WWE Mae Young Classic – Final (and more)

Mae Young classic finalists Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the opening round of the Mae Young Classic, WWE’s international women’s wrestling tournament.

Since then the second round, quarter and semi finals have all been aired leading to a live final pitting Japan’s ‘pirate princess’ Kairi Sane and her devastating flying elbow drop against MMA fighter, and one of Ronda Rousey’s ‘four horsewomen’, Shayna Baszler and her debilitating suplex into a rear naked choke style sleeper hold.

Like the first round the second had its fair share of great moments but it was the quarter finals where the tournament really began to come to life with all four matches being some of the best women’s wrestling I’ve ever seen.

Shayna Baszler and Mercedes Martinez

Baszler and Martinez

In this round my highlights came in the Kairi Sane/Dakota Kai match and particularly the contest between Scottish wrestler Piper ‘The Viper’ Niven and Progress Wrestling Women’s Champion, Australian competitor Toni Storm.

The semi-finals then upped things even further setting a par not just for women’s wrestling but for any matches within the WWE Universe (to use their phrase) this year.

Baszler faced off against her mentor on the indie circuit, Mercedes Martinez, in a match pitting fighter against fighter.

The match had that MMA crossover feel with stiff striking and legitimate looking submission holds with both women looking like contenders.

It was accumulated shoulder and knee injuries for the older Martinez though that were her downfall giving Baszler her place in the final.

Kairi Sane and Toni Storm

Sane and Storm

The second semi-final had a more standard pro-wrestling feel to it with Sane’s Japanese high-flying against the Antipodean Strong Style of Toni Storm.

Again both women looked like they could make it to the final and both hit big moves, including a top rope to the floor crossbody from Sane that saw her go headfirst into the metal ramp.

Despite that it was Sane who would connect with her diving elbow on Storm to get the win and set up a real clash of styles and personalities in the final.

Final round – Las Vegas, Nevada – 12/09/17
Kairi Sane (Japan) vs Shayna Baszler (USA)

When I first heard that the final was going to be taking place after a Smackdown show in Las Vegas, rather than sat the NXT Arena at Full Sail in Orlando, I was concerned.

If 205 Live has shown us anything it’s that the crowd following the two-hour Smackdown show can be pretty burnt out, especially when faced with less well-known competitors and, as the opening chunk of the show on the WWE Network rolled on, this was looking to be the case.

Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

Baszler gets the upper hand on Sane

After a look at the ‘red carpet’ for the evening, largely an excuse to further remind us of the building feud between the MMA and WWE horsewomen, as well as a nice little mention of Netflix’s GLOW, we headed back to the arena where commentators Jim Ross and Lita got a mild reaction and the challengers headed to the ring.

While Baszler got little response from the crowd on her entrance and Sane only marginally more, as they were announced in the ring by returning long time ring announcer Lillian Garcia it seemed the audience began to realise this was a special event, and as the lights dimmed more than usual for a big WWE arena show this continued.

The match itself was great with the size and style difference between the two women exploited to the full.

Kairis Sane hits an axe-kick on Shayna Baszler

Sane hits an axe-kick

With some fairly even back and forth wrestling it was Baszler, clearly playing the heel now, who took the upper hand with a stiff looking kick to Sane’s head that sent the Japanese fighter to the floor before Baslzer got the first real two-count.

From there Baszler focussed on the submission angle working on Sane’s right arm with a range of nice ‘joint manipulation’ style holds along with nasty looking versions of armbars and several attempts to apply the double wrist lock (aka the Kimura).

Sane came back with chops only to be derailed by a knee lift reminiscent of Kenny Omega’s V-Trigger, but on a third attempt she connected with her impactful spear injuring Baszler’s ribs.

This then became the story of the third act of the match, as Baszler aimed for the arm but Sane found the weakness in her opponent’s ribs. A top rope flying forearm was countered into a rear naked choke, Baszler’s signature hold across the tournament, but Sane escaped thanks to the rib injury.

Kairi Sane double stomps Shayna Baszler

Tree of Woe double stomp from Sane

The climax came following a forearm battle on the top rope leading to a tree of woe double foot stomp which garnered ‘this is awesome chants’ from the now fully invested crowd, and then an immaculate version of Sane’s spectacular take on the diving elbow drop giving her the three count and the trophy.

Given all the competitors in the tournament this match was a great final pairing as they combined storyline with the more sporting feel brilliantly and this was summed in a moment after the bell when the two hugged and Baszler, previously a vicious heel, clearly said thank you to the more experienced Sane.

Kairi Sane elbow drop on Shayna Baszler

Sane hits her diving elbow drop for the win

Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Sara Amato then presented Sane with the typically ludicrously oversized trophy in what felt like a genuine wrestling moment, possibly even more so than TJ Perkins’ win in the Cruiserweight Classic Last year and up with Tyler Bate’s win in the United Kingdom Championship tournament.

While this show felt a little short at barely 30 minutes – I’d have liked to maybe have seen tag match featuring Storm & LeRae against Niven & Mendez as they were all shown to be in attendance, the final was far from the great contest with a dead crowd I was expecting.

In fact it was a great match with a newly invested crowd and more than suitably rounded off what has been a great tournament featuring some of the best in ring work WWE is likely to see this year, regardless of gender, and I hope this becomes a recurring event like the Best of the Super Juniors tournament in New Japan or Chikara’s King of Trios.

Stephanie McMahon, Sara Amato, Kairi Sane and Triple H

McMahon, Amato and Triple H congratulate Sane

But I think it’s safe to say that in the end the right woman won and the whole tournament has done a great job of setting up some upcoming stories and characters for the regular TV shows while giving some future talent a place to make a mark and maintaining a certain legitimate feel often lost in WWE’s ‘sports entertainment’ product.

Photos from WWE.com

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Guernsey Museum at Candie – Unseen World, Evolution and Folklore Exhibitions

Guernsey Museum at Candie

Guernsey Museum at Candie

When you live somewhere it’s very easy to overlook and almost forget about some of the things right on your doorstep that are generally considered as something for tourists.

So, having seen the latest exhibition at the Guernsey Museum at Candie Gardens was coming to an end and that they’d just opened a new section of their standing exhibit about the islands folklore, I thought I’d go and take a look around.

The museum is relatively small, but, divided in to several sections, they pack a lot in with three spaces for changing exhibitions and an area for a standing display of art related to the island and exploring its history and folklore.

The main exhibition space, and my main inspiration to visit, was given over to look at part of the museum’s collection of historical photographs by F.W. Guerin, a renowned documentarian of the island in the early 20th century, under the name Unseen World.

The Swansea aground at Vazon

The Swansea aground at Vazon

Split into sections looking at people, places, events and (given the choice of Edwardian era and inclusion of photos from the coronation celebrations) King and Country, the exhibition focussed on the years from the coronation of Edward VII to the start of the First World War, 1902 to 1914.

Along with the rather excellent photography, reprinted from the original glass plate negatives which gave some of the images a surprisingly modern quality despite the subject matter, was a commentary on the events including quotes from the newspapers of the day that really helped highlight the differences, and similarities, between then and now.

To my mind the most striking images were of the High Street, Albert Pier and States Chamber which remain in many ways unchanged and are instantly recognisable, and those of a ship run aground at Vazon and scenes from the southwest of the island that really look like a different world – one that in places looked like it could as easily have been from 200 or 300 years ago as a century.

Opposite the main exhibition gallery is a smaller space that has been given over to the Guernsey Arts Commission for the continuation of their greenhouse gallery that previously existed in the Information Centre building on the seafront.

The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse

This space has, over the years, featured a range of art from local artists, or those working locally, spanning all sides of the visual media from traditional paintings to video work and more.

This visit the exhibition, called Evolution, showcased some of the highlights of the island’s schools’ end of year art shows.

I must confess a little bias toward this exhibition as I was involved with originating these kind of shows during my time at the Commission and they have consistently acted a great way for a wider audience to see the great talent coming through the island’s schools.

As with previous versions the work here was diverse and highly impressive spanning photography to sculpture and drawing to video games as art. Particularly striking was a piece called The Greenhouse as well as the captivating sculpture in the middle of the gallery.

The rest of the museum features a standing display of art from the island which includes some interesting pieces ranging from historic landscapes to modern works from the likes of Chris Foss and Peter Le Vasseur, as well as a an exploration of the history and folklore of Guernsey.

Guernsey Museum history section

The history section of the museum

While the history part is a longstanding feature charting everything from Neolithic burial sites to Roman trade routes to the, comparatively, recent links with Britain, the folklore section is a new addition.

With much of Guernsey’s traditional history having only been recorded verbally, this draws on three sources attempting to collate some of the stories told in Guernésiais (aka Guernsey French or Patois) into written English.

The exhibition contains newly created artwork (similar in style to some from locally made comic Zone 1 but I didn’t see any names of artists), artefacts from the museum’s collection and newly written versions of the stories to explore everything from the faerie caves dotted around the island to the local werewolf stories to the real life tales of those convicted of witchcraft and how that bleeds into the more fantastic.

Guernsey folklore art display

Some of the folklore art

While designed to be understood by all with simple layouts and use of interactive elements, the displays are created to offer something to everyone from children to adults and, whatever your previous knowledge of the subject might be, added a new dimension to the already fascinating story of the island.

In all this made for an enjoyable hour or so (I could easily have stayed longer if I’d had the time) exploring some aspects of the island’s history I wasn’t so aware of, as well as some I was, and demonstrated quite how good Guernsey Museums (which span other sites around the island like Castle Cornet and Fort Grey, amongst others) can be.

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It (2017)

It 2017 posterThe image of Tim Curry as Pennywise The Dancing Clown, the most famous visage of Stephen King’s famed horror creation It, is one that has been ever-present in the back of my mind as a pop culture avatar of fear, despite the fact I’ve never seen the mini-series (later edited into a film) he appeared or (entirely) read the book on which it was based.

Now director Andy Muschietti and a host of producers have brought the tale of Derry, Maine to the big screen with Bill Skarsgård in the Curry role. 

The story follows a group of junior high school kids over the summer of 1988 as a number of their classmates disappear and they begin to see strange things. While I’m sure many already know the story I won’t elaborate much more.

Anyone familiar with the original will know it was based in 1958 and, while I was sceptical about the update, it largely works well as it falls suitably before cell phones and the themes of growing up and ‘coming of age’ fit just as well to both eras, though there are a couple of moments that feel a little anachronistic.

The group of young actors who play the self-named ‘losers club’ are, once the film settles in, all excellent but it’s Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denborough and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh who really stand out finding some of the emotional depth that exists in King’s epic novel and making it come to life.

It - The Losers Club

The Losers Club

Meanwhile the other members of the club are somewhat relegated compared to their text selves, but this is understandable as part of the translation and all have enough to do to not feel like ‘red shirts’.

As well as this perennial bully Henry Bowers has an extra added quality on top of his physical brutality and nastiness that may be me seeing things but aren’t there but if not is a very nice touch.

What really makes the film work though is the atmosphere it creates. Across its first half we see Derry as a normal town but with something else creeping just below the surface and, through the youngsters view, it is a surprisingly sinister place.

Muschietti does a great job of creating this feeling mixing modern horror tropes with much of Kings’ source material, translated startlingly to the screen, along with something of the idea that when following young characters you keep everything shot at their level. Then in the second half we meet this sinister something face to face.

It - Pennywise - Bill Skarsgard

Skarsgard as Pennywise

Added to this is a Pennywise who treads the line between ridiculous and terrifying expertly.

Skarsgård’s performance occasionally raises a laugh but within it is more of that creeping sense of fear that the character needs, combined with enough well judged jump scares to keep you on your toes.

On top of this other aspects of It appear and are equally effective, making it clear that Pennywise is just one facet of the fear demon (or whatever It actually is) but like in the book he is the one who seems to cut through the most.

If I have one criticism of the film it’s that it seems to miss something of the more deep-seated ideas that exist within the book and are a strong part of King’s work in general, but this may be down to the fact that this film is only half the story so I’m hoping some of this gets dealt with when we meet the adult versions of our heroes.

It - The house on Neibolt street

The house on Neibolt street

To counter this though the film does build a very nice streak of ‘coming of age’ that feels far more well handled than I’ve seen in cinema for a long time, bringing to mind the works of John Hughes and films like The Goonies or (more recently) Stranger Things.

Andy Muschietti’s It, then, combines a nostalgic adventure film sensibility with the kind of creeping horror found in the best supernatural chillers and an iconic horror creation that could live on like Freddie, Jason, Michael Myers, et al, and I can’t wait for Chapter Two…

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Interview on BBC Radio Guernsey – 05/09/17

Tom Girard - Picture By Steve Sarre 04-07-17

Photo by Steve Sarre, Guernsey Press

Click here to listen to the interview

In something of a switch of positions I was on the other end of the microphone on Tuesday 5th September 2017 as I headed into BBC Radio Guernsey to be interviewed.

Across an hour speaking to Euan Mahy we focussed mostly on my work with BBC Introducing and promoting music from Guernsey and the islands while also looking at how I got involved with all of that.

Along with discussions of BBC Introducing Guernsey, The Phantom Cosmonaut and more we also had time to a play a few tracks including See You With The Angels Kid by Of Empires, Low Life by The Recks and Bigger Things by Robert J. Hunter from his latest album Where I’m From.

You can listen to the interview for the next 30 days or so by clicking here (the interview starts around the 2 hours and 40 minute mark)

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Twin Peaks: The Return

Twin Peaks - The Return banner25 years or so ago David Lynch and Mark Frost left television and film audiences baffled as their journey to the dark heart of Americana, Twin Peaks (and spin-off movie Fire Walk With Me), came to an end with one explanation unraveling a whole host of further questions.

Now here we are in September 2017 and the 18 hours of Twin Peaks: The Return has come to a close, I’ll try not to give too much away, but safe to say it’s left us in a place that is, to use the cliché, ‘Lynchian’.

Dropping us right back in where we left off, but at the same time with the timeline shifted to the modern-day, we find Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) where we last saw him and his apparently possessed alter ego roaming free and up to no good.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

MacLachlan as Cooper

We are also taken back to the town of Twin Peaks where much has remained the same, but also things have changed, and we meet other characters new and old as the tale winds its way there and back again.

Unlike the original run the murder mystery is almost totally forgotten, replaced with a bigger sense of mystery that has wider scope and feeling, but still driven by the death of Laura Palmer.

Much like the original series to tell this story Lynch plays on television conventions with each thread of the ongoing story in this newly expanded world, having a different feel.

Amongst them there is an (intentionally ironic?) X-Files like FBI procedural that follows FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (Lynch) and his team’s explorations of the whereabouts of Agent Dale Cooper, the twisted soap opera of Twin Peaks town, something akin to modern crime dramas like Breaking Bad as we learn about the exploits of Mr C (MacLachlan) and then, in the extended world of Dougie Jones (MacLachlan), a kind of surreal sitcom.

David Lynch as Gordon Cole

Lynch as FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole

Laced through all of this is an extended exploration of the other world seen in the original series, the world of the Black and White Lodges and more, that at its most extreme feels like a sequel to Eraserhead and there are strong suggestions that we are in that same universe.

In this vein one episode around the middle of the series is entirely given over to exploring this and in some ways it feels like it offers an explanation for at least some of the goings on – though of course things are never that cut and dry.

As the series goes on and all the threads come together things escalate as Lynch’s expert sound design ties things together and at points the quaint small town feel gives way total nightmare, even outside the lodges, as it appears universe morph and mutate as much as the story and meaning.

Kyle MacLachlan as Mr C

MacLachlan as Mr C

While all the performances are excellent, whichever aspect of things they exist in, it is undeniable (and regularly reinforced) that Kyle MacLachlan is the star. Playing at least two (three… four… more?) characters it really is a tour de force spanning the whole series and all its different worlds while being the tie that binds them all together.

As things head towards their conclusion it feels like all the loose ends are being tied up, but of course this is David Lynch really at peak performance so I won’t say much more… other than to say that The Return continues the escalation of Twin Peaks into an exploration of the state of humanity, or at least that might be one way of looking at it.

This all makes for one of the greatest pieces of televisual art I can remember seeing, it has all the gripping mystery and plot of the aforementioned likes of a Breaking Bad combined with the unique world view of Lynch that marries surrealism with a mesmerising nature that makes you not want to miss a single moment for fear a crucial event will pass you by.

Nine Inch Nails at The Roadhouse

‘The Nine Inch Nails’

Added to this as a bit of bonus, but one that sits perfectly in the tone of the programme, most episodes culminate at The Roadhouse with a musical performance from various real world bands and musicians from the renowned likes of former Lynch collaborators Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, to new artists and I’m looking forward to picking up the soundtrack when it’s released.

If you’ve not seen the series and want to avoid spoilers don’t watch to the very end of this video – otherwise… The Nine Inch Nails…

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The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club posterWidely considered one of the quintessential films of the 1980s, The Breakfast Club is John Hughes’ exploration of life in American high schools remains as fascinating now as ever.

While I have seen the film in the past its been a long time and to such a degree that my memory of it was vague at best, but somehow, as soon as that Simple Minds riff kicks in it feels like some kind of time warp is in action and we are thrown to that Saturday morning in Shermer, Illinois.

The plot of the film, what there is of it as this isn’t really about a plot, sees a group of teenagers in Saturday detention with, essentially, each representing one of the archetypal groups of high school kids.

So we have the brain (Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson, the academic ‘geek’), the athlete (Emilio Estevez’s wrestling team member Andy Clark), the basket case (Ally Sheedy as eccentric loner Allison Reynolds), the princess (Hughes’ regular Molly Ringwald as spoilt rich kid Claire Standish) and the criminal (Judd Nelson’s aggressive, defensive bully, John Bender).

At the start the five all arrive in the school study hall at odds with one another and teacher Mr Vernon (Paul Gleason), one of only two adult characters in the main body of the film but, as the things go on, through a series of episodic incidents, the five begin to reveal more about themselves as they try to kill the eight hours they have in detention and gradually realise they are more than the stereotypes they all see each other as.

The Breakfast Club

Nelson, Estevez, Sheedy, Ringwald and Hall

This really is the story. While there is a thread of the five characters doing their best to subvert the power of the adult authority figure, what it really revolves around the five talking, antagonising one another, but ultimately revealing extra layers of themselves and coming out of the experience changed.

While this is set in the context of one day what it really feels like is a microcosm of the entire high school experience and, in this, feels in many ways pretty timeless, hence its ongoing reputation.

What really makes this work is how Hughes treads the line between a realistic world and a heightened one, something he demonstrated time and again with the likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Here it takes a while to bed in as a viewer but Hughes works with this so the opening feels like a natural setting before the various episodes build to a point where it is something more than this.

Paul Gleason in The Breakfast Club

Gleason

While the film maybe isn’t as flawless as some would suggest, the episodic nature does feel a little bolted together in places (though in the end it becomes obvious this is part of the thematic intent), the ending is probably a little too cosy and the transformation of Allison is painful and really is the one moment where the film’s message runs into trouble, it is none-the-less genre defining and still stands up.

In a world where teen comedies descended into the likes of the later American Pies and really died a death after that, The Breakfast Club stands out as something defining and pretty well timeless with a generally good message in the end. It also shows Hughes as a master of taking what is in every sense a boring setting and filling it with characters and dialogue that create something with depth and purpose without resorting to the ridiculousness of what most who have tried to follow him have done.

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Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four posterDespite being Marvel’s pioneering super team it’s always seemed that the Fantastic Four have struggled when it comes to screen adaptations. While Iron Man, The Avengers, Spider-Man, The X-Men and more have all had some success, no outings for Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue (Kate Mara) & Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) Storm and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) have felt entirely satisfactory.

While the early 2000s version was throwaway fun it’s sequel fell flat and the story of the unreleased version that came around the time of the straight to video Captain America is infamous.

So, we come to Josh Trank’s attempt at bringing the team to the screen in 2015.

At the time of its release it was panned from pretty much all quarters which was hard to ignore but, I thought coming to it after some time had passed might help me have a more balanced view.

Starting off in sort of flashback things doesn’t quite sit right away as we meet Reed and Ben in school where Reed is inexplicably building a teleporter in his garage.

Miles Teller as Reed Richards in Fantastic Four

Teller as Richards

Ok, so that I can go with, this is after all a comic book sci-fi movie, but it didn’t take long to realise that all the characters, be they the leads or the bit parts like the teachers, are all poorly sketched stereotypes with no real thought or emotion behind anything they do or say.

This gives the whole film a cheap feel, despite the fancy special effects, where nothing anyone does has any weight of any kind as they all talk in what feels like cliche or exposition.

As the film goes on its clear things aren’t going to get much better as the tone is desperately uneven, apparently unsure if it wants to be comparatively light-hearted sci-fi fun with hints of the family friendly like of Star Wars or something more akin to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies, but without the style or inventiveness of either.

Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four

Jordan as Storm in Human Torch mode

Once the origin story of the heroes is finally done with the long telegraphed villain plays his hand, though it makes little sense and as there’s only 10 minutes of the film left it never amounts to much despite the usual high level disaster movie effects.

Trank has done his utmost to distance himself from the final product (as I assume would anyone else who was involved) but that doesn’t change the fact that even given the varied output of the main Marvel Studios films over the years this is probably the worst of the batch, even falling below the misguided X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

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Vale Earth Fair 2017 – Vale Castle – 27/08/17

Jupiter and Okwess at the Vale Earth Fair

Jupiter and Okwess on the Castle Stage

For its 41st year the Vale Earth Fair once again took over the Vale Castle over the bank holiday weekend at the end of August with six stages of music across 12 hours.

Not only that but this year’s event spread onto the Saturday with Sound Guernsey presenting some of the island’s newer and younger talent on the same main stage.

With visiting headliners like Chali 2na & Krafty Kuts, Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart and Jupiter & Okwess sharing a stage with favourites from the island like The Recks, Robert J. Hunter and SugarSlam the festival was one of the most varied yet.

My review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 2nd September 2017 and you can read the full version of it below the cutting and you can see a full set of photos on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

Vale Earth Fair review - 02/09/17

Full review

The Crowman at Vale Earth Fair

The Crowman

While the Channel Islands has more than its fair share of music festivals spanning rock, pop, dance, folk, classical, jazz and more it’s hard to argue that the longest running is generally the most varied. Whether you want dub reggae, psytrance, gypsy jazz swing, indie rock or more, the 41st Vale Earth Fair was one of the most diverse festivals the islands have seen in recent memory.

Of course with six stages it would be impossible to even come close to seeing everything so, I’ve focussed simply on what I saw on my meandering path through the 12-hour-long event, mostly focussing on the main ‘Castle’ stage and the Viewalalu (formerly the ‘Stage Against the Machine’ ‘outside’, ‘Discharge’ or ‘free’ depending on your vintage) stage.

Starting as they meant to go on the Castle stage got underway with the Channel Island’s finest purveyor of steampunk garage folk, The Crowman and his Crowband.

Joined today by Holly ‘Gotta Hotrod’ Hollingsworth on banjolele and Tinshack on guitar and kazoo, The Crowman warmed up the crowd with a light-hearted and enjoyable set drawing on his three albums.

While it all went a bit chaotic in places the trio dealt with it all in a lighthearted manner and both band and audience had a great time, especially as the band pulled out two of their most surreal flights of fancy, The Adventures of Captain Brown and the brilliantly deranged Pimbo.

SugarSlam at Vale Earth Fair

SugarSlam

While their set may have felt somewhat early (they filled in a short notice) SugarSlam didn’t let that phase them as their energetic power pop rock was a refreshing blast on the Earth Fair’s main stage.

Following old classic Psychobabble the veteran band drew mostly from their soon to be released new album and its hard to argue with their infectious and upbeat presence, especially on a big stage like this.

As the set closed with Sacred Hearts’ Mark Le Gallez joining them for a lose and fun take on that band’s Adorable, and the sun blazed down in uncharacteristic fashion, the stage was set for an undeniably upbeat and energetic day of music.

While Le Quartette brought some pop classical vibes to the Viewalalu Stage the Busking Stage, this year looking even more like someone’s living room than before (can we get a list of some of those book titles Greg?), welcomed Paul Sharod of The Surfin’ Birds, or more accurately a motley selection of various members of the Weymouth based band.

Squidhead at the Vale Earth Fair

Squidhead

Despite being a little worse for wear from the Earth Fair warm up gig the previous night there was a lot of fun being had with Sharod delivering some bluesy rock ’n’ roll before Squidhead (not named for the squid shaped hat he was wearing) playing some fun, acoustic tunes, unsurprisingly often about having a drink, while the audience relaxed in the sun doing just that.

As Buff Hudd drew a big crowd to the Viewalalu for his acoustic folk-hop stylings the first act from ‘the other island’ took to the Castle Stage.

Hot Plastic combined drum machine rhythms with live guitar, bass and vocals to create a kind of infectious and powerful pop-rock that went down a storm in the already busy castle.

For one track they went a bit bluesy as they were joined by Robert J. Hunter who’s band were up next.

Robert J. Hunter at the Vale Earth Fair

Robert J. Hunter

Its been a while since I’ve had the chance to catch Rob’s band and, with this being their second of three festivals in two days, their dirty blues was bigger and tighter than ever, before they hopped on a rib to play the Hackett Hoedown in Jersey!

The other festival was The Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival in Lancashire on Saturday, and from what I heard the hard touring is paying off.

After The Phantom Cosmonaut had a great time making a noise on Viewalalu, Jawbone brought scrappy punk rock to the stage outside the castle with all the punchy, high energy, craziness we’d expect, reconstructed bionic collar bones and all…

The party really started to get going back in the Castle with some excellent dub-y ska from UK visitors Tree House Fire who seemed custom-made for getting the Earth Fair crowd moving before The Recks, making a triumphant return to the Earth Fair, continued the trend.

The Recks at the Vale Earth Fair

The Recks

After a more down and dirty outing at the warm up show the previous night the genre and geography defying five-piece kicked off strong and smooth.

As the set went on they seemed slightly derailed before launching into less frequently heard old favourite Trainwreck, but by closer Lights they were back on track to close out one of the day’s highlight sets.

While the Viewalalu has become the festival’s often more ‘out there’ or esoteric stage, a visiting act from Jersey outdid all previous expectations.

Looking like a deranged circus had invaded, The Crack defied explanation as the face painted, gorilla costumed, nun’s habit wearing (a ‘Crack habit’, geddit?) group ran through a set of cabaret sounding, music hall madness that ran from King of the Swingers to Agado (complete with fully interactive crowd dancing) that was infectiously enjoyable if maybe a bit too bizarre to experience when unprepared.

Usually the Vale Earth Fair features one or maybe two stand out headline acts, but this year, to my mind, it looked like there were three filling the evening on the Castle Stage.

Jah Wobble at the Vale Earth Fair

Jah Wobble

While their music was about as varied as you’re likely to find sharing a stage anywhere, as a microcosm of the festival’s diversity they are an excellent example, to my mind it was the first who was the most familiar; Jah Wobble, along with his band The Invaders of the Heart.

Having made his name as one of the original members of John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd (PiL), Wobble (aka John Wardle) has since explored world music with The Invaders and it was this heady mix of ambient, dub-y sounds we were treated to.

While I have to admit the music didn’t grab me on a personal level, and from what I heard the lead guitar was a little overbearing, the crowd were loving it with many decreeing Wobble and co not just the highlight of this year’s events but of all Earth Fairs, and who am I to argue with that.

Hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo Jupiter & Okwess continued the world music vibes with hints of rock and were the second of the days acts to get the ‘best Earth Fair band ever’ judgement from many of the long-standing festival goers as they kept the crowd hot and moving as the warm evening rolled on.

Chali2na and Krafty Kuts at the Vale Earth Fair

Chali2na and Krafty Kuts

This all culminated with the arrival of hip-hop legend Chali 2na, along with ace DJ and co-conspirator Krafty Kuts.

While Kuts music provided the back drop and had the crowd going off from the start, Chali 2na’s presence, personality and rhymes filled the big stage and provided the Guernsey audience with something the likes of which most would never have experienced on our little rock (save the privileged few who caught him at a special Get Down night a couple of years back).

This all closed the night on the Castle Stage on a massive high that pushes the best the Earth Fair has ever offered.

While all that was going on the Viewalalu Stage kept things, mostly, closer to home and more rocking.

The Surfin' Birds at the Vale Earth Fair

The Surfin’ Birds

The Surfin’ Birds added a second guitarist since the previous night’s warm up show which developed the band’s more psychedelic side along with the garage rock ’n’ roll and they got the audience rocking along from the start.

Once again it was hard to avoid their infectious energy with drummer Liam Sharod again providing a few highlight drum solos, particularly on South Coast Stomp.

As the set went on though their long weekend of gigging (and associated extracurricular activities) started to take their toll and they drifted just the wrong side of the ‘rock ’n’ roll chaos’ line meaning their set didn’t end on the high it might have as Surfin’ Bird fell into disarray.

After a rapid turn around Guernsey indie rock favourites Lifejacket launched into their set and the usually tight and precise band seemed a little loser than normal which combined with a few technical difficulties to make for one of their more challenging outings.

Lifejacket at the Vale Earth Fair

Lifejacket

Despite that there were moments where they pulled it together and kept the audience on side, even if they didn’t play one of the songs most often ‘requested’ of them (I think I side with frontman Andy Sauvage in thinking that joke has run its course), but Lifejacket survived, albeit slightly more battered by the experience than they would have liked.

Another swift switch around brought Honest Crooks to the stage, standing in after the last-minute cancellation of the announced headliners, but that didn’t seem to matter to the audience one bit as they got skanking right away.

With new covers thrown in amongst the originals and a new aspect brought to some of their material now that Naomi Burton’s sax and keys have found their place in the band, the Crooks proved once again why they are one of the biggest things in Guernsey music right now.

Honest Crooks at the Vale Earth Fair

Honest Crooks

This was all brought to close by Near Bliss inciting a mosh pit with their chaotic take on the music of Nirvana.

While a band is never going to recreate the magical presence and charisma of that Seattle trio, Near Bliss captured the spirit of the close of the Earth Fair well as things descended into a kind of anarchy generally only seen on our shores once a year.

For its 41st year the Vale Earth Fair felt reinvigorated and refreshed with bigger crowds, bigger atmosphere and a growth on its already diverse line up showing once again why this remains at the top of the Channel Island festival season.

You can see more of my photos from the Vale Earth Fair on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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WWE Mae Young Classic 2017 – Round One

WWE Mae Young Classic logoIf you’d told me five years ago that not only would WWE be staging a stand alone women’s wrestling tournament, and also that I’d be getting genuinely excited about it, I would have been at least very sceptical if not purely disbelieving.

Well here we are in summer 2017 and, following the ‘women’s revolution’ of the past couple of years and last summer’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament, not to mention the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, we have the Mae Young Classic – a 32 competitor single elimination tournament featuring some top name international women’s talent.

Unlike the CWC last year, WWE are releasing this tournament (which was taped back in July) in blocks of each round before a live final, so here I’m looking at the first round of matches, released on the WWE Network on Monday August 28th.

Mae Young Classic wrestler

The competitors

Continuing with a theme I raised at both the previous weekend’s NXT Takeover and SummerSlam events, the Mae Young Classic continues WWE’s ongoing trend to at least appear more international.

Many of the contenders are announced as representing different countries with some even hailing from those countries (though it’s noticeable a lot are American, far more so than in the CWC).

Along with that, while some of the competitors are long-standing and well-known faces in the world of women’s wrestling, a slightly suspicious number seem to be rather new, even if they have other sports experience, and in a few cases it’s telling and smacks of WWE trying to promote their new signings before they appear on NXT.

That said, the pairings in this opening round led, with a few exceptions, to some great matches with some excellent moments.

Mae Young Classic opening brackets

I won’t go through things match for match but will pick out some highlights.

As a whole though the presentation was very well done with a similar, more legit ate sporting feel, like the CWC.

Baszler and Zeda

Baszler chokes out Zeda

The commentary, from Jim Ross and Lita, did take a while to settle with both feeling a bit out-of-place at first but by the end of the first round they seemed to have settled down (though I’ll admit the legend that is JR does sound a little old hat now and I’d have preferred to hear Mauro Ronallo).

The first episode (each episode featuring four matches) was a strong start following a ‘not as inspiring as it should have been’ hype video voiced by Stephanie McMahon.

Female luchadore Princesa Sugeheit got what was, to my mind, a surprise win over Scotland’s Kay Lee Ray, but it was former UFC competitor Shayna Baszler and both Abbey Laith (formerly known as Kimber Lee) and Jazzy Gabert (aka The Alpha Female) who were the real standouts, with Baszler looking like a potential winner, especially with her very nice suplex into sleeper finishing combo.

Xia Yim and Sarah Logan

Yim pins Logan after a German suplex

The second episode was headlined by Mia Yim picking up a win over Sarah Logan in a match where both came out looking good.

Also on the show Chinese performer Xia Li, signed to WWE following their foray to China to try to expand their market, lost out to Mercedes Martinez, who came across as a tough MMA style wrestler, while Li looked far better than anyone would expect in a debut.

Australian athlete Rhea Ripley looked good with a win over Miranda Salinas and the daughter of Paul Ellering, Rachel Evers, picked up a win over Marti Belle in the first duff match of the tournament.

Toni Storm

A victorious Toni Storm

In many ways episode three was the highlight for me featuring three of the wrestlers I’m most familiar with advancing.

The show began with Toni Storm, the first Progress Wrestling women’s champion, going over a very inexperienced looking Ayesha Raymond before kiwi standout Dakota Kai got a convincingly hard-fought win with a hyper speed corner kick and double stomp on WWE’s first Indian female competitor Kavita Devi.

In the episode’s main event Piper Niven, who had previously appeared on ITV’s World of Sport back in December as Viper, got a win over Santana Garrett with some impressively athletic moves.

While Niven may look like a friendlier modern-day Klondyke Kate style performer she has a lot more in her arsenal than one would expect from that, no doubt echoing some of the Japanese competitor with whom I’m less familiar like Bull Nakano.

Kairi Sane elbow drop on Tessa Blanchard

Sane’s elbow drop on Blanchard

Despite featuring two of the most anticipated wrestlers, the fourth episode was in some ways also the weakest.

Thankfully Candice LeRae’s opening victory over Renee Michelle and pretty much everything done by Japan’s Kairi Sane (aka Kairi Hojo) in her face off with Tessa Blanchard stole the show – particularly Sane’s ridiculous winning elbow drop from the top rope that is like no other I’ve previously seen.

While some of the eliminated competitors are ones I’d like to see more from, the results of the first round have set up some very interesting matches going forward making it hard to call who will advance, which is always nice when things can so often be so easy to predict in WWE, and has set the tournament going in a very enjoyable manner.

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Vale Earth Fair Warm Up: The Surfin’ Birds and The Recks – Thomas De La Rue – 26/08/17

The Surfin' Birds and guests

The Surfin’ Birds with AJ and Richey

It’s become tradition that the night before Guernsey’s longest running festival, the Vale Earth Fair, a pair of the bands playing the main event take to the stage at the De La Rue in St Peter Port for a more relaxed warm up.

Even with the Sound Guernsey event taking place at the Vale Castle, 2017 was no different with The Recks and their, in some sense, brother band from Weymouth The Surfin’ Birds.

While The Recks were on solid form it took a while for the audience to sneak forward and fill the dancefloor and it is odd seeing this band who usually get the headline slots going on first.

While they were a bit more loose than usual, particularly when it came to working out what to play next and on She Wants That Too, as they set went on their energy, and the audiences, built.

The Recks

The Recks

A new track led by Gregory Harrison added a slightly slower, more country-folk, feel to things but it was the usual tracks that were the highlights, recent single Low Life and She Ain’t No Revelator in particular, and by the end of the set the dancefloor was full.

Weymouth rock ’n’ roll trio The Surfin’ Birds promised to jam things out with some friends and they didn’t disappoint from the moment they launched in their take on Link Wray’s Jack The Ripper onwards.

Mixing their own songs with versions of blues rock ’n’ roll standards they were on fire, despite looking like they might be on the verge of total collapse at points, they held it together with a primal will that actually made them super tight.

Paul Sharod of The Surfin' Birds

Paul Sharod of The Surfin’ Birds

While Paul Sharod wielded his guitar like it was an extension of himself, his brother Liam set the drums rolling with several drum solos that did that rare thing of feeling like part of the songs rather than an indulgent add-on.

As the set went on they were joined on numerous occasions by The Reck’s Richey Powers (a long time collaborator of Sharod) and AJ, most commonly seen with Burg & The Back Porch Band, who added some harmonica to the bluesy flavour tracks.

Sharod headed further and further into Lux Interior territory, aided by a few Cramps moments including Human Fly and The Crusher (although I know that isn’t a Cramps original) before closing the set on a trio of standout moments; their own I’m An Elvis Man led into a Be Bop A Lula that descended into a crazed take on Surfin’ Bird to close the night on a high, setting everyone up for the following days festival with great energy.

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