For a third year a field at the north-eastern most point of the tiny island of Sark was converted for the weekend into one of the most relaxed and convivial festivals sites I’ve ever encountered, for the Sark Roots Festival.
Once again the event featured three days packed with live music along with workshops on permaculture, healthy living, environmentalism and more.
While that’s all very good it probably won’t surprise anyone to know my focus was on the music that got underway on Friday afternoon and ran until I had to catch the boat back to Guernsey on Sunday.
After the now customary world music warm up from DJ Ollie Bolger the live music began with New Zealand native, and world wanderer, Jamie Wise.
With an acoustic singer songwriter style that married indie, folk and pop in a relaxed way that set the tone for the festival perfectly as the clouds of the early afternoon cleared for the rest of weekend.
Relaxed is not how I think anyone could ever describe The Crowman and his Crowband – or today was it The Chrome-man given his shiny space suite costume today.
The set was as eccentric and erratic as we’ve come to expect and highly enjoyable for it.
Beginning with the darker, more folky, numbers it developed, with quite a few new songs in the mix, into the band’s more upbeat material with highlights coming with Give Me Booze and a new song, dedicated to the day’s compère (who joined them on stage), The King Of Sark.
As the day got later the music seemed to be getting louder and young trio Track Not Found were certainly part of that trend.
Following their first U.K. tour earlier in the summer the band have a new confidence they showed off here hitting the ground running and not letting up for the duration of the set (the tracks from which were, uniquely, listed in bass player Maisie’s face).
With a few new songs thrown in showing they are continuing to grow as a band they held the big crowd captivated and were the first band of the weekend to receive calls for an encore.
A highlight of the set came with Jonny Doesn’t Love Me which a few in the crowd commented sounded like a future ‘single’ (as much as such things exist these days) in the making.
Something like a big brother band to Track Not Found these days, Lord Vapour were up next soundtracking the sunset with their heavy grooves.
The vintage style, hard rocking trio really got people on their feet and moving with one of the best and most energetic sets I’ve seen from them in some time.
By now familiar tracks like Sugar Tits stood alongside newer ones like The Spice and Semuta Music (both inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune) to take us on a psychedelic journey, while the weekend’s sense of strangeness and chaos began during Cosmic Skies as Track Not Found’s Grace Tayler joined them on kazoo and guitarist Henry Fears took a fall that left a hole in the stage, and even that didn’t deter them.
Rounding off a triumphant summer next were The Honest Crooks.
Like pretty much every other band from the islands this weekend the Crooks were at their relaxed best delivering a storming set of high energy punk infused ska.
Always a band to get people dancing they once again proved that showing why they have gained a reputation as one of the best bands in the Channel Islands right now.
Not only that but they also became I think the first band I’ve ever seen to actually have underwear thrown at them on stage…
After the upbeat energy of The Honest Crooks Bristolian quartet Binbag Wisdom had their work cut out with their collection of socially conscious tracks marrying acoustic sounds with hip hop vibes.
With a nice groove established early on they did a fine job with their acoustic guitar style being something unique and the clarinet adding an unexpected shift in the sound.
While clearly impassioned and with strong messages there was a lot to like, but, after two storming and more familiar sets, they didn’t grab me as much as I might have liked though they kept a good crowd up and moving.
Familiar to some from his other band Land Of Giants who played a Vale Earth Fair a few years ago, the first night of Sark Roots was rounded off by The Andy Quick Band from the south-west of England, joined for the duration of the set by The Recks’ brass player extraordinaire Ash Jarman.
From the off the five piece band picked up the energy with a lively, funky indie rock style.
Quick showed a great rapport with the audience and his band, leading and marshalling all in the tent through a performance that was spot on for a headlining set like this closing the first night of the festival on a real high point.
With no doubt a few hangovers being nursed (or persevered through) the second day of the Sark Roots Festival began in low-key fashion with a selection of acoustic and semi acoustic, folk orientated acts.
First of these was Guernsey based Irish influenced quartet The Button Pushers.
With songs that combined traditional influences with modern concerns and a good sense of humour they even managed to bring some fun to a festival at 11 o’clock in the morning, no mean feat, and showed, with their mixture of sounds, why they’ve become something of a regular fixture on Guernsey’s pub music scene.
Jersey’s Axon Bower was second up with a set of good, modern, singer-songwriter style songs.
Again spot on for earlier in the day he began to add a little more substance to the great music as more people made their way back to the festival.
Led by one of the main festival organisers, Roz, Manawa Ora represented, in musical form, the thoughts, feelings and concerns of the festival as a whole.
They did this through songs rooted in folk styles from around the world, as far afield as the South Pacific islands, with strong environmental messages.
While one could argue the messages somewhat over weighed the music at points, it more than suited the festival and for a band who aren’t regularly performing to large audience they sounded great.
An unexpected highlight of the weekend came next in the form of Russian folk singer Daria Kulesh.
With much of her music based in the Inguish tradition of her ancestors she told stories and captivated the audience near the stage playing a range of instruments including a new one on me, a small harmonium type device called a Shruti Box.
I was left thinking I’d love to see her perform in a more intimate and focussed space and I can’t not comment that she managed to say the phrase ‘Josef Stalin, dictator and maniac’ in the friendliest way imaginable!
The lighter folky sounds continued next with Daisy Bowman and her band.
With a huge range of instruments they made a sound that was smooth and relaxing and perfect for relaxing on the surprisingly summer September afternoon.
Faeland are a band from Bristol, but with a strong link to Guernsey through singer, guitarist and fiddle player Rebecca Nelson.
Their light indie-folk sounds were again perfect for a relaxed and sunny afternoon at a festival like this but I found it hard to get into their music, though the fact they were short a member or two of their usual live band may have led to that.
As their set neared its end it picked up a little more swing and they certainly made a sound that left me wanting to hear more and, like Daria Kulesh earlier, preferably in a more focussed setting.
The energy certainly jumped up a step or two as Jersey’s Parish 13 took to the stage.
With a wider selection of their own songs (largely about their evident twin loves of pirates and rum) than last year the set was great fun with a sound that married that made by punk band Mad Caddies on their song Weird Beard and Gogol Bordello.
With a cover to finish of the aforementioned gypsy punk’s Start Wearing Purple they got the first dancers on their feet marking the start of the evening session.
The invaders from the south continued next with long-standing Jersey favourite’s Benny The Moth.
With a vibrant mash-up of indie rock with hints or reggae, in a way arguably akin to The Clash, they presented a great mix of sounds that had people on their feet from the start and were a great sonic compliment to the sunset going on outside.
Tantale launched into their set at full power and, it was soon clear, were in slightly looser mode than we might be used to seeing them in.
Despite switching dynamic gears throughout the set they maintained their initial power and even when a broken guitar came close to totally derailing what already felt a little like a runaway rollercoaster of a performance, they pulled it back to create one of their most chaotic but enjoyable shows in recent memory.
After a set at last year’s Sark Roots Festival that was far from their tightest, The Recks began their set this year in strong and meaningful fashion with Richey Powers swirling a cape around himself on stage and the band continuing to show what a summer of regular gigs both in the islands and beyond has done for the cohesion of their performance.
Unfortunately it seems the Roots Festival is always going to be memorable for them for the wrong reasons as mid way through the power cut out plunging the tent into (relative) silence and darkness.
To the band’s credit (and particularly drummer Moxie’s) music continued as much as possible with Moxie providing some catchy rhythms that kept the audience’s attention, joined by Nathan’s bass once the on stage power was restored.
The rest of the band were soon back too and, even with the front of house not back, kicked into the next song, crowd pleaser Low Life, and everyone in the tent was back into it.
With the power all back on (and no doubt sound man Mark having gained a few extra grey hairs sorting it all out) the band rounded off the set in triumphant fashion as the audience remained firmly onside throughout making for a set that was memorable for both the problems but also the band’s great songs and performance.
Following The Recks at a festival in Sark is no mean feat and it was the first visiting headliner MC Xander who got the task.
Combining impressive beatboxing skills with sung and rapped vocals looped over using a vast array of gadgets on stage he kept the crowd up and moving and certainly impressed many.
With any thought of a curfew (if there was one in the first place) clearly forgotten, Klonk took to the stage well into the witching hour and provided another set of tunes perfect for Sark Roots after dark.
Mixing a myriad sounds from a huge number of instruments and performers on stage it was custom-built to keep people dancing.
While I might have not been feeling it as much as many (I’ll put that down to the late hour and the fact that even if well-played I found little to connect with in the music) they closed the night on a crazed Klezmer high that had many talking the next day.
After the excesses of the previous evening Sunday was always going to be a more relaxed affair, only compounded by having to get the boat back to Guernsey later in the afternoon.
The music began with Guernsey folk stalwart Colette Da Cunha.
Evoking something of Stevie Nicks in her style she set the tone for the day to a good-sized audience for the early hour.
Acoustic indie trio Boondoggle continued the relaxed atmosphere with a light and fun set led by the always impressive vocals and songs of Carrie Carr.
While the whole set was enjoyable particularly impressive was a brave cover of Queen’s The Show Must Go On which they delivered very well providing a highlight of the set.
Keeping the acoustic and folk feel of the day but in other ways changing things almost entirely were Gnawa Berba Diffusion.
The trio presented a set of North African music so unlike anything else I’ve heard here or elsewhere I found it hard to assimilate.
That said there’s no denying the great rhythms and infectious grooves present within the music and they even got a few dancing, though the attempted singalong moments were possibly a little much for a Sunday afternoon audience.
With Roots being a festival that likes to bring many aspects of what falls into that broad spectrum to the stage, they were a great addition and broadened the musical horizons of not just me but quite a few watching.
While the next band set things up behind them, we were treated to an extra act in the form of Charles and Amy Stenner. The duo provided a nice interlude of melodic, acoustic pop continuing the varied musical theme of the day.
My final band of the weekend were a stripped back version of The Space Pirates of Rocquaine going under the moniker of The Bootleg Pirates.
The three-piece, made up of guitarist Guppy, mandolin player Tim and drummer Moxie, presented relaxed and fun versions of some of the Space Pirates favourites.
While Guppy has been playing solo more regularly of late the addition of mandolin, drums (and on a couple of songs a very nice Telecaster) really helped fill out his sound and show a different side of some familiar numbers.
Highlights of the set came with a cover of Billy Bragg’s You Woke Up My Neighbourhood, which is always good fun, and closer Witch Of The Longfrie that added a different depth and atmosphere to the song.
Heading to the boat as Big Sheep took to the stage meant I missed them and Rentoclean but still I think this weekend once again was a highlight of the now packed calendar of music festivals (and events calling themselves festivals) happening in the islands from May to October.
I think it was The Honest Crooks frontman Raddy, who pointed out that it felt a bit like an end of season party for both the islands’ musicians and regular gig and festival goers before we head back into the darker months of pub gigs and, for many, studio time.