With a weather forecast that had Noah on standby, hammer in hand, our intrepid trio of Andy Nathan, Yiannis Stefanis and Paul Rodgers returned to Mote Park for day two of the Ramblin’ Man Festival and as the guys proved it never rains when you are rocking! Yiannis takes up the soggy tale…
Having sufficiently rested and enjoyed a nice hot shower at home, I headed back towards Maidstone and found, both to my delight and surprise, that the same conveniently-placed parking spot that I found on day 1 was still available for me.
Still in possession of my press pass, I made my way into the Festival site, this time much faster in comparison to day 1, reaching the Classic Rock stage in time to enjoy a six song performance by the Retro/Psychedelic Rock quartet Blues Pills.
Last time I saw the Swedish/French band in London I was not particularly impressed by their performance but today these young noisemakers were simply on fire. Full of youthful energy and in great mood singer Elin Larsson was a joy to behold, offering impassioned performances during the opener “High Class Woman” and the follow-up “Ain’t No Change”.
Slow, moody and filled with beautiful harmonies courtesy of French wiz kid Dorian Sorriaux, “No Hope Left For Me” was followed by its groove-laden sibling “Elements And Things” and the atmospheric “Little Sun” paved way for the rhythmical crescendo of “Black Smoke”.
With rain slightly gathering pace, I decided to stay at the VIP area and watch from there the performance of the Icelandic Progressive/Post-Metal quartet Sólstafir. Dressed for success but never really connecting with the gathering fans, the band’s set was mainly focused on their 2014 opus “Ótta”.
Photo by Paul Rodgers
I particularly enjoyed opening track “Dagmál” and the atmospheric passages of “Fjara” but as I was leaving the area having listened to the last notes of “Goddess of the Ages” I couldn’t help but think that today’s performance would have been much better had the band chosen to engage more with its numerous and pretty devoted fans.
Andy had also made the site by this time and was indulging in a little real ale and blues a perfect combination…
Throughout the week the weather forecast for Sunday had been truly wretched, doubtless to the dismay of the organisers as this was the less popular of the two days and they had relied on a walk up on the day factor.
Indeed as our coach pulled up just as the gates were opening and the rain dropping, the line for day tickets was non-existent. As it turned out most had dressed sensibly (my friend joked it felt like a country fair) and the rain was only moderate before ceasing around tea time. The sparse attendance had its consolations, making it easier to catch up with friends and certainly to get served in the real ale tent and at the food stalls.
Seeking shelter in the blues tent I was unexpectedly able to catch the first few songs from teenage sensation Aaron Keylock, with a killer opener in ‘Tennessee Preacher’. His mix of heavy blues based rock with plenty of slide guitar and enthusiastic but raw vocals drew comparisons in my mind to the likes of Pat Travers and Rory Gallagher.
I headed back to the main stage to see the Quireboys playing the role of much loved familiar guests that Saxon had done 24 hours earlier. However, looking like a bunch of Victorian street urchins as always, their setlist was more adventurous, beginning with a couple of more recent ones in ‘Black Mariah’ and ‘Too Much Of A Good Thing’, before old favourites in ‘Misled’ and ‘There She Goes Again’.
Photo by Paul Rodgers
Spike sounded in better voice than at the previous month’s ‘Free House’ gig and was full of his normal bonhomie, joking about the slippery conditions underfoot and how that must have been why his partner made him sign a life insurance policy before going on stage!
I couldn’t help notice how much the rolling electric piano of Keith Weir drives the Quireboys sound, with Guy Griffin, especially with his slide and Paul Guerin a very well matched guitar partnership, creating a great groove.
It wasn’t all first album favourites either with a storming ‘This Is Rock n Roll’, ‘Mona Lisa Smiled’ which as ever calls to mind Rod Stewart’s early seventies solo work and ‘Tramps and Thieves’ from the unfairly neglected ‘Bitter Sweet and Twisted’ album.
However the gig worked to an inevitable crowd pleasing climax with Griff’s slide to the fore on ‘Hey You’ and Spike making reference to the Country stage the night before, leading something of a hoe down to ‘Sweet Mary Ann’ before getting his harmonica out for the inevitable ’7 O’Clock’. We all partied through the rain and, cramming 10 songs into less than 45 minutes, they had proved a perfect festival choice.
I am less familiar with The Temperance Movement’s material but within a short space of time their rootsy sounds have built themselves a big following much as Spike’s boys did 25 years ago so I watched their set with interest. Phil Campbell has an arresting gravelly voice that on the early numbers reminded me of Joe Cocker or John Fogerty while ‘Be Lucky’ had a real Rod feel to it. However the less said about his ill co-ordinated, spindly dancing the better.
Photo by Paul Rodgers
Guitarists Luke Potashnick and Paul Sayer create a great vibe with their sensitive playing best illustrated on the grooves of ‘Ain’t No Telling’ and, though a ballad went on rather long, ‘Only Friend’ had a real Bad Company gritty groove to it helped by some superb guitar work by Paul.
They then showed their diversity with a very country rock sounding ‘Pride’ and an almost danceable closer in ‘Take It Back’. Offering something a bit outside the mainstream, their set definitely made me more of a fan.
Riverside: …by the time the eight and a half minute opus “Egoist Hedonist” was performed, standing tired and soaking wet at the second row of the Prog stage felt nothing other than the right thing to do.
Meanwhile Yiannis was trying to keep dry at the prog stage…
By this stage the heavens had truly opened but nothing was going to stop me from enjoying what turned out to be a great performance by The Pineapple Thief back at the Prog stage. Opening with “The One You Left To Die”, the Somerset-based Prog/Indie Rock quartet enjoyed a killer sound from the word go, with Jon Sykes’ bass line being fairly high on the mix, thus beautifully complementing Bruce Soord’s acoustic guitar harmonies in moody compositions such as “All The Wars” and “Magnolia”. The band finished its set with a great rendition of “Alone At Sea” and left the stage having enjoyed a huge round of applause by Prog Rock aficionados.
Warsaw-based progsters Riverside were less lucky in comparison, having suffered equally appalling weather and constant sound-related problems which front man Mariusz Duda tackled with sheer professionalism. “Feel Like Falling”, “Hyperactive”, “Conceiving You”…the band presented some of its top material for us today and by the time the eight and a half minute opus “Egoist Hedonist” was performed, standing tired and soaking wet at the second row of the Prog stage felt nothing other than the right thing to do.
Andy was still braving the worst at the mainstage …
Rival Sons are a band I felt ambivalent about. I have liked their music and yet always been disappointed with their aloof live performances when I have seen them at festivals. The hype around them that they are saviours of classic rock makes me want to naturally rebel against it, a feeling only heightened by a couple of their fans sat behind me on the coach who were incessantly prattling on about them and no-one else while I was trying to sleep off the previous night’s exertions.
Photo by Paul Rodgers
Rather boldly they flouted convention by opening with a lengthy psychedelic and not particularly accessible number, and it was notable that compared to when I saw them before they have added an organ player to give their sound added depth and even more of a sixties feel.
The Doors are just as valid a comparison as the Led Zeppelin ones always bandied about and indeed on the more straight ahead blues rockers ‘Electric Man’ and ‘Secret’ singer Jay Buchanan sounds more like Paul Rodgers than Robert Plant.
‘Torture’ saw the nearest to a singalong as the mid-song chant echoed around the arena and ‘Pressure And Time’ was convincing with guitarist Scot Holliday wrenching out some interesting sounds, before a lengthy ballad ‘Where I’ve Been’ and an encore of a catchier, bluesy number in ‘Open My Eyes’.
Jay, who rivalled James Toseland for the weekend’s most irritating hairstyle, even managed a few words of thanks to the crowd, though compared to the likes of Saxon and the Quireboys the band are very static and po-faced and invite you to admire their talent rather than draw you in to a shared show. That said, I enjoyed this set substantially more than previous ones and may just be starting to ‘get’ them.
A group of us headed to the blues tent where Joanne Shaw Taylor had not long started her set but it was impossible to get in so we rather heard from afar and it was difficult to pick out individual songs though my impressions of her guitar work were favourable, even if a couple of slow blues numbers seemed to drag on rather long.
Bernie Marsden: …he is a jovial frontman with a fund of stories and self-deprecating humour, with the comfortable air of a friendly landlord of a country pub
As her set ended however the tent emptied, most going to see Seasick Steve do his homeless hobo shtick. My natural prejudices – both against those who rise on the back of Jools Holland’s Later show and wearers of ‘Farmer Johns’ – meant there was no contest as I easily got down the front for Bernie Marsden.
The genial former Whitesnake guitarist, backed by three skilled musicians including ubiquitous ex-bandmate Neil Murray initially stuck to the brief of a blues stage headliner with some old standards, beginning with ‘Linin Track’ (better known as being adapted by Aerosmith for ‘Hangman Jury’), ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ and ‘Key To The Highway’, and his guitar playing was superbly fluent and pleasant voice more than respectable.
It also helps that he is a jovial frontman with a fund of stories and self-deprecating humour, with the comfortable air of a friendly landlord of a country pub. However a pleasant surprise was also to hear ‘Who’s Foolin Who’ from his 1981 solo album ‘Look At Me Now’ which I haven’t played in eons, as well as ‘Kinda Wish She Would’ which he first debuted in Company Of Snakes days. Bringing things more up to date he played a slow blues ‘A Place In My Heart’ on which he had collaborated with Joe Bonamassa.
However the increasing numbers of people flooding the tent really wanted to hear Whitesnake material and he obliged with ‘Walking In The Shadow of the Blues’, delivering some jaw-droppingly good solos and a participatory ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart of the City’.
Most of his anecdotes seemed to relate to greats who had recently passed away such as Bobby Bland, BB King (who called him Bern-ARD) and Jack Bruce, to whom he dedicated ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’. Perhaps this heightened his visible emotional delight at the strength of reaction a packed tent was giving him, and I am sure I even saw him wipe away a tear.
I was now glancing towards the main stage where Gregg Allman was due on any time and judging from the side stage signals to Bernie he was meant to be winding up, so inevitably after a cheeky ‘ere’s a song for ya’ he ended with ‘Fool For Your Lovin’ and ‘Here I Go Again’, complete with sing-along and the crowd reaction more than compensating for any unfavourable vocal comparisons with Mr Coverdale. The affable guitarist had been one of the highlights of the weekend.
Still staking out the prog stage Yiannis may have been damp but he was a very happy man…
Taking a much needed break for food and with rain now a thing of the past, I made my way back onto the Prog stage to enjoy a Jethro Tull-based set by Ian Anderson and his impressive band.
It is true that the Scotsman’s vocal abilities have suffered a massive blow over the last few years but the energy and passion by which he tackled the opener “Living In The Past” and the follow up “Nothing Is Easy” were quite admirable and as we moved onto a segment of the masterpiece that answers to the name “Thick As A Brick”, band and crowd were in a state of total bliss.
The presence of Bavarian six string wizard Florian Ophale has increased the value of the band’s stocks these last few years and it was his masterful solos during “Too Old To Rock’n’Roll” and “Toccata And Fugue” which received the highest possible accolades, both by the crowd and his sixty seven year old front man and colleague.
Great improvisation characterised a killer interpretation of my personal favourite “Bouree” and a piano-led version of “My God” was followed by a glorious closing section consisting of the classic duet of “Aqualung/Locomotive Breath”.
Photo by Paul Rodgers
There are not many bands out there willing to start their set with a seventeen and a half minute track, but I’m sure that most of you will agree with me that Buckinghamshire-based Progressive Rock legends Marillion are hardly what one would describe as an average band.
Filled with oriental-themes melodies and featuring some of the most heartfelt lyrics ever written by the band, “Gaza” offered an epic introduction to what turned out to be the best performance of the whole festival.
Steve Hogarth is a very charismatic singer who knows how to work an audience, really getting the crowd going during “You’re Gone” and “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” and he truly made us all burst into laughter by introducing “Sugar Mice” with the mighty words “these guys write great music but I prefer their older stuff”!
Photo by Paul Rodgers
Opening with a rousing acoustic guitar harmony, “Man Of A Thousand Faces” was one of the set’s true highlights while both “Neverland” and “King” showcased Hogarth’s unique vocal skills. The bands departure from stage was short as their loyal fans demanded an encore, one provided by an amazing rendition of “The Invisible Man” – a song that not only concluded the band’s set but also the festival as far as I was personally.
Great music, good quality food, drinks in abundance…let’s see what the organisers have in store for us for next year. I, for one, cannot wait!
That only left Andy to round off the weekend in the company of one of rock’s legends…
Rushing to the main stage as Gregg Allman was opening with ‘Statesboro Blues’ I was shocked (even with competition from Marillion) at just how few people were there to see a true legend, who after all can be said to be one of the pioneers of southern rock.
The other thing that struck me was that his band line-up, with a horn section and just a solitary guitarist, brought out his soul and R’n’B influences a touch more than in the Allman Brothers (indeed comparisons could be made with son Devon’s Royal Southern Brotherhood) and a funky ‘I’m No Angel’ confirmed this.
After a couple of lengthy blues numbers and an Allmans’ favourite in ‘Trouble No More’, ‘Soul Shine’ provided an interesting contrast as an up tempo, almost gospel flavoured song with guitarist Scott Sharrard sharing the vocals.
However it was always going to be a struggle to hold the attention of the non-Allmans diehard, while I wonder how many people vainly expected to hear ‘Ramblin Man’ which after all was always a Dickey Betts composition.
While a gentlemanly southerner, Gregg is diffident and quietly spoken and being hidden behind a huge organ he was in no place to work up the crowd. In addition the band went off on some lengthy jams, albeit not to the extent that the Allmans were known to, with a percussion solo the low point.
The gig took off more when he switched to acoustic or rhythm guitar and came out front for a series of Allmans favourites – ‘Not My Cross To Bear’, ‘Ain’t Wasting Time No More’, a beautiful country sounding ‘Melissa’ and above all ‘Midnight Rider’, all delivered in that rich, lived-in southern drawl.
‘Love Like Kerosene’ was perhaps the rockiest of the night and ‘Whipping Post’ totally rearranged in a jazzier groove to close the set, before they came back for ‘One Way Out’, again a vehicle for some lengthy jamming by his skilled band of players.
I enjoyed his set but its laid back nature would have been so much more enjoyable on a late summer’s afternoon rather than on a cold evening that tested the endurance of all but the hardiest after a long two days.
It was a shame that Sunday was so poorly attended, particularly to see this legendary figure, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable and well organised festival which hopefully will provide a launching pad for it to become a fixture in the gig calendar.
Review by Andy Nathan and Yiannis Stefanis
Photos by Paul Rodgers (rodgers.photography) and Andy Nathan
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