Update: The Niche website has now been taken down, scroll down the page to read the full review
Having developed from rock ‘n’ rollers The Nelkons over the last few years The Space Pirates have made a niche for themselves playing a very upbeat and fun form of folk rock and have become known for their folkloric songs about Guernsey’s west coast.
I recently took a look at The John Wesley Stone’s Shiraibu album that was launched earlier in the summer at the Sark Folk Festival. Well, it wasn’t the only album launched that weekend as The Space Pirates of Rocquaine also launched their debut album, Vraic & Ruin, onto the world.
With both bands sharing members, as well as launching albums at the same time comparisons are inevitable, so I’ll try and get those out the way first. While The John Wesley Stone play a very Americana version of what could be called folk, encompassing country, western and skiffle on the way. The Space Pirates, meanwhile, play what I can only describe as folk pop-rock and, if “The Wesleys” are the drunken party folk band with a dark side, The Space Pirates are a far more family friendly proposition, but still with a selection of great tunes with a couple of darker, if more melodic, moments.
Certainly The Space Pirates of Rocquaine provide a lighthearted form of upbeat acoustic rock infused folk which is fun and, at times, silly, in the best possible way. Starting of with The Limpit Glut of ’52 and on songs like Beast of the Coudre, Stone Cole Sober and No Rain the band are clearly out to have a great time and, even if the album doesn’t quite capture the atmosphere of their live shows, it is still unashamed fun and, being a recording, we get more time to listen to the lyrics and pick up on the many references contained therein.
Its not all just fun and games though as there are a couple of clearly genuinely heartfelt songs on Vraic & Ruin, though, while clearly packed with deep meaning for Mark Guppy and Jessica Nash (who between them wrote all the songs on the album), they are still certainly celebratory of their subjects and really do manage to strike a chord with Sarnia Cherie and Mountain Man particularly standing out in that regard.
This leaves a couple of songs to hint at a darker side to the band with The Variouf and Creux Mahie moving in that direction with their tales of hunting packs of youths, or are they werewolves, and the mystery of an isolated cave off Guernsey’s south coast providing inspiration respectively and adding another level to The Space Pirates sound.
If this all sounds like a bit of mish-mash two things pull it all together; they are the band’s folk pop-rock sound and the fact that most of these songs are so firmly rooted in Guernsey that they could come from nowhere else.
This all comes together on the song that, for me, is the albums highlight (and has long been a live highlight) The Witch of the Longfrie which takes the local references, the hint of a darker side, and the sense of whimsical pseudo-folkloric storytelling, to create a truly brilliant song.
Being self produced the mix on the album at times wavers, but for the most part is of a very high quality and it is clear from this, along with the songs, that the band really do pay attention to detail with their music showing that, while the songs are generally fun, the band are taking it seriously. This is often a hard line to tread but The Space Pirates do it admirably on Vraic & Ruin which is an album that captures something of Guernsey that I’ve previously never heard on record and does it all with a wonderful sense of fun.
And this is a video from Sark Folk Festival 2012 of the Space Pirates playing their song Creux Mahie: