There’s no denying, as I sit here on my sofa on the day after the event, that there’s a kind of dark irony to the latest Upload Festival CI – but we’ll get to that later.
The Upload Festival CI began during the first coronavirus lockdown in mid 2020 when local musician Kiya Ashton realised that what felt like everyone with a guitar and a webcam was live streaming to the world and sought to bring them together in a celebration of music and to help bring all these disparate performers and their fans together.
For 2021, with Guernsey out of lockdown, the festival went live and in person on the evening of Friday 22nd January in St James’ Cafe with the performances being live streamed for those unable to attend via Guernsey Gigs.
The night started out with Casey-Joe, no doubt familiar to many from as lead guitarist with Kings, and he played a selection of tracks from his upcoming debut solo album.
Armed with just an electric guitar and some effects, including vocal ones, he managed to make a brilliantly full sound for just one man with heartfelt pop songs with a coming of age feel and a sense of melancholy nostalgia that hooked the audience in.
Things took a folkier turn next as Maryen Cairns took to stage for a set that led us through her career from her earlier material to more recent songs.
Adding an additional kick (well maybe a stomp) to her set tonight was a cajon she used for a couple of songs, played with a pair of pedals that really lifted her performance.
A new performer to me, Emma Lauren Moyles, took to the stage with ukulele in hand, which can sometimes be a concerning sight, but she went on to deliver a great set of upbeat songs.
While she was clearly, and by her own admission, nervous, she took that energy and translated into a great presence and attitude and left me wanting to hear more.
Another newer performer, Imogen Hayman, also did something a bit different.
She started her set with a couple of songs on acoustic guitar which sounded great before going on to sing two to a backing track she had recorded.
While she had a few technical issues at first once they were sorted the two songs showed another strong, new pop voice on the scene and left me looking forward to hearing her upcoming debut album.
A more familiar face followed in Rachel Dawson joined here for a couple of songs by Casey-Joe.
While she played a couple of covers the highlights of her set were her own songs which are really developing and went down well in the new very busy cafe.
The busy-ness of the cafe was to mark the next couple of performances as they both seemed to have trouble cutting across the noise but, for those of us nearer the front and wanting to listen, there was a lot to like.
Sophie Duncan played a set of fun, folky pop highlighted by a song about a friend of hers who moved to Hollywood and a couple of fun songs, one about former chief minister Gavin St Pier and another about experiences with ‘dating’ app Tinder.
While Mickey Haimes also had trouble cutting through the hubbub, his performance seemed more confident than ever leading to the best performance I’ve seen him give to date with Sunlight’s Exposure becoming a favourite track among his original material.
Monica Dekker’s name is one I have seen about for a while at acoustic shows and open mics but this was my first time hearing her play and from the off I was blown away.
With a real power, energy and confidence she delivered a great acoustic pop set with a voice that, I have to admit, I didn’t expect based on her appearance (I know I shouldn’t assume these things but it happens) and as she played you could see she really felt the song and transmitted that to the crowd who were once again hooked leading to my highlight of the night.
The night was rounded off by Stuart Darkin who, after a little trouble with an effects pedal, settled into another great set.
Combining the acoustic template laid down by the likes of Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (and continued by Ed Sheeran) with a hefty dose of a British indie sensibility he played with a real authenticity highlighted by Swings And Roundabouts and Jig In The Gutter and he closed off the first night of the festival on a strong point.
The second day of the festival dawned with everyone ready for twelve more hours of music starting in the cafe and then moving to the main hall at St James, but this is when that sense of irony struck as a new lockdown in Guernsey was announced seemingly cancelling the event.
However, shortly afterwards the organisers announced a reduced a rejigged online version of the festival combined with a couple of other hastily organised events to make for an evening of local entertainment including four live music acts, a quiz and then the return of Stretchy’s Damaged Disco as the island seemed to settle back into a lockdown mindset faster than I think anyone thought possible.
Daniel Hollingsworth started things off and seemed to struggle both technically and with his guitar, which it later transpired, only had five strings.
While I’m sure his playing was fine at his end of things it really didn’t transmit well leaving his dedication and effort admirable but the performance a disjointed struggle.
Things got slightly more on track with Ramblin’ Nick Mann who played his defiantly lo-fi style of DIY blues through the most technological medium possible.
Across his set the Ramblin’ one played a lot of new material I don’t remember hearing before and it all felt perfectly suited to the occasion, especially a ‘lockdown song’ written during the last lockdown in the island, before wrapping up with old favourite The Pink Cottage Blues.
Next on the stream was Elliot Albert Orchard who sounded great despite a few network issues (seemingly on my side) that made it a bit stop start.
With the performance comprising just Elliot, his guitars and a microphone it had a raw quality that actually served to show off how well the songs stand up when stripped of most of the extras you get in a regular performance.
New single Flowers was one of a few highlights showing how Orchard continues to develop his writing from his debut EP in this guise, while Don’t Lend Your Heart made for a great big finale before he came back for an encore culminating in Don’t Wanna Be Here Alone.
And finally for the live music section of things came the main organiser herself Kiya Ashton.
With a super DIY feel that looked like she was simply playing to her phone, it had a genuinely warm and intimate feel.
This was only backed up by her chat between songs and the arrival half way through of a cat to join the show and it genuinely felt like being in her living room with her.
Of course that’s all well and good but without the music I’m not sure it would make a full performance but as ever she delivered a fine performance, slightly hampered by a sore throat (for which she’d already been tested and cleared, she pointed out) she reworked her set list on the fly and, really, if she hadn’t pointed it out it wouldn’t have been noticeable and, rather like Elliot’s set, the purely acoustic performance showed off how well her songs work stripped of all extra accoutrements.
After the music the Lets Get Quizzical team (aka Brett and Christine) staged an online quiz that they began during the first lockdown before it went live twice at St James and it was a great fun way to spend the evening before Stretchy’s Damaged Disco took us into the late night with a surreal mix of mashups, ‘adverts’ and twisted reworking of children’s TV themes as only it can.
While the event as a whole may not have taken place as originally planned, it is credit to the organisers and performers for working with the situation and making it still go ahead in some form and, I think, goes to show how well everyone seemed to come together to follow the advice and guidance of the local government even when it was so sudden and unexpected – let’s hope it’s not too long before things can happen in person again.