Gig review: RAMBLIN’ MAN FAIR – Day 3 – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Day 3 – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

After the deluge on Saturday the forecast for the Sunday was looking a lot brighter and judging by the size of the crowd in the arena the sun had enticed a few extra bodies along for another top day of rock. The GRTR! Review squad was also bolstered by an appearance from Dave Atkinson who picks things up at the main stage.

Dave Atkinson writes: Stone Broken are a band going places. At this Festival it is least 500 yards. Last year, I witnessed their storming session on the Rising Stars stage. This year they were promoted to open over on the main stage.  In the meantime, they’ve had a couple of eye-catching support slots and have created a healthy buzz.

Stone Broken - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

This again was an enjoyable set full of good, honest, well-crafted hard rock. Front man Rich Moss commands the stage and works the crowd with confidence. He is cultivating a rougher, harsher element to his voice, although on new track ‘Doesn’t Matter’ he may have been guilty of trying too hard and losing the shape.

Stone Broken - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

The track had a great tumbling riff, though. ‘Be There’ stood out as a quality cut and ‘Wait For Me’ featured a fine fluid guitar solo from Chris Davis, with some nods to Guns ‘n’ Roses in the effects. Set closer ‘Not Your Enemy’ had a knot of hard-core supporters singing along at the front. They departed with a crowd selfie (“Show us your horns, Ramblin’ Man!”) and the future looks rosy.

Snakecharmer were a late addition to the bill but not at their best. I don’t know if the band were lacking a bit of match practice or if it was a too early in the day. Whatever, the set felt disjointed, scrappy and massively underpowered. For band members with an A-list roll-call as long as your arm, this must have been disappointing.

Some of the problems were not of their own making. Adam Wakeman’s keyboards seemed almost absent in the early part of the set. Their rich colour and life would have lifted solid blues rockers like ‘Are You Ready To Fly’ and ‘Follow Me Under’ out of the ordinary.

Snakecharmer - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017
Photo: Andy Nathan

The biggest problem, though, was Chris Ousey’s singing. He must have had a throat issue, because this was too bad to be true. To me, he sounded hoarse and weak. He never landed a single killer note all set.

Their show took a hit as a result, though they did improve. Best of the set was ‘Guilty As Charged’ which found a compelling Free/Whitesnake groove, with a riot of dirty Gibson Les Paul action across the stage, and finally Wakeman’s Hammond cutting through. Just hints of what might have been.

Over in the Blues tent, Blindstone whipped up a such a fury that they ended the set playing to a packed house. This Danish heavy blues-rock three-piece were a real surprise.

Pick of their short set was ‘Thunder from the North’, a bass-heavy rocker that provided a backdrop to Martin J Andersen’s spectacular psychedelic-infused lead breaks, weighty on the distortion pedal. For a three piece, this lot packed an intense punch.

‘Dead Man’s Blues’ followed a more traditional blues rock template. Andersen also handled the vocals and sang with a measured, deep, American-twanged tone. In comparison, his guitar work was savage.

The rhythm unit merely provided a backdrop for Andersen to unleash his visceral solos. The band played a couple of instrumentals and were happy to stretch out the breaks. There’s something of Mountain in the sound they produced and whilst visually, this wouldn’t be the most active show on view, it was a stimulating, powerhouse set.

RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

Back on the main stage, Blues Pills dished out a bit more Scandi psychedelic blues. And a dollop of good old fashioned rock as well. Chuck in a slap of funk and maybe a splash of heady soul and you have a close approximation of the band. Blues Pills are a sight and sound to behold. Perfect Festival fodder.

The band pull off the trick of making the classic late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s music of Joplin, Led Zep and early Fleetwood Mac sound fresh and vital. More power to them. In Elin Larsson they have a frontwoman who owns the stage.

Right from the off with a high energy ‘Lady In Gold’, she was strutting, dancing, cajoling and delivering her rough-edged vocals. Later she was hand-clapping, tambourine-bashing and maraca-shaking throughout the extended solos and instrumental breaks, still retaining the spotlight.

Diminutive, hirsute Dorian Sorriaux on lead guitar provided a perfect foil. Gently shaking his head from side-to-side, he appeared lost in the maelstrom of distorted shards of blues mayhem that split open ‘Black Smoke’ from the first album. Later it was the keyboards that shone on ‘Elements and Things’ from the second album.

‘High Class Woman’ was a crowd-pleasing funk-blues missive, followed by a crazy, mashed up, trippy cover of ‘Somebody To Love’ put through the pyschedelic ringer. Larsson’s scything, raise-the dead vocal over an expansive guitar lick powered the set to a brilliant conclusion on ‘Devil Man’. No stone left unturned.’

RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

Andy Nathan was also back on-site and enjoying some sunshine in front of the prog stage, he takes up the story below…

Andy Nathan writes: My trip to the Prog stage was a trip back in a time machine with a double dose of the sounds of 1972. First up was Wishbone Ash founder, bassist and vocalist Martin Turner and his band with a set comprising wholly of a rendition of ‘Argus’, which being my all-time favourite album, was always going to be a personal highlight of the festival.

Martin Turner - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

From the epic opening of ‘Time Was’ the songs were beautifully constructed and the arrangements subtle with each instrument clearly audible and Martin’s vocals full of character even if more strained than of old. ‘Sometime World’ saw the outstanding Danny Willson almost replicate Andy Powell’s classic solo on the original and his wah-wah guitar on ‘The King Will Come’ was almost as good.

At that stage his long-haired guitar partner Misha Nikolic had been marginal other than a couple of trademark harmony leads, but he came into his own on the gentle ‘Leaf And Stream’ with a solo with a marvellous tone and was also to the fore on ‘Warrior’, where the Argus authenticity was undermined  when Martin and Danny inserted a line from Monty Python’s ‘Lumberjack Song’,  before it segued into ‘Throw Down the Sword’, the twin guitars clashing beautifully on the closing solo.

Martin Turner - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

‘Blowin’ Free’ was held back from  its original album sequence to form a more straight ahead conclusion, which went down really well, with great slide guitar work from Danny.

I’m too young to remember it but around the time ‘Argus’ was winning plaudits, Dutch band Focus had everyone rushing out to buy their records overnight after an appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test. Thijs Van Leer is still their bandleader, a stout, bewhiskered figure presiding over a battered Hammond organ who reminded me of a Dickensian character and others Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin, and his flute playing enlivened a jaunty ‘House Of The King’.

Their lengthier, jazzier odysseys such as ‘Focus I’ and ‘Eruption’ struggled to hold my attention, not least being largely instrumental other than some occasional scat singing from Thijs.

Focus - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017
Photo: Andy Nathan

However their big hit ‘Sylvia’ had some great melodic interplay between Thijs’ organ and the fluid solos of impressive guitarist Menno Gootjes, before the moment most people had been waiting for, a ‘Hocus Pocus’ as brilliantly bonkers as ever.

While Thijs and Menno  were laying down a heavy riff, and original drummer Pierre Vander Linden was given a solo, many of us were joining in the falsetto yodelling and risking serious vocal cord damage.

Dave Atkinson picks up the story again joining Andy in front of the prog stage for one of Britain’s finest and most consistent bands…

Dave Atkinson writes: Good old Magnum. They know what it takes to hit the mark at a classic rock festival. There’s a certain demographic here and they read it perfectly. This explains why everything bar two songs came from three mid 1980’s albums. And not even the ones with the biggest hits.

This was a party from start to finish. ‘Soldier Of The Line’ kicked things off from 1982’s  ‘Chase The Dragon’ and I don’t think those around me stopped singing until the last emotional chorus of the encore, ‘When The World Comes Down’ had faded away.

Magnum - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

The quartet from ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ were the highlights. Tony Clarkin leading the creation of sublime musical drama on the title track, brought to visual life by Bob Catley’s animated jazz hands, gestures and semaphore signals.

Bob was enjoying himself, orchestrating a big crowd and taking free form liberties with the actual phrasing of the lyrics, for which we will just about forgive him. In truth, the voice is not as strong as it was and some of this was about not over-extending.

‘How Far Jerusalem’ kept the crowd favourites rolling, with its extended mid-song instrumental section allowing Bob to disappear and gargle some throat pastilles. I’m not sure how much this meandering section added to the song.

By the time ‘Les Morts Dansant’ piped up, no-one cared. Still their best song in my humble opinion. Massed voices provided a moving, spine-tingling chorus. The old lady with pink socks and brown sandals next to me, roll-up clenched between thumb and fore-finger, was almost crying as she rang out “What a night to be called to heaven/What a picture to fill your head”. What a picture indeed. A special moment.

Magnum - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017
Photo: Andy Nathan

‘All England’s Eyes’ again hit the spot, but what had happened to the keyboards? Where we once had mighty pomp and parp, suddenly there was a weedy sound as if from a Bontempi bought from Toys R Us! Mark Stanway would never have allowed such a situation to arise. Come back, all is forgiven.

The two new ones were very solid – ‘Sacred Blood, “Divine” Lies’ and ‘Crazy Old Mothers’. Though the classics fared the best. ‘Vigilante’ was superb, Bob again back on the lively hand signals. The band really did go down a storm and even came back for that earlier mentioned encore – a rare thing for a support band on the second stage. Tremendous stuff.’

Dave Wilson writes: I myself had a bit of a later start on the Sunday due to spending a bit of time in the lovely surroundings of nearby Rochester, well worth a visit if you are in the area,  and on arrival I headed to the main stage to catch a bit of Monster Truck who had attracted a healthy crowd.

The Canadian four piece’s take on hard rocking blues went down a storm in the afternoon sunshine. The band have come a long way since I last caught them live in the very intimate surroundings of King Tut’s in Glasgow but performance wise they had the same energy and drive on stage.

Monster Truck - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

Frontman Jon Harvey has a big soulful voice which complements his thumping bass lines well. We were treated to songs from the band’s two albums including ‘Sweet Mountain River’ and ‘New Soul’. It was the familiar sound of ‘The Lion’ that rounded off the set and the guys received a hearty send off from an appreciative crowd.

After a quick wander around the site and a chat with Dave Atkinson to compare notes, I headed back to the main stage again to catch a bit of the Supersonic Blues Machine. I knew very little about the band and didn’t really know what to expect but the band turned in a fine set.

The nucleus of the band are Lance Lopez on guitar and vocals, Fabrizio Grossi on bass and Kenny Aronoff on drums. The trio though are ably assisted by a variety of session and guest musicians with their debut album featuring appearances from Walter Trout, Billy F Gibbons and Warren Hayes to name but three.

Today though the numbers were swelled with various session musicians and backing singers and they put on a great show. Lance Lopez is a great frontman and had the crowd involved from the off. His guitar playing was nothing short of breathtaking as was the playing of all on stage.

Supersonic Blues Machine - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017
Photo: Dave Wilson

The highlight for me was the rough blues of ‘Running Whisky’ which on the album features vocals by Bill Gibbons of ZZ Top. Although the bearded one was in the building he didn’t join the guys on stage but that was no bad thing as Lance and the backing singers put in a great performance. As a UK debut gig this was an impressive showing from a band with stacks of talent and hopefully they will return to the UK soon for a more extensive tour.

Up next I was faced with the biggest clash of the weekend with UFO and The Quireboys both kicking off at the same time, where to go… To be honest there was never any doubt, I left Dave Atkinson to UFO on the main stage and I headed to the blues tent for The Quireboys. We picked a prime position early on which was just as well as the tent was soon rammed with punters trying to get a glimpse of Spike and the crew.

The Quireboys - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017
Photo: Andy Nathan

In a change from the norm the set today was to be a blues set featuring songs from their new album of blues standards entitled ‘White Trash Blues’ and two things were evident from the off, the first being that it was going to be a great set and the second was that Spike was hammered! I know Spike’s normal state is half cut but today he was on another level after reportedly having a few backstage with Phil Mogg of UFO.

Spike’s inebriation though just added to the loose blues feel and the set was a triumph. The guitar pairing of Guy Griffin and Paul Guerin played faultlessly throughout with Keith Weir’s honky tonk piano underpinning each track. The guys were also joined onstage by Lee Vernon on harmonica who was a great addition and play a blinder.

The guys played through the new album with the set highlights being a great version of the John Lee Hooker classic ‘Boom Boom’ and ‘Cross Eyed Cat’. Spike was having a ball onstage despite, according to Guy Griffin, not having bothered to rehearse the set and his enthusiasm and jovial nature really lifted the set.

The Quireboys - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017
Photo: Andy Nathan

By the time we got to ‘Little Queenie’ the band had the crowd eating from the palms of their hands. The Quireboys rarely fail to impress and today they provided the final set of the weekend, Spike is probably still at the bar celebrating.

While I was rocking with the Quireboys, Dave Atkinson was over at the other stage with Spike’s drinking partner Phil Mogg and the mighty UFO…

Dave Atkinson writes: There’s a surprising stability about UFO these days. A band without Michael Schenker’s histrionics and Pete Way’s antics loses a lot, admittedly. The compensation is that the band have moved on from decades of turmoil and tumult to rediscover a talented line up, complete tours without incident and record strong albums that have begun to chart again.

Phil Mogg seems easier with himself on stage of late. There’s plenty of banter with the crowd, though some of it is even more esoteric than his song lyrics. He cuts short the band’s intro tape with a wave of the hand to say “We’ve only got an hour. There’s two minutes saved!” The front man has found some style on recent tours. Here he was shaven headed and wearing a black shirt with tie secured with a gold pin.

UFO - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

There is no sense of going through the motions either. Whilst ‘Lights Out’ suffers a muddy sound to kick off proceedings, it is actually ‘Run Boy Run’ from 2015’s ‘Conspiracy of Stars’ than breathes the first life in to the performance. Likewise, the temptation to run through everything in the ‘Strangers In The Night’ set, an album that seems to acquire more reverence with every passing year, is resisted.

Both ‘Ain’t No Baby’ and ‘Cherry’ are lobbed in from Obsession and work really well. The former is not an obvious pick and its angular, taught framework and time changes shows off the technical prowess of Vinnie Moore on guitar to great effect. The latter provokes a great sing-a-long moment from the crowd. Bassist Rob De Luca absolutely nails down the intro.

De Luca has bedded into the band seamlessly and adds an extra dimension with the quality of his playing. ‘Too Hot To Handle’ was always driven by the bottom line, to which De Luca adds buckets of oomph with his Gibson Thunderbird bass. I was very jealous of his black & white leather jacket as well.

UFO - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

The stand out moments are inevitably from ‘Strangers In The Night’. ’Love To Love’ finds Mogg in good voice and the track hits the spot with the crowd who send a collective top-register ‘…misty green and blue…’ echoing round the park. Vinnie Moore is perfect on the final solo.

The timeless riff to ‘Rock Bottom’ opens the other clear highlight. I’ve seen too many guitarists in various incarnations of UFO mess up the dramatic, beautifully constructed, spiralling solo on this track that these days I always hold my breath. Even though I’ve enjoyed Vinnie’s version plenty of times. I need not have worried. Moore delivered again with a faithful and yet individual rendition.

There could only be one way to finish and sure enough, ‘Doctor Doctor’ brought the house down. Unbridled jigging from a field full of 50-something girls and boys. There’s life in all these old dogs yet.

Dave Wilson writes: Following The Quireboys I then headed to the prog stage for something completely different. Kansas, who had been named as the Prog stage headliners pulled out of all their European dates a couple of months prior to the festival so instead the Devin Townsend Project were enlisted to close the prog proceedings. Those in the arena who were not familiar with Devin’s music sound would be as it was the only set of the weekend you could hear regardless of where you were on site.

The Devin Townsend Project produce huge slabs of harmonic sound and was easily the heaviest set of the weekend. Devin on stage is a ball of energy alternating between stand up comedy and screaming frontman. His music is the work of a twisted mind with huge riffs, artillery like drumming and pumping bass.

The Devin Townsend Project - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

‘Hyperdrive’, ‘Deadhead’ and ‘Ziltoid Goes Home’ made a meaty trio mid set with ‘Supercrush’ and ‘March Of The Poozers’ keeping up the relentless onslaught.

There was a good crowd watching Devin but equally there were a lot of heads being scratched around the arena wondering what the hell all the noise was about. The Devin Townsend Project were a good late replacement for Kansas but the strains of ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ may have been more in keeping with the Ramblin’ Man ethic than Devin and the gang blasting out ‘Higher’.

RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

That just left tonight’s headliners and Andy was down the front for the finest trio to leave Texas…

Andy Nathan writes: And so to the Sunday headliners. If Extreme were a controversial choice, ZZ Top were perfect Ramblin Man headline material, just as Scorpions and Whitesnake in previous years-  an iconic, instantly recognisable band with a long history and  a catalogue of familiar songs. It was also a more discerning audience for them after last year’s bizarre appearance at Glastonbury, the music festival for people with no interest in music.

The stage show was plain in the extreme with no backdrop, simple but effective lighting  and the Texan trio rarely more than  a few yards from each other in the middle of the stage, but the music needed no embellishment when they opened with four classics in a row: ‘Got Me Under Pressure’, with Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons sharing vocal lines, the usual 1-2 of ‘Waiting For The Bus’ and ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’ with some improvisation from Billy, and Frank Beard drumming out the intro to ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ which  I wondered would be saved for later in the set.

ZZ Top - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

‘Pincushion’ and ‘I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide’ followed and though familiar, it is always a pleasure to hear Billy’s unique rich, bluesy guitar tone topping off that quintessential  ZZ sound, once memorably described as resembling speeding down a gravel road on muddy tyres.

Fortunately Dusty was back on bass full-time and though he switched to a keyboard contraption during ‘I Gotsta Get Paid’, it was soon wheeled away.

However a full length set meant that while hits were sandwiched at the beginning and the end, the filling consisted of rather too many covers, including ‘Foxy Lady’ with Billy overplaying his Jimi Hendrix connection, the old standard ‘Sixteen Tons’ which at least he enlivened with a bluesy closing solo, a lengthy ‘Catfish Blues’, and even the country-ish ‘’Act Naturally’ which saw a guest lap steel guitarist Elwood Francis, perched on a crate.

ZZ Top - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

There were plenty other original favourites I would rather have heard, ‘Tube Snake Boogie’, ‘She Loves My Automobile’ and ‘Sleeping Bag’ to name but three. Meantime the originals kept reminding me of other ZZ numbers with ‘My Head’s In Mississippi’ borrowing from La Grange and ‘Chartreuse’ uncannily close to ‘Tush’.

The set picked up however with a fun ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ and‘Just Got Paid’, possibly my favourite not to mention  Joe Bonamassa’s, saw Billy pick up a Les Paul and produce some breathtaking slide work. It led into the inevitable climax of the two other big ‘Eliminator’ hits with ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and ‘Legs’, complete with furry guitars.

They were perfect festival singalongs, though the crystal clear, almost high pitched Billy vocals on the latter required a suspension of disbelief.

ZZ Top - RAMBLIN' MAN FAIR – Mote Park, Maidstone, 30 July 2017

There were no surprises for the encore as they laid down a wonderful boogie groove on ‘La Grange’, before ‘Tush’ with a  rare turn at the mike from Dusty, though he then got another when an additional encore- and yet another cover!- of ‘Jailhouse Rock’ tipped the set over the 90 minute mark.

It may have been the same old same old from the trio, but it was perfect for this environment and a fitting end to a thoroughly enjoyable festival, which I jibed could be summarised in five words as ‘Download Festival for old gits’.

Ramblin’ Man proved to be a triumph, despite the weather, with something for everyone. The weekend was well organised and had a great atmosphere across the three days, the only thing missing that would have made a perfect weekend was a fresh doughnut stall, there’s a challenge for 2018!

Review by Dave Wilson, Andy Nathan and Dave Atkinson
Photos by Paul Clampin (except where stated)

Day 1 (Friday 28 July)
Day 2 (Saturday 29 July)

Josh Taerk’s latest Sunday Session was streamed on Sunday 22 May.

Next session: Sunday 17 July.

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