As is tradition, the night before the Vale Earth Fair, there was a warm up show and, while it has taken place in different venues in the past, this year it was away from its usual home at the De La Rue with a move up the hill to St James and with music this time around coming from The Roughtones, The Crowman, Jersey visitors Benny The Moth and the returning Track Not Found.
Two-Tone style ska ensemble The Roughtones began proceedings and, while their shows seem increasingly rare for all the usual reason young Guernsey bands often only play during university breaks, they were probably the tightest I’ve ever seen them with their rhythm section on particularly impressive form throughout.
The bulk of the set was made up of Madness covers, which gave the whole thing a jovial bounce, and front man Tobi Batiste has an engaging presence with the brass section on fine form tonight too, but it was a couple of non-Madness tunes that brought the highlights.
Mid-set a rendition of The Specials’ Little Bitch showed a big new energy for the band while an unexpected run at Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Geno sounded great too and got the night going very nicely.
After a break of nearly a year this marked The Crowman’s return to a Guernsey stage, tonight flanked by longtime collaborator The Fiddling Pixie and more recent addition to ‘The Crowband’ Wiggy, on acoustic guitar.
After starting the set with a few of his more serious songs, including Ghosts which is always a highlight, the set seemed to go off the rails even by The Crowman’s standard with songs cut short and skipped entirely but he kept the audience engaged throughout even getting a clap along going later in the set.
While I’m not sure all in attendance entirely understood what was going on there’s no denying he has some infectious songs in his garage folk repertoire and there was a sense of a musical performance slipping into a kind of performance art but I don’t think I’ll ever not enjoy a performance from The Crowman, especially after such a lengthy break.
After a six year absence from Guernsey (though they’ve played three times in Sark since) Jersey quartet Benny The Moth were back for the Vale Earth Fair and brought heir reggae rock mashup to the warm up show too.
Sounding huge throughout, and with the hall’s natural reverb just adding to their dubby tinges, it was great to hear them again and, as the set went on, they enticed many in the crowd out to the dancefloor with their grooves that just seemed to grow as the set went on.
The band’s frontman brought a terrific presence and the bass player and drummer swapping instruments half way through was an interesting choice that certainly showed the skill of both and by the end of their set the venue, though not as busy as sometimes, certainly felt suitably ready for what was to follow.
While they have played the occasional reunion show over the last couple of years this weekend felt like something of a special one for Track Not Found as their show here, and the following day at the Earth Fair itself, also marked the release of their One Stop Shop anthology album and Chinese Restaurant EP, meaning their entire set of recordings are now available.
While their set here started slightly lower energy than their usual (though compared to most this was still hugely energetic) it built excellently to a huge crescendo as it went on.
Taking the female punk stereotype that has been around for decades they embraced it and made it their own with each bringing their own personality to the performance, all of which have developed since their more formative outings into something powerful and compelling.
While there was something of a sense of nostalgia in the crowd the band did their utmost to not rely on this with new (to us) songs included in the set, including the previously unheard live and darkly epic Crows, and there was a real sense from those less familiar with the band that their power and energy was entirely unexpected.
I have to give special mention to Grace’s performance (with no disrespect intended to Emma and Maisie) as she seemed to embrace the energy more than ever to create something remarkable and across the board all three delivered a set the likes of which I don’t ever recall seeing in Guernsey.
Hitting their stride by the always excellently titled Fuck, Fuck, Fuck they also threw in a Blondie cover before being called back for a legitimate encore that left the audience variously shocked, impressed and delighted in equal measure and more than warmed up for the festival the following day.