After a couple of years where music in Guernsey had upped its game, across the board, to a level that continues to surprise many visitors to the island, or those who hear Guernsey based bands when they venture away, 2019 has had to me a slightly different feel.
While the quality of music certainly hasn’t dipped, the past twelve months have felt a little like the so-called ‘scene’ has been realigning itself somewhat I think, in part at least, due to a shift in the island’s venues.
This has, in a way, seen the scene split into three or four separate sections (though maybe it always was) — of course it’s not that simple and there is cross over between them, but to me it seems separate scenes have developed around The Vault, St James and open mic nights as well as the ever present pub cover band circuit.
Notable to this is that The Fermain Tavern seems to have lost its position as ‘the’ place for live music on the island, though it has still hosted a few notable events across the year.
Added to this there seems to have been an increase in accessibility for bands to record and release their music which has caused a shift in priorities somewhat, though it remains clear that playing live is the main aim for most.
The year seemed to start off quietly though it was a clear there was a lot going on under the surface, with the only live music I saw in January coming from Mastodon on a trip to the UK.
That said given their release late on in 2018 there was still a lot of excitement around Scales-Weights by Hollie Lucia, Crook Line And Sinker by The Honest Crooks and With My Headphones In from Mike’s Magic Trip.
February though started with a bang, nicely carrying on from my Mastodon experience, as Granite Wolf and Gentle Suburban Boys both impressed with a show at The Vault.
While maybe not being an event that made headlines a charity show at The Fermain Tavern in the middle of the month was notable for two reasons; first it saw The Cor Damme Lars emerge from the studio and begin the march to the release of their debut album that marked the first half of the year and second it saw The Recks debut their new bass player, Joe Le Long (already familiar from Lord Vapour), beginning a best year yet for the band — but more of that later.
As well as the live side of things young singer songwriter Dan Ashplant released his debut EP, King Of The Country Road.
After returning to the scene in November 2018 Havoc Events continued their strong run of events in March with a show at The Fermain Tavern headlined by Kings and showcasing some of the poppier side rock in the island.
Going heavier some of the island’s metal scene was showcased at the mixed bag of an event that was Black March at The Tav while Elliot Falla released a new single and returned to Guernsey with his new band The Blue Valentines to celebrate with a show at The Vault.
March was then rounded off by the second of the St James Presents… events (the first I attended) following Track Not Found’s show in February, as Lord Vapour took over the concert hall and staged the first landmark event of the year with an expanded line up and whole new set of songs with new backing band The Buds In Bloom (and I’m still hoping we get to hear their songs recorded at some point).
April began with something of a replay of show from November 2018 as The Baghdaddies returned to the island, this time for a weekend show, again at St James and again supported by The Recks and The Cor Damme Lars that once again went down a storm.
L’Islet Records put on their first of several shows across the year that saw To The Woods make a one off return and saw the first step in the evolution of Coastal Fire Dept that continued throughout the year as they added the lead guitar of Henry Fears to their ‘Grunge from The Vale’ sound.
On record a new band emerged in Brighton, Bright Orange Spectacle, featuring several former members of Of Empires as well as some other familiar faces from the Guernsey scene, with their single She Could Get Better that began a run of live shows across the year for the band around the south of England culminating with a second single, I Struggle To Communicate, in December, which has seen the band picking up some good plaudits.
As ever the summer music season began in May with Liberation Day.
While the day itself saw a good mix of live music on offer the night before featured the highlight for many, that also saw a different venue appear on the scene as The Recks, The Honest Crooks and Track Not Found packed out the Imperial Hotel at a Rocquaine.
May also saw Havoc Events biggest show of the year that was another real event moment for those of us who’ve been following music in the island for sometime as Third Time Lucky reformed for, seemingly, one last time at The Fermain Tavern, for a night of not just nostalgia but some great pop rock too that had the audience singing along like few others.
After a long time away as band (though all three have been busy elsewhere) Atomised (FKA Darker Shores) returned to the stage for a show in Jersey that was followed by a few in Guernsey later in the year.
Meanwhile Robert J. Hunter released the third of three singles of the year, Suitcase Blues, which had been preceded by Good People and Hurricane – throughout the rest of the year the London based Alderneyman and his band gigged extensively around the UK as well as jaunts to Spain and Germany and announced their first show headlining The 100 Club for early 2020.
The Cor Damme Lars began June by releasing their debut album, Tangled Lies, with a show at The Mariners on the Bridge and after recording a live session for BBC Music Introducing In The Channel Islands.
Speaking of which, BBC Music Introducing once again had a stage on Arts Sunday in St Peter Port, for the first time showcasing acts from both Guernsey and Jersey with The Recks, Track Not Found, Burning At Both Ends and Hollie Lucia from Guernsey and Monty Taft from Jersey (more of him later).
Monty wasn’t the only act from ‘the other island’ to visit in June as Hot Plastic made their full strength debut on our shores winning a new group of fans as they and The Recks double headed a show at The Fermain Tavern.
As we headed toward festival season proper BlackTopTales staged a warm up for their appearance at Sark Folk Festival by taking over The Lion’s Den at The Golden Lion with JD & Folk and Blue Mountains while at St James visiting band Slim Pickings, along with The Honest Crooks, played a pirate themed event that saw the concert hall stage converted into a pirate ship for the night!
As has become tradition June was wrapped up with the annual Chaos Weekend, this year being the fifteenth edition of the festival.
With sounds as diverse as the doom metal of Byzanthian Neckbeard to the folk of Blue Mountains and the North African sounds of Gnawa UK, along with stand out sets from Subhumans, Robert J. Hunter, Joe Corbin and more this was one of the most enjoyable Chaos events to date.
July began with another landmark event, with the last (for the time being at least) Sark Folk Festival, though unfortunately I missed it while seeing Ministry in the UK, and the Festival organisers suggested there would be future events after they’d had a break.
Aside from that another upcoming band from the UK played at St James as King Nun put on an impressive show as they warmed up for opening for the Foo Fighters a few weeks later.
The Doghouse, as a venue, has a long established reputation of being the domain of visiting and local cover bands so it was a refreshing change (if seemingly only a one off one) when they welcomed The Recks to their stage.
On record July saw JD & Folk released a new collection of songs, I think only available direct from the band as a CD, while Guernsey music scene alumnus Oliver Marson (you might remember him from China Aster a few years ago) released his debut single Cocaine Romance.
As always one event over shadows all in August, but before we get to that Havoc Events were back at the Fermain Tavern once again for a show headlined by Byzanthian Neckbeard continuing their run from Chaos as they built toward the release of their new album later in the year.
That same weekend also saw the Sark Mini Fest take over various venues around the island with bands from both Guernsey and Jersey as something of a stop gap between the 2018 Sark Summer Festival and next year’s Sark Fest.
And so onto the Vale Earth Fair, again taking place over two days, albeit with a slightly different arrangement to the last two years.
The first day at the Vale Castle was divided into two section with Sound Guernsey showcasing young bands during the afternoon before Breakz n Beatz took over for the evening and the usual warm up show at the De La Rue saw a one off reappearance from Dolmens.
The second day then had something of a special feel too it as, along with the usual celebration of much great music, added to that was the idea that we were also celebrating the life of one of the event’s founders, Errol Groves, who passed away during the year.
With that in mind the event felt closer to its roots than it has in several years with a protest march from Extinction Rebellion starting the day and during the afternoon Errol’s daughter delivered a poem encapsulating both memories of her father and the festival while visiting band The Wakes, a favourite of Errol’s, played a spirited set in his memory.
Along with that were stand out sets form Neville Staple, The King Blues, The Electric Shakes, The Recks, Sacred Hearts and more making for a highlight event of the year.
September is another of those months that’s often a bit quieter as the outdoor gigging season winds down and indoor gigs get going again, and this was felt even more this year with the Sark Roots Festival missing from the calendar.
The show, which was another in the St James Presents… series, saw the band joined on stage by a choir, string section and extra keyboards for a full run through of the new album in elaborate style followed by the band and their collaborators playing some of their favourite songs making for another unique night at the concert hall.
Along with that Byzanthian Neckbeard finally broke their silence (on record) with the release of their Extinction EP whetting the appetite and hinting at the full length record that was to follow.
In another quick look to our neighbouring island, Hot Juice released their first album, This Is What You Want, after winning The Made In Jersey battle of the bands to headline the local music stage at Weekender festival.
Things got busier as we rolled into October starting with a night at St James that saw four bands all led (to a greater or lesser degree) by Mark Le Gallez take to the stage.
With The Crowband, The Risk, Thee Jenerators and Sacred Hearts it was a varied night of upbeat music that peaked with the Hearts psychedelic power pop that got the room dancing.
The month’s St James Presents… event came from The Space Pirates Of Rocquaine who took the concept to the next level as the hall was decorated with nautical ephemera as they played through almost their entire repertoire with extra musicians and interspersed with the stories and folktales behind them making for one of the highlight nights of the year.
Meanwhile the Vale Earth Fair marked the fifteenth anniversary of the death of the great DJ John Peel with their annual open decks DJ night that was one of the best examples I can remember.
October also saw Track Not Found head off on tour for the second time this year while also releasing new single Everyone Hates Track Not Found and announcing their new drummer, Toby Beasley.
On top of all that The Recks topped off a hugely successful year by heading to London and BBC’s Maida Vale Studios to record a session for BBC Music Introducing.
As well as many gigs on island the band had possibly their most extensive gigging year to date away from Guernsey with tours and shows around the UK including being selected by The Levellers for their Beautiful Days festival over the summer and a trip to a Sweden for a packed weekend of gigs as part of a festival there.
October ended and November began with Byzanthian Neckbeard staging launch shows in both Guernsey and Jersey for their second full album Minaton while, as part of BBC Music Introducing, I headed to the BBC Music Introducing Live event where Channel Island artist Monty Taft had been invited to play which, following three single releases across the year, has since led to being featured on both BBC 6 Music an Huw Stephen’s show on BBC Radio One.
Elsewhere there was new music from The Other World, the latest project from Guernseyman Mike Meinke now teaming up with French harpist and folk musician Alicia De Coustel, and Mura Masa released the first tracks from his upcoming second album showing a more live sound than in the past and including a particularly great song featuring one of this year’s Mercury Prize nominees Slowthai.
On the live side of things Coastal Fire Dept and The Risk went ‘head to head’ at The Vault for a night of Mods vs Rockers that saw the band playing ‘grunge from the Vale’ finally seem to solidify their line up that had been shifting for the last nine months or so with Bobby Battle joining on second guitar.
Meanwhile at St James Tantale put on a rather special show that was recorded for a live album — though I missed the gig seeing Tiger Army in the UK I’m hoping to hear the record when it’s finished.
That was followed only 24 hours later by one of the most memorable nights at St James so far as Newcastle sludge rockers Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs (aka PigsX7) graced the stage with support from a reformed (for one night only) Teaspoonriverneck, Brunt and Track Not Found.
While PigsX7 and Teaspoonriverneck put in great sets and it was the full live, hometown, debut of the new line up of Track Not Found it was a particularly special night for Brunt as it marked the release of their long awaited third album, the ‘heavy-mellow’ odyssey that is Ataraxy.
And so into December where things seemed to get a bit quieter for a few weeks in the lead up to Christmas, though the December edition of Guernsey Gig’s Unplugged Club was a particularly fine example of their ongoing monthly fully acoustic open mic nights.
As the holidays approached things got going again though as Clameur De Haro put on their now seemingly annual Christmas show at The Golden Lion and Burning At Both Ends invited up and comers Case On The Base to join them to celebrate at The Vault.
Having not been to The Fermain Tavern since the summer I headed up there for The Honest Crooks Christmas Party which was a highly enjoyable night and, as I write this, there’s one more show up there on the last weekend of the year with a lot of promise and Coastal Fire Dept wind up the year by launching their debut ‘mini-album’ Control alongside Terrible Stuntman before The Recks round off their year on New Years Eve at The Imperial.
That all makes for another busy year for music in the islands (and there was far more going on as this is just what I saw) and, while there seem to have been a few shifts in venues and festivals from past years the amount and quality of original music being produced remains high and the DIY ethic of the bands and artists putting on shows remains as strong as ever which is all to be greatly celebrated.
As ever I’m a bit rubbish at narrowing things down entirely so there’s a lot of sharing going on here and of course it comes with the caveat that it’s entirely my view and I’m sure plenty of others are available.
I’ve also added in a new category, the ‘Expanding Horizons’ award for bands based on the islands spreading their wings and getting heard elsewhere, and slightly amended another one, but I’m sure you’ll get the gist.
Band of the Year – The Cor Damme Lars/Coastal Fire Dept.
Event of the Year – Vale Earth Fair
Expanding horizons – The Recks/Track Not Found
New(ish) band of the Year – Isle Stone
Set of the Year – Lord Vapour and The Buds In Bloom/The Space Pirates Of Rocquaine at St James presents…
Record of the Year – Brunt – Ataraxy
Visiting Act of the Year – PigsX7/Subhumans/The King Blues
Like last year I’ve put a Spotify playlist together of some of the artists mentioned throughout this post that are available on the platform, throwing in a few from Jersey as my review of the year has done too…