Vale Earth Fair Unplugged – The Fermain Tavern – 03/02/18

The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers
The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

It might be the name of another of the Guernsey’s big musical events but ‘Chaos’ is a word more easily applied to this annual kick starter for the Vale Earth Fair than pretty much any other regular show on the island.

With eight acts, across four hours, on two stages, in one venue, Vale Earth Fair Unplugged has gained a reputation for being a messy affair, but also one that brings the music community together for the new year like few others, and so it was last Saturday at The Fermain Tavern.

The music got underway, as has become tradition, a few minutes later than announced, with new trio The Cor Damme Lars (playing on that famous Guernsey French exclamation).

The Cor Damme Lars
The Cor Damme Lars

Armed with mandolin (Gemma Honey), violin (Sarah Van Vlymen) and accordion (Jade Kershaw) the three young ladies combined elements of various traditional folk sounds with their own sense of fun to bring something entirely different to the island’s scene.

They took a few tunes to find their feet but once they did they had the already busy venue on side and went down a storm with those nearer the front with a particular highlight coming in an jazzy/ragtimey triple vocal harmony moment as they set the tone for the evening.

The main stage began with a band who, over the last year or so have evolved into a fully fledged electric band but here we’re back to acoustic duo form, Savage Sons.

Savage Sons
Savage Sons

Combining blues with a bit of a grunge edge Llewelyn Van Eeden (guitar and vocals) and Adam Powell (cajon) struggled to cut through the increasing hubbub at the bar and, while they sound good, they seemed to lack enough distinctive personality to really make an impact in this setting.

Another act who suffered from the fact that a majority of the audience didn’t seem to give a monkeys about the music being played were relatively new duo Between The Signs (aka Jo Lamb and Tim Adkins).

Unless you were all but literally stood on stage with them their delicate and soulful, self-described ‘dark indie folk’, got almost entirely lost which was a shame as what I did manage to hear sounded very good indeed.

The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers
The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

One band who, through sheer force of will, won’t let people speak over them are The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers and, after a lengthy time away, it was good to see them back, albeit without tuba player Paul.

Their busking-ragtime-country-stomp soon had the dance floor full (if not actually dancing much) as they picked up the energy in the room nicely.

As always the clash/contrast of Gemma’s and Clem’s vocals were a highlight and what’s not to like about a band featuring someone playing the spoons (Ash Jarman) and the kazoo amplified by a half drunk pint of Guinness (Tinshack).

Ramblin' Nick Mann
Ramblin’ Nick Mann

With a very different sound but a similar spirit Ramblin’ Nick Mann took to the smaller stage and delivered a raw and confident set of his homemade blues.

His uniquely engaging and entertaining presence kept a good number in front of the stage and he looked to be having a great time too as he regaled us with songs of the devil, inventive local folklore and a leaky cottage roof.

With a little electric help (they weren’t the first act of the night to break the ‘unplugged’ rule) The Space Pirates of Rocquaine made a rare late night, big stage appearance complete with new fiddle player James Dumbelton (who also came armed with a couple of penny whistles). Rather than clashing with the Telecaster of Nick Dodd the two worked together very nicely to expand the band’s the sound.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine
The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

With only a short set by their standards the Space Pirates kept it mostly to the crowd pleasers with some faster numbers to start before an immense sounding Prosperity and closing on favourites, The Witch of the Longfrie, Coming Home and Sarnia Cherie making for a set that really should have closed the night.

Warming up for one of their biggest shows to date, supporting Nessi Gomes at St James in two weeks, Blue Mountains started their set on the cramped smaller stage a little wobbly but soon settled down into being as being just as impressive as we’ve come to expect.

After the high energy and higher volume of the Space Pirates unfortunately they were another act to suffer from the audience being just a bit too noisy.

Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains

Given past instances of criticisms of noisy crowds at gigs I can’t help wonder if I’ve changed, but I think it’s to do with the context and showing respect, silence is rarely required in my opinion but at least having some consideration and respect for the people playing the music you’ve paid to hear is.

Starting with a comment about the ‘noisy c**ts’ The Recks frontman Richey Powers closed the night with a set of highly impressive solo acoustic songs.

Richey Powers
Richey Powers

Much like Mike Meinke of Buffalo Huddleston, Richey’s talent as guitarist, singer and songwriter gets a little lost in the context of an energetic full band so, getting to hear him like this is a real treat that shows off his talents in an entirely different way.

Slower and more considered than with The Recks, Richey apologised about the songs being too downbeat but that was not required as the likes of Frugal Heart sound great and did serve to close the night on a suitably unplugged high point that received a great response from the audience who stayed at the front for the duration.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Music Introducing Facebook page

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