For what is being reported as the 39th year, the Vale Earth Fair once again took over the Vale Castle in Guerney for 12 hours of music on six stages spanning everything from acoustic traditional folk and psytrance to drum ‘n’ bass and punk rock on Sunday 24th August 2014.
I was on hand reviewing what I could of the festival, largely focussing on the main, Castle Stage, and the other live electric stage, The Stage Against The Machine.
You can see a full gallery of my photos from the Earth Fair on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here and a condensed version of my review was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 30th August. (Scroll down to read my extended review)
The sky might have been a bit overcast but that didn’t seem to be dampening any spirits as the 2014 Vale Earth Fair got going just after midday on Sunday 24th August and The Crowman and the Fiddling Pixie stepped up onto the impressive new main stage inside the Vale Castle.
Given the early hour (for a music festival) and relaxed atmosphere, The Crowman was on remarkably restrained form sticking, mostly, to his and the Pixie’s slower songs. In these more relaxed songs The Crowman’s songwriting comes to the fore and, with the benefit of the excellent sound on offer on this stage, really showed his songs in an excellent light. Of course there was still room for a few stompers and Mystery Train and The Robert Johnson Resurrection Blues got hands clapping, kicking off this varied festival in truly unique style.
Following the restrained start from The Crowman, there was no such subtlety from Subversion as they blasted through a set of their pop-rock originals which bring to mind Foo Fighters, Muse and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, along with a few covers. Their many gigs at pubs around the island over recent months have seen the band come on considerably and they showed themselves to be very much deserving to bring the rock to the main stage and vocalist/guitarist Richard Mancini and bassist Marcus Tedde seemed remarkably at home on the bigger stage.
After something of a last-minute reshuffle Jawbone opened things up on the Stage Against The Machine, just outside the castle gates, with their set of punk rock. While the band seemed to be having fun on stage they were the first of several bands to suffer from a very messy sound mix out in the crowd that left their set feeling like something of a mess.
Following Jawbone came Robert J. Hunter, continuing something of a mini-tour of London and Guernsey venues, with his three-piece band. This line-up has allowed Robert a greater space for his original electric blues to really cut through and his guitar work and voice sounded immense today, even as he too battled a few sound issues. As the set went on the audience grew and they tended to stick around while Robert produced a highlight of the afternoon with an intense run through of his track See You In Hell.
Inside the castle Jersey outfit The Devil and The Deep were storming through a set of insistent indie that was the first to get a few on their feet and, while I’m not hugely familiar with their sound it seemed to missing some of their usual electronics, but the band weren’t missing a beat and kept the high energy feel of the afternoon’s music going.
Buffalo Huddleston rounded off what has been a huge summer for them next and they lived up to the hype, despite now being down a violin since the departure of Becky Hamilton. While Becky’s violin and vocals were missed the other five members of the band made up for it with their usual mix of great songs and a laid back vibe that can be enjoyed both relaxing on the grass or up and dancing and left people anticipating their upcoming album.
The Crazy Babies are always an unpredictable beast and their set on the Stage Against the Machine certainly backed this up as they were joined on stage today by Ramblin’ Nick Mann and his cigar box guitar (for the first couple of songs) as they staggered their way through a set of Ozzy Osbourne covers. While the band are at best sloppy their set was, as ever, delivered with a sense of fun and the feeling that many members of the band could actually really nail these songs if they wanted to.
Top Buzzer hit the Stage Against the Machine with a blast of up beat pop punk next. With a reputation following years of gigging in the UK, Jersey and over here there was an eager contingent in the crowd reveling in their mix of old and new material, and their excellent take on M’s Pop Muzik.
Frontman Dukey comes across as someone born to lead a band as he did his best to work the crowd and, when they weren’t that forthcoming, took his mic and bass off the stage and played from ground level right in their faces. Despite being another band to suffer less than suitable sonic conditions on this stage they stormed through without missing a beat and seemed to have a great time doing it while seeming to win over quite a few new fans in the process.
Meanwhile the laid back, positive, vibes continued on the main stage with Rentoclean who seem custom-built for the Vale Earth Fair. Their punky mix of reggae and ska sounds and irreverent lyrics got people good-naturedly skanking along as the castle hit its mid-afternoon busy point giving the local four-piece some great exposure.
The best thing about festivals, and something the Vale Earth Fair seems particularly good at, is putting on bands you may never have seen before but that you know are going to stick in your mind for a long time. Last year for me it was The Correspondents, and this year it was Dead Sea Skulls.
A garage rock trio led by a singing, stand-up drummer with a pure Detroit rock ‘n’ roll looking guitarist and bass player they kicked things up a notch on the main stage with some real Raw Power. Getting yet more on their feet they were the first band to really get control of the crowd and all this with a drummer with a broken foot!
Blakalaska brought their dub-step drenched dance-rock to the Stage Against The Machine as we headed into the evening and were treated to the best sound of the day so far, though it was still far from perfect. New vocalist Lee Rosette brings a new energy to the band that makes their music come to life and, while they may not have had the momentum they did for their headlining set last year, they have, if anything, stepped up their game even further.
Another band who’ve had an immense summer are Sark based five-piece The Recks. With a few challenges in the lead up to today’s set they didn’t miss a beat, even debuting some new songs that fit in right alongside their more familiar numbers and brought yet more of the crowd to their feet and showed why they have gained the reputation they have, and why they’ve been afforded the chance to spread their wings in the UK this summer.
A year after their last live show, right here in 2013, Of Empires took to the Stage Against the Machine with a new look and new sound. Still based in the classic rock tendencies they’ve always demonstrated, this is a more laid back version with cleaner, more reverb-y, guitars and more restrained vocals.
While this sound was different the band were still their usual selves with frontman Jack Fletcher working the crowd excellently and showing his years of experience on this stage. Even if the new sound did confound expectations somewhat and, at times, made the relatively short set feel like it was going a bit too slow, it was clear the band have confidence in their new material and it will be interesting to see them develop from here now they are back on the live scene.
While The Delegators soul drenched reggae was uplifting those inside the castle, Attila The Stockbroker brought his medieval folk-punk band Barnstormer to the now very appropriately named Stage Against The Machine.
Starting their set with an original medieval style composition including Attila on various, recorders, pipes and violin the set went on to take in punk rock, ska and more folk all delivered with a righteous ire that is laced through all the punk poet’s work. A highlight came in the form of Commandte Joe (dedicated to Joe Strummer) and it was good to hear Attila’s songs filled out with a full band that, by the end of the set, had plenty skanking and dancing along to the politically motivated music.
Hitting the stage to the sound of Motorhead’s The Game, To The Woods continued their year of top-notch shows as they barreled through all in their path, both figuratively and at one point literally, with their grunge rock force that seemed to find its home here tonight. While their whole set was one of their strongest the highlight came in their final track where they were joined on stage by Josh De Kooker on a fabulously distorted violin that just kicked things up another gear.
Having stormed The Fermain Tavern earlier in the year The Mouse Outfit did the same to the Vale Castle. The funk-hip-hop band were on fire throughout their set and had the castle crowd in the palm of their hands all the way as they attracted the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd of the day. I’d had big expectations of this set following previous hype and I’m very happy to say they more than exceeded these expectations and provided not only one of the highlights of the day, but of all the Earth Fair’s I’ve ever been to.
Outside the castle Tantale’s laid back but powerful indie-rock had its usual great sound but, coming as it did after the force of To The Woods and alongside the upbeat celebration of The Mouse Outfit it fell a bit flat for me tonight. That said the crowd that were there stuck around and seemed generally appreciative for the duration of the set.
The Freestylers blasted the crowd inside the castle with a wall of drum ‘n’ bass to round off the main stage line up and, while I found it impenetrable and found them disappointing after The Mouse Outfit, as it was near impossible to tell where the physical instruments ended and the electronics began, those who had stuck around, which was still a big crowd, were jumping and certainly the Castle Stage ended on a high.
I was back on more familiar ground with the Stage Against The Machine headliners, New York rockers, Jonny Lives! Back again after an earlier set on the main stage last year they seemed to be on much better form this time round and they attracted one of the bigger crowds I remember seeing at this time on the outside stage of the festival.
Frontman Jonny Dubowsky was a fabulous happy and engaging frontman tonight and drummer George Le Page really stood out as he stepped in for their usual drummer who is currently working with his own band back in the US.
Closing the 2014 Vale Earth Fair on a positive, rocking, note Jonny Lives! set did some up something of the mood of the day for me as it was positive and celebratory which is something the Vale Earth Fair always seems to be aiming for.