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Ramblin' Man Fair - Day 2

Sunday 30th July 2017

Mote Park, Maidstone

Despite the previous day's torrential rain plus Sunday's threatening dark clouds, I decided to brave Ramblin' Man Fair without a jacket on Day Three - resplendent in my brand new 2017 WRC 'On Tour' t-shirt. As we walked through beautiful Mote Park, the weather was a bit touch and go but after visiting the bar and waiting for KilliT to appear on The Rising Stage, we took in a bit of Stone Broken from afar on The Planet Rock Main Stage. We caught Stone Broken supporting Glenn Hughes at The Islington Assembly Hall in January, and suffice to say our original assessment of these Black Country Hard Rockers was unchanged - still very much contender's for 'Best Support' or 'One's To Watch' in our 2017 WRC Awards! With Rich Moss on vocals/guitar, Chris Davis on guitar/vocals, Kieron Conroy on bass and Robyn Haycock on drums/vocals - their short set was taken from their first album 'All In Time'. Described as a big chunky Rock sound with huge choruses, their opening number, and their very first single, 'Stay All Night' - was Monster Truck meets Blacktop Mojo - with some great guitar work from Davis and Moss. It literally got 'Better' - another track from 'AIT' - consolidating their huge arena Rock sound before the slower intro to 'Be There' led into an inevitable huge riff - the impressive vocals of Moss and guitar work from Davis very reminiscent of Nickelback when they rock. The similar formula of 'Wait For You' and 'Doesn't Matter', was followed by the closing headbanger and second single off of 'AIT' 'Not Your Enemy' although, to be honest, our attention then switched to KilliT - particularly as we were interviewing the guys later.

They were first up on The Rising Stage - albeit later than scheduled - and with the sun now shining - these guys duly put together one of the most high energy sets of the whole weekend. Believe it or not when we originally googled KilliT their music genre was down as Hip-hop/-rap! Nothing could be further from the truth as this bad-ass five-piece multi-national Metal Rock band opened with a stormer from their, as yet, unreleased second album - before they pulverised their six song twenty minute set with five tracks from their debut album 'Shut It Down' including the title track with frontman (Northerner and Blaze Bayley protege) Gaz Twist demanding "Let's fuc*ing have it" plus the stand-out for mine 'Crash And Burn' giving Israeli lead guitarist Niro Knox licence to swagger around the stage Slash style generously throwing his lighted cigarette into the crowd on a great track, appropriately very reminiscent of Velvet Revolver's 'Slither'. With Hungarian Pete Jean on drums, another Google curveball was the unexpected personnel change of Claire from Switzerland now on rhythm guitar and Brit Benny (the pirate) on bass - but it didn't really matter as KilliT sustained an in yer face set with practically no let up - another superb Rising Stage performance that would no doubt add to their growing army of fans. If you like AC/DC, Alice In Chains, Alter Bridge, Foo Fighters etc. then get down to Camden's Dublin Castle on Sunday 24th September - you won't be disappointed.

As the sun unbelievably continued to shine, we then headed back towards The Planet Rock Main Stage. Our original itinerary said Danny Worsnop although, we were not sure why, but in the end it turned out to be Snakecharmer who we coincidentally had also caught recently at The Islington O2 Academy. The band were originally founded in 2011 by former Whitesnake member’s guitarist Micky Moody and bass guitarist Neil Murray along with guitarist Laurie Wisefield (Wishbone Ash), drummer Harry James (Thunder, Magnum), keyboardist Adam Wakeman (Ozzy Osbourne) and vocalist Chris Ousey (Heartland). In 2016, Moody left the band and was replaced by Irish born Simon McBride on lead guitar. Their recently released second album 'Second Skin' is slightly harder edged compared to their debut, but with roots still firmly planted in Bad Company early Whitesnake and a hint of late 70's AOR and their set was once again strong, passionate, rocking and Blues-laden. ‘Follow Me Under’ had a great riff and was an immediate opportunity for the powerful Ousey to flex his vocal chords, whilst the classic 70’s Classic Rock of ‘Are You Ready To Fly’ similarly demonstrated the strong rhythm section of Neil Murray and Harry James, with trademark Hammond organ for that era from Adam Wakeman It was then time for more melodic Blues with the ‘Second Skin’ ballad ‘I'll Take You As You Are’ – with it’s acoustic opening building into a Blues based hard rocker, helped by the subtlety of Wakeman’s Hammond infusion, however, given our 'On Tour' t-shirts we decided to spread our wings before the end of their set to take in and inhale both the Prog In The Park and the Four Roses Bourbon Blues Stage's before our two final band interviews of the weekend. We briefly caught I Am The Morning - think Jethro Tull meets Jacqui McShee's Pentangle - on the Prog Stage, whilst inside the Blues tent we bumped into our mates Bob and Jules from the WRC award winning Rock On The Ridge radio show - with Jules eagerly awaiting Blindstone and in particular their guitarist/vocalist Martin Andersen. We have it on good authority that they didn't disappoint but unfortunately we had to dash of to the media tent.

Our first interview with Northern Ireland's answer to The Black Crowes - Blackwater Conspiracy - sadly didn't materialise. The guys did play The Rising Stage later, and according to our spy in the crowd, they were great, fully vindicating the fact that their latest album 'Smooth The Breeze' had debuted at number five in two separate UK charts. Not only that, but our spy also bought the CD as well! Enough said! Despite other possible interviews with Skam, Magnum and Martin Turner also not coming to fruition - they say that every cloud has a silver lining, so, off the cuff, we were invited to have a quick chat with teenage guitar sensation Aaron Keylock before he was due to grace the Four Roses Bourbon Blues Stage later. The last time we interviewed Aaron was last December, so in our catch up interview here we discussed the recent release of his critically acclaimed debut album 'Cut Against The Grain', further album and festival plans plus which particular Ramblin' Man Fair artist he was looking forward to seeing later that afternoon. One pre-planned interview that did go ahead was when we managed to catch more than a few words from the guys/gal from Rock/Metal band KilliT after their awesome opening set earlier on The Rising Stage. In probably one of our best interviews ever, if not the most mental, we learnt how this multi-national band got together, their plans for a new album/gigs and how they battled to get their voices heard over the RM PA system in the background! The trade-off for being in the media tent meant that we missed Blues Pills on The Planet Rock Main Stage, our only consolation being that one of our WRC correspondent's Steven C. Gilbert caught their set, and in his separate review below, he described unsurprisingly that they well and truly "delivered the goods".

Anyway, a slam dunk on our Ramblin' Man scorecard was Big Boy Bloater & The LiMiTs who were appearing on the Four Roses Bourbon Blues Stage at 3pm. We caught BBB&TL's at Camden Rocks in June - the stand-out performance of the festival for mine - and once again this literal larger than life performer didn't disappoint again. OK the set list was pretty much the same as CR's and I'm still coming to terms with them playing as a three-piece with no keyboards, but their Roots and R&B rocked as usual which began with the brilliantly entitled 'I Love You (But I Can't Stand Your Friends)' - from last year's album ‘Luxury Hobo’ - with its 70's Rock n' Roll style, big guitar and lyrics, followed by the musical barnstormer, 'It Came Out Of The Swamp', with its brilliant baseline, mean guitar and imaginative lyrics, which Bloater delivered perfectly in a very George Thorogood-esque manner. 'Robot Girlfriend’ further reinforced Bloater's thoughtful lyrics intertwined with a mean Blues guitar solo before BBB&TL’s then went back to their self-titled debut album with ‘Every Path Has It’s Puddle’ which originally featured Imelda May - with its ‘feverish’ drum intro and its “kiss and a cuddle” reinforcing the vocal and guitar quality of Bloater’s earlier stuff. BBB's introduction that "There's nothing worse than when you love someone ... and then they take out a restraining order on you!" ... set the scene behind the groovy ‘I Can’t Forget About You’ before the Rock ‘n Rolling ‘Double Whammy’, taken from their second album ‘The World Explained’. These were followed by ‘Messin With The Booze’, taken us back to Bloater and The City Shakers - Bloater’s guitar a mighty nod to Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Classic! BBB&LT’s then delved back to their first album with the fast moving instrumental 'Rocket Surgery’, with both a deserved bass/drum solo, and then another fast mover ‘Leonard Cohen’ from ‘The World Explained’. Bloater’s distorted guitar intro saw the set close with the foot-tapping 'LH' opener 'Devils Not Angels' and its killer Rock n' Roll guitar and Bloater’s distinctive gruff but great vocals. What a great song to round off another brilliant set - so much so that we hastily arranged to see them again in Greenwich the following weekend!

As we filed out of the Blues Tent - the biggest dilemma of the weekend was about to be addressed. Monster Truck on The The Planet Rock Main Stage or Focus on the Prog In The Park Stage? There's only one way to find out - fight! Given Monster Truck had won our WRC 'Best Support' band award in 2016 and that WRC favourites Focus are so iconic - this was a difficult one to choose - so we wimped out by sitting down and had a bite to eat as we initially listened to Monster Truck from afar opening with 'Why Are You Not Rocking?' - with bare-chested lead guitarist Jer Widerman on the big screen duly dispatching this riff ridden nugget from 'Sittin' Heavy' before 'Old Train' from their debut album 'Furiosity' kept Monster Truck moving along nicely with its "woah woah woa" chorus. However, the standout from 'SH' - and if not one of the best tracks from last year - 'Don't Tell Me How To Live' really made me regret that I was not down the front with mandatory air guitar - with its growling vocal from bass guitarist Jon Harvey and a Heavy Rock riff to die for, the swagger of Widerman's mid-section guitar solo is so reminiscent of Perry in 'Walk This Way' and I just never get tired of listening to or watching the video to this Rock monster. 'The Enforcer' from 'SH' was the very first Monster Truck tune I ever heard - no "free beers" tonight unfortunately - but its distinctive pounding opening drumbeat from Steve Kiely got our hands clapping in the air with even more "woah woah woa's" as we took off once again for a bit of a classic Prog. By definition, a fifty minute set of Prog means five or six songs at most! So imagine my delight as we sat down in the afternoon sun towards the back of a packed Prog In The Park Stage as Menno Gootjes launched into, in my opinion, one of the great guitar solos of all time on 'Eruption' from 'Focus II/Moving Waves' - absolutely bliss. A bit like Trigger's broom, the part's have changed over the year's but the original heartbeat of Thijs van Leer on organ/flute and Pierre van der Linden on drums is still alive and kicking as evidenced on their classics 'Sylvia' and 'Hocus Pocus' but now with Udo Pannekeet on bass guitar replacing Van Leer's stepson Bobby Jacobs. Make sure you see the real deal in its entirety at London's 100 Club on Wednesday 18th October.

If we were being perfectly honest, the reason we headed back towards the Planet Rock Main Stage for Supersonic Blues Machine - was really to see guitar whirlwind Eric Gales, who we not only had the pleasure of seeing, but also interviewing him on his UK tour in June at Nell’s Jazz & Blues in Kensington, London. Supersonic Blues Machine was formed by bass guitarist Fabrizio Grossi, guitarist Lance Lopez and drummer Kenny Aronoff, and they released their acclaimed debut album 'West of Flushing, South of Frisco' in February last year. However, the guest collaboration on the CD was a real Blues "who's who" including Billy Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Chris Duarte, Eric Gales, Walter Trout and Robben Ford. Cue the understandable level of anticipation when the stylishly dressed trio walked on stage with their equally stylish backing singers, knowing that both Gales and Gibbons were "in the building". To be fair Grossi, Lopez and Aronoff pumped out some real quality power trio Blues early in their set - although the crowd's expectation that Gales and/or Gibbons would join them, in a strange way, impacted our appreciation of their undoubted quality. Sure enough, Gales, as he told us he would in June, immediately upped the ante when he joined them on stage - albeit a bit churlish to say it, but in my humble opinion, if you ever wanted to see the nearest you could get to Hendrix - then this guy is it. Although, now, we were being teased, as we looked towards the right hand side of the stage with a vacant mic stand available for Billy! Suffice to say Gibbons never made it, but this all the same was definitely supersonic Blues in the making, although don't keep us guessing next time please guys!

Another clash resulted in a split in our ranks. I wanted to see The Quireboys on the Four Roses Bourbon Blues Stage but the pull of Aussie Rockers and current WRC favourites Massive on The Rising Stage was just too great for me. As it turned out, from all reports The Quireboys set excellently covered a number of Blues classics - but at the end of the day I made the right choice as one of the best sets of the weekend was unleashed - think junior Aussie Spinal Tap! Anyway, we managed to get up close and personal at the front of the stage. Typical Aussies - these guys are on a perpetual world tour following the release of their critically acclaimed 'Destination Somewhere' album last year - with even Kerrang saying that they were following in the footsteps of Guns 'N Roses. With the recent return of former band members the Laguda brothers, namely lead guitarist Ben and Aaron on bass, the four piece was completed by Jarrod Edwin (drums) and the diminutive but larger than life Brad Marr on vocals. To be fair, things didn't get off to a great start with 'Hollywood' - all about a typical riotous night the guys spent in La La land on tour - as you couldn't hear Brad's vocal. Shame. Suffice to say that once the sounds problems were sorted out Massive cranked up the tempo as they weaved around the small stage wringing every possible sinew out of their performance with their full frontal Aussie Rock including 'One By One', fans favourite ' Blood Money Blues' (check out the video), 'Dancefloor', 'Burn The Sun', Ghost', new single 'Calm Before The Storm' from their forthcoming album and finished with 'Now Or Never'. However, despite the fact that the rain had relented since yesterday, but thanks to copious cans of lager being opened up on stage during their set, with Ben chucking cans at his brother and Brad pouring a full can over his head whilst playing guitar (seriously) - cue Marr's wardrobe malfunction as he slipped and split his crotch - you couldn't make it up! Entertainment wise, these guys are the full package and long may it continue!

Clutching one of Edwin's drumsticks which I managed to catch at the end of Massive's set, the benevolent side of our WRC ranks came to the fore as my drumstick was given away to a little lad who had just witnessed their awesome set. Might be worth a few bob in a few year's time. Anyway, what the hell - it was time to get in a good position for Planet Rock Main Stage headliners ZZ Top! We were actually positioned about five from the front to the right of the stage and despite the constant jab of someone's backpack in my side (we'll touch upon festival etiquette again later) - it was an excellent view. I'd seen ZZ Top twice before, the first time at High Voltage seven year's ago and more recently at Wembley Arena in 2015 when Jeff Beck guested on stage on his 71st birthday. Needless to say both shows were awesome and indeed ZZ Top walked away with our WRC 'Best International' performance two years ago.The eager anticipation of a night to remember was already palpable amongst The Ramblin' Man faithful and if ZZ Top are not the consummate of cool personified - then we would like to know who is as we witnessed a blistering set from the Houston Rockers.

ZZ Top were one of the first proponents of the video promo age, however unlike the stage set up at Wembley there were no giant screens either side of the miserable looking Frank Beard's (the one without the beard) huge drum kit in the middle, but there were the huge screens either side of the stage. However, these guys proved on the night that they do not need any props other than their beards and their cheap sunglasses! To be fair their choreography is so subtle but cool and complements their unique Rock delivery. ‘Got Me Under Pressure’, Waitin’ For The Bus’ and ‘Jesus Left Chicago’ got everyone into the groove before their first big hitter of the evening - ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ - was delivered sadly without that shiny car and pretty girls in the background. Back to the choreography and Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill played matching instruments for most of the set – a battered red guitar and bass plus also, if I’m not mistaken, those guitars from Back To The Future – the only disappointment of the night being that they didn’t rotate! ‘Pincushion’, ‘I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide’ and the more recent and underrated ‘I Gotsta Get Paid’ followed before their traditional deserved homage to Hendrix himself and 'Foxy Lady'. 'Recycler's' 'My Head's In Mississippi' was followed by three cover's namely Robert Petway’s 'Catfish Blues', Merle Travis' 'Sixteen Tons' and a new one for me - Buck Owens And is Buckaroos 'Act Naturally'. This was deliciously backed up by ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ and ‘Chartreuse’ - building up to the final big hitters, 'Just Got Paid' (Joe Bonamassa's staple cover), ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and ‘Legs’. No 'Rough Boy' and no Jeff Beck joining them this time on their first encore ‘La Grange and ‘Tush’ but hey you can't have everything! Although encore number two of Elvis' 'Jailhouse Rock' somehow ended abruptly with no "good night" from the bearded wonders, possibly because of the fight that erupted between two neathandtertal's behind us. How on earth can you end up fighting at a ZZ Top gig? Anyway, the set list was virtually the same as two years ago and in a way it is more of a performance or a show than a gig, which perhaps to an extent impacts their vocal rapport with the crowd - but hey, at the end of the day, it doesn’t get much better than this! So that was it. Ramblin' Man Fair over for another year as we made our way home out of Mote Park with post-festival depression due to kick in the following morning. Yet another great weekend of live music - and as one famous American once put it - "I'll be back!"


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