Keep on Ramblin’
That big yellow thing in the sky doesn’t seem to be going away anywhere soon, so it’s another day of factor 50 at The Fair. As if by magic overnight the Rising Stage has become the Prog Stage and the Outlaw Country Stage now serves at the Blues Stage.
There are less incidental attractions than previous years, but the food and bar offerings are excellent in terms of both their quality and variety. It’s easy to get around from stage to stage and the queues at the bars and loos are never too troublesome. A holographic cinema stands out as a unique experience but truth be told with so much good music on offer there’s very little down time to spend on such things.
With more direct clashes it becomes a little more difficult to decide who to watch, so for first band of the day we’re off to catch Second Relation on the Prog Stage. It’s a rare opportunity to catch the band as it’s the first time they’ve played in the UK despite their 10 year history. The Austrian quintet got underway after a false start due to technical problems. Very much a modern prog band, there’s also an evident jazz leaning and harmony vocals. There’s an awful lot going on and it’s quite heavy going, especially as the first band of the day, for an introduction to the band. They do receive a good reception and it’s clear that a lot of people appreciate them making the trip over for the festival.
The joy of festivals is that they can not only change your perceptions about bands, but also to surprise you completely and give you something unexpected, and for me this happened with The Last Internationale. Having never heard of them before I had no expectations, so to hear the first band on the main stage start with a predominantly a capella song really made you stand up and take notice. Strapping on a bass, lead singer Delila and the rest of the band then let rip with a superb set full of energy blending ’60s west coast psychedelic rock with New York punk. Vocally, there’s more than a passing resemblance to Grace Slick at her prime. A foray into the audience and even Billy Sheehan joining in for one song, ‘1968’, to close the set, all add up to leave a lasting impression. With the wonders of the modern age, their album was already ordered before they finished their set. Discovery of the weekend without a doubt.
A delayed start to the Blues Stage doesn’t help with the clashes and the first band we get to catch at this end of the arena is the Kris Barras Band. With two albums under his belt it’s understandably the latest The Divine And Dirty album that gets the most attention. ‘Hail Mary’ starts with a deceptive almost gospel like intro before evolving into a full on belting rock anthem, while ‘Propane’ is more of a traditional laid back blues.
There is a mix of songs played and delving back to debut album Lucky 13 Kris chooses a cigar box guitar to play some mean slide on tracks ‘I’m Gone’ & ‘Heart On Your Sleeve’. He closes his set with to an impressive sized crowd with an astounding ‘Lovers or Losers’ which even sees Kris playing with his teeth. After a Friday night appearance, a Saturday acoustic slot in the VIP tent and today’s Sunday set, he left Ramblin’ Man in no doubt that the Kris Barras Band are a force to be reckoned with and currently the future looks very good. Catch Kris on a lengthy headline tour throughout the UK in September and as support to Joanne Shaw Taylor in October.
Back to the Prog Stage, Goldray offer up a set of psychedelic prog rock which pleasingly is just as creative visually. The opening song sees guitarist Kenwyn House stage right bare chested and sporting a glittering gold cloak playing hypnotic heavy riffs with delay effects while Leah Rasmussen, dressed in an eye-catching orange and yellow dress/cape combo and topped with an extravagant tiara, sings and dances ethereally. If you can imagine Kate Bush fronting Meddle era Pink Floyd you’d not be far off. Drawing on their Rising album, Goldray’s short set receives a good reception in the tent and are certainly a band worthy of further exploration.
Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown are the epitome of a young hard touring rock n roll band, and judging by their performance today all that hard work is paying off. While at home headlining small clubs, they’ve supported the likes of AC/DC and Guns ‘N’ Roses so they also seem accustomed to performing on the big stage. They put in a passionate performance of 70s inspired rock and with tracks like ‘Weak & Weepin’ and ‘Lipstick Wonder Woman’ there’s no reason why they won’t be attracting the same level of interest as Blackberry Smoke and The Cadillac Three in the UK. Their new self titled album is out now on Spinefarm Records. Catch them in a small club while you can.
The newly formed Sons Of Apollo are next to hit the main stage. A veritable feast of individual talent, the Sons comprise of guitarist Ron Thal, Billy Sheehan on bass, Mike Portnoy on what is undoubtedly the biggest drum kit of the weekend, Derek Sherinan on keyboards and fronted by journeyman vocalist Jeff Scott Soto. Ramblin’ Man Fair formed part of a short UK tour for the group promoting their Psychotic Symphony album. After a build up intro from Planet Rock’s Paul Anthony, a five minute intro tape plays which kind of loses a little of the impact until they launch into ‘God Of The Sun’ which is dark, heavy and has classical leanings – almost a progged up take on Rainbow Rising which sees Sheehan and Thal trading licks on their respective double necked guitars.
The band also seem to relish in the opportunity to be playing this material live. Unfortunately, clashes mean that we cut short the full set of Sons Of Apollo to be able to catch Von Hertzen Brothers who are whipping up a frenzy in the Prog tent.
They kick off with the epic ‘War Is Over’ from last year’s album of the same name. While the mood changes and length of the song make it easy to categorise them as prog, there’s much more of a classic rock feel to their music which makes them very accessible, certainly more so than the aforementioned Sons Of Apollo. Another superb selection from the same album follows with ‘The Arsonist’.
By the time they reach ‘New Day Rising’ it’s difficult to believe that their 40 minute slot is almost over, but it’s been a superbly executed set and they leave the crowd wanting more, so it’s good to know that they’re back in the UK at the end of the year supporting Uriah Heep on a select few dates.
We’re told that the current heatwave is the hottest since 1976 and it’s easy to think back to that year when Lynyrd Skynyrd famously played a definitive show at the Knebworth Fair. Enjoying the same levels of heat, Skynyrd’s natural successors, Blackberry Smoke offer up a perfect set mixing in laid back country blues and all out rockers delivered with effortless excellence. The comparisons are easy.’Fire In The Hole’ is a strong opening song which sets the pace and is quickly followed with the punchy ‘Waiting For The Thunder’. After a frantic ‘Let It Burn’ things are slowed down with a groove laden ‘Sleeping Dogs’ which segues into a cover of ‘Come Together’.
‘Shakin’ Hands with the Holy Ghost’ is probably the song that introduced most people to the band in the UK and it certainly has most of the crowd singing along with it, as does ‘Ain’t Got The Blues’. New track ‘Flesh and Bone’ kicks in with a swagger and proves that the new material is still hitting the mark with the fans. It’s then down to two classics in ‘One Horse Town’ and ‘Ain’t Much Left Of Me’, which even includes a touch of ‘Mississippi Kid’ to sign off until their much anticipated full UK tour in November.
Big Boy Bloater has had a full on weekend. With his Streamliner caravan parked up in the main arena, he was interviewing throughout the Saturday and playing a spot in the VIP bar. He was then set to compere the Blues stage on Sunday. However, when Chas & Dave announced at the last minute that they could no longer perform due to ill health, then Big Boy Bloater was drafted in to fill their spot too. He still fulfills his compere duties for the rest of the day before delivering a thoroughly entertaining, albeit brief set. Afforded just half an hour (presumably to get the stage times back on time for the headliners) he was able to promote his new album Pills, which is currently receiving some great reviews, and play some older favourites (‘It Came From The Swamp’) despite breaking a string and re-stringing while still playing.
Read our review of Big Boy Bloater & The Limit’s new album Pills here, and be sure to check him out on his September tour.
Heaviest band of the day goes to Halestorm, who are next to grace the main stage. Lzzy Hale cuts an impressive figure dressed in a red dress and studded black leather jacket as she strolls out screaming the lyrics of ‘Black Vultures’ – a new track from their forthcoming fourth album Vicious. It’s then back to more familiar territory with ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’. As they tear through ‘Mayhem’, ‘Mz Hyde’ and ‘I Am The Fire’ you start to realise haw many top quality songs this band has in its cannon from their first three albums.
The show is great to watch which has by far the best lighting seen over the weekend and drummer Arejay Hale is also a delight to watch who even afforded a solo spot. With more hits like ‘I Get Off’ and ‘Freak Like Me’ following it is no wonder that most of the dates on their forthcoming tour are already sold out.
Up until now most of the stage turnarounds had run slickly and to time. However a combination of Almost Autumn over-running and technical problem led to a significant delay in Fish getting started. A shame as a direct clash with Govt Mule on the Blues stage meant missing the whole of that set. When Fish finally did get going, he was non too pleased to receive a note from his stage manager telling him that he still needed to finish on time so as not to delay the Cult. “Make some noise, and let them know how much fun we’re having down here” he asks the crowd while raising two finger in the direction of the main stage.
The curtailed set opened with a superb ‘The Voyeur’ (surprisingly a song that didn’t make the original Vigil LP when it released) followed by ‘Emperor’s Song’ and Fish is sounding in particularly fine fettle. We are then treated to an almost full rendition of the Clutching At Straws album for which Doris Brendel, who supported and played with Fish at the end of last year, provided backing vocals to great effect on the likes of ‘Warm Wet Circles’ and ‘Sugar Mice’.
Before Fish closes the show on the Prog stage he once again urges the crowd to make sure the Main Stage knows how much fun they are having before a glorious ‘Incommunicado’ sees the big man dancing and the packed tent bouncing. A superb set.
The job of bringing the curtain down on another year at Ramblin’ Man is left to The Cult in their only UK appearance of 2018.
By the time they were due on the arena has swelled considerably, not only with the crowd drifting in from the other stages but it’s noticeable that more day tickets have been sold for the Sunday. There’s
Billy Duffy appears with his signature white Gretsch and Ian Astbury strolls on dressed entirely in black with slick backed hair to a huge applause as the riff to ‘Wild Flower’ fires up, swiftly followed by a flawless ‘Rain’ – the polar opposite way to cover the subject matter than yesterday’s Steel Panther.
An energetic performance with a certain refreshing looseness to it continues as they roll through the hits; ‘L’il Devil’, ‘Spiritwalker’ and ‘Nirvana’ are all present and correct. A dark and brooding ‘Deeply Ordered Chaos’ sits mid set allowing the tempo to drop and is one of only a handful of post early 90s tracks. Despite sounding magnificent, it doesn’t receive as big a response as the the old classics such as ‘Sweet Soul Sister’ that follows. With a trio of bonafide platinum nuggets, The Cult finish with ‘Firewoman’, ‘Love Removal Machine’ and the magnificent encore of ‘She Sells Sanctuary’.
And so ends Ramblin’ Man Fair 2018, and it’s been fabulous. An exceptional selection of bands all delivering the goods to an appreciative crowd in what is one of the best chilled out atmospheres of a plethora of UK festivals. The dates for Ramblin’ Man 2019 have already been announced so time to start months of speculation, but for now it’s time to rest some weary legs and ears.