Upon arriving at The Fermain Tavern for the first Vale Earth Fair Unplugged night it was clear things were a little different. Not only was the stage set up with drums and some, smaller, amplifiers, but The John Wesley Stone were busy putting together their ‘busking’ kit stage right of the dancefloor and another make shift stage had been set up stage left, in front of the tech area.
With eight acts on the bill it was soon clear that the set up was to allow virtually continuous music from 8 o’clock until midnight and that got going with Dominique Ogier, AKA Astrid Scribble.
It’s been more than six years since I last saw Dominique perform, then part of semi-acoustic trio Said In Silver, so it was nice to see how she’s developed over that time during which she has been working on her own material and has spent some time away from the island.
Starting the night in low-key style, as seems fitting for an unplugged show, Dominique mixed covers with original songs with her own unique voice which, while mostly light and airy, hinted at a deeper power behind at times though in this context that was, appropriately, never fully explored.
The different lay out of the Tav for the evening did seem to leave the audience at a slight disconnection to Dominique and the night’s other early acts, but they still seemed appreciative as she set the tone for the night well.
Second up, on the Tav’s ‘main stage’ for want of a better description, was Lifejacket’s Andy Sauvage. With an acoustic set familiar to many Andy did what we’ve all come to expect tonight, with a few originals (including an acoustic rendition of Lifejacket’s Brains which, by Andy’s own admission wasn’t entirely successful) and some covers of indie rock tunes of the past couple of decades.
The Tav’s larger size and the still distant audience seemed to work to Andy’s disadvantage though as some of his usual irreverence was somewhat lost in the gulf in front of the stage, despite this though, Andy played a good set and left the audience smiling with what has become his traditional ending song.
With a brief interlude from the evening’s compere Graham Duerden, who was doing his best Jools Holland impression, the audience shifted their attention back to the smaller stage for Jack McGahy.
The act most reminiscent of the current crop of pop-folk-indie-acoustic troubadours, Jack played a set of songs that evoked the very up to date sound of acoustic music with covers of the likes of Jamie T alongside some originals that fitted seamlessly together and showed that Jack could be one to watch going forward.
The first of the evening’s ‘acoustic’ bands were up next and, despite an electric guitar being played clean, The John Wesley Stone really did capture the stripped down hillbilly country vibe tonight.
Always a band worth a watch tonight they played with their usual energy with Shacks and Lynchburg playing the perfect double team on acoustic and electric guitar respectively while Jess Nashville added her own fiddle and guitar sounds to give it a real country twang and Hillbill headed off around the dancfloor with his bull-fiddle.
As their set went on more people made their way on the Tavern’s dancefloor, if not to actually dance then to get closer to the show. For the Wesley’s it was a slightly mellower set than some they have delivered but still had their sense of flair to it and even the announcement that this was Lynchburg’s last gig with the band didn’t but a damper on things as they rounded off the set with the rockabilly drive of Caffeine, Benzedrine, Nicotine, one of my personal favourites of their extensive back catalog.
The Phantom Cosmonaut was up next and, for obvious reasons, I won’t go into depth on his performance other than to say I had a lot of fun, so it’s onto Ray & The Guns.
Despite it being an acoustic night it did as if Ray & The Guns might have missed the memo, so to speak, as they came armed full force with electric guitar and bass, but, none-the-less, to fit in they did play a slightly toned down set of the their usual rock ‘n’ roll.
Despite its slightly slower nature tonight it still got a few dancing and it was nice to hear the band through a big PA and on the bigger stage of the Tav.
The final act on the smaller stage tonight was Robert J. Hunter and, to be honest, I’m not sure what more I can say about Rob.
Tonight he kept a small crowd gathered around the stage while he played through a set of his impressive modern-blues songs and debuted a few new tunes that fit right in alongside his now more well established numbers.
Rob has grown over the past year or so into a consummate performer, seemingly playing almost non-stop somewhere or other, and this had lead to him becoming the sort of person who, it seems, is incapable of putting on a bad show and tonight fit that bill entirely.
While, following Ray & The Guns, he didn’t grab me as he sometimes has alongside other acoustic acts, his performance was still top drawer and he is certainly amassing a following.
The first Vale Earth Fair Unplugged night was rounded off by Rentoclean – having become one of the most talked about bands of 2012 I was looking forward to a more acoustic set from them tonight, however, I can only say that I was disappointed as, while they all technically play well as ever, their decision to seemingly dump their set list and have an extended jam session quickly became tiresome for me though did some get some moving to their unarguably funky reggae sounds.
For a first time for this sort of event, despite a few off moments, I think it was largely a success and I hope this isn’t the last such show the Vale Earth Fair (or anyone else) decides to put on as it really showed a new way to use the Tav and added a different element to just a regular gig.
You can see my photos of the show over on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.
Also the guys from Guernsey Gigs were on hand with their video cameras and got a couple of little movies: