Vale Earth Fair at Rocquaine Regatta 2015 – 25/07/15

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

With the sun blazing down and a cooling breeze blowing, the beach and seafront road were packed on the afternoon on Saturday 25th July 2015 for the annual Rocquaine Regatta.

Once the sandcastle competitions, stilt walking races, tug o’war and everything else were done the attention moved to the field opposite Fort Grey where, as has become custom, the Vale Earth Fair had set up their stage for live, musical entertainment.

After a bit of a delay to sort out some technical issues (another thing that seems to be traditional about this particular show) The Space Pirates of Rocquaine were first on stage.

Always going down well in their spiritual home, this was no different as the six-piece delivered their usual energetic and exuberant mix of folk, pop and rock.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

With an atmosphere similar to their sets at past Sark Folk Festivals the field was busy with families relaxing in the sun. The band, though clearly struggling through more technical issues, didn’t let this deter them with their songs feeling custom-made for this kind of event as Lisa Vidamour was as mischievous and engaging a presence at the front of the stage as always.

Once again a highlight of their set for me came in the form of their new song about the Hangman’s Inn, while the haunting Prosperity and poppy numbers like Canon Des Iles were equally as enjoyable.

Hot on the heels of the Pirates came young solo performer Toby Falla.

Toby Falla

Toby Falla

Armed with an acoustic guitar (an Ed Sheeran signature model) and a loop station he delivered a set layering up various ‘loops’ of both guitar and vocals to create renditions of some great songs from the likes of K.T. Tunstall, Eminem and Ed Sheeran, along with a particularly interesting take on folk number Wayfaring Stranger.

For me, somewhat surprisingly, the most effective parts of Toby’s set were the more hip hop inflected moments, along with his evidently well-practiced and slick loop work.

Reaching a crescendo with a striking Ed Sheeran cover, including an impressive bit of MCing, Toby received a big reaction from the now packed field, but I couldn’t help thinking it would be nice to hear more of his own personality in the music and performance.

Visiting the island from France for the Town Carnival, busking band Les Matous (The Tomcats) struck an amusingly, stereotypically, French image on stage – about the only thing missing was a string of onions – but delivered a set of fun, cheeky songs and tunes that had the crowd laughing along.

Les Matous

Les Matous

With broken English between the songs, some amusingly basic choreography and some of the best live spoon playing I’ve ever seen (admittedly possibly the only live spoon playing I’ve ever seen) the aging septet brought something different that, even if not everyone quite got it, went down well with most and had a few dancing and jigging along.

As the sun sank behind ‘the Cup and Saucer’ a reduced version of the Ukuladeez took to the stage. With just Mimi, Jojo and Emily, accompanied by stand in Ukuladee-boy Adam on cajon, their sound was certainly a bit more stripped back than normal, but none-the-less continued the upbeat fun feelings of the previous acts.

Ukuladeez

Ukuladeez

Swinging Brick from the new Cosmic Tea Party EP and Heat Magazine provided a couple of highlights, as a fair number had stayed in the field for the Ladeez despite the cloud coming over and things getting a bit chilly.

As I walked back along the coast road while they still played, the Ukuladeez brought the night to end in an appropriately relaxed and lighthearted way that typifies the whole Rocquaine Regatta event.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the event on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 1st August and looked like this:

Rocquaine Regata review - 01:08:15

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Dr. Feelgood – Going Back Home

Dr Feelgood - Going Back HomeIt may be barely 28 minutes long but the concert film Going Back Home manages to do more in its brief duration than many will do in hours (see Metallica’s bore-fest Through The Never for proof!).

Recorded at a so-called ‘homecoming’ show at the Kursaal in Southend in November 1975 the film, and it clearly is grainy, scratchy, film, captures the original, classic and best line up of Dr. Feelgood in their prime.

Though the vocals to opener Going Back Home were redubbed afterwards it’s hardly noticeable and throughout Lee Brilleaux sounds like he’s shredding his vocal chords with his transatlantic, overdriven, blues drawl – while he looks like he’s about to attack every member of the audience.

His vicious delivery brings a sense of life and danger to the abridged performance that is uncanny. He looks like someone has dragged him from an unsatisfying office job, making sure to get his white suit good and dirty before throwing him straight onto the stage and telling him to let out a working week’s worth of frustration through rhythm and blues.

Beside him, of course, is the now legendary Wilko Johnson, dressed in black and red and with his repainted black and red Fender Telecaster he looks like a proto-Jack White, driven by speed, and hailing from Canvey Island.

Dr Feelgood - Wilko, Lee and Sparko

Wilko, Lee and Sparko

Whenever Brilleaux isn’t stood forward Wilko takes his place skittering across the stage, throwing jumping jacks and strafing the audience with his ‘machine gun’ guitar in a manner that, at the time, can only have been something rare and fresh as mainstream rock was filled with well-posed glam or over the top prog.

His playing is unique and, teamed with Brilleaux’s vocals, creates a sound that reinvigorates rhythm and blues with the energy of what was to become punk rock.

Behind the two lead men, John B. Sparks (bass) and The Big Figure (drums) complete the misfit gang line up and keep the whole thing rolling and swinging with a similar, if toned down, style to Brilleaux.

The set list of the film mixes some of Wilko’s most notable originals with R’n’B standards, all delivered in Dr. Feelgood’s inimitable style while the crowd eat it all up. I was left wishing we could see the rest of the concert given the reaction to the last song and encores.

Dr Feelgood

The classic lineup of the band

The encores, Shouldn’t Call The Doctor and Route 66, see the band go all out and, if the whole thing captures them at their peak, these songs are the very summit of that.

The recording itself is suitably dark and grainy which matches the band’s sound and aesthetic excellently. While this is clearly simply a result of the technology of the time, it couldn’t have given a better final product, bookended with a helicopter shot flying over the Southend seafront to and from the classically styled Kursaal venue.

If you want a taste or introduction to Dr. Feelgood’s Thames Delta Blues then Going Back Home is a great place to start and a fine companion to the more recent documentary Oil City Confidential and a great counterpoint to the recent Wilko Johnson Live at Koko film.

Going Back Home captures ‘The Feelgoods’ at their fullest and most powerful best – if only there was film of the whole concert!

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Thee Jenerators and The OK – De La Rue – 24/07/15

Thee Jenerators

Thee Jenerators

It was a wet and windy Friday night in July when I headed to the De La Rue in St Peter Port for the first time in quite a while to catch garage rockers Thee Jenerators and young rockers The OK.

The OK were up first and fired off, as they always do, with the enthusiasm of a first teenage band straight out of their practice room, despite having been playing together for a few years now.

Their mix of covers and originals are delivered at a breakneck pace that, while somewhat undisciplined, is a sign of a band who seem to be having a great time. Highlights of the set came in covers of The Hives, Royal Blood and great version of Free’s Wishing Well, which was the best I’d ever heard the band play.

Joe and Lars of The OK

Joe and Lars of The OK

Their originals, while a little on the undeveloped side at times in comparison to the well-known covers, show a lot of promise as does their whole performance and they certainly seemed more relaxed here than on the bigger festival stages I’ve seen them play in the past.

After a short break Thee Jenerators took to the stage for two complete, non-stop, sets that covered almost two hours.

It took a while for the band to warm up and hit their stride but as they did they were everything they’ve become known for. As always Mark Le Gallez was a chaotic presence on stage, off stage, on the floor and climbing on tables, while bass player Jo Reeve did his utmost to match him, albeit slightly more anchored by the vintage styled four-string hanging from his shoulders.

Jo and Mark of Thee Jenerators

Jo and Mark of Thee Jenerators

The sounds from Garrick Jones’ organ cut through more tonight than some past gigs brining out the more psyche side of the bands sound to great effect, as Andy Savuage’s telecaster kept things firmly grounded in the garage rock ‘n’ roll that is the band’s calling card.

The second half of the performance saw the dancefloor get busier and get moving with old and new songs standing side by side and all providing highlights. Mystery Man, Fight The Power and French Disco from the bands early days have long been fan favourites but the likes of Bela Lugosi, Daddy Bones and City At Night have everything needed to match them.

By the end of the set Thee Jenerators had proved they remain a chaotic, garage rock force of nature as they left the crowd calling for more as they pushed curfew to its limits following old school style rock ‘n’ roller I Hear You Knockin’.

You can see some more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: July 2015 – Chaos, Sark Folk Festival and Robyn Sherwell at Glastonbury

Robyn Sherwell at Glastonbury

Robyn Sherwell at Glastonbury

Click here to listen to the show

June and July are always two of the busiest months in the Guernsey music calendar and in 2015 this was no exception with first the Chaos weekend and then the Sark Folk Festival followed a highly memorable Vale Earth Fair fundraiser.

On top of that Robyn Sherwell became the first BBC Introducing Guernsey artist to play the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury Festival coinciding with huge airplay across national radio for her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide from her Islander EP.

For the show I spoke to Brunt, Sephira, Buffalo Huddleston, Robert J. Hunter, Ukuladeez and The Recks at the two festivals and featured some highlights of Robyn’s set from Glastonbury.

You can listen to show by clicking here and for the first time its available for download on the BBC iPlayer Radio App on iOS and Android devices.

Tracklist

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The Animals & Friends and Robert J Hunter – The Fermain Tavern – 18/07/15

The Animals and Friends

The Animals and Friends

Known for the likes of House Of The Rising Sun and We Gotta Get Out Of This Place The Animals are arguably, after The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, one of the biggest British bands of the 1960s who formed part of what was dubbed ‘The British Invasion’.

On Saturday 18th July 2015 one of the current versions of the band, The Animals & Friends, featuring original drummer John Steel, played at The Fermain Tavern in Guernsey with support coming from upcoming ‘dirty blues’ trip The Robert J. Hunter Band who, though now based in London, have their roots in the islands.

My review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 25th July, which you can read below, and you can see my photos of the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

The Animals and Robert J Hunter review scan - 25:07:15

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Big Sur – The book and the movie

Big Sur first edition coverMuch as I’ve done with a couple of other pieces of Beat writing, Howl and Naked Lunch, I thought I’d take a look at Jack Kerouac’s 1962 novel Big Sur in both its original and its filmic form.

Much like Kerouac’s other works I’ve read (so far On The Road and The Dharma Bums) Big Sur starts off with a something of a combination feel that seemed to typify the literary movement known as the Beat Generation. Weaving poetic words in a semi-prose style, he gives us an insight into a people, a place and time that may, or may not, be a kind of twisted documentary.

In the novel this comes in his typical form of representing real people with pseudonyms and highlighting certain aspects of their characters and giving them his own words to make the points he wishes to make, all in a style that led to him being known as ‘King Of The Beats’.

Specifically in Big Sur he uses this style to take us into late San Francisco’s North Beach in the late 1950s. With the City Lights Bookshop now established and the big names of the movement national celebrities, Kerouac (in the book rendered Duluoz) is the most famous thanks to his television appearances. From North Beach he takes us to a cabin at the titular location south of “Frisco” where he begins writing.

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

In essence Big Sur begins as a book about its own writing but soon becomes something so much more. An exploration of the cult of celebrity, in an earlier form than we see it now, and the effects of alcoholism, would be a very obvious way to describe it.

In Kerouac’s hands this is rendered in such a poetic way as to really give the feeling of the ups and downs of his (Duluoz’s) life at the time and build on what his previous writing had in telling us about himself.

Thrown in with this we get elements of the travelogue seen in his other work, particularly On The Road, but he also veers further in Burroughs-esque directions as well, with moments where the real world and his protagonist’s twisted perception merge and the reader is left unsure where supposed reality and, for want of a better word, nightmare begin and end.

As with the other works of Kerouac’s I’ve read, alongside his ability to really paint pictures of places and evoke the moods and feelings of them, it is his use (or misuse) of traditional grammar that stands out as a highlight. Doing this is what brings out the book’s poetic feeling that runs throughout as Kerouac uses his own sense of grammar, individual to this work, to make his point.

As the story goes on things become increasingly oppressive and the writing seems to speed up with this, really bringing across the sense of panic and paranoia being felt by Duluoz, and it reaches a terrific crescendo that almost becomes unbearable for the reader as much as it is for the writer/character.

While I would say it is the least enjoyable of the three of Kerouac’s works I’ve read thanks to its oppressive denoument, it is, in a literary sense, possibly more coherent and certainly just as successful in painting its picture and making its point.

Big Sur movie posterMuch like the other Beat works I’ve looked at, translating this onto film is something hard to envision and, while Naked Lunch and Howl take very different approaches to this, both all but rewriting their sources to create something of the same essence but ultimately different, in his 2013 film of Big Sur writer/director Michael Polish gives a very literal interpretation.

Ditching the pseudonyms we follow Kerouac (Jean-Marc Barr) from San Francisco to Big Sur and trace the exact same story in the real locations – though I had a feeling we were looking at City Lights now rather than in the late 1950s, but the rest felt authentic.

Unfortunately in doing this Polish skims over a lot of the source to an extent that, particularly in the middle section, things are rushed and scenes happen with no clear relevance to the whole. At only an hour and 20 minutes there certainly could have been scope to expand some of this to at least have it flow together more coherently.

Another problem is that while the visuals do show much of Kerouac describes something is lost in simply seeing it. While its clear Polish is trying to evoke something of the feeling and thought of the original words, it doesn’t quite work, leaving some nice and well shot scenery if little else.

Josh Lucas and Jean-Marc Barr in Big Sur

Josh Lucas and Jean-Marc Barr as Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac

Where the film does succeed is in creating an increasingly oppressive atmosphere as it builds to its own crescendo, with Kerouac’s ‘long dark night of the soul’ at the cabin at Big Sur being as well translated to screen as I think could be possible.

While the film is far from a masterpiece it is also far from a failure, but it stands in the long, heavy shadow of an impressive piece of writing that, while not Kerouac’s best, is certainly a literary tour de force giving a real representation of both the writer’s own life and that of the Beat movement he came to personify.

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BLAKALASKA, Falenizza Horsepower and Honest Crooks – The Fermain Tavern – 10/07/15

Falenizza Horsepower

Falenizza Horsepower

With Chaos and Sark Folk Festival out of the way the road is now on to the summer’s third, and longest running, music festival, the Vale Earth Fair.

Throughout the year the festival runs a series of fundraisers for the main event and the latest, at The Fermain Tavern, featured three of the Channel Islands’ top acts spanning three very distinct styles. First were newcomers, ska-punks, Honest Crooks, then Jersey drum and bass (not drum ‘n’ bass) experimental rock duo Falenizza Horsepower and the night was headlined by electro-dance-rock five-piece, BLAKALASKA.

My review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 18th July and you can see a full gallery of my photos on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

Blakalaska, Falenizza Horsepower, Honest Crooks review scan - 18:07:15

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A Beat To The Beats

From The Beat Museum, San Francisco

From The Beat Museum, San Francisco

Another poem, this time written while in the midst of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur and hot on the heels of Naked Lunch, Howl, On The Road and The Dharma Bums, a binge of beat, if you will…

It’s hardly Howl but is my tribute and feelings on what I’ve read and people and places that created it…

A Beat To The Beats

…all the words that can be said have been said of the beats and the generation and the time and the life and something I find I love. I love the words and the rhythms and the flow and the feeling and the illusion and the place and the city and the cities, Kerouac Ginsberg Burroughs Ferlinghetti… The City Lights on Columbus and the shacks in Berkeley in Big Sur. dharma bums in constant flow of sounds and words and beat, ‘the best minds of a generation’ ‘the angel headed hipsters’ on the tracks on the mountains in the cities on the road and in the bars the temples the mattress floor bedrooms livingrooms kitchens. meditative wild spirits cut short and long lived by life…


And another slightly sketchy recording of me reading it…

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An afternoon at Fort Grey

Fort Grey and Fort Saumarez

Fort Grey (with Fort Saumarez in the background)

It was overcast and threatening drizzle with a reasonably strong south-westerly as I headed over the granite causeway to Fort Grey, aka The Cup and Saucer, at Rocquaine Bay on a Sunday oozing typical British Summertime.

The old fort, a Martello Tower built on the site of a previous fortification that has been developed over centuries, is now part of Guernsey Museums’ string of venues around the island.

Appropriately, given its location, this one focuses on shipwrecks that have occurred around the island, and specifically along its treacherous west coast.

Heading up the comparatively new steps carved into the solid granite structure of the fort (they were installed in the mid 1970s when Guernsey Museums took over the premises to allow easier access than a precarious ladder) I heard the distinctive tones of a pirate regaling those gathered on the scrubby grass inside the fort with stories of the island’s rich seafaring history. Youngsters, parents and grandparents sat enthralled by the stories, though the pirate’s Jack Sparrow-esque costume seemed a little incongruous to what I would imagine pirates around Guernsey would be seen in.

Rocquaine Bay

Rocquaine Bay

Around the rest of the outside area surrounding the central tower others played games or took a look at the La Societe Guernesiaise stall or took part in activities organised by Guernsey Museums’ education team, while I headed up the steps in the central tower, into the museum itself.

The museum, though compact, packs in a lot of detail. Upon first entering it is best to bear left around the circular room, doing so gives an insight into the history of the fort from its original construction through its rebuilding in its current form to its use during the Occupation during the Second World War and up to its redevelopment in the 1970s

Fort Grey Shipwreck MuseumThis is followed by a look at the Hanois lighthouse that can be seen from outside to the southwest, again tracing its history with an impressive model of the ‘sea tower’. It was at this point I encountered the only criticism I have of the museum (and its hardly a bad thing), the various information panels around the room were packed with fascinating information but, in being so, were very dense for a casual observer.

Heading further around the top floor, a map shows the location of the many ship wrecks that have occurred around the island over the years and give some context to how truly dangerous seafaring can be. Having visited places like this as a youngster, as well as spending plenty of time in the sea, no doubt helped give me the healthy respect I have for the waters around Guernsey.

Alongside this is a display looking at the Orion oil rig that washed ashore at Grandes Rocques in the 1970s in impressive fashion.

Fort Grey Shipwreck MuseumContinuing clockwise around the tower and down the stairs leads to more in-depth looks at some of the bigger and more famous shipwrecks to have occurred. While all have their stories a couple stood out to me for different reasons.

First is the SS Briseis that was wrecked off Vazon in 1937. On display here was one of the barrels that made it famous, containing Algerian wine. Many such barrels were washed ashore and some of the quicker locals are said to have collected some and taken them home leading to not only a fair amount of drunkenness along the west coast immediately after, but also stories of barrels stashed for the duration of the Occupation and cracked open to celebrate the island’s Liberation in 1945 – though I’m unsure of the state of the contents after 8 years being hidden away.

Fort Grey Shipwreck MuseumThe other that always sticks in my mind does so for far more tragic reasons, that of the wreck of the MV Prosperity which wrecked in 1973 with the loss of all hands, though some suggest they could have survived had they stayed aboard the ship rather than manning the lifeboats.

Another wreck, notable for its visual impact more than anything else, and one recent enough for me to remember, is the Vermontborg which ran aground on La Capelle reef in 2003 which has been added to the museum since my previous visits.

I headed back outside the museum just in time to catch The Space Pirates of Rocquaine playing a lo-fi set atop the fort with many songs referencing the area, from The Beast of the Coudre to The Pirates Song giving a tongue-in-cheek view of life around the bay.

Most notable among the set following my visit to the museum was the haunting Prosperity telling the story of the wrecked ship. Their performance went down well with youngsters dancing while everyone else called for an encore, which came in the form of the Pirates’ version of Sarnia Cherie (far more palatable and suitable than the ‘official’ song).

The Space Pirates Of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates Of Rocquaine

Having spent a few hours at Fort Grey this afternoon, admittedly on a day with more events than usual going on, I left both entertained and with a new knowledge of some of the island’s maritime history, and there was certainly more to see than my quick visit allowed.

Whether visiting the island, or a local like me, the Cup and Saucer is more than worth a visit and, on a sunnier day, would come with some impressive views of Rocquaine bay and the rocky seas beyond.

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Sark Folk Festival: 3rd, 4th and 5th July 2015 – Extended Review

Sark Folk Festival signThere can’t be many music festivals in the world that begin with a boat ride along one of the most picturesquely craggy shorelines I’ve ever seen followed by a 15 minute climb up a wooded path to eventually bump into a mix of both friends and performers at the conveniently located pub at the summit. But, this is just the first of many things that make the annual Sark Folk Festival so unique.

Though the festival officially begins on Friday, it’s become something of a tradition for the build up to the event to really begin on the preceding evening. Those who’ve already pitched their tents or located their guest houses gather at the aforementioned pub, The Bel Air, and no doubt a few at The Mermaid, with instruments in hand to have what has become known as ‘a session’.

Bel Air session

A ‘session’ at the Bel Air

At the Bel Air there were a few going on with different groups playing tunes and anyone else welcome to join in, listen or just enjoy the atmosphere – and a lot of ‘atmosphere’ was enjoyed before a casual wander back to the camp site under the island’s spectacular star-filled, officially dark, skies.

Day One

The festival proper began on Friday afternoon with the site already busy as the first act stepped on the stage.

It’s become tradition for a long-standing member of Guernsey’s folk scene to kick things off and this year the honour fell to Scotts John, here backed by Rob Gregson on bass. John played a selection of 60s new-folk movement style songs with his acoustic guitar and Dylan-esque harmonica hung around his neck and had a friendly affable style that gave the feeling of a small folk club despite the bigger stage and environment.

Scotts John and Rob Gregson

Scotts John and Rob Gregson

The bass adding some extra depth to the solo acoustic sound and a highlight of John’s set was an original number he penned in 1976 upon his visit to Sark. Simply called Sark it had a lilting quality that entirely fitted the laid back air of the island (at least for us tourists).

After closing the festival in raucous fashion last year The John Wesley Stone were getting back to basics this time round on the smaller Tintageu Stage. Playing with lots of energy, as always, the tent soon filled with the audience spilling out up the hill and a few getting dancing – not a bad reaction for only the second act of the weekend!

The John Wesley Stone

The John Wesley Stone

As the set went on the country-skifflers changed things around a bit as drummer Tater took on guitar and vocals for a few songs and the energy continued to grow. Highlights came in the form of Get A Grip and Crack House Honey, and Hillbill getting himself and his guitar tangled with a mic stand as the band set the tone for a weekend of high energy, rousing, performances.

Back on the bigger stages, this time the Vermerette, Robert J. Hunter returned to the islands after last weekend’s triumph at Chaos, for an acoustic full band version of his set. Once again his blues was hugely powerful, just with a different tone that allowed different sounds to be highlighted and put a new spin on other songs.

Robert J Hunter

Robert J. Hunter

With most numbers receiving huge applause Rob was supremely confident on stage and the band once again clicked together brilliantly with James Le Huray’s bass allowing Rob’s guitar to shine out and Greg Sheffield’s drums really swinging. Ending with an encore of Hurricane brought things to a big close and continued the already high quality of music on offer.

Next, over on the Alligande stage, there were jazzy, folky, acoustic sounds from Whose Shoes. Led by travelling troubadour Dave Etherington the band grew as the set went on with first violin, then bass, drums and finally accordion being added to the mix.

Whose Shoes

Whose Shoes

As ever the selection of songs was chosen to perfection with original number Loose Lips (penned at the first Sark Folk Festival) being a highlight but Charlie Winston’s Like A Hobo and Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning also standing out.

As a part-time band there were a few wobbly moments but these were largely carried thanks to the great songs and Dave’s always-engaging nature on stage.

After a break for some much-needed food, as ever the selection was huge but I went with the reliable folk festival staple of veggie noodles from The Harbour Café’s stand, I caught some of Kiss The Mistress’ upbeat and fun set of songs and tunes that really engaged the crowd and added a spin to a traditional sound.

Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

After that I headed down to the smaller stages and caught the tail end of Jim Causley and James Dumbleton’s set which included a very nice song based on a poem called My Young Man’s A Cornishman, that I very much enjoyed.

My main reason for heading down to Les Burons stage was Blue Mountains. They were another band to draw a pretty big crowd down the field and, while it was possibly not their smoothest performance, it came with a lot of feeling, and the dying light as the sun set felt very appropriate for their murder ballads and other dark-tinged traditional songs.

The evening’s headliners on the ‘main’, Alligande, stage were Inverness five-piece The Elephant Sessions. As soon as they stepped on stage it was clear we were in for something a bit different as three members came armed like a standard rock band with electric guitar, electric bass and drums, while the other pair were carrying a mandolin and violin.

The Elephant Sessions

The Elephant Sessions

As the set kicked off the packed crowd was dancing right away to the instrumentals that melded a folk led sound with rock tones and dance beats to create a fantastic whole. With the mandolin and violin leading the way in a series of duels the band played a selection of traditionally-tinged original tunes packed with big dance beats that brought the first night of the festival to a rousing close.

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

Day Two

The busiest day of the festival is always the middle day with music starting at 11am and running until 11:30pm and my day started off with Guernsey-born performer Beccy Elder on the Tintageu Stage. Leading a very low-key acoustic three-piece, Beccy’s light voice floating over the strains of a guitar and a cello started the day perfectly while a yoga session took place in the field outside.

Big Sheep

Big Sheep

The Alligande stage started in busy and energetic fashion, as Sark’s own folk band Big Sheep made their annual festival appearance. Mixing traditional songs, a few Levellers covers and originals the band consists of, seemingly, most of the island’s resident musicians along with The Space Pirate’s Jess Nash on fiddle.

The set was delivered with a light positivity with Ash Jarman’s trumpet elevating the songs and adding something extra to the band’s sound. Mention also has to go to Martin Mackintosh on drums for stepping in at literally the last-minute and keeping the beat admirably on a set of songs he’d not even heard before!

The Crowman and The Fiddling Pixie

The Crowman and The Fiddling Pixie

Hot on their heels The Crowman and the The Fiddling Pixie were on the Vermerette stage and delivered one of the most confident and assured performances I’ve seen from them. Throughout, the crowd were clapping and singing along which The Crowman seemed to feed on increasing in energy, and his own unique lunacy, as the set went on.

For the second part of the set a fuzz pedal was deployed adding to the steampunk garage-folk aesthetic of the whole thing. A particularly special moment came with an altered version of Mystery Train dedicated to Folk Festival stalwart Louis De Carteret and the set was rounded off by the not often heard Lucifer Lady.

Despite their new record, due for release to coincide with the festival, being held up in customs Ukuladeez weren’t deterred as they put on a great show on the Alligande Stage.

Ukuladeez

Mimi and Polly of Ukuladeez

The six ‘ladeez’ and their three, so-called, ‘Ukuladee-boyz’ have developed their performance into a full show that is fun and engaging and featured some great harmonies and solo sections from all involved. Once again their new song about Facebook went down a storm and raised a lot of laughs in the busy tent and by the end of the set the band had people dancing at the front.

It might still be hipster-ish and jangly but it’s also tightly delivered and great fun and the Ukuladeez seem to treat Sark as the time to pull out all the stops and this year it really paid off as they prepare for a visit to the Fringe in Edinburgh.

Being predominantly based, and originally formed, in Sark makes this weekend something of a special one for alt-folk five-piece The Recks and, this year, they did something particularly special to mark that.

The Recks

The Recks

Adding a piano and cello to their usual range of instruments they started their set of with a selection of brand new, in their words ‘folkier’ songs. Certainly they were more folky compared to their usual mish-mash of jazz, dub, indie and any other style that takes their fancy but with that they certainly remained The Recks.

The once again packed in audience were certainly not expecting this to start with but most stayed and, as it went on, seemed to be very much enjoying the new material. Towards the end of the set things returned to business as usual and those at the front soon got moving before a highlight moment of the weekend as Ash Jarman took lead vocals for a frankly staggering rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.

With a reaction like they received for this they were soon back on stage for an encore of crowd pleaser Valentine that left the audience happy and warmed up for more great things to come.

By the time I’d made it over to the other stage the tent was once again packed for The Barley Dogs who sounded, from my vantage point outside the tent, like they were playing a great set, but the next band I got to see properly really did something special.

Jull-Z and Mike of Buffalo Huddleston

Jull-Z and Mike of Buffalo Huddleston

Since last summer Buffalo Huddleston have been on a seemingly ever-increasing high, in fact at Sark Folk Festival last July they seemed to have real watershed moment. In recognition of this not only was the tent busy but the crowd was on their feet and packed up against the stage a full fifteen minutes before the band came on.

From the off its clear that Buffalo Huddleston were in relaxed mode as they were once again joined by Becky Hamilton on violin and, following a few technical issues with the bass (that most of those packed in at the front seemed happy to ignore or not even notice) they proceeded to put in what has been widely discussed as being the set of the weekend and their career to date.

With every song greeted like a smash hit and most of them being sung back at the band, MC Jull-z described the noise coming from the crowd as a ‘wall of sound’ as the six-piece delivered a flawless and fun performance. Buffalo Huddleston may be a controversial act for the traditional folkies, but for everyone else they made for one of the most special moments I remember experiencing in music in the Bailiwick.

The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

Having made their reputation on the streets of St. Peter Port on Saturday mornings The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers busking band took to a stage for what may have been the first time and delivered a set of well pitch lo-fi country/bluegrass style songs (though I’ve since been informed it’s ‘ragtime and blues stomp’).

Led by Clem Brouard on guitar and an ingenious three-point stamping percussion system, the band’s set consisted of fun, stamp along songs with an edge that made it feel like anyone could do this (though with the talent evident on stage I suspect that’s not quite the case).

Midway through the set Clem, Louis, Shacks and Greg left the stage leaving James and Gemma, aka The Clapham Commoners, to deliver a few songs as a duo. While James Le Huray’s musical ability is evident simply from the range of styles and instruments he was playing over the weekend, appearing with The Barley Dogs, Robert J. Hunter, The John Wesley Stone and more, what really stood out in these songs was Gemma Honey’s voice.

The Clapham Commoners

The Clapham Commoners

While I had in the past heard her with Party In Paris, here a new side of her was revealed that mixed poppy tones with a classic, almost jazzy, style that impressed many at Les Burons stage, myself included.

Les Passagers Du Gawenn followed Buffalo Huddleston on the Vermertte Stage and kept it nice and busy and moving with their high energy, yet largely traditional sound – though they did add a drum kit the folk mix making for some very fun sounds.

With a reputation preceding them Orkney band The Chair had made a long journey for their headline slot taking in a gig the previous night in Belgium.

The Chair

The Chair

Though they had a more traditional in sound than the previous night’s headliners they were still extremely energetic and were another band to fuse traditional folk with a more modern edge with the inclusion of a standard ‘rock’ rhythm section of electric bass and drums.

I will admit that to my less well-trained ear for folk music The Chair’s music did get a bit same-y at times, but there’s no denying they got the crowd moving, were hugely tight and combined that with a highly engaging stage presence to round of Saturday night.

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

Day Three

The Bee Charmers

The Bee Charmers

While Sunday is always the shortest day of the festival as things wind up so people can catch the boat home for a return to the real world on Monday morning, the last few years have seen it feature some real highlights, particularly last year’s sets from The Recks and CC Smugglers.

The music started early on the Vermerette Stage with Guernsey four-piece The Bee Charmers. Having come on in leaps and bounds since their debut a few months ago, the band provided a relaxing start to the day as Stu Ogier’s increased vocal presence nicely counterpointed Jo Lamb and Jojo Dowding’s harmonies on a range of interestingly chosen covers that wound up with an unexpected take on Nirvana’s All Apologies – I didn’t expect to hear that at the folk festival!

Clameur De Haro

Clameur De Haro

Celebrating their first birthday this weekend Clameur De Haro put in their tightest set to date that perfectly balanced their previous ‘novelty’ form with genuinely good songs and performance.

Another band who paid tribute to Louis De Carteret in song they delivered some nice bouncy, bluegrass and country tinged sounds with a mix of originals and unlikely covers including Black Sabbath’s Supernaut and The Cure’s Friday I’m In Love.

The highlight of their set though came in the form of new song Dear John, about Guernsey politician and all round ‘character’ John Gollop who joined ‘The Clams’ on stage for a dance.

Badlabecques

Badlabecques

Upon first hearing about what Badlabecques do I will admit to being skeptical – folk music all performed in the little spoken language of Jerriais (Jersey Norman French), I had trouble envisioning how this would translate into something more than an interesting novelty.

I am very happy to report though, I was proven wrong as the band played a selection of jaunty, fun tunes and songs including a translated Leonard Cohen number, traditional Jersey songs and songs written in the language during the Occupation that really brought the language to life and had me wishing someone could do similar with D’Gernesiais (Guernsey’s French ‘patois’) before it becomes extinct.

The final Sunday afternoon set of the festival has become something of a special one over the last few years with Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson and then The John Wesley Stone nearly bringing the tent down, so The Space Pirates of Rocquaine had a lot to live up to and it was clear from the off that they had set out with a point to prove.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

Mixing new songs with old classics they brought the crowd to their feet from the start and seemed in their element throughout. Lisa Vidamour was in full on rock ‘n’ roll mode throwing shapes and interacting with the crowd and all the other members upped their game to match delivering the best performance I’ve seen from them in a very a long time.

Of the new material a highlight was The Hangmans, one of the band’s darker numbers that feels like a companion to The Varioufs. It was the sing-along favourites though that really brought the set to life with Creux Mahy, Sarnia Cherie and encore of The Witch of the Longfrie setting the tone and leading to a band having a great time tearing up the stage while the crowd did similar.

This brought the festival to a close on a high that mixed all that make’s Sark Folk Festival the special weekend it is as folk music, fun and a genuine family atmosphere all rolled together to keep revelers smiling as they made their way back to the boats (or for the lucky few to The Bel Air for what all reports suggest was a storming encore set from The Recks).

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

Here’s Guernsey Gigs’ highlights video of the weekend:

A selection of my photos appeared as a double page spread in The Guernsey Press on Tuesday 7th July:

Sark Folk Festival photo spread - 07:07:15and a shorter version of this review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 11th July:

Sark Folk Festival review proof - 11:07:15

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