Monthly Archives: February 2016

BBC Introducing Guernsey: February 2016 – Wondergeist, Twice Dead Records and Jonah Beats

Wondergeist in session on BBC Introducing Guernsey

Wondergeist in session

Click here to listen to the show

Following hot on the heels of the BBC Introducing Guernsey takeover spots on BBC Radio 1, I was back in more usual surroundings of BBC Radio Guernsey on Saturday 27th February 2016.

For this month’s live session I was joined in the studio by acoustic two-piece Wondergeist, along with their sometime djembe player Stu, and they treated us to live versions of four tracks from their self-titled debut album.

I also spoke to Chris and Soraya from Jersey’s Twice Dead Records who have been inviting Guernsey bands over to ‘the other island’ to play for the last couple of years, including recent gigs featuring Lifejacket and Byzanthian Neckbeard.

As well as that I looked at a few of the acts playing the Jonah Beats charity all-dayer taking place on March 5th at Vale Castle, click here to find out more and buy tickets.

You can listen to the show for the next month on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here (or you can download it or listen with the BBC iPlayer Radio App).

Tracklist

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Spectre

Spectre posterExpectation is a curious thing and, with more than half a century under its belt, the James Bond series of films is one that brings more than almost any other with it. For Spectre, Daniel Craig’s fourth outing and Sam Mendes second as director, this was compounded by following up probably the most widely positively received ‘Bond movie’ ever, Skyfall, and so, unsurprisingly, on its initial cinematic release it received mixed notices from audiences and critics alike.

Opening with the classic view down the barrel and theme that had been absent at the start of some of Craig’s outings, it was clear Mendes was taking us back in the semi-rebooted world of Bond established in Skyfall. This is compounded by a classically styled pre-credits sequence combining all the usual staples; exotic locations, mystery, suspense, a ‘Bond girl’ and a great action set piece, to which is added Craig’s now established more serious spy.

All of this combines into something that marked, for me, certainly the first two-thirds of the film, that being that once again Mendes and his team are drawing on the past to create the future. If Skyfall was designed to pay homage to the 1960s Connery era of the series, a lot of this has the hint of the (earlier) 1970s Moore era.

To clarify, this doesn’t come through from Craig, but the combination of elaborate situations, characters, costumes and set pieces, as well as some of the special effects, have something of that flavour, but, in the hands of this team, it works and thankfully never succumbs to the nudge-nudge-wink-wink style that ended up typifying the Moore films.

Daniel Craig as James Bond

Craig as Bond

While Daniel Craig seems somewhat on auto-pilot here, and therefore is never bad he doesn’t seem to have the kind joie de vivre that marked, certainly Casino Royale and Skyfall, while the rest of the cast perform admirably but, unsurprisingly the film really ends up belonging to the villains.

First there’s the slimy bureaucrat Max Denbigh aka ‘C’ played by Andrew Scott and clearly cast based on his run as Moriarty in the recent BBC Holmes adaptation Sherlock. Then comes the ‘henchman’, another clear throwback, Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) who does everything you’d expect of the former pro-wrestler and current Guardian of the Galaxy, leading to some hard-hitting action scenes.

Finally we get to the film’s worst kept secret; Christoph Waltz as Franz Oberhauser. As has become his calling card in his mainstream outings Waltz chews up all around him as the Machiavellian big bad of Bond, and, despite appearing for a relatively short time, is the most memorable presence in the whole film.

Oberhauser with Bond and Swann

Waltz as Oberhauser with Bond and Swann

The remainder of Bond’s back up; M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Tanner (Roy Kinnear) and Q (Ben Wishaw), all get a bit more to do than is traditional, once again continuing the theme from Skyfall, but it’s really only Q who feels like a standout and actually part of the action, while Fiennes does his best to add more to leader of Double-0 section, but ultimately is as one-dimensional as his spiritual predecessor Bernard Lee.

For the film’s final act things go very much more back to Craig-Bond mode but lack much of a sense of real threat and get a bit bogged down in tying up the dual plotlines running earlier in the film.

For the film’s second act in particular this added a nice touch of difference with Bond and Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) doing the classic globetrotting, megalomaniac-hunting bit, while the rest of the team, back in London, grounded things in the modern world concerned with terrorism and surveillance, but it is somewhat clumsily dealt with in its conclusion.

Bond and Q

Bond and Q (Wishaw)

As the film climaxes in a way unlike any other Bond film to date (to my memory), Spectre feels like a lot of good ideas executed for the most part in a slick and smooth fashion, but without the spark to elevate it to the next level expectation was searching for.

As this seems to be the final outing Craig in the role it means he has had one of the most successful runs as the super-spy, with only one outright stinker to his name (2008’s Quantum of Solace) but he hasn’t gone out on the high he and producers EON may have hoped.

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Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster

Some Kind of Monster posterIf you’ve read my past reviews of Through The Never then you’ll know that I have been a fan of Metallica for a good while. They were the band that really piqued my interest in heavy metal and, in Ride The Lightning, they made what I consider to still be one of the best examples of the genre more than 30 years on from its release.

The past 15 years though have been a bit different, with the once vital and vicious band descending into something of a nostalgia act, having released only one new album in the last decade (Death Magnetic), and that being at best a re-tread of former glories, while their status as a live band has waned as well.

You could cite their collection of covers, Garage Inc., as the start of that decline, or their S&M project with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, but, in listening, both still have their merits. I would argue that the point were ‘the biggest metal band in the world’ really, for want of a better expression, ‘jumped the shark’, is the movie documenting the making of their St. Anger album, Some Kind of Monster.

Taking place over the best part of two and a half years we join the band just after they lost their long time bass player, Jason Newsted, and headed into a makeshift studio facility in San Francisco’s Presidio to, supposedly, try to recapture the spirit of the garage band they once were.

Metallica and Phil Towle

Metallica and Phil Towle

With no new songs and no permanent bass player (producer Bob Rock takes on those duties) it’s not surprising this doesn’t go well as the band demonstrate a spectacular inability to jam out any ideas without descending into arguments, largely between founders Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield.

It’s at this point that some of the limitations of the film itself begin to become evident. Obviously instigated by Metallica it is designed to tell the story they want it to tell and, to their credit, this is far from a flattering picture, but, within that, it seems to chop and change its own chronology fairly freely which, particularly with Ulrich’s hairstyles chopping and changing (colour) almost from shot to shot, means it’s hard to get a real sense of authenticity from this first act which ends with Hetfield walking out on the recording sessions and seemingly the band, to enter rehab for alcoholism and other undisclosed addictions.

During this next section, which lasts nearly a year of real-time according to the captions, we see nothing of Hetfield but get to spend time with the other two band members. In the case of guitarist Kirk Hammett this includes a few understated sequences mostly focusing on his, at the time, new hobby of surfing, which he openly admits has taken the place of other, less healthy, pass times.

James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich

James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich

The sequences with Ulrich are a rather different affair as, if he hadn’t come across too well before, we now get to see more of the man who genuinely comes across like something of a petulant child, just one in his mid-40s, including a rather cringe-worthy look at his art collection as Lars tries to explain his own reasons for making and collecting art – this could be lifted straight from Spinal Tap.

Throughout all of this there is the constant presence of ‘performance coach’ Phil Towle who, at first, seems to be trying to help the band work together, but as things go on just seems cynical and only there for personal gain, and his interactions with Ulrich serve to show possibly the worst sides of both, particularly in a sequence where Lars’ father visits and offers some less than positive feedback on the new material.

It’s also at this point that the dates involved dawned on me as having some significance. The whole process begins in mid 2001 and continues to summer 2003, a period containing some rather significant world events that, I think its fair to say, feature in pretty much any documentary film set over that time. But, in Some Kind Of Monster, they are not referenced, and nor is anything else about the outside world beyond a couple of asides about Echobrain, a new project from Newsted.

James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich

Hetfield and Ulrich at a less friendly point

To me, this says a lot about the attitude of the band (who ultimately had final cut on the film), that they exist purely in their own world, cut off from reality with all the good and bad points that brings. Some of these are highlighted here and, in hindsight, often show the band members’ less admirable traits, though I couldn’t help but feel the band would have thought this was showing their positives, just showing their disconnected nature.

As the album continues to develop we get to see more childish behavior from both Ulrich and Hetfield, including a genuinely hilarious bout of swearing from the drummer into the face of his frontman. Then hatchets seem to be buried as the pair team up against Towle who has crossed several lines in their (and any reasonable person’s) opinion, including suggestion lyrics for the record.

I get the impression that, at this point, as a fan I was meant to side with the band against this character’s interference, and maybe once I did, but now, I just had the feeling that all three men were being generally unreasonable with the only one who had any kind of defence being Hetfield as he tried to find a new equilibrium, post rehab.

Rob Trujillo

Rob Trujillo

Ending on a slightly triumphant note with the album, St. Anger, finally released and the band setting off on tour, Some Kind Of Monster, as a whole, is a fascinating insight into the workings of a band at this level and the effect a lifestyle like that of Metallica who had been consistently on the tour-record-tour-etc cycle since their late teens can have one people.

This, unfortunately for Metallica, includes no one really being shown in a good light (with the exception of newly recruited bass player Rob Trujillo) while the film itself is a strange effort that has no clear directorial voice or story to tell which hampers any potential interest from anyone outside the band’s fanbase and other musicians curious about the inner workings of the band – though watching multi-millionaires argue like children is at times entertaining in a bleak kind of way.

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Deadpool

Deadpool movie posterOnly a week after its release, watching the latest offering from the X-Men line of Marvel movies, Deadpool, comes with a surprising amount of baggage. First there’s the hugely positive response it’s received from movie-goers (with a few exceptions), and secondly the fact that, apparently against all expectations, the 15 rated (R in the U.S.) film has had the most successful opening weekend of any of the movies in the X-Men franchise.

Because of this I will freely admit to having done my best to maintain level expectations as, despite the positive notices and word of mouth, I found it hard to comprehend quite how ‘The Merc With The Mouth’ could be successfully realised on-screen. This approach led to me having a great time in the cinema, but certainly noticing that Deadpool is far from a perfect or totally successful film.

As is de rigueur for new superhero movies (though actually this is at least the second time we’ve seen a version of Deadpool on-screen, as he also appeared, played by Reynolds, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) this is a fairly formulaic origin story tracing, in a round about way, the transition of ex-special forces operative, Wade Wilson, into the titular mutant mercenary assassin. In doing so it hits pretty much every expected convention bang on with a lost love, a tortured transformation sequence and ultimately culminating in a CGI heavy confrontation between the hero and the villain who had a hand in his creation.

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool

So far so standard, and it is this that has led to the criticism that there is of the movie. For a film that set its stall as being a subversion of a now very well-known, potentially over saturated, genre, it’s sticks hard and fast to what has come before and, in many ways, other films have already added twists to these conventions without sending them up.

However, what Deadpool does pull off, for the most part, is to be genuinely fun – whether that comes in the form all out jokes, over the top (compared to standard superhero fare) violence or just plain joie de vivre varies. With the exception of a few genuinely brutal torture scenes it had me laughing throughout and, even when it was trying a bit too hard to be ‘meta’, things never quite fell into the tedium that is always lurking around that word.

Ryan Reynolds clearly gives his all in the lead role and, while we rarely see his face without either the iconic black and red mask or thick ‘scar’ make up, he delivers one of his least grating performances to date. As well as the physical nature of the performance with some great stunts mixed in with the CGI, he gets the tone of the delivery of Deadpool spot on with a real sense of irreverence rarely seen in the often over earnest world of superheros.

Deadpool, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead

Deadpool, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead

A clever little addition to the mask really helps bring the character to life as his eyes and ‘eyebrows’ move and contort, a bit like a more sarcastic version of Watchmen’s Rorschach, and save the movie from having a star with a perpetually blank face.

As well as sending up elements of the genre that have already been surpassed there are a couple of other problems with Deadpool that, it seems, many are forgiving with the argument that it all comes with a knowing nod and wink. Unfortunately that doesn’t make jokes at the expense of the protagonist’s ‘blind old lady’ roommate any easier to stomach or the fact that Wilson’s love interest is about as generic a damsel in distress as you can get (despite a potentially more interesting start).

The only real link to wider ‘X-Universe’ comes with the inclusion of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead from the X-Men and a few shots of Professor Xavier’s school. This makes for a few nice touches both comically from Deadpool’s ‘meta’ asides to just the simple fact of seeing other familiar characters reacting to these asides and giving the whole thing something of a grounding in this world – though quite how Deadpool can fit in to the wider series I can’t quite fathom.

Deadpool and Ajax (Ed Skrein)

Deadpool and Ajax (Ed Skrein)

For all its evident faults Deadpool remains a very entertaining and funny hour and forty minutes and (other than when it got a bit nasty) I was rarely not at least smiling, though mostly laughing, even if the humour was far from the most intellectual and at times reminded me of the teen comedies of the late 90s.

When compared the self-consciously ‘real’ likes of the DC movies and the often somewhat earnest Marvel franchise films (Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy excepted) Deadpool remains great fun and a nice diversion from the main features of the series which continue in the not too distant future with X-Men: Apocalypse (following on from Days of Future Past) and a third solo outing for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max Fury Road posterA few years ago I put my long-held (and it turned out perfectly well founded) Mel Gibson prejudice to one side to experience the original Mad Max trilogy as part of a brief, if very interesting, look into Ozploitation. What I found there were three generally enjoyable action/road movies with grand ideas, not quite such grand execution and Tina Turner.

In 2015, nearly four decades on from the original, creator/writer/director George Miller breathed new life into his dystopian hero (now in the form of Tom Hardy) for a follow-up to 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome.

While it is clearly the same character and the same universe, this works as a stand alone story and the scene is set with a great montage of oil wars and nuclear devastation ending with our man Max standing atop a hill overlooking a desert and eating a raw lizard.

From there the next 120 minutes or so are near non-stop action, as we meet big bad Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, terrifyingly channeling an apocalyptic Peter Stringfellow), arguable joint lead Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and a whole host of side characters (many of whom become cannon fodder) in Joe’s castle like mountain hideaway/mine/slave city, The Citadel.

From there Furiosa leads an escape attempt, with Joe’s ‘wives’, into the desert in the appropriately named War Rig petrol tanker and we get what is essentially an hour and 45 minute car chase.

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa

I realise that may not sound the most edifying experience in the current climate of over the top action movies for the whole family (see Marvel and Michael Bay’s Transformers), but, what Miller does is make the whole thing feel real by, according to reports, filming most of it with as many practical effects and stunts as possible – and it shows in a sense of real weight and feeling amidst the banging and crashing.

On top of this Hardy and Theron give linchpin performances that, with very little actual dialogue, show a physical side of acting rarely seen in a world where blockbusters tend to prefer show and tell obviousness. Along with the two leads a mention also has to go out to Nicholas Hoult as ‘War Boy’ Nux who probably has the biggest character arc of the film and is genuinely effective in an understated (as much as anything here is understated) kind of way.

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky

Since the film’s release, as well as suggestions it could win Best Picture in various awards, much has been made of its potential feminist message. I’ll be the first to admit such soicio-political theory isn’t my forte, however, I can see where this idea might come from and it does set Mad Max: Fury Road apart from its fellow action blockbusters (arguably with the exception of Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

In this regard, as well as Furiosa and excepting Max, the majority of the lead, hero, cast are female. While a few do represent the ‘traditional’ damsel in distress type role (with one exception) they all go onto to be, at least partially, active fighters on more than a par with the men in the film and, while Max does remain the de-facto hero, by the end the women have given just as much in the face of, potentially, even greater odds.

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe

The upshot of all of this is that George Miller has created a film that at once seems to realise a vision he had forty years ago while developing on a template of blockbuster cinema that had become somewhat staid and tired in the endless cycle of franchise filmmaking.

And on top of that it is genuinely one of the most insane visions ever committed to mainstream action cinema with some of the most exciting character names around – how can you fault The Doof Warrior, The Splendid Angharad, The Organic Mechanic and, a particular highlight, Rictus Erectus, though they all still pale in comparison to Max Rockatansky.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey on BBC Radio 1 – February 2016

Of Empires, Last of the Light Brigade, Honest Crooks, Robyn Sherwell, Buffalo Huddleston and Mura MasaHaving spent the best part of the last two decades in some way featuring on BBC Radio Guernsey (as well as brief forays into hospital, student and Welsh commercial community radio) the idea of hearing not only my own voice, but also songs from bands and musicians I have been championing for the last ten years, on BBC Radio 1 remains somehow astonishing.

Following on from last year’s spots on the national network, BBC Introducing Guernsey was once again given the opportunity to select six tracks from island artists to feature as part of Huw Stephens’ show in the week of 15th February 2016.

Choosing only six artists was hugely challenging, but, with Guernsey born performers named in the BBC Sound of 2016 list and playing the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury Festival last year that was two down, Mura Masa and Robyn Sherwell.

From there I picked a band who have moved off island and begun to make ripples they hope to turn into waves, in Of Empires, and the band who over last couple of years have drawn some of the biggest live audiences to their gigs on the island, Buffalo Huddleston.

They then chose a few bands each with two making it onto Huw’s show, so from Of Empires list of choices, Last of the Light Brigade made an appearance and Buffalo Huddleston’s pick was Honest Crooks (the bands’ other choices being Thee Jenerators, Joe Corbin, Tantale and Wondergeist).

The shows are available for the next few weeks from the publication of this blog on the BBC iPlayer (links below) and all appear around two hours and 15 minutes into the show.

Monday 15th February

Click here to listen

Tuesday 16th February

Click here to listen

Wednesday 17th February

Click here to listen

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Doomed, Dangerous and Dashing – The Fermain Tavern – 13/02/16

Last of the Light Brigade

Last of the Light Brigade

As soon as doors opened at The Fermain Tavern on Valentine’s weekend there was a sense of anticipation in the air, and not for the annual forced celebration of all things consumerist that happens on 14th February. Instead what people were looking forward to was, not only a night of great new music, but also the return to the stage of two of the island’s most popular bands in Last of the Light Brigade and, opening the show, Byzanthian Neckbeard.

After nearly two years away from a Guernsey stage (in which time they’ve lost a guitarist) doom metallers Byzanthian Neckbeard made a statement from the off with the use of sheer volume. Normally Paul ‘Taz’ Etasse’s drums are the loudest things in any room, but here the sound blasting from Phil Skyrme’s twin amp stacks outstripped even that.

It would have been easy for such volume to be too much but, given the style of music being played, it made for the perfect, crushing, sound and emphatically made the point that this band are back.

Byzanthian Neckbeard

Byzanthian Neckbeard

Playing as a three-piece now the sound has morphed slightly with less of the ‘solos’ (if that’s the word) and feedback work, but it was just as satisfying. Phil’s screaming, roaring, vocals were suitably backed in places by Dan Robilliard’s while Dan’s bass locked into tight, thunderous grooves with Taz’s drums to great effect, leading to the highlight of the set for me in the very groove driven closing number.

With a large crowd down in front of the stage throughout, Byzanthian Neckbeard felt like a band with something to prove and they certainly delivered not just ear-splitting volume but heavy, powerful songs that all combined in a performance that could rival bands of this style at any level.

The audience was already warmed up and still growing as To The Woods launched into their set with more purpose than I’ve seen from them in sometime and certainly having a large, enthusiastic crowd seems to add extra power to frontman Bobby Battle’s already impressive energy.

To The Woods

To The Woods

It was at this point that it struck me that, with the cross-section of ages and fans of different genres, the audience gathered at the Tavern bore more of a resemblance to those at the L’Ancresse Lodge and such in the past, than any I have seen in a while, adding even more fuel to the good atmosphere.

With a couple of new songs further bolstering To The Woods selection they tore through the set with aplomb, with Bobby ending up in the crowd on at least three occasions. Bass player James Ogier meanwhile, looked to be having as good a time as ever as his more understated performance included a spot on delivery while drummer Dan Garnham was on blistering form.

While this was happening on stage a pit kicked off on the floor in a way I haven’t seen in a long time, complete with stage diving from Bobby’s former Iron Cobra band mate Dave Riley.

To The Woods

Dave takes a dive

When To The Woods first formed Bobby made the point that it was a band he hoped would make people sit up and take notice and, based of this performance, that’s certainly what they’ve done.

With Byzanthian Neckbeard providing the doom and To The Woods providing the danger (certainly for those in the path of Bobby when he headed off stage), it was down to indie rockers Last of the Light Brigade to bring the night’s dashing element.

After a spell on the (no doubt financially more lucrative) local cover and function circuit Tyler Edmonds and Stu Carre have now solidified the four-piece version of the band they founded more than a decade ago, with Kyle Torode on bass and John McCarthy seemingly now a permanent addition on second guitar.

The time away from regularly playing their own material may have seen the band’s followers drift and, combined with the quite major difference in style from the night’s earlier bands, left them playing to a noticeably smaller crowd. As the set went on though the number on the dancefloor rallied as people got into Light Brigade’s slightly tweaked sound.

Last of the Light Brigade

Tyler of Last of the Light Brigade

The new line up has morphed the band’s earlier mod-revival/indie-punk sound into something with a little more reserved cool to it. Still present are the attitude and songs of old but added to it is something of the swagger demonstrated by the likes Of Empires, making for an ultimately satisfying combination typified on new song, and set opener, Sweat.

With such a long time playing together it was clear to see the onstage relationship between Tyler and Stu, with Tyler a more confident frontman than ever. Next to this Kyle and John still come across as the ‘new guys’ with Kyle often almost playing up to the audience too much and John, if anything, doing the opposite and hiding in the shadows.

As the set went on, and the crowd got more involved, it clearly helped the band increase their energy further on stage leading to a closing duo of older songs My Girlfriend’s Been Sectioned and an extended Little Billy rounding off a great night of music that excellently showed off just a small selection of the impressive new and original music being made and played in the island.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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Ramblin’ Nick Mann – One Eye In The Past

Ramblin' Nick Mann - One Eye In The PastRamblin’ Nick Mann has, over the last few years, emerged onto the Guernsey music scene with a sound unlike any other referencing the earliest of bluesmen combined with a knowing sense of his own Guernsey-ness.

He launched his debut album, One Eye In The Past, at the Vale Earth Fair Unplugged event in January 2016 with one of his best performances to date.

My review of the record was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 13th February 2016 and you can read it below.

Ramblin Nick Mann - One Eye In The Past review scan 13:02:16

 

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Twice Dead Records present Lifejacket, Zoohair and Sick Men – The Town House – 06/02/16

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

As Storm Imogen prepared to batter the Channel Islands with force 12 winds I hopped onto a small plane with indie rockers Lifejacket to head over to Jersey for a show with a pair of bands at The Town House in St. Helier organised by Twice Dead Records.

Having not been to a live music event on ‘the other island’ for a number of years (the last time was when Nemesis stormed The Live Lounge with Jersey metallers Salem’s Lot) I was curious to see not just what the bands were like, but the venue and the audience as well.

Arriving at the venue in the afternoon I was pleasantly surprised. From the outside The Town House looks like an old cinema but inside it’s a nicely decked out pub, not too modern, not too shabby but the right mix of the two. The venue itself was an upstairs room with its own bar, a decent (for a Channel Islands venue) stage and plenty of room for an audience.

The walls may have been decorated with various posters of old bluesmen, but it gave the place something of an authentic feeling and, while not perfect, certainly had the feel of a venue and was decently appointed as such. Later on, with the lights lowered a few drinking and waiting for the bands, this atmosphere increased further and I can imagine it working great when its packed and the crowd is bouncing.

Sick Men

Sick Men

Having missed soundcheck and only arriving at the venue two minutes before their stage time, opening duo Sick Men took to the stage 15 minutes late and in rushed fashion.

This was, unfortunately, followed something of a false start due to a broken drum pedal so, by the time they got going, they were already fighting a losing battle.

Once they got a little momentum going the drums and electric bass pair had some interesting ideas but they never quite coalesced, while making a joke of their tardiness felt unprofessional, as only one of their friends seemed to get the humour.

While the small but growing audience stayed hanging back they seemed at least appreciative but, doing a noisy rock bass and drums act on the home island of FalenizzaHorsepower is always going to be a risky move and here Sick Men felt just a bit too primitive and unrefined – though showed some promise had things not been so rushed.

With quite a reputation behind I was looking forward to seeing Zoohair, who I have vague memories of seeing a decade or so ago. Certainly their multi-faceted indie rock was delivered with a slick confidence that showed a band with a long history and it was nice to see a band deliver a tight set with no baggy waffle or extended stops for tuning and the like.

Zoohair

Zoohair

While the bass guitar may have been a bit on the quiet side it’s very hard to find much to criticise about the band and they were warmly received by the now somewhat larger audience.

With that however, there wasn’t a lot that stood out either which, combined with some poor lighting that made it hard to see the frontman as he sang, made it a challenge to actively engage with the band and his voice was a little too weak for the musical backing at times.

Over the last couple of years Twice Dead Records have invited a series of bands over the small (but surprisingly expensive) stretch of water between Guernsey and Jersey and, by all accounts, they’ve all gone down very well. Added to that list now are indie-rock three-piece Lifejacket and, while Zoohair may have had the biggest audience, most stayed around for the visitors despite it being only their first gig away from home.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

From the start the difference from the previous bands was as clear as a kick to the chest as Lifejacket launched into their noisy, raging take on indie with a purpose. Having felt somewhat ‘safe’ at their recent outing at Sound Guernsey, something more edgy was back in the feel of the band here. This, combined with their comfort with their older songs and sense of excitement in the new ones, made for one of their most powerful performances in a while.

Guitarist and vocalist Andy Sauvage was on fine form between songs as well as during them, with succinct but entertaining introductions to some numbers (and referencing the recent Islamophobic Guernsey scandal) while during the songs he showed a good dynamic in his vocals.

He and Mox (on the drums) were, necessarily, somewhat rooted to their positions on stage, but bass player John McCarthy seemed more freely moving than ever, giving a visual focus but never over stepping the mark to take away the spotlight when it needed to be elsewhere and, in repositioning his microphone to be able to hear the lone monitor, gave the band a much more gang like image than previously.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

It was clear I wasn’t alone in enjoying the performance as the Guernsey trio received the most enthusiastic audience response of the night and, while it wasn’t a night for a packed dancefloor, many in attendance made a point of saying they would like to them back over soon while picking up copies of Lifejacket’s debut album.

While the crowd could have been bigger, my first experience of The Town House as a venue, and first show in Jersey in several years, was definitely a positive one. While it was Lifejacket who came out on top (not that this was a competition) it was great to get just a small taste of the clearly vibrant and varied music scene the other island has to offer and it would be great to see more pan-island shows spreading the Channel Islands’ music not just from Guernsey to Jersey but coming back the other way as well.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here

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Vale Earth Fair: Unplugged – The Fermain Tavern – 30/01/16

Ramblin' Nick Mann

Ramblin’ Nick Mann

For the last few years the new year of live music in Guernsey has really got going with the Vale Earth Fair’s ‘unplugged’ nights at The Fermain Tavern where as many acts as they can squeeze in play acoustic (or semi-acoustic) sets in a showcase style event of non-stop live music.

Once again Tantale drummer Graham Duerden was compere of the night doing his best Jools Holland impression while hyping up each of the acts and the first was one launching his debut album – Ramblin’ Nick Mann.

While some of his songs feel a bit half-formed this was the most together performance I’ve seen from him – his homemade guitar even worked for the whole set. With a slightly knowing nod he grabbed the attention of those who wanted to be grabbed and, other than the indignity of the bass player from the next band tuning up while Nick was still playing, it was a good fun set paying homage to old blues with a unique twist.

With their bass tuned up, new band, Borderline Puppets, were first on the ‘main stage’. They delivered a set of suitably raw, grungy, acoustic rock including a mix of covers and originals drawing on the sound of the mid-1990s.

Borderline Puppets

Borderline Puppets

While the very nature of the music is rough and ready, they fell just the wrong side of this and came across as slightly unrehearsed and reliant on a book perched on a stool between guitarist/vocalist Danny Machon and vocalist L-J Turnbull.

As the set went on they seemed to relax into it somewhat and for a first gig by a brand new band it certainly could have been worse and it’ll be good to see another band inspired by these sounds develop.

Another relatively new band were up next, and it was my first time catching them live, Wondergeist. On record they feature a range of guest artists but live they are an acoustic duo and their brand of indie-folk suits that well. Between Steve Wickins and Peter Gilliver they have a good contrast of sound and style which work together well, Steve playing with a laid back air and Peter a much more intense, jittery presence.

Wondergeist

Wondergeist

Later in the set Wondergeist were joined for a few songs by Gregory Harrison on the violin which added some extra dynamic to the set that went down well with those on the now busy ‘dancefloor’ area at the Tav.

Over the years at these unplugged nights some bands take their usual set and change it around to fit a more acoustic style, others however just do what they usually do on less amplified instruments, and it was this second option that Honest Crooks chose to go with.

In this case that worked just fine as they had the dancefloor packed with gently jigging and skanking bodies as Raddy strummed his acoustic guitar and Andy bashed the cajon, rather than a full drum kit, in particularly effective style. Otherwise things were pretty much as we’ve come to expect from Honest Crooks as they continue their rapid ascent in popularity.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

Gregory Harrison had hoped to be launching his new EP tonight but the physical copies of it had yet to arrive, but he didn’t let that stop him as he delivered a set of his acoustic, modern-folk inspired, songs that not only went down well as he played, but had many talking afterwards as well.

As always Harrison’s rich, soulful voice was an immediate highlight of his performance and this combined with some fine technical guitar displays to grab the attention of the increasingly noisy audience.

The subject of noisy audiences has come up a few times over the years, particularly in relation to folk gigs and at the Sark Folk Festival, and for the most part it’s not something that has bothered me – after all most of these events are social occasions as well as music events.

Gregory Harrison

Gregory Harrison

Here though things seemed to go a little too far the wrong way at times with audiences members not just chatting at the back or getting raucously involved with the music but being actively (if probably not intentionally) disrespectful of the performers and other audience members.

While Honest Crooks earlier in the night had just played what they normally do on acoustic instruments, grunge-rockers SugarSlam went the other way and slightly rearranged some of their material to fit the nights ‘unplugged’ feel.

Being their first acoustic based show in their near 30 year history it worked rather well, particularly as it showcased a bit more of the power-pop aspect of their sound, doing what gigs like this should in exposing the other side of the same coin, so to speak.

As well as new numbers State and Luck from their upcoming EP, the band played a few old classics, including Wonders from their early 90s debut record that hasn’t been heard live since then, along with a great cover of Sacred Hearts’ Adorable.

SugarSlam

SugarSlam

This was before rounding the set off, in tribute to Lemmy and Philty Animal Taylor, with a run at Ace of Spades that saw drummer Brett’s ‘Cool Rod’ drumsticks splinter with a good dose of speed-country-rock’n’roll.

Regular visitor to the Vale Earth Fair, Grant Sharkey was back next introducing seemingly every song with the line, “This is a song about the 2008 financial crisis”. As always his loyal group of fans were down the front and lapping up his mix of humour, songs and politics, while the rest in attendance found a lot to like as well.

When limited to a specific set time Grant is at his best as it leaves less time for the political points to shift from thought-provoking to hectoring and the limitations of one man and a double-bass become less obvious – though Grant always does a lot more with that combination than most would think possible.

Grant Sharkey

Grant Sharkey

This led to an enjoyable set that, while not quite as fun and engaging as his last visit to Guernsey just before Christmas, was still good and had the crowd singing along as well as earning an encore in the form of ‘the Onesie song’.

Having enjoyed their outing at Chaos back in the summer I was looking forward to see what Near Bliss’ take of Nirvana unplugged might be, but, from the off it was clear this wouldn’t be quite the classic that performance was. As great as much of Nirvana’s music is, it would be very hard to argue that it is particularly happy, so when, early in the set, Near Bliss frontman Steve Wickins grinned his way through Rape Me, it was clear things were on shaky ground.

Added to this the three-piece hadn’t done anything to rework their sound other than Steve playing an acoustic guitar which left the drums thundering over the top in far too heavy fashion, while showing the gaps that can be found when fuzz and distortion are removed from grunge without other augmentation.

Near Bliss

Near Bliss

While those on the dancefloor seemed to be enjoying themselves with the familiar songs, the rest of the venue emptied as the over-long set went on and Near Bliss’ performance grew looser until it climaxed with a sloppy take on Smells Like Teen Spirit to close the show.

While it may not have ended on a high, the Vale Earth Fair’s unplugged night was one of their busiest fundraising events I remember in some time and, with this being their 40th anniversary year, set things off to a great start in the build up to the August Bank Holiday weekend festival.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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