For the 39th year the Vale Earth Fair took over the Vale Castle on Sunday 30th August.
The Channel Island’s longest running music festival has long had a reputation for the breadth of music it offers and this year was no different with everything from psytrance to house to hip hop to groove metal all having their place on the bill across the 12 hour event.
My review of the festival was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 5th September and you can read an extended version of that beneath the cutting below.
As the sun shone down and marathon runners snaked past I made my way up the hill to Vale Castle last Sunday lunchtime for this year’s Vale Earth Fair where, over 12 hours, more than 60 bands, musicians and DJs would be appearing across six stages.
With one of the strongest local line ups in years bolstering headline acts Jungle Brothers and Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate from the off their was a sense of positivity and anticipation across the site that continued all day.
Live music got underway first on the Busking Stage at the bottom of the castle hill with Ukuladeez. Though they were slightly drowned out by the somewhat overbearing breaks ‘n’ beats stage (this would be balanced as the afternoon went on) their small crowd still enjoyed the tunes, though the early slot did seem to sap some of their usual joie de vivre.
The Stage Against The Machine was next to get going with a showcase for a couple of acts from the School of Popular Music. Jesse Byrne is a young solo acoustic singer-songwriter who, while a bit standard, certainly seemed to have the musical skill to grow into something good.
He was followed by an exceptionally young rock band, The Bone Idols, who sounded great for a first full public gig (even without a bass guitar), with their mix of covers that would already put some established cover bands I’ve witnessed to shame. And it’s always good to see a new female performer with some attitude, in this case their drummer.
As people began to find their spots inside the castle Schema welcomed them with their mix of funky jams. This was my first time catching the quartet since their recent reformation and, while not much has changed, their laid back approach was a nicely relaxed way to start the day and caught the general Earth Fair vibe very well while the band looked like they were having a great time on stage which was very infectious.
After a successful return at Chaos earlier in the summer, indie three-piece Fly Casual returned to the Earth Fair on the Stage Against The Machine and drew quite a crowd for the early hour. Despite fighting some sound issues the trio sounded great and gone was the nostalgia that marked their last outing leaving just some really good songs in its place that was the first of many highlight performances across the day.
Fly Casual were quickly followed by the currently very busy Lord Vapour who did exactly what they’ve been doing all summer in drawing a crowd down to the front and delivering loose, groovy hard rock.
On this bigger stage their lordships may have lost a little of the atmosphere that has marked their previous gigs, but it still sounded great and everyone on and off stage seemed to have a great time.
After a storming headlining slot at Chaos and a highlight set at Sark Folk Festival it felt a bit odd seeing Robert J. Hunter and his band quite so early on the bill today. That didn’t deter the dirty blues three-piece though as they delivered a tight and lively set that had a few grooving along in front of the stage while others lazed in the still present sun.
Once again both Rob and the band continued to demonstrate the growth that near constant gigging leads to showing they have really grown into their sound and style to become a full package of a band to rival any blues band I’ve seen.
Back on the Stage Against The Machine things got bouncy as Honest Crooks brought their brand of politico-ska-punk to the day.
Fitting in perfectly with what makes the Earth Fair what it is, the band continued their run of great shows that have built them a dedicated and energetic following who were skanking throughout.
Even with the slight misstep of an under rehearsed new song (complete with kazoo filling in for the band’s long searched for brass section) Raddy, Cheese and Andy’s mix of well-known covers and originals made them the first band to get a dedicated crowd dancing as the fog began to roll in.
While Bonsai Pirates brought their upbeat acoustic, pirate themed tunes to the main stage, late booking Gay Army stormed the castle walls outside. With their insistent, urgent post-punk indie rock in full force they drew the biggest crowd yet, though typically for a mid-afternoon audience they were appreciative if not too energetic. Rolls Reilly soon made up for this though with his ever-flamboyant performance as the four-piece showed they are well and truly back on the battlefield.
One of the most anticipated bands of the day strutted onto the Castle Stage next looking every bit the super cool rock ‘n’ rollers they are in black denim and leather and shades, it was Of Empires.
Marking their first performance back in Guernsey since last year’s Earth Fair it was clear the now Brighton-based band were very happy to be back and on the big stage.
Frontman Jack Fletcher owned the space like a kind of more interesting Bono, while guitarist Matt Berry showed he has grown immeasurably as a performer (he was already an outstanding guitarist) as they grooved their way through a set of predominantly new material.
With their swagger and style backing up their great songs they showed all the makings of future event headliners and, ending on older favourite Carla, made for a powerful finish that started the festival’s evening of rock ‘n’ roll excellently.
That rock ‘n’ roll swiftly continued in garage-y form as Thee Jenerators blasted onto the stage. Taking us from the precision of Of Empires to a kind of visceral ‘raw power’ the crowd were popping from the start and new single Daddy Bones really elevated the energy in the castle to a new level.
Frontman Mark Le Gallez takes to these bigger shows like a duck to water and really gave us a show today as he appeared bedecked in yet more black denim and leather and with his hair slicked into a widows peak (appropriate for newer number Bela Lugosi) while bass man Jo Reeve expanded his energetic on stage repertoire to include swinging from the rigging!
Having only seen this version of the band in pubs it was good to see they can still bring it on a festival stage and really energise the Earth Fair’s afternoon crowd and get them ready for an evening of dancing even as the cloud and fog rolled in, in earnest.
After a bit of a break to enjoy some of the festival’s ‘famous’ vegan lightning burgers (it was a good year for them this year) the rock ‘n’ roll vibe continued with Jersey’s premier trashmen, The Cryptics.
While more aloof than the preceding bands their mix of great songs and ‘cool’ is hard to fault as the ever-charismatic Screamin’ Jonny Moth owned the stage while GTO brought the Detroit inspired guitar sound.
The highlights of their set came at its conclusion with a song with the excellent chorus of ‘Hey Devil, I love you cus you’re evil’ followed by Black Lucy and a blistering run at MC5’s Kick Out The Jams.
Rhythm and blues driven post-punk was on order next from Londoners, The November Five. While they suffered from a distant audience, many of whom had headed inside the castle, they delivered an effective set that grew into a genuinely powerful wall of sound with some real fire behind it.
The reason that many had headed to the main stage was the return of Earth Fair favourite Joe Driscoll. Having first played the festival in 2006 after being discovered by The Get Down’s DJ Oneofakind, this year saw him return with a full band co-led by Guinea’s Sekou Kouyate.
Delivering a vast expansion on Driscoll’s usual solo guitar loop and MC work their funky rhythms had possibly the day’s biggest crowd moving and grooving. Particularly fascinating about this set was the kora being played by Kouyate that added a new sound to the mix that I’d never heard before, this combined well with Driscoll’s guitar and MCing and created something unique and highly engaging.
Following a few impressive sky illuminating blasts of lightning the heavens opened as Lifejacket took to the Stage Against The Machine and the audience grew and packed down to the front. Undeterred by the rain blowing into their faces the post-rock three-piece delivered they most focused set to date with a large amount of newer material rubbing shoulders with songs from their debut album which was getting its physical release marked here.
The new songs develop on the blistering intensity of the old with chief songwriter Andy Sauvage showing further inventiveness within his chosen genre while being an intense frontman. To this was added a newly broadened but still distinctly ‘Lifejacket’ set of beats from drummer Moxie while John McCarthy’s precise, distinctive bass lines stood alongside his more fun-loving on stage demeanour.
All this culminated in a career best performance from the band that shows they have a lot more to offer and that went down exceptionally well with the crowd who stuck around and grew no matter how soaked they might be getting.
While Lifejacket rocked outside the castle, this year’s headliners hit the main stage and the rapidly dampening audience (some complete with umbrellas) soon got bouncing to the dance-y hip-hop sound of Jungle Brothers. As always for Earth Fair headliners the crowd were into it throughout and the performers responded in kind making for the kind of huge atmosphere only the Vale Earth Fair manages to deliver in Guernsey.
The rock ‘n’ roll returned to the Stage Against The Machine for the day’s visiting headliners, Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons.
Having wowed the crowd at the De La Rue the night before, the Basingstoke based three-piece wasted no time doing the same at the main event as vocalist (and occasional guitarist) Puss Johnson, bedecked in full cat attire, led the trio through a set of powerful, posturing ‘dirty rock ‘n’ roll’.
Puss merged the stage presence of the likes of Joan Jett and The Cramps into a perfect package with great vocals, knowing lyrics and a real star quality. In many bands a costume like this would feel like a gimmick, but here it was backed up by the music and performance to create something natural, genuine and unique.
Puss was backed by Dirty Jake and Filfy Antz who musically matched their leader and each brought their own vibe to the set creating a fresh take on an old sound that drew a big crowd that Puss took the time to go and meet face to face several times during the set, in all making them my, and many others, top visiting band of the day with calls having already begun to get them back over to the island.
Having spent the last few years building quite a reputation the honour of closing the Stage Against The Machine fell to To The Woods this year and, as they stepped onto the stage to WWE wrestlers’ D-Generation X’s theme song, it was clear they had every intention of stealing the show.
For the following 45 minutes they proceeded to do exactly what they’ve become known for, delivering blistering grunge rock as Robert ‘Bobby’ Battle led the trio as only he can while Dan Garnham provided the pounding driving force from behind the drums. Here that led to the days only full on mosh pit and even an attempted wall of death!
While they may not have stolen the show To The Woods certainly brought things to an impressive climax and rounded off a day where Guernsey’s musicians showed they can more than hold their own alongside visiting acts as part of an event that rounded off the island’s festival season on a major high.