The Vale Earth Fair‘s annual unplugged night has become almost as much a part of the Guernsey music calendar as the summer festival itself, albeit with slightly less fanfare.
Every year comes with its own surprised and highlights which in the past have ranged from The John Wesley Stone heading off stage and fully unplugged in amongst the crowd, to the debut of The Cor Damme Lars and bands usually used to fully electrified performances stripping things back to basics such as Sugarslam.
Always a relaxed event the 2020 edition looked set to be even more so, and with Brunt drummer Squirrel opening the show the scene was certainly set for this.
While more known for taking the seat behind the kit for much louder and heavier types of music the lighter songs he played here on acoustic guitar still fit the feeling of what you might expect from him mixing elements of classic 70s acoustic rock with hints of stoner and psychedelia all delivered in an effortlessly cool style.
After last weekend’s L’Islet Records Acoustic Night Bobby Battle was back with another band taking heavier indie sounds and rendering them on acoustic guitars, this time with the band he fronts, Terrible Stuntman.
With just two acoustic guitars playing this style it could easily have become repetitive but Liam Bewey’s lead guitar work along with Bobby switching between a rather impressive croon to his more well known ‘lairy’ shouts kept it more than interesting.
While their songs have yet to ingrain themselves like some longer standing bands they showed they more than hold up to the stripped back treatment while closer, To The Wood’s Taxi, was a great surprise highlight.
The format of the night, as has become the standard for this event, with two stages and a near non-stop run of live music across the night, was highlighted next as busking style troubadour Dave Etherington made his way onto the smaller of the two stages with barely a pause from arriving at the venue.
Across his set he found a nice balance between a loose and fun delivery with some solid songs but things really seemed to come to life properly when he headed in more bluesy directions culminating with his own song, Loose Lips, to close the set.
Rather like Terrible Stuntman, Tantale were also playing at half strength with just guitarists Steve Wickins and Louis Le Couteur representing the band, and so according to compere Graham they should just be called Tale.
Name shortening aside the duo took the band’s usual atmospheric grunge sounds and created a surprisingly big and engrossing sound for just the two performers, starting with two more intricate songs before moving onto some of their more well known tracks all of which went down very well as the venue got busier.
Dan Guilbert started his set off with some of the kind of soulful, reggae influenced, pop we’ve come to know him for before inviting Rentoclean bandmate Tom Erskine on stage for the first moment of the night where the ‘unplugged’ element of the show was entirely disregarded, as he picked up an electric guitar.
Regardless of that the pair went into more blues and country directions that sounded great and maintained the general chilled out feeling of the night’s music ending on a highly enjoyable version of Johnny Cash’s I Got Stripes.
Continuing the trend of bands running at half strength three of the six Ukuladeez (and one ‘Ukulady-boy’) took to the stage and delivered a set just as packed with fun and risqué innuendos through their own take on indie-folk as we’ve come to expect.
Their song about the island’s car parks, along with Antiques Roadshow Blues and Down On Me provided highlights while a new one about a goblin also went down well and looks set to raise some eyebrows at the upcoming Eisteddfod. With all of this and more they managed to properly pull the crowd forward for the first time tonight.
Having, I think, only made their real public debut at the Guernsey Gigs Unplugged Club the previous Tuesday and still without a name so tonight going by ‘Lunch’ (or was it ‘Lunge’?) the duo of Grace Tayler and Elliott Mariess rounded off the music on the smaller stage.
With a more indie sound than we are used to hearing from either performer Grace’s Amanda Palmer stylings stood out even more as they explored the more obscure corners of the genre, along with a cover of Jolene.
My personal highlight of the set was The New Time’s ode to indie rockers Neutral Milk Hotel before, for the final track, Grace flipped the guitar on its back to use it as a drum making their set something of a highlight of the night, seemingly not just for me but for many in attendance.
Almost completely eschewing the unplugged idea it was Brunt who closed the night off but, in keeping with something of the idea of their event, stripped things back by their standards with no wall of amps or extensive range of effects and fuzz pedals.
Instead they presented a clean version of their stoner doom accompanied by Rentoclean’s Brett Smeed on saxophone somewhat filling the gaps left by the lack of powerful effects and also adding his own spin to their usual sound.
The instrumentals were as absorbing, enthralling and beguiling as ever and this cleaner version felt more in keeping with their recent album Ataraxy becoming a kind of doom jazz, if that’s a thing, and rounding the night off with another stand out set kicking off another year for the Vale Earth Fair that will hopefully build on the success of 2019.