Gig review: RAMBLIN’ MAN FESTIVAL Day 1 – Mote Park, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Scorpions - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Paul Rodgers

Another summer and yet another new festival joins the ranks of the many. This one however had the classic rock fraternity foaming at the mouth with a line up which comprised some of the biggest names in rock. We sent our intrepid reviewers Andy Nathan and Yiannis Stefanis along with photographer Paul Rodgers to capture all the weekend’s action. Andy picks up the story …

While the rock festival scene has reached saturation point there is still arguably a gap in the market for a summer festival on a reasonably large scale, geared exclusively towards the broad church we call classic rock.

Many were disappointed when the High Voltage festival, which did precisely this, closed after two years so it was a pleasant surprise late last year when a new festival, Ramblin’ Man Fair was launched with a similar premise, and two headliners identified who had not been in the UK for a very long time in Scorpions and Gregg Allman, the Allman Brothers related title perhaps a nod to get the great American to commit. However the venue of Mote Park in Maidstone, the modestly sized County Town of Kent’s ‘Garden of England’ did raise a few eyebrows.

Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

First impressions of the festival were very favourable. It was well laid out with a great sense of space, yet easily walkable distances between main stage, prog stage and a covered tent that split its theme between Outlaw Country and Blues over the weekend. There were no gimmicks but attention had been paid to the details, for example a tent well stocked with over 20 real ales and quality designed merchandise, and many remarked favourably on the relaxed stewarding.

The attendance was not great though – I would estimate around 10,000 on the first day, but it was ominous that the entry lines for day tickets were ten times as long as for the weekend ones.  Attracting a mature clientele, albeit some bringing young families along, I would wager that it was the first rock festival, though definitely not the last, at which a majority of the paying punters were eligible for a Saga membership card.

The honour of being the first ever act at Ramblin’ Man went to No Hot Ashes, a Northern Irish band who never made it in the eighties but are enjoying an unexpected second shot at the big time and seem to have high level contacts judging by the way they find their way onto festival bills.

No Hot Ashes - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Andy Nathan

They were enthusiastic with a keyboard heavy melodic sound that reminded me of contemporaries from back in the day like Shy, and with a fine singer in Eamon Nancarrow who also told us personal family stories behind songs like the stand out ‘Boulders’ and ‘Johnny Redhead’ which was a more rock’ n’roll closer with twin guitars. The catchy ‘Diane’ however owed too much to Kenny Loggins ‘Footloose.’

Yiannis Stefanis picks up the story – Toseland were a completely unknown entity to me prior to attending this festival but the quality of their US-sounding Hard Rock tunes and the levels of energy employed throughout their set was such that I couldn’t help but offer them my heartfelt support.

Toseland - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Andy Nathan

Having, in James Toseland, a frontman whose qualities can be compared to those of Myles Kennedy (Slash band, Alter Bridge), it took the quintet a couple of songs to warm and eventually win over the festival audience, a decent number of which seemed able to sing along to the lyrics of “Crash Landing”, “Life Is Beautiful” and the closing groove-laden anthem “Renegade”. 

Moving fast towards the not so distant Prog stage I managed to catch Touchstone’s performance from the very beginning but cannot claim to have been very impressed by what I witnessed. Don’t get me wrong; Kim ‘Elkie’ Seviour is a technically gifted front woman but I found her style of singing a tad average, and compositions like “Wintercoast” and “Corridors”, though thematically varied, were far from exciting to my ears.

Back to Andy at the main stage – Each band was becoming more professional and as a long time fan who has seen them headline twice in the last two months I knew FM would deliver the goods in well drilled and reliable fashion. They opened with ‘Digging In The Dirt’ though I was surprised that their new ‘Heroes and Villains’ album, their most successful in some years,  was not plugged more.

FM - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Andy Nathan

Instead, other than one post reformation song in ‘Wildside’, they turned back the clock with keyboard heavy AOR classics from the first album like ‘I Belong To The Night’ and ‘That Girl’ together with ‘Tough It Out’ which puzzlingly they rarely played when first released and ‘Closer To Heaven’, a showcase for Steve Overland’s ever superb, soulful vocals. ‘On The Other Side Of Midnight’ saw Jem Davis come out front with his keytar to join the fun before they ran into a convincing closer with ‘Bad Luck’.

A fair few were singing and punching the air so I hope the UK’s standard bearers for melodic rock won some new fans, but from my perspective it is harder to become so enthused about your favourite bands halfway down a festival bill when you are used to being surrounded by fellow devotees seeing a full length headline set.


Blue Oyster Cult: For many of the cognoscenti they were band of the day but it also illustrated one of the follies of this and many other festivals in trying to cram too many bands in. A parsimonious 45 minute set time was too short to do them justice.


In contrast Blue Oyster Cult, once regular visitors here, have only rarely been glimpsed in the UK for many years other than at a couple of the winter holiday camp festivals.

Blue Oyster Cult - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Andy Nathan

Their presence was low key but they set their stall out with the rapid fire riffery of ‘The Red and the Black’, all four guitar playing members going line astern. Eric Bloom then introduced ‘a song from Fire of Unknown Origin’ and people were going crazy for ‘Burning For You’, with Buck Dharma’s smooth vocals and superbly lyrical  guitar solos – though his headless guitar still looks plain wrong!

A ‘Secret Treaties’ double of ‘Harvester Of Eyes’ and ‘ME 262’, with (relatively) new boy Richie Castellano switching between keyboards and guitar as the situation demanded, were timely reminders of their inventive and sometimes maverick but always melodious heavy rock in their seventies heyday, and ‘Buck’s Boogie’ was the first of two examples on the day of that rarity, an instrumental that can sound interesting.

Blue Oyster Cult - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Andy Nathan

But on the more commercial side, both ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ were instantly recognisable as people joined in, though Eric dedicating the latter to Amy WInehouse seemed to misjudge the festival mood. Cutting out the instrumental over playing they can sometimes be guilty of, they then finished the set back where it all began with a version of ‘Cities On Flame With Rock n Roll’ that featured more synchronised jamming and seemed to have around three big endings.

For many of the cognoscenti they were band of the day but it also illustrated one of the follies of this and many other festivals in trying to cram too many bands in. A parsimonious 45 minute set time was too short to do them justice. Let’s hope this was a precursor to a proper return visit.

Saxon were an obvious choice for the more heavy rock oriented day of a British festival and flew out of the starting gate with Doug Scarratt and Paul Quinn’s meaty riffs on ‘Motorcycle Man’ with Biff Byford doing his whistle, while it was heartwarming to see Nigel Glockler back playing drums as well as ever after his serious health scare.

Saxon - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Paul Rodgers

There is almost a dual identity to the veteran Yorkshiremen. On the one hand unlike many of their peers they regularly release new and critically acclaimed albums, but on the other to a generation of fans who grew up on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, their original anthems formed the soundtrack of our younger lives.

Their live shows tend as a result to be a gig of two halves, but this time, after the title track of the most recent album in Sacrifice, Biff and co realised the demands of a 55 minute set were to go straight to the beloved oldies, beginning with the ‘Power And The Glory’, ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ with some great soloing from Paul Quinn who was unusually animated on stage, and ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’.

Saxon - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Paul Rodgers

Indeed Biff seemed to recognise what sort of audience he was dealing with, asking how many had seen Saxon at the original Donington before a rattling ‘And The Bands Played On’ and when that led into ‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’, the front of the arena was reaching fever pitch. He then cheekily tore up the setlist and asked for requests before Paul’s unmistakable riff to another much loved classic in ‘Princess Of The Night’.

After ‘Wheels of Steel’ saw Biff acting the ringmaster to a singalong and indulging in some remarkable headbanging with bassist Nibbs Carter, another reference to the early eighties days led into ‘Denim And Leather’ as a sea of fists relived their youth in a way none of us probably expected to 30-35 years ago. For me this was the most enjoyable set of the day, albeit one of pure nostalgia.


Dream Theater: Forty five minutes is not enough to enable a band whose material is characterised by constantly shifting time signatures to make a real impact on an audience.


Yiannis then found himself with a prog dilemma –  Though Dream Theater’s set started a good half hour prior to that of Anathema’s, I decided to stick to the Classic Rock stage and watch that of the former’s in full – a decision I slightly regretted in the end. Why? Even though the band performance was as technically immaculate, forty five minutes is not enough to enable a band whose material is characterised by constantly shifting time signatures to make a real impact on an audience.

Dream Theater - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Paul Rodgers

Storming the stage with the melody-driven “Afterlife”, the US/Canadian legends followed up with a killer rendition of “Metropolis – Part I”, with James La Brie hitting all the high notes with unnerving ease.  Dark and heavy in equal measure, “Burning My Soul” found keyboard maestro Jordan Rudess moving at centre stage, his Keytar in hand, while Berklee-educated John Petrucci performed a stunning guitar solo during the atmospheric opus “The Spirit Carries On”.

“As I Am”, “Panic Attack”, “Bridges In The Sky”… Dream Theater fans were offered many moments of high quality musicianship prior to Jordan Rudess sporting his wizard hat and helping his colleagues close the band’s set with “Behind The Veil” – one of the best compositions of the band’s  2013 same-titled release. 

Dream Theater - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Paul Rodgers

Walking towards the Prog Stage as quickly as I could, I sadly only managed to catch the last three compositions performed by the mighty Anathema on the night, starting with an emotional rendition of “The Beginning And The End”. The sound was excellent, Vincent Cavanagh’s voice stronger and more emotionally charged than ever and Daniel Cavanagh’s Floyd-inspired solo so powerful that it almost reduced me to tears.

Slow in pace and mournful in character, “Universal” got the band’s loyal fans jumping along and clapping their hands rhythmically to the song’s tunes while the brilliantly up-to simply say that Camel’s performance was one I was really looking forward to attending would be the understatement of the century! Andrew Latimer’s possesses one of the warmest guitar tones in the history of Rock music – a statement proved without any shadow of doubt moments into the opening track “Never Let Go”.

Constantly smiling, the guitar maestro and his highly skilled colleagues performed challenging material such as “The White Rider”, “Song Within A Song” and “Uneven Song” with great ease while Latimer joked and exchanged a few pleasantries with his devoted fans during the introduction of “Spirit Of The Water” – a song he dedicated to the mighty Scorpions who, at the time, were performing their set at the Classic Rock stage.

Latimer offered quite a few emotionally-charged solos on the night but none more beautiful than that performed during “Air Born” while bassist Colin Bass graced the instrumental composition “Lunar Sea” with a solid groove-laden theme.

“Another Night”, “Drafted”, “Ice”…all these great compositions were performed  with surgical accuracy by a band that was literally on fire and both band and fans felt slightly annoyed by the fact that “Lady Fantasy” was to mark the end of a sensational set – a set that was without doubt the absolute highlight of the day. 

Tired by totally satisfied by what I have experienced during day 1, I headed up home for a hot shower and a warm cup of tea. 

Scorpions - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Paul Rodgers

Back with Andy and the Germanic six string sting…

And so to the headliners the Scorpions (or the Germanic gargantuawatt gladiators as I remember Kerrang! calling them back in the day). After seven years waiting for a UK show  we were teased by a curtain malfunction and the band eventually made a delayed entry 25 minutes after the 8.40pm billed start time.

They opened with ‘Going Out With A Bang’ which, as with so many of the songs from the new ‘Return To Forever’ album had an autobiographical feel. As it led into some vintage Scorps in ‘Make It Real’ it was obvious that the band’s winning formula had not changed much with plenty of stage movement, but also that a very lavish and well lit stage set had been designed (which may explain why previous attempts to get them to festivals had floundered on grounds of cost).

Scorpions - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Paul Rodgers

The crowd was lapping up more ‘World Wide live’ era classics in ‘The Zoo’, Klaus Meine camply tossing out drumsticks while Mathias Jabs played into the talk box and the instrumental ‘Coast To Coast’, but the gig then took a left turn with Klaus introducing some songs from their seventies days (after all this has been billed as the 50th anniversary tour).

In fact ‘Top Of The Bill’, ‘Steamrock Fever’, ‘Speedy’s Coming’ and ‘Catch Your Train’ were delivered in medley format. Mathias was superb, giving the lie to any rumours he is uncomfortable playing Uli Jon Roth-era tunes, but though I was singing along, looking around there were distinctly fewer who were familiar with the material.

Scorpions - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Andy Nathan

Then after newie ‘We Built This House’ helpfully had lyrics flashed onto the stage projection, some further momentum was lost with a pointless guitar instrumental followed by an acoustic section, complete with Rudolf Schenker playing a customised acoustic Flying V.

Sandwiching a more recent song in ‘Eye Of the Storm’, ‘ Always Somewhere’ and ‘Send Me An Angel’ were reminders that Klaus still has a wonderfully expressive, and distinctive voice, even if it may have lost a little of its power on the heavier and faster songs. He can also still whistle the intro to ‘Wind Of Change’, delivered mid-set in front of a backdrop of the Berlin Wall to a sea of waving hands.

Scorpions - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Paul Rodgers

‘I’m In A Rock n Roll Band’ worked  surprisingly well as a live participation for a new song and ‘Dynamite’ led into James Kottak’s  drum solo. Such solos are never my favourite not least when done by people who come over as a Panther-esque parody of the dumb glam rocker, but it was highly entertaining as his drum riser was hoisted high above the stage and he teased the audience.

As we entered the home straight ‘Crazy World’ was a left field set choice then Rudolf briefly left the stage but returned with a guitar with what looked like a rocket engine strapped to it, as he and Mathias riffed to ‘Blackout’ and pulled some of the poses we know and love the Scorpions for (sadly the human pyramid days are gone) before ‘Big City Nights’, to an impressive cityscape backdrop had us all singing along to close the main set.

Scorpions - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Andy Nathan

As he returned to the stage Klaus shouted in trademark voice ‘we’ve been away a long time but England we are still loving you’. It was a breathtaking treatment of the special ballad, as he was in great voice and Rudolf, after beginning with that spine tingling acoustic guitar, delivered a solo that both in musical style and his crouched-over-flying V pose, was worthy of little brother Michael. Indeed despite being primarily a rhythm guitarist his rare solos had all been outstanding.

In contrast, as promised a slightly short hour and 40 minute set went out with a bang as the whole place joined in to ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’’s saucy lyrics and Mathias delivered a shredding solo.

Scorpions - Ramblin' Man Fair, Maidstone, 25 July 2015

Photo: Andy Nathan

The Scorps high energy and lavishly presented show brought an end to a highly enjoyable debut day of Ramblin Man, but for the minority of us that were coming back for more tomorrow, dark clouds literally lay in wait…

Review by Andy Nathan and Yiannis Stefanis
Photos by Paul Rodgers (rodgers.photography) and Andy Nathan

Ramblin’ Man Festival – Day 2


Throughout September 2018 Get Ready to ROCK! Radio celebrated the station’s 10th anniversary and a two-hour special reflected a decade of broadcasting. “10 years in the making” features archive interviews with Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Todd Rundgren, Graham Bonnet, David Coverdale, John Wetton and Bob Catley.

More information
Listen in to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio…
Click the appropriate icons at the top of the page.

Power Plays w/c 12 November 2018

STEPHEN PEARCY U Only Live Twice Frontiers)
NORTHWARD Timebomb (Nuclear Blast)
MASON HILL Hold On (indie)
RAINLIGHT Field Of Souls (indie)
EDEN’S CURSE Forever (AFM Records)

Featured Albums w/c 12 November (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 TEN Illuminati (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 NORDIC UNION Second Coming (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 LARKIN POE Venom & Faith (Proper Music)

Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)

18:00-19:00 MAGGIE REILLY Heaven Sent (2013)



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