Common People is a Bestival-run festival that takes over Southampton Common on the May bank holiday, and this year it delivered a quite frankly phenomenal lineup. Considering this is practically on my back doorstep, the Common played host to the likes of Duran Duran, Primal Scream, and hometown hero Craig David, and with weather that matched the triumph of the weekend, everything ran pretty brilliantly.
After the Chuckle Brothers had got up to their shenanigans (whilst I was still in bed I may add), the first serious artists of the day took to the stage in the form of veteran hip-hop outfit Sugarhill Gang and Ghostpoet, an overtly poetic lyricist notorious for his blending of hip-hop with colder, more insular electronics. He delivered his set, live band in toe, with an enthusiasm and an energy that made for a gripping, hypnotic opening to the day.
The Saturday of the weekend had by far the strongest line up. Gaz Coombes, followed by Public Enemy and then Primal Scream made it so. Gaz was everything you'd want and more for a national treasure playing solo. His songs were tight, his voice gorgeous, and his band frequently breaking into mesmeric 5 minute kraut-rock freakouts. Some solo musicians never shake off their famous band, but Gaz is so good that it goes the other way. Supergrass? The band that had Gaz Coombes in?
Flavor Flav was unable to make it, Chuck D said the government wouldn't let him in; but that didn't stop Public Enemy raging through a storming 45 minute set. Chuck D is a prophet, a tremedously great human, and as he moved around the stage rapping off classics like Fight The Power, Bring The Noise and Welcome To The Terrordrome and indispersing anti-governmental comment in between. Chuck D, surrounded by a full band, his S1Ws and turntable master DJ Lord, ensured that this was the most memorable set of the festival. The best part of 20,000 people punching the air to the chant of "fight the powers that be!" Pretty amazing, if you ask me.
Primal Scream closed my Saturday with an electrifying, career spanning performance. Of course, you had a bombastic version of new single Where The Light Gets In, but what really made this great was the band's prowess as they flew through the hits. Bobby Gillespie, hovering around the stage in a pink blazer and polka dots, was the ultimate rock 'n' roll cliche, and his voice has only gotten better (dreamier, more melodic), with age. Loaded and Movin on up from Screamadelica were sun-kissed masterworks. Shoot Speed Kill Light was absolutely scorching, Country Girl was luscious, and the closer Rocks was a storm that showcased just why they're one of Britain's greatest national treasures. Bobby is the ultimate rock star, and from the first strums of Movin on up, to the final chorus of Rocks, the band were just on another level.
If Saturday was a day where I saw some of the greats, Sunday was a proving ground for bands that could really make it over the next year or two (obviously, after Mr Motivator made his mark). The Magic Gang have a lot of hype, and whilst they're far from mind blowing, their set was bright, bounding and on a sunny day it just felt right. As far as upcoming by-numbers indie bands go, The Magic Gang are among the best - they sing catchy songs, they sound like summer itself, and they just spread generally good vibes all over the shop.
The rest of the action was on the Uncommon Stage, and it was a mixed bag. Kassassin Street's set of radio friendly psych-pop was pretty nice, and had a certain pull to it, filling the tent to bursting - the fullest it was all week, if I'm not mistaken. Following that though, came Pretty Vicious.
Pretty Vicious are a band that I'd quite like to be into; they're lovely lads, they have a few fuzzy little indie rock gems in their discography, and they're in a position to be a guitar band that 'make it'. But for me, even though The Sugarhill Gang only did a 3 minute version of Rapper's Delight, the Welsh 4-piece were the biggest disappointment of Common People. The singer's vocals were ineligible (I genuinely think they might have been singing in Welsh) over some anonymous guitar lines, and the seeming lack of the track Cave Song in favour of new material really cleared a full tent - by the time they were finished there was just about an amount in double figures left as they walked off.
The Wytches, headlining the Uncommon Stage, completely saved the day though. A vicious set that included 4 new tracks, a Misfits cover, and the likes of Gravedweller, Darker and Robe For Juda proved that they're still one of the hottest things to happen to guitar music for years. Kristian Bell howled like a banshee, and the band sounding ever dangerous. Let's be honest, when their EP, which is supposed to be out THIS MONTH, drops, we'll all be all over the Brighton-based trio once more.
Common People was an odd mash-up of legendary figures, promising new bands, and Gaz Coombes in his prime, but there was so much goodness on offer that you can't help but get wrapped up in the brilliance of it all. Public Enemy, The Wytches and Primal Scream together: what an absolutely unstoppable weekend.
Words: Calum Cashin
Photos: James Polley