Set just 40 miles from central London, the second Ramblin' Man Fair festival at the charming Mote Park in Maidstone returns with what promises to be the ultimate music experience for fans of classic, progressive, blues and country rock! With a change of management from the festivals' debut last year the big question would be could it encapsulate the very essence and spirit which made the late July slot so popular the previous year?
As a nice little treat this year there was a 'warm-up' gig situated next to the park in the local leisure centre which premiered a selection of bands appearing over the weekend from various stages including Leogun, Hogjaw and Ricky Warwick & Damon Johnson from Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders.
Starting a little later than expected due to traffic problems on the coast, the young 3-piece band from London, Leogun started with an assuredly solid set with a mixture of blues, soul and rock & roll.
Next up hailing all the way from Arizona USA the brilliant Hogjaw, with a perfect mix of southern country & blues but with a heavier edge, the long guitar breaks making for a very enjoyable listen.
The warm summer evening with long queues at the slowly depleting bar swiftly moved on (due to the late start and curfue) to Ricky Warwick who was joined by band mate Damon Johnson opting for an acoustic set. The usual banter ensued as you'd expect from the Ulsterman, getting the crowd going on some Thin Lizzy classics and even a cover of Motorhead's 'Ace of Spades'!
The great thing about this slightly more intimate gig was the fact that you could mix and chat with the artists afterwards on their merch stalls and all this just for £10 made for a great evening!
The weather for Saturday was perfect, especially what happened to all the other European festivals which were otherwise sodden or even rained off completely! Like last year, Ramblin' Man offer various different ticket and camping packages to suit your weekend which are all generously priced. Starting from one day general admission to VIP weekend tickets and offsite camping to 'Glamping at the Ranch'.
With VIP tickets you benefit from such advantages as early entry at the VIP fast access lanes, access to the wonderful VIP bar (and toilets) which include seating and picnic tables, acoustic performances as well as views of the main stage, discount on lockers and a very special festival pack including a USB battery charger, ear plugs and condoms!
Upon early entry you can either head to the bars or take time to browse the vast amount of eateries and stalls on offer. You'll definitely find something to eat but what with Texas Smokers, Mexican, Indian, Nepalese, Vegetarian, Handmade Pies, Ostrich Burgers, Bling Chips, Artisan Bakeries and Crepes, the list seems endless.
In between the music, eating, drinking and toilet stops there's plenty of stalls to browse around, from the familiar T-Shirt and Vinyl stalls to the big names of Harley Davidson and Triumph motorcycles with a very nice selection of bikes to sit on and drool over - on the subject of motorbikes there was even a 'Wall of Death' stunt show performing breathtaking live stunts.
A nice surprise this year was to see the great album cover artist Roger Dean with a selection of signed work you could buy or just listen to him being questioned about his great career designing for classic bands such as Yes, Uriah Heep, Budgie and Asia.
Cash points, tobacco shops and device charging stations also make for welcome stops for those forgotten essentials.
"There's an App for that" - the Ramblin' Man App not only helps you plan your band time schedules but keeps you informed of a host of useful information to help your weekend run a little smoother.
On with the show... An extra stage was added this year, the 'Rising Stage' premiers up and coming bands such as the excellent Leogun we saw on friday night and made for a good stop between bands. The return of the 'Outlaw Country Stage', a relocated 'Prog in the Park' stage and the hosts for the weekend the 'Planet Rock' main stage is where my friend and I would be spending most of our time with some sterling acts lined up!
Wyatt Wendels of Planet Rock DAB introduced the first band which I'd only listened to a week before and was pretty impressed by their self titled debut LP. Headed by Nathan James, Inglorious are one of the most interesting new bands I've heard in a while, a perfect blend of blues rock reminiscent of a David Coverdale fronted Deep Purple, highlights being the ballad 'Holy Water' and a nice cover of the Rainbow classic 'I Surrender'. If you can check them out I guarantee you won't be disappointed, they are the future of British rock an may their career be a long one.
The Dead Daisies return with a new line-up with John Corabi (ex Motley Crue) and Doug Aldrich (ex Whitesnake and Dio) with their forthcoming album. The ever evolving supergroup, with pedigree I might add, gave a robust performance with Corabi getting everyone singing their new catchy single 'Make Some Noise' with some excellent axe work from Aldrich as you'd expect.
Hogjaw impressed on Friday night so we had to see more over in the 'Outlaw Country Stage', they really are a fun nice bunch although you wouldn't think it to look at them as the lead singer must be around 6'5". I'm not hugely into southern rock but these guys have a heavier edge and are excellent musicians so check them out.
A short break to see Purson on the 'Prog in the Park' stage led us back to the main stage for Terrorvision. I hadn't seen these guys for over 20 years and lead singer Tony Wright hasn't seemed to have aged at all in that time! A 12 song greatest hits set wether you love them or not made for a fun hour and made me smile.
Frustratingly with such a solid line-up this year, I couldn't get around all stages and there where bands I'd liked to have dropped in on such as Hayseed Dixie where they played to a packed out tent last year and The White Buffalo as I've starting watching 'Sons of Anarchy' which they sung on a few songs from the programme, but one band I wasn't going to miss was Europe!
I've been a fan of Europe for over 30 years but never seen them live, so it was a real treat to see the Swedes especially with the rarity in their original line-up from 1986 at least. They played a good mix from their last 3 albums but it was the oldies I wanted to hear and I wasn't disappointed with such classics as 'Rock the Night', 'Cherokee' and their pop Magnum Opus/Albatross 'The Final Countdown' to finish on. I've always appreciated their musicianship, but tonight it was was par excellence.
If I'm brutally honest, I didn't get the Ricky Warwick incarnation of Thin Lizzy at first with just one member from the original band - Scott Gorham (since 1974's Nightlife) and being such a fan of Phil Lynott I thought without him there could be no Thin Lizzy band. But after seeing them live how wrong could I be? It's all about keeping Phil's spirit and music alive and what a job they do! A blistering set of 12 classics with a surprise appearance from Midge Ure on 'Cowboy Song' and 'The Boys are Back in Town' he joked he was the worst guitarist Lizzy ever had, yes he probably was but with such greats as Gary Moore, Snowy White, John Sykes and Vivian Campbell the bar is set pretty high.
Saturday's headliner was another favourite of mine from childhood, David Coverdale with his latest Whitesnake line-up has had a bit of stick recently from concertgoers saying his great voice is no more and all I have to say to these people are talking complete an utter nonsense! From the very get go Coverdale blasted out 'Bad Boys' as well as anything I've seen before, the only voice that was shot afterwards was mine after singing (badly) Whitesnake's greatest hits from 1984-1989 and with a nice rendition of 'Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City', if I have to grumble about one thing then maybe the guitar/bass/drum solo's went on a little long, but that's just nitpicking on otherwise a fantastic set that had the whole crowd dancing and singing into the still of the night.
Another beautiful sunny morning shone over Mote Park for Sunday. Still nursing my bad back from loading cider into my car on the Thursday, we made it to the bar like troopers, yes Trooper was on sale amongst other beers including Spitfire Larger and Aspall Cider plus a real ale tent.
Again one tried to get around to see as many bands as possible with a sore back, London two piece The Graveltones opened the main stage shortly after 1pm followed by the first UK appearance of The Kentucky Headhunters founded by the Young brothers and related to the drummer of Sunday's headliners Black Stone Cherry. Celebrating their tenth anniversary from the release of 'Rise' Anglo-Irish band The Answer, belted out one of my favourite hard rock tracks of 2006 with 'Under The Sky', these guys really are a sensational band and fitted perfectly into the sound and setting of this weekend.
Usually gracing such festivals as Download it was great to see the mighty Airbourne, some say a poor mans AC/DC but wow, what enthusiasm and quite simply a great heavy rock'n'roll show with lead guitar/vocals Joel O'Keeffe scaling anything he can climb on, not to be defeated diving into the crowd whilst playing stomping anthems such as 'Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast' and 'Running Wild' awesome!
Whilst Airbourne were playing I stumbled over to the Main stage where another band you may have heard of called Hawkwind were performing. Dave Brock, now in his 48th (I think) year in the band still proving popular with progressive rock fans, but to be honest I only really wanted to hear 'Silver Machine' which I bloomin' missed!
Now last year the weather was pretty grim with plenty of rain but no thunder... (can you see where I'm going with this?) But this year we have blazing sunshine and Thunder... the band that is! Danny Bowes and Luke Morley are always good fun at festivals, with Danny taking the michael and getting the crowd singing their hits including 'Backstreet Symphony' which I bought way back in 1990 and probably their most popular ballad 'When Love Walked In' was another festival highlight.
As with Airbourne/Hawkwind the next 2 bands I got to watch overlapped, so I started with Sunday's headliners Black Stone Cherry whom with all honesty I didn't really follow as a fan but was willing to give a go and was pleasantly surprised! Listening to an album is one thing but hearing a band live takes it to a different level and was taken aback on how good they were (and how many tracks I knew) 'Me and Mary Jane' and 'Blame It on the Boom Boom' being also popular with BSC novices like myself.
At one point my mate Andy got a bit choked on Chris Robertson's speech about his battle with depression although this might have been caused by 10 pints of Spitfire Larger!
A dash over to the Prog stage to see the Procol Harum legend Gary Brooker singing 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' did although send shivers down my spine in the cool breeze of a summer's evening and a perfect end to a truly unique and wonderful time where like minded rock fans come together with their heroes, some of which we were lucky enough to meet and where only to happy to have a photograph taken... very humbling.
Rightly so, Rambling Man has reported overwhelming positive feedback from the weekend from the 22,000 strong crowd with zero reports of crime or arrests and has already got 'early bird' tickets on sale for 2017, so if you're into good classic rock music please check out ramblinmanfair.com for more details, you will not be disappointed!
Pre-order Live At Ramblin' Man Fair 2016 CD from Live Here Now on PledgeMusic. All proceeds donated to Nordoff Robbins.