Tag Archives: acoustic music

Hattie Briggs, Buff Hudd and Gregory Harrison (and a little Pirating at the Castle) – The Fermain Tavern – 14/07/17

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine at Castle Cornet

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine at Castle Cornet

Every summer Castle Cornet, the medieval castle that stands at the entrance of Guernsey’s harbour, is thrown open on Friday evenings for the Castle Nights events featuring a selection of live music in different areas of the fortification. Before heading up to The Fermain Tavern this evening, I went to the castle to catch The Space Pirates of Rocquaine.

Its been a while since I’ve seen The Space Pirates and they’ve had a bit of a shake up in that time with fiddle player Jess Nash moving into a more part-time capacity (though she did sing a couple of songs tonight) and Nick Dodd joining to add some subtle electric guitar to the mix. Despite this, the general feel of the band’s high energy, fun, rock infused folk remains unchanged and was on fine display.

While the older more well-known songs had a large number of the audience singing along and were the backbone of the set three new songs were included. While the first got a bit lost thanks to sounding like it would need a big sound with lots of harmonies and the likes to be totally effective, the other two continue the band’s style perfectly.

Nick Dodd and Tim Corbett of The Space Pirates of Rocquaine at Castle Cornet

Nick Dodd and Tim Corbett

One, written by mandolin and guitar player Tim Corbett brought a slight country and indie tone while Guppy’s, SS Briseis, was a rabble rousing drinking song, suitable given its subject famously sank with a load of Algerian wine off the island’s coast.

Despite the line up change the band, if anything, felt more focussed and tighter than some past performances and Nick’s guitar added a nice country twang and a slightly different dynamic in places. A few technical issues didn’t seem to faze them and they left the crowd, packed into the castle’s middle ward, calling for more.

You can see a few more of my photos of their set here

After their set I made a swift move up to The Fermain Tavern where a new visitor to the island was playing, alongside a couple of more familiar faces.

Gregory Harrison

Gregory Harrison

Gregory Harrison started the night off in solo mode, without either longtime bass player Nathan or recently added drummer Peter. This provided an interesting contrast to his more recent outings and shone more of a light on his guitar playing and his deeply lovelorn lyrics.

While his performances used to sometimes feel a little mannered it seems his time back in a full band (now he’s in The Recks) has made him more relaxed on stage, giving a new honesty and openness to his songs adding a real passion to his performance along with his deep and rich vocals.

Also flying totally solo tonight was Buffalo Huddleston frontman Buff Hudd. With that in mind he had chosen to expand his sound with a stomp box at one foot and tambourine at the other, along with his didgeridoo and guitar.

Buff Hudd

Buff Hudd

With the audience more focussed and quiet than at many of his gigs (this couldn’t be much more different from his recent outing in The Peace Tent for example) he chose to add an even more intricate side to his playing, or maybe it just came across as more, really showing off his unique skills.

I Don’t Care What You Think About Me added a nice light-hearted touch mid set while Mono-Limb-Tastic did its usual job of wowing the crowd with its ‘one-handed’ style making for a stand out performance for Buff Hudd.

While she had never visited the island before and, as such only drew a small audience, it was clear that Hattie Briggs came highly recommended as a number arriving commented that friends and family in the UK had sung her praises to them.

As soon as she began her performance (backed for a majority of the set by Gregory Harrison on guitar and violin) it was clear why.

Hattie’s songs have a slightly melancholy feel spanning the area between pop, folk and the singer-songwriter movement, with tales of lost love and love never found, amongst other subjects.

Hattie Briggs

Hattie Briggs

What really stood out though was her voice. While there are many good female voices of a similar style doing the rounds something about Briggs went beyond that, leading to more than one to comment that, if we hadn’t known better, she could have almost sounded like a very well record CD. This captivated the audience in a way rarely seen at the Tav, bringing almost all to a focussed silence.

While, for me, it did get a little musically same-y as the set went on that is a personal taste criticism and I seemed to be alone in this feeling.

A couple of well-chosen versions of songs previously done by Eva Cassidy later in the set brought the performance to a rousing close before the audience called Briggs back (in a slightly subdued way) for a final rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that had most of the room singing along and ended the night on a definite high and I would hope if Hattie makes a return to the island more venture out to hear her as I know a large number of people would enjoy her music and missed out.

You can see my photos of the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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Acoustic Night with Blue Mountains, Mick Le Huray, Richey Powers and Llewellyn Van Eeden – The Fermain Tavern – 08/04/17

Richey Powers

Richey Powers

After a jam night and an international Folk Americana night, Guernsey Gigs continued their run of shows at The Fermain Tavern by inviting four acoustic acts on to the stage. Spanning veterans of the scene to new performers the night featured a mix of sounds, once again in a relaxed ‘club’ style setting.

First up was Llewellyn Van Eeden. Having played open mic nights and a few smaller gigs including a set on the busking stage at last year’s Vale Earth Fair, this was only my second chance to catch him play and, for the most part, it was an enjoyable performance.

With a blues feel to the majority of his set, Van Eeden added a nice abrasive edge that didn’t feel forced to a fairly standard sound.

Llewellyn Van Eeden

Llewellyn Van Eeden

Adding a harmonica to a few songs rounded it off, albeit in still standard way, and, combined with a relatively easy-going nature on stage, made for a nice way to start the night.

Later in the set we were treated to a folkier song in Afrikaans before the set closed on a pair of what can only be described as ‘pirate folk’ that, while a little novelty, were good fun and went down very well with the audience.

While better known as frontman of psychedelic folk beast The Recks, Richey Powers had the opportunity to show a slightly different side of himself going solo. For the most part it was what you’d expect with folk sounds from various traditions rubbing shoulders with something of an American indie rock sensibility.

Richey Powers

Richey Powers

Much like with The Recks, Richey’s songs were often long, and in a solo setting a little over long on a couple of occasions, but generally were engrossing rides that drew the audience in.

The solo setting also gave us the chance to hear the more intricate side of Richey’s playing that often gets lost in the multilayered sound of The Recks.

With Frugal Heart providing a nice highlight the set then ended with a more intense stomping blues-y song that, if nothing else, proved a good pair of Cuban heels can work just as effectively as an amplified stomp box.

Mick Le Huray is a longstanding member of Guernsey’s music and folk scene and has been a fixture of the Sark Folk Festival since its inception and many events before. With his first solo album recorded and released in the last year he has found something of a new lease of life and that was evident here.

Mick Le Huray and Andrew Degnen

Mick Le Huray and Andrew Degnen

Accompanied by Andrew Degnen on fiddle, Mick played a set strong with the feel of the 1960s folk revival delivered with a real sense of feeling and humility. Andrew’s violin expanded the sound nicely but didn’t help the set dragging a little in the middle for me when it went a little too traditional folk for my tastes.

A song with Guernsey French lyrics and a more upbeat closer brought Mick’s set to an end on a high point though and made a nice contrast to the two younger solo performers that came before.

In trio mode tonight Blue Mountains delivered a set made up of many songs, but all continued their journey into a melancholy side of dark Americana.

Colleen Irven and Mike Bonsall of Blue Mountains

Colleen Irven and Mike Bonsall of Blue Mountains

With Andrew Degnen’s fiddle and a few tracks where Mike Bonsall swapped from guitar to banjo, Blue Mountains new songs expanded their range of sounds but it was the harmonies and style that remained at the heart of their songs.

A real highlight of the new songs came with Hummingbird, while We Come & Go shifted things into slightly more upbeat territory towards the end of the set, it was just a shame the audience had drifted away somewhat by this stage of the night.

Rounding the night off on a great vocal harmony moment to close their take on Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Girl, Blue Mountains concluded things on a high point and, as this gig was clearly promoted as the first in a series, I hope to see more music of this quality in this relaxed setting going forward.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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Sark Folk Festival 2014 – 4, 5, 6th July 2014

The sun shone on Friday afternoon

The sun shone on Friday afternoon

The fifth annual Sark Folk Festival took place over the weekend of 4th, 5th and 6th July 2014 and, as with previous years it acted as a great way to discover new music while also seeing some show stealing performances from some of my local favourites.

As has become traditional things really got going the night before the festival as many festival goers, volunteers and organisers descended on The Bel Air Tavern for a big session with music (and the astonishingly priced drinks) flowing freely around both the inside bar and the outside patio and garden.

Whether you’re a player or not this open session is hugely enjoyable and something unique, in my experience, to Sark Folk Festival as everyone comes together to celebrate music on any instrument that comes to hand, I even had a quick go on a banjo!

Day One

Tim Bishop

Tim Bishop

As ever Sark Folk Festival gets going at a leisurely pace with the site opening just after lunchtime on the first day, giving people more time to get their boat over and camping pitch sorted without missing any of the acts.

First up on the Alligande Stage (the festival’s largest) was Tim Bishop. In a slot usually reserved for the some of the elder-statesmen of Guernsey’s folk scene, Tim is a relative newcomer, but it was clear why he was chosen to play this one this year.

Since I last saw Tim perform he has grown in confidence on stage and has taken on something of a very tame Neil Young in the style of his vocals (in Young’s folkier moments, at least). Tim set the scene for much of what was to come across the weekend and seemed to go down well with those who had made their way to the site for opening time.

As with every festival its impossible to see every act, and in particularly with Sark’s two double stages the music and performance was literally non-stop all weekend, so the next act I caught was Megson on the Vermerette Stage.

Megson

Megson

With their Teeside accents being the first regional UK accents of the weekend their heartfelt story songs gained an extra meaning as their low-key but evocative performance transported me into the stories and the meanings of them in the way that folk music really seems to have a particular knack of doing.

The first full-scale band of the weekend were The Will Pound Band who played a selection of jigs and reels and the like (if I’ve got my terminology correct) which with a later slot could easily have had people up and dancing.

As it was they played to a busy, but relaxed, tent of festivalgoers who certainly appreciated their youthful take on a traditional folk sound.

The first local band of the weekend came in the form of The Space Pirates of Rocquaine. With a reputation for impressive performances here in the past they had a lot to live up to and didn’t disappoint.

The Space Pirates Of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates Of Rocquaine

With new songs along with the old classics they had the tent full, and I don’t think that was because of the rain that had begun to fall, going by the audience reaction.

While the arguably bigger names, and certainly the bigger scale bands, were featured on the Alligande and Vermerette Stages, one thing that has always made Sark Folk Festival the special festival it is are the more intimate performances on the Tintageu and Les Burons Stages in the festival site’s lower field.

A venue with, usually, one of the best views from any festival site over Breqhou, Jethou, Herm and Guernsey – though by the time Burg took to the stage much of this was obscured by rain and fog.

Burg

Burg

Now a visiting artist to our islands, Burg made his name in Guernsey and his large following filled the Tintageu Stage for his first public performance in the islands in quite some time.

His set tonight was a mix of earnest but largely uplifting songs of life and the road and a few more lighthearted drinking songs that fitted the mood of the festival perfectly, and with a song dedicated to the “Shh-ers” of festivals past (who I assume were watching Martin Carthy) and the announcement of a new EP on the horizon, his twanging guitar and sweet Americana vocals went down a storm.

With excellent vocal harmonies at their centre The Ryan O’Reilly Band, a three-piece of guitar, Dobro and drums, came across like a street band who’d made the transition to the stage without loosing any of the immediacy they’d have needed as buskers.

The Ryan O'Reilly Band

The Ryan O’Reilly Band

They were my first new discovery of the weekend that really struck a chord with their country-ish folk that had a swaying positivity to it, despite some of the subject matter and they presented a modern folk vibe with songs of London’s streets today.

Having largely missed her solo performance here a couple of years ago I was excited to see Lucy Ward tonight, especially with a full band in tow.

Lucy presented a set of folk as a kind of cheeky cabaret with nods and winks aplenty, hinting at the often-overlooked side of the double meanings in many folk songs, and Lucy herself being a bubbly and exuberant front-woman who clicked with the large audience with ease.

The Lucy Ward Band

The Lucy Ward Band

With some rabble rousing political moments in the mix and a band who were all clearly excellent on each of their instruments, Lucy provided a set that, for me, was a highlight of the first day.

The first night of the festival was rounded off by The Willows, another act making their return to the festival. Despite a few sound issues that rendered the Dobro silent the band played some very good folk music very well it wasn’t until half way through the set that the band picked up the energy of their songs to begin to match the general mood in the tent.

While they played very well, and their was clearly a portion of the audience who really enjoyed The Willows set, for me, and many I spoke to afterwards, it was a little low-key for the end of the night.

Day Two

As the first day of the festival with a damp walk back through dark lanes to the campsite, so the second day began with a damp walk back through the Dixcart valley to the festival site by the Coupee.

First on stage were Stalk The Lantern so, being part of the band, I can’t such much other than we had fun and were grateful for the chance to play and fo all the good feedback we received throughout the day.

Ukuladeez

Ukuladeez

After we came off stage I was able to catch a few songs of Ukuladeez set and, much like at their album launch, they showed how they’ve developed as a band. Backed today by Tantale’s Graham Duerden on drums, they had a bit more power behind their sound and the crowd seemed to be very much enjoying it.

Over on the Tintageu Stage, Haddo were performing and, for a duo, provided a really big sound using stomps to create a rhythm and providing enough music with violin, accordion and voice to give the idea of a much larger sound. With a set of personable folk songs and some excellent clog dancing, they provided one of the hidden gems of the weekend.

Clameur De Haro

Clameur De Haro

Not only were Clameur De Haro making their Sark Folk Festival debut, they were also making their public debut, with a set on the Vermerette Stage.

With some really good fun, upbeat originals songs, along with bluegrass-ish versions of Supernaut, Back In Black and others of their ilk they were a bit of a novelty anomaly, but a very entertaining one that went down a storm. And let’s be honest, any band with a song who’s only lyric is “Leeroy, where’s my horse?” is bound to raise a smile.

While Sark’s own Big Sheep had the tent packed for their set on the Alligande Stage, Guernsey duo Blue Mountains were playing down on Les Burons bringing the audience a selection of traditional songs and more modern numbers all with their own sensibility which went down very well with those sheltering from the fog and rain that was yet to disperse as promised.

Buffalo Huddleston

Buffalo Huddleston

After their set at Chaos 10 the previous weekend that saw them hit an astonishing high I wondered if Buffalo Huddleston could live up to that here. With the tent packed and a real sense of anticipation for them, if anything the six-piece excelled themselves even more here.

With the front half of the largest tent all up and moving from the off this was certainly the best I have seen from Buffalo Huddleston and by far the best reaction I’ve seen them receive, and every clap, whoop and cheer was thoroughly deserved.

Buffalo Huddleston's crowd

Buffalo Huddleston’s crowd

While today may be Becky Hamilton’s last performance with the band, all the members seemed to use that to make the show extra special and provide one of the festival’s major highlights – for the second weekend in a row.

The high energy performances continued next with The Barley Dogs who also playing something of a set of their careers with huge energy to another packed out crowd, despite the face that the weather was starting to make a turn for the better outside.

The Crowman and The Fiddling Pixie have become something of a fixture on the Tintageu Stage and so their was a big crowd at the smaller stage for their set. The duo did their usual thing at Sark Folk Festival of pulling out all the stops and delivering a supremely confident, anarchic and enjoyable set of their, self-described, garage-folk.

The Crowman and the Fiddling Pixie

The Crowman and the Fiddling Pixie

With a broken stomp box the sound crew made the decision to simply put a mic near The Crowman’s foot which added and extra kick to their performance and this got a few dancing and many more clapping along while the Pixie provided something of a stabilising effect to keep The Crowman on the rails as things teetered on the edge of all out chaos.

Jackie Oates was next up on the Alligande Stage and, while she had a truly amazing voice, her performance was a bit too low-key after what had come before, though, as always its nice to hear such talented performers.

Ten Toe Hobo

Ten Toe Hobo

Down on Les Burons Stage things were a bit more upbeat again as Ten Toe Hobo, aka Dave Etherington, made his annual appearance. Backed tonight by Rob Gregson on bass and Sarah Van Vlymen on fiddle this was something of a mini Whose Shoes gig really and as usual it was a great set of songs delivered in one of the most warmly communal atmospheres I experienced all weekend, complete with volunteer Calum teaching a youngster circus tricks as the set rolled on.

While Dave’s voice was a little worse for wear (two weekends at festivals will do that to you, I speak from experience) it really just served to add a bit of extra grit in places and once he warmed up it was certainly not as noticeable and the combination of his songs of busking life combined with the first appearance of the sun in the part of 30 hours really raised the spirits.

Breabach

Breabach

Breabach made their return to the Sark Folk Festival next over on the Vermerette Stage and provided an upbeat and dance-y, yet still traditional sounding, set of tunes for the still packed tent. While they were musically as good as I remember, being stuck near the back of the tent meant I didn’t get to experience the full power of their performance as well as those at the front, but it was still an enjoyable set all the same.

Fay Heild and The Hurricane Party were Saturday’s headliners on the Alligande Stage and despite having a great voice, they had trouble engaging with the crowd, many of whom were, once again, looking for something more upbeat and this caused the crowd to thin considerably as the set went on.

Fay Hield

Fay Hield

It’s a shame when this happens and it’s hard to predict what the crowd will be wanting when the bands are booked and the line up organised, but it seems, for many, myself included, this years headliners were a bit too low-key – though I know others in the crowd liked this element this year as, in their opinion, it made it more a celebration of folk music.

Day Three

The third day of the Sark Folk Festival always starts a little earlier to try to fit as much in as possible before the mid-afternoon finish that allows festivalgoers to get back to the harbour in time for the evening boats, this year it was Jersey’s Kevin Pallot (and a couple of his band The Pinnacles) who had the job of starting the day at 10:30.

Pallot has been playing for a few years with past sets at the Vale Earth Fair and the like and his rich soulful voice and acoustic guitar created a great sound to start the day that was serious but heartfelt and absorbing and he even managed to get something of a singalong going despite the early hour.

Part way through the set he was joined by a couple of his backing band on bass and percussion which lifted the sound somewhat and, with the crowd interaction growing, created another fine communal music moment. A special mention has to go to percussionist Blondie whose use of a Cajon and Djembe really brought both instruments unique sounds to life.

The Recks

The Recks

The relaxed atmosphere was pretty swiftly shattered next as Sark’s own, The Recks, hit the Alligande Stage like they had a point to prove. While their first song was a little slower paced than usual, the second song got the whole tent, which was already packed, on their feet and the energy began to reverberate between the band and the crowd and things were flowing.

The Recks set tonight was tighter and more coherent than their last show I caught and provided a real highlight, not just of the Sunday, but of the whole weekend.

Hard though it was to believe (and I was there) the energy got even higher next as CC Smugglers took to the Vermerette Stage. Combining country and folk sounds with a bit of the spirit of the honkey tonk and skiffle, the six-piece band may have been sweating off a heavy night but it really didn’t show as they had the crowd up and moving from the start and frontman Richie Prynne had them in the palm of his hand for the best part of an hour.

CC Smugglers

CC Smugglers

With the crowd already frantic things got even crazier for CC Smugglers’ encore as they unplugged and headed out into the centre of the tent to round off their set packed in the centre of the crowd and again added to that feeling that we are all part of this festival together that makes it so unique.

The penultimate act of the weekend, as has become something of a tradition, was The Vraic Gatherers and Friends. Essentially comprised of the festival committee and a few others they play a selection of traditional and original songs and tunes in a largely informal, semi-improvisational, fashion the set really acts as a chance for the organisers to let their hair down a bit and thank everyone who put time and effort into making the festival a success, and I have to echo their sentiments here as it remains one of the most well run festivals I’ve ever attended.

The John Wesley Stone

The John Wesley Stone

Following last year’s festival closing set from Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson was never going to be easy but, I think Guernsey country stompers The John Wesley Stone, may well have done it.

While it was all go from the start it didn’t take long for that erstwhile Crowman, Hillbill, to drop his guitar and double bass and head off more into his Lux Interior channeling, Thee Jenerators fronting, rock ‘n’ roll territory heading off into the crowd several times to dance, sing and drink with them, while he spent the rest of the time running and stomping around the stage like this was some kind of long distance race on a very small track.

The rest of the band went with this entirely with Shacks taking the reigns to steer them as much as possible, Jimmy being as energetic as he could while held comparatively in place by his guitar, mandolin or double bass and Tater keeping the beat fast and steady at the back.

English Bob

English Bob

As well as Hillbill’s antics the real highlight of the set for me came in the form of recently recruited fiddle player English Bob (aka Gregory Harrison) who here had some real opportunities to shine and rock the fiddle like I’ve never really seen anyone do and making some excellent noises with it while imbuing the instrument with some real rock ‘n’ roll emotion.

OK, so it may have been about as far from folk as the Sark Folk Festival is ever likely to get, but that didn’t stop the crowd becoming unglued and some of them even joining the band on stage for gang style backing vocals as the volunteers working at the back decided now was chance and got to dancing on the bar.

With an encore or two The John Wesley Stone helped the fifth Sark Folk Festival end on a massive high and their were tears and cheers as another festival came to an end but many were already talking of next years which is set to get going on Friday July 3rd 2015 with tickets going on sale in early November and I for one can’t wait!

You can see my photos from the festival on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page, or by click here for Day One, here for Day Two and here for Day Three.

Guernsey Gigs also put together this video with music by Robert J. Hunter:

Some of my photos were also used in The Guernsey Press on Thursday 1oth July along with Alex Warlow’s review:

Sark Folk Festival cutting - 10/07/14

 

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Sark Folk Festival 2013

Hat Fitz and Cara with some help from Ellie and The Crowman

Hat Fitz and Cara with some help from Ellie and The Crowman

The fourth annual Sark Folk Festival took place on Guernsey’s smaller neighbour between the 5th and 7th July 2013.

The show featured performers from all over the world including Seth Lakeman, Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson and The Ross Ainslie Trio alongside artists from the Channel Islands including The John Wesley Stone, The Space Pirates of Rocquaine and Tonight The Skies and even acts from Sark itself in Big Sheep, The Recks and Peter Gabriel Byrne.

1,400 packed out the island for the weekend, literally leaving no bed unfilled or camping pitch free for this award-winning celebration of folk, roots and acoustic music.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the festival on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my abridged review of it was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 13th July, you can read it in scans below.

For my full review of the Sark Folk Festival, including some videos from Guernsey Gigs, just scroll down below the scans.

Part 1

Part 1

Part 2

Part 2

Full Review

Sark Folk FestivalGoing by some of the other media reports you could be forgiven for thinking the Sark Folk Festival was a celebration of local seafood with some music on the side, well I’m happy to confirm that was far from the case as I let you know about some of the music that was on offer over another amazing weekend in a field on our smaller neighbor island.

This year that particular field was located near the Coupee (the land bridge that joins the main island to Little Sark) and once again gave us some spectacular views back across Brecqhou, Herm, Jethou and Guernsey which were particularly amazing come sunset.

Day One

Roland Scales

Roland Scales

The music started out, as has become tradition, with a Channel Island folk-stalwart, this time in the form of Roland Scales who, armed with a set of bagpipes (more in the Breton style than the Scottish) and an instrument similar to a hurdy-gurdy, but emphatically not, played a selection of truly traditional songs from both the Channel Islands, the UK and Brittany. While this was a bit of a baptism of fire for someone less familiar with true traditional music like myself, it was still fascinating, especially when accompanied by Roland’s commentary on the origins of the songs.

I was back on more familiar ground a little later as Sark’s own The Recks took to the stage and, while they received very good receptions at The Fermain Tavern recently, their ‘hometown’ crowd clearly wanted to show up the Guernsey audience. The band played a great set that had people up and dancing and packed out the Alligande stage (the festival’s largest) for the first, but far from the last, time this weekend.

Jess and Tim of The Space Pirates

Jess and Tim of The Space Pirates

With a new album being released at the festival (the excellently titled Vraic and Ruin), The Space Pirates of Rocquaine were Friday’s ‘local’ headliners. Playing through the whole album and with a good number of extra songs thanks to having their set extended, due to a few technical issues on the other stage, they went down a storm with the audience for the fourth year in a row. The band’s mix of Guernsey and Sark inspired folk tales and great folk-pop songs had people moving and singing along, in particular to Creux Mahie which led to a Freddie Mercury call and response moment from singer and guitarist Rocqchick.

As the evening approached I headed down to the Tent O’Ladeez, a mini-stage curated by Ukuladeez and featuring pure acoustic performances all weekend, and as I arrived Burg was in full flow. His blues and country sounds held his audience rapt in what had a feeling of a story telling session but with an acoustic guitar and some excellent tunes added into the mix, all while relaxing in the evening sun.

As the Alligande stage prepared for the first day’s headliner (and arguably the biggest name of the weekend) there was a real sense of anticipation, but as Seth Lakeman took to the stage and people near the front, myself included, began to stand up, it seemed the good-natured air may be derailed as some began to loudly, and not politely, request that we sit down.

Seth Lakeman and his band

Seth Lakeman and his band

Thankfully this was short-lived and Seth Lakeman judged the mood in the tent as he and his band launched into a set of his more upbeat material and there was plenty of dancing from the off. While I am not hugely familiar with Lakeman’s work I can safely say tonight he lived up to the hype as he switched instruments and worked the crowd like a master as he also steered his band through what was evidently not the set they had planned when they stepped onto the stage.

While I understand some were disappointed that his slower songs didn’t get an airing (and I would certainly be interested to hear that side of his work too), for an energetic night at a music festival I don’t think there was a better way to end things as the crowd were well warmed up for the two days to come.

Day Two

Claire Rakich with Tinshack

Claire Rakich with Tinshack

The opening slot on the Saturday of the Sark Folk Festival is always a challenging one and this year it went to committee member Claire Rakich. For many of her songs Claire took the traditional folk route of songs with no accompaniment that showed off her voice excellently and for a few songs she picked her guitar as well.

Along with a couple of songs with here sister and one with The John Wesley Stone’s Tinshack, the highlight of her set was an amazing and epic ‘story song’ she wrote after hearing a tale from the occupation in Jersey which managed to say more about the period and life on the islands than any history lesson while also reaching to the very heart and soul.

Another local act, Peter Gabriel Byrne, a singer-songwriter who also doubles as Sark’s harbour master, kicked off things on Les Burons stage with a set of his own songs which come from the tradition of singer-songwriters that came to the fore in the 1970s with a hint of folk leanings of his homeland.

Ten Toe Hobo

Ten Toe Hobo

Always a highlight of the festival for me, Ten Toe Hobo, followed Byrne on Les Burons and, despite the major set back of the head of his guitar being snapped off the previous night, still played an excellent set on a borrowed guitar. His mix of blues and folk inflected songs, along with some great ‘banter’ with the audience, was highlighted by original song Loose Lips Sink Ships and his rendition of Like A Hobo and Vincent Black Lightning.

The third of the festival’s Sark acts was up next in the form of Big Sheep. Having played the festival every year as the island’s folk representatives the band seems to grow every year and this time was no different with Ash Jarman of The Recks adding his trumpet to the mix. The band’s mix of original tunes and cover songs had people dancing and a Sark flag waving and it was all the more impressive considering Lifejacket’s Claire Mockett stepping on drums at the last minute and fiddle player Jess Nash (usually seen with The Space Pirates or The John Wesley Stone) only plays this one gig with them a year.

Following on straight on for this The Barley Dogs continued their tradition of great sets at the festival. Following launching their album here last year the energy was understandably not quite as high for their set this afternoon, but none-the-less the band’s brand of pub folk once again translated to the larger stage brilliantly and had many, especially the many youngsters in attendance, up and dancing from the off as they mixed traditional songs with their own songs and tunes.

O'Hooley and Tidow

O’Hooley and Tidow

O’Hooley and Tidow provided another of my highlights of the weekend with their set on the Alligande Stage. Drawing mostly from their recent album, The Fragile, the duos mix of wit, innuendo and light humour, combined with amazing musicianship and singing provided a real treat. A particular high point of this being their two vocal only songs, Banjololo and a frankly astounding cover of Massive Attack’s Teardrop, that showed just what the human voice is capable of when given space and encore Shelter Me, taken from their debut album, was a personal highlight as its been a favourite of mine since I first saw them play.

Another Guernsey band launching a new album this weekend were The John Wesley Stone who unleashed Sharaibu on the world with a truly storming set. Playing many songs of the album, along with a few of their older songs, their energy soon ran through the tent as the four piece filled the stage and the audience sang back with some real power. The set was rounded off with a rendition of Walls Of Jericho that featured Ukuladeez, Jack McGahy, James Le Huray and Clem Brouard all joining the band on stage as the band and audience became one for the sing along number that was yet another high point of the weekend.

The Crowman

The Crowman

Not long after finishing up with The John Wesley Stone, Hillbill was back on stage as his alter ego The Crowman in the Tintageu tent. Once again attracting a massive crowd (for the smaller stage) his garage-folk combined the energy of a child with ADHD whose been taught the very basics on guitar with the crazed antics of Lux Interior to create a truly unique performance that is unlike anything else at this festival, or likely any other, and with Emma Weldon, aka The Fiddling Pixie, adding more backing vocals to the show The Crowman continued his tradition of making his Sark Folk Festival sets an unmissable part of the show.

With the Vermerette Stage tent already overflowing Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson took to the stage and with their mix of Irish folk and Australian influenced bluegrass and blues upped the already energetic festival to a new level. The most striking thing about their set was how two performers manage to fill the same sonic space as a whole band with Fitz’ resonator and electric guitars sounding at once like a six string and a bass and Clara’s drums and washboard filling the everything from standard drum kit to rhythm guitar and slap bass type sounds.

Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson

Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson

As the set neared its climax the duo were joined on stage by O’Hooley and Tidow for Power which brought a Deep South revival meeting feel to proceedings as the whole tent was shouting the title back at the stage and following this with an encore of Blind Willie Johnson’s John The Revelator ended their set on such a high, headliners The Ross Ainslie Trio had their work cut out.

Unfortunately, for me anyway, the still upbeat but certainly less powerful sounds of The Ross Ainslie Trio were something of an anticlimax after Fitz and Cara, but that’s not to say they didn’t make some great sounds with their tunes mixing upbeat rhythms and traditional tones of pipes and flutes. That being said the atmosphere around the festival on the Saturday night was enough to leave everyone heading out into the darkness on a major high as we stumbled back through the lanes to the campsites, b&bs and hotels of the island to either carry on the party or rest up for a final day of folk action.

Day Three

Ukuladeez and friends

Ukuladeez and friends

Sunday started off with Ukuladeez and, while I’ve not always appreciated their sounds in the past, today was something a bit different. Being accompanied by a double bass, violin and piano expanded their sound and, to use a cliché, filled out the bottom end that their voices and the higher tones of the ukulele normally leave empty which added an extra strength to their sound that had, for me, been missing in the past. This led to an at least solidly enjoyable performance with their song about Heat Magazine proving a highlight as it combined their irreverent style with a great song that was, frankly, straight up entertainment.

The Tintageu Stage once again provided some excellent smaller scale acts today with Jack McGahy proving a highlight of these for me with his acoustic-pop originals and covers which are delivered with a sense of self deprecating humour and good grace that make for a truly enjoyable set that really allows the audience to side with Jack and his songs. For today’s set he was joined on stage by a youngster, I think his sister, who dueted with him on a song about their imaginary adventures which received a great reception from the audience.

The Whisky River Boat Band

The Whisky River Boat Band

As the festival wraps up mid-afternoon on the Sunday, so festival-goers can catch their boats back to Guernsey, the headliners of the day kicked off at half past one, and The Whisky Riverboat Band, who closed the Vermerette Stage, certainly filled the headliner role as people were soon up and dancing to their bluegrass, hillbilly sounds.

Gathered around a single mic with acoustic instruments the four piece played a mix of originals, covers and traditional songs in a truly upbeat style. For one track they were joined by some members of a local morris side who added dancing, 12-string, trombone and tuba to the mix before the crowd really got moving and Crowman started a conga.

Ending the set with some more organised dancing which had an air of a line dancing club may have added a slightly odd tinge to the set but there’s no doubting the music was excellent and another set a bit different to anything else on offer but still fitting under the banner of folk.

Members of the festival committee joined Hat Fitz and Cara on stage

Members of the festival committee joined Hat Fitz and Cara on stage

The final act of the weekend was, as the Festival’s compere Kerry described, an hour-long encore from the previous night, as Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson took to the Alligande Stage. Playing a more relaxed set than the previous night we got to see a different side of the duo’s music, though it was no less powerful and well delivered as people relaxed around the tent not wanting the show to end.

Sadly the Festival did have to end but not before Fitz and Cara called The Crowman and various members of the organizing committee onto the stage for another run through of Power which got people on their feet and moving and once again brought out the group euphoria that only music can do and ended the fourth Sark Folk Festival on an undeniable high.

As people made their way from the festival talk was largely taken up with the fact that this had been the best festival yet and people already preparing for next year’s event – and if this year was anything when tickets go on sale at the start of November its going to be another sell out!

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Portinfer and Hellfigther in Gallery Magazine

For the November issue of the Guernsey edition of Gallery Magazine I took a look at two new albums both with a direct connection to the island.

First was the debut from an act called Portinfer, but more likely known to those in Guernsey as Ben Hinshaw. Having played with Our Sleepwalking Hero in the mid 2000s Ben has since moved to the UK and now California but has kept on his own acoustic music projects and this is the culmination of his latest work.

Secondly is Hellfighter, fronted by Simon Gordon who used to be a Guernsey resident and may well be known from his time front Thousand Points of Hate. Hellfighter sees him team up with some of his former band mates from Xentrix to create some great heavy metal.

Anyway, full reviews can be read in the online edition of the magazine, or below:

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