Wow, what a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, the inaugural Ramblin’ Man Fair in Maidstone’s Mote Park experienced modest audiences, kept in check by wretched weather. The event made a loss and resulted in a change of management, with Spirit Of Rock taking the reins. Roll forward to 2016. Twenty-two thousand people packed out the park. For two days, the sun beamed under blue skies and the mercury resided comfortably in the mid-70s to 80s.
Ramblin’ Man Fair is the festival for the people who sew denim patches on their denim patches; a celebration of all things classic and progressive rock, of country rock, of blues rock. And it’s not just the weather that was different this year. Gone was the funfair – replaced by a Wall of Death motorcycle show – and there was an additional Rising stage to complement the Where Rock Lives, Prog In The Park and Outlaw Country’/’Blues stages. One other change: either my legs have shrunk in the last twelve months, or the Where Rock Lives stage was even higher than the equivalent in 2015. If photographs of rock stars truncated at the knees is your thing, you’re in the right place.
Ramblin’ Man Fair Saturday 23 July
Kicking off the weekend in the rarefied air of the big stage, were Inglorious, a hard rock band formed in 2014, whose sound makes no apology for paying homage to established artists in the genre. Think Purple, Zeppelin, Bad Company, Aerosmith – you can’t go far wrong. This opening act set the stall for what Ramblin’ Man is all about; it is unashamedly retro. With artists in the line-up such as Europe, Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heap, Whitesnake and Procol Harum; it’s not just the temperature that was lodged in the 70s and 80s. Whilst these bands of a certain age do rightly retain a passionate fan base and certainly draw the punters, this year emerging talent found a home on the new Rising stage and this is where I saw some of the most dynamic performances all weekend. On Saturday, bands such as Naked Six, Mason Hill, Massive Wagons and Colour Of Noise gave spirited and explosive performances and no doubt generated new fans in the process.
Meanwhile, the ‘Prog In The Park’ stage had a new home up the hill, and surrounded by mature trees was a very pleasant place to spend time. I got the impression that fans of the more progressive end of the spectrum set their seats up here and didn’t move all day. The Prog stage was also smaller than last year and the more intimate atmosphere it embodied certainly aided the ambience.
Commitments elsewhere around the site meant that I didn’t see a great deal at the Prog stage on Saturday, but I did enjoy what I heard of the music of IO Earth and Purson, whose vocalists Linda Odinsen and Rosalie Cunningham respectively held an arresting presence and sounded superb.
The Zombies were another band I enjoyed on the Prog stage, their leader Rod Argent also playing songs from his eponymously titled band. I arrived just in time for the Argent classic Hold Your Head Up, which was good to hear.
One place bigger than last year was the country/blues tent – and it was still bursting at the seams. The tent was frequently unpleasantly full for much of the weekend and often the Ramblin’ faithful settled on having to hear their favourites from the wrong side of the canvas. Last year the tent provided respite from the rain, but I’d take the risk of getting wet and would much prefer to see this stage get the proper outdoor treatment afforded to the others. A plea for 2017 if you’re listening, please.
Saturday highlights on the Outlaw Country stage included the excellent The White Buffalo. Festival stalwarts Hayseed Dixie headlined the tent, mandolin player Hippy Joe Hymas flicking us the bird between chord changes. Their performance was great fun, marred (from a photographic perspective only) by terrible lighting.
On the main stage, there was an eclectic collection of artists, albeit singing much of the same tune. The Dead Daisies are a band I’ve wanted to see for some time and they defied the risk of vertigo to deliver a fine mid-afternoon slot from nosebleed land. With members that have played in Whitesnake, Dio, Mötley Crüe, Thin Lizzy and Ozzy Osbourne’s touring band, the current ‘Daisies line up is firmly in supergroup territory.
Following The Dead Daisies were Terrorvision (that I don’t entirely get) and Ginger Wildheart (that I do). Both delivered very energetic performances. Europe came next, a loyal fan base draping Swedish flags over the barrier. As one might expect, The Final Countdown rang out last – making me feel nostalgic and old in equal measure.
That left us with Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake as the Saturday night main stage headliners. Lizzy, who cannot boast a single member from the original line up (Scott Gorham joined in 1974 and Darren Wharton in 1980) are to me not much more than a reformed glorified tribute act. I suppose singer Ricky Warwick does at least sound like Phil Lynott whilst fortunately, he makes no attempt to look like him. They were joined on stage for a short while by Midge Ure, who briefly occupied one of the Lizzy guitarist spots at the end of the 70’s. It added some extra authenticity, but it was too little, too late in my eyes. The reformation in its current guise is in recognition of the 40th anniversary of Thin Lizzy and the 30th anniversary of Lynott’s death, and indeed giant images of the former front man were projected behind the band. Would he have approved? I’m not entirely sure he would.
So the final slot of the day belonged to David Coverdale and Whitesnake, a band that practically defines the heavy blues-rock genre. This was also the only slot where the sunshine truly gave way to what this giant stage had to offer – and the lightshow was impressive indeed. Coverdale had a naturally relaxed affinity with the crowd, as one might expect from the figurehead of two of Britain’s most iconic bands. At age sixty-four, the question on many people’s lips though was whether he still had the voice to pull off those 80’s power ballads, and the answer was… no, not quite. This probably explains why long periods of the set were given to somewhat self-indulgent guitar and drum solos. Nobody really seemed to care though, as the massed singing of classics such as Here I Go Again and Is This Love? from thousands of by now well lubricated Ramblin’ men and women echoed around the north Kent countryside. It was a great close to a great day and set the festival up well for what Sunday had to offer.
Ramblin’ Man Fair Sunday 24 July.
Sunday at Ramblin’ Man Fair saw a fantastic array of southern Americana music and culture. There was everything from Harley Davidson’s to pick-up trucks and fried chicken, providing their punters with a true southern comfort feel. A well thought-out, fantastically planned festival of immense character, you will undoubtedly fall in love with Ramblin’ Man.
The Kentucky Headhunters began proceedings, four guys who had been round the block with the likes Johnnie Johnson. Whilst they may have been around for some time, it cannot be denied how fresh they sound! Their song Stumblin’ was the stand-out highlight of the set; a track from the new blues album written by rhythm guitarist Greg Martin. Well worth a listen in our humble opinion!
The best thing about festivals is discovering new music, new musicians and new bands. May we, RockShot present The Dirty Thrills from London; an eccentric heavy funk and Blues Band with deep-south undertones. Be on the look-out for these extrovert guys, you won’t miss them!
A highly anticipated band on the Ramblin’ Man line up this year were The Cadilliac Three, who are currently touring the UK. They opened with Tennessee Mojo and Drunk Like You, two songs that epitomise their catchy, southern sound. These guys love where they come from; they sing from the heart, the lyrics echoing their alliance to their country roots in Nashville, Tennessee. The crowd dug the different sound and charming accents of the band. They roared when Jaren Johnston confessed “It’s about to get real southern in here!” as they launched into their final song The South. If The Cadillac Three are as popular in the UK as they were at Ramblin’ Man they could be set to make us all fall in love with country music. Here at RockShot, we hope they can be the start of the country music revolution!
Airbourne were certainly ‘air’-bourne. Having just released their new track ‘Breaking Out Of Hell’. Joel O’keeffe was jumping off the stage and taunting the crowd by running into the audience. He also showed us how to open a can of beer with his head whilst playing guitar! Even if the heavier sound wasn’t to your taste, there was no way Airbourne left you unentertained! True performers!
The final performance on the Prog stage was from Procol Harum, Gary Brooker and his band delivering a fabulous laid-back and self-assured performance. Finishing with the classic A Whiter Shade Of Pale; whilst the hard-rock of Black Stone Cherry on the main stage and the southern blues-rock of Warren Haynes played out under the canvas, it really demonstrated the variation of music on offer at Ramblin’ Man Fair.
Black Stone Cherry lived up to the expectations of their fans, giving a hugely energetic performance, which went down a storm with the crowd. No one left this show disappointed!
Overall, if you want to experience two days of Nashville Americana, southern rock, country and blues; plus the best classic, progressive and hard-rock from the UK, Europe and the US, then Ramblin’ Man is the closest you can get without needing your passport! We will definitely be seeing y’all next year!
Saturday review by Simon Reed.
Sunday review by Laura Bradley.
Photographs by Simon Reed and Laura Bradley.