Andy Nathan writes: Sunday was another day when there was a chance to check out a band in the tent before the main stage opened. This time it was used as the ‘Grooverider’ stage- I have no idea whether this curious title was a musical sub-genre, a sponsor or in honour of the drum’n’bass DJ whose name came up on Wikipedia, but it tends to host the dirtier side of blues rock or stoner sounds.
A late addition to the stage line up were Blind River who have being gigging extensively in London. Their sound was certainly one of the weightiest all weekend and Harry Armstrong a commanding frontman while ‘Freedom Dealer’ – dedicated to people who keep small venues alive- and ‘Can’t Sleep Sober’ struck a chord with a healthy sized early crowds, Harry winning word of the day for describing the band’s relationship with them as ‘symbiotic’.
Dave Atkinson writes: The hard-gigging Austin Gold got their reward for putting in time on the road with an opening slot on the main stage. Immediately into their stride with ‘Brand New Low’, David James Smith on vocals and guitar set about showcasing his strong voice and appealing guitar tone. The band dealt in melodic hard rock, laced with doses of heavy blues: a healthy genre right now, but that shouldn’t take anything away from the potential of Austin Gold. This was an enjoyable set of mid-paced rockers, tightly delivered with lovely flourishes of organ augmenting the full sound.
‘Caught On You’ brought home a slab-sided riff and some clear, vibrant soloing; and ‘Another Kinda Bad’ again showed off Russell Hill’s keyboards in a lovely interchange with Smith’s guitar. There was almost a ‘Kashmir’ strut about this one.
The band revolved around Smith and not much happened that didn’t have him as the focus. The other band members, dressed identically to match the black denim shirt look, reinforced this perception.
But the music did the talking and it spoke fluently. The short set built nicely and the band capitalised with their most immediate track ‘We Are Lightning’ drawing some early-day audience participation via its anthemic qualities. Closer ‘See The Light’ jumped off from a jangly guitar intro into a solid rocker driven by tight bass (Lee Churchill) and drum (Chris Ogden) grooves. Decent songs, this lot, and I look forward to seeing them again.
Andy Nathan writes: Like Dave I’d watched Austin Gold and been very impressed with David James Smith’s vocals and guitar playing, less so with the band’s lack of presence on what was a large stage.
However my next trip was to get special permission on the gate to invade the VIP area. Over the weekend it played host to a series of acoustic performances – including exclusive ones by the likes of Bad Touch – and one such, announced at fairly short notice was Jaime Kyle. This was a almost as much of a blast from the past for me as Grand Slam the previous day, as the Nashville-based singer-songwriter was a 1990’s favourite in a then moribund melodic rock scene, playing the Gods festival more than once.
She had aged well from those days and having taken the opportunity of a family trip to Europe to squeeze in this promotional appearance, she opened with the familiar ‘Bed Of Roses’. She performed a couple of her songs that had become country hits in Faith Hill’s hands including ‘Cry’ and ‘Wild One’, while, telling the tale of a post-break up road trip, ‘Blue Night’ (I think) was a new song.
Checking with her crew to see how much time she had left, she played the title track of her second album ‘Back From Hollywood’ and squeezed in one more song which could only be the hit she wrote for Heart in ‘Stranded’. A new album is promised next year which she said would be bluesy in nature and it was great to welcome this talented songwriter and AOR cult hero back from the wilderness.
On a bit of a high I rushed back to the main stage to catch a Living Colour surprisingly low down the bill given their seminal status. Vernon Reid is a true, often neglected, guitar hero who made things look effortless, with bassist Doug Wimbush not far behind in terms of musicianship. However the first half of the set saw them overdo some rather freeform, jazzy workouts, and when they switched to more concise material, Corey Glover, dapper in a patterned white suit, led them rough the rather bizarre ‘Elvis Is Dead’.
Photo: Paul Clampin
Finally everything came together gloriously on ‘Cult Of Personality’, with that unmistakable riff from Vernon and a forest of hand punching in the crowd. Their biggest hit over here, ‘Love Rears Its Ugly Head’ was conspicuous by its absence and when the appropriately titled closer ‘Time’s Up’ soon segued into James Brown’s ‘Get Up Sex Machine’ I did feel their set had been something of a missed opportunity.
Photo: Paul Clampin
…lyrical themes of recklessness, retribution and justice contrasted starkly with her disarming inter-song narratives: “Bloomin’ ‘eck, this is swish in’t it?”, came the flat northern vowels of a humble and engaging performer, on surveying the festival site. Dave Atkinson on Chantel McGregor
Dave Atkinson writes: Over on the Blues stage, Chantel McGregor arrived less like a breath of fresh air and more like a full-blown tornado. Opener ‘Take the Power’ announced itself with grungy, freewheeling powerchords and a take-no-prisoners, southern-drawl vocal. The first solo, stacked up with thunderous reverb, swirled and screeched around the venue as if set free from captivity. Ms McGregor immediately had my attention.
And to be fair she never looked back. This was a perfect scruff-of-the-neck Festival set, full of thick riffs, heavy blues and power ballads. ‘Lose Control’ and ‘Burn Your Anger’ followed in similar style. These lyrical themes of recklessness, retribution and justice contrasted starkly with her disarming inter-song narratives: “Bloomin’ ‘eck, this is swish in’t it?”, came the flat northern vowels of a humble and engaging performer, on surveying the festival site.
But there was no mistake to be made. Chantel and her power trio compadres of Colin Sutton (bass) and Thom Gardner (drums) were to be taken very seriously. ‘Killing Time’ saw the sideman playing to great effect with complex time changes and neat passages of interplay before McGregor’s scintillating wah-wah influenced solo stole the march. ‘Freefalling’ was the most obviously commercial track on offer and might signpost the way to more mainstream attention.
That said, it was a couple of old school blues workouts that provided my set highlights. ‘April’, which will feature on a forthcoming live album, burst with atmospheric tone and melody, changes of pace and blistering lead work. ‘Walk On Land’ weighed in at a good ten minutes and ran the gamut of emotional hooks and dramatic solos. She left the stage to rousing applause. Safe to say Chantel McGregor made an awful lot of new friends here.
There was just time to catch a few tunes from Gin Annie on the Rising stage, which kept the thrill count high. This Wolverhampton five-piece hard rock outfit have been making a decent impact since they settled on the current line-up in 2017. Charismatic vocalist Dave Foster was a live wire on stage and songs like ‘Dying To Live Again’ and ‘Love Ain’t Here’ were packed with driving guitars and melodic hooks.
The PA wasn’t quite right and I thought the guitars were lacking a bit of bite, at least initially. Nevertheless, the band were absolutely full-throttle and energy spilled off the stage into the crowd, creating a juicy atmosphere. This part of the park was simply a great place to be.
By comparison, the mood was more reserved back on the blues stage for Richie Kotzen. This is the way the pendulum swings at multi-stage festivals. Accomplished and entertaining though this set was, I struggled to dial into the vibe after the passion of Chantel McGregor and the rocket fuel of Gin Annie.
Kotzen is nothing if not prolific. Aside from his Poison, Mr Big and Winery Dogs output, he has racked up 20-odd solo albums. Alongside the undoubted work ethic, there’s equally strong diversity of styles. The set delivered by Kotzen aided by his talented drummer and bassist encompassed hard rock, blues, jazz, fusion and sprinklings of soul.
Photo: Paul Clampin
‘Bad Situation’ and ‘War Paint’ certainly kicked up funky grooves and the tone of Kotzen’s guitar was beautiful throughout. The faster lead work was in the mould of Stevie Ray Vaughan or even Eddie Van Halen.
By the time we got to ‘Doing What The Devil Says To Do’, we were in to serious bass hammer-off territory, and Kotzen displaying technical mastery by sliding his fingers over the strings of his Telecaster to produce those incredible, characteristic slurred notes.
Even so, and with all due respect to the band’s undisputed talent, there were moments where the spacious and laid-back passages of interplay did not hold the attention so well. This sense was emphasised by the Kotzen’s lack of interaction with the audience. In one of the sporadic utterances, he said that this was the last date of a lengthy tour. Maybe the show was just one too many.
A new (ish) song ‘Venom’ was the final track and whilst Kotzen and band departed the stage to a generous reaction, I felt that this was probably one for the purists.
The singer‘s cocksure attitude divides opinion but a bit of old fashioned rock star swagger is a welcome alternative to many of today’s stars and he has the classic bluesy hard rock roar to justify any arrogance. Andy Nathan on Inglorious
Andy Nathan writes: Inglorious are another band who during Ramblin’ Man’s life have steadily worked their way up the bill. As they came on stage to a backing track of their eponymous song, Nathan James’ pose, arms outstretched then turning to face the audience was something he must have learned in Jesus Christ Superstar. The singer‘s cocksure attitude divides opinion but a bit of old fashioned rock star swagger is a welcome alternative to many of today’s stars and he has the classic bluesy hard rock roar to justify any arrogance.
The new line up that was playing themselves in when I saw them on tour in February has settled nicely. They put on a lively, dynamic show and though Dan Stevens was taking a more equal share of solos than before, it was teenage guitarist Danny DeLa Cruz who impressed most, though I did wish he would relax out of his pout and smile a little more. He was also the subject of one of the one- liners of the weekend when Nathan said ‘some of you have pants that are older than he is!’
They made a good start with ‘Where Are You Now’ and ‘Taking The Blame’ while ‘Warning’ was a welcome rapid fire change of pace. At their best, with songs like ‘Breakaway’ their bluesy hard rock is the best of its kind since early Whitesnake or prime time Rainbow, but what they lack is a killer song and the sprawling title track of last album ‘Ride To Nowhere’ was certainly not it.
The tried and trusted favourites were more impressive in ‘I Don’t Need Your Loving’ and the stately ‘Holy Water’ as both guitarists played solos, then after Nathan threatened to overrun the set when a mike failed him, the big riffing of ‘Until I Die’ ended a most entertaining set that hit the spot nicely.
I made one more trip to the Rising Stage to catch Matt Mitchell And The Coldhearts. I’ve been a fan of the singer ever since his days in South Coast melodic rockers Pride, yet he has never had the success to match his talent. Having passed through other bands such as Furyon and Colour of Noise, this was my first chance to see him with his own band, who had a rootsier feel than CoN, with prominent Hammond organ.
The singer has the look of Paul Rodgers circa 1970, but Myles Kennedy would be a more suitable vocal comparison. The set, which began late with technical difficulties, was too short, but songs like the riff-heavy ‘Black Diamonds’, and ‘Home’, Matt adding acoustic guitar to the latter, were a taster hopefully for something more lasting.
Dave Atkinson writes: Back to the main stage for The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, a band whose career I’d followed only haphazardly, despite being a confirmed fan of Robinson’s more famous previous band, The Black Crowes. The Brotherhood have been prolific since their formation in 2011 and were currently touring in support of their sixth studio album, ‘Servants Of The Sun’. Five of the eight chilled out tracks played here came from that album.
Chris Robinson’s long time collaborator in the Brotherhood, Neil Casal was very much the star of the show here. His clean, soaring solo lit up the opener ‘Coming ‘Round The Mountain’ and the crisp, sharp work he threw down on the follow up, ‘Venus In Chrome’ illuminated the changes of pace and direction. He was also active across the stage, rumbling over to spar with Jeff Hill on bass and then trade licks with Joel Robinow on keyboards.
Robinson, in contrast was mostly stationery, almost mute in terms of audience recognition and steadfastly unmoved by anything around him.
This was a shame, because for the most part, the music was engaging, absorbing and sometimes thrilling. Robinow, lately replacing another CRB original, Adam MacDougal, peppered the set with gorgeous psychedelic riffs and flourishes. The overall feel was somewhere between The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers luxuriating in a cool Sunday afternoon groove.
The highlight was ‘The Chauffeur’s Daughter’, showcasing some sweet exchanges between keys and guitar, and driven on a thumping bass/drums rhythm that built to a frenzied climax. Though you’d never guess it from Robinson’s demeanour!
‘Let It Fall’ was also enjoyable: the closest tune here to anything that might be hallmarked Black Crowes – certainly in terms of vocal phrasing and use of delicious slide guitar. ‘Behold The Seer’ closed out a classy set, enjoyed by most here bar, it seems, the main man on vocals.
Andy Nathan writes: Airbourne, another band paying a return visit, could not have been a greater stylistic contrast to Chris Robinson, with their usual frantic set. The three other band members laid down a solid and no frills groove for Joel O’Keeffe’s madcap, larger than life antics.
‘Ready To Rock’ with its repeated, catchy chant was the perfect scene setter and it was great to hear debut album songs like ‘Too Much Too Young Too Fast’ and ‘Heartbreaker’. However, since then, rather than progress, they seem to have stripped their songwriting to the most basic level possible and more recent numbers, which here included a brand new song in ‘Boneshaker’, merely form the backdrop for Joel’s theatrics as he plays the Aussie larrikin stereotype to perfection.
Some of these were familiar, the beer throwing accompanied by the obligatory cricket reference, and riding into the crowd during ‘Girls In Black’, dodging two inflatable kangaroos in the process.
Though some of his speaker climbing antics have presumably failed health and safety regulations, a new routine for me provided the moment to the set when in the run up to ‘It’s All For Rock n Roll’, a flight case emblazoned with the words ‘Lemmy’s bar’ and the Motorhead logo was wheeled on and Joel was mixing whisky and cokes, while defending the band from their lack of (musical) originality.
Many of the songs – ‘Stand Up For Rock n Roll’, ‘Live It Up’- were dragged beyond their natural life, but it was hard not to join in the sheer fun, and ‘Running Wild’ was a suitable closer to a set that left a big smile on my face, and was in a more convivial atmosphere than when I last saw then at Download. An autumn tour they announced of relatively small venues should make for some lively nights to put it mildly.
As the band clambered off the lorry-stage, compere Pete O’Malley barked to the crowd “If you buy merch from this stage and go to the pulled-pork stand next door, you’ll get free chips!” Now that’s rock ‘n’ roll! The Ramblin’ Man Fair really does have it all. Dave Atkinson on Falling State
Dave Atkinson writes: My final trip to the Rising Stars stage was to see headliners. As with many acts on this day, I found myself seduced by those that were prepared to put in the effort and invest in the audience. Step forward The Fallen State, a vibrant five-piece melodic hard rock crew who may not be the finished article, but know how to entertain.
Ben Stenning on vocals was the chief ringleader, orchestrating their best-known track ‘Nova’, augmented by looped strings from the bowels of the stage. The band picked up the pace on the rollicking ‘American Made’, with a great set up for a barnstorming guitar solo. Stenning coaxed some cheesy audience participation for ‘Burn It To The Ground’ and I raised an eyebrow at the number of fans who knew the words.
The effervescent front man jumped into the crowd for the final number and found a punter to belt out the entire last verse of ‘You Want It’ in gloriously ragged fashion. Celebratory, if untidy stuff, but I won’t be crabbing that after some of the lacklustre engagement on view elsewhere.
As the band clambered off the lorry-stage, compere Pete O’Malley barked to the crowd “If you buy merch from this stage and go to the pulled-pork stand next door, you’ll get free chips!” Now that’s rock ‘n’ roll! The Ramblin’ Man Fair really does have it all.
…there was nothing to do but give oneself up to the indulgent sentiment and recognise that Hart had transformed this open Kentish hillside into a smoky Soho club. Dave Atkinson on Beth Hart
Beth Hart headlined the Blues stage and delivered the most compelling performance of the day. Her music was as eclectic as her personality was enthralling. Ranging across various sub-genres of blues, rock and jazz, Hart gave full bloodied, emotionally imbued renditions of her own material and a few well-chosen covers.
The mood was laid bare early on. ‘Your Heart Is As Black As Night’ saw Hart perched on a stool, crooning out the blues as her black robe slipped gracefully from her shoulders in what can only be described as a sexually charged manner. On a Sunday evening in a public park, as well…
Next, Hart was at the piano, introducing ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’ as a song inspired by Natural Born Killers. John Nicholls on guitar cooked up an old-time vibe and the delivery was pure Vaudeville in structure. A vaguely music hall theme continued with Beth still at the piano for ‘Swing That Thing Around’.
One introduction touched on domestic strife and led into ‘Love Is A Lie’, a blues narrative on which Hart wrapped her vocal chords around some dramatic, kitchen-sink phrasing. For a fleeting moment I could picture Shirley Bassey singing this. It was a hard thought to unthink. Take away the gritty guitar and it could be a 60’s Bond tune.
The eclecticism continued across the 90-minute set. Some songs were too cheesy for my tastes, such as ‘Falling In Love With You Everyday’, and I was grateful for some wah-wah guitar muscle on ‘Baby Shot Me Down’. ‘Baddest Blues’ could have been a torch song until Nicholls mixed it up again with some heavy, dramatic guitar.
But mostly, there was nothing to do but give oneself up to the indulgent sentiment and recognise that Hart had transformed this open Kentish hillside into a smoky Soho club. The tender ‘Tell Her You Belong To Me’ was presaged by another confessional introduction about mental health and its haunting, powerful delivery merely confirmed that this unlikely Ramblin’ Man Fair contender had absolutely killed it.
A mini acoustic set ended the main set and as the encore began, most punters were leaving to catch Foreigner. Even this limp ending couldn’t disguise one of the most surprising and enjoyable sets of the Festival.
…this wasn’t a vintage Foreigner performance. For a band whose stock in trade was four minute radio friendly songs, to only get through ten in a near hour and a half set suggests more padding than a bubble wrap factory Andy Nathan on Foreigner
Andy Nathan writes: That left Foreigner to close the festival. The AOR legends were once again a total contrast in style from their predecessors on the main stage, and indeed the weekend’s other headliners, but for my biased money a worthy headliner on two grounds.
One was that in common with previous headliners like Whitesnake and ZZ Top, they have an instantly recognisable body of hits familiar to everyone. The other was that over the last 14 years, the core of the current line up have consistently delivered a high energy, immaculately choreographed set that puts many of their contemporaries in the shade, and rather makes up for the fact the links to the original band are ever more tenuous.
Indeed there was not a single original member on stage as they opened with a pair of classics in ‘Double Vision’ and ‘Head Games’, the latter with curly-haired guitarist Bruce Watson excelling. At this stage, even at my spot near the front, the atmosphere was disappointingly subdued but it livened up suddenly when Thom Gimbel bashed out the keyboard intro to ‘Cold As Ice’ and Kelly Hansen dived into the crowd to orchestrate the singing.
Looking like a junior version of Mick Jagger dressed by Steven Tyler, the singer has breathed new life into Foreigner over the years. His delivery of ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ was exquisite and he is a lively frontman, though I cringed at his intro to ‘Dirty White Boy’, the reference to the ladies and showing off his backside belonging to a less equality aware period.
I was relieved when a roadie brought on an additional mike, as this meant that a round of band intros concluded with welcoming their founder and inspiration, one Michael Leslie Jones, on stage for the rest of the set. Normally we get a speech at this stage but all he could say was he was glad to be back home in England for some tea, a timely reminder that the 74 year old really should have been given a Queen’s Award for services to exports many years ago.
Nattily dressed in cream jacket and patterned trousers, Mick then got down to business, his chunky riffs giving ‘Feels Like The First Time’ added authenticity before ‘Urgent’ and Thom’s sax solo in particular got an even bigger reception.
However at this point the gaps between the actual songs were getting longer and there was even a tedious (is there any other) keyboard and drum solo sequence before ‘Juke Box Hero’ was stretched out to its absolute limits, though I enjoyed the guitar jam with all three line astern (Tom’s long hair under a cowboy hat only adding to the Skynyrd-esque effect) briefly playing in unison before Mick kicked back in again with the main riff.
For once there was no guest choir for ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’, though more padding with a Kelly rap asking us to feel the groove then take the person next to us in hand. The communal singalong was matched by a touching moment as Mick, by now playing keyboards, had hand on heart as he sang backing vocals and was visibly proud of the song that will be one of his legacies.
There was still time though for the other side of the Foreigner repertoire that the more casual pop fan ignores, as they rocked out on a slightly more concise than usual ‘Hot Blooded’.
At the risk of being hypercritical, this wasn’t a vintage Foreigner performance. For a band whose stock in trade was four minute radio friendly songs, to only get through ten in a near hour and a half set suggests more padding than a bubble wrap factory, partly I suspect to compensate for the inescapable feeling that Mick is gradually winding down his distinguished service.
His old showcase ‘Starrider’ has long been dropped and while their live show has never been one to feature album cuts, surely it would not have been too hard to squeeze in the likes of ‘Long Long Way From Home’ or ‘That Was Yesterday’.
However these are only the gripes of a dedicated fan. For the less committed festival punter, Foreigner’s immaculate and instantly recognisable show was the perfect end to the weekend.
The weather had been perfect, the vibe laid back and friendly with a good range of ages, and the site size manageable. Moreover the music schedule seemed fuller than before, with a remarkably diverse range not only of musical styles from one act to the next, but also a good mix of iconic names, more recent favourites and a whole slew of new bands in a thriving classic rock scene. Ramblin Man 19 will be hard to top as a festival.
Review by Andy Nathan and Dave Atkinson
Photos by Andy Nathan and Paul Clampin (where stated)
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