Ramblin’ Man Fair – Mote Park, Maidstone, 26 July 2015

Sunday morning, with rain pelting down as I arrived at Mote Park, I’m fearing the worst, though whilst it never did quite cease until late in the day it did ease off enough to stop it being too drenchingly miserable and Somme-esque.
This wonderful festival was very well ordered and catered for, I believe it wasn’t sold out, so it felt very comfortable but I suspect next year that will change given the success and positive feedback to this inaugural event, and I hope as it grows it can retain the charm.
With three stages set up, for Classic Rock (main stage), Blues, and Prog, there was something for just about everyone minded to attend the festival and one or two possible timing clashes but I was determined to see every minute of three of the acts namely Blues Pills, The Temperance Movement, and Rival Sons, which I managed to do, and they all did themselves justice.
Other than that I really was a ramblin’ man, taking in as much as was possible but focused mainly on the rock and blues, less so the prog though the odd thing I saw at that stage wasn’t bad at all and on another day I would have been happy to linger but there was just too much to see and hear elsewhere.
The main stage was very wet at the front so the bands tended to stay well back meaning the gap between them and the crowd was considerable.
An oddity was the VIP (covered) seating was to the side and quite distant; I wouldn’t want to pay a premium to be so disconnected but at least they were dry.
The main stage did have two screens though and the live cameramen did a great job, I am hoping it was recorded and that some official footage will emerge.

Blues Pills kicked off the day’s proceedings on the main stage having travelled overnight from their latest central European tour, but no signs of tiredness were in evidence and they cranked into an extended jam leading into High Class Woman, and whatever the political meaning of the song, that’s certainly what Elin Larsson is, a high class performer, high class singer, and for those who’ve ever met her she’s a high class woman indeed.
Do not fall into the trap of stereotyping Elin by gender, she channels the great frontmen of the 60s/70s era, her diminutive frame strides the stage like a colossus, the mic stand and stunning voice her weapons of choice, and then she can suddenly disarm everyone with a girl next door smile and comment.
Whilst Elin is a powerful focal point, the entire band is performing at the highest level, meaning that as good as she is, in Dorian, Zak, and Andre, she shares the stage with her equals.
It was a brave move to drop their standard Devil Man and retain the one cover in their set, of Tony Joe White’s Elements and Things, a thumping, driving number which they have truly stamped as a Blues Pills live classic.

If the day needed a kick start, Blues Pills certainly provided it.

Solstafir, a metal band from Iceland, followed, and were louder than anything else on show and not my own bag at all, so it was an opportune time to head for the Blues tent where I caught some of Ian Siegel’s set, playing acoustic and very near drowned out by the sound from the other stages. That would be my one and only gripe, the noise creep was awful and could have been minimised with more thoughtful stage alignment, or some screening.

Also in the Blues tent, on recommendation I watched a good bit of Aaron Keylock, a young blues rock singer/guitarist, with even younger looking bass player and drummer, it’s straight ahead traditional electric blues, pretty good and it’s always amazing to see young guys keeping this alive but being the next young white hope blues man can be a blessing or a curse, ask Ian Parker, Peter Shoulder or Oli Brown, so I do hope he can cut a niche as he’s very good at what he does, and clearly very passionate and steeped in his chosen genre.

It seems an appropriate moment then to highlight Dorian Sorriaux of Blues Pills, who is not much older, yet comes from another blue marble planet all together and who’s destiny is surely to become renowned as the greatest living blues rock guitar player once the world awakens to him, not that he’s better than Aaron or other fine contemporaries, simply that he is unusual and his playing comes from somewhere deep inside, something which connects head, hands and instrument, and more importantly heart, in the rarest of ways, and puts him in the same bracket as Kossoff, Green, Clapton, and Page at their respective peaks.

Talking of noteworthy guitar players, I had a brief encounter between sets with Mick Ralphs, having spied him from afar, I waltzed up, pint of ale in hand, to shake his hand. Now here is a man who has been an integral element of not one but two of the greatest names in classic rock, namely Mott The Hoople, and Bad Company, and I really intended to thank him for the music and the memories. Instead I blurted out that I had first seen Bad Co on their second ever gig, at Birmingham Town Hall in ’74, and that they had so little material that they played Can’t Get Enough three times. I then noticed that he was holding a microphone, and was in the middle of an interview. He simply said, hello, you’re on the radio, to which I promptly repeated myself into the mic.
Sorry listeners, sorry Mick, and mercifully I forgot to ask him about the leopardskin top he was wearing that night in ’74.

Back on main stage The Quireboys entertained, my first time seeing them having been a bit sniffy about them, but I warmed to them, giving a good, solid performance, and as Rod and The Faces haven’t been doing that thing for decades, why not The Quireboys?

So, the main stage was nicely warmed up for The Temperance Movement, but on a short foray to the Prog stage, I caught sight and sound of a young lady in rather short shorts dynamically playing a violin, and then some young guys doing prog that sounded a more like half decent rock to me, and via the blues tent a little of Mick Ralphs Blues Band before making sure of a decent pitch for The Temperance Movement.

As The Quireboys before them, with songs like Be Lucky, The Temperance Movement also have that Faces vibe, but with much more depth and variety in their set, and with such a live wire performer as Phil Campbell they have a powerful vocal and visual point of focus. He bounds and prances around the stage like his life depends on each performance, which perhaps it does given his near disastrous past. If ever a guy needed a band to play up to his talent it is Phil. Coming to prominence initially as a solo performer, he promptly disappeared into his bottle, not entirely without trace, but barely registering on any meaningful radar, trouble was indeed his only friend.
Behind Campbell’s sand and glue voice, The Temperance Movement relies on swirling melodies, with twin guitars alternating turns on lead and rhythm, the most inevitable comparison then is made with The Black Crowes. The band’s set on the day was drawn from their already well trodden path of material, mostly from their well received debut album, and there were no clues as to what lies ahead for Movers to expect. After an extensive USA tour, this being their first gig back on UK shores, they were sharp and musically honed, and left the crowd really buzzing and ready for Rival Sons.

I think it was in between that I just caught the end of Joanne Shaw Taylor’s set in the Blues tent, perhaps the most regrettable clash of the day, I hadn’t seen her before and she sounded pretty powerful.

Down the years some gigs are defined by their totality, some become blended in with the general mass of sights and sounds of all the bands seen, but others have rare moments, something special that can be intensely personal, something that you know will stay in your heart and mind forever. I have had it before, and had it again on Sunday. My moment was Rival Sons opening with Belle Starr, a track from their latest album Great Western Valkyrie.
Singer Jay Buchanan and guitarist Scott Holiday could be seen intently watching from the wings what was going before them, saw the make up and mood of the crowd, the impact of the weather, and so we got Belle Starr.
The combination of surprise for those of us who know the band and expected to hear the opening power chords of Electric Man, of atmosphere, the stage lights illuminating the misty rain as the verses washed over us in reverence, the sheer beauty of the performance, sharing the experience with my daughter, all created an ethereal moment for me which I know will remain with me and precious until the end of my days.
The band then kicked on with the riff laden Electric Man, and stormed through a high energy set with one further lull for Where I’ve Been, which is currently replacing previous favourites such as Face of Light and Jordan, and that’s what’s so fascinating. Here is a band that is still making its way forward, yet already is so rich in portfolio that it can play a two hour set and never please everyone. If  a measure of a great band is the songs they don’t play then Rival Sons is already a great band, and they exude stardom, wearing their rock and roll cool as a first skin. I did have some concerns about Jay during what appeared to be an anti rock star phase but that seems to have passed, and he’s so passionate a performer that he has been known to push his incredible vocal range beyond its natural limits. Here though, in a shorter set, everything felt beautifully controlled and with a crowd devoid of the lunatic fringe slam dancers that have shown up at some Sons shows, it was all about the music and the world seemed very much in harmony enhanced by the now refreshing rain.

Rival Sons were the stand out performers from a day of outstanding performances.

With Seasick Steve next up I wandered over to the Prog again just in time to see Ian Anderson perform Living In The Past. It was interesting to see and hear, he retains an exuberant presence without the real wildness of old, and can still play that flute alright, his voice however made for uncomfortable listening for all but diehard fans, so it wasn’t too difficult to tear myself away as Seasick Steve and his drummer started to tear things up back on the main stage.

Now I do like old Steve and would love to catch his act in a small, atmospheric, grungy club, here though after half an hour or so it was getting a little repetitive to my ears so I popped to the Blues tent and it proved the best decision of the day.

Bernie Marsden and band were early into their set and at this stage in proceedings, after 10 hours ale drinking it was just what I needed, and if we’re talking classic rock it doesn’t get more classic rock than those Whitesnake riffs, and boy the guy can play and wrings a stonking tone out of that Les Paul. Ably supported by old bass stalwart Neil Murray he played some blues standards, a smattering of numbers from his solo career, and one song which he wrote for Joe Bonamassa to record for which he thanked JB ‘from the bottom of his pocket’! He saved the Whitesnake sing alongs until the end, which was perfect as once Seasick Steve had finished the numbers inside and outside the Blues tent had now swelled to give all the atmosphere and stickiness of a bursting at the seams club gig, and let’s face it, who can resist a rousing chorus of Here I Go Again, who doesn’t know all the words when it comes to it?

The finale was rousing and euphoric and left the crowd chanting Bernie, Bernie, for which old Bernie, playing here on his 35th wedding anniversary, looked genuinely taken aback and suggesting that perhaps we could all do this again on the main stage next year, not a bad idea.

I could have happily sauntered away to my comfortable, and dry, B&B after that, but the bars were still open, and there was the twin sounds already in swing of Marillion and Gregg Allman to choose between.

So, ten minutes watching Marillion who have never been in my playlists but they were pumping out some vibey hooks and putting on quite a dynamic show, which I suppose is what you would expect, and they seemed to be going down well with their own audience.

That left main stage headliner Gregg Allman, another who’s work has really passed me by since the Brothers were in their 70s pomp, still he commanded respect and with the crowd at the main stage somewhat sparse for a last night headliner, he and his band played a quality, steady rollin’ set, and thankfully his voice retains much of its original down home quality, and whatever uses and abuses he may have put himself through down the years I’m tempted to say that if he can look like that at 67 I’ll have some of what he’s had.It was a low key end, with dreadful noise creep coming from Marillion’s set which pounded across the quieter Allman crowd, and I was half expecting a reaction from old Gregg but if it bothered him he didn’t let it show, and having already played standards Melissa, and Midnight Rider, the band honky tonked their way through the main stage day’s only encore covering Elmore James’ One Way Out.

At the bookends, having been adrenalised and shaken awake nearly 10 hours earlier by Blues Pills, it was a smooth way to bow out of Ramblin’ Man, and I don’t think there will have been a soul wandering away into the Maidstone streets who will have been left disappointed by their day, or weekend for those who also took in Saturday.

What then, of those three bands I especially wanted to see, there will be more to come from me about them, but Robert Plant said recently that the old Gods are nearly all gone, and whilst he didn’t mean it in a Gene Simmons way that rock is dead, merely that time moves, the physical nature of those Gods diminishes, yet their influence remains, but in  Blues Pills, The Temperance Movement, and Rival Sons, there are new Gods among us, and they were all very much alive and kicking ass in the rain on Sunday 26 July 2015 at the Ramblin’ Man Fair, happy are those that have seen.