The past few years have seen the Guernsey Photography Festival take over different, empty and abandoned, spaces around St Peter Port to exhibit a wide range from works from photographers of various styles with collections from all over the world (including Guernsey).
2018 was no different as they took over the old income tax offices behind the south esplanade which, for the photography exhibition, is a tremendous venue with its maze-like corridors and rooms that bring to mind Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in the Gene Wilder movie with their total lack of sensible size and shape.
To close the 2018 festival a party was held in the venue, in conjunction with the Vale Earth Fair, featuring a trio of the most undeniably hip bands in the island, in The Recks, Lord Vapour and The Cor Damme Lars.
Having begun to make a name for themselves over the summer as a trio, The Cor Damme Lars debuted a new expanded line up here with drums (provided by The Honest Crooks’ Andy Nicholson) and upright bass (Tom Bradshaw of Buffalo Huddleston).
The new rhythm section instantly kicked the band’s sound up a gear towards the foot stomping, good time, vibes they have always hinted at.
I have to admit that many of their songs did still seem to merge together a little too much tonight, though I did wake up the following morning with one of their more singalong moments lodged in my head so they must be doing something right.
On top of which they set the scene well as the room got busier and certainly seemed to grab the attention and imagination of many in attendance.
Having played a highlight set at last month’s Sark Roots Festival I was looking forward to Lord Vapour more than I had in sometime, and it seemed I wasn’t alone as many in the now busy, low ceilinged, former office were packed up to what could loosely be called ‘the stage’ (though corner of the room would be more appropriate).
Beginning with a slow and atmospheric jam unfortunately made for a less than engaging start to the set and it was after taking only a few steps back from the area right in front of the stage that the limitations of the room first became evident.
The lack of raised stage and low ceiling combined with the wall of bodies in front of the stage meant the only sound that made it even half way back in the room was a muddy confusion leading to the music becoming little more than a wall of noise devoid of any feeling.
I’m willing to give the band’s performance the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately it wasn’t a set I enjoyed potentially due to circumstance more than anything the band did or didn’t do and those right at the front certainly seemed to be loving it.
With the venue now even busier and the main room reaching unbearable levels of heat and stuffiness The Recks took to the stage, once again with the audience packed up all but nose-to-nose with Richey, Ash and Greg.
As with Lord Vapour, but even more extremely, being anywhere other than right at the front made it all but impossible to engage with and enjoy the band’s performance which, combined with the sense of claustrophobia created by the space, rather killed the event for me.
On the few occasions I did manage to get near the front it was clear The Recks were doing exactly what we know them to do and delivering a great performance despite the challenging conditions and their usual dedicated fans were eating it up (though I suspect at this point the band could do anything and it would get a rousing ovation).
A potentially interesting moment came as Lord Vapour’s drummer Squirrel joined the psyche-folk quintet to add flute to Spanish Relations but again the sound got mostly lost.
While I have great admiration for the band managing to complete a lengthy performance in a room virtually devoid of breathable air, it was again impossible to get any real enjoyment from it as, for the most part, I may as well have been listening to a poorly recorded live album in a sauna.
While many seem to have a very positive feeling about the potential use of the space as an arts venue going forward I would hope that if any full-scale live music events were to happen there again a lot of work would need to be done to improve virtually everything about it as there’s no doubting that the venue spoiled what, given the line up of bands, really should have been a very enjoyable night.