Two years ago Guernsey Gigs launched their monthly Unplugged Club at The Golden Lion (read about that first one here) as something of an alternative to the many (and still increasing) other open mic nights that take place each week around St Peter Port.
Rather than just a place to get up and bash out some tunes in the corner of a pub, the idea is a more focussed event with (almost) no amplification focussing the attention on the performers while providing a social element for gigging musicians and music lovers before, after and during the ‘half-time’ break (which always includes a raffle of varying levels of eccentricity).
Two years in the events have built a dedicated following with regular performers and attendees along with new faces popping in from time to time and, keeping with its ethos, no sense of judgement around what is played and by who.
Instead it has a welcoming and nurturing feel for anyone who wants to get up and play something.
This month, by chance, featured a nicely varied set of performers including regular faces and new ones starting, as is the usual tradition, with the host playing a few songs, in this case that being regular host Gregory Harrison.
With each performer getting three songs Greg took the chance to play something familiar, then a newer, darker folk sounding one (I wonder if this is from the album he recently recorded that I can’t wait to hear) before winding up with a request in 109 that, while not recorded, has long been a live favourite.
The first half of the night continued in a similar vein with Dave Etherington who played a rather fabulous song for his late aunt, Strange World, which I’d love to hear again as well as a rough and ready but always enjoyable take on Charlie Winston’s Like A Hobo.
Recently formed duo Grace Tayler and Elliott Mariess (or tonight ‘The Seagull & The Mermaid,’ which is which is up to you) added some acoustic alt rock to proceedings with a song by Japanese Breakfast and Bosco by Placebo as well as their own work in progress, capturing the spirit of the event’s ethos as a place to try out new material.
The indie vibes continued in a more British fashion with newcomer to the ‘club’ Josh Brown who added something of an authentic mid-90s feel with a sound reminiscent of the later Manchester scene and had a real heart to his playing once he settled in, including one of his own songs and nice cover of Oasis’ Stand By Me.
In something of a contrast, and demonstrating at least one element of the diversity of the night, the first half was rounded off by Ernie Roscuet who, in his smooth and deft style of riffing on jazz and blues classics, treated us to songs from Robert Johnson, Fats Waller and more and it’s always something of a treat to hear him play and tell his stories.
Following the break and the raffle, with prizes ranging from cheap wine to a ukulele, the second half began with another newcomer, Mickey Haimes.
He eased us into the second half with a kind of indie blues hybrid that dropped in hints of reggae and the summery sound of Jack Johnson.
He might be more familiar from sitting behind the drums for Brunt and Lord Vapour but over the last year or so Squirrel has made regular solo appearances here developing his own characteristic style of relaxed stoner indie falling somewhere between Lord Vapour and David Bowie at its best moments.
Tonight he added his usual relaxed vibe by playing from a position cross legged on the floor and it felt like really we all should have joined him, or maybe this should be repeated on the beach in the summer under the stars.
Having only first caught him a few weeks ago at Sound At St James it was great to see Stuart Darkin make his debut here (though of course he’s already well known around the rest of the island’s open mic scene).
Being something of a hidden gem, though that looks set to change soon, his flowing acoustic indie is terrific and has a real sense of honesty and truth to it that is great to hear.
A regular at these nights, and a familiar face from acoustic nights for many years, is Mick Le Huray who brought a vintage folk feel to the evening, rather like Ernie earlier showing the range of music on offer including tonight Ewan Maccoll’s England’s Motorway and the traditional (by way of Fairport Convention) Matty Groves.
As frontman of Buffalo Huddleston, Mike Meinke has become one of the most well known faces on Guernsey’s music scene but this was, I believe, his first appearance here and certainly my first time hearing him entirely unplugged.
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard him play like this and his guitar work remains fantastic and engrossing and, while night’s like this don’t have headliners, with everyone clapping along (with varying rhythmic success) this is as close as you’d get and, even with Dave playing the bucket, Ashram Traffic Jam is an excellent song.
With the curfew looming regular closer Jorge Amorim took to the stage and managed to squeeze in two songs by Brazilian guitarist Seu Jorge including his version of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust (all of course in Portuguese) closing things on something different and again showing the diversity of music on offer and ending the night on a rather unique highlight.
Once again then the Guernsey Gigs Unplugged Club continues to hold its own place in the island’s music scene bridging, in a way, the regular open mic circuit, the folk scene and the original band scene in a refreshing way that makes for a truly varied night of live music every month.