Every year on 9th May the island of Guernsey comes together to celebrate the island’s liberation from occupying Nazi forces in 1945.
A big part of these celebrations has become the live music that takes place around the island in pretty much any venue capable of hosting it. For the 2016 Liberation Day I headed into St Peter Port where the ‘official’ celebrations were taking place to experience 8 hours of non-stop live music.
My review was first published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 14th May – you can find an easier to read version below the cutting – and you can see my photos from on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here.
It seems more than ever music was part of the Liberation Day celebrations in 2016 with gigs pretty much everywhere they could be all weekend, from a storming night of hard rock at The Fermain Tavern on Saturday to Market Rocks on Sunday to Vale Earth Fair’s annual all-dayer at The Last Post on Liberation Day itself (and countless gigs all over the rest of the island). With St Peter Port being the traditional focus of festivities plenty of music was on offer there too so I headed down, first to Castle Cornet, during the afternoon, then later to the Albert Pier.
With the music getting going at three o’clock the morning’s rain had begun to clear by the time The Crowman stepped onto the stage in the castle’s middle ward. Starting off a bit slow he seemed to pick up after breaking a string on his acoustic guitar, though this didn’t stop him playing two more songs on the same instrument without batting an eyelid before switching to the banjo.
As ever the performance was as lo-fi as they come and, while I’m not sure all in the steadily growing audience quite got it, The Crowman and the Fiddling Pixie got some feet tapping and heads nodding and got a good response to their songs. A particularly nice moment came with the addition of Lemmy and Philthy Animal Taylor to their song Mystery Train.
The music continued round on the Castle’s South Battery with a very well-played but a bit too quiet set from guitarist Chris Taylor before a slow and soulless run at a selection of ‘1940s style’ songs from vocal trio Les Blondettes and an mp3 player (or CD player, or similar). The phrase that sprung to mind was ‘it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’, I’ll let you work out quite how this performance fitted that statement.
Back on the middle ward I had a chance to catch a couple of songs from Buffalo Huddleston who, as ever, had drawn a big crowd and were sounding great, though the audience were a bit more sedate than I’m used to seeing for them – maybe something to do with the rigidly enforced alcohol free zone stretching as far as the castle for the day.
A bit of awkward booking meant I had to split my time between the two stages at the castle to also catch some of The Space Pirates of Rocquaine’s set. Being short Lisa Vidamour meant the performance was maybe a little more sedate, but none-the-less Mark Guppy, Tim Corbett and Jess Nash carried the vocals excellently while the whole band played a great set despite fighting a lack of on stage monitors.
As they played the sun even came out for the first time that day and, with their originals alongside a cracking cover of Billy Bragg’s You Woke Up My Neighbourhood, they brought a real sense of fun to the afternoon.
While the music was rounding up Castle Cornet it was just getting going on the Albert Pier with Equilibrium kicking off things off with a tightly delivered set of pop, rock and pop-punk songs.
This was my second time seeing the band (who it transpires are all only 14 years old!) and, while they were still a little on the polite side, they seemed much more confident and at home on stage, largely un-phased playing to a few hundred people.
The lead trio brought a great presence to the songs with some fantastic harmony work on Dancing On My Own, while the bass player had some impressive, if understated, moments and if they continue on like this and can add some more originals to their set they will worth keeping an eye on in years to come.
After a few years of seemingly being a bit on-again/off-again The Secret Smiles presented a united front here with a set of 60s/90s folk-indie hybrid sounds that perfectly complemented the now warm evening sun.
Frontman Matt Ward strikes the quintessential image for this type of thing, somewhere between Dylan and a Gallagher (or maybe a more Liverpool based equivalent) complete with 12-sting acoustic guitar and confident swagger.
As the set went on some more raucous elements started to come out, particularly on To The City, but throughout their were hints of The Stranglers, The Jam and others in amongst the lighter tones where the melodies led the way.
It all culminated in their final song that combined everything that had come before perfectly and had the feel of what could be a great single and went down very well with the now big crowd on the pier leading to an encore of New Order’s Blue Monday.
With the crowd nicely warmed up and the earlier bad weather and power cut seemingly forgotten, Honest Crooks hit the stage to continue their now year and a bit long ascent. Their upbeat ska-punk was spot on for this event and James Radford really looked the part, and seemed far more confident, in shades on the big stage, much more so than at other venues.
With lots of top-notch original songs rubbing shoulders with covers from Sublime, Gentlemen’s Dub Club and more their music, that contains a non-self-consciously political streak along with an upbeat sense of fun, had people dancing and singing along throughout before an encore was demanded that came in the rather brave form of Sublime’s Date Rape! (thankfully I don’t think many were listening to the lyrics)
Following this performance I’d say Honest Crooks have taken the spot of Guernsey’s premier summer party band, and really they only just seem to be hitting their stride.
Following that was going to be a challenge for anyone and, while their set of pop-rock covers was pretty well delivered, Element 6 were facing quite a task.
Their performance was solid, as you’d expect from the now well experienced function band, but their funk-reggae take on The White Stripes Seven Nation Army was a misstep from which they never really recovered for me, though they did get a good number singing along to the hits.
As several thousand pounds were detonated in the sky above the castle, Sons of the Desert were setting up on stage and, as the fireworks finished, they launched into a great set of highly skank worthy ska. The nine-piece band captured the feel and style of the musical excellently with Colin Leach and Chris Pearson leading from the front and involving the energetic crowd from the off.
For a band like this it would be very easy to stick to the mainstream classics but, while all the big hits of Madness, The Specials, et al appear, room is made for more left field choices such as a track from the Tokyo Ska Orchestra and a ska’d up Nirvana cover that were great to hear and helped round off the day in excellently, partying style.
Not only was the selection of music on offer for Liberation Day 2016 impressive but also served to show the breadth of talent Guernsey has for this particular art, far more than our 60,000ish population really should have.
From upcoming youngsters to longstanding veterans there was something for all tastes and from all ages with a real sense that people can do whatever they want with their talents, which is a great message to take away from a day celebrating liberation.