For the thirteenth year the Greenman MCC and friends took over a few fields at Pleinmont in Guernsey for their annual party weekend – Chaos!
This year with the subtitle Voodoo 13 the festival featured two stages of live music for three days featuring everything from the lightest of folk to the heaviest of rock along with the bike show and whatever other shenanigans might happen when you put a few hundred bikers and music lovers in a field.
My review of the event was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 1 July 2017 and you can read that, and an extended version, below.
It might be unlucky for some but for Greenman MCC and the rest of the crew behind Chaos it turned out to be one of their best weekends of bikes, beer and, what we’re focussing on here, bands, yet.
As has become customary the weekend started out in The Peace Tent with Silas The Assyrian Assassin first up on Friday afternoon. Delivering one of his more coherent sets to the small but appreciative audience it was nice to hear the intentional humour along with the more pointed opinions in his songs more clearly than sometimes.
Highlights came in the form of a ‘cockney’ reworking of Dandy Warhols’ Bohemian Like You along with a series of topical original songs generally bemoaning the state of the world in his uniquely witty way.
Fly Casual frontman, Damo, followed Silas with a slightly more straightforward, but none-the-less enjoyable, set of acoustic indie, including some songs from his long time band which are always nice to hear.
The main stage got going with one of the islands up and coming younger bands, Rogue. While they seemed to have a few sound issues they didn’t let that slow them down and their mix of rock covers including the likes of Skid Row, Guns ’N’ Roses, System of a Down and Muse were a nice warm up for the evening.
Having debuted last year, power metal trio Blacksmith upped the ante adding costumes to the mix in helping to tell their tale of the heroic ‘smith saving a princess from an evil dragon. While it may all sound a bit ridiculous the band wear it lightly and with a fun manner, and delivered their chuggy riffs brilliantly.
The first visiting band of the weekend were Jersey quintet Short Was Found. Having made their Guernsey debut at Chaos last year they came with something of a built-in following and it was clear why
Their energetic, hardcore tinged, punk rock was as fast, punchy and powerful as you could want and frontman James Pallot was a force of nature on stage.
The addition of second guitar has filled out their sound in the right way and it was nice to hear some upbeat punk rock as most of Guernsey’s harder punk bands are being a bit quiet.
Having already played the JT Market Rocks event to Chris Tarrant and friends (yes, really) earlier in the evening Honest Crooks hit the stage for a headlining set in The Peace Tent with a purpose and it wasn’t long before the crowd was packed in and skanking away.
The chance to play a longer set really showed off their repertoire from great originals to well-chosen covers spanning everything from The Specials to Reel Big Fish to, somewhat bizarrely, Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl.
Whatever they were playing though the audience were loving it and they put in an early bid for highlight of the weekend.
West Country rockers That Band took things in a different direction on the main stage with some sub-Red Hot Chilli Peppers style funk rock. While all four members played and performed very well and were perfectly listenable their set didn’t really ignite the crowd the way funky rhythms should making for a set that, while well-played, couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a dud.
SugarSlam have become main stage regulars at Chaos over the last few years and never fail to deliver, and Chaos 13 was no exception.
Having been in the studio over the last few months they took the chance to air a lot of new material and the upbeat power pop grunge continued where they left off with their Fameless album and quickly got the crowd excited.
Rounding off the set with a pair of covers, Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World and Motorhead’s Ace of Spades, left what was a loose but fun set on a high.
Having given the event its theme and following appearances on TV hailing them as one of the UK’s best undiscovered bands, there was a real sense of anticipation for the excellently named Johnny Cage & the Voodoogroove.
Their genre defying brand of dirty rock ’n’ roll certainly came with a good groove.
The band brought an excellent character and vibe to a slick and tight performance that kept the crowd at the front, and in the case of two more ‘enthusiastic’ ladies on the stage with them, dancing. This brought the first night Chaos to a close on a high point and set the bar for the bands to follow.
The young three-piece have built a good reputation over the last year and continued to build on that here.
While it took them a little while to build the energy up and they were a little looser than normal, by about half way through the set, around the time guitarist Grace Tayler broke a string, they hit their stride and didn’t let the missing string slow things down to get the day going in fine fashion.
When it comes to energy you can always rely on Jawbone and this was no exception.
The set started a little on the back foot as Dom from Static Alice filled in for the bands regular frontman Steve as he raced to the site on his lunch break. As soon as he did appear though the band were all systems go with their scrappy, sloppy take on punk rock.
While covers of the likes of Misfits, The Damned, Alkaline Trio and Men At Work (yes really!) have been their standards, their set of originals is growing and while Choice was a little too sloppy here Generation Y more than made up for it with its NoFX-like take on a bleak, nihilistic but still singalong sound.
While The Crowman is something of a regular in The Peace Tent, this year saw him arrive with his recently formed Crowband in tow, as heard on his new album, and they did a great job of building on The Crowman’s signature garage folk sound.
The whole set had a playful and relaxed feel though the more melancholy songs still cut through and made their point and Pimbo (with the aid of a megaphone) was one of Chaos’ most surreal moments in a while (and that’s saying something in The Peace Tent).
The fun folky vibes continued with Clameur De Haro and they quickly had The Peace Tent packed for a relaxed performance mixing their great songs with some well-chosen hard rocking covers that got people singing and clapping along.
While it was a folky afternoon in the smaller field the main stage continued rocking with WaterColour Matchbox delivering a tight and slick set of their progressive, conceptual rock with the metallic edge dialled up for this show.
While their songs aren’t music to chill out to even on a relaxed Saturday afternoon they went down well and in the setting of the big Chaos stage they sounded suitably huge.
With the tent crowd at its most subdued the husband and wife duo’s voices became the focus of attention and were instantly absorbing.
While the songs were often on the darker or more serious side Hayden Donnell brought a lighter side with a quick wit between the songs that provided the perfect balance and a few songs with Gregory Harrison on banjo just added to all this.
A band who built their reputation in this space a few years ago, the tent was busy for their return and really got into the slow and crushing grooves which flowed from the stacks of amplifiers on the stage and, while it was clear they have a dedicated following at the front, they made an impression on all gathered out of the fog.
After a year away The Recks returned to Chaos in their spiritual setting here of The Peace Tent and hit the stage in front of a packed audience.
While it took them a few songs to get warmed up and there seemed to be some technical issues with Greg’s banjo (no jokes about banjos please), they worked through this expertly and were soon back and rolling in fine form with everyone swaying and grooving to a selection of songs ranging from new numbers recently added to their set to older ones not heard from the band since their reformation.
Heave are a band who have become the stuff of legend.
For a brief period a couple of years ago the duo delivered a series of crushingly heavy and loud sets before promptly disbanding, apparently never to be heard again.
So, as soon as their name appeared on the line up for Chaos 13, they became the most anticipated band of the weekend and as soon as Neil Ettasse hit his drums and Steve Lynch’s Explorer guit-bass and wall of amps roared into life the old power was back.
With seven songs in 45 minutes it was a thick, crushing, obscenely loud racket in the best of ways that quickly got the first proper pit of the weekend going.
Steve and Neil were as tight as ever, as if they’d never been apart, and with the likes of Swamp Monster Is Loose, Smoking Molasses and epic closer Tomahawk they did what PUNiK did last year of becoming not just a highlight of the weekend but a highlight of all Chaos.
Following the onslaught of Heave was going to be no mean feat and its a bit of a shame for Graveyard Johnnys that the crowd seemed to go through a brief period of recovery while they started their set.
Thankfully the punkabilly trio are clearly an experienced crew and soon got the crowd on side leading to another pit kicking off, in fact one of the biggest I’ve seen at Chaos in quite some time.
Frontman and upright bass player Joe Grogan played with a great charisma that whipped the audience in the frenzy while Callum Houston was a non-stop dynamo pulling punk and rock ’n’ roll licks from his blonde Telecaster in fine fashion and Tom Lord looked like something from a post apocalyptic movie behind his rolling drums.
Graveyard Johnnys provided another highpoint of the weekend and ended on a killer cover of Golden Earing’s Radar Love to close out a great day spanning everything from the lightest folk to the heaviest of rock.
As something of a change to past Chaos events the Sunday afternoon of the festival was given over to a Battle of the Bands on the main stage in conjunction with Sound Guernsey, showcasing eight of the island’s young bands.
While there are things to say about all the bands who took part there are a few things that apply to all of them. That is that they are all amazing talented given their ages and experience and, while the performances aren’t the level of the big bands of the last two days they all showed at least hints of some great performers to come as they develop and get more gigs under their belts.
Lysergic opened the day and were totally new to me. The first half of their set had an edgy and slightly psychedelic nature to it (appropriate given their name, was that intentional?) with covers of Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer and The Rolling Stones Paint It Black before the singer and the guitarist swapped roles and things went in a grungier direction.
This second vocalist brought a crazed energy that was great to see in a scene where the younger bands can often be a little on the polite side and I was almost surprised he didn’t end the set by throwing himself through the drum kit a la Kurt Cobain in his prime.
One thing that has really stood out with the current crop of young bands in Guernsey is the number of female performers and Vice are a prime example of this. The all-girl five-piece sounded great on the slightly heavier, darker numbers from the likes of Highly Suspect and, while they could do with a bit more grit to back it up (something that comes with time), they put on a great show with their singer particularly standing out with a charismatic and confident turn.
Another female fronted band were The Violet Diversion and it wasn’t long before their singer, Kiya, was following in her uncle Stace Blondel’s footsteps and heading out on the speakers across the front of the stage, getting face to face with the crowd.
While Kiya led the charge the rest of the band were solid as well and, while their selection of songs didn’t give them the coherent image of their leader they put on a great show.
The last band before the break are one with a little more experience, Equilibrium. While their energy was a bit up and down today they still put in a good showing and when they did hit their stride they made a great pop rock sound.
After a brief trip to The Peace Tent for a little self-described ‘smutty’ folk from A Day Before Thursday, Acoustic Accord kicked off the second half of the Battle of the Bands with a cover of Buffalo Huddleston’s Sky High. The band followed this with well-played piano and acoustic guitar covers of a range of songs, backed up with a violin and drums. While they were a little reserved for my tastes but undeniably talented musicians.
Another band who, despite their appearance, have been playing for a year or more are Cosmic Fish. It having been a while since I last saw them they’d noticeably come on again and, while still a bit loose in places, have added more power to their pop punk sound that is coming together into something very enjoyable.
With their new EP, Hummingbird, unofficially released here (the official launch will be at Sark Folk Festival) the trio mixed their set up a bit but did exactly what we’ve come to expect; delivering a series of darkly hued folk songs based on styles of Americana with their own flavour increasingly creeping in making them one of the islands truly special bands to see and hear.
Back at the Battle Rogue were back on stage and looking far more confident than they did on Friday afternoon. While they still have some rough edges to smooth out their set was far more assured with drummer Luke Corbin and singer Carmen Stella Tippet particularly impressing – and it’s always nice to hear Skid Row’s Youth Gone Wild.
With all the bands having performed the judging panel (made up of a selection of members of the stage crew and organisers) made their deliberations and announced Vice as very worthy winners with Track Not Found an honourable second, but, as with pretty much all battle of the band’s style events, all the bands were winners getting seen by a bigger audience and getting an experience they are unlikely to get for a while (or at least another year if they get invited back to Chaos in the future).
With ‘silly games’ taking place in the main field in the way they only do at Chaos the music continued in The Peace Tent with Buff Hudd. It’s hard to think of a more perfect act for this setting and Mike Meinke delivered on that as people chilled out in the tent, some singing and grooving along. Once again the Japanese version of his song Don’t Worry Yourself was a very impressive highlight along with the slightly mind-bending instrumental Mono-limb-tastic.
The folky vibes continued in somewhat more surreal form next as Ukuladeez hit the stage and seemed intent on playing a game of how many people can we fit on The Peace Tent stage at once.
Within that though they delivered probably the best set I’ve ever seen from them combining their sense of fun with some great catchy songs packed with genuine humour.
With the expanded band including not just bass and drums as we’ve heard before but violin, pipes from James Dumbarton melodica and, for one track, the Folkatron 3000 (its hard to explain) from Peace Tent’s terrestrial leader Stretchy Stuff along with a choir of the Ladeez’ mums it made for a highlight set of the weekend in The Peace Tent in the most improbable of ways.
Back in the main tent Burning At Both Ends kicked off the final evening session with a set of their storming style of pop punk.
With the Sound Guernsey faithful at the front and singing along the band gave it their all and this set in particular really showed frontman Peter Mitchell coming into his own in the role.
Catchy new songs stood alongside now well-known favourites and the band closed their set by inciting a circle pit for their final breakdown.
Over the years Static Alice have become firm Chaos favourites and their brand of power pop rock rarely fails to get the crowd going and this was no exception.
From the start Dom Ogier, Scott Michel and Luis Morais were all in full on performance mode getting up on the speakers in front of the stage and rarely dropping the energy for more than hour.
With the biggest crowd I remember on a Sunday night in a long time Static Alice showcased songs from their new Warrior EP alongside older material that it was clear a lot in audience were familiar with before ending on a crowd pleasing encore of Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell and The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz.
This closed Chaos on an upbeat note and brought to an end what felt like a newly revived event with something of the spirit of old back with brand new young bands rubbing shoulders with established acts and some great visiting headliners.