Ramblin' Man Fair - Day 1
Saturday 29th July
Mote Park, Maidstone
This year's Ramblin' Man Fair kicked off on the Friday night on the Planet Rock Main Stage with the Graham Bonnet Band, Last In Line, Y&T and the mighty Saxon. Unfortunately, we didn't arrive until Saturday morning and were greeted by orderly queues of the RM faithful eagerly awaiting to enter the arena at midday. After a false start we eventually managed to get in just after twelve and immediately turned right for the bar (no change there then) plus the handily placed Rising Stage.
First up, which turned out to be in the very brief sunshine, were The Nile Deltas from The Midlands who described themselves as a very British rock 'n' roll band with an American flavour, think early Whitesnake with a feathering of The Black Crowes, Free with a faint aroma of Blackberry Smoke! Interesting. Well, we immediately clocked ex-Whitesnake and current Snakecharmer member Neil Murray deputising for Bruce Hartley on bass guitar as they opened with 'Lying Eyes' with vocalist Craig Blencowe seemingly trying to outdo Inglorious's Nathan James on the fashion front. As promised the six-piece oozed rock solid Soul and Blues across 'Don't Play With Me', 'Life' and 'Dust Me Down' - with Blencowe's outstanding voice complemented by guitarists Nige Thompson and Tom Lord, drummer Andy Parkinson plus a to-die-for hammond organ from Giles Minkley. They closed out their set with the unreleased 'Need A Little Soul' which completed an impressive twenty five minute set - an outstanding start to the day - a performance that would no doubt result in a shedload of new Ramblin' Man followers - job done.
As the heavens started to open, it was time to turn towards The Planet Rock Main Stage for American Blues-Rock guitarist and singer Jared James Nichols. JJN has been on our radar for a long long time but this was the first time we had actually seen him live - hence he was on our Ramblin' Man scorecard for the day and not only because we were actually interviewing him later on. And we were not to be disappointed as the trio including Erik Sandin on bass guitar and Dennis Holm on drums duly delivered 70's Power Rock at its classic best. JJN staples 'Last Chance' and 'Can You Feel It?' (with its Montrose style riff) were sandwiched in between two newbies from his forthcoming studio album 'Black Magic' due to be released this September. In an all too brief twenty five minute set - Nichols nailed his 70's influences to the mast with a cover of Mountain's Mississippi Queen with a snippet of Cream's 'Politician'. The crowd wanted more - which turned into boos at the start of another Jared solo, as he apparently was told quite firmly to leave the stage. Now this was real original Rock 'n' Roll!
We then headed towards the media area for the first of our six - yes six - interviews during the afternoon. Step forward former Heaven's Basement vocalist and the nattily dressed Aaron Buchanan with his equally stylish sister Laurie who was also a guitarist in Aaron Buchanan And The Cult Classics who were playing the Rising Stage in ninety minutes. We had seen Aaron and Heaven's Basement supporting Aerosmith at Clapham's Calling Festival just over three year's ago and in a really frank discussion Aaron talked about life after Heaven's Basement how ABATCC got together and their new album 'The Man With Stars On His Knees'. Watch our for that interview soon.
We first interviewed Bad Touch last December in the cold outside the Dome in Tufnell Park - the night of the launch of their latest album 'Truth Be Told' when they supported Whiskey Myers. The last time we saw their Southern boogie influences in the great tradition of Black Crowes, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin was at London's Borderline this April after the shock departure of guitarist Rob Glendinning who had been replaced by Harry Slater. Imagine our surprise as Michael Bailey (bass guitar), Daniel Seekings (guitars/backing vocals), Stevie (Alan? Alan? Alan?) Westwood (vocals) and George Drewry (drums) filed into our interview tent with Rob in tow! Anyway, watch out shortly for our interview on the reason why Rob had returned, plus news on their October tour with The Kentucky Headhunters and their November headline tour with Mollie Marriott.
As the guys headed off for their set on the Rising Stage in two and a half hours time, probably the most surreal interview of the afternoon took place with Liverpool's Xander And The Peace Pirates. Unbelievably, for some reason this really great bunch of guys did not have access to the media area and we ended up doing the interview outside with Keith Xander (lead guitar/vocals, Stuart Xander (guitars), Mike Gay (slide guitar, guitar/vocals), Joel Goldberg (bass) and Adam Goldberg (drums) -where we found out that they had already played The Rising Stage despite the RMF itinerary saying it was Sunday. Again listen out shortly for our interview where the former Cavern residents discuss their Soul, Blues and Rock influences plus their debut album '11:11'. Would you believe the guys follow up interview was with Nicky Horne, no less, and our valiant attempt to locate Nicky in the media area for XATPP was unfortunately unsuccessful (you couldn't make it up).
Enough of the interviews for the time being - it was time for some music as we headed back towards the Planet Rock Main Stage for Steve Harris British Lion. But on the way through the VIP area we were fortunate enough to come across Black Star Rider's Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson finishing of an impromptu acoustic set with none other than Lizzy's 'Jailbreak' - awesome! The last time we saw bass guitarist Steve Harris at a festival was at a very wet and muddy Download last year with of course his day job Iron Maiden. Fast forward thirteen months later and it was again pissing down this time at RMF - although the same shoes I wore at Download were thankfully not as muddy this time. Respect therefore to the RM faithful who braved the elements for his side-project Hard Rock outfit British Lion. To be fair the band did all they could to take the assembled minds off of the weather with a (ahem) storming set including 'A World Without Heaven', 'The Chosen Ones', 'The Burning', 'This Is My God', 'Us Against The World' and 'Eyes Of The Young'. British Lion continue with their European tour this weekend - hopefully it will be under cover!
Fresh from his awesome performance opening the Planet Rock Main Stage earlier, we then returned wet and bedraggled to to media area where we had the pleasure of interviewing Jared James Nichols where Jared told us here about 'Old Glory', his 'pick-less' electric guitar playing technique, what can we expect from his new studio album 'Black Magic' due to be released this September plus how his teeth are so white! From one American to another - namely namesake AJ Vincent from Austin, Texas, heavy keys player in Heavy - Acid Rockers Scorpion Child, who were playing The Grooverider stage in just over two hours. Again watch out for that interview where we discussed not only their latest album 'Acid Roulette' but also his new solo album 'Electric Kind of Love'. London based Rock band Dirty Thrills also played the Grooverider Stage earlier in the day and we were fortunate enough to be asked in our final interview of the day to interview these really great guys on the hoof. A young, exciting and charismatic Hard Rock quartet who play Bluesy Rock ‘n’ Roll with an appealing filthy edge - listen to our interview here as the guys talk about their Planet Rock sponsored UK tour in November when they will support Black Star Riders plus their new album album ‘Heavy Living' which is due to be released on Friday 15th September.
It was still pissing down as we made our way to the bar waiting for Glenn Hughes to arrive on the Planet Rock Main Stage. A few year's ago I would have never have braved the elements getting soaked to see Hughes - but after his brilliant last album 'Resonate' this was a no-brainer as I ventured from the bar on my own to the centre right of the stage into the driving rain. Cue my favourite track from 'Resonate' - 'Flow' - with its stand out guitar/organ riff and an immediate opportunity for Glenn to open his tonsils - although a common theme throughout 'Resonate' is the unexpected direction that some tracks take - on this occasion the delicate mid-section harmony that built into an awesome combination of Soren Andersen's guitar solo complemented by the amazing 'purplesque' keys of Jay Boe. Despite the weather, Hughes' enthusiasm and emotion was already palpable as he reached back 35 years to his collaboration with Pat Travers Band guitarist Pat Thrall and 'Muscle And Blood' - the 64 year old proving that the body and that incredible voice are still willing despite some of his contemporaries falling by the wayside. Next was 'Resonate's' opening single 'Heavy' - an 'in yer face' intro blending the driving guitar of Anderson, the keyboards of Boe and Pontus Engborg's drums (Red Hot Chilli Peppers Chad Smith on the album) before Hughes let rip with his trademark vocals, followed by Deep Purple's 'You Keep On Moving' - Hughes' 'shiver down your spine' vocals, particularly his acapella outro, putting his own personal stamp on another Mk IV nugget. The funky but hard rockin' title track from his 2005 release 'Soul Mover' made way for Black Country Communion's masterpiece 'Black Country' which was delivered in such style by Hughes, Andersen and Engborg - that not only can't the new album come soon enough (with indeed Hughes announcing "Friday 22nd September" in his intro) but neither can BCC's early January 2018 UK tour as well! Brilliant. Naturally, it had to be Deep Purple's 'Burn' to wrap up proceedings on an afternoon where the sopping crowd had witnessed a Rock icon doing what he does best. Stand out of the day so far.
The rain continued as we headed for the first time towards the Grooverider Stage to support our mate AJ from Scorpion Child. One of our party again braved the elements departing the bar for the stage (not me this time), although annoyingly, Ramblin' Man had juxtapositioned the stage and the bar this year, meaning that you didn't have a great view from the bar - unlike we did last year when watching Procol Harum on a glorious Summer's evening. Anyway, we first saw Scorpion Child at Camden's Underworld just under two year's ago supporting their Nuclear Blast label mates Crobot. We enjoyed their brand of Heavy - Acid Rock so much so that we literally got the t-shirt - one of our number proudly wearing it today. Again the Texan flags were unfurled and the five-piece band from Austin unleashed another in your face performance with vocalist Aryn Jonathan Black continually rocking his microphone stand back and forth, with support from Christopher Jay Cowart (lead guitar), Jon "Charn" Rice (percussion), Alec Caballero Padron (bass guitar) and of course AJ Vincent on heavy keys. Before the gig they said they would destroy Great Britain with a sonic avalanche of dark Rock n' Roll and with most of the set taken from their latest album 'Acid Roulette' - they did a bloody good job of it - given the conditions. Come back soon guys.
Despite the expected deluge, Ramblin Man Fair had managed to keep its head above water, although the evening took another twist when we bumped into Big Boy Bloater And The Limits and Jack J. Hutchinson who were both due to perform on the Four Roses Bourbon Blues Stage on Sunday. BBB's better half Lisa kindly invited us into their caravan to shelter from the rain - a welcome pitstop - which set us up nicely for our final gig of the evening and a first visit to the aforementioned Four Roses Bourbon Blues Stage. Indeed, in the end, this turned out to be the stand out performance of the day - which had nothing to do with being undercover in a tent! Was it really over five years ago since we last saw Kenny Wayne Shepherd at Islington Assembly Halls, appropriately on the 4th July? To be perfectly honest I can't really recall why we missed him at the the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London in April 2015, but if you go back further to November 2011, that was the very first time we saw KWS at London's Koko, and I can still distinctly recall coming away thinking how good this guy was.
So after that big build up, would KWS live up to the billing? Well I think we have already answered that question as the man himself treated us to a full headline set which truly demonstrated the edge that KWS has in his guitar playing - something that stands him apart from many of his peers. Indeed it's difficult to single out particular tracks as favourites as the whole set was totally awesome - suffice to say that we never wanted it to end. Right from the moment he exploded on to the stage with 'Never Lookin' Back', through his classic back catalogue such as 'Deja Voodoo' and 'Born With A Broken Heart' from 'Ledbetter Heights', and onto the new with 'Heat Of The Sun' and 'Diamonds & Gold' from his critically acclaimed new album 'Lay It Own Down', plus covers of classic Blues standards of BB King's 'Baby You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now', Elmore James' 'Talk Me To Baby' and Slim Harpo's 'I'm A King Bee'. But why oh why do some people persist on talking during a gig? Tempers were very fraught where we were standing, as our campaign #shutthefuckup continued to carry momentum as did the unidentified moron who continually farted during the set - #wtf? Back to the music and a deserved acknowledgement re: the contribution of Kenny's band. Ace skin man Chris Layton can always shove his CV in front of your face with one name on it - Stevie Ray Vaughan - enough said, whilst similarly the pedigree of Joe Krown on keys and Kevin McCormick on bass is second to none. However, if we are talking about the ultimate definition of cool then look no further than Noah Hunt whose amazing vocals and Paul Rodgers like stage presence are the perfect complement to Shepherd’s guitar playing. Hunt joined the band in 1998 and it is clear that he and Kenny have become very good friends and there is a tremendous chemistry between them. To be fair, Shepherd did also chip in with some great vocals, but they concluded the set with an amazing version of Hendrix's Voodoo Child (Slight Return) - no pretentious encore, although some might suggest the latter was self-indulgent, but if you can play like Kenny then why not indulge? And talking of hashtags - the post-gig tweet #genius #blues summed this set up perfectly! And so we left the Four Roses Bourbon Outlaw Country Stage with screams of approval ringing in our ears. With Extreme playing the Planet Rock Main Stage in the distance, we decided to call it a day, heading towards the exit. Despite the weather, a glorious day full of great music courtesy of Ramblin' Man Fair. Another day to remember. Roll on tomorrow!