2016 has been another packed year for music in Guernsey and the Bailiwick. With more festivals than ever, events seemingly most nights of the week all year and many records released covering everything from acoustic folk to drum ‘n’ bass to heavy metal its fair to say the ‘scene’ is possibly the most varied it has ever been.
My review of the year was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 31st December 2016 and there’s a full version below.
2016 has been something of a landmark year for me with regards to Guernsey’s music scene as it marks ten years since I started reporting on music on the island. In that time countless bands have come and gone, some making massive waves others barely ripples, but it’s been very rare that any haven’t at least given it their all.
This level of enthusiasm from bands, DJs and any other performers can, I think, be credited with 2016 being the year when locally produced music seemed to most crossover into Guernsey’s mainstream public consciousness.
One of the ways I think this crossover has occurred has been with the recent proliferation of music festival and ‘all-dayers’, hitting a high of at least 10 across the past year ranging from the established and varied likes of the Vale Earth Fair and Liberation Day to more specific events like Chateau De Son and Smaashfest or charity based shows like Jonah Beats.
Jonah Beats set the bar high for these back in March with a day spanning everything from lo-fi folk to pounding drum ’n’ bass at the Vale Castle. Highlights on that day included Blakalska, SugarSlam, the return of The Swallows and a rare big stage appearance from Last Of The Light Brigade. The organisers also released a double CD compilation album to raise money for the Helping Jonah – Helping Others charity.
The summer festival season got going, as has become the standard, with the Chaos weekend. While the event has been bigger in the past, this year’s slightly scaled down show had something of the old atmosphere back.
This was certainly helped by the presence of great visiting bands like Japanese punks PUNiK (who also released a fine debut album), Manchester noise-rock duo The Hyena Kill and experimental rock two piece Science Of Eight Limbs.
As well as the visitors Honest Crooks continued their run of great shows with a standout set in The Peace Tent that had everyone skanking as the sun set, while SugarSlam, Brunt and Static Alice stormed the War Stage across the weekend.
The Sark Folk Festival continued its run of great events with this year’s having less of the ‘us vs them’ atmosphere of traditional folk fans and those out for a fun weekend in a field.
Musically there was a lot of good stuff on offer but it was the artists with their roots in the islands that really stood out for me. The highlight came from Burg & The Back Porch Band bringing some Americana to the spectacular teepee stage on the Saturday evening and invoking impressive singalong moments as well as creating one of the best atmospheres I can remember at a show in a long time.
New festival The Gathering took place at North Field in July and showcased a real variety of bands from the island. With three days it felt like almost every band with a slightly mainstream angle was featured on the main stage but it was the Friday and Sunday evening that brought the musical highlights for me with SugarSlam and Static Alice playing to a disappointingly small crowd on the opening night and Kings and Of Empires closing the show on Sunday on a real high.
Whether The Gathering becomes a regular part of the island’s festival calendar remains to be seen but as an event helping spread the word about the great talent in Guernsey to a wider audience it certainly did a good job.
The Vale Earth Fair this year certainly claimed its place as centrepiece of the island’s musical calendar as the Collective presented a year-long series of events celebrating its 40th anniversary.
The festival weekend itself was as big as its ever been with a series of gigs across the Friday and Saturday leading up to the main festival day.
Asian Dub Foundation were one of the biggest headliners the show’s ever seen but for me the highlights came with She Drew The Gun, a special appearance from Teaspoonriverneck, The Correspondents and Heads Off, though special mention has to go out to Honest Crooks and Buffalo Huddleston who, with earlier slots, did a great job of getting the festival atmosphere going much earlier than usually happens.
Along with the festival weekend the Collective staged an exhibition of photos and poster art chronicling the 40 years of the event which was a fascinating chance to chart some of the performers who’ve been there for the whole time and see how the event has evolved since its humble origins. The now annual Unplugged and John Peel tribute nights both provided some great moments, but it was the return of Pussycat And The Dirty Johnsons that was my Vale Earth Fair related highlight.
Away from the festivals there was of course plenty of other music going on, in fact I think its fair to say that with the exception of Sundays there seemed to be something musical happening every day of the year if you knew where to look.
For me though the highlights amongst all of this came in the form of the Sound Guernsey events for Guernsey’s youngsters. Showcasing a range of music they have grown from relatively humble intentions with shows at The Venue to fully fledged event gigs at The Fermain Tavern.
Their summer party being a highlight of this as The Doomsday Project, Honest Crooks, Asylum Seekas and Blakalaska shared a stage with already impressive new comers Track Not Found and Equilibrium while their Christmas Party later in December gave was another great night.
When it comes to new bands a few have stood out. As well as the aforementioned Track Not Found, hardcore metallers Granite Wolf made an impressive debut in September developing on the likes of Brutus Stonefist and She Haunts The Roads and I very much look forward to hearing more of what they’ve got to offer.
The real stand out of the new crop though were Burning At Both Ends who have taken the fairly well trodden pop-punk template and breathed a new life and energy into it, winning over many fans with their tight live shows and impressive debut album.
As well as great music on the island, musicians continued to spread their wings further afield.
Along with two BBC Introducing showcases on BBC Radio 1 featuring 12 acts, a few stand outs emerged, Robyn Sherwell continued her rise with the release of her debut full length album to much acclaim back in April, including a UK tour and having one of her songs picked up for use on the trailer to Hollywood movie Suffragette.
Nessi Gomes also completed a hugely impressive crowdfunding campaign leading to the release of her debut album, Diamonds & Demons which was supported by a tour of the UK, Europe and the Middle East which will culminate with the official Guernsey album launch event next month.
Of Empires continued their march to becoming bona-fide rock ’n’ roll stars with support from all over the place including debuting new single Baby Darlin’ Sugar on BBC Radio 1 through BBC Introducing and picking up many nods as one of the UK bands to watch as we head into the new year and they prepare for the release of more music and a lot more gigs.
Meanwhile Robert J. Hunter continued gigging around London and the rest of the UK regularly, initially supporting his second album, Before The Dawn and then releasing his third, Where I’m From, though the Spiritual Records label a couple of weeks ago.
Plenty more records were released this year with Space Pirates of Rocquaine’s Vraic & Roll, Lord Vapour’s Mill Street Blues, Brunt’s Blackbeard and the aforementioned Burning At Both Ends all standing out, but it was a single, Drifting, from the duo of Flexagon and Buff Hudd that really seemed to take off, receiving much praise and also being picked up by Tom Robinson on BBC 6 Music.
As the year neared its end The Recks made something of surprise return with a new single and line up and they look set to make 2017 their year as they plan to finally unleash their long-awaited and much-anticipated debut album and in a standout live moment SugarSlam (yes, them again, they’ve had a great year) and Insurrection marked their 25th and 30th anniversaries respectively with an excellent night at the De La Rue.
It’s safe to say that 2016 has been an impressive year for music in Guernsey with a real variety of sounds and styles coming to the fore (beyond what’s mentioned here drum ’n’ bass and electronic music have had a real growth as well with Hard Riddims and Strategy gaining footholds as regular events) and opening up what could easily be a small and insular scene to a wide audience, and lets hope that continues with more people heading out to listen to new music around the island and there’s already some exciting sounding things coming up!
And a few particular highlights by category…
Band of the Year – Honest Crooks
Festival Stage/Event of the Year – Vale Earth Fair’s 40th Anniversary celebrations
Newcomers of the Year – Burning At Both Ends
Set of the Year – Burg & The Back Porch Band at Sark Folk Festival
Album of the Year – Robert J. Hunter – Where I’m From
Visiting Band of the Year – PUNiK