2015 has felt like something of a divided year in music coming from the Bailiwick of Guernsey with a lot happening on the island while a few musicians and bands starting to make their mark and get some recognition in the wider world.
Two names that immediately spring to mind in that regard are Mura Masa and Robyn Sherwell.
Mura Masa, aka Alex Crossan, rounded off 2014 with the release of vinyl ‘mixtape’ project Soundtrack To A Death through Jakarta Records but has since gone on to receive airplay and support from Huw Stephens and Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC National Radio as well as starting his own label with distribution through Polydor.
The ‘on air’ features included a live session on Huw’s prime time new music show on BBC Radio 1, as well as being heard around the world on Apple’s new Beats Music platform with tracks from his debut EP proper Someday Somewhere.
This all culminated with being selected by Beats Music as one of their artists to watch in the new year and being named on the BBC Music Sound of 2016 long list (at time of writing the short list has yet to be announced).
This soon saw her featured by Jo Wiley on BBC Radio 2 (who would follow her closely throughout the year) and helped lead to her securing a spot on the BBC Introducing Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, becoming the first BBC Introducing Guernsey artist to earn that accolade.
With more recordings appearing, the second half of 2015 saw Robyn’s music featured on the trailer to the movie Suffragette starring Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan.
A few other Guernsey artists also began to make their own strides into the wider world this year.
Following the release of their debut EP, Stranger Sensations, late last year, Of Empires signed a publishing deal with Metropolis Music and spent much of the first half of 2015 working on new material.
This saw them score a support slot on tour with Adam Ant as well as various other shows around London and Brighton and very well received Guernsey shows at the Vale Earth Fair in August and the festival’s Christmas event at The Fermain Tavern.
Robert J. Hunter and his band also made great in roads into the UK releasing two albums over the course of the year, Songs For The Weary in February followed by Before The Dawn in November, as well as completing their first tour of the UK and gigging relentlessly both as a band and solo around London and a few shows in Berlin.
Buffalo Huddleston also received the accolade of being voted Best of British’s Unsigned Band of the Year following a Facebook poll, but more about them later, while The Recks, Static Alice and Flexagon also made appearances off island.
Back on home turf most of January was a bit on the quiet side but the Vale Earth Fair’s annual unplugged night started to ramp things up featuring a show stealing, truly unplugged, set from The John Wesley Stone who took their instruments off stage and played up close and personal with the audience.
This was followed by The Get Down doing what they do best and putting on one of the highlight nights of the year in February as they welcomed hip hop legends Blackalicious to The Fermain Tavern and proceeded to not only sell the place out but slay the crowd with beats and rhymes like you couldn’t believe.
February also saw one of Guernsey’s musical prodigal sons, former Jenerator Steven Lynch, return with his new band The Electric Shakes to get The Fermain Tavern rocking and rolling alongside Lifejacket and To The Woods. February at The Fermain Tavern was rounded off by the return to our shores of Rumpus who more than surpassed the nostalgic memories of their Vale Earth Fair appearances.
Having been playing around the island for a few years February marked the launch of the debut album from young pop-punks The Doomsday Project with a special show at The Vault that showed how the four teens had gone from shy youngsters playing their favourite covers at the Rock of Ages nights to a fully fledged band in their own right.
If things weren’t already varied enough only two months in, March was highlighted by a pair of very different shows. First was a visit from Jersey duo Semu Ca, with support from Tantale and Citizen-X, who played excerpts from their new soundtrack for Swedish silent film Haxan at The Fermain Tavern.
Meanwhile live music returned to The Bowl as pop-rockers Static Alice along with Last of the Light Brigade and Chloe Le Page organised the first gig there in many years in hopes of resurrecting it as a venue for all ages.
Live music in the month then rounded off with the debut of Honest Crooks opening a show at The Fermain Tavern and instantly making a mark that would see them go on to garner quite a following as the year went on.
Guernsey music also took a step into the national limelight in March as BBC Introducing Guernsey took up residency on BBC Radio 1 for a week giving a selection of musicians the chance of getting heard by a much wider audience and letting the outside world have a view into our unique scene.
April got going with an Easter Sunday special at The Fermain Tavern with Last of the Light Brigade, Lifejacket, To The Woods and Isabelle Sheil. The following weekend saw legendary, genre-defying, band The Blockheads follow in their comrade Wilko Johnson’s footsteps by playing a storming set at a packed Tav to help Space Pirate Chris Denton celebrate his birthday – that’s quite a way to have a birthday party!
Having released an EP at the very end of 2014, stoner hard rock band Lord Vapour made their live debut with a mid-week ‘showcase’ show at The Vault and proceeded to not only start off a series of gigs that spanned venues and islands across the rest of the year, but also show how surprisingly good the small St. Peter Port venue can be for seriously heavy music.
Liberation Day in May has become renowned for its live music events and 2015 was no different with it all being highlighted by the JT Rocks stage in St Peter Port.
As well as featuring great sets from Static Alice, Asylum Seekas, Fade2Grey and King Rat & The Soul Cats it marked the return to the stage of Sark based outfit The Recks (with new drummer Mox) and the beginning of what was to be something of a special run for Buffalo Huddleston.
And of course it really marked the beginning of the Bailiwick’s big outdoor, summer music events.
Back indoors and a personal highlight was the visit to the island of Eureka Machines, a band I’ve been following for a number of years, who played a great set to a disappointingly small audience but seemed to have a great time doing so regardless.
May came to a close with a double-header of Fermain Tavern gigs spanning everything from folky murder ballads to rock ‘n’ roll to doom metal as Brunt, Tantale, Lord Vapour and Gregory Harrison kicked off the weekend while The Recks, Ray & The Guns, Blue Mountains and Citizen-X closed it.
The outdoor shows continued in June with the first BBC Introducing Guernsey live stage at Arts Sunday featuring Rentoclean, Blue Mountains, Buffalo Huddleston and Chloe Le Page while the month was rounded off by the annual Chaos Festival.
Now into its second decade this year’s event had many stand out moments from the return of a much more confident and assured Robert J. Hunter headlining the first night to Buffalo Huddleston stealing the show in The Peace Tent in a way that became their calling card wherever they went for the rest of the year.
Other highlights of the festival were To The Woods and The Electric Shakes on the Friday night, Lord Vapour on Saturday afternoon and The Recks and Jersey’s Flashmob closing the weekend out in fine style on the Sunday.
The following weekend many of Guernsey’s musicians and fans decamped to Sark, along with many visitors, for the Sark Folk Festival which, once again, was a special event in the way only it can be.
For me this was the year the locals really stole the show from the bigger visiting names with Robert J. Hunter again putting in a special performance, The Recks mixing things up with a host of new songs (and an epic Led Zeppelin cover) and The Space Pirates of Rocquaine closing the show with one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from them.
The weekend though belonged (once again) to Buffalo Huddleston who packed the Vermerette Stage tent and had seemingly everyone singing (and dancing) along, so much so the side of the tent had to be opened to allow more people to get in on the show.
Away from the festivals July continued with the release of the debut EP from Blakalaska, Machine, accompanied by a launch gig at The Fermain Tavern with support from Jersey’s Falenizza Horsepower who put in a genuinely unique performance. This was followed by a disappointing visit to the island by a version of 60s band The Animals (though missing pretty much every crucial member of the band).
With the festivals being an opportune time for it a few more bands put out albums and EPs in July with Ukuladeez releasing their Cosmic Tea Party EP and Blue Mountains’ debut LP dropping around the time of the folk festival as the month was rounded off by the Vale Earth Fair’s annual jaunt to the Rocquaine Regatta.
Over the first weekend of August The Recks undertook a tour of the Channel Islands taking in Sark, Guernsey and Jersey with visiting support act Markuz. While slated as an album release tour the record failed to materialise but that didn’t stop the band and their various support acts putting on some great shows.
This came alongside performances at The Isle of Wight Festival, Boomtown, Jersey’s Folklore Festival, Guernsey’s North Show and even a set in Herm across the summer before, somewhat surprisingly, the Sark based quintet announced their split in December.
While a smaller event on paper, the return of Gay Army to the stage always had the potential to be something special and, along with Ray & The Guns at The Vault it was just that with many hailing it as one of the gigs of the year and I’d be hard pressed to argue that it wasn’t up there with them.
A very busy August continued with the release of Stone Em All’s Villains EP with probably their best live outing to date at The Vault while the month culminated with the island’s longest running festival the Vale Earth Fair on the bank holiday weekend.
With the main stage highlights for me coming from Thee Jenerators and Of Empires it was The Stage Against The Machine’s line up that stole the show this year, particularly closing triumvirate of Lifejacket, visitors Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons and To The Woods, but many others as well.
Lifejacket continued their run of great shows supporting the release of physical editions of their debut album at a special charity show at The Vault in September alongside Paper Saints, To The Woods and Ollie Goddard. The Guernsey Literary Festival once again presented a night mixing spoken word and music as they welcomed Neil Innes to The Fermain Tavern with Ushti Baba and Buffalo Huddleston while my September was rounded off with a visit to London to see The Wildhearts (not a Guernsey gig but a highlight for me).
October started out with the third visit of the year from The Electric Shakes, this time playing alongside Gay Army and Ray & The Guns at The Fermain Tavern and it continued with To The Wood unleashing not only their debut album, but its follow-up EP as well and what was, by all accounts, a standout night of live music on Halloween, though I missed this through attending gigs from Ghost and Tiger Army somewhat further afield.
Following hot on the heels of To The Woods, November saw more records being released with Static Alice launching their new EP with a show at The Vault, while Thee Jenerators dropped their latest, The Devil’s Chords, in a special vinyl edition and Tantale’s second album, Just Add Vice, emerged alongside a series of showcase gigs, including supporting Grant Sharkey.
London hard-blues duo The Graveltones also hit the island with support from SugarSlam, Chloe Le Page and Jersey’s Tadhg Daly, while a new series of gigs specifically for under-18s launched under the name Sound Guernsey at The Venue with Honest Crooks and Buffalo Huddleston.
December was all about Christmas party shows with the Vale Earth Fair staging a double-header at The Fermain Tavern featuring Rentoclean, Tantale and To The Woods on the first night and Honest Crooks, Of Empires and The Space Pirates of Rocquaine on the second with Of Empires stealing the show to cap off an excellent year for them.
Meanwhile Sound Guernsey’s second event was their Christmas special introducing youngsters to Toby Falla, Rentoclean and Asylum Seekas. A couple of albums also surfaced as the year came to a close with the debut from Flexagon gaining quite a following online and newcomers Wondergeist releasing their first record, somewhat out of the blue, too.
Undeniably 2015 has been a packed one for music from the islands but, as it draws to a close, it would hard not to admit that there is a feeling that what gets refered to as Guernsey’s music ‘scene’ is in something of a state of flux. Where it all goes from here is anyone’s guess but with the quality of music being produced I hope more can connect with the wider audience it deserves. Buffalo Huddleston have proved they can connect with a crossover audience and it will just take a few of that crowd to explore a little deeper and things could really take off…
I don’t normally do these but thought I would this year, based on what I’ve seen and experienced, here are a few highlights by category…
Band of the Year – Buffalo Huddleston
Festival Stage/Event of the Year – The Peace Tent/Stage Against The Machine
Newcomers of the Year – Honest Crooks
Set of the Year – Buffalo Huddleston at Sark Folk Festival
Record of the Year – Lifejacket – Let’s Get This Out Of Our System And Move On
Visiting Band of the Year – Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons