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.
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.
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.
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.
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.