Ramblin’ Man Fair – Maidstone, Mote Park – 28/30 July 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Ben Hughes   
Friday, 11 August 2017 04:30

Ramblin’ Man Fair, situated in the pleasant and usually quiet surroundings of Mote Park in Maidstone, is a mere baby amongst the small UK festival scene. Yet it has quickly stamped its muddy cowboy boot down and established itself amongst the competition with some heavyweights from all over the Rock, Blues and Country world treading its boards the past couple of years.

 

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2017 is no exception, with exclusive UK festival dates from Friday and Saturday headliners Extreme and ZZ Top. But as with every festival, it’s not all about the headliners, as there are plenty of smaller bands to check out across the four stages this weekend and many surprises in store.

 

Friday

 

This year, Ramblin’ Man added a Friday evening to proceedings, with just four bands on the Planet Rock main stage and the other stages and areas of the venue closed off, it seems a bit of a last minute decision to be honest. The fact that the bars are not prepared or open yet, as hundreds of fans are entering with free drink vouchers that can only be used by 5pm, does not bode well. And as the greying skies full of rain overhead prepare to put the dampeners on many people’s evening, I decide it’s time to leave the growing, disgruntled horde and head for the undercover VIP section to see if I can get in to shelter from the rain and grab a cider.

 

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I meet with friends and luckily the drinks here are already flowing, this is why people pay that little bit extra methinks. The homely, wooden enclosure has a distinct western vibe and the table service and upstairs area just add that bit of style to this quickly dampening festival. Of course, the bars around the venue soon open and all is forgotten as Graham Bonnet takes to the stage in a shocking pink jacket. He never really was the epitome of ‘cool’ back in the day was he? Back when spandex, leather and long locks ruled the heavy metal world, our Graham looked more like a car salesman, but there was no denying that voice, right? From the upstairs bar it is difficult to see or hear much to be honest but the likes of ‘All Night Long’ and of course ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ go down well with the watered down crowd.

 

With a couple of drinks inside me and the rain seemingly subsiding for now, it’s time to venture out for a wonder around the venues various stalls and get some bearings, before heading back to the main stage for tonight’s second band Last In Line. Never in my life did I ever think I would be standing in a Kent field, in the rain, watching Phil Sousson and Vivian Campbell playing ‘Holy Diver’: yet here I am, singing along with cider in hand. The band, completed of course by Vinny Appice on drums and vocalist Andrew Freeman, who does a great job filling Ronnie James Dio’s elven boots. They played some of their own songs of course, I didn’t know them, but it was great to hear the likes of set opener ‘Stand Up And Shout’ and the brilliant ‘Rainbow In The Dark’ played live.

 

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Now, Y&T are a band that completely passed me by back in the day, they always sounded a bit AOR for my glam rockin’ teenage taste and subsequently I have not got much further with their back catalogue since. Yet tonight, Y&T are the surprise highlight. With rhythm guitarist John Nymann falling ill and not being able to make the flight, the band are forced to play as a three piece for the first time in their forty year career. If vocalist/guitarist Dave Meniketti had any trouble covering for his ailing guitarist he was not showing it. The guitar licks flow and the voice is as strong as it was in his heyday that’s for sure. Bassist Aaron Leigh stalks the stage, all in black, a leather cowboy hat and low slung bass, a proper Sunset Strip rock ‘n’ roller if there ever was one (has he been in LA Guns yet?).

 

‘Dirty Girl’ is a master class in mid 80’s radio rock, with cool guitar riff and pumping bass and I start to wonder what I have been missing all these years. ‘Straight Through The Heart’ and especially closer ‘Rescue Me’ sound great and stay with me long into the night. With a hastily rehearsed guitarist joining them to fill the guitars out for a few songs, Y&T took the Ramblin’ Man stage by storm and proved beyond doubt they still have what it takes to wow a festival crowd.

 

If you are reading this, then you probably don’t need telling that Saxon are British metal royalty. From their NWOBHM beginnings, they always seem to have been around through all the changing rock climates. Never cool as Motorhead and never as successful the world over as Iron Maiden, yet Biff Byford and his band deserve their headline slot as Ramblin’ Man as much as any other band and they sure deliver tonight.

 

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All you want from a festival headliner is the hits and Saxon give us just that and more, tonight playing ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ live album in its entirety. Following the newbie opener ‘Battering Ram’ they pull out the likes of ‘747(Strangers In The Night)’, ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ and ‘Wheels Of Steel’. They have the diehard fan base singing along and I find it quite bizarre to note two glammed up twenty-somethings and their girlfriends in front of me are singing along to every word. Maybe Saxon are cool after all. The band are tight, bassist Nibbs Carter does his best Steve Harris impression, running all over and getting his foot on the monitor, as the twin guitars of Paul Quinn and Nigel Glockler do the business either side. Is there anything more 80s rock then Les Pauls with tremeloes? The guys both have ‘em! The stage production is top notch and the sound spot on, as the night draws in, the light show comes into its own and we are treated as plumes of flame shoot from the stage. Encore ‘Denim and Leather’, a true metal anthem, sends us off into the night looking for cider and food.

 

Friday night the eagle truly landed at Ramblin’ Man but band of the day surely goes to Y&T... cider, food and a walk back to our accommodation to prepare to do it all again tomorrow then.

 

Saturday

 

Who I actually manage to catch today is a bit out of my hands as I have four interviews to do over the course of the afternoon, and no matter what happens that will involve valuable time stood in the press area waiting around. But I think I’ve allowed enough time to juggle it and Luke Appleton is covering bands while I’m here, so hopefully between us we can cover a good majority.

 

It’s windy and surprise, surprise... rain is imminent again as Dirty Thrills open the Grooverider Stage. The young London band played here last year on the Rising Stage and have been asked to come back, so they must be doing something right. They have been likened to Rival Sons and it’s an easy comparison, but I’d say there’s a more sleazy edge to their Blues. Visually, they come across like some pimped-up ‘70s dandy highwaymen, and I mean that in a good way. The whole band are energetic and all over the stage, singer Louis takes command, strutting his stuff with all the Jagger/Tyler moves he can muster and a killer voice that hits those high notes with ease. The likes of ‘Law Man’ from upcoming album ‘Heavy Living’ promise good things for the future. You can catch them later this year on tour with Black Star Riders, so be sure to turn up early to watch these rising stars.

 

Following a couple of interviews, I stay at GrooveRider to watch German duo The Picturebooks. I reviewed their latest album ‘Home Is A Heartache’ recently and have been looking forward to catching them live and they do not disappoint. The mix of Fynn’s guitars and the big, red padded beaters of drummer Philipp give a very distinctive primal feel to their sound and it seems that everyone around is happy to join the Picturebooks tribal groove train. Philipp pounds seven shades of shit out of his kit with beaters and sometimes his hands, it’s not long before his hair is stuck to his head with sweat. The slide induced ‘Zero Fucks Given’ sounds anthemic, as Fynn incites us all to sing along and the heavy Black Keys groove of ‘I Need That Oooh’ sounds fantastic as the rain falls heavier around us. Being on the road for three years straight has made The Picturebooks a tight unit and they are mesmerising to watch as Philipp especially beats and shakes various homemade percussion instruments.

 

As the rain continues, it’s time to find shelter and cider in the VIP tent and watch the end of British Lion and then Reef on the Main Stage from the relative comfort, before heading back out to the press area to meet up with The Picturebooks. Following that, I catch Finnish bluegrass mob Steve n Seagulls finishing their set with Metallica’s ‘Seek & Destroy’ to a jam packed Four Roses Outlaw Country Stage before managing to catch the last few songs of Toby Jepson’s new band, Wayward Sons. They did ‘Young Gods’ if you Little Angels fans were wondering. They may only be on the Rising Stage and it’s only their third gig as a band but they get a great response. The band finish and are up for another song but it seems their time slot is up also. Wayward Sons will be back next year I’m sure and by then we will know their songs.

 

Following my final interview of the day I find myself in the Outlaw Country Stage again to see how Homemade Sin are faring without Dan Baird at the helm. It was sadly announced yesterday that the former Georgia Satellites frontman has been taken ill and will not be performing for sometime. The band will however be fulfilling their touring commitments and today guitarist Warner E Hodges steps up to fill those countrified boots and pulls off one of the performances of the weekend.

 

The atmosphere in here is ace, as under strange circumstances we witness an emotional Homemade Sin show that will never be repeated. As Warner says from the stage, this is not his gig (singing these songs) but he pulls it off with ease. Asking if “y’all could help and sing-along” before launching into a crowd sing-along of ‘I Love You Period’. Dave Edmunds ‘From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)’ sounds ace and they even throw in a Merle Haggard song for good measure. The Satellites ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ kicks nicely and ‘Keep Your Hands To Yourself’ is fantastic. A more mellow, countrified version of ‘White Lies’ is not as upbeat as The Scorchers would do it, but it still sounds class to these ears. “Y’all gotta sing or we gonna quit!” hollers Warner before launching into a howlin’ ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ that gets the hairs on the back of the neck in that chorus as the whole tent sings as one. Sweet country music indeed. Homemade Sin did Dan Baird proud today and I was glad to be one of the few who witnessed it.

 

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Rival Sons’ rise to world class act has been a steady one since they came to our attention with ‘Pressure And Time’ back in 2011. As frontman Jay Buchanan says from the stage, the UK “got us” and embraced the band before the rest of the world cottoned on. Now 5 albums into their career, constant touring has made them a well oiled rock ‘n’ roll machine, a world class live act and their headline slot here on the GrooveRider stage is well deserved. A one-two of ‘Hollow Bones Part 1’ and ‘Tied Up’ from last year’s ‘Hollow Bones’ album sets the pace and then the stunning ‘Electric Man’ takes it up a notch. The ever cool Scott Holiday is mesmerising to watch: in his green suit he looks like an extra from The Adventures Of Baron Munchhausen, and his playing is phenomenal. He has a rack of Kauer banshee guitars at his disposal (check them out online, wish I could afford one!) and he changes guitars nearly every song.

 

‘Jordan’ is a mesmerising highlight, jammed out and extended, what a song! Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt can be seen in the wings getting down to it too. As the grey skies darken even further, the stage lights brighten and Rival Sons bring some light back to the dreary surroundings with music. ‘Open My Eyes’ is a tour de force of 70’s rock and ‘Hollow Bones Part 2’, well it’s simply a breathtaking groove of a song and a killer performance. ‘Keep On Swinging’ ends a truly awe inspiring set that proves Rival Sons are up there with the big hitters these days and have now surely outgrown the smaller stages. Next year the mainstage beckons and who would deny them that spot?

 

Having had quite enough of the rain, it’s back to the shelter of the VIP area to watch Extreme and drink, not in that order! As Luke is covering them, I won’t go into details, other that they deliver as expected, but for me and my company, the whiskey bar beckons as Nuno takes his acoustic out and the rest of the night is a bit hazy.

 

Sunday

 

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I arrive in time to catch Tyler Bryant do an acoustic set in the VIP area but security won’t let me through today, which is a shame. So, I grab a drink from the bar and find a spot in the shadow of the main stage in time for Blues Pills. They come on to a black and white trippy background, their sound transports the listener back to early ‘70s California, a trippy amalgamation of Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. Barefooted singer Elin Larsson, dressed in a black lacy bodysuit, is not only easy on the eye, she is also easy on the ears. What a voice! There’s a note she hit before final song ‘Devil Man’ that gave serious goosebumps, that girl can sing, and hell, that girl can move! In fact she does not stand still for the entire set, whether its jumping up and down, foot on the monitor singing at the front rows, running from side of the stage to the other or just standing there, legs apart shaking her maracas (not a euphemism, she actually did have maracas!) she gives her all. Oh yeah, there’s some bearded dudes in the band too who play their instruments really well. They even do a passionate version of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Somebody To Love’ which is the perfect cover version for this band it has to be said. Blues Pills really impressed, a class live act. They will be touring with Black Star Riders later this year, along with Dirty Thrills, that is turning out to be a tour not to be missed.

 

A visit to the merch stand to grab a T shirt, there’s no rain forecast today and it’s the perfect time to stand at a distance and watch Jer from Monster Truck wring the life outta his Gibson SG on the main stage. The Canadian mob are kicking live, Jer is all over the stage and they put on a high energy show.

 

By all accounts the Four Roses Blues Stage is going to get busy for hotly tipped Texan band Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, so we head over early to secure a spot right at the front. You can feel the anticipation in the air, as the band set up and the crowd filters in. Johnny Cash’s version of ‘Rusty Cage’ plays over the PA before the band are literally unleashed like a charging bull into the ring as the whole tent comes alive. The band play a high energy show, with the heavy crunch of Graham Whitford’s Les Paul Jr loud in the left speaker, Tyler Bryant’s guitar histrionics are barely audible from my position but still the band sound freakin’ ace!

 

Ty Taylor from Vintage Trouble recommended the band a few years back when he played with them and it’s easy to see from the off why this band have been playing to thousands, opening for Guns n’ Roses and Aerosmith in stadiums around the world. Whatever it is you need, that magic something, that certain something that puts you in a class act above the rest, they have got it. Their set mixes up bluesy numbers with much heavier guitar driven rock, with plenty of “whoa-whoa”s, songs are jammed out and improvised and there is crowd participation too Ever grinning, animated drummer Caleb plays hard like Tommy Lee, he stands on his kit and comes to the front several times to chuck drumsticks at the near-fainting female audience members. Tyler announces a new song called ‘Easy Target’ from their new album due out next month, a bluesy mid paced rocker with killer vocal harmonies, I will be tracking down this album to review it, so watch this space!

 

Tyler straps on a resonator for a slide induced song called ‘Lipstick Wonder Woman’ that climaxes with drummer Caleb down the front with a snare drum bashing it out as the guitar duo crank out a twin lead harmony. The show culminates with the frontman soloing into the crowd as his band play on. And just like that they are gone, a Texas whirlwind of a band, done and dusted in 45 minutes.

 

Some might say a little old band from Texas conquered at Ramblin’ Man and surprisingly enough, it wasn’t ZZ Top. Band of the day, if not the whole festival for me.

 

A quick trip to loo, grab a drink and catch the opening couple of songs from UFO on the main stage before hightailing it back to the Blues Stage to catch the remainder of a set from The Quireboys. Spike is hammered, he announces that they haven’t rehearsed, or he hasn’t, as he’s been drinking for 7 days straight. He may well stumble about a bit and fail to catch his mikestand when he throws it in the air but to be honest The Quireboys still sound great. ‘Walking The Dog’ dedicated to Taj Mahal is a ramshackle affair and ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ and ‘Little Queenie’ follow suit. Chaotic, drunk and as fun as ever.

 

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As the ZZ Top road crew set up the minimalistic stage set, we take prime spot centre at the front just behind the muddy area. It’s nearly an hour before showtime but its a good spot to watch the Texan trio. I have never seen ZZ Top before so am pretty excited to see if they still have what it takes.

 

The ZZ Top show is a very slick production, shit, these guys have been at it so long they could probably do it in their sleep. Frank Beard takes his place at the kit to a great cheer and sparks up a fag, he may as well as had a coffee as well, he’s that chilled. ‘Got Me Under Pressure’ opens the set with Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill dressed in matching black gear, shades and hats. If you’ve seen them before you know what to expect and if you’ve only seen the iconic videos then yeah, you still know what to expect. The sound is crystal clear and for just 3 guys playin’ The Blues, they sure sound great. This is a greatest hits set, which is just what you want from a festival headliner, and in complete contrast to the high energy show from Extreme last night, the ZZ Top show is a more mellow experience, a comedown if you like, in a good way indeed. The iconic synchronised moves from the duo are ever present, from knee bending to finger-pointing, it’s like a Blues work-out, it’s rock ‘n’ roll Zumba before the Sunday hangover kicks in!

 

Classic follows classic from ‘Jesus Left Chicago’ and ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ to ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ and ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ if you don’t know ‘em by now then you never will. There’s a bunch of Blues covers too and a laid back run through of ’ Foxy Lady’ that sounds sweet. They even get out guitar tech Elwood to play some sweet bluegrass slide on Buck Owens ‘Act Naturally’.

 

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The band are tight as a duck’s arse, Gibbons’ wonderful guitar work sloppy in all the right places. I truly can’t fault them. For set closer ‘Legs’ they emerge through the dry ice with the iconic fur guitars and a smile. Yeah, they seem to be enjoying it as much as we are. A double encore of ‘La Grange’, ‘Tush’ and the closing ‘Jailhouse Rock’ sends us all off happy campers and I must say ZZ Top didn’t so much blow me away as more like make me go ....yeah man! Top band, top gig....top festival.

 

The organisers deserve at pat on the back as they sure seem to be doing things right. Ramblin’ Man Fair is a well organised, chilled festival. With friendly staff and no signs of trouble there was a great atmosphere all weekend. The running order ran like clockwork as far as I could tell and there was plenty to keep all comers occupied all day and all night. With the high pedigree of this year’s headliners it seems the sky is the limit for Ramblin’ Man and I am excited to see what they come up with next year. I for one will be returning for more rock ‘n’ roll and the best sausage rolls I’ve ever tasted! A top weekend was had by all.

 

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PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © MetalPlanet.

 

Ramblin’ Man Fair 2018 will take place on Saturday 30 June and Sunday 1 July. ‘Super Early Bird’ tickets have already sold out.

 

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