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Strong Island Recordings Label Party At The Shacklewell Arms With Dressmaker, The Red Cords, Melt Dunes & Frauds

On the 29th January our Strong Island Recordings label returns to London taking over one of our favourite venues being The Shacklewell Arms in Dalston for the evening where entry is free and features a handful of our favourite new bands from far and wide. It’s the perfect way to cure those impending January blues.

Headlining our first show at The Shacklewell Arms is dressmaker. Described by Vice as “one of the loudest, noisest and msot intense live bands around” (and the Strong Island Recordings team can vouch for that!) they’re the perfect band to headline our first ever show at The Shacklewell. Support comes from frenetic, snotty garage-punk outfit in the vein of Ty Segall, Reatards and John Dwyer’s projects, Falmouth’s The Red Cords who featured on our compilation a while back as well as having released material on PNKSLM and Art Is Hard. Also playing is Strong Island Recordings’ Melt Dunes one of, if not the best live band from Hampshire and shall be bringing their heavy, doom-laden psychedelia back to The Shacklewell Arms where they played this year supporting Creation Records legends The Telescopes. Opening the night will be banterous, heavy-punk favourites of ours being Croydon’s Frauds who have played a couple of shows in Southsea this year for our friends at Torn Speaker (who now help co-promote our  shows in London) as well as Dials Festival.

So if you’re in London or at odds of what to do on Friday 29th January come to The Shacklewell Arms with us as we party with some of our favourite acts today all for the mere price of zero pound. Go and check the acts playing below and the amazing poster designed by Southsea graphic designer, Sam Brandon. You can also keep up to date with the event over on Facebook.

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Strong Island Recordings X-Mas Party At Al Burrito With The Demons, Melt Dunes, Strange Cages & Cosmic Forces

This coming Friday is the Strong Island Recordings & Champagne Justice Christmas party and also our last label party in Portsmouth for a little while so hopefully we’ll see many  of your faces there for it. Taking place in our spiritual home, the sweat-pit that is upstairs of Al Burrito the line-up features a collection of some of the finest and most exciting psychedelic and garage -rock on the south-coast for a small sum of £5.00.

Headlining the show is SIR favourites You’re Smiling Now But We’ll All Turn Into Demons who opened for us at our launch show back in 2012 at Southsea Fest. They’re no doubt going to bring their brand of heady, doom -psychedelia in the vein of Acid Baby Jesus and Bo Ningen. Main support comes from one of the most exciting and best live acts in the south at the moment being Melt Dunes. Heavy, dark, swirling psychedelia, Melt Dunes are going to bring the true nightmare before Christmas. Also playing the night is another from our Strong Island Recordings family being frenetic, snotty, psych/garage-rock trio Strange Cages coming with heavy support from Q Magazine to Fred Perry Subculture. They killed it at Dials playing to a packed crowd where it was in a one in one out and they’re only going to slay harder come Friday so be sure to catch them. Opening the show is brand-new Southsea based garage-rock trio Cosmic Forces.

If you dig your psychedelia, garage rock -n -roll then come on down as it’s going to be one very fun Christmas party. Doors are at 8pm and the first act being Cosmic Forces hit the stage at 8.30pm so be sure to head down early as capacity is limited!

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Bill Bailey Is Coming To The Portsmouth Guildhall

This flippin marvelous comedian, actor and musician Bill Bailey is coming to the Portsmouth Guildhall on Friday 4th Decemeber to perform at the his latest tour Limboland.

It was announced that he was continuing his tour in the UK to the delight of fans, who enjoy his quick wit and trademark intelligence merged with a sharp stage presence and his unforgettable performances.

Best known by some for his roles in Black Books and Never Mind the Buzzcocks but for most he’ll be known for his previous live tours Dandelion Mind, Tinselworm, Bewilderness and Part Troll.

Tickets are still up for grabs on the Guildhall website for £27.50 but be quick to ensure you don’t miss out. Visit the Box Office to book.

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One Man Breaking Bad – The Unauthorised Parody At The Kings Theatre This Coming Weekend!

LA based actor Miles Allen smacks the senses with his super charged, hilariously funny renditions of all of the characters from the hit series, Breaking Bad. Slipping into various roles from the show including, Walter White, Jesse, Hank, Skyler, Walt Junior, Mike, Saul and Gus. Miles has been said to nail impressions and offer an alternative twist to the show, making it completely his own.

The show has had over a million YouTube hits and has been a sell out at various festivals including the famous, Edinburgh festival.

This show is hugely popular and is must see! Funny, manic and beautifully executed. The Guardian described the show as a ‘high energy, warp speed romp through all five seasons which brings the house down every night is shows.’

Tickets are still on sale for this weeks performance so don’t miss out! Visit the Kings Theatre Box Office.

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Strong Island Recordings X Champagne Justice Christmas Party With The Demons, Strange Cages & Melt Dunes

On the 18th December Strong Island Recordings are to team with our Champagne Justice pals for a sweat filled, psychedelic Christmas party at Al Burrito. It will be our last hometown show for a little while so we hope many of you (or as many of you that can actually fit into Al Burrito!) can make it to our Christmas party at the very place we launched at back at Southsea Fest (then known as Bar 56). It’s a perfect Christmas homecoming!

Playing the show shall be heavy, space, psych rock lords You’re Smiling Now But We’ll All Turn Into Demons plus Strong Island Recordings’ doom-laden acid psychedelic rock quartet Melt Dunes bringing a true nightmare before Christmas and dragging everyone into the darkest netherworld of the psychedelic realm as well as another of our label family being Brighton’s snotty surf-punk meets psych outfit Strange Cages who brought down the house back at Dials Festival in front of a capped out crowd. If you dig any of the likes of King Gizzard & Lizard Wizard, Ty Segall, Night Beats or The Cramps then they’re for you.  Also on the bill is brand new garage rock outfit Cosmic Forces playing their debut show.

So come and party with us before Christmas in a tiny sweat-pit above a Mexican restaurant, eating burritos and nachos, drinking beers and tequilas whilst watching some of the finest psychedelic and garage rock bands the south-coast has to offer because what else is Christmas really about? More details can be found on the Facebook event.  See you there!

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Dials Festival Diary

Saturday saw the inaugural Dials Festival take place across Southsea and what a day it was! It was humbling to see so many people fill up the venues of our new community run festival and the touching, positive response we have had for our first year has been truly amazing. Kicking off from the early afternoon to evening Dials featured 40 plus acts from across the day to evening in five different venues across Albert Road. Being the co-booker, also running the social media and also being runner of the festival I managed to catch a fair few across from across the day so here’s my diary of the day at Dials minus all the boring bits.

After a swigging one of those disgusting, suspiciously cheap 35p energy drinks it was time to jog from the station to the debrief of the day in the morning at Edge of the Wedge. After this and making sure all venues were well equipped it was approaching time for wristband collection. During this brief calm before the storm I decided it was probably time for some mid-day breakfast where I quickly managed to neck a burrito at Al Burrito but unfortunately the storm arrived promptly during my “breakfast” and it was time to metaphorically put out many fires. Football traffic amongst other events going on meant acts were waiting for their taxis for nearly an hour which caused a lot of chaos first thing and we wondered if the festival was going to run behind with immediate effect..

Luckily everything worked out and we managed to remain punctual so the first venue I headed off to was The Loft for Jimmy Stuart of Is Bliss who was playing a solo set. Jimmy proved to be a one man psych machine bringing a whirling, wonderful, colorful racket that was in the vein of Morgan Delt and Jacco Gardner. Guitars being thrown on the floor, a guitar strings breaking, it was beautiful chaos and I really can’t wait to see how Jimmy Stuart’s solo material progresses. Staying at the Loft for Strong Island RecordingsMelt Dunes the quartet brought their brand of heavy acid/psych rock to Southsea. Their nightmarish, doom-laden, visceral sound was perfect for the psychedelic sweat-pit that is The Loft and their potential is frightening. Biased or not, they’re one of the most exciting acts to emerge from the south-coast in a while.

I’d already seen a lot of doom psych and spent a lot of time in a dark, sweaty room so I decided to have a break at head over the road for the naturally lit Little Johnny Russells. Sam McCarthy managed to hop out of the taxi straight onto stage and his summer tinted, acoustic folk was perfect for a warm sunny day in the afternoon.  Next up I managed to catch Fever (albeit very briefly until I was called for some errands). They sounded wonderful at Edge of the Wedge with their fuzz tinted, grungy, indie-pop. After running around for a bit I managed to head back to LJR’s for an act I have been a fan of for a while being Dog in the Snow. Playing to a very full house the duo charmed the crowd with their dreamy, haunting art-pop and went down very well which was is always great to see. Their new EP is out now on Brighton’s Love thy Neighbor label.

After Dog in the Snow and running around like a madman once more it was time for Strange Cages at Al Burrito. It’s fair to say many weren’t ready for the sheer heat of the venue and Strange Cages sounded perfect in it with their heavy snotty garage punk meets surf and psych rock sounding like a cross  between the likes of Coachwhips, The Cramps and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Al Burrito was fully packed out with one in one out and Strange Cages delivered a mind-blowing, raucous set to the sweaty audience. After Strange Cages it was time to run to the Wedgewood Rooms to catch Wyldest. Walking in to see a fully packed out Wedgewood Rooms crowd watching Wyldest was a pretty great moment from the perspective of booking the festival and seeing our good friends play to such a large amount of people. The now quartet delivered a truly wonderful set in front of such a crowd delving from their dreampop sound to shoegaze that sounded massive in the Wedge.

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After some much needed fresh air it was back into the Wedgewood Rooms to watch Strong Island Recordings’ Curxes who’s set sounded enormous in the Wedge. The frenetic, blitz-pop trio played a blistering set with a number of favourites from their debut album ‘Verxes’ sounding incredible on the Wedge PA. Immediately as Curxes’ set concluded  next door in the Edge of the Wedge saw another from the Strong Island Recordings family being Gang bring down the house with one of the sets of the day. Bringing their grunge ridden, doom laden pop, Gang’s set melted minds across the Edge of the Wedge proving they’re one of the finest live acts in the UK at the moment. The trio’s slacker like showmanship on stage is on level with their scolding sound and many in the fully packed out Edge of the Wedge who hadn’t seen Gang were probably not anticipating such tinnitus inducing brilliance.

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After witnessing Gang and needing a double Jack Daniels to get my brain back in sync with what was happening it was back up the road for Peluche at LJRs. It’s hard to describe Peluche to be honest which is a very good thing. They’re somewhat shimmering dreamy, avant-garde pop meets jazz. dub, psychedelia and world music that’s perfect for a summers evening and it’s fair to say Peluche smashed it. Hopefully Peluche get some summer festival slots next year as they’re perfect for dancing in a field especially with songs such as ‘Ohio’ and ‘The Guy With The Gammy Eye’.  I had done a lot of walking (and running) during the day so I decided to stay put at LJR’s for Jerry Williams who I had seen a number of times but never with a full band set-up. In the end it was brilliant funky-disco pop and Jerry’s charm ridden vocals sounded perfect coated with a full band set-up making tracks such as ‘Boy Oh Boy’ and ‘Cold Beer’ sound as ace live as they do on record.

Straight after Jerry Williams it was off to the Wedge and Edge for the rest of the evening. I managed to catch some of Kagoule’s set and it was amazing to see them play in front of such a large crowd especially as last year at our Southsea Fest stage they played to about 50 people. The Wedgewood Rooms managed to capture the post-punk meets scuzzed out melodic grunge trio’s sound perfectly. Next door Rickyfitts were gearing up for their set and what was about to occur was utter chaos and mayhem. The thrash twosome played in front of a near riot out in front of them with mosh-pits and crowd surfing from the fully packed out crowd. They themselves sounded as great as always with Thom Dalmut-Rudd bringing a monsoon of riffs and Max Goulding smashing up his drum kit to pieces. It was a great, rare homecoming for the duo who now live in Bristol and London.

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After Rickyfitts, back in the Wedgewood Rooms things were somewhat more calmer but just as great with special guests Fickle Friends bringing their incredible indie/electro-synth pop to the Wedgewood Rooms. Tracks such as ‘For You’ and ‘Swim’ showed why the Brightonians have such immense potential and why they should probably be MASSIVE soon. It was joyous, danceable pop at it’s best. Back in the Edge of the Wedge Black Honey played their first ever Portsmouth show and probably last here in such a small venue. Bringing the surf doom/grunge akin to The Wytches but laced in oozing noise pop goodness Black Honey were incredible.  Izzy’s (front woman) charisma on stage is rather infectious and with tracks like ‘Spinning Wheel’ and ‘Teenager’ on show, Black Honey’s potential as the next big thing was evident.

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After Black Honey I realised I hadn’t eaten for hours so I had to find somewhere to sit and reflect on the day knowing that I could leave and everything would be okay which meant a trip to get some food and crash. Overall the response and turnout was incredible and with such a great atmosphere from everyone who attended I and the Dials team cannot thank everyone enough for making the first ever Dials Festival a very special and memorable one.

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Dials Festival Taking Place Tomorrow In Albert Road

So we’re officially on the eve of Dials Festival Portsmouth’s newest music festival taking place across various venues in Albert Road with 40 + bands spanning across the day and evening plus an afterparty featuring Rowan of Kassassin Street, Billy Colburn and Fuzz Tones all deejaying the Wedgewood Rooms and Edge of the Wedge until the later hours.

The line-up at Dials consists of some of the “buzziest” emerging acts in the country who if you’re a regular listener of BBC 6 Music or a reader of the likes of NME, Mojo, DIY etc you will probably be well aware of many of the acts playing. The line-up consists of the likes of Hooton Tennis Club, Kagoule, Fickle Friends, Black Honey, Dingus Khan, Crushed Beaks and many-many more plus some of the finest acts from around the area. The times and stage splits for Dials have been announced and you can plan your day ahead at Dials Festival with the Clashfinder here so you can workout at  what point you’re going for that burrito/pie break.

You can check out the Dials playlist below of a number of the acts on the bill and you can purchase tickets on the day at just £20 if you haven’t got them in advance at £18. Entry allows you in to all venues (age permitting) and you can see some of tomorrow’s festival heavyweights in an intimate setting plus an afterparty which is free to Dials wristband holders. Also our label arm Strong Island Recordings are offering a 30% discount on all label merchandise to Dials wristband holders in Strong Island Co on Saturday. You can keep up to date with Dials on Facebook and on Twitter on @DialsFestival. Hopefully we’ll see many faces there for Portsmouth’s newest multi venue, community based festival.

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Dials Festival Preview #4 Special Guests – Fickle Friends

So Dials Festival is fast approaching taking place on the 3rd October  from the early afternoon to late in the evening and in the spirit of Southsea Fest a grand number of emerging artists from all across the U.K shall be playing across various venues in Albert Road with an after party at the Wedgewood Rooms taking place after the event. It’s certainly going to be the perfect way to be rid of those post-summer festival blues and will no doubt be one of the highlights in the Portsmouth events calendar.

Our next preview comes from one of the buzziest and best emerging acts in the country who smashed it recently at Victorious Festival in front of thousands being Fickle Friends. Racking up quite literally millions of plays on Spotify and SoundCloud, the new-wave, electronic pop outfit from Brighton with heavyweight support from everyone from Radio 1 to NME are going to be bringing their sun soaked, tropical pop sound to Southsea once more to The Wedgewood Rooms. For a new, new music festival, it’s a great coup to get Fickle Friends playing for us.

To see Fickle Friends and 40 plus more phenomenal emerging acts then you can get tickets here. Tickets are just £18 (that’s about five beers!!) so it’s an absolute bargain to say the least. You can find out more details on the Dials Facebook and also on Twitter on @DialsFestival.

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Victorious Festival 2015 Review – A Festival For The Whole Family (Part Two)

This year’s Victorious Festival was pretty epic. Though it was my first, I am already looking forward to going back next year. Saturday may have been a washout for some, but with our brollies and wells in tow, we were not going to have our spirits dampened.

The variety of activities spread across the Kids Arena was immense. There was everything you could think of to entertain the children and some of parents who are children at heart. Every bit of detail had been covered, from children’s safety with wrist bands with emergency contact details on to baby changing areas.

In the Kids Arena, there was face painting, tennis, a disco tent (playing some absolute classics), Disney princesses everywhere, providing much excitement for the kids with plenty of photo opportunities. Magic shows and all round fun activities. What was fantastic about the Kids Arena was that all the kids actives and entertainment was all free, so there was no telling the children they can’t go on a ride because you don’t have any change!

The Kids Arena was situated next door to the main areas which was great. It meant we could escape the ‘adult zone’ and enjoy some great live music. We saw a couple of bands at the Acoustic Stage, Captain Flatcap at the Beats and Swing Tent – who were amazing! I have never seen so many people dancing so hard to live music before. The band were brilliant, clearly having fun and everyone around them was too. My five year old dragged me to the front barrier so she could get a better view and dance with everyone else. I also saw Laura Mvula, who was one of the acts that I desperately wanted to see and she didn’t disappoint. Her live vocals were incredible.

We’d built up quite an appetite just wandering around the site seeing what was on offer. There was a huge array of cuisines that all looked and smelt so delicious that it was so difficult to decide. In the end we went for a chilli from the Chilipot. If they are there next year, make sure you head over for some delicious food.

The festival was a fantastic day out for all ages, and I would highly recommend the day to anyone even those with young families, there really is something for everyone.

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Dials Festival Line- Up Additions

Dials Festival the collaborative, new multi-venue music festival ran by Strong Island, Strong Island Recordings, Hong Kong Gardner’s Club, Breaking More Waves, Wedgewood Rooms and Pie & Vinyl has announced additions to the line-up already consisting of Hooton Tennis Club, Kagoule, Black Honey, Chloe Black, Curxes, Broken Hands, Rickyfitts and loads more.  The festival will be in place of Southsea Fest for 2015 to ensure a multi-venue, new music festival across various venues and pubs can still take place.

Leading the latest additions is the super fun Dingus Khan who headline the Little Johnny Russells stage and BBC 6 Music favourites, scuzzy, infectious, fuzzy, indie-pop London outfit Crushed Beaks who will headline The Loft.  Other additions to the bill include doom laden psychedelic meets raw punk outfit Crows who were recently handpicked to support Wolf Alice and are also set to support Metz on their UK tour plus Strong Island Recordings label family and one of the best new live bands in the country, primal, doom grunge pop trio Gang who return to Portsmouth and are no doubt going to bring the house down as well  snotty, garage punk trio Skinny Girl Diet (who if you dig Ty Segall and Coachwips, you will love) psych meets slacker pop Londoners, Honey Moon who are are like a cross between Mac DeMarco and Kurt Vile, self proclaimed “poolside pop”  Icelandic by the way of Brighton outfit Dream Wife, electro – hip hop influenced-pop artist Frankie Knight,  indie outfit Fever plus local favourites Damn Beats, Number 9 and Sam McCarthy.

Dials Festival will take place on the 3rd October across five venues in Albert Road being Wedgewood and Edge of the Wedge (all ages), Little Johnny Russells (18 + after 7pm), Al Burrito (18 + after 8pm) and The Loft (18+ only) and features 40 plus acts playing across the entire day to the late evening plus a  Dials after party that will be taking place at The Wedgewood Rooms with Dials deejays.  Tickets for the festival are just £15 at a very limited early-bird rate until Monday when they go up to £18. You can purchase tickets at Kings Theatre over on their site or you can get them in store at Strong Island, Pie & Vinyl. Dress Code and Wedgewood Room.It will no doubt be a great festival and if you loved Southsea Fest then Dials Festival will be for you and perfect for any potential post Victorious blues.

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Two for a Fiver mate…

I’m really digging this Tea Towel they have for sale down Clarence Pier. Great little illustrations of some of our more recognisable landmarks and modes of travel. A great addition to any kitchen.

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After skating…

…the boys enjoy a sit down at the seafront on a Sunday. Photo courtesy of the ever busy Quiet Corners lensman Paul Gonella. Perfect days, albeit still cold.

Created Local – Marc B.B

Local Light Artist & Photographer Marc B.B sent over these incredible light images taken around Portsmouth. Specialising in Night Photography, Light Painting, Long Exposures and so on Marcs pictures are created at a time when most people would be packing away their cameras and heading home. Portsmouth has a strong creative vibe, especially in the photography realm and being part of a group called ‘Portsmouth At Night’, Marc regularly meets up with like minded folk to go on weekly excursions in and around the city to photograph it, in the dark.

“Whilst some may find it a little bizarre, i think the images speak for themselves. Turning everyday objects, landmarks, even benches into works of art of their own is both exciting and a challenge. Some of my best work has been in collaberation with others and being able to pool resources and ideas has always been invaluable to me. I am always striving to find parts of the city that can be shown in a ‘good light’ as Portsmouth is such a great place to live.”

Be sure to check out Marcs website www.marcbb.co.uk for amazing photos, and if this style night photography interests you head over to Portsmouth at Night at www.portsmouthatnight.com. They meet up as a group every week somewhere in Portsmouth and simply take advantage of the night. Everyone is welcome to join, at all levels of competency. Night, night.

Created Local – David Thompson

The Hiscock Gallery on Stanley Street behind Waitrose has some interesting new vintage style prints in stock by local artist David Thompson. They are a series of digitally drawn images reflecting upon 1930 – 1950s style advertising posters, enhanced with modern techniques. A really nice simplistic approach highlighting the main features of the subject, yet still very technical and intricate in places. The front of The Victory is awesome.

All reproductions are genuine giclée prints, printed with pigment based inks on 180gms Canon Matte paper, fade resistant for 100+ years. These “Poster” Prints are all personally signed by the artist. Head on over to Davids Gallery and take a look for yourself. Nice stuff for sure.

It’s going to be a Strong Movember

Righto chaps, it’s time to clean shave your boat race and get that mighty moustache on the grow in support of Movember for The Prostate Cancer Charity and the Institute of Cancer Research. For 30 days of November you can help support and raise awareness through selflessly parading your top lip for charity.

You can sign up yourself, as I’m sure many of you already have, or you can join the Strong Island team and seek out sponsorship as a team. Through the Strong Island Movember page you can ask people to join the group, make donations, upload photos and post updates via the MoSpace page, Facebook and Twitter.

Head over to our MoSpace if you would like to get involved and grow a Strong Moustache to help raise awareness, or simply head over to www.uk.movember.com and sign up to personally raise money.

The funds raised in the UK support the number one and two male specific cancers – prostate and testicular cancer. The funds raised are directed to programmes run directly by Movember and our men’s health partners, The Prostate Cancer Charity and the Institute of Cancer Research. Together, these channels work together to ensure that Movember funds are supporting a broad range of innovative, world-class programmes in line with our strategic goals in the areas of awareness and education, survivorship and research.

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When The Tour Came To Portsmouth – A Conversation With John Bagnall – Part 2/2

Welcome back to part two of our interview with John Bagnall, a key player in bringing one of the biggest dates in the sporting calendar to Portsmouth in 1994. You can revisit part one here.

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Hi John, in part one we discussed what it takes to begin paving the way for a Portsmouth stage. What else did you have to organise or overcome on your road to June 1994?

The next obstacle we had was the police, mainly due to the fact they had never dealt with anything quite so big before. At the time you had the Milk Race and the Kellogg’s Tour Of Britain as the biggest cycling events in the UK. And those were done by rolling road closures: a police car or motorcycle in front and behind which leapfrogged each other to stop the traffic. The Tour wouldn’t contemplate that, it had to be a completely sterile loop. The police have an organisation called ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers), that oversee combined or national large scale operations. We got assigned an inspector who was a bit full of himself and quite jack the laddish. You could see why he had gone far in the police force; a rather strong personality. He came to the first meetings saying, “well you know, I can’t see it working but we’ll go through the motions”, it was that sort of attitude. This was partly because, to start off with, they couldn’t get their mind round what the Tour was and how it felt to be part of it. So we took him and a couple of his deputies, including another guy assigned by Hampshire Constabulary, to France the next year to see the race. The Tour kindly decided to put them in their control car as guests, and for two days they were able to experience their operations first hand.

Unfortunately we thought we’d blown it on the first day. By then they were into the mountains, and this particular stage finished at Sestriere in the Alps, which is one of the very famous climbs if not one of the very legendary ones. Sestriere is now in all of the record books because Claudio Chiapuccino won it with the longest by distance and time break away in Tour history. Claudio came in forty five minutes ahead of the rest, it was quite an incredible ride, and probably drug assisted at the time if the truth be known… But Sestriere is a mountain top and it was just gridlocked. There was no way you could get anywhere for hours afterwards and yet we were supposed to collect these ACPO guys in order to look after them. We just couldn’t make the physical connections. Mobiles were very new technology and there was no coverage on the tops of the alps, so we had no means of getting in touch with them. We thought we had really blown it, they will be pretty hacked off at being left stranded with French men. As it turned out our French counterparts realised the situation and said “don’t worry, we will look after you”. They dished up a really nice dinner, got them suitably drunk and they had a really good time. When we met up with them the following day we fully expected them to pull the plug on the whole affair, however they expressed a different kind of concern; “After what we saw yesterday I’m not sure that we, the English police force, could manage something so awe inspiring. It was so well organised, it is going to give us real problems matching it”. Thankfully this soon became an ego thing and before we knew it, the challenge had been set to do it better than the French.

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I recall in the first half of this interview you briefly mentioned the issue of legislation having to be created specifically for the Tour, could you give us more details on what had to be put into place?

What the police soon realised was that road cycling at that time, took place under a minor clause-of-a-sub-statute-of-a-bit-of-legislation dating back to 1948. This simply didn’t give them the powers they would need to create a completely sterile road closure. The existing legislation meant that it was okay for a police car to stop and for a policeman to halt traffic with his hands for 15 minutes, but not for a full day. So we shaped and drafted an Act of Parliament that was taken through as a private member’s bill. It was very discreetly done because this was still subject to confidentiality, all very hush hush. The bill went through Parliament and was enacted; giving all the relevant authorities the power to do whatever necessary to close the road and such like. This is the same legislation under which the Tour can take place in Yorkshire on Saturday.

That then just left all the towns and villages. We had numerous meetings with the county councils: Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex and Hampshire because the Tour want money to come. To be a start of finish town back then was around £100,000.00, which is quite a lot of money. And that was just for the Tour to come, so not including your organisation costs. All of that had to be negotiated through all of the various councils, but I think we had the political network working for us, everyone at Portsmouth City Council was up for it. By then a momentum was gathering and rumours started to appear. Cycling Weekly would phone up every so often and ask “what is going on?” “well what do you think is going on? I haven’t heard anything?”, all this bluff and counter bluff. Cycling is a small world, so they recognised that if they blew it then it could lift the lid on the whole thing. They were bound into it as well. Gradually we ticked off all the councils putting up the money for physical improvements. After this operation had been put into place the roads on the planned the route had never better for cycling; whole stretches were re-tarmacked because none of the councils wanted to be known for having bought a rider down.

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The next part of the operation was to simply identify all the businesses that would be affected; banks, supermarkets, retail outlets, etc. Staff would have problems getting in due to the roads being closed at five in the morning. Deliveries would not be able to take place and cash points would not be refilled. Memorably I researched every crematorium, cemetery and undertakers on 25 miles either side of the route in order to write to them saying “please be aware that on this day restrictions will be in place and you might not have access for mourners, don’t book funerals for that day”. Similar to this, part of the route was going up Ditchling Beacon where a very rare orchid grows, so rare that its location is kept a secret. Naturally the Environmental Agency were worried about it, so the area was coned off and marshal placed there specifically to protect this plant from cycling fans and plant collectors alike.

Then it was just down to getting people along the route to buy into it; we persuaded villages councils and the Department for Education to allow schools to close for the day so that their pupils were able to watch the race. By the time we had the national launch, Cycling Weekly was planning events and their editor, Martin Ayres, came on board on a freelance basis to help with the writing of our newsletter. Through our newsletters we were having to inform people who had never heard of the Tour de France what it was about. We had to get out there and convince the people who, not only did not cycle, but disapproved of cycling in general. All whilst keeping the cycling clubs and the aficionados happy. It all came together amazingly well, but it was a lot of hard work. During the winter of 93 -94, for three to four nights a week I was in village halls somewhere along the route; showing a film and telling people what would be happening. Often you would get people sitting there with their arms crossed saying “why should I pay my rates so that French men can race bikes past my house?”, we were dealing with that sort of mentality.

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By all accounts this was a successful stage, but can you tell me if there were any incidents that you had to deal with? With that amount of people massed together surely some issues cropped up?

The only incident in the whole thing was during the Portsmouth leg, when a child stepped out onto the curb after the peloton came round. Unfortunately he was clipped by the wing of one of the official’s cars who were following the riders, and momentarily we were quite concerned. Thankfully the Tour stopped one of its medical cars and called up one of their helicopters. The helicopter landed just behind where it happened and took the child and his mother to the hospital for the check-up. He had a headache and was slightly bruised but nothing serious. In truth it was fantastic PR on the Tour’s part to of done that, it added hugely to the concept of goodwill.

Over the two days, the police estimated between two and three million people had watched at the roadside. It had huge television coverage relative to the time, I remember Mr Leblanc saying that we have already seen the biggest stage crowd for the whole Tour, and we were only on stage four and five. The goodwill that was generated was just amazing, it’s fantastic anywhere you go on the Tour anyway, but the friendship and fun that was being had was truly magic. It laid the groundwork for the Tour to come back to England.

What would you say the aim was in bringing the Tour here, and what legacy did it leave? What do you think it brought to the city?

The immediate aim was to inform as many people as possible across the world, that there is a city called Portsmouth on the south coast of England. A city with an important heritage and history. A city that is open for commercial business. We were the people that started this whole thing, we are a city with a “can do” spirit. We are international and friendly. This was general promotion of sorts, for all kinds of different reasons and messages, and we very much hoped to ignite greater interest in cycling. Not to mention greater investment in cycling on the part of the city. We are on an island, the highest point in Portsmouth is twelve meters above sea level, it’s difficult to think of somewhere better, perhaps Cambridge apart, in physical terms for cycling. And yet the provision within the city is not good. Unfortunately I think Portsmouth just didn’t managed to capitulate on the immediate legacy of the Tour to achieve a tipping point that could be built on. In a way that you could argue that London has done with the Boris Bikes. There is still more work to do and I don’t entirely see who is doing it and where it is coming from. Southsea Cycle Club and various community projects are doing a great job in making it visible, but I don’t think it’s really come together as a critical mass in Portsmouth.

What really makes me sorry is if you cycle up of down the back or Portsdown Hill, you can see where the cycling tracks have been laid and marked out, but the tarmac has almost worn off. There is just the faint trace of a bike as you come up from Waterlooville and I think that is ever so sad, it’s symbolic of the tokenism that prevailed in the end in Hampshire and Portsmouth. They were given an opportunity to make themselves famous permanently in England as the cycling city, but the momentum was never really achieved in the first place. It was a very successfully stage and I think the longer term legacy wasn’t in the immediate benefits to the people who ride bikes in Portsmouth. However, to the cycling community in Britain as a whole it has had enormous benefits; it worked by laying one of the first foundation stones in what you could describe as a cycling wall. In the next course of bricks above Portsmouth 1994 you have Dublin in 1998, and then a couple courses of bricks above that you have London in 2007. Next you have smaller bricks above that: Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins. Riders who, as kids, might of watched Portsmouth on Channel 4. I would love to know if Mark Cavendish did and whether it fuelled his desire to be part of such a legendary event. You cannot quantify this part of the legacy. By this weekend, Yorkshire 2014 will be at the top of the wall. Yet when you look closely; Portsmouth is still right there at the bottom, as a foundation stone. This is where it all began.

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I would like to express a huge thank you to John & Jan for allowing me into their home and sharing this great story with me. The 101st edition of the Tour De France begins on Saturday the 5th July, with ITV and ITV4 covering live stages and providing nightly highlights.

Local Photographer – Pompey Shoes

I’ve been following Pompeyshoes on Flickr for a while now, yet somehow missed this great shot of a sunset down on the seafront. Be sure to check his Portsmouth & Southsea set for more great photos and interesting perspectives.

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When The Tour Came To Portsmouth – A Conversation With John Bagnall – Part 1/2

With the 101st edition of the Tour de France due to begin on Saturday and a summer of sport well underway, I believe the time is right to delve into the past and look to when the world’s greatest cycling race crossed the channel to our shores. On the 7th of July 1994 Hampshire was gripped with cycling fever; a 187km long 5th stage was about to begin and end in Portsmouth. Half a billion eyes around the world were glued to television sets as the peloton, which included cycling legends Marco Pantani, Miguel Indurain, Chris Boardman and a young Texan called Lance Armstrong, powered past HMS Victory in the Historic Dockyard. For a day, Portsmouth played host to one of the most prestigious sporting events on the calendar. So how did this extraordinary day come about? In a two part post, I catch up with Southsea resident and ex-council employee John Bagnall, a key player in bringing the event to the city.

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Hi John, thank you for taking time out to speak to us. First of all can you tell us what you were doing during the lead up to 1994?

I was the Marketing Communications Manager at Portsmouth City Council, it was looking after press and media relations.

And I believe that this whole venture arose from a discussion over a pub lunch, is that right?

My colleague David Knight, head of leisure for the city council said to me “What can we do that will really put Portsmouth on the map and be a counter point to the D-day commemorations? What is international, bright, young and youth orientated?”

So when you say the commemorations? This was the 50th D-day celebrations? Quite a big deal.

Yes, it was the 50th anniversary of D-day. So for a week at the start of June, Portsmouth became centre to the world in terms of commemorating the liberation, or the beginnings of the liberation of Europe. Clinton and the Queens were here, many world leaders came to Portsmouth and stood in a special bandstand built on Southsea Common. There was a huge international flypast, I think a couple of hundred planes came over Portsmouth; Spitfires, Lancaster Bombers, Flying Fortresses, it really was the world solemnly marking D-day and the beginning of the end of World War Two.

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OK, so press-wise, a pretty good window of opportunity here. What was discussed over lunch?

As I said to David over that pub lunch “Hey, why don’t we bid to get the Tour De France to England?” I’d never really thought at that moment there was a realistic prospect of getting them here, I just thought the council would probably laugh it out of court anyway. Even if we did get as far as sending an invitation to them they would just turn round and say “I’m sorry, why would we come to England? You have no history or heritage of cycling”.

So to add a little context, I believe The Tour had come to England once before? In 1974?

Yes, the time before they raced on the newly completed, but not yet opened, Plympton By-pass near Plymouth. It was just coned off at each end and they went up the dual carriage way for X number of laps. And that was it. I think a few hardcore cycling clubs came to see some of the riders of that time, but there was no broadcast coverage and precious little coverage in the newspapers. By all accounts it was very dull and very boring. The Tour didn’t like it because of the amount of time it took to get the riders there and then take them back again.

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I see, so it seems like The Tour organisers weren’t exactly scrambling to recreate another UK leg?

No, the tour had no thoughts of coming to England ever again after the Plymouth stage. So during that pub lunch the idea really was to “fly a kite”, let’s do something a bit crazy. My argument to David was; they will probably say no even if they bother to reply, but I can still get some publicity out of that. Perhaps a little story into the cycling friendly The Guardian about how a town in Portsmouth bids to get France’s biggest sport event there (wry laugh)… So David and I went to talk to a guy called Richard Tryst who was the chief executive of the council. Richard was quite a frightening man with a hawkish and cynical sharp manner, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He liked boldness and directness. We went to see him and basically said “it’s crazy but we think this is a good thing to do, it ticks all the boxes of what the council are looking at”. He sorted of nodded and said “well yes, there are a lot of other questions to answer as well, but we’ll keep this alive”.

Richard bought in the then leader of the conservative council, a guy called Ian Gibson, who like all local politicians that get to be leaders of the council, was a very upfront, bold and visionary guy. And he got really excited about it as well. So on the 18th of December 1990 I drafted a letter to Henry LeBlanc who was the president of Amaury Sports Organisation, which was the company that controls the Tour De France. And about two weeks later they came back basically saying; “Subject to commercial confidence we are interested, and we are very grateful for your support”. They went on to explain that the Tour at that time was losing direction as the Tour De France; it had this great tradition attached to it but it wasn’t going anywhere with it. What they were trying to do was to introduce a policy that they called “mondialisation”. The organisers wanted to take it global and they were actively looking for other European countries that they could go to. They even discussed the possibility of, and this was back when people were excited by Concorde, to go across the Atlantic and even starting it in America or Canada. So to have an approach from an English city saying “what can we do to help?” was brilliant to them.

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Could you perhaps detail some of the ins and outs of trying to organise an event of this scale whilst remaining compliant with the confidentiality agreement? Seems impossible to me.

We had to sign legally binding documents with them not to divulge the fact that they might be coming here, and from there it became a planning operation. The organisers want to be able to book up every hotel going within, in some cases, 50 to 60 miles of a particular stage town. And at a competitive rate too. If it was common knowledge that the Tour was coming to Portsmouth every hotel in Hampshire, Sussex and Dorset would be ratcheting up their prices. Not only that but we had to make sure that the public knew where to be and what they were going to see. We took care of safety and we made sure there were no embarrassing blockages such as level crossing gates being down. It was a massive planning operation that went into incredible detail; and day after day more and more levels of detail were added.

One of the first things that came up was that the Tour uses a massive bandwidth of transmission frequencies. Back then, before radios were used with the riders, the teams still had their private frequencies so that the Director Sportif could talk to the team cars and any other helpers he needed to contact. The race officials too needed an overall race frequency that everybody could listen to, as did the aid operations, the radio operations, the feeding operations, the signing operations and for the clearing up of the signing operations. The list just went on and one. Hundreds of frequencies and sod’s law would have it that was the most of them were in the band of frequencies used in the UK for hospital radio paging systems. There was no way that we could bring the Tour through with hospitals being disrupted and lives being put at risk because of radio interference.

Immediately we set up a meeting with a government agency called the Radio Communications Agency. This was a formal meeting with about 30 of their wise men. We bought over the communications manager of the Tour and a specialist from France Telecoms. During the meeting’s presentation you could see various people around the table shaking their heads; “impossible”, “far too hard”. But a couple of the right senior people listened intently, and one of them I think the deputy chief executive said “well look, I have no idea how were are going to do this because it will be a massive problem, but leave that to us, if we can’t solve it we shouldn’t be doing our job, we think we can do it.” Suddenly the head shakers were agreeing. We got their commitment. From then on the RCA also undertook all that was necessary to make sure that the hospitals, for those two days, would be working from a different wavelength and there would be no clash.

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Another major issue was that the overall physical envelope of the Tour is massively more than just the peloton. You have the advanced publicity caravan, you have the people who would have gone over two or three days prior: putting up signage, checking access to the routes, checking where they can take off vehicles that might break down. All the kind of technical aspects. They are physically working several days, and perhaps hundreds of miles distance, from where the Tour is at that particular point. It is all part of the live event. Then you have the security operation that physically surrounds the tour: the motorbike marshals that escort the official’s cars, that monitors the press and first aid cars. They have their own radio frequencies and take up physical space on the roads. Amongst those you have the camera bikes that are filming the close-up of the derailleurs and the break-aways. They are beaming a signal up to a helicopter above and there will be four to five other helicopters covering the breakaways and the peloton. Each group of cyclists needing their own cameras.

For two days they would have to touched on Gatwick’s airspace and the approach path for Heathrow. I remember being in the office when Alan Rushton called Directory Enquiries (this was pre internet days) to get the number for the Civil Aviation Authority. He phoned up the switchboard and asked to speak to whichever department was responsible for closing the airspace above British airports. You could sense the stunned silence on the other end of the phone. Thankfully the CAA came back very quickly with a can do attitude. The only stipulation being that any emergency aircraft landings would have to take priority, but otherwise they would work with the French air traffic specialists to bring the Tour through safely.

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Be sure to check in on Wednesday, when we bring you the second part of our interview with John. We will touch on what else was required to bring the race here and what cycling legacy (if at all) the Tour left, not just in Portsmouth, but for the UK.

Submarine Graveyard

Portsmouth’s Pounds scrapyard has been the final stop for the lives of many military vehicles over the years but most noticeable it has been the location for a submarine graveyard. So iconic was the sight of the submarines as you entered Portsmouth that they became the inspiration for the architect when designing the new swimming pool at the Mountbatten Centre.

Robin Hinson has a large collection of photos of the scrapped submarines here, with a few shown below.






Created Local – Inksquatch

Here’s an interesting little blog I stumbled upon. Inksquatch are a collective of Portsmouth based artists, illustrators and designers that comprises of four people working on anything from books, maps, sculptures, bags, badges, you name it from the sound of things. Check out their BLOG and WEBSITE for more info.

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Southsea Flats by Cat

Strong Island Clothing Co.

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