Review: Ramblin’ Man Day 2 – Saturday

After day 1 at Ramblin’ Man ended with a firework show courtesy of The Darkness, the sky was lit up by a huge thunderstorm, so it was with no small degree of trepidation that I emerged from my camper, expecting the ground to be a sea of mud. Mote Park drains incredibly well and the sun was pushing through the clouds so my fears were groundless as I made my way over to the festival site for day 2.

BaD Touch, Ramblin'Man FAIRThe first band on the agenda were Bad Touch who were playing their only set of the festival in the VIP tent (one of the features of the festival is an upgrade including acoustic sets by many of the bands playing). Having asked beforehand whether it was possible to shoot in the VIP area I was taken aback to find the entire press crew had asked the same question, leading to a train of thirty photographers making their way through security led by one of the P/R team. Stevie Westwood looked up to see a paparazzi like army of lenses in front and commented “That’s not intimidating at all is it?”.

The boys are old hands at this though and quickly launched into an acoustic set that showed clearly how tuneful and well written their songs are at their heart. Stevie’s voice suits the stripped back formula well. His soulful delivery full of warm tones, a great start to the day but all too soon we are ushered away back to the press tent so as not to disturb the VIP “ambience” too much.

Clash of the day for me was up next. Main stage opened with Oli Brown and Raveneye at the same time as highly rated The Outlaw Orchestra opened the newly christened “New Wave of Classic Rock” stage for rising bands.

Answer – do both!

Raveneye first. Oli and bassist Aaron Spiers completely owned such a huge stage as they both bounded and leapt around. For such a young man it is sobering to think that he has been on the music scene for well over ten years, moving from a highly regarded blues musician to his current far more rock based sound. The crowd was sparse, opening a stage at a festival is never going to be greeted with a full and hangover free audience, but Raveneye gave it everything, including huge leaps from the drum riser.

The Outlaw Orchestra then drew me away from Main Stage to the Rising stage. Cleverly constructed from a shipping container and complete with inbuilt lighting rig and sound system it was set in a wooded glade in the corner of the arena and came complete with it’s own enthusiastic and passionate compère Pete K Mally. The Outlaws were an absolute joy and had clearly been making a name for themselves as the crowd was probably bigger than that on main stage!

Their Deep South sound coupled with easy humour and stage presence made their live show a stand out set for me, and from having no experience of the band whatsoever I became a convert. Great musicianship from David Roux on vocals, Ryan Smith on drums and Alex Barter on reptile headed upright bass, along with a range of bluegrass sounds from Pete Briley. A thoroughly enjoyable set that bought together a huge range of influences to make something deliciously unique and catchy.

Wayward Sons back on Main Stage are Toby Jepson’s latest vehicle and are a band to savour. Fronted by the ex Little Angels singer/guitarist but comprising a tight knit group of excellent musicians (today minus Nic Wastell temporarily which was a shame as his energetic stage presence was missed) their sound is perfect for Ramblin’ Man. Sam Wood on guitars and Dave Kemp on keys flesh out Jepson’s guitar and vocals stylishly and Phil Martini moves things along from the back with effortless precision.

Another trip back to the NWOCR stage to see Collateral. The band with both the longest and shortest journeys to the festival. Longest because they reached their slot via the Ramblin’ Man Rumble and the shortest because for Todd Winger and Ben Atkinson it was a home town gig! I got there to see possibly the biggest crowd for that stage of the weekend, a sign of a band that are making waves and getting noticed! Then they stepped on stage and it was clear why in a blur of hair, poses and, in singer Angelo Tristan’s case, a hand made coat that would put Joseph to shame with it’s kaleidoscope of colours. Image is superficial without the songs to back it up though and Collateral don’t disappoint when the guitars kick in. Every song is a gem of a crowd pleaser and in your mind you can travel forward and watch them headlining festivals one day rather than playing Rising stages and entering competitions.

In terms of pleasing crowds Ugly Kid Joe knocked it out of the park. In terms of making my personal weekend they gave me a memory to treasure.

Ugly Kid Joe, Ramblin' Man Fair

Arriving in the pit they impressed for the first two songs with an easy, laid back style honed through many years of touring. Whitfield Crane bounding energetically around the stage, onto the monitors, down onto the speakers, connecting with the audience with every move. “Neighbor” and ”Panhandling” kicked things off with style. Then, for some reason, all of the photographers started to leave the pit, confused by a drop that made it sound like there had been three songs. The last few of us realised that we still had another to enjoy and moved back, to be greeted by Crane beckoning us on stage. A quick run around the back and we were there looking out across the Kent fields, and greeted by the man himself fist bumping and interacting with each one of us.

It was an amazing moment for someone who does this for love not money and whilst I know this review probably won’t reach him I want to say a HUGE thank you for the opportunity. Later in the set crowd pleasers “Cats in the Cradle” and “Everything About You” were brilliantly delivered and after the set Crane personally handed a set list to a blown away young fan he called from the crowd. Wonderful people and social media afterwards was full of just how well they went down.

There followed a brief trip to the Country stage to sample Robert Jon and the Wreck. Not usually my type of music but I was seriously impressed by the fret work of guitarist Henry James who looked innocuous until he ripped solos of ridiculous quality and complexity.

I wandered back through the slightly surreal American Civil War that raged outside a tented camp (really!) to the NWOCR stage and found myself there early enjoying Sweden’s Dust Bowl Jokies. A bit of a pleasant surprise as I really enjoyed their sheer energy and sass! Somehow Scandinavian bands always seem to pull off a sound that combines Aerosmith/GnR/Stones vibes well and these guys were no exception.

Ryders Creed, Ramblin' Man Fair

My reason for heading to the smallest of the stages was to catch Ryder’s Creed. I also made a new friend in Leon and his constant gentle taps on the shoulder to tell me he “couldn’t see” that somehow led me into a role keeping a clear line of sight for him between all of the photographers.

I could see why he was so keen to not miss anything though! The Midlanders are another of the bands playing this showcase that have the potential to go far, as they bring together the riffiest of riffs, that bounce around your head long after the song finishes, and intelligent lyrics. Ryan Antony has both range and power, the melodic backing of Lee Spencer and Myles Cooper varies between crushing power chords and delicate light touches and the rhythm powerhouse of Richard Clark and Lee Gilbert battle the cannons firing not far away and win that particularly odd war!

Back on main stage, The Temperance Movement have been Stateside and as many bands do, come back tighter and raised their already impressive game. I could sit and listen to Phil Campbell’s voice all day as his raw, emotive sounds bring life to the lyrics of each and every song. His stage presence is legendary, gyrating and dancing between each verse then, eyes closed, savouring every word before bounding off again. In truth the rest of the band focus on the music with very little animation but it works and I know from reactions afterwards that their time on stage, lending a little more laid back vibe in the sunshine, was the highlight of many people’s day.

A very unexpected highlight for me was The Allman Betts Band. I wandered off after TTM to get some food (from a delicious Jerk Chicken stand if you must know!) that happened to take me close to the Country stage. As I passed I heard a chord sequence I recognised and had to stop to investigate. You see, there are two songs I can’t walk past, whether at a festival or from a busker. One is “Comfortably Numb” and the other, that stopped me in my tracks en route to find sustenance, is “Purple Rain”. Wow! Blown away doesn’t cover it! For a few minutes I forgot about cameras and pits, forgot about clash finder and my itinerary and just got lost in music as The Allman Betts Band added a country vibe that just worked, along with solos that did every bit of justice to the late genius. Before the applause had died they introduced Ben from Black Stone Cherry to jam with them and I was going nowhere fast! Awesome stuff!

Cheap Trick, Ramblin' Man Fair

If Friday’s marmite band were The Darkness, Cheap Trick were Saturday’s. Introduced as the best rock band in the world they can hardly be accused of modesty! Personally, the entire set grew on me.

Rick Nielsen wanders around the stage as if lost at times, but each time he returns has a handful of plectrums that he throws out to the crowd. At first it is just one or two, but by the end of the set it is raining plectrums and I join the security crew collecting them and handing them out to outstretched arms. Initially he looks to be going through the motions of playing, but then you realise that he simply makes it look effortless and almost appears bored with the actual playing bit!

Tom Peterson has one of the most beautiful instruments I have ever see, a 12 string bass. His solo is ridiculously technical but not very accessible. Robin Zander, as with most vocalists of his era and longevity, seems to struggle with the range he used to manage with ease. Then, it is as if someone flicks a switch as the back half of the set runs “The Flame” and Zanders voice is sublime as he hits every note, “I Want You to Want Me” where Nielsen’s punky style rips out, “Dream Police” and finally “Surrender”. Those of us watching from the side were in awe, many in the crowd still looked somewhat bemused.

Black Stone Cherry, Ramblin' Man Fair

Finally onto the headliners, for the second time in not that many years Black Stone Cherry take to the spotlight. Taking the stage to “Rain Wizard” and without stopping for breath careering into “Me and Mary Jane” and then “Blind Man” it is a showcase of exactly why they are so popular. Chris Robertson’s relatively static position in the centre of the stage, as he roars out the lyrics, is central to Ben Wells and Jon Lawhon kicking, running and bounding from side to side in a blur of activity. Behind them John Fred Young batters seven shades out of his kit in one of the most impressive examples of powerful drumming you will ever see. My wife’s comment on seeing one of my pics of him was that he looked like he was fighting rather than playing!

It is a sign of how much back catalogue BSC have that some of my favourite songs are missing. No ‘Things my Father Said” which was a highlight of their previous headline appearance and likewise no “Rambler”. It is a power set though and the end run of “Devil’s Queen”, “Blame it on the Boom Boom”, “White Trash Millionaire”, “Lonely Train” and encore “Peace is Free” is enough to send even a fan like me back to my camper a happy man.

Review and photos – Rob Wilkins

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