NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way

nxt takeover logoI don’t usually do full reviews for pro-wrestling events, preferring to ‘live’ tweet them as I watch over at @TomGirard, but as this is my first proper taste of NXT I thought it would be worth it.

Coming in, I had heard all the hype about NXT being where the best of WWE’s output now is and, for the most part, its hard to disagree as this show combines the small arena vibe of an indie show with the high budget and high concept that has become WWE’s trademark along with some great in ring action.

Onto the actual show and its all action straight from the get go, as the NXT Tag Team Championship is defended by The Ascension against Sin Cara (mk.2) and Kalisto. As the luchadores come to the ring, with a great reaction from the crowd, we get a nice quick recap of their tournament wins to get here before the Ascension come out looking every part the big, tough, mysterious guys they want to.

Kalisto flies at The Ascension

Kalisto flies at The Ascension

The match itself is pretty non-stop with the big guy heels getting to show some power, but the lion’s share of the impressive moments going to Sin Cara and Kalisto with a bunch of high-flying offence you’d expect from a lucha-gimmicked team.

It was also nice to hear the masked men get some mic time and good to see Sin Cara (or Hunico as I guess this now is) getting some good time to work and not just get squashed or ridiculed.

This was a great way to start the show with action throughout and set up exactly why NXT has been so hyped for a newcomer like me. It also saw the first of a few botches of the night but none were really so much as to detract and mostly came off as the guys trying to impress rather than sloppiness or laziness like botches on the ‘main roster’ often appear.

Next was the first of four promo packages focusing on the guys in the titular main event of the show. All four of these do an excellent job of hyping both the match and the wrestlers letting us know who they are, what they do and why this is an important match for each of them, while not giving away so much we know what’s going to happen in the match.

Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin

The second match is the first squash of the night with the debuting Baron Corbin destroying CJ Parker in seconds. Corbin seemed over and Parker looked interesting but as the match was two moves long it was hard to get much out of it, other than Corbin sure has a look, but it will be interesting to see what they can do with it.

More main event hype (that is actually making it feel like a ‘main event’) before the hair vs. hair match. With a French team here, a pair of Mexican luchadores earlier, a British champion and the upcoming debut of Kenta, I was amazed at how international the NXT roster feels, especially for WWE who are usually a very ‘USA, USA’ kind of organisation.

The hair vs. hair match itself is ok but the promos before outshine it a bit as Enzo Amore and Big Cass are very over and have something of Shawn Michaels and Diesel to their characters that is good to see again. The match tells a good story and, even if they bottle out a bit on the actual head shaving, it does save us from the often slow, crowd killer moment, of trying to shave someone’s head on live TV.

Hideo Itami aka KENTA

Hideo Itami aka KENTA

Now its time for one of the big moments of the night as new ‘General Manager’ (and wrestling legend) William Regal comes to the ring to introduce ‘international superstar’ Kenta.

Its clear here, if it wasn’t before that this crowd know their stuff as they give Kenta a great reception, although they quickly seem to tire when he delivers the first half of his promo in Japanese – though I liked that, especially as this was going out live on Japanese TV.

Once he’s speaking English the crowd are back into it though and we find out he’s now going by the name Hideo Itami, an odd choice after hyping Kenta, but I’ll go with it for now. He gets ambushed by The Ascension but then cleans house and physically says, to quote the Undertaker, “this is my yard” and the crowd seem to get the name change with a few Hideo and Itami chants amongst the Kentas. This was a nice segment and got Itami over big, although I’m not sure how good it will be for The Ascension as they just got bested by one guy…

Bull Dempsey's flying headbutt

Bull Dempsey’s flying headbutt

Another squash match next which pretty much just fills the space after Kenta’s appearance but manages to give some heat to Bull Dempsey and show that NXT isn’t afraid to be hard-hitting as some of the shots here look stiff. Then we get a follow-up to the hair vs. hair match with Amore and Cass finding Marcus Louis and revealing his newly shaved head and again being generally entertaining.

Now its time for what the commentators refer to as the first part of the double main event. It’s first mention of that but its nice to hear and generally the commentators are on much better form than I expected – they don’t really call moves a lot but they help tell the story and don’t just talk about Twitter and the Network all the time and having a female voice adds a nice new dynamic too.

Charlotte's moonsault

Charlotte’s moonsault

The match in question is for the NXT Women’s Championship (I was very pleased not to hear Diva’s used in that context) with underdog Bayley going up against the daughter of Ric Flair, Charlotte.

Bayley does a good job playing the enthusiastic underdog, but it was hard to tell whether she’s actually a bit green or was just playing the part, while Charlotte has all the arrogance you’d expect from the offspring of The Nature Boy and clearly got a lot of the wrestling talent from her dad that David didn’t.

The match is good, and up there with the best main roster Diva’s matches I remember seeing in years, so, while it’s not perfect, it is entertaining, has some nice spots and tells a good little story, that builds in the post-match.

And now its time for your main event…

The titular fatal 4 way pitting high-flying face champion Adrian Neville against hard-working face Sami Zayn, arrogant heel Tyler Breeze and comparative veteran heel Tyson Kidd.

Tyson Kidd, Taylor Breeze, Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn

Tyson Kidd, Taylor Breeze, Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn

This is a match of two halves as the first half is something of a boring ‘schmoz’ (thanks OSW review) on the outside of the ring, followed by an extended beat down from Kidd on Zayn. There’re a few good spots here but mostly it drags and had me wondering if these four would pull off a fatal 4 way that could live up to the hype.

Once they properly get back in the ring though it really picks up with Zayn on the receiving end of pretty much everything and building a huge amount of face sympathy from the crowd that is perfectly worked for his character.

With some great spots, including the always scary looking four man superplex/powerbomb from the top rope, the match manages to get all four men over well with signatures moves from each of them, though I felt Breeze lost out a bit compared to the others and the cameras cut away from Zayn’s Helluva (Ole) kick.

Top rope superplex powerbomb

Top rope superplex powerbomb

The ending was equally well done so as not to have anyone come out looking weak while not being a ‘bullshit finish’ and launch a new angle with Zayn and Neville.

With Itami booked for the next NXT show and a bunch of interesting angles being developed here, I certainly intend to keep watching and, while there were a few botches and the squash matches weren’t up to much, this was a much more consistently entertaining show than pretty much any WWE shows so far this year.

Photos by WWE.

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Of Empires – Stranger Sensations EP

Of Empires

Of Empires

With three years under their hyper-stylish belts already Of Empires are on the verge of releasing their debut EP.

Having made their name with abundant classic rock stylings the Guernsey/Brighton based four-piece have had something of a change of direction, but all in their own particular rock ‘n’ roll idiom.

The EP comes out on 30th September 2014 and will be available via the band’s website, here.

My review of the EP was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 13th September 2014:

Of Empires Stranger Sensations EP review scan - 13:09:14Here’s a preview of the EP from the band’s Soundcloud:

 

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Chaos Returns – The Fermain Tavern – 06/09/14

Stone Em All

Stone Em All

It may be a few weeks earlier than usual but the annual Chaos end of summer party took over The Fermain Tavern on Saturday 6th September with From Bedrooms To Backseats, Static Alice, The Doomsday Project and Stone Em All taking to the stage.

First up were Stone Em All and following what was certainly the best show I’ve seen from them at Chaos 10 they continued in much the same form. While they may not be doing anything too original with their particular brand of thrashy, heavy metal the current line up seems to be the strongest yet, altered as it is slightly since Chaos with past guitarist Aleks Ward taking over bass duties.

Stone Em All

Stone Em All

Frontman Robert Hotton is certainly more at home on a bigger festival stage and there were moments tonight where his particular schtick didn’t quite translate, but its safe to say his performance is heading in the right direction – though constantly telling us the crowd they had in Jersey a few weeks ago at Jersey Dead were more energetic became a little repetitive and probably didn’t win the band any friends.

That said, with a continued focus on originals and the great guitar sounds being made by Lee Oliver and Bobby Didcott, Stone Em All seem to be finally getting their act together and becoming a much stronger proposition.

Another band focusing more on originals here, though with a few covers still in the mix, was The Doomsday Project.

Starting their set with more speed and power than I have ever seen from them added a lot to their performance as it felt like much more than a band just playing songs by rote, as they have come across at times in the past.

This added something of a rough around the edges feel to the performance that helped make for a more convincing pop-punk proposition and, combined with George Russell’s growing confidence as a frontman (especially as some of the audience started getting involved), is starting to build on their evident potential.

The Doomsday Project

The Doomsday Project

As ever they were joined for a couple of numbers by Sophie Mahy and, while Evanescence’s Bring Me To Life still feels like a holdover from their early days, their run at Blink-182’s All The Small Things was a great fun version of the track.

Much like their last Chaos gig at the Jam, they added more originals to the set, including one semi-acoustic number that again saw the young band growing and, while their youth makes them stand out, The Doomsday Project have the potential to be a band worth keeping an eye on – though they should probably drop Electric 6’s Gay Bar, it wasn’t funny in 2004 and it still isn’t in 2014…

Having seemingly become the Chaos guys’ go to band for their gigs, Static Alice were all high energy pop-rock from the off.

Static Alice

Static Alice

Once again Dominique Ogier’s off-kilter charisma carried the performance and, while it can be divisive, it worked for me tonight, while it also struck me what a good bass player Scott Michel has become since his early days in metal bands as, while I’m sure he can still do metal if called for, his playing with Static Alice shows another side that demonstrates a broader musical palette.

With a debut album in their near future it was Static Alice’s songs that really drew my attention here as, while they are all good and in places nicely varied bits of cross over rock, it struck me that they don’t quite get stuck in my head the way these sorts of tunes should, but I got the feeling they are very close to it. That said as soon as each song gets going it’s clear they have a certainly familiarity after a few listens.

While the crowd had shrunk a bit by the time Static Alice took to the stage those that were there began to come to life and they certainly showed why they’ve become favorites at both these gigs and on the local pub circuit as they were called back for an encore and treated us to their take on The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz.

From Bedrooms To Backseats

From Bedrooms To Backseats

With the crowd having shrunk even more, From Bedrooms To Backseats took to the stage in front of only around 20 or 30 people, which is a shame as this was one of the most coherent sets I’ve seen the band deliver.

While I don’t think I’m ever going to be a fan of their particular brand of crossover metal, tonight, for the most part, their performance seemed to be one of their more focused, despite being yet another slightly different line-up to past gigs, with Mike Le Huray joining them on bass.

For me the highlights of their set came in a pair of tracks from their recent Bow Down EP, the title track and The Dark Passenger, as well as a slightly odd, drop-A tuned, version of New Found Glory’s My Friends Over You.

This, along with a few more covers from the likes of Enter Shikari, went down well with those down the front with a good amount of bouncing and singing along happening that, despite the lower number there than earlier in the night, brought the evening to end on an up, even if it wasn’t the night’s highest point.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

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The Cryptics – Black Lucy

The Cryptics - Black LucyLaunching back onto the scene, garage rockers The Cryptics leave listeners in no uncertain state as to what their all about on five track EP, Black Lucy.

With something like the sound of a tape machine rolling to get things going, fuzzy bass and rhythm guitar, from Billy Cryptic and G.T.O. respectively, soon blast from the speakers with a sound that cried out to be coming from vinyl (for me it was coming from CD, so I guess that’s one step better than pure digital?).

The title track sets the scene well as the fuzz is joined by the amphetamine spiked speed of Woody ‘W’ Woodsman’s drums, some psyche solos from G.T.O. and an aloof, almost painfully cool, but knowing, vocal delivery from Screamin’ Johnny Moth.

The CrypticsWith a chorus featuring the ‘words’ “shangalanga” and “ramalama” its clear The Cryptics come from the same school of songwriting that brought us Louie, Louie, and this is no bad thing.

The EP continues very much in the same vein and, listening to it anywhere, its all I can do not to bounce and sing along as the sound is genuinely infectious and the lyrics drill themselves into your head after just one listen create a set of regular ear-worms.

With references to an elevator going up to the 13th floor, The Cryptics wear their influences on their sleeves and end up with a sound that is something of a combination of classic rock ‘n’ roll and 60s psyche rock all coming from and early 70s Detroit garage (with something of a knowing nod and wink) to create something joyously trashy which is celebrate in the EP’s closing number, Do The Trash.

The CrypticsWith Ghostriders, Gold and Jitterbuggin’ all evoking the same, but in varied enough ways to keep it interesting, in between, Black Lucy is a storming release that is a must for fans of all things garage-y and retro, and really should be listened to by anyone who likes things loud and fuzzy.

My one recommendation, once you’ve got your hands on this disc though, is two words:

‘PLAY LOUD’

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FrnkIero AndThe Cellabration – Stomachaches

frnkiero-andthe-cellabration-Stomachaches-coverWith the release of Stomachaches Frank Iero has pipped former band mate Gerard Way in being the first of the ex-members of My Chemical Romance to release a full length ‘solo’ album since the band’s split (albeit only by a matter of weeks).

Though the name sounds like a band the majority of the work on this album is done by Iero himself (with ‘real drums’ credited to Jarrod Alexander) demonstrating a remarkable musical aptitude from the former My Chemical Romance guitarist.

This approach comes across very clearly in the music as it sounds like a record with a very singular vision that could only really come from one point. Something made by committee could never sound like this, and its refreshing in a world of cookie-cutter popular rock music to hear such a defined artistic vision.

Frank IeroThis doesn’t mean that Stomachaches is twelve tracks that all sound the same, far from it in fact. There’s a general lo-fi punk vibe with elements of indie, goth, hardcore and pop-punk added in to create a range of sounds that feel like Iero is letting the listener into his head – while hinting that this is just a small part of what’s in there, and certainly being more varied than his past hardcore side-project Leathermouth.

While some of the songs do seem to deal with his time in My Chemical Romance, albeit obliquely, there is a mix of emotion from raging to far sweeter and more tender things here. These, along with the varied, bass guitar heavy, sounds help develop something far more than the one note solo album that is often expected from already established guitarists.

As I’ve mentioned Iero shows a talent across a range of instruments and he even has a great voice for his own particularly sound that, though it seems a bit trite to say it, is something akin to a harsher, punkier Gerard Way and the sounds at times bitingly harsh and at others surprisingly soulful.

frnkiero-andthe-cellabration-2014While I doubt Stomachaches is likely to trouble the mainstream, aside from possible support by the so-called MCArmy fans, there is stuff here poppy enough to get people dancing, heavy enough to get them moshing and restrained enough to be great to just sit and listen to. It is great to hear a seemingly cynicism free record, released in a potential pop genre, that sounds like a genuine expression of one persons inner thoughts and feelings, in a not too obvious way.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2

the amazing spider-man 2 posterWith the contractual obligation, basic, but enjoyable, Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man a couple of years ago, things seemed to be heading in a reasonable direction for the web slinger.

Certainly that film had its flaws but its focus on the relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), along with some new intrigue based on a slightly tweaked Spidey origin story made for an enjoyable watch.

In The Amazing Spider-Man 2 we start off in a reasonable place as, after a bit of a more in-depth look at what happened to Peter’s parents, we are dropped into the middle of a pretty well conceived chase through New York with police heading after a hijacked truck and Spider-Man joining in from above.

This does go a bit CG heavy in places (particularly as our hero juggles small orange phials of plutonium – surely it should be green?), but it gets the ball rolling pretty well as it sets up Peter’s clash between his life fighting crime and his life with Gwen.

Peter and Gwen

Peter and Gwen

What it also does is introduce us to Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) who is to become one of the films main problems, in a couple of senses.

The next portion of the film seemingly tries to pointlessly re-introduce us to everything the introduction has already re-established in terms of Peter’s relationships, whilealso setting up the film’s villain, comic book mainstay Electro, in one of the most convoluted super villain origins in a while, that never quite works.

Also introduced are Harry Osborn (Dane Dehaan) and his father Norman (who cameoed in the first movie) and the film tries to establish Harry and Peter as best friends in a way that never convinces, leading to some serious problems later on.

Then we get another big action scene in Times Square as Electro’s powers are introduced following some more relationship stuff between Peter and Gwen. While the first film handled this side of the story well, here the supposed emotion feels generic and empty and, while both actors do a decent job, they really don’t seem to have much to work with.

Electro

Electro

Another villain is introduced as things go on and we start to head in the same direction of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 as the movie becomes over burdened with super villain exposition to such a degree that any hope of coherence or emotional attachment is lost and it all falls into by the numbers crash-bang-wallop.

While, thankfully, there aren’t the three villains of Raimi’s movie and there’s no ‘evil-emo-Peter’ song and dance number to cope with, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 descends into a bad video game like mess in its supposedly climactic action sequences, that totally negates the potential emotion of the film’s denouement.

Peter and Harry

Peter and Harry

This climax, which must have had Empire Strikes Back levels of potential on paper, is also completely blown by the scenes that follow which seem entirely inserted to set up not one but two possible sequels (I’m assuming The Amazing Spider-Man 3 and The Sinister Six… who knows what happened to 1 to 5).

These scenes may have worked, condensed, as a mid and post-credits sting, but, in the main body of the movie, just feel like a cop-out ending that is, in one case, the equivalent of hitting the ‘Reset’ on a SNES or Mega Drive.

While it could be argued there is a good film somewhere in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 it is, unfortunately, buried in a layer of extraneous villains, product placement and sequel bait, that leaves the whole thing feeling messy and generally incoherent which, in a climate of Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Solider, just doesn’t cut it.

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The Toxic Avenger

The Toxic Avenger blu-ray

(Before I start, as a bit of warning, the last pic in the review is a bit graphic.)

While the likes of Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die and Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD are lesser known, but still relatively mainstream, entries in the Troma canon, their one film that really did crossover into wider public consciousness (it even spawned a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon series… seriously) is The Toxic Avenger.

Now available in a surprisingly good blu-ray HD transfer from 88 Films I have re-visted this king of schlock movies and, as is expected, on pretty much every level it is awful, but…

For the first part of the film every character is detestable, from Melvin, our de-facto here and the much put upon janitor at Tromaville’s gym to the initial antagonists who are only more deplorable than our ‘hero’ and everyone else because they get their kicks from running down kids in their suped up car and getting off (literally) to the photos they take of the graphic aftermath.

While there is humour in these scenes, in a typically broad Troma kind of way, they do take some effort to get through and really only the hope that all these guys get their come-uppance carried me through.

Toxie

Toxie

Once our titular hero, aka Toxie, arrives, following a surprisingly good transformation scene, things change. Certainly political correctness remains a foreign concept, but at least pretty much everyone is given a good going over (if that makes it any better?), but finally we have someone to root for in Toxie and his newly found blind girlfriend, whom he saves from what is looking like its going to be a particular brutal fate.

From this point on this becomes a comic book movie in concept and convention, just one where the hero commits genuinely horrific acts to the bad guys while a Viz like streak of humour continues to run through the whole thing.

As is to be expected from Troma, these acts really are where the focus lies so we get death by gym equipment, maiming by sauna, a particular ‘nice’ Three Stooges eye-poke moment and many more.

Toxie and Sara

Toxie and Sara

As the film goes one thing that struck me on this watch is quite how knowing the ‘no-budget’ vibe seems to be as we get basic but none-the-less reasonably executed car stunts and fight scenes that hint that actually, it might not be as cheap as it looks. Some research suggests the film cost $500,000 so far from a blockbuster budget but with a no name cast and crew this explains how the Toxie’s ‘big moments’ were achieved.

This knowing sense really is what takes what would be an un-watchably offensive film and turns it into a watchable superhero comedy horror.

Wanda and Julie

Wanda and Julie

With a surprisingly big climactic scene that I first thought was using stock footage but actually seemed to be shot for the film, The Toxic Avenger entirely lived up to my memories and expectations (its been over a decade since I saw it) and it was clear why this is one of the jewels in Troma’s crown and the movie that made their name.

Certainly its not going to be for everyone, but if you can suspend disbelief and good taste for 80 minutes or so its schlocky combination of poorly shot and enacted sex, brutal violence and puerile comedy (with a little bit of thinly referenced social commentary) really does hit the spot.

And because I remember loving it as a kid, and having some of the toys, here’s the intro to the kids TV show based on the movie (hard to believe, even one series ever got made of this):

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier posterFollowing the massive disappointment that is Thor: The Dark World and the massive sense of let down I felt on re-watching The Avengers it was going to take some work to get me back onside with Marvel Studios output.

Certainly Guardians of the Galaxy went someway to achieving that, but, with its irreverence and general lighthearted air, and the fact it exists mostly away from the main run of “the cinematic universe” there was still some work to be done.

Well, I’m very happy to say that, now I’ve caught up with Captain America: The Winter Soldier on Blu-ray, I am back onboard (if still a bit nervous about another big mess of Avengers: Age Of Ultron on the horizon).

Anyway, down to business of Cap 2.

Starting off with Captain America (aka Steve Rogers) in fish out of water mode, it isn’t long before the plot kicks off. There’s not a lot more that can be said about the plot without hitting some fairly massive spoilers, so, onto what really wins this film over, its delivery.

captain-america-winter-soldier-robert-redford-chris-evansRather than feeling like another cookie-cutter big action adventure the action scenes (which are still numerous and huge) are interspersed with a story of double-crossing and espionage that harks back to a glossy version of paranoia-rich 1970s cinema.

This part of the movie is centred around Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, the political leader of S.H.I.E.L.D, essentially Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) boss, and he does an excellent job in his role and really helps give this side of the movie the uncertain feeling that it seems the directors were going for.

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-Sebastian-StanThe other side of the movie deals with the titular Winter Soldier (a long-standing on-off foe for Cap in the comic books, here played by Sebastian Stan). While he maybe doesn’t appear enough to warrant the sub-title of the whole film, this aspect, combined with the espionage angle, helps to make the character of Captain America (Chris Evans), who can be bland and clean-cut, into something more interesting, conflicted and questioning.

This combination of styles works very well, along with the inclusion of other characters like The Falcon, Black Widow and Fury and the American city setting, to actually make this movie feel like many of the Captain America comic books I’ve read where grand schemes mix with typical comic book action. Captain America: The Winter Soldier actually holds the plot together better than many of the comics as the film, by its nature, has something of an air of climax that is often lost in the monthly instalments.

Captain America and Black WidowWhile the final part of the film does head into the standard territory of a huge action set piece, the hand-held feel and the focus on the story within these scenes makes them far more engaging than the enormous but characterless battles seen in The Avengers, Thor 2 and even parts of Guardians.

In the end, where Captain America: The Winter Soldier really works is in adding a sense of drama and (relative) unpredictability back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe while also bringing it back down to earth – though I remain skeptical as to how this movie will fit in with Avengers 2.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: August 2014 – Vale Earth Fair and Of Empires

Of Empires at the Vale Earth Fair

Of Empires at the Vale Earth Fair

For the August 2014 edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey I rounded off the Bailiwick’s summer festival season with a look back at the previous weekend’s Vale Earth Fair including interviews with Robert J. Hunter, Flexagon, Top Buzzer, Ramblin’ Nick Mann, Ray Marshall and The Recks.

I also spoke to Of Empires as they get ready to release their debut EP next month and get back on the live scene after a year off.

You can listen to the show on the BBC iPlayer until Saturday 6th September by clicking here.

Tracklist

And here is a preview of Of Empires upcoming EP, first Gimme What I Need:

and a brief tease of the whole EP, Stranger Sensations:

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Vale Earth Fair 2014 – Vale Castle – 24/08/14

The Recks

The Recks on the Castle Stage

For what is being reported as the 39th year, the Vale Earth Fair once again took over the Vale Castle in Guerney for 12 hours of music on six stages spanning everything from acoustic traditional folk and psytrance to drum ‘n’ bass and punk rock on Sunday 24th August 2014.

I was on hand reviewing what I could of the festival, largely focussing on the main, Castle Stage, and the other live electric stage, The Stage Against The Machine.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the Earth Fair on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here and a condensed version of my review was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 30th August. (Scroll down to read my extended review)

Vale Earth Fair 2014 review scan - 30:08:14

Extended Review

The sky might have been a bit overcast but that didn’t seem to be dampening any spirits as the 2014 Vale Earth Fair got going just after midday on Sunday 24th August and The Crowman and the Fiddling Pixie stepped up onto the impressive new main stage inside the Vale Castle.

The Crowman

The Crowman and the Fiddling Pixie

Given the early hour (for a music festival) and relaxed atmosphere, The Crowman was on remarkably restrained form sticking, mostly, to his and the Pixie’s slower songs. In these more relaxed songs The Crowman’s songwriting comes to the fore and, with the benefit of the excellent sound on offer on this stage, really showed his songs in an excellent light. Of course there was still room for a few stompers and Mystery Train and The Robert Johnson Resurrection Blues got hands clapping, kicking off this varied festival in truly unique style.

Following the restrained start from The Crowman, there was no such subtlety from Subversion as they blasted through a set of their pop-rock originals which bring to mind Foo Fighters, Muse and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, along with a few covers. Their many gigs at pubs around the island over recent months have seen the band come on considerably and they showed themselves to be very much deserving to bring the rock to the main stage and vocalist/guitarist Richard Mancini and bassist Marcus Tedde seemed remarkably at home on the bigger stage.

Robert J Hunter

Robert J Hunter

After something of a last-minute reshuffle Jawbone opened things up on the Stage Against The Machine, just outside the castle gates, with their set of punk rock. While the band seemed to be having fun on stage they were the first of several bands to suffer from a very messy sound mix out in the crowd that left their set feeling like something of a mess.

Following Jawbone came Robert J. Hunter, continuing something of a mini-tour of London and Guernsey venues, with his three-piece band. This line-up has allowed Robert a greater space for his original electric blues to really cut through and his guitar work and voice sounded immense today, even as he too battled a few sound issues. As the set went on the audience grew and they tended to stick around while Robert produced a highlight of the afternoon with an intense run through of his track See You In Hell.

Inside the castle Jersey outfit The Devil and The Deep were storming through a set of insistent indie that was the first to get a few on their feet and, while I’m not hugely familiar with their sound it seemed to missing some of their usual electronics, but the band weren’t missing a beat and kept the high energy feel of the afternoon’s music going.

Buffalo Huddleston

Buffalo Huddleston

Buffalo Huddleston rounded off what has been a huge summer for them next and they lived up to the hype, despite now being down a violin since the departure of Becky Hamilton. While Becky’s violin and vocals were missed the other five members of the band made up for it with their usual mix of great songs and a laid back vibe that can be enjoyed both relaxing on the grass or up and dancing and left people anticipating their upcoming album.

The Crazy Babies are always an unpredictable beast and their set on the Stage Against the Machine certainly backed this up as they were joined on stage today by Ramblin’ Nick Mann and his cigar box guitar (for the first couple of songs) as they staggered their way through a set of Ozzy Osbourne covers. While the band are at best sloppy their set was, as ever, delivered with a sense of fun and the feeling that many members of the band could actually really nail these songs if they wanted to.

Top Buzzer

Top Buzzer

Top Buzzer hit the Stage Against the Machine with a blast of up beat pop punk next. With a reputation following years of gigging in the UK, Jersey and over here there was an eager contingent in the crowd reveling in their mix of old and new material, and their excellent take on M’s Pop Muzik.

Frontman Dukey comes across as someone born to lead a band as he did his best to work the crowd and, when they weren’t that forthcoming, took his mic and bass off the stage and played from ground level right in their faces. Despite being another band to suffer less than suitable sonic conditions on this stage they stormed through without missing a beat and seemed to have a great time doing it while seeming to win over quite a few new fans in the process.

Meanwhile the laid back, positive, vibes continued on the main stage with Rentoclean who seem custom-built for the Vale Earth Fair. Their punky mix of reggae and ska sounds and irreverent lyrics got people good-naturedly skanking along as the castle hit its mid-afternoon busy point giving the local four-piece some great exposure.

Dead Sea Skulls

Dead Sea Skulls

The best thing about festivals, and something the Vale Earth Fair seems particularly good at, is putting on bands you may never have seen before but that you know are going to stick in your mind for a long time. Last year for me it was The Correspondents, and this year it was Dead Sea Skulls.

A garage rock trio led by a singing, stand-up drummer with a pure Detroit rock ‘n’ roll looking guitarist and bass player they kicked things up a notch on the main stage with some real Raw Power. Getting yet more on their feet they were the first band to really get control of the crowd and all this with a drummer with a broken foot!

Blakalaska brought their dub-step drenched dance-rock to the Stage Against The Machine as we headed into the evening and were treated to the best sound of the day so far, though it was still far from perfect. New vocalist Lee Rosette brings a new energy to the band that makes their music come to life and, while they may not have had the momentum they did for their headlining set last year, they have, if anything, stepped up their game even further.

The Recks

The Recks

Another band who’ve had an immense summer are Sark based five-piece The Recks. With a few challenges in the lead up to today’s set they didn’t miss a beat, even debuting some new songs that fit in right alongside their more familiar numbers and brought yet more of the crowd to their feet and showed why they have gained the reputation they have, and why they’ve been afforded the chance to spread their wings in the UK this summer.

A year after their last live show, right here in 2013, Of Empires took to the Stage Against the Machine with a new look and new sound. Still based in the classic rock tendencies they’ve always demonstrated, this is a more laid back version with cleaner, more reverb-y, guitars and more restrained vocals.

Of Empires

Of Empires

While this sound was different the band were still their usual selves with frontman Jack Fletcher working the crowd excellently and showing his years of experience on this stage. Even if the new sound did confound expectations somewhat and, at times, made the relatively short set feel like it was going a bit too slow, it was clear the band have confidence in their new material and it will be interesting to see them develop from here now they are back on the live scene.

While The Delegators soul drenched reggae was uplifting those inside the castle, Attila The Stockbroker brought his medieval folk-punk band Barnstormer to the now very appropriately named Stage Against The Machine.

Attila The Stockbroker with Barnstormer

Attila The Stockbroker with Barnstormer

Starting their set with an original medieval style composition including Attila on various, recorders, pipes and violin the set went on to take in punk rock, ska and more folk all delivered with a righteous ire that is laced through all the punk poet’s work. A highlight came in the form of Commandte Joe (dedicated to Joe Strummer) and it was good to hear Attila’s songs filled out with a full band that, by the end of the set, had plenty skanking and dancing along to the politically motivated music.

Hitting the stage to the sound of Motorhead’s The Game, To The Woods continued their year of top-notch shows as they barreled through all in their path, both figuratively and at one point literally, with their grunge rock force that seemed to find its home here tonight. While their whole set was one of their strongest the highlight came in their final track where they were joined on stage by Josh De Kooker on a fabulously distorted violin that just kicked things up another gear.

The Mouse Outfit

The Mouse Outfit

Having stormed The Fermain Tavern earlier in the year The Mouse Outfit did the same to the Vale Castle. The funk-hip-hop band were on fire throughout their set and had the castle crowd in the palm of their hands all the way as they attracted the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd of the day. I’d had big expectations of this set following previous hype and I’m very happy to say they more than exceeded these expectations and provided not only one of the highlights of the day, but of all the Earth Fair’s I’ve ever been to.

Outside the castle Tantale’s laid back but powerful indie-rock had its usual great sound but, coming as it did after the force of To The Woods and alongside the upbeat celebration of The Mouse Outfit it fell a bit flat for me tonight. That said the crowd that were there stuck around and seemed generally appreciative for the duration of the set.

The Freestylers

The Freestylers

The Freestylers blasted the crowd inside the castle with a wall of drum ‘n’ bass to round off the main stage line up and, while I found it impenetrable and found them disappointing after The Mouse Outfit, as it was near impossible to tell where the physical instruments ended and the electronics began, those who had stuck around, which was still a big crowd, were jumping and certainly the Castle Stage ended on a high.

I was back on more familiar ground with the Stage Against The Machine headliners, New York rockers, Jonny Lives! Back again after an earlier set on the main stage last year they seemed to be on much better form this time round and they attracted one of the bigger crowds I remember seeing at this time on the outside stage of the festival.

Jonny Lives!

Jonny Lives!

Frontman Jonny Dubowsky was a fabulous happy and engaging frontman tonight and drummer George Le Page really stood out as he stepped in for their usual drummer who is currently working with his own band back in the US.

Closing the 2014 Vale Earth Fair on a positive, rocking, note Jonny Lives! set did some up something of the mood of the day for me as it was positive and celebratory which is something the Vale Earth Fair always seems to be aiming for.

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