RAMBLIN’ MAN RETURNS TO SATISFY THE ROCK FAITHFUL
Mote Park, Maidstone, Kent 19th - 21st July 2019
It was billed as Ramblin’ Man Returns, and it did with a bang, following last year’s more subdued matter. With all five stages restored, and a line-up that could satisfy any glutton for the genre, this three-day extravaganza has set the bar for summer festivals.
Words: Andy Rawll and Liz Medhurst, Pictures: Trudi Knight
The Friday foreplay for this dirty weekend of classic rock, prog and blues was stroked into gear by The Lazys with an arousing opening set of exactly the type of no-nonsense, beer-barn rock that you’d expect from a band of ex-pat Aussies. In contrast to the band’s name, the latest single ‘Little Miss Crazy’ is energetically appealing and won over the late afternoon crowd with ease.
For their third appearance at this festival, the Kris Barras Band were promoted to the main stage. Just like their impending new album they were primed to ‘Light It Up’ and ignite a white-hot groove that propelled Kris’ incendiary guitar playing on divine and dirty favourites like ‘Lovers And Losers’ and the redemptive wail of ‘Hail Mary’ that closed yet another outstanding set.
Long-time UK torchbearers for AOR style melodic rock, FM had the crowd tuned into their high fidelity anthems from 80s gems ‘Bad Luck’ and ‘That Girl’ to equally impressive songs from their latest ‘Atomic Generation’ opus, including ‘Black Magic’, which can be the only explanation for why Steve Overland’s voice remains as soulfully majestic as in days of yore.
The Wildhearts followed, and Ginger’s ninjas conjured up an energetic and spicy set of banging post-punk songcraft, kicked-off by a blistering ‘Dislocated’ from acclaimed new album ‘Renaissance Men’.
Recently restored to the classic 1993 line-up including CJ, Ritch and Danny, the new songs were a perfect complement from those from the ‘Earth vs the Wildhearts’ exuberance of ‘Caffeine Bomb’.
Well before the sun set, the evening descended into full Darkness, as Lowestoft’s finest requested permission to land at Mote Park.
With blazing personality and a scorching songbook to match the onstage pyrotechnics, the early evening rainfall failed to dampen the mood as the band delivered a classic set that combined the lyrical levity of ‘Black Shuck’, the ear-splitting falsetto of ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ and the brutal rifferama of ‘The Barbarian’.
Although the show was centred around the still thrilling 2003 debut album, the set was equally illuminated by some of the best songs from the following four albums, including the Cult-like swagger of ‘Open Fire’, the acerbic ‘Southern Trains’ and its ribald bedfellow ‘One Way Ticket’.
‘Live Till I Die’ from forthcoming album ‘Easter Is Cancelled’ yet again proved that you write off the Brothers Hawkins and friends at your peril.
The MetalTalk team were up and about nice and early on Saturday, to make sure that the bars were open and the beer suitably chilled, all in the name of public service.
Heading to the Marshall acoustic stage, Norfolk’s Bad Touch opened the day with high energy blues-rock, band and crowd in good voice as the scene was set beautifully with a balance of the restrained and raucous. We’re 99% sure that this was the perfect opening to the day.
The main stage opener today was RavenEye, and you know it’s going to be a good day when it starts hard and heavy. ‘Hero’ from debut album ‘Nova’ remains the starburst song in their set, combining the energy of the Foo Fighters and the spirit of the great Voodoo Six, with accomplished guitarist Oli Brown revealing himself as a charismatic lead vocalist and frontman.
The extended jam of ‘Hey Hey Yeah’ showcases the trio’s talents in turn, providing breathtaking thrills when Oli climbs on the shoulders of bass player Aaron Spiers for a run around the stage.
He was deposited safely back to firm ground after the wild solo, which is more than can be said for their later appearance on the acoustic stage, where Oli managed to trip over thin air right at the end and sent the amps and mic stands crashing, and nearly squashed drummer Adam Breeze’s vintage suitcase in a hilarious unscripted finale. Watch out for second album ‘Caged Animals’ later this year, it can’t come soon enough for us.
As Wayward Sons took to the stage, the rain clouds gathered, but these were soon blasted away to kingdom come by the power of Toby Jepson’s Flying V, never to be seen again for the rest of the weekend.
A magnificent set with a solid selection from the ‘Ghosts Of Yet To Come album, and featuring ‘Jokes On You’, a preview track from forthcoming album ‘The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be’, revealing that Toby Jepson’s deep well of songs is still far from dry, and what started as a solo project has become a formidable and cohesive live band.
A real treat was delivered with Jimmy Barnes – an uncompromising and hard-hitting set from the Cold Chiselled legend. From the bellicose ‘Boys Cry Out For War’ from his solo debut to the reconciliatory ‘Lay Down Your Guns’ from his cross-over hit album ‘Two Fires’, this was full-on and fleshed-out rock’n’roll.
Yet it was bittersweet ballad ‘Shutting Down This Town’, about the demise of the Australian car industry, that was most impactful, with Barnesy’s beautifully burnished voice blazing with empathy for the plight of his fellow working-class men. Pure Class.
Saturday was also home to the Prog stage, opened by Scardust, Israeli Prog Metallers. Led by the strong voice of Noa Gruman, who displayed a range of styles. ‘Arrowhead’ is a right on target, combining aggression, melody and symphony in a five-minute aural extravaganza that reveals the strong potential for the band.
Vola combined the stark artfulness of Japan, the melody of Tears For Fears with the unrelenting riffs of Meshuggah, while Koyo were dreamily melancholic, mixing the post-grunge angst of Radiohead with the psychedelic tendencies of latter period Suede.
Pain of Salvation are still touring their mighty 2017 release ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’, and a short lower-order set wasn’t ideal for Daniel Gildenlow’s band to represent the captivating and powerful suite of songs, although the poised musicality and raw intensity of the performance was as brilliant as ever.
Riverside put in a truly outstanding and perfectly balanced collection which set these Poles apart, leaving worthy headliners Anathema to thrill with their emotionally charged grooves and dazzling performances.
Back to the main stage action and a good time was had with The Temperance Movement. ‘Caught In The Middle’, from 2018’s excellent ‘A Deeper Cut’ opened a set that showcased Phil Campbell’s remarkable Marriott meets Stewart blues howl, aligned to great songs, propelled by a stomping rhythm section.
A credible cover of Zeppelin’s ‘Custard Pie’ hit a bullseye and show-closer ‘Built-In Forgetter’ had any remaining disbelievers eating humble pie.
This festival is well known for being family friendly, and that extends to the stage as well. Earlier Jimmy Barnes appeared with two of his offspring, and power pop legends Cheap Trick upped the quota with two father and son combos. Robin Zander, Rick Nielson and Tom Petersson were joined by Daxx Nielson and Robin Taylor Zander for a run through of their timeless classics.
A dreamy and arresting performance, visually as well and musically, this is song-writing of the highest calibre. With a huge back catalogue and a new album on the way, there’s plenty of trickery left to come.
This year the Rising stage, was tucked away in the far corner instead of being right by the main entrance, but there was treasure to discover. Earlier Collateral put in one of the most accomplished sets of their career to date, the local band deservedly extending the reach of their fan base by huge margins.
The highlight of the day came from Rising Stage headliners, Grand Slam were a last-minute addition to the Ramblin’ Man Fair line-up, buoyed by the recently signed and sealed patronage of Marshall Records that will oversee the release of their long-awaited debut album ‘Hit The Ground’ in October 2019.
Well over 30 years in the making, the band were originally formed following the demise of Thin Lizzy in 1983, with Phil Lynott and guitarist/songwriter Laurence Archer, alongside keyboard player Mark Stanway.
Although a catalogue of songs was amassed and tour dates undertaken back in the day, the band dissolved like tears in rain, with the passing of the seemingly immortal Lynott.
With Archer having restrung his six-string and recruited a new band of brothers, Saturday’s impressive Rising Stage running-order was set for a grand slam finale and so it proved.
Augmented by Lol’s long-time compadre Mike Dyer on vocals and a heavy-hitting rhythm section of Dave Boyce (Quireboys, Airrace, Skyscraper) and Benjy Reid (Praying Mantis, Letz Zep), and FM’s Jem Davis guesting on keys, Irish eyes would have been smiling from up in the great gig in the sky as the band breathed new life into classic Slam archive tracks.
Testosterone-drenched set opener ‘Nineteen’ was a veritable, cocksure call to arms and the powerful Celtic confessional of ‘Sisters of Mercy’ exorcised the band’s rock n roll demons.
Best of all were the brand-new songs that channelled Lynott’s songwriting nous with album preview single ‘Gone Are The Days’ the missing link between ‘Waiting For An Alibi’ and ‘Do Anything You Want To’. The high octane and unhinged rocker ‘Crazy’ was insanely good with the packed crowd mad for it.
On this evidence, the band won’t need an alibi to be found guilty of producing what promises to be one of best melodic hard rock albums of the year. The troops are already being marshalled for a full-on assault on your senses cometh the release date. That’s dedication for ya.
As the sun started to set over on the Outlaw Country stage, the Allman Betts band impressed, carving out their own identity while continuing the legacy of the southern rock greats. Kenny Wayne Shepherd then thrilled with his high-octane out of this world blend of rock, blues and a behemoth of a band.
Main stage headliners Black Stone Cherry got the crowd going with their messy amalgam of post-grunge country and southern rock. Having made a lot of friends here two years ago in their first festival headliner it was quite the homecoming for the Kentucky residents, now supremely comfortable on the big stages.
The eighteen song setlist, including four from most recent album ‘Family Tree’ brimmed with vigour and vitality, and unsurprisingly the big hitters ‘White Trash Millionaire’ and ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’ set the park alight. It’s good heads down boogie sending us singing our way into the night.
The festival had not yet reached its peak, Sunday served up another starting with Rews on the acoustic stage. Usually a duo, today was Shauna Tohill solo on piano and guitar. Her stunning voice and solid repertoire of songs, with their infectious choruses and rock foundations shone in this setting. A classy start to the day.
The plugged proceedings started proper over on the irresistibly named Grooverider stage which started with a magnetic pull, with two of the best new bands on the circuit who have a habit of picking up truckloads of new fans every time they play.
There’s nothing like a good bop to get you going of a morning and Blind River obliged with a punchy display full of personality and commitment. Hard riffs, sweat and passion, just the way we like it. The trio of ‘Home’, ‘Freedom Rider’ and ‘Can’t Sleep Sober’ were a perfect showcase for this captivating band – catch them at Bloodstock later this month.
Cornwall’s finest King Creature may have been put in a tent, but that can’t contain these boys. Their wall of sound nearly blasted the sides off, and certainly drowned out the main stage, ensuring a packed house extending well into the field.
Twin guitars, the punchiest of riffs, a rhythm section that could sandblast buildings – it’s all here. Yet none of this is cliched, it’s played with a hell of a lot of soul too. ‘Power’ and ‘Lowlife’ in stunning form here, proving that Dave Kellaway may be on to something with his vocal warm-up method of necking pints of wine at 4am.
Tasked with opening the incredibly strong line-up on Sunday’s Blues Stage, there was no bitter panic, only Sweet Crisis. Invoking their killer single ‘Black Magic’, the Cambridge six-piece conjured their languid Fenland blues sound, in a refreshing contrast to running with the pack of the many overwrought blues-based rock bands that clutter the scene.
Chantel McGregor is always a delight, her live shows getting heavier and more intense, and her sublime shredding took us to that heady trance state, perfect for the hot weather.
Following his recent exploits with The Winery Dogs, alongside Portnoy and Sheehan, Richie Kotzen returned to enable a heat-parched crowd to drink from the bountiful well of solo work that spans thirty years and twenty solo albums.
While his guitar technique melds the fire of Hendrix, the soul of SRV and the virtuosity of Van Halen, it’s his remarkable voice that sets him apart, exemplified by the two new songs that bookended his set. On this sunny-side-up day of the Blues, Kotzen was undoubtedly Ramblin’ Mr Big.
Over on the main stage, the irony of the civil war re-enactment display that preceded Living Colour was not lost on Corey Glover. His wry humour and richly hued voice led the line as this pioneering fusion Metal band picked the cherry bombs from their incendiary back catalogue, with the scathing ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ part of a blistering opening salvo.
The heavy satire of ‘Elvis Is Dead’ was brilliantly appended with a lumbering take on ‘Hound Dog’ and underpinned by the eclectic virtuosity of Vernon Reid, to whom Tom Morello and RATM owe so much.
Thirty years on, ‘Cult of personality’ has continued social resonance and the band underlined their still unique ability to fuse the passion of performance with social commentary that remains as relevant as when they first rose to prominence.
Inglorious last played here three years ago when they opened up the main stage. Now the highest billed British band on the main stage today, the run through of the highlights of the three current albums reminded us of their talent and charisma. Matching the faultless and pwerful vocals of Nathan James, the twin guitars of Dan Stevens and Danny Dela Cruz are exciting and fluid, never jostling, flying through the tracks in perfect step.
From the frantic and urgent ‘Warning’ to the mature and heavy ‘Ride To Nowhere’, and the ultra classy ‘I Don’t Need Your Lovin’ they are pulling away from the pack in terms of sheer quality.
This run of summer festivals is clearly doing Inglorious good. It’s top grade British hard rock, with strong songs and an instantly recognisable stage presence. It’s never going to get boring.
Talking of great British rock bands, the Rising stage was no slouch in that area today either, with Piston’s hurricane riffs of ‘Blow It Away’ and ‘Go Now’ and storm-force vocals of Rob Angelico combining in an enticing maelstrom of sound.
Gin Annie provided a perfect afternoon tonic for the sun-baked ramblers, delivering on the promise of their recent album by delivering a ‘100% Proof’ performance of intoxicating hard rock.
Just as the Struts are breathing new life into Glam Rock, so Crobot are the current shining lights in the room of gloom of doom. With a career-best new album ‘Motherbrain’ straining at the leash for release in August, their combination of bone-crunching riffs, gargantuan groove and charismatic vocals of Brandon Yeagley is hard to ignore.
Crobot bestrode the Grooverider stage with unrelenting style on a day of heavy competition and proved to be a match for eventual stage headliners Orange Goblin.
While the Chris Robinson Brotherhood brought a period of mellowness to Sunday afternoon, it was left to Aussie rockers Airbourne to ramp things up again with their all-in boisterous fully committed antics. Whether joining in with letting off steam, or watching from the sidelines, there was no doubt that everyone here stood up for rock’n’roll and lived it up.
For those of us gathered at the top of the hill for Blues stage headliner Beth Hart, this is where the magic was. A performer who brings it every single time, with a voice channeling the jazz and blues greats of the last century, with added power and enchantment.
Always personal and sensual, Beth bends the blues to something unique. ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’, ‘Love Is A Lie’, ‘Tell Her You Belong To Me’, the emotion is almost too much to bear at times, the way her voice cuts right through to your soul. Worlds apart from anything else.
We’d had the best time over the last three days, but the festival was still to provide the big finish, with Sunday headliners Foreigner.
Mick Jones, as the venerable elder statesman of platinum-coated AOR, may have delayed his entrance stage-right until mid-set, but the incredible legacy of his stewardship and song writing contribution to the band remains assured by the vibrancy of the current line-up, led since 2005 by the indomitable stage presence and commanding voice of Kelly Hansen.
As if replicating the gritty and soulful sound of beloved original singer, Lou Gramm wasn’t a feat in itself, Hansen channelled the exuberant extroversion of his visual doppelganger, Steven Tyler, to boost the energy of a flagging, festival-weary crowd for a triumphant closing set of the weekend.
The sold-gold, hit-strewn jukebox of the band knows no bounds, such that debut album classic ‘Cold As Ice’ had the receding mullets of the front rows all-a-quiver and air-keyboards akimbo as the chilling piano riff resonated across the Kent countryside, early in the set.
The AOR cognoscenti in the audience will have bemoaned the predictability of the set-list, even though early album favourites like ‘Head Games’ and ‘Dirty White Boy’ remain thrilling examples of Gramm/Jones songcraft.
The flawless opening half-dozen songs was capped by the timely on-stage arrival of Jones to usher in the gutsy starting riff for ‘Feels Like The First Time’ which was the band’s debut single a scarcely believable 42 years ago. It’s far from the first time that the track was first played, but with Hansen stretching every sinew to deliver the nuanced soul of the original studio version, it sounded fresh and authentic.
Similarly, ‘Urgent’ dominated by Thom Gimbel’s sublime screaming sax solo was utterly captivating, yet there was heavy irony in the segue to an unnecessarily long drum and keyboard interlude, while the band members left the stage following the mortal rigours of the opening forty minutes. As such, when the familiar sequenced intro to ‘Juke Box Hero’ finally spun-around, there were as many sights of relief as there were screams of delight.
After holding out for a hero for so long, many of the crowd were expecting a home run of other hits like ‘That Way Yesterday’ or ‘Long Long Way From Home’, that had featured on Foreigner set-lists on the current tour.
In the event, the relatively short main set ended right there, albeit on a sublime “stars in his eyes” summit. On their return to the stage, Hansen then conspired to undo all his good work during the previous hour in engaging the increasingly partisan crowd.
Inexplicably deciding that what the audience at classic rock festival really, really wanted, was to get in touch with their inner groove, Barry White style, as he proceeded to conduct a bizarre, confounding and interminable love-in with the crowd. Chris Frazier and Jeff Pilson may be fantastic musicians but are certainly not first-call R&B or soul-train groove-meisters.
Coupled with the fact that many had started to check their watches, mindful of their last trains home, there was an increasing sense of “get on with it” until finally the opening chords for the massive crossover hit ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ cut through.
Fortunately, there was sufficient accumulated goodwill in Mote Park, following three days of camaraderie, great music and fine weather, that this random excursion was quickly forgotten and the band were able to close what had been another fantastic Ramblin’ Man Fair with style with ‘Hot Blooded’, with Kelly Hansen the undisputed winner of the most Ramblin’ Man of the weekend.
No matter, in the broader context of the whole event, Foreigner delivered a consummate performance that encapsulated the spirit of rock. Given that this is also the name of the festival organisers, it doesn’t get much better than that.
And so it was that we lamented the bands the we didn’t get to see, the mark of a good festival, but bittersweet nonetheless as the only downside to the packed schedule. Ramblin’ Man 2019 – you rocked, and we salute you.