Time to get out of your ‘Sleeping Bag’ and put on the ‘Cheap Sunglasses’!
The third Ramblin’ Man Fair promised the most eclectic mix of rock genres from Folk Rock to Progressive Metal, music legends to new up and coming bands.
The music may be varied but one thing everyone has in common at Mote Park for the weekend is The Spirit of Rock!
Mote Park in Maidstone, Kent, is an ideal location to draw in rock fans from the south of England, Europe and beyond. Whether you want to camp, glamp or just buy tickets on the day, Ramblin’ Man has a package for you, including the VIP tent with exclusive acoustic performances, artist interviews and that all important shelter – as we were about to find out!
For the second year running Ramblin’ Man put on something special on the Friday afternoon. Last year it was in the sports hall, however this year for an extra £50 you could see four additional bands on the Planet Rock Main Stage; Graham Bonnet Band, Last In Line, Y&T and the mighty Saxon.
As the drizzle rolled in Graham Bonnet kicked off proceedings with his latest band running through his impressive discography of Rainbow, MSG and Alcatrazz songs, Mr Bonnet powerfully belting out three tracks from ‘Down to Earth’ being a highlight.
If I’m brutally honest I wasn’t hugely impressed by their 2016 album, but when the next band The Last in Line took to the stage I was immediately silenced. This IS a live band and they sounded awesome paying tribute to the late (Ronnie James) Dio classics such as ‘Holy Diver’ and ‘Rainbow in the Dark’.
Vivian Campbell and Vinny Appice, as I think you’ll agree, are musical legends. Coming out of hiatus and with a lot of recent bad luck with their band members, Y&T were a popular choice especially with their fan base. As the rain rolled on I decided to retreat for a while to the shelter of the VIP tent to refresh myself for Fridays headliner.
New wave of British heavy metal legends the mighty Saxon returned to Ramblin’ Man with a full 19 song setlist including metal classics such as ‘And the Bands Played On’ and ‘Denim and Leather’, plus exclusively playing ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ album in its entirety! The whistling West Yorkshire frontman Biff Byford’s anecdotes always make for great listening as he paid a nice tribute to his friend and comrade in heavy metal Lemmy, dedicating ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ to the late Motörhead icon.
In between onstage antics from our favourite Rock Gods, Planet Rock Presenters Wyatt Wendels and Paul Anthony hosted proceedings and it was nice to chat to them walking around about D.A.B. availability in Kent and the great charity work Wyatt does with The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) aimed at the prevention of male suicide in the UK.
The weather was not kind to us on Friday – and Saturday would be no better! But a treat was in store for VIP members with a Q&A session with the one and only Biff Byford hosted by rock journalist Malcolm Dome. It was a great way to catch up with the fans on subjects on the past, present and future and I hope Ramblin’ Man do more of these in the future. Biff talked about starting off in different bands, not planning on being a frontman as he used to play bass guitar, but the band had two bass players and needed a singer! Amongst other things, such as talking about Lemmy, he also mentioned the possibility of a solo album in the near future after the next Saxon album with a more rock, less metal vibe.
Saturday brings much more music, which means many more stages, including the Planet Rock Main Stage, Rising Stage, Four Roses Bourbon Outlaw Country Stage and the Grooverider Stage which would become the Prog in the Park Stage for Sunday.
With so much to see it was going to be difficult to get around but Ramblin’ Man spread artists out well with a few breaks with Civil War re-enactments! Away from the music there are food stalls in abundance from ostrich burgers to pimped up fries, merchandise stalls, bars, toilets, cash points.. oh and a motorcycle wall of death!
London Blues Rock band Dirty Thrills kicked off business, promoted from last year’s Rising Stage to the Grooverider stage supporting such bands as Europe and Scorpions.
Former World Superbike Champion James Toseland returned to the Main Stage with a new album and a special mention must go to his song penned with Toby Jepson ‘We’ll Stop at Nothing’ being chosen as the anthem for the 2017 Special Olympics.
Still on the Main Stage, another debut album I wasn’t that dazzled by was Steve Harris‘s British Lion, but yet again I was taken back to how different they sound live – so much more powerful than put down on record. With Harris’s galloping bass lines, foot on monitor and beaming smile you could tell he wasn’t giving any less passion than any Maiden concert.
An additional exclusive in the VIP tent would see Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson of Black Star Riders/Thin Lizzy tear through a short acoustic set from their catalogue with the added bonus of a cover of ‘Ace of Spades’.
The Picture Books proved popular on the Grooverider Stage but I wasn’t going to miss one half of the hilarious Tenacious D, The Kyle Gass Band! Mike Bray vocals worked perfectly with Gas, thinking it would be a mainly acoustic affair. They rocked hard and I’d recommend them to anyone with a sense of humor.
Back on the main stage veteran bass hero Glenn Hughes wrapped up a short set with the Classic Mk III Deep Purple anthem ‘Burn’. Meanwhile on the Rising Stage ex Little Angels frontman Toby Jepson with his exciting new band Wayward Sons, currently on tour with UFO, looks to be the best material and feel to a band of Toby’s since his heyday.
A reformed Dokken were next to take the main stage, to the joy of many followers due to the lack of recent touring apart from Japan. Don Dokken and band sounded on form, favourite tracks being ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Breaking the Chains’. Local funny man and number one fan Jim Moir (Vic Reeves) took to the Grooverider Stage to introduce “the greatest band of all time” The Rival Sons – good to see he’s still a true comedian.
Concurrently and something a little bit more classic on the Main Stage, Scott Gorham and friends the Black Star Riders (Thin Lizzy touring band) smashed through songs from three albums. Rain lashing down, we opted for the upstairs viewing area in the VIP tent once more in time to catch ‘Whisky in the Jar’ in more than one way!
Extreme were the surprise headliners – I say surprise as they were named quite late on and I can honestly say being a little disappointed would be an understatement. I can appreciate Nuno Bettencourt’s guitar skills and Gary Cherone’s vocal range but I just don’t dig their music, nevertheless they are good showmen and got their fans going with ‘Get the Funk Out’, ‘Decadence Dance’ and the sickly ballad ‘More Than Words’ their only saving grace for me would be a few Queen covers whom Cherone blows Adam Lambert off the stage!
Hallelujah! As the first real sunny weather all weekend shone over Mote Park another bass legend took to the Main Stage. Neil Murray’s long career with bands such as Whitesnake, Brian May and Black Sabbath brought me to the attention of Snakecharmer, which he formed with Mick Moody. With Harry James from Thunder on drums, Rick Wakeman’s son on keyboards, Chris Ousey on vocals and cut from the same ilk as Paul Rogers, this is a recipe for success.
One thing I love about festivals is bumping into relatively unknown bands that make you go “wow, they were good”.
With nothing much going on we headed to the Four Roses Bourbon Blues Stage and slowly made our way through the crowded tent towards some great blues/metal guitar work. Hogjaw were my favourite unexplored band last year, this year it was Blindstone, a trio from Denmark. Martin J. Andersen’s guitar work left me watching in awe; not just twiddly diddly solo’s for the sake of it, just real good songs from start to finish.
Blues Pills returned this year with a later time slot which they thoroughly deserved. This Swedish psychedelic blues rock band fronted by the rather lovely Elin Larsson have been doing the festival circuit for a couple of years now. They don’t just look cool, either. Dorian Sorriaux is a good guitarist and they do a spot on cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Somebody to Love’!
Although the popular Monster Truck played the Main Stage, an absolute must was to see some classic bands on The Prog Stage on Sunday afternoon, starting with Martin Turner from Wishbone Ash.
Embarking on a full UK tour Turner played the prodigious ‘Argus’ album in it’s entirety, this timeless 45 year old masterpiece still resonates with today’s fans.
At nearly 70 there seems to be no slowing down for Thijs van Leer and his band Focus, the only yodelling/flutist/keyboard player that I know of was still on top form ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Hocus Pocus’ being quite exquisite!
And finally before The Prog Stage headliners were Magnum with more epic tracks such as ‘On a Storyteller’s Night’ and ‘Vigilante’. All these bands are in the latter part of their careers and I feel privileged to have seen them, so thank you Ramblin’ Man!
The highly influential hard rock gods UFO seized the Main Stage in the warm evening sun, Phil Mogg clutching a cold bottle of beer. Opening with ‘Lights Out’ – a solid greatest hits collection finishing with the anthem ‘Doctor Doctor’ made for a solid set.
Meanwhile on the Blues Stage, The Quireboys and then Joanne Shaw Taylor proved far too popular for just a large tent, the fans spilling out of each doorway on tiptoes hoping to sneak a view. Sadly Kansas pulled out of all European touring due to safety and security concerns from the US government, but their loss was our gain as headlining the Prog Stage would be the amazing Devin Townsend Project!
I was new to this band, only hearing a few tracks beforehand. I waited with anticipation and was not disappointed – plus this guy is hilarious/slightly crazy. Opening with ‘Rejoice’ (which may have startled a few of the older generation still seated with blankets over their laps from the more old school bands that played earlier that day) a keyboard laden song with almost thrash/industrial metal guitar sound and Devins’ witty vocal made for a fantastic, fun spectacle.
Sunday’s main headliners ZZ Top need little introduction. Can you believe the Texan blues rock legends are in their 50th year?! No soft keyboards or slow intros, here. BANG they were rockin’ straight on it with ‘Got Me Under Pressure’.
The flawless full set of 20 songs took you on a journey of their great careers from the successful 80’s ‘Eliminator/Afterburner’ era forward to ‘La Futura’ and right back ‘Tres Hombres’. I’d never seen ZZ Top and always wondered why no rhythm guitarist was used live but the simple answer is Gibbons and Hill just don’t need one, with the laid back drumming style of Frank Beard, which was precise and clear, finished off by a fantastic sounding band.
My only grumble would be it just wasn’t loud enough!
Everybody was up singing and boogieing and it made a perfect end to phenomenal weekend of sights, sounds and smells (some better than others), meeting new people and bumping into old friends. If you’re into Classic Rock then Ramblin’ Man could be ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’!
Early bird general admission tickets for Ramblin’ Man 2018 are on sale now.