Vale Earth Fair Christmas Party – The Fermain Tavern – 18-19/12/15

Of Empires
Of Empires
Every year the Vale Earth Fair pulls out all the stops for its end of year shows with past versions having featured Dead Sea Skulls and Skindred amongst others.

2015 was no different as they took over The Fermain Tavern for two nights of music including the return to the island of Of Empires.

The first night got going with Rentoclean who were at their most ramshackle throughout. While the reggae-punk four-piece’s performance was still fun and engaging at times, they seemed to lose momentum as soon as they’d gained any by interspersing their more well-known songs with lengthy jams and half-formed new material.

All these jams came with a good groove but a lot of the time it felt as if even the band weren’t sure where these grooves were going and it was clear from the way the audience began to drift it wasn’t translating off stage either.

A highlight of the set came with We Wish You A Reggae Christmas but as their set ended with the band members drifting into silence the whole performance felt unengaging and something of a disappointed from such a renowned ‘party band’.

After a bit of a protracted break, during which we were ‘treated’ to the very random selections of DJ Ormer that ranged from cheesy Christmas classics to pounding dance to (later on) hard rock and metal, Tantale hit the stage.

They started off with a loose and groovy vibe that, as they got going, merged with the grungy feel of their rockier material into something that really seemed to hit the mood of the crowd. Particularly good here was a drone heavy track from new album Just Add Vice, which along with a few others got some intense head nodding going on.

Tantale and 'guest'
Tantale and ‘guest’
Tantale certainly feel reinvigorated following the release of their new album and string of recent gigs and this was particularly evident in frontman Steve Wickins’ more assured performance.

They ended their set with a good run at The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York (complete with impromptu and, I think, unexpected extra vocals from an over enthusiastic member of the audience) and had the energy in the room high for the night’s headliners.

By the time To The Woods hit the stage it was getting late and they were in instantly ‘lairy’ mode. Frontman Bobby Battle was out in the crowd by half way through the first song and soon after nearly wiped out the drumkit before settling down into his usual intense performance style.

Since the release of their debut album in October the whole band have been exuding more confidence and that was in full effect giving them the feeling of being legitimate headliners and not just the band going on last.

To The Woods
To The Woods
Throughout their breakneck set they had heads banging and about as close as we get to moshing at a Guernsey show these days and, while certainly This is Chaos it never felt out of control and ended the first night of the party on a high.

As Honest Crooks took to the stage to start the second night of the party the Tav was already as busy as it had been at its busiest the previous night and there was a real sense of anticipation for the Of Empires return.

That said it was clear this ska-punk trio had brought a fair number of their own fans in too, not a surprise considering their swift rise over the past twelve months. While frontman James Radford still seems to have a hard time connecting physically its fair to say their music is infectious and had a few moving despite the band being on first.

Honest Crooks
Honest Crooks
With their usual mix of well-known covers and their own material they kicked off the night well and got the energy up while their ska-punk version of Fairytale of New York was surprisingly successful and got them a big round of applause and cheers to end their set.

Having spent the last year gigging and working in the UK, Of Empires return to The Fermain Tavern had drawn quite a crowd many of whom headed onto the dancefloor as the band finished setting up.

From the off the band were probably the coolest looking thing to grace this stage this year and it would be easy to see the whole enterprise as something of a pose. However, once all four members hit their stride by half way through the first song it was clear all were playing with their own sense of legitimate conviction that made their set deeply engaging.

Of Empires
Of Empires
Jack Fletcher remains a prototypical frontman, playing to the crowd throughout and even getting Guernsey’s often-reserved audiences singing along, while all three other members had their moments in the spotlight.

Matthew Berry was, as ever, a consummate pro on lead guitar, even when he was having evident technical difficulties he barely missed a beat, while bass player Liam Bewey seemed far more engaged and energetic than when I’ve seen them in the past.

To round off a set of their cool and sexy take on rock ‘n’ roll Of Empires let loose with older fan favourite Carla that showed the band still have that more full on side to them. The addition of some harmonica from Andy Mason brought the song to life even more, rounding off the excellent set on a high as the whole performance demonstrated why Of Empires have had the success they have so far.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine
The Space Pirates of Rocquaine
After the previous night’s less than inspiring DJing work, DJ Oneofakind was on the decks and gone were the Christmas tunes to be replaced with funky, soulful sounds loosely matched to the bands but with the DJ’s own sense of musicality added as well showing why he’s one of the island’s premier genre hopping DJs.

Following Of Empires here was never going to be easy and, for the first half of their set, it seemed the new look Space Pirates of Rocquaine may be faltering. Being currently down a fiddle player, mandolin player Tim Corbett was swapping between his usual instrument and a Telecaster (slightly disappointingly there were no cries of ‘Judas’ from the audience) to add an extra depth to the sound. This seemed to wrong foot them somewhat making the first half fall a little flat.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine
The Space Pirates of Rocquaine
As they headed into their potentially rockier numbers though a switch seemed to go off, with drummer Moxie beginning to thunder on the drums a bit more than usual while Lisa Vidamour got a bit of her old rock band feel back and things picked up.

Certainly this was still very the folk rock band we are familiar with, but here, with that little extra edge, they found a new angle that worked very well for this version.

Newer song Coming Home marked an emotional highpoint of the set before the likes of Sarnia Cherie, Mr Le Goupillot and The Witch of the Longfrie brought the Vale Earth Fair’s 2015 Christmas party to a suitably upbeat and celebratory end.

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

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