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School of Popular Music and Guernsey Gigs Summer Show – The Fermain Tavern – 04/08/17

The Lemmings

The Lemmings

For the last few years Guernsey’s School of Popular Music (SOPM) have held a week-long summer school where they put youngsters together in ‘bands’ and, with the help of the school’s teachers, put a set together to busk in town on the Thursday before performing for friends, family and well wishers at The Fermain Tavern on the Friday evening.

As with last year the event then continued with a group of more experienced bands organised by Guernsey Gigs.

Once again the bands pulled together by SOPM were very impressive given their ages and mixed experiences with each one of the eight having at least one highlight moment.

Avocado Geff

Avocado Geff

The Lemmings started the night off with some pop punk before what looked like the youngest band of the night, Thee Unloaders, delivered the a truly unique version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Clash of the Bloosers and the improbably named Squidward On A Chair both went down well with the crowd before Avocado Geff (featuring The Violet Diversion’s Kiya) delivered some grunge-tinged acoustic songs with Kiya continuing to stake her claim as a true up and coming front woman.

Purple Paradox and World On Fire featured some of the best moments, particularly on the latter band’s version of Sweet Child O’ Mine before Lady And The Tramps closed the first part of the event with some semi-acoustic songs.

The second part of the night when, unfortunately, due to the awkwardness of Guernsey’s licensing laws anyone under 18 had to leave, began with relative newcomers, The Buried Kings.

The Buried Kings

The Buried Kings

Made up of Elliot, Harvey and Steve Falla they are something of a family band, but, I’m pleased to say, that while that sounds like a rather naff concept that isn’t what they were.

Taking Elliot’s style of blues and adding in a nice dose of modern folk, with the inclusion of Harvey’s mandolin and Steve’s double bass, made for a broad and deep sound with all three providing vocals as well.

More lighthearted than Elliot’s solo material many of the songs contain Guernsey and Sark references including Bec Du Nez (the cider rather than the place) which sounded like something of a family favourite tipple.

While they had a few technical issues with the upright bass it wasn’t enough to entirely detract from the overall performance which was a fine way to start the evening, even if the crowd was woefully small.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

Its been quite a while since Lifejacket have graced a stage and it showed during their first few songs as they seemed to struggle to find their usual intensity.

By the time they got to the celebrity baiting Meanwhile In Hollywood though they hit their stride and the last half of their set was heading back to their past form.

A few new songs showed that, while they sticking to the same formula of powerfully hard indie rock, strongly inspired by the likes of Mclusky, they are developing it in their own ways with different rhythms slipping in behind the barked vocals.

While this wasn’t their most slick outing, with a set at the Vale Earth Fair coming up I hope we get to see more of them and hear more new material soon.

Gay Army

Gay Army

Another band who haven’t been seen in a while are, Gay Army. Despite this they were as darkly intense as ever as frontman Rolls prowled the Tav’s dance floor while Jo, Ian and Jay owned the stage with the swirling wall of dark disco noise that has become their trademark.

Rolls once again showed that he is genuinely one of the island’s most charismatic frontmen whether playing to 5 or 500 people (I’ll let you guess which number tonight’s audience was closer to) and with tracks like Cracked Amerika sounding enormous Gay Army proved they’ve lost none of their power over the years.

Blasting into a set with a raft of songs from their early days Thee Jenerators seemed reinvigorated playing the back to basics trashy garage songs that made their name. As the set went on newer songs came too with the same energy driving them.

Thee Jenerators

Thee Jenerators

While it was one of their more physically restrained sets until the very end, possibly down to the sadly small audience, the band were more relaxed than I’ve seen them in a while.

Mark Le Gallez lead them in a non-stop garage rock blast highlighted by the best rendition I remember hearing of I Hate You So Much along with classics like Mystery Man and Burn Down The House to close the night on an energetic, if disappointingly barely witnessed, high.

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

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Vale Earth Fair New Years Eve Party – The Fermain Tavern – 31/12/16

The Recks

The Recks

2016 was a landmark year for Guernsey’s longest running music festival, the Vale Earth Fair, as it marked 40 years since the first fair took place.

To celebrate that they organised a series of special events from their unplugged night to a return visit from recent favourites Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons to the main festival itself and, to round of the year, a new year’s party like no other with The Recks, Vienna Ditto and Gay Army.

My review of the show was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 7th January 2017 and you can see a full set of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

The Recks, Vienna Ditto and Gay Army review scan - 07/01/17

New Years Eve can often be an odd night for events as people look to do rather different and specific things to ‘ring in’ the new year, so a regular live music show may not be much of a draw. Thankfully the Vale Earth Fair Collective were on hand at The Fermain Tavern to round off their 40th Anniversary celebrations with a selection of bands chosen to make this feel like something special, and in that they certainly delivered.

DJs St. Ace and Vauvert Underground kicked things off (as well as filling in between the bands throughout the night) and set the scene with a suitably varied selection of tracks ranging everything from Faith No More to The Jam to Grace Jones to Motorhead and as the night wore on they kept people on the dance floor until the bitter end.

Gay Army

Gay Army

First on stage though were Gay Army. Having been absent for the last year or so it was good to see and hear them back and they launched into things with their usual wall of nicely un-festive noise and darkness.

Jo Reeve’s guitar filled the Tav with with a swirling mix of distortion and delay while Ian Allsopp and Jay Allen’s rhythms added a groovy, dance-y, underlay that got a few moving early on (albeit at a polite distance from the stage).

That distance was filled by vocalist Rolls who prowled in front of the stage like a man possessed and, though he was at times an intimidating presence, it is he that tops off Gay Army’s sound to make it the dark, rhythmic beast it is.

Even if a few seemed slightly put off by the constant intensity as the set wore on, closer Cracked Amerika ended it on a high point that felt perfectly suitable for the transition from 2016 to 2017.

As Reading based duo Vienna Ditto set up on stage I was curious. They played the Vale Earth Fair itself in 2015 and though I missed them I had heard very good reports from many and, what with this seemingly being the year of the two piece band, I was hopeful.

Vienna Ditto

Vienna Ditto

Unfortunately what followed was 45 minutes of a largely disjointed, glitchy, mess of sounds combining synths, sharply distorted guitars and vocals in a way that rarely seemed to structurally coalesce into any kind of sustained groove and a total absence of any hook.

Confusing ‘chat’ between the tracks and an insistence of telling people to dance didn’t help and while the projections on the back of the stage looked nice they didn’t add anything either or even seem to connect to the songs.

Certainly the two members of the band were good at what they were doing, particularly the vocals stood out strongly, and towards the end of the set there were a couple of moments where it seemed to come together a little more but it was too little too late for me.

Despite my misgivings a fair few headed onto the dance floor and looked to be enjoying it and I was left thinking I could see how this could be as impressive as I was told, it just didn’t get there tonight.

Richey Powers and Mox of The Recks

Richey and Mox of The Recks

Having reformed back in October this was only the second appearance from the new line up of The Recks and once again there was something of a sense of anticipation for it and the dance floor filled as they got themselves set up on stage.

Kicking off with the historically highly energetic Lipstick & High Heels and latest single Low Life it soon became clear that once again, while the band are tighter than they’ve ever been, it all felt a bit slow and the sense of excitement and danger that once made them so compelling was yet to be re-found or replaced. This made for a very odd set that certainly was not by any stretch unenjoyable as both the songs and the performance were great, but just missed something.

Just before midnight they launched into old favourite She Wants That Too and the whole band seemed to get a new energy reminiscent of old that I hoped would carry the rest of the set. Unfortunately midnight meant a break for bagpipes, kisses (for the lucky ones), hugs and general auld lang syne mumbling.

Ash Jarman and Richey Powers of The Recks

Ash and Richey of The Recks

Following that we got something an encore from The Recks with Valentine getting some of the previous energy back and Papa Leworthy closing the show and leaving many calling for more.

While this was certainly a mixed bag of a night it was a great way of seeing in the new year and closed off a highlight year for the Vale Earth Fair in exactly the way they have always done things; with varied, interesting and different sounds showcasing just what Guernsey and the islands have to offer alongside visitors you may not otherwise get to experience – and here’s to more of it in 2017 and beyond.

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Various Artists – Jonah Beats

Jonah Beats album coverA few weeks ago I published my review of the Jonah Beats mini-festival that happened on the first weekend of March at the Vale Castle, along with the launch of the compilation album that was put together to coincide with it all raising money for the Helping Jonah – Helping Others charity.

Well, here now is my review of that album featuring a host of Guernsey and Guernsey related artists spanning genres from folk to doom metal and pretty much everything in between.

You can get the album physically at The Golden Lion or Kendall Guitars in Guernsey or listen and download through Bandcamp.

The review was first published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 9th April 2016.

Jonah Beats CD review scan 09:04:16

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Music in Guernsey – Review of the Year 2015

2015 has felt like something of a divided year in music coming from the Bailiwick of Guernsey with a lot happening on the island while a few musicians and bands starting to make their mark and get some recognition in the wider world.

Two names that immediately spring to mind in that regard are Mura Masa and Robyn Sherwell.

Mura Masa

Mura Masa

Mura Masa, aka Alex Crossan, rounded off 2014 with the release of vinyl ‘mixtape’ project Soundtrack To A Death through Jakarta Records but has since gone on to receive airplay and support from Huw Stephens and Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC National Radio as well as starting his own label with distribution through Polydor.

The ‘on air’ features included a live session on Huw’s prime time new music show on BBC Radio 1, as well as being heard around the world on Apple’s new Beats Music platform with tracks from his debut EP proper Someday Somewhere.

This all culminated with being selected by Beats Music as one of their artists to watch in the new year and being named on the BBC Music Sound of 2016 long list (at time of writing the short list has yet to be announced).

You can read my interview with Mura Masa from last January here

Robyn Sherwell also saw a big expansion in recognition over the course of 2015. Early in the year her EP, Islander, surfaced with its title track dedicated to her home island.

Robyn Sherwell at Glastonbury

Robyn Sherwell at Glastonbury

This soon saw her featured by Jo Wiley on BBC Radio 2 (who would follow her closely throughout the year) and helped lead to her securing a spot on the BBC Introducing Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, becoming the first BBC Introducing Guernsey artist to earn that accolade.

With more recordings appearing, the second half of 2015 saw Robyn’s music featured on the trailer to the movie Suffragette starring Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan.

You can read my feature on Robyn’s appearance at Glastonbury here

A few other Guernsey artists also began to make their own strides into the wider world this year.

Following the release of their debut EP, Stranger Sensations, late last year, Of Empires signed a publishing deal with Metropolis Music and spent much of the first half of 2015 working on new material.

Of Empires

Of Empires

This saw them score a support slot on tour with Adam Ant as well as various other shows around London and Brighton and very well received Guernsey shows at the Vale Earth Fair in August and the festival’s Christmas event at The Fermain Tavern.

Robert J. Hunter and his band also made great in roads into the UK releasing two albums over the course of the year, Songs For The Weary in February followed by Before The Dawn in November, as well as completing their first tour of the UK and gigging relentlessly both as a band and solo around London and a few shows in Berlin.

Buffalo Huddleston also received the accolade of being voted Best of British’s Unsigned Band of the Year following a Facebook poll, but more about them later, while The Recks, Static Alice and Flexagon also made appearances off island.

The John Wesley Stone

The John Wesley Stone

Back on home turf most of January was a bit on the quiet side but the Vale Earth Fair’s annual unplugged night started to ramp things up featuring a show stealing, truly unplugged, set from The John Wesley Stone who took their instruments off stage and played up close and personal with the audience.

This was followed by The Get Down doing what they do best and putting on one of the highlight nights of the year in February as they welcomed hip hop legends Blackalicious to The Fermain Tavern and proceeded to not only sell the place out but slay the crowd with beats and rhymes like you couldn’t believe.

February also saw one of Guernsey’s musical prodigal sons, former Jenerator Steven Lynch, return with his new band The Electric Shakes to get The Fermain Tavern rocking and rolling alongside Lifejacket and To The Woods. February at The Fermain Tavern was rounded off by the return to our shores of Rumpus who more than surpassed the nostalgic memories of their Vale Earth Fair appearances.

The Doomsday Project

The Doomsday Project

Having been playing around the island for a few years February marked the launch of the debut album from young pop-punks The Doomsday Project with a special show at The Vault that showed how the four teens had gone from shy youngsters playing their favourite covers at the Rock of Ages nights to a fully fledged band in their own right.

If things weren’t already varied enough only two months in, March was highlighted by a pair of very different shows. First was a visit from Jersey duo Semu Ca, with support from Tantale and Citizen-X, who played excerpts from their new soundtrack for Swedish silent film Haxan at The Fermain Tavern.

Meanwhile live music returned to The Bowl as pop-rockers Static Alice along with Last of the Light Brigade and Chloe Le Page organised the first gig there in many years in hopes of resurrecting it as a venue for all ages.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

Live music in the month then rounded off with the debut of Honest Crooks opening a show at The Fermain Tavern and instantly making a mark that would see them go on to garner quite a following as the year went on.

Guernsey music also took a step into the national limelight in March as BBC Introducing Guernsey took up residency on BBC Radio 1 for a week giving a selection of musicians the chance of getting heard by a much wider audience and letting the outside world have a view into our unique scene.

April got going with an Easter Sunday special at The Fermain Tavern with Last of the Light Brigade, Lifejacket, To The Woods and Isabelle Sheil. The following weekend saw legendary, genre-defying, band The Blockheads follow in their comrade Wilko Johnson’s footsteps by playing a storming set at a packed Tav to help Space Pirate Chris Denton celebrate his birthday – that’s quite a way to have a birthday party!

Lord Vapour at The Vault

Lord Vapour

Having released an EP at the very end of 2014, stoner hard rock band Lord Vapour made their live debut with a mid-week ‘showcase’ show at The Vault and proceeded to not only start off a series of gigs that spanned venues and islands across the rest of the year, but also show how surprisingly good the small St. Peter Port venue can be for seriously heavy music.

Liberation Day in May has become renowned for its live music events and 2015 was no different with it all being highlighted by the JT Rocks stage in St Peter Port.

As well as featuring great sets from Static Alice, Asylum Seekas, Fade2Grey and King Rat & The Soul Cats it marked the return to the stage of Sark based outfit The Recks (with new drummer Mox) and the beginning of what was to be something of a special run for Buffalo Huddleston.

The Recks on Liberation Day 2015

The Recks

And of course it really marked the beginning of the Bailiwick’s big outdoor, summer music events.

Back indoors and a personal highlight was the visit to the island of Eureka Machines, a band I’ve been following for a number of years, who played a great set to a disappointingly small audience but seemed to have a great time doing so regardless.

May came to a close with a double-header of Fermain Tavern gigs spanning everything from folky murder ballads to rock ‘n’ roll to doom metal as Brunt, Tantale, Lord Vapour and Gregory Harrison kicked off the weekend while The Recks, Ray & The Guns, Blue Mountains and Citizen-X closed it.

The outdoor shows continued in June with the first BBC Introducing Guernsey live stage at Arts Sunday featuring Rentoclean, Blue Mountains, Buffalo Huddleston and Chloe Le Page while the month was rounded off by the annual Chaos Festival.

Robert J Hunter

Robert J. Hunter

Now into its second decade this year’s event had many stand out moments from the return of a much more confident and assured Robert J. Hunter headlining the first night to Buffalo Huddleston stealing the show in The Peace Tent in a way that became their calling card wherever they went for the rest of the year.

Other highlights of the festival were To The Woods and The Electric Shakes on the Friday night, Lord Vapour on Saturday afternoon and The Recks and Jersey’s Flashmob closing the weekend out in fine style on the Sunday.

The following weekend many of Guernsey’s musicians and fans decamped to Sark, along with many visitors, for the Sark Folk Festival which, once again, was a special event in the way only it can be.

For me this was the year the locals really stole the show from the bigger visiting names with Robert J. Hunter again putting in a special performance, The Recks mixing things up with a host of new songs (and an epic Led Zeppelin cover) and The Space Pirates of Rocquaine closing the show with one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from them.

Jull-Z and Mike of Buffalo Huddleston

Jull-Z and Mike of Buffalo Huddleston

The weekend though belonged (once again) to Buffalo Huddleston who packed the Vermerette Stage tent and had seemingly everyone singing (and dancing) along, so much so the side of the tent had to be opened to allow more people to get in on the show.

Away from the festivals July continued with the release of the debut EP from Blakalaska, Machine, accompanied by a launch gig at The Fermain Tavern with support from Jersey’s Falenizza Horsepower who put in a genuinely unique performance. This was followed by a disappointing visit to the island by a version of 60s band The Animals (though missing pretty much every crucial member of the band).

With the festivals being an opportune time for it a few more bands put out albums and EPs in July with Ukuladeez releasing their Cosmic Tea Party EP and Blue Mountains’ debut LP dropping around the time of the folk festival as the month was rounded off by the Vale Earth Fair’s annual jaunt to the Rocquaine Regatta.

The Recks

The Recks

Over the first weekend of August The Recks undertook a tour of the Channel Islands taking in Sark, Guernsey and Jersey with visiting support act Markuz. While slated as an album release tour the record failed to materialise but that didn’t stop the band and their various support acts putting on some great shows.

This came alongside performances at The Isle of Wight Festival, Boomtown, Jersey’s Folklore Festival, Guernsey’s North Show and even a set in Herm across the summer before, somewhat surprisingly, the Sark based quintet announced their split in December.

While a smaller event on paper, the return of Gay Army to the stage always had the potential to be something special and, along with Ray & The Guns at The Vault it was just that with many hailing it as one of the gigs of the year and I’d be hard pressed to argue that it wasn’t up there with them.

Pussycat and the Dirty Johnson

Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons

A very busy August continued with the release of Stone Em All’s Villains EP with probably their best live outing to date at The Vault while the month culminated with the island’s longest running festival the Vale Earth Fair on the bank holiday weekend.

With the main stage highlights for me coming from Thee Jenerators and Of Empires it was The Stage Against The Machine’s line up that stole the show this year, particularly closing triumvirate of Lifejacket, visitors Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons and To The Woods, but many others as well.

Lifejacket continued their run of great shows supporting the release of physical editions of their debut album at a special charity show at The Vault in September alongside Paper Saints, To The Woods and Ollie Goddard. The Guernsey Literary Festival once again presented a night mixing spoken word and music as they welcomed Neil Innes to The Fermain Tavern with Ushti Baba and Buffalo Huddleston while my September was rounded off with a visit to London to see The Wildhearts (not a Guernsey gig but a highlight for me).

The Electric Shakes

The Electric Shakes

October started out with the third visit of the year from The Electric Shakes, this time playing alongside Gay Army and Ray & The Guns at The Fermain Tavern and it continued with To The Wood unleashing not only their debut album, but its follow-up EP as well and what was, by all accounts, a standout night of live music on Halloween, though I missed this through attending gigs from Ghost and Tiger Army somewhat further afield.

Following hot on the heels of To The Woods, November saw more records being released with Static Alice launching their new EP with a show at The Vault, while Thee Jenerators dropped their latest, The Devil’s Chords, in a special vinyl edition and Tantale’s second album, Just Add Vice, emerged alongside a series of showcase gigs, including supporting Grant Sharkey.

The Graveltones

The Graveltones

London hard-blues duo The Graveltones also hit the island with support from SugarSlam, Chloe Le Page and Jersey’s Tadhg Daly, while a new series of gigs specifically for under-18s launched under the name Sound Guernsey at The Venue with Honest Crooks and Buffalo Huddleston.

December was all about Christmas party shows with the Vale Earth Fair staging a double-header at The Fermain Tavern featuring Rentoclean, Tantale and To The Woods on the first night and Honest Crooks, Of Empires and The Space Pirates of Rocquaine on the second with Of Empires stealing the show to cap off an excellent year for them.

Asylum Seekas

Asylum Seekas

Meanwhile Sound Guernsey’s second event was their Christmas special introducing youngsters to Toby Falla, Rentoclean and Asylum Seekas. A couple of albums also surfaced as the year came to a close with the debut from Flexagon gaining quite a following online and newcomers Wondergeist releasing their first record, somewhat out of the blue, too.

Undeniably 2015 has been a packed one for music from the islands but, as it draws to a close, it would hard not to admit that there is a feeling that what gets refered to as Guernsey’s music ‘scene’ is in something of a state of flux. Where it all goes from here is anyone’s guess but with the quality of music being produced I hope more can connect with the wider audience it deserves. Buffalo Huddleston have proved they can connect with a crossover audience and it will just take a few of that crowd to explore a little deeper and things could really take off…

I don’t normally do these but thought I would this year, based on what I’ve seen and experienced, here are a few highlights by category…

Band of the YearBuffalo Huddleston
Festival Stage/Event of the YearThe Peace Tent/Stage Against The Machine
Newcomers of the YearHonest Crooks
Set of the YearBuffalo Huddleston at Sark Folk Festival
Record of the YearLifejacket – Let’s Get This Out Of Our System And Move On
Visiting Band of the YearPussycat & The Dirty Johnsons

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The Electric Shakes, Gay Army and Ray & The Guns – The Fermain Tavern – 03/10/15

The Electric Shakes

The Electric Shakes

Rock ‘n’ roll and garage was out in full force last weekend as Thee Jenerators delivered a stripped back, chaotic and powerful performance at the De La Rue on Friday followed, on Saturday, by the return to the island of Bournemouth’s The Electric Shakes at The Fermain Tavern.

The night started out with Ray & The Guns kicking off their set with a spirited take on Imelda May’s Psycho. Now without a trumpet player it gives some of the songs a bit of a different feel, but one that for the most part, works well and brings out their rock ‘n’ roll vibe much more, especially as they segued into Vince Taylor’s Brand New Cadillac.

After a storming outing at The Vault in August, here the five-piece were a bit less energetic, though that may be down to opening the show to an interested but not as enthusiastic audience. As the set went on the energy picked up a bit, with a particular highlight being their take on Please Don’t Touch (previously made famous by Motorhead & Girlschool and originally by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates).

Ray and the Guns

Rosie and Nick of Ray and the Guns

As always Nick Dodd was understatedly excellent on guitar and his playing, described by one gig goer as having the style of “stoner rockabilly”, was a highlight and linchpin of the band’s sound, while Rosie Allsopp’s punkier streak added a nice vocal counterpoint Rachael Cumberland-Dodd’s more traditional style.

Much like the aforementioned show at The Vault, also on the bill here were the recently revived Gay Army. Once again frontman Rolls Reilly was all over the stage and dancefloor, and doing his best to get the crowd engaged, but it just seemed to have the effect of keeping them back in the shadows – though they seemed content to stay there anyway.

While as tight as they ever are Gay Army’s performance lacked something of the intensity their style of post-punk/indie requires and it left things feeling a bit weak and at times reminiscent of the less inspiring bits of U2’s oeuvre.

Gay Army

Gay Army

This in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for a band renowned for their dangerous, edgy performances it was something of a disappointment.

Later in the set Cut The Wire did start to show more of Gay Army’s usual style but it was too little too late and, while a technically solid performance, it didn’t reach the heights of the two other outings since their revival.

Following well-received shows both at The Tav and on the main stage at Chaos earlier in the year, The Electric Shakes have been on something of a roll with great outings on their visits to Guernsey thus far.

The Electric Shakes

The Electric Shakes

If there’s one word to describe their performance here though, the only one I could go with is ‘LOUD!’

Unfortunately a side effect of the sheer force of volume was that it all became a bit muddy which drained the songs of some of their power.

Despite that the three-piece gave it their all on stage with bass player Eric being a particularly energetic standout.

While the dancefloor was busy most seemed content to stand and watch with only a handful getting moving and much of the rest of the venue emptying out.

As the set went on we got treated to a lot of new material alongside songs from the band’s self-titled debut record and it certainly seemed that the new numbers have the same kind of retro-rock ‘n’ roll appeal as the more familiar tracks.

The Electric Shakes

The Electric Shakes

Highlights of the set were Stereotypical Girls and The Doctor and the new song debuted in the encore that had great bouncy ‘pogo’ potential but unfortunately in the face of a wall of ear-splitting volume few got moving to it.

While again well received and well delivered I could only feel that, much like with Gay Army, something of the power and energy I’ve enjoyed of The Electric Shakes in the past got lost in translation somewhere on this occasion.

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

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A summer of music in Guernsey 2015

Jull-Z and Mike of Buffalo Huddleston

Jull-Z and Mike of Buffalo Huddleston

As we head into autumn and all the outdoor music of the events seem to be rounding both nationally and in the Bailiwick of Guernsey, I thought I’d take the chance to look back over a packed summer of shows highlighted by the islands’ three big festivals, but with a lot more besides.

May

The first big outdoor event took place as spring turned into summer back in May, as Guernsey celebrated the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day. Along with the traditional cavalcade along the St Peter Port seafront and events in all the parishes, live music formed a cornerstone of the event with the Vale Earth Fair putting on their now annual show at The Last Post in St Andrews and the JT Rocks ‘mini-festival’ taking place on North Beach.

The Recks on Liberation Day 2015

The Recks

Being a show of two halves JT Rocks showcased some of the best talent the island has to offer in front of a big audience, with the first half of the event featuring some of the islands’ top original bands in Asylum Seekas, Buffalo Huddleston, The Recks and Static Alice.

The second half of the show, meanwhile, presented two of the top cover bands from Guernsey in Fade2Grey and King Rat & The Soul Cats.

Read more about JT Rocks on Liberation Day here

June

Moving into June and the annual Arts Sunday event featured a wealth of live music including the first BBC Introducing Guernsey live stage featuring Rentoclean, Buffalo Huddleston, Blue Mountains and Chloe Le Page.

The Electric Shakes

The Electric Shakes

June was rounded off by the first of the big festivals, Chaos. Taking place in a few fields up at Pleinmont and featuring a broad mix of local and visiting acts.

Though somewhat scaled back this year, Chaos offered something of a return to its old atmosphere alongside the music.

This included headliners Robert J. Hunter, Stormbringer and FlashMob with highlight sets across both the main stage and The Peace Tent from Buffalo Huddleston, To The Woods, The Electric Shakes and Lord Vapour.

Read more about Chaos XI here

The same weekend as Chaos Guernsey’s Robyn Sherwell took to the BBC Introducing Stage at the Glastonbury Festival representing BBC Introducing in Guernsey.

July

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

A week after Chaos, July got going with the second big summer show, Sark Folk Festival.

Having sold out in minutes last November there was a huge sense of anticipation and the festival certainly didn’t disappoint with more international acts rubbing shoulders with bands from around the Channel Islands.

Highlights of the folk festival included Robert J. Hunter, The Recks, Buffalo Huddleston, Clameur De Haro and The Space Pirates of Rocquaine while The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers delivered an inspiring, semi-busking, set.

Read more about Sark Folk Festival here

As the month rolled on BLAKALASKA released their debut EP with a show at The Fermain Tavern featuring an astonishing performance by Falenizza Horsepower while the Vale Earth Fair headed down to Rocquaine for their annual stage at the Rocquaine Regatta with Toby Falla, The Space Pirates, Ukuladeez and French visitors Les Matous.

August

Richey Powers of The Recks

Richey Powers of The Recks

August started out with The Recks completing a mini-tour of the Channel Islands with back-to-back shows in Sark, Guernsey and Jersey as they warmed up for an appearance at Boomtown festival in the UK, following outings earlier in the summer at the Isle of Wight Festival and Jersey’s Folklore.

This was followed by a weekend of big gigs at The Vault with the return of Gay Army one night and Stone Em All launching their new EP with a show alongside Lord Vapour the next.

Guernsey’s annual traditional summer shows also featured a wealth of live music this year including The Recks and Buffalo Huddleston putting in great sets at The North Show.

For the 39th year the Vale Earth Fair took over Vale Castle for the Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend to present what was one of the best of their festivals I’ve attended. The main stage was headlined by hip-hop legends Jungle Brothers while my highlights came in the form of Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons, Thee Jenerators, Lifejacket and Of Empires rounding off my 2015 festival season on a real high.

Read more about The Vale Earth Fair here

Pussycat and the Dirty Johnson

Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons

With other festivals and big shows including Chateau Du Son, Dynamicz, Elevate and Smaashfest, amongst others, 2015 has possibly been the biggest summer yet for music in Guernsey with some big names appearing at all the events.

Once again it seems the summer really belonged to Buffalo Huddleston with storming performances in Sark and at Chaos, as well as at other shows including Jersey’s Folklore festival and packing local pubs like hasn’t been seen in a long time.

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Vale Earth Fair 2015 – 30/08/15

Jungle Brothers at Vale Earth Fair

Jungle Brothers

For the 39th year the Vale Earth Fair took over the Vale Castle on Sunday 30th August.

The Channel Island’s longest running music festival has long had a reputation for the breadth of music it offers and this year was no different with everything from psytrance to house to hip hop to groove metal all having their place on the bill across the 12 hour event.

My review of the festival was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 5th September and you can read an extended version of that beneath the cutting below.

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

Vale Earth Fair review shot - 05:09:15

Extended Review

As the sun shone down and marathon runners snaked past I made my way up the hill to Vale Castle last Sunday lunchtime for this year’s Vale Earth Fair where, over 12 hours, more than 60 bands, musicians and DJs would be appearing across six stages.

Ukuladeez

Ukuladeez

With one of the strongest local line ups in years bolstering headline acts Jungle Brothers and Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate from the off their was a sense of positivity and anticipation across the site that continued all day.

Live music got underway first on the Busking Stage at the bottom of the castle hill with Ukuladeez. Though they were slightly drowned out by the somewhat overbearing breaks ‘n’ beats stage (this would be balanced as the afternoon went on) their small crowd still enjoyed the tunes, though the early slot did seem to sap some of their usual joie de vivre.

The Stage Against The Machine was next to get going with a showcase for a couple of acts from the School of Popular Music. Jesse Byrne is a young solo acoustic singer-songwriter who, while a bit standard, certainly seemed to have the musical skill to grow into something good.

The Bone Idols

The Bone Idols

He was followed by an exceptionally young rock band, The Bone Idols, who sounded great for a first full public gig (even without a bass guitar), with their mix of covers that would already put some established cover bands I’ve witnessed to shame. And it’s always good to see a new female performer with some attitude, in this case their drummer.

As people began to find their spots inside the castle Schema welcomed them with their mix of funky jams. This was my first time catching the quartet since their recent reformation and, while not much has changed, their laid back approach was a nicely relaxed way to start the day and caught the general Earth Fair vibe very well while the band looked like they were having a great time on stage which was very infectious.

After a successful return at Chaos earlier in the summer, indie three-piece Fly Casual returned to the Earth Fair on the Stage Against The Machine and drew quite a crowd for the early hour. Despite fighting some sound issues the trio sounded great and gone was the nostalgia that marked their last outing leaving just some really good songs in its place that was the first of many highlight performances across the day.

Lord Vapour

Lord Vapour

Fly Casual were quickly followed by the currently very busy Lord Vapour who did exactly what they’ve been doing all summer in drawing a crowd down to the front and delivering loose, groovy hard rock.

On this bigger stage their lordships may have lost a little of the atmosphere that has marked their previous gigs, but it still sounded great and everyone on and off stage seemed to have a great time.

After a storming headlining slot at Chaos and a highlight set at Sark Folk Festival it felt a bit odd seeing Robert J. Hunter and his band quite so early on the bill today. That didn’t deter the dirty blues three-piece though as they delivered a tight and lively set that had a few grooving along in front of the stage while others lazed in the still present sun.

Once again both Rob and the band continued to demonstrate the growth that near constant gigging leads to showing they have really grown into their sound and style to become a full package of a band to rival any blues band I’ve seen.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

Back on the Stage Against The Machine things got bouncy as Honest Crooks brought their brand of politico-ska-punk to the day.

Fitting in perfectly with what makes the Earth Fair what it is, the band continued their run of great shows that have built them a dedicated and energetic following who were skanking throughout.

Even with the slight misstep of an under rehearsed new song (complete with kazoo filling in for the band’s long searched for brass section) Raddy, Cheese and Andy’s mix of well-known covers and originals made them the first band to get a dedicated crowd dancing as the fog began to roll in.

While Bonsai Pirates brought their upbeat acoustic, pirate themed tunes to the main stage, late booking Gay Army stormed the castle walls outside. With their insistent, urgent post-punk indie rock in full force they drew the biggest crowd yet, though typically for a mid-afternoon audience they were appreciative if not too energetic. Rolls Reilly soon made up for this though with his ever-flamboyant performance as the four-piece showed they are well and truly back on the battlefield.

Jack Fletcher of Of Empires

Jack Fletcher of Of Empires

One of the most anticipated bands of the day strutted onto the Castle Stage next looking every bit the super cool rock ‘n’ rollers they are in black denim and leather and shades, it was Of Empires.

Marking their first performance back in Guernsey since last year’s Earth Fair it was clear the now Brighton-based band were very happy to be back and on the big stage.

Frontman Jack Fletcher owned the space like a kind of more interesting Bono, while guitarist Matt Berry showed he has grown immeasurably as a performer (he was already an outstanding guitarist) as they grooved their way through a set of predominantly new material.

With their swagger and style backing up their great songs they showed all the makings of future event headliners and, ending on older favourite Carla, made for a powerful finish that started the festival’s evening of rock ‘n’ roll excellently.

That rock ‘n’ roll swiftly continued in garage-y form as Thee Jenerators blasted onto the stage. Taking us from the precision of Of Empires to a kind of visceral ‘raw power’ the crowd were popping from the start and new single Daddy Bones really elevated the energy in the castle to a new level.

Mark Le Gallez of Thee Jenerators

Mark Le Gallez of Thee Jenerators

Frontman Mark Le Gallez takes to these bigger shows like a duck to water and really gave us a show today as he appeared bedecked in yet more black denim and leather and with his hair slicked into a widows peak (appropriate for newer number Bela Lugosi) while bass man Jo Reeve expanded his energetic on stage repertoire to include swinging from the rigging!

Having only seen this version of the band in pubs it was good to see they can still bring it on a festival stage and really energise the Earth Fair’s afternoon crowd and get them ready for an evening of dancing even as the cloud and fog rolled in, in earnest.

After a bit of a break to enjoy some of the festival’s ‘famous’ vegan lightning burgers (it was a good year for them this year) the rock ‘n’ roll vibe continued with Jersey’s premier trashmen, The Cryptics.

The Cryptics

The Cryptics

While more aloof than the preceding bands their mix of great songs and ‘cool’ is hard to fault as the ever-charismatic Screamin’ Jonny Moth owned the stage while GTO brought the Detroit inspired guitar sound.

The highlights of their set came at its conclusion with a song with the excellent chorus of ‘Hey Devil, I love you cus you’re evil’ followed by Black Lucy and a blistering run at MC5’s Kick Out The Jams.

Rhythm and blues driven post-punk was on order next from Londoners, The November Five. While they suffered from a distant audience, many of whom had headed inside the castle, they delivered an effective set that grew into a genuinely powerful wall of sound with some real fire behind it.

Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate

Sekou Kouyate and Joe Driscoll

The reason that many had headed to the main stage was the return of Earth Fair favourite Joe Driscoll. Having first played the festival in 2006 after being discovered by The Get Down’s DJ Oneofakind, this year saw him return with a full band co-led by Guinea’s Sekou Kouyate.

Delivering a vast expansion on Driscoll’s usual solo guitar loop and MC work their funky rhythms had possibly the day’s biggest crowd moving and grooving. Particularly fascinating about this set was the kora being played by Kouyate that added a new sound to the mix that I’d never heard before, this combined well with Driscoll’s guitar and MCing and created something unique and highly engaging.

Following a few impressive sky illuminating blasts of lightning the heavens opened as Lifejacket took to the Stage Against The Machine and the audience grew and packed down to the front. Undeterred by the rain blowing into their faces the post-rock three-piece delivered they most focused set to date with a large amount of newer material rubbing shoulders with songs from their debut album which was getting its physical release marked here.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

The new songs develop on the blistering intensity of the old with chief songwriter Andy Sauvage showing further inventiveness within his chosen genre while being an intense frontman. To this was added a newly broadened but still distinctly ‘Lifejacket’ set of beats from drummer Moxie while John McCarthy’s precise, distinctive bass lines stood alongside his more fun-loving on stage demeanour.

All this culminated in a career best performance from the band that shows they have a lot more to offer and that went down exceptionally well with the crowd who stuck around and grew no matter how soaked they might be getting.

Jungle Brothers

Jungle Brothers

While Lifejacket rocked outside the castle, this year’s headliners hit the main stage and the rapidly dampening audience (some complete with umbrellas) soon got bouncing to the dance-y hip-hop sound of Jungle Brothers. As always for Earth Fair headliners the crowd were into it throughout and the performers responded in kind making for the kind of huge atmosphere only the Vale Earth Fair manages to deliver in Guernsey.

The rock ‘n’ roll returned to the Stage Against The Machine for the day’s visiting headliners, Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons.

Having wowed the crowd at the De La Rue the night before, the Basingstoke based three-piece wasted no time doing the same at the main event as vocalist (and occasional guitarist) Puss Johnson, bedecked in full cat attire, led the trio through a set of powerful, posturing ‘dirty rock ‘n’ roll’.

Puss merged the stage presence of the likes of Joan Jett and The Cramps into a perfect package with great vocals, knowing lyrics and a real star quality. In many bands a costume like this would feel like a gimmick, but here it was backed up by the music and performance to create something natural, genuine and unique.

Pussycat and the Dirty Johnson

Pussycat and the Dirty Johnson

Puss was backed by Dirty Jake and Filfy Antz who musically matched their leader and each brought their own vibe to the set creating a fresh take on an old sound that drew a big crowd that Puss took the time to go and meet face to face several times during the set, in all making them my, and many others, top visiting band of the day with calls having already begun to get them back over to the island.

Having spent the last few years building quite a reputation the honour of closing the Stage Against The Machine fell to To The Woods this year and, as they stepped onto the stage to WWE wrestlers’ D-Generation X’s theme song, it was clear they had every intention of stealing the show.

To The Woods

To The Woods

For the following 45 minutes they proceeded to do exactly what they’ve become known for, delivering blistering grunge rock as Robert ‘Bobby’ Battle led the trio as only he can while Dan Garnham provided the pounding driving force from behind the drums. Here that led to the days only full on mosh pit and even an attempted wall of death!

While they may not have stolen the show To The Woods certainly brought things to an impressive climax and rounded off a day where Guernsey’s musicians showed they can more than hold their own alongside visiting acts as part of an event that rounded off the island’s festival season on a major high.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: August 2015 – Gregory Harrison in session and Stone Em All

Gregory Harrison

Gregory Harrison

Click here to listen to the show

Being broadcast the day before the 2015 Vale Earth Fair on the August edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey I spoke to one of the newer members of the Earth Fair Collective, Gregory Harrison, who is running the festival’s Busking Stage this year and played a special live session for the show.

I also spoke to Robert Hotton and Lee Oliver the lead vocalist and lead guitarist, and creative driving forces, of heavy metallers Stone Em All who have just released their new EP, Villains.

The show is available to listen to for a month on the BBC iPlayer or to download on the BBC iPlayer Radio App.

Tracklist

And here’s a video Guernsey Gigs made with Gregory Harrison for his version of Ray Lamontagne’s song Like Rock ‘n’ Roll and Radio:

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Gay Army come out firing with Ray And The Guns – The Vault – 14/08/15

Gay Army

Gay Army

Three years since their last outing there was a general air of anticipation at The Vault as Gay Army returned to the stage in support of Ray & The Guns.

While known in the past for their synth-laden indie, their last gig, at Spoonfest in 2012, saw Gay Army stripped back to a four-piece guitar driven post-punk/indie rock format and that is the line up that took to the newly enlarged stage here.

As soon as the music hit frontman Rolls Reilly was an intense and energetic presence. Spending as much time off stage as on he was literally getting into the faces of the crowd and doing his best to get them engaged. As the set went on a few did get moving, but otherwise every song was greeted with warm cheers and applause.

Rolls of Gay Army

Rolls of Gay Army

The four-piece format of the band gave things a harder edged indie rock vibe that combined elements of the noisier, feedback driven, end of the genre with a sense of the 80s bands that pioneered the sounds.

This was particularly noticeable in Jo Reeve’s guitar, while Jay Allen’s dance-infused beats kept an upbeat side going underpinned by Ian Allsopp’s genuinely powerful bass work.

The set ended with a wall of feedback and applause as many hailed it something of a landmark outing for the band and certainly everyone seemed to be of the opinion that they hope it’s not three years before we see them again.

Following the indie rock roar of Gay Army, Ray & The Guns responded by adding further power to their classic rock ‘n’ roll which made for the best performance I’ve ever seen them give.

Ray and the Guns

Ray and the Guns

Throughout the set Nick Dodd’s (dubbed Guernsey’s ‘professor of rock ‘n’ roll’ by one gig-goer) Telecaster cut through the sound much more clearly than in the past and he seemed to be pushing the overdrive on it just a little more than usual as well.

Alongside this Rachael Cumberland-Dodd and Rosie Allsopp both seemed to be adding a bit more attitude and bite to their vocal delivery which brought more of that sense of rock ‘n’ roll danger to the band than I have seen in the past.

This new energy translated through to the crowd, many of who got dancing, quickly filling what passes for a dancefloor here and, as they rounded off their set, many were calling for more.

Rosie and Rachael of Ray and the Guns

Rosie and Rachael of Ray and the Guns

This performance showed Ray & The Guns adding themselves to growing list of bands delivering powerful, uncomplicated, rock ‘n’ roll in and around the islands and the Channel, alongside the likes of Thee Jenerators, The Cryptics and The Electric Shakes.

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

The review was published (along with an interview by Colin Leach) in The Guernsey Press on 29th August 2015:

Gay Army and Ray and The Guns grab - 29:08:15

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: July 2015 – Chaos, Sark Folk Festival and Robyn Sherwell at Glastonbury

Robyn Sherwell at Glastonbury

Robyn Sherwell at Glastonbury

Click here to listen to the show

June and July are always two of the busiest months in the Guernsey music calendar and in 2015 this was no exception with first the Chaos weekend and then the Sark Folk Festival followed a highly memorable Vale Earth Fair fundraiser.

On top of that Robyn Sherwell became the first BBC Introducing Guernsey artist to play the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury Festival coinciding with huge airplay across national radio for her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide from her Islander EP.

For the show I spoke to Brunt, Sephira, Buffalo Huddleston, Robert J. Hunter, Ukuladeez and The Recks at the two festivals and featured some highlights of Robyn’s set from Glastonbury.

You can listen to show by clicking here and for the first time its available for download on the BBC iPlayer Radio App on iOS and Android devices.

Tracklist

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