Sunday 01 October 2023
Select a region

The gospel of St Jon

The gospel of St Jon

Sunday 10 February 2019

The gospel of St Jon

Sunday 10 February 2019

With much noise about Guernsey being in need of an up-to-date cultural hub a traditionally classical music venue has begun to wake from its slumber and become just that, with the help of a new Executive Director.

St James Assembly Room and Concert Hall, the 200-year-old States owned building is run as a not-for-profit exercise headed up by 9 coequal members of the Friends of St James' Charity.

Having taken up his mantle in 2018, Jon Bisson pictured above is the unlikely new face of the charity whose mantra is to show comedians a good time and keep cover bands to a minimum. Already acts like Phill Jupitus, Stuart Marconie and Shakespeare's Globe Touring Company have been booked to appear before the autumn (some tickets yet to be released).

Taking the past success of the Guernsey Literary Festival events and injecting performances from a new breed of musicians who can make use of the facilities on and off stage mean the 'concert hall and assembly rooms' are often alive with activity, he said.

"Last year I inherited a programme, this year we could look at it afresh. We want it to function as a performance space for excellence, I could easily fill the hall with cover bands each night but we don't want that, even the local bands we ask to do something a bit special when they perform here, to step it up."

Mr Bisson worked at music and sports festivals in the UK before moving back to the island 15 years ago - intending to make a living restoring old cars - but fell back into events. After some time Sound Guernsey was born, a series of nights which give young people a chance to showcase their music in a proper set up. 

"What I learnt from Sound I have taken into the St James Presents gigs. If you give someone a nice place to go they up their game. The kids have been brilliant they really respect that they've been given something special," he said.

Transforming the establishment order wasn't without its challenges but a Christmas beach party seemed to be the catalyst. 

Nicholson, Craig. St James.

Pictured: Opening up the bar for events is part of creating a vibrant youthful atmosphere for cultural events. Photo credit: Paul Mariess.

"St James is owned by the tax payer, the States are our landlords. I don't think it was malicious but a group of people saved St James 30 years ago whose interests were classical music and they've continued to use it by doing what they know. But it's our building and it should be for everyone, which is the reason for opening it up.

"I underestimated just how much it was connected to just classical music. It was really difficult to get across to people that there'd be no seats etc. It was difficult to get people to come here but it turned a corner with the beach party, we've seen ticket sales grow by over 30% in the 4th quarter of 2018. The new events are starting to take hold.

"We just confirmed the Shakespeare's Globe Touring Company last week, they have a limited run so we're really pleased about that. We'll be putting on the performance as it was in the original Globe with some standing tickets and a bar in the middle of the room," he said. 

Shakespeare's Globe Touring Company. cr: John Haynes

Pictured: Shakespeare's Globe (A Midsummer Night's Dream) Company from 2013. Photo credit: John Haynes. Tickets available soon.  

It's not to say that the amount of classical music events including performances from the Music Centre and other groups have diminished. 

"We're actually putting on more of those events in 2019 than ever before, we're just increasing everything. I want it to be spoken word, theatre, everything for everybody. That's the model, but we've gone from doing just 10-12 of our own selections a year to over 100 in 2019.

"It's been quite challenging to get these big names over. We can't offer them the big fees that other venues can but we can offer them a nice trip and we have a partnership with Red Carnation Hotels. We were told if we give them a good time the comedians all talk to each other as well and hear that we treat them well and that it's worth that trip.

Djalili, Omid. St James (cr Paul Mariess)

Pictured: UK comedian Omid Djalili hosted a sold out night at St James recently. Photo credit: Paul Mariess. 

"We'll have to wait a while to get the big names in music but we've already got another show from The Baghdaddies and a band called Dr Meker coming up, they're a really cool full band live Drum and Bass.

"We'll be extending the opening hours of the cafe to evenings and weekends. Guests are getting to use the building more and we're giving a free practice space for local bands and allowing people to use the hall and the Steinway piano," he said. 

Mr Bisson said people are now used to coming to the venue regularly and ticket costs mean they can afford to do so more than once a month with all of the money fulled back into the running costs. It would appear that St James' has discovered a new lease of life in its old age. 

Other confirmed acts for this year include food critic Jay Raynor, comedians Ed Byrne and Marcus Brigstock and author Ruby Wax. 

Bookings for all currently listed events can be found online here or by calling the box office on 01481711361.


Sign up to newsletter


What next?


Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.

There are no comments for this article.

To place a comment please login

You have landed on the Bailiwick Express website, however it appears you are based in . Would you like to stay on the site, or visit the site?