Ramblin' Man Fair Day 1
Mote Park, Maidstone
Friday 19th July 2019
Ramblin' Man Fair (not festival.....?) is back and it's back in black. The Rock, Blues, Prog, Country and Metal festival (sorry - fair) returns for the fifth time to the beautiful country parklands of Mote Park in Maidstone. Day 1 sees a stripped down 'lite' version of the main event with just one main stage open - the Planet Rock Stage - and five acts to tickle our fancies. And black are the clouds hovering above us which doesn't bode well. What we need is something to lighten the day and get us revved up for the weekend.
Openers The Lazys are just the ticket. Hailing from Sydney, the five piece Australian Rockers give instant vibes of other well known Australian Rock bands (more of which on Day 3). That is no bad thing as, far from being stereotypical, they bring all the unbridled, rough and ready Rock tones that says up yours to the world but with a huge smile and endless joy and energy. Their 2018 album was called 'Sleaze Roxx' - i guess that says it all. Frontman Leon Harrison is pumped and saunters around the stage trying to outshine the awesome Rock sound of the Les Paul and Telecaster blasting out through their Marshall JCM800 amps delivering that Classic Rock sound. Oh, and they are all dressed completely in black. In fact, if it hadn't been for the red Tele, we might have lost them in the gloom. The rain started but nobody cares as we Rock along in fine form and cheer them mightily as their short thirty minute slot is over oh too soon. Well done Ramblin' Man Fair - great choice of how to open a weekend. And well played the Lazys - you did yourselves proud.
Second act up is the rapidly rising star that is Kris Barras. Kris has really become prominent in the last couple of years with endless tours and festivals and has become the darling of the Planet Rock world. Today he brings a full backing band including keyboards and two female backing vocalist to compliment his extremely fine guitar playing skills. Oh, and everyone is dressed completely in black. Not that I would dare to take issue with the ex-cage fighting Bluesman. With both knuckles tattooed with the word 'BOOM' across each finger, Kris looks like he is more likely to hit you with the rich assortment of guitars he wields than the notes that he can wring from them, but he is an extremely skilful player with a soulful feel that shows that looks can be deceiving. The short set is a slower Bluesier set than the opening rockers but pleases the crowd nonetheless. There is something for everyone here. With a new album out in September and a headline tour we are treated to a few new tracks including the current single 'Light It Up' and 'Vegas Son'. Closing track sees Kris bring out his trusty blond Tele for a little slide action on the excellent 'Hail Mary'. This fella is going to go far.
Next up on stage are FM, the 80's Rock band with original members Merv Goldsworthy, Pete Jupp and Steve Overland still going strong. The five piece were all wearing black except vocalist Steve Overland who clearly didn't get the memo. Opening with 'Black Magic' from their 2018 album 'Atomic Generation', the band quickly got into their stride of radio friendly Rock that has seen them become firm favourites. The songs keep coming with tracks like 'That Girl', 'Life Is A Highway' and 'I Belong To The Night' blasted out with skill and precision. And all washed down with equal quantities of fine ales from the local beer tents and the Kent rain. Very tasty. Closing track 'Killed By Love' comes all to soon as their short set is brought to an end far to prematurely and they have to leave the stage. Premature evacuation is such a cruel thing....
Next up, and back to the edgy vibe, are the Wildhearts with the ever charismatic frontman Ginger. Can you guess what they were all wearing? You guessed it. But colour is never an issue with this bunch as Ginger is Mr. Colourful as are the two hollowbody guitars that he and guitarist CJ sport. They help give the Wildhearts their distinctive Punky sound although at the occasional expense of some ear splitting feedback. The Wildhearts are one of those bands from back in the 80's/90's that were always on my Wallkman (kids - Google it) so it was a happy set for me as the short set contained so many classics. Opening track 'Dislocated' had Ginger growling the lyrics like some death Metal God but his usual golden Geordie lilt was more evident as the et list continued with tracks like 'Everlone' and 'Vanilla Radio'. But it's jump around like a nutter tracks like 'Sucker Punch' and 'Sick Of Drugs' that get my blood pumping. They still have that edge that gives me the anarchistic shivers. Ginger is good with the banter too - it's a Geordie prerogative - so the crowd go from chilled to manic and back again at his whim. There is some new stuff too from the recent album 'Renaissance Men'. 'Let Em Go' is "about letting go of the wankers in your life" says Ginger. It's the staccato Punk style track you would expect and marvellous for it. The ever popular 'Caffeine Bomb' has the fists pumping the air whilst 'My Baby Is A Headfuck' is another classic that gets us all singing. Closing track 'I Wanna Go Where The People Go' is a blinder as always and allows the boys to bow out in style. Thanks lads, that was top notch.
Closing or headline act are The Darkness. A fitting name with all of these black phrases being bandied about but you couldn't have a more inappropriate band name today. Whilst the dark clouds give way to night time, The Darkness arrive in a blaze of glory - to the sound of bagpipe music? Frontman Justin Hawkins wears his trademark white outfit whilst bassist Frankie Poullain wears a striking black and pink pin striped number. Such a shy bunch of fellas... Opening track is appropriately 'Black Shuck', screamed at full falsetto goodness, whipping the crowd into full fun mode. It is noticeable that most of the previous artists appear in the audience to enjoy the show. There is something quite joyful about watching these irreverent naughty schoolboys making some killer Rock sounds. With brother Dan on lead guitar, the Hawkins siblings both play Les Pauls through Marshall amps to give that Classic Rock tone. But it's all about Justin. We are the motherfucking Darkness he yells - no kidding. And tonight no mother is safe. With pyrotechnics and fireworks to the fore, the band launch into a set of crowd favourites like 'Really Growing On Me', 'Open Fire', 'Love Is Only A Feeling' and 'One Way Ticket'. It is just excellent. Justin works the crowd with his completely inane but hugely enjoyable banter whilst the band watch on with resigned amusement.
Frankie does get to open 'One Way Ticket' with some obligatory cowbell but it's the Justin show really. We are offered a competition to win a small piece of Frankie which requires copious quantities of screaming from the crowd. I'm not sure who won or which bit they got. 'Barbarian' again allows the crowd to try and match Justin's falsetto. I think I managed an off key Tenor and that was just what I paid for my beer with. We are also treated to some newer tracks like 'Japanese Prisoner Of Love' from their 2018 album 'Pinewood Smile'. And they have a new album out in October called 'Easter Is Cancelled' - so lots more new stuff on the way. Justin disappears briefly whilst the band jams only to reappear in an outrageous denim blue coloured velour jumpsuit with matching hat. Freddie Mercury would have been jealous. And Justin has the crowd bouncing BEFORE he launched into the closing 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love'. And bounce we did, all the way to the end.
Disappearing briefly, the band reappear for the final encore of 'Get Your Hands Off My Woman' with an audience participation section involving the words "Mother" and "Fucker" in varying tones, pitches and styles. I think Justin won that sing-off competition but only just. Oh how we all love to scream profanities. Closing track 'Love On The Rocks With No Ice' sees the boys just give it everything with Hawkins performing headstands in front of the drums, admiring his form on the huge TV screens and then takes to the crowd with his trusty white Les Paul on the shoulders of a bouncer. With a final flourish of pyrotechnics the Darkness are done. Now that is how a night's live music should finish. So we head off into the night - go back in black if you like - with a great days entertainment ringing in our ears. How will day 2 fare after that? Let's hope the weatherman has some better news for us.
Mother (pictures courtesy of Rockrpix)
1919, Then Comes Silence
Electrowerkz, Islington, London
Saturday 13th July 2019
Tucked away in a dark Victorian alley at the back of the Angel tube station in North London is an old disused warehouse that is now the home of a small venue and club called Electrowerkz. As it is the thirteenth of the month, it is more than appropriate that I have come to see a collection of bands loosely associated with the Goth genre. Sadly no pea soup fog to enhance the atmosphere, just the anticipation of some excellent Rock music to come.
The first band on the bill we miss due to the vagaries of South Eastern rail cancelling our carefully chosen train and a very enthusiastic security team. No photo ID really does mean no entry! However, we eventually dig out a driving licence and make it inside to be spirited back to my student days when “Indie Clubs” really were independent, dark and smelt of stale beer! No drinks on draft so like true students, we clutch our tins of Strongbow cider and make our way into the performance area. The venue is painted entirely black except for a large translucent wall where ghostly shadows from the venue next door occasionally revealed themselves when the lighting was at the right angle.
I said the bands were ‘loosely’ associated with the Goth scene, although it was true that everyone present was dressed entirely in black! Luckily I managed to squeeze into a pair of stretch black jeans (the waist size suggesting they are not an ancient artefact from my student days, but a pair purchased much more recently) and my black shirt to match – you can dress in any colour you like – so long as it is black!
Angelbomb are the first band we get to see, a three piece with sequenced synths and drums as the backing tracks, with live guitars, bass and vocals. I’d tried to access some of their recorded material before the gig, but had only managed to listen to a couple of live tracks on YouTube. They are a little on the industrial side – not as heavy as Ministry but for a first listening, very amenable. The live and sequenced sounds blend seamlessly and I found myself enjoying what I was listening to with a solid baseline and guitars that swirled around the vocal soundbites. Sadly, all over a bit too soon for me.
Quickly taking the stage next is Swedish band Then Comes Silence. This is the band I have really come to see following my discovery of them a couple of years ago on Spotify. The enthralling single ‘Strangers’ from the band’s third album found its way onto my monthly playlist followed shortly after by the full fourth album ‘Blood’ which I couldn’t stop playing. It is an album packed full of fantastic Rock songs, but with that slight Gothic edge. The band describe themselves as Post-Punk rather than Goth and the album, released on Nuclear Blast records was produced by Tom van Heesch who has worked with Rammstein amongst others. A little internet research told me they were from Stockholm and so I thought the chances of seeing them live were rather remote with their live shows seemingly restricted to Germanic lands and European festivals (albeit sharing the stage with some of the best Alternative Rock bands around). An accomplished band with four great albums they have eventually made their way to London town - to my great excitement. And I am not disappointed. The band matches the ambience of the night. Alex Svenson on vocals and bass with his distinctive eye make-up is joined by Mattias Ruejas Jonson and Hugo Zombie on guitars with Jonas Fransson on drums. Then Comes Silence step out from the shadows!
They are very good live. The picked melodies are not lost with a good live sound quality. They are clearly an accomplished live band at the top of their game. The clean echoverb guitars build up and smash into noise building up the subtle dark rhythms. This is more about overdrive and chorus pedals rather than distortion allowing the intricate picked melodies to come through as well as the heavier riffs.
The set list includes many of their singles such as ‘Spinning Faster’, ‘Flashing Pangs of Love’ and ‘Strange Kicks’ allowing the drums to build up their beat.
They slow down for a track or two giving a spookier atmosphere with the haunting loops of ‘Warm Like Blood’ before piling on the energy with ‘The Rest Will Follow’. This is very danceable stuff and the crowd are swaying along in time with the fast and furious ‘Strangers’ and the last song of ‘Slowly Dragging You Down’ from the first album.
I caught up with Mattias after the show who confirmed how busy they have been touring Europe and doing festivals. This continues for the rest of the year, but another album and studio time is planned. They have enjoyed their first trip to London. Compared to Sweden, the beer is cheap but the fags expensive! Hopefully we will be seeing and hearing more from Then Comes Silence in the near future.
When the show list was published for the Then Comes Silence gig, I noticed the headliners were a band called 1919. To my surprise, I had not come across them much before - surprising as they are from Bradford and have been around since the early 1980’s involved in the same Punk and Post-Punk scene in West Yorkshire producing bands such as New Model Army, Death Cult, Sisters of Mercy etc. After a long history of ups and downs, the current line up reformed in 2015 and recaptured some of their old material whilst producing the new album ‘Bloodline’ in 2017 and the latest offering ‘Futurecide’ in 2019. And what an album indeed - in my humble opinion – the best album this decade in the genre. It is packed with melodies and solid songs that stand with the best. It has been on repeat on my iplayer for weeks now and I keep going back to it when bored of other albums. Sign of a great album and I guarantee that it will be on my most played albums of the year, if not the decade.
So how would this translate into the live show? Well, Rio Goldhammer - the front man enters the stage dressed in sunglasses and gold glitter jacket and bursts into ‘Anxiety’ the first track on the ‘Futurecide’ album. So far so good, with a sound reminiscent of early U2, overdrive rather than distortion and Goldhammer’s distinctive vocals carry the song seamlessly from the record to the live performance. Mick Reed on drums drives the set from the back with boundless energy and Sam Evans on guitars seems to have mastered not only the new 1919 sound but gives the older tracks a good work out too. The back catalogue gets some attention with an early Killing Joke feel with the sound of deliberate discordant guitar and pounding Post-Punk rhythms with Karl Donner on bass. This clearly resonates with some of the band’s older fans in the audience who are creating their own personal mosh pits!
The band mix the modern and past, playing tracks such as ‘Radicals’, and ‘Isolation’ from the new album to keep the crowd going. There is a lot of energy here and I am left very satisfied with all three bands I have seen giving me excellent value for my money. 1919 take their name from “a year of massive change and desperate rebellion”. A century on in 2019, some things haven’t changed with quite a desperate year to come with a new Prime Minister and the Brexit question to be setteld, but at least I’ve got some cracking tunes to keep me distracted!
Chris Bourlet (pictures courtesy of Imogen Kilduff)
Ramblin' Man Fair Day 2
Mote Park, Maidstone
Saturday 20th July 2019
Day 2 at Ramblin' Man sees a different kind of day. We now have 4 stages of music to enjoy and today is a day full of glorious sunshine. Yes! The four stages are The Rising Stage where up and coming acts get their chance to shine. The Prog In The Park stage which showcases the more thoughtful side of the genre. The Outlaw Country Stage where apparently Country music has not been outlawed. And the main Planet Rock Stage. All are sufficiently close to each other to allow a perambulation between each via the assorted retail, food and fine ale establishments. So that is what I will do. It's a day to soak up the sun, the ale and the wide range of music.
But before I do, I get the 'luxury' of being 'allowed' into the VIP suite to watch a short acoustic set by the fabulous Bad Touch. The five piece are no stranger to festivals, or Ramblin' Man, having been working the circuits for years. Today's short set strips away their electric sound to show their Blues Rock in a more laid back style although with no less excitement. Vocalist Stevie Westwood doesn't seem to get phased by anything so opening day to a major festival is just another day for him and the band. They are writing more songs at the moment so expect a new album in the Spring next year. If it's as good as their last album - 'Shake A Leg' - it will be worth a listen.
So the rest of the day is a whirl of sounds and styles that satisfies all four corners of my music needs. There are so many to mention that I can only mention the highlights. Deep breath, here goes... Raveneye open the Main stage with some awesome chugging Rock. Whilst only a three piece band, they make some big sounds with Oli Brown on lead and vocals, bassist Aaron Spiers and drummer Adam Breeze. Highlight was their track 'You're A Lie' which sees the chugging Rock sound carried solely by Spiers and Breeze. Big dirty sound. Meanwhile, over on the Outlaw stage Willie and the Bandits are putting down some funky grooves. Think early ZZ Top.
Outlaw Orchestra open the Rising stage with a whole heap of fun. With a double bass, guitar and banjo, the four piece dosie-doh the crowd who thoroughly enjoyed them. Nice dirty guitar work helped too, so the toe tapping got noisier as the large crowd got larger. I do like the Rising stage. Many of the acts on the Main stage this year were on the Rising stage not so long ago. Like Wayward Sons for instance. Toby Jepson's current troupe take to the Main stage with a black dress/white instrument combo. Toby opts for a white Flying V rather than his usual hollowbody. Because he wants to Rock. Good choice Mr J. As 'Black As Sin' is an apt choice of song and a great Rock track too. Wayward Sons are another band that will headline this stage hopefully so their short set was over far too quickly for me.
Back at the Rising stage we see another band that are going places - and all of them good. Collateral - previously known as the Angelo Tristan Band - are fronted by charismatic singer Angelo Tristan. Well I never. Looking like the love child of Steve Tyler and Jack Sparrow, Tristan and his band of rock and rollers look like they would fit comfortably into the main stage. As it is, the four piece showed their talent by making their way to the Rising stage by winning a 40 band competition. Guitarist Todd Winger plays a Jackson guitar through Orange amps giving the band an almost Metal sound although they are clearly rockers. Ones to watch.
OTIS, hailing from the same Kentucky town as Black Stone Cherry, give us some awesome Southern Rock groove on the Outlaw stage but I am drawn away all too quickly to watch Ugly Kid Joe on the Main stage. The California band have been around since the 80's and have that genre defying sound that is Rock, Hard Rock, Funk Metal and Heavy Metal. Or are they Skater Punk? They certainly dress that way. Except the drummer that is! I know it's hot but stick man Zac Morris chooses to wear nothing but a pair of short tight luminous green shorts. I think the ladies enjoyed it. Frontman Whitfield Crane is a legend and does a legendry job of interacting with the crowd, getting arms waving and voices singing. For the obligatory 'Cats In The Cradle' he focused on a young lad sitting on his dad's shoulders in the crowd and dedicated the song to him and all dad's with kids who Rock. The crowd roared every syllable - even the security team were singing - and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Jimmy Barnes is another legend - especially if you are an Aussie. They might almost call him an institution as he also fronts Cold Chisel, one of the best selling Australian acts of all times. He has a huge back line with guitars, bass, keys plus backing singers, but it is his distinctive powerful raspy voice that takes centre of the Main stage. It's a big Rock sound with Les Pauls and Tele's through Marshalls providing that authentic Australian Rock sound. Jimmy struts around in his tight black jeans sounding like an angry Working Man but when he isn't roaring down the microphone, his voice can still sound gentle when the occasional ballad requires it.
Beer time, so as I saunter towards one of the many fine beer tents in search of refreshment, I pop into the Prog Stage - it's a large tent. Inside, Pain of Salvation are playing. It's very intense. In a tent. I make my way out again. Where do you go for a little light relief? Well to the Rising stage of course. Dust Bowl Jokies, a Swedish five piece are just launching into their cover of 'Jumping Jack Flash' with vocalist Alexx's voice sounding the spit of early Geddy Lee. These fellas like to Rock. As do Ryder's Creed who follow them. The five piece from the Midlands are the real deal and have been making a bit of a name for themselves on the Rock circuit. And picking up the odd award on the way. Over on the Outlaw stage Jesse Dayton plays some great Hillbilly music with fun banter and a good deal of Irreverence. He does a fun cover of 'Whole Lotta Rosie' too.
Back to the Main stage sees the excellent Temperance Movement. Regulars on Planet Rock's airwaves, the band have a considerable catalogue of tracks that sees the crowd really grooving. You just can't help but sway. Or is that the beer? Frontman Phil Campbell comes across as a stereotypical angry Glaswegian but belies that when he invites a little girl on stage to play maracas during 'Only Friend'. It was a very sweet moment.
Back on the Outlaw stage was one of the best sets of the day - courtesy of The Allman Betts Band. Led by Devon Allman, son of founding Allman Brothers Band keyboardist and singer, Gregg Allman, and Duane Betts, son of founding Allman Brothers Band guitarist and singer, Dickey Betts, the band play the sort of Country Rock that gave the festival (sorry, fair...) its name. And they are all truly chips off the old block. Mmmm, chips..... The line up is awash with talent with three guitarists, two percussionists, keys and bass. With assorted guitars played through Fender amps, the distinctive Southern slide sound was divine. As well as covering some well known family classics, and some of their own new material, they covered 'Purple Rain' and brought on Black Stone Cherry's Ben Wells for one helluva Southern Blues rock jam. I could have stayed and watched them all day. Quite mesmerising.
Back on the Main stage, Cheap Trick show that they are growing older disgracefully. The Dream Police were living their dream, dressed in their trademark two tone Dream Police outfits. The set had all the punters favourites - 'Surrender', 'I Want You To Want Me' and 'Goodnight Now', as well as a couple of covers - including Velvet Undergound's 'I'm Waiting For The Man'. Their set squeezed in a lot of numbers but not as many as the closing set on the Outlaw stage. Kenny Wayne Shepherd's set lasted just over two hours from opening track 'Woman Like You', a cover of Buffalo Springfields' 'Mr. Soul' through a seriously rocking setlist that included his version of 'Voodoo Child'. Nice.
The headline act and closing the Main stage are Black Stone Cherry. What a great live band. It is noticeable that BSC have a considerable following of younger rockers as well as those of more experienced years. The Kentucky quartet have been around since the early naughties but still feel to me like a fresh new band. And what a back catalogue. Every track is a diamond, played with all the power and passion that frontman Chris Robertson and the band can muster. This is rock played from the heart. The crowd love it. The band live it. It's electric. A fine production too. Ben Wells prances around like a maniac as does bassist Lawhon whilst Robertson owns the centre stage, and the entire park. Some of the stand outs in a flawless set include the almost reggae like version of 'In My Blood' and the 'Purple Haze' section in 'Cheaper To Drink Alone'. But it's difficult to single out anything in a set that had everyone singing at the top of their voices throughout. The closing track, by way of the encore, sees Chris get everyone in the audience to hold hands and raise them in the name of piece as they sign off with 'Peace Is Free'. Great ending to a great set.
Well done Ramblin' Man, what a great day. How can tomorrow top that? Well lets wait and see.
Black Stone Cherry Setlist:
Me and Mary Jane
In My Blood / Island
Like I Roll
My Last Breath
Cheaper to Drink Alone /Purple Haze
Blame It On The Boom Boom
White Trash Millionaire
Peace Is Free
Mother (pictures courtesy of Rockrpix)
Ramblin' Man Fair Day 3
Mote Park, Maidstone
Sunday 21st July 2019
So Day three is much the same format as day two - four stages and a smorgasbord of musicality throughout the day although today the Outlaw/Country stage becomes the Blues stage and the Prog stage becomes the Grooverider stage. Gotta love the range of music on display this weekend. Again, it’s a day of moving between the stages, torn between which act to watch and which to miss. And there are some tough choices to make. So whilst Friday started with a back in black theme, we finish with a full colour display from blue to gold to orange – the complete spectrum. And with the hot yellow sun shining down on us today it’s going to be a bright day in every sense.
Opening up on the Rising stage are local Kent band Salvation Jayne, a young four piece – Dan (bass), Holly (Guitar), Chess (vocals) and Tor (drums) - bringing a young Punk Pop vibe to our day. Holly’s tele has a heavy fuzz element giving opening track 'Cortez' a heavy vibe. Chess' vocals have tinges of Alanis Morrissete, a singer she admires, and is very pleasing on the ear. Their short set is a great way to start the day and perfectly showcases the young fresh talent on display on this excellent little stage.
Dropping over to the Grooverider stage, located in a hot, dark, sweaty circus tent, we get the first of many Stoner come Sludgy Rock ensembles. Blind River Rock the already full tent with some heavy Stoner riffs, although they would probably classify themselves more as Classic Rock. Frontman Harry Armstrong screams out the vocals with more balls than Newton’s Cradle and the Les Paul/Orange Amp combination shakes the earth to the core. Music you really do feel. I love it.
Back at the Rising stage we see what are probably the find of the weekend. Piston are a British five piece Rock n’ Roll engine made up of four members from the Midlands greased with a vocal roar from the South. Rob Angelico (vocals) is one of those dark, broody, long haired good looking fellows that makes us mere mortals self deprecate to excess, especially when he flaunts his considerable singing talents. Guitarist Jack Edwards sports a beautiful Gretsch White Falcon (apparently inspired by Bill Duffy) through a modern Kemper modelling amp whilst fellow six stringer Luke Allatt takes the more traditional Fender/Vox approach. With Stuart Egan on bass and Brad Newlands on drums the line up is complete. Fun and Fire in equal measures, this is a fist pumping, chest beating forty minutes of Rock joy. They get a lot of love from the crowd who chant along and cheer with gusto. Their own tracks – 'Rainmaker', 'One More Day' and 'Leave If You Dare' are awesome but it is their closing cover of CCR’s 'Proud Mary', rocked up to feck, that has me beaming and screaming along with them. What a great band. Keep an eye on this lot.
And now to the other end of the spectrum. Over on the larger Blues stage we find the diminutive Bluestress Chantel McGregor. Normally I wouldn’t choose to see an artist at a festival who I have seen many times before but I know that Chantel always produces the goods. With only a bassist and drummer to accompany her, the little Northern lass is positively lost in the cavernous Blues stage looking all meek and mild in her red Summer frock and little girl curls. Until she unleashes her white Music Man, with some screaming Rock Blues, with opening track 'Take The Power' and turns into a right rocking demon. Now the stage is filled to bursting with Hendrix inspired power Blues and her powerful and beautiful singing. And boy is it loud. This is an outdoor stage but the sound echo’s back off of the North Downs hilltops. Her forty minute set blisters the ears as she rips it up in front of a very appreciative crowd. Great stuff.
Back in the Grooverider tent, things are really hotting up. Pennsylvanian Hard/Funk rockers Crobot are raising the mercury and raising hell. Although ordinarily a two piece - Brandon Yeagley on lead vocals and Chris Bishop on telecaster and Orange amps – they tour as a four piece. Their brand of Rock suits the stage name perfectly with Yeagley, resplendent in a sparkly reflective waistcoat, high kicking his way around the small stage whilst Bishop quietly gets on with the business of breaking your face with his chugging riffs. The heat is unbearable, the sound is unbeatable. Time for a cooling beer and back to the cooler (in every sense) Rising stage to see the end of the set by The 109’s. Not all of the bands on the Rising stage are young upstart whippersnappers. There’s room for all ages here you know.
Suitably refreshed, it’s off to the Main stage for a little Planet Rock sponsored action. Inglorious - or Nathan James and his new line up - perform a class act three years on from opening the same Main stage. It may be a different line up, and a slightly different sound, but it’s still all about Nathan James and his incredible voice. Although take nothing away from the other five members – great musicians all. The short set includes a number of radio friendly classics that has the crowd singing along with James, although never able to match his presence, including tracks like 'Taking The Blame', 'Holy Water', and the final 'Until I Die'. The latter being restarted when microphone trouble caused a minor crisis before the placated James finally provided the closing number to the standard that the crowd had come to expect.
The Main stage became a place to hang out for a while as we are treated to an interesting set from the Chris Robinson Brotherhood playing some good old Californian Blues Rock in a beach bum style. The ex-Black Crowes frontman, with his old battered Strat, plays a short set of Brotherhood's tracks like 'The Chauffer’s Daughter' although sadly none of the classic Black Crowes numbers. All whilst being watched over by a large plastic owl on his amp. Every Rock star should have one. Of course, this standard of music on the main stage surely can’t last. And it doesn’t. It gets even better.
Airbourne are a band that have divided opinion being seen as a "poor man’s" AC/DC. But what the hell is wrong with that? I have seen them many times before and have some Airbourne themed stories to tell my grandchildren that would make them wail. But I have no grandchildren so those stories remain untold. For now. Taking the stage to the soundtrack of the Terminator movies, the crowd are about to get John Connored by brothers Joel and Ryan O’Keefe. It’s classic Aussie Gibson Explorers through Marshall stack Rock. Opening with the ever popular and appropriate 'Ready To Rock' the boys launch into their familiar high octane high energy Rock set. The crowd has reached its maximum capacity and is getting down with every scream. It’s a familiar set with familiar antics - but none the worse for being familiar. Good Rock doesn’t get stale. Fun remains fun. Joel takes to the audience for a tour of the crowd, on the shoulders of a security guard, during the rocking 'Girl’s In Black' whilst many members of the other main acts are watching from the wings. That says so much about the popularity of a band when other big names take the time to watch and enjoy the gig. During 'Heartbreaker' we get a mosh pit going – which at Ramblin’ Man is a rare sight indeed. And 'It’s All For Rock ‘n’ Roll' is dedicated to the one and only Lemmy. So Joel wheels out a mobile "Lemmy’s Bar" on stage and pours out Jack and Coke’s which he hands out to the audience. Then rocks on with aplomb. There are some tech problems with his guitar but no fuss here.... Drummer Ryan decides that drumming needs something different. So introduces an air raid siren to the mix. Which he gleefully winds up to a frenzy before Joel kicks in from the top of the Marshall stacks into 'Live It Up'. He then proceeds to throw beers to the crowd – "Lets be like the English cricket team and catch these" he shouts to everyone’s joy. They close with their anthemic 'Runnin’ Wild', with a few bars of 'Let There Be Rock' thrown in for good measure, to leave the howling crowd wanting more.
Before the finale on the main stage. I dropped in to catch the last act on the Grooverider stage - Orange Goblin. If any one band personified what the Grooverider stage is all about it’s this lot. Fronted by the behemoth that is Ben Ward, you don’t so much watch their set as survive it. It’s hot and heavy - brutal is too nice a word for it. Ward bullies, cajoles and endears the fans in equal measure to make sure they have a damn good time at the expense of any unnecessary niceties. This is uncompromising Stoner Rock, doing what they do brilliantly, with a single digit shown to the rest of the world. This is the sort of band that makes live music live, best seen in hot sweaty underground venues. Guitarist Joe Hoare (JJH) may be diminutive in comparison to the beanstalk topping frontman, but his huge guitar sound is absolutely killer. Gibson SG through a Marshall in case you were wondering. And he is a seriously good player to boot. Ward tends to steal the limelight – and rightfully so as he is a full force of nature not easily ignored – but JJH would stand up on his own as a focus for any band. The set is excellent and also puts the band up as contenders for act of the weekend. I have seen them before and will make sure I see them again.
So back to the main stage for the headline act, Foreigner. Now I would like to be able to give you a full review of their set but their management decided that all ‘media types’ should be corralled away from the stage and not be allowed access for the first six songs. So I can only assume that they didn’t want the band to be reviewed which is a shame as their set went down very well apparently. The set was a collection of some of their Classic Rock hits and was notable in that there were many members of the band, both past and present, who took to the stage together to relive the forty years of songs that they have in their repertoire. A number of the members have had health issues recently, including founding guitarist Mick Jones, so It was good to see them up on stage and producing the goods for their adoring fans.
So once again, we wend our way homewards from another successful Ramblin’ Man festival (sorry, fair…). It has been another triumph for the organisers. The organisation, sound, security etc has all been excellent. Such nice people to be with and the whole event has a lovely, happy, laid back feel to it. The big festivals seem to be getting bigger and more unwieldy but Ramblin’ Man manages to keep everything on a calmer level whilst still retaining the big festival atmosphere. There is beer and food aplenty, all the stages are within easy reach of each other, and the choice and quality of music is everything you could ask for. Many of the bands will be touring in the coming months and some of the bands showcasing on the Rising stage are going to be the bands you will be going to see headlining your local venue in the near future. So do yourself a favour next year. Come down to a park in Maidstone and see for yourself what all the fuss is about. Bring some colour into your life.
Cold as Ice
Waiting for a Girl Like You
Dirty White Boy
Feels Like the First Time
Keyboard and Drum Solo
Juke Box Hero
I Want to Know What Love Is
Mother (pictures courtesy of Rockrpix)
Jared James Nichols + Vambo
Boston Music Room, London
Thursday 18th July 2019
Wisconsin-bred guitarist Jared James Nichols recently returned to London on a hot Summer's night to play a well deserved headline show at Tuffnel Park's Boston Music Room supported by Vambo. JJN recently self-released his new single – 'Nails In The Coffin' and was supporting Living Colour on their UK Tour alongside Wayward Sons. Hailed as one of the most exciting new Blues Rock guitarists around, Jared is no stranger to UK audiences. In 2015 he embarked on a full European tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd, followed by an extensive UK tour supporting Glenn Hughes, where he won over critics with across-the-board rave reviews. We also saw him open the Planet Rock Main Stage at 2017's Ramblin Man Fair (also interviewing him afterwards), plus we saw him supporting Stone Broken in February 2018, and finally, supporting LA Guns at London's O2 Islington Academy in August last year.
In contrast to JJN, this was the first time I had seen Epsom powerhouse Vambo in the flesh, although the WRC have seen and interviewed them in the past, namely on the tiny Orange stage at the now sadly missed O2 Stone Free Festival back in June last year, and then five months later at HRH10 across the expanse of their main stage. Combined with airplay on Planet Rock and shows both abroad and at home (including Download 2019) - the word is that these guys are really going places. More on that later! Anyway, needless to say they exploded on to the stage in a sea of tinted glasses, hair, tattoos, beards, hats and Marshall amps, as the four-piece's Boston tea party began with a flourish of three loud n' proud tracks, namely 'Hey Willy', 'Camouflage' and 'Paradise', leaving those lucky enough to be there, to realise that they were in for a set of pure, infused, 70's inspired Rock.
Frontman Jack Stiles took time out from cavorting manically around the stage to thank the punters present, before promising to slow things down - cue Jack's excellent vocal on 'Running In Circles', matched by the awesome chops of guitarist Pete Lance - before launching straight into the unashamed Coverdale Mark 3 sounding 'We're Not The Same'. Let's just say that the occasional jaw-dropping backing vocals sorcery complemented Stiles' outstanding vocal range, such as on their penultimate single 'Why, Why, Why', a track which has received considerable airplay. 'Fast Car' was followed by a stonking Zep medley including 'Good Times Bad Times' plus 'Moby Dick', before Steve Price, on his Mapex drum kit, and bassist James Scott kept the powerful groove going on the "Sliverish" sounding 'Down Little' Mama'. After Jack's retrospective slapped wrist, for his tour announcement faux pas, they closed with one final original 'Total Jeopardy' (not their latest single 'World of Misery' surpisingly), before they finished the set with "their favourite song" - Deep Purple's 'Burn' - the band well and truly nailing this classic with their Hungarian axeman showing off his chops credentials one final time. A great young band, with their debut album set to be released this year, the writing is very much on the wall. Vambo Rules!
Following his move to Los Angeles in 2010, Jared James Nichols quickly gained notoriety by winning the prestigious Gibson Les Paul Tribute Contest as well as Musicians Institute Most Outstanding Player Award. No surprises then as the tall, good looking, long haired guitarist entered the stage with his Epiphone Les Paul ('Old Glory') that has clearly seen some action, backed up by the formidable pairing of baseball-capped bassist Ronnie Elvis James and drummer Dennis Holm, both skilled musicians in their own right, who have also also seen said action. As expected, JJN's beast of a trio, duly delivered more tattoos, hair and pounding Marshall amps in abundance, a fine mix of funky Rock Blues, but with a 70's Power Rock twist.
"How Are You?" Nichols greeted the crowded with outstretched arms before opening with 'Last Chance' - the single off of his last album 'Black Magic' before launching another from that said album 'Don't Be Scared' - which was, delightfully, more reminiscent of 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath'! "Are You Ready To Rock?" Jared enquired. Silly question really as everyone clapped along to 'Honey Forgive Me' with its fleeting Fleetwood Mac snippet before JJN's outstanding guitar gymnastics on 'End Of Time' - Blues Rock at its best - proved once again the theory that a Les Paul = Blues Power. And if we weren't feeling it by now, then JJN's classic 'Baby Can You Feel It', with its Montrose/Ted Nugent love child fret work, inevitably ended in an audience singalong, so much so that Jared, with his trusty guitar in hand, jumped off the stage to join us!
However, a pivotal moment in Nichols career could be his latest single 'Nails In My Coffin'. It's a curveball, but a brilliant curveball that is quite possibly his most profound and most successful song to date. The single premiered on BBC Radio 2 as well as heavy A-List Rotation on Planet Rock and was duly dispatched with aplomb to rapturous applause. Awesome. Jared then thanked Vambo and then poignantly shared how great it was to be headlining rather than getting a ten minute support slot! The pounding Blues Rock of the superb 'Hardwired To Love' made way for some on stage drinking games before Nichols deviated from his aforementioned Living Colour support set. The headbanger 'Blackfoot' saw Jared venture into the audience once more before another explosive opening solo on 'Run' saw that famous JJN Colgate smile as he eased into another awesome solo.
"One more song?" Nichols teased - cue the amazing Hendrix influenced riff of 'The Gun', with the thumping pace of Holm's mesmeric drumming, Jared demanding "London let me hear you say yeah". Of course. to a man (and woman) we all responded "Yeah" before JJN closed out by thanking us all for coming. Nichols returned for an encore on his own playing 'Playin' For Keeps', before he was joined by the exceptional Ronnie on bass - yes Elvis was still in the building! Once again, he nailed his 70's influences to the mast as he signed off a storming set with a cover of Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen', with a snippet of The Pink Panther, The Rolling Stones, Cream's 'Politician' and Dennis' cowbell all thrown in for good measure, resulting in Jared jumping into the audience for one final sortie. Nichols now plays two dates in Germany this week before returning to the USA. This was real Rock 'n' Roll at its best. Just make sure you catch Jared when he is next over as you will not want to miss him.
The Railway Hotel, Southend, Essex Tuesday 23rd July 2019
& The Lexington, London
Saturday 3rd August 2019
Rosalie Cunningham is an English singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer from Southend-on-Sea, Essex. Best known as founder and leader of Gothic Psychedelic Progsters, Purson. She founded her first professional band, the all-female, Punk Psychedelic outfit Ipso Facto in 2007, releasing three singles and the mini album 'IF...' in 2009. They managed a couple of high profile support gigs for the likes of Magazine and The Last Shadow Puppets before splitting in 2009. Over the next couple of years Cunningham went on to guest with numerous bands and artists such as These New Puritans, where she played keyboards on tour with them in 2010, going on to play guitar with Willy Moon, as the support act for Jack White's 2012 UK tour. She also contributed backing vocals to Cathedral's final album in 2013, 'The Last Spire'.
It was in 2011 when Cunningham formed the internationally acclaimed Purson. Described as a 70’s Psychedelia-laced, 60’s Pop-inflected Folk/Prog Rock band with heavy influences from the Folk/Prog of Pentangle and Curved Air to the dark Gothic heaviness of Black Sabbath and hints of The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson and Deep Purple thrown in for good measure! The Purson name was derived from the name of one of the kings of hell! Initially signed to Rise Above Records, they released their critically praised debut album, 'The Circle & The Blue Door' in 2013, which included the singles ‘Rocking Horse’ and ‘Leaning On A Bear’.
The band went through several line-up changes since their inception; founder Rosalie Cunningham being the only original and consistent member. Ed Turner, Rosalie’s then partner, guitarist and co-writer left before the debut album was released. The last line-up consisted of Rosie’s childhood friends Sam Shove (keyboards) and George Hudson (guitar) with Justin Smith (bass) and Raphael Mura (drums) completing the line-up. The debut album was followed by the EP, 'In The Meantime…' in 2015, then in April 2016 Purson released the excellent, wildly eclectic and adventurous 'Desire’s Magic Theatre' album on the Spinefarm/Universal label. A kaleidoscope of effervescent sounds and rich musical textures!
As well as several successful headline tours of their own, Purson have also supported KISS, Ghost, Alan Parsons and Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. The band also had the honour of winning several major accolades; in 2015 the band won the Vanguard award at the Progressive Music Awards in London. Despite continuing success and growing audiences, Cunningham surprisingly decided to disband Purson in late 2016! With their last ever gig being at The Lexington Club, London, on 15th December 2016, where Rosalie shockingly announced on stage that, “this will be the last gig we ever do”! Reminiscent of Bowie’s surprise announcement on stage in 1973 declaring the end of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars!
After writing what became Purson’s 2017 posthumous single, ‘Chocolate Money’, Cunningham recorded and issued a 50th anniversary cover of The Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ with her musician/journalist father, Mark Cunningham. She also formed a Beatles 'late period' covers band, The Sky Diamonds, an occasional live band with her Dad and her new partner, guitarist Rosco Levee. They have performed a few times at The Railway Hotel in Southend, Essex, and will do again on Friday 27th September 2019 to play the whole of The Beatles ‘Abbey Road’ album live!
After taking some time out of the music business to write new music and reassess where she would take her career next, Cunningham reappeared with a set of new songs, for a proposed solo album, at a low key solo gig at the Railway Hotel in Southend on 17th July 2018. Her plan was to finance the recording of her new album through the crowd funding online platform pledgemusic.com Sadly this platform went bankrupt recently, with most of the artists signed up not getting paid and many of the fans that had already pledged money not being refunded!
Despite these setbacks, her eponymous titled debut solo album was eventually released on 26th July 2019 on the Cherry Red/Esoteric Antenna record label. A powerful, ambitious and monumental Psychedelic Progtastic theatrical masterpiece! With a sound that is not a million miles away from that which she created with Purson, but definitely slightly more adventurous, eclectic and melodramatic! Recorded on analogue at Soup Studios in East London and Cunningham's own Mushy Room Studios in Essex, with all eight tracks written, produced, mixed and performed by Cunningham. A true labour of love - additional instrumentation was provided by Ross Wilson (guitar/bass), Mark Stonell (keyboards) and Samual Thompson (drums). The album is cleverly constructed and well crafted with multiple interesting and intriguing deep layers to discover and reveal upon repeated listens. The overall sound is rich, sharp and clear with amazing depth. The colourful striking album cover is a painting of Cunningham, depicted as some kind of psychedelic queen or priestess, by Tom Di Capite.
Cunningham’s inaugural ten date UK solo headline tour got underway at the quaint old Railway Hotel in sunny Southend on Tuesday 23rd July 2019, and it was a scorcher! With temperatures outside exceeding thirty degrees and as much inside! The Railway Hotel is a great little live music pub hidden away behind Southend Central train station. The interior and exterior décor is unaffected by the twenty first century, in other words no gentrification or gastro pub makeover here! Which is no bad thing as it retains a sense of character and a certain kind of retro vintage look and atmosphere. Unfortunately places like these are few and far between these days and sadly on the demise! With a recent threat of closure, I suspect they will be forced to modernize and evolve in the not too distant future! On the sign outside is a picture of the legendary Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, who lives in nearby Westcliff-On-Sea, and is also a regular punter of the venue. Inside, the jukebox blares out Classic Rock records and the surrounding walls are decorated with Rock memorabilia of music legends of yesteryear.
The support band at the Railway Hotel was Tuppeny Bunters, a duo of drums and keyboards, which featured the manager of the venue, Fi Nancy Dulake. The duo swapped between keyboards and drums during their energetic set. They describe themselves as Vaudeville Punk! They played in the upstairs smaller side room before Cunningham’s band played in the larger ‘sold out’ upstairs main room of the venue. The last date of the tour was at the Lexington club in London on Saturday 3rd August 2019. This was the venue that hosted the very last ever Purson gig back in 2016, quite apt that Cunningham should play her first solo gig in London at this venue. The support band at the Lexington was Cunningham's keyboard player, Lee Spreadbury's band Gu-Ru. Originally dreamt up as a vehicle for Lee Spreadbury’s Psych-Jazz Fusion compositions, it has evolved into a Technicolour Wizard Disco, a Space-Dance Glitterbomb explosion of cosmic goodness! The band consists of Lee Spreadbury (Vocals, Keys, Moog, Synth Bass) Naomi Perera (Flute) and Malcolm D’Sa (Drums). They have just released their debut album, ‘Tales From The Ashram’.
Rosalie’s band line-up consisted of herself on vocals/guitar, Ralph Mura (ex-Purson) on drums, Alpha Michelle on bass/backing vocals, Lee Spreadbury on keyboards and Rosco Levee on guitar/backing vocals. The evening’s proceedings kicked off in style with the opening track on the new album, the exuberant and magical 'Ride On My Bike', a delightful Psychedelic trip full of wonderful fuzzy guitars, Wurlitzer organ and infectious grooves! “Rubber and steel making me feel just like a hybrid future creature flying through an electric evening sky”, far-out and whimsical lyrics! Great song arrangement and fantastic performance! The band was clearly well rehearsed, as their playing was very instinctive, locked in and super tight. Next up for our delectation was the beguiling and haunting 'Fuck Love', another slice of pure excellence from the new album. With its tension building riff and hard hitting, no messing, and straight to the point lyrics all adding to the overall drama, and delivered with compelling attitude and intense panache!
Cunningham has a captivating, charismatic and entrancing stage presence, with her wide staring eyes transfixing and hypnotising the audience, and a warm eloquently expressive spellbinding voice like smooth textured velvet that sparkles bright, with an effortlessly controlled vibrato that trills with smoky overtones. Impressive stuff indeed!
More high-octane melodrama greeted us next in the form of the alluring and beguiling 'Dethroning Of The Party Queen', a vibrantly vaudevillian, but delectably enticing song from the new album, which excites the senses and tantalizes the mind! Quite simply a stunning song and awesome performance from the band! Onto a more sedate but haunting piece with 'House Of The Glass Red', also from the new album. It is about a party that goes slightly wrong and takes on a more macabre twist. This track flowed gently along like a meandering stream; a more straightforward Melodic Rock track that has a seductive groove and enticing hooks, with lyrics that have interesting and compelling twists and turns!
The time had come for a short set of Purson songs starting with the enchanting 'Desire's Magic Theatre' from the 2016 Purson album of the same name. A nice tight chugging guitar boogie galloped along before seguing into a glowing dreamy sequence, with some tasty tempo changes and colourful instrumentation. Intriguing and mysterious! A surprise came next in the form of 'Chocolate Money', the 2017 posthumous Purson single. A live premier here and another break from the theatrical stuff, more a straightforward Glam Rock stomp, with some exceptional guitar soloing from Cunningham and Levee. Not the strongest or most memorable of Purson songs, but entertaining none the less! Another Purson classic followed in the form of the sensational 'The Sky Parade' from Purson's 2016 'Desire's Magic Theatre' album, which washed over the audience like a welcoming breeze on a hot day! A delicate acoustic guitar intro by Cunningham led into some vibrant Hammond organ flourishes from Spreadbury that transported the attentively listening audience on an imaginative sky drive journey through a galaxy of stars and beyond! Very enjoyable ride!
Another brilliant song from the new album followed, the majestic and absorbing 'Nobody Hears', an arresting, atmospheric and seductive song of great proportions! This heart-wrenching track is about people who fall on hard times and end up broken and ultimately homeless. “Open casket shopping basket pyre, cardboard flowers cry with raindrop tears, but nobody hears”. A powerful song with a strong message for the human race and society in general! A change of pace next with the riff heavy 'Riddles & Games', a slightly heavier and a more hard hitting Rock track from the new album, full of infectious hooks and melodic runs. With a great bass throb from Michelle and some tasty guitar solos from Levee, the performance was spot on and suitably rocked the room to the core! The addition of Ralph Mura on drums was a masterstroke; he was in the final line-up of Purson when they were on top of their game as a live act. With his experience in Purson and his musical chemistry with Cunningham makes him the perfect choice of drummer for her band. His exquisite and solid drumming anchors those complex and intricate songs with precision.
The main set was brought to a triumphant close with the monumental, wildly dramatic and esoterically theatrical, and also the closing track on the new album, 'A Yarn From The Wheel'. A thirteen minute mesmerizing and luscious Prog Rock creation of grand proportions! A cosmic construction of spiralling and twisting sonic exploration peppered with effervescent kaleidoscopic soundscape elements and textures, all neatly packed together in a treasure trove of interesting and complex tempo changes, with multiple layers, twists, turns, dips and swirls to tickle the senses and blow our minds! Everything you'd expect and want from a Prog Rock song! You can definitely hear subtle influences from the likes of Curved Air, Caravan, early Genesis, Yes, Bowie and a sprinkling of Beatles for good measure, all rolled into one veritable feast of tantalising delights! Cunningham describes the piece as “being a metaphor for the grander cycles that repeat throughout the universe, then the micro – the journey of one life and the lessons learned within that cycle to bring the character back to where he began – like the fool’s journey in the tarot. On a personal level, it deals with my journey as a musician through the highs and lows and eventually coming back to what it’s all about – feeling the simple joy of music again.” A top-notch performance showcased Cunningham’s versatile vocals to great effect.
For the encore we were treated to the vivacious and tumultuous maelstrom that is 'Tragic Catastrophe', an exuberant and melodramatic song from Purson's excellent 2013 debut album 'The Circle & The Blue Door'. A multifaceted panoramic Psychedelic musical cabaret trip to a mythical and magical world full of juxtaposing twists and turns! Indeed, a fantastic conclusion to a brilliant set of quality tunes and first-rate musicianship.
Steven C. Gilbert
The Half Moon, Putney, London
Wednesday 24th July 2019
This gig was more difficult to review than it should have been, due to external factors, rather than anything to do with the band. If I went home a little frustrated, then I suspect Ben did too, which is a pity because he played very well, even by his own consistent standards.
The show was the middle one of three nights to be recorded for potential inclusion in a forthcoming live album, although quite how London got itself sandwiched between Barnsley and Kendal is anyone’s guess! Playing gigs in the recent heat and humidity must have been difficult enough, but spending hours in it on motorways must have been a rare form of torture. And yet, as always, Ben came smiling through.
His humour was certainly better than mine, after a journey at snail’s pace on a faulty underground train caused me to miss the opening three songs; one of them, ‘Win You Over’, doesn’t appear on any of Ben’s recordings, so it may be a new tune.
I arrived just as Ben began a lengthy and comparatively quiet solo guitar introduction to ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’; unfortunately his restraint wasn’t matched by some of his audience and there were two or three pockets of very audible chatter competing with the music. Add to this the fact (and I may be in a minority of one here…) that I don’t think this song particularly suits Ben’s voice; it’s too closely associated with Freddie King, who sang it like a wounded lion and Ben’s comparative whisper, which sometimes sounds uncannily like John Mayer to me, doesn’t quite convey the pain in the lyrics.
That said, Messrs King and Mayer would doubtless have enjoyed Ben’s guitar solo, which seemed a fair bit longer than the version of the song that he recorded for his Royal Albert Hall CD. At the song’s conclusion he commented on the added difficulty posed by sweaty hands and guitar strings. He also reminded us that the gig was being taped and that there were microphones all around the room; he requested that talking be kept to a minimum, as any song with audible chatter would be useless for the live album. Sadly, his request fell on deaf ears (or maybe the culprits were too busy talking to listen).
All the remaining songs in the setlist were taken from Ben’s latest pair of albums, ‘Anytime You Need Me’ (2018) and ‘Time Has Come’ (2016). It made for interesting listening, as the earlier album had been a bit too smooth for my taste, whereas the more recent one was harder hitting and more guitar based. In fact Ben’s guitar solos dominated the proceedings, with the ‘Time Has Come’ songs getting suitably ‘roughed up’ and being all the better for it.
Ben was ably and sympathetically supported by Steve Amadeo (bass) and Wayne Proctor (drums) as he reeled off a succession of cracking guitar solos, which were all the more impressive because I know, from speaking with him after the show, that he could hear the distracting audience chatter throughout. He saved arguably his best solo for last, a beautiful encore version of the late, great Gary Moore’s ‘Time Might Never Come’.
So, the music was great and I hope some of the songs can be salvaged for the live album, as the guitarwork was exceptional at times. But, sadly, my abiding memory of the show was the disrespect shown to the band by the noisy elements in the audience.
Ben is one of the hardest working Bluesrockers out there, so it won’t be long before he’s back in London, I’m sure (The 100 Club on 19th January, if not somewhere else sooner); he’s well worth catching and, on the law of averages, surely the audience will do more listening than talking next time.
(Setlist: Take It No More; Win You Over; Start The Car; Have You Ever Loved A Woman; The Question Why; Further On Down The Line; Don’t Cry For Me; I Think I Love You Too Much; Lying To Me; Found Out The Hard Way; Stay At Mine; Anytime You Need Me; Time Might Never Come.)
Gary Smith (photos courtesy of Tim Russell)
Catton Park, Derbyshire
Friday 9th - Sunday 11th August
We arrived in the arena quite early on Friday to see some solid sets from Xentrix, Death Angel and Metal Church, although I found Soulfly a little 'cheesy' to be honest. Powerwolf gained a new fan and were absolutely fantastic, with a superbly powerful vocalist, whilst with Sabaton came a set that you expected. A powerful eighteen song list with all the hits and a good blend of old and new, including 'Great War', 'Fields of Verdun' (which got everyone up and out of their seats), 'Bismarck', 'The Last Stand' and of course the anthemic 'Primo Victoria' amongst many others. I don't think too many were left disappointed with the opening day!
Saturday was a bit of a calamity with high winds causing havoc for the organisers and the fans alike. Fans favourite Evil Scarecrow appeared to suffer from a full setlist sound issue, not 100% sure if this was wind related or technical issues but the quality was poor, but they still managed what I thought was the biggest crowd for an early band and the usual 'Robotron', 'Crabulon' and aptly named 'Hurricanado' still had us all dancing stupidly in the wind. Just as the massively popular Wildhearts made their Bloodstock debut and struck their opening chords, my phone rang. It was my son and daughter who had gone back to the tents to find them flattened and damaged by the winds, so we had to go back to make emergency repairs including replacing a tent. After Wildhearts had finished their set, the news came that the main stage had to be closed. This turned out to be around ninety minutes or more due to fifty mile per hour winds hitting it face on and you could see the lighting rigs swinging, so safety had to come first.
Always one to find a positive, this meant that bands in Sophie's and the Hobgoblin tents suddenly had larger crowds to play to. With a hastily rearranged running order, Cradle of Filth were moved to Sunday but the main stage opened just in time to get Anthrax on in their slot and our American friends did not disappoint, with a blistering set that confirmed them as still up there with the great Metal bands of all time. Now to complete the day, came the band that had a lot of people moaning about: headliners Parkway Drive. Were they big enough? Could they pull it off as a headline act? Haters will always be haters and you can't please everyone and you never will. Parkway are not one of my personal favourites but I stayed around to see what they could do. In fairness it was an excellent set, Visually the best of the weekend and they literally set the stage alight, even with the wind issues they had a full ninety minute pyro set that must have removed their eyebrows, as the flames were blowing back towards the stage and they didn't skip a note. Although I personally don't know any Parkway songs, the 'show' was a treat for the eyes and maybe sent a message to those who doubted their inclusion and they certainly held their own.
A real mixed bag of emotions on Sunday, as I was really looking forward to seeing Dimmu Borgir, but on medical advice they had to pull out. In their place was Batushka band. I will go on to them later. The day for me got off with Ross the Boss, and the former Manowar founder delivered a Rock solid and mainly Manowar set that was made even better when he introduced former Judas Priest axeman KK Downing to the stage and they went on to play 'Breaking the Law' and 'The Green Manalishi (with the Two Pronged Crown)'. Around 4.30pm the field in front of the main stage was full to the brim for the arrival of the former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider - and what a set he gave. The consummate professional proved worthy of every penny he cost, old stuff, new stuff, a bit of comedy, justifiably plugging his solo album 'For the Love of Metal', blasting hits like 'Tomorrow's No Concern', 'Become the Storm', 'For the Love of Metal' and throwing in old TS favourites: 'You Can't Stop Rock and Roll', 'Were Not Gonna Take It' and 'I Wanna Rock'. His 40-45 minute set was over way to soon but he'd done enough to show the organisers that even without Twisted Sister, he could pull off a headline slot next time.
Crowd favourite 'Cradle of Filth' finally took their delayed spot opening with 'Once Upon Atrocity' and a setlist including 'Nymphetamine' with 'Her Ghost in the Fog' concluding Danny Filth's ear piercing high pitches. With the continuing theme of delayed bands, in to Sophie's tent came Batushka Band; a band I had never heard of at all. Well what can I say about this one? They were moved from the main stage in what turned out to be a masterful stroke of luck as their stage show was astoundingly good in the dim light with a full light show. It possibly would not have worked in the sunlight and the wind, but what a stunning performance. Imagine the dark tones and chants/drones of Church and Cathedral music with a real Metal theme - and that's what you got - but it is put together with a masterfully good effect.
Due to the reshuffle, Queensryche moved up to the 'guest slot' playing just ahead of the headline act and produced the usual crowd pleasers 'Operation - Mindchrime' and 'Eyes of a Stranger'. Finally the legendary Scorpions took the stage with a 40 year catalogue to choose from and it was going to be hard to pick about 18. Now I love the Scorpions ........ normally...... but this was very under par, lack lustre, almost lifeless performance. I assume Klaus Meine was not feeling very well or had been accepting too much of the hospitalities!!!! Maybe I am being too hard on them, expecting the same vibe and vigour when I saw in the 80's as young men of around 30, but it just was not there. Even the absolute classics 'Make it Real' and 'The Zoo', which were played at the beginning rather oddly, failed to get me going. Sadly I don't think I was alone. An awful lot of people left by song nine 'Send Me An Angel'. Rudy Schenker on the other hand rolled back the years and gave a blistering show on his Flying V still flying around the stage like a 20-30 year old!
With some safety related issues being addressed this year, no more nightly bin jousting subdued the partying somewhat. No awards for the 'best festival toilets' will be won this year, as by Friday they were appalling and were not getting regularly cleaned as they did in the past. On Monday's departure day the track back to the car park was lethal as it was wet, and with about 15,000+ feet to churn it up even more, it meant many of us including me opted to walk against the traffic and along the road as it was safer. Having to pull trolley and carts through a swamp isn't easy and that needs to be addressed as it would be much easier taking sections of fence out so you didn't have to walk all the way through Midgard and around Valhalla fields in the same tracks as everyone else. Also the track on the other side of the road was a mud slide and needs flattening out. We saw a lot of people go over on it. That said, it was still a good festival with some good surprises, although in my honest opinion (and others) it was probably the worst Bloodstock I have been to. Difficult to put my finger on it - although perhaps a combination of band selection, cancellations, weather and weak headliners.
Saturday 24th August
If Carlsberg Did Music Festivals………...
I wasn’t there in the debut year of 2018 as I was forced to lay by a pool in Turkey and drink beer as enforced by my wife, but I already know from the Stonedeaf cyberfriends over the last year I have made on their Facebook page, it is going to be a real gem of a festival. If you are not already on their FB group, it is one I really urge you to join it. Their very interactive social media team really have this spot on, FB, Twitter et al are very good, very informative and very interactive and participative.
Now that I am middle aged, all grown up, sensible (allegedly) married with (adult) kids, a lot of the group sound so familiar and very likeminded. No it is not a festival that is restricted to grown ups, it is open to anyone with the obvious rules of kids being with adults etc., but I feel just from talking to people that it will be the cleanest, most friendly, most helpful festival I will have ever been to. The level of camaraderie within the group is a delight to see. People with hang ups of “I am coming on my own”; “It is my first festival”, “Can someone help me with a tent” type questions are answered within minutes, and you genuinely get a feeling that those issues will be met and helped with on the day.
The number of volunteers is astonishing, it has a real community involvement about it, a passion, a drive, a focus to make Stonedeaf not only the best festival, but the festival that mirrors the old Monsters of Rock (MOR) - the predecessor of Download. Many of the the organisers are ex-MOR regulars and maybe, like me, feel that Download has sold itself out to become too commercial and more for profit and less for the fans, and feel the need to go back to the roots and start again and give back that value for money to the people.
The line-up this year is modest by MOR standards, but nevertheless it is still very good. Samarkind an Irish Blues Rock band; Massive - hard hitting, hard drinking, hard living Rockers from Australia; The Amorettes, a remodelled Scottish and now Australian established female Rock band made up of the original Amorettes singer and two thirds of Tequila Mockingbyrd; Midlands Metallers Diamond Head, legendary leaders of the NWOBHM; Wayward Sons, hugely popular British Rock band with the iconic Toby Jepson at the helm; Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons (PCATBS), the former Motorhead guitarist leading his family orientated band; Inglorious, hugely popular British Rock band with their rapid rise to fame with Nathan James on vocals, and headlined by the legend himself, the voice of Rock, former Deep Purple bass player Glenn Hughes, playing a largely Deep Purple infused set. For a festival in only its second year, that is a very good line-up, sticking with the MOR ethos of a one day festival.
So, what was it like?
To sum the festival up in one word, I feel awesome is as close as I can think of, it really is superb production seeing as the organisers are relatively in their festival organising infancy. The Newark Showground venue is very well located, close to the A1. The land is very flat and you can park your car on a concrete strip, which what was maybe an old airfield runway, so you will never be stuck in the mud. To top that, you are only metres away from your tent as the camping field runs alongside the disused runway, plus some of the food bars are on the same strip and the stage is around 200 metres from the campsite. It is fantastically compact, but there is more than ample space for decent sized tents without the sardines feeling. The volunteers have so much common sense, none of those little Hitlers and power mad jobsworths that you get at larger festivals, or the type of security that want to strip search you instead of just looking in your bag. You can even take your own beer into the venue so long as it is in plastic bottles and in reasonable quantities (about 4 cans per person) plus as your car/tent is only 200 metres away if you want a top up. The food/drink pricing was remarkably low. Bacon rolls £3, Large Cumberland sausage ring in a bun/roll £4.50, tea/coffee £1.50, beer about £4.20 a pint. On departure day, we left around 11. am and about 50% had gone but the field area around the tents was spotless, people had taken their rubbish and either deposited it at the bins for collection or taken it home, the only signs of human life being there was a patch of flattened grass. I really wish other festivals would do this.
It can’t be all good?
This is true but the things that are wrong are so minor and nit picking and they are all part of a learning curve. It could have done with more toilets, urinals for men rather than all cubicles in the campsite. The bar was too small and needs to be addressed for 2020. I would say double the size or have more bars. As the weather was roasting hot, some shaded areas would be good especially for the kids and parents. A single fault with all festivals for me is that there is nothing for toddlers to do, so a simple ball pit or soft play area would suffice. And finally, from a photographic point of view, the pit area was too small for 30 photographers so we ended up getting one and a half songs instead of the usual three as they let 15 in at a time then half way through the second song we swapped out, so that became a little hurried.
Would I advise anyone to go?
Without a shadow of doubt – yes! If this does not win the award for the best small festival, I will eat my hat. One of the real beauties of it is that it is being run by people like you and I who have gone to festivals for years and noted the short comings, the failures, the usual moans and groans and are attempting to create a festival free of those issues. So; will 2020 be perfect? I would guess at no it won’t, but it will be an improvement on this year. The misses of 2019 will, I am sure be ironed out, but new ones will occur. Download, Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading, Bloodstock - all have issues and they are relatively huge by comparison, but I genuinely sense that the passion and drive behind Stonedeaf is they want to be the best of the best. I never spoke to anyone who had a gripe against it, that put them off attending in 2020. Everyone seemed to love it, and it looks like we will all be congregating in a field near Newark next year. See you at the bar.
Tony Burgum (photos courtesy of Phil Clarke and Tony).
The Black Heart, Camden
Thursday 22nd August
On a night when London unfortunately said adios to one of its most treasured and iconic music venues, The Borderline in Soho, Camden was tangible proof last Thursday evening that there's still life in the old dog yet. Slap bang opposite the tube station, The World's End watering hole, was pivotal to the night's usual vibrant musical fayre, with punters socialising, before spreading their wings to take in a veritable choice of venues including The Underworld, The Jazz Cafe and The Black Heart. Indeed, we also bumped into Nathan James and his Inglorious compadres at the bar, en route to the 2019 Heavy Music Awards at the O2 Forum, Kentish Town!
Anyway, tonight we plumped for Danny Vaughn, across the road at The Black Heart. Vaughn is recognised worldwide for his melodic, powerful and emotional vocals. To lovers of Rock, Danny is best-known for his involvement with Waysted (1985-1987) and famed for his flourishing voice-work with Melodic Rockers Tykeytto. In June, this talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and storyteller launched his latest solo album: his first in eleven years. It's the solo album Vaughn always wanted to make and 'Myths, Legends and Lies', released via Townsend Music, is a 14-track album that had to overcome some serious obstacles along the way, but draws together many years of influences and inspiration. Consequently, Danny is currently on a UK tour to coincide with the album's release.
As we made our way up the venue stairs, we were mortified to discover that we had missed Danny's special guests and last year's WRC 'One's To Watch' award winners Collateral. Doh! Need to do our research a bit better next time, although we did see and interview them at Ramblin' Man Fair last month, plus we hope to catch them with Piston at London's Big Red on Saturday 28th September. Sorry boys. Needless to say the smallish venue was rammed by the Vaughn faithful displaying a mix of black 'ML&L' and Tyketto t-shirts. "Well hello there", Danny greeted those assembled as he sat on his chair with his trusty acoustic guitar in hand, whilst placing an enormous music folder onto a very precarious looking music stand. It looked like we were in for a very long set!
Cue Vaughn's distinctive piercing vocal and crisp guitar work on Tyketto's 'Walk On Fire' from their 'Don't Come Easy' album - saw Danny already lighting up the room, even if the stage back lighting was shit as Vaughn so eloquently put it when he introduced 'Is That All There Is' from his last solo album 'The Road Less Travelled'. Fact is that if you are doing a solo shift then your banter has to be good. Needless to say the lighting problem was sorted and Danny's story about rushing to the gig straight from Heathrow duly resulted in the audience's first, but not last, singalong of the night. "You like the love songs?" Vaughn enquired as he launched into 'The Last Ride Of The Sunset Men' - his first song of the night taken from 'ML&L'. The crystal clearness of this gem, however, highlighted disrespectful chatter at the back of the room. A bit of an irony I suppose then that Vaughn's nineteen strong setlist, later included 'Black Crow', another delightful track from 'ML&L', based on the TV series Sons Of Anarchy. Such a shame that SAMCRO weren't present to back Danny up, although, not unexpectedly, the song did get rapturous applause. "Why thank you", said Vaughn, as he almost literally juggled his book of songs with audience requests, one of which was the amusing left field 'I Wanna Get To Know You'.
The set continued to become an unplugged microcosm of Danny's musical career, dipping into previous solo albums, such as 'Traveller' with 'Badlands Rain' and 'Miracle Days', but also 2002's 'Standing Alone' with 'Seasons' plus the title track, with its infectious and almost compulsive singalong chorus. There was no let up in the Vaughn banter though, with Danny on one hand jokingly blaming special guests Collateral for all the technical malfunctions, plus on the other, Vaughn interrupting a story to diplomatically tell those still talking at the back to #STFU. They obviously were all to busy talking, to hear Danny's story earlier that he is in fact descended from Native Americans. Be afraid - be very afraid.
Understandably, 'ML&L' was well represented with 'Seven Bells', 'Point The Way' plus his recent single 'The Shadow Of King John', an Irish 'Munster' of a ditty, based on Vaughn's time living in Limerick. Danny's heroic solitude, was finally broken, as he was joined on stage by his old Gibraltan mucker Craig MacDonald, also on guitar/vocals. Vaughan sure gets about a bit! Once the blue back stage lighting was sorted, they tore into an awesome cover of Del Amitri's 'Roll To Me'. "We don't do this enough" said Vaughan excitedly, before the duo once again excelled with 'The Road Less Travelled's 'Burning Down Inside'. As soon as Craig was there - he was gone - although Danny did play one more track from 'The Road Less Travelled' - 'Lay Your Body Down'.
Ironically, Vaughn reminisced back to another much missed treasured and iconic London venue - The Marquee in '85 - when he performed with Waysted. Danny, accordingly challenging the audience to "Let's go out steaming" as he finished his memorable set, with the crowd once again singing along to another nugget - Waysted's 'Heaven Tonight' from the album 'The Good The Bad The Waysted'. Of course, Tyketto are also obviously a big part of Vaughn's career, so no surprises during his set that he single-handedly polished off classics such as 'Battle Lines' from 'Dig In Deep' and 'The Last Sunset' from 'Strength In Numbers'. However, there was time on our side, as he saved the best for his encore with another amazing vocal on 'Forever Young' from 'Don't Come Easy'. Indeed, nights like this don't come easy. A definite candidate for our WRC 2019 Best Unplugged award!
Earth, Hackney, London
Friday 30th August 2019
Most references to the Ocean Alley crew describe them as playing Surfer Rock. If that’s the case the sharks must be circling excitedly in their part of Australia because, if their laid back music is anything to go by, they probably surf along at a medium pace barely keeping up with the waves, casually waving to a passing turtle en-route to a smoke and a cold one on the beach. What’s for sure is that, if the audience reaction on this steamy evening in Hackney was anything to go by, while they have more in common with Bob Marley than Dick Dale, they are definitely surfing along the crest of a wave of dedicated support, this being their second sold out London show within a week.
On their recordings, Ocean Alley present a wide dreamy sonic soundscape that it very appealing, with lots of interesting nuances. In the confines of Earth the sound engineers did their level best to create the aural equivalent of the mosh pit – the physical representation of which, incidentally, covered 90% of the available floor space in this crammed sweaty venue, rammed full of students who treated every song as if it was ‘Mr Brightside’. The sound was heavy on the bass and drums with, aside from occasional spacey guitar, only the heavily reverbed vocals of charismatic frontman Baden Donegal floating high above the backing like a seagull looking down on the surfer dudes slowly moving across the ocean.
This was a shame, as while undoubtedly powerful, the muddy sound meant a lot of their skilful arrangements were lost. It was only on third number ‘Yellow Mellow’ with its languid intro leading into a jaunty Reggae groove that some individual instrumentation could be heard. The recorded version of ‘Infinity’, the track that followed is all soaring, melodic interwoven guitar lines, underpinning an equally melodic vocal with a strong chorus; a fabulous track. The live sound on the evening lost a lot of the elegant flow of the recording. Which was a great shame. The same applied to ‘Stained Glass’, another superb, melodic spacey track that was given a vaguely brutal live mix.
The heavy mix was accompanied by the sort of lighting that makes photographers become bitter and twisted (apologies for the quality of accompanying pictures, they were not intended to be a tribute to The Shadows), which apart from being massively irritating had the effect of casting the majority of the band literally in the shade. Matters were not helped by the over-enthusiastic use of the smoke machine throughout, which didn’t really match the sunny feel of the band’s music.
Despite all this I should say that they were a lot of fun and created an electric atmosphere that the youthful audience responded to by going mental throughout, with collective arms in the air and singing along pretty much from the first number. The evening felt like one of those special occasions that people talk about years later “I saw Ocean Alley before they become huge at this place in Hackney” etc.
It seemed that the sound balance only really achieved the right mix in time for the two encores, ‘Baby Come Back’ and ‘Knees’ both of which are absolute belters, modern classics if you will, with huge anthemic appeal, that rounded off a powerful and commanding performance, the audience loving every moment. The latter of these numbers has a repeated line “where do we go from here?” On the evidence of this evening, a very long way indeed; just leave the surf boards behind chaps (and feed the sound engineer and lighting man to the sharks).