Last weekend, DiS headed across the channel to the virtually tax-free haven that is Jersey. Here's what we saw and heard for our sins...
Jersey; the largest of the Channel Islands, population approximately 90,000 and just 46 square miles in size. Historically, it is viewed as the "halfway house" between England and France, although actually situated much closer to our Gallic cousins than any part of the UK. Although predominantly English speaking, there's still a large percentage of its inhabitants that speak French, its traditional language (Jerriais) being an old variant of Norman. During the Second World War, Jersey was occupied by Nazi Germany for nearly five years, its story depicted in pictures in the Occupation Tapestry gallery of St Helier's excellent Maritime Museum. Having retained both political and fiscal autonomy - where else in the UK is it possible to spend a £1 note these days? - Jersey has what on the surface appears to be a more restricted outlook on certain recreational activities, particularly camping. Indeed, obtaining a license for setting up a campsite at a music festival is a nigh-on impossible task here, while drug trafficking and possession also carries a heavier sentence than anywhere else in the UK. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most beautiful, isolated spots on the British Isles with what can only be described as some of the friendliest folks DiS has stumbled across in many a year.
Musically, it hasn't had a lot to shout about in recent years other than folk rocker Nerina Pallot, hence the reason its most prestigious annual event Jersey Live sells out on a regular basis. Held over the weekend of Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd September at the Royal Jersey Showground on the outskirts of St Helier, this year's festival - the ninth of its kind since 2004's inaugural event - attracted a near capacity crowd of 10,000 rabidly excited punters for each of its two days. Encompassing five stages across a site that isn't a million miles away from Victoria Park's Field Day in terms of layout and structure, its line-up can best be described as eclectic, if at times - particularly on the Saturday - a little too Radio 1 friendly. Nevertheless, away from the main stage, the mix of up and coming national and locally based artists make it a veritable platform for seeking out new talent, and it's here that we start our round-up of Saturday's festivities.
Over on the ornate setting that is the JT Live Lounge - JT being the island's major telecommunications supplier and Jersey Live's main sponsor - Brighton combo The Gaa Gaas are kicking up a right old racket. Headed by Jersey-born Gavin Tate, a pocket-sized livewire who'll spend as much time in the audience as on stage throughout his band's set, they play a variant of post-punk firmly rooted in 1979. Influenced by The Cure circa Three Imaginary Boys, PiL and X Ray Spex among a host of others, their distortion infused repertoire reminds us of a brattish and snottier Neils Children. Former single 'Voltaire' preempts a flurry of dancing out front, while each successive song seems to involve recruiting further band members forthwith; we count four Gaa Gaas when they arrive onstage, six when they leave. Ill-advised covers stating the bleedin' obvious aside (Joy Division's 'Transmission'), they're a welcome respite to the teen-friendly pop pap currently being emitted off the main stage. Raucous set-closer 'Hypnotized' ably demonstrates their frenetic wares to a tee.
Earlier, Australian quartet Last Dinosaurs will play a set over yonder on the outdoor main stage that both confounds and confuses in equal measures. Coming on like a polite mash-up of first album Foals with an even more inoffensive Bombay Bicycle Club, one song is dedicated to nineteenth century electrical guru Nikola Tesla. Another, the sprightly 'Used To Be Mine', fuses both the aforementioned with a pop sheen distinctly reminiscent of Two Door Cinema Club. At other times they stray into similar grunge-lite territories occupied by the likes of Tribes. However, we forgive such things until two bizarre covers bring their set to a baffling close - Modjo's 'Lady (Hear Me Tonight)' and Sophie Ellis Bextor's 'Groovejet' (no, I'm not kidding...) both given a landfill indie makeover.
Back in the JT Live Lounge, local foursome Pirate Video Company are something of a revelation. Their incendiary brand math-tinged punk rock recalls the likes of Hundred Reasons jamming with Don Caballero, or an earthier, youthful version of Glassjaw. They encourage the audience to engage in pillow fights and by the end of the set the JT Lounge's previously elaborate furnishing looks like a bomb's hit it. At one point even the local constabulary get involved, breaking up a "wall of hugs" out front to uncharacteristically escort two over-enthusiastic revellers off the premises. More importantly, they have songs too. By the bucketload in fact; 'Ripley' and 'Playground Rules' both standing out impeccably. Mixing rage with caustic humour, we suspect you'll be hearing more from these guys in the not too distant future.
In between times, Devlin's unconvincing chavhop is halted twenty minutes in by a halo of bottles and technical problems, while fellow Plan B impersonator Maverick Sabre's largely unmemorable performance - basically Ben Drew minus the interesting bits or any discernible songs worth speaking of - leaves little to no impression. Rizzle Kicks too pose the question "Why?", their nonsensical pop bereft of any substance or purpose even for a genre that thrives on being disposable.
Minor discrepancies aside, it's left to Brooklyn's Friends to restore both semblance and quality to the proceedings. Their drum soundcheck taking what seems an age, it's all systems go once new song 'Movement' announces their arrival. Samantha Urbani blossoming into one of the most formidable frontwomen on the block with every performance, even finding time to provide her own Morrissey moment when she takes a bunch of flowers from the back of the stage, handing them out individually to those lucky enough to have squeezed themselves onto the front row. The delectable coos of 'Friend Crush' coupled with 'Ruins' post-post-punk 80s pop fantasies make for an insatiable soundtrack and the four-piece are seemingly at home in the intimate surroundings of the SoBe tent, Jersey Live's smallest stage. 'Home' and 'I'm His Girl' follow, and by the time Friends reach the end of their set, the audience baying for more, Urbani and band have to come clean and admit they've run out of songs. Still, utterly mesmerizing in a dance yourself dizzy kind of way.
Jersey Live's first day drawing to a close, it's left to Chase & Status to wrap things up. Turn away now if you must, but they're an energising and at times compelling finale. While it could be argued they make little sense on record, here, playing to nearly 10,000 (by now quite sozzled) revellers in a field on Saturday evening, they make perfect sense, even if at times there's a low budget Prodigy feel about what they do. Singing holograms replace absent guest vocalists, and mash-ups of Red Hot Chili Peppers 'Give It Away' and Guns'n'Roses 'Welcome To The Jungle' collide with a riotous cover of 'Killing In The Name Of', all given a dubstep makeover. Groundbreaking? No, but then when did 10,000 hearty souls pumped up on adrenalin and local brew (Liberation Ale - try it, you'll like it) jumping like demented spacehoppers require groundbreaking? Exactly. Roll on day two...
The first signs of rainclouds appearing overhead, it's left to Friends to open Sunday's main stage with their second set of the weekend. Playing a similar routine to the previous night, it loses a little impetus in such a vast setting compared to the previous evening's more homely confines. Not that Samantha Urbani is in any less generous mood, swapping last night's flowers for a bowl of strawberries, it's gift time once more for those fortunate enough to secure a front row spot.
Indeed strawberries are everywhere, especially in the artist and press tent. Local urchin rockers The Valentines are amusing anyone within earshot by refusing their complimentary bowl of said fruit on the grounds that it reminds them of the Lightning Seeds. Charming. It's highly unlikely many of those present have heard of the Nottingham suburb that is Clifton. However, for the next thirty minutes, Jake Bugg's tales of his birthplace resonate intently with the large crowd gathered in front of the main stage. New song 'Two Fingers' is particularly impressive, while former singles 'Taste It' and 'Trouble Town' encourage a group of local heroes to chant "We are the Mods!" at every given opportunity. Sure it's retro and musically references the past more than the collective works of Simon Schama, but those songs do strike a chord, and some.
Over on the Hospitality Stage - essentially a guest area where punters can buy limited edition upgrades at £113 a throw extra for the weekend - Belfast's finest DJ David Holmes is preparing for a mammoth five-hour set. Emphasis on the word "preparing" due to a clash of sound blowing over from the main stage making it difficult to hear much of what he's playing, either out front or behind the desks. After a while he gives up, and is next seen watching Primal Scream from the side of the main stage several hours later.
One hit wonder Alex Clare is up next. He plays the hit. We leave. Sark based ensemble The Recks fare much better, drawing one of the largest crowds of the weekend to the homely SoBe Stage. Musically there's elements of The Men They Couldn't Hang's polemic folk with a touch of Syd Barrett's eccentricity. Someone mentions Mumford & Sons. We politely ask them to wash their ears (and mouths) out. All hail the new kings of schizophrenic folk, if such a genre exists.
Thirty-eight years in the business and still going strong, The Stranglers mix of new wave classics, like 'No More Heroes' and 'Hanging Around', with material from recent seventeenth long player Giants unites festival goers of all ages, judging by the ecstatic response their set receives from all between ages seven and seventy. Even the enforced absence of legendary drummer Jet Black doesn't detract from their performance, the band never once sounding out of place alongside their younger and supposedly more relevant colleagues on today's bill.
Primal Scream seem to have found the elixir for rebirth if recent shows are anything to go by. Having almost stolen the show from The Stone Roses at Heaton Park in June, their hour long slot here is a masterful lesson in how to headline a music festival, which sadly today they aren't. Opener '2012' acts as a mouth-watering taster for their forthcoming album, produced by the aforementioned David Holmes. Like a celebratory middle ground between Spiritualized and Can, it's a welcome return to the heady days of XTRMNTR, with maybe a dose of Evil Heat thrown in for good measure. The rest of their career spanning set (bar the first two records, obviously) mixes the hits ('Movin' On Up', 'Loaded', 'Swastika Eyes', 'Rocks') with a mini album tracks "Best Of" ('Slip Inside This House', 'Shoot Speed Kill Light', 'Damaged'). Bobby Gillespie a walking talking all-action advertisement for eternal youth flanked admirably by a supporting cast now including the inimitable Debbie Googe from My Bloody Valentine. Did we mention they should have topped this evening's bill? Oh yeah, we did...
So, onto the final countdown to 2012's Jersey Live as it were. Sometimes festival slots are awarded on past reputation alone, and tonight is no exception. Sure, Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds managed to conjure up a passable album compared to that of his younger sibling's effortsbut a large part of tonight's set plods along at snail's pace, where his previous band, in their heyday, would have soared. Even some of the Oasis material aired this evening sounds jaded; a lackluster 'Supersonic' in particular. Fortunately just as the show appears to be heading for a nondescript quagmire he pulls a couple of rabbits out the hat in the shape of 'Little By Little' and 'Don't Look Back In Anger' and for ten astounding minutes, everyone present is reminded why Noel Gallagher is still revered as one of the finest songwriters of his generation. A fitting end to a highly enjoyable and thoroughly recommended weekend that proves the best music festivals aren't always necessarily just about the line-up...
Primal Scream, The Stranglers & Noel Gallagher photos courtesy of Peter Trenchard Photography.
The Gaa Gaas photo courtesy of Paul Watson.