Saturday at the Fair…
Now entering its fourth year, Ramblin’ Man Fair has played host to a superb selection of top acts and 2018 is no different. The two day event at Maidstone’s Mote Park has pulled together the usual diverse selection of bands across three stages bringing together a selection of bands that both celebrate the past and look to the future for Classic Rock, Blues, Prog and Country music. After the running times were announced it caused much head scratching in choosing which bands to watch.
The unenviable task of opening the day goes to Those Damn Crows on the Rising Stage. A full hour before either of the other stages open ensures that there’s plenty of time for a visit to one of the bars before heading down to the packed out tent. Having caught them earlier in the year, we knew to expect a good solid set, but the Crows notched it up to the next level delivered a cracking set of traditional Rock N Roll. In Shane Greenhall they have a great frontman blessed with the voice that is a perfect complement to the delicious riffs offered up in the likes of ‘Don’t Give A Damn’ and ‘Blink OF An Eye’.
It’s fair to say that today the Crows will have picked up a lot of new fans, with many joining in on the sing-a-long song ‘Rock N Roll Ain’t Dead’. Aside from it being a great tune, it bears a sentiment that will resonate throughout the rest of the weekend.
Scottish Rockers Gun are up next on the main stage who surprise by choosing not to play the predictable festival hits set. While there are the obvious songs such as ‘Better Days’, ‘Word Up’ and a stunning ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’ they do a fair amount from last year’s Favourite Pleasures album. Instead of tracks one might expect to make the festival setlist like ‘Money’ or ‘Inside Out’ we get ‘Favourite Pleasures’, ‘She Knows’ and ‘Take Me Down’ and the set is all the better for it. Gun sound fresh and re-invigorated clearly reveling in the here and now and continuing to move forward. Having said that, they end on two real crowd pleasers; ‘Shame On You’ and a cover of the Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight For Your Right’.
It’s also encouraging to see another band pack out the tent on the Rising Stage – London based hard rockers Dead Man’s Whiskey have clearly piqued people’s interest enough to draw them to the tent and with an engaging frontman in Nico Rogers they make the most of the opportunity to impress and its the straight ahead hard rock tracks like ‘Racing Bullet’ and ‘War Machine’ that stand out. Clearly they are more influenced by more modern American acts such as Black Stone Cherry and Alterbridge rather than their blues rock roots of their hometown, so it’s understandable that they will appeal to the younger audience. They have another couple of Summer festival appearances and are out on the road later this year supporting Jizzy Pearl.
It’s difficult to believe that Therapy? are fast approaching their 30th Anniversary. Lead singer and guitarist Andy Cairns succinctly sums up his band as “alternative rock delivered with a Liam Neeson accent”. Never a band to dwell on lengthy tracks, they power through their 45 minute festival perfect set cramming in as much as possible focusing on the early big hitters of ‘Die Laughing’, ‘Teethgrinder’ but also adding the more recent ‘Still Hurts’ from Disquiet. With a new album, Cleave, out in September, their current run of festival dates give a suitable opportunity to plug the release with new tracks ‘Callow’ and ‘Wreck It Like Beckett’, both of which suggest that the album will be an essential purchase. With the job done they close off with ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Screamager’.
There’s something about blazing hot sunshine that seems to complement Southern Rock and that’s no exception for Skinny Molly. One time Skynyrd guitarist and Blackfoot stringsmith Jay Johnson head up the band. With songs like ‘When The Tough Gets Going, The Tough Get Fishing’ and ‘F’yall’ you know exactly the type of music you’re going to hear. Delivered with gutso and passion, it proves to be an essential festival set and with a beer in hand and a cowboy hat giving a little respite from the sun, is there a better setting to kick back and listen to ‘Freebird’. Festival perfection indeed. Skinny Molly are back in the UK in October.
Back on the Rising Stage, welsh duo Henry’s Funeral Shoe prove to be another good choice. Brothers Aled & Brennig Clifford turn in a lively set of rootsy rock and blues dominated by slide guitar. While the basis is Mississippi Blues there are elements or rock, punk and R&B thrown into the mix giving quite a unique sound. Definitely interested in catching a full set from this pair in the near future.
Nashville rockers The Cadillac Three are next up on the main stage bringing their country blues infused Southern rock. They slot in nicely allowing just enough time to stroll down to the main stage following Skinny Molly’s turn. Frontman Jaren Johnston leads the trio through a string of favourites drawing from all their albums with ‘Peace Love & Dixie’ and ‘Hank And Jesus’ being particular highlights. The whole band seemed to be having fun and there was an infectious vibe to their early evening set, and tonight they excelled in what was one of the highlights of the day.
The Cadillac Three return later in the year in what promises to be a killer bill playing alongside Black Stone Cherry & Monster Truck.
Myles Kennedy drew a good crowd at the Outlaw Country stage. Performing solo with just his acoustic guitar the set focused mainly on his Year Of The Tiger album throwing in a cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’ and a mesmerising take on ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’ which sounded sublime in the low early evening sun. While mostly a solo set, Myles was joined by a second guitarist on ‘Haunted By Design’ which did give a much broader sound which only made me wonder if the whole set would have benefited from the extra accompaniment.
Whilst not to everyone’s taste, there’s no denying the entertainment provided by Steel Panther. A parody of 90’s hair metal bands, they have their act well refined. They are a perfect addition to the festival and provide a dose of humour poking fun with the between song banter and crowd heckling being as much part of the show as the songs themselves. Lewd and crude, the two inflatable penises provided by the audience seem de riguer. With song titles like ‘Asian Hooker’ and ‘Goin’ Through The Back Door’ they leave little to the imagination. A fun band for the festival, but not one I’d be rushing out to buy the cd. Having had my fill, it was time to move over to another stage.
Headlining the Outlaw Country stage was Steve Earle – someone who I’ve seen several times in recent years and has proved to be a little hit and miss, but with the prospect of hearing him perform the entire Copperhead Road album, it was certainly one of the most anticipated slots.
Copperhead Road itself is a genre defining album and one that both set Earle’s career into overdrive and also saw the start of his dependence on drugs (within a few years, Earle had spent time in prison for heroin and gun possession). Thankfully those demons are now behind him and he looks in great shape and the voice is better than ever. ‘Copperhead Road’, ‘Snake Oil’ and ‘The Devil’s Right Hand’ all sound glorious as the set progresses faithfully following the album up until the closing ‘Nothing But A Child’ which Earle takes some time to explain it’s origins after being asked to write a Christmas song. One of only several dates where he’ll be playing the album in full to mark it’s 30th Anniversary made the occasion special. With time for some additional songs, he chose ‘Galway Girl’, ‘So You Wanna Be An Outlaw’ and finished with ‘Hey Joe’. Definitely an ‘on’ night.
It’s fair to say that the announcement of Mott The Hoople as Saturday main stage headliners caused a bit of a stir amongst those already with tickets and also the reformation of the band was equally surprising to fans of Ian Hunter & Mott The Hoople. Unlike many of the bands that split in the mid ’70s, Mott were one of the bands that didn’t reform in the eighties or nineties and consequently didn’t build upon their past legacy, so the handful of reunion shows with the original line up in 2009 and 2013 were aimed purely at the old school fans. With Overend Watts and Buffin now having left this mortal coil and Mick Ralphs recovering from a stroke, this line up draws on the 1974/5 line up with Ian Hunter fronting with the legendary Ariel Bender on guitar and Morgan Fisher on keyboards. The rest of the band being fleshed out by Hunter’s Rant Band. This represents a real treat for Mott fans to see this line up play.
Owners of the seminal 74 live album, or even those who were lucky/old enough to see the tour will be familiar with the start of the show with a laid back ‘American Pie’ leading into ‘The Golden Age Of Rock And Roll’ with Ariel Bender proving to be particularly dynamic. Having the Rant Band backing Hunter, Bender and Morgan is a smart move as they gel well – and it’s nice to see how good James Mastro adapts to the sax. An early surprise is the Mott take on ‘Lounge Lizard’ and understandably there’s a lot of focus on The Hoople album picking up on gems such as ‘Alice’, and ‘Pearl ‘n’ Roy’ which are great for the Mott aficionados but probably not so immediate for the festival crowd. ‘Roll Away The Stone’ resonates better and goes down a storm followed by a raucous rendition of ‘Sweet Jane’ which features both Fisher & Debrizzi excelling on keys.
Hunter dons his infamous Maltese cross guitar for ‘Walking with A Mountain’ (although I understand this is now a later reproduction model). ‘Marionette’ sounds glorious and a slight reworking of ‘All The Way From Memphis’ with Mastro again adding sax is another highlight.
A couple of medleys which take in ‘Violence’, ‘One Of The Boys’ and ‘Rock N Roll Queen’ help squeeze in as many songs as possible. It’s then down to ‘All The Young Dudes’ for which they are joined by Lisa Ronson on backing vocals, and an emotional ‘Saturday Gigs’ to close what has been an exceptional day of entertainment. If this turns out to be a one-off for Mott, then I’m glad I was there to witness it and if not, which I may suspect, then it gives the opportunity to look forward to a repeat performance.
Completely sated musically, its time for people to retreat to their tents, yurts and hotel rooms for a cool down and rest ready for the Sunday.