Ramblin’ Man Fair 2015
Saturday 25th July – Sunday 26th July 2015
Mote Park, Maidstone, Kent, United Kingdom
There used to be a muso’s joke about playing a gig at The Ramblers Society Dinner, and never getting to play, because the speeches went on and on and on and…….but THIS Ramblin’ Man is a music festival in Maidstone, name taken from an old Gregg Allman number. We were expecting one sunny day and one wet one and we certainly got exactly that. Accompanied by two of our ace photographers, we tried to take in as many acts as we could. We’ll be adding a gallery as soon as we can sort the images. Festivals mean that you can see acts you might not have got around to seeing OR that you’d normally have to see in dreadful stadiums. All this mixed in with new acts. Some of the artists were entirely new to us, some we had seen before, some are old friends (e.g. Danny Bryant) and some new ( Jess, VerseChorusVerse ). The PR and labels made an effort to have some of the performers available for interviews and we thank them for that. The organisers set aside a specialist tent for Country Rock on Saturday and then Blues Rock on the Sunday. What anyone attending cannot do is get to see every act, of course….although our photog John Bull seemed to be everywhere! Such tenacity……
JD and The Straight Shot
Now I had actually seen JD and The Straight Shot a few days earlier at The Half Moon in Putney but I was so impressed that I wanted to see them again and see how they would approach a UK music festival. The five-piece walked onstage at 1pm as one of the first acts of the day on The Outlaw Country Stage to applause and kicked off with ‘Empty’ as JD and Erin Slaver’s voices soared in the tent. After this, the crowd grew in size and ‘Under That Hood’ had a Johnny Cash vibe about it which was well-received. The track ‘Nature’s Way’ by American band Spirit was absolute genius at an outdoor music festival as it is about protecting our environment and we were surrounded by trees. The vocals on this track were very Mamas and Papas-esque which was pleasant to listen to.
They then played ‘Bally-Who’ which was about a carnival which saw Erin Slaver perform an Irish jig with her violin as the crowd clapped along and I thought to myself ‘This band could do a beautiful version of Richard Marx’s ‘Hazard’’ JD really gets into character as the carnival’s ringmaster and it is really cool to watch. ‘Better Find a Church’ had Marc Copley play some Spanish sounding acoustic guitar which blended well with Byron House’s upright bass.
They ended the set with ‘Midnight Run’ and JD explained that it was used in a film called ‘Lawless’. ‘So the producer of the movie told us that he loved the song but they were gonna get Willie Nelson to sing it! But you are going to hear the original!’ The crowd cheered and it was clear that these guys were a perfect festival opener at Ramblin’ Man Fair and it set the musical bar high for the weekend.
Check out their new album release in September as I feel that they will make quite an impact in the UK especially after that performance.
Jess and The Bandits
The Riccardi lads are involved here and play on the ‘Here We Go Again’ album, along with keys star Steven Reid Williams and bassist David Troke and others. With a stripped down band for this performance, Houston lass Jessica Clemmons takes the stage and gives the whole show a powerful edge. Always tuneful and throwing in some fine stage patter, this girl knows how to hold the audience’s attention. Mainly own compositions plus a few of what she calls ‘covers’ but agrees in a one-to-one conversation with me earlier are really versions ( there’s never any point in doing a note-for-note copy of an original unless you are playing in a function or tribute group).
‘You Can’t Stop Me’, ‘Nitty Gritty’and ‘Wanted Man’ benefit from strident vocal delivery and some stellar instrumental breaks on piano, guitar and pedal steel. Authentic stuff and not whiney or maudlin. Born to tread the boards, this chanteuse….
I had walked over to the merchandise tent and although the queues were long, the staff were polite, friendly and efficient. I then went to take a seat on the Classic Rock stage grandstand seating which was available to purchase separately either for the day or for the weekend. Now although it was an additional cost and it does add up with tickets, food and drink, merchandise and parking I honestly feel that grandstand seating at a festival is a must because standing up and walking round for a full two days is tiring whatever age you are. Please keep the grandstand seating for Ramblin’ Man Fair 2016 at both The Classic Rock and Prog stages as I felt it added to our overall festival experience and did provide comfort.
I was really looking forward to seeing Toseland, a five-piece rock band fronted by James Toseland who is an English former motorcycle racer who became The World Superbike Champion in 2004 and 2007. However, he began his full-time music career after collaborating with Little Angels legend Toby Jepson (quick sidenote, Toby Jepson or Little Angels wouldn’t be a bad booking for Ramblin’ Man Fair 2016).
They opened their set with ‘Crash Landing’ and the crowd absolutely loved it as James walked towards the audience and really engaged with them. The drummer just let loose and straight away I understood why Toby Jepson wanted to work with Toseland on their album. For people who like Buckcherry (again, another potential act for the Classic Rock Stage in 2016), Toseland probably would be up their street. ( I think the singer is a little too close to Axl Rose ! – Pete)
The songs are really clever as well as James sings the ‘fire and funeral pyre’ in the same line and then James surprised me by saying ‘this is our first main stage appearance!’ I thought it was one of many especially if they are this rocky live. Another thing to note is the electric guitar interplay between Zurab Melua and Ed Bramford because as they played the crowd grew in size. ‘Singer in a Band’ was a cheeky song that got the crowd clapping along and the closing track ‘Renegade’ featured James on keyboard. As I listened to ‘Renegade’ I thought ‘This song should be used in a film.’ It is dark but lively at the same time. This is a really exciting outfit and with the EP ‘Heart and Bones’ out now and a new album to be recorded in October it was clear that this festival appearance will put them a new level.
Blue Oyster Cult
I was really keen for Sgt Jnr to see this outfit as I have seen them many times. They delivered a crisp, powerful and varied set, proving that they are Masters of Rock. The audience gave them full approval throughout. The group are a heady mixture of rocking guitars, moody keys, strong vocals, melodic and insistent basslines, thunderous drumming, science fiction lyrics and not a little mystery. The crowd enjoyed the 12 inch single full edition of ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’, a delicious and grinding ‘Godzilla’, a staggered ‘Cities Aflame’ and catchy-as-hell ‘Burnin’ For You’. Limited time meant no ‘Stairway To the Stars’ or ‘ Summer of Love’ etc BUT we did get a dextrous rush through the great ‘Buck’s Boogie’. More power to these legends !
Now I quite enjoy country music so I decided to go and see Bob Wayne as he has been billed as ‘An Outlaw Carnie’. I arrived in the tent which had a respectable size crowd as Bob Wayne took to the stage with just his battered acoustic guitar. Starting his set with ‘I Used to Say No to the Things I Used to Do’ it was clear that this guy wasn’t exactly what you would call family- friendly which was very awkward as some young children were inside the tent watching him. His performance style is very intense and the expletive-filled ‘Sam Tucker’ about a gold-digger made for very uneasy listening. Oh yes he is a talented musician, but I found it quite hard to get involved in his songs such as ‘Everything’s Legal In Alabama (Just Don’t Get Caught)’ and the family favourite ‘Don’t Get On The Dope Train’ which was concerning a down on his luck truck driver who turned to a life of crime by driving drugs and guns across state lines to make a living. Very dark material for 5.40pm in the afternoon I felt.
His take on ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ by The Offspring was quirky and I actually found myself enjoying it a bit but after hearing another song about a train on ‘Going off the Rails on this Crazy Train’, I wanted to say to Bob ‘Please buddy try other modes of transport!’ When he began singing on ‘Ten Years down the Line’ my brain immediately said ‘Hold on. This is ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by The Charlie Daniels Band.’ His blunt track called ‘You Won’t Ever Hear Me Sing a Love Song’ sounded like an ode to the questionable dating website Ashley Madison as he flirted with the females in the front row. I decided that I had heard enough of Bob Wayne and decided to have a look around the festival site. The thing about Bob Wayne though, is the fact that he isn’t parodying songs like Weird Al Yankovic or Mitch Benn but he isn’t taking them seriously either so he is quite hard to categorise. He isn’t my thing but I can understand why people enjoy his approach to music.
Another Prog act that seems a bit cold to me…excellent players though and keen on tapping techniques with headstock-less guitars, all dressed in black and giving the crowd doomy and tricky pieces like ‘Premonition’, Falling Back’ and a dark as night ‘Cockroach King’.
I was glad to see this group once again, as I understand they are splitting to pursue other projects later this year. A well-chosen election of numbers found them performing the impressive ‘WinterCoast’ complete with Jeremy Irons spoken intro, ‘Dignity’ and a splendid charge through Tears For Fears’ number ‘Mad World’, this will be a sad loss to the world of Prog. They have a sense of fun and a touch of humour despite or as well as being fine musicians.
A lot of fans attending sported Dream Theater shirts and these followers are really keen. The group has been going some 30 years. Their singer sounds a bit like Iron Maiden’s a lot of the time and muffles his words, although he gives it his all, to be fair. As for the players, they are super efficient and play very fast ( all of them ) which tends to rule out anything organic or warm or any interplay. The parts are performed, but for this listener just doesn’t ever gel into anything listenable. At no point did anything new or creative seem to be happening on the stage during their set. HOWEVER, the crowd members who like Dream Theater lapped it up and probably felt this was the best part of the Festival. So it goes…
All the hits, plenty of visual trickery, energy to spare….they were making a video we understand…hence over twenty trucks of gear ! The crowd-pleasers of the day.
Jason and The Scorchers
This group took the Country Rock tent stage by storm – with the great bonus of Axe Cavalier and rock legend Warner E. Hodges on the Telecaster. Rasping harp and slashing chords made the whole set come alive. It was tuneful and stirring….quite a brew. ‘Shopping Around’ was terrific. ‘Moving On Down The Line’ a linear treat and then a ringing acoustic on ‘Meet On The Mountain’. Well worth experiencing…..
A Swedish band that we had caught before at The Dome in London, but with a young French bluesrock guitarist and a Yank bassist plus a beguiling blonde lead singer who is striking visually and vocally. Although first on to the main stage on Sunday, they played like headliners, belting out ’High Class Woman’, the moody ‘No Hope Left For Me’ and a roaring ‘Black Smoke’. It’s a great mixture of folk-rock, Les Paul heavy blues and a touch of science fiction or fantasy in the lyrics. Those who hadn’t seen the band before nodded approval. A wash of wah wah guitar and an art deco backdrop evoked the late 60s but this bunch are taking it all forward. Fine Festival fare…..
I walked over to The Blues Magazine Stage which was the Outlaw Country Stage the day before to catch the first day of VerseChorusVerse. We actually did a 20 Questions piece with him, which is available now and he was a really friendly guy. The tent was packed as it was raining quite hard and it was really the only covered area on the site (excluding the VIP section). However, the important thing is that people stayed for his set which was really great for him. He arrived onstage to cheers and got his acoustic guitar for his first song Lightning Hopkins ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ which was also done by Van Morrison and Them which is possibly how VerseChorusVerse first heard it as he is from Ireland.
‘Seek and Ye Shall Find’ was a really melodic song and he admitted to us that this was the first time he had ever played that song to anyone. As he switched his guitar back from open tuning a few people walked over to see the Blues Pills but at times they were so loud you couldn’t hear the music in our tent. ‘Who’s on that stage over there?’ he asked the crowd. ‘Bit loud aren’t they?’ He then played ‘No Window In Your Heart’ and I picked up influences like The Foo Fighters in this track and it balanced the set quite nicely.
His deep vocal on ‘Terry Told a Tall Tale’ was very reminiscent of Captain Beefhart and at times it turned quite demonic in terms of delivery. He explained that he had CDs for sale and that he had a red tent to sell as he couldn’t take it back as extra luggage to Ireland. He closed his performance with ‘Don’t Leave My Side’ and the audience warmed to him quite quickly. Although this was his only UK appearance of the summer, I hope he returns and I think that a harmonica player would complement his performance style and songs.
Now I was aware of Ian Siegal and his kudos in the blues world and by the look of the packed tent everyone at Ramblin Man was aware of it as well! I couldn’t even see Siegal as he came on with just an acoustic guitar. It’s at moments like this where I would like to suggest that they make the Outlaw Country/Blues Stage tent a bit bigger for next year as a few people set up their folding chairs inside the tent which deprived people of a space. At least people can still be comfortable if it were to increase in size.
Ian has quite an American-accented voice when he sings which is interesting considering he is from Wiltshire but anyway his song about ‘Gamblers, rustlers and hustlers’ worked well in the tent and the crowd agreed. He explained that he didn’t have very long so he wanted to rattle through some songs and then he told us all ‘to quote Willie Nelson: we tune because we care.’ The religious ‘Oh Mary/Pharaoh’s Army’ reminded me of Counting Crows and I felt that although he sounded great solo it didn’t have a much oomph as it would have done if he had a full band with him.
One other quick thing, a couple of the acts I saw in the tent were frustrated at how loud the Classic Rock stage was at times with Siegal asking the crowd ‘Can someone go to that other stage and tell them to shut up?’ This was met with a large cheer and the truth is he was right. Acts such as him and VerseChorusVerse were at times drowned out by the other acts. It seemed that the stages had enough distance between them but maybe the angles of the stages were causing it I don’t know.
Aaron Keylock is a seventeen- year-old blues guitarist from Oxford who has supported Blackberry Smoke on their UK tour last year and headlined London’s Charlotte Street Blues Club at age twelve so who has accumulated over 200 live shows as a solo artist and with a trio. You could barely move in the Blues tent as everyone was crammed in so tight. Going straight into ‘Medicine Man’, Aaron showed the crowd what he was made of as he played along with his bassist and drummer. I heard the hints of Rory Gallagher in his playing but he also sounded quite psychedelic in parts as well.
‘The Sun Is Gonna Shine’ saw Aaron and his band bathed in yellow and orange lights as his guitar cried out rocky riffs. A person near me who kept hitting me with his folding chair tied around his back told his friend ‘He sounds like a young Johnny Winter’ to which his friend replied ‘Who’s Johnny Winter?’ Most people would have probably asked him to leave the tent if they could …
‘Lovin’ and Lies’ had some really rocky riffs and sounded like the perfect driving song. ‘This song was inspired by Peter Green’ Aaron told us before launching into ‘Just One Question ‘which is a slow blues that he played on a Gibson guitar. This is my favourite song of Aaron’s because it shows that he is more than a fast-fingered guitarist who is trying to mirror Slash. He is a versatile player who is in his element in a live environment and I look forward to his debut album release on Mascot Label Group/Provogue Records later this year.
Although we missed out on interviewing this lot, they will be doing a 20 Questions we hope. I made a point of catching their set over on the Prog stage, from the platform seating section. Imagine a more muscular Pink Floyd, guitar and keys striking out, plus a winsome singer and an effective acoustic interlude. Melodic songs, too…I can see why this group has gained popularity, there is something warm about them when they could be icy….
Riverside make a really attractive sound, singing bassist and all. Seems they are from Poland and they joked about the rain making them feel at home. The droning organ playing made things a tad sombre for a while but when the ensemble got going a more full-blooded sound emerged and with some beautiful delayed guitar runs over the top, it all sounded very listenable. The mystic ambience was sustained and they started to sound a lot like the mighty Quintessence of yore. A second number had a jagged tempo and vocal phrasing that reminded me of Al Stewart. The act was well-received and I was glad I had bothered to walk over and see them.
Yes, they can all play really well and the singer is a great performer – but they all STILL sound like they would rather be in The Faces. For all that, a good Festival inclusion for their joie de vivre and precise execution of material
The Temperance Movement
I was feeling a bit tired from walking so I decided to take advantage of my grandstand seating ticket and sit down albeit in the rain to catch The Temperance Movement.
Now I saw one of Temperance Movement’s early shows at an intimate club called Audio in Brighton in June a couple of years ago and I really enjoyed their set. Well a little while later and they have released their self-titled debut album to critical-acclaim, opened for Blackberry Smoke in the US and performed several sold-out headline tours the last of which saw them play the 2,000 capacity Forum in London.
They walked onto the Classic Rock Stage to a huge crowd and started their 9-song set with ‘3 Bullets’ which saw lead singer Glaswegian Phil Campbell happily leap around the stage like a bundle of excitement. The guitar on ‘Midnight Black’ from both Luke Potashnick and Paul Sayer was high-quality rock and although the rain got heavier nobody cared as ‘Be Lucky’ rang out and showcased just how musically tight both bassist Nick Fyffe and drummer Damon Wilson are.
‘Smouldering’ showed a softer side to this British rock five-piece and showed their diversity as musicians whilst fan favourite ‘Only Friend’ got the crowd singing and dancing along and when they closed with ‘Take It Back’ the catchy chorus was sung back to them exactly. A very sensible booking on the organisers’ part as Temperance Movement do put on a rocking live show and the audience enjoyed it. However, they have been promoting this album for a while now and as great as the songs are, I really hope that they release a new album soon and then support it with a new UK tour in 2015.
Fronting a trio, the appearance of Danny Bryant was like a jolt of electricity over at the Blues tent – he seemed on fabulous form. Bryant can sound confident without ever being arrogant or showy and his guitar playing had the whole crowd baying for more. About four numbers in he launched into a tune that combined the very essences of Freddie King and Albert Collins, his rhythm section with him through every twist and turn. A torrid slow blues finds Danny using the old volume control violin imitation to great effect. When he mutters that it’s his birthday, the audience launch into the appropriate song and he shyly smiles. A top notch set from a guy who cares about music, it’s all that you could want…
Now I watched a couple videos of Rival Sons on YouTube a while ago and was actually quite surprised I hadn’t heard them before. As the rain continued to pour I waited for them to arrive whilst I sat in the grandstand again. They opened with ‘Belle Starr’ and whilst the crowd were getting into it I was a little underwhelmed I have to say. But then they went into ‘Electric Man’ and I thought the song was well-written and the bass and drums here were in complete control.
( I had heard a lot about this group…for me they combined the lesser aspects of INXS and Roxy Music, so I wasn’t converted – Pete )
On a general note, there are inevitably things that Ramblin’ Man could do better – the collection of photo passes was a tedious dragged out business with no need for it to be so and the Press Tent lacked a beverage machine and reliable WiFi. But for all that, the Festival provided great variety, sensible stage allocation, good stewarding, reasonably run catering. overall ( get a Caffé Nero or Costa tent PLEASE!!! The Fairtrade tea was dreadful) a classy selection of acts that encouraged adventure. All attending doubtless had their favourites but it was refreshing to have no idiot DJ’s or rabble-rousing indie bands. I would love to see the organisers get Pat Benatar, Steppenwolf or the current incarnation of Iron Butterfly for next year……oh, and The Union maybe? Living Colour would be a great inclusion…our man Vernon Reid was born here!
Glenn Sargeant & Pete Sargeant
* With thanks to the Festival organisers ( and well done, all), Ben Gazey and everyone at Duff Press, the PR companies and labels, the artists we interviewed, our ace photographers and the lovely Holly in The Info tent…
* Look out for interviews with various of the above including Jess and Aaron AND either existing 20 Questions or those due for addition to the site ( eg JD, Jess…)
Ramblin Man Fair 2016 takes place on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th July 2016 at Mote Park, Maidstone, Kent, United Kingdom. For Super-Earlybird weekend tickets and VIP weekend tickets visit: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ramblin-man-fair-2016-admission-tickets-tickets-17911626156