A year ago, as I looked back at music around the islands in 2020, I said something along the lines of ‘here’s to things returning to normal in 2021’, and, while that hasn’t been quite as true a prediction as I think we’d all hoped, it’s fair today at that, for new Music at least, the last twelve months have been a fairly impressive one across the Channel Islands.
As with the last few years, while my gig going has been primarily (or in fact this year exclusively) Guernsey based, I will be touching on things from around all the islands and with that in mind I’ve covered more that 35 live music events and close to 50 new recorded releases this year which, if not more than ever, certainly feels like it.
The year started on a positive note, albeit with a feeling of change for music in Guernsey with two long standing highlights of the scene apparently either calling it a day completely or significantly reducing their output in The Recks and Buffalo Huddleston, but with plenty of others vying to take their place.
In terms of live music things started off hot with L’Islet Records taking over The Vault for the first of many events they staged throughout the year for a show dubbed Metal, Metal, Metal teaming newcomers Apothis, who only continued to stake their claim as the band to watch on the heavy side of things as the year went on, with relative veterans Granite Wolf.
This was followed a week later by a rather different event at St James as Robert J. Hunter, Hollie Thorne (then still going by Hollie Lucia) and Lula & Gene, ushered in the new year for the concert hall with a show that provided the years first real stand out moment.
While Lula & Gene have continued to grow and Hollie’s outings this year have all been impressive, Rob delivered one of, if not the, best sets of 2021 in Guernsey owning the stage for nearly an hour and a half and receiving several standing ovations to cap off his UK lockdown avoiding visit back to the islands in grand style.
The year started strong for records too with two bands with already formidable reputations continuing to build on them.
First pop punkers Burning At Both Ends dropped their third album, Self Made Paradise, to much discussion as they changed sound slightly but it’s gone on to seemingly reinvigorate the band.
Then Coastal Fire Dept continued where they left off in 2020 with first album proper Connected that rather set the tone for the impressive year they’ve had since.
January then looked set to end with the first ‘in person’ edition of the Channel Islands Upload Festival which was due to take over St James for the last weekend or the month however, after a successful but more low key night in the venues Cafe on the Friday Guernsey was plunged back into a sudden lockdown.
This meant the second day was cancelled and live music across the board was put on ice once again with the whole live events calendar thrown into disarray for the second year in a row (though once again I’m exceptionally grateful of the position Guernsey has had over the last two years with far more able to go ahead than almost anywhere else, even if the way of things has changed as the year wore on).
This lockdown had a rather different tone to the previous one with less exuberance around live streaming than before (though that did still happen) starting with some performances as part of the Upload Festival moving back online, but with them it was good to have the likes of Stretchy’s Damaged Disco, Lets Get Quizzical and the revived Guernsey Gigs Podcast to keep things going during those couple of months.
While live music was on hold that didn’t stop the recorded stuff from still coming somewhat ironically starting with Jersey trio Hot Juice’s single Second Wave.
It was around the same time I got my first taste of Rhumba Club with (I’m Gonna Construct) An Image, but more from him later, before a Valentine’s Day single from Alfie Butel and then the long awaited album from Gregory Harrison, 109, that collected some of his longstanding songs for the first time and was recorded almost as live, really capturing his performance excellently and marked an early highpoint for records across the year.
Mike Meinke was also busy with new releases, first with a single from his solo project, Lazy Day, and a topical one from Buffalo Huddleston, Bubble, while Elliot Albert Orchard started off a big year for him and his band (later dubbed The Pips) with single Flowers.
With lockdown continuing in Guernsey in March we got a surprise new single from Robyn Sherwell, To Give Up, and any new music from her is always appreciated as well as the debut single from Jersey singer songwriter Axon Bower, These New Streets.
Lockdown lifted as April began and so we were back to live shows starting where things left off with the second day of the Upload Festival in the main hall at St James, showcasing some lesser seen artists along with some more well known ones.
This was followed by another show at St James showcasing new talent with Bloomfield, Sarnia, Black Paint Is Wet and Aktung representing some of the islands younger bands.
The records didn’t stop though as we got a taste of and upcoming album from A Band Of Squirrel’s with single Down, the debut single from Charlie Sherbourne’s Man Feelings, another from Axon Bower, an unplugged set from Burning At Both Ends showing a different side to their album earlier in the year, a surprise EP from Bright Orange Spectcle (release following the band’s split last year) and, to round off the month the long awaited debut album from Clameur De Haro that was accompanied by a typically raucous and fun live show.
The Clams album launch was quickly followed (the following day in fact) by the celebration of the release of the self-titled debut by From Darkness with both gig and record and continuing a trend begun last year of the resurgence of the islands heavier music scene.
May continued with Charlie Sherbourne And The Man Feelings celebrating the release of their debut single with a great night at St James supported by The Mike Meinke Band that kicked off the two acts summer of regularly appearing on the same line ups with plenty of fun back and forth between the bands taking place throughout the season.
During the month I also had the chance to catch the excellently named Foxy Stoat Seeks Pig at The Vault for a great night of 90s alt rock and Bottom quotes while Black Paint Is Wet headlined a show at the same venue where Bloomfield opened but continued to stake their claim as one of the more exciting new bands on the scene.
Bloomfield also dropped their debut single, Clay, during the month to much acclaim, while DanTurian release his debut EP as well and Jersey’s La Montais did the same with, Zillenial, bringing some great pop electronica to the islands.
June saw the summer season kick off in earnest but just before that The Nightmares unleashed their debut single, The Rudeboy, with a special show at The Doghouse that in many ways felt like a bit of a change for the scene with four acts who turned out to be standouts as the year went on with, as well as the headliners, Eloise Fabbri, The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disaster and Its Own Animal, providing support.
This was quickly followed by Arts Sunday which again featured a BBC Music Introducing stage, along with a lot of other arts and music, showcasing a variety of acts including Monica Dekker, Elliot Albert Orchard, Eloise Fabbri, Yas and Charlie Sherbourne’s Man Feelings.
L’Islet Records continued their run of great of events (that carried on all year) with an acoustic night at The Vault showcasing some new performers and lesser seen sides of familiar faces including Monica Dekker, Casey-Joe Rumens and Mike Meinke in solo mode.
After a year off June ended with the return of Chaos, albeit in two day form rather than the usual three days, but they still managed to cram in as much as ever it seemed like and the atmosphere and spirit was high across the weekend.
Highlights of the weekend came with newcomers (at least in this line up) Sick Militia, Granite Wolf, Byzanthian Neckbeard and Brunt when it came to the heavy stuff while The Honest Crooks, Eloise Fabbri and Elliot Albert Orchard (who debuted his new backing band, The Pips, here) provided some of the more chilled out stand out moments.
The release of new recorded music didn’t slow down either as the gigs got back up to full speed with Grace & Elliott dropping their stand out live track Beauty Queen, the aforementioned mod-punk banger from The Nightmares, The Rudeboy, a conspiracy theorist baiting number from Mike Meinke and his band, Secret Information, that included a great video and the latest from Coastal Fire Dept, Gun, that also featured Granite Wolf’s Tom ‘Shinfo’ Domaille, adding some extra viciousness to the vocals.
June also marked the release of A Long Wait For Nothing, the debut EP from Bloomfield, that showed the new band not only marking their ground as the new band to watch once more but also showing what else they might offer going forward.
As we headed into July Sark was clearly the place to be as, following the inaugural Mermfest back in May, SarkFest returned to the island in its full form followed a few weeks later by a new festival, the Fete Des Betes, all of which showcased a range of music from the the islands to different audiences with more and bigger things promised from all in 2022 should prevailing conditions allow.
Slightly closer to home, by about 45 minutes of coastal water, a weekend of live music at The Vault continued to highlight some of the heavier and more alternative sounds on offer with Gentle Suburban Boys and Granite Wolf providing the metal while the more alt side was catered for by Bloomfield and Coastal Fire Dept.
This was followed later in the month by the first visiting act to return to The Vault since one thing an another began as Jersey pop metallers FlashMob visited for a fun night alongside new, Guernsey based, AC/DC tribute Back In Vraic who quickly built a reputation for their renditions of the likes of Highway To Hell, Back In Black, Whole Lotta Rosie, et al.
Then things got really heavy again at the St Peter Port venue (that I think it’s fair to say became the place for new live music this year more than ever) as Apothis led a charge of the heaviest end of metal along with Of Abscess And Amputation, playing their first show with new bassist Vivi Sjóvættir.
Back outside in the summer festival sun Castle Nights returned to Castle Cornet with The Space Pirates Of Rocquaine, Lula & Gene and Camille Brouard amongst the many acts showcased over the four weeks of the event.
Elsewhere The Rocquaine Regatta returned to its usual place at the end of July with the Vale Earth Fair once again providing live music including newcomers The Erberts, who I’m very much looking to hearing more from, along with the return to the Guernsey stage (they did appear in Sark a few weeks prior) of Track Not Found for a special one off outing that was electrifying.
July was also a bit of a bumper month for new records with A Band Of Squirrels following their debut single with a self titled album through Magic Moustache Records, that also came on a limited edition cassette and sounded unlike almost anything else coming out this year (in the best of ways), while a Robert J Hunter’s crowd funding campaign reached fruition with the release of Nothing But Rust that saw the Alderney bluesman and his band up their game to a new level (with a vinyl edition that followed later in the year).
Along with that there were releases from Jersey highlighted by a new single from Dribbler beginning the journey to the release of their debut album later in the year, further singles from Rich Allo and a debut one from Phoebe Over as well as a vinyl EP from Cambridge based duo Collars who feature a Jersey person among them.
After a month of shows at The Vault in July, things seemed to move in August up the hill to the cafe at St James for a pair of rather different events.
First was the launch of the debut album from solo singer songwriter Dan Ashplant, titled No Nonsense. Having released a debut single a couple of years ago and then going quiet this release felt like it came from nowhere but his launch show, where he played and sang along to self recorded backing for an entire rendition of the album, with support from Elliot Albert Orchard and Mimi Helyar, was highly impressive in a rather unique way.
This was followed by a show co-promoted by Sacred Works and NexT Events acting as an intimate showcase for three acts two of whom we certainly get to see less but for all three it provided a slightly different view of their performances with Hollie Thorne, Blue Mountains and Kiya Ashton making a for low key highlight of the summer.
August also saw a visit to the island from filmmaker, DJ, musician and more Don Letts, including a talk from him in St James Cafe about his new autobiography, There And Black Again, that was as fascinating as you’d expect from a man who got his start being credited for introducing the London punk scene to reggae.
Elsewhere L’Islet Records staged a show at The Fermain Tavern, an increasingly rarely used venue sadly, that despite being dubbed Let’s Get Heavy and being headlined by Granite Wolf, was a fairly varied evening with Coastal Fire Dept, Elliot Albert Orchard and The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disaster, the latest project from Mark Le Gallez combining all his last musical interests in one chaotic package.
After something of a delay for a few reasons Jersey rockers HOWL also released their debut single, Beneath The Surface, whetting my appetite certainly for more to come and hoping I can see the band live soon.
Of course the big event of August was the Vale Earth Fair which spanned a whole weekend this year with warm up gigs, the main festival and wind downs included.
After last year’s all local event three acts visited for the 2021 edition but it was, in most cases the bands from the island who shone. Highlight sets came from Eloise Fabbri, a returning Bensons, visitors Ruts DC, Lifejacket, Apothis, Elliot Albert Orchard and Jersey grunge punks Dribbler, though the event as a while maintained something of the special atmosphere of 2020.
After the summer September often gets a bit quieter but this year that wasn’t the case as only a few day after the Vale Earth Fair, the School Of Popular Music presented their second Corporate Battle Of The Bands for which I was once again a judge. The event was again great fun but it was young band Sonic Bomb, who’d won the under-18s battle the previous night, who really left an impression, coinciding with the release of Family Tree, their debut single.
The Nightmares then teamed up with The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disaster once again for a back to basics show at the De La Rue which showed just how good a hot and sweaty pub gig can be.
The open mic night at the Cock And Bull then underwent a bit of a revamp with the first of the new instalment curated, in part, by Elliot Albert Orchard, with his band, now dubbed the Pips, and a few related acts along with some general open mic time too.
There was then more from L’Islet Records with two nights over one weekend at The Vault showcasing two sides of Coastal Fire Dept as they marked the release of their What Do I EP, first in acoustic mode along with Clameur De Haro and then fully electrified with support from The Crowman (in what may have been his last gig in this mode).
Along with all that Eloise Fabbri released new single Hazy Skies, Jersey trio Tarantulips returned with Run Away through Bubblebrain Records and Skinny Lister guitarist Sam Braced released a debut single, Panic, co-written by Guernsey resident Adam Tarry (hence its inclusion here).
October began with a somewhat bittersweet event as Mark Le Gallez and his Crowband and members of The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disaster took over the Cock And Bull Open Mic night as something of a last hurrah for the sometimes The Risk, Thee Jenerators, Sacred Hearts et al frontman before he moved off island.
L’Islet Records were then at The Vault again for an evening dubbed Superchilled that was a low key highlight thanks to sets from Kiya Ashton, Albert & The Pips and Squirrel and Joe which drew on some classic 70s rock covers as well as some of Squirrels own material which we rarely get to hear live.
After a year away from full gigs the team behind Afrocaribbeanfusion we’re back at The Fermain Tavern with a varied night of music with MC Minister Blessed leading the charge along with Yas and Burning At Both Ends, that hinged at some of the extra variety of music being made in Guernsey that we many don’t get to hear as much.
For Halloween it was back to The Vault once more as they put in a packed weekend to celebrate starting with a great fun night with Maiden Guernsey before newcomers Spectre put in a terrific Ghost tribute and Nu-Kidz On The Blocq took us back to the much maligned but undeniably nostalgic era of Nu-metal, all complete with suitable costumes.
As well as those I was also lucky to be involved in the recording of a special live session from Eloise Fabbri for this years BBC Music Introducing Live event, which once again took place virtually with performances featured from around the UK including this one recorded at St James with Eloise playing the concert hall’s Steinway & Sons grand piano.
As well as all that on the live front Granite Wolf released their long awaited debut single Death Calls Us Home that teed up the release of debut album that has been delayed by one thing and another but is much anticipated when it does drop in the new year.
The Nightmares also released their second single of the year, the more mellow in tone Jalapeño, while Sonic Bomb dropped their second single No Longer and Kiya Ashton had her take on Guernsey anthem Sarnia Cherie released as part of the soundtrack to locally produced short film, Occupied.
After a few years off some of the team responsible for the Sark Folk Festival, under the banner of that events parent organisation Bailiwick Folk And Roots LBG, staged their first event as local trio The Basement Preachers supported visiting duo, and somewhat British folk royalty, Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman who put on a stand out performance of the year to an intimate crowd.
From delicate folk things couldn’t have been much more different as new (to Guernsey) promoters Hopepunk records staged their first show on the island at The Mariners.
Billed as including a visiting headliner that actually transpired to be Coastal Fire Dept who were playing a secret show to warm up for their first gig in the UK the following weekend, it also featured a slightly new look Bloomfield along with Burning At Both Ends, all of whom put on great performers for the smaller crowd that showed a more relaxed bit no less enjoyable side.
After several delays Lifejacket then made their return to The Vault for a show that demonstrated their continued power while also showing Lula & Gene’s development into a band who can certainly be listed as ‘ones to watch’ as we head into the new year, particularly thanks to a cover of Wet Leg’s Wet Dream that went down a storm.
Throughout the month Charlie Sherbourne’s Man Feelimgs dropped two new single through YouTube, Lay Down My Soul and Wild Winds Blow before Jersey born and now London based Rhumab Club released a real highlight record of the year, Welcome To The Rhumba Club, that fully realised his long hinted at queer alt pop disco in scintillating fashion.
For a couple of reasons my exposure to new music in December was somewhat curtailed, not least due to a sudden rise in COVID leading to some events being postponed or cancelled but there were still a few things of note.
The month began with the delayed album release celebration from Its Own Animal who delivered a performance like few others armed with a guitar and three synths of different sorts to create his music is fascinating and engaging fashion. He was supported on the night by Kiya Ashton and her new backing band, the Folkadelics, which saw Kiya music elevated to a new high and left me wanting to see more as soon as possible.
Later in the month L’Islet Records welcomed their first visiting band to the island, Honeycub, for a show along side Terrible Stuntman that unfortunately I wasn’t able to get to and what with one thing and other finished my year of live music a few weeks earlier than expected.
Over in Jersey Dribbler staged a show to launch their debut album Biglife! which rounded off a great year for the band and felt like it set them up for big things to come going forward.
And just to round things off, in the final two weeks of the year Buffalo Huddleston dropped the surprise new single Mr. Cloud (a long time live favourite that’s it great to finally see recorded) and Mike Meinke and his band released the Mapacho EP.
So that’s 2021, another strange year in some ways but with a bit more normality than 2020 and with a lot of new music coming out of the Channel Islands (and this represents just the fraction I got to).
With that in mind I’ve done my usual ‘awards’ thing to take with something of a pinch of salt but is all bands and artist I’d strongly recommend checking out if you haven’t already.
- Band of the Year – Eloise Fabbri/Albert And The Pips (Elliot Albert Orchard)
- Event of the Year – Vale Earth Fair Weekend / Chaos
- Expanding Horizons – Coastal Fire Dept
- New Band of the Year – Bloomfield / Sick Militia
- Set of the Year – Robert J Hunter – St James
- Record of the Year:
- Guernsey: A Band Of Squirrels – Self-titled/Gregory Harrison – 109
- Jersey: Dribbler- Biglife!/Rhumba Club – Welcome To The Rhumba Club
- Visiting Act of the Year – Ruts DC/Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman
And to round it all off here’s a playlist of as much of the music I’ve talk about above that I could find on Spotify (you can go to it direct on Spotify by clicking here too)…