Now in it’s second year Ramblin’ Man Fair have provide that it is possible to accommodate a wide range of Rock tastes in a two day Festival. As we move on from a hugely successful Day 1 what is in store on another balmy afternoon in Kent with everything from Hard Rock to Prog to Blues to Country on show, still to come are bands like Airbourne, Thunder and Black Stone Cherry, so how did it all pan out.
Upon arrival there’s none of the issues we had seen the previous day with regards queuing, naturally the wristband exchange lanes are very quiet, as most weekend passes had been exchanged the previous day and although the entry lanes themselves are busy, they are moving swiftly, and people working on both days certainly seemed to be friendly, helpful and courteous throughout, which always helps with the overall atmosphere. It always lifts you when you enter a festival arena and are greeted by smiling faces, as people mill around, looking for that event or band shirt, or a bite to eat before we get going, or maybe just heading to the beer tent or a rest on the grass.
Opening proceedings for me today was The Pat McManus Band over on the Blues Stage, I had thought there was a band on before them, but that must have changed. Pat for those that don’t know him, and you really should get to know him, played lead guitar/fiddle in the 80’s Rock band Mama’s Boys with his brothers John and the late Tommy. Over the years he has developed his own style of blues rock and is without doubt one of the finest guitar players anywhere, his playing is effortless and always done with a smile on his face, there’s poetry in the delivery of the notes, and a passion for music in general that is very rarely seen in this day and age, honestly I think Pat would play 7 days a week just for the fun of it. But it’s not a one man band by any means, without Marty (Bass) and Paul (Drums), and of course Sallie the band manager and the glue that holds it all together it just won’t sound or feel the same,.much more like a family than a band it’s impossible not to be impressed by not only the talent on show, the excellent songs but the vibe that’s translated from the stage to the crowd. This early afternoon set contains tracks from the bands most recent album Blues Train To Irish Town and everything in the set mixes in well, there’s a couple of fiddle based tracks and we finish with the wonderful “Belfast Boy” which is Pat’s tribute to another sublime Northern Irish guitarist Gary Moore, terrific way to end an oh too short set, nobody filling the tent would have argued had Pat been on for another hour.
Next up for me is a trip to the Prog Stage to catch a band I’ve been trying to get to see live for quite some time now, The Fierce And The Dead. Have been a big fan of guitarist Matt Stevens for quite a while now, be it his solo work or or with this really excellent instrumental band. They play progressive music with a kick in it, a nice edge to their sound. Made up of two guitarists, a bass player and a drummer, all of whom are excellent at their individual disciplines, and there’s the added effects from Matt’s loops and fellow guitarist Steve’s additional effects. There’s always a worry with a purely instrumental band that the music they create is too similar in sound and that the songs may just meld into one, certainly not here, and live they are even better, there’s a sizable crowd assembled front of stage and the vibe is certainly a fun one and how would you not enjoy top musicianship. With a couple of well received EP’s and Albums that have been critically acclaimed, the experience gained from an increased live schedule over the last couple of years is clear to see, the band are very much at ease with themselves and their audience, with some much appreciated moments of levity during the set. There really is nothing to be critical about these guys, having to be super super critical I could say it would be nice they maybe just kept a mic used to interact with the crowd on the ground front of stage to keep mic stands from blocking the view of band members, especially Kevin (Bass) and Stuart (Drums) down the center of the stage, that aside the music is wonderful, the execution is special, can’t wait to see these guys again.
Over to the Main Stage for the first time today and it’s the Kentucky Headhunters who feature in their ranks none other than Richard Young (Guitar/Vocals) father of Black Stone Cherry’s drummer John Fred Young, and his uncle Fred Young. The band play Southern Rock/Country/Americana and just plain old down and dirty Rock ‘n’ Roll, and damn do they do it well, they sound great and it’s pretty obvious that these guys have been learning their craft over many years. Generally the lead vocals are handled by Doug Phelps (Bass/Vocals) with Richard taking charge every now and then on tracks like “Waking The Wolf”. Phelps nails it on “My Daddy Was A Milkman” and numerous other tracks in a really entertaining set, with the crowd moving and bopping along to the Southern drawl, and although the music, sound, performance is really great it still would have been better had the band perhaps played a little more of their own music, 4 covers and a drum solo in a short set as much as it rocks maybe doesn’t showcase the bands own nuts and bolts of their own produce, but hey that’s just being pretty picky, it’s bloody hard not to love the guys being joined by Black Stone Cherry for a rousing version of “Hey Jude” to finish the set. For me the highlights of the set were probably “Stumblin'” and “Back To Memphis” which are just bluesy rock tracks, showing some lovely guitar work.
The afternoon is now in full swing and people are milling around the market stalls, grabbing drinks of all varieties and the Ice Cream vans are doing good business cooling people down.Without trying to jinx the whole thing, conversations are being had all over the site about the beautiful hot sunny weather we are experiencing, it’s not normal for Festivals in the UK, but it’s welcome, lots of happy faces all over..
Next it was a rush back to the Blues stage to catch the last of the SIMO set, wish I could have caught more, they sounded excellent, and then stayed for the start of King King, so sad they started a little later than expected and I had to run back to the Main Stage for The Answer after a couple of songs, but this band is top quality, really have to see a full set soon. It’s the nature of Festivals sadly, but also shows that there is quality on every stage at this Festival.
And so to The Answer, one of Northern Ireland’s leading Rock bands and a very popular band across the UK and Europe. Today the set is made up of a large chunk of tracks from the Rise Album , the ever popular “Spectacular” from the New Horizon album and a couple of brand new tracks from the soon to be released album Solas, with the title track “Solas” and something that sounds a little different from the band “Thief Of Light”. The band open up with the high octane “Under The Sky” from their debut album, such a rocking way to kick things off, and with the recent 10th Anniversary shows for the release of this album it is still fitting that these songs still make their set. And you know this is going to be a really rocking part of the afternoon as they smash though the Rise tracks, often highlights of an Answer set “Into The Gutter” and “Preachin” are smashed out of the park, but isn’t everything today, the guys are on top form and James is as he always has been a powerhouse behind the drum kit, and it drives the rest of the guys along, these days Paul looks much more assured these days, not with regards playing, his playing has always been great, but he displays more presence now, and continues to grow, Micky (Bass) and Cormac (Vocals) are there normal action packed bundles of energy, I’ve often liken’d Cormac to Captain Caveman when he gets going, just a ball of hair visible. This set isn’t just a run though straightforward one, it’s a very brave move to burn though a high octane set on a scorching day and then try to introduce some new tracks that are very different, but somehow it all fits together, everytime I watch this band on a massive stage the question “Why are this band not bigger ?” runs through my head, the really are a great rock band. New album on the way and back on Tour with The Dead Daisies later in the year get behind this band, they deserve it.
Von Hertzen Brothers are one of the best bands to have come out of Finland in recent years, they have a very accessible sound, yes it is Prog based band but they are a Prog Rock band, and there’s a lot of rock in what they do, they are active, they push the envelope and incorporate elements of perhaps pop in to their work. The core of the band is the three Brothers of the band name, Mikko (Vocals), Kie (Guitar) and Jonne (Bass). and on this occasion we have two guests on Keyboards (Janne ‘Burton’ Puurtinen) and on Drums (Santeri Salsala) and they both really stepped up to the plate putting in great performances, but the frontline of the brothers is keeps your focus, they all have different elements during a live show that make sure you can’t take your eyes off them, Mikko’s full of energy, Kie’s passion in his playing is wonderful to see and Jonne just hammers out the basslines like he’s going for a stroll in the park. Having been regular visitors to the UK over the last 5 years they have built up quite a loyal following and a very decent crowd is getting into the set right from the opening chords of “Disciple Of The Sun”. The set is very well laid out with the majority of tracks coming from the last three excellent releases, Stars Aligned, Nine Lives and the latest brilliant album New Day Rising.
The early evening sun, the great vibe in the arena and a band on top form, honestly what more could you want, Sundays are made for this, there’s plenty of changes in pace through the relatively short set, but when this band lets go and plays with the freedom they appear to thrive on it’s beautiful, highlights from the set are probably the “Flowers And Rust” one of the best tracks from the Nine Lives album, “Sunday Child” with plenty of crowd participation, clapping and singing and also the title track from the same album as it, “New Day Rising” which again is a very upbeat song and allows the guys to get the crowd going, Mikko is a very charismatic frontman who just goes with the music and the spins and jumps along with belting out the thoughtful lyrics, Kie’s facial expressions while playing are worth the entry fee alone, if you haven’t had a chance to check these guys out do yourself a favour and do it, great band, another great performance, they add a lot to any lineup they are placed on.
Casualties Of Cool are a collaboration between Devin Townsend and Che Aimee Dorval and what a wonderful meeting of minds this is, the output of their work could easily be described as Country Rock, but there’s really a lot more underpinning their music. it’s definitely got a beauty about it and and at times there’s a shade of darkness in here. Tracks like “Daddy” are quite haunting, but at the same time there’s a mesmerizing almost hypnotic candor, and the beauty comes not only from the two terrific artists vocals and playing but also from the relative simplicity of how they go about it. this particular evening you have two artists, two guitars and two mics, and I’m already dying to see another performance of this music in a live setting, congratulations to Ramblin’ Man Fair for getting them on the bill in the first place, anyone in that Blues Tent has experienced something special this evening, Che Aimee Dorval’s voice is really stunning, and we all know how good Devin Townsend’s talents are in multiple disciplines and genres, add another. Today’s set all comes from their self titled 2014 release, would be really great of they can get together and make a follow up and of course tour it.
It’s quite strange on a weekend like this, when you have seem so many acts playing terrific sets you are pretty tired by this point in proceedings, but you just don’t want it to end, but we are on the home stretch now and it’s back to the Main Stage to end the night with three bands you can’t not want to see.
The band I was most looking forward too on Sunday evening was Airbourne not only because it has been some considerable time since I’d seen the Aussie balls of energy hit a stage, but I simply wanted to see were they playing everything at breakneck pace and exploding all over the stage, well that got answered inside the first 5 seconds as they burst out, Joel leaping to the front of the stage and you just know it’s on. Without doubt one of the sets of the weekend, they were just terrific, a band with the ability to put a smile on your face, lift your energy levels and just get everything going.
It’s nice to see tracks from debut album Runnin’ Wild still acting as the spine to their set his evening, even nine years on there’s a buzz about them, they certainly sound no more dated than the day the album was released and live they are just off the charts. High octane rock and roll the crowd are really getting into it, and why not, this is what it’s all about, the band are smashing out the tunes from “Ready To Rock” through “Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast”, Joel smashing a can of beer open with the side of his head, the obligatory rig climbing, Joel going walkabout on a crew members shoulders in the crowd, and absolutely smashing the end of the set with “Living It Up” and an rabble rousing version of “Runnin’ Wild” everything is in place. As an added bonus the guys have thrown the title track from the from their upcoming fourth studio album “Breakin’ Outta Hell” and it’s not half bad either, they are pretty irrepressible and you can’t see them changing how they do things anytime soon, the O’Keefe brothers are still slamming the rhythm’s as hard as they can, the band is as solid as when they came on the scene, tight fast and constantly interacting with the crowd.
Overall an absolutely cracking set, but to be honest at this stage, and I know it’s “there thing”, maybe it’s time they dropped the stage climbing routine, it’s great fun if you haven’t already seen it a number of times, but hey, if it works for the band it works for the band. Either way, don’t miss out on the guys when they are playing smaller venues through the UK in the coming weeks, Airbourne are entertainment.
Any time that Thunder arrive on a stage they grace it with their presence, and this evening is no different, the guys have been on fire for quite some time now, playing more shows in recent years while releasing a rather good new album. True to form the majority of the set is pretty much a greatest hits package. Danny Bowes really is still the classiest of voices on the Rock scene, start to finish he nails ever song, and we get classic Thunder tracks like “Higher Ground”, “River Of Pain”, the wonderful “Backstreet Symphony”, and of course what most people call ‘that song’ one of the top rock ballads to certainly come out of the UK, “Love Walked In” which is one of that songs that has the ability to take over you head for the rest of the night. It’s great to see Ben (Guitar/Keyboards) looking so well and having fun on stage again, along with Luke Morley (Lead Guitar), Chris Childs (Bass) and Harry James (Drums) they great one of the most formidable bands in Rock, all top notch musicians and having the extra special Instrument that is Mr. Bowes. This band were really born to play on large stages, looking so at home, working the crowd so well as the set progresses, once again a bit of a masterclass. Along with the classics we get some tracks from the latest album Wonder Days and both the title track that opens the set and “The Thing I Want” go down really well, the guys could probably play nursery rhymes and get a great reaction, but they are held in high regard because they simply are that good. Add to that the fact that they sound so wonderful all the time, Luke really does make a guitar sing with beautiful tones and Chris is one of my favourite Bass players around at the moment, and luckily he’s involved with more than one project so he’s very active on the live scene.
The only problem I have with the set is a bloody minor one again, but closing track “Dirty Love” much as I love it, takes up enough time to fit two songs into, but that’s very much a personal opinion, always being greedy for more songs in a great set. But having said that if you look at how much of the crowd gets involved with that extended version of the song it’s joyful, checking it out from the side you get to see how many people are clapping and cheering and singing, of course this isn’t the only song in the set, but the guys have the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands, until the next time, it’s always a pleasure to see them play.
Arriving to the Stage with an Intro of House Of Pain’s “Jump Around” we get Black Stone Cherry who have without any doubt moved through the ranks to elevate themselves to Festival Headliners, and they definitely deserve this position, even if they aren’t your cup of tea I’m sure you can appreciate the work they put in and the fact that show in show out they put in 100% and always entertain their crowd. It’s been a pleasure watching them move up the ranks over the years from coming to Europe and playing club shows to arena Tours, higher slots at Festivals and now a full blown Festival Headliner. Kicking the dust off with a triple threat of “Me And Mary Jane”, “Blind Man” and “Rain Wizard” it’s hard to beat the energy that comes from the stage, powerful rock songs played with tonnes of passion, the setlist tonight follows on a pretty similar pattern to Carnival Of Souls shows earlier in the year, with the odd change here and there.
It isn’t until you sit down and look at a setlist that a lot of people would see just how many great songs this band has in their locker, one in particular always gets me, never fails, “Things My Father Said” is a marvelous track on it’s own merit, but so many people can relate to it it adds a lot of relevance, when a song has so much resonance and the band plays it with so much passion something special is created, in the night sky getting ever so much darker that’s the case here, fireworks lighting up the sky at the other end of the arena and a crowd singing the words back to the band, that’s good enough for me.
This I’m sure is just the start of Black Stone Cherry’s Headline Festival sets, the guys work so well together, have a really solid connection with each other and one other thing that you have to love about this band, whenever they come across a problem, they just work through it, tonight that moment would appear to have been singing “The Rambler” acapella when Ben’s acoustic guitar fell silent before sounding a note, most bands these days would have just held up the show waiting on the crew to solve the problem.
Not sure if it was the 2 days of sun, running around, old age and a dodgy head or a combination of them all, but this was around the point my head crashed and the journey back to my accommodation had to begin, certainly not a proud moment, but sometimes you have to take the sensible route rather than end up laying in the middle of a park in Maidstone.
4/5 (BSC) 1/5 (for me)
The whole weekend was in a word AWESOME two days of wonderful Rock, Blues, Country Rock and whatever lays in between, again on the Sunday having managed to catch a broad selection of bands from different genres, old and new, some for the first time and that’s what Festivals should give you, add great weather for a second day, the word is bliss. Ramblin’ Man Fair 2016 appears to have been a huge success and as people start to leave the arena thoughts quickly move to who’s going to be in the lineup for next year, now there’s a question – happy trails Ramblers, until we all meet up again.