Review and photos by Rich Ward
The UK’s newest high profile classic rock festival, Ramblin’ Man Fair took place in the somewhat unlikely setting of Maidstone’s Mote Park. With no immediate on site camping and little in the way of car parking it seemed like an odd choice. However, the quality of the acts booked, including UK exclusives of The Scorpions and Gregg Allman, ensured it pulled plenty of punters.
Boasting three stages, it gave the opportunity for variety without it ever entering the realms of the bloated festival with hundreds of bands playing across numerous stages. A small but diverse selection of food stalls and bars, including a beer festival bar, gave more than enough choice for all over the two days and helped achieve the aim of making it a friendly, family oriented festival.
Saturday kicked off with reformed Belfast rockers No Hot Ashes who put in a short but punchy set of melodic hard rock. While most the crowd were still coming through the gates, and getting their bearings (locating the best bars and cleanest loos) those that made in in time for their set seemed genuinely entertained by them. A good start to the weekend. Following their set I headed over to the Outlaw Stage where Jess And The Bandits were in full flow, their brand of country pop rock was pleasant enough but ‘Ready Set’ sounded a bit too like Shania Twain, and the call of the real ale tent took precedence.
Next up on the main stage were Toseland, who ultimately I found a little disappointing. Having enjoyed a couple of the tracks off their debut and having watched them touring this album, I thought they showed some promise. However, James Toseland seems to have developed a more nasally whine to his singing which I find off putting and their new songs just seem formulaic and unremarkable. So much so that by the time FM take the stage, I’ve almost forgotten that they even played.
But then FM are in a different class; slick and professional they deliver effortlessly. Opening with the brand new ‘Digging Up The Dirt’ and plundering Indiscreet and Tough It Out, they can really do no wrong. Throw in ‘Closer To Heaven’ and it’s an AOR delight with Steve Overland in fine voice and the sun beating down, FM shifted the festival up a gear.
Blue Oyster Cult were next up on the main stage opening with the boogie shuffle of ‘The Red & The Black’ it was clear that there were quite a number of BOC diehards down the front. They were rewarded with a glorious ‘Burnin’ For You’, which seemed a perfect soundtrack for what was now a balmy Saturday afternoon. ‘Buck’s Boogie’, a thunderous ‘Godzilla’ and the timeless ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ help put a stamp on the day and also serve as a reminder to catch the band on the next time they tour for a full set. One of the highlights of the day for sure.
Perennial festival favourites Saxon step up to the plate and deliver a set of bona fide classics. Aside from the recent ‘Sacrifice’ it’s all about the early eighties, and they storm the stage; ‘Motorcycle Man’, ‘Power And The Glory’ and ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’. Similar to FM, they rarely disappoint and today is no exception. At one point Biff rips a set list off the stage and proceeds to eat it as if to say they’ll play what they want. In reality we know that’s not the case; a festival set without ‘And The Bands Played On’ and ‘Denim & Leather’, songs made for the very occasion, seems as unlikely as a Led Zeppelin reunion tour. The only disappointment being that they should have had a higher billing allowing more songs and their eagle lighting rig.
Dream Theater seemed to be an odd choice for the main stage, as surely they would have been more suited to the Prog stage. Still, I was interested to see them, as today gave me the opportunity to see a band I’d otherwise not have considered. While there were certainly those excited to see them, ultimately their misplacing was evident. Unless you’re a fan of their technical noodlings it’s very difficult to maintain an interest for an hour if you’re a casual listener. It became apparent that many of those down the front were staking their place ready for the Scorpions.
After a day of running to schedule, there seemed to be an interminable wait after the set change over before the headliners came on stage. It was 2008 that the Scorpions last toured the UK, and rumours of final tours and claims that there were no promoters interested in booking them for the UK made it seem unlikely that we’d ever see them again. Thanks then to Ramblin’ Man Fair for making this happen.
As the huge curtain hiding the stage drops, the band launch into their set with brand new track ‘Going Out With A Bang’. The stage set up is in a different league; massive drum riser, dynamic lighting, and screens projecting film and live footage throughout. What continued was a slick 2 hour set executed with typical German precision that ticked all the boxes for the fans. They delved deep into their back catalogue with a medley of some very early Uli Jon Roth era tracks such as ‘Steamrock Fever’, Speedy’s Coming’ and ‘Catch Your Train’. There was an acoustic driven section which included ‘Always Somewhere’ and ‘Send Me An Angel’ which gave everyone the chance to sing along with lighters held in the air. There was the obligatory drum solo with James Kottak’s riser getting elevated higher still, until he almost touched the top of the stage, and while it did drag a little, it was interesting enough to watch.
For me though, it was those classic 80s tracks that really hit the mark. Despite the banality of some of the lyrics, they wrote some undeniable classics that helped define the genre; the pulsing heavy drive of ‘The Zoo’, the bombast of ‘Dynamite’ and the titanic riffage of ‘Blackout’. Klaus Meine’s voice remains in fine fettle and rest of the band are in great shape, given that he turns 67 later this month I reckon Rudolf Schenker has a pretty knackered painting lurking in his loft. This makes you wonder why they had even considered knocking it on the head a few years back, because tonight we got a world class show from a band who are still very much at the top of their game.
An encore of ‘Still Loving You’ and ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ rounded off what was a really superb day of music, and served as a more than worthy start to the inaugural Ramblin’ Man Fair.