2016 was a landmark year for Guernsey’s longest running music festival, the Vale Earth Fair, as it marked 40 years since the first fair took place.
To celebrate that they organised a series of special events from their unplugged night to a return visit from recent favourites Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons to the main festival itself and, to round of the year, a new year’s party like no other with The Recks, Vienna Ditto and Gay Army.
My review of the show was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 7th January 2017 and you can see a full set of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.
New Years Eve can often be an odd night for events as people look to do rather different and specific things to ‘ring in’ the new year, so a regular live music show may not be much of a draw. Thankfully the Vale Earth Fair Collective were on hand at The Fermain Tavern to round off their 40th Anniversary celebrations with a selection of bands chosen to make this feel like something special, and in that they certainly delivered.
DJs St. Ace and Vauvert Underground kicked things off (as well as filling in between the bands throughout the night) and set the scene with a suitably varied selection of tracks ranging everything from Faith No More to The Jam to Grace Jones to Motorhead and as the night wore on they kept people on the dance floor until the bitter end.
First on stage though were Gay Army. Having been absent for the last year or so it was good to see and hear them back and they launched into things with their usual wall of nicely un-festive noise and darkness.
Jo Reeve’s guitar filled the Tav with with a swirling mix of distortion and delay while Ian Allsopp and Jay Allen’s rhythms added a groovy, dance-y, underlay that got a few moving early on (albeit at a polite distance from the stage).
That distance was filled by vocalist Rolls who prowled in front of the stage like a man possessed and, though he was at times an intimidating presence, it is he that tops off Gay Army’s sound to make it the dark, rhythmic beast it is.
Even if a few seemed slightly put off by the constant intensity as the set wore on, closer Cracked Amerika ended it on a high point that felt perfectly suitable for the transition from 2016 to 2017.
As Reading based duo Vienna Ditto set up on stage I was curious. They played the Vale Earth Fair itself in 2015 and though I missed them I had heard very good reports from many and, what with this seemingly being the year of the two piece band, I was hopeful.
Unfortunately what followed was 45 minutes of a largely disjointed, glitchy, mess of sounds combining synths, sharply distorted guitars and vocals in a way that rarely seemed to structurally coalesce into any kind of sustained groove and a total absence of any hook.
Confusing ‘chat’ between the tracks and an insistence of telling people to dance didn’t help and while the projections on the back of the stage looked nice they didn’t add anything either or even seem to connect to the songs.
Certainly the two members of the band were good at what they were doing, particularly the vocals stood out strongly, and towards the end of the set there were a couple of moments where it seemed to come together a little more but it was too little too late for me.
Despite my misgivings a fair few headed onto the dance floor and looked to be enjoying it and I was left thinking I could see how this could be as impressive as I was told, it just didn’t get there tonight.
Having reformed back in October this was only the second appearance from the new line up of The Recks and once again there was something of a sense of anticipation for it and the dance floor filled as they got themselves set up on stage.
Kicking off with the historically highly energetic Lipstick & High Heels and latest single Low Life it soon became clear that once again, while the band are tighter than they’ve ever been, it all felt a bit slow and the sense of excitement and danger that once made them so compelling was yet to be re-found or replaced. This made for a very odd set that certainly was not by any stretch unenjoyable as both the songs and the performance were great, but just missed something.
Just before midnight they launched into old favourite She Wants That Too and the whole band seemed to get a new energy reminiscent of old that I hoped would carry the rest of the set. Unfortunately midnight meant a break for bagpipes, kisses (for the lucky ones), hugs and general auld lang syne mumbling.
Following that we got something an encore from The Recks with Valentine getting some of the previous energy back and Papa Leworthy closing the show and leaving many calling for more.
While this was certainly a mixed bag of a night it was a great way of seeing in the new year and closed off a highlight year for the Vale Earth Fair in exactly the way they have always done things; with varied, interesting and different sounds showcasing just what Guernsey and the islands have to offer alongside visitors you may not otherwise get to experience – and here’s to more of it in 2017 and beyond.