Andy Nathan writes: Saturday at the Fair saw the full range of stages. When Ramblin’ Man started they had a dedicated prog stage attracting such heavy hitters as Marillion and Family, but that genre has been steadily marginalised. Saturday was the only day for a prog stage, headlined by Anathema and it was relegated from an open air stage to the smaller confines of a tent.
The upside was that business there started earlier than the main stage action so I was able to catch most of Israeli band Scardust. Their set opened in the most unfortunate manner when singer Noa Gruman’s mike was not working. They also seemed a little diffident though relaxed into their task as they went on, while a fresh dimension was given by a mixed sex 6-piece choir, though why they all came on stage in hooded cloaks I have no idea.
Songs like ‘Avalanche’, ‘Dials’ and ‘Gone’ were on the more metallic side of the prog world, and Noa was an engaging presence, getting people to hold their phone lights up during ‘Sands Of Time’.
Opening up the main stage were RavenEye with Oli Brown completing his transition over the years from clean-cut young blueser to curly-haired tattooed rock god. The band are a power trio but the rhythm section of Adam Spiers and Aaron Breeze were excellent, as on ‘Come With Me’ and ‘You’re A Lie’, complete with crowd participation, the band married some metallic riffs with the more contemporary air of the likes of Muse.
While a great guitarist Oli even concentrated solely on frontman duties for one song while new single ‘Breaking Out’ stirred up the crowd. I would have been happy to watch the whole set, but was making it my business to support The Rising Stage as much as I could, which was playing host all weekend to newer bands in a thriving movement where a Facebook group entitled the New Wave of Classic Rock now seems to have been adopted as an official moniker of the movement.
The ‘stage’ was in fact the side of a truck opened out, but worked a treat. The sound was excellent all weekend and the location perfect, indeed the viewing area on a gentle upward slope was in many ways the best of all the stages, including the area by the main stage which sloped sideways. Andy Nathan on the Rising Stage
I caught the last few songs of the Outlaw Orchestra who were certainly not what I expected. Singer David Roux in his trucker’s cap told amusing stories in a strong West Country accent, his bandmates played traditional instruments like banjos and an upright double bass, and songs like ‘Burn The House’ and ‘Back To Georgia’ came over like a cross between Hayseed Dixie and the Cadillac 3.
The ‘stage’ was in fact the side of a truck opened out, but worked a treat. The sound was excellent all weekend and the location perfect, indeed the viewing area on a gentle upward slope was in many ways the best of all the stages, including the area by the main stage which sloped sideways .
My original plan was to stay there for the Rainbreakers while my GRTR! team-mate for the weekend, Dave Atkinson, covered his beloved Wayward Sons but sadly trains had let Dave down so I returned to the main stage to see another act that had progressed from the Rising stage. In the intervening two years they have built quite a following and familiar songs such as ‘Alive’, ‘Don’t Wanna Go’, ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Crush’ went down very well as a result.
Toby Jepson looks ever the same as the curly-haired young prodigy in Little Angels (does he keep that proverbial portrait in the attic?) and seemed to be having fun notably by introducing band members by their full rather than diminutive names in the a manner of a proud Dad.
There was a change to his left with a stand-in for bassist Nic Wastell who was at his daughter’s wedding, which was a reasonable cause for absence. Less welcome was one of their camera crew on stage going about his business so intrusively I thought from a distance he was their sixth member.
While Toby and the smiling figure of lead guitarist Sam Wood created a thick sound, I have been slow to warm to the Wayward Sons. The songwriting quality he showed in Little Angels does not come through as strongly or, in the case of the political messages of ‘Small Talk’, this out and out rock’n’roll approach obscures the subtleties somewhat.
There were a couple of decent new songs from their upcoming album in ‘Black As Sin’ and ‘The Joke’s On You’, the latter not the only song with a light Thin Lizzy influence in the verses, while ‘To The End’ appropriately closed the set and has by far their catchiest riff. Despite my reservations I enjoyed them enough to be looking forward to a great treble bill with Black Star Riders and Stone Broken in the autumn.
Photo: Andy Nathan
It was back to the Rising Stage to catch up with some genuine local heroes in Kent band Collateral who had been one of the battle of the bands winners for the right to play. It was my third sighting of them in recent weeks but easily the most satisfying as the fine sound on this stage finally did them justice.
Singer Angelo Tristan looked like a sunset strip refugee as he swaggered on stage in shades, highlighted hair and patchwork coat but on ‘Big Shot’ they had the muscle and swagger to back up up his self-confidence . The songwriting on the rootsy, melodic rocking pair of ‘Midnight Queen’ and ‘Going With The Wind’ are way beyond what you could reasonably expect from a band at the outset of their career.
Photo: Andy Nathan
However the rest of this short but sweet set focused on their harder repertoire with ‘Merry Go Round’ even reminding me of the night’s headliners Black Stone Cherry before they closed with ‘Broken Promiseland’ and ‘Lullaby’. They also used the show to announce to announce the release of their album which together with further touring opportunities should be worth waiting for.
In his baseball cap and check shirt, Whitfield Crane looked less like the surfer dude of old than the jovial middle-aged neighbour inviting you round for a barbecue. Andy Nathan on Ugly Kid Joe
I returned to the main stage just as Ugly Kid Joe were finishing one of their biggest hits, the cover of ‘Cats In The Cradle’. One of the delights of growing older but still gigging is that some of the brattish personalities I disliked from way back have now mellowed out and they were one such. In his baseball cap and check shirt, Whitfield Crane looked less like the surfer dude of old than the jovial middle-aged neighbour inviting you round for a barbecue.
However he did seem overly fond of his own voice and there was too much between song chat. Nonetheless I found ‘Milkman’s Son’, which I only vaguely remembered, highly enjoyable and melodic, and of course ‘Everything About You’ sparked a mass outbreak of bouncing in the audience.
By now Dave Atkinson was on site, and we laughed at the coincidence we were both wearing UFO T-shirts (in fact the most popular band T-shirt all weekend according to my straw poll) as I handed the reviewing baton over to him for a while.
Dave Atkinson writes: Hot, bothered and late after a public transport perfect storm, Robert Jon & The Wreck provided the perfect pick me up. Hailing from Orange County, California and ploughing a fertile strip of southern rock, blues and country, The Wreck’s laid-back groove was just what this sunny afternoon demanded. Mainman Robert Jon Burrison has a characterful voice sometimes reminiscent of Don Henley, and when joined by his bandmates on three-part harmonies, the vocals became a defining part of the show.
New material ‘Take Me Higher’ and ‘Going Down’ scored highly, both showcasing some glorious organ/guitar complements on the verses. In curly haired lead guitarist Henry James, the band have a real talent. A recent recruit, his fluid, intense slide work on ‘Blame It On The Whiskey’ and on ‘Something To Remember Me By’ was an absolute joy.
All that they had comfortably achieved in the first 20 minutes was easily surpassed by the closing 10 minutes of ‘Cold Night’. The track is fast becoming one of my favourites, building from a piano intro into a sweeping vocals and finally bursting at its southern seams to give full vent to Allman Brothers twin lead breaks and keyboard/guitar trade-offs; punctured with Lynyrd Skynyrd-channelled soaring solos. This well-judged Festival set paid homage to their Southern inspirations and simultaneously set the bar very high for the rest of this weekend.
On record he attacks his vocal duties like a ravenous waif at a free buffet. I was delighted to see, right from the opening moments here, he was exactly the same on stage. Not for the faint-hearted, this was an uncompromising, full-blooded rock, blues and power ballad showcase. Dave Atkinson on Jimmy Barnes
Catching Jimmy Barnes over on the main stage was a little bucket-list ambition fulfilled. I’d been a fan from a distance for some time, but never managed to witness him in his most natural environment.
On record he attacks his vocal duties like a ravenous waif at a free buffet. I was delighted to see, right from the opening moments here, he was exactly the same on stage. Not for the faint-hearted, this was an uncompromising, full-blooded rock, blues and power ballad showcase.
Kicking off with the powerful ‘I’m In A Bad Mood’ driven by raucous piano, the pace was relentless. ‘I’d Die To Be With You Tonight’ followed, with a chorus to crack the toughest heart, paired immediately with another classic in the shape of ‘Ride The Night Away’.
Barnes spat out his gravelly vocals whilst prowling the stage with nervous energy. No easy feat as the space was packed with the musicians that gave that full sound typical of any Barnes tune: three backing vocalists who really earned their corn; two guitarists, one of whom broke a string during some vicious riffing; keyboards, bass and drums.
Other highlights were ‘Lay Down Your Guns’ powered by a rolling guitar over furious drumming, and those uplifting backing vocals again; and ‘Shutting Down Our Town’ a blue collar anthem full of soul and regret where you can almost taste the grit in the wind.
Barnes left nothing behind and ‘Working Class Man’ was of course the perfect way to end. So much of his performance feels like a personal statement. Great show. However, in contrast to Andy’s observations below, further back from the stage, it was only at the climax of the show that the crowd around me became animated. I asked nearby punters what they made of the show. Responses ranged from “Don’t know any of the songs” to “Don’t like his voice” and another who said, “Didn’t he get asked to join AC/DC once?” He didn’t. This is an urban myth that seems to attach itself to any Antipodean male singer!
Next stop, the Rising Stage for Ryders Creed, playing literally off the back of a high-tech lorry. This Staffordshire 5-piece are starting to garner plenty of interest after their well-received debut last year. They hit the stage and piled into ‘Ryder’ with bags of exuberance. Ryan Antony on lead vocals worked hard to engage the sizeable crowd and got a decent response. I was impressed with how many knew the words and sang along.
Photo: Andy Nathan
Lee Hicks-Spencer and Miles Cooper on guitars whipped up a strident classic rock, blues-infused stomp across tracks like ‘On The Road’ and ‘My Life’. As much as the music hit a sweet spot, there was something about the temperament of the band that marked them out: Antony displaying easy confidence and humour whilst filling in during a mic problem; and Lee Gilbert ripping out his earplugs during the excellent ‘Raise The Hoof’ to smash out the rhythm unaided by tech. I had to do some hoofing of my own before the end of the set, across to the Main Stage, but Ryders Creed were firmly in my sights after this.
The band has appeared to have moved up a gear, and the opener, ‘Caught In The Middle’ set an uncompromising, muscular tone. If only vocalist Phil Campbell could have the same high sartorial standards. What was that tent-like kaftan he was wearing? It didn’t last long and by the time the dirty riff of ‘Three Bullets’ was snaking around the arena, the garment had been dispensed with. Dave Atkinson on The Temperance Movement
The Temperance Movement have hardly been off the road since ‘Deeper Cut’ hit the racks last year. Headline tours, high profile support slots and a couple of hefty stints stateside. But would all that help them translate their undeniable blues power and well-crafted songs to the open acres of a Festival? Reports of underwhelming Download appearances in years gone by loomed large in my conscious.
There was no need for concern. The band has appeared to have moved up a gear, and the opener, ‘Caught In The Middle’ set an uncompromising, muscular tone. If only vocalist Phil Campbell could have the same high sartorial standards. What was that tent-like kaftan he was wearing? It didn’t last long and by the time the dirty riff of ‘Three Bullets’ was snaking around the arena, the garment had been dispensed with.
There was a healthy Black Crowes/Blackberry Smoke southern swagger to the show. Like ‘The Way It Was And The Way It Is Now’, which motored along on premium five-star, twin-guitar petrol. And the Stones-ey ‘Only Friend’ which has become a firm crowd favourite.
There was a lovely moment in the slow burning ‘Another Spiral’ when a young girl of five or six was invited on to the stage and played the maracas, whilst Campbell delivered an impassioned, swelling vocal line as the prelude to extended guitar fireworks from Paul Sayer and Matt White. Everyone around me was smiling and re-inforced the view that this is one of the friendliest of Festivals on the circuit. You don’t always need mean and dirty rock ‘n’ roll moves to make a connection.
‘Battle Lines’ is a track that has evolved live compared to the album track and went down well with the sizable crowd. This was followed with a curve ball when the angular riff and thunderous drums of ‘Custard Pie’ rang out. Lovely cover, with Campbell pulling off a cracking impression of Plant. The boy possesses some fair pipes.
The band rounded out a fine set with a slow-building ‘Deeper Cut’, followed up with a towering ‘Built-in Forgetter’ to leave ‘em wanting more. Like a fine single malt from the singer’s homeland, this band are maturing nicely.
Andy Nathan writes: Like Dave, I’d also been enjoying the main stage action. I went right up front for Jimmy Barnes as one of my long-time favourites; I’d only seen (and reviewed) him a week before supporting ZZ Top but on this occasion there was a better atmosphere and he played a festival blinder.
He barely spoke other than to say ‘let’s rock n roll because it’s what we do’ with the result he even squeezed one more song into the same set time, ‘Love And Fear’ and the big riffing ‘Boys Cry Out For War’ replacing the cover of ‘Working Class Hero’.
Likewise I had been lured into the laid back grooves of The Temperance Movement but reluctantly left half way through the set as there was a unique opportunity. Very late to the bill, Grand Slam had been added as headliners on the Rising Stage.
‘Rising stars’ may be a misnomer and ‘resurrected legends of yore’ more appropriate. A brief reminder here that they were Phil Lynott’s post-Thin Lizzy project who toured regularly – even supporting Status Quo at my first ever gig in 1984! – yet broke up after somehow failing to get a record deal.
After a brief comeback with a different line up a couple of years ago they were now starting a fresh chapter. Guitarist Laurence Archer was now the only original member but had assembled a band of many of the most respected names on the scene including a last minute keyboard player in FM’s Jem Davis.
As Laurence’s Flying V cranked the catchy riff to ‘Nineteen’, many of us were magically carried back in time, but a new song ‘Gone Are Days’ was just as good. Mike Dyer, clad in shades and what the Americans call a ‘doo-rag’ was a fine frontman with some Lynott-esque inflexions in his voice and Laurence’s solos also had a Lizzy-ish vibe.
Photo: Andy Nathan
Though the band didn’t make it, some of their songs later got adopted by the wider Lizzy family and it was great to hear Laurence reclaim both ‘Military Man’ and ‘Dedication’. ‘Crazy’ apparently dated back to his days with Mike in Rhode Island Red who I vaguely remember, while the title track of forthcoming album ‘Hit The Ground’ generated some audience participation before they ended with ‘Sisters Of Mercy’ with the instrumental workout having a very ‘Emerald’ feel. This was one of the surprises of the weekend, a very welcome blast from the past but also a herald for a bright future.
Dave Atkinson writes: Andy passed the review baton back to me for Cheap Trick, but first there was chance to catch a few songs from The Allman Betts Band over on the Outlaw Country Stage. This is an ambitious project to keep the legacy of The Allman Brothers Band alive, led by three sons of the original members. Their right to be at this Festival was asserted with good humour by frontman Devon Allman when he joked “Nice to be finally playing at Ramblin’ Man. A Festival named after a song my Daddy wrote. I guess the invitations for the other years got lost in the post…!”
I only caught three songs, but this was evidence enough to suggest the band were beginning to fill some big shoes. ‘Purple Rain’ had just begun as I pitched up and I really enjoyed this version (though it seems like everyone has a cover of this at the moment). Johnny Stachela took the extended lead here and produced just enough southern flair to give the version a distinctive feel.
Guest musician Ben Wells joined the band for an entertaining version of ‘Dimples’ and traded solos with Allman. The band closed with their own song ‘Long Gone’ with Duane Betts taking most of the lead work, producing measured licks and clean lines in a style that set him apart from the more emotional Allman and the fireworks of Statchela to his right. This track also gave room for organ, drums and the additional percussionist (from Sheryl Crowe’s band) to stretch out and add more depth.
‘Elo Kiddies’ and a dynamic ‘Baby Loves To Rock’ both found a great groove and confirmed that the party had started. Only for it to be stalled immediately, like the appearance of a grumpy neighbour, in the shape of Tom Petersson’s turgid, unforgivable 12 string bass solo. Truly terrible. Three minutes I’ll never get back…Maybe this was a watershed. The closing 20 minutes of the set were sublime. Dave Atkinson on Cheap Trick
And then it was hot foot to the main stage, where Cheap Trick were teeing off. Another band with an excellent roster whom I had managed to miss in 35 years of gigging. So it was a surprise that my sense of anticipation was initially left unfulfilled. The band kicked off with ‘Hello There’ and ‘You Got It Going On’, but I found the renditions a little soulless and lacking depth. Again, ‘Big Eyes’, a totally acceptable tune, was not that memorable.
I was hoping for some brio from the band to give the songs a little more character. Robin Zander, though dressed for the part in white pseudo-military uniform with sparkly peaked cap, was hardly foremost in connecting with the crowd. Rick Nielson uttered a few phrases to assembled masses, but they seemed laced with apathy: “Here’s one recorded before 95% of you were born”. Take a look around, Rick. I don’t think so!
This wasn’t the revelry I had craved. But I needed to be patient. ‘Southern Girls’ found a great strut in its delivery and a thrilling guitar/drum trade off lifted the mood considerably. The Fats Domino cover, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’, that the band have made their own also got a great crowd response. Fast, tasty guitar runs – if a little ragged – brought some welcome energy.
Photo: Andy Nathan
‘Elo Kiddies’ and a dynamic ‘Baby Loves To Rock’ both found a great groove and confirmed that the party had started. Only for it to be stalled immediately, like the appearance of a grumpy neighbour, in the shape of Tom Petersson’s turgid, unforgivable 12 string bass solo. Truly terrible. Three minutes I’ll never get back.
This morphed into Velvet Underground’s ‘Waiting For The Man’ on which Petersson took the vocal. And in fairness he did a great job, undoing some the solo damage with a great rendition, and producing one of the highlights of the set.
Maybe this was a watershed. The closing 20 minutes of the set were sublime. ‘The Flame’ was a beautiful, hypnotic sing-a-long celebration that confirmed Zander’s voice was as strong and characterful as ever. He didn’t pull or shirk a single note. I instantly forgave the lacklustre moments in exchange for these golden ones.
Photo: Andy Nathan
‘I Want You To Want Me’ and ‘Dream Police’ rolled around the Garden of England like old friends, accompanied by shouty crooning (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) and Dad/Grandad dancing aplenty. ‘Surrender’ was another triumphant sing-a-long and ‘Goodnight Now’ closed things out in style. Somehow, the band had pulled this off.
Andy Nathan writes: I’d found Cheap Trick a very enjoyable experience with a well balanced set. Robin Zander is still in astonishingly good and versatile voice, madcap Rick Nielsen a great guitarist with a raw feel, and if the bass solo was tedious, the closing run of hits from ‘The Flame’ onwards more than compensated.
Their shift in style had taken a while to get used to but I could neither argue with their choice of songs nor the effort they put in as usual. The weather had been perfect and with 13 bands caught it had been my most enjoyable day at a UK festival in a very long time. Andy Nathan on Black Stone Cherry
That only left Black Stone Cherry as headliners. It was their second time doing so in four years, and mainman Chris Robertson sounded sincere when he said it was among their favourite places to play. Indeed their blue collar work ethic, humility and extensive touring in the UK for over a decade have made them several times bigger here than in their native United States.
In that time, as they have matured they have executed several stylistic shifts; the almost stoner-like sounds of the debut giving way to a more rounded modern southern hard rock feel then an attempt to get a slice of the Nickelback market, before going into heavier territory with a couple of albums where the quality dipped.
Now with latest album ‘Family Tree’ seems to have come another reinvention as they move closer to the country and blues-influenced mainstream of classic southern rock. This reflected itself in the live show with, for the first time I can recall, a Hammond organ player (and occasionally a percussionist) joining the four band members on stage.
They could not have opened in more spectacular fashion with three of their best loved songs, all strong enough to be album openers in ‘Rain Wizard’, ‘Me And Mary Jane’ and ‘Blind Man’. However the new mellower approach seemed to leave them a bit underpowered compared to the bludgeoning versions I am used to hearing live, though it didn’t help that the sound was significantly muddier than it had been for the main stage bands earlier.
‘Burning’ was the first new song, trotting along catchily on an impressive riff before old favourites ‘In My Blood’ and ‘Maybe Someday’, the latter encouraging the first stirrings of a circle pit to the rowdier right hand side of the stage, though to me the lighter sound did not justify it.
However ‘Ain’t Nobody’ turned into a lengthy and at times funky jam and it was not only the Persian rugs on stage that were leading me to think BSC were drifting into the territory of contemporaries like Blackberry Smoke and Whiskey Myers. Indeed the appearance of ever hyperactive second guitarist Ben Wells jamming with the Allman Betts Band only an hour or two earlier made sense in this context.
After an impressive ‘Like I Roll’, ‘My Last Breath’ was also mellower but showcased the honest passion that BSC and Chris in particular bring to their work while ‘Cheaper To Drink Alone’- one of the few survivors from the heavier last couple of albums- was a good vehicle for audience participation and segued into ‘Purple Haze’, plus a typically frenzied drum solo from John Fred Young, rising above whatever problems caused the drum tech to be constantly fixing his kit.
In a double from ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’, ‘Soulcreek’ was followed by one of my favourite tracks but a rarely played one in ‘Devil’s Queen’, enlivened by a spectacularly fast, extended solo from Chris who showed unusual nimbleness in emulating Ben and haring about the stage.
Photo: Andy Nathan
That led into the two biggest crowd pleasing rabble rousers – cries of ‘who-oahoah’ ringing out at the outset of ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’ followed by ‘White Trash Millionaire’ as the moshpit grew, to even larger proportions for ‘Lonely Train’. However, saying it was appropriate as the band were among extended family, Chris ended the set with ‘Family Tree’, again more subtle but featuring great interplay between his solos and the organ player.
I wondered if that would be it but they came back for an encore with a difference – with just Chris and Ben on stage for most of the song, the former took a leaf out of the Shinedown playbook by getting everyone to link arms with their neighbours and send the world a message as we sang along to a stripped back ‘Peace Is Free’.
Photo: Andy Nathan
It was a fitting if less obvious end to a set that had not always hit the mark for me. Their shift in style had taken a while to get used to but I could neither argue with their choice of songs nor the effort they put in as usual. The weather had been perfect and with 13 bands caught it had been my most enjoyable day at a UK festival in a very long time.
Dave Atkinson writes: Black Stone Cherry are perfect Festival headliners. They are born entertainers and know what goes in to making a great show. Two years ago, they headlined here and were unhappy with their show (even if no-one else was), partly because some of their equipment had been nicked. They vowed to come back and put matters right. And they were as good as their word. This is a measure of the band.
On paper, this had felt like the strongest of the two day days I was here in Mote Park and that’s the way it turned out, even if there were some surprises along the way. Sets in particular by Robert Jon & The Wreck, Jimmy Barnes and The Temperance Movement will live long in the memory.
Review by Andy Nathan and Dave Atkinson
Photos by Paul Clampin and Andy Nathan (where stated)
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