Vale Earth Fair Unplugged 3 – The Fermain Tavern – 31/01/15

The John Wesley Stone
The John Wesley Stone

For the third year in a row The Vale Earth Fair kicked off their new year, and the road their summer festival, with a night of ‘unplugged’ acoustic style music at The Fermain Tavern.

With two stages the night took on something of a Later With Jools Holland feel as compere Graham Duerden introduced the eight acts who played non-stop from 8 until half past midnight and spanned pretty much every sort of acoustic pop-rock sound you can think of, and a bit more besides.

Starting things off was Chloe Le Page who, despite lots of tuning and some fiddling around with an iPad, sounded very good. Starting the set with a few originals set a nice tone as the Tav got nice and busy early on. Part way through the set Chloe was joined by Joe who sang and played guitar with her on a few covers that, while less satisfying (and I’m always going to be picky when people cover Foo Fighters’ Everlong) was still a good listen.

The Bee Charmers
The Bee Charmers

The Bee Charmers made their live debut next and, while their particular folkified take on a various pop covers and a few folk tunes was a bit twee, its hard not to be when the main instrument is a ukulele, the trio made a decent first outing. If nothing else the combination of Jo Lamb’s voice, Jo Dowding’s uke and Stuart Ogier’s djembe was a new sound and in this setting was spot on.

It was next that Graham earned his place as compere. While Ramblin’ Nick Mann and the sound engineers on the night tried to get some kind of noise from Nick’s homemade guitars Graham kept the crowd entertained before we got a rather protracted two song set from the Ramblin’ one.

This was a shame as Nick’s Seasick Steve-esque take on old-time blues is always at least interesting using as he does a pair of homemade, three-string ‘cigar box’ (or biscuit tin) guitars, but tonight it wasn’t meant to be, though his one full tune and a capella version of Black Betty (I assume he was aiming more Lead Belly than Ram Jam) were still greeted warmly.

To The Woods
To The Woods

Things kicked up a gear next as we got a typically sweary and lairy, but still slightly toned down, acoustic take on To The Woods. While he may have been playing an acoustic guitar Bobby Battles voice was a forceful as ever and Dan Garnham continued to improve why he’s such an impressive drummer with a stripped down kit and more mellow (comparatively) flavour to his drumming.

I got the impression Bobby’s between song chat might not have been to everyone’s tastes, there’s no doubting he knows how to make an impression and hearing the bands now familiar songs in this style demonstrated that there’s a lot more to them than distortion and shouting – and no one else can say “The working title for this one is Sloppy C**t” and make it quite as charming and funny as Bobby manages!

Following To The Woods is never an enviable position but Dan Guilbert’s reggae drenched acoustic was a very different prospect and, while its something that’s been done a thousand times before, Dan does it well. The highlight for me was his take on Sublime’s Santeria, but as it became increasingly loose and freeform the set lost my attention as it went on.

The John Wesley Stone
The John Wesley Stone

Always one’s to be someway contrary The John Wesley Stone decided to ditch the stage format of the evening and set up to play genuinely unplugged in the raised area of the Tavern surrounded by photos of those who’ve graced the venue and packed in with the crowd.

Hillbill’s slap bass and Tinshack’s guitar kept the rhythm going strong while Jimmy The Pimp and English Bob added embellishments over the top with mandolin and fiddle respectively while all four a’ hooted and a’ hollered the catchy lyrics, with much assistance from the crowd.

If the crowd hadn’t got into the spirit this could have been a problematic set but with everyone getting involved it made for a real highlight that proved just how acoustic music can sound, and despite no engineering the sound was remarkably balanced with all instruments coming across.

Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains

The Americana feel continued next, albeit in a less raucous way, with the Appalachian folk and murder ballads of Blue Mountains. Once again the duo brought a real sense of meaning to the songs that can often be lost in the more hipster or ‘traditional’ ends of the folk movement.

James Le Huray added some mandolin and percussion on a couple of tracks, expanding the duo’s acoustic guitar based sound nicely, but it Henry Lee that provided the highlight of their set for me.

Clameur De Haro had their work cut out for them as the headlined the show tonight with technical issues causing a delay to the start of their set, but it wasn’t long before the crowd got into their lighthearted, folk-ish, mix of rock covers and originals. With technical problems persisting some bands could have been put off but The Clams carried on regardless and after a few tracks the dancefloor was getting moving.

Clameur De Haro
Clameur De Haro

While this probably wasn’t the tightest or most energetic set Clameur De Haro will ever play it was still great fun with Devil’s Hole being a highlight of the original and it rounded off a great night in fun and entertaining style hopefully paving the way for good things to come for the Vale Earth Fair in 2015.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

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