Thursday, 28 May 2015

Alderney Performing Arts Festival 2015

Starting off the summer festival season in a very unique way, I spent the last bank-holiday weekend in May 2015 at the Alderney Performing Arts Festival. A small rocky island only 10 miles off the coast of Cherbourg, France, part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey and accessible by small plane or boat, it certainly is an idyllic way to experience some 'arts-appreciation'..... if you can get there that is!

My journey to Alderney began at 10.45am on Friday 22nd May, as I left my house to go to the airport for what should be a 10-15 minute hop over to Alderney on a little Trislander plane..... 7 and a half hours later, after painfully watching the fog roll in and out, my flight was finally cancelled, and a select few of us managed to get transferred onto a private charter boat, which took us on an 80 minutes journey through the choppy sea (known as 'The Race'), finally getting me to Alderney at 10pm. Not the greatest of starts for the festival, I must say, and it's no surprise to see that the selection of artists and musicians were suitably frustrated with the situation, and I was rather gutted to have in fact missed my first performance slot that night #ForFogsSake.... None the less, a beautifully large glass of wine in the airport and a fantastic Indian meal at Nellie Gray's (which I highly recommend to everyone!) once I arrived, very much made up for the whole ordeal. From what I've heard about Friday's events, the highlight appears to be comedy impressionist Luke Kempner with his show 'The Only Way is Downtown'. Judging by the opinions of the Alderney locals, I think everyone should be very proud to have had this show not only as part of the Alderney Performing Arts Festival, but as part of Luke's National Tour.

Music & Magic #APAF2015
Well, what a difference a day makes! The sun was shining, flights had resumed as normal (which meant everyone left behind the day before managed to get to the festival), and the atmosphere was cheery and bright. Alderney's town centre, Victoria Street, was closed off to traffic and opened to the pedestrian public, featuring musical performances: the Samba Burros; the Alderney Brass Band; dancers; face-painting; market stalls and the magical wizardry of Michael Sullivan. Known on Guernsey as a great acting talent, Michael has been making a new name for himself as a great illusionist, and booking work in England and as far afield as the USA. It's no surprise that he was somewhat in demand this weekend, as everywhere he went someone was asking him to perform for them again (and again... and again!) His magic skills, combined with his natural humour, make him brilliantly watchable and likeable: definitely a festival hit.    

The Georgian House; a local hotel with a fantastic restaurant, pub and beer-garden to boot, featured musical acts throughout the day, including myself, Chris Taylor & Steve Falla, The Ukuladeez, and a closing set from the Alderney Community Choir. Originally intended to be in the upstairs restaurant room where the evening gigs take place, being first on, I made the decision to move the music outside into the garden - which as you can see below, made perfect sense!
Outdoor festivities @ The Georgian House
There definitely seemed to be a lot of 'take each moment as it comes' about this festival, which, although seemed to work on these occasions isn't always a good thing! However, knowing the quality of the booked acts and the technical team, this wasn't a problem. The highlight for me I must say, was completely acoustic performances of 'Maree De Paradis', a group of french performers who took it upon themselves to pop up here-and-there throughout the festival weekend just to fill any gap with a bit of French folk music. And I must say, I loved that, it really gave the weekend a proper festival feel.

Buffalo Huddleston on The Train
A unique island should mean unique performance settings, and boy does it! One such venue on Alderney is the train....
...Yes, that's right, this tiny island has it's own train! The Alderney Railway opened in 1847 and runs for about two miles, mostly following a coastal route from Braye Road to Mannez Quarry, providing no actual transport, just a leisurely tourist ride. During the festival, the train becomes a little moving music venue, complete with Prosecco! I first experienced this at last year's festival, and it's certainly still one of my favourite gigs I've ever done, so I was really pleased to have another crack at it. Performing completely acoustically, you really have to throw yourself into your performance if you want to be well-received, and hope that in doing so you don't accidentally throw yourself to the floor!  It's certainly an experience that both performer and traveller aren't going to forget in a hurry. Alderney really does lend itself to 'house-concerts' and 'unusual gig-venues', like trains and people's living rooms. Smaller, intimate concerts such as those taking place in a living room are really special for both the performer and the audience, and often the types of performances people talk about more, and certainly something I want to look into more.

It's not only popular music that takes place during the festival, but classical as well, as showcased by a concert featuring some of Guernsey's supreme talent; Casey-Joe Rumens, Tom Hicks and Chiara Beebe. Performing in the Anne French room, this trio of classical talent gave incredibly polished, professional performances, but at the same time created a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, enhanced by each of them talking about their pieces before performing (known in the popular music world as 'crowd-banter').
Robert J. Hunter @ The Island Hall
Saturday's highlight event however had to be The Hogroast, taking place in the Island Hall. A brilliant live music gig encompassing a vast array of genres, and featuring The Ukuladeez, Stormy Monday (my band), The Recks, Buffalo Huddleston, and returning local boy Robert J. Hunter (complete with his band and lots of merchandise!). It really was a truly brilliant night of entertainment, completed by locally sourced food and (of course) lots of drink! My congratulations really do have to go out to Mark Guillou for his superb work as sound and tech man, not only at the hog-roast event, but at every event taking place across the island for the festival weekend. I don't think this festival would have been nearly half as successful without you Mark.

My acoustic set @ The Georgian House
Starting off the day with a more serious tone was the Alderney Community choir performing another set in St. Anne's Church, featuring the more classical and sacred music of their repertoire, as well as a special work written for a recent performance in Fort Clonque as part of the Landmark Trust. The choir (formed late 2013) really have come on leaps and bounds, and it's great to see that the initial enthusiasm for community singing, both from the choir and audience, is still as strong as when it started.

I must say, Sunday did seem a little bit of a forgotten day in terms of the festival, as apart from more gigs on the train, myself and my family struggled to find any other festival events for the afternoon (which, to be fair, was no bother to us, we went sight-seeing). This is perhaps something I think should be addressed for the festival in future years: making sure the event is a little more organised, with a full programme across all the days... and maybe a bit more obvious marketing!
- That being said, the Sunday night gig at The Georgian House was an absolute triumph. Performing there myself, I had a brilliant crowd (made up of locals, visitors and some of my fellow musician friends like The Recks), and the acoustics in the main room are absolutely fabulous. Rob J. Hunter went on to bring the night to a rousing close with his raucous and powerful style as the fog rolled in (again.... *sigh*)

'The Snake Man' - James LeLacheur's show at the Braye Hotel
Because this year's festival took place over a Bank Holiday weekend, some festivities rolled on into Monday for those that could (and wanted) to stay. Held in the inner harbour at Braye, bands and market stalls (similar to the Victoria Street setup) created their own little mini-festival world in the (now returned) glorious sunshine. I, however, decided to take in a little bit of theatre at the Braye Hotel. Guernsey lad, James Le Lacheur, put on a wonderful one-man show of verbatim theatre entitled; "GAIGAI TAUNA: The Snake Man". The intimate setting of Braye's cinema/theatre, which only holds 19 people in incredibly comfortable leather seats, was perfect for this type of piece. I've not seen James act for a long time, and it was fantastic to see him at his best, completely enveloping the persona of Wolverhampton herpetologist Mark O'Shea. Not only was this piece incredibly engaging, witty and at points very moving, it was another excellent example of the unique performance settings that Alderney has to offer, I hope this venue gets utilized much more in the future (and that similar events/venues may pop up in Guernsey too).

All in all, I would say it's been a successful festival, and I do apologise to anyone who partook in the festival that I haven't mentioned - I can't be in two places at once (much though I try!) Although if I'm honest, it's only just nudging at the potential it has to be spectacular. Maybe it's just a bit too laid-back and there needs to be a little more power, stronger decision making, and a more focused drive to propel it into stardom. But it is a beautiful island, and it's a beautiful concept, and all the locals involved in organising the festival really do deserve a pat on the back. It's also clear that the locals have an absolute passion for the arts, as I observed talking to Zoe (who owns and operates the campsite) as she said:

"I am so proud that such amazing entertainment could be here on my little island." - Amen to that.

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