Sunday turns out to be a gloriously sunny morning in Maidstone which allows a nice walk to clear the head, think about the two previous days and contemplate the delights that lie ahead for Sunday with a surfeit of top bands playing across the four stages. There’s going to be some tough decisions on which bands we will have to miss out on due to the inevitable clashes.
We start off the Sunday at the Blues Stage with Sweet Crisis whose 70s influenced soulful blues rock has drawn an impressive crowd. With strong vocals and dynamic solos there’s a hint to early Fleetwood Mac in some of the songs such as ‘Great Big Steps’. We catch a few more before heading down to the Rising Stage where Kent indie/alt rockers Salvation Jayne are already in full flow pumping out their current single ‘Jayne Doe’ which is powered along with its insistent bass line. ‘Juno’ is another standout song where a hypnotic rock beat meets 90s Brit pop. With the right breaks, these guys could be huge.
Opening the main stage are Austin Gold, taking their name from an old guitar pedal, they hit the stage playing retro rock not too dissimilar in style to Kris Barras. They play a selection of tracks from debut album Before Dark Clouds and their brand new self titled EP that was released earlier this week. Vocalist and guitarist David James Smith is without doubt the focus of attention of the band as they run through a mix of hard rockers, such as ‘Brand New Low’ and more melodic offerings in the likes of ‘Roadside’. A fine band to get the main stage moving.
Moving over to the Blues Stage we see a change to more traditional blues with Elles Bailey who delivers a captivating set. Opening with ‘Wild Wild West’ she moves around the stage connecting with the audience with an emotional voice that has power, soul and blues all in equal measure. She then takes to the keyboards for ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’.
It’s a super set and recent single ‘Medicine Man’ is a highlight; an excellent rocky blues number with some tasty slide guitar and distinctive smoky vocals delivered with conviction. But it’s not just about Elles, there are wonderful swirling keyboards throughout courtesy of Jonny Henderson and there’s some terrific solos from guitarist Joe Wilkins, especially on set closer ‘The Road I Call Home’. Incidentally, Elles will be on the road again later this year with a UK tour already announced for the end of October through to mid December.
As he hears some gunshots from the American Civil War re-enactments, Living Colour’s Corey Glover comments ‘I have news for you. The South lost!’ as they start proceedings with their cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Preachin’ Blues’ which sees guitarist Vernon Reid effortlessly mix blues, rock, funk and slide all into the one song.
Living Colour have been out on the road celebrating the 30th anniversary of their breakthrough album Vivid (albeit now being in its 31st year), and playing it in its entirety. At the time of its release, it was quite a unique offering, and remains so today, but being billed so early on in the day, this was never going to happen, and I still can’t fathom the reasoning of putting them below Inglorious. As it is, it’s a much varied set that even excludes some of their most obvious numbers, although they don’t miss the opportunity of ‘Cult Of Personality’ to remind those of us old enough to remember how this song dominated rock radio and rock clubs up and down the country back in 1998. During this song Corey Glover goes for a wander into the crowd, not just to sing closer to the fans, but also to take a moment to appreciate his bands virtuosity on stage.
Another hot proposition over on the Rising Stage are Gin Annie. Despite competition from Inglorious on the main stage with a direct clash, Gin Annie pull one of the largest crowds of the weekend. Anyone who already owns their debut album will already know what they’re about; hard driving heavy melodic rock with a thunderous rhythm section.
Their debut album, 100% proof, hit the shops at the start of the year and they’ve been working hard touring their own shows in addition to getting some good support slots and festival appearances. Songs like ‘Fallin” and ‘Dying To Live Again’ are firm crowd pleasers and the whole band give it their all; all the poses in the book are pulled, and frontman David Foster is grinning like a cheshire cat as they tear through their set, loving every second. Gin Annie killed it today, but we always knew they would. They are currently in the process of recording album number 2, but have just released new single ‘Already Gone’ to keep the momentum going.
Since the Black Crowes called it a day for good, Chris Robinson has been prolific, especially in an age when his contemporaries studio output has slowed considerably. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood have just released their sixth album, Servants Of The Sun, which is probably the most straight forward rock album that they’ve done to date. Musically they’re not a million miles away from the Crowes; just a little less of the hard edge and a move towards the Grateful Dead jam band feel.
‘Coming Round The Mountain’ is a slice of pure Southern Country rock which features some excellent guitar from Neal Casal. Meanwhile ‘Venus In Chrome’ meanders a mellower path being dominated by keyboards, harmony vocals and a very clean guitar sound. ‘Rosalee’ is a tight, but laid back country rock take which sounds perfect in the late afternoon as it drifts across a chilled out Mote Park. The smell of incense is the only thing missing.
Penultimate act on the main stage are Airbourne and if you thought the Darkness’ spot on Friday night was over the top, then at least you can say that it was in some way preparation for Airbourne. With a backline of Marshall stacks running the entire width of the stage, you know that you’re in for something special.
Joel O’Keefe races on to the stage like a Tasmanian devil on speed; a veritable antipodean ball of energy that doesn’t let up from start to finish. No sooner than opener ‘Ready To Rock’ is over, he’s off the stage and into the crowd, soloing while on someone’s shoulders and smashing a can of beer over his head until it explodes while flanked by inflatable kangaroos.
They continue at breakneck speed through ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Breaking Outta Hell’ and the side entertainment continues as O’Keefe pours several beers into glasses and lobs them into the crowd with enough weight and direction to ensure the beer stays in the glass for most of its journey. After a few failed attempts, a girl on someones shoulders catches one and downs it. An instant legend is born in Mote Park. Elsewhere in the set a circle pit breaks out – this is something new for the normally reserved crowd to experience.
The songs may be fairly simplistic and never straying too far from he formulaic Aussie rock, but its one hell of a show that Airbourne put on. They have just announced a UK tour for November. I know I’ll be there.
Final act on the Rising Stage are The Fallen State. They have a sound that is very much modern hard rock, but at the same time their infectious wall of sound riffs remind me Hoobastank; a sound that you’d imagine was far more west coast than west country. As they break into ‘Torn’ they seem to be restrained by the size of the stage. Maybe their support slots with Halestorm and Tremonti have made them accustomed to larger stages. There’s an emotional moment before ‘Fragments’ as singer Ben Stenning says some words about guitarist Dan Oak, who can’t be part of today due to his ongoing battle with cancer. He’s obviously a close friend as well as a band mate. Special mention must be given to Sophie Burrell who’s filling in on guitar and does a sterling job. Fallen State head out on a UK headline tour in October. Be there!
Headlining the Blues Stage is Beth Hart who strolls onto stage in a striking all black outfit topped with a loose green jacket that grabs the attention. Beth’s honesty and openness in her lyrics and performance when matched with her outstanding voice are what makes her such a compelling artist to watch, but I was not prepared for the effect that happened next. Taking a small stool to the front centre of the stage, she sat with her bare toes curling over the edge of the stage delivered a spellbinding performance drawing the listener in, immediately bringing an intimacy more akin to that found in a small club gig. A remarkable moment indeed. The next few songs see her deliver a mix of personal ballads and traditional blues and at times, some of which she plays sat at her piano.
This would have been a highlight set of the weekend for many, but the clash with Foreigner unfortunately took me off before the end of her set. A good job then that he next day she announced a UK tour for February 2020.
Those that know Foreigner well will know that on recent tours Mick Jones’ health has precluded him from performing the full show. That in itself presents an interesting prospect as Foreigner take to the stage with not only a lack of original members, but also nobody that played on any of their key albums through the 70’s and 80’s. Strangely, this matters not one iota as it becomes apparent that the songs take precedence over the people playing them. Although it must be said that the standard of the musicianship of the band is peerless. Kelly Hansen’s voice is superb and he works the stage and crowd with consummate ease as they move through ‘Double Vision’ & ‘Head Games’.
Even though we’d heard snippets of ‘Cold As Ice’ played over the PA multiple times between set change overs during the weekend it did not diminish the enjoyment of the song as they delivered an exceptional rendition which saw Thom Gimbel move from guitar to keyboards and they even incorporated a section of Purple’s ‘Black Night’ into the mix. Indeed, many of the songs are embellished beyond their original format.
After ‘Dirty White Boy’ Kelly Hansen introduces each of the band members before mentioning the man who wrote them all as Mick Jones walks on stage to huge applause, and they ease into ‘Feels Like The First Time’. By the time they move into ‘Urgent’ things have moved up a notch and its Thom Gimbel’s sax that makes the song so memorable, especially with his interplay with Jones. Solo spots for Mike Bluestein and drummer Chris Frazier allow a little respite.
‘Juke Box Hero’ is extended to well over 10 minutes in a masterpiece of stadium rock complemented by superb lighting. It’s a highlight not only of Foreigner’s set but of the whole festival. It simply doesn’t get much better than this. ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ and ‘Hot Blooded’ conclude the show, which despite its 80 minutes felt a little short.
With that another Ramblin’ Man Fair is over, and it’s fair to say that they have excelled themselves again in the selection of bands curated for 2019; a real mix of genres and the opportunity to catch up and coming talent alongside established legends. Add to that the well executed organisation and friendly atmosphere and you’ve got what still remains one of the UK’s very best festival.
See our review from Friday here
See our review from Saturday here