Ramblin’ Man Fair Day 2
Sunday 24th July
Mote Park, Maidstone, Kent
Day two of the Ramblin’ Man Fair began with some of the WRC RM festival posse making the trek to Mote Park from nearby Bearsted where they had been lodging to recover from Day One ! Many thanks to WRC members John and Tricia Bull for their marvellous hospitality and we were very well fed and watered !!! Special shout out to John for rescuing us the night before after we were stranded outside Mote Park having gone out the wrong entrance and then finding two hopes of getting a taxi, which were no and Bob!!
So after a very pleasant Sunday morning stroll back to the Park and no long queues for wristbands unlike the start of day one, we were ready for the lunchtime start after of course a pit stop at the Beer Tent. We did attempt to get some VIP passes but were told no go as all sold out. Damn !! Anyway, first band up to kick things off were local lads Wicked Stone on the newly added Rising Stage, which is the fourth stage at the Festival. Wicked Stone are a 5 piece Hard Rock/Southern Metal band. Bringing amp blistering riffs, hard hitting grooves and spine tingling vocals, they were the perfect band to kick off the ritual of head banging and air guitar thrashing mayhem. I was really impressed with them. This was a band that took its opportunity having only been announced 3 weeks beforehand and absolutely nailed it. I understand they have not been together very long and I freely admit I had not heard of them and my only musical association with Wicked Stone up until that moment was Slash's song of the same name !! If you like Guns n’ Roses, Skid Row, heavier Whitesnake and Motley Crue then you will love these guys !! They played a track called ‘Ain't No Rest’ which was excellent and also ‘Another Round’ which could also be found on a 2 track freebie CD which in a very smart PR move was presented to fans (including us!) afterwards...They started off Sunday very well and I shall be monitoring their progress very closely from now on...
Armed with a new CD and chuffed to bits over discovering a new band, we decided to loiter around the Rising Stage which was clearly the place to view the UK's best up-and coming artists, and next up was Will Wilde. Brighton native Will Wilde picked up his first harmonica at the age of 16 and is weaned on the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Buddy Guy, Wilde grew up steeped in traditional Chicago Blues, yet his focus as an artist remains resolutely on the future. What I liked about Wilde was the fact that he fuses his obvious passion for Blues with his love of Rock. He takes what's authentic and powerful about the music he grew up loving and introduces the raw energy of bands such as Led Zeppelin, Free and Deep Purple without losing the heart and conviction of the Blues. I felt there was a bit of Canned Heat in there as well so I was particularly overjoyed when he did an excellent job covering ‘On The Road Again’ with his band which included Victoria Smith, who is one of the UK's top female bassists.. Another artist I need to keep an eye on...
Unfortunately having overstayed my time slot at the Rising Stage but with good reason, I only got up to the Main Stage to catch the last couple of songs from Australia via London Bues Rock and roll band The Graveltones who were opening up proceedings there. They are two Aussie musicians who formed the band in London in 2011 where they are still currently based. Despite the fact they have played over 250 gigs I had never seen them.. I need to get out more!!. Judging by the crowd reaction, I did catch their most famous song " ‘Forget About The Trouble’ which was pretty catchy and went down well... Another for the notebook.
It was then time to take advantage of our weekend press passes again and conduct our second band interview of the weekend following Inglorious on Day 1. This time it was with front man Scott Sharp of The Illustr8tors, the band formerly known as Blackwolf. Personally I think that the name Illustr8ors makes you sound like a rap collective, but there you go. They were performing on the Rising Stage later in the afternoon so we were granted a quick 5 minute chat beforehand. Scott explained this was basically a band relaunch so they face interesting times ahead. And judging by what a few of us heard later it might be quite a challenge so let's just wish them the best of luck...
After further refreshment to the vocal chords which included more Ramblin’ Man Ale (for me anyway!) it was time to head into the Blues Stage Tent for the first time over the weekend to see the US blues rock power trio that are better known as SIMO. Now at this point I will confess my sins and admit I that I was a SIMO "virgin" much to the chagrin of the my WRC colleagues (AJ in particular!) who have been encouraging me to see them for a while. Well this was my moment... Heralding from Chicago, front man J D Simo has been playing guitar since he was five years old and has been a working artist since his early teens. The level of class on offer here is well known. When Joe Bonamassa played his show at the tiny venue in which he’d played his first UK show ten years before, he chose Simo as the support act. So my expectations were pretty high as anyone Bonamassa approved is alright by me! To say I was blown away would be an understatement.. Yes I expected the JB level of guitar playing (well nearly!) but I did not expect a voice like Joe Cocker.. I was totally mesmerized.. The songs, although new to me, seemed to take a life of their own on stage with some monstrous jams.. And if that wasn't enough the cover of Cocker and the Beatles original ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ virtually blew the top of the Blues Tent right off! Simply fecking brilliant.. JD isn't a raconteur and at one point apologized for not saying much saying that "dialogue was through the songs." Too bloody right! The Blues Rock market is crowded right now as people look to the past for their future inspiration, but there’s a way to get your music heard above the rest. Be so good you can’t be ignored. And if talent counts for anything, then in ten years time, it’s the Nashville based Simo that are set for arenas. They are to soon to complete 3 European tours since inception and the latest album ‘Let Love Show The Way’ has received great critical acclaim... Onwards and upwards surely if there is any justice.....
It was now the time of day where the dilemmas were setting amongst the WRC group given the diverse nature of the bands playing and an attempt was made by a few to see Scottish blues rockers King King who followed SIMO on the Blues Stage but sheer volume of numbers and too late an arrival made this an impossibility so I guess we will have to wait and catch them in London at the end of November... Oh well... Can't win them all...
Me personally I had returned to the Main Stage to catch Northern Ireland's finest rock band that go by the name of The Answer, who I first saw supporting the mighty AC/DC at Wembley Stadium on their Black Ice Tour way back in 2009 which was still the most worldwide exposure the band has received to date. So therefore I was interested to see how much they had progressed if at all as I still tend to think of them as part of a new generation of bands, They are now celebrating ten years of their debut album ‘Rise’ which put them on the map. However even now, five albums in, it still stands above their other work, and it is easy to forget that a decade ago it was quite unusual to see young acts digging back into the roots of Blues-influenced Classic Rock, whereas now such bands are ten a penny.
‘Rise’ made up two thirds of the set here with songs like ‘Under the Sky’ still very strong indeed. However their set was closed by a taster of two songs being written for their next album ‘Solus’ due out in October. These were a complete departure with ‘Thief Of Light’ having a very experimental feel, and the title track was also a complex and not very immediate piece of work, but the type of song that makes sense after listening all the way through. Perhaps this was an indication that The Answer feel their tried and trusted straight Blues-Rock based approach has run its course and are embarking on an ambitious change of direction. I thought they were good but not amazing and I think they are a bit of a crossroads at the moment.. Will be interesting to see which way they go from here..
The next port of call for me was back to the Blues Stage to see a band I was very curious to see because I had heard a lot of good vibes about beforehand.. They were the Somerset Blues rockers Tax the Heat whose eagerly-anticipated debut album ‘Fed to the Lions’ was finally released in March 2016. It came with the news that band had signed with Nuclear Blast (home to Black Star Riders, Crobot and Blues Pills), who released the record
accordingly. Tax The Heat’s influences very clearly lie in the British Rock ‘n’ Blues scene of the late Sixties, as well as the Stoner and Alt-Rock vibes of three decades later, as their sound runs the gamut from The Kinks and Cream through to the White Stripes, Black Keys and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. They have supported Aerosmith, Thunder and Black Star Riders so have a big following already. This four-piece, attired in collared shirts, smart waistcoats and ties, do offer something a little different. Led by Jack Veale on vocals and guitar, their oeuvre was a stripped back hard rock sound with shades of classic R & B whipped up by some dynamic arrangements and great layered harmonies. And after a ropey start with some sound issues affecting the first couple of songs they hit their stride and the rest of the set was excellent with really good songs like ‘Animals’ and ‘Heavy Heart’ and ‘Some Sympathy’ sounded sharp and gritty. Later came an eye-opening cover of the Yardbirds track ‘Lost Woman’ that boasted a funky guitar makeover and some insane drumming. Jack Taylor’s simple kit was set up close to the front of the stage and, uncharacteristically in guitar driven Rock, he was the star of the show. Taylor pummeled the life out of his tubs and almost knocked them over. During this virtuoso display, the rest of the band gathered round and ensured the spotlight remained firmly on the young skinsman .I confidently predict big things for these guys. They have marked themselves out as a quality band with their own take on where they want to be.....
By this time the WRC gang were split all over the place with AJ taking in Dirty Thrills on the Rising Stage who are releasing their self titled debut album in November.. He informed me it was top notch as he returned triumphantly with a drumstick thrown at him... He and the few of the other WRC prog "experts" (Big Ian, and Wrinkly the Biker and Rob in the Grandstand seats - get them!!) took in the Finnish Prog Rockers the Von Hertzen Brothers who I gather were very loud and very good... Meanwhile I had wandered out of the Blues tent to catch the last vibes of classic 70's inspired rockers Cats In Space on the Rising Stage.. Cats In Space are a newish band who have a serious love of all things 1970′s soft Rock/power pop. You can tell this from the band’s various members who are from bands with a Seventies link like the Sweet, where bassist Jeff Brown spent some years in the 90′s in the Andy Scott version.. Maybe too cheesy for some and they threw in a Slade cover ‘How Does It Feel’ for good measure.. If you like music from the aforementioned artists and others like Pilot, City Boy and Supertramp - you’ll be in seventh heaven. The debut album ‘Too Many Gods’ may be worth a listen...
After a refuel of chips (made a change from chicken and ham pie the day before!) and a quick meeting and handshake with ex-Bad Company guitarist Dave "Bucket" Colwell (no really it was him!) it was decision time between Airbourne on the Main Stage or Hawkwind on the Prog Stage.. I was in a minority of one but plumped for the Aussie hard rock band as i had never seen them before.. (shame on me!). Only saw the latter half of the set but first thing that struck me was the size of their following which was impressive. Formed in late 2003 by the O'Keefe brothers and soon joined by rhythm guitarist David Roads, their debut album ‘Running Wild’ arrived in 2007 and contributed to half the set. It's a fact that the band are more popular in Europe than their homeland where obviously AC/DC rule the roost in crunchy rock which unfortunately is a problem. Airbourne certainly raised the energy levels though with crowd pleasers such as ‘Live It Up’, ‘Running Wild’ and new song ‘Breakin Outta Hell’ from the album of the same name to be released in September. Joel O'Keefe's bashing of cheap cans of lager on his head, his regular rig climb up and down and crowd invasion during ‘Girls In Black’ went down well too. It would be easy to be cynical about Airbourne. Yes it is unashamedly gruff and primal Rock'n'Roll, but it is the ageless and tireless uniformity of the band's approach that makes this an honest and brazen delight. Huge, macho riffs collide with gleefully lobotomised tales of booze, chicks and the noble art of kicking ass always come with a giant, instantly memorable chorus attached. Let there be more rock, basically. Perfect festival performers...!
The stage timings allowed me to pop up to the Prog stage to catch the last part of the set from surviving space rockers Hawkwind who not so much as rambled but astral planed themselves though their brand of trance like Prog fare with classic encore song ‘Silver Machine’ still fired up with enough gas in its tank to keep the festival crowd buzzing.. Hawkwind’s most famous ex-member the late Lemmy Kilmister (of Motorhead fame of course) often stated that the reason why he was thrown out of the band was because the drugs he was taking weren’t compatible to the drugs the rest of the band were taking at the time, which gives you an idea what an interesting bunch Hawkwind are and why they were oblivious to the many influences that swept the UK over the decades – or maybe it is just the vision of lone founder member Dave Brock that keeps on pushing boundaries. When you watch them on stage you can’t help but like them and their stage show would fit a one-man tent just as much as a stadium or arena or festival and from what I heard of the new album it sounded absolutely stunning and vocalist Mr. Dibs sings and narrates it well. Although this year’s motto is: ‘The machine stops’ – I don’t think it will anytime soon!!!
Now I was on the final lap and trundled back to the Main Stage to catch the main part of sub-headliners and festival favourites Thunder. Down the years Thunder have inspired devotion in their fans like few before them. Perhaps it’s because they never had that one huge crossover hit, or maybe because they resisted the temptation to throw all their energies into trying to breakthrough in America, but Thunder have retained a uniquely British tone to them, while so many other UK-born longhaired rockers spent a little too long chasing the almighty dollar. This just meant that their fans just held them even more dear and Thunder themselves have developed an innate understanding and connection with their audience and in turn their audience have remained utterly devoted to them. Therefore Thunder have continued to thrive, particularly as a live draw, simply because they are an utterly dependable act who continue to stick to traditional Hard Rock values regardless of the increasingly rapid evolution of an ever more alienating music industry.
It has always been blindingly obvious to me that Danny Bowes has been and continues to be one of the finest Hard Rock vocalists, and his phenomenal ability to play to/control the crowd is something that is only achieved through endless gigging and decades of experience. Primary songwriter Luke Morley riffs away with the confidence of a man who has utter faith in his band mates and is just out there to enjoy himself these days, and as one fellow writer briefed me before Thunder hit the stage, it’s only when you experience Thunder live that you realize what a stand-out drummer Gary James is. As established as they are, Thunder do not forget that the songs are the core of their performance, so for an hour or so Thunder lead their audience on a journey through their bulging songbook of Hard Rock tunes, with crowd favorites like ‘Backstreet Symphony’, ‘Love Walked In’ and ‘Low Life in High Places’, delivered with a reassuring lack of theatrical distractions, Thunder close their rabidly well received set the only way they could. ‘Dirty Love’ is the closest they ever came to a global hit, and has subsequently become the song that they are most closely associated with and tonight it is performed with the assistance of the whole of the Main Stage crowd … bellowing the "Na-Na-Na- Na" chorus with Bowes perfecting his role of ringmaster!! Yes, Thunder have steadfastly stuck to Hard Rock values throughout their career, because that’s exactly what their audience want them to do. While there were more globally successful long haired rockers and those who had bigger hit singles, or iconic studio albums that sold in eye-watering numbers, there really have been few better live Hard Rock bands than Thunder.
So with the sun beginning to set and the need for more alcohol, the WRC group decision was made to trek up to the Prog Stage area for the final time and from the safety of the Beer Tent observe the first part of Prog veterans Procul Harum's headline set.. All the trademark features you would expect from Procol are present: the double keyboards with the delicious interplay between Hammond organ and piano, the steady authoritative bass lines, the majestic tunes and, of course, Gary Brooker’s commanding vocals. If some Rock vocalists make life hard for themselves by adopting a vocal delivery in their early 20’s that gets more and more difficult to pull off as they hit their 70’s, then Gary Brooker chose wisely. Brooker’s
cool and melancholic vocals are as strong tonight as they were in 1967, when the band first hit the charts with ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’.
While I love the unique sound of Procol Harum I must confess to only never ever having owned a Procol Harum album ! So after taking us on a stunning journey as dusk arrived through the likes of opener ‘Shine on Brightly’, ‘Pandora's Box’, ‘Conquistador, A Salty Dog’ and ‘Homburg’ there was just one song left. Finally the band hit on the familiar chords of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, one of the most recognizable, most majestic and surely one of the most beautiful songs of the late 60’s. A powerful end to a magnificent performance.. For me they must now rank alongside Pink Floyd in the great British Progressive Rock pantheon. And at the end of day two of the festival just the perfect band to chill out (and drink to!) So good that we stayed longer than we intended to.. (well I was only going to stay for 30 minutes!!).
Fortunately there is still time for us to catch the end of one last band, and the honour of closing the event goes to Kentucky's Blackstone Cherry who have literally flown over for the day just to play this show. Still criminally small in their own country, they have been taken to heart by Hard Rock fans in the UK and now have two successful arena tours under their belts. They have also twice headlined the second stage over at Download. Tonight though they are the headline act on the Main Stage and it's obvious the meaning this has to the band. Unfortunately they suffer from some bad luck and a lot of their gear hasn't arrived in time for the show including their backdrop, meaning it's a pretty bare stage that they are performing on. This doesn't mean much however because for both the band and their passionate fans it's all about the music.The main set is closed with crowd favourites 'In My Dreams', 'White Trash Millionaire' and 'Blame It On The Boom Boom' smashed out in bombastic fashion, before the band return and close out Ramblin' Man Fair 2016 with appropriately 'The Rambler', 'Lonely Train' and a quick run through of 'Ace Of Spades' in honour of Lemmy which was a stroke of genius..From what I heard(and I will be seeing them again in London in December I promise!) this was the perfect set to close a great weekend of music which has celebrated the past and looked to the future.
So the merry WRC band still standing finally dragged themselves away from Mote Park for another year and predictably got lost trying to get back to Bearsted for the night only to be rescued thank God on the Ashford Road by a friendly cabbie. Same time, same place next year? Why the devil not! See you on the 29th and 30th July 2017 then Ramblers for number 3. Can't wait.. ..!!!
Wrinkly The Silver