Ramblin' Man Fair 2016
With four stages covering Rock, Prog, Outlaw Country/Blues and Rising Stage it ticks all of the boxes as far as I am concerned.
The venue was well laid out, with little noise seepage from one stage to another (none of that horrible mix of standing in the wrong place and hearing a mashup of two stages).. I heard crystal clear sound from all stages, all weekend. Once in through the gate there were no real queues for any of the facilities with plenty of diverse food and drink options and chill out areas to spread out in.
You could see Roger Dean talking about his work with various bands, buy anything from a Nepalese mountain hat to a one string guitar made out of a tobacco tin or a Harley Davidson.
Personally I settled for a Ramblin' Man shirt, a Cowboy hat and replica 1980 Molly Hatchet tour t-shirt (Hell yeah!)
Despite the bars being open all day - and everyone seeming to partake in the glorious weather - the crowd was an absolute joy to be part of.. no trouble, no police presence (that we noticed anyway), everywhere was kept clean (no sitting down and sticking your hand in a discarded dirty burger), everyone had a smile on their face and a drink in their hand - relaxed rock heaven.
I've seen on some social media that some people who paid for VIP upgrade were disappointed, but as a normal punter who just upgraded to Unreserved Seating on the Sunday I had a great time.
If I'm being picky then, given the news of what had happened in Germany over the weekend, maybe the bag checks could have been a bit more stringent - a cursory glance was all that took place. Yes some people were already a bit peed off by the checks before going in, but personally I would rather queue and have good security and be safe in the venue.
..ok admin over, onto the bands...
A rockgig favourite - Nathan James and the rest of the boys stepped up to open the main rock stage with confidence and great songs. I'm sure they gained new fans from this performance and they'll be headlining soon - a great start to the day
The Dead Daisies
As possibly the only person at the festival wearing a Dead Daisies t-shirt I was unsure how they were going to be received. They are pretty unique in that they are a collective of musicians so the line-up can vary from year to year. However as this version includes the brilliant Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio), Marco Mendoza (Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy) and John Corabi (who is starting to resemble Steven Tyler doing an impression of Jack Sparrow - not a bad thing by the way!) it wasn't exactly a risk was it? They rocked through old and new numbers - with their cover of Fortunate Son especially going down a storm.
Over to the Outlaw Country Stage for a dose of southern rock from Texas' Whiskey Myers. This band have released an album every couple of years since 2008 but they're really starting to get noticed now. I hate comparing bands as each is unique and do their own thing but sometimes you have to in order to get people to listen - so let's just say Skynyrd with swagger. Excellent stuff - my kind of music.
Colour of Noise (Rising Stage)
Over to the Rising Stage, and happened upon Colour of Noise. Loved what we heard - classic rock - nothing fancy, no ballads here just excellent old school rock music. Had a quick google and discovered that the band is fronted by Matt Mitchell from Furyon and has Bruce John Dickenson from Little Angels on guitar. One to watch.
I was never a fan of Europe in the 'old' days but Last Look at Eden onward has been somewhat of a renaissance and their unplugged album is brilliant. The older stuff seems better live now but it must be so annoying having everyone just waiting for THAT keyboard intro.. having said that though, everyone and I mean everyone had a huge grin on their face singing along. Not my favourite but had to concede at the end that they're a great live band.
I kind of missed this on the original advert.. I saw Thin Lizzy (one of my favourite all time bands) but just thought it was Black Star Riders.. but no.. celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Jailbreak we had Scott Gorham, Ricky Warwick, Damon Johnson along with Darren Wharton on keyboards, Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith on bass and Judas Priest's Scott Travis on drums. They even had Midge Ure (self-confessed "worst guitarist ever in Thin Lizzy") on for a couple of songs. The time flew by. For those that never saw Phil Lynott and the boys, this was definitely the next best thing. Awesome.
..yeah we decided to miss Whitesnake and see a band we hadn't seen before. Hayseed Dixie was headlining the Outlaw Country stage and so I couldn't resist (although I suspect my other half would have preferred to watch Mr Coverdale). Alternating between their unique brand of covers and original songs - with genuinely funny between song banter - these guys play up the redneck image but are secretly well educated, well informed dudes.. that said who else would have a ballad entitled "keeping your poop in a jar" ? - more sing-along japes ensued and a packed tent went back to their cars, tents and trains humming the Duelling Banjos song.
Had the schedule allowed, or I had a clone, I would have liked to have seen Uriah Heep & Ginger Wildheart (not on the same stage but that would be amazing!), even Whitesnake again but c'est la vie.
After a brief visit to the site hospital (a long story I won't go into now) we saw Wicked Stone on the Rising stage. These local lads had the presence to hand out flyers to the queue waiting to get in. As the Rising stage was next to the entrance and they were on within about 15 minutes of opening, they got a good crowd. One those infectious bands that repeatedly insist that you punch the air, and you resist because you’re a 51 year old man wearing a cowboy hat in a field in Kent, but eventually they wear you down as they're so bloody good. Band 1 - Cowboy Hatted Old Man 0
Apparently straight off the ferry and into the Blues tent. The Mamas Boys guitarist was excellent. Celtic tinged blues was the order of the afternoon which obviously led to Gary Moore comparisons. His song introductions and stories were told with a smile and huge dose of Irish charm.. day two going very well so far!
The Kentucky HeadHunters
Back to the main stage to see The Kentucky Headhunters. The first time on an aeroplane in 34 years for one of the members got the elder Black Stone Cherry boys over to the UK to open the bill on the day their lads headlined it. Those Cherry boys even turned up and joined in. Very enjoyable Southern Rock (with drummer Fred Young sporting the best sideburns ever!) in the sunshine.
"Did You See Pat McManus on the Blues stage? He's one of ours!" - so began Northern Ireland's very own The Answer. Apparently this band was on the verge of giving up a while ago as they had many tours with big hitters (such as AC/DC) but never broken into the big time. That would have been a mistake - this band is magnificent live and today was no exception. Day two, now rocking along at a very good pace...
Tax The Heat
Back to the Blues Stage to see the much lauded Tax The Heat. These guys have great image - part hipster, part rocker, part prom night. Not exactly Blues, but definitely a nod to old school blues based R&B with a modern twist. All played loud and heavy.. really great band. Will go and see these again. Day two turning out to be a bloody belter...
Airbourne did what Airbourne do. You know what to expect: beer chugging, stack climbing, roadie riding, Aussie Rock and Roll Mofo's
The best band on the planet. You can have your opinion but frankly, you're wrong. Thunder live is a thing of beauty - they never fail to entertain.. every song is a belter and Danny Bowes has the crowd in the palm of his hand from the minute he dad-dances his way onto the stage. Day two becoming a classic....
Black Stone Cherry
Their first ever festival Headline show, had them flying in at 8am to spend the day at the park to see the Kentucky Headhunters open, do their own show and then fly back the next morning at 9am. Having seen BSC since they were kids touring over here playing small venues, we've watched them grow over the last 10 years into a world class headline act. Tonight was no exception, great songs - a few technical difficulties (no sound for the encore of The Rambler so we had it A Capella), some missing kit and no backdrop, but they stormed it. Lead singer Chris Robertson comes across as a genuine, humble man. When other bands say "you're the best crowd ever" you know it's just stage banter, but when Chris say's that this is the only thing that would get him away from his 3 year old son right now, you believe every word. A fantastic show and finishing with Ace of Spades (as they did on the UK tour earlier this year) was a stroke of genius. Day two - Legendary.
I would have checked out the Von Hertzen Brothers, and probably Procol Harum (if only to sing Whiter Shade of Pale) on the Prog Stage but timings clashed, or I was at the bar or both.
If you go to www.liveherenow.co.uk you can order a download (£9.99) or triple cd (£22.99) of exclusive live tracks recorded at the festival .. all proceeds go to Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy.
Top 3 quotes of the weekend :
3rd place - Pat McManus - "Where I grew up , Gary Moore lived to the east and Rory Gallagher to the west, I knew as a guitar player I was completely fecked"
2nd place - Hayseed Dixie "it's not America it's The Merica - when I say The Merica I want you all to whisper Fuck Yeah .. don't shout it, as us Americans don't get self-reverential humour"
1st place - overheard from the Prog Stage "this is our last song - but as we're a prog rock band we'll be here for another 10 minutes at least"
Ramble On Ramblers... same time next year?
(photo credits Sandy Wilkins and Nigel Robins)