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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.