the biggest laughs.

Whilst the Uncaged stage made for a nice change from the familiar big top setup seen last year and at countless other festivals, it wasn’t without some practical consequences. With the festival’s two largest stages left uncovered, Common People’s prospects relied pretty heavily upon the good weather holding up, as only the Uncommon Stage offered its audience any shelter (good for about a hundred people).

Common People Southampton 2016 Review

Credit: Chris Evans

Over at the main stage, many punters had pitched up and were enjoying lazing in the sun. Ghostpoet’s slow and hazy narratives made for an ideal soundtrack. From jazzier notes to elements of grime, Ghostpoet’s influences are evidently diverse, a personal stand-out from the set was a stylish performance of ‘That Ring Down The Train Kind of Feeling’ that cut through the humidity with its smokey guitar riffs and crooning Portishead-esque chorus that it carries with it.

 

Public Enemy put in an energetic set, studded with plenty of flair, despite the omission of Flava Flav, who Chuck D noted had not been allowed into the UK. Towards the end of the group’s set, resident turntablist, DJ Lord indulged in a brief session on the decks. After amping up the crowd with ‘Seven Nation Army’, Lord laid on a thundering barrage as he scratched and jumped about Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Despite evident skill and some slick moments, the display of old school DJ tricks wore thin with the crowd quite quickly. The energy built up over the set was dissipated as the crowd tried to work out what Lord was doing. Chuck D and the rest of the crew’s soon made a welcome return to the stage to round off the set, finishing with a triumphant rendition of ‘Harder than You’d Think’.

Later, Primal Scream’s frontman Bobby Gillespie arrived onstage oozing his signature sulky attitude. The Scottish ensemble opened a polished set with Screamadelica favourite, Loaded, a festival rally-cry if I’ve ever heard one. Shortly after, Sky Ferreira joined Bobby on vocals to perform a number of collaborations from Primal Scream’s recent album, Chaosmosis, the standout being ‘Where the Light Gets in’, the poppiest track and lead single. The likes of ‘Movin on Up’, and ‘Come Together’ coaxed dance moves out of even the stiffest members of the crowd, before the infectious choruses of ‘Rocks’ and ‘Country Girl’ igniting boozey sing-alongs all across the common.

As the sun set, the common waited with baited breath for Craig David to step out on stage; you wouldn’t think it possible to build the hype any more, but with a few choice words as he came on stage, Craig David did just that, recalling his time as a local boy walking up the avenue, and giving shout outs to his school. You could tell the man meant it when he said how sweet it felt to return here to play.

Without having played a single record Craig David was already untouchable and finished off the day with a genuine crowd-pleaser of a set, opening with a series of his classic hits including ‘Re-rewind’ and ‘Fill Me In’. As per his TS5 format, it wasn’t long before Craig David was transitioning into party starters. With a pair of decks and a laptop, he mixed between a roster of recent hits, some of his own output having earned deserved places among them (see ‘When the Bassline Drops’ and ‘Nothing Like This’), giving him the chance to overlay his own vocals, even if it was difficult at times to hear them over the sheer vivacity of the crowd singing his lyrics back at him.

Common People 2016 Review

Credit: Chris Evans

At the tail end of his set, Craig David seemed to be piggybacking on the planet’s re-kindled love affair with Justin Bieber a little too much for an artist that is more than capable of standing on their own two feet. Both ‘Love Yourself’ and ‘Sorry’, now bankable crowd-pleasers, made appearances, although closing with a rendition of the freestyle/mashup of ‘Fill Me In’ he delivered over ‘Where are You Now’ was welcome, considering that it ignited his comeback when he first laid it down on Kurupt FM’s Radio 1 takeover, way back last year. Overall, TS5 offered many of the same thrills as last year’s headline act Fatboy Slim, whilst Craig’s DJing fell short on selection and technical flair it was more than made up for by the atmosphere and his skills on the mic.

Hip hop revolutionaries Public Enemy, psychedelic rockers Primal Scream and a highly anticipated TS5 set from hometown hero Craig David made for a lineup stacked with iconic acts that covered a diverse range of genres on Saturday evening, and at face value, Sunday’s lineup struggled to compete with only headliners Duran Duran capable of bringing the same level of showmanship.

Sunday was blessed with more sunshine, providing an opportunity to soak up some rays and enjoy food and drink from the delectable selection on offer. A return to the Uncontained Stage was due in the afternoon for DJ Zinc, Rinse FM mainstay and a dependable selector and producer time and time again. Later on, I caught the latter portion of David Rodigan’s set. Regrettably the notorious reggae and dancehall DJ appeared to be doing little more than MCing, leaving his entourage in the booth to take care of the decks. The tail end of the set would have sounded very familiar to anyone who caught Rodigan alongside Chase & Status and Shy FX last summer as Rebel Sound.

Later in the evening Katy B charged onto the mainstage to greet the common, energetic as ever, and flanked by dancers. Her formulaic performance was reinvigorated by the catchy hooks of Chris Lorenzo collab ‘I Wanna Be’ and other new tracks from her recent album Honey. Although, her established hits from her first two albums, ‘On A Mission’ and ‘Little Red’, were evidently far more popular with fans, and its fair to say that Katy could quite comfortable keep playing out these same songs for years to come judging by their reception.

Compared to Craig David’s bare-bones decks and laptop combo the night before, Duran Duran’s staging appeared to be decadent. The English new wave, 80s sensations strutted about in front of a backdrop that displayed visuals from some of their most iconic record sleeves and music videos. The Birmingham lads wasted no time and quickly whipped up a feel good atmosphere by deploying their unashamedly catchy calling card single ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’.

Common People 2016 Review

Credit: Chris Evans

Clad in leathers and accompanied by graphics of flames billowing behind them, guitarists John Taylor and Dom Brown seized the opportunity to play up to the crowd during ‘Wild Boys’. Whilst you could fault Rob da Bank for recycling Duran Duran after Bestival, having had them as last year’s Saturday headliners, Common People has a more varied range of ages and I’m sure many fans appreciated the chance to see the 80s legends without the commitment of a weekend’s camping. Despite obviously catering to Common People’s older attendees, Duran Duran were a solid act to round off the weekend with a memorable set, that I felt was superior to their aforementioned performance at last year’s Bestival.

Slowing the pace in the middle of their set, the boys played a brief tribute to the late David Bowie and worked their way into an indulgent performance of ballad, ‘Ordinary World’. Dedicating their performance of ‘Save a Prayer’ to Prince was another respectful gesture to the passing of one of the band’s contemporaries and neither moment felt forced or overstated.

Common People 2016 Review

Credit: Chris Evans

Despite including many classic mainstays, including ‘Girls on Film’, the boys certainly did not omit their more recent offerings from last year’s album, Paper Gods allowing plenty of opportunity for the band to showcase their range. An encore came as little surprise given how early Duran Duran first vacated the stage. A rendition of sing-along ‘Rio’ was perfect finish to an engaging set. Though they pulled slightly less of a crowd than Craig David, Duran Duran’s showmanship did more than enough to upstaged him.

Common People’s second year in Southampton was another successful outing for the Bestival team, and whilst I can safely say that both headliners delivered something for everyone, I can’t fight the inkling of a feeling that the line-up as a whole wasn’t as strong as last year. I found myself killing more time during the day than I did last year waiting for the evidently stronger evening bookings, although there was no shortage of other diversions to keep yourself occupied with, thanks to plenty of activities and areas to explore. However, Saturday’s queuing to get on site was enough for one weekend, so I couldn’t face lining up for a go on the legendary bouncy castle despite my eagerness to give it a try. Less effort seems to have gone into the festival this time around, which is perhaps understandable considering the team have split themselves between two sites. Though I can’t speak for what the Oxford debut was like, I think the spread of resources was noticeable as with the exception of Duran Duran’s performance there was far less production value in terms of lighting, effects, and pyro than last year, which was a shame as the firework displays at the end of each night last year were very popular. Similarly collaborations with local promoters seemed to have been of a lesser priority, the Big Top had been presided over by Junk and Warehouse brands last year, whereas this time around only Junk’s resident played and were relegated to a smaller area over at the bug bar.

6.8 Enjoyable

The weekender’s idyllic setting on Southampton Common continues to be a major draw, and a balanced range of genres ensures there’s something to suit most tastes, however, it remains to be seen if Common People can exceed the standard set by its debut. 

  • Pre Event Communication 7
  • At Event Communication 6
  • Travel to the festival 8
  • Arrival at the festival 4
  • Festival Experience 7
  • Toilets 7
  • Security and Crowd Control 5
  • All-Weather Planning 2
  • Creative Content 8
  • DJ/Artist Line-Up 7
  • Disabled Access 7
  • Food 8
  • Bars & Drinks 7
  • Cleanliness 7
  • Size/Scale 9
  • After-Hours Entertainment 8
  • Value for Money 8
  • Technical Specification 7
  • Sound Quality 7
  • Lighting/Effects/Pyro 5
  • Extra Attractions/Activities 7
  • Local Scene Connection 8
  • Green/Recycling 8
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