BESIDE the definition of the word eclectic in the dictionary you will find the Ramblin Man Fair logo.
The concept and line-up is as varied in 2018 as ever. Classic rock, Prog, Outlaw Country, Blues and Rising.
Veteran rockers, conceptually challenging acts, alt-metal, sleaze and even a black metal singer’s country side project – you couldn’t make it up, except Ramblin Man did it once again.
True there was a lot of mumblin’ and grumblin’ beforehand about the headliners on both nights. Whatever circumstances there were that led to Mott The Hopple and The Cult being the showcase acts is to ignore the strength and depth of what was laid on at Mote Park, Kent.
The depth of what was on show was evident throughout and what is more it was clear that the majority of those present enjoyed the hell out of themselves.
The weather was, at times insufferably hot, but the organisers can’t be blamed for that.
Kicking off proceedings on the Saturday on the main stage were No Hot Ashes – and the Northern Ireland band may have waited decades to release their début album, but they are making up for lost time in this, their second RMF appearance.
They sounded spectacular and with the sunshine they basked in the reflected affection making the start of proceedings all the more better. In an impressive set they really made the crowd given the early stage of the day. Their smooth rock and roll, Eamon’s vocal dexterity and soaring solos made it a great performance by a fantastic band.
Just before No Hot Ashes took to the main stage the ‘Rising Stage’ was underway with the always impressive Those Damn Crows building on their growing reputation. Worth noting for future listening on that stage were The Dust Coda, The Rising Souls, Rocket Dolls and Gorilla Riot – not a bad tune from any of them.
When it comes to classic rock it is maybe unfair to tag Gun as such as they are much more than that – even if compared to the Rising Stage acts they come with the veteran label.
The Glaswegians seem to have somehow been given a new shot of life and they blasted the stage as if still having to prove something all over again. New single ‘Take Me Down’ was greeted as if a familiar track alongside ‘Better Days’ and ‘Word Up’. More please!
As if to emphasise the diversity a short walk to the Outlaw Country had, what for many, was an unknown quantity in the shape of Me and that Man. Led by the singer of Polish black metal band Behemoth, Nergal, and flanked by John Porter, within a song the crowd was burgeoning by what were obviously not Behemoth fans – but loving every second.
To say it was one of the stand-out sets of the weekend would be an understatement as Nergal brought country and Americana, and the promise to bring a little darkness to the bright Maidstone day.
Opening with ‘My Church Is Black’ and playing all of their album ‘Songs of Love and Death’ plus Creedance Clearwater Revival’s 1969 ‘Bad Moon Rising’ they entranced and intrigued. Again a more please moment.
Admitting beforehand that they were one of the heaviest bands on the line-up did not step Therapy? having the crowd in the palm of their hands. Their off-kilter take on rock and metal may have earned them the title ‘alt’ but that didn’t diminish their appeal to the throngs.
Andy Cairns was giving it his full glaring eyes when not engaging in banter – declaring Michael McKeegan an on-the-run evil priest and gleefully admitting a technical fuck-up.
New track ‘Callow’ from forthcoming album ‘Cleave’ sounded monstrous despite its dark lyrical theme, while familiar songs such ‘Die Laughing’, ‘Nowehere’ and the inevitable ‘Screamager’ saw Mote Par in full singalong mode.
They declare they have been “Helping the Afflicted Since 1990” but on stage at Ramblin Man Fair they brought a lust for life that few can equal.
The fact that Skinny Molly have past members of Molly Hatchet, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blackfoot amidst their ranks ensured a welcoming crowd – and yes they did play ‘Freebird’.
Myles Kennedy’s appearance on the Outlaw Country stage for an acoustic run through of tracks was, to say the least a surprise for many when announced, but he clearly has the draw no matter what he is doing.
Enjoyed by most the baffling decision to include Maiden’s ‘Trooper’ just didn’t sit right for us…
For all their talent one couldn’t help feeling sorry that Mott The Hopple were following Steel Panther on to the stage.
We went to a comedy show and a gig broke out.
Despite reservations expressed in fan groups about Panther they flew in from Russia and flew out again to the United States leaving laughter and broad grins in their wake.
They don’t do innuendo. ‘Goin’ in the Backdoor’, ‘Asian Hooker’, Community Property’, ‘Gloryhole’ and ‘Party All Day (Fuck All Night)’ take political correctness and sodomise it.
The between songs banter reached a highlight when Michael Starr emerged as Ozzy to ‘sing ‘Crazy Train’. Concluding with ‘Death to all but Metal’ may be their anthem, however that may have led to the slaughter of all bar two or three of the 38 acts – but the crowd was laughing too much to be bothered with anything but grabbing some refreshments.
Mott The Hopple’s esteemed career notwithstanding many headed away. That being said it cannot be denied that Ian Hunter can still carry it despite his – ahem – advanced years. And, the profusion of guitar talent (and guitars) this was literally ‘The Golden Age Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’.
Rested and refreshed Sunday saw yet more heat and three stages packed, once again, with talent from Blues, Prog and Rock.
From The Last Internatioale’s NYC rock through to closer’s The Cult it was all a fan could do to try and catch a much as possible.
Guitar-prodigy Connor Selby brought his band on to the blues stage, and for a mere 20-year-old there was magic dripping off his fingers echoing Bonamassa’s fluidity and Kossoff’s sense of emotion.
Over in the Prog tent Second Revelation may have had tasty guitar lines but veered too much into funk for our tastes. Nevertheless, they drew an appreciative audience.
Aussie proggers Voyager had a heavier take on proceedings, with a dynamism and directness that vied with Therapy? for the heaviest set of the weekend. One can see why amongst their next appearances will be Bloodstock.
However, they also have melodic sensibilities amidst the technical excellence that work well in terms of musical alchemy.
Main stage supergroup Sons of Apollo have all the elements that could have them pigeonholed as another collection of supremely talented musos thrust together for the collection of shillings, but they are much, much more than that.
Their supreme talent never submerges that basic concept of playing fucking great songs.
One hopes that they continue Sons for many years to come.
Von Hertzen Brothers are established now as one of the premier prog acts around and have developed a conceptually excellent soundscape, textured and thrilling in equal parts that make them a draw each and every time they play.
But, one of the major issues at any festival is the clashes. The mighty Halestorm was in almost direct competition with the equally mighty Fish.
Reviewers dispatched to different parts of the field, let’s start with Halestorm…
They burst onto the stage with their awesome new single Black Vultures which immediately gave the place a massive rush and a stunning showcase of Lzzy Hale’s voice.
The crowd was riled up in the best sense and ready to rock. For the penultimate band on the main stage on Sunday they really made themselves seem like the headliner and most certainly deserved it.
The immense stage presence of Lzzy and her white destroyer made the whole place shake with sounds of ‘I miss the Misery’, ‘Mayhem’ and ‘Love bites (So do I.)’
The massive vocal range brilliant solos and great crowd engagement made this one of the Highlights of the festival and with Halestorm coming to Belfast in September, waiting will be a tad hard. One band most certainly not to miss.
Over on the prog stage Fish was not a happy camper. Other band’s failure to meet the ‘get-off-the-fucking-stage’ requirements of festivals and The Cult’s contractual agreement to have no other acts on while they played meant that what was planned as a 90-minute set was truncated to less than 70-minutes.
The Scottish, normally gentle, giant seemed about to fly into a rage, and there were obvious issues with the on-stage sound.
But, if anything this produced a visceral, edgy set. Fish and his band may not look back fondly on this RMF set, but the fans packing every inch of the Prog set will.
‘Clutching At Straws’ in almost its entirety…but before that ‘The Voyeur’, ‘Emperor’s Song’ and ‘State of Mind’ (dedicated to Theresa May) had every muscle of fans straining in delight, singing, whispering and feeling every word.
When the strains of ‘Hotel Hobbies’ began there was a raw sense of stretched nerves for every person who remembers how ‘Straws’ reached out from Fish’s words to touch their own emotional development.
‘Warm Wet Circles’ and ‘Sugar Mice’ saw those emotions on the collective face of the audience – and there were more than a few with tears in their eyes.
The emotional fury and release of ‘White Russian’ gave some respite before the encore of ‘Slainte Mhath’ once again plunged us through the depths and anger. But when closer ‘Incommunicado’ came along even Fish cheered up, bouncing along with the crowd and thrusting deserved ‘V’ signs in the direction of the main stage. Adversity faced – triumph secured.
With the unenviable task of closing Ramblin Man The Cult arrived with their customary cod-arrogance and clear stadia-experience.
Astbury remains one of the most compelling frontmen as they ranged across their career – a welcome version of ‘Spiritwalker’ from their début through to the obligatory ‘L’il Devil’ and welcome diversions such as ‘Rain’ and ‘Nirvana’.
True it wasn’t a consistent set – there was a lull from band and audience halfway through that was almost inevitable, but even the overlong ‘jam’ at the end of ‘Sweet Soul Sister’ couldn’t dampen the rest of the Duffy-led riff rampage.
‘Fire Woman’ sounded as if made for even larger stages in its heft and the expected ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ closed off a set that was a little like the curate’s egg – good in parts.
If there hadn’t been such impassioned sets preceeding them The Cult would have been the real highlight of Sunday.
Ramblin Man Fair, despite whatever difficulties there may have been produced in 2018 a festival that is different from any other over the summer months. And, it was worth every moment.
Congratulations to Spirit of Rock for pulling it off and here’s to the already announced 2019 RMF. Look up the dates yourself – we’re not your fucking diary secretary!
Review by Jonathan Traynor
Halestorm and No Hot Ashes review by Zakk Traynor
Pictures by Lizzie Torbitt and Darren McVeigh as indicated