2019 sees the welcome return of the Friday night warm up at Ramblin’ Man Fair as five bands take to the stage for those attending the whole weekend. For anyone expecting this to be a low key evening, then they would be sadly mistaken; a little rain has not deterred a sizeable crowd already amassing well before the first band take the stage. That rain also proves to be of little consequence to Antipodean rockers The Lazys who charge onto the stage seemingly with the mission to win over everybody at the fair.
With pumping bass lines and twin guitars they have that distinct Aussie hard rock sound. ‘Howling Woman’ starts the set and the AC/DC influence is clear, but a more contemporary reference point would be Dead Daisies; pure, unfettered, no nonsense Rock N Roll. They work hard and by the time they crank out ‘Nothing But Trouble’ they’ve have got the crowd singing along with them. No doubt they will have won over some new fans today and along with their recent support slots around the UK with Airbourne, Black Stone Cherry and The Wildhearts no doubt more people will be paying attention.
One man who doesn’t need to work hard to impress the Ramblin’ Man Fair faithful is Kris Barras. It’s become somewhat of a regular feature for him having worked his way up from the Rising Stage, to the Blues Stage last year and 2019 deservedly sees him hitting the main stage.
Despite the relatively short set, we get the opportunity to hear three new songs from the forthcoming Light It Up album. The title track itself is a monster which sounds all the better for the addition of two backing singers, as does the more familiar ‘Hail Mary’. He’s pulled out all the stops for his main stage slot, and that just helps confirm that Kris Barras is continuing to go from strength to strength. If you like what you’ve heard from his albums then you’ll love watching him live.
It has now been over ten years since FM reformed. In that time they have had benefited from a stable line up and continued to deliver consistently high quality albums. However, it is always when they play live that they impress the most; incredibly hard working and never failing to put on anything other than a killer show. I’ve often wondered if Steve Overland has some Dorian Grey like manifestation in his attic that possesses an increasingly croaky voice – it’s one of only a handful of likely option to explain how he always sounds so damn good!
‘Bad Luck’, ‘That Girl’ and ‘Tough It Out’ sound as good today as they ever have and they are dovetailed into a set between more recent numbers ‘Killed By Love’ and ‘Black Magic’ which see no drop in quality. The band are clearly enjoying themselves and this along with their classy songs with plenty of hooks and full band harmonies explain why they’re still Britain’s most loved and respected melodic rock band.
With what many consider to be the classic line-up (Ginger, CJ, Ritch Battersby & Danny McCormack) together again The Wildhearts are a band re-energised, and they seem to be on the road more than ever both as headliners and appearing at festivals. Indeed Ramblin’ Man Fair is the third festival Midlands Rocks have seen them at in as many months. They hit the stage with the new ‘Dislocated’; hard and heavy riffing throughout which is only interrupted with a short refrain where McCormack’s bass comes to the fore. It’s suitably energetic and classic Wildhearts. With just an hour on stage, they manage to squeeze in three songs from new album, Renaissance Men, which easily stand up in the set against the more familiar ‘Caffeine Bomb’ and ‘Suckerpunch’. It’s not really surprising given the favourable reviews that the album has received from both press and fans alike.
It’s good to see the band on such a large stage with superb sound and lighting. The pace doesn’t let up and by the time they close with ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’ it has all been so exhausting in the best way possible. They win band of the day for me easily.
Never ones to do things by halves, The Darkness make it clear that they’re the headliners as they take to the stage and open up with ‘Black Shuck’ while dodging the repetitious pyrotechics which do well in keeping the front rows warm. Dressed in a distinctive all white safari suit and jet black headband it’s difficult to focus your attention on anyone other than Justin Hawkins. As he struts, cajoles and performs some eye watering splits and jumps, he makes the stage his own. To his right, brother Dan opts for the more traditional rocker look with black jeans and leather jacket, meanwhile bassist Frankie Poullain prefers a more over the top look with a giant collared pin striped suit.
While ‘Permission To Land’ may still be their most defining album, it is still a little surprising to see the extent to which it dominates the set. They open with tracks from it and close with tracks from it with almost every other song from it is played somewhere in between. To be fair the crowd lap up every outrageous minute of it, and the return of the rain certainly wasn’t going to deter anyone. There’s more pyrotechnics, on stage athletics, a costume change to a velvet jumpsuit, and a finale that sees Justin Hawkins venturing into the crowd soloing with the guitar behind his head. What more could you possibly ask for?