I awoke in the hotel with lovely Kent sunshine streaming through the window, however the forecast for later in the day was looking grim and I did pass Noah on his way to B&Q for nails and some MDF. No matter, like on the golf course it never rains at a rock festival and I can rock the poncho look!
Opening proceedings on Saturday were The Nile Deltas on the Rising stage. The band drew quite a crowd in the sunshine and dished up some traditional bluesy rock with style. I wasn’t familiar with the band but there was one face I did recognise on stage. The band’s usual bass player had been taken ill and Snakecharmer main man Neil Murray had kindly stepped up to save the day. A solid set then to get things started. Meanwhile the intrepid Andy Nathan had headed for the main stage.
Andy Nathan writes – Saturday’s main stage action began with Jared James Nichols, just as last year’s Stone Free Festival had. The long-haired Midwesterner with his sleeveless cut-off gets pigeonholed in the blues scene but his blistering power trio call to mind such American greats as Johnny Winter and Pat Travers.
His set went down well, be it muscular rockers like ‘Last Chance’ or the bluesier ‘Can You Feel It’ where he got a sing-along going, and an authentic cover of Mountain’s ‘Mississippi Queen’ was proof of where his musical influences lie.
I then managed to squeeze in a couple of songs by Xander and the Peace Pirates, including set closer ‘Dancing In The Light’, on the Rising Stars stage. They were an interesting mix, with acoustic guitars giving them quite a folky feel, but overlaid by some heavier and very fluent guitar work from Keith Xander, using his hook hand to intriguing effect.
Rushing back, James Toseland and his eponymous band were making a return to the main stage they also graced at the first Ramblin Man two years ago. The gimmick that a former World Superbikes champion could make a success of rock music is long behind him and the band now stand and fall on merit.
He certainly has a confident stage manner and an arresting voice which is sounding ever more like Myles Kennedy, but seems to have taken a step backwards. In terms of pace, the set was rather samey, with the exception of the ballad ‘We’ll Stop At Nothing’ where he took to piano, and old favourites like ‘Renegade’ and ‘Singer In A Band’ had been relegated in favour of newer material including ‘Cradle The Rage’ and ‘Puppet On A Chain’, which were rockier, but lacked the same hooks. As a result their set had to go down as a slight disappointment as their rise seems to have hit something of a plateau.
Dave Wilson writes: As Toseland was hitting the main stage the mighty Trucker Diablo were taking to the Rising stage. The sound at the Rising stage wasn’t the best to be fair, loud and a bit distorted, but it suited the raw rock of Trucker Diablo perfectly. Tom Harte was in good voice and had his mirrored shades firmly in place as he riffed up a storm.
The guys only had a 25 minute slot and managed to fit in six numbers including the TD favourite ‘Drink beer, Destroy’ a cover of ‘Proud Mary’ and a couple of new songs from their forthcoming album which they are recording after a successful crowd funding campaign.
Trucker Diablo once again proved that they have the songs and the drive to step up to the next level, hopefully with the release of the new album the big truck will get the recognition they deserve.
Wandering around the site following the Trucker set I happened across some good music drifting out of the VIP tent which turned out to be an exclusive acoustic set by Damon Johnson and Ricky Warwick. I couldn’t see a thing, I don’t think many inside could either, but they were going down a storm with ‘Jailbreak being a highlight.
I then took up a prime position at the main stage for the arrival of British Lion. I hadn’t heard too much of the Steve Harris side project prior to the festival and what I had heard didn’t really excite me too much. However, live the guys were more impressive.
Steve Harris is the focal point of the band but the other guys don’t allow him to hog the limelight. The two guitarists, Grahame Leslie and David Hawkins played some tasty duel licks throughout the set whilst frontman Richard Taylor delivered his lines with power and clarity.
There were a lot of Maiden fans around me who were loving every minute, even when the rain started to pour down, and while I did enjoy the set and seeing Mr Harris away from the day job I still wasn’t completely sold. I may have to revisit the album though.
I then headed for up to the Grooverider stage to witness The Kyle Gass Band. This was more out of curiosity and the promise of a laugh or two in the company of the other half of Tenacious D than anything else. What I got though was another of the sets of the weekend!
Kyle and the band were on top form mixing the laughs with some amazing playing, including Kyle and his twin recorder playing. John Konesky, another Tenacious D member, was on guitar and vocals along with Mike Bray and provided some of the best fretwork of the weekend.
Gass may play things for laughs but the music is no joke, playing tracks from their two albums and the odd choice cover, drummer Tim Spier’s take on Michael Jackson was priceless.
Set highlights were plentiful with the likes of ‘Manchild’, ‘Our Job To Rock’ and ‘Bro Code’ all hitting the mark. The epic Gypsy Scroll II – Toot Of The Valley featured Kyle dressed in ancient garb and brandishing his dual recorders like they were primitive weapons. We laughed, we danced, it rained and we all had a great time, The Kyle Gass Band in a nutshell. Whilst I was enjoying Kyle Andy was back at the main stage with a rock legend…
Andy Nathan writes: Almost insultingly the ‘voice of rock’ Glenn Hughes was halfway down the bill, below Dokken, but as he came on stage, looking every inch the rock star in his shades and wavy reddish hair, it was as if he had a point to prove.
Pleasingly he dropped in a couple of new songs from his back to form ‘Resonate’ album in ‘Let It Flow’ and ‘Heavy’, both of which had an almost psychedelic feel, notably in Jay Boe’s organ playing, either side of ‘Muscle and Blood’.
His first trip to Purple days in ‘You Keep On Moving’ had an almost epic dynamic feel to it, while on ‘Soul Mover’ his band well and truly got their funk out, to borrow a phrase from the headliners.
Glenn’s screaming and thudding bass lines on ‘Black Country’ thrillingly whetted the appetite for the BCC reunion, while to no-one’s surprise ‘Burn’ closed the set, with the interplay between Jay and new guitarist Anders Bo Jespersen confirming my theory that no-one can do Purple-like instrumentation as well as the Scandinavians.
It proved to be one of my favourite sets of the weekend and what was most impressive was the way he managed to condense all phases of his chequered career into a 45 minute set.
Just as Y&T had to soldier on a man down the previous night, then the same fate befell Dan Baird and Homemade Sin who were playing the Outlaw Country tent, but in this case it was the former Georgia Satellites singer himself who was absent, having sadly been diagnosed with a (treatable) form of leukaemia in the week.
The band – boasting another ex-Satellite in drummer Mauro Magellan – bravely soldiered on as a three piece, playing in a very similar style, with guitarist Warner E Hodges taking lead vocal duties, in between nearly strangling himself with his strap with his trademark guitar spinning, and plenty of on stage banter, albeit with a competitive edge.
A diverse set ranged from Warner dipping into his Jason and the Scorchers catalogue for the likes of ‘Sweet Marie’, some choice covers ranging from Creedence’s ‘Fortunate Son’ to a Merle Haggard number and Warner also sung one of Dan’s best-loved songs in the clever ‘I Love You Period’.
Indeed, after regularly asking an appreciative crowd for reassurance, late set they played a couple of Georgia Satellites classics in the rarely played ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, followed inevitably by ‘Keep Your Hands To Yourself’. They even ended with a fun cover of ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ but by that time the beer tent and Black Star Riders were calling me home.
Dave Wilson writes: I wandered down to the Rising stage again in time to see a bit of Wayward Son. The band were in full flight and were surprisingly heavy, although the volume and distortion issues with the PA were still present.
For a new band they had amassed a sizeable crowd, due in no small part to the frontman being none other than Toby Jepson. Dressed all in black and looking every inch the rocker it was good to see Toby belting out the songs again. I will hopefully catch the guys again later in the year for a more in depth review.
After a quick nip into the country tent to catch the tail end of Dan Baird ( the cover of Country Roads was inspired) I went to catch Dokken on the main stage and to be honest I wish I hadn’t bothered. Quite how they ended up so far up the bill is a mystery as they were lacklustre at best.
Don Dokken never really got the crowd going and as the rain continued to fall the performance was a damp as the grass underfoot. The guys played a mix of old and new tracks but even the bigger hits like ‘Dream Warriors’ got nothing more that polite applause from the crowd.
Bassist Chris McCarvell pulled plenty of rockstar shapes and guitarist Jon Levin tried to inject life into the set but it was beyond help. As Don introduced the track ‘Maddest Hatter’ I couldn’t help thinking the set was less Mad Hatter more sleepy dormouse…
It was wet by now, very wet, so following Dokken we needed rock and by god did we get it with Black Star Riders. Opening with the title track from the band’s latest album ‘All Hell’s Breaking Loose’ BSR proved to be all that Dokken hadn’t. ‘Killer Instinct’ and ‘Heavy Fire’ followed with Ricky Warwick in great voice. The twin guitar delivery of Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson was faultless during the celtic influenced ‘Soldierstown’.
By this time the rain had intensified but no one cared as they screamed along to ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’. New drummer Chad Szeliga then took a short solo spot before beating out the intro to ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ and a stage was awash with flames.
‘Finest Hour’ and ‘Bound For Glory’ provided more chances for the crowd to sing along with Ricky before the guys rounded off the set with the classic ‘Whisky In The Jar’. Carlsberg don’t do festival sets but if they did they would feature Black Star Riders, top stuff.
That then left the stage clear for tonight’s headliners, Extreme. I last saw the band a couple of years ago in Glasgow and that night I wasn’t overly impressed so would tonight be any better? Yes is the answer but I was still left feeling that the band, like Dokken, were punching above their weight in terms of bill position.
Opening with ‘It (‘s A Monster)’ the band were full of energy and looked ready to party. Gary Cherone covered every part of the stage looking thin and wiry but his voice has lost none of its range. Nuno Bettencourt loves the spotlight and his fret work is breathtaking, all that time playing in Rihanna’s touring band has really paid off!
‘Lil Jack Horny’ and ‘Get The Funk Out’ continued the party and the crowd were loving every minute. We were promised songs from all the band’s back catalogue although I think the crowd would have been happy to hear all of Pornograffitti, Extreme’s breakthrough album, played in full. ‘Rest In Peace’ followed from the III Sides To Every Story album, their best in my opinion, and was good to hear.
The set started to stumble a bit with a few less recognisable tracks appearing although I did enjoy ‘Play With Me’ from their debut album. The crowd were drawn back in though when Nuno took centre stage with his acoustic guitar. Following an impressive instrumental piece he was joined onstage by Gary for a mass singalong version of ‘More Than Words’ which went down a storm.
From here though things were a bit hit and miss and a few of the crowd did start to head for an early exit, it was rather cold and damp by then. There was the odd gem like the epic ‘Am I Ever Gonna Change’ and ‘Hole Hearted’ and the guys tried to recreate a bit of the magic they produced at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert with a couple of Queen covers. Indeed they finished off the set with ‘We Are The Champions’.
Extreme played a decent set but for me it lacked the spectacle expected from a festival headliner. The set list was a bit hit and miss too with a number of songs that only die-hard fans appreciated. The guys joked that it had taken them 30 years to headline a festival and it may be another 30 before they get another chance.
Review by Dave Wilson and Andy Nathan
Photos by Paul Clampin (except where stated)
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Each week David Randall presents ‘New to GRTR!’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, with the emphasis on independent artists and labels. During December he replays favourite tracks including power plays featured during the year. This show covers the period January-March and was first broadcast on 1 December 2019.
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09:00-12:00 Melodic Rock Featured Albums of 2019
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14:00-16:00 Singer Songwriter Featured Albums of 2019
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