When it was announced that this year’s Vale Earth Fair would be able to take place on it’s originally intended date of Sunday 30th August it was great news… since then, as it became clear the line up would have to be entirely bands based on the island and that it would be one of very few non-socially distanced music festivals in the world this summer, the news became all the more impressive.
Then on the day itself as the event became a sell out (a first to my knowledge), and then even the bars were drunk dry, it became a truly unprecedented event.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, before that the event kicked off from midday with six stages around the Vale Castle ranging live music to spoken word via various forms of dance and all drawing on locally based talent including familiar faces, new performers and some welcome returns.
The day began with Vice on the Castle Stage playing a set that was something of a landmark for them.
With a new drummer behind the kit they were back to full strength after a few acoustic outings and played with a new found power and confidence that was great to hear.
While still a little rough around the edges this show marked a step up for the pop rocking quartet and kicked off the festival with a bang, though it sounds like this may be the last we hear from them (for a while at least) as university beckons.
The Sound Guernsey showcase began things on the Viewalalu Stage with The Roughtones bringing some nicely done ska covers from the likes of Madness and The Specials while Just Smile showed their best with some hard rocking moments including a closing Ozzy Osbourne cover played with real passion and enthusiasm.
A new stage made its debut this year around the back of the castle, where the dance stage has been in the past for those familiar with the usual layout, organised by Magic Moustache Records and featuring a range of (mostly) lower key acoustic performers, beginning with Elliot Albert Orchard.
Fresh off releasing his debut single Don’t Wanna Be Here Alone on Friday he started his set with some acoustic versions of his songs before adding in some mellow electric guitar sounds.
As on his new single his whole style and voice have really developed into his own thing very nicely and it perfectly suited to the sunny afternoon on the new ‘pyramid stage’.
There was more solo stuff on the Viewalalu in the early afternoon with Kiya Ashton getting ethereal as her folk-pop-rock sounded better than ever while the audience caught the vibe and relaxed in the sun.
A familiar face with a new name, Cult Athena, followed, marking a departure from the music of Track Not Found for Grace Tayler.
Combining live guitar and vocals with self recorded backing tracks she mixed mellow stuff and funkier sounds with occasional assistance from Brunt percussionist Squirrel (here on flute) and The Recks’ Ash Jarman on cornet before she delivered a pair of unique but captivating songs on the Shruti Box and I cant wait to hear more of all of it.
Back on the Castle Stage, after possibly the most people I’ve ever seen on it with La Rocque Choir and Rainbow Chorus adding to the fun and positive feelings going around the festival and late additions but always hugely enjoyable Fly Casual’s light hearted indie, Twelve Tribe Mansion appeared for the first time in more than seven years.
The trio had been one of my most anticipated bands in the lead up to the Earth Fair and I’m very happy to say they surpassed my expectations with their almost unclassifiable musical hybrids.
With an astonishing technical precision, power and feeling, along with an irreverent sense of musicality, they are unlike anything else and they captured the attention of the crowd here too, many of whom weren’t familiar with the band.
I have to give specific mention to Third Up, Third Down which was the eccentric highlight of a set filled with them.
The Cor Damme Lars had, after making quite a name for themselves over the last couple of summers, gone worryingly quiet over the winter so it was great to see them back on stage here and, after a slightly wobbly start, they were soon back on top form.
While many were content to still sit and listen the band did bring a few of the younger members of the crowd to their feet starting a trend that was to continue for the rest of the day as the castle became busier and busier to astonishing levels.
The quartet were, as ever, as tight as they come and, like their last appearance at the Earth Fair in 2018 went down a storm and drew a big crowd, even with a host of new material from their upcoming third album, as they continued the overwhelmingly positive energy of the day excellently.
They were followed by much celebrated new duo SkySkrapers who continued to wow onlookers with their unique bass and drums hybrid sound.
With more synths and sequencers added into the sound today they did seem to have a few technical glitches but nonetheless the sound they made was terrific and its great watching a new band grow like this — and they did throw in a much teased and very fun cover too.
The Castle Stage got rocking in the early evening too as Isle Stone made a return to the festival looking, in many ways, like a new band and sounding far tighter and more powerful than ever.
From the off the young band, who started playing Sound Guernsey under-18 events a couple of years ago, suddenly seemed to have found their identity and their sound and were one of the talking points of the day within minutes of their set finishing.
Tantale continued the positive feelings with a set as tight and engaging as we’ve come to expect from the band who’ve now been around for over a decade.
With keys and extra backing vocals added today, their sound was even deeper than usual (and it was hardly shallow before) and their swirling rhythms and sounds continued to enthral the now huge crowd by any Earth Fair standards inside the castle.
After a bit of a delayed start Kings brought a hefty dose of pop to the rock on the Viewalalu Stage that sounded as slick as ever and quickly had people singing and bouncing along.
Again it was clear how big the crowd at the castle was as the area around the stage was as busy as I’ve ever seen it, testament to both the success of the festival and the appeal of Kings undeniable hit writing and performing ability.
Relative newcomers as a band (though made up of many familiar faces) Terrible Stuntman upped the noise and chaos on the Viewalalu Stage as the sunset with their own brand of fabulously unintelligible indie grunge that is as infectiously enjoyable as you could want.
Later in the set they were even joined by former frontman or Of Empires, My Last Victory, et al, Jack Fletcher for a great moment that brought back memories of his past appearances at the Earth Fair.
Sunset on the Castle Stage was seen in by The Space Pirates Of Rocquaine who, despite having been together for a good decade, were making their Earth Fair debut.
Their reputation clearly preceded them though as they drew more of the crowd onto their feet and got them singing and dancing along to a selection of their more upbeat material including a few well received new songs.
It was great hearing the band through a big PA and seeing them on a big stage and it was clear they were very much enjoying the experience too, evoking their riotous closing set at the Sark Folk Festival in 2015, while their version of Sarnia Cherie was a triumphant highlight moment of the day, elevated even further given the prevailing circumstances.
As the sky darkened the mood took something of a turn in the castle but it was interesting to note that there was an improbable through-line from the folk rocking pirates to the intense hip hop of Asylum Seekas as both pepper their work with local references and stylistic flourishes that mean they could come from nowhere but Guernsey.
With Jimi Riddlz, Apex and guest Weaver on the mics and DJ Mini-Rol behind the decks the hip hop crew were on blistering form combining excellent summer night vibes with some edgy and hard hitting lyrics.
The collective mixed familiar tracks and new ones and it was Weaver who was the stand out, seemingly even to his compatriots on stage, as his delivery was frankly immense and intense but all together made their set a (for me) surprise highlight of the day.
Following that was going to be a challenge for anyone but with possibly the days biggest crowd (the festival by this point was a confirmed sell out and even the bars were beginning to run low on stock) and a formidable reputation Buffalo Huddleston certainly were a band who should have been able to do so with ease.
Unfortunately something felt amiss compared to their past glories as, while everything was well played and many of their songs have certainly become local sing along favourites, they seemed to be lacking that spark in their performance that used to make them such a highlight of the island’s musical landscape.
That said the crowd didn’t seem to be of this opinion as they sang everything back at the band and were clearly having a great time, so what do I know, I guess…
Out on the Viewalalu stage there was much excitement for the return of hard rocking trio Lord Vapour for what seems to be a one off appearance.
With their big riffs in full flow they kicked off with a couple of their harder, earlier numbers blasting any remaining cobwebs well away as their mammoth sound blasted from the PA and the packed in crowd were headbanging along from the start before a mosh kicked off.
As they set went on they added in more of their psychedelic newer material from their Semuta album and, while I didn’t catch the whole set, what I heard sounded great and they felt very much like an active band not just rehashing former glories but genuinely back at their best (and I really hope this won’t be the last we see of them).
While there are certainly few musicians out there now who were playing when the Vale Earth Fair began I’m not sure there is a band who’ve been going as long as the festival (this year marking 44 years) but having first formed in the early 1980s The Risk come pretty close so it was only fitting they took one of the days prime slots.
Launching into Just Like Norma Jean with brass section in full effect they wasted no time in getting things going and kicked up a rock ’n’ roll storm from the off.
With the big crowd firmly on side (though it was clear and, I’ll admit slightly disappointing, that quite a few had left after Buffalo Huddleston) the band were the best I’ve heard them in some time feeding off the energy in the castle drive themselves forward and it was clear they were having a great time on stage too.
With their hit Good Times dedicated to late festival founder Errol Groves and an extended run on Born To Be Wild to close, The Risk showed they and the festival still know how to rock when required.
Finally, following an introduction from the days compère Magenta who seemed to have as many costume changes as there were bands and deserves credit for wearing any of those outfits all day, came the festival’s final band, Sark originated, psychedelic indie folk quintet, The Recks.
Starting off with the ‘twisted disco’ of She Ain’t No Revelator it was clear they were out to get the crowd dancing, and that they did, though there was something different at play too.
In the late night of the Vale Castle this slightly darker dynamic gave the performance a different feel but captured the mood brilliantly mixing the day’s positivity with a raw presence and power that, while different to what we’ve become used to, was no less successful and enjoyable.
After some pointed comments they delivered a crushing version of Pocket Full Of Stones, while Spanish Relations worked particularly well in this mode and had the crowd singing back to the band.
For only the second time (the first being Sark Folk Festival in 2015 when they unleashed some Led Zeppelin) they pulled out a cover — a particularly ‘Reck’d’ version of Gorillaz’s Clint Eastwood, that saw Richey’s punk side presented more than ever before an intense rendition of She Wants That Too closed the show hitting the midnight curfew with precision and rounding off the day on a raucous and incendiary high.
And so a (hopefully) unique edition of the Vale Earth Fair came to a close but, while I hope that next year’s festival will be more like normal in some ways, it would be great to see the castle as busy again and the 2020 event will surely long be remembered as maybe the best ever showcase of the range and depth of musical talent in the Bailiwick.
The festival was also featured on BBC’s national breakfast new programme on Monday, thanks to Euan Duncan: