The Ramblin’ Man Fair is now in its third year and is going from strength to strength. It is situated in Mote Park right in the centre of Maidstone in Kent, it is a bit bizarre passing a children’s playpark and dog walkers on the way in to a rock festival!
The central location does provide good travel links though and good access to local shops for those camping essentials: beer, Jack Daniels, and the occasional pasty.
This year’s event was the first to add a third day of music which was not without controversy as the organisers chose to charge for this separately rather than add it to the weekend pass. That was forgotten though as the first band took to the stage and Andy Nathan was stage front to catch the set.
Andy Nathan writes: On an evening dedicated to old school heavy rock, it was ironic that the first act on stage should be Graham Bonnet who always went against the visual clichés of the genre: he seemed to take an almost perverse delight in coming on stage with his band in a bright pink blazer. After a tentative start, ‘All Night Long’ got the crowd onside and things really came together during ‘Night Games’, an unfairly neglected classic in the Purple Rainbows canon.
On previous occasions I had seen him, the veteran’s vocals had been rather hit and miss but on this occasion he was bang on the money. The set was also a pleasant surprise, being rather more varied than a Rainbow run through that would have been the easier option.
It also helped that he had a new guitarist in Joey Tafolla, comfortable with soloing in a variety of styles and the sound was enriched by a keyboard player, none other than his former Alcatrazz bandmate Jimmy Waldo.
Alcatrazz numbers like ‘Jet to Jet’ and ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ nestled alongside a couple of MSG classics in ‘Desert Song’ and ‘Assault Attack’, and a new song in ‘Into the Night’, but there were even bigger surprises. He played the title track from the Impelletieri album ‘Stand In Line’, which I had never heard before but was mighty impressive, and another old solo number in ‘SOS’, surely the only song of the weekend to feature morse code!
However the set inevitably came back to Rainbow with ‘Since You Been Gone’ and it was great to hear the classic sung by the man it’s mainly associated with, and in a much more authentic manner than at the recent Ritchie Blackmore show. An unexpected encore of a rattling ‘Lost in Hollywood’ completed a set that was a revelation and got the ‘Friday at the fair’ off to a flying start.
Dave Wilson writes: I finally arrived in the arena towards the tail end of Bonnet’s set after a magical mystery tour of Maidstone due to poor signage leading to the parking area which didn’t really improve over the weekend, organisers take note!
Following a short downpour of biblical proportions Last In Line took to the stage for a set littered with Dio classics. Vivian Campbell started proceedings with the familiar riff to ‘Stand Up And Shout’ with Vinny Appice providing the artillery fire from the drum kit.
Frontman Andrew Freeman does a good job on vocals, he is no Ronnie Dio but neither does he try to be. He does a great job though of bringing the Dio back catalogue to life and tackling the newer numbers from the Last In Line album, ‘Star Maker’ being a good case in point.
It is the classics that go down best with the crowd with ‘Holy Diver’, ‘Last In Line’ and ‘Rainbow In The Dark’ all going down a storm. ‘We Rock’ rounded off the short set with much singing from the crowd and devil horns raised in the air. The Dio legacy lives on.
Next up were Y&T who, according to Dave Meniketti, were playing as a trio for the first time in 43 years after rhythm guitarist John Nymann fell ill prior to heading across to the UK. It is testament to the band that they rose to the challenge of being a man down and still produced an excellent set. In fact as Dave tore into ‘Hurricane’ you would have been hard pushed to notice any holes in the sound.
The band were aided on a couple of numbers by a hastily drafted in guitarist who had minimal rehearsal time in the band’s hotel the previous night and the songs such as ‘Mean Streak’ and ‘Rescue Me’ sounded as good as ever. There was no ‘Summertime Girls’ in the set, perhaps that was a harmony too far for the trio to recreate but overall this was a triumph over adversity and hopefully John will be back in the fold sooner rather than later.
Rounding off the Friday were the mighty Saxon. Biff and the guys are old hands at this and took to the stage with all guns blazing. ‘Battering Ram’ kicked things off with Nigel Glockler driving things on a wave of double bass drums. ‘Power And The Glory’ kept up the pace as did ‘Sacrifice’.
Biff then said that tonight’s set was a special show which they hadn’t tried before as they intended to play the Saxon live album ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ in its entirety. As this was the first Saxon album I owned and a staple of my teenage years I was a very happy man!
For the next 40 minutes we were in Saxon heaven with classic after classic being rolled out at a ferocious pace, Biff joked in the middle of this section that this set would be a one off as he struggled to maintain the rapid fire delivery.
Highlights included ‘Motorcycle Man’, ‘Princess Of The Night’ and ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’. The closing songs on the album ‘Fire In The Sky’ and ‘Machine Gun’ probably haven’t featured much in a set list since the album appeared back in 1981 so it was good to hear them live again.
After the album section the band returned to a more familiar set list featuring ‘Dallas 1pm’ and ‘Denim And Leather’ amongst others. This was one of the best Saxon performances I have seen and proved the guys were worthy headliners. The crowd numbers may have been down a bit on the rest of the weekend but those that chose to stay away missed one of the best sets of the festival.
So a good start to the festivities and plenty more to come. With the weather forecast looking mixed for Saturday and Sunday the lyrics of ‘The Bands Played On’ were ringing in my ears, ‘will it rain, will it snow, will it shine we don’t know’…
Review by Dave Wilson and Andy Nathan
Photos by Paul Clampin
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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