Tag Archives: Guernsey French

Torteval Scarecrow Festival 2017

Ernie the scarecrow

Ernie the scarecrow

This is a slightly strange one as it feels a bit like a travel blog more than anything else though I only travelled five or six miles from home, to Guernsey’s most south-westerly parish, for the 14th annual Torteval Scarecrow Festival.

For clarity I’ll add that, in many ways, Torteval is something of a home away from home for me being the parish where my grandparents have lived for more than half a century and where I spent a fair amount of my childhood exploring its lanes and fields. 

For those who don’t know Torteval is generally regarded as Guernsey’s most country parish and, while that means it has some of the island’s best and most varied scenery from rolling green fields and hills, to dramatic cliffs, to a couple of the most picturesque beaches you’ll find anywhere, it also means it has come in for more than its share of ridicule over the years.

What the Scarecrow Festival seems to have done, fairly brilliantly, is take some of this and combine it into a celebratory and slightly surreal weekend that at its best moments marries an old-fashioned country show with a streak of dark satire that I’ve not seen anywhere else locally, along with a lot of good fun.

Torteval Church under scaffolding

Torteval Church under scaffolding

The event begins in the shadow of the parish’s church, a rather unique structure with a round spire that provides a real central landmark for the community (though it’s currently covered by scaffolding).

This field feels like it could be the central part of a small country show anywhere with a tea tent (and bar), book stall, bric-a-brac, vintage cars, of a sort, and of course a raffle (to be drawn at an indeterminate point later in the afternoon) all run by people from the area.

As I arrived, shortly after lunch, this area was packed with people soaking in the atmosphere and sun and meeting up with friends in a way that, despite the trappings of modernity, felt like it would have been the same whether it was 2017, 1957 or 1927.

Heading out into the lanes for the trail of scarecrows (or les babouains, to use the Guernsey French name) this feeling largely persists, in general if not maybe in the specific details of the entries.

The scarecrows themselves are all in competition for a range of prizes and, with 51 official entries this year, it’s fair to say competition is fairly stiff.

Winning entry Trumplestiltskin

Winning entry Trumplestiltskin

I’ll get to some of the more striking entries shortly but it’s clear right away that there is a real mix of subjects being tackled in varyingly elaborate ways with just a glance at the guide map suggesting this with names ranging from Teddy Bear’s Picnic to Jonah & The Whale to Trumplestilskin

The trail itself is a relatively gentle stroll through the parish’s back lanes with only one particularly treacherous hill for which a diversion is well signposted and, while a little more circuitous, means you don’t miss any of the entries. The other bonus of this is that, with it closed to traffic it makes walking the lanes far more relaxing than normal and allows everyone to go at their own pace.

The scarecrows themselves are, of course, the main attraction and didn’t disappoint. For me the highlights came with the more political and darker edged entries which stared out by the church with Warning! Do Not Climb The Scaffolding laid out like something from an episode of CSI.

Warning Do Not Climb The Scaffolding

Warning! Do Not Climb The Scaffolding

A strong theme this year was the current President of the USA with many and varied effigies of ‘The Donald’ dotted around the lanes with varying takes on his time in office so far.

English politics wasn’t far behind with a spooky looking Jeremy Corbin lurking in the trees at one point and, in my favourite entry, an interactive Theresa May running through the Fields of Wheat, complete with a specially recorded soundtrack that you can listen to by clicking here.

The most locally controversial and political entry went by the name of Emilie and was a rather pointed comment on one of the newer members of the States assembly who, it’s fair to say, has ruffled some feathers since the last election.

With more lighthearted entries including a Star Wars themed entry and what felt like a slightly outdated reference to the late 90s Budweiser frog commercials it’s safe to say the whole event is a mixed bag but the effort that goes in to the entries is hugely impressive.

Fields of Wheat

Fields of Wheat

This makes it something genuinely unique that combines a lot of traditional countryside type things with a modern, and in many cases almost post-modern, twist to make a perfect way to spend an afternoon either with a family or friends in what is an event that genuinely has something for everyone.

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Guernsey Gigs Acoustic Night #2 – The Fermain Tavern – 06/07/17

The Gregory Harrison Trio at The Fermain Tavern

The Gregory Harrison Trio

With the Sark Folk Festival a recent memory for some, Guernsey Gigs took the chance to stage their second acoustic night at The Fermain Tavern as a kind of wind down event featuring a few of the artists who had played the festival the prior weekend.

Guernsey folk scene stalwart Phil Capper was first up and did exactly what has made his formidable reputation over the years, playing a set of songs mixing his own material with versions of traditional folk and ‘folk revival’ songs.

Something of what I would see as a classic ‘folk club’ style performer Phil may not always be the most precise of players but he tells the stories of the songs excellently through both his vocals and his guitar playing and he finds the spirit in the songs he chooses with an impressive voice and musicality.

Phil Capper at The Fermain Tavern

Phil Capper

For me he’s at his best in the more energetic songs and his final number, I Will Go, was one of these and got the small but attentive audience singing along to the rousing chorus.

Working for both the Guernsey Museum and Guernsey Language Commission, James Dumbelton has taken the opportunity to learn as much as he can about the island’s own folk music and shared some of that with us here.

Armed with two sets of pipes, a mandolin and a fiddle (not all at once) he took the audience on a journey through some of the historical music of Cornwall and Normandy that may have given some identity to Guernsey’s own music and played a few Guernsey French songs as well.

I don’t really remember hearing Guernésiais sung before and it was great as I’m very accustomed to hearing it spoken and, even if his accent seemed a little soft compared to what I’m used to, it opened up the language in a new way.

James Dumbelton at The Fermain Tavern

James Dumbelton

Along with that he highlighted the links between Norman and Norsemen with his music and was energetic and engaging in a way I’ve not often seen from a solo folk music performer – getting the audience to sing along in Guernsey French was a particularly impressive moment.

Gregory Harrison has been playing for several years around Guernsey (and before that further afield as well) and in that time added bass player Nathan to his line up. Now he’s added a drummer, front man of Burning At Both Ends and WaterColour Matchbox amongst other things, Peter Mitchell, to complete a three-piece band, imaginatively going by the name The Gregory Harrison Trio.

While Greg’s music has always been enjoyable away from the bands he’s in, the addition of a more complete backing band, including backing vocals, does give something of the feel closer to his recordings giving many of the songs a new vitality and depth, and allows Greg a little more space to perform – something he’s shown he’s more than capable of with The Recks.

Gregory Harrison Trio at The Fermain Tavern

Gregory Harrison Trio

In that regard this set felt far more relaxed (though according to the singer this wasn’t so much the case at their debut in Sark) leading to a couple of highlights in an otherwise very strong outing.

Low was particularly epic with a depth and power that just kept growing while their last song grew into something huge that had the audience clapping along before they were called back for an encore of the lead single from Greg’s self-titled EP, Demons, that topped it all to close the night on a high.

With a promise of more acoustic nights in the future, along with other shows, Guernsey Gigs are trying to expand things in the island’s music scene in a way not seen in a few years and, on the strength of this and past shows, they are starting out strong.

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

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Guernsey Song Project Launch

Weird Tea

Weird Tea

On Monday 27th January 2014 the Guernsey Language Commission launched a new project to help promote the island’s native language.

The project involves local musicians and songwriters coming together with speakers of Guernsey French to create songs using the, now little spoken, language.

The event also featured performances from a some of Guernsey’s acoustic music acts and you can see my photos of the event on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

If you want to find out more about the project click here, or read the article below then click.

Guernsey Song Project launch scan - 01:02:14

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