New music festival The Gathering took over the North Field football grounds over the weekend of 15th, 16th and 17th July 2016 for three days of music showcasing a variety of music from the island.
With headliners including SugarSlam, Static Alice, King Rat & The Soul Cats, Fade To Grey and Of Empires it was a mixed line up including bands playing their own material, veteran performers and bands more usually seen rocking the pub circuit.
My review of the festival was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 23rd July and you can read an extended version below that.
You can also see a full set of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.
A new music event is always a good thing to hear about, especially when the organisers are talking about something on the scale of this, The Gathering, taking over the North Field football pitch and surrounding fields with three stages of music across three days.
As I arrived at the site midway through the afternoon of the first day things seemed very spread out on the enormous field with the dance tent in one corner near the entrance and the acoustic stage in the far opposite corner. Around the edges of the field were a few ‘trade’ and food stalls and in the distance I could vaguely here the sounds of Lord Vapour beginning their set.
The main stage was located at the far end of the site at the western side of the club’s main football pitch with the beer tent and VIP area opposite. The few had turned out early on the Friday mostly populated the area between the sound control tower and the stage but in such a big space it felt pretty empty.
None-the-less Lord Vapour were grooving their way through their set in the loose manner that has become their trademark. This was derailed slightly by a few issues with the drum kit doing its best to escape the riser, but the band soldiered through starting off my weekend on a positive note.
While things were heavy on the main stage the acoustic stage was offering some nice summer-y vibes from young trio Common Room.
They were a little rough around the edges and suffered a bit from the main stage sound bleeding across but they were nice to listen to and would have suited the sunnier days to follow to a tee.
The heaviness continued on the main stage with Stone Em All. This show was something of a landmark for the band as it marks the end of them as a regularly performing live band and they gave it their all.
Suited and booted for the occasion the five-piece metal band have evolved from something many (myself included) found hard to take seriously into a solid and effective unit, unfortunately here the big space in front of the stage was only populated by their hardcore followers and it was obvious it was hard work for the band to maintain the energy they needed across the set.
Rounding things off with their now traditional set closer of Cathedral’s Hopkins (The Witchfinder General), possibly the best I’ve heard them do it, it’s a shame to see this band who staunchly stuck to their guns in the face of all musical trends go.
Another band who suffered from the small crowd were Honest Crooks who’s ska-punk seemed to lose some of its bass funk in the translation from the stage to the field.
Regardless the band gave it their all and adding To The Woods’ Bobby Battle on kazoo for High Grade helped boost things a little.
Ending the set somewhat suddenly with Stressball it felt like they still had more to give and just seemed to be getting the small crowd warmed up, but I guess that’s part of a festival show.
With recently added bass player Danny Joyce in full over the top flow, Peppered Ant Legs headed into a set of classic hard rock covers that felt a little out-of-place amidst all the bands playing mostly their own material tonight.
As ever the trio have a sense of fun, looking fairly ridiculous (kilts and pith helmets featured), but played solid renditions of the likes of Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and more.
Danny’s showmanship may have slightly overshadowed his brother Matt’s role as frontman and it didn’t feel quite as slick a performance as sometimes, but their version of Sabbath’s Fairies Wear Boots is always a treat and as Metallica have proven its hard to go wrong ending a set with Seek & Destroy.
The crowd seemed to have reached its peak as SugarSlam took to the stage and it was clear the band took this as a chance to have a blast on stage which was genuinely infectious.
It may not have been their tightest show as the four-piece grunge-influenced rockers mixed a few covers of the likes of Nirvana and The Sacred Hearts with their own great songs and those in attendance seemed to enjoy it, albeit from a distance, before the band rounded off the set with Stace Blondel joining them for Guns ’n’ Roses It’s So Easy and then a blast through Ace Of Spades.
While the crowd had shrunk it was clear as Static Alice hit the stage that those that remained had come to see the headliners. The audience heading closer to the stage helped create a little atmosphere right down the front and the band did what they always do and put on a show making full use of the huge stage.
This wasn’t quite a highlight like their recent headline slot at Chaos but this still felt like a top-level performance and the band clearly worked hard to keep the energy up to the attentive but not so energetic audience.
Closing the set of on a few covers of Ballroom Blitz and Boys Of Summer closed the first day on a high point but it was clear many were wondering and hoping if the numbers would pick up for day two.
Arriving at the site as openers Day Release were mid set on Saturday lunchtime I was hoping that the day would be busier than what I had seen the previous and, while the first few bands played to small crowds, this steadily grew throughout the afternoon.
Its been a while since I’ve seen Day Release but they did exactly what I’d expected, delivering a solidly performed set of covers that show why they’ve made something of a reputation on the local pub circuit.
Their performance felt a bit lost on the big stage and with a small audience but that is one of the ever-present perils of being first on at a show like this.
Never ones to let anything stop them punk rockers Jawbone launched into their set with their usual sloppy enthusiasm. In three-piece mode without frontman Steve, it wasn’t long before guitarist Lee’s voice started to go and by the time they attempted The Misfits’ classic Astro Zombies it was clear there were problems.
Thankfully Dom from Static Alice was on hand to help out with a couple of songs before Lee and Dan muddled their way through The Ramones’ Bonzo Goes To Bitburg (My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down) to round off a fun if slightly desperate performance.
Things were a bit more relaxed and folky on the acoustic stage with Blue Mountains delivering a set of their soulful, dark folk.
A bit odd out in the open air in daylight the darkly hued songs still sounded great but it was hard to escape the notion that this stage (particularly today) was simply acting as background music for the fenced off ‘gin and Prosecco garden’.
The folkiness continued with Ramblin’ Nick Mann going for a full on performance of the DIY blues character he’s been building over the last couple of years.
As ragged and rough as music like this should be, complete with homemade guitars and mic, there was a nice irony seeing such an un-corporate sound under a big advertising banner for a local telecoms company as he drew the biggest crowd I’d seen at this stage yet (though bigger was certainly to come).
As they head towards their final show The Doomsday Project were in top form bringing some upbeat, fun pop punk to the main stage in the mid-afternoon.
With the crowd now growing and relaxing in the sun the band seemed to go down well and even got a handful on their feet for a mix of original songs from their debut album and classic punk covers including their now standard, excellent, take on Jilted John and a surprisingly good Alternative Ulster (even if it didn’t quite have the passion Stiff Little Fingers gave the original).
Stoked brought us back into the world of the pub covers circuit with a good set of rocking tunes that was fun, if a bit heartless, but provided a nice soundtrack for those working their way through the contents of the beer tent while ‘chilling’ out in the now blazing afternoon sun.
The covers continued with Stuck To The Ceiling but, with Stace Blondel fronting the band, this wasn’t going to be a rote tread through of standards. Coming across as a real burst of energy Stace looked like a manic hybrid of Ozzy Osbourne and Bruce Dickinson whatever songs he was singing and the rest of the band left him to it while they delivered the music is a solid and unfussy way.
It wasn’t long before Stace was scaling the PA stacks at the side of the stage while blasting out everything from David Bowie to Lady Gaga, his charisma is undeniable and it drew a few more onto their feet for a dance at the front.
Being the only band entirely dedicated to their own material on the main stage today made Tantale feel a little out of place as we headed into the evening and this wasn’t helped by a sound mix that, further away from the stage, made them sound almost a cappella.
Despite this their lightly psychedelic indie sound was spot on for a warm summer evening but I couldn’t help think that regardless of the band’s best efforts it didn’t quite come across as well as it maybe should have.
Back firmly in classic tune territory Guernsey music stalwart Pete Frampton led his band into a fine performance of middle of the road rock. While very well-played its hard to get too excited about as the band worked their way through the set in steady, slick fashion and the audience continued lazing in the now setting sun.
As King Rat & The Soul Cats took to the stage with a bigger, clearer sound than anything so far this weekend the crowd immediately took notice and got to their feet.
Tight, sharp and as on it as can, be the ten-piece band played their way through a set of soul and Motown classics, newer songs and a few originals (including a never before played track intended for their never recorded second album) which demonstrated why they have the reputation they do.
Chris Dean once again showed himself to be one of the best frontmen Guernsey has seen, working the crowd excellently, while Susann Hatcher gave him a run for his money when she took the lead.
With the audience fully invested as the set went on they provided one of the first highlight performances of the weekend.
After a bit of last-minute re-ordering a stripped back version of Buffalo Huddleston took to the acoustic stage in front of by far the biggest audience that stage would see all weekend, regardless of the lack of light and it being almost impossible to see the band if you weren’t right at the front.
Despite not having a violin player Mike, Simon, Tom and Jull-z didn’t miss a step and the crowd were into it throughout, even singing in some of the violin parts or otherwise just getting into the relaxed and funky grooves that left many questioning why they weren’t main stage headliners.
Now fully into tribute band territory Fade To Grey headlined the main stage with a set that was great fun and very hard not to have a nostalgic sing and dance to – even if you weren’t actually there the first time.
Kriss provided the visual lead for the band, all postures and poses in a suitably knowing and camp way, while Nikk and Little Gary Numan seemed to be the musical core of the band leaving Andi to provide the synth drum fills.
The crowd was certainly now big enough that the there was a great atmosphere in the main field, especially if you were down the front, and, while it may not be a highlight for the serious musos, its hard to fault the quartet as they rounded up on an encore of Together In Electric Dreams.
If an 80s electronic tribute wasn’t your thing Clameur De Haro were delivering a different type of fun on the acoustic stage with their unique take on bluegrass.
With a good-sized crowd jigging along the band got Stace Blondel and Bobby Battle on for extra vocals on Born To Be Wild before, so the story goes, continuing their set into a pure acoustic encore pushing the event curfew to its limit.
After the high of Saturday night, as is usual Sunday lunchtime is hard work to get going and the job fell to young band The Bone Idols.
Playing to friends, parents, the next band and a handful of others all four seemed pretty proficient for their young ages (credit both to them and School of Popular Music where they formed) but the lack of a dedicated bass player made their sound a bit uneven.
While Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and Michael Jackson’s Thriller are brave songs to attempt they gave them a good go and they were at least the second young band of the weekend to give us a run through of Green Day’s Holiday with the potentially offensive words censored – I can’t help but think if you think a song has offensive bits and you don’t want to offend, just don’t play it…
But I digress, The Bone Idols kicked off the day well and set the tone for the afternoon with more upbeat covers.
It seems there’s always at least one Beatles tribute band doing the rounds and, at the moment, that’s The Day Trippers.
Delivering a set largely drawn from the Fab Four’s early days they play them well with a smile and a sense of fun that was spot on for a sunny afternoon.
The songs, of course, are timeless but they came across well and the band did them justice making me wonder why they weren’t part of the previous night’s tribute act session.
The Secret Smiles 60s-90s indie hybrid should have been perfect both to follow on from Beatles’ songs and for a sunny afternoon but unfortunately a lot of their jangly guitar sound got lost somewhere in the mix today.
Despite this the band’s authenticity and good songs made for an enjoyable set but, like Tantale the previous night, I couldn’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity.
Delivered with a bit more conviction the story of the blacksmith’s quest for his maiden fair isn’t quite there yet but its something a bit different at least.
The acoustic stage continued on the Sunday as well and my highlight there came from newcomers Lighthouse.
With nice acoustic melodies and vocal harmonies the trio seemed to bridge the gap between being very nervous and very modest in a charming way that was backed up by the music.
Vocalist Lucy Cave has a sweet voice with a bit of bite behind it where needed, though I’m not sure the affected Irish accent was necessary but, thanks to Matt Champion we can at least rest easy with the knowledge that Galway is, indeed, in Ireland.
I’ll freely admit that, in the past I’ve not really enjoyed what I’ve caught of Underdog, but today they seemed in their element and at their best as they rocked through a set of pop-rock covers – it may be custom-built for the pub circuit but it worked well on the big stage here.
Knowing who’s featured in the band it should be no surprise that Kings provided a pitch perfect set of modern indie pop, but the quality of it was still beyond my expectations.
With upbeat dance-y sounds, darker thematic substance and some hugely impressive harmonies the four-piece are like little else in the island at the moment.
Frontman Eli Crossan delivered his vocals with a real soul and range while Casey-Joe Rumens provided some epic guitar solo work in what was as slick and smooth a performance as we saw all weekend. Closer The Enemy provided a highlight of a genuine highlight set.
Following that the well performed Led Zeppelin tribute of Easily Led was something of a come down.
The band got the legendary sound they were working towards well and Kashmir in particular was an impressive highlight but the lack of energetic performance and falling where they did on the bill possibly didn’t show the band in the best light.
Taking rock ’n’ roll and giving it the coolest of grooves headliners Of Empires were on top form from the off.
Always clearly excited to be back on home soil frontman Jack Fletcher was maybe less manic tonight but still energetic and worked the crowd with aplomb while Matthew Berry’s guitar work provided a laconic groove perfect for a warm evening.
With a lot of new songs alongside tracks from their debut EP highlights came in a cover of Shakin’ All Over and new songs See You With The Angels Kid and Baby Darlin’ Sugar.
All of this brought the weekend that had, if I’m honest, been a mixed affair that often felt more about socialising in the sun than celebrating music, to a fantastic close. While there were a few teething problems and some things could have been done better I hope to see The Gathering return in a refined form giving Guernsey’s musicians a chance to showcase their music to an even wider audience.