40 years ago a group of Guernsey’s music lovers, free thinkers and, for want of a better word to make a point, hippies… came up with the idea of getting together at the Vale Castle at the height of summer and championing all the sort of causes you’d think they might through the medium of music.
Now, more than 30 festivals later and after settling on the name Vale Earth Fair, the collective they have grown to become are staging a series of events to mark the milestone. As well as gigs featuring both visiting favourites alongside some of Guernsey top musicians (including a fantastic show from Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons and an extra special Unplugged night) they have branched out with an exhibition of posters, artwork, photos and more from each of the festivals.
Despite being a slightly odd location, the ‘Inner Street’ of Guernsey’s Market Building gives the exhibition a real sense of the journey that the Earth Fair (as its generally abbreviated to) has been on as you make your way down one wall spanning 1976 through to late 1990s and back along the other side tracing the last 15 years or so.
This journey is a fascinating one as, throughout, familiar names stand alongside those lost to the memory of those who were there (and can remember being there). For me names like Errol Groves (a permanent fixture since the start), Two Trumpets, various incarnations of Paul Fletcher and Earthcorpse have a certain familiarity but some of the others conjure impressive ideas of what they might have been.
This is really brought home with the Big Band List that stands at the end of the journey, listing, as you’d expect, every band who’ve ever played the festival over the years and, on a selfish note, its great seeing my own musical project named alongside the likes of local luminaries Teaspoonriverneck and The Sacred Hearts as well as visitors like Skindred and Buzzcocks.
As one journeys around the exhibition its impossible not to draw comparisons with what feels like the Earth Fair’s spiritual forefather, Glastonbury, as it goes from humble, simple looking origins into far slicker and more ‘corporate’ looking fare. Bigger stages with impressive light shows are evident in the newer photos while the poster and programme artwork develop into some highly impressive designs – particularly considering the comparatively simple nature maintained by the volunteer organising collective.
If anything my only real criticism of this exhibition would be that it didn’t contain enough. While it offers a glimpse into the history of the festival it is a tantalising one that cries out for more, and I’m sure there is more, while at the same time continuing to back up the well-worn (but none the less true) notion that Guernsey is spoiled with the amount and variety of music being created on our little rock of 65,000 or so people.
The exhibition opened on Friday 3rd June with a selection of live music spanning both the history and variety represented by the festival. Veteran performer Colette Esteves started it off with her acoustic guitar and selection of 60s new folk and 70s style songs delivered in a timeless fashion that never fails to impress.
Regular Earth Fair main stage compere Grant Sharkey followed and created a huge sound in the reverberation chamber of the room that was, at points, organ rumblingly deep to the extent it was rendered hard to listen too but, none the less, had a few laughing and singing along to its messages that suit those of the festival being celebrated.
Before the assembled crowd decamped to The Golden Lion for more music and refreshment Citizen-X brought the event to a close with his iOS driven soundscapes that again suffered from the room’s huge reverb effect.
Despite the sound issues the music added a great extra to the visuals on offer and marked the launch of the exhibition in perfect style, as the Vale Earth Fair continues its celebrations in preparation for the main event at the end of August.