Once again the rock hordes decended on Mote Park in Maidstone for another weekend of rock, blues, good beer and good company. GRTR! despatched Andy Nathan and Dave Atkinson to cover all the action, come rain or shine…
Andy Nathan writes – So many festivals come and go but there is enough evidence to suggest that Ramblin’ Man is standing the test of time as one of the go to festivals for classic rock in all its forms. Last year’s rather disjointed line up disappointed many, but for their fifth year they bounced back in style. It was the biggest line up yet over three days, the latter two featuring four stages, and one which took a big step back towards the quality of the first couple of years.
In 2017 a Friday headlined by Saxon was added almost as an afterthought, not even appearing on event t-shirts, but this time it was a full three day event. However the Friday action did not kick off until mid afternoon and was exclusively on the main stage, making those agonising stage clash decisions unnecessary.
Arriving in Maidstone Town Centre to a persistent drizzle with forecasts of worse to come was ominous, but the rain eased in time by the time the main stage’s compere, a newly hirsute Paul Anthony of Planet Rock, introduced openers The Lazys. They were new to me but as you would expect from an Aussie band, their no frills riffing owed much to AC/DC, though songs like opener ‘Howling Woman’ and ‘Little Miss Crazy’ had a strong hint of eighties glam and sleaze.
Adding to the comparisons singer Leon Harrison had the same maniacal, wild-eyed grin of Airbourne’s Joel O’Keeffe and a wicked sense of humour- referring to the VIP enclosure as the ‘Palace balcony’. His vocals though weren’t the strongest and the backing vocals notably from impressive lead guitarist Matty Morris filled out the sound. Long haired and clad in black, they had an excellent stage presence and closing songs like ‘Nothin But Trouble’ and ‘Can’t Kill the Truth’ swiftly felt like familiar friends as the festival got off the mark very nicely.
RM has now been with us long enough for a career progression for bands to be established. The Kris Barras Band had in the space of two years gone from the ‘rising stage’ of new talent to the blues stage to a place on the main stage. Somehow I have missed them during this steady rise (I still regret friends saying it was not worth us rushing away from our meal to watch his acoustic support to Beth Hart last year) so I was watching with some curiosity and anticipation.
I was instantly impressed with openers ‘Rock’ n’ Roll Running Through My Veins’, and ‘Kick Me Down’, but felt that his strapline ‘down and dirty oil-stained blues rock’ that was bearing down from posters on the site rather undersold the rounded sound of a band which featured keyboard player Josiah Manning and a pair of girl backing singers. Kris’s own solos were excellent, as befits the winner of various blues guitar awards, but the focus was very much on the songs.
They played a number of songs from their forthcoming album ‘Light It Up’, one of which had a very ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ keyboard intro but the best received was ‘Ignite’ with its refrain of the album title having people instantly participating. However set closer ‘Hail Mary’ appears to be the fan favourite.
My only slight complaints were that Kris had a rather clipped and gruff stage persona, and his voice seemed too low down in the mix – the latter a common problem for most of the singers on the Friday. I couldn’t disagree with friends who made comparisons to King King, another band with its roots in the blues but broader appeal and commercially acute songwriting. My appetite was more than whetted to want to catch their headline tour in October.
If KBB were a new discovery for me, FM were anything but. One of my long-time favourites since first seeing them in 1985, Britain’s premier AOR band were making a return visit after playing the first ever Ramblin Man. All that experience showed in a slick stage show with plenty of movement and on stage winks and smiles topped off by Steve Overland’s effortlessly soulful vocals – though they too were done a disservice by the low mix.
The current reformed line up has been together a decade and proved they are no nostalgia act as they opened with a recent song in ‘Black Magic’ before two of their best loved classics from their big haired years in ‘Bad Luck’ and ‘That Girl’.
‘Life Is A Highway’ saw bassist Merv Goldsworthy sidle over to Steve’s mike to share backing vocals then, during ‘Let Love Be The Leader’, during the harmony guitar solo the two of them and lead guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick were pulling the classic poses together with big grins on their faces, which were matched by mine at hearing Jem Davis’ keyboard-tastic intro to ‘I Belong To The Night’.
‘Tough It Out’ with its big chorus was another reminder – along with ‘Leader’ – that in their first incarnation, bizarrely many of these favourites were rarely played live. The 40-minute set ended with ‘Killed By Love’, a new song with vintage ‘who-oah’s’, but perhaps it was overly brave proof of their current relevance when an oldie might have gone down better with a festival crowd.
In the day they were never really my style, yet these songs – charting singles, lest we forget – are buried deep in my DNA from going to rock clubs in the nineties. I found myself really enjoying them and soaking in the atmosphere, and thinking that The Wildhearts would have been worthy headline material. Andy Nathan on The Wildhearts
Proving classic rock is a broad church the slick sounds of FM were followed by the altogether more aggressive charms of The Wildhearts whose opener, new song ‘Dislocated’ was at almost speed metal pace. I’d seen them before at festivals but with their classic line up back together, the sound was more cohesive and the identically patterned guitars of Ginger and CJ, plus their vocals, meshed in a satisfyingly meaty manner.
It was a career spanning set of fan favourites- ‘Vanilla Radio’, the punky ‘Sucker Punch’ and impressive ‘Sick Of Drugs’ all making an appearance early on- mixed with the odd obscurity. Ginger introduced ‘Urge’ from the album ‘Endless Nameless’ that allegedly no-one liked at the time, and got people to go crazy to the main chorus of ‘down’ in a song that almost had three moods in one.
Photo: Paul Clampin
New album ‘Renaissance Men’ was generously featured notably when Ginger introduced ‘Let em Go’ as a song about ‘getting rid of the w*ankers in your life’ and it was quite a sight to hear people singing that message. The energy and anger of their songs contrasted with his soft lilting Geordie accent and – as a non-Wildhearts fan – I was embarrassed to subsequently discover a song I noted as having the title ‘Dying Horses’ was actually ‘Diagnosis’.
However it was the oldies that got the best reception: ‘Caffeine Bomb’ and a closing pair of ‘My Baby Is A Head f**k’ and ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’. In the day they were never really my style, yet these songs – charting singles, lest we forget – are buried deep in my DNA from going to rock clubs in the nineties. I found myself really enjoying them and soaking in the atmosphere, and thinking that The Wildhearts would have been worthy headline material.
With his improvised and often bizarre stream of consciousness asides and changes of outfit, Justin divides opinion (and we haven’t even mentioned his falsetto ) but I view him quite fondly as a genuine English eccentric. Andy Nathan on The Darkness
That honour though fell to The Darkness who, a decade after The WIldhearts made some inroads into the charts, fairly took the pop world by storm and were briefly the biggest phenomenon going – a couple of T-shirts in the crowd with a 2004 tour schedule including three nights at Wembley Arena reminding us of this point .
Photo: Paul Clampin
They have always been a ‘marmite’ band so it was something of a gamble to put them as headliners especially at a festival with (at the risk of stereotyping) a high proportion of the grumpy old-school rockers who never warmed to them. I count myself a fan but was rather worried for them as when they supported Toto a few weeks earlier they seemed rather disengaged. However a good sign was that as they sauntered onstage to an intro of English choral music, Justin Hawkins in particular had a big grin on his face and the mercurial frontman was obviously up for it.
They opened with a couple of ‘Permission To Land’ favourites in ‘Black Shuck’ and ‘Growing on Me’, though during the latter my smug pleasure at finding a good viewing spot in the heart of the action was rudely interrupted as a group of boa-wearing, fancy- dress sporting party animals, better suited to a stag night in the town, pushed through to the front.
After a relative newie in ‘Hold Your Fire’ came more songs that are staples of even a truncated Darkness setlist, in the power ballad ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’ and, preceded by Frankie Poullain’s knowing cowbell banging, ‘One Way Ticket to Hell And Back’.
Photo: Paul Clampin
However a full length slot gave them the opportunity to play a broader set, beyond the debut album for a while – a joyful ‘Friday Night’ from the latter sat alone among ‘Barbarian’ which seemed to be something of a fan favourite – the riff heavy ‘Southern Trains’ and ‘Roaring Waters’, which showed that drummer Rufus Tiger Taylor has given them a somewhat weightier sound. There was even a new song from the forthcoming album, while ‘Japanese Prisoner Of Love’ featured very Lizzy-esque twin guitars.
With his improvised and often bizarre stream of consciousness asides and changes of outfit, Justin divides opinion (and we haven’t even mentioned his falsetto ) but I view him quite fondly as a genuine English eccentric. Incidentally this was in complete contrast to self-effacing brother Dan; whenever he stepped forward to play a riff the lighting spotlight always seemed to be switched elsewhere!
In one of his ‘bon mots’ Justin bemoaned that they have continued to make albums but ‘none of you c—ts have bought them’, but as if to prove the point the final third of the set reverted to the favourites from ‘Permission To Land’, beginning with ‘Stuck In A Rut’ and ‘Giving Up’, then he gave such a long telegraphed lead in to ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ that people were already jumping around, not even needing any encouragement for the song to start.
For the first encore he cut out the usual fan baiting that accompanies the song to deliver ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ in straight fashion, that is if you define using a towel as a blindfold and executing a handstand in front of the drumkit as normal behaviour.
Joking they were then going to stretch out their last song to meet the contractually obliged set time, ‘Love On The Rocks’ saw him go through the crowd on a roadie’s shoulders but he wasn’t wrong, as it was dragged out a good ten minutes and well past the 10 o’clock curfew.
It meant I missed my planned train back to London and had to go on the very last train, which was not ideal with a hard weekend’s rocking still to come. But the size of the larger than expected crowd I battled through demonstrated that the gamble to book The Darkness as an opening night headliner had been a very successful one.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Andy Nathan and Paul Clampin (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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