Following a night of torrential rain and thunderstorms the omens for fine weather were not looking good. However, the gods of Rock N Roll were looking down on Ramblin Man, as they often do, and by showtime not only had the rain cleared up, but the ground underfoot was also surprisingly dry, and with small queues at the bars, the omens for a fine day of rock n roll were certainly looking promising.
First band of the day were Israeli prog rockers Scardust, who with the lack of any clashes drew a substantial crowd to the Prog Stage. For their very first UK dates, they bring with them a six piece choir to make sure they impress and make the best of their 30 minute slot showcasing their recently released debut album Sands Of Time. The epic 8 minute plus ‘Dials’ being the standout, not only for the music and use of the choir, but also in encapsulating the full range of Noa Gruman’s distinctive vocals.
Ten years ago Oli Brown was being lauded as the next thing in British Blues. While he still does go out under his own name for blues gigs, it is as frontman of hard rock trio RavenEye for which he’s currently attracting most attention. Today they have the pleasure of opening the main stage.
RavenEye are simply a thrilling band to watch. They have some great songs; ‘Breaking Out’ and ‘Hey Hey Yeah’ are both belting rockers that receive a great reception. ‘You’re A Lie’ is even more noteable for the fact that it has no guitar, with Brown singing over Aaron Spiers bass and Adam Breeze’s drums (incidentally partly whilst standing astride Breeze’s bass drum). A great main stage opener and long may Brown continue to ply his trade down both paths.
One of the joys of Ramblin’ Man is that you’re never more than a 5 minute walk from the front of one stage to another, so even when there are some direct clashes thrown up, you can usually mix and match between stages even if only for a few songs, and as such we have a little time to catch some of The Outlaw Orchestra on the Rising Stage. Frontman David Roux creates a laid back atmosphere with his jovial approach. With an eclectic mix of upright bass, lap steel guitar and excellent banjo work from Pete Briley, they really are quite unique in how they mix the Southern rock with bluegrass. They are compelling and fun, yet have substance with some great songs in ‘Burn The House’ and ‘Back To Georgia’.
When Toby Jepson formed Wayward Sons he was keen to make it clear that he wanted them to be seen as a band and not just his latest project. The past couple of years has seen them put the work in touring up and down the country on some key support slots, headline dates and plenty of festival appearances along with radio friendly rock tracks like ‘Don’t Wanna Go’ and ‘Crush’, both of which are played today, have helped cement Jepson’s vision, and give the band a decent following.
With second album The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be looming on the horizon it seems that they are going from strength to strength. We even get the chance to hear some new songs with ‘The Jokes On You’ and ‘As Black As Sin’. Jepson and Wood in particular seem to be relishing in playing the Fair, and we’re already looking forward to catching them again at Stonedeaf in a few weeks time.
It’s a somewhat local gig and their biggest so far for Collateral. Fresh off a few dates around the UK supporting Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell, there has been a bit of a buzz surrounding them and they draw one of the largest crowds of the weekend at the Rising stage. No doubt the locals are pleased to see one of their own progressing so well. They have a sound that harks back to the pre-grunge days of the late 80s where Rock N Roll was about big songs with big harmonies and blistering guitar solos, exemplified perfectly on set closer ‘Lullaby’ . They deliver all of this and more with gusto. A fine performance from a band clearly appreciative of the opportunity. They have just announced a UK tour with Piston, and have their debut album scheduled towards the back end of the year. Expect to hear much more from these guys over the coming months.
Back on the main stage Ugly Kid Joe prove to be immensely entertaining. Ugly Kid Joe have never looked liked the most conventional of rock bands, and today is no exception. Whitfield Crane strolls on in a checked shirt and shorts, Klaus Eichstadt sporting shorts and football socks and drummer Zac Morris in nothing but a pair of luminous green speedos! Wornstar warriors they ain’t – thank god. Kicking off with a rocky ‘Neighbour’, I was surprised at how much of an engaging personality Whitfield Crane is and his laid back approach is refreshing. He even seems keen to get down and try out the Face Painting stand after their set. Understandably it’s those massive songs that gave them their early success that receive the biggest welcome; ‘Cats In The Cradle’ and ‘Everything About You’, but on the whole it’s a thoroughly entertaining and varied set that converted me.
Another clash coming up with Robert Jon & The Wreck and Jimmy Barnes. We only managed a couple of songs of Robert Jon and liked what we heard, but the desire to catch Jimmy Barnes was too great. We were looking forward to the former Cold Chisel frontman’s set and he didn’t disappoint. His powerful raspy vocals have lost none of their charm as he works his way though a career defining set. Starting with ‘I’m In A Bad Mood’ from his latest release, My Criminal Record, he throws in a couple of Cold Chisel numbers; ‘Khe Sahn’ and ‘Flame Trees’ alongside belters like 1990s ‘Lay Down Your Guns’ and ending with the Springsteen-esque tale of manufacturing decline in ‘Shutting Down Our Town’, and a rip roaring ‘Working Class Man’.
After a false start a couple of years back, Grand Slam have returned with a new line up. This time they still feature Laurence Archer on guitar, with David Boyce (Bass) Benjy Reid (drums) and vocals being handled by Mike Dyer. In their day Grand Slam had some superb songs which sadly never saw the band record them for an official release; ‘Military Man’ found its way on to Gary Moore’s Run For Cover and Scott Gorham reworked ‘Dedication’ as a posthumous Thin Lizzy release. Both are played today and sound fantatsic, as does ‘Sisters Of Mercy’. In an age of a multitude of Thin Lizzy tributes, it’s nice to hear some of Lynott’s lesser known songs get an airing. Good to see FM’s Jem Davis filling out the sound on keyboards. It’s not all about the past though, as Grand Slam have secured a deal with Marshall Records and now taking pre-orders for their new album, one of the songs, ‘Hit The Ground’ we get to hear tonight. Lets hope for a tour to tie in with the album release later this year.
As the afternoon sun starts to go down it creates the perfect setting for The Allman Betts Band. Devon Allman and Duane Betts are keeping the legacy of their respective fathers and The Allman Brothers band alive while continuing to carve their own identity into the Southern Rock legend. Unsurprisingly there’s some Allman Brothers songs played, such as ‘Blue Sky’ alongside original material from debut album Down To The River. There’s also a couple of surprise covers with Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ and the Jon Lee Hooker standard ‘Dimples’ during which Black Stone Cherry’s Ben Wells sat in on guitar.
Back on the main stage Cheap Trick are noteable for the fact that they’re the only band that are not given an introduction from Planet Rock’s Paul Anthony. They take to the stage and immediately launch into ‘Hello There’ followed swiftly with ‘You Got It Going On’ from their most recent release. Robin Zander is in fine voice, and Rick Nielsen is as animated as ever as he throws handful after handful of picks into the audience throughout the set.
For the Cheap Trick fans, there are some deep cuts that delight such as ‘Baby Loves To Rock’ from All Shook Up, but this is then followed by a bass solo, which sees a drop in momentum. But it doesn’t take long for the pace to turn around as they hit a seam of pure gold; ‘The Flame’ sounds glorious as it drifts across Mote Park in the early evening through the crowd with hands held aloft. Then we have one of the finest pop rock songs ever written with ‘I Want You To Want Me’ which has everyone singing along, although to be fair I have heard Rick Nielsen play more tuneful takes on it than today. ‘Dream Police’ and ‘Surrender’ are glorious and for the latter they coax on some side stage onlookers to help sing, including a very happy Sam Wood from Wayward Sons. More picks and album sleeves are thrown into the audience before they sign off with ‘Goodnight Now’.
It’s over to Black Stone Cherry to close the proceedings for Saturday. The UK has taken to this band more than any other of the current US Southern Rock crop and so much so that you will often see them playing larger venues here than they do back home. But BSC have been good to the UK through regular touring and playing shows at a reasonable price point, and with a run of strong singles and albums, they deserve all the success that they’ve achieved.
With their latest album, Family Tree, well and truly bedded in, the hour and a half set tonight reads like a greatest hits list. Indeed, so many of them have been singles or supported heavily by Planet Rock to the extent that even the casual listener will be familiar with most of the songs played tonight. Whether it’s the poignant ‘Things My Father Said’ or all out rockers like ‘Me And Mary Jane’ their song lyrics connect with the audience. The fact that most songs have big hooks and choruses makes them memorable and easy to sing along to or just rock out to.
It’s the second time that they’ve headlined Ramblin’ Man and Chris Robertson seems genuinely appreciative to be here. Ben Wells is the usual bundle of energy and Fred John Young & Jon Lawhon keep the heart of the band pumping as they power through a predominantly heavy set. The pace rarely lets up and then it moves up a notch towards the end with the succession of ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’, ‘White Trash Millionaire’ and a beautifully heavy ‘Lonely Train’.
The encore is truly a special moment when Chris Robertson gets the crowd to hold hands and sing along to ‘Peace Is Free’. A superb headline slot and just as AC/DC seemed to make Monsters Of Rock their home, I’m sure Black Stone Cherry will develop a similar affinity with Ramblin’ Man Fair – and that’s fine by me.