Monthly Archives: July 2012

Spoon Fest

Teaspoonriverneck at Spoon Fest – Photo by Tom Girard, courtesy BBC Introducing Guernsey

On Saturday 28th July 2012 Guernsey-based groove rockers Teaspoonriverneck launched their own mini-festival at The Fermain Tavern.

The night featured music from the band themselves along with Benny The Moth, FalenizzaHorsepower, Gay Army, The Deadbeats and The Id Shade as well as DJ’s Livingstone and myself (tonight billed as Tommy G).

My review of the show was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 4th August and you can read it by clicking on the scan below:

and you can read my piece on it for BBC Introducing Guernsey (featuring an interview with Brett and Steve of Teaspoonriverneck) by clicking the screen grab below.

In the mean time click on the photo below (of The DeadBeats) to see a gallery of my photos from Spoon Fest.

Elliott from Guernsey Gigs was also put together this video of the night as well:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

BBC Introducing Guernsey: July 2012 – More Festivals

Lifejacket at Chaos

Tonight was the July edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey in which I tried to fit about 3 hours of material into a 2 hour show.

I looked back at the Sark Folk Festival (review here) and Chaos (review here) and looked ahead to the Vale Earth Fair which is coming up at the end of August.

Anyway, you can listen to the show for the next week here, and here is the tracklist:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Dark Knight Rises

Nolan, Bale and co do it again on film number three and genuinely round off the trilogy in both surprising and satisfying fashion.

For anyone who reads or listens to my ramblings on this blog it will probably come as no surprise that I’m something of a fan of comic books and their associated movies (yes even some of the really bad ones… see Captain America 1990).

So, it was with a major sense of excitement and anticipation that I ventured into the cinema to watch the third installment of what has become known as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

From the start this was clearly pretty much the opposite of Marvel’s big summer offering, The Avengers, but at the same time managed to be equally as engaging and enjoyable, just in a very, very different way.

The thing that strikes me most about the film, that doesn’t involve massive spoilers, is the way it at once manages to be one of the most comic book like movies I’ve seen in a long time, in terms of plot, structure and style, while also delivering the something different that has become the mark of Nolan’s Bat-movies, with a genuine sense of reality around the comic book tropes.

While the first in the Dark Knight Trilogy is an origin story and the second goes off the rails (in a good way) in many ways thanks to The Joker and Two-Faces mayhem, this is an exploration of post 9/11 terrorism as well as being a great story about the Batman.

The notion of exploring terrorism is an interesting one because throughout the movie I got the sense that this was something of a comment on religious fundamentalist terrorism, particularly dealing with the notion that such things can come from anywhere, but, as ever here they do come from a ‘foreign’ land despite what seems to be an English accent under Bane’s mask.

However, upon talking to a few other people, they saw the ideas and ideals of Bane as being a criticism of the Occupy and 99% movements. While I can see how you could reach this conclusion, personally, I saw Bane’s actions as, if anything, being a criticism of those who have used the Occupy movement for their own gain, twisting ideas and ideals, in much the same way as religious fundamentalist terrorism arguably twists its religious basis.

Christopher Nolan on set

Away from the issues, which also continue the standard Batman thread of dealing with loss, my only thought on the story (which won’t take us into spoiler territory) is that, for those less involved with the DC universe than myself, I wonder how much sense a lot of it might make.

While I was able to revel in the references and pick up on the details relating to characters back-stories from both the film and the comics, and the clear references to three of my favourite epic arcs in Batman comic book history, to those less initiated I wonder if some of the exposition may have been confusing and somewhat over the top and too many characters introduced without necessary explanation?

Though that would be for less initiated Bat-fans to let me know…

Tom Hardy as Bane

In terms of the new characters, when it comes to main ones, Nolan once again delivers some excellent interpretations that may well actually out do his takes on Joker and Two-Face from The Dark Knight.

Most obviously there is Bane.

While in the comics he is a mercenary who is clearly hyper intelligent and both a physical and mental match for Batman, he also, somewhat bizarrely, seems to be wearing a pro-wrestling outfit with luchdore mask.

Here he is transformed into a mercenary/terrorist who is on a par with Batman and, thankfully, has replaced the spandex with body armour, combat trousers and a fantastic fur-lined coat, along with a face mask which makes him look like some kind of monster, creating an almost direct opposite, both in terms of appearance and mentality, to The Batman.

While The Joker also presented an opposite to the Bat, that was in terms of control and chaos, here it is terms of how someone with the same ‘powers’ would come out if their moral compass was flipped, which creates yet another interesting antagonist, following on from Ra’s Al Ghul and the aforementioned Clown Prince of Crime.

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle

The other new character we meet is Selina Kyle, known more commonly in the comics as Catwoman.

Here, Anne Hathaway creates a version of Kyle clearly referencing elements of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which has had a strong influence on this whole trilogy, and keeping alive the idea from the comics that Kyle is not just a villain.

In fact, she has an almost Han Solo type arc here, which is refreshing and, much like Bane, The Joker and Two-Face, serves to highlight elements of the Batman/Bruce Wayne character.

Speaking of The Batman, and the other returning characters, they are all once again expertly portrayed and build on the foundations laid in the previous two movies, but there isn’t much that can be said about their developments without directly referencing the plot and, therefore, spoilers.

So, in the end, for me, The Dark Knight Rises is an excellent piece of cinema combining comic book conventions with big blockbusters with that extra something that Christopher Nolan has become known for and it winds up the trilogy excellently… does it out do the original Star Wars as my favourite trilogy?… just maybe!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chaos 2012 – The Review

So, finally in my coverage of the 2012 Chaos here is my full review of the weekend.

A shortened version appeared in The Guerney Press on Saturday 21st July which you can see here, but my extended cut featuring all the bands I had a chance to see is below along with links to videos and photos of the festival.

Last weekend a load of bands and bikers headed to a field up at Pleinmont for three days of music, motorcycles and mayhem at the 8th annual Greenman MCC Chaos weekend.

With more the 50 bands, DJs and solo acts (and countless other goings on) I tried to take in as much as I could but, inevitably I missed some things, so here are my most memorable moments of Chaos 2012.

Friday

Photos from Friday

Fi and Claire in The Peace Tent

Following my alter ego, The Phantom Cosmonaut’s, performance that kicked off the live music for the weekend in The Peace Tent, the first act I got to see was Fi and Claire.

Playing only their second proper gig as duo, they nailed the tone for The Peace Tent on the Friday afternoon as people just arriving at the festival relaxed on the sofas with those who’d been there all week setting up.

The duo combined a Stevie Nicks-esque like vocal style with some unique guitar playing to create a sound unlike anyone else in Guernsey at the moment, mixing chilled out acoustic sounds with a hint of 70s soft rock.

Things shifted up several gears as the Discharge Stage kicked off with young metallers Distant Shores later in the afternoon.

Their brand of modern thrash with a hint of classic metal has been something I’ve admired for a while and they instantly seemed comfortable on the bigger stage blasting through an impressive set.

James Holmes of Distant Shores

They attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd, despite their early set time, and started the weekend’s heavier music with style, at least until a power outage cut the set in two somewhat unceremoniously, but this didn’t seem to deter anyone and soon power was restored and the set continued.

The power outage also effected The Peace Tent briefly but led to a fantastic moment as Mark, aka Songs In The Key of G, performed a couple of songs in pure acoustic style up close to the audience in the tent which really suited his Against Me meets Frank Turner sound.

In the Beer Tent the first band I caught were Skid Rue whose glam rock covers seemed to go down well in the early evening, but, it was singer Stace Blondel who stole the show as he wielded a sledgehammer and then made his way up the lighting rig, despite the organiser’s protestations, as ever putting on a show and, remarkably, keeping the singing going throughout while the band played away below.

Bloody Mary

Metal was the order of things for the rest of the night with Brutus Stonefist delivering a solid, if slight disappointing, performance compared to their usual outings and then The Peppered Ant Legs bringing their heavy set to Chaos with Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Metallica all getting an airing and getting quite a few headbanging along.

Out on the Discharge Stage the night was rounded off by a double header of visiting bands as French act Bloody Mary gave us some excellent heavy blues-infused metallic rock and Jersey’s Stan Smith once again proved why they are one of the Channel Islands best Metal bands; storming the stage in a non-stop assault that left everyone watching enthusiastic for what was to come, despite the somewhat wet and windy weather.

Saturday

Photos from Saturday

As I returned to the site on Saturday lunchtime the weather had turned and the mud was drying up as Phil Capper kicked off the music on the Discharge Stage, and as ever he sounded great, despite playing to possibly the weekend’s smallest audience.

Twelve Ton trouble

New band Twelve Ton Trouble started things in the Beer Tent with some blues-rock sounds.

Led by Robert J Hunter, who has been playing this stuff solo for a couple of years, the addition of a backing band has really taken his material into a new realm and suits his style even more. The band’s mix of previous experience in pop punk and blues bands also adds an extra element to their sound which makes for something a bit different to a standard blues-rock outfit.

Southampton’s Grant Sharkey provided a great mix of music and comedy banter next, armed only with an electric double bass and a mic, and got the weekend’s most unlikely cheers out of the phrase “Higgs Boson”.

Back in The Peace Tent and Lydia Pugh was on stage proving her versatility at bringing great music and a great atmosphere to another festival. Much like her set in Sark a few weeks ago, Lydia was relaxed on stage and interacting with the crowd making her performance an always enjoyable experience as she mixed original songs with relaxed covers and helped build the already fantastic atmosphere The Peace Tent is known for.

Pirate Party Brigade

Relaxed was not in order on the Discharge Stage though as Jersey’s Pirate Party Brigade did their best to get the mid-afternoon crowd bouncing with their ska-gypsy-punk (maybe it’s pirate-punk?) sound. Having never seen this band before I had no idea what to expect but was instantly drawn to them and when they let off a confetti cannon mid-song I knew these guys not only had the music but the show to really be worth catching properly in future.

Next up was the bike show, which saw awards, handed out for the best bikes on the site and the obligatory burnout contest. While, personally, I still don’t really get the whole thing with burnouts it always draws a big crowd and if nothing else reminds everyone that this is a bike show as well as a music festival and without the bikes and the Greenman MCC we wouldn’t have this great little event, so thanks guys!

As the bike show was still going on Tantale had the unenviable task of playing the Discharge Stage. While they may have been fighting the burnouts as their set started they still sounded good and despite the crowd being small they still seemed to be enjoying themselves on stage and those who did stick around to watch seemed to be enjoying the music too.

Heave

Soon after The Peace Tent was the place to be as people packed in to the witness the two-man riff machine that is Heave play only their second show in Guernsey, and they weren’t disappointed. Steve and Neil’s brand of sludgy riff driven metallic rock ‘n’ roll is unlike any other in the island and proved a major highlight of the weekend for many.

Marking a year as a band, Lifejacket hit the Discharge stage in the early evening and tore through their set of original hard indie tunes with aplomb.

As well as the now tried and tested originals they debuted a new song with the killer chorus line of “I love celebrities, celebrities are better than me!” delivered with the bile filled ironic sneer that marks out Andy Sauvage’s performances from many others.

Andy Sauvage of Lifejacket

Ending on their now customary cover of Mclusky’s Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues left their set on a high and, as ever, I’m very much looking forward to their new material and the recording they are threatening to make.

Heading into the evening Thee Jenerators unveiled their new line up, now featuring Dom Laine on bass, and delivered one of their best performances in some time mixing new and old material, which got the crowd dancing from the start, as frontman Mark Le Gallez, now freed up from behind his Vox Phantom bass, took the opportunity to join the crowd for a few songs, and be the second performer of the weekend to scale the lighting rig.

The first of the evening’s visiting headliners were up next in the form of crushing metal band Godsized.

Combining a comparatively ‘radio friendly’ style of metal with a crushing southern stoner style the band delivered an impressive and powerful performance filling the stage in a way only a band of this sort can and attracting many headbangers to the front.

Jack Fletcher of She Haunts The Roads

On the Discharge Stage there was a double whammy of metal to round off the night, first were local southern metalcore quintet She Haunts The Roads who played one of their most enjoyable and engaging sets yet, with Jack Fletcher clearly relaxed and comfortable on the large stage and delivering a more varied vocal performance than usual which complemented Tom Domaille’s more hardcore vocal style excellently.

They were followed by Viking Skull who, from what I saw of their set, showed why they have become one of the most celebrated live acts on the UK metal circuit.

Closing their set with a barrage of crushingly heavy and groovy songs my only criticism of this year’s headliners was that I wanted to watch all of them but ended up missing bits of each trying to see them all.

It was down to The Roughneck Riot to headline in the Beer Tent and they did it with superb style, mixing folk and punk rock with banjos and accordions alongside guitars and rabble rousing vocals, the Manchester based band got the crowd going for the whole of their set including the creation of a human pyramid and, ending on a rendition of I Fought The Law, left Saturday night at Chaos on a high.

Sunday

Photos from Sunday

The Black Vote

Quite often Sunday at Chaos has been a more relaxed and loose affair, but this year the stage in the Beer Tent was handed over to Mark Guillou for a day based around his Rock of Ages events.

Highlights of the afternoon came from The Black Vote who trod the fine line between control and all out mayhem in one of their best sets I’ve experienced yet. And So Cold, The River and Elmer Henley took things to an extra level of heavy in fine style with both bands showing Guernsey still has a strong extreme metal edge.

While the Beer Tent was rocking The Peace Tent continued it eclectic ways as The Id Shade and Tonight The Skies played a great set of semi-acoustic chillout sounds to an audience clearly in need of a little R&R.

Games in The Peace Tent

Later in the afternoon things got a little bit more energetic as compere Jonny O led some of the inhabitants of the tent in some games, including how many people can we fit in a Wendy House (apparently its 5 and the house explodes on 6) and hunt the Gollop (staring Guernsey’s most recognisable and ‘game for a laugh’ politician John Gollop).

This energetic approach was well complemented by the lighthearted sound of The Ukuladeez. While I will admit I didn’t quite get this group of ladies with ukuleles when I first saw them at the Vale Earth Fair last year, they have found their niche within Guernsey’s music scene and in an environment like The Peace Tent fit in excellently.

Gordie and Dave of No Paparazzi

Back in the Beer Tent and, for me, the day really belonged to the veteran headliners Pete Frampton’s Badge and The Risk, following an outing from No Paparazzi.

This was my first chance to see the ‘new look’ No Paparazzi and while they were still a great band they seemed to lack a certain something that they possessed when Lucy Hill was behind the mic.

None-the-less, new frontman Shaun nailed the rockier material the band are now playing, particularly the Led Zeppelin numbers, and lead guitarist Gordie Liu proved himself still a demon on the six string.

Pete Frampton

Pete Frampton and his band of familiar faces played an excellent set based around Eric Clapton’s back catalogue next, which showed just why people still get excited about seeing the man who began his musical in Guernsey in the late 1960s and headliners, The Risk, stormed the night in stripped down three-piece mode which tore through their back catalogue and wasn’t even derailed by a bass string needing replacing mid set as drummer Ozzy took over with an extended drum solo.

As the set continued Mark Guillou and Steve Lynch joined Mark, Colin and Ozzy on stage to provide some ‘air brass’ antics before The Risk were joined by Pete Frampton for a cover of Born To Be Wild (Mark Le Gallez: “I think it’s in E and we play it a bit faster than usual, but you might have guessed that”) and a suitably noise drenched encore of Twilight Zone, which rounded off yet another great weekend of live music.

The Risk with Pete Frampton

It’s weekends like this that prove how spoilt we are for great music on this island as this is our third festival in less than a month and we still have the Vale Earth Fair to come.

For anyone who thinks Guernsey doesn’t have good original local live music, or that’s there is nothing to do over here, I defy them to say that after a month like we’ve just had!

All photos by Tom Girard and all but “Games in The Peace Tent” courtesy BBC Guernsey

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chaos 2012 – BBC Introducing

Following this weekend’s Chaos festival I wrote the following article for BBC Introducing Guernsey.

Find out where to see photos and videos here.

Godsized at Chaos – Photo by Tom Girard, courtesy BBC Guernsey

Guernsey’s Chaos Festival success praised by organisers

For the eighth year in a row Chaos took over Pleinmont from the 13th to 15th July as a festival was held celebrating music and motorbikes.

The Greenman MCC’s annual get-together has grown in recent years into a fully fledged music festival in its own right and club member and organiser, OzyChris, said this year’s event had been “fantastic”.

“We had a little bit of rough weather earlier on but it’s been great and everyone seems to have really enjoyed it,” he said.

Chaos saw more than 50 bands, solo performers and DJs from Guernsey, Jersey, the UK and France make appearances across three stages…
Continue reading (featuring Lifejacket, Distant Shores and Stace of Choke and Skid Rue)…

Listen to a brief snippet of my coverage of Chaos on BBC Guernsey with Kay Langlois here (scroll through to 1 hour 11 minutes)

Watch videos of the weekend here.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chaos 2012 – photos and videos

Heave destroying The Peace Tent – Photo by Tom Girard, courtesy BBC Introducing Guernsey

This weekend saw Chaos return to Pleinmont in Guernsey for an 8th year.

With three stages and more than 50 bands, solo performers and DJs and a load of motorbikes, it was a great weekend of all sorts of music and mayhem.

Over the next few days I’m going to be posting videos and reviews of the festival but to start you off here are the links to my photos of the weekend taken for BBC Introducing Guernsey.

Chaos 2012 – Day One

Chaos 2012 – Day Two

Chaos 2012 – Day Three

My videos are on my YouTube Channel, you can view them on the channel or in this playlist:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Crowman – Songs From The Three-Eyed Crow

The Crowman recently released his debut album through Twist Records and I reviewed it for the Guernsey Press (published on Saturday 14th July 2012).

The album is available online here (amongst other places) and for a taster of the sort of thing on the album, here is The Crowman playing at this year’s Sark Folk Festival:

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Andy Serkis steals the show but is given a good run for his money by Bill Milner as Baxter Dury in this irreverent, and possibly entirely fictional, look at the life of Blockheads leader, Ian Dury.

When I first came to Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, when it was released on DVD in 2010, I didn’t have that great a knowledge of Ian Dury and the Blockheads beyond a couple of the big singles and the fact that they were one of the slightly different bands lumped in with the first wave of UK punk.

Well, after watching this movie for a second time, I’m not sure I actually know that much more about the band or not, but, as Andy Serkis’ Ian Dury says at the start of the film, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”.

So we are treated to a rollercoaster ride of a life from Dury’s birth in flashback and his son, Baxter’s, in ‘the present’ to the point where the Blockheads release Spasticus Austisticus as an anthem for the UN’s Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 (with a few temporal detours along the way).

Across the film we see a snapshot of pretty much every facet of Dury in his adult life, from his relationships with his children, wife and girlfriend to the bizarre hybrid of anarchy and dictatorship with which he ran his bands, starting here with the brilliantly named ‘pub-rock’ outfit, Kilburn and the Highroads.

The most striking thing about the film from the start is Serkis’ performance which creates a version of Ian Dury that teeters between the man himself and a version of him designed specifically to tell this version of his story.

But, from the start, where he performs an extract of Billericay Dickie, it is an astonishing feat of performance, especially considering Dury’s unique gait and stage stance due to contracting polio in his youth.

As a music fan the performance is particularly enhanced for me by the musical elements where, rather than miming to the original recordings, Serkis performs as Dury in a series of asides in a music hall style theatre which add to the air of uncertainty around the truthfulness of the tale being told.

The other element of the film that stands out is how it is, in many ways, as much the story of Baxter Dury’s childhood as it is the story of Ian’s musical career.

Baxter is played brilliantly here by Bill Milner who deals with the issues raised in the movie, including emotional scenes relating to his often absent father, bullying and drug use, amazingly for an actor who was no more than 14 at the time of filming.

While most of the film is an uplifting romp of a story through increasing levels of ridiculousness that backs up the notion that Spinal Tap is closer to the truth that anyone could believe, it also has a darker side.

This is dealt with in a highly effective way that, while it doesn’t really say much that’s new on the subjects it deals with; none-the-less raises them in a context which might make them accessible to a new audience.

This is particularly highlighted by the over arching theme embodied by the song Spasticus Autisticus relating to Dury’s treatment in a hospital for disabled children in his youth, which ends up with him returning to the hospital, subsequently transformed into a nurturing school, to lead a music session in a particularly liberating scene, though as with the films rollercoaster nature this is quickly turned on its head as Dury expresses delight at the suicide of one of the wardens who victimized him in his youth.

In the end Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll tells its story in the manner that it seems Ian Dury lived his life, full of emotional and physical ups and downs that created some great music and it never becomes a factor that we don’t know how much of this tale is the truth, because I, at least, was left with the feeling that the spirit is exactly accurate to the life of the man who gave us classic songs like Sweet Gene Vincent, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3).

And as I’ve mentioned it a few times, this is Spasticus Autisticus:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Amazing Spider-Man

With a reboot a mere five years after Spider-Man 3, Marvel and Sony prove that Spidey needed rebooting and something new could be added to the mythos.

Before I headed into the cinema tonight I will freely admit that I wasn’t sure that Spider-Man really needed rebooting yet, after all it was only 5 years ago that we were subjected to Spider-Man 3, which tarnished the legacy of the Sam Raimi/Toby Maguire trilogy by being, frankly, awful and wasting a couple of great villains in a mess of a movie.

So could director Marc Webb and his team, including 28-year-old Andrew Garfield as 17-year-old Peter Parker, add something new to the ‘Spidey-verse’ and bring some life back to the cinematic incarnation of this character?

Well, I’m happy to say, the simple answer is very much yes.

What the team behind this version of your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man has done has taken elements of the original comic, elements of the Ultimate run of the comics and elements of the Sam Raimi movies to create a new version of the characters that is still suitably reverential to the source.

The first thing that the movie does which works very well is introduce the back story of Spidey’s family in a slightly tweaked way which hints at what is to come before fast forwarding to Peter Parker as the geeky teenager he was always meant to be.

It’s here that Garfield really steals show as, despite being more than 10 years older than Peter, he is genuinely convincing as the teenager and I think this is where the film really works best, as it gives the whole thing a heart that is very much-needed and is a strong part of the Spider-Man comic books.

Accompanied by Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey, delivering an equally spot on performance, they form an emotional heart to the story which works much better than the Peter Parker/Mary-Jane Watson relationship ever did in Sam Raimi’s film which, by the end, is near heartbreaking – especially for a formerly teenage geek like me.

Away from the emotional bits the film delivers big on the action too with The Lizard (aka Dr Curt Conners), as played by Rhys Ifans, working as a surprisingly effective villain who is given a few nice touches of a fabulously crazy split personality and a largely inexplicable, but perfectly suitable, underground lair.

As the film moves on and the action set pieces become the main thing, there was only one moment where it seemed to fall into CGI things hitting each other, but this was soon brought back down to earth and it never sinks as low as the likes of Transformers as all the set up (which does take quite a while) gives the fight scenes a sense of fear and emotion for Peter, Gwen and Dr Connors alongside the spectacle of Spidey vs The Lizard.

With supporting performances from Martin Sheen and Sally Field that really ground Peter Parker/Spider-Man in a family unit it makes for the best adaptation of the Spidey story on-screen yet and, with a sequel inevitably in the works, I hope they can keep up the balance between the Peter/Gwen relationship and the Spidey/villain events as well as they have here.

(Seeing Willem Defoe back as Green Goblin without the pointless helmet would make the sequel pretty much perfect too, but I think that might be wishful thinking on my part).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sark Folk Festival 2012 – Review

For a third year in a row Sark Folk Festival proved itself to be an amazing mix of music and atmosphere over three and a bit days (warning this is a long review, if you make it all the way through, I’m going to say thanks now!)

Take a look at some videos from some of the bands on this YouTube playlist.

Thursday

The Crowman got the music started at the Bel Air

The journey over to Sark is often a slightly exciting one as the seas between the islands have a habit of getting a bit lumpy, but, despite strong winds, my trip over to the 2012 Sark Folk Festival on Thursday 28th June was remarkably calm.

Once we’d gone through the usual process of finding out which tractor was best to drop luggage off at its ultimate destination it was onto the ‘toast rack’ (the tractor driven bus) to get up the hill. It was at this point that the unique atmosphere of Sark struck me and I felt the all the weight had lifted off my shoulders marking the start of a nice relaxing weekend – even though I was on BBC Introducing duty so, technically, working.

At the top of the hill I headed over the Bel Air pub where the music kicked off and really wasn’t going to stop for the next three days.

It all started when The Crowman, who was armed with an array of instruments on the back of his Crowcycle, decided that a spot of impromptu busking was in order. This got a few of the assembled drinkers clapping along and soon the guitar was being shared round for a few of those who knew how to play to have a go.

This sense of sharing and everyone getting involved was something else that was to continue all weekend and is one of things that really sets this festival apart from most others I have attended.

The Bel Air Session in full swing

As the evening continued more arrived at the Bel Air, either from Guernsey, or from setting up the festival on the other side of the island, armed with an array of instruments from guitars and banjos to bodhrans and hurdy-gurdies and everyone with an instrument got involved in the ‘session’.

I got to have a go thanks to the Ten Toe Hobo (aka Dave Etherington) who kindly leant me his guitar and it was quite an experience trying to play along and improvise with some excellent and much more experienced musicians – certainly one I want to try again.

After a somewhat sudden lights out moment at the Bel Air it was time for a trek back across the small island to the “witch’s house” (where Annie was kind enough to let me stay for the weekend). As we passed the old mill Daz suggested we take a look inside and for a few moments I was “the highest person in the Channel Islands” with a spectacular view across the trees back to Guernsey and over to Jersey.

Friday

Photos of Friday at the festival.

Mick Le Huray kicked off the Festival

Friday was the official start of the festival and, despite the heavy rain in the morning while some of the volunteers hurried to set up their tents, the atmosphere as the festival officially opened was already great with all the volunteers putting the finishing touches to the flags and making sure the sound systems were ready for the music.

Musically things kicked off the way they had in previous years with a stalwart of the Guernsey acoustic scene. For 2012 it was the turn of Mick Le Huray who put in a sterling performance for the small, but quickly growing, crowd highlighted by his original song Five Long Years (as featured on the GBG#3 album).

From there I decided to give the weekend over to serendipity (save for a few acts I knew I had to catch) and its first work took me up the hill to the Tintageu Stage which was to once again prove one of the real highlights of the festival.

Opening this small stage was a group of familiar faces, albeit in a slightly different arrangement, Blue Gypsy Revolution.

Playing an acoustic rock-y end of folk, they set a high standard for the stage which was maintained all weekend and suited the atmosphere of the afternoon brilliantly.

At this point I should probably point out I didn’t see one act that I would consider anything less than very good all weekend, so the rest of this review is going to very much of the positive sort.

The Recks

Heading back into the main tent I caught a couple of tunes James Dumbleton (and a few guests) which were, as ever, very well performed and help show how good the more traditional sound of mandolins and fiddles can be without the need for an acoustic guitar, and then it was time for Sark’s own – The Recks.

Being their third gig in three days the band were clearly well relaxed playing together and brought the party atmosphere to proceedings for the first, but certainly not the last, time.

While not strictly folk The Recks mix folk elements with swing, funk and rock ‘n’ roll in, what I can only describe as, uplifting party music to create an excellent sound unique amongst Channel Islands bands and I’m not surprised that in their short time together they have received nothing but positive reviews and some high profile gigs – I just can’t wait to see them again!

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine continued to up the party atmosphere with a storming performance. Mixing folk with rock the band who can be relied on to liven up any event pulled out all the stops this evening and really seem to thrive on this bigger stage and with an enthusiastic crowd in front of them.

Lisa and Chris of the Space Pirates

The band’s repertoire of original songs has grown over the last couple of years to impressive standards and the addition of wah pedal to Tim’s mandolin added an extra dimension to a couple of songs as the Pirates provided not only my highlight of the day, but one of my highlights of the whole weekend.

In between tasting some of the excellent veggie food on offer from the Harbour Café’s table in the food tent I caught a couple of Lucy Ward’s songs and immediately decided I needed to get her album. The winner of the Horizon award at the Radio 2 Folk Awards Lucy combines a unique voice with some excellent musicianship to make a really good sound that, along with her between song banter with the crowd, is well worth catching if you get the chance.

Despite the wind (and occasional rain) I headed back up to the Tintageu Stage during Lucy’s performance to catch Lydia Pugh.

Though she is one of Guernsey’s hardest gigging musicians it seems I only ever get round to catching Lydia at the summer festivals and tonight it seemed the intimate nature of the Sark Folk Festival’s outdoor stage was suited perfectly to her music as we all gathered in close to get out of the rain and wind.

Highlights of Lydia’s set included a cover of Incubus’ Wish You Were Here, along with a selection of original songs which mixed an easy listening (in the best sense) and folk-ish vibe with a sense of the island she calls home.

Rune

Back in the tents and Anglo-Irish band Rune were headlining the Vermerette Stage with a very traditional sound that still managed to prove why folk music is often quite clearly a forerunner to modern dance music and rock as, despite the somewhat downbeat subject matter of the songs, many in the audience were soon clapping along and, had it been a different environment (or on the festivals Alligande Stage) I think many would have been up and dancing.

With that my Friday came to end (sadly my body deciding to go into shut down meant I missed The Shee, though I heard good things from those who caught them) and I headed back along Sark’s fabulously dark lanes to the Witch’s House.

Saturday

Photos from Saturday at the festival.

Saturday is the main day of the festival, when the site fills to its maximum capacity (somewhere around 1,200 in the middle of the afternoon) and the music lasts for a full 13 hours from half past 10 in the morning until 11:30 at night.

Burg

My day kicked off with Burg on the Tintageu Stage. Familiar from his work with many bands, including Teaspoonriverneck and Thee Jenerators, Burg (armed today with Black Bess, a hollow body Gretsch with a fantastic tone) plays a mix of country and blues sounds in a manner that feels amazingly genuinely for a Guernseyman and adds yet another string to his musical bow.

Tonight The Skies had the job or starting the live music on the Vermerette Stage today and did so by stripping down their electronic folk rock to a purely acoustic performance which served to show their songs off in a slightly new, but equally satisfying, light.

With the promise of a debut album soon I’m very interested to hear what this two-piece can do when not ‘restricted’ by the live environment.

While midday at most festivals I’ve been to is when people started to appear, bleary eyed, into the world, at Sark Folk Festival by midday the site was already filling up and the atmosphere was already high with much anticipation of the great music to come.

I don’t think the atmosphere at Sark Folk Festival can be overstated, as it seems everyone from the casual festivalgoers to the volunteers and crew were in a good mood all weekend, even when things may have been getting stressful and busy for those working and helping out. This atmosphere was in full effect by early Saturday afternoon and it is something that really marks this (and Guernsey’s other small festivals, particularly Chaos) out from the mega-corporate affairs that many festivals have become.

Bruise

Anyway back to the music and husband and wife duo Bruise made an excellent racket on the Vermerette Stage in the early afternoon. While a White Stripes comparison may be a bit cheap, this guitar and drums band did have something of the Detroit duo’s energy, but with a generally mellower and more approachable air with a hint of folk in the mix too which made for a really good sound and performance.

Back up the Tintageu Stage it was time for some folk storytelling with A Day Before Thursday who take some very old and traditional songs and deliver them in their own unique acoustic style, which emphasises the narrative aspect of the music along with some excellent guitar work from Sim.

The duo were also joined for a couple of tunes by Emma Weldon on fiddle today as she did her best to appear with as many different bands as possible over the course of the weekend and brought something extra and exceptional to every set she graced.

Next on the Alligande Stage it was time for something a bit different, and certainly not folk, as Scottish youngsters Act Natural hit the stage.

Act Natural

Spending the weekend working as volunteers the band seemed to have been given slot in return for their work and trip down from Glasgow and, despite not being the right sort of music (covers of Avenged Sevenfold were not what I was expecting at Sark Folk Festival) they certainly embodied the same spirit as everyone else involved over the weekend.

While there were maybe a few turned up noses, for me Act Natural sounded great and, while they would fit in better at Chaos or a Rock of Ages night, seemed to go down well with many and provided a bit of variation to the weekend as well.

Another of the weekend’s highlights took place on the Alligande stage at 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon with The John Wesley Stone, who seemed to hosting their own ‘revival meeting’ such was the energy on display.

Shacks of The John Wesley Stone

With mid-afternoon on Saturday always the festival’s busiest time the tent was packed for the rockabilly-skiffle-folk band and they were firing on all cylinders from the off and didn’t let up for 45 minutes and an encore.

Across the set blood was shed, dancing was done and the already upbeat atmosphere of the festival hit new heights as the band put in what must their best performance yet and led to Mark Le Gallez commenting that it was “one of the best gigs I’ve ever played”.

There was some frankly amazing banjo and mandolin speed playing next from faux-hillbilly’s The Leon Hunt n-Tet who fitted in brilliantly after The John Wesley Stone and they, in turn, were followed by a band made up of many of the festival organisers, The Barley Dogs.

The Barley Dogs brand of pub-folk rarely gets a chance to be seen on this kind of scale and, in making the transfer from pubs to a bigger stage, it still works brilliantly.

Mick and James Le Huray of The Barley Dogs

Launching their album this afternoon the band seemed to be even more amped up than usual and it showed in their performance, which mixed traditional songs and tunes with originals which got the crowd clapping along and totally engaged.

Heading into the evening and it was time for another “best gig yet” for a local act as The Crowman took to the Tintageu Stage.

Starting off with the crowd sitting down around the open air stage and relaxing to the upbeat garage folk sounds, by mid way through the set a few were up and dancing and by the time James Le Huray joined The Crowman and Emma Weldon on stage for Jigaboo many were up and dancing to one of the weekend’s most high energy performances.

The excellent music on Tintageu continued next with the delightful surprise that is Sarah Joy.

Sarah Joy

With excellent guitar, singing and songwrting skills on display, and a great connection to the audience (who huddled in close against the strong, cold winds as the sun headed below the horizon), Sarah provided the thing that is most valuable about festivals, something new and enrapturing.

Ending her set on a poem and an a capella song which managed to got people up and dancing (something I’m not sure I’d ever seen before), Sarah showed herself to be an artist well worth keeping an eye and ear out for as, if she doesn’t make big waves at some time, it will prove the ludicrous nature of the music business even further.

Saturday night’s last band, 3 Daft Monkeys, did what it is now traditional for Sark Folk Festival Saturday night headliners to do and that is mix folk with some other sounds to really get the crowd dancing.

Combining folk with elements of ska, cabaret and vaudeville the crowd were on their feet and moving from the start and didn’t stop for over an hour and really didn’t want the band to leave the stage either which left the Saturday of the 2012 Sark Folk Festival on a high as we headed off into the darkness to find our beds and tents around the island.

Sunday

Photos from Sunday at the festival.

Jaime-Lee

The last day of the festival and things started on a light and relaxed note with Milo Bellamy on the Vermerette Stage and Jamie-Lee on the Tintageu Stage as people began to make their back onto the site.

Jamie-Lee’s set was sadly cut short due to a hand injury the guitarist is still recovering from, but for the short time he played he sounded great, with his Andy McKee inspired instrumentals still sounding as strong as ever.

The liveliness of the music soon picked up though as Sark’s own Big Sheep kicked off the Alligande Stage and, once a few sound issues were dealt with, played a great set which served to wake up the audience suitably for a final few hours of music.

Back on the Tintageu Stage, The ID Shade kept the chilled out vibes going with another strong performance which, while clearly not folk, still fitted in with the weekend excellently.

Dave Etherington of Whose Shoes

Whose Shoes were my last on site band of the weekend owing to having to get an early boat and they were a great way to finish things up.

I’ve been a fan of frontman Dave Etherington (aka Ten Toe Hobo) since I first saw him play a couple of years and being backed by Rob Gregson on bass and Sarah Van Vlymen on fiddle (and today James Le Huray on drums) never fails to heighten his mix of folk, blues and country type sounds into something well worth catching.

Once again highlights of the band’s set included their versions of Like A Hobo and Vincent Black Lightning along with original number Loose Lips Sink Ships, penned in Sark during a previous festival, and this set really sent me off back towards the harbour on a real musical high.

On the way back to the harbour I was treated to a couple of excellent lo-fi busking style performances from Sarah Joy and Bruise at different spots around the island which really demonstrated to me how the festival takes over Sark for the weekend with great music all over.

Heading away from a festival as good as this is always a bit of a downer but I have to say that as I finish writing this (a week later) there are still elements of the great atmosphere flowing through me and it is events like this that remind me why I love live music and just how great our small islands are at making it.

Next up its Chaos (which I’m playing) and while musically rather different, shares much of the same energy and enthusiasm as Sark Folk Festival, and long may they both continue in this way.

All photos by Tom Girard and photos for Friday, Saturday and Sunday courtesy BBC Guernsey.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,