Words; Karen Hetherington / Pictures; Adrian Hextall / MindHex Media
(extra words ; Adrian Hextall)
Day three of year three at the Ramblin Man dawned altogether differently and I headed off to the festival hopeful of a drier, warmer day. As with the two previous years, the Sunday line up was more to my personal musical taste and I knew some unfortunate clashes were in store throughout the day…
My first stop was the Press Area for a chat with Brandon from Monster Truck and I as I was finishing up I could hear the echoes of British hard rock band Snakecharmer playing on the Planet Rock stage. I was just on my way down there when my attention was grabbed by Russian Prog Duo Iamthemorning. My initial impression was that singer Marjana Semkina was a Kate Bush ‘sound alike’ but as I listened more attentively I was completely captivated by their talent and originality. Unfortunately, I made my way down to the Planet Rock Stage just in time to catch Snakecharmers’ last song “Guilty as Charged”, and I felt the same – in terms of being easily distracted. I love their classic heavy rock sound and was gutted I didn’t see their set in its entirety.
For me, my day began with Stone Broken, one of the great success stories of the last 12 months. A band that had played the Rising Stage only last year, the band have landed some great support slots with the likes of Glenn Hughes and Cheap Trick and are about to start a run with Living Colour. Now you can’t do a lot in 30 minutes but the area in front of the main stage for the 12:30pm to 1:00pm slot filled up early with even my 11 year old daughter keen to see them so she bundled her way down to the barrier for a sing along with the Broken Army.
Stay All Night was followed by Better, with Be There, Wait for You, Doesn’t Matter and Not Your Enemy following in rapid succession. Little time for banter, the band did what was needed at the beginning of the warm sunny day, a complete contrast to the Saturday. Stone Broken brought the sunshine with them and it stayed for the remainder of the festival. [Adrian]
Next up was the Blues tent for the magnificent Jack J. Hutchinson. An artist I was previously unfamiliar with, the British blues guitarist didn’t fail to impress upon the crowd the extent of his talent. Feeling like Blues might be the order of the day for me, I stuck around for the equally fantastic Blindstone before making my way over to the Planet Rock stage for some Blues Pills…
My introduction to Blues Pills came about when they opened on the second day of The Ramblin Man Fair in 2015. With another album under their belt since then I was more than a little enthusiastic to see them again, and once again I was completely blown away by their performance. These musicians have an extraordinary talent and in my opinion need to be seen live to be fully appreciated. Singer Elin Larsson has a phenomenal stage presence and a voice to match and the high energy set which featured songs from both their albums as well as an amazing cover of Jefferson Airplanes’ “Somebody to Love”, seemed to pass in the blink of an eye as Elin performed like a shoeless, but substantially more dynamic, Sandie Shaw.
A second trip to the Blues Tent following a storming set from Jack Hutchinson allowed me to see Big Boy Bloater & The Limits. Who knew that Blues could be this much fun? Instead of waking up in a morning to discover the dog was dead and the fie had left you, Bloat’s lyrics are full of charm, humour and a definite knowing nod to the fact that Blues is a styles, genre, however you want to describe it, rather than a feeling. Whilst the old school Blues merchants may well have used music to describe how tough life was, Bloat & The Limits take the concept and turn it all around. You still feel like you’re listening to the classics, the Howlin’ Wolfs, the Muddy Waters of the world but when the content on tracks like ‘I Love You (But I can’t Stand Your Friends)’ rings out, it’s impossible to not smile, get into the groove and enjoy the show. One of the performances and another packed tent on a sunny day, once more testament to the draw the big man has. [Adrian]
Next on my musical agenda were Canadian rockers Monster Truck, also on the Planet Rock stage, they drew a huge audience and deservedly so. Nearing the end of a hectic touring schedule I was delighted to see them billed at Ramblin’ Man and with a sound that will sell out arenas, the crowd were absolutely loving them. I caught the first half of their amazing set which featured “She’s a Witch” and “Don’t tell me how to live” from their Sittin’ Heavy album before I had to quite literally tear myself away to see pioneering Dutch rockers Focus up on the Prog stage.
As I approached the Prog stage, Focus were in full swing with “Sylvia”, always a sound favourite of mine from re-runs of ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ it was a nostalgic pleasure to hear in real life and as if things couldn’t get any better they tripped their way straight into “Hocus Pocus”. Being one of my all time favourite songs, this stirred a great deal of excitement and the 11 minute plus version, which featured a breathtaking drum solo was the highlight of my day and possibly my entire weekend. The skill and precision of drummer Pierre van der Linden was completely overwhelming and the solo in question would easily rank among the best I have ever heard. As much as I was in awe of this outstanding performance, I couldn’t help but notice – with some degree of amusement, how many of the assembled crowd stared on bewildered and I formed the opinion that you either get it or you don’t…
With Karen away with the fairies up on the Prog Stage, my ‘Focus’ (see what I did there?) turned to the Rising Stage and Wild Lies. Having first seen them some time ago as the opening act on a 3 or 4 band bill, the opportunity to see the band that delivered the excellent Jack’s Out The Box e.p. was one not to be missed. With a full album behind them, the sun shining full on to the stage and a decent sized crowd to offer support, a ‘reasonable’ performance would have been enough. Instead the band turned it in fully loaded and held me for the entire set. A blistering performance, full of energy and passion and sporting a very different, modern, look to the classic hard rock image from when the e.p. first came out. The album ‘Prison of Sins’ is out and deserves your attention. [Adrian]
Again whilst Karen was down at the Rising Stage, I took the opportunity to revisit a band I’d first seen supporting Guns ‘n’ Roses on their Not In This Lifetime tour at the Olympic Stadium in London. Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown have the looks, the passion, the talent and most importantly the tunes to go a long way. To see them in a more intimate surrounding than at the far end of a stadium filled with the best part of 80,000 people was an absolute joy. When you realise that they’ve managed to support AC/DC, G’nR and more in the space of 12 months and now appear mid-table on the Blues stage with only The Wayside – e.p. and latest single “Loaded Dice & Buried Money” released, you have to stand up and admire them. This is a band with a reputation built on live shows and it’s the perfect place to experience them for the first time. [Adrian]
And so, high on life, off I rambled down the hill to hear Northern Irish rockers Blackwater Conspiracy showcase their fantastic debut album Shootin’ the Breeze on the Rising Stage before heading over to the blues tent for The Quireboys.
Another band making their second appearance at Ramblin Man, The Quireboys were first seen on the main stage in 2015 and unsurprisingly attracted a large crowd despite the dismal weather. Bearing this in mind, I ventured over to the Blues tent half an hour early. It was clear upon entry that a good few like minded individuals had the same idea and the tent was already half full despite the vacant stage. A bit of jostling ensued to get a good vantage point at the front, followed by a brief sound check a few minutes later and rapturous applause when Spike rolled in. Ever the iconic front-man, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand but much as I was enjoying the set, at around the halfway mark I had to fight my way out as the sheer magnitude of people packed in was more than slightly claustrophobic and hoards more were listening from outside. Content to do the same, it was seated outside the tent in the early evening sunshine that I listened to the remainder of their show as well as that of the fantastic Joanne Shaw Taylor who was up next.
For me, a spot of Magnum on the Prog Stage followed by a smidgen of U.F.O on the main stage provided a blast of classic rock from two of the old guard. Magnum picked a sweet set-list to suit old and new fans equally with high spots definitely being On A Storyteller’s Night, How Far Jerusalem and personal favourite Vigilante. Catley and Clarkin may be getting on a bit, as are members of U.F.O as well but they still know how to put on a show. Talent and experience count for a lot and these guys have it in spades.
Similarly U.F.O only have to turn up and wheel out the big guns to please the crowd. Multi million selling songs like Lights Out, Run Boy Run, Too Hot to Handle, Rock Bottom and sing along a classic Doctor Doctor did more than enough to sate the hungriest of the crowd wanting the hits to be played. It tee’d up the headliners perfectly and kudos to Phil Mogg whose voice sounds as strong as ever. [Adrian]
I made my final ramble of the evening back over to the Planet Rock stage ahead of ZZ Top’s headlining spot. I had a decent view a bit back from the bulk of the crowd to watch the rock icons kick off with “Got Me Under Pressure”. Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons embraced the stage with their customary cool swagger as they worked their way through sure fire crowd pleasers “Give Me all Your Lovin”, “Sharp Dressed Man”, “Legs” and “Tush” to name but a few . The Texan trio, now in their 47th year together validated their claim to rock royalty packing in an impressive 20 songs which had many dancing their way through the set. One of the undoubted highlights for me was the cover version of Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”. This being my first time seeing ZZ Top, I soaked up the atmosphere as I considered what a fantastic setting this was to tick this band off the bucket list.
Only in its third year, The Ramblin’ Man Fair may be considered by some, as festivals go, to be still in its infancy and just as there will always be complaints from festival goers, there will always be room for improvement by festival organisers. For me though, they have a winning formula, in a unique melting pot, in a fantastic location. The eclectic mix of sounds on the various stages combined with the relaxed atmosphere makes it the perfect event for Ramblers of all ages. Unquestionably one of the particular draws for me are the bands I stumble upon by accident, and the Rising Stage, which was a welcome introduction last year is the perfect platform for up and coming bands to “pitch their wares” to a wider audience. I have watched some amazing bands play this stage in 2016 and 2017 and it must be borne in mind that some of these bands will be keeping festivals alive in years to come so long may they rock, and until next year, Ramble on…