On Sunday 28th August 2016 the Vale Earth Fair staged what was, arguably, its biggest event to date as the centre piece of a year of shows celebrating the festivals 40th anniversary.
Headlined by Asian Dub Foundation, the 12 hour event spanned six stages and most styles you can think of with visiting acts and Channel Islands bands and DJs including the returning Teaspoonriverneck, Lord Vapour, Toupe, The Correspondents and many more.
My review of the festival was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 3rd 2016 (you can see it below with an easier to read version below that) and you can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.
40 years ago an idea was hatched to head up to the Vale Castle with some musicians and spend a summer day raising money and championing good causes while having a good time with some live music.
Over the years since 1976 festival culture has emerged with summer in the UK seeing festivals every weekend and, it seems like, every suitable field or open space welcoming music of one kind or another at some point.
With Chaos, Sark Folk Festival, Chateau De Son, Smaashfest, The Gathering and more Guernsey is no different but, through it all, the Vale Earth Fair has retained a certain je ne sais quoi that, in many ways, sets it apart – a bit like our local answer to that godfather of music festivals, Glastonbury.
Having grown to include six stages spanning everything from hip hop to psytrance to punk to stoner rock its fair to say there’s something for everyone and certainly true that its impossible to see and hear everything on offer at the Vale Earth Fair. But here is a recap of what I saw and heard over the course of the 12 hours of the main event.
As with last year the live music started on the ‘outside stage’, this year renamed Viewalalu (there’s a joke in there somewhere I’m sure for those who know its location), with a showcase for some of the young musicians from the School of Popular Music.
Much like the rest of ‘SOPM’s work this gave the group of youngsters a unique chance to perform on stage to an audience beyond the confines of the school’s open days and allow the audience a glimpse at the future of Guernsey’s live music scene.
Of the three acts featured today I caught Elisha Horsepool’s solo acoustic set and, while it all sounded good, the highlight came with her final song, an original which showed a conviction and talent that is very promising.
Having made quite an impression on Liberation Day and at a series of other shows since, Equilibrium kicked off the main stage and, after taking a few songs to warm up, sounded better than ever. Another young band they showed more dynamic on stage and set the mood for the music to come despite the first shower of the day sending a few of the audience in search of cover.
For reasons that are a bit beyond me one of the hottest bands on the local scene at the moment, Honest Crooks, were second up on the main stage and delivered the first fully confident blast of sound to fill the castle walls.
Despite the early slot it was clear quite a few had turned out early to see them and their super-tight reggae tinged ska-punk got people dancing earlier than I ever remember seeing at the Earth Fair.
Stay Near proved itself a perfect song to help celebrate the festival’s anniversary while a cover of What I Got by Sublime was particularly appropriate as the classic of the genre was released 20 years ago this weekend making for a double birthday.
Heading down the hill to The Busking Stage (where I was putting in a performance) I had my first taste of Problematic who’s grungy, hard rock sounds were a pleasant surprise and certainly lived up to the buzz surrounding them in recent months.
Another band with a seemingly unfeasibly early slot on the main stage were Buffalo Huddleston but, much like Honest Crooks, it was clear that a crowd had come specifically to catch the folk-hop juggernaut.
With the sun coming and going all afternoon, Buffalo Huddleston brought the musical sunshine with their relaxed vibes and added some more chilled out elements to their mid-afternoon set and people took little encouragement to get moving to the trademark energetic sounds.
If it was upbeat but relaxed inside the castle walls it was upbeat and furiously energetic on the Viewalalu stage as Jawbone blasted out their blistering brand of punk rock. Back in full on four-piece mode with Steve back on vocals (much to the delight of guitarist Lee’s vocal chords, no doubt), the band had some sound issues to start with but once this cleared up they were their usual shambolic best.
Along with the usual standout covers from the likes of Rancid, The Damned and Misfits, the highlight of the set came with a new original song that brought to mind the political influence of The King Blues run through a more full on punk filter – I probably can’t repeat them here but some of the lyrics regarding a former prime minister and a farmyard animal were particularly vicious.
Having gained a reputation with support from BBC Introducing and BBC 6Music, She Drew The Gun arrived on the main stage with a certain expectation and, from an opening spoken word piece delivered with forceful conviction by Louisa Roach and touching on many subject close to the heart of the Vale Earth Fair and its followers, delivered from the off.
From there they weaved a course through a set of loosely psychedelic indie-pop that washed over the audience, seeping between the neurones in a way that made them a highlight of the day. While they bore many similarities to many bands who’ve played the Earth Fair over the years they stood out above most and distracted from the rain that chose this time to reach its peak.
Past festival regulars Toupe made their return to the Viewalalu stage in slightly altered but none the less eccentrically groovy form.
Famous for their dual bass guitar and drums line up, lead bass player Karl is MIA at present so a guitarist has been brought in to replace him – while this gave them a more ‘normal’ line up appearance the music was exactly what we know and love and they got one of the biggest audiences outside the castle walls with the likes of Haircutz and Ninjas getting people grooving along.
If elements of She Drew The Gun tapped into some of the more political and indie side of the Vale Earth Fair’s usual mix, French five-piece Dynamics brought the dubb-y, reggae side out. While not my personal choice of sound the band got a groove going that was clearly infectious around the castle and provided a highlight for many.
The highlights of their set came when they took famous songs and treated them in their own way including a mash-up of White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, The Doors’ Riders On The Storm and Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and their version of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.
Toupe weren’t the only band making a come back for this special Earth Fair and the highlight of these returns (and my personal highlight of the day) came in the form of the ‘classic line up’ of fuzz-grunge-rock’n’roll three piece, Teaspoonriverneck.
With a crowd gathered at the front in anticipation the band started slow with George from their self-titled debut album before tearing through a set of their particular brand of doom and stoner infused psychedelic heaviness, spanning their first four releases, that had heads banging throughout, as if they’d never been away.
Riff after riff and hit after hit would be a suitable description of the set but it was Blonde Witch, Truck, Gideon & the Black Jaws, Ribshack Supertwang and stone-cold classic Eaten By The Devil that were the highlights and sounded huge on this stage and gave the day its only real ‘moment’ for me.
Over the past 10 years or so a band called Rumpus have been regular visitors to the Castle but this year they came in slightly different form. Going by the name Heads Off and with a more sociopolitical and punk-y edge the trio brought a set of bass driven eccentric post-rock to the Viewalalu stage.
Bassist and vocalist Danny Lowe exuded a unique charisma that drew more to the stage as the set went on and as the very loud music began to hammer itself home a few got moving but, despite the excellent performance (including Rumpus favourite Woods), the crowd remained disappointingly small for this very impressive band.
Having previously been a highlight of the Vale Earth Fair just before Buzzcocks provided one of the festival’s most disappointing moments, The Correspondents brought a buzz with them that had drawn many to the Castle Stage in anticipation and the duo of Mr Bruce and Chucks didn’t disappoint.
Combining elements of jazz, hip-hop, drum ’n’ bass and electro to make a kind of Bright Young Things-era electronic pop, the duo were captivating from the off. Mr Bruce is undeniably the visual centre point, dancing in astonishing fashion for the duration and somehow singing and working the crowd and mic at the same time, they brought a real celebratory tone to the event.
Chucks meanwhile works hard behind an array of technology clearly performing as much as his counterpart, just in slightly more understated way, and providing the duo its musical backbone in a way that is likely often overlooked but essential.
Parisian four-piece Porcelain headlined the Viealalu stage with a set of tight, synthy, dark indie that brought to mind Guernsey’s dark-disco pioneers Gay Army. While the music was very well delivered they were only playing to a small (if enthusiastic) crowd that seemed a shame given their place on the bill.
Having reportedly been on the Vale Earth Fair Collective’s list of wanted acts for many years there was genuine excitement about the arrival of Asian Dub Foundation to close out the main stage.
This anticipation was soon transferred into an enormous energy flowing back and forth between the band and audience as a huge mash-up of genres filled the castle. Heralded as one of the best live bands in existence they certainly backed up this claim and closed off an already celebratory event on a high.
Speaking of closing things on a high, as I headed down the hill from the Castle stoner rockers Lord Vapour were still getting loud and fuzzy on the Viewalalu stage.
This highlighted how the Vale Earth Fair has always brought some of the biggest names to the island while also giving new bands a chance to reach a broader audience, all while championing good causes.
So, heres to another forty years!