Well our third Ramblin Man in a row and the first one of many for Rock Zone UK, at Mote Park in Maidstone, proved to be a brilliant weekend again helped in part by the beautiful weather. Ramblin Man Fair has secured itself on the Rock Festival must attend list, and they have always manged to bring into quality bands to suit a wide-ranging audience, catering for Blues, Classic Rock, Prog and everything in between. However, Saturdays line-up had come in for some criticism with bands like Poison & Bad Company rumoured to be headlining then pulling out, so therefore the festival site was slightly smaller than in previous years and only 3 stages. The atmosphere was great as always at this fun filled friendly festival.
Although not my cup of tea Saturday headliners Mott The Hoople had come in for some criticism and talking to many of our fellow rockers on their views on the show were mixed to say the least. Many left after Steel Panther blew people away with their fun filled cock-rock glam-tastic show, but others suitable impressed, ‘five guitars’ one fan said me, they were brilliant, especially when you consider Ian Hunter is still Rocking at the age of 79. Some comments about Ariel Bender reminding them of Corporal Jones from Dads Army did me chuckle but all in all I feel Mott The Hoople went down well with the crowd. Other Saturday highlights included the sublime Myles Kennedy, who for me cannot put a foot wrong, and was band of the weekend for a lot of people, together those Southern boys, The Cadillac 3, who really impressed me when they played the festival back in 2016. Bands on the rising stage such as ‘Those Damn Crows’, ‘Gorilla Riot’ and the ‘Rising Souls’ seemed to have impressed everyone. On the country stage, the aforementioned ‘Myles Kennedy’ Sothern Rockers ‘Skinny Molly’ and stalwart ‘Steve Earle & the Dukes’ went down a storm, and the Main Stage offered great sets by ‘No Hot Ashes’, Scottish rockers ‘Gun’, Irish 90s indie rockers ‘Therapy?’
For me Sunday’s line-up looked stronger overall, and by the time we had got through the gates we headed straight for the Blues stage, although no rush was needed as technical problems meant bands had to be scheduled back approx. 90 minutes. Finally, ‘The Connor Selby Band’ hit the stage, with this young line-up impressing me from the off. Blues Rock is having a resurgence now in the UK, and Connor Selby reminded me of a young Joe Bonamassa at times, with great vocals and a quality band to boot, a real surprise for and a great way to kick off the day.
We then hurried over to witness the opening act on the main stage, ‘The Last Internationale’ the three-piece from New York City, who I had heard great things about. What we witnessed was a real eclectic set of modern punk with a great deal of rock and sleaze thrown into the mix. Lead singer/bassist Delila Paz was truly wonderful on stage and gave a great performance on songs like ‘Hard Times’ and a great version of the ‘Sam Cooke’ tune ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, on which she jumped down into the crowd. We were also treated when ‘Billy Sheehan’ came on stage to deliver a raucous ‘1968’ with Sheehan & guitar player ‘Edgey Pires’ trading of licks like its Vai & Sheehan back in 1986. A great fun filled set and I can see this band going from strength to strength over the next couple of years.
Unfortunately, with stage clashes we only managed to catch a glimpse of ‘Goldray’s’ set in the prog tent. With ex Reef man Kenwyn House and the band delivered a great modern psychedelic set that the crowd lapped up, with ‘Soulchild’ and ‘Forest’ going down particularly well.
We were time for a quick run back up the hill to watch the ‘Kris Barras Band’, one act I had been looking forward to seeing, and seem to receive great reviews on the back of the current tour and album, together with constant rotation on Planet Rock Radio. Kris is also the new frontman for Blues Supergroup ‘Supersonic Blues Machine’ with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. A decent size crowd had gathered and the four-piece emerged through a wall of dry ice to a great welcome as they offered up tracks from their first two albums. From the off ‘The Kris Barras Band’ delivered quality vocals, great harmonies, and amazing musicianship of the highest order. With Keyboard player Josiah J Manning driving each track through, and the new material went down very well, as the commercial ‘Propane’ and my personal favourite, the gospel influenced ‘Hail Mary’ were excellent. Kris Barras is a great frontman and interacts with the crowd like a veteran performer, with the big single ‘Lovers or Losers’ gets the crowd rocking. For me this band are going to be huge as closing track ‘Watching Over Me’ provides real commercial qualities that could take the band right to the top, what you get are brilliant vocals, amazing hooks delivered by a top-class band. A thoroughly enjoyable set and one of my personal highlights on this very hot
Jin Jones and the Righteous Mind photography by ange Cobham/Cobspix Copyright 2018
Now time to get back over to the main stage to witness an up and coming act who in my opinion are going to be huge, ‘Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown’. They begin with ‘Weak & Weepin’ and get the crowd moving from the off, ‘House on Fire’ get everyone singing along together and putting their hands on the air, followed by the brilliant ‘Don’t Mind the Blood’. Next up is the very bluesy ‘Downtown Tonight’ and having great musicians in the band such as Graham Whitford, son of Brad Whitford from Aerosmith, Noah Denney on Bass and powerhouse drummer Caleb Crosby, we see what an amazing guitar player Tyler Bryant really is together with this very talented band. The Ann Cole cover of ‘Got My Mojo Working’ goes down tremendously well with this very appreciative crowd. ‘With ‘Ramblin Bones’ and ‘Lipstick Wonder Woman’ bringing this high octane set to a close, in a word, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown were brilliant today.
We then waited at the Main Stage for the next act, one that I wasn’t going to miss for the world, a proper Rock n Roll Supergroup, ‘Sons of Apollo’ featuring Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey), Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal (Guns n Roses), Billy Sheehan, (David Lee Roth, Mr Big) Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) and Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Steve Vai). What we witnessed today was nothing short of amazing, my wife Pippa, who was down in the photo pit came back after the first three songs and said she had never seen better musicians than these guys on stage today. The set kicked off with the sublime ‘God of The Sun’ and was quickly followed by ‘Sign of The Time’ with Ron Thal And Billy Sheehan trading double neck riffs repeatedly. ‘Divine Addiction’ with powerhouse frontman Jeff Scott Soto whipping the crowd up into a frenzy, with ‘Labyrinth’ showcasing these very talented group of musicians on show. The short but brilliant set was brought to a close with the intricate ‘Coming Home’, that the crowd absolutely loved.
So, with more unfortunate delays ‘Blackberry Smoke’ swagger on stage over half hour late and go straight into ‘Fire In The Hole’ followed by the catchy ‘Waiting for The Thunder’ with frontman Charlie Starr’s sublime vocals shining through, dressed in full denim with his Ray-bans on looks cool as…. The boogie filled ‘Six Ways to Sunday’ with Brandon Still’s amazing piano and ‘Paul Jackson’ on second guitar had the crowd lapping it up. ‘Let It Burn’ and Sleeping Dogs’ with its snippet of Beatles tune ‘Come Together’ drive this Southern Rock set through. ‘Run Away from It All’ from the bands brand new album, ‘Find A Light’ goes down really well with this very hot and appreciative crowd which is swiftly followed by ‘Shaking Hands with The Holy Ghost’ which finds everyone singing along. ‘The mainly acoustic ‘I Ain’t Got the Blues Anymore’ and the down and dirty ‘Flesh and Bone’ showcase this great band really well. With ‘One Horse Town’ and ‘Ain’t Much Left of Me’ bringing this enjoyable set to a close.
Whilst the Blackberry Smoke set was on, Pippa had gone down to the Prog Stage to watch ‘Mostly Autumn’. With this being the first time Pippa had witnessed this very talented Prog band from Yorkshire, that is led by Byran Josh (lead guitar/vocals) and the enigmatic Olivia Sparnenn Josh (lead vocals) together with Iain Jennings (Keyboards), Andy Smith (bass), Alex Comerty (drums), Angela Gorden (keyboards/flute) and finally Chris Johnson (Guitar). The set features tracks such as ‘Sight of Day’ ‘Simple Ways’, Drops of The Sun’ that mesmerise this packed crowd with full of emotion. The set comes to a close with ‘Heroes Never Die’ that Bryan Josh absolutely nails, which makes this a thoroughly enjoyable set.
Next up the main stage are Special Guests and fans favourite Halestorm, featuring the outstanding Lzzy Hale who provides deep and soulful vocals at the highest level. This entertaining set kicks off with ‘Black Vultures’, and followed swiftly by my personal favourite the up-tempo rocker ‘Love Bites (So Do I) ‘‘Mayhem’ and ‘Mz Hyde’ get the crowd rocking, before we are treated to the haunting ‘I Am the Fire’ in which Lzzy Hale showcases her amazing voice. ‘Apocalyptic’ and the brilliant ‘I Get Off’ from the band’s debut lead into the rousing ‘Freak Like Me’ that has the packed crowd singing along too. This leads the band into current single ‘Uncomfortable’ that getting a great deal of Airplay at present, and final offering, the rousing ‘I Miss the Misery’. A brilliant band that just goes from Strength to strength in the live arena.
Back over on the Prog Stage things hadn’t been going to well, as major delays were affecting ‘Fish’s’ Headline set, as apparently the Von Hertzen Brothers had insisted on using their own front of house kit, and changeover seemed to take forever, which resulted in the set being cut from 90 minutes to approx. 70 mins as Fish had to be contractually off Stage before the main Stage headliner opened up. This obviously flustered the band and the ever-growing impatient crowd. This resulted in the crew rushing and in my opinion affected the sound overall, and could be clearly seen in how FISH presented himself to the crowd, as there was no real trademark banter that you come to know and love about the big man. The delayed set kicked off with ‘The Voyeur’ and was quickly followed by ‘Emperors Song’ and ‘State of Mind’, although delivered well didn’t get the crowd going until the ‘Clutching at Straws’ tunes commenced. What was offered next is truly brilliant as ‘Clutching at Straws’ my favourite Marillion album is played in full, the haunting ‘Hotel Hobbies’ followed by the brilliant ‘Warm Wet Circles’ brings back amazing memories of one of Marillion’s last shows with Fish at the NEC in Birmingham in late 1987. The enigmatic ‘That Time of The Night (The Short Straw)’ and the catchy ‘Just for The Record’ are followed by the hit single ‘Sugar Mice’ before we are treated the haunting ‘White Russian’. Encores ‘Slainte Mhath’ and the rousingly brilliant ‘Incommunicado’ bring this excellent performance to a close.
So, onto the final band of the weekend, The Headliners on the Main Stage, and Pippa’s all-time favourite band ‘THE CULT’ led by the brilliantly talented ‘Ian Astbury’ and my fellow Mancunian and guitar extraordinaire ‘Billy Duffy’. The band don’t waste any of their 90-minute set and kick off with the mesmerising ‘Wild Flower’ that gets the crowd moving, and I’ve never seen anyone dancing in the photo pit before ‘Pippa’. Personal favourite ‘Rain’ soon follows bringing back memories of some wild nights in Glam Rock Club ‘The Banshee’ in Manchester back in mid/late 80s. The Cult playing their first shows in the UK for well over two years, and first Headline Festival show in UK that I can remember too. Asbury looks cool as you like with his Man Bun and trademark shades, he skips and slides effortlessly around the stage, making it his own. ‘Dark Energy’ and ‘Peace Dog’ are swiftly followed by the classic ‘Lil Devil’ with its trademark intro from Billy Duffy, who looks like he is really enjoying himself tonight. Goth classics ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Spirit walker’ blend well with those classics from the ‘Electric’ Album era. The atmosphere calmed down for a while with ‘Deeply Ordered Chaos’ and ‘King Contrary Man’, before the first of the tracks from my favourite Cult album ‘Sonic Temple’, the mesmerising ‘Sweet Soul Sister’ get the crowd rocking once more. ‘GOAT’ and ‘The Phoenix’ drive the album through accompanied by a quality & talented backing band, before we are treated to the final salvo of mega hits. We have stadium rocker ‘Fire Woman’, which gets the crowd bouncing with Astbury sounding as good as he did back in the day, then the mid-80s goth classic ‘Love Removal Machine’ has everyone signing along and dancing. Encore and The Cult’s most famous tune to date ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ brings this brilliant set and amazing weekend to a close.
There were so many highlights on this fourth Ramblin Man, The Cult, Sons of Apollo And Kris Barras to name a few, and with dates for next year already announced I say bring it on. This festival has become a must see in our Calendar, because of its friendly atmosphere and top-quality bands that will ensure it will continue and grow year after year.
Photography by Pippa Warburton and Ange Cobham