Metallica – Hardwired

metallica hardwiredIt’s been the best part of a decade since ‘the world’s biggest metal band’, Metallica, released their last full-length album, Death Magnetic. Since then there have been live records and concert films like Through The Never, reissues galore on as many formats as you can shake a stick at, a 30th anniversary celebration like no other, but, with the exception of the Beyond Magnetic EP of off cuts from Death Magnetic and one-off single Lords of Summer, no substantial new music.

Then, on 18th August 2016, a new single appeared on their Facebook and YouTube pages along with the announcement of a new album, Hardwired… To Self Destruct, due for release in November.

Of course every utterance from Metallica is discussed and dissected by their fan base with opinions ranging all extremes; from those who think the band ended with the death of Cliff Burton in 1986, to those with an affection for their supposed wilderness years of the mid 1990s, to those who are just interested to see what they’re going to do next following the public breakdown that was St. Anger and the film Some Kind Of Monster. If I’m honest I fall more into this latter group.

Metallica 2016To make it clear I would call myself a fan of Metallica but one on the verge of lapsing. While Ride The Lightning remains one of my favourite albums, the surrounding hubbub of the band in recent years has pushed me away in the absence of new music – so when Hardwired appeared my interest was, to say the least, piqued.

The four-minute track and accompanying video were instantly a shot in the arm for my fandom. The song fires out the blocks with a blast of fairly classic thrash style, through a similar filter to the one that led Death Magnetic, with a Flying V filling the screen on the video. All this harks back at the band’s 80s heyday and continues for the duration of the song.

Hardwired is a precision assault fuelled by the kind of anger Metallica have made their own, though its source these days is surely questionable coming from such a seemingly self-contained outfit of some of the most successful musicians in the world, but it still comes across strong in a surprisingly visceral form.

James Hetfield

James Hetfield in the video for Hardwired

The song has an urgency that was missing from much of the band’s more recent, overlong, efforts. This is great to hear giving it the spiky, arguably hardcore, edge the band always maintained was a major source of inspiration.

The lyrics and delivery are reminiscent of Death Magnetic’s Broken Beat and Scared, though with a more potent feel thanks to songs comparatively brief length. Although I was left wondering whether vocalist James Hetfield would be able to deliver this live as his voice does seem to have been waning in recent years (not surprising given the abuse it must have taken in three and a half decades).

Production-wise the song suffers a similar issue to Death Magnetic with the spiky, top-end heavy, sound seemingly built around showing off Lars Ulrich’s snare more than anything. It does, however, feel slightly tempered compared to the last album, though the low-end and a lot of the potential ‘heaviness’ seem lost – a shame considering Robert Trujillo is an excellent bass player.

Hardwired sounds like a promising extension of the Metallica that made Death Magnetic and, if it’s a taster of the album to come its showing promise and I, for one, am listening closely once more…

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High-Rise by JG Ballard

High-Rise by JG BallardBy reputation, and having seen David Cronenberg’s interpretation of Crash many years ago, the work of JG Ballard had always hovered around the edges of my cultural consciousness.

It wasn’t until seeing Ben Wheatley’s cinematic adaptation of High-Rise though that my interest was really piqued so I picked up a copy of the source novel and delved into a world only hinted at in Wheatley’s rather fine film.

Charting the story of three residents of the titular high-rise apartment block over the course of three months the opening sentence, concerning recent arrival Dr Laing tucking into the leg of a dog cooked on a primitive fire on his balcony, hints at what’s to come before we go back to see what led to this apparently unusual happening.

The three residents; Laing, representing the middle floors of the tower, Wilder, from the lower floors and Royal, architect and owner of the penthouse apartment, not only represent elements of traditional British societal class but also stand for sides of a more abstract personality embodied within and by the tower block.

The literal story charts the decline of life in the high-rise from wild parties to inter-floor arguments to a kind of tribal warfare climaxing in a total breakdown of the norms of society in particularly brutal fashion.

JG Ballard

JG Ballard

Here Ballard treads a line of explicitness in particularly impressive fashion. What we ‘see’ through the eyes of the three leads is certainly horrific, yet more is merely suggested building an astonishing picture of decline both externally and internally for the characters and those they encounter with virtually no taboo left un-suggested.

What adds to all this is how, for much of the novel, we are never quite sure if what we are told is actually happening or if it is some kind of mass delusion or even merely the delusion of just Laing, Wilder and Royal.

The fourth main character in the novel is the high-rise itself. Depicted by Ballard as a decaying beast with whims and moods as infrequent as those of its residents, it has the feel of a monster exerting some kind of hypnotic effect on those within while, in a vaguely symbiotic manner, being effected by them in return. Though we are left unsure whether it was the high-rise or the residents who are responsible for the process.

High Rise

The High-Rise as seen in the film version

Beyond the literal story there is another level to things as, like all the best sci-fi (and despite the apparently contemporary setting it is definitely science fiction) High-Rise offers a message about the real world through its own twisted mirror.

While its message at the time was, arguably, a forewarning of Thatcherite Britain, it is just as relevant now when looking at the increasingly segregated society we could be heading towards in a ‘Brexit’ world where a horrific post-cultural creation like Donald Trump is in the running to be president of the USA.

In a less specific sense it looks at society as a whole and how, beneath the thin veneer we call civilisation and maintain through a kind unspoken mutual agreement, humans are just as, if not more, territorial and animalistic as any other species.

Royal and Wilder as seen in the film adaptation

Royal and Wilder as seen in the film adaptation

Ballard leaves us with the impression that no matter what we do mankind is destined to repeat this process time and again, stopping just short of suggesting a sense of mutually assured destruction, though such isn’t that big a leap to take following what is presented here.

As a novel then it is a gripping, tense, experience building in brutality, depravity and bleakness before a surprisingly subdued conclusion but as a wider allegory it still speaks volumes even forty years after its original publication and goes beyond even Wheatley’s famed excesses in both content and message.

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School of Popular Music Summer Party – The Fermain Tavern – 05/08/16

A Box

A Box

Over the last few years a few new music schools have emerged in Guernsey giving youngsters a chance to learn music away from the more formal and classical training offered by the School’s Music Service.

One such is the School of Popular Music who operate regular classes across a range of disciplines and encourage their students to play the music they like in bands as well as solo.

For their 2016 summer project they got a group of young musicians together and gave them a week to form bands, practice and prepare for a show at Guernsey’s premier music venue, The Fermain Tavern.

With ages ranging from 8 to 15 the first half of the evening, showcasing these young musicians, was certainly a mixed affair but the thing that struck most throughout was the level of enthusiasm, fun and commitment all these players showed.

Rainbow Pugs

Rainbow Pugs

First band on, known somewhat cryptically as ‘A Box’, delivered, like all the young bands, a set of reasonably well-known covers.

Featuring Toby and Jamie of Cosmic Fish gave them a bit of a head start and they played a competent set that showed all four have a lot of potential.

Rainbow Pugs (the bands all chose their all names and, no I don’t know what their inspiration was) were the youngest band of the night and were joined on stage by SOPM’s Alex Wilson who helped guide them through the short set that was well delivered despite the understandable nerves in front of a big audience.

I Blame The Parents probably had the best name of the evening (and the best I’ve heard in a while) and were highlighted by a few guitar players and a drummer who certainly brought the right attitude and swagger to the stage and showed that with time they could bring a complete package.

Clear Vision

Clear Vision

Next up were Lanterns who swapped instruments around mid set, showing a few members have skill in multiple disciplines which is always impressive for someone who just about muddles through on one. Once again another group with some obvious musical talent and plenty of potential.

I’m not sure if they do but Clear Vision came across as a group with a bit more playing experience than the previous bands and rocked their way through their set admirably.

Special mention has to go to their lead guitarist who managed to successfully combine the riffs of Queen’s We Will Rock You and AC/DC’s Back in Black all with a foot planted firmly in the monitor in a classic rock ’n’ roll pose.

Sorry Imogen rounded off the young bands with a set highlighted by a selection of impressive harmonies and a generally relaxed vibe.

They closed their set on a reworked take of Bon Jovi classic Living On A Prayer rounding off the first half of the evening with a real sense that live music in Guernsey is in safe hands, even if they could do with a few more bass players.

Sorry Imogen

Sorry Imogen

After a bit of break as, disappointingly the youngsters couldn’t stay on in the venue, Elliot Falla opened the later part of the show with his brother Harvey in tow on mandolin.

As always Elliot’s take on acoustic indie blues sounded very good and the addition of the mandolin and second vocals added a nice folky side to the sound, along with some harmonies that tempered Elliot’s voice.

That said, his voice has come on impressively even in the few months since I’d last seen him play and with a batch of new songs its clear Elliot is really coming into his own.

If Elliot Falla’s performance was well delivered if a little low-key for a party, Clameur De Haro soon changed that launching into their bluegrass inspired set with their usual sense of fun.

Clameur De Haro

Clameur De Haro

Unfortunately a broken string soon stalled proceedings for a few minutes, though the band took it admirably in their stride joking with both one another and the audience while fiddle player Josh De Kooker took the chance to play a quick jig that got a few dancing.

After that brief break the band were back on it, building on the already good atmosphere in the venue highlighted by their ode to Guernsey’s most famous politician, Dear John and even getting a smile out of cajon player Shifty.

The good atmosphere continued as the small but enthusiastic audience headed onto the dance floor as Honest Crooks took to the stage. The ska-punk trio really felt as if they were on home turf here and entirely playing to their fans and friends making for one of the most relaxed and fun sets I’ve seen from them.

Joined on kazoo by To The Woods’ Bobby Battle for a fair bit of the set, this was one of those gigs where the lines between band and audience were well and truly blurred in the best of ways.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

With covers by Sublime, Reel Big Fish, Gentlemen’s Dub Club and others receiving some of the most instantly positive reactions it is to the credit of the band that their original songs stand alongside these classics of the genre and, I would suggest, that if I didn’t know which were covers and which were originals there would be no difference.

Rounding off with that song by Sublime closed the night on a high that showcased not just some of the current best musicians playing ‘popular music’ in Guernsey but made it clear that there is a lot more good stuff to come.

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Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad posterAround 18 years or so ago the perception of comic book/superhero movies changed, seemingly forever, from slightly naff, campy b-movies to genuine blockbuster contenders thanks to the likes of Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man leading into Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and the ongoing (now somewhat inconsistent) Marvel Cinematic Universe behemoth.

Now, with Suicide Squad – the latest instalment in DC Comics’ attempt to set up their own ongoing series like Marvel’s, following Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – director David Ayer (of End of Watch and Fury fame) and the various shadowy studio figures behind him, seem fairly intent on taking us back to the superhero movies of the mid-90s.

Describing the actual plot of Suicide Squad is a challenge, but in broad strokes it deals with the formation of a new super team that, rather than being made up of heroes, is made up (mostly) of second level villains and, in its better moments, deals with them coming together and working together.

In it’s not so good moments the story follows them as they face off against an ancient evil force, supposedly with the ability to destroy the world, embodied by two rather un-inspired, at least partially CG creatures.

The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad

The first stumble the film makes is in trying to be an origin story for a number of characters. This is very inconsistent as Deadshot (Will Smith) gets about three versions of his origin story while Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) gets a very short montage.

Certainly this shows their relative places in the movie, but it feels imbalanced and the lack of exposure for a few becomes problematic as they have relatively pivotal moments later on.

Along with these we get the loose origin of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) threaded throughout, providing as much an introduction to her as to her ‘Puddin’, ‘Mr J.’ – Jared Leto’s new take on Batman arch-nemesis The Joker – during which the duo proceed to steal the show. Though Smith gives them a run for the their money.

It is these characters that are the film’s highlight – while the dialogue is fairly awful, the charisma of the performances and the essence of the characters that has made them favourites in the comic for, in some cases, decades, shines through.

The Joker (Leto)

The Joker (Leto)

Robbie is exactly the kind of demented fun that was promised, though I agree some of the more gratuitous camera angles smack a little too much of Michael Bay’s framing of Megan Fox, but aside from that she provides the nearest thing this film manages to emotional weight through her fabulously deranged relationship with ‘The Clown Prince of Crime’.

Smith’s Deadshot is far from the stone cold killer assassin he is built up to be as he provides some more emotion through his relationship with his daughter that plays as a pivotal motivation throughout, even if I couldn’t help but feel this kind of good guy/bad guy balancing act was added in to get a ‘name star’ such as Smith to play the part.

As is obligatory I should give a few opinions on Leto’s Joker… as he only appears relatively briefly its hard to have a full view but I liked what I saw with the modern ‘gangsta’ style echoing past versions who echoed gangster styles of their time – particularly Jack Nicholson’s version and the original comic book version.

Harley Quinn (Robbie)

Harley Quinn (Robbie)

Aside from that the relationship between him and Harley added a new dimension to the character and led to one of the film’s most striking images during a flashback involving the two and I can’t wait to see a more fully fledged version of the character, hopefully squaring off against Affleck’s Batman who was such a highlight of ‘BVS:DOJ’.

The rest of Suicide Squad unfortunately can’t escape feeling like it’s stuck in the mid-90s. A slightly poorly realised, special effects based, big bad with a fairly non-specific plan to destroy/rule the world is the epitome of this leading to a hugely unsatisfying denouement while being reminiscent of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Russell Mulchay’s The Shadow.

Added to this is the fact that once again it has far from succeeded in establishing the DC comics universe on-screen in any meaningful way with a tone so different from the two previous films that, other than the presence of Affleck’s Bat and a couple of flashbacks, this could have been an entirely stand alone piece.

Enchantress (Cara Delevingne)

Enchantress (Cara Delevingne)

All that said I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun, certainly some could have been trimmed from the first third to up the pace and the apparent main villain was at once too much and too little, but as a fan of the aforementioned Batman Forever and The Shadow I couldn’t help but enjoy Suicide Squad on a similar level to them.

So, really it’s not a ‘good film’ but I still had a good time… make of that what you will, and I can’t wait to see more of The Joker and Harley Quinn.

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Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – Ultimate Edition

Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice coverWith the imminent release of the next instalment in the DC Comics expanded movie universe, Suicide Squad, I thought it was time I catch up with the previous one, the clumsily titled Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.

For clarity I watched the extended ‘Ultimate Edition’ of the film, a kind of director’s cut that includes an extra half hour not included in the theatrical release and, judging by other feedback, I’m glad for it, despite the needlessly lengthy three-hour running time.

Zack Snyder’s first foray into the DC universe, Man Of Steel, was an uneven beast. Somewhat unusually this film starts out with the climactic scene from that, shown from another angle and instantly gives Man Of Steel’s overblown conclusion a bit more weight and meaning.

We see Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne racing through Metropolis apparently to try to save the staff in his Wayne Enterprises building there. Ok, so it doesn’t make total sense but it works well for what it is and, by and large, the same could be applied Dawn Of Justice as a whole.

The story is a mishmash of what feels like three movies worth of ideas loosely tied together, so we get the world’s (i.e. America’s) reaction to Superman’s (Henry Cavill) arrival, we get Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) machinations around ‘meta-humans’ (i.e. Superman and others), and we get the introduction of Batman as an older vigilante now pushed beyond any measure of restraint we’ve come to expect.

Batman (Affleck) and Superman (Cavill)

Batman (Affleck) and Superman (Cavill)

On top of this is the introduction of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and other future members of the Justice League and we see Lois Lane (Amy Adams) investigating an apparent conspiracy against Superman within the US military. As I said there’s a lot going on.

So the story is an undeniable mess, even with the extra 30 minutes to try to tie it up, but it hangs together just enough to be a decent ride as long as you don’t ask too many questions, hanging on the actions of Luthor and the titular face-off between the two figureheads of DC’s set of superheroes, which we get in three different scenarios.

What helps save it, beyond the promise of those two characters going head-to-head are a couple of the performances, most notably Affleck’s.

His Bruce Wayne/Batman is one we’ve not seen before, strongly modelled on the version created by Frank Miller for The Dark Knight Returns; older, angrier and apparently having given up many of the moral qualms that existed in all the other screen versions so far.

Superman, Wonder Woman (Gadot), Batman

Superman, Wonder Woman (Gadot) and Batman

With this Affleck is clearly relishing getting to be both sides of the character and as such steals pretty much every scene he’s in with a performance far more convincing than any other in the movie. Added to this his back and forth with slightly a reworked Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is pitch perfect.

The other performance that really worked for me was that of Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Every bit the stereotypical mad scientist, in many ways he feels like a throwback to the kind of characters seen in 1950s b-movies or 1930s horrors, right down to creating an uncontrollable monster.

On top of this the Luthor of the comics also comes through as his scheming and hyper-intelligence drive the most coherent aspect of the plot forward – although even that becomes slightly too convoluted by the end.

This convolution centres around the monster Luthor creates that isn’t introduced until the movie’s third act giving the totally CG character a sense of being simply tacked on to provide the apparently obligatory big explosions and fight scene climax.

Lex Luthor (Eisenberg)

Lex Luthor (Eisenberg)

While this serves to bring the heroes back together in an even more obvious way than a preceding event, I couldn’t help but feel it was some kind of contractual obligation to include yet another city destroying superhero fight scene, the like of which we’ve already seen countless times thanks to Marvel and, even if this is well delivered, can’t help but be repetitive.

As always Snyder makes the film look great with moments feeling very akin to his still great version of Watchmen and making the CG characters have weight even as they throw laser blasts from their eyes at each other, something other films still often struggle with.

As a whole though the film doesn’t do what I think it needed to or was hoped it would do, in cementing the DC cinematic universe in the way Marvel did with a much slower build approach in their ongoing series that started way back with Iron Man (even if that has become somewhat repetitive of late). While it’s not the disaster some had proclaimed, it remains far from the film many thought and hoped it could have been.

I never give star ratings but this is one to which I could easily apply such as it feels very much like a three-star film, far from essential but watchable and distracting enough to not feel like a waste of three hours.

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Ham On Rye by Charles Bukowski

Ham On Rye - Charles Bukowski coverHaving explored some of the writings of the Beat Generation, particularly works by Kerouac and Ginsberg and some from Cassady and Burroughs, one name stood out amongst the related writers as something potentially a bit different but sharing some of the same head space, Charles Bukowski. So, last time I was at City Lights Bookstore I picked up the book of his that stood out most from the many on the shelf, Ham On Rye.

Instantly its clear that, while yes there is a similarity to the Beats in terms of its setting in a very real world America of the 20th century, this book was published later (1982 quite impressively) but is set far earlier and in a very focussed location of Los Angeles in the 1920s and 30s, away from the New York and San Francisco of the 40s, 50s and early 60s the Beats more commonly dealt with.

Superficially the books is, apparently, a semi-autobiographical account of the youth of Bukowski’s regular avatar, Henry ‘Hank’ Chinaski, dealing with his formative years through school and his first steps into the adult world and the outbreak of the Second World War.

Throughout this Chinaski comes across as a thoroughly awful character but one who is undeniably compelling. His words (it’s all first person) giving a sense of real brutality he experiences at the hands of seemingly everyone he encounters from parents, teachers, contemporaries and more and the brutal nature of his response to all this.

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

Bukowski’s style of writing really exacerbates this being at once simplistic, at times as if written by the young Chinaski, but extremely impactful for it. There is no sense of wasted words or floridity as it is delivered as directly and bluntly as Chinaski’s actions.

Within this Bukowski paints a picture of a side of America that maybe hasn’t translated across the Atlantic as well as some others. From my experience the Great Depression of the early 1930s is always depicted as very much an East Coast, South and Mid West phenomena with news reel of the hungry and jobless in New York and Chicago or the drought conditions of the more rural areas seen in the likes of Bonnie And Clyde.

Here though we see the young, great western city of Los Angeles in that period with basic but expressive views of the city from Chinaski’s childhood home in what would become South Central (more recently somewhat of a ‘ghetto’ for the city’s black community, but then home of poor immigrants from the east) to the inner city area, now Downtown, rife with unemployment, dive bars, desperation and, it seems, characters even shadier than Chinaski.

Downtown Los Angeles c. 1930

Downtown Los Angeles c. 1930

In this the book finds its purpose, as it does what many writers who featured within the 20th Century ‘counterculture’ did in exploring the end of the so-called American Dream. Hunter S. Thompson posited its destruction or desecration in the late 1960s and early 70s with Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, for Ginsberg parts of it were lost in the 1940s and 50s as seen in Howl, while for Bukowski it seemed the dream died with the Great Depression.

There are of course arguments for all of these and more but Bukowski’s Chinaski seems to be a kind of living embodiment of this, no longer denying the end of the pioneer spirit that had typified the USA’s first century and a half and settling into a pattern of division and desperation that can still be seen today (coming to the fore even more so as I write in the build up to the 2016 election).

On top of all this the book is compelling to read flying along with a pace that captures childhood and growing up excellently, but rather than focussing on the idealised view usually seen in mass media, comes with a darker hue that may be extreme but is, if anything, potentially far more honest for it.

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BBC Guernsey Introducing: July 2016 – Chaos, Sark Folk Festival, The Gathering and more

Of Empires at The Gathering

Of Empires at The Gathering

Click here to listen to the show

With as many festivals as there were weeks in July 2016 the BBC Introducing Guernsey radio show for that month took a look back at three of them.

First was Chaos where I spoke to The Hyena Kill and we had music from them, PUNiKSugarSlamScience of Eight Limbs and HONEST CROOKS.

Then came Sark Folk Festival – I spoke to performer and organiser Claire Rakich and we also heard from Blue Mountains and organiser Josh De Kooker with extra music from Burg and The Space Pirates of Rocquaine.

Finally new festival The Gathering where I spoke to Static Alice and we heard brand new music from Of Empires.

You can listen to the show on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here.

Tracklist

Click here to listen to the show and as I’ve been nominated for an award for my work for BBC Introducing Guernsey you can vote for me here!

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Sound Guernsey Summer Party – The Fermain Tavern – 24/07/16

Blakalaska

Blakalaska

Since last November Sound Guernsey have been running monthly nights at The Venue giving under-18s a chance to experience some of the wide variety of new, live music available in the island.

For their summer party though, they stepped things up a bit, moving to their new home at The Fermain Tavern for an extended session featuring some of the bands who’d been most popular at the monthly nights alongside a couple of newcomers.

The first hour of the show had been deemed an open mic session, but only one, brand new, act took up the offer, Figure It Out. Formed literally within the last few weeks the quartet played a couple of songs and, while they were probably playing out a bit too soon, their enthusiasm couldn’t be faulted and they seemed to have an idea of what they wanted to be doing, even if it wasn’t really there yet.

Equilibrium

Equilibrium

The first advertised band on the line up have been around for the last year or so and have gained quite a reputation in that time and showed why tonight. Much tighter than even a few months ago Equilibrium have a light, poppy tone that sounds great on the likes of Scouting For Girls’ hit She’s So Lovely and got the already enthusiastic audience bobbing along.

While they don’t quite have the attitude for the slightly edgier songs they play, as a band they connected well with the crowd here and continue to show growth making them a band still worth keeping an eye on.

Track Not Found were billed as ‘the first band born out of Sound’ as they made their ‘proper’ debut. Mixing 90s style American indie, grunge and a hint of Riotgrrl the trio were a breath of fresh air amidst young bands playing the same old covers as one another. Already presenting a united front in terms of both sound and attitude all three came with presence and power and their songs backed it up.

Track Not Found

Track Not Found

Drummer Emma Thomas was a stand out, far more assured, confident and in her zone than when with The Bone Idols, while dual leaders Maisie Bisson and Grace Taylor captured the crowd from the off.

Taylor was particularly impressive giving off a confidence and ability beyond her years and, while the trio still have plenty of rough edges to work on, this goes down as one of the best debut sets from a genuinely new band I’ve seen in a long time.

From a band taking their first steps to one heading for their last, The Doomsday Project were fully in fun mode for their penultimate performance. This sense of fun that is embodied by frontman George Russell, but is clear in the performance of the other three members too, is making for some of the best shows I’ve seen from them, following their set the weekend before at The Gathering.

Already warmed up the crowd came forward from the start and it wasn’t long before they were bouncing, particularly when Smash Mouth’s All Star got an airing.

The Doomsday Project

The Doomsday Project

A highlight of the set (that was reprised for the encore) came with a run at Slave’s The Hunter that saw the band and the crowd all crouching down in preparation for the song’s roaring middle section. Even if The Doomsday Project don’t quite have the bite of the Kent duo it worked really well with a great relatable energy between the young band and audience that permeated the entire set.

Wrapping up with Chelsea Dagger (before the encore) closed off probably the best set I’ve seen The Doomsday Project deliver and if they are capable of this regularly it will certainly be a shame to see them go.

For the second time this weekend Honest Crooks took to The Fermain Tavern stage and it wasn’t long before the crowd were getting into their punk-ska-reggae sounds.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

Once again the band played a blinder and, having seen them many times recently, I will admit that my focus drifted and I took the chance to get some skanking in. If a band can be as engaging with their own material as with covers by Sublime and their ilk then they must be doing something very right.

To ease in the change of musical styles DJ Four-Q took to the decks and filled the dance floor as his hip-hop sounds even got a fairly elaborate ‘dance battle’ going on in the middle of the floor – it looked like something out of a movie!

Then, with the crowd already worked up Jimi Riddlz and Apex of Asylum Seekas joined Four-Q, feeding off the energy from the crowd who, unlike some other audiences, weren’t shy about the call and response moments.

Asylum Seekas

Asylum Seekas

Seeing this trio in front of such an energetic crowd is to see them at their peak and they were as entertaining as I’ve ever seen them, ranging from the intensity of Riddlz work to Apex’s more lighthearted touches.

It felt like a mini Get Down was kicking off for a few minutes as the set flew by culminating in undeniable crowd pleaser Guernsey Bus.

Having been one of the most popular bands from all of the past Sound Guernsey events Blakalaska were suitable headliners and from the start had the crowd involved with their captivating electronic, dance-rock sounds.

Despite missing guitarist Oliver Farimond (his parts were filled in from Ollie McVey’s bank of electronics) the band sounded huge and the high energy of the earlier sets was still flowing, even if the crowd had shrunk a little (likely down to it getting a bit later on a Sunday night).

Blakalaska

Blakalaska

While most of the set is familiar the fact the band play rarely meant it still sounded fresh and there were some newer songs in the mix too culminating in an encore of Hands Up that had the desired effect of closing Sound Guernsey’s first show in their new venue on a real high – lets hope this carries on when the under 18 nights continue monthly from September.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and a few of my photos were used in The Guernsey Press along with Becky Cox’s review

Sound Summer Party - photos 30/07/16

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Sons of Cain album launch – The Fermain Tavern – 22/07/16

Sons of Cain

Sons of Cain

As anyone who follows music of any kind will know things come in waves with different sounds and styles ebbing and flowing and some trends becoming more popular than others, this is true even within the small scene in Guernsey.

So, when Sons of Cain appeared earlier in the year with grand plans for a heavy metal concept album and live show to go with it they stood out against the prevailing scene in the way that metal often has, for better or worse.

Arriving at The Fermain Tavern for the show there was an odd atmosphere to the place and ska-punks Honest Crooks seemed oddly nervous for a band with so many gigs under their belt. After a few festival shows it was great seeing the three-piece back up close and once they got going the nerves clearly vanished as they delivered their usual fun show.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

Mixing up their now fairly well-worn set a bit provided some new dynamics but the crowd didn’t connect with it like they have at other gigs. Largely this was probably down to the fact that the trio stood out like a sore thumb when compared to the heavier bands making up the rest of the bill and the podium and pole set up in the middle of the dance floor didn’t really help either essentially blocking a chunk of the stage for the audience.

The reason for this podium was what came next as a quartet of agile and rhythmically gifted young ladies performed a set of pole dancing routines. While the dancers themselves performed some impressive things I couldn’t help but find this part of the night a little out-of-place and the concept as a whole somewhat dated.

The likes of Motörhead and Motley Crüe are known for their use of dancers during their performances but none of the bands on offer tonight fit that style, though it was nice to hear some Sisters of Mercy played loud through the PA for one of the routines…

'Soloman Cain' of Sons of Cain

‘Soloman Cain’

Positioning themselves in the middle of the show, rather than headlining, felt like an odd choice for Sons of Cain but the crowd headed forward in anticipation as the trio took to the stage.

While the rhythm section of Keith (drums) and Joe (bass) had gone to a small effort to fit the conceptual metal vibe, visually it was frontman Vinny who’d gone all out as his alter ego ‘Soloman Cain’ (isn’t there a comic book character called that?) in an abundance of black leather, make up, white contact lenses and a pair of elaborate, black angel’s wings.

Unfortunately one band member in costume doesn’t guarantee a good show and, while they thrashed their way through the songs Sons of Cain largely failed to connect with the audience who, a few songs in, drifted from the dancefloor.

Occasionally joined by former Stone Em All axeman Lee the band did have some nice moments, particularly when they got into some classic thrash style passages, but as a complete package it all fell somewhat flat in a plodding retread of the kind of thing Dio was doing nearly forty years ago. None of this was helped by a sound mix that saw the guitars lost in the general murk and the pole dancers clearing their equipment away on the dancefloor midway through the set.

While it’s always good to see a band try something different, here Sons of Cain fell the wrong side of power metal ridiculousness and it was hard to tell if they were taking it all a bit too seriously or were just out to have some slightly silly fun.

Lord Vapour

Lord Vapour

With the dance floor now clear of poles and podiums Lord Vapour launched into their set in punishingly loud fashion. As they worked their way through the first track the crowd returned from wherever they’d been hiding and the band shimmied into their loose grooves as they always do.

While I will admit to having grown a little tired of Lord Vapour’s extended jams there’s no doubting they are well delivered and have gained them a dedicated following and they were in the midst of a prime example of that as I slipped out into the night after one of the most unusual night’s I’ve experienced at ‘The Tav’ in quite some time.

See my full gallery of photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Facebook page

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The Gathering – North Field – 15, 16, 17 July 2016

Of Empires at The Gathering

Of Empires

New music festival The Gathering took over the North Field football grounds over the weekend of 15th, 16th and 17th July 2016 for three days of music showcasing a variety of music from the island.

With headliners including SugarSlam, Static Alice, King Rat & The Soul Cats, Fade To Grey and Of Empires it was a mixed line up including bands playing their own material, veteran performers and bands more usually seen rocking the pub circuit.

My review of the festival was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 23rd July and you can read an extended version below that.

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

The Gathering review 23:07:16

Extended Review

Day 1

Lord Vapour at The Gathering

Lord Vapour

A new music event is always a good thing to hear about, especially when the organisers are talking about something on the scale of this, The Gathering, taking over the North Field football pitch and surrounding fields with three stages of music across three days.

As I arrived at the site midway through the afternoon of the first day things seemed very spread out on the enormous field with the dance tent in one corner near the entrance and the acoustic stage in the far opposite corner. Around the edges of the field were a few ‘trade’ and food stalls and in the distance I could vaguely here the sounds of Lord Vapour beginning their set.

The main stage was located at the far end of the site at the western side of the club’s main football pitch with the beer tent and VIP area opposite. The few had turned out early on the Friday mostly populated the area between the sound control tower and the stage but in such a big space it felt pretty empty.

None-the-less Lord Vapour were grooving their way through their set in the loose manner that has become their trademark. This was derailed slightly by a few issues with the drum kit doing its best to escape the riser, but the band soldiered through starting off my weekend on a positive note.

Common Room at The Gathering

Common Room

While things were heavy on the main stage the acoustic stage was offering some nice summer-y vibes from young trio Common Room.

They were a little rough around the edges and suffered a bit from the main stage sound bleeding across but they were nice to listen to and would have suited the sunnier days to follow to a tee.

The heaviness continued on the main stage with Stone Em All. This show was something of a landmark for the band as it marks the end of them as a regularly performing live band and they gave it their all.

Suited and booted for the occasion the five-piece metal band have evolved from something many (myself included) found hard to take seriously into a solid and effective unit, unfortunately here the big space in front of the stage was only populated by their hardcore followers and it was obvious it was hard work for the band to maintain the energy they needed across the set.

Stone Em All at The Gathering

Stone Em All

Rounding things off with their now traditional set closer of Cathedral’s Hopkins (The Witchfinder General), possibly the best I’ve heard them do it, it’s a shame to see this band who staunchly stuck to their guns in the face of all musical trends go.

Another band who suffered from the small crowd were Honest Crooks who’s ska-punk seemed to lose some of its bass funk in the translation from the stage to the field.

Regardless the band gave it their all and adding To The Woods’ Bobby Battle on kazoo for High Grade helped boost things a little.

Ending the set somewhat suddenly with Stressball it felt like they still had more to give and just seemed to be getting the small crowd warmed up, but I guess that’s part of a festival show.

With recently added bass player Danny Joyce in full over the top flow, Peppered Ant Legs headed into a set of classic hard rock covers that felt a little out-of-place amidst all the bands playing mostly their own material tonight.

Peppered Ant Legs at The Gathering

Peppered Ant Legs

As ever the trio have a sense of fun, looking fairly ridiculous (kilts and pith helmets featured), but played solid renditions of the likes of Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and more.

Danny’s showmanship may have slightly overshadowed his brother Matt’s role as frontman and it didn’t feel quite as slick a performance as sometimes, but their version of Sabbath’s Fairies Wear Boots is always a treat and as Metallica have proven its hard to go wrong ending a set with Seek & Destroy.

The crowd seemed to have reached its peak as SugarSlam took to the stage and it was clear the band took this as a chance to have a blast on stage which was genuinely infectious.

It may not have been their tightest show as the four-piece grunge-influenced rockers mixed a few covers of the likes of Nirvana and The Sacred Hearts with their own great songs and those in attendance seemed to enjoy it, albeit from a distance, before the band rounded off the set with Stace Blondel joining them for Guns ’n’ Roses It’s So Easy and then a blast through Ace Of Spades.

Static Alice at The Gathering

Static Alice

While the crowd had shrunk it was clear as Static Alice hit the stage that those that remained had come to see the headliners. The audience heading closer to the stage helped create a little atmosphere right down the front and the band did what they always do and put on a show making full use of the huge stage.

This wasn’t quite a highlight like their recent headline slot at Chaos but this still felt like a top-level performance and the band clearly worked hard to keep the energy up to the attentive but not so energetic audience.

Closing the set of on a few covers of Ballroom Blitz and Boys Of Summer closed the first day on a high point but it was clear many were wondering and hoping if the numbers would pick up for day two.

My photos from the first day of the festival

Day 2

Day Release at The Gathering

Day Release

Arriving at the site as openers Day Release were mid set on Saturday lunchtime I was hoping that the day would be busier than what I had seen the previous and, while the first few bands played to small crowds, this steadily grew throughout the afternoon.

Its been a while since I’ve seen Day Release but they did exactly what I’d expected, delivering a solidly performed set of covers that show why they’ve made something of a reputation on the local pub circuit.

Their performance felt a bit lost on the big stage and with a small audience but that is one of the ever-present perils of being first on at a show like this.

Never ones to let anything stop them punk rockers Jawbone launched into their set with their usual sloppy enthusiasm. In three-piece mode without frontman Steve, it wasn’t long before guitarist Lee’s voice started to go and by the time they attempted The Misfits’ classic Astro Zombies it was clear there were problems.

Jawbone at The Gathering

Jawbone with Dom

Thankfully Dom from Static Alice was on hand to help out with a couple of songs before Lee and Dan muddled their way through The Ramones’ Bonzo Goes To Bitburg (My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down) to round off a fun if slightly desperate performance.

Things were a bit more relaxed and folky on the acoustic stage with Blue Mountains delivering a set of their soulful, dark folk.

A bit odd out in the open air in daylight the darkly hued songs still sounded great but it was hard to escape the notion that this stage (particularly today) was simply acting as background music for the fenced off ‘gin and Prosecco garden’.

Ramblin' Nick Mann at The Gathering

Ramblin’ Nick Mann

The folkiness continued with Ramblin’ Nick Mann going for a full on performance of the DIY blues character he’s been building over the last couple of years.

As ragged and rough as music like this should be, complete with homemade guitars and mic, there was a nice irony seeing such an un-corporate sound under a big advertising banner for a local telecoms company as he drew the biggest crowd I’d seen at this stage yet (though bigger was certainly to come).

As they head towards their final show The Doomsday Project were in top form bringing some upbeat, fun pop punk to the main stage in the mid-afternoon.

With the crowd now growing and relaxing in the sun the band seemed to go down well and even got a handful on their feet for a mix of original songs from their debut album and classic punk covers including their now standard, excellent, take on Jilted John and a surprisingly good Alternative Ulster (even if it didn’t quite have the passion Stiff Little Fingers gave the original).

The Doomsday Project at The Gathering

The Doomsday Project

Stoked brought us back into the world of the pub covers circuit with a good set of rocking tunes that was fun, if a bit heartless, but provided a nice soundtrack for those working their way through the contents of the beer tent while ‘chilling’ out in the now blazing afternoon sun.

The covers continued with Stuck To The Ceiling but, with Stace Blondel fronting the band, this wasn’t going to be a rote tread through of standards. Coming across as a real burst of energy Stace looked like a manic hybrid of Ozzy Osbourne and Bruce Dickinson whatever songs he was singing and the rest of the band left him to it while they delivered the music is a solid and unfussy way.

It wasn’t long before Stace was scaling the PA stacks at the side of the stage while blasting out everything from David Bowie to Lady Gaga, his charisma is undeniable and it drew a few more onto their feet for a dance at the front.

Tantale at The Gathering

Tantale

Being the only band entirely dedicated to their own material on the main stage today made Tantale feel a little out of place as we headed into the evening and this wasn’t helped by a sound mix that, further away from the stage, made them sound almost a cappella.

Despite this their lightly psychedelic indie sound was spot on for a warm summer evening but I couldn’t help think that regardless of the band’s best efforts it didn’t quite come across as well as it maybe should have.

Back firmly in classic tune territory Guernsey music stalwart Pete Frampton led his band into a fine performance of middle of the road rock. While very well-played its hard to get too excited about as the band worked their way through the set in steady, slick fashion and the audience continued lazing in the now setting sun.

King Rat and the Soul Cats at The Gathering

King Rat and the Soul Cats

As King Rat & The Soul Cats took to the stage with a bigger, clearer sound than anything so far this weekend the crowd immediately took notice and got to their feet.

Tight, sharp and as on it as can, be the ten-piece band played their way through a set of soul and Motown classics, newer songs and a few originals (including a never before played track intended for their never recorded second album) which demonstrated why they have the reputation they do.

Chris Dean once again showed himself to be one of the best frontmen Guernsey has seen, working the crowd excellently, while Susann Hatcher gave him a run for his money when she took the lead.

With the audience fully invested as the set went on they provided one of the first highlight performances of the weekend.

Buffalo Huddleston at The Gathering

Buffalo Huddleston

After a bit of last-minute re-ordering a stripped back version of Buffalo Huddleston took to the acoustic stage in front of by far the biggest audience that stage would see all weekend, regardless of the lack of light and it being almost impossible to see the band if you weren’t right at the front.

Despite not having a violin player Mike, Simon, Tom and Jull-z didn’t miss a step and the crowd were into it throughout, even singing in some of the violin parts or otherwise just getting into the relaxed and funky grooves that left many questioning why they weren’t main stage headliners.

Now fully into tribute band territory Fade To Grey headlined the main stage with a set that was great fun and very hard not to have a nostalgic sing and dance to – even if you weren’t actually there the first time.

Fade To Grey at The Gathering

Fade To Grey

Kriss provided the visual lead for the band, all postures and poses in a suitably knowing and camp way, while Nikk and Little Gary Numan seemed to be the musical core of the band leaving Andi to provide the synth drum fills.

The crowd was certainly now big enough that the there was a great atmosphere in the main field, especially if you were down the front, and, while it may not be a highlight for the serious musos, its hard to fault the quartet as they rounded up on an encore of Together In Electric Dreams.

If an 80s electronic tribute wasn’t your thing Clameur De Haro were delivering a different type of fun on the acoustic stage with their unique take on bluegrass.

Clameur De Haro at The Gathering

Clameur De Haro and Stace

With a good-sized crowd jigging along the band got Stace Blondel and Bobby Battle on for extra vocals on Born To Be Wild before, so the story goes, continuing their set into a pure acoustic encore pushing the event curfew to its limit.

My photos from the second day of the festival

Day 3

After the high of Saturday night, as is usual Sunday lunchtime is hard work to get going and the job fell to young band The Bone Idols.

Playing to friends, parents, the next band and a handful of others all four seemed pretty proficient for their young ages (credit both to them and School of Popular Music where they formed) but the lack of a dedicated bass player made their sound a bit uneven.

The Bone Idols at The Gathering

The Bone Idols

While Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and Michael Jackson’s Thriller are brave songs to attempt they gave them a good go and they were at least the second young band of the weekend to give us a run through of Green Day’s Holiday with the potentially offensive words censored – I can’t help but think if you think a song has offensive bits and you don’t want to offend, just don’t play it…

But I digress, The Bone Idols kicked off the day well and set the tone for the afternoon with more upbeat covers.

It seems there’s always at least one Beatles tribute band doing the rounds and, at the moment, that’s The Day Trippers.

The Day Trippers at The Gathering

The Day Trippers

Delivering a set largely drawn from the Fab Four’s early days they play them well with a smile and a sense of fun that was spot on for a sunny afternoon.

The songs, of course, are timeless but they came across well and the band did them justice making me wonder why they weren’t part of the previous night’s tribute act session.

The Secret Smiles 60s-90s indie hybrid should have been perfect both to follow on from Beatles’ songs and for a sunny afternoon but unfortunately a lot of their jangly guitar sound got lost somewhere in the mix today.

Despite this the band’s authenticity and good songs made for an enjoyable set but, like Tantale the previous night, I couldn’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity.

Blacksmith at The Gathering

Blacksmith

After making their debut at Chaos, Blacksmith put in a much more assured performance here giving a little more explanation to both their name and the concept that drives their heavy metal songs.

Delivered with a bit more conviction the story of the blacksmith’s quest for his maiden fair isn’t quite there yet but its something a bit different at least.

The acoustic stage continued on the Sunday as well and my highlight there came from newcomers Lighthouse.

With nice acoustic melodies and vocal harmonies the trio seemed to bridge the gap between being very nervous and very modest in a charming way that was backed up by the music.

Lighthouse at The Gathering

Lighthouse

Vocalist Lucy Cave has a sweet voice with a bit of bite behind it where needed, though I’m not sure the affected Irish accent was necessary but, thanks to Matt Champion we can at least rest easy with the knowledge that Galway is, indeed, in Ireland.

I’ll freely admit that, in the past I’ve not really enjoyed what I’ve caught of Underdog, but today they seemed in their element and at their best as they rocked through a set of pop-rock covers – it may be custom-built for the pub circuit but it worked well on the big stage here.

Knowing who’s featured in the band it should be no surprise that Kings provided a pitch perfect set of modern indie pop, but the quality of it was still beyond my expectations.

Kings at The Gathering

Kings

With upbeat dance-y sounds, darker thematic substance and some hugely impressive harmonies the four-piece are like little else in the island at the moment.

Frontman Eli Crossan delivered his vocals with a real soul and range while Casey-Joe Rumens provided some epic guitar solo work in what was as slick and smooth a performance as we saw all weekend. Closer The Enemy provided a highlight of a genuine highlight set.

Following that the well performed Led Zeppelin tribute of Easily Led was something of a come down.

The band got the legendary sound they were working towards well and Kashmir in particular was an impressive highlight but the lack of energetic performance and falling where they did on the bill possibly didn’t show the band in the best light.

Taking rock ’n’ roll and giving it the coolest of grooves headliners Of Empires were on top form from the off.

Of Empires

Of Empires

Always clearly excited to be back on home soil frontman Jack Fletcher was maybe less manic tonight but still energetic and worked the crowd with aplomb while Matthew Berry’s guitar work provided a laconic groove perfect for a warm evening.

With a lot of new songs alongside tracks from their debut EP highlights came in a cover of Shakin’ All Over and new songs See You With The Angels Kid and Baby Darlin’ Sugar.

All of this brought the weekend that had, if I’m honest, been a mixed affair that often felt more about socialising in the sun than celebrating music, to a fantastic close. While there were a few teething problems and some things could have been done better I hope to see The Gathering return in a refined form giving Guernsey’s musicians a chance to showcase their music to an even wider audience.

My photos from the third day of the festival

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