Words by Karen Hetherington
Picture Credits: Sophie Lily Hextall Photography
Additional Picture Credits: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
Strangely, and purely by coincidence, since the first year of the Ramblin Man I have been more enthused by the Sunday line ups and I’ve had to negotiate some very difficult clashes with this year being no exception.
First up on my Sunday agenda this year were New Yorkers The Last Internationale. Formed in 2008 by vocalist Delila Paz and guitarist Edgey Pires I was floored by their lyrical complexity, amazing guitar riffs and overall powerful, raw sound when I first encountered them as a support band back in 2014. Touring with and supporting the likes of Robert Plant, Neil Young and The Who has no doubt honed their stage skills and they played a blistering performance as the opening act on the main stage on yet another blisteringly hot day. Their set which included “Killing Fields”, “1968” and the perhaps more commercial “Wanted Man” was definitely well received as ramblers were gradually filtering into the site for day two and my opinion firmly cemented that Delila has one of the best female voices I’ve heard in years and one which can alternate between rock and folk with perfection – a rare talent indeed.
Over the past few months I’ve heard much excitement about the Kris Barras Band, I therefore ensured that I was positioned in front of the Blues Stage to see what all the fuss was about. If you’ve yet to experience this band and you’re expecting the long, slow rambling riff usual associated with the blues you may be in for a bit of a shock, this is definitely ramped up a gear or two. I would liken it more to an infectious, intoxicating blend of upbeat rockin blues and general musical brilliance. Kris Barras is a fantastic guitarist who was no doubt enthusiastic to showcase some of the tracks from the latest release ‘The Divine and Dirty’ such as “Hail Mary”, “Lovers or Losers” and “Propane” and they pulled off a sensational performance which went down a storm. What can I say? Believe the hype – they are amazing.
Making my way towards the main stage I noticed a huge crowd had already assembled in anticipation of prog metal supergroup Sons of Apollo. All five established musicians demonstrated exceptional talent which at another time or in another place I may have appreciated better but in my upbeat “sunny day” mood I feared they were slightly too dark and heavy to hold my attention for the duration of their set and I wandered off halfway through to check out some of the remaining tunes being played over at the Prog Stage by The Von Hertzen Brothers. Unfortunately, as has happened before at Ramblin Man, I had to resign myself to listening to and not watching the band from outside the tent which was packed out and creating a more intense heat to that which was outside. From my position I heard the last couple of songs which sounded fantastic and I wished I’d caught them earlier, it was the first inevitable clash of the day. From there it was back to the main stage to see Blackberry Smoke – another band on my seemingly never ending bucket list. I thought their set in its entirety was fantastic, incorporating their old and new material as well as some borrowed music/lyrics from The Beatles (“Come Together”). They wrapped up their set with “Aint Much Left of Me” (including outtakes of a Skynyrd favourite of mine, “Mississippi Kid”) – which was a nice touch. It was suggested to me however, that the sound could have been better – perhaps, but I can’t say that it detracted too much from my enjoyment of the overall performance and I hope its my first experience of many with this band.
As I had been made aware at sometime the previous day that Chas and Dave had pulled out, I was hoping in vain that there would be some kind of reshuffling of the stage times meaning that I could watch the majority of Gov’t Mule’s set before making my way over to see Fish at the Prog Stage. As it happened, I had to reluctantly extricate myself from the fantastic Gov’t Mule – a firm favourite of mine with a growing suspicion that something amazing was about to happen on the Blues Stage.
[What If…. Karen had arrived at the Blues Stage earlier? – Words: Adrian Hextall]
Although dear old Chas & Dave weren’t able to perform, with Chas needing to get over a bout of flu, that he managed and has thankfully been able to perform with band when they recently played another event in Hyde Park, London. The stand in and compere for the day was none other than Big Boy Bloater. Supported by his band, The Limits, they were initially afforded a respectable slot of an hour (the same as Chas & Dave) but this sadly was cut short to 30 minutes due to a few technical issues that saw all of the day’s timings rearranged slightly. It caused, as Karen has proven, a few annoying clashes but thankfully I was on hand to watch the big man perform a wonderful albeit shortened blues set under the early evening sun.
With little or no notice about performing, poor old Bloat had been required to carry all of his gear to and from stage, tech for himself and act as roadie as well. Fair play to the man but when a guitar string broke early on and you only have one guitar with you, you either stop or try and restring whilst keeping the audience entertained. The trio, with a bass and drum line going that saw them pause long enough for the crowd to shout “Oi!” every 20 seconds or so whilst Bloater restrung his guitar “Are we doing this?? Yes we are..” he cried out with a laugh. And you know what, no one minded. The atmosphere was perfect as was the weather and the set when it finally commenced proper was greeted with a chorus of cheers and a sea of smiling faces. If ever a glitch made for one of the best, most enjoyable sets of the day, this was it.
Karen’s Festival continued….
As I made my way down to see Fish I was reliably informed that they were having some technical issues at the Prog Stage and Fish had yet to make an appearance. Marillion (fronted by Fish) were one of my earliest musical loves and I was determined to catch at least some of the set. When at last the performance commenced I detected a sound issue during the first couple of tracks and wasn’t sure if I would last the duration, thankfully it improved significantly and by the time “Sugar Mice” was played I had turned into an emotional wreck with the phrase ‘one song, a thousand memories’ springing to mind.
Fish has a huge stage presence with a commanding demeanour, no less than I expected and he related that he had often been asked if he’d had any strange moments; he proceeded to inform the crowd that his strangest moment was probably standing in Edinburgh listening to Steve Hogarth performing “Slàinte Mhath” which he launched into directly thereafter to the delight of the crowd. During the performance Fish had been handed a piece of paper dictating that he had to quit the stage before The Cult kicked off (apparently they have a contractual clause which states no other band are to be playing at the same time as them). Unfortunately, although I did get to see the full set, it was wrapped up around 30 minutes prematurely for this reason and Fish reluctantly concluded with “Incommunicado” to rapturous applause and an audience who would have happily watched him for another hour, if possible.
Of course, it was communicated to me that in my absence Blackberry Smoke front man Charlie Starr had joined Warren Haynes on stage with Gov’t Mule for a cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Blue Sky”, followed by the legendary Bernie Marsden joining Warren for the encores “Heartbreaker” and “Aint no Love in the Heart of the City”!
HIGHLIGHTS FROM RMF 2018 DAY TWO
Trying to get a comfortable position with a good vantage point for headliners The Cult was providing rather difficult and I sloped further to the back of the crowd after the first couple of tracks. The Cult are a band I have waited years to see live and my enthusiasm was difficult to disguise as they wove their way through a setlist of familiar classics including “Wild flower”, “Rain”, “Love Removal Machine” and “Lil’ Devil”. When I heard the first chords of “Fire Woman” I was sadly aware that the end was near, not only of their set but of this year’s festival and as they played the last track of the evening – the monumental “She Sells Sanctuary” I was overcome by a welcome wave of both nostalgia and euphoria which seemed to be afflicting most of the crowd. Unfortunately, singer Ian Astbury had to make a call for ‘no more violence’ as regretfully an altercation had taken place towards the front of stage.
HEADLINERS THE CULT BRING RMF 2018 TO A CLOSE
Thankfully there was little change to the feel-good vibes of the majority of the crowd and I reluctantly vacated the site with friends old and new and fond memories, some recent, some from the distant past but all conjured up by an emotive combination of music and good company. I think it goes without saying that there will always be an exceptional standard and variety of music at Ramblin Man but in the words of my good friend “It really doesn’t matter who is playing, it’s the people who make this festival work”. Till next year, ramble on…