Death-metal bid to give new life to Jersey’s ancient tongue

ATTEMPTS to revive Jersey’s native language and folklore have come in several forms in recent years.

But few might have anticipated the latest endeavour to make Jèrriais more accessible – a death-metal album.

That is exactly what musician Alex Cox and vocalist James Andrews have done. They have even called their band and record ‘Head of Helier’ after the Island’s patron saint and the legend surrounding his demise.

The album, which can be listened to on YouTube, features several darkly themed songs in the Island’s native language, backed by metal riffs and hardcore drumming.

The main subject matter of the lyrics is Jersey folklore, and draws upon local legends such as the tale of Geoffrey’s Leap, where a criminal survived execution by being hurled off a high rock at Anne Port. After Geoffrey swam back to shore, some of the crowd argued that he should be allowed to live, while others called for him to be thrown off again. To settle the matter, Geoffrey leapt off the ledge voluntarily, but fell on the rocks below and died.

Mr Cox, who put all the music together, said that the project had been inspired by Norwegian and Swedish death-metal bands that used their own history as a source of lyrical inspiration.

‘They sing about their history – stuff like the Vikings – and I thought just look close to home instead of around the world for stuff to write,’ he said.

‘There’s tons of stuff here that’s just overlooked in Jersey, because you tend to overlook everything where you live.’

Head of Helier vocalist James Andrews (29269332)

Mr Cox added: ‘I’ve always been interested in languages. I’ve always wanted to do something like this.

‘Not many people speak Jèrriais – it’s dying even though everyone used to speak it not that long ago. There used to be 14 different dialects in the Island.’

Mr Cox, who is 28, explained that other folklore had inspired lyrics in the album’s songs, and even the name of the band.

‘The name Head of Helier was chosen because St Helier had his head chopped off by Saxon pirates. That’s why the two axes are on the parish crest,’ he said.

‘The legend is that because he was such a holy man, he picked his head up off the floor and just walked off with it – and that’s what inspired our album cover.’

Mr Cox added: ‘Then you’ve got the first song, Geoffrey’s Leap, which is obviously about Geoffrey’s Leap. The next one is La Tueuthie, which is Jèrriais for the “Killing Well”, also known as the Fairy Pool or the Lavoir des Dames, which is the low-tide rock-pool at Sorel point.

‘The folklore said that when there was really bad weather, if ships were out at sea, people would spot them on the cliffs and they’d light a beacon so they could come in.

‘What you would get is sirens or witches who would light a beacon next to the pool and the ships would come in, thinking it was safe, and hit the rocks. Then they would drown the sailors or pirates in the pool.’

Another of the album’s songs focuses on a boat called the Minnow, which was shipwrecked on the Ecréhous, and the fate of the stranded sailors. The album can be found on YouTube by searching for Head of Helier.

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