Monthly Archives: July 2013

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas PosterIf all it took was a couple of awesome ideas and concepts to make a great movie then Cloud Atlas would be a certifiable classic… unfortunately it takes a lot more than that so, this is something rather other.

I will admit that I came to the film as a total novice having barely heard of David Mitchell’s (not that one) book and also having missed whatever promotion there was for the movie at the time of its release (did it even make it to this little rock?), so I really wasn’t sure what to expect save for Tom Hanks in a series of makeups.

Certainly, what I got was much more than that as the tale sprawls time with a conceit that lives are an endless stream of reincarnation across the centuries and that we, on occasion, may see through these lives into others and are forever linked with certain other people – as I said literally awesome ideas and concepts are the backbone of this movie, which, coming from the Wachowskis really isn’t unexpected.

Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks

Unfortunately this vast and sprawling network of stories and characters almost entirely failed to connect with me as, while I understand the characters are meant to interrelate across the eras, they rarely actually seemed to and this leads to what feels like six or seven different stories on which we can never focus with a selection of name and face actors in various make ups distracting from any real engagement.

In terms of the make up and effects some of them are undeniably superb, others though are frankly laughable and totally pulled me out of an already hard to engage with movie.

In these terms it actually reminded me of one of favourite movies which I’m aware is seriously flawed, David Lynch’s Dune. Like that it is based on a novel that deals with big ideas, but also like that, it is near impenetrable on various levels.

Jim Broadbent and Ben Wishaw

Jim Broadbent and Ben Wishaw

In the film’s favour a couple of the sequences were more successful than others and seemingly these are credited to co-director Tom Twyker rather than the more headline grabbing Wachowskis.

Specifically the Letters From Zedelghem and The Ghastly Ordeal Of Timothy Cavendish sections where Ben Wishaw and Jim Broadbent respectively play characters who, at times, were actually relatable with elements of comedy and tragedy across the two scenes that cut through the rest of the overarching plot (though the drag nurses were a bit too Monty Python and proved very distracting).

Hugo Weaving

Hugo Weaving

The other character that proved genuinely interesting was Hugo Weaving’s Old Georgie who, though looking like a big budget version of The Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh, was a genuinely disturbing and threatening presence.

Unfortunately, in a near three hour movie, a few engaging sequences and some interesting concepts meant other sections became, at times, boring and at others flat out nonsensical and with an odd resolution that singularly failed to tie it all together as I hoped it might (at least any more than various events earlier in the movie) Cloud Atlas ended with a sense that spanned both hope and hopelessness that I found deeply unsatisfying and also with a strange hint that I had somehow missed the point, but because the film hadn’t made its point.

And just because – The Hitcher:

And you can hear what the Sarnia Cinema team thought here (about half way through):

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Castle Nights – 26/07/13

Castle Cornet (pic courtesy BBC Guernsey)

Castle Cornet (pic courtesy BBC Guernsey)

For four Friday nights every summer the fortress that has protected Guernsey’s harbour for hundreds of years (and is now something of a museum of the more military and maritime sides of island life) becomes the venue for live music and entertainment with the Castle Nights events.

I headed down on Friday 26th July as The Phantom Cosmonaut was playing and had a chance to catch a few of the other acts playing too.

The evening’s music started on the Guernsey Arts Commission Acoustic Stage with Jo and Lydia. Both young ladies are known for their musical skills both solo and in bands and other groups and tonight they showed that, as a duo, they also sound excellent.

Jo and Lydia

Jo and Lydia

With Lydia on the piano and both her and Jo adding vocals the sound was a great start to a relaxed evening of music with many covers from The Eurythmics to Dolly Parton giving a varied feel to their set.

After them on the acoustic stage was Nathan Le Bretton. Armed with just an acoustic guitar his style of rock upped the energy a little but was still spot on to sit and listen to on this sunny evening.

Nathan ended his set with a pair of rarely touched classics in Stairway To Heaven and Space Oddity but he did both justice.

The John Wesley Stone

The John Wesley Stone

While this was going on to the south of the castle, at its centre, I guess what could be dubbed the main stage, was getting jumping (well a few youngsters were anyway) to The John Wesley Stone.

While their sound was a little on the unbalanced side to start with they soon sorted things out and, while most were content sitting down enjoying a picnic, and the band suitably played a comparatively toned down set, it was clear many were enjoying the country-folk sounds on offer. By the end of the band’s set they had many youngsters (and a few others) up and dancing and it has to be said that for a sunny family night out there are few better on the island than The John Wesley Stone.

Dominique Ogier

Dominique Ogier

Before my alter-ego made a racket on the acoustic stage, Dominique Ogier continued the mellow theme with her selection of tunes. Having only seen her perform a couple of times over the last few years it was nice to catch her set again as she combines and excellent voice (which can now be heard fronting new band Static Alice) with some great guitar work and certainly she is a performer worth keeping an eye out for.

With around 2000 people once again heading down to Castle Cornet this event has become a great place for bands and musicians to showcase their sounds to an audience who don’t necessarily usually head to gigs in the island’s pubs and, if tonight was anything to go by, they enjoy it a lot.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine poster

With the latest in the ongoing saga of Marvel’s metal clawed bad-ass superhero having just opened in cinemas I thought, before I got to that, I’d go back and give his first ‘solo’ outing another go.

When it came out its safe to say the cumbersomely titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn’t set the world on fire and as essentially the fourth film in a by then diminishing franchise I guess that isn’t surprising and, even now, its clear to see why this film was pretty much roundly regarded as causing the franchise to need a (sort of) reboot.

The film aims to tell the origin story of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) by combining ideas from a couple of series of comic books including the Origins thread that deals with Logan’s youth and Weapon X which looks at how he got his adamantium claws and skeleton. Added to that we get a plot about the military, in the form of comics and movies regular bad guy General Stryker, trying to create a super-mutant to kill other mutants and generally being not too nice mutants in the process.

Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber

Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber

From the start its pretty clear that this film wouldn’t work as a standalone picture, anyone coming to this without prior knowledge of the three original X-Men movies would be pretty lost, but the opening montage which takes us from Canada in the 1800s up to a non-specific 1970s (certainly a time post Vietnam) is one of the movies most satisfying sequences and it does a decent job of setting up the relationship between Logan and Victor (aka Sabretooth as played by Liev Schreiber).

From there though things become a fairly repetitive mess of fights between the two in different locales (from northern Canada to New Orleans) with a distinctive lack of peril due to the fact that, not only do we know these two guys appear in films set later in the same series, but also that both are essentially invulnerable and, once Wolvie gets his adamantium, is essentially invincible.

Taylor Kitsch as Gambit

Taylor Kitsch as Gambit

Possibly to get around this we are introduced to a bunch of other mutants including Blob, Gambit, Kestrel and others who, while vulnerable, are generally so throw away as to not really gives us any more involvement with the story.

Even for a movie about superpowered mutants the film has a major lack of its own internal logic, most notably in the creation of Deadpool (the aforementioned super mutant) but also just in terms of why anyone really does anything and this is reflected in its odd tonally confused nature as it at once seems to want to be as light as The Avengers and as ‘dark’ as The Dark Knight but in trying to have moments of both fails to provide either leaving it feel generally confused.

Ryan Reynolds as 'Deadpool'

Ryan Reynolds as ‘Deadpool’

While the final fight scene between Wolverine, Sabretooth and Deadpool has a few nice touches it also suffers from the three characters apparent invulnerabilities, but it at least looks visually decent – unfortunately the same cannot be said of much of the rest of the movie where Logan’s CGI claws often look like something from a pre-vis version and many of Sabretooth’s movements lack any sense of weight as he runs and leaps, half animal like, around for reason that seem entirely unclear other than to give justification to his nickname (which is actually never used in this movie).

Another niggling factor which makes the film hard to stomach is it seems to share a sense of geography comparable to A Good Day To Die Hard as Canada, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Three Mile Island are flitted between seemingly in moments which just hints at some of the problems with the editing of the film that don’t help it make any more sense.

In the end X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an interesting idea for a comic book that just isn’t well translated onto the screen and ends up being at best disposable and at worst nonsensical and boring and even Hugh Jackman doesn’t seem to be giving his all in the role as much as he has elsewhere.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: July 2013 – Festival Season

BBC Introducing Guernsey July 2013On this month’s BBC Introducing Guernsey show I took a look at the three big summer festivals that take place around the Bailiwick every summer.

First it was the Sark Folk Festival and we heard from the organisers, Peter Gabriel Byrne and The Space Pirates of Rocquaine.

For our look at Chaos organiser OzyChris told us how the show went from his point of view and we had music from SugarSlam, Of Empires and [Spunge].

And I looked ahead to the Vale Earth Fair with Rob, Neil and Yannick of the Vale Earth Fair Collective with music from Buzzcocks, Bright_Lights and Jonny Lives!

You can listen to the show until eight in the evening on Saturday 3rd July 2013 here or through the BBC iPlayer Radio app.

Tracklist

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The World’s End

The World's End posterGoing into the final installment in the loosely collected Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy I have to admit I felt a certain amount of trepidation. While I have greatly enjoyed the ouvre of Wright, Pegg and Frost from Spaced to Hot Fuzz (including Scott Pilgrim vs The World and, to a lesser extent, Paul) the chances of striking fried gold once again were, to my mind, slim.

Well, thankfully, I was wrong and the trio once again combined to create a great film that is certainly one of the funniest I’ve seen in a long time.

Ostensibly dealing with a group of old school friends reuniting for a pub-crawl, much like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz there is another side to the movie too. Really this is where the trilogy aspect comes from as the movie once again deals with aspects of growing up and fitting in to the world along with the forces that act on us as ‘society’.

Simon Pegg as Gary King

Simon Pegg as Gary King

Also, as with the previous two films, this takes a genre as it’s starting off point so while Shaun dealt with zombies and Fuzz was action this is, in its way, sci-fi and once again its clear (as if we didn’t know already) that Wright, Pegg and Frost know their sci-fi movies as they create something that really does have the feel of a full blown sci-fi film, in the context of a very English pub crawl.

Stylistically Wright does pretty much everything we’ve come to expect but has added a few new tricks to proceedings and his time working in Hollywood is evident as certain aspects bring a much wider scope, particularly in terms of visual effects, than either of the previous movies, but it never deviates from the somewhat charming lo-fi feel that all the films have managed to maintain in the face of increasing budgets.

Nick Frost as Andrew Knightley

Nick Frost as Andrew Knightley

While Wright gets a chance to shine and show off some new things, so too do Pegg and Frost. In the past two films they have largely filled the roles of Pegg being the lead and Frost being the comedy sidekick, here though things feel a lot more even and, while Pegg remains the catalyst, Frost has been elevated to a near equal footing and a more serious, less comedy foil role (though that’s not to say both aren’t extremely funny throughout with the close relationship between their characters again being a pivotal plot point).

Backing up the lead duo are Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan all of whom are also great with Eddie Marsan in particular becoming the more comic one of the group as the film goes on, though again all have their moments.

The World's EndTonally the film also has a few shifts that it would be hard to discuss without spoilers, but, suffice to say they give Pegg and Frost slightly more to do with their characters and, while not overbearing, add an extra sense of depth and help make the potentially otherwise 2D character of Gary King (Pegg) a little more rounded.

Much like its predecessors though it is a combination of all these things that make it such an enjoyable movie, as it treads a fine line of taking the sci-fi aspect too far, but never does, while also never letting the comedy overwhelm the plot and mixes a certain level of juvenile humour with more refined style to create something that it seems Hollywood comedy has lost the ability to do.

And here’s what the guys over at Sarnia Cinema thought of it:

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Les Misérables

Les Miserables movie posterIf I had to pick three words to describe Tom Hooper’s filmic take on the musical version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables they would be vast, sprawling and overblown – though such a simplistic review would be to do it a disservice as, much like the story, there are many layers to this film.

Before I get into it though, I thought I’d make it clear that, as well as movies, I am something of a fan of musicals and musical theatre too, though that maybe hasn’t come across on this site so far… so I was certainly open-minded to all aspects of what I was going to experience coming into this movie.

The story itself is one I was not familiar with and it, loosely, follows the tale of an ex-convict in early 1800s France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), and his quest for repentance through his charitable work, specifically with Fantine (Anne Hathaway), Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and Marius (Eddie Redmayne).

Russel Crowe as Javert

Russel Crowe as Javert

On top of this we also get the story of the June Revolution of 1832 and the tale of Javert’s (Russel Crowe) quest to bring Jean Valjean to justice and Cosette’s former guardians (Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron-Cohen) trying to get money from whoever they can.

This multitude of threads is where I think the movie falls down, though it’s not entirely the films fault, as, just as we have got used to Jean Valjean as our hero and are following his story things cut 8 years into the future and a whole bunch of new characters are introduced, as well as the situation building towards revolution.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

This left the story feeling somewhat imbalanced and, while it comes back round in the end to Valjean and Javert, there is a period in the middle where their story, which has anchored the first act, becomes almost inconsequential while a revolutionary tale is told – in any other movie these would be two separate films, but here they combined in a way that left me having trouble grasping any sense of feeling in any of the characters, at least until it reverted to Javert and Valjean who suddenly brought emotion back into things in their climactic scenes.

My other major issue was the film’s sense of reality. This is always something a musical is going to struggle with, what with everyone bursting into song every couple of minutes, but, from the off, Les Misérables seems to set its stall as being a more realistically placed musical with the lack of dance numbers and a lot of ‘spoken’ sung sections and a frankly epic set of opening scenes with slaves in a dry dock followed by Valjean up a mountain in rural France.

Les Miserables paris barricadeThis sense was destroyed though once the seemingly comic relief of Bonham-Carter and Baron-Cohen’s characters were introduced and, as they kept popping up, they kept spoiling all the work that been put in and, for the most part were neither funny nor did enough to move the story along to really be of any worth.

In terms of production as you’d expect from a mega-budget movie production the sets are fantastic with Paris really coming to life when we get to see its expanse – it reminded somewhat of how I’d always pictured Ankh-Morpork – and the dry dock in the opening sequence being a truly mind-blowing combination of special effects and location work. However, there are points where the camera work focusing too much of close-ups of the actors loses some of this sense of epic location and, at times, has a feel of The Surprising Adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Caeser the musical.

All this sounds like I’m on a bit of a downer about Les Misérables, but that isn’t entirely true.

Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche

Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche

Beyond all I’ve said so far the performances are pretty much all excellent with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and newcomer Daniel Huttlestone (as Gavroche) all standing out particularly and only Russel Crowe being a bit wobbly in places vocally speaking, but his final scene in the film really over powers any previous issues as he gives us very effective and effecting dénouement to his tale.

That and, in many places, the camera work is excellent and takes the place of big dance numbers to lead us through songs with the performers, all of whom were singing live on set rather than being pre-recorded in a studio which gives the performances a much greater sense of immediacy than in many other musicals.

In the end Les Misérables is far from perfect, and is surely a bit overlong, but is certainly worth watching as well for its sense of style and the performances on offer.

And, well because why not and so you know what I’m getting at, here’s a bit of Sir Digby Chicken Caeser…

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Chaos 2013

Mallory Knox with their crowd

Mallory Knox with their crowd

The ninth annual Greenman MCC Chaos Weekend took over the Pleinmont Headland in Guernsey from Friday 12th to Sunday 14th July 2013.

With bands from Guernsey, Jersey and the UK appearing (including Mallory Knox and [Spunge]), alongside DJs and, of course, the clubs bike show, it was everything we have come to expect from the festival, albeit in slightly reorganised form with only two stages of music concentrating the festival-goers focus somewhat more.

You can see my photos from the festival over on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 20th July 2013, and below the scans of that you can read my full, unedited review of the whole weekend.

Click the image to read the article

Click the image to read the article

Videos throughout the review come from Aleks Ward and Guernsey Gigs.

Full Review

Day 1

Silas The Assyrian Assassin

Silas The Assyrian Assassin

Anyone arriving at Chaos as the gates opened may not have been getting exactly what they expected from a music festival come bike show as, while there were already a few motorcycles lined up in the field and the other assorted trappings of such a show were in evidence, the first music to really get going was in The Peace Tent where, before the live acts, Vraic Beard was playing some tunes ranging from indie rock to American marching bands while the early festival goers, and volunteers who’d been on site for the best part of the week, chilled out on the Tent’s sofas.

The job of being first live act of the weekend went to Silas The Assyrian Assassin who has played this role before and seemed comfortable with the small crowd with whom he bantered between songs while telling jokes which ranged from the genuinely funny to the “I can’t believe he just said that”.

Musically Silas was on good form today with a few new songs finding their way into his usual repertoire, in particular a new “hip-hop” track impressed several in the tent with both its wit and its musicality – careful Silas, people might actually start to take your music seriously!

The afternoon in The Peace Tent continued with more small-scale acts, firstly with Ten Toe Hobo playing an extended set with help from Rob Gregson on bass that once again showcased the Hobo’s great performance style and songs.

Oliver Daldry

Oliver Daldry

This was followed by Oliver Daldry who made his Peace Tent debut in an open mic slot last year and was invited back for a full set this time. Playing a style of very current acoustic pop it was unsurprising to hear one of his tunes had almost made it onto an ad for Google, but, that aside, his sound was excellent for the Friday afternoon as people continued to relax with Peace Tent staples of coffee and toasties going down with more standard festival fare of lager and cider.

The Phantom Cosmonaut was next up in The Peace Tent but I’ll leave views on him to others (though I had fun up on stage once again). This was followed by Brunt, making their Chaos debut.

While they could have done with a few more people in the tent to build the atmosphere what I saw of their set of stoner instrumentals was once again excellent and I can’t wait to hear what this band can commit to record in the near future.

My first full band experience of the weekend on the main stage came from newcomers Byzanthian Neckbeard. There was a palpable sense of anticipation as, while this was the band’s first gig, all four members are familiar faces in Guernsey’s heavy music community.

Byzanthian Neckbeard

Byzanthian Neckbeard

Their style combined slow and heavy riffs with growled vocals to create a kind of hybrid of stoner, doom, black and death metal. While their set was clearly a first outing for a band and, at times, it seemed not to instantly gel as well as many had hoped, they certainly showed that they are a band with room to grow who will be well worth keeping an eye on if you have heavier tastes.

The stoner-y rock vibe continued next, albeit in considerably lighter tones, with Teaspoonriverneck. Stripped back to a three-piece the band debuted a selection of rocking new songs alongside some old classics like Blonde Witch and, while those in the beer tent enjoyed it, they certainly suffered from the tent being seemingly rather empty.

Bright_Lights

Bright_Lights

In the Peace Tent meanwhile Bright_Lights were having no such crowd problems as, while they were still quite subdued, the tent was packed with people on the sofas and relaxing on the floor to the band’s dance-rock hybrid. I only caught their last few songs but its safe to say they were on powerful form and, closing with a storming new song, seemed well set up for their set on the main stage at the Vale Earth Fair later in the summer.

Jersey’s Bulletproof were bringing some Channel Island skacore to the Beer Tent next and, while they once again demonstrated that they are one of the tightest bands going today, they also suffered from many in the tent not really engaging with them (though the tent was now starting to get busier) and, while the energy was upped as they blasted through favourites Blood Stained Money and Jersey Hate, it was clear much of their music was a little out of sorts with what many were at Chaos for on Friday night.

Evarane

Evarane

This atmosphere soon changed when Evarane took to the stage though as suddenly it seemed many youngsters who hadn’t been so into the rock or punk earlier in the evening emerged from the shadows and were into Evarane’s mix of pop and rock from the start.

With an ongoing tour supporting re-energised emo-rockers Funeral For A Friend, Evarane were clearly on enthusiastic form and certainly put their all into the show with Beka Pritchards not standing still from the start to the end of their set and the rest of the band doing their best to match her pace and, while they may lack some subtlety and control in their music, they more than make up for it with energy.

While the reception from many of the older audience members was, to say the least mixed, the younger crowd were lapping it up and, while they come across as something of a bunch of chancers (in a good way I think), Evarane seemed to win over some new fans tonight.

Mallory Knox

Mallory Knox

The tent filled further as headliners Mallory Knox hit the stage and, like Evarane, didn’t let up for the duration of their set which had the front half of the tent moving throughout with a mosh breaking out on more than one occasion despite the band’s poppier tones.

While the band’s sound was very different from past Chaos headliners it seemed to bring a new audience of youngsters to the festival and by the end even some of the stonier faces in the crowd at least had to admit Mallory Knox were a tight band with an ear for pop-rock crossover tune. Even if they are a more pop proposition than the likes of Viking Skull or Mentallica who have filled this slot in the past it certainly seemed to give a new generation a taste of what Chaos can be.

Day 2

Stone Em All

Stone Em All

The second day of Chaos started off with Stone Em All on the Chaos Stage in the beer tent and, while in the past I have not been a fan of this band, today they impressed me. With Aleks Ward and Luis Morais on guitar the band have a more complete and accomplished sound which suits the heavy rock and metal style they are going for, also, it has to be said, frontman Bobby Hotton’s antics certainly work better on the bigger stage offered by Chaos.

With a set from Stalk The Lantern next (which like The Phantom Cosmonaut I will leave you to make your mind up on) the next band I caught was CoffeeShopKnifeFight who seemed to play one of the better sets I’ve seen them deliver and their final track in particular stood out for me as mixing their brutal approach to music with frontman Aaron Grant’s unique stage presence brilliantly and, if it was the last time we see them, which it looks as if it may be, they went out on a high.

Twelve Ton Trouble

Twelve Ton Trouble

Twelve Ton Trouble made their second appearance in the beer tent and showed just how much they’ve grown since their debut last year. Fresh off the release of their first album the band were on top form and are quickly becoming one of those bands who never really play a bad show as, despite some technical issues today, they played consummately and once again seemed to be growing new songs as a band which is moving them in a slightly new, but still greatly appealing, direction.

As the bike show went on in the field, those less into that side of proceedings began to gather in The Peace Tent for a set that came with a lot of anticipation.

Last year Heave stole the show to a packed out tent and, as the heavy rock two-piece riff machine took to the stage they seemed set to do so again. The set seemed to start off a little less energetic than last years, possibly due to the heat in the tent, multiplied no doubt up on the stage, but, once they got everyone standing and “slow headbanging” things were back on storming form and with thunderous drums and roaring guit-bass Heave once again showed why they have quickly become a highlight of local heavy music.

Heave

Heave

Quickly heading back down to the beer tent I caught a little of Jersey’s FlashMob and, with a couple of Motley Crüe covers and an original got a taste of a great young rock ‘n’ roll band I certainly want to check out in full as soon as possible.

Back up in The Peace Tent and it seems many had stayed put after Heave for Buffalo Huddleston. Expanded with Jull-Z MC’ing the group have become yet another local music highlight and their combination of guitar, violins and vocals made the perfect combination for Chillin’ on the hot summer afternoon we were being treated to.

Chaos regulars Choke were next to grace the main stage and, as ever, were on stage to have fun as well as play some seriously heavy metal. This year they based the majority of their set on the back catalogue of Sepultura with Phil Skyrme taking on vocal duties and Stace Blondel picking up the bass.

The likes of Roots and Refuse-Resist got heads banging before Choke closed their set with a medley of Slayer numbers it safe to say that while they may not be the tightest band in the world that wasn’t really what they were about today and both on and off stage everyone seemed to be having a great time.

It was old school British punk next from Charred Hearts who were making their first visit to the island and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Having been spoilt by the likes of the UK Subs playing the Tav in recent years the Hearts seemed like a slightly lesser version of them, but that’s to compare them to some of the best, and they were perfectly suited to this weekend’s mish-mash of bands and, above all, like many of the bands on the bill, seemed to be having a lot of fun while providing us with some fine entertainment.

Before I look at the trio of headliners on the main stage, it is more than worth mentioning what was going on up in The Peace Tent as The Reck’s took what had been building all afternoon and turned it into the biggest most bouncing party the tent has ever seen with the intimate vibe and high energy party-folk combining to create something genuinely amazing which marked a high point among high points for The Peace Tent.

While not officially all billed as headliners it was clear to anyone who follows music in the islands that the three final bands on Saturday night were all worthy of the title.

Of Empires

Of Empires

First up came Of Empires riding a wave of momentum they stormed through their set of impressive originals, including a diversion of an acoustic track featuring a mandolin.

Frontman Jack Fletcher really comes into his own on this big stage and has certainly grown from his days fronting metalcore band My Last Victory into a real swaggering rock ‘n’ roll frontman. Once again the highlights of the band’s set were singles Carla and I Am The Night – that is until they invited The Risk’s Mark Le Gallez up on stage with his bass for a set closing rendition of a Hendrix style All Along The Watchtower that provided yet another highlight of the weekend.

SugarSlam continued things and, while they seemed a little slow to grab the crowd initially, it wasn’t long until the band were playing to a lively audience and their mix of originals and well-chosen covers had people dancing and singing along with real high energy.

Getting people singing along to their own songs SugarSlam seemed to hit a new high tonight which even saw singer and guitarist Plumb holding out his mic for the crowd to sing into in true rock star style that was only a taste of what was to come next.

It’s always been very easy to be a bit sniffy about headliners, Big Machine, with their hair metal wigs, overblown showmanship and cheesey rock covers and tonight was no different as they reunited their original line up for their final show.

Big Machine

Big Machine

If I was of the mood to be sniffy I could easily say they seemed to be playing these songs a bit slow tonight and that their guitars were too quiet leaving the solos a little lost and their sound was often drenched in feedback…

But, that would be to do a disservice to what Big Machine are all about as, from the start, where they rocked through versions of Dio’s Holy Diver and Judas Priest’s Breaking The Law, to their closing number Leddy held the crowd in the palm of his hand while, foot on the monitors Stefan and Mark wailed through their solos and Stu and Guy provided the rhythms that held this machine on its tracks.

Saturday night at Chaos in particular has always been about having a good time and with a band like Big Machine it’s very hard not to do this and, sure they could have been tighter, but that didn’t seem to matter to those packing the front half of the tent and dancing and singing their hearts out.

Day 3

Damo

Damo

Sunday at Chaos always has a feeling of the day after the night before and The Peace Tent has certainly become the place to be for this with coffee and toasties, along with a healthy dose of psycho-garage-rock ‘n’ roll at Cramps O’Clock, working on the hangovers.

Live music for me though got going in relaxed form on the main stage with Damo. formerly frontman of Fly Casual and, more recently his own solo acoustic act. It had been a few years since Damo had performed in public so it was certainly good to see him back as he showed he still has a fantastic voice and his acoustic indie is something we don’t hear a huge amount outside of open mic nights so makes a nice change in this environment.

He was followed by another solo acoustic act, this time upping the energy a bit, in the form of Jersey’s Rick Jones. Combining blues and folk tones with a clear influence from Dave Matthews he made a brilliant sound that held those relaxing on the grass in the tent rapt as his sound filled the whole sonic range and, ending on a rendition of Copperhead Road he provided a more subdued highlight.

Things got a bit livelier next as youngsters The Doomsday Project took to the stage. Playing a set of pop punk covers from the likes of Blink 182 and Green Day, along with a few originals, the band continued their growth and, while todays audience was, to say the least subdued, they seemed to go down well (despite their slightly irksome habit of censoring the covers they perform).

Party In Paris

Party In Paris

The relaxed air continued in the tent next despite the best efforts of Party In Paris whose upbeat pop rock was up to its usual standards but failed to set the tent on fire today – though they can hardly be blamed for that as everyone had trouble while the sun was still up today.

Jersey’s Pirate Party Brigade also faced the same problem but persevered with a highly entertaining set of ska-rock that reminded me of Guernsey’s RentOClean who I think they’d make a brilliant line up with at a future gig.

It seems the heat was certainly getting to people this afternoon and sitting and listening was about all anyone was up for, but this didn’t really spoil the good atmosphere around the site as Tyger Wang took to the stage.

Tyger Wang

Tyger Wang

Playing a set of classic 80s rock covers this band seem like natural successors to Big Machine, if with a little less stage presence and, with the set list they boast, it was hard to not just outright enjoy the run through of classics from Van Halen to Bon Jovi by way of Joan Jett and Billy Idol that started to get heads nodding, and a few more enthusiastic bodies moving, around in the beer tent.

As Jersey’s Harlequin Knights took to the stage they continued to get people moving with their sounds which seem to stem from the other side of the 80s to Tyger Wang and is reminiscent of Guernsey’s Gay Army, but with a dose of the more current indie sound injected in too.

Their set really came alive when Marcus Harley began to demonstrate the more MCing side of his vocal skills culminating in a fantastic bit of freestyling from the whole band.

And this is where things changed as the sun set and many of the volunteers prepared to let their hair down after a long weekend of work and [Spunge] took to the stage.

[Spunge]

[Spunge]

With 20 years under their belts as a band the UK ska-punkers played to the smaller crowd as if the tent was packed and soon had all but a very resistant few dancing in what quickly became the biggest party moment of the weekend with those the band described as “the Chaos hardcore”.

Over the course of the set [Spunge] played all their most well-known tunes in what was a self-consciously ‘greatest hits’ style set punctuated by genuinely warm and funny chat, drinking games and other general tomfoolery that culminated in a stage invasion with 90% of those in attendance skanking along with the band to Kicking Pigeons.

For anyone who went home early on Sunday you missed a genuine highlight, not only of this festival but of all nine years of Chaos, which rounded off a very good weekend in truly great style and all I can say is I hope we get to celebrate 10 years of Chaos next year.

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Sark Folk Festival 2013

Hat Fitz and Cara with some help from Ellie and The Crowman

Hat Fitz and Cara with some help from Ellie and The Crowman

The fourth annual Sark Folk Festival took place on Guernsey’s smaller neighbour between the 5th and 7th July 2013.

The show featured performers from all over the world including Seth Lakeman, Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson and The Ross Ainslie Trio alongside artists from the Channel Islands including The John Wesley Stone, The Space Pirates of Rocquaine and Tonight The Skies and even acts from Sark itself in Big Sheep, The Recks and Peter Gabriel Byrne.

1,400 packed out the island for the weekend, literally leaving no bed unfilled or camping pitch free for this award-winning celebration of folk, roots and acoustic music.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the festival on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my abridged review of it was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 13th July, you can read it in scans below.

For my full review of the Sark Folk Festival, including some videos from Guernsey Gigs, just scroll down below the scans.

Part 1

Part 1

Part 2

Part 2

Full Review

Sark Folk FestivalGoing by some of the other media reports you could be forgiven for thinking the Sark Folk Festival was a celebration of local seafood with some music on the side, well I’m happy to confirm that was far from the case as I let you know about some of the music that was on offer over another amazing weekend in a field on our smaller neighbor island.

This year that particular field was located near the Coupee (the land bridge that joins the main island to Little Sark) and once again gave us some spectacular views back across Brecqhou, Herm, Jethou and Guernsey which were particularly amazing come sunset.

Day One

Roland Scales

Roland Scales

The music started out, as has become tradition, with a Channel Island folk-stalwart, this time in the form of Roland Scales who, armed with a set of bagpipes (more in the Breton style than the Scottish) and an instrument similar to a hurdy-gurdy, but emphatically not, played a selection of truly traditional songs from both the Channel Islands, the UK and Brittany. While this was a bit of a baptism of fire for someone less familiar with true traditional music like myself, it was still fascinating, especially when accompanied by Roland’s commentary on the origins of the songs.

I was back on more familiar ground a little later as Sark’s own The Recks took to the stage and, while they received very good receptions at The Fermain Tavern recently, their ‘hometown’ crowd clearly wanted to show up the Guernsey audience. The band played a great set that had people up and dancing and packed out the Alligande stage (the festival’s largest) for the first, but far from the last, time this weekend.

Jess and Tim of The Space Pirates

Jess and Tim of The Space Pirates

With a new album being released at the festival (the excellently titled Vraic and Ruin), The Space Pirates of Rocquaine were Friday’s ‘local’ headliners. Playing through the whole album and with a good number of extra songs thanks to having their set extended, due to a few technical issues on the other stage, they went down a storm with the audience for the fourth year in a row. The band’s mix of Guernsey and Sark inspired folk tales and great folk-pop songs had people moving and singing along, in particular to Creux Mahie which led to a Freddie Mercury call and response moment from singer and guitarist Rocqchick.

As the evening approached I headed down to the Tent O’Ladeez, a mini-stage curated by Ukuladeez and featuring pure acoustic performances all weekend, and as I arrived Burg was in full flow. His blues and country sounds held his audience rapt in what had a feeling of a story telling session but with an acoustic guitar and some excellent tunes added into the mix, all while relaxing in the evening sun.

As the Alligande stage prepared for the first day’s headliner (and arguably the biggest name of the weekend) there was a real sense of anticipation, but as Seth Lakeman took to the stage and people near the front, myself included, began to stand up, it seemed the good-natured air may be derailed as some began to loudly, and not politely, request that we sit down.

Seth Lakeman and his band

Seth Lakeman and his band

Thankfully this was short-lived and Seth Lakeman judged the mood in the tent as he and his band launched into a set of his more upbeat material and there was plenty of dancing from the off. While I am not hugely familiar with Lakeman’s work I can safely say tonight he lived up to the hype as he switched instruments and worked the crowd like a master as he also steered his band through what was evidently not the set they had planned when they stepped onto the stage.

While I understand some were disappointed that his slower songs didn’t get an airing (and I would certainly be interested to hear that side of his work too), for an energetic night at a music festival I don’t think there was a better way to end things as the crowd were well warmed up for the two days to come.

Day Two

Claire Rakich with Tinshack

Claire Rakich with Tinshack

The opening slot on the Saturday of the Sark Folk Festival is always a challenging one and this year it went to committee member Claire Rakich. For many of her songs Claire took the traditional folk route of songs with no accompaniment that showed off her voice excellently and for a few songs she picked her guitar as well.

Along with a couple of songs with here sister and one with The John Wesley Stone’s Tinshack, the highlight of her set was an amazing and epic ‘story song’ she wrote after hearing a tale from the occupation in Jersey which managed to say more about the period and life on the islands than any history lesson while also reaching to the very heart and soul.

Another local act, Peter Gabriel Byrne, a singer-songwriter who also doubles as Sark’s harbour master, kicked off things on Les Burons stage with a set of his own songs which come from the tradition of singer-songwriters that came to the fore in the 1970s with a hint of folk leanings of his homeland.

Ten Toe Hobo

Ten Toe Hobo

Always a highlight of the festival for me, Ten Toe Hobo, followed Byrne on Les Burons and, despite the major set back of the head of his guitar being snapped off the previous night, still played an excellent set on a borrowed guitar. His mix of blues and folk inflected songs, along with some great ‘banter’ with the audience, was highlighted by original song Loose Lips Sink Ships and his rendition of Like A Hobo and Vincent Black Lightning.

The third of the festival’s Sark acts was up next in the form of Big Sheep. Having played the festival every year as the island’s folk representatives the band seems to grow every year and this time was no different with Ash Jarman of The Recks adding his trumpet to the mix. The band’s mix of original tunes and cover songs had people dancing and a Sark flag waving and it was all the more impressive considering Lifejacket’s Claire Mockett stepping on drums at the last minute and fiddle player Jess Nash (usually seen with The Space Pirates or The John Wesley Stone) only plays this one gig with them a year.

Following on straight on for this The Barley Dogs continued their tradition of great sets at the festival. Following launching their album here last year the energy was understandably not quite as high for their set this afternoon, but none-the-less the band’s brand of pub folk once again translated to the larger stage brilliantly and had many, especially the many youngsters in attendance, up and dancing from the off as they mixed traditional songs with their own songs and tunes.

O'Hooley and Tidow

O’Hooley and Tidow

O’Hooley and Tidow provided another of my highlights of the weekend with their set on the Alligande Stage. Drawing mostly from their recent album, The Fragile, the duos mix of wit, innuendo and light humour, combined with amazing musicianship and singing provided a real treat. A particular high point of this being their two vocal only songs, Banjololo and a frankly astounding cover of Massive Attack’s Teardrop, that showed just what the human voice is capable of when given space and encore Shelter Me, taken from their debut album, was a personal highlight as its been a favourite of mine since I first saw them play.

Another Guernsey band launching a new album this weekend were The John Wesley Stone who unleashed Sharaibu on the world with a truly storming set. Playing many songs of the album, along with a few of their older songs, their energy soon ran through the tent as the four piece filled the stage and the audience sang back with some real power. The set was rounded off with a rendition of Walls Of Jericho that featured Ukuladeez, Jack McGahy, James Le Huray and Clem Brouard all joining the band on stage as the band and audience became one for the sing along number that was yet another high point of the weekend.

The Crowman

The Crowman

Not long after finishing up with The John Wesley Stone, Hillbill was back on stage as his alter ego The Crowman in the Tintageu tent. Once again attracting a massive crowd (for the smaller stage) his garage-folk combined the energy of a child with ADHD whose been taught the very basics on guitar with the crazed antics of Lux Interior to create a truly unique performance that is unlike anything else at this festival, or likely any other, and with Emma Weldon, aka The Fiddling Pixie, adding more backing vocals to the show The Crowman continued his tradition of making his Sark Folk Festival sets an unmissable part of the show.

With the Vermerette Stage tent already overflowing Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson took to the stage and with their mix of Irish folk and Australian influenced bluegrass and blues upped the already energetic festival to a new level. The most striking thing about their set was how two performers manage to fill the same sonic space as a whole band with Fitz’ resonator and electric guitars sounding at once like a six string and a bass and Clara’s drums and washboard filling the everything from standard drum kit to rhythm guitar and slap bass type sounds.

Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson

Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson

As the set neared its climax the duo were joined on stage by O’Hooley and Tidow for Power which brought a Deep South revival meeting feel to proceedings as the whole tent was shouting the title back at the stage and following this with an encore of Blind Willie Johnson’s John The Revelator ended their set on such a high, headliners The Ross Ainslie Trio had their work cut out.

Unfortunately, for me anyway, the still upbeat but certainly less powerful sounds of The Ross Ainslie Trio were something of an anticlimax after Fitz and Cara, but that’s not to say they didn’t make some great sounds with their tunes mixing upbeat rhythms and traditional tones of pipes and flutes. That being said the atmosphere around the festival on the Saturday night was enough to leave everyone heading out into the darkness on a major high as we stumbled back through the lanes to the campsites, b&bs and hotels of the island to either carry on the party or rest up for a final day of folk action.

Day Three

Ukuladeez and friends

Ukuladeez and friends

Sunday started off with Ukuladeez and, while I’ve not always appreciated their sounds in the past, today was something a bit different. Being accompanied by a double bass, violin and piano expanded their sound and, to use a cliché, filled out the bottom end that their voices and the higher tones of the ukulele normally leave empty which added an extra strength to their sound that had, for me, been missing in the past. This led to an at least solidly enjoyable performance with their song about Heat Magazine proving a highlight as it combined their irreverent style with a great song that was, frankly, straight up entertainment.

The Tintageu Stage once again provided some excellent smaller scale acts today with Jack McGahy proving a highlight of these for me with his acoustic-pop originals and covers which are delivered with a sense of self deprecating humour and good grace that make for a truly enjoyable set that really allows the audience to side with Jack and his songs. For today’s set he was joined on stage by a youngster, I think his sister, who dueted with him on a song about their imaginary adventures which received a great reception from the audience.

The Whisky River Boat Band

The Whisky River Boat Band

As the festival wraps up mid-afternoon on the Sunday, so festival-goers can catch their boats back to Guernsey, the headliners of the day kicked off at half past one, and The Whisky Riverboat Band, who closed the Vermerette Stage, certainly filled the headliner role as people were soon up and dancing to their bluegrass, hillbilly sounds.

Gathered around a single mic with acoustic instruments the four piece played a mix of originals, covers and traditional songs in a truly upbeat style. For one track they were joined by some members of a local morris side who added dancing, 12-string, trombone and tuba to the mix before the crowd really got moving and Crowman started a conga.

Ending the set with some more organised dancing which had an air of a line dancing club may have added a slightly odd tinge to the set but there’s no doubting the music was excellent and another set a bit different to anything else on offer but still fitting under the banner of folk.

Members of the festival committee joined Hat Fitz and Cara on stage

Members of the festival committee joined Hat Fitz and Cara on stage

The final act of the weekend was, as the Festival’s compere Kerry described, an hour-long encore from the previous night, as Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson took to the Alligande Stage. Playing a more relaxed set than the previous night we got to see a different side of the duo’s music, though it was no less powerful and well delivered as people relaxed around the tent not wanting the show to end.

Sadly the Festival did have to end but not before Fitz and Cara called The Crowman and various members of the organizing committee onto the stage for another run through of Power which got people on their feet and moving and once again brought out the group euphoria that only music can do and ended the fourth Sark Folk Festival on an undeniable high.

As people made their way from the festival talk was largely taken up with the fact that this had been the best festival yet and people already preparing for next year’s event – and if this year was anything when tickets go on sale at the start of November its going to be another sell out!

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