For the third year in a row the Vale Earth Fair expanded to a two day event with the main festival, this year celebrating 43 years, in its usual place at the Vale Castle on the Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend but with Sound Guernsey taking over the castle for the Saturday afternoon, Breakz & Beats there in the evening and the traditional ‘warm up’ show at the De La Rue on the Saturday night as well.
As well as this the 2019 Vale Earth Fair marked something that could have been more sombre but in the spirit of these things it became something of a celebration of the life of festival founder Errol Groves.
Anyway, without further ado, here is my look back at what has ended up being one of the best weekends of the year…
Sound Guernsey at The Vale Earth Fair 2019
As the hottest August bank holiday weekend on record (in the UK anyway) kicked off the sun was certainly beating down on the Vale Castle as Sound Guernsey took over the Vale Earth Fair’s Castle Stage for the third year in a row, showcasing six of the island’s up and coming acts on the biggest stage possible.
Sonic Bomb started things with a blast of Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath.
With that choice of material they didn’t make life easy for themselves but put in a good performance, highlighted once again by their guitarist and drummer though all seemed more into things once they got to set closer, My Chemical Romance’s NaNaNa.
While more experienced as a band Dead Steady drew on some of the same influences as the openers with a set featuring the likes of Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath along with Arctic Monkeys.
While they certainly sounded good, and showed why they won the Thirst Battle Of The Bands back in early 2018, compared to some of the newer bands on the scene they seem to be repeating themselves somewhat (they aren’t alone in this) but I can’t fault their take on Sabbath’s N.I.B. which is always a highlight.
This year’s Chaos battle of the band winners, Case On The Base, were up next with an extended set of their take on grunge.
While the three piece felt somewhat lost, physically, on such a big stage and, while the set felt a little overlong, the number of original songs within the set, along with a few well done Nirvana covers were great to hear and Case On The Base continued to stake their claim as the next band to keep a close eye on in the coming months.
Another more experienced performer, Kiya Ashton, was up next and delivered a captivating set of her folk inspired atmospheric pop.
With a few extra musical tricks, including use of a loop pedal and what sounded like a couple of extra bits of backing, she managed to not get lost in the big space and, while being something of a musical contrast to the earlier rock bands, was a great soundtrack for relaxing in the sun.
Closing with her take on Cranberries’ Zombie Kiya delivered possibly the most complete feeling set of the afternoon and certainly one of the highlights.
Vice are one of the more experienced of the current crop of younger bands on the Guernsey scene right now and have a small, if dedicated, following who were present today.
Singer Jessie and guitarist Tiegan did their best to fill the big stage and put on a show, and in Banshee they have a great original song in their repertoire, unfortunately it was hard to avoid the fact here that they seem to have plateaued and need to find some new energy as they felt a little flat here compared to some of the other bands.
In terms of experience Isle Stone fell somewhere in the middle of the bands playing here but, after what felt like a somewhat protracted break, they hit the stage, from the off sounding bigger than any of the rest of the day’s bands.
Mixing their own songs with covers (including maybe a few too many by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers) they seemed to play through most of their repertoire with all band members having their stand out moments.
Special note though has to go to guitarist Alex Queripel who is often out shone by more charismatic co-guitarist Charlie Stevens but showed today he is never outplayed.
Original song Born For War provided a highlight before the band closed on the ambitious and epic Vicarious by Tool rounding off the first afternoon of the 2019 Vale Earth Fair on a high.
Vale Earth Fair Warm Up – Thomas De La Rue – 24/08/19
After Sound Guernsey’s afternoon takeover, the Castle Stage was claimed for the evening by the Breakz & Beats crew who run one of the smaller stages in the main festival day.
As well as that though the Earth Fair Collective staged their regular show at the De La Rue in St Peter Port featuring two bands who would be playing the main festival in The Electric Shakes and The Wakes, as well as a one off return appearance for Dolmens.
It was that psychedelic rock four piece who kicked of the night and it was clear from the off this was a welcome return.
With a slightly stripped back version of their usual sound Dolmens still sounded just as heavy and engaging as ever showing the quality of their songs and they soon had the ‘dancefloor’ packed with swaying, sweating bodies.
While the sound was intimate and immediate they still produced an atmospheric quality and Hollie Lucia’s bass in particular sounded huge as they delivered 45 minutes of choice, slow, heavy, doomy, psychedelic noise.
Regular visitors with strong local links The Electric Shakes were another band making a welcome return and launched into their set like a trio of truckers on speed with a love of Motörhead playing the blues.
Blasting off with Lightspeed Mother they didn’t let up and the crowd stayed packed in throughout as Steve, Eric and Basha grooved their way through their infectious, hook filled, punk blues.
Their sound and style is perfect for a busy, sweaty venue like the De La Rue tonight and they reminded me how good this pub can be for this kind of rock ‘n’ roll as they definitely fit the idea of getting everyone ready for the day to follow.
While there was a definite shift in tone as The Wakes took to the stage there was no less energy in their style of protest folk ‘n’ roll.
A favourite of Earth Fair founder Errol Groves their visit this year was all the more special and that feeling certainly began here and it wasn’t long before people were dancing and singing along.
Without a drum kit and a slightly more acoustic range of instruments meant that the sound from the drum ’n’ bass night downstairs in the venue was bleeding through a little more than was ideal, but it didn’t detract too much as they played through a selection of their own songs and those of others.
This was all highlighted (to a newcomer to them like me) by Billy Bragg’s version of There Is Power In A Union, Los Fastidios’ Antifa Hooligans and vintage protest anthem We Shall Overcome all of which felt like a perfectly fitting way to get ready for the 12 hours of music with a conscience that was to follow.
Vale Earth Fair – Vale Castle – 25/08/19
Arriving at the Vale Castle for the 2019 Vale Earth Fair, with the Sun still shining after the great weather of the previous day, it was already busier than normal for noon.
This seemed to be down to the presence of many who’d been on the Extinction Rebellion march looking to raise awareness about climate change and protest Guernsey’s government’s stance on it.
It was the Extinction Rebellion showcase that then got things underway on the main stage with music from performers including Kiya Ashton and James Morvan and ranting poetry and spoken rap from James Askew and Karam Hayre.
This set a tone for the day and maybe was part of what made many comment that the event as a whole felt more in the spirit of the Earth Fair of a few years ago than it has in a while.
It was another showcase that started the day on the Viewalalu stage as well with the School Of Popular Music showing off some of their best talent for the fourth year in a row.
Rachel Dawson was first up with some relaxed but soulful acoustic songs highlighted by her tremendous voice.
She was followed by World On Fire who’s pop rock sounded great and showed, along with the Sound Guernsey event the previous day, that the island’s younger bands seem to keep getting better and better, thanks, in part, to organisations like the School of Popular Music.
Having performed at the Earth Fair in many guises over the years The Crowman was back on the Castle Stage this year leading a slightly new look version of his Crowband through a set of simple but effective country-folk songs with more than a hint of his DIY punk leanings.
Once they settled in they brought a really good energy to the stage with Holly’s banjolele sounding great as a counterpoint to the pair of acoustic guitars and a new song about Monday mornings providing a highlight.
The folky feeling continued with Jersey’s Badlabecques, albeit with a poppier aspect.
Singing largely in Jèrriais (Jersey Norman French, their version of Guernsey’s own ‘patois’) they had a unique but highly enjoyable sound that even had a few Latin tinges in places.
Joined on stage by Guernsey based musician James Dumbelton they featured many Earth Fair veterans (although some were almost unrecognisable from their more recent appearances) and as such were the first of several bands to directly pay tribute to festival founder Errol Groves with a version of Fairport Convention’s Come All Ye.
As is often the case the music on the Viewalalu stage for the afternoon had something of a rockier feel and this mood was well set by Dead Steady, making their second appearance of the weekend, and instantly with more energy than the previous day on the smaller and more intimate stage.
With a trick guaranteed to get the crowd on side Coastal Fire Dept began their set by giving out some free cans of Breda before launching into a set that seemed more relaxed and erratic than usual, but in a way that very much suited them and kept building the energy around the stage nicely.
As Bobby Battle joined them on stage later in the set, giving them a huge three guitar sound, they continued to show why they have become such a well regarded band defiantly sticking to their ‘Grunge From The Vale’ principles, and what better place could their be for that than the Vale Castle.
While Badlabecques had started the onstage tributes to Errol Groves it was his daughter, Aeva Joy Magdalena (FKA Michelle Groves) who really brought them into focus as she delivered a moving poem about his life and involvement with the Vale Earth Fair making for a truly special and unique moment.
The poem not only captured the spirit of the man and the Earth Fair brilliantly but it summed up what it is that makes this festival different to the many others that now happen around the islands and how integral to that Errol was (and long may it continue).
The tributes continued with a performance from one of Errol’s favourite current bands, The Wakes, fresh off their appearance at the De La Rue the night before.
With a set more focussed on their own material, and the political aspect of it, than the previous day they sounded great on the big stage and went down a storm with the big mid-afternoon crowd.
While maybe a little less upbeat it suited the mid afternoon feeling and was, in fact, probably more impactful for it with highlights coming with their own Never Again (Antifa) and set closer We Shall Overcome specifically dedicated to Errol.
For the last year or so a troupe of musicians playing North African Gnawa music have been making an impression on Guernsey’s music scene.
On the Viewalalu stage a new version of this was introduced as they joined with a few Guernsey musicians to create Gnawa Hash Fusion adding jazz and rock elements to the traditional spiritual trance like sounds and drawing a big crowd.
They were followed by the days compère, Baron DenDen (of Imperial Leisure, who played the Castle Stage in 2018), delivering a loose, fun and audience participation heavy set drawing on his band’s material but performed in a unique solo way.
After the folky start to the day BlackTopTales shifted things slightly with their relaxed country rock sounds which were perfect for the warm afternoon, but it was the next band who really kicked things up a gear, setting the stage for the evening session.
Never ones to skimp on the visual side of things either the lead duo were, for reasons best known to themselves, dressed as nuns with Grace topping it off with a headdress of burning incense sticks which later in the set she switched to a Japanese schoolgirl style costume.
It would be easy to think the visual side was to distract from the music, particularly as new drummer Charlie is still finding his feet, not just in the band but behind the kit, but they delivered exactly what we’ve come to expect from the trio mixing punk, grunge and riotgrrrl with a whole load of energy and they were the first band to get a few on their feet.
Following an, in their words ‘accidental,’ two year break Lifejacket returned to the Viewalalu stage and looked to re-stake their claim as the islands premier hard indie outfit.
Tighter than ever and with lots of new material they were no less the energetic, angsty trio that made their reputation.
Playing with immense speed their new material featured a few moments of what I can only call hyper-surf guitar amongst the indie sounds and they drew a big crowd as the set went on.
Highlights came with old favourites No Show and Merrick along with new ones Pre-Planned Heart Attack and closer Antarctic Homesick Blues that showed a more sonically dynamic side of the band and I hope we don’t have to wait another two years to see them again!
The evening session in the main stage kicked off in earnest with a rare appearance from a band that has gained something of a legendary reputation in the island, Sacred Hearts.
Sounding huge and with an infectious energy from the off this band showed how six individuals can link together in a way that’s otherwise inexplicable and create something that sounds fantastic even 30 years on from their initial formation.
As the set went on the energy went up and up and began to radiate back and forth between the stage and crowd under the evening sun with this seemingly peaking on the swirling psychedelic indie rock of Salvation.
As they reached the end of the set though, things took another step up for an epic mashup of their own Love Bomb and Joe South/Billy Joe Royal’s Hush getting the evening going with a bang.
The first of the evenings visiting acts, Karl Phillips & The Rejects continued where the energy of Sacred Hearts left off fusing ska and hip hop to create something massively danceable and getting even more people moving in the Castle.
While I wasn’t able to catch all of their set the band’s mix of attitude and fun energy was certainly spot on for the warm summer evening.
Back over on the Viewalalu stage the party was also getting started thanks to The Cor Damme Lars.
With an expectant crowd the band more than delivered putting in possibly their smoothest sounding set to date but without losing energy and, in fact, seeming more relaxed on stage than ever as mishaps like broken mandolin strings or misjudging microphone positions didn’t slow them down.
As the set went on they had many singing along both on the floor in front of the stage and on ‘balcony’ of the castle walls up by Errol’s Bar which as the sun sets behind the castle is always a great sight.
The last time I went to the Reading festival (a somewhat worryingly long nine years ago) one of my highlights came early in the afternoon on the main stage in the form of The King Blues.
So when it was announced that the current incarnation of the band would be playing the Vale Earth Fair my interest was certainly piqued, though moderated somewhat by the various trials and tribulations they’ve been through in the intervening years.
Kicking off with a few guaranteed crowd pleasers, including Let’s Hang The Landlord, set things off on the right foot and they never seemed to let up from there.
Certainly The King Blues weren’t quite the same band they were a decade ago but frontman Itch still has the same righteous anger and energy that was always so absorbing and much of the subject matter of his songs is just as, if not more, relevant today as was then.
With the fist pit of the night getting going for Off With Their Heads and everyone down the front shouting back the call and response chorus of Headbutt it was clear the younger end of the regular Earth Fair crowd were in their element and that this ‘greatest hits’ set was exactly what was needed so, as they closed on Save at The World, Get The Girl, it was surely one of the highlights of the weekend.
Outside the castle gates the Viewalalu’s visiting headliners, The Electric Shakes, were just getting going with their raging punk blues in full effect.
While less immediate than the night before at the De La Rue this was made up for in the huge sound of the band blasting out their range of high energy rock ‘n’ roll ‘hits’.
The dynamic between the three men on stage was fantastic with bass player Eric Young and guitarist and vocalist (and Guernseyman) Steve Lynch equally leading the charge and Basha on the drums providing the driving force from the back.
All of this combined to go down a storm and was a great Guernsey send off for Eric who leaves the band after their next few gigs back in the UK.
As Earth Fair headliners go I’m not sure they’ve ever had anyone with quite the reputation as this year’s, 2 Tone ska legend Neville Staple (formerly of The Specials) and his band.
Gangsters got things going and from there on it was non-stop skank along fodder for the rest of the night and the crowd lovingly obliged.
Backed up by a great sounding band Staple himself was as charismatic as could be engaging with the audience from the off and singing and ‘toasting’ his way through a set of classic British ska to help celebrate 40 years of 2 Tone – a style and sound that has, for as long as I can remember, been a big part of the sound and atmosphere of the Vale Earth Fair making this one for the record books.
As always it fell to the Viewalalu stage to round off proceedings and this year it was The Recks who had the job.
Fresh off a triumphant appearance at the Beautiful Days festival in Devon they hit the stage with huge energy and delivered one of their best performances with the crowd going off throughout.
As the set neared its end the band were joined on stage by Henry Fears for a rendition of Lights that also saw Squirrel add some extra percussion making for something of an impromptu Lord Vapour reunion and in the end it seemed the stage was as busy as the floor.
The crowd were left calling for more as curfew hit so they embarked on their own version of The Reck’s live favourite Porcupine even as the event crew (unsung heroes of the day in many ways as ever) were trying to encourage them to head down to the busses at the bottom of the hill.
This rounded off a Vale Earth Fair that will, for several reasons, live long in the memory and had the best atmosphere of any festival in recent years while acting as a fine celebration of the spirit of Errol Groves, the memory of whom permeated the festival that hopefully will go down as a truly positive part of his enduring legacy.