All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records

All Things Must Pass posterOn a visit to London as a teenager I remember heading into a record store on Piccadilly Circus with distinctive red and yellow signs, Tower Records. In my naivety I assumed this was a one-off store as it didn’t feel like part of a major chain like the HMV and Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street did.

Of course I now know better and, in his Kickstarter funded documentary All Things Must Pass, Colin Hanks recounts the story of Tower Records from its inception in Sacramento in 1960 to its demise in 2006 and beyond.

The man behind Tower was Russ Solomon and here he is the linchpin of the story, as it seems he was of the company, appearing in a series of interviews tracing the company’s history and coming across as a kind of spiritual guru of the record retail business.

Other members of staff who joined the company in this early years as it grew from Sacramento to San Francisco and the Los Angeles are also interviewed building up this image of Solomon. In a lot of cases this kind of reverence for, essentially, a businessman would feel somewhat contrived but here I was left with the sense that actually Solomon was all he comes across as, including some dubious financial decisions during the companies rapid expansion in the 1980s and 90s.

Russ Solomon, circa 1970s

Russ Solomon, circa 1970s

The story that Solomon began is portrayed here as a kind if last hurrah for the American Dream and again this comes across with a refreshing lack of cynicism, giving the feeling that Tower really was the a local music store on an international scale.

A collection of archive photos and videos of the store’s various early locations, particularly its original location in Sacramento and the San Francisco ‘superstore’ at Columbus and Bay (now somewhat depressingly a Wallgreen’s chain pharmacy), really help build this image of ‘classic America’.

These shots of the old stores are a fascinating view back into the heyday of the record store with vinyl stacked floor to ceiling and flying off the shelves.

The original Tower Records

The original Tower Records

In its telling the film is relatively run of the mill with a collection of talking heads telling the story with the help of some well-chosen archive footage and some celebrity extras (here including former staff member Dave Grohl, they let him keep his hair style, and the self-proclaimed man who spent more than anyone else at Tower Records, Elton John, who seems genuinely emotional about his memories of buying seemingly every album ever).

What elevates it though is the sense of genuine feeling that comes through, particularly when the companies first 30 years are being discussed by the staff, who tell stories of all night parties and just how the gap between customers and staff was all but non-existent as the stores acted as meeting places and community centres for music lovers in their respective towns and cities.

As the film continues into the 90s Tower Records appears to act as a microcosm of the problems facing the record industry with cultural changes around music listening habits being poorly handled, though it’s refreshing to see many of the original Tower team embracing new ways of listening while the issues these caused and poor handling is levelled at the ‘industry’ not Tower or its guru who, well into his 70s here, seems just as positive and enthusiastic as when the store first opened.

Tower Records on Sunset Strip

Tower Records on Sunset Strip

This sense of positivity and enthusiasm pervades the film until the credits role, despite the collapse and closure of Tower Records in 2006, making what could be a nostalgic but ultimately melancholy story become something uplifting and celebratory of what may be a largely lost era but one that still means a lot to many.

And it’s always good to remember the slogan adopted from their expansion in Japan… No Music, No Life.

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Hey! Hello! – Hey! Hello! Too! (Take 2)

Hey! Hello! Too! cover artIf you’re a regular reader of my posts you may be getting a sense of deja vu going by the title of this as, a few months ago, I posted a review of the original and subsequently deleted version of Hey! Hello! Too! just before it was pulled from Ginger Wildhearts’ latest Pledgemusic campaign following the shock departure of lead vocalist Hollis from the band.

Following her departure the band auditioned a host of potential new vocalists and this version of Hey! Hello! Too! (which is more than just a straight re-release with different vocals) features a selection of those performers; Emily Lee, Givvi Flynn, Cat Southall, Laila K, Eloise Kerry, Vicky Jackson and Christina Maynard along with the band Ginger assembled previously Ai (drums), Toshi (bass), The Rev (guitar) and of course Mr. Wildheart himself (guitar and vocals).

From the off its clear this is a different album from that lost version and that the band have continued to develop so while the storming pop rock that marked Hey! Hello!’s debut remains this is a very different beast.

Hey! Hello! Ginger, Toshi, Ai, The Rev

Ginger, Toshi, Ai and The Rev

Throughout the album has a sheen of pop production that really suits Ginger’s songs and the band’s performance while excellently counterpointing the more punky and metallic edges that always come through in his writing.

As has become commonplace in Ginger’s work the topics vary wildly but are always delivered with hooks galore and plenty of sing-a-long, bounce-a-long power and the album’s highlights all combine these aspects excellently.

Glass of Champagne, Kids, Loud And Fucking Clear and Let’s Get Emotional are instant standouts but the whole record has the feel that they could all become live favourites and reveal greater depths with more listens.

The final three tracks on the record have something of a slightly different feel with Body Parts (originally recorded for the Albion solo album) coming with Japanese lyrics from, I assume, Toshi and Ai while being none-the-less catchy for it and showing the multi-talented nature of this pan-continental quartet.

Hey Hello - Toshi and The Rev

Toshi and The Rev

Meanwhile its hard not to listen to A History of Lovers and (particularly) Perfect without getting hints that these may, whether intentionally or not, be related to Hey! Hello!’s so far tempestuous relationship with female lead singers, though I won’t speculate on the whys and wherefores knowing just the public history its hard not to associate the two.

In the end Hey! Hello! Too! is a set of 11 great songs with a few that stand out above the pack, even if, as an album, it doesn’t quite hang together as a whole – but that’s a small criticism as every time one of these comes up on shuffle it will be hard to skip and all of them just make me want to see this band live again and bounce and shout along as the lyrics are already worming their way into my head.

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Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me

Against Me! - Shape Shift With Me coverTwo and a half years ago Against Me! launched back onto the international punk scene with Transgender Dysphoria Blues, an album that marked something of a change for the band in many ways. Now, following a live album chronicling the blistering shows they performed in support of that record, they are back with a new full length studio album, Shape Shift With Me.

If Transgender Dysphoria Blues was a direct response to the changes being undergone by both the band and their front woman Laura Jane Grace at the time, Shape Shift With Me builds on this in a way that takes that personally visceral approach and augments it with the hints of pop that had marked White Crosses to create something of a hybrid moving the band forward into what feels like a new era.

Provision L-3 starts the album off in with short, sharp, punk package railing against the changes in politics in the USA (and beyond) in recent years intermingled with the same issues personal to Grace that were the hallmark of the previous record grabbing you by the throat to drag you into the album.

Against Me!

Johansson, Bowman, Grace, Willard

From there it weaves it way through the personal and political, with the two intertwining as the band have always done at their best, it just seems to have an understandable new charge and poignancy.

While all still punk the record shifts stylistically throughout taking in both new and familiar sounds. Haunting, Haunted, Haunts brings the folk punk tinge that made their name to the fore while Dead Rats and Norse Truth add a darker, fuzzier vibe to proceedings and, one of two lead singles, Crash comes with an almost glam-pop vibe that is as astonishing as it is infectious.

While this makes it a stylistic mix, Shape Shift With Me flows together excellently with a general sense of a search for intimacy pervading the record which rings true with much of Grace’s media presence in recent months, but this is far from the Laura Jane Grace show as Transgender Dysphoria Blues, maybe, was. Added to this, the continued use of a more stripped back production style and striking artwork make for a complete package of an album continuing the thematic feel of the last two releases.

Against Me - Laura Jane Grace

Laura Jane Grace on stage

As a band this feels like a new version of Against Me! blasting out at full force with Inge Johansson (bass) and Atom Willard (drums) feeling as much a part of the band now as founder Grace (lead vocal and guitar) and longtime collaborator James Bowman (guitar) giving the whole thing a more cohesive feel adding to the dynamics within the songs, even though they are all the brainchild of Grace.

While not as instantly blisteringly intense as Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Shape Shift With Me moves Against Me! forward and shows they’ve not let their recent brushes with more mainstream recognition, that has come from Grace’s personal situations, effect their musical mission of being a forthright and honest punk rock band. On top of that it all comes with a pace and power that can’t help but give a real sense of positivity to it, despite some of the darker subject matter.

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Channel Islands Pride Movie Nights – 52 Tuesdays and Cabaret

Fermain Valley cinema

The Fermain Valley cinema

Following the previous Saturday’s parade through St. Peter port, Channel Islands Pride week continued in Guernsey as Liberate staged a pair of film screenings of two rather different movies that’s fall under the ‘LGBTQ cinema’ banner, 52 Tuesdays and Cabaret, at The Fermain Valley Hotel’s small but well appointment private cinema (an ideal location for these kind of events).

The two films fall into very different areas of the ‘LGBTQ cinema’ canon but, in their own ways both tackle a host of issues while also having a far broader appeal than that specific cinematic niche may often thought to have.

52 Tuesdays is an Australian indie drama from director/co-writer Sophie Hyde, that tells the story of a teenage girl (Billie, played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey) going through many of the usual coming of age rigmarole seen elsewhere with the addition of her mother (James, formerly Jane, played by Del Herbert-Jane) is taking the first steps of transition.

52 Tuesdays posterOn paper this sounds like it could be a fairly heavy-handed conceit but, with the films largely verite-ish style it all just becomes part of the ebb and flow of Billie’s young, often confusing, life – though it’s interesting to note that the transition isn’t portrayed as the most confusing aspect of this experience.

The title of the film stems from the fact that Billie and James meet weekly on Tuesday evenings and the construction of the film follows this showing us (mostly) only what happens on these Tuesday evenings.

This gives the viewer the chance to see, and the filmmakers a chance to show, aspects of James’ transition over the course of a year rather than a more compact period so it allows exposure to many more ‘day to day’ aspects than I had previously seen depicted, and it never suggests that this snapshot of a year is the complete process.

Along with this we get Billie’s transition into young adulthood and the two are juxtaposed and played off each other very well, even if Billie’s side of the story occasionally has the whiff of soap opera. This is counteracted by the style of the production and the performances which never feel anything less than real.

52 Tuesdays - James and Billie

James and Billie

While not perfect 52 Tuesdays is an energetic and engrossing real life drama that largely steers clear of the stereotypical tropes of soap it could easily veer into and highlights the disconnect between the reality of these situations and that usually depicted through mainstream media while also highlighting the issues faced by those transitioning in a way that isn’t like watching an educational film.

The addition of the coming of age storyline then gives the film an added accessibility away from what might be perceived as a niche, one note, ‘issue’ film, making for something that I couldn’t help but feel could connect with a wider audience if they were just given the chance.

Cabaret movie posterFrom low-budget indie drama to a mainstream award-winning film regularly cited as a classic but still falling firmly into the LGBTQ cinematic canon, Bob Fosse’s startling and unique musical, Cabaret.

Set in the dying days of Weimar-era Berlin it follows English student Brian Roberts (Michael York) on his journey into the city’s hedonistic nightlife led by cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Liza, with a Z, Minnelli).

From the off the style is almost entirely in contrast to 52 Tuesdays as Fosse uses what, at first, feel like almost Brechtian verfremdungseffekt alienation techniques by situating all the music with the Kit Kat Club cabaret, almost commenting on the surrounding action. Here Joel Grey as the master of ceremonies (often referee to as ‘Emmcee’) provides a standout performance at once welcoming and sinister as the story progresses and we get scenes of chaotic decadence juxtaposed with the brutal rise of the Nazi party.

Running alongside the cabaret scenes we get the story of Brian and Sally’s apparent affair which is, for the most part more naturalistic – although the presence of a lot of soft focus keeps it at something of a distance.

Cabaret - Max, Brian and Sally

Max, Brian and Sally

It’s here a more open side of LGBTQ representation and general sexuality appears, away from the potentially seedy and heightened world of the cabaret club, as Brian at first appears to be gay, then later bi or pan, while he and Sally enjoy an explicitly polyamorous affair with playboy baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem).

Even today this is dealt with in surprisingly straight forward fashion and it’s no surprise this raised more than eyebrows in the early 1970s, though equally it is all a bit idealised in its way.

More shocking now is the depiction of the rise of nazism in Germany with racial abuse, violence and a clear depiction of the kind of creeping nastiness that I can’t help but see reflected in the world today. This is brilliantly portrayed in a scene at a very typical looking country fair type event as the crowd join in with a youthful, blonde haired Nazi in singing a song dedicated to the fatherland.

Cabaret - Joel Grey

The Master of Ceremonies

The culmination of what feels like three nearly independent threads comes in surprisingly melancholic fashion for a big musical with Sally drawn back into the world of the cabaret but with the decadent Weimar audience replaced with brown shirts with red armbands as Brian returns to England.

This leads to an ambiguous feeling of the end of innocence pervading Sally’s haunted delivery of ‘Cabaret’ before the credits roll in silence and we ponder what we all know came next.

As a double bill to show as part of Channel Islands Pride Week 52 Tuesdays and Cabaret were interesting choices but ones that spanned a surprising breadth of LGBTQ issues and experience in their own way and I couldn’t help but think it would be great to make screenings like this a more regular part of Liberate’s work, although the question of how to encourage more than just an already familiar audience into the cinema would be the biggest issue.

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Channel Islands Pride: Guernsey – 10/09/16

The Space Pirates at Pride

The Space Pirates on stage in Market Square

A little over a decade ago I remember despairing, disbelieving and laughing with a kind of desperate hilarity as I recounted to my friends in the UK that a member of Guernsey’s government (a publicly elected Deputy, none the less) was being quoted in the local newspaper’s front page regarding his hugely ill-informed thoughts around gay people and AIDS – a choice quote being something along the lines of ‘We all know San Francisco’s a gay town and where AIDS comes from and we don’t want to be like that’… I think most people I know would love Guernsey to be more like San Francisco in all kinds of ways, but I digress.

Given that attitude was being given any kind of official credence just a short time ago made what took place on Saturday 10th September 2016 all the more impressive. Thousands gathered to take part in Guernsey’s first ever Pride event, organised by the Liberate organisation and following in the footsteps of 2015’s first Channel Islands Pride event in Jersey.

Having lived all but my university years on this little rock in the English Channel, this was my first proper pride event (a brief visit to West Hollywood Halloween in LA last year gave a bit of a taste though) and of course being in my ‘hometown’ made it all the more special.

Pride in Candie Gardens

People gather in Candie Gardens

The event itself began in Candie Gardens, a public garden that usually affords fabulous views of all the Channel Islands making it a particularly fitting place for the beginning of this island spanning event, but with the somewhat inclement weather conditions this view wasn’t at its best.

Despite that as the time for the parade/march neared people began to congregate at the top of the gardens where the Queerly Beloved Ceilidh Band and the Samba Burros drummers were doing their best at getting the atmosphere going.

Having seen some of the costumes at West Hollywood’s Halloween event last year and photos from Pride events around the UK I wondered quite how Guernsey’s often more (small c) conservative residents would mark the day, in terms of dress.

The weather somewhat forced the hand of many (including myself) so while there were flashes of rainbows and other significantly coloured flags many were partially covered by waterproofs, though the rainbow umbrellas from HSBC helped.

There there were a few though who cared not for the rain and were resplendent in various attires, proudly pinning their colours to the mast, along with a troupe of sailors and, of course, the spectacular Magenta who led the parade through town. (For the record I struck gold in discovering Progress Wrestling have a pride t-shirt amongst their merchandise so I managed to combine both my passion for pro-wrestling with the pride side of things).

The parade in the high street

The parade in the high street (Photo by Rebecca Catlow)

As we gathered at the top of the path that leads from Candie into the centre of St Peter Port the feeling of what this event meant really began to build. Certainly there was a party atmosphere with cheering, singing and laughing aplenty, but it was seeing and being part of this mass of people all present to make the same point that really struck me as something special.

I will admit that despite some fairly deeply held beliefs around both political and social issues this was my first time attending such an event of any description. The last few years have seen a growth in what, for Guernsey, passes as political protest or meaningful marching but often they seem to appear to be a few stragglers in a vast car park preaching entirely to a converted minority or heckling largely nonplussed politicians on the steps of the States Chambers, for the most part this felt a long way from that.

As the 50 metre rainbow flag passed over us and we began the parade down the hill into Smith Street and the High Street it was clear that not only were those in the parade there to celebrate, but that this was still to make a point to those who, maybe, were less aware of what it was all about and to shout loudly that old cliché about ‘being here’… though of course things are more complex than just that.

As we weaved our way down the streets some joined the parade while others clapped and cheered on from the footpaths. There were a few disapproving faces along the pavements – maybe they were just frustrated that their Saturday afternoon’s shopping was disrupted, maybe it was something more sinister, that’s not for me to judge, but they were few and far between which was very encouraging.

Magenta

Magenta

Upon reaching St Peter Port’s Market Square the samba drummers kept the atmosphere up before the afternoon’s compere, Tigger Blaize, took to the stage and introduced members of Liberate, some very happy sponsors and a few other official types to make their points about what this event was all about.

From there, after Magenta and ‘Colin from the Co-Op’ (he may sound like a cartoon character but is head of the main sponsor) dished out some raffle prizes the party really began. Buffalo Huddleston and The Space Pirates of Rocquaine, two of the island’s most popular bands, both put in great performances with what felt like an extra sense of enthusiasm given the nature of the event.

They were followed by Dolly Parton Tribute act Paula Randell who was good fun as expected and then Kitty Brucknell (an X-Factor contestant so I’m told but as you might expect that doesn’t mean a lot to me). Kitty was joined on stage by a pair of male dancers who were, to my knowledge, like nothing St Peter Port has ever seen (at least in quite such a public setting) and it felt somewhat incongruous seeing a chap dancing in a pair of very small trunks emblazoned with what looked like the logo of ‘Clonezone’ in this usually familiar setting – but equally that is, kind of, part of what this was all about.

At that point I bowed out for a nice Thai meal with friends while the ‘official’ party continued, no doubt very enthusiastically, later into the evening, but it was then and after, in reflecting that the importance of this event really struck me.

Buffalo Huddleston at pride

Buffalo Huddleston

Ever since it was announced that Channel Islands Pride was happening in Jersey last year I thought we should have a Guernsey counterpart. Then when that was announced there was no question in my mind that I would take part, at the very least, in the parade and of course enjoy the live music side.

That said, in the world of what Pride is championing, campaigning for and celebrating I couldn’t help but wonder, at times, if this was for me. While my Facebook profile lets my friends know certain of my preferences and I don’t go out of my way to hide anything, with a few exceptions I’ve never felt I’ve so publicly expressed this (keeping with my ongoing public presence the specifics of that I won’t detail for various reasons, mostly because its my business).

Walking through town then, being photographed by seemingly everyone with a smart phone, along with those from the ‘official’ media, did at points make me wonder what anyone who saw me there would think.

'Dolly Parton' at pride

‘Dolly Parton’ on stage

From there I could only figure that it doesn’t matter what they think, for one, and that all I’m doing, whatever my particular sexual orientation or position on the gender spectrum may be (lets be honest on the last note at least a big beard is a bit of a give away) I should be ‘proud’ of it, it shouldn’t be something that I feel (as I have at times) that I should be ashamed of or have to hide.

I know that still not everyone will understand all aspects of this, but that isn’t my problem. Along with this my presence there was to celebrate with my friends and family and their particular situations (varied as they are).

This then extrapolates out that no one, whatever their orientation or identity, should have to hide or feel anything but pride in it in 2016, whether they feel like shouting it from the nearest rooftop or not.

An event like this, while some may see as a small addition to an international movement, is as important (and potentially more so) than its larger more international counterparts as its finally publicly highlighting something that has so often been hidden within Guernsey’s community that, and I speak as a Guernseyman (as seems to be an important factor when making such statements), often doesn’t want to rock the boat or stand up and be seen.

My Progress pride shirt

My Progress pride shirt (for reference)

On top of that while the day was undeniably a celebration and a party it makes a huge statement of a political nature and, hopefully, directly to the island’s politicians, particularly in light of the upcoming debate around equal marriage law in the island, that this is a section of the island’s community that is bigger than they may believe, that has more support than they may believe and that above all is here and that no matter what some might try to argue is made up of all kinds of people from all sides of life.

Maybe this is an obvious statement, but its one that sometimes needs to be reaffirmed and can be easily overlooked, particularly given how recently it is that those in power had no idea about the subject at all, and what better way to do that than a big celebration that is open to anyone and everyone and brought some much-needed newness, colour and vibrancy to our little town.

As my Progress t-shirt proudly said #EveryoneWelcome – This. Is. Progress – and we finally seem to be making some – though there’s still more to do.

At this point I’d like to express my appreciation for the members of Liberate for all their hard work in making this event happen, they have suggested that for it to grow they need a lot more help so if you want to volunteer then give them a shout over on their Facebook page or where ever.

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Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan – Director’s Cut

Star Trek - The Wrath of Khan - Directors CutIn 1982 the Star Trek franchise was, for the second and not the last time, in a problematic state. The original series had been axed more than a decade earlier, two years before its original ‘five-year mission’ was complete, while attempts to revive the show on TV had failed and Star Trek: The Motion Picture had missed the mark somewhat trying to ape 2001 A Space Odyssey but landing in a world newly taken over by the mega-blockbuster that was Star Wars.

So, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn faced some bigger challenges than one might expect; first of all it was relegated to a lower budget, then followed issues with the original TV series cast, at least two of whom were disillusioned with the whole franchise and then there was the fact that the founding father of Trek, Gene Roddenberry, was all but removed from the production.

It’s no secret that despite all this the The Wrath of Khan went on to become arguably the most well-regarded of all the Star Trek movies, to the extent that the ‘second’ of the new run of films (Star Trek Into Darkness) all but replicates it, with far less success.

I’ve seen the film many times but this viewing was a little different as I was watching the recently released director’s cut which adds in new elements from Nicholas Meyer’s original vision for the movie, though, for a film made in many ways by committee and as part of a franchise, a director’s cut is a slightly odd idea.

Ricardo Montalban as Khan

Montalban as Khan

The over arching story and style remain unchanged of course, and its in this that the film really triumphs. While all the actors seem to be delivering their best – even William Shatner’s ‘unique’ delivery style is played in such a way that it feels true, while Leonard Nimoy continues to prove why he became the go-to face of the franchise in more recent years.

It is Ricardo Montalban though who is the highlight. Despite being best known now as a TV actor his performance comes with a gravitas that gives it a Shakespearean flair. This is backed up by the script that draws on classic themes, to the extent of directly lifting lines from Moby Dick. This all sounds like it could be quite ridiculous I admit, but something about Montalban’s performance is pitch perfect and plays off Shatner excellently.

William Shatner as Admiral James T. Kirk

Shatner as Admiral Kirk

As a whole the film focusses on the main trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy well, far more than The Motion Picture, and this is where it’s story comes to life. While Khan is an excellent catalyst it is this trio, particularly Kirk and Spock, where a lot of the real emotional drama lies and there’s good reason why so much of their interaction here is so memorable with a few pieces having entered the general public consciousness more than anything else from the ongoing Trek canon.

Having been made on a comparative shoestring in the early 1980s there are a few moments where the special effects have dated but, for the most part, they stack up well. Having been created by ILM between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi this isn’t too surprising but is good to see none the less and the use of detailed models clearly helps.

Kirk and Spock

Kirk and Spock (Nimoy)

The additions from the director’s cut really serve to add a bit more depth and texture to a few of the ideas that crop up in the drama. These come in the form of old age and death most specifically and, to be honest, the additions are a little heavy-handed but do emphasise the point the director wanted to make, though they are far from essential and the ending, added on originally against the director’s wishes, remains intact.

Beyond that the film remains a stand out, not just as a Star Trek movie but in general, as it romps along like a fast paced adventure, but includes enough of the classic tropes of Trek to keep it clearly part of the same universe and style. While future films in the series may have come close to this combination none have yet surpassed it and I’d be surprised if any ever do manage to capture just what The Wrath of Khan brings to the screen.

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Vale Earth Fair 2016 – Vale Castle – 28/08/16

Asian Dub Foundation at Vale Earth Fair

Asian Dub Foundation

On Sunday 28th August 2016 the Vale Earth Fair staged what was, arguably, its biggest event to date as the centre piece of a year of shows celebrating the festivals 40th anniversary.

Headlined by Asian Dub Foundation, the 12 hour event spanned six stages and most styles you can think of with visiting acts and Channel Islands bands and DJs including the returning TeaspoonriverneckLord VapourToupeThe Correspondents and many more.

My review of the festival was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 3rd 2016 (you can see it below with an easier to read version below that) and you can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

Vale Earth Fair 2016 review - 03/09/16

 

40 years ago an idea was hatched to head up to the Vale Castle with some musicians and spend a summer day raising money and championing good causes while having a good time with some live music.

Teaspoonriverneck at Vale Earth Fair

Teaspoonriverneck

Over the years since 1976 festival culture has emerged with summer in the UK seeing festivals every weekend and, it seems like, every suitable field or open space welcoming music of one kind or another at some point.

With Chaos, Sark Folk Festival, Chateau De Son, Smaashfest, The Gathering and more Guernsey is no different but, through it all, the Vale Earth Fair has retained a certain je ne sais quoi that, in many ways, sets it apart – a bit like our local answer to that godfather of music festivals, Glastonbury.

Having grown to include six stages spanning everything from hip hop to psytrance to punk to stoner rock its fair to say there’s something for everyone and certainly true that its impossible to see and hear everything on offer at the Vale Earth Fair. But here is a recap of what I saw and heard over the course of the 12 hours of the main event.

Elisha Horsepool

Elisha Horsepool

As with last year the live music started on the ‘outside stage’, this year renamed Viewalalu (there’s a joke in there somewhere I’m sure for those who know its location), with a showcase for some of the young musicians from the School of Popular Music.

Much like the rest of ‘SOPM’s work this gave the group of youngsters a unique chance to perform on stage to an audience beyond the confines of the school’s open days and allow the audience a glimpse at the future of Guernsey’s live music scene.

Of the three acts featured today I caught Elisha Horsepool’s solo acoustic set and, while it all sounded good, the highlight came with her final song, an original which showed a conviction and talent that is very promising.

Having made quite an impression on Liberation Day and at a series of other shows since, Equilibrium kicked off the main stage and, after taking a few songs to warm up, sounded better than ever. Another young band they showed more dynamic on stage and set the mood for the music to come despite the first shower of the day sending a few of the audience in search of cover.

Honest Crooks at Vale Earth Fair

Honest Crooks

For reasons that are a bit beyond me one of the hottest bands on the local scene at the moment, Honest Crooks, were second up on the main stage and delivered the first fully confident blast of sound to fill the castle walls.

Despite the early slot it was clear quite a few had turned out early to see them and their super-tight reggae tinged ska-punk got people dancing earlier than I ever remember seeing at the Earth Fair.

Stay Near proved itself a perfect song to help celebrate the festival’s anniversary while a cover of What I Got by Sublime was particularly appropriate as the classic of the genre was released 20 years ago this weekend making for a double birthday.

Heading down the hill to The Busking Stage (where I was putting in a performance) I had my first taste of Problematic who’s grungy, hard rock sounds were a pleasant surprise and certainly lived up to the buzz surrounding them in recent months.

Buffalo Huddleston at Vale Earth Fair

Buffalo Huddleston

Another band with a seemingly unfeasibly early slot on the main stage were Buffalo Huddleston but, much like Honest Crooks, it was clear that a crowd had come specifically to catch the folk-hop juggernaut.

With the sun coming and going all afternoon, Buffalo Huddleston brought the musical sunshine with their relaxed vibes and added some more chilled out elements to their mid-afternoon set and people took little encouragement to get moving to the trademark energetic sounds.

If it was upbeat but relaxed inside the castle walls it was upbeat and furiously energetic on the Viewalalu stage as Jawbone blasted out their blistering brand of punk rock. Back in full on four-piece mode with Steve back on vocals (much to the delight of guitarist Lee’s vocal chords, no doubt), the band had some sound issues to start with but once this cleared up they were their usual shambolic best.

Jawbone at Vale Earth Fair

Jawbone

Along with the usual standout covers from the likes of Rancid, The Damned and Misfits, the highlight of the set came with a new original song that brought to mind the political influence of The King Blues run through a more full on punk filter – I probably can’t repeat them here but some of the lyrics regarding a former prime minister and a farmyard animal were particularly vicious.

Having gained a reputation with support from BBC Introducing and BBC 6Music, She Drew The Gun arrived on the main stage with a certain expectation and, from an opening spoken word piece delivered with forceful conviction by Louisa Roach and touching on many subject close to the heart of the Vale Earth Fair and its followers, delivered from the off.

From there they weaved a course through a set of loosely psychedelic indie-pop that washed over the audience, seeping between the neurones in a way that made them a highlight of the day. While they bore many similarities to many bands who’ve played the Earth Fair over the years they stood out above most and distracted from the rain that chose this time to reach its peak.

She Drew The Gun at Vale Earth Fair

She Drew The Gun

Past festival regulars Toupe made their return to the Viewalalu stage in slightly altered but none the less eccentrically groovy form.

Famous for their dual bass guitar and drums line up, lead bass player Karl is MIA at present so a guitarist has been brought in to replace him – while this gave them a more ‘normal’ line up appearance the music was exactly what we know and love and they got one of the biggest audiences outside the castle walls with the likes of Haircutz and Ninjas getting people grooving along.

If elements of She Drew The Gun tapped into some of the more political and indie side of the Vale Earth Fair’s usual mix, French five-piece Dynamics brought the dubb-y, reggae side out. While not my personal choice of sound the band got a groove going that was clearly infectious around the castle and provided a highlight for many.

The highlights of their set came when they took famous songs and treated them in their own way including a mash-up of White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, The Doors’ Riders On The Storm and Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and their version of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.

Teaspoonriverneck at Vale Earth Fair

Teaspoonriverneck

Toupe weren’t the only band making a come back for this special Earth Fair and the highlight of these returns (and my personal highlight of the day) came in the form of the ‘classic line up’ of fuzz-grunge-rock’n’roll three piece, Teaspoonriverneck.

With a crowd gathered at the front in anticipation the band started slow with George from their self-titled debut album before tearing through a set of their particular brand of doom and stoner infused psychedelic heaviness, spanning their first four releases, that had heads banging throughout, as if they’d never been away.

Riff after riff and hit after hit would be a suitable description of the set but it was Blonde Witch, Truck, Gideon & the Black Jaws, Ribshack Supertwang and stone-cold classic Eaten By The Devil that were the highlights and sounded huge on this stage and gave the day its only real ‘moment’ for me.

Over the past 10 years or so a band called Rumpus have been regular visitors to the Castle but this year they came in slightly different form. Going by the name Heads Off and with a more sociopolitical and punk-y edge the trio brought a set of bass driven eccentric post-rock to the Viewalalu stage.

Heads Off at Vale Earth Fair

Heads Off

Bassist and vocalist Danny Lowe exuded a unique charisma that drew more to the stage as the set went on and as the very loud music began to hammer itself home a few got moving but, despite the excellent performance (including Rumpus favourite Woods), the crowd remained disappointingly small for this very impressive band.

Having previously been a highlight of the Vale Earth Fair just before Buzzcocks provided one of the festival’s most disappointing moments, The Correspondents brought a buzz with them that had drawn many to the Castle Stage in anticipation and the duo of Mr Bruce and Chucks didn’t disappoint.

Combining elements of jazz, hip-hop, drum ’n’ bass and electro to make a kind of Bright Young Things-era electronic pop, the duo were captivating from the off. Mr Bruce is undeniably the visual centre point, dancing in astonishing fashion for the duration and somehow singing and working the crowd and mic at the same time, they brought a real celebratory tone to the event.

The Correspondents at Vale Earth Fair

The Correspondents

Chucks meanwhile works hard behind an array of technology clearly performing as much as his counterpart, just in slightly more understated way, and providing the duo its musical backbone in a way that is likely often overlooked but essential.

Parisian four-piece Porcelain headlined the Viealalu stage with a set of tight, synthy, dark indie that brought to mind Guernsey’s dark-disco pioneers Gay Army. While the music was very well delivered they were only playing to a small (if enthusiastic) crowd that seemed a shame given their place on the bill.

Having reportedly been on the Vale Earth Fair Collective’s list of wanted acts for many years there was genuine excitement about the arrival of Asian Dub Foundation to close out the main stage.

This anticipation was soon transferred into an enormous energy flowing back and forth between the band and audience as a huge mash-up of genres filled the castle. Heralded as one of the best live bands in existence they certainly backed up this claim and closed off an already celebratory event on a high.

Lord Vapour at Vale Earth Fair

Lord Vapour

Speaking of closing things on a high, as I headed down the hill from the Castle stoner rockers Lord Vapour were still getting loud and fuzzy on the Viewalalu stage.

This highlighted how the Vale Earth Fair has always brought some of the biggest names to the island while also giving new bands a chance to reach a broader audience, all while championing good causes.

So, heres to another forty years!

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Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused posterThe genre of the teen coming of age comedy has had its up and downs. Often mired in gross out or lost in sentimentality, much like the process they reflect these movies can be notoriously messy. When they get it right thought it can be a genre that is timeless, nostalgic and like no other and, with Dazed and Confused, that is just what writer/director Richard Linklater achieved.

Geographically and historically this is set far from my own experience, being based on the other side of the world in Texas and in 1976, the year my own father was doing the Guernsey equivalent of graduating high school. However, with this tale of the last day of school and the first night of summer, Linklater combines just enough realism with a good dose of archetype, to make this work.

As the sounds of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion play we are dropped into the midst of this hectic 24 hours and it is strangely instantly familiar. Seniors face the challenges of leaving school, others have worries about the next year’s sports team or grades, while the incoming freshmen equally dread and relish the new-found seniority coming their way.

To portray this Linklater assembled a huge cast of characters each of whom fits a familiar archetype that, even this far away, are recognisable. There are jocks, cheerleaders, stoners, nerds and the yet to be socially assigned freshmen, but, where other films keep the divisions between these groups clear, in Dazed and Confused they intermingle and merge, to a degree, presenting something far more reminiscent of the reality of school.

Dazed and Confused - Sasha Jenson, McConaughey, London and Wiggins

Sasha Jenson, McConaughey, London and Wiggins

Of course everything here is heightened and the film is a comedy, though thankfully not in the gross out sense of many, seemingly cramming a whole summer into this shorter period, it’s as much about atmosphere and feeling as it is story and it creates this expertly.

We are lead on the journey by Jason London’s Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd and Wiley Wiggins’ Mitch Kramer, at very different but intersecting ends of the social spectrum and, while none of the characters are wholly developed, we get just enough detail to know who they are.

Amongst the huge cast there are standouts, Ben Affleck is notable for his early film appearance as the school’s biggest bully of freshmen, but, despite his relatively small time on-screen it is Matthew McConaughey, as David Wooderson, who remains most vividly in the imagination with the still trademark ‘Alright, alright, alright’ and as the elder statesmen of the group, a kind of Fonz for the next generation.

Dazed and Confused - Esteban Powell, Affleck and Wiggins

Esteban Powell, Affleck and Wiggins

Equipped with seemingly all the worldly knowledge the teens seek and a hook up on a beer bash and potential Aerosmith tickets – a pair of holy grails – he is a beacon of a kind of hope, though in reflection, much like Arthur Fonzerelli, it’s clear he could easily become a tragic figure of arrested development, stuck reliving his past… But that’s a negative thought and far from what this is all about.

If there’s any criticism could be levelled at the film its that most of the female characters are even less developed than their male counterparts, but as this is Linklater’s view of teenage life this is likely a reflection of the archetypal teenage boys view of the world that adds to the over all feeling of the film.

By its conclusion as a long summer (and no doubt some first hangovers) beckon, and a car containing, Floyd, Wooderson and others heads off into the sunrise to get those concert tickets, Dazed and Confused acts as a pinnacle of nostalgic youthful exuberance on-screen. Who needs a story and fully rounded characters, we didn’t have those at that age, this is all about spontaneity, feeling and, dare I say it, Sweet Emotion, and its captures those like nothing else.

And because the whole soundtrack is great and this is an excellent intro to a movie, here’s the Sweet Emotion opening montage:

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: August 2016 – Clameur De Haro and Vale Earth Fair Preview

Clameur De Haro in the BBC Introducing Guernsey studio

Clameur De Haro in the BBC Introducing Guernsey studio

Click here to listen to the show

Summer festival season continues in full swing with this month’s BBC Introducing Guernsey radio show as I welcomed a band who’ve played all the big ones so far and I take a look ahead to the Vale Earth Fair’s 40th Anniversary.

Clameur de Haro have already played Chaos, Sark Folk Festival and The Gathering (amongst a lot of other gigs) this summer and still have Smaashfest and more to come. They joined me in the studio to have a chat and record a session of three of their own songs and one a pop-rock classic given their own unique ‘bluegrass’ treatment.

With the Vale Earth Fair marking its 40th birthday I looked ahead to the festival on Sunday 28th August with tracks for the likes of TeaspoonriverneckBuffalo HuddlestonFlexagon and more.

You can listen to the show by clicking here for 30 days after the first broadcast.

Tracklist

 

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The Doomsday Project’s final show – The Vault – 19/08/16

The Doomsday Project with Sophie Mahy

The Doomsday Project with Sophie Mahy

After 6 years together as a band and four years gigging regularly around Guernsey, pop-punk outfit The Doomsday Project called it a day with a show at The Vault on Friday 19th August 2016.

Having started off as one of the youngest independently gigging bands in the island they gave newcomers Rogue, a band in a similar position now, the support slot and the bar was packed all evening.

My review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 27th August 2016 and you can see a gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Facebook page.

You can also read my review of The Doomsday Project’s first public gig here

Doomsday Project and Rogue review 2 - 27/08/16

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