Ramblin' Man Fair - Day 1
Saturday 30th June
Mote Park, Maidstone
The Ramblin' Man festival, held in the beautiful lakeland park of Mote Park in Maidstone, is now in its fourth year. The Ramblin' Man festival has evolved over its short lifespan with tweaks being made each year to fine tune it to the organiser's requirements. In the inaugural year, the headline act was Greg Allman - hence the festival's name – and has since seen such rock luminaries as Scorpions, Black Stone Cherry, Airbourne, Extreme, Saxon and ZZ Top headlining - not bad for such a blossoming festival. But this year’s acts weren’t such an obvious draw for me. Had the Ramblin' Man peaked too early? Had he strayed away from the beaten track? Let’s see.
The format this year is for a two day event spread across three stages, although there is the option of attending a small Friday night event held at the adjacent leisure centre. The ethos behind the organisation appears to be to provide a varied range of music with each of the three stages boasting a theme, albeit with some licence. Today’s three stages are the Classic Rock Rising Stage - a showcase for new talent, the Outlaw Country Stage - showing Country/Blues and the Planet Rock Main Stage, hosted by Planet Rock DJ Paul Anthony, where the headline acts appear. The timings of the three stages were fairly well coordinated with minimal clashes and each of the stages being close enough to each other to easily move between without impinging on each other’s sound. Scattered around the stages are numerous food outlets and beer tents – this is also a beer and food festival folks (winner!) – as well as numerous trade stands. Anyone want to buy a motorcycle? Put this all in beautiful parkland with ample room to chill and add some of the hottest weather of the year (29 degrees of unbroken sunshine) and you have the recipe for a fabulous weekend of rocking rapture. Oh, and as you may know, I’m a guitar nerd so be prepared for lots of guitar references. Apologies, but it was a guitar nerd’s paradise.
First up on the Outlaw Country stage are Thomas Wynn and The Believers. The Floridian sports a cowboy look with fancy weskit and hat and wields his six (string) shooter (a Gibson SG) through the ubiquitous Marshall amp to produce some glorious swampy Blues Rock with just a hint of Gospel. Accompanying him on vocals is his sister Olivia whilst supporting bass, keys, harmonica/acoustic guitar/vocals and drums provide a really full sound that gets proceedings underway in fine style. With a heavy keyboard influence, and raw guitar sound, this is more Boot Hill than Oklahoma. Great start Ramblin Man.
Over on the Classic Rock Rising Stage are Dead Man’s Whiskey, a 5 piece from London. Sporting twin Gibson Les Paul's through Marshal and Victory amps (sorry – I did warn you…) this young band provided some classic rocking sounds with just a hint of Whitesnake. Sporting a NWOCR t-shirt (new wave of classic rock in case you were wondering) lead singer Nico Rogers did exactly what it said on his shirt - produced a new wave of some classic sounding Rock. Stand out track for me was ‘War Machine’, with a great sweeping guitar solo, from their new album ‘Under Gun’.
And so to the main stage where Scottish rockers Gun treated us to what must now be considered classics of their considerable back catalogue including ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’, 'Better Days’, ‘Steal Your Fire’ and their cover of ‘Word Up’. Lead singer Dante Gizzi, sporting classic shades and a white denim jacket, stood proud front and centre, flanked by guitarists Giuliano Gizzi (a black Yamaha) and Tommy Gentry (a red Les Paul) owning the stage and the audience. A great festival band, there’s nothing to dislike about Gun with tracks that are unlikely to offend anyone with a modicum of musicality, and plenty to please the singers, dancers and fist pumpers. With new material (‘Take Me Down’) from their recently released album ‘Favourite Pleasures’ the short set was finished with the U2 like ‘Shame On You’ topped off with their cover of the Beastie Boys ‘You Gotta Fight For Your Right, To Paaaarrrttttaaaayyyy!’. Excellent stuff.
Back to the Rising Stage and for me, possibly the find of the festival. Gorrilla Riot are a 5 piece bundle of excitement from Manchester reminiscent of early GnR although with a strong vein of Blues flowing through them. With three guitars (steady Mother! – two Les Paul's and an SG) they make a big sound and frontman Arjun Bhishma made a big impact on the clearly supportive audience. The set went from hard rocking to groove Rock with hypnotic beats. Lead guitarist Liam Henry on the SG produced some fine work without being overbearing. Again we have proof that young guitar Rock is alive and flourishing. Their recent single ‘Bad Son’ got some critical acclaim in the music press and their latest single ‘ Down The Road’, a Country Blues lament from their new EP ‘American Honey’ is likely to follow suit. I will look to check them out again next time they are in town.
Back at the main stage and we are treated to another turn of musical direction with Punk Metal stalwarts Therapy. 30 years on and the attitude doesn’t change as Ulsterman Andy Cairns (playing a lovely black SG through a Marshall JCM…sigh) opens with their cover of Joy Divisions ‘Isolation’ supported by bassist and fellow Ulsterman Michael McKeegan whilst Derby’s Neil Cooper celebrated his birthday by providing the driving drumbeat. With the lilt of a ‘Liam Neeson accent’ Mr. Cairns and friends entertained the crowd including the singalong of ‘Neil, Neil, drum like a mother something-or-other’ and a tribute to the recently departed Vinnie from Pantera.
The festival really went into full gear as we switched between stages. On the Rising stage Brighton’s Rocket Dolls initially disappointed when we discovered they were 3 fellas but the smiles soon returned when we heard their grunge influenced brand of Rock. Nikki Smash on lead (a Strat in case you were wondering) and vocals fronts with Joe Constable on bass and Benji Knopfler on drums. Lots of riff heavy rocking for all to enjoy. Another band that has been rightfully getting the attention of the media.
Over on the Outlaw stage, Skinny Molly show their Skynyrd pedigree, Southern, swampy Rock credentials with a very well received set. Frontman Mike Estes (ex Skynyrd and Blackfoot) sports a Les Paul Junior and uses it to good effect to crank out some awesome Rock sounds including ‘If You Don’t Care’ and ‘When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Fishin’ but it was the closing cover of ‘Freebird’ that got the crowd jumping. A great festival song in the sunshine.
A quick trip back to the Rising stage for a brief stint with Welsh duet Henry’s Funeral Shoe. The brothers Clifford could best be described as a younger Seasick Steve on speed. Very entertaining and an ideal festival band. Guitarist and vocalist Aled made great use of the slide on his Strat whilst Brennig kept the thumping beat.
Back to the main stage and The Cadillac Three. What a band. And what a collection of guitars – a new pair on virtually every song (swoon….). Nashville's greatest advert (the name is emblazoned everywhere including on frontman Jaren Johnston’s arm) are another success story who have graced the Download stage amongst others. To quote Johnstone "There are heavy bands, and there are country bands. Us – we’re both". It’s Country Rock alright with dirty slide and a Tennessee mojo that the fans lap up. Opening track ‘Tennessee’ says it all and is followed by hits including ‘Peace, Love and Dixie’ and ‘Tennessee Mojo’ (are you getting the theme yet?) before ending with ‘The South’. Not a damn Yankee in sight neither. I have always liked this lot but they have gone up a good few notches in my estimation following their great set.
Back to the Outlaw stage for a thrilling acoustic set from Myles Kennedy, surely the coup of the festival for the organisers. The Alter Bridge/Slash frontman is achieving even more success, if that’s possible , with his latest solo album 'Year of the Tiger', and treated us to a selection of tracks including the title track, a cover of Alter Bridge’s ‘Cry Of Achilles’ and an amazing acoustic cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’. He’s an incredible vocal talent but an even more amazing guitar talent. A fact that is all too often overlooked. Kennedy is just a natural talent and a natural performer.
On to the main stage and what was the performance of the day, and probably the festival. The phenomenon that is Steel Panther. I love this band. Puerile, base, childish - all the things I aspire to be. The Californian ‘parody’ band of the 80’s are so in character that they are all too believable. With every 80’s hair metal cliché on display, the four piece entertain the crowd in a way nobody else did, or would dare to do. Their total irreverence of other people was only eclipsed by their irreverence for themselves although all nicely packaged in a narcissistic front that sees more primping and preening than an LA prom night rest room. Visually stunning, these fellas are also audibly impressive as their image is supported by superb musical talent. The irreverence included a ‘tribute’ to Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen by Sticks (Zadinia) and we were treated to an impromptu stage visit from a tottering gibbering Ozzy Osbourne who looked remarkably similar to the notably absent vocalist Michael Starr. With (sexy) Lexxi Foxx on bass and hairspray, and Satchel on lead guitar, the West Coast smutmeisters entertained all but the most miserable so-and-so’s with crowd participation set to maximum. Poor Holly, the girl who was sat centre stage with a large inflatable cock to play with whilst Starr sang ‘Community Property’ was only eclipsed by the mass ‘stage invasion’ of every woman of legal age. Plus a couple who probably weren’t. Ending with their anthemic ‘Death To All But Metal’ the LA Glam Metallers left the stage to a huge applause and left many a happy festival goer singing lyrics that their mum wouldn’t have approved of. Again, another fantastic festival band.
And so to the headline act, Mott the Hoople were formed over 50 years ago. In that time they have been seen as Rock, Glam and even Country-Hippie. This latest reincarnation sees iconic frontman Ian Hunter reunited with Morgan Fisher on keys and Ariel Bender on guitar. Entering the stage to the strains of ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’, Hunter, on acoustic guitar, and the band launch into a set of classic Mott the Hoople tracks as well as a collection of tributes and medleys from artists that have contributed to, or influenced their music. Whilst as different as you can get from the preceding Steel Panther, they still bought an air of fun to the stage and to the audience. Well received and well presented, they were a fine way to end the Ramblin' day. With more glorious sunshine forecast, bring on tomorrow.
Mott The Hoople Setlist
American Pie / Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll
Rest in Peace
I Wish I Was Your Mother
Pearl ’n’ Roy (England)
Roll Away the Stone
Sweet Jane (The Velvet Underground cover)
Walking With a Mountain
All the Way From Memphis
Medley: Jerkin' Crocus/One of the Boys
Medley: Rock'n'Roll Queen/Crash Street Kidds/Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On/Violence
All The Young Dudes
Mother (Photos courtesy of John Bull of RockrPix)