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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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WWE Mae Young Classic – Final (and more)

Mae Young classic finalists Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the opening round of the Mae Young Classic, WWE’s international women’s wrestling tournament.

Since then the second round, quarter and semi finals have all been aired leading to a live final pitting Japan’s ‘pirate princess’ Kairi Sane and her devastating flying elbow drop against MMA fighter, and one of Ronda Rousey’s ‘four horsewomen’, Shayna Baszler and her debilitating suplex into a rear naked choke style sleeper hold.

Like the first round the second had its fair share of great moments but it was the quarter finals where the tournament really began to come to life with all four matches being some of the best women’s wrestling I’ve ever seen.

Shayna Baszler and Mercedes Martinez

Baszler and Martinez

In this round my highlights came in the Kairi Sane/Dakota Kai match and particularly the contest between Scottish wrestler Piper ‘The Viper’ Niven and Progress Wrestling Women’s Champion, Australian competitor Toni Storm.

The semi-finals then upped things even further setting a par not just for women’s wrestling but for any matches within the WWE Universe (to use their phrase) this year.

Baszler faced off against her mentor on the indie circuit, Mercedes Martinez, in a match pitting fighter against fighter.

The match had that MMA crossover feel with stiff striking and legitimate looking submission holds with both women looking like contenders.

It was accumulated shoulder and knee injuries for the older Martinez though that were her downfall giving Baszler her place in the final.

Kairi Sane and Toni Storm

Sane and Storm

The second semi-final had a more standard pro-wrestling feel to it with Sane’s Japanese high-flying against the Antipodean Strong Style of Toni Storm.

Again both women looked like they could make it to the final and both hit big moves, including a top rope to the floor crossbody from Sane that saw her go headfirst into the metal ramp.

Despite that it was Sane who would connect with her diving elbow on Storm to get the win and set up a real clash of styles and personalities in the final.

Final round – Las Vegas, Nevada – 12/09/17
Kairi Sane (Japan) vs Shayna Baszler (USA)

When I first heard that the final was going to be taking place after a Smackdown show in Las Vegas, rather than sat the NXT Arena at Full Sail in Orlando, I was concerned.

If 205 Live has shown us anything it’s that the crowd following the two-hour Smackdown show can be pretty burnt out, especially when faced with less well-known competitors and, as the opening chunk of the show on the WWE Network rolled on, this was looking to be the case.

Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

Baszler gets the upper hand on Sane

After a look at the ‘red carpet’ for the evening, largely an excuse to further remind us of the building feud between the MMA and WWE horsewomen, as well as a nice little mention of Netflix’s GLOW, we headed back to the arena where commentators Jim Ross and Lita got a mild reaction and the challengers headed to the ring.

While Baszler got little response from the crowd on her entrance and Sane only marginally more, as they were announced in the ring by returning long time ring announcer Lillian Garcia it seemed the audience began to realise this was a special event, and as the lights dimmed more than usual for a big WWE arena show this continued.

The match itself was great with the size and style difference between the two women exploited to the full.

Kairis Sane hits an axe-kick on Shayna Baszler

Sane hits an axe-kick

With some fairly even back and forth wrestling it was Baszler, clearly playing the heel now, who took the upper hand with a stiff looking kick to Sane’s head that sent the Japanese fighter to the floor before Baslzer got the first real two-count.

From there Baszler focussed on the submission angle working on Sane’s right arm with a range of nice ‘joint manipulation’ style holds along with nasty looking versions of armbars and several attempts to apply the double wrist lock (aka the Kimura).

Sane came back with chops only to be derailed by a knee lift reminiscent of Kenny Omega’s V-Trigger, but on a third attempt she connected with her impactful spear injuring Baszler’s ribs.

This then became the story of the third act of the match, as Baszler aimed for the arm but Sane found the weakness in her opponent’s ribs. A top rope flying forearm was countered into a rear naked choke, Baszler’s signature hold across the tournament, but Sane escaped thanks to the rib injury.

Kairi Sane double stomps Shayna Baszler

Tree of Woe double stomp from Sane

The climax came following a forearm battle on the top rope leading to a tree of woe double foot stomp which garnered ‘this is awesome chants’ from the now fully invested crowd, and then an immaculate version of Sane’s spectacular take on the diving elbow drop giving her the three count and the trophy.

Given all the competitors in the tournament this match was a great final pairing as they combined storyline with the more sporting feel brilliantly and this was summed in a moment after the bell when the two hugged and Baszler, previously a vicious heel, clearly said thank you to the more experienced Sane.

Kairi Sane elbow drop on Shayna Baszler

Sane hits her diving elbow drop for the win

Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Sara Amato then presented Sane with the typically ludicrously oversized trophy in what felt like a genuine wrestling moment, possibly even more so than TJ Perkins’ win in the Cruiserweight Classic Last year and up with Tyler Bate’s win in the United Kingdom Championship tournament.

While this show felt a little short at barely 30 minutes – I’d have liked to maybe have seen tag match featuring Storm & LeRae against Niven & Mendez as they were all shown to be in attendance, the final was far from the great contest with a dead crowd I was expecting.

In fact it was a great match with a newly invested crowd and more than suitably rounded off what has been a great tournament featuring some of the best in ring work WWE is likely to see this year, regardless of gender, and I hope this becomes a recurring event like the Best of the Super Juniors tournament in New Japan or Chikara’s King of Trios.

Stephanie McMahon, Sara Amato, Kairi Sane and Triple H

McMahon, Amato and Triple H congratulate Sane

But I think it’s safe to say that in the end the right woman won and the whole tournament has done a great job of setting up some upcoming stories and characters for the regular TV shows while giving some future talent a place to make a mark and maintaining a certain legitimate feel often lost in WWE’s ‘sports entertainment’ product.

Photos from WWE.com

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It (2017)

It 2017 posterThe image of Tim Curry as Pennywise The Dancing Clown, the most famous visage of Stephen King’s famed horror creation It, is one that has been ever-present in the back of my mind as a pop culture avatar of fear, despite the fact I’ve never seen the mini-series (later edited into a film) he appeared or (entirely) read the book on which it was based.

Now director Andy Muschietti and a host of producers have brought the tale of Derry, Maine to the big screen with Bill Skarsgård in the Curry role. 

The story follows a group of junior high school kids over the summer of 1988 as a number of their classmates disappear and they begin to see strange things. While I’m sure many already know the story I won’t elaborate much more.

Anyone familiar with the original will know it was based in 1958 and, while I was sceptical about the update, it largely works well as it falls suitably before cell phones and the themes of growing up and ‘coming of age’ fit just as well to both eras, though there are a couple of moments that feel a little anachronistic.

The group of young actors who play the self-named ‘losers club’ are, once the film settles in, all excellent but it’s Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denborough and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh who really stand out finding some of the emotional depth that exists in King’s epic novel and making it come to life.

It - The Losers Club

The Losers Club

Meanwhile the other members of the club are somewhat relegated compared to their text selves, but this is understandable as part of the translation and all have enough to do to not feel like ‘red shirts’.

As well as this perennial bully Henry Bowers has an extra added quality on top of his physical brutality and nastiness that may be me seeing things but aren’t there but if not is a very nice touch.

What really makes the film work though is the atmosphere it creates. Across its first half we see Derry as a normal town but with something else creeping just below the surface and, through the youngsters view, it is a surprisingly sinister place.

Muschietti does a great job of creating this feeling mixing modern horror tropes with much of Kings’ source material, translated startlingly to the screen, along with something of the idea that when following young characters you keep everything shot at their level. Then in the second half we meet this sinister something face to face.

It - Pennywise - Bill Skarsgard

Skarsgard as Pennywise

Added to this is a Pennywise who treads the line between ridiculous and terrifying expertly.

Skarsgård’s performance occasionally raises a laugh but within it is more of that creeping sense of fear that the character needs, combined with enough well judged jump scares to keep you on your toes.

On top of this other aspects of It appear and are equally effective, making it clear that Pennywise is just one facet of the fear demon (or whatever It actually is) but like in the book he is the one who seems to cut through the most.

If I have one criticism of the film it’s that it seems to miss something of the more deep-seated ideas that exist within the book and are a strong part of King’s work in general, but this may be down to the fact that this film is only half the story so I’m hoping some of this gets dealt with when we meet the adult versions of our heroes.

It - The house on Neibolt street

The house on Neibolt street

To counter this though the film does build a very nice streak of ‘coming of age’ that feels far more well handled than I’ve seen in cinema for a long time, bringing to mind the works of John Hughes and films like The Goonies or (more recently) Stranger Things.

Andy Muschietti’s It, then, combines a nostalgic adventure film sensibility with the kind of creeping horror found in the best supernatural chillers and an iconic horror creation that could live on like Freddie, Jason, Michael Myers, et al, and I can’t wait for Chapter Two…

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Twin Peaks: The Return

Twin Peaks - The Return banner25 years or so ago David Lynch and Mark Frost left television and film audiences baffled as their journey to the dark heart of Americana, Twin Peaks (and spin-off movie Fire Walk With Me), came to an end with one explanation unraveling a whole host of further questions.

Now here we are in September 2017 and the 18 hours of Twin Peaks: The Return has come to a close, I’ll try not to give too much away, but safe to say it’s left us in a place that is, to use the cliché, ‘Lynchian’.

Dropping us right back in where we left off, but at the same time with the timeline shifted to the modern-day, we find Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) where we last saw him and his apparently possessed alter ego roaming free and up to no good.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

MacLachlan as Cooper

We are also taken back to the town of Twin Peaks where much has remained the same, but also things have changed, and we meet other characters new and old as the tale winds its way there and back again.

Unlike the original run the murder mystery is almost totally forgotten, replaced with a bigger sense of mystery that has wider scope and feeling, but still driven by the death of Laura Palmer.

Much like the original series to tell this story Lynch plays on television conventions with each thread of the ongoing story in this newly expanded world, having a different feel.

Amongst them there is an (intentionally ironic?) X-Files like FBI procedural that follows FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (Lynch) and his team’s explorations of the whereabouts of Agent Dale Cooper, the twisted soap opera of Twin Peaks town, something akin to modern crime dramas like Breaking Bad as we learn about the exploits of Mr C (MacLachlan) and then, in the extended world of Dougie Jones (MacLachlan), a kind of surreal sitcom.

David Lynch as Gordon Cole

Lynch as FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole

Laced through all of this is an extended exploration of the other world seen in the original series, the world of the Black and White Lodges and more, that at its most extreme feels like a sequel to Eraserhead and there are strong suggestions that we are in that same universe.

In this vein one episode around the middle of the series is entirely given over to exploring this and in some ways it feels like it offers an explanation for at least some of the goings on – though of course things are never that cut and dry.

As the series goes on and all the threads come together things escalate as Lynch’s expert sound design ties things together and at points the quaint small town feel gives way total nightmare, even outside the lodges, as it appears universe morph and mutate as much as the story and meaning.

Kyle MacLachlan as Mr C

MacLachlan as Mr C

While all the performances are excellent, whichever aspect of things they exist in, it is undeniable (and regularly reinforced) that Kyle MacLachlan is the star. Playing at least two (three… four… more?) characters it really is a tour de force spanning the whole series and all its different worlds while being the tie that binds them all together.

As things head towards their conclusion it feels like all the loose ends are being tied up, but of course this is David Lynch really at peak performance so I won’t say much more… other than to say that The Return continues the escalation of Twin Peaks into an exploration of the state of humanity, or at least that might be one way of looking at it.

This all makes for one of the greatest pieces of televisual art I can remember seeing, it has all the gripping mystery and plot of the aforementioned likes of a Breaking Bad combined with the unique world view of Lynch that marries surrealism with a mesmerising nature that makes you not want to miss a single moment for fear a crucial event will pass you by.

Nine Inch Nails at The Roadhouse

‘The Nine Inch Nails’

Added to this as a bit of bonus, but one that sits perfectly in the tone of the programme, most episodes culminate at The Roadhouse with a musical performance from various real world bands and musicians from the renowned likes of former Lynch collaborators Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, to new artists and I’m looking forward to picking up the soundtrack when it’s released.

If you’ve not seen the series and want to avoid spoilers don’t watch to the very end of this video – otherwise… The Nine Inch Nails…

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The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club posterWidely considered one of the quintessential films of the 1980s, The Breakfast Club is John Hughes’ exploration of life in American high schools remains as fascinating now as ever.

While I have seen the film in the past its been a long time and to such a degree that my memory of it was vague at best, but somehow, as soon as that Simple Minds riff kicks in it feels like some kind of time warp is in action and we are thrown to that Saturday morning in Shermer, Illinois.

The plot of the film, what there is of it as this isn’t really about a plot, sees a group of teenagers in Saturday detention with, essentially, each representing one of the archetypal groups of high school kids.

So we have the brain (Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson, the academic ‘geek’), the athlete (Emilio Estevez’s wrestling team member Andy Clark), the basket case (Ally Sheedy as eccentric loner Allison Reynolds), the princess (Hughes’ regular Molly Ringwald as spoilt rich kid Claire Standish) and the criminal (Judd Nelson’s aggressive, defensive bully, John Bender).

At the start the five all arrive in the school study hall at odds with one another and teacher Mr Vernon (Paul Gleason), one of only two adult characters in the main body of the film but, as the things go on, through a series of episodic incidents, the five begin to reveal more about themselves as they try to kill the eight hours they have in detention and gradually realise they are more than the stereotypes they all see each other as.

The Breakfast Club

Nelson, Estevez, Sheedy, Ringwald and Hall

This really is the story. While there is a thread of the five characters doing their best to subvert the power of the adult authority figure, what it really revolves around the five talking, antagonising one another, but ultimately revealing extra layers of themselves and coming out of the experience changed.

While this is set in the context of one day what it really feels like is a microcosm of the entire high school experience and, in this, feels in many ways pretty timeless, hence its ongoing reputation.

What really makes this work is how Hughes treads the line between a realistic world and a heightened one, something he demonstrated time and again with the likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Here it takes a while to bed in as a viewer but Hughes works with this so the opening feels like a natural setting before the various episodes build to a point where it is something more than this.

Paul Gleason in The Breakfast Club

Gleason

While the film maybe isn’t as flawless as some would suggest, the episodic nature does feel a little bolted together in places (though in the end it becomes obvious this is part of the thematic intent), the ending is probably a little too cosy and the transformation of Allison is painful and really is the one moment where the film’s message runs into trouble, it is none-the-less genre defining and still stands up.

In a world where teen comedies descended into the likes of the later American Pies and really died a death after that, The Breakfast Club stands out as something defining and pretty well timeless with a generally good message in the end. It also shows Hughes as a master of taking what is in every sense a boring setting and filling it with characters and dialogue that create something with depth and purpose without resorting to the ridiculousness of what most who have tried to follow him have done.

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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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Marvel’s The Defenders

Marvel's The Defenders logoOver the last few years Marvel and Netflix have teamed up to give a place within the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to some of the comic and movie juggernaut’s less brightly coloured characters.

From Daredevil to Iron Fist the four initial characters, five if you count anti-hero Punisher who’s yet to have his own series, they’ve all had their good and bad points and, much like the movies had The Avengers, have had an obvious target in mind, The Defenders.

I had my concerns going into the series as, while I had generally enjoyed the two Daredevil series (I think due to my already established interest in the character and his story), Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist had all suffered from having too many episodes and not quite enough story.

Jones particularly dragged in places despite the excellent Kilgrave story, but, in The Defenders, a shared underlying thread has come together in a genuinely satisfying way.

The Defenders - Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

Story faults aside, what had impressed about the standalone series was how each sat within its own genre version of the Marvel world, from gritty 70s style crime cinema (Daredevil) to a kind of tidied up blaxploitation (Luke Cage) and, in the first few episodes at least, but threaded throughout, The Defenders echoed these motifs around the individual characters very well.

The story, as previously mentioned, pulled elements of all the shows together but it’s particularly parts of the Daredevil plot and the Iron Fist back story that lead things. Featuring Marvel’s famous band of evil ninjas, The Hand, and their ongoing plans for New York – as usual based loosely around machinations of power and destroying things that don’t stand up to too in-depth an exploration but make for a good antagonising force.

Sigourney Weaver in The Defenders

Weaver as Alexandra

While we’d met a few members of The Hand in the past their new apparent leader revealed here comes in the form of Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra.

Echoing many of her famed genre roles of the past its clear that Weaver is having a great time chewing up scenery in a brilliantly villainous fashion with little of the potential nuance that modern villains might often have, though as the series goes on her story gains a little more depth, but nothing to change her excellently played villainy and a story arc that looks like it will make her more sympathetic actually develops the other way.

She’s ably backed up by previously introduced members of The Hand which leads to the forming of The Defenders as a kind of angsty, grumbling, street level version of The Avengers.

This formation is expectedly rocky but does lead to some brilliant moments between the characters dotted throughout the series hinting at more to come, particularly between comic book co-stars Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones). This is best demonstrated in the series’ fourth episode where things all fall into place (well as much as they do at any point) and we get probably the most of the quartet in a room talking before the inevitable fighting starts.

The Defenders in action

The Defenders in action

Speaking of action, as with the previous series, this was all much more ‘realistic’ (for superhero stuff) than the movies with plenty of blood and far more heft to what happens, including a number of severed limbs and decapitations which really are to be expected when katanas seem to be the general weapon of choice.

While there wasn’t quite a single standout action moment like some of the past series had, everything there was, until the very end, was brilliantly handled and really it was the weight of implausibility that only mildly tainted the big battle scene in the climax.

At only eight episodes compared to the lead in series’ 13, it was far tighter, focussing only on the one story, while giving us hints of side arcs but not feeling the need to explore them in detail.

In all this made for the most satisfying of the Marvel/Netflix series so far, but it may well suffer from not being as accessible to those who haven’t seen all the build up, but for those who have it’s a pretty non-stop ride and a nice alternative to the ever-increasing sci-fi scale of the cinematic releases.

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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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