Ramblin' Man Fair - Day 2
Sunday 1st July
Mote Park, Maidstone
Morning Campers! Those partaking of the camping facilities had the pleasure of waking up to another beautifully sunny day with the prospect of more beer, food and great music. A lazy hazy Sunday morning was spent regaling tales of ales with accounts of the amounts before the festival doors opened again at noon.
Sunday follows a similar vein to Saturday, although today we have three slightly different stages. A Blues stage, a Prog stage and the Planet Rock main stage again. First stop was the Prog stage. I thought it was the Blues stage because it was blue. Surely it should have been a multitude of psychedelic colours? It did mean however that I caught a couple of Prog acts that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Second Relation, from Gotzis, Austria, are a five piece playing a Metal/Rock form of Prog music, although, like much Prog, had a heavy keys sound. Frontman Bastian B. Berchtold carried out his duties whilst giving some heavy bass accompaniment although kept the banter to a minimum. They were well received before the theatrical experience that is Goldray made their very theatrical entrance. The psychedelia missing from our surroundings was brought in abundance as singer Leah Rasmussen and guitarist Kenwyn House (of Reef fame), adorned in flowing robes of many colours (although mainly yellow) lit up the small stage. This is classic Prog - long complex songs with a Kate Bush vibe as Rasmussen’ vocals carry across the intricate fretwork of House's Telecaster. Some funkiness crept in but this was predominantly magical Prog with stand-out track ‘The Forest’ attracting warm applause.
The trouble with festivals is avoiding the timetable clashes. One of my not to miss moments is the Kris Barras Band over on the colourless Blues stage. Kris is an MMA fighter-turned-musician who pulls no punches when it comes to his Blues Rock. Kris was voted in the Top 15 Blues Guitarists in the world by the reader's of Music Radar/Total Guitar Magazine which will give you some idea of how good he is. He is also the new frontman for USA super-group, Supersonic Blues Machine featuring legendary artists such as ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons who are also touring the UK at the moment. The Torquay 4 piece produce some excellent swampy Blues Rock that really made them stand out from the crowd. Barras sports an oilcan/junkbox guitar for some excellent slide guitar before switching back to his trusty strat for regular Blues rocking. Piano/keys from Josiah Manning bring a melodic accompaniment to the great groove. They were hugely appreciated by the large crowd lapping up the sun, and the excellent beers.
Back at the Prog stage are Finnish Prog heroes The Von Hertzen Brothers. Playing a mix of classic Rock combined with Progressive elements, Folk, Punk and contemporary Rock, the band has a sound for everyone. Guitarist Kie, playing his battered white strat, gets some killer sounds out of his Vox amp with a set that has heavy guitar but also a big keyboard sound that has Rush-like qualities. Mikko Von Hertzen has a happy look on his face the whole time, although, if you are young, good looking and front a popular band, why wouldn’t you be. The heat of the weekend feels at it’s hottest here as Kie quips to the assembled photographers "We look way better when we are soaked". And not a drop of rain all day.
Appearing on the main stage are the supergroup that are the Sons of Apollo. Comprised of Rock dignitaries drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Billy Sheehan, keyboardist Derek Sherinian, vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, and guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, this lot have some pedigree. Their all too short set was a snippet of their current full tour set but included some of the rocking from their recent album 'Psychotic Symphony', a collection of tracks that has influences from each of the band. Us guitar nerds were also treated to the rare sight of Bumblefoot playing a twin neck six string guitar alongside Sheehan playing a twin neck bass. Now that’s not something you see very often. With Soto leading the vocals, the crowd joined in in a totally microphone free singalong that could have ruined Soto’s voice on the UK debut for the band, but he belted out closing track ‘Coming Home’ with some gusto so all is well there then.
Following on the main stage from establishment are the new blood that are Blackberry Smoke. Although you couldn’t get a more 1970’s looking band if you tried. I say new blood, the Georgian 5 piece of Charlie Starr (lead vocals, guitar), Richard Turner (bass, vocals), Brit Turner (drums), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), and Brandon Still (keyboards) have been around for nearly 20 years now. And the guitar nerds got a whole festivals worth of eye candy in just one band. Played through boutique Germino amps, the Southern rocking sound has a Prog keyboard tinge to it. Tracks like ‘Six Ways To Sunday’ has a shuffle beat with a busy bassline and a real feel good factor to it whilst ‘Let It Burn’ is a sultry slow Blues with a keyboard solo and a Gibson 335 Wah-fest. Sandwiched around a cover of the Beatles ‘Come Together’, it was exquisite. Tracks from the new album ‘Find The Light’ get an airing but with favourites like ‘Shakin Hands With The Holy Ghost’ and ‘One Horse Town’ before finishing with ‘Ain’t Much Left Of Me’ - I could have listened to them all day.
Last minute stand in Big Boy Bloater made a fine fist of covering for Chas and Dave who were forced to withdraw due to illness. Wishing the East End duo well, the Surrey Cockney entertained the crowd with his dirty strat Blues and humorous lyrics and banter. This big fella has some fine chops, as well as a history of session guitar playing in his bag of tricks, that showcases why he is a regular at festivals as well as across the gamut of Blues playing radio stations. Currently touring his new album ‘Pills’, Bloater had also performed a small acoustic set to the VIP tent the previous day which raised a number of smiles. Dedicating his song ‘The Saturday Night Desperation Shuffle’ to all the ugly ones in the audience, he endeared himself to all. It’s nice when you are made to feel special.
Next on at the main stage was Halestorm. Singer Lzzy Hale looked stunning in a heavily studded black leather jacket, with matching high heel/platform boots, over a glorious red dress that complemented her bright red lipstick. With a Gibson Explorer to finish off the ensemble she really looks the part. Ms. Hale is no shrinking violet with a deep and soulful voice which matched perfectly with the bands Heavy Rock sound. "Please do not be gentle" she pleaded to the crowd. With tracks like ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ and ‘Mayhem’ it wasn’t going to be a gentle set. It was Metal done well with a large number of the crowd there to specifically see Lzzy’s brand of Rock that has seen the Pennsylvanians tour with some of the top names in Rock and Metal. ‘Freak Like Me' stood out as a real crowd pleaser. They are returning to the UK in September to tour as headliners for their new album ‘Vicious’. And I am sure that it will be.
Closing off the Prog stage is ex-Marillion front man Fish. Despite being a solo artist for nearly 30 years, the Scottish singer-songwriter and occasional actor was happy to play the first side of Marillion's ‘Clutching At Straws’ album in its 25 minute entirety as well as finishing with an encore of ‘Slàinte Mhath’ and ‘Incommunicado’ from side two. Also including a couple of his solo tracks, the iconic frontman with his iconic scarf and genre defining iconic voice treated the Progsters to what was the epitome of a one hour set that left the fans satisfied and dehydrated in equal measures. There are some extremely happy faces leaving the Prog tent for the last time this weekend.
Closing the Blues stage are the equally iconic Gov’t Mule. The Southern Rock jam band was originally formed as a side project of The Allman Brothers Band by guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody but has become a headline band in its own right. The all too short set included a number of Mule tracks (including ‘Mule) as well as an Allman brothers track (‘Blue Sky’) with Charlie Starr from Blackberry Smoke and then Bernie Marsden joining them for closing tracks ‘Heartbreaker’ (Free cover) and Whitesnake’s ‘Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City’. As a self-confessed ‘Muleteer’ I could have watched them all night but the Blues stage had to come to a close for the final act on the main stage.
So headliners for the final day of the festival are The Cult. A difficult band to pigeon hole, they have vibes of Rock, Punk and Metal but all packaged together with great lyrics and seriously catchy hooks. There aren’t many bands who have such gravitas and cool yet are ubiquitous in the advertising world for catchy themes. Originally from Yorkshire, where they think what they sing and sing what they think, the five piece have had some tough times but keep coming back, to the delight of their loyal fanbase. Frontman Ian Astbury, dressed all in black, sports a large white Gretsch for opener ‘Wild Flower’ which he sings with as much gusto now as he did as when it was released 30 years ago. With fellow Cult original Billy Duffy on guitar coming from Manchester, you can see why this war of the roses has such energy and passion. They work off of each other to produce great songs with great energy. The hits keep coming with ‘GOAT’, ‘Lil Devil’ and ‘Spritwalker’ whipping up the crowd as the sun sets behind the massive stage. By saving their classic ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ for their encore the sunburnt masses drift off into the night happy that they have had all of their musical buttons pressed.
So did the Ramblin' Man stray from the path? No, but he certainly chose an alternative route. The festival generally ran smoothly and seemed to be well attended although numbers felt slightly down on previous years. The choice of stages was good with a good variety of music although the main stage felt a little too varied at times. When you have set the bar as high as the Ramblin' Man Fair has achieved in previous years, it is difficult to maintain that standard. It was a great festival of music, beer and food and a great chance to catch up with old friends and new bands. But for this year at least, it is over. So, in the words of Led Zeppelin:
"The time has come to be gone
And though our health we drank a thousand times
It's time to ramble on"
The Cult Setlist
Deeply Ordered Chaos
King Contrary Man
Sweet Soul Sister
G O A T
Love Removal Machine
She Sells Sanctuary
Mother (photos courtesy of John Bull RockrPix)