I don’t really know how else to begin my review of music in Guernsey and the Channel Islands this year other than to say something that has already been said far too many times over the past twelve months, that it has been an odd year in pretty much all regards.
I also don’t want to come across as if I’m in anyway bragging or gloating about the situation we’ve found ourselves in Guernsey, as, while things have been limited to a degree, we have been exceptionally lucky in the amount of live music and events we’ve been able to have while it feels like the rest of the world has all but fallen silent.
As with last year my focus here will be on music in Guernsey and it’s Bailiwick but I will also be reflecting on some things from Jersey as I’ve become more and more involved in what’s going on there musically, thanks to my work with BBC Music Introducing In The Channel Islands, even if I’ve not been able to visit.
For me 2020 feels like a year that’s come in three parts, pre-lockdown (which I can’t quite believe is still the same year), the lockdown period (that for us ran from March until late June) and everything since, so I’ll probably break things up roughly like that as well as going month by month where it feels right.
And of course, it hopefully goes without saying but I will anyway, anything I ‘miss’ isn’t missed out of anything but being one person reflecting on what I’ve attended and heard and that, as always, there’s a whole lot more that’s happened and been released than I have room or scope to include.
After a cracking start to the year thanks to The Recks and Mojo at The Imperial on New Years Eve January was a relatively quiet month with a couple of shows at The Vault being the live standouts.
Clameur De Haro started things off with a great fun night of their version of bluegrass and folk (along with talk of their debut album which has still yet to emerge) and then L’Islet Records began what has been a terrific year for them with an ‘acoustic’ night showcasing some slightly different talent to their usual louder events as well as an almost unplugged outing for Coastal Fire Dept.
The year started strong for recorded music as Joe Corbin dropped a new EP, Fool In Love, before heading to Australia where he’s been living and gigging (when possible) since while Guernsey born musician and producer Mura Masa released his second full album RYC working with a number of high profile collaborators.
As well as those was something rather different with the second full length album from producer and DJ Flexagon, 7 Nocturnes East. As well as mixing ambient ‘found sound’, electronic music and minimal classical on record the album was accompanied by an exhibition of art work from local artists at the Guernsey Arts Commission’s greenhouse gallery inspired by the same locations and times that were the source of the record, making for a truly unique artistic experience.
Also from Jersey a couple of releases that arrived late in 2019 came to my attention with Jèrriais black metal from The Head Of Helier and the debut release from Jersey founded but London based indie rockers The Gaa Gaas.
February started off strong as St James brought Independent Venue Week to the island for the first time with an event showcasing two acts from the UK in Beach Riot and Stone Cold Fiction (who has recently signed up for a release with Guernsey’s Magic Moustache Records) alongside Jersey’s The Tarantulips and local youngsters, Case On The Base.
The annual Vale Earth Fair Unplugged night was back at The Fermain Tavern with an unique acoustic outing for Brunt that created a kind of doom jazz sound, while a host of newer acts were showcased alongside some favourites like Tantale and Ukuladeez.
Havoc Events also had their first event of the year with pop, folk, hard indie and grungy alt-rock acts rubbing shoulders before the month was rounded off with the second Sound At St James festival which took over the whole venue for a day headlined and highlighted by The Recks and The Electric Shakes but also showcasing some new acts including Stuart Darkin and Grace & Elliott along with seven-year old Soren who has gained something of a cult following across the year.
While it was a quiet month for releases from Guernsey a couple of records dropped from Jersey. First was the eccentric piratical folk of Parish 13 and then one of the years undeniable highlights, The Tarantulips dreamy fuzz pop single, Gush.
As March started there was a definite feeling that something was amiss in the wider world but events continued as Guernsey Gigs monthly Unplugged Club took place for what transpired to be the last time in its original venue at The Golden Lion and then the Sneakaway team from the Vale Earth Fair held a special show mixing poetry and live music at the Guille-Alles Library to mark the release of the first Earth Fair Magazine.
Kings dropped a new EP, American Rust, which showed the already acclaimed band growing and finding their sound and heart with a great slice of modern power pop, while Jersey’s Tadhg Daly release a similarly affirming single Come Alive.
But then the live music stopped…
Or so it seemed…
With venues closed across the world it was amazing how quickly, in the second half of March and into April an beyond, artists and musicians started finding their way online and it felt at points like one couldn’t move for invites in social media to live streaming shows running the gamut of acts from new performers in the islands to major established artists the world over.
I’ll admit that, given my predilection for live music in person and pressures of the day job, I found it hard to connect with a lot of this but there was and is something hugely inspiring in the levels of ingenuity and talent that came to the fore in this online form.
A couple of highlights amongst the lockdown live streams were the birth of Stretchy’s Damaged Disco which became a twice weekly mainstay of the Guernsey streaming scene and even went live and in person later in the year, and the first Channel Island wide Upload Festival CI which filled a whole weekend with online streamed performances and looks set to go live and in person as well in 2021.
While there were no in person gigs in Guernsey, or elsewhere, through April, May and most of June it seemed like bands and musicians were more than making up for it by releasing albums, EPs and singles – some planned and some written and recorded at home during lockdown.
Most prominent of these releases early on in lockdown was The Recks’ single The Milk’s Gone Bad – originally intended to be supported by a tour that was cancelled at the last minute the single nonetheless was a great sign of the band moving forward with their now solidified new line up with promise of more to come.
April also saw the release of Time For Love from Oliver Marson and, from Jersey, new music from Monty Taft and Hot Juice and a debut single from Dribbler who came with quite a reputation that only built as the year went on.
Tantale also took the opportunity to release their live album, One Moment, recorded towards the end of 2019, that added a nice touch of something with a live feel to it back to the music I was listening to.
The releases rolled on in May with a new single from Coastal Fire Dept, You Are Stuck, which saw the band begin the journey toward their new album that lands next month and featured the mixing skills of Ken Andrews who has worked its Chris Cornell, Nine Inch Nails, Beck and more in the past.
London based indie rockers Les Futiles also dropped the new single Black Heart while Jersey band Brave Yesterday released Everything, All At Once, their first EP in sometime which came along with a charity fundraising single.
June saw Last Of The Light Brigade return with a surprise new single, The Brink, from their classic three piece line up while Kiya Ashton found time amongst many online gigs to drop new single Anchor, teasing her second album, and Alfie Butel from Jersey released debut solo single Mexico.
Along with those The Crowband, led of course by The Crowman, released new album, Blackwell, that was particularly memorable as much for its music as it’s socially distanced delivery to me that saw it delivered over the garden wall by friends out walking their dog.
At rather the opposite end of the musical spectrum new artist P3RM1T (aka Burning At Both Ends and WaterColour Matchbox’s Peter Mitchell) released a surprise debut album, Dusk.
And then, in Guernsey at least, just as suddenly as the live music had stopped three months prior, it was back with Seven Day Riot playing the first gig back at The Vault.
Since then, with off island travel limited and what feels like a newly renewed community spirit, live music events of all sorts have been busier and more energetic than ever, something that really has continued until the end of the year (or at least as I write this just before Christmas), possibly fuelled even more by the knowledge that Guernsey is in a very lucky position and it’s one that could change at any time given the prevailing conditions but so far, thankfully, that hasn’t happened.
So then, with live music back on the agenda, the summer was busier than ever with the road to the Vale Earth Fair beginning somewhat later than usual with a fundraiser at The Fermain Tavern and Coastal Fire Dept being joined by WaterColour Matchbox for a standout show at The Vault.
Along with that St James kicked off a series of events to celebrate the end of lockdown with, first, The Recks and a new band put together by Mike Meinke, and then Tantale returning to celebrate their live album release with Hollie Lucia and newly formed west African fusion act Yaz who became a much celebrated new act as the year wore on.
New recorded stuff wasn’t in short supply either as Coastal Fire Dept release another new single, the Nirvana and Pixies aping minute and a half of I Don’t Wanna Hold Your Hand and Citizen-X got a bit political with Egomaniac.
While still in lockdown Jersey artist didn’t slow down either with Sam Walwyn dropping his debut single, For You, and Tadhg Daly releasing the double a-side Home Recordings that was as DIY as the title suggests.
With summer at its height some of the usual outdoor events began to rerun with live music at Castle Cornet for a slightly delayed Castle Nights series and Arts Sunday back on the St Peter Port Seafront, while The Risk returned to the stage at St James with newcomers The Beautiful Nightmares.
The Retro Festival also out on a great weekend at The Peninsula Hotel which feature a highlight set from The Recks and then the Vale Earth Fair rounded off the month in truly spectacular style with its usual combination of stages all featuring entirely local line ups and leading to one of, if not the, best editions of the festival to date showcasing the wealth of music on offer in the island.
Highlight sets there came from The Recks (once again), Asylum Seekas, Lord Vapour and The Risk but it felt like everyone stepped up their game for a real celebration of an event which even made the national BBC news as the only full scale, non-socially distance festival taking place in the British Isles this summer.
Through all of this the releases kept coming with a real landmark feeling single, Stir All Night, from Robert J. Hunter, a debut single (of sorts) from Elliot Albert Orchard and, from Jersey, the self-titled debut EP from Dribbler that paid off the promise from their heir earlier single and then some, a new album from Benny The Moth that coincidentally captured something of the Earth Spirit and a blast of the heavy stuff from Masticated.
After such a surprisingly strong summer there was a bit of feeling maybe things would quieten down as life in Guernsey was more back to normal, albeit with less travel, but as September rolled around this wasn’t the case.
After the return of the Guernsey Gigs Unplugged Club at its new home of the Cooked Cafe at St James (which has become a venue in its own right since), the fun evening that was School Of Popular Music’s Corporate Battle Of The Bands and a later than usual Rocquaine Regatta, Channel Islands Pride took to the streets of St Peter Port for its biggest event yet.
Like the Earth Fair, it made national news as the only in person Pride event anywhere in the British Isles and even featured a few visiting acts (who self-isolated as per the rules to be able to appear) alongside the Rainbow Chorus and The Cor Damme Lars. To go with that Jersey duo Kingsy and Shea dropped a special single Superstars written and released especially for Channel Islands Pride.
The month was then rounded off with a weekend of live music at St James starting with Yaz and new duo Lula & Gene in the cafe and then The Space Pirates of Rocquaine transporting those in the main hall on a musical journey through their back catalogue.
Added to that I recorded my first new session for BBC Music Introducing In The Channel Islands since lockdown with Grace & Elliott, which has become something of a highlight session of the year for me.
Along with all of this Last Of The Light Brigade surmised us for the second time with a new album, Words, and Jersey singer songwriter Monty Taft released one of my highlight tracks of the year, The Modern Lovers Mating Call.
Things really didn’t slow down much in October as L’Islet Records we’re back at The Vault for what they dubbed (with tongues somewhat in cheeks) A Night Of Boy Bands with Coastal Fire Dept. and Burning At Both Ends, while Elliot Albert Orchard launched his debut EP, Don’t Lend Your Heart, with a show in The Lion’s Den at The Golden Lion mixing music with spoken word – something of a new trend throughout the year.
Before Maiden Guernsey rounded off the month with a heavy metal Halloween two stand out events took place.
First was the inaugural Afro-Caribbean Fusion event at The Fermain Tavern where Minister Blessed made his Guernsey debut alongside Yaz and the Afro DJs.
Then came a show that had been due to happen in April as Ukuladeez staged their first full Cosmic Tea Party at St James taking a packed venue on strange journey through their brand of ‘jingly, jangly, hipster folk’ that was genuinely one of the most fun and all round entertaining nights of the year.
The month ended with a couple of notable record releases too as RentOClean unveiled their long awaited debut album Scrub-A-Dub and Tantale dropped their Christmas charity single, A Message To All that also acts as interesting look back at some elements of the year.
November felt like, maybe, it got a little less busy but, if anything, it featured a couple of the year’s highlight shows and still every gig seemed to be attracting bigger crowds than ever.
First among these was Havoc Events X L’Islet Records clash at The Fermain Tavern that they billed as putting alt-rock against metal and it saw the debut of very promising young metal band Apothis.
The second of these events was a return to the stage for The Sacred Hearts in the intimate surroundings of the De La Rue along with, rather counter intuitively, metallers From Darkness, but, with both bands on great form and the audience as up for it as can be, it was a roaring success.
Also at the De La Rue, and slightly delayed in the craziness of the year, was the Vale Earth Fair’s John Peel Tribute Night which saw as varied (and at times bizarre) night of music as I can remember in sometime.
Along with these Robert J. Hunter released another single, The Losing Side, while Burning At Both Ends began the journey to their new album (due in the new year) with a pair of singles.
And so we come round to December where there’s really been no let up as Eloise Fabbri has launched her debut single, Beauty, with a special showcase event in the cafe at St James and L’Islet Records had a Christmas Smash Up at The Vault and evening between Christmas and New Year there’s more to come.
As well as those, from Jersey, Jared Crespel released his first new music of the year in the festival titled Christmas 2020, Hot Juice reappeared with new single What You Gunna Do Now and heavy metallers Demise Of Sanity release their much anticipated debut Nine Realms (which I’ve yet to have a chance to listen to properly).
So, it’s safe to say that, while it’s been a year like no other, and here in Guernsey we’ve been particularly lucky in a lot of ways, there has been a tremendous amount of new music being made both live and on record and, if anything, the quality of this just keeps getting higher – and I’m well aware there’s a whole chunk of stuff I’ve not been able to cover this year.
So, here’s to 2021, seeing live music return everywhere sooner than later, and the continuation of the remarkable range and quality we are treated to in the islands and that the world gets to hear even more of it.
As seems to have become a thing with these I’ve done some ‘awards’ but, even more than usual, I have a caveat that not only am I rubbish at choosing just one for any of these, this year has felt so much like two or three separate periods I have multiple winners representing in all categories.
Band of the Year – The Recks/Coastal Fire Dept.
Event of the Year – Vale Earth Fair/Havoc Events X L’Islet Records
Expanding Horizons – Coastal Fire Dept.
New(ish) Band of the Year – SkySkrapers/Apothis
Set of the Year – The Recks at Retro Festival and Vale Earth Fair/Asylum Seekas at Vale Earth Fair
Record of the Year:
Guernsey: Flexagon – 7 Nocturnes East/Robert J. Hunter – Stir All Night
Jersey: Monty Taft – The Modern Lovers Mating Call/Dribbler – Self-titled EP
Visiting Act of the Year – The Electric Shakes/Stone Cold Fiction/Beach Riot
And to round things off here’s a playlist featuring a fair amount of the stuff discussed above, or at least the bits that appear on Spotify…