In his latest live music review, local music enthusiast and drummer Baz Brehaut returned to St. James to review The Nightmares, The Erberts, Mojo and Sonic Bomb.
St. James the Less sits stubbornly on the corner in the lower half of The Grange, like a lazy dog refusing to do the last climb of a long walk.
It’s been there for a very long time - from 1818 to be precise. Admiral James de Saumarez suggested a church was built there for the British garrison to attend services in English at a time when most churches in St. Peter Port held their services in French.
St. James eventually fell out of use and would have been reclaimed by nature, bulldozers and perhaps eager property developers if it wasn’t for the efforts of The Friends of St. James Association, a group formed in 1981 to save the church. The States agreed to fund its restoration and the building was re-opened in 1985.
Why the history lesson? Well, if it wasn’t for the foresight of those supportive of the arts in the 1980s, St. James and everything it has provided since would have been lost.
So let’s not take this brilliant venue for granted and let's take every opportunity to support a facility that came very close to being just a vague recollection of a church - a tired-looking brown building sat back from the road in the lower Grange.
Pictured: In the 1980s, the States saved St. James as a public venue for the arts, and it has recently expanded events such as live music gigs.
Sonic Bomb opened last Friday.
The recognisable riff of Message in a Bottle filled the room. An interesting choice of cover - as compelling as the riff is, the drumming isn’t quite as easy to replicate. Copeland’s drumming is deceptively complex, so well done to the band for attempting an ambitious cover. Eli Smith, Sonic Bomb's drummer, did well.
The band were confident. They were fronted by Harry Hutchins, who was at ease without being cocky or precocious.
But Sonic Bomb are not a cover band and introduced us all to their own material. The future of live music on Guernsey is safe in the hands of musicians like these.
The stand out performance came from guitarist Woody James, although ably supported by Eli, Deacon Young on bass and a guest appearance by Josh Ogier on trumpet. It was his contribution which left the band comfortable enough to relax and enjoy their set and the night.
Harry said: "The gig was great for Sonic Bomb. Having the opportunity to play with some of Guernsey's bests bands was both exciting and a great experience to have under our belt.
"St. James was our first gig previewing our new album for the public. We can’t wait to release our new line-up of songs on our streaming platforms."
Pictured: Images from a great night of live music at St. James.
Mojo were up next. Some band cross fertilisation was visible as bass player Dom Laine and guitarist Nick Coleman also play with The Nightmares.
Traces of The Cure (that bass sound), London Grammar and even Placebo were evident. Two tracks stood out: Protector and Underwater. Some wonderful distorted bass on the latter gave a sense of being all consumed by the sound.
Victoria Richards' vocals are dynamic enough to take on the challenge of a fairly diverse set. In addition to fronting the band, she adds some depth by playing a few atmospheric chords on the keyboard.
Drummer Jules managed the light and shade necessary with such a varied set. It would be good to catch the band again, maybe in a more intimate setting or even an acoustic set.
The Erberts at last had a stage worthy of the band.
I had seen them play a couple of times before in smaller venues, but the stage at St. James feels appropriate for these particular soundsmiths.
As they got through their set, the crowd began to edge ever closer as the sound they produce is music you just have to move to.
Pictured: The Erberts.
The Erberts have a very workmanlike approach, both to their music and to the overall look and feel. You get the sense they could bring the house down and if necessary rebuild it. They look the practical sort, always on the edge, but never giving in to self indulgence.
Joe Le Long on bass and Kieran Smale’s drumming (of epic proportions) keep the band on track. Dan Guilbert fronts the band with his easy vocals and very David Byrne-sounding guitar. The crowd were at the edge of the stage and wanting more by the time Tom Erskine took the lead vocal to sing Who’s Corrupting.
The Erberts write songs that you’ll remember. I can only imagine how a packed marquee in Sark might react and I’d quite like to be there if it happens.
The night belonged to The Nightmares and an emotional frontman, Calum Aiken. It's difficult to describe just how much energy he has. Whilst some musicians may drip feed lyrics, Calum comes at you with a vocal fire hose. He plays with such commitment you can feel exhausted just watching him.
His tough, edgy performance is tempered by his disarming honesty. He wears his heart on his sleeve and his guitar over his shoulder. He is that car alarm on a quiet cul-de-sac at 03:00 in the morning. He’s a fire in a woodshed. A one man state of emergency. He’s the puppy you’d adopt knowing he’s going to trash the sofa.
If anyone tells me (again) that local musicians are complacent, I’ll get them to The Nightmares' next gig.
The band - that's Nick Coleman on guitar, Dom Laine on bass, Adam Powell on drums - rattled through the set at a pace.
An addition to that set was a track dedicated to Garry Minto AKA Its Own Animal. Garry was in the audience. I certainly ‘had a moment’ watching that recognition play out.
Pictured: Music reviewer Baz Brehaut was moved by a dedication to Garry Minto, who plays on the local music scene as Its Own Animal.
Garrick Jones came on to play saxophone on the epic Rude Boy and Til Mornin and Adam came out from behind the drum screen to play guitar on Jalapeño. The band finished their set with an encore of Apple Tree.
And so to bed - or Mojitos apparently for some.
The tunes between the tunes were provided by the high priest and priestess of music from the elevated altar of sound next to the main stage. A big thanks to Vauvert Underground and Miss San Frandisco.
It was a great night of brilliant live music in a venue at which all bands would like to perform.
The compere on the night was Tom Girard, the BBC’s new music champion. There was lots of warmth in the room for Tom, who has promoted local talent consistently over the years.