The first Sound At St James festival, a little under a year and a half ago, marked something of a relaunch of St James (or at least the perception of it) as a venue for more than classical music and rather staid, traditional entertainment.
Since then a range of new live music events, as well as comedy shows and more, along with the older guard of events, has seen its status rejuvenated in the wider public consciousness more than, I’ll admit, I thought would be possible.
This second Sound At St James festival, held in February 2020, as well as being a fundraiser for the under-18’s music nights that share its name, felt like something of a celebration of this with twelve hours of live music on three stages and performers aged from seven and up and spanning as many styles as you can shake a stick at.
The first stage to get underway was the acoustic stage, located in the room next to the cafe, with Nick Coleman beginning proceedings.
As well as his usual acoustic guitar Coleman had a bass drum and hi-hat set up adding some more diversity to his standard format and adding an extra depth and impetus to his original songs in something of a one-man band format, as well as a very nicely done cover of Neil Young’s Old Man.
He was followed by relative newcomer Mickey Haimes who played a set made up of covers and originals. With a cool, modern singer-songwriter style the highlights in what I caught of his set were his own songs and I hope to hear more from him soon.
While I checked out the music around the rest of the event the acoustic stage continued with sets from Mojo, Kiya Ashton and more and the next performer I caught more of up there was Stuart Leach.
Leach’s was a name I’d seen and heard around for a while but I;d never had a chance to hear him play and I’m very glad I did finally today.
With a style of playing that makes it sound like there are (at least) three musicians on stage his sound landed somewhere between Guernsey’s own Mike Meinke and Ed Sheeran (though without the pedals) but with a more indie edge and he’s another artist I’m looking forward to hearing more from, especially as he mentioned an upcoming single.
With a typically slightly more eclectic line up the Vale Earth Fair had taken over the Dorey Room for the day with performances ranging from poetry and spoken word that started the day to the disco skills of the Lo-Fidelity Sparkle Bitches that rounded off their night.
In between came a host of other, mostly smaller scale, performances including the likes of Blue Mountains, Ramblin’ Nick Mann and Citizen-X.
The first act I fight properly though was Elliott & Grace; following their first proper outing at the Vale Earth Fair Unplugged Night a few weeks ago they continued to impress drawing a big crowd for the time of day and keeping them captivated.
Already building on what we’ve seen from them before they debuted some new original material while expanding their sound with a song that featured Grace on bongos as well as Elliott with his usual bass and sounded great all making for a set of spot on chilled alt-rock that I couldn’t help but think would make the perfect soundtrack for an early 2000s post-adolescent indie movie.
Later in the afternoon Vice played an acoustic set as a duo, with guitarist Tiegan and singer Jessie, playing a mix of tracks from the their upcoming debut EP and covers that worked really well and showed a different side of them to their usual full band performances.
The live portion of the day on the stage featured a kind of double headline feel beginning with The Honest Crooks.
While slightly looser than usual in their performance the ska quartet (and for part of the set quintet) still brought a great atmosphere and real summery vibe regardless of the wet and windy conditions outside while frontman Randy still found time for a customary if still largely inexplicable ‘shoe-y’… (that’s drinking a pint from a shoe, it being a trainer and Guinness this is no where near as decadent as it might sound).
The other headline feeling act was Fly Casual, in their these days more common two piece mode of Damo and Chris.
By their own admission the duo were a little rusty but once they got going, which happened far quicker than I think they realised, their chilled out indie sounded great and provided a nice relaxing moment before the evening kicked off in full force.
The line up on the main stage, in St James’ Whitaker Hall, could be divided in two with younger acts playing throughout the afternoon and more established bands making up the line up in the evening and things got underway with the day’s youngest performer.
Having made his public debut in The Peace Tent at Chaos last summer, seven-year-old Soren was back on stage here with a short set of four songs.
It would be very easy to be patronising to one so young but in this case there was no need as, with two of his own songs and two covers, Soren captured the audience with his playing and his confidence.
His two original songs were both astonishingly advanced in both writing and subject matter while his cover of The Recks’ Porcupine went down a storm and his closer, Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, had many clapping and singing along, starting the day on a brilliantly positive note.
The rest of the afternoon featured bands familiar to and made up the youngsters ,who attend the regular Sound Guernsey under-18’s events that this is a fund raiser for starting with the improbably named RoadKill RubberDuckies.
Playing through a solid set of covers including My Chemical Romance’s Teenagers and Na Na Na along with Cranberries’ Zombie even if they were a little loose in places and, with the exception of guitarist Alex Sarchet, they could have done with a little more stage presence (but that’s something they will likely grow into) there was a lot to like about their performance.
Sarchet remained on stage next with a band seemingly more fitting his style, Sonic Bomb. As the rest of the band warmed up they certainly showed more confidence with their classic metal covers including Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest and Dio with Hellriaser in particular working very well, even if they still somewhat lacked cohesion as a band.
Formerly known as 4th In The Trilogy, grunge rockers Mouph were probably my highlight of the day’s young bands as they delivered a tight and energetic performance with purpose and conviction.
The highlights came with their Nirvana and other punk rock covers while their original song had a lot of good ideas thrown into the mix even if it didn’t quite come together but certainly showed a lot of promise.
This was my first chance to Just Smile following their victory in the Thirst Music School Battle Of The Bands and they’ve certainly grown in leaps and bounds since I saw them at Chaos last year.
With a really enthusiastic and upbeat performance they delivered a surprisingly downbeat set of songs starting with The Vaselines’ Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam along with Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall and more.
That said their energy and sense of fun, as well as well delivered songs, was more than enough to carry them through and round off the afternoon on the main stage well.
After a brief break that allowed time to catch The Honest Crooks and Fly Casual on the Vale Earth Fair stage, the evening portion of Sound At St James 2 began with the day’s heaviest band, From Darkness.
There’s no denying that the big sound and big stage really suits the music this five-piece makes and, while they aren’t the most engaging band on stage, you can’t fault their bristlingly intense metalcore.
The penultimate song of their set tonight was certainly the standout for me, though it has to be said they seemed somewhat at odds with the rest of the day’s line up and ended up playing to a rather small crowd compared to everyone else.
One name on the line up, suspiciously high up the bill, was a complete mystery to me but it soon became clear why they received the billing they did as Skyscrapers turned out to be the new project from Blakalaska, The Bensons, Remainder 3 (and more) drummer, Barney Bean and The Honest Crooks bassist Charlie ‘Cheese’ Holmes.
With the bass running through a barrage of effects and two amps and the drums including a mix of acoustic and electronic parts the pair created a selection of huge, fun and funky jams that weren’t afraid to get heavy or dance-y while always remaining engaging and certainly drew a big crowd into the main stage hall.
Comparisons to Jersey drum and bass experimentalists Falenizza Horsepower were already being drawn but to me the two acts, while sharing instrumentation, came with a very different energy and left many, myself included, wanting more and soon!
Having judged the line up of the day The Recks launched into a slightly different version of their usual set, taking things in a slightly darker direction and bringing even more of a demented carnival feel to their performance than normal.
Riding the wave of energy that was started by Skyscrapers they pushed it even higher and their sound seemed to click even more than ever showing them at their absolute best, even if a few of their trademark songs were missing.
With newer songs and some rarely heard older ones thrown in the audience were into it throughout and were left calling for more after what felt like the band taking another step forward as their gamble of shaking up their set paid off terrifically.
After those two Bournemouth based trio The Electric Shakes had their work cut out but, as they blasted off with their take on loud, dirty, rock ‘n’ roll, it wasn’t long before they were matching up.
With a new bass player since we last saw them on our shores at the Vale Earth Fair last summer it was clear they haven’t lost a beat and the band’s overall slickness (even though their sound is a gritty one) was huge showing how regularly they have been gigging.
Commanding the crowd and band, Guernseyman Steve Lynch led the charge through a set with barely a pause for breath between songs that, with the crowd in tow, built and built until a full on mosh pit kicked off during Shot Me Down (a song inspired by, according to Lynch, ‘the three greatest movies ever made’; Mad Max 2, Dirty Harry and A Fistful Of Dollars).
This ended the night on a true climax and showed just how the venue has come into own for so much more than it used to be while doing a great job of championing the new music being made by bands and artists young, and not so young, from the island.
With that Sound At St James 2 was a real celebration of what Guernsey has to offer and what you’re missing out on if you don’t head out to a show from time to time, whatever your age.
You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Music Introducing In The Channel Islands Facebook page