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Fourteen Days in Trump’s America: Part 1 – San Francisco, October 2017

San Francisco skyline

San Francisco as seen from Alcatraz

Ok I’ll admit that given the fact I’m talking about a visit to California, specifically in this case San Francisco, we are far from the heart of Trump’s America. But, given the inescapable nature of his presence over the last twelve months (and more) it’s hard to avoid it even when visiting this most liberal of cities.

In that regard, and don’t worry this won’t be all politics and will settle into more travelogue based things soon, a few things did spring to mind while exploring the city. Primarily amongst these was the continued growth in the number of homeless people.

While it’s fair to say that during Obama’s time in office this isn’t something that decreased, it seems the number of people, particularly men of colour, living on the streets of the city has expanded even further.

Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz island

Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz island

With one notable exception, these people seemed largely harmless (and I don’t have any evidence the less harmless person was actually homeless) but it remains a disturbing trend, particularly in light of the other trend I witnessed, and both of these were echoed in Los Angeles as well.

That other trend is how the higher end of the property market has expanded.

In San Francisco this was most notable in the sudden escalation of skyscraper development with three structures that, two years ago looked almost stagnant in the South of Market area, having been completed or near completed in the last two years.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, new high-rise offices and hotels have appeared along with an increase in the ‘gentrification’ of the downtown area leading to a really stark contrast between those on the street and those in the towers – particularly poignant given the recent release of a new Blade Runner film which I saw twice during this visit.

With all that in mind, back to my trip.

Mission Dolores Park

Mission Dolores Park

For the second time I had chosen to use AirBnB for accommodation in San Francisco, but, rather than staying in the area of North Beach/Downtown as before, I headed further west, to the Castro side of Mission Dolores Park.

While Castro is famously the city’s gay district, the area between it and Mission Street to the east, roughly within three blocks of the park, has become something of a hip area in recent years and this was obvious right away with the selection of smaller business that have sprung up focussing on fresh produce and moving away from the usual chain stores (though of course the likes of Starbucks, Walgreeens and Seven-Eleven are never far away).

These seem most prevalent along 18th Street with coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and grocery stores aplenty.

The ones that grabbed my eye in particular were the Bi-Rite Market grocery store that had the feel or a real local store with a great selection of speciality produce from cheeses and meats to teas, wines, and more.

Pride flags at Castro

Pride flags at Castro

Another was the Tartine Bakery that was a fine place for breakfast and had a selection of impressive looking cakes and pastries, even if it appeared to be near permanently packed.

On a couple of occasions I ate at the small Pizzeria Delfina that had a great, bustling atmosphere and very nice traditional style pizza, along with a very relaxed service style that was refreshing in light of the often painfully forced service offered elsewhere in the US.

A couple of blocks up, at 20th and Valencia, was a great bookshop as well, part of a small chain dotted around the city, Dog Eared Books. While not as iconic as City Lights (which of course is always a must to visit) this came with a similar feel and charm celebrating the independent side of things while also stocking the bigger names.

Not too far away on Church Street, near the intersection with Market, was another bookstore specialising more in second-hand and older titles, Aardvark Books, that also featured a rather friendly cat.

Mission San Francisco de Asis

Mission San Francisco de Asis

Along with the evident history provided by the Mission de San Francisco de Asis and more recent historical structures makes for a fascinatingly varied area to explore.

Mission Dolores Park is a hub of all of this and, on the warmer days, it was packed with people relaxing in the sun, playing ball games, walking dogs and anything else you could think of doing in a municipal park, creating a great friendly atmosphere that permeated the area.

By the time of reaching Mission Street, and the Mission District that surrounds it, this atmosphere had changed slightly and, while still generally friendly, took on a slightly more down at heel vibe. While I would like to explore this area more, it’s one I would do in day time and, in this instance, led to one of the few disappointments of my visit to the city with an at best average meal at the otherwise strongly reviewed WesBurger ‘N’ More restaurant.

Heading to the west the Castro district remains one of the brightest and friendliest in the city with a genuinely cosmopolitan and welcoming atmosphere from its many cafes and bars that open onto the street, with a real sense of modern life mixing with the history of the area. Even the homeless guy who seemed to have a regular pitch outside Walgreens had a sense of this with his various signs playing up on the area’s obvious more liberal political stance.

Cable car

Cable car

On my first full day in the city I headed to the tourist and commercial hub of Union Square, mostly to pick up a Muni Passport for the week (a must for anyone without a car as for $40 you can use any of the cities main bus and tram lines as much as you like), but also to indulge in some of the more typically touristy things, starting with a ride on the cable car tram from its Powell and Market turnaround point.

Riding the cable cars is a must and, while about the most typical of things to do in San Francisco after Alcatraz, is great fun and gives you a view of real cross-section of the city as it goes from the bustling commerce of Union Square through the edges of China Town and some more residential areas of the city centre, all the way to the sea front park at the end of the Fisherman’s Wharf tourist district.

I hopped off at the top of Lombard Street, the highest point of the ride, to soak in the views and see this famously winding block of street.

Lombard Street

Lombard Street

While busy with tourists doing the same it is a unique sight and has great views both down to Alcatraz and across to Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill.

If you really feel brave and fit find your way to the bottom of the hill on Columbus Avenue and walk up – I stuck with walking down a block then heading down towards the coast, stumbling on the cute little Fay Park garden in the process (the city is dotted with these from small ones taking up a house plot to ones a block or two in size).

Coming out at the Maritime Park, with great views afforded across the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz and some old ships that have been converted in museums, I made my way along to Pier 39. While not especially edifying and packed with tourists seeking out food, souvenir tat and little more, there are a few interesting little things on offer including the Musee Mecanique which I also visited on a previous trip and the always entertaining and fascinating sea lions on their pontoons at Pier 39.

Sea lions at Pier 39

Sea lions at Pier 39

I followed this by taking one of the vintage streetcars (also covered by the Muni Passport) around the Embarcadero for a gentle ride to the Ferry Building, another bustling tourist spot but a little more relaxed than Pier 39 with some interesting, less naff looking, shops and cafes and a local produce market in the old harbour transport terminal.

Another area of the city I headed to this time, which I had previously not explored at all, was the westerly most point, at Ocean Beach.

Stretching miles down the Pacific coast of the peninsula the beach is genuinely impressive, even with mist hanging in the air.

Along with some great views along the coast it features some impressively graffiti’d sea defences and, somewhat uncharacteristically, a pair of traditional windmills emerging from the end of Golden Gate Park that lies on the other side of the coast highway.

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach

While I’m not really one for sitting on the beach, given the mini-heat wave that was starting up many were taking this opportunity, though few were venturing into the surprisingly rough and famously chilly sea – I guess the potential for sharks could be a deterrent too, though there were some surfers out amongst the waves.

From Ocean Beach we picked up a bus along the length of Golden Gate Park to the famed Haight-Ashbury District – home of the original 1960s ‘hippy’ movement. While it’s a little on the touristy side, it has a certain tatty charm that evokes something of its most famous time and clearly still attracts some of the same people it has for the past 50 years or so, and, if anything, has become less commercial over the years since my first visit back in 2006.

Another place I headed this time that I hadn’t before is to be found in The Presidio out towards the Golden Gate.

Yoda fountain

Yoda fountain

The area is a lush green one with residential and business space nestling among leafy glades and a surprisingly large and unspoilt forested patch, but where I was interested in was in the grounds of Lucasfilm’s extensive ‘campus’ that includes the company’s offices and Industrial Light and Magic space.

As well as the business side of the now Disney owned company it features an iconic statue of Yoda as well as a publicly accessible lobby with artefacts from the Star Wars films and a collection of vintage movie posters and an impressive cabinet of awards trophies.

Of course no trip to San Francisco is really complete without a visit to the infamous island prison of Alcatraz. Once again I was lucky to get a trip with clear weather, leading to some great views of the city and the bay and the historical side remained fascinating even on a return visit (you can read more of my impressions of the island in the blog on a previous trip).

Alcatraz island

Alcatraz island

Away from all that and a visit to the Academy of Science for their Nightlife show which is also well worth a visit and this time featured an exploration of our attempts to discover and communicate with extra terrestrial life, San Francisco remains one of the most interesting and welcoming cities I’ve visited with new things to explore in a place where walking doesn’t make you feel like an alien and with one of the best public transport systems I’ve found anywhere.

And all that recommendation even with the event of a random pepper spray attack on one of my tram trips that led to making a statement to the very helpful local constabulary and meeting some very friendly firemen and paramedics as it seemed if you call one you get the lot!

While in the city I also caught the band Dinosaur Jr at The Regency Ballroom, you can read my review of that by clicking here

You can see more of my photos in a public album on Facebook by clicking here

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Granite Wolf and SugarSlam – The Vault – 13/10/17

Granite Wolf

Granite Wolf

Following Brunt at The Golden Lion a couple of weeks ago and WaterColour Matchbox at The Vault last weekend the loud, heavy end of Guernsey’s music scene continued to be represented in St Peter Port on Friday 13th October 2017 as hardcore riff machine Granite Wolf and hard power pop quartet SugarSlam rocked the venue on the seafront.

After a bit of time away Granite Wolf launched into their set in tight, punchy and intense form with their brand of hardcore with hints of heavy metal making a refreshing blast to the senses.

While its hard to pin down visually quite why, the five-piece presented a united, gang like, front on stage and this was infectious with the audience at the front feeling like part of the process of the energy flowing through the room.

Granite Wolf

Granite Wolf

With riffs and beatdowns aplenty they did get a couple of modest mosh pits going but it seemed many in the crowd were more worried about spilling their pints than really letting go on the dancefloor, but nonetheless they got into the heavy sounds.

With a good mix of fast, speed metal, heavy head banging stuff and powerful hardcore, Granite Wolf once again set out their stall as one of the bands to watch in the island – I just hope they get to gigging a little more regularly now they seem to be back to their more solid, original, line up.

After something of a protracted break to set up and sound check, SugarSlam hit the stage in slightly heavier mode than usual, no doubt to try to match the earlier band, however, less than two songs in they ran into trouble with a blown amplifier.

SugarSlam

SugarSlam

With that hastily fixed they were back on form and racing through a set mixing covers and originals new and old, but by this time the audience had sadly diminished to quite a degree.

Undeterred the band blasted on and those who remained clearly had a great time with songs by Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age going down just as well as the band’s own – Jackals being a particular, immense sounding, highlight that isn’t heard as much these days.

Given the time and an under the weather drummer the band cut their set short, wrapping up with their take on Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Rockin’ In The Free World, before the audience convinced them back for a super speed blast of Ace Of Spades to close the night on sweaty and exhausted high.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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Guernsey’s Summer Festival Season 2017

Jupiter and Okwess at the Vale Earth Fair

Jupiter and Okwess on the Castle Stage at Vale Earth Fair

With the autumnal weather setting in and music events moving back into the island’s indoor venues, I think its safe to say as we move into October that Guernsey’s ever-growing summer festival season has come to an end.

As with every year it seems more and more events are labelling themselves as festivals or have that feeling of big, outdoor, events that typifies the British and European style of music festival; from the long running likes of the Vale Earth Fair to the House On Herm events or the food and drink ‘festivals’ that often feature live musical entertainment.

This year’s festival season began, as it is prone to, with Liberation Day on 9th May.

The Recks

The Recks

While the Vale Earth Fair were part of the now customary street party in St Andrews, the ‘official’ side of the celebrations in St Peter Port came in the form of LibRock 2017 on the Albert Pier.

Like last year this event showcased not just big names like The Devotees, The Recks and Clameur De Haro, but also gave a chance to some of the island’s younger bands to appear in front of a bigger crowd, namely Unclassified and Problematic.

Read my review of LibRock

The Guernsey Literary Festival was next on the list and that featured a night of live music and poetry at The Fermain Tavern before Guernsey Arts Commission‘s Arts Sunday took over the St Peter Port Seafront.

Tantale on the BBC Introducing Guernsey stage

Tantale

As it has every year Arts Sunday featured about as much live music as it was possible to fit in from the young performers of The School of Popular Music and the Thirst Music School, to a selection of established performers staged by The Vault, to the BBC Introducing Guernsey Stage that was curated to showcase some of the artists featured and championed by BBC Introducing in the islands including Blue Mountains, Buff Hudd, The Recks, Tantale and Thee Jenerators.

Read my review of BBC Introducing Guernsey at Arts Sunday

The first of the big, fully fledged music festivals of the year came at the end of June with the 13th happening of the Chaos Weekend (generally these days shortened to simply, Chaos).

Heave at Chaos 13

Heave

After a few up and down years this year’s felt very much back to its past prime with a few visiting headliners such as Graveyard Johnnys and Johnny Cage & The Voodoogroove, sharing the stage with the best rock bands Guernsey has to offer like Heave, Static Alice and SugarSlam, while The Peace Tent showcased everything from New Zealand folk duo Great North to the doom rock of Brunt to Flexagon‘s brand of psytrance.

Read my review of Chaos Voodoo 13

While I skipped this year’s Sark Folk Festival in favour of the British Summer Time event in Hyde Park featuring Green Day, Rancid, The Living End and more, the big live music events continued throughout July with the Sound Guernsey School’s Out Party, the School Of Popular Music Summer Showcase and a Vale Earth Fair Fundraiser before the main event itself.

Honest Crooks at the Vale Earth Fair

Honest Crooks

This year the Vale Earth Fair was marking 41 years and did so with one of the most stacked line ups in some time. The main stage was headlined by Chali 2Na & Krafty Kuts, Jupiter & Okwess and Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart with the local side represented by The Recks, Robert J. Hunter, SugarSlam and more. Meanwhile outside the Vale Castel The Honest Crooks headlined with Lifejacket, Near Bliss and more.

Read my review of the Vale Earth Fair

In past years the festival season has really come to an end with the Vale Earth Fair but last year and this its extended well into September, not only is there Smaashfest but the Sark Roots Festival has quickly grown into something that feels like an established event.

The Surfin' Birds

The Surfin’ Birds

This year the event grew from last year’s first to feature a mix of bands from Guernsey and Jersey along with visiting acts from the UK and even New Zealand highlighted by Buffalo Huddleston, The Honest Crooks and The Surfin’ Birds.

Read my review of Sark Roots Festival

With plenty more going on besides, from The Rocquaine Regatta to the North Show and more, its fair to say summer in the islands is about as packed as it can be with events with a strong musical presence that serve to highlight quite how spoilt we are for new music in the islands.

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Guernsey Gigs Jam Night #2 – The Fermain Tavern – 22/09/17

Who Would Dare Give Me The Raspberry

Who Would Dare Give Me The Raspberry

Back in March Guernsey Gigs put on an event that was a bit of an experiment, based on the idea of some of the open mic nights that take place but formalising it with randomly drawn selections of musicians being given 20 minutes to ‘jam’ and see what happens.

Given that the first was a success for both musicians and the curious audience, there was a bit of buzz around this second version of the event with a broader scope of musicians putting their names in the buckets to play.

While people were arriving and the first of the jam bands were getting things together the Ten Toe Hobo hopped up on stage to play a short impromptu set that found the feeling of the night very well in the way only he can.

Ten Toe Hobo

Ten Toe Hobo (slightly in the dark)

When it comes to a night like this of course it’s a little different to a normal gig as none of the bands are bands and none of the songs are songs and just getting up on stage takes more confidence than certainly I have, whatever the outcome.

The first band, dubbed I think accidentally Not Yet by the evening’s compere Graham ‘G-Dog’ Duerden, were slightly more prepared than most of the night’s combos and delivered a set of funky, jazzy instrumentals led by the saxophone of Boondoggle‘s Dennis Allen.

One thing about a jam night like this which is always something of a worry is that each group will just fall back into a kind of standard bluesy groove, so it was encouraging that even between the first two groups neither came close to doing that.

Deliberate Mistake

Deliberate Mistake

Deliberate Mistake, as they called themselves, threw together elements of psyche and indie with hip hop. With Silas The Assyrian Assassin on vocals, the backing provided a more relaxed groove for his insistent, Beastie Boys like punk rock-rap style delivery but for the most part it worked.

With Christiaan Mariess of Brunt on drums it was no surprise that The Dangles had a heavy groove going throughout nicely balanced by some more of Dennis’ saxophone and his Boondoggle comrade Carrie’s vocals.

While the next couple of bands didn’t quite gel as well they still led to some nice moments. Sexual Content featured some Doors like hints from The Recks‘ Richey Powers before he switched to guitar in Quintessentially Human and showed some fine power blues stylings as they neared their climax, showing off something we don’t get to see normally.

Key Change

Key Change

Possibly the most unexpected grouping of the night saw City Limits‘ lead guitar whiz, Glenn Holmes, teaming up with Ukuladeez (all counting as one vocalist). While they found a few nice jams amongst their bizarre mixture, I think their highlight moment was when Ellie added some percussion in the form of tap dancing. 

And then it was Murray Brown… Named for the Burning At Both a Ends guitarist whose name had been drawn several times across the night despite the fact he wasn’t actually there and combining the forces of Lord Vapour, Mechanical Lobster and Citizen-X, amongst others to create something like a deranged version Hawkwind but with more extreme vocals drenched in reverb and delay creating a highlight of the night.

As the night neared its end things went off the rails somewhat as last group, Who Would Dare Give Me The Raspberry, filled the stage with performers who played with a great fluidity considering the situation.

Murray Brown

Murray Brown

With Rentoclean‘s Kieran Smale scratching on the decks (following drumming duties earlier) adding yet another new sound and Gregory Harrison delivering a kind of scat vocals with beat boxing and rap thrown in, they ended the night in a way that showed exactly the best of what this night could do, getting different groups of musicians together and creating something new that, at the start of the night, no one thought they’d be playing.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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Sark Roots Festival 2017 – 15-17/09/17

Sark Roots Festival Field

The festival field

In 2016 the Sark Roots Festival appeared on the Channel Islands scene, late in the season and looking in some way like a cross between the wildly successful Sark Folk Festival and the Vale Earth Fair, combining a diverse selection of musical acts with workshops on various earthy subjects and the idyllic setting of Sark – specifically a field to the north of the island overlooking Guernsey and Herm one way and Alderney and France the other.

I’ll admit that I was initially sceptical, while the music side looked good it didn’t seem to be anything we hadn’t seen at any of the other festivals happening around the Bailiwick over the summer and the other stuff, which to my mind looked like a lot of ‘hippy nonsense’ (to use the polite version of my commonly used phrase), looked like too much distraction from the music.

After good reports from pretty much everyone who went, and as I missed the 2017 Sark Folk Festival, I thought I’d give it a go for this year though and I have to say it failed to live up my original expectations in the best of ways.

Sark Roots Festival Field

The festival field

Of course the location was spectacular  – other than the destroyed vineyards and intentionally abandoned properties, where in Sark isn’t?

The set up of the field, while reminiscent of the folk festival, was rather more rustic and humble with extra additions of a play area including trampoline, tight ropes and a home-made climbing frame, several fire pits which would come into their own later in the evening and various tents and tipis where the weekend’s non-musical events would take place.

The main tent included a good-sized stage at one end and, slightly separate, a bar at the other selling a range of small brewery beers and ciders from Sark Brewery, Guernsey’s White Rock Brewery and Rocquette Cider.

Day 1

Ten Toe Hobo

Ten Toe Hobo

So onto the music which began with a regular of pretty much all festivals in the islands, Ten Toe Hobo.

Delivering possibly a more blues tinged version of his usual busking style set he provided a relaxed start to the weekend that really captured the tone perfectly.

The set got more energetic as it went on with original song Loose Lips a favourite as always and Move On, another original track I’m sure I’d heard before, also sounding great and of course the song that has become something of his theme tune, Charlie Winston’s Like A Hobo being another highlight.

While a few bands and performers have come out of Sark over the years there was only one truly Sark based act on the bill here, Big Sheep.

Big Sheep

Ash, Dave and Roz of Big Sheep

Featuring the festival’s lead organisers Roz (ukulele) and Lazlo (bass) along with leader Dave (guitar and vocals), Ash (trumpet and vocals) and part-time Space Pirate Jess (fiddle) they presented their usual mix of original tunes and songs and a few made famous by The Levellers.

While there were a few points where it all became a bit of a mess when it coalesced they have a great sound, particularly with Roz’s vocals working alongside Dave’s to build some deeper tones.

For obvious reasons they were very warmly received and got the first dancers of the day up with a group of the island’s youngsters who seemed to be having a great time all weekend and gave the whole thing as much a community fair kind of feel as that of a festival.

Sergeant Pipon's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sergeant Pipon’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

The first of the weekend’s acts from Jersey was Sergeant Pipon’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (abbreviated to Sergeant Pipon on the programme).

They came across like a slightly more risqué answer to the The Space Pirates of Rocquaine with a foot a bit more firmly in rock ’n’ roll territory.

With songs of drinking, debauchery and other nocturnal activities, run through a filter of tunes sounding suspiciously like some familiar favourites, they were the first of the weekend’s band to get really irreverent and were great fun with it.

With the sun now set the tent was filling up for The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers and, with them at full, eight-piece, strength on stage, the upbeat tones continued and they soon had a few dancing at the front.

The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

Louis and Clem of The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

Clem and Louis Brouard sharing the stage they added to the family feel of the festival while their brand of lo-fi, vintage, rag time sounded as good as ever.

Gemma Honey’s sweeter voice and Clem’s abrasive vocals played off each other brilliantly while a few songs previously heard from The John Wesley Stone were highly appreciated and Ash Jarman continued to show his ridiculous musical skill swapping from brass to some very finely played spoons!

With quite a sonic contrast Lord Vapour brought their fuzzy cosmic grooves fresh off their recent debut European tour.

With new material that builds on their past jammed out heavy psychedelia they built to huge crescendos and, while in the past they have sometimes felt rhythmically imbalanced they had a more measured pace here that saw them at their best driven by the relaxed but powerful drum work of Squirrel.

And, as Richey from The Reck’s pointed out, they all have great looking hair.

Monty of The Pirates

Monty of The Pirates

While Lord Vapour had got heads nodding it was The Pirates (formerly Pirate Party Brigade) from Jersey who really got the moving with the highly skankable punk ska energy.

As a party band par excellence they blasted through a set of infectiously energetic songs in tight and punchy fashion led by the brilliantly gritty charisma of Monty that provided a strong highlight of the first day.

And then came Sark (and Channel Island) favourites, The Recks

Being undeniably in the party spirit on a technical level the band were just the wrong side of lose and ended up going about as all over the place as a band can while still sticking to a performance.

Richey of The Recks

Richey of The Recks

With that though they brought an amazing energy to the tent that ran into the crowd and back and it was one of those moments of everyone coming together in a way that defies conventional wisdom making for a rousingly raucous performance.

Ending on a take at old favourite Porcupine that was maybe a little too busked, their performance here suited the mood of the night and rounded off the first day of the festival in an appropriate style – oh, and Richey was wearing a very nice coat… (he might have told me to point that out).

You can see more of my photos from the first day of the festival on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

Day 2

After a raucous end to the first night my second day at the festival began (after a failed attempt at dodging some rain after breakfast) in much more sedate fashion with Blue Mountains.

Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

Their relaxed and fun manner worked well to give their rather dark songs a lighter edge and they held the gradually growing crowd rapt.

Andrew Degnen added a ukulele to one song, along with his usual fiddle on the others, particularly Henry Lee which was reworked with a bigger lead violin part, and they debuted a brand new song about Sark as, they pointed out, it seems you can’t be a folk band in the islands without a song about the place, all before coming to a fine climax with Emmy Lou Harris’ Red Dirt Girl which was as evocative as always.

Things got a bit more groovy next with some upbeat indie from Jersey’s Axon Bower. While there wasn’t anything much new to their sound for a summer afternoon in a field it was spot on and brought some great vibes to the event as the sun looked set on staying out.

Tantale

Tantale

Continuing with an indie rock sound, but in a slightly different way, were Tantale.

Going acoustic for this more sedate event they mixed originals with covers from the likes of REM and Soundgarden and captured some of their usual psychedelic tones with a very chilled out feeling.

Added to this was the fact that they were playing with Jawbone’s Alex Childs on drums showing a very different side to her playing than in her regular band and putting in a stellar performance having only had two practices!

Lead by a relaxed Crowman, The Crowband took Sark Roots on a surreal flight of fancy that mixed folk, steampunk and music hall in a way unlike anything else.

The Crowband

The Crowman and Shacks

With entertaining chat between the songs, things got more demented as the set went on with cultural reference points spanning everything from Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to The Hangover via the small northern town of Pimbo, culminating in a singalong to Give Me Booze from their latest album to finish.

Things didn’t get much more conventional next as what Parish 13 took to the stage looking and acting like they could be residents of Royston Vasey.

While they started off looking and sounding like a gypsy/pirate novelty act, as they went on and people got on their feet it started to feel a little more organic with an interesting selection of songs including cover of Gogol Bordello and The Mad Caddies.

While it was hard to escape the feeling they were trying a bit too hard for the novelty factor they upped the energy in the tent well as we headed into the evening.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The piratical theme continued, albeit in slightly less of a forced fashion, with The Space Pirates of Rocquaine.

It took a couple of songs but they soon got the crowd involved with a set that was the perfect balance between their more restrained, family friendly, selves and their more rock ’n’ roll tendencies.

Rise sounded anthemic once again while SS Briseis brought a rowdy punk energy before they delivered an encore of Mr Le Goupillot to close the first highlight set of the weekend.

After recent outings at the 2017 Vale Earth Fair and its warm up show Weymouth quartet The Surfin’ Birds returned to the islands with quite some fan fare.

A grooving jam set the tone at the start before we spent an hour surfing the psychedelic waves with a strong garage heart.

The Surfin' Birds

The Surfin’ Birds

The set and sound were different from their previous visit showing a band capable of quite some variety who all played off one another on stage excellently making for a tight and powerful performance that was the best I’ve seen from them and was another highlight of the festival.

With a lantern parade going on outside the tent remained packed for the big ska party of The Honest Crooks.

This band couldn’t be more suited to an event like this and the crowd was skanking from the start. With a selection of their own great songs making up the bulk of the set there were a few covers thrown in too but all were warmly greeted and the addition of trumpet player Danny on a few songs added an extra level to the ska punk sound.

The Honest Crooks

The Honest Crooks

With a longer set than expected they packed in the tracks and even got Henry from Lord Vapour up for kazoo duties on Gentlemen’s Dub Club’s High Grade (its safe to say he’s no Bobby Battle on the instrument but did drink a pint from a shoe as if to make up for that – I’m not sure why either), before the band closed their set with a big jammed out ending that got the a small pit going amongst the revellers at the front.

It seems only inevitable that after all that Buffalo Huddleston would close the show and they did it in just the fashion we’ve come to expect.

Buffalo Huddleston

Mike of Buffalo Huddleston

Their upbeat folk-hop had the audience going from the start and its hard to argue with the appeal of this band with new songs greeted as positively as more well-known ones building a great atmosphere in the tent that permeated out into the field leading to two encores, and there was a point where I wasn’t sure if the crowd would let the band leave the stage rounding off the second day on a real high as we relaxed around a fire pit watching distant lightning arcing across the sky.

You can see more of my photos from the second day of the festival on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

Day 3

John Le Sauvage

John Le Sauvage

As is probably to be expected the Sunday of the festival was a more relaxed affair but it was good to see that by lunchtime the site was getting busy and, with the sun well and truly out and it feeling like a summer’s day the field became the perfect place to relax and enjoy the afternoon.

Musically things got going with John Le Sauvage playing a mix of country and folk style songs in a chilled out fashion.

With an easy manner on stage he went down well spanning everything from Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues to Pulp’s Disco 2000 and Cranberries’ Zombie.

After letting their rock ’n’ roll side out the previous night The Space Pirates of Rocquaine (billed as The Bootleg Pirates) were back for something a little more sedate.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

Starting out with a few solo and duo songs from Guppy, Lisa and Tim to set the mood before the full band, including extra vocals from Jess Nash on a few songs, took to the stage for a very different set to the previous night including their more folky songs.

They still found time for some upbeat moments though, like their take on Billy Bragg’s You Woke Up My Neighbourhood and their own Follies D’Amour before ending on an atmospherically slowed down version of The Witch of the Longfrie.

Boondoggle brought some jazzy acoustic pop the show and were much more relaxed on stage than when I’ve seen them in the past, capturing the mood excellently.

With a different combination of sounds thanks to Carrie’s great voice and Dennis’ clarinet and sax they stood out from the pack of acoustic artists currently on the scene in the islands.

Carrie from Boondoggle

Carrie from Boondoggle

With the boat calling I just had time to catch New Zealander Monty Bevins before heading off to the harbour and he continued the afternoon’s atmosphere with a soulful singer-songwriter style.

While young men with acoustic guitars are ten a penny he was in the upper set of those on the circuit, if not being truly remarkable, but sounded nice.

Sark Roots Festival then was in many ways exactly what I expected but in others nothing like I anticipated. With some great music on offer it all came packaged in probably the most laid back of any of the festivals in the islands and certainly left a strong impression, even on this sometimes jaded and cynical sort.

You can see more of my photos from the third day of the festival on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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Vale Earth Fair 2017 – Vale Castle – 27/08/17

Jupiter and Okwess at the Vale Earth Fair

Jupiter and Okwess on the Castle Stage

For its 41st year the Vale Earth Fair once again took over the Vale Castle over the bank holiday weekend at the end of August with six stages of music across 12 hours.

Not only that but this year’s event spread onto the Saturday with Sound Guernsey presenting some of the island’s newer and younger talent on the same main stage.

With visiting headliners like Chali 2na & Krafty Kuts, Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart and Jupiter & Okwess sharing a stage with favourites from the island like The Recks, Robert J. Hunter and SugarSlam the festival was one of the most varied yet.

My review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 2nd September 2017 and you can read the full version of it below the cutting and you can see a full set of photos on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

Vale Earth Fair review - 02/09/17

Full review

The Crowman at Vale Earth Fair

The Crowman

While the Channel Islands has more than its fair share of music festivals spanning rock, pop, dance, folk, classical, jazz and more it’s hard to argue that the longest running is generally the most varied. Whether you want dub reggae, psytrance, gypsy jazz swing, indie rock or more, the 41st Vale Earth Fair was one of the most diverse festivals the islands have seen in recent memory.

Of course with six stages it would be impossible to even come close to seeing everything so, I’ve focussed simply on what I saw on my meandering path through the 12-hour-long event, mostly focussing on the main ‘Castle’ stage and the Viewalalu (formerly the ‘Stage Against the Machine’ ‘outside’, ‘Discharge’ or ‘free’ depending on your vintage) stage.

Starting as they meant to go on the Castle stage got underway with the Channel Island’s finest purveyor of steampunk garage folk, The Crowman and his Crowband.

Joined today by Holly ‘Gotta Hotrod’ Hollingsworth on banjolele and Tinshack on guitar and kazoo, The Crowman warmed up the crowd with a light-hearted and enjoyable set drawing on his three albums.

While it all went a bit chaotic in places the trio dealt with it all in a lighthearted manner and both band and audience had a great time, especially as the band pulled out two of their most surreal flights of fancy, The Adventures of Captain Brown and the brilliantly deranged Pimbo.

SugarSlam at Vale Earth Fair

SugarSlam

While their set may have felt somewhat early (they filled in a short notice) SugarSlam didn’t let that phase them as their energetic power pop rock was a refreshing blast on the Earth Fair’s main stage.

Following old classic Psychobabble the veteran band drew mostly from their soon to be released new album and its hard to argue with their infectious and upbeat presence, especially on a big stage like this.

As the set closed with Sacred Hearts’ Mark Le Gallez joining them for a lose and fun take on that band’s Adorable, and the sun blazed down in uncharacteristic fashion, the stage was set for an undeniably upbeat and energetic day of music.

While Le Quartette brought some pop classical vibes to the Viewalalu Stage the Busking Stage, this year looking even more like someone’s living room than before (can we get a list of some of those book titles Greg?), welcomed Paul Sharod of The Surfin’ Birds, or more accurately a motley selection of various members of the Weymouth based band.

Squidhead at the Vale Earth Fair

Squidhead

Despite being a little worse for wear from the Earth Fair warm up gig the previous night there was a lot of fun being had with Sharod delivering some bluesy rock ’n’ roll before Squidhead (not named for the squid shaped hat he was wearing) playing some fun, acoustic tunes, unsurprisingly often about having a drink, while the audience relaxed in the sun doing just that.

As Buff Hudd drew a big crowd to the Viewalalu for his acoustic folk-hop stylings the first act from ‘the other island’ took to the Castle Stage.

Hot Plastic combined drum machine rhythms with live guitar, bass and vocals to create a kind of infectious and powerful pop-rock that went down a storm in the already busy castle.

For one track they went a bit bluesy as they were joined by Robert J. Hunter who’s band were up next.

Robert J. Hunter at the Vale Earth Fair

Robert J. Hunter

Its been a while since I’ve had the chance to catch Rob’s band and, with this being their second of three festivals in two days, their dirty blues was bigger and tighter than ever, before they hopped on a rib to play the Hackett Hoedown in Jersey!

The other festival was The Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival in Lancashire on Saturday, and from what I heard the hard touring is paying off.

After The Phantom Cosmonaut had a great time making a noise on Viewalalu, Jawbone brought scrappy punk rock to the stage outside the castle with all the punchy, high energy, craziness we’d expect, reconstructed bionic collar bones and all…

The party really started to get going back in the Castle with some excellent dub-y ska from UK visitors Tree House Fire who seemed custom-made for getting the Earth Fair crowd moving before The Recks, making a triumphant return to the Earth Fair, continued the trend.

The Recks at the Vale Earth Fair

The Recks

After a more down and dirty outing at the warm up show the previous night the genre and geography defying five-piece kicked off strong and smooth.

As the set went on they seemed slightly derailed before launching into less frequently heard old favourite Trainwreck, but by closer Lights they were back on track to close out one of the day’s highlight sets.

While the Viewalalu has become the festival’s often more ‘out there’ or esoteric stage, a visiting act from Jersey outdid all previous expectations.

Looking like a deranged circus had invaded, The Crack defied explanation as the face painted, gorilla costumed, nun’s habit wearing (a ‘Crack habit’, geddit?) group ran through a set of cabaret sounding, music hall madness that ran from King of the Swingers to Agado (complete with fully interactive crowd dancing) that was infectiously enjoyable if maybe a bit too bizarre to experience when unprepared.

Usually the Vale Earth Fair features one or maybe two stand out headline acts, but this year, to my mind, it looked like there were three filling the evening on the Castle Stage.

Jah Wobble at the Vale Earth Fair

Jah Wobble

While their music was about as varied as you’re likely to find sharing a stage anywhere, as a microcosm of the festival’s diversity they are an excellent example, to my mind it was the first who was the most familiar; Jah Wobble, along with his band The Invaders of the Heart.

Having made his name as one of the original members of John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd (PiL), Wobble (aka John Wardle) has since explored world music with The Invaders and it was this heady mix of ambient, dub-y sounds we were treated to.

While I have to admit the music didn’t grab me on a personal level, and from what I heard the lead guitar was a little overbearing, the crowd were loving it with many decreeing Wobble and co not just the highlight of this year’s events but of all Earth Fairs, and who am I to argue with that.

Hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo Jupiter & Okwess continued the world music vibes with hints of rock and were the second of the days acts to get the ‘best Earth Fair band ever’ judgement from many of the long-standing festival goers as they kept the crowd hot and moving as the warm evening rolled on.

Chali2na and Krafty Kuts at the Vale Earth Fair

Chali2na and Krafty Kuts

This all culminated with the arrival of hip-hop legend Chali 2na, along with ace DJ and co-conspirator Krafty Kuts.

While Kuts music provided the back drop and had the crowd going off from the start, Chali 2na’s presence, personality and rhymes filled the big stage and provided the Guernsey audience with something the likes of which most would never have experienced on our little rock (save the privileged few who caught him at a special Get Down night a couple of years back).

This all closed the night on the Castle Stage on a massive high that pushes the best the Earth Fair has ever offered.

While all that was going on the Viewalalu Stage kept things, mostly, closer to home and more rocking.

The Surfin' Birds at the Vale Earth Fair

The Surfin’ Birds

The Surfin’ Birds added a second guitarist since the previous night’s warm up show which developed the band’s more psychedelic side along with the garage rock ’n’ roll and they got the audience rocking along from the start.

Once again it was hard to avoid their infectious energy with drummer Liam Sharod again providing a few highlight drum solos, particularly on South Coast Stomp.

As the set went on though their long weekend of gigging (and associated extracurricular activities) started to take their toll and they drifted just the wrong side of the ‘rock ’n’ roll chaos’ line meaning their set didn’t end on the high it might have as Surfin’ Bird fell into disarray.

After a rapid turn around Guernsey indie rock favourites Lifejacket launched into their set and the usually tight and precise band seemed a little loser than normal which combined with a few technical difficulties to make for one of their more challenging outings.

Lifejacket at the Vale Earth Fair

Lifejacket

Despite that there were moments where they pulled it together and kept the audience on side, even if they didn’t play one of the songs most often ‘requested’ of them (I think I side with frontman Andy Sauvage in thinking that joke has run its course), but Lifejacket survived, albeit slightly more battered by the experience than they would have liked.

Another swift switch around brought Honest Crooks to the stage, standing in after the last-minute cancellation of the announced headliners, but that didn’t seem to matter to the audience one bit as they got skanking right away.

With new covers thrown in amongst the originals and a new aspect brought to some of their material now that Naomi Burton’s sax and keys have found their place in the band, the Crooks proved once again why they are one of the biggest things in Guernsey music right now.

Honest Crooks at the Vale Earth Fair

Honest Crooks

This was all brought to close by Near Bliss inciting a mosh pit with their chaotic take on the music of Nirvana.

While a band is never going to recreate the magical presence and charisma of that Seattle trio, Near Bliss captured the spirit of the close of the Earth Fair well as things descended into a kind of anarchy generally only seen on our shores once a year.

For its 41st year the Vale Earth Fair felt reinvigorated and refreshed with bigger crowds, bigger atmosphere and a growth on its already diverse line up showing once again why this remains at the top of the Channel Island festival season.

You can see more of my photos from the Vale Earth Fair on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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WWE Mae Young Classic 2017 – Round One

WWE Mae Young Classic logoIf you’d told me five years ago that not only would WWE be staging a stand alone women’s wrestling tournament, and also that I’d be getting genuinely excited about it, I would have been at least very sceptical if not purely disbelieving.

Well here we are in summer 2017 and, following the ‘women’s revolution’ of the past couple of years and last summer’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament, not to mention the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, we have the Mae Young Classic – a 32 competitor single elimination tournament featuring some top name international women’s talent.

Unlike the CWC last year, WWE are releasing this tournament (which was taped back in July) in blocks of each round before a live final, so here I’m looking at the first round of matches, released on the WWE Network on Monday August 28th.

Mae Young Classic wrestler

The competitors

Continuing with a theme I raised at both the previous weekend’s NXT Takeover and SummerSlam events, the Mae Young Classic continues WWE’s ongoing trend to at least appear more international.

Many of the contenders are announced as representing different countries with some even hailing from those countries (though it’s noticeable a lot are American, far more so than in the CWC).

Along with that, while some of the competitors are long-standing and well-known faces in the world of women’s wrestling, a slightly suspicious number seem to be rather new, even if they have other sports experience, and in a few cases it’s telling and smacks of WWE trying to promote their new signings before they appear on NXT.

That said, the pairings in this opening round led, with a few exceptions, to some great matches with some excellent moments.

Mae Young Classic opening brackets

I won’t go through things match for match but will pick out some highlights.

As a whole though the presentation was very well done with a similar, more legit ate sporting feel, like the CWC.

Baszler and Zeda

Baszler chokes out Zeda

The commentary, from Jim Ross and Lita, did take a while to settle with both feeling a bit out-of-place at first but by the end of the first round they seemed to have settled down (though I’ll admit the legend that is JR does sound a little old hat now and I’d have preferred to hear Mauro Ronallo).

The first episode (each episode featuring four matches) was a strong start following a ‘not as inspiring as it should have been’ hype video voiced by Stephanie McMahon.

Female luchadore Princesa Sugeheit got what was, to my mind, a surprise win over Scotland’s Kay Lee Ray, but it was former UFC competitor Shayna Baszler and both Abbey Laith (formerly known as Kimber Lee) and Jazzy Gabert (aka The Alpha Female) who were the real standouts, with Baszler looking like a potential winner, especially with her very nice suplex into sleeper finishing combo.

Xia Yim and Sarah Logan

Yim pins Logan after a German suplex

The second episode was headlined by Mia Yim picking up a win over Sarah Logan in a match where both came out looking good.

Also on the show Chinese performer Xia Li, signed to WWE following their foray to China to try to expand their market, lost out to Mercedes Martinez, who came across as a tough MMA style wrestler, while Li looked far better than anyone would expect in a debut.

Australian athlete Rhea Ripley looked good with a win over Miranda Salinas and the daughter of Paul Ellering, Rachel Evers, picked up a win over Marti Belle in the first duff match of the tournament.

Toni Storm

A victorious Toni Storm

In many ways episode three was the highlight for me featuring three of the wrestlers I’m most familiar with advancing.

The show began with Toni Storm, the first Progress Wrestling women’s champion, going over a very inexperienced looking Ayesha Raymond before kiwi standout Dakota Kai got a convincingly hard-fought win with a hyper speed corner kick and double stomp on WWE’s first Indian female competitor Kavita Devi.

In the episode’s main event Piper Niven, who had previously appeared on ITV’s World of Sport back in December as Viper, got a win over Santana Garrett with some impressively athletic moves.

While Niven may look like a friendlier modern-day Klondyke Kate style performer she has a lot more in her arsenal than one would expect from that, no doubt echoing some of the Japanese competitor with whom I’m less familiar like Bull Nakano.

Kairi Sane elbow drop on Tessa Blanchard

Sane’s elbow drop on Blanchard

Despite featuring two of the most anticipated wrestlers, the fourth episode was in some ways also the weakest.

Thankfully Candice LeRae’s opening victory over Renee Michelle and pretty much everything done by Japan’s Kairi Sane (aka Kairi Hojo) in her face off with Tessa Blanchard stole the show – particularly Sane’s ridiculous winning elbow drop from the top rope that is like no other I’ve previously seen.

While some of the eliminated competitors are ones I’d like to see more from, the results of the first round have set up some very interesting matches going forward making it hard to call who will advance, which is always nice when things can so often be so easy to predict in WWE, and has set the tournament going in a very enjoyable manner.

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Vale Earth Fair Warm Up: The Surfin’ Birds and The Recks – Thomas De La Rue – 26/08/17

The Surfin' Birds and guests

The Surfin’ Birds with AJ and Richey

It’s become tradition that the night before Guernsey’s longest running festival, the Vale Earth Fair, a pair of the bands playing the main event take to the stage at the De La Rue in St Peter Port for a more relaxed warm up.

Even with the Sound Guernsey event taking place at the Vale Castle, 2017 was no different with The Recks and their, in some sense, brother band from Weymouth The Surfin’ Birds.

While The Recks were on solid form it took a while for the audience to sneak forward and fill the dancefloor and it is odd seeing this band who usually get the headline slots going on first.

While they were a bit more loose than usual, particularly when it came to working out what to play next and on She Wants That Too, as they set went on their energy, and the audiences, built.

The Recks

The Recks

A new track led by Gregory Harrison added a slightly slower, more country-folk, feel to things but it was the usual tracks that were the highlights, recent single Low Life and She Ain’t No Revelator in particular, and by the end of the set the dancefloor was full.

Weymouth rock ’n’ roll trio The Surfin’ Birds promised to jam things out with some friends and they didn’t disappoint from the moment they launched in their take on Link Wray’s Jack The Ripper onwards.

Mixing their own songs with versions of blues rock ’n’ roll standards they were on fire, despite looking like they might be on the verge of total collapse at points, they held it together with a primal will that actually made them super tight.

Paul Sharod of The Surfin' Birds

Paul Sharod of The Surfin’ Birds

While Paul Sharod wielded his guitar like it was an extension of himself, his brother Liam set the drums rolling with several drum solos that did that rare thing of feeling like part of the songs rather than an indulgent add-on.

As the set went on they were joined on numerous occasions by The Reck’s Richey Powers (a long time collaborator of Sharod) and AJ, most commonly seen with Burg & The Back Porch Band, who added some harmonica to the bluesy flavour tracks.

Sharod headed further and further into Lux Interior territory, aided by a few Cramps moments including Human Fly and The Crusher (although I know that isn’t a Cramps original) before closing the set on a trio of standout moments; their own I’m An Elvis Man led into a Be Bop A Lula that descended into a crazed take on Surfin’ Bird to close the night on a high, setting everyone up for the following days festival with great energy.

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The Space Pirates of Rocquaine – The Imperial Hotel – 19/08/17

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The better part of a decade ago I remember heading down to The Imperial at Rocquaine to see one of the island’s top pop-rock bands of the time trying something a bit different.

That band were The Nelkons and what they were doing was playing an acoustic set in the corner of their local pub. While they were still going by their old name then this was to be one of the first outings for the band now known as The Space Pirates of Rocquaine.

Last Saturday night, after a lengthy absence and with a slightly different line up, the folk rockers returned to their spiritual home to do what they do best, play high energy, fun, folk rock to an enthusiastic audience.

Before the full band took to the ‘stage’ a few members warmed up the crowd with some other songs, starting with founder member and guitarist/vocalist Guppy.

Tim Corbett and Mark Guppy

Tim Corbett and Mark Guppy

Armed with a new Telecaster he began with some more folky numbers, including a few often played with the full band, before gradually dialling up the crunch and adding a bit of punk spirit and rock ‘n’ roll to proceedings with a Stranglers cover and some more originals. 

The Pirates mandolin/ukulele/guitar player Tim Corbett then brought things back in a more indie-folk direction that sounded great but, as it went on, got a little lost in the increasing hubbub in the pub caused by the sudden arrival of a rather boisterous bus party.

After a short break to get everyone else on stage The Space Pirates of Rocquaine then set off.

Taking the band out of the often overly polite and family friendly environments they often play instantly seemed to make them more relaxed on stage and up for a more fun performance.

Lisa Vidamour and Rachael Cumberland-Dodd

The Space Pirates’ Lisa with guest Rachael

While they took a few songs to get up to speed once they did they were on fine form for the best part of the next hour and a half. The band were relaxed and fun throughout but they proved, time and again, that with that they can be one do the tightest bands around, particularly on their more well-known songs like Sarnia Cherie, Canon Des Iles or the anthemic sounding I Fly.

With the new line up featuring Nick Dodd on electric guitar in place of Jess Nash’s fiddle a few of their more rock ‘n’ roll songs have taken on a new life, this was particularly demonstrated on Beast of the Coudre which took on a whole new dimension.

As the set went on songs were dedicated to friends and family, including a rousing rendition of Foo Fighters’ My Hero and the band were joined by several ‘guests’ from the audience reaching something of a climax with the always emotional Coming Home before the slightly too am dram dance along to Witch of the Longfrie brought a close to proceedings.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine and friends

The Space Pirates and friends

While on paper a gig like this, on the floor in the corner of a small pub, could be beset by technical issues, for a band like The Space Pirates, it’s clear that this is where they thrive and are capable of delivering their absolute best combining some great singalong folky pop rock with a relaxed performance and an over-riding sense of fun.

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SummerSlam – Barclays Centre – 20/08/17

WWE SummerSlam logo25 years ago WWE (then WWF) presented what was then their biggest live event, with 80,000 people in London’s Wembley Stadium for the 1992 SummerSlam event.

While the show was a mixed bag for a few reasons it’s lived in the memory thanks to its location, the only WWE pay per view outside main land North America, and the main event which saw Bret Hart and the British Bulldog fight for the Intercontinental Championship – it was also my real doorway into the world of professional wrestling.

Now, in 2017, for its 30th edition the show has ballooned to six hours of TV time broadcast from Brooklyn New York’s Barclay’s Centre in front of 16,000 fans.

Given the running time I have had neither time, nor if I’m honest inclination, to watch the three matches on the ‘pre-show’ despite them featuring some excellent performers, so I’ll jump straight to the main show, which began with a nice music video package highlighting the night’s main events, though in comparison to the previous night’s NXT TakeOver show, this was the start of things not quite being all they could be.

John Cena vs Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin and John Cena

Baron Corbin and John Cena

With WWE biggest star kicking off the show the crowd went nuclear with a huge ‘John Cena sucks’ singalong before the usual mixed reaction once he hit the ring.

Relative newcomer Corbin meanwhile was treated to an imposingly impressive new entrance with new video effects and music suggesting maybe he still is seen as a next big bad guy character, despite the somewhat unceremonious dropping of the Money in the Bank on last week’s Smackdown TV show.

While Cena continued to get a mixed reaction and Corbin is developing into a brilliantly hate-able heel, the match the pair put on couldn’t have been much more flat. Mostly stalling for time or punch/kick offence and defence it felt like they’d worked out the character beats and nothing else.

Baron Corbin chokeslams John Cena

Corbin chokeslams Cena

It struck watching this as well that Corbin only has a handful of moves in his arsenal so once these were exhausted and repeated several times it was hard to engage – even what could have been a nice chokeslam/backbreaker move was too loose to be anything much.

With a third attempt at his slide around the ring post Corbin was caught in Cena’s AA, giving Cena a win that did little for the part-time megastar and all but killed any legitimacy of Corbin as the killer heel he’s had the look of becoming, making for a damp squib of an opening match.

Smackdown Women’s Championship
Naomi (c) vs Natalya

Natalya and Naomi

Flying headscissor from Naomi

After the first of many cringe inducing commercials featuring WWE superstars we got the culmination of a feud that we never really wanted between Naomi and Natalya.

From her entrance it looked like Natalya was once again basing her character off her heritage as a member of the Hart family with a nice Hart Foundation style jacket and this was carried on through JBL’s commentary and into the match’s conclusion.

Naomi meanwhile was the brightly coloured, neon cartoon with no real substance she has been for the last nine months or so.

Despite a few nice moments it was hard to escape the feeling of the two competitors going through the motions with no real sense that this was for a big prize and more the feeling that it was a casual exhibition.

Natalya applies the Sharpshooter to Naomi

Natalya applies the Sharpshooter to Naomi

That said Natalya has got some of the best snap suplexes in the WWE today and Naomi delivered a nice blockbuster off the steps to the floor, but that was about it for highlights.

The end came following an unconvincing sequence into a first Sharpshooter before Naomi missed a split legged moonsault, allowing the challenger to once again apply the leg lock and become champion.

While it’s always nice to see Natalya rewarded as by far the longest standing member of the women’s division, it’s hard to escape the fact that she never quite convinces as an aggressive champion and once again this match fell flat because of that.

Big Cass vs Big Show
with Enzo Amore locked in a shark cage above the ring

Enzo in the 'shark cage'

Enzo in the ‘shark cage’

Before I get to the match it’s hard to escape the feeling that last year WWE paid a fair amount for the ‘shark cage’ as its come into play at least three times in recent months when the gimmick really is a relic of the old territory system, and I find it hard to remember it being used in the last 20 years or more.

Anyway, the match seemed designed to establish Big Cass as the new mid card big man by Big Show ‘passing the torch’ in a sense, however with Enzo really the focus as the one of the trio who’s particularly good on the mic, it’s been a very unbalanced affair.

That was highlighted here as Enzo cut his usual promo before being hoisted in the cage but it felt like treading water compared to his past highs, just hinting that the split of this team has happened far too soon and done damage to both characters.

With Big Show having a ‘broken hand’ he was limited even further than usual and this made the bulk of the match rather boring, and the crowd let the performers know it.

Big Cass with a big boot on the Big Show

Big Cass with a big boot on the Big Show

Some slight excitement cage came as Enzo squeezed out of the cage only to get a big boot to the head before Cass got the win with his Empire Elbow drop on the giant.

Unfortunately this all left the crowd dead and I’m just hoping it hasn’t entirely derailed both Enzo and Cass’ build, but I fear it may have, while Big Show remains a slightly more than past it novelty act.

Backstage we got a brief skit with Kurt Angle and Daniel Bryan which felt entirely superfluous and seemed to return to trying to hype competition between Raw and Smackdown which always feels pointless as, no matter how much we suspend our disbelief, we all know they are owned by the same company….

Randy Orton vs Rusev

Rusev throws Randy Orton

Rusev throws Orton

It’s hard to not find something a bit distasteful in Orton’s current run fighting stereotypical ‘evil foreigners’ given his appearance as an entitled white man in the current political climate, so, when Rusev attacked before the bell it looked like we might get a good fight to distract from that.

Unfortunately this was short-lived and once both men were back in the ring and the match officially began, Orton hit his RKO ‘from outta nowhere’ for the win in a moment reminiscent of Cena’s earlier victory with an established star going over a newer performer who really should be elevated.

Raw Women’s Championship
Alexa Bliss (c) vs Sasha Banks

Alexa Bliss dives at Sasha Banks

Bliss dives at Banks

With the match originally slated to see Bayley challenging Bliss things were rather rapidly put together but Banks has remained a perennial contender since her arrival on Raw and seems to have regained her old form in recent weeks as well.

Despite a rather ridiculous (even by WWE standards) piece of entrance attire the match soon settled into a nice pace with both women on top form.

While the middle section of the match was a little flat there were some nice spots including a Code Red being reversed into a turnbuckle slam.

Sasha lock in the Bank Statement

Sasha lock in the Bank Statement

It looked like Bliss would retain as she hit her Twisted Bliss top rope spinning splash but Banks survived and, after a slightly awkward but ok sequence got the submission win with her Bank Statement crossface to become a four-time champion.

While not perfect this, thankfully, upped the ante somewhat for the night and Banks winning was a nice twist that hopefully will reinvigorate both her and the slightly flagging women’s division – if I had my way this would slowly lead to a heel turn and feud with Bayley when she’s recovered, but that’s maybe a bit too much fantasy booking.

Bray Wyatt vs ‘The Demon’ Finn Balor

'The Demon' Finn Balor

‘The Demon’ Finn Balor

While I think Finn’s ‘alter ego’ of The Demon should be more of a surprise (I understand that the WWE marketing machine means it can’t really be) it was good to see him back in the body paint for the first time since last SummerSlam and his entrance got a huge reaction and several chants, including a nice ‘too sweet’ one from the clearly knowledgeable fans.

From the start Balor was playing a more intense version of himself to represent the Demon and Wyatt played up to it with shock exactly as you’d want at the start.

After a truly amazing looking tope con hilo from Balor, Wyatt took control with a nasty looking suplex to the floor and then a hanging top rope shoulder/neckbreaker.

Finn Balor attacks Bray Wyatt

Balor attacks Wyatt

Despite a few flurries Bray kept the upper hand and the crowd really started to get behind Finn as they properly came alive for the first time since Cena left.

With a nice story building throughout the climax came when Balor ‘countered’ Bray’s ‘spiderwalk’ taunt and hit his standard ending sequence of Sling Blade, Shotgun Dropkick and Coup De Grace for the win.

While this climax came a little fast given the rest of the pace and it didn’t all seem to be quite running at full force, at this point this was by far the best match and continued the previous one on building the excitement of the show – also special mention has to go to Corey Graves for his Gorilla Monsoon moment in commentary.

Raw Tag Team Championship
‘The Bar’ Sheamus & Cesaro (c) vs Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose 

Seth Rollins with a frog splash on Sheamus

Rollins with a frog splash on Sheamus

One of the most naturally exciting things on WWE TV in recent months has been the build to the reunion of former Shield members Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

This has been well-balanced with their feud with the tag team champions to lead to a match with a real story behind it (in many ways the first of the night).

The match itself was some thing of a masterclass for modern WWE tag team wrestling with near nonstop action from both teams building a great story of the challengers rediscovering their old rapport in the face of the more cohesive champions.

Highlights came with a chaotic flurry from Ambrose in contrast to the more controlled Rollins, a double suicide dive from the challengers and Cesaro heading out into the crowd to dispose of a beach ball (a move which has caused a surprising amount of controversy since).

Rollins hits a superkick on Sheamus

Rollins hits a superkick on Sheamus

As the match went on Cesaro showed his abilities with the best Sharpshooter since the days of the Hart family and the best crossface since Benoit.

The end came with a great sequence that began with a top rope hurricanrana from Rollins and finished with the double attack of Seth’s Rainmaker/V-Trigger rip-chord knee strike into Ambrose Dirty Deeds DDT securing the championships for the reformed Shield members and providing one if the highlight matches of the night while also giving some great fan service for those who remember the hey day of the Hounds of Justice.

WWE United States Championship
AJ Styles (c) vs Kevin Owens
Special guest referee Shane McMahon

AJ Styles and Kevin Owens

Intense action between Styles and Owens

Another match that has come with a good and lengthy build, this felt like a final chapter as Styles and Owens have traded the title a few times now.

Added to this Shane McMahon as referee brings a convincing extra intrigue given his relationship with both men in the past.

While it started off stiff and intense with a pre match brawl, pulled apart by McMahon and setting up his role in proceedings, it was, of course Owens who became the vocal heel aggressor.

Both men got their chance to show their high spots and a particular highlight came with a sequence going form a missed Asai Moonsuslt, a countered pop up power bomb and a huge Ushigoroshi for a two count.

AJ Styles hits the Phenomenal Forearm

Styles hits the Phenomenal Forearm

Shortly after that the guest referee came into play as McMahon was caught in the crossfire of a springboard 450 splash, so missed the count off Owens’ pop up powerbomb followed by missing the tap out to a Styles Calf Crusher.

Following more great sequences and near falls from a Styles Clash to another pop up powerbomb, Owens got into an argument with McMahon allowing AJ to get the decisive victory with a Phenomenal Forearm and another tightly delivered Styles Clash.

Given the ending, I hope this is a full stop on what’s been a great feud that has set up Styles as a confirmed champion (not that he wasn’t before) and built on the dissent of Owens with the management.

WWE World Championship
Jinder Mahal w/ The Singh Brothers (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura

Shinsuke Nakamura and Jinder Mahal

Nakamura hits a spin kick on Mahal

One thing that’s often been said of the WWE is that, for a company with World in its name, it’s rather solidly North America-centric.

2016 and 2017 have seen this change somewhat though with the Cruiser Weight Classic and United Kingdom Championship Tournament through to Black vs Itami the previous night at NXT TakeOver, and this match, pitting the Indian (well actually Canadian but ‘of Indian heritage’) champion Mahal against modern Japanese legend, the King of Strong Style, Nakamura.

Throughout it was clear how over Nakamura is with this crowd and, equally, they were opposed to Mahal in just the right way something that was echoed in their clash of in-ring styles.

Unfortunately, while a clash can sometimes lead to something great, here it just came across and Nakamura doing all the work in both giving and selling in the face of Mahal’s ponderous, traditional WWE muscleman approach.

Kinshasa!

Kinshasa!

There was a nice spot where Nakamura countered a slam into a triangle choke hold and, with a Kinshasa to the back of the head, he looked poised to claim the championship.

This was when the a Singh brothers got involved, only to be removed by Shinsuke, but giving Mahal the opening to get the win with his Khallas cobra clutch slam.

This clearly shocked the crowd as it did come out of nowhere and the concept of Mahal overcoming Nakamura is a stretch of the imagination even with the interference, sadly leaving it all fall a little too flat. But Nakamura came out of things looking great anyway and I have to admit to enjoying Mahal’s run as champion so far, especially now its veered away from purely ‘foreigner = bad guy’ territory.

WWE Universal Championship
Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman (c) vs Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe vs Braun Strowman

Brock Lesnar suplexes Roman Reigns

Lesnar suplexes Reigns

As the challengers came out the responses were all strong and what we’d expect from the New York crowd; a mixed response but with chants for Joe, a mostly positive response for Strowman and a deafening chorus of boos for Reigns.

Then the champion and his advocate, as always getting a positive reaction due to the sheer freakish nature of Lesnar.

The match itself was a non stop chaotic battle between all four, literally a human demolition derby to steal a phrase, but as soon as it spilled to the floor it became Braun Strowman’s showcase.

While keeping Joe and Reigns at bay ‘The Monster Amongst Men’ drove Lesnar through two tables before dumping another on top of the champion causing him to be stretchered out with a laughing Strowmam shouting taunts after him in a moment that will be remembered for a long time.

Braun Strowman drives Brock Lesnar through a table

Strowman drives Lesnar through a table

For a while it settled down into a triple threat style, but largely with Strowman maintaining the upper hand (despite the use of steel stairs by Reigns) before Lesnar returned, squared off against his new nemesis, and proceeded to fight off Joe and Reigns with his usual attacks.

Strowman again gained the upper hand only to be hit with a Superman Punch from Reigns, but this allowed Lesnar to hit his F5 spinning slam on Reigns and, somewhat unexpectedly, retain the gold.

While the match itself was the highlight of the show in just the way a main event between four heavyweights should be, and was an insane exhibition from Strowman, all four men looked great and even Lesnar felt reinvigorated now there is a real looking challenge in his path which is just what the WWE needed at this stage.

Brock Lesnar lifts Samoa Joe for an F5

Lesnar lifts Joe for an F5

As a whole, while the show was horrendously overlong (something it shares in common with WrestleMania), but from the Raw women’s match on it was at least enjoyable or better and with the Raw tag team title match, the US title match and the Universal title match being some genuinely great bouts all in different styles.

So, while the 30th SummerSlam could have been better, the good points were exactly what WWE does best, delivered by the performers in the best way and setting up at least the next three months stories very nicely just as it should, and it created a new star in the form of The Monster Amongst Men, Braun Strowman.

Photos from WWE.com

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