Every festival in Guernsey generates discussion in the build up to the event, but it seemed Chaos 2015 took this to a new level. From the debate this time last year about the festival’s future to the more recent discussion of the smaller, rearranged festival site to the, apparently, more modest line up of acts everything seemed to be open for debate while the organisers worked to put on the show just like they have every other year.
Arriving at the site on Friday lunchtime as gates opened, yes it was a smaller set up than the last few years with what used to be the main field now halved and the main stage reduced in size, while The Peace Tent had been moved to the adjacent ‘campsite’ field. Despite these changes it was undeniably still Chaos and, from the start, it seemed to have something of the feeling and atmosphere back that, for me at least, had lessened slightly in recent years.
The live music began in The Peace Tent with Silas The Assyrian Assassin. His set spanned the line between music and comedy even further than previously and while the jokes and much of the subject matter of the songs were still wildly inappropriate, he seemed to go down well with both those familiar with his act and newcomers.
Highlights of the set included Slacktavist and Trust Fund Anarchist, a pair of acoustic songs raging against the current pop-politics typified by the likes of Russell Brand and those who use social media as their primary political platform.
Peace Tent newcomer Neale Packham, aka The Neale Packham Experience, soon followed with a more traditional acoustic set of some great sounding covers and originals. Despite it being his first time at Chaos he seemed to get the mood immediately and delivered a fun and light-hearted performance, including a great blues number about being caught in a power cut, and asking if it was ok to play some Coldplay… he decided against it, but did deliver a great little Ed Sheeran cover.
More acoustic sounds followed from Elliot Falla. Falling firmly in the soulful young singer-songwriter with a guitar mould, Falla delivered a very smooth and professional sounding set and, while he was somewhat reserved on stage this fitted the chilled out mood early on in The Peace Tent.
Stalk The Lantern kicked off the weekend’s full-scale bands on the main stage and, while they took a few songs to hit their stride, their rough around the edges pop-rock was certainly an upbeat way to start things off.
The four-piece seemed to have trouble engaging the slowly growing crowd but, at this early stage of the festival that’s not too surprising. Highlight numbers Walk With Lights and Dust went down well and, with a little more polish, could become something special.
Jersey’s Pirate Party Brigade kept the positive vibes going on the main stage and upped the energy considerably with their brass-infused party rock. Frontman Monty embodied their spirit in every way, clearly already a few sheets to the wind but hugely charismatic with an attitude custom-made to get a festival crowd going.
The rockier side of Chaos got going with grunge monsters To The Woods. The intense power trio delivered a set packed with a raging power as guitarist/vocalist Bobby Battle tore up the stage and the audience’s ears in the best of ways while Dan Garnham was on top form behind the drums.
Looking extremely comfortable on this bigger stage this may have been To The Woods best show yet and they seemed to step up their game another level in terms of musical performance, energy and building a great atmosphere with the crowd.
What seemed to be night of the power trios continued with Bournemouth’s The Electric Shakes adding a Stooge-y garage rock feel to proceedings.
Oozing cool from the off, the Shakes tore through their set with Raw Power (if you’ll pardon the pun) with Steve Lynch in formidable frontman form channeling a mix of garage and hard rock in his style not seen since the peak time of Teaspoonriverneck.
Bassist Eric equaled this as he threw shapes and poses but still nailed the performance technically, while Basha’s drums rolled, thundered and pounded and the band proved themselves the perfect kind of act for a biker festival.
While the main stage was rocking Jersey’s Sephira was bringing groovy, psychedelic sounds to The Peace Tent that had a growing contingent of the Tent’s fabulously wonky inhabitants grooving on the dancefloor, while, as is custom, others chilled out on the sofas soaking up the UV soaked ambience.
Having spent the last few years gigging in London, Robert J. Hunter brought his band to headline the first night of Chaos and did so in the style of a triumphantly returning hero, but all with his modesty well intact.
Turning provided a strong and punchy start to the set that was followed by more powerful, heartfelt, blues. New number Preacher showed another side to the band’s sound and demonstrated how Rob’s voice has continued to grow and mature in both power and conviction while drummer Greg Sheffield’s backing vocals excellently counterpointed Rob.
With a long headlining set the trio delved in their extensive back catalogue and showed how Rob’s older songs have developed to stand alongside the newer material and it was nice to hear some blatant but well executed Stevie Ray Vaughan aping going on at points.
As a band Rob, Greg and bassist James Le Huray have really gelled since I last saw them and played off one another excellently for more than an hour and, with more great songs like See You In Hell and single Demons, closed off the first day of Chaos 2015 on a very strong high.
While Friday had finished with full band power blues, Saturday began with lo-fi, DIY blues from Ramblin’ Nick Mann and his biscuit box guitar.
This was by far and away the most confident and assured performance I’ve seen from the Ramblin’ one and his songs of Channel Islands tropes and folklore delivered in an affected southern drawl have a unique and enjoyable quality that was a nice low-key way to start the day.
The unenviable task of launching the main stage went to The Doomsday Project but the four-piece pop-punk band stormed it with a tight and confident performance in the face of a somewhat jaded audience.
Even since their recent album launch the band have come on in leaps and bounds and a highlight of their set here were the confident harmonies (a staple of pop-punk) that, in particular, made their take on Buzzcocks’ Ever Fallen In Love shine and, for me at least, showed a band who could easily have shone higher up the bill.
Back in The Peace Tent and things continued with Gregory Harrison. With a hugely rich voice, this genuine and modest performer delivered everything from the soul, whether it was original material, or his own take on the work of others, and matched the continued relaxed feel in and around the tent.
The mid-afternoon Saturday set in The Peace Tent has become something of a landmark one as the general mellow vibe is shattered by something crushingly heavy. In the past Heave and Brunt have put in highly memorable performances here and this year their successors, Lord Vapour, had the chance and didn’t disappoint.
By their own admission the band were a bit ‘loose’ (a night at Chaos could do that to anyone) but, none the less, they grooved their way through a set that rocked and swung in equal measure. Despite his evident nervousness Joe Le Long came across as a natural frontman and Henry Fear’s guitar playing showed even more improvement (and it wasn’t in a bad state to start with) as the packed tent reveled in the groove with heads nodding along in the heat.
After a break for bikes, burnouts and tattoos, Chaos mainstays Stone Em All hit the main stage, fresh off a stint in the studio recording a new EP.
Every time I see this groove metal five-piece they get better and this was no exception. With two excellent guitarists trading leads, and as solid a metal rhythm section as you’ll find over here, there’s a lot to enjoy.
While I’m still not a fan of Robert Hotton’s vocal style I definitely found myself enjoying it more this time, particularly on the newer songs, and his energy, presence, charisma and enthusiasm cannot be disputed. The fact he writes heavy metal about serious socio-political subjects also gives the band something different to many in their genre, particularly currently in the Channel Islands.
Things couldn’t have been much more different in The Peace Tent as skiffle-folk-n-rollers The John Wesley Stone brought a hillbilly hoedown feel to the festival.
A crowd had certainly come out to see them and they had a few dancing while on stage the band were, typically, a bit all over the place but with such energy they carried it with aplomb as Hillbill launched himself from an amplifier and Jimmy scaled the double bass.
After a ten-year absence indie trio Fly Casual returned to the stage and, while I don’t have the nostalgia for them that many in attendance did, I could certainly see something of what all the fuss around them was about. With a great set of indie originals Fly Casual came with a laid back nature as well and it was good seeing Damo back with a band after his long run of solo outings over the years at Chaos.
Much like the mid-afternoon slot, the evening set in The Peace Tent has become a special one with Rentoclean, Blakalaska and The Recks having packed the tent in the past as the sun set. This year that slot went to Buffalo Huddleston who are riding a wave that began at last summer’s festivals and hasn’t let up since.
Bolstered further by the return of Becky Hamilton to their ranks, the folk-hop six-piece did what most expected, delivering one of the performances of the weekend and certainly the one that saw the most band/crowd engagement.
As the set went on the band and crowd literally became one as all but drummer Simon headed down from the stage and everyone was dancing and singing along together while the whole tent seemed to be bouncing. New song Mr. Cloud was reprised for an encore following a genuinely epic Sunrise closing this special performance on a real high.
To close Chaos 2015’s second day two visiting bands took to the main stage.
First were Dutch metallers Sovereign, featuring Guernsey’s Aaron Grant (formerly of The Bio-Nightmares) among them.
They delivered an intense set of industrial-tinged tech-death-metal with a dark sci-fi vibe reminiscent of Fear Factory combined with more modern metal styles. The band were extremely tight and their raging sounds got the first pit of the weekend going as the masses of energy on stage translated out into the crowd.
Following this was going to be a challenge for anyone and it fell to UK metallers Stormbringer to do so. Blasting out with an hour of riff-filled power metal that combined cleaner vocals with a good dose of dirty, distorted guitar they played a perfectly tight and smooth set.
Every member of the band threw all the right shapes and styles with bass player Darren McCullagh and front man Jimi Brown being particularly charismatic presences. Unfortunately following the intensity of Sovereign left the set feeling less powerful than it possibly could have and I couldn’t help feeling that, though well delivered, there wasn’t anything particularly fresh to their performance.
Following the Chaos and Peace Tent tradition of Cramps O’Clock (an hour of the garage rock band’s songs to wake up and/or confuse those who are still recovering from the Saturday night) Brunt started the live music off loud, slow and heavy.
A wall of fuzz filled not just The Peace Tent, but the whole festival site and the trio’s loose, fuzzy grooves drew a fair crowd despite the ‘early’ slot. Across the performance it felt like there was more freedom within the band’s playing, particularly in Ave’s guitar, which added to the feeling within their instrumentals.
Brunt were joined by Ben Mullard on vocals for a couple of songs that added a new twist to what they do, before the set was cut short by a broken snare drum. Nonetheless the band played a great set that started the day in style.
Despite the heavy start Sunday afternoon was almost exclusively reserved for acoustic acts across both stages and that started on the main stage with Ollie Goddard of Coastal Fire Dept. Ollie’s acoustic indie was exactly what you’d expect if you’ve seen the full band and he was chatty and engaging throughout as he told stories through songs with a really passionate performance.
After a show stealing set in The Peace Tent the night before Mike Meinke presented a stripped back solo version of many of Buffalo Huddleston’s songs, along with a few other originals, in the guise of Buff Hudd.
Armed with his guitar, didgeridoo and a bass drum, a new side of the songs was revealed and showed off another side of Mike’s playing that we haven’t had a chance to hear in sometime.
With many ‘chillin’ out on the grass in front of the main stage Buff Hudd’s songs really fit the feeling of the afternoon and he even got granted an encore following an impressive new song featuring the didgeridoo.
The acoustic performances continued in The Peace Tent with The Crowman and The Fiddling Pixie starting off their set in fine form, but unfortunately it was cut short by technical issues.
Ukuladeez soon followed and put in a very tight set of their quirky, fun songs. The group, who were short one member here but joined by Graham Duerden on the drums, were genuinely funny, engaging and inventive with a highlight coming in the form of their new song about Facebook that echoed a similar sense to their older Heat Magazine number.
As the Sunday headed into the evening full bands returned to the main stage with Near Bliss kicking things off. The three-piece Nirvana tribute delivered generally good and enjoyable reproductions of the grunge bands hits and album tracks.
Featuring two members of the heavily grunge influenced Tantale unsurprisingly led to a band having a lot of fun playing and Steve Wickins’ guitar and Matt Smart’s bass really fit the sound while Stu Ogier thundered away on the drums in appropriate style.
Near Bliss seemed to go down well, though the audience was still in subdued Sunday mode and, while reproducing iconic material is never going to be 100% successful, they did a great job at it.
Fresh from performances at the Isle of Wight Festival and Folklore in Jersey The Recks hit the stage and within two songs had everyone on their feet.
While the set wasn’t as high energy as the band’s recent show at The Fermain Tavern it was still a special moment of a set as the tent was the busiest I remember seeing it on a Sunday since [Spunge] a few years ago and the crowd, if not really going for it, were all moving with the music and having a great time.
The clarity of the sound from the bigger PA also allowed more elements of the The Reck’s sounds to cut through, showing even more the huge musicality of the group while the crowd sang along to a lot of the material which is always impressive for a band who’ve yet to officially release a record.
Rounding off the set on the upbeat trio of She Wants That Too, Trainwreck and Papa Leworthy brought the energy at the main stage to a high, certainly for the day, and approaching that for the weekend.
This energy didn’t let up as Jersey pop-metallers Flashmob launched into their set with boundless enthusiasm. Mixing some great originals with well-chosen covers of less obvious tracks by some big bands the Jersey boys played their hearts out and everyone was having a great time.
Flashmob are about as clichéd as metal can be with song titles like Rock ‘n’ f’n Roll and Pedal To The Metal but its all delivered irony free and for fun, without any sense that this has been over thought.
Harry Sutton is an excellent, charismatic, frontman backed by the ever gurning, high energy, guitar duo of James De Heaume and Andy Harris and their infectious enthusiasm made an amazing way to close Chaos.
It all ended up with the whole tent dancing along to a metal version of The Time Warp and then, after much teasing from the band, the Toy Dolls take on Nellie The Elephant blasting through the PA.
Though slightly smaller in scale this year, Chaos once again managed to deliver a great weekend of music that seemed to become much more than it looked like it might have been on paper, with some genuinely special moments and an increased positive energy that made the whole event something of a triumph.
A short version of this review also appeared in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 4th July 2015, it looked like this: