Live Review: Ramblin Man Fair – Friday

Three years ago, I attended my first Ramblin’ Man Fair. Set in a perfect location in a park in Maidstone, it ticked every box. The weather was glorious, the beer well priced and tasty. Four stages, ranging from international stars to a “Rising” stage for new bands, provided a great variety of music, and the size of the crowd meant that views were up close and the atmosphere lively.

Last year it looked like it was coming to an end. The date was moved to accommodate a major headliner who then pulled out, leaving a distinctly underwhelming bill. Rumours abound that there would be no more. Yet here I am, in a field, in 2019, with possibly the best line up yet!

The Lazys, Ramblin' Man FairFriday night used to be either a small gig in the nearby leisure centre or an additional night for an extra fee, but now the festival ticket itself is for a three day festival, and this first night is a blinder! Only the main stage is used, so the crowd are concentrated in one place, and even with the usual challenges of getting everyone wristbanded and in (come on Ramblin’ Man, this has been a problem every year now…), there is a good crowd for festival openers; The Lazys.

If you are going to open a festival, you are faced with a crowd who have driven, pitched, queued, and are still trying to find their first beer of the weekend, so what you need is a band prepared to grab your attention and not let go. The Aussies, playing their first UK festival, did just that, with a short, sweet set of rabble rousing, posing and posturing rock. A new band to me, but one that I want to see more of in the future.

Following them was a band I know far better. Kris Barras played this festival two years ago on the aforementioned “Rising” stage. Last year he played the blues stage. This year he is on the main stage. A wonderful illustration of his rocket-like rise over that period. One of the best blues guitarists playing right now, and with a band that match him musically whilst never stealing the limelight, his set is a showcase of the soon to be released album mixed with classics. The new songs show that the future is bright (Ignite (Light it up) is a future blues/rock standard, if ever there was one) and the set ends with “Hail Mary”, with Kris, as always, playing the solo both behind his head and with his teeth.

From raw blues to smooth sounds as FM took the stage. I’ve somehow never seen them play live, so didn’t really know what to expect, but for a band who have been playing for over 35 years they looked to be as fresh and full of energy as if it was their first gig. Steve Overland has a twinkle in his eye and his vocals are treacle smooth. The rest of the band have smiles that don’t fade for a second as they send waves of layered gorgeousness across the Kent countryside.

The Wildhearts, Ramblin' Man Fair

Penultimate act of the day, and another contrast, as Ginger leads The Wildhearts on stage for an hour of pure, glorious rock and roll. Last time I saw The Wildhearts was in a tiny pub in Exeter as they revved up for their tour. The great thing about a Wildhearts gig is that somehow I felt I was in the same sort of sweaty, intimate venue even though I was in a field with 10,000 people. It’s lovely to see Danny on his feet for the whole gig and looking great. Ginger, as always, is on a mission, snarling out lyrics to some of the best written rock and roll songs you will ever hear. The band always come across as humble when you see them live. No airs and graces. Ginger’s humour is as dry as the weather isn’t, and CJ, Danny and Ritch just seem to enjoy the chance to play, wherever the venue. I still get a thrill when I hear “Suckerpunch”, “Sick Of Drugs”, “Caffeine Bomb”, “Headfuck” (the guitar solo, a thing of sheer awesomeness) and “I Wanna Go Where The People Go”. As usual, get sideways looks off the other photographers as I sing along at the top of my voice.

The Darkness, Ramblin' Man Fair

Finally; The Darkness. On a day of such a mash up of genres all under the rock banner, what could sum up the sheer variety of the music we love than Justin et al. Seemingly the marmite band of rock and metal, the forums were alive after the gig with fans saying how good they were, people who had never seen them live before saying how they were surprised how good they were, and curmudgeonly prog fans saying they knew they wouldn’t like them and didn’t. For me, they were, as always, jaw-achingly fun to watch. I genuinely hurt after a Darkness gig from smiling so much. It’s not until you see them live that you realise just what a powerful rock band they are behind the theatrics and humour. The hits are all there; “Black Shuck” opens the set with Justin in a blindingly white karate outfit, and even before the first song has ended, treated us to a huge split jump off the drum riser. “Love Is Only A Feeling”, “Barbarian”, and “Friday Night” are all in the main set, closing out with “Stuck In A Rut”, “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” and encores “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” (the sing along to which was hilarious and also featured Justin doing a handstand and splits in time to the music) and “Love On The Rocks With No Ice” leave the crowd ecstatic.

An early finish due to the licensing conditions, and we are sent on our way with fireworks. Ready for Day 2, when all four stages will be open and the anxiety of clashes to deal with.

Review and pics – Rob Wilkins