For the second year in a row the 2018 Vale Earth Fair, marking the Channel Island’s longest running music festival’s 42nd year, was split across two days with the first day again being run by Sound Guernsey and the second being the long-established event we’ve come to expect.
To use an old cliché this made the event something of a game of two halves, something that would be reflected by that old classic British obsession, the weather, that provided the second story of the weekend.
Sound at the Vale Earth Fair – Saturday 25th August
With the Sun shining down on the Vale Castle, the Vale Earth Fair got underway by celebrating, as has become Sound Guernsey’s calling card, some of the island’s new younger bands.
Peregrine were first up and despite being down a fiddle player put in a spirited performance.
Covering classics like Sweet Child O’Mine, Learn To Fly and Pinball Wizard they offered a diverse selection and, while a bit rough around the edges as one might expect for such a new group, have grown in confidence even since I saw them at Chaos back in June.
Still young but slightly more established, Isle Stone came with something of a reputation that they more than lived up to.
Debuting a couple of original songs that fit well alongside their takes on Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Rage Against The Machine the band are getting tighter with every show and frontman Reuben Esterhuizen in particular is clearly growing in confidence as a performer.
With the original tracks showing both a heavier and funkier side to Isle Stone, it was clear there’s a lot more to look forward to from the young five-piece.
Playing in slightly more restrained fashion that sometimes, likely due to guitarist Tiegan fighting through illness to make the gig, Vice still in a solid performance that was possibly tighter for the slight drop in pace.
With that they still had their usual attitude and charisma that has marked them as something of a stand out among younger bands and they seemed to impress the growing crowd, particularly with original song Banshee.
With two drum kits, two bass amps and multiple guitar rigs set up on stage it was time for something a little different as Sound presented a pair of musical mash-ups.
The first featured more experience punk rock quartet Jawbone taking to the stage alongside relative newcomers Cosmic Fish.
For forty-five minutes or so the two bands went song for song, apparently doing their utmost to put each other off when not playing and later in the set joining in with each other on vocals.
The younger band clearly took the challenge from Jawbone well and pushed themselves, upping their game to play with more power and confidence than I have seem from them in the past.
Jawbone meanwhile were their usual chaotic maelstrom of high energy punk rock inspired by the likes of Mifsfits, NoFX and The Ramones.
While this could have gone either way it worked well in creating a fun, energetic performance that encouraged both bands to do something a little different and if anything showed a new potential in Cosmic Fish that they have long been looking for.
The second mash-up session featured two more experienced groups of musicians in Lord Vapour and Dolmens.
Doing things slightly differently the two bands split the first part of their set in two with each band delivering an abridged version of their usual performance.
Dolmens were first with Lord Vapour’s Squirrel sitting in on drums and their melodic doom grooves soon got people on their feet at the front.
After a bit of a false start Lord Vapour were soon grooving and rolling through their early 70s psychedelic sounds that really is custom-made for big outdoor events like this.
The two bands then joined one another on stage for a supergroup like take on Lord Vapour’s Misty Meadows. The additional instrumentation really elevated the song further but it was Hollie’s vocals added in with Joe’s that provided the highlight of the set and possibly the day.
Continuing their tremendous summer of shows, following last weekend’s big night at The Fermain Tavern and a return for the North Show on Thursday, The Recks closed the first night of the Vale Earth Fair with a set that showed how regular gigging had really pulled them together with even greater synchronicity in their performance.
What they’ve found in their last few gigs that seemed to reach a new level here is a balance between high energy performance and pace so the songs still had great power but without feeling rushed.
Highlights tonight came with older favourite Valentine and newer track She Ain’t No Revelator before a somewhat abrupt curfew left the audience truly calling for more.
While obviously smaller scale than the day to come, Sound At The Vale Earth Fair was a great warm up for the main event while also being a way to showcase some of the island’s newer bands in front of a wider audience and I hope its something we see continue, and grow, going forward.
You can see more of my photos from Sound at the Vale Earth Fair on the BBC Music Introducing in Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here
Vale Earth Fair – Sunday 26th August
So after the fine weather the previous day the forecast rain was well in effect as Richey Powers of The Recks took to the stage to kick off the Vale Earth Fair proper.
On a sunny day I think Richey’s songs, that combine elements familiar from The Recks with a more folky, singer songwriter aspect, would be spot in for a relaxing start to the day, sitting on the grass in the Vale Castle.
Today though the more melancholy edge was revealed, but this didn’t stop Richey’s performance being a good introduction to the day and for one man on stage he made a surprisingly big sound and retained some of the impressive stage presence he brings to his main band.
If there’s a band from Guernsey more suited to the Earth Fair than Rentoclean I’ve yet to find them.
Combining elements of reggae, ska and punk the band, now expanded to include extra percussion, were in much tighter form than sometimes creating a great focussed but laid back and fun sound, along with plenty of new material that all came together to get a few dancing early on as the rain seemed to have cleared.
Following the now annual School of Popular Music showcase From Darkness kicked off the bands proper on the Viewalalu Stage just outside the castle gates.
Their set of early 2000s style metal brought back memories of the day’s when this stage was run as the Free Stage by the island’s Discharge fanzine that focussed on the heavier side of things and From Darkness set the scene for this being the rockier stage today well.
After a standout performance last year Jersey’s genre defying peculiarities The Crack were back, being promoted to the main stage.
Once again their performance all but defied description with music hall, show tunes and psychedelic pop combining with a bass playing nun, a bongo playing gorilla and who knows what leading the band and playing keyboards.
I’m hard pressed to say if it’s brilliant or trying to too hard to be interesting, but for those of a less critical persuasion they seemed to go down a treat with people dancing and getting involved throughout.
The band who, for my money, are neck and neck with The Recks for this year’s band of the summer were up next in the form of ska-punk quartet The Honest Crooks.
With a good number on their feet and down the front it seemed I’m not alone in this assessment and the band once again proved it.
Their performance straddled the line between relaxed presence and tight playing and their sound now certainly filled the bigger arena.
While they got a good number skanking along I couldn’t help but think that later in the day they could have got the castle really jumping.
Back on the Viewalalu Stage the afternoon fun continued with Clameur De Haro.
With people dancing and singing along and the band in chatty mood (as well as Shifty having an ongoing disagreement with his mic stand) it didn’t really matter that the band’s performance was maybe not the tightest they’ve been as the set lifted the spirits nicely for an overcast day.
With two-thirds of the band unavailable Savage Sons became Savage Step Sons today as leader Llewelyn Van Eden was joined by Lord Vapour’s Henry Fears on bass and Blacksmith’s Josh Davies on drums.
Considering the lineup shenanigans the band pulled together a good set of their rocking blues that was, as ever, delivered with a very cool presence that went down well with the crowd.
Unfortunately it was at this point that the rain deceived to return in earnest, never really going away for the rest of the day so Tantale were left in the unfortunate position of playing to a main castle arena that was rather sparsely populated with what audience there was huddling under the few tents providing cover around the edges.
Musically it was a bit of a gear shift after The Honest Crooks but as ever the band put in a slick and tight performance of their so-called ‘ambient grunge’.
Another band who suffered somewhat from the weather change were Bristol trio Little Thief.
With an interesting twist on a classic rock ‘n’ roll sound the band seemed unfazed and gave it their all combining rocking guitars, thundering drums and both fuzzy electric and synth bass to provide what was possibly an overlooked highlight of the weekend.
With the audience at the Viewalalu Stage being more hardy, or possibly just resigned to lack of cover on the ledge outside the castle, Burning At Both Ends retained a decent audience for their take on modern pop punk.
Being a band who have gained a strong crossover following from the youngsters at the Sound Guernsey events or more seasoned gig goers this probably shouldn’t be a surprise and the four piece more than proved why they have that following, highlighted by recent single F.A.D. Island.
Announced as possibly their last gig (though as I write this that seems open to debate) Dolmens were back at full force and provided to create a great soundtrack for the overcast and oppressive weather.
With a huge sound for the small stage many heads were nodding along to the (mostly) understated performance that allowed the music to do the talking – that is except for when guitarist/vocalist Stace Blondel tried to take a walk over the PA speakers as apparently he just can’t help himself.
Of course the Vale Earth Fair has more than the two stages with three others around the castle grounds.
Replacing the busking stage during daylight hours and the dance stage after sunset, The House was somewhat bested by the weather during the afternoon making for an intimate performances space for those who could fit inside while leaving those outside able to enjoy the music.
Particularly of note there were sets from Lord Vapour, in acoustic mode and complete with flute and more and Jersey visitors Hot Plastic, unfortunately I could only catch a small snippet of each.
Also out the back of the castle was The Pixie Stage.
Presenting a unique mix of DJs from Guernsey and Jersey it was busy all day for not only the music but also the fact it is largely undercover and in many ways feels like a separate mini-festival within the bigger event with an atmosphere all its own.
A break in the rain greeted one of the most anticipated bands of the day allowing the castle arena to quickly fill with bouncing skanking bodies for Imperial Leisure.
Their high energy ska goodness was an undeniable highlight of the day mixing elements of classic ska with the sort of thing The Honest Crooks were doing earlier and some of the most energetic performances I’ve seen on a Guernsey stage in some time.
With a dance off between members of the crowd and beach balls flying, they kicked off the evening portion of the show brilliantly and are firmly in the list of bands I’d like to see again.
With the rain still keeping away on the Viewalalu, Brunt created a perfect atmosphere with their brand of instrumental doom for the gathering dusk and concrete skies before the rain began again and Track Not Found took to the stage.
Fresh back from their first tour away from the island, the three youngsters started with more power and tighter than I’ve even seen them.
Unfortunately a broken string led to a protracted break that they tried to cover but did sap the energy from things somewhat.
With the guitar fixed they carried on and did get the power back up as the set went on leading to a highlight in Code Red and the crowd moshing to Ecstasy before an encore was demanded in a way that felt genuine.
For a few reasons that’s where my Vale Earth Fair ended (so apologies to the bands I missed) but it made for a strong ending point on a day that, despite the weather, featured some great music throughout the day with highlights coming from The Honest Crooks, Track Not Found, Little Thief and Imperial Leisure as well as The Recks the previous night.
You can see more of my photos from the Vale Earth Fair on the BBC Music Introducing In Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here