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.
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.
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.
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.
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.