Ramblin’ Man Fair Day 1
Saturday 23rd July
Mote Park, Maidstone, Kent
The weekend I’d been eagerly awaiting for months finally arrived; the forecast was perfect; the line-up awesome - what could possibly go wrong? Well, the M25 for a start, at a standstill before and after the Lakeside Retail Park - who the hell wants to go shopping on a day as glorious as Saturday?! But that was allowed for - you have to expect some delays on the M25. What I hadn’t anticipated was the 40-50 minute queue for wristbands at Mote Park!! As a result I missed most of the opening set from Leogun. Though not entirely, fortunately the Rising Stage was close to the entrance and Tommy Smith’s soulful vocals and hard-edge guitar riffs were clearly audible to the snaking queue on the far side of the perimeter fence! Much appreciated they were too! However, sound quality was inevitably diminished with distance, and Leogun’s engaging stage presence completely lost. I hope the Fair’s organisers can ensure such excessive queuing is avoided in future.
After just catching the end of Leogun’s set, I headed to the Planet Rock Stage to see Inglorious, one of the youngest and freshest rock bands at this year’s Fair. Their pulsating rock, which focused on tracks from their recently released, self titled debut album, set the main stage’s tone for the day. My personal favourites were the hard, pounding ‘Warning’, and ‘Holy Water’, a singalong well known to many in the audience. It was obvious the band have already built a sizeable fan base - it is not difficult to see why. For more information on Inglorious, don’t miss the WRC’s soon-to-be-posted coverage of their interview with our very own AJ and WTS, held soon after their Ramblin’ Man Fair set.
Next up was my first visit to the Prog in the Park Stage to see supergroup Frost. My initial impression was that they were a little confused - a full set of Hawaiian T-shirts is not what you expect from a band called Frost. As for lead singer/guitarist John Mitchell’s bare feet - surely he wasn’t going to regale us with Sandie Shaw impressions?! Fortunately not: the audience was treated to a varied set of contemporary progressive rock, primarily loud and fast, but finishing with the slightly slower, less experimental ‘Black Light Machine’. My only disappointment was that Frost’s set was so short: like all the early bands, they were only allocated 30 minutes and had to finish just as their set seemed about to take off!
Purson took to the Prog Stage while a few WRC members were enjoying much needed refreshments in the nearby bar tent. It made a change to hear a female voice: rock continues to be a predominantly male preserve and Rosalie Cunningham, Purson’s lead singer and guitarist, was virtually the only female on any of the Fair’s four stages all weekend! Named after one of demonology’s Kings of Hell, Purson have described their sound as “vaudeville carny psych”. From the distant bar tent it sounded like typical psychedelic rock - powerful, definitely enjoyable, but fairly straightforward. It was only when I advanced closer to the stage that I really heard the subtleties in their music and began to appreciate how Purson are infusing the psychedelic tradition with a creepy yet uplifting edge. The eroticism and magic in Rosalind’s vocals is fundamental to Purson’s progressive sound, but Sam Shove’s keyboards and George Hudson’s guitar also play a key part. The next time I see them I’ll be up front, beer in hand, before the set starts.
Straight after Purson, I’d hoped to see Whiskey Myers on the Outlaw Country Stage but, by the time I arrived, the tent housing the stage was bulging, with crowded semicircles outside every entrance. There was little choice but to pay another visit to the real ale tent on my way back to Planet Rock, where Ginger Wildheart played a typical set of melodic hard rock. The crowd loved it, both the old favourites they knew well (was anybody not singing along to ‘Sonic Shake’?) and more recent songs (‘That’s a Nasty Habit You’ve Got There’ went down particularly well, as did ‘Ostracide’, penned in 2015).
6pm was time for the Zombies, a band originally formed, as they kept reminding us, over 50 years ago. This puts the members well into their 70’s, though none of them actually mentioned that! Only two of the original Zombies remain, but they are the key two: Colin Blunstone (lead vocals) and Rod Argent (keyboard and vocals). Apart from the obligatory couple of songs from their latest album, the set consisted of well-known songs not only from the Zombie’s history but also from the solo spells of Colin (‘I Don’t Believe In Miracles’) and Rod (‘Hold Your Head Up’). At 71 Colin’s voice is inevitably past its best and occasionally faded, but it mattered not - the songs were so well known the singing crowd was often drowning out his vocals anyway. In any case, Rod’s keyboard playing, always critical to the Zombies’ success, has hardly faltered; it was particularly impressive on ‘Time of the Season’. Of all the bands playing on Saturday, I probably enjoyed the Zombies’ set most, possibly because I knew virtually all the songs - but that’s just giving my age away!!
The most difficult choice of the day was at 7.30, when I wanted to be in three places at once: to see Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep and White Buffalo. I decided to start at the Prog in the Park Stage, to find that, from the original Uriah Heep line-up, only lead guitarist Mick Box had survived. Not that that bothered the wildly enthusiastic crowd who were right behind the band, echoing the chorus on new numbers (‘One Minute’) and old (‘Stealin’) alike. But, for me, it was time to catch the end of Thin Lizzy. I arrived at the Planet Rock Stage just in time to see ex-member Midge Ure joining them for ‘The Cowboy Song’ and ‘The Boys are Back in Town’. By the time Midge departed, there was only time for one more song, a rousing finale of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’.
Saturday’s headliners on the Prog Stage were Family, the 60’s festival favourites. Lead singer Roger Chapman is now 74, but his vocals have held up amazingly well, retaining their unique gritty, soulful sound. His varied vocal capabilities were exploited to the full on ‘How-Hi-the-Li’, starting as a mournful wail before using changes in pace and pitch to build up to a rousing crescendo. That was followed by ‘Hey Mr Policeman’, a more upbeat song with grainy vocals. Despite their variety, Roger’s vocals remain crystal clear - you can pick up every word. Not that you really need to - the sentences they form are typical prog rock lyrics - invariably meaningless! Roger seemed justifiably disappointed at Family’s comparatively small opening crowd, and he became visibly annoyed when Whitesnake’s set started. Not only did the noise from the distant Planet Rock Stage compete with Family’s more intricate, less deafening sound, but some of their already sparse audience gradually drifted away to watch Whitesnake. Family left the stage after an hour; rumour had it they were meant to play for another 30 minutes, but refused to continue with the continuous disruption from the other stage in the background.
In comparison with some of the day’s earlier bands, Whitesnake are relatively new - they’ve only been going 38 years! Even so, David Coverdale is the only remnant from the original line-up. I reached the Planet Rock Stage as Whitesnake were embarking on a series of long guitar and drum solos. These were typical Whitesnake, giving all the musicians every opportunity to demonstrate the full range of their abilities and proficiency. However, the solos could have been better spread out across the set; enjoyable as they were, you could almost feel the audience’s relief as the band moved on to its final few songs which, with one acoustic exception, were all hard rock numbers with powerful vocals and aggressive riffs. The crowd loved it, swaying, bouncing and clapping away to the beat, and singing along at every opportunity. Whitesnake’s set closed with ‘Still of the Night’, a fitting finale not just to their own set, but to an incredible day of breathtaking live music.