Global Collection: Robert J. Hunter and Ash Jarman – St James, Guernsey – 25/02/23

Robert J. Hunter - St James - poster

St James’ Global Collection series continued on Saturday 25th February 2023 by bringing a familiar face back home with his full band for the first time in four years in the form of Alderney’s Robert J. Hunter with support coming from Sark based troubadour Ash Jarman.

Following successful solo outings at the Guernsey Gigs Unplugged Club and last November’s Nocturne event, this was certainly Ash’s biggest solo show to date and taking to the stage in front of an attentive audience in the already very busy hall at St James would be daunting for anyone.

Ash Jarman - St James
Ash Jarman

Ash though, with his trademark relaxed confidence, seemed to not be bothered by this particularly as, just equipped with a vintage semi-acoustic guitar, he played through a surprisingly varied set of songs spanning sounds ranging from falsetto yodelling to soulful, if slightly off kilter, ballads.

Once again his songs and performance had the audience hooked quickly and listening intently and several of his songs had the feel of being ready to have a backing band added and becoming something really special.

Particularly impressive was how Ash never felt like he was trying to do anything too complex but in this put on a set far more engaging than many solo guitarists who try things more apparently and obviously varied, showing how important songs and atmosphere can be as every song here was received with applause and, in many cases, cheers, and it was clear the night’s headliners were suitably impressed as well.

Robert J. Hunter - St James
Robert J. Hunter

When you’ve been following an artist for a long time, and I’m not sure it’s possible to follow an artist longer than I have Robert J. Hunter as I first heard of him when he was a teenager in Alderney playing in a couple of local bands and recording his own demos at home, it can be easy to underestimate them and I suspect, despite all evidence (including an astonishing solo outing in this very venue back in early 2021) and the fact I was very much looking forward to this show, this is something I was somewhat doing here.

As soon as his band (completed by long time drummer Greg Sheffield, Eddy Smith on keys and relative newcomer Joel Mayes on bass) took to the stage, all dressed simply in black and with next to no extra adornment than what was absolutely necessary in terms of instruments or stage dressing, and launched into Loving Unfortunately, I was knocked out of this thought as the tightness of performance, energy and quality of songs was evident right away.

Robert J. Hunter - St James
Robert J. Hunter

Compared to when I last saw them the band had a rather different energy, no doubt brought about by more time working together and gigging as well as the continued development of Rob’s songwriting, and it almost felt like seeing a new band, but one I was already familiar with at the same time.

As the set went on Rob’s natural stage presence really shone, having grown even more and, while never overwhelming the music or his bandmates, came with a level of energy and freshness that was hugely impressive.

Meanwhile the rest of the band all had their moments to shine with all four clearly playing off one another seamlessly and having a great time doing it, while finding some terrific vocal harmonies too.

Robert J. Hunter - St James
Robert J. Hunter

Across the set they spanned everything from blues to rock ‘n’ roll to classic r ‘n’ b to elements of country, and all with a strong dose of Americana, with Eddy in particular having some terrific moments of rock ‘n’ roll piano.

It was hard to pick highlights as there really wasn’t a down moment but an early one came with Preacher, apparently pulled out of the archives due to a specific request tonight, but also Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere with its call and response chorus, a cover of The Band’s I Shall Be Released, Easy Street and Suitcase Blues, but throughout every song was of such high quality that it felt like a greatest hits set and it was clear the live arrangements took some already great songs and elevated them further.

As the set ended with Torn Down, after a few were drawn onto their feet to dance for the last few numbers, the band were soon called back for an encore of Good People that closed the night on another highlight and left me thinking that, when Robert J. Hunter first moved away to pursue music, despite already then being a quality writer and performer, I don’t think many would have predicted him growing into what he has, that being one of the premier musical exports the islands have ever produced, and it feels like he and his band are still growing and getting better and I hope it’s not so long until we see them over here again and, by rights, they become well known far beyond our shores as well.

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