Maidstone Mote Park
Must-see gigs from Dan Baird & Homemade Sin/Jason & The Scorchers/Kentucky Headhunters, Stiff Little Fingers, Quireboys, Geoff Tate’s Operation: Mindcrime and IQ. Plus full gig listings – find out who’s playing where and when.
Roll up, roll up, for this year’s instalment of what has become Britain’s best and most enjoyable broad-reach rock festival. FRIDAY
It’s grey and drizzling overhead but the ale is flowing, the fairground swings are lit, everyone’s being terribly nice to each other, and our mate’s just squeaked: “I’ve got an espresso martini!” This year’s Ramblin’ Man – the ultimate annual classic rock mini-break – hath begunneth.
Aussie shitkickers The Lazys open the festival with Thin Lizzy-via-AC/DC (Bon Scott era) rock’n’roll, delivered with tearaway gusto. The Kris Barras Band bring a welcome combination of blues, soul and hard rock. Led by Barras, who’s now a guitarist and vocalist with an increasingly individual style, they catch the imagination of a sizeable crowd. This band have energy and passion, and now look like they’ll make significant strides.
FM bring class to the proceedings. Steve Overland’s vocals blossom and flower, while never showing even a hint of age catching up, and the rest of the band have a polished tone that successfully avoids sacrificing dynamics. Make no mistake, FM still have fire in their collective belly. They also have masterful songs such as That Girl and Bad Luck Finding A Lover. It adds up to a triumphant performance.
We run into bassist Danny McCormack backstage minutes before The Wildhearts’ set, to find he’s literally just got a tattoo across his chest reading ‘One foot in the grave’ (“To go with this!” he beams, tapping his false lower leg). On stage, however, the band are all about their new lease of life, as epitomised by this year’s cracking ‘comeback’ Renaissance Men. They burn at both ends irresistibly, with the incendiary pummell of Dislocated and the fizzling likes of Caffeine Bomb, and Ginger looks really happy as the audience whoop in delight – genuinely touching to see in such a tortured soul. “We’re gonna play a song from Endless, Nameless, which is universally hated, it’s really noisy…” he chatters, before the band thrash out Urge. I dunno, Ginger, sounds pretty good to us. And isn’t that what the Wildhearts do best? Raw fury and some of the sweetest tunes you’ve ever heard? Fucking brilliant.
Initially The Darkness sound worryingly thin, with opener Black Shuck not punching out with the volume and balls you’d expect. Thankfully this is quickly sorted, as the hard hitters come thick and fast, Justin Hawkins leaping around with athletic aplomb, like the karate kid in white with a black headband. His banter is gloriously weird (at one point he offers a piece of Frankie Poullain’s skin to the person who screams longest), and towards the end of their set he changes into something halfway between his open-chested
catsuits of old and a handbag from Claire’s Accessories circa 1999. “It’s sixteen years to this day, and some other days, that we released our first album!” he beams. “We’re still making albums, only none of you c**ts are buying them!” Listening to latter-day aces like Barbarian, his frustration seems fair. But then they play I Believe In A Thing Called Love and… well, it’s a lot to live up to. Not that anyone’s complaining; by the time they leave the stage we all have enormous grins across our faces.
Saturday’s early birds arrive to find RavenEye – the lean, mean ’n’ keen contemporary rock band of former blues prodigy Oli Brown – making a decent fist of the opening spot on the Main Stage.
Wayward Sons are slowly developing their own personality. Led by commanding, experienced frontman Toby Jepson, they sensibly concentrate on the more up-tempo side of their repertoire, ensuring that the crowd are able to enjoy a set that gets the feet moving. Opening with Alive and closing with Until The End, they underline the fact that they belong on a big stage.
Collateral win over a lot of new fans. They’ve got some very strong songs, they can play, and they have an image, but it’s those melodies which give them ebullient momentum.
The sun beats down on the Outlaw Country Stage as Otis throw down their bluesy swampy rock and Delta-soaked grooves. They’re heavier and dirtier than your Blackberry Smokes, Black Stone Cherries et al, with extra-chunky distortion.
“I feel scared! Clap your hands! I need that confidence!” Ugly Kid Joe singer Whitfield Crane shouts, looking the same and singing the same duderock/alt.metal that briefly made the band massive in the 90s, only these days softer and more dad-ish. Which is fine, even if everyone is just waiting for Everything About You.
Aussie veteran Jimmy Barnes strides straight into his storming momentum with I’m In A Bad Mood, never slackening the pace. With a voice that’s gruff and stentorian, he and his impressive band ram home songs like Love & Hate and Working Class Man, as well as his old band Cold Chisel’s Flame Trees. Ramblin’ Man regulars by now, The Temperance
Movement feel invitingly at home here, mixing hands-down quality songs with an easy, happy stage presence. “This is a beautiful fucking festival! Face painting tent after this!” Phil Campbell beams, looking like a skinny punk with the voice of a raw Rod Stewart, while bassist Nick Fyffe’s tiny daughter joins him on stage during a lush Another Spiral.
Grand Slam might never escape the shadow of Phil Lynott, but their 45-minute set proves they won’t
be overshadowed by his memory. The reimagined band deliver powerful renditions of old songs like Nineteen and new ones such as Gone Are The Days, and everybody watching is duly Slam-ified.
The Allman Betts Band almost didn’t arrive on time today, we find out later. Not that you’d know from their sublime southern glow which, in hindsight, might’ve been slightly overdue here (“Our boy’s dad wrote Ramblin’ Man!” says grinning singer/guitarist Devon Allman, gesturing to Duane Betts). Either way, they play a gorgeous set, peaking with a spinetingling take on Prince’s Purple Rain.
Cheap Trick are in their element at an event like this. Rick Nielsen provides guitar virtuosity and quirkiness, while Robin Zander displays the grandeur and vocal majesty. They also have evergreen songs such as I Want You To Want Me, Surrender and The Flame to hold everyone’s attention. It’s a magnificent display from a band who revel in that attention.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd probably belongs on tomorrow’s Blues Stage. His band’s singer Noah Hunt, shouting “Are you ready for some blues?!” probably agrees, although he does look pleasingly like a suave Western movie baddie for their Outlaw Country Stage headline spot. Opener Woman Like You is quickly partied up with a Stonesy cover of Buffalo Springfield’s Mr Soul, and the jolly likes of King Bee offset the Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque blues athleticism.
Yes, Black Stone Cherry are a meat-and-potatoes kinda band, but the flesh is well cooked and the spuds creamy. They’re built for this kind of event – with two headline appearances here they’re almost Ramblin’ Man’s house band – and John Fred Young and Ben Wells are two of rock’s liveliest, most watchable performers. Me And Mary Jane arrives early in a foggy blast of dry ice, while My Last Breath is the kind of song capable of creating a genuine ‘festival moment’ – and does just that.
Peterborough’s Austin Gold are very ready for Main-size stages (they’ve all been in other bands but everything fell into place here), and their set today is bang on the money, their Bad Companyesque roots expanded by heavier, Foos-infused new material. Proper songs, slick execution, good times.
Poor Steak, tucked away in the Grooverider tent at 2.30pm on a gloriously sunny day. Still, their T-bone swathes of stoner meat, treacly swagger and blasts of trippiness do a nice job of pulling in those of us seeking respite from the heat.
Living Colour are stunning. While some decry their style as disjointed, in reality they draw from a wide range of genres, firing volleys of outrageously creative songs at the entranced crowd. And the image of vocalist Corey Glover jumping into the crowd to join
them in admiring the guitar skills of Vernon Reid, is among the festival’s finest moments.
Inglorious frontman Nathan James has unearthed a star in Danny De La Cruz, and you hope their new guitarist is able to wrestle some of the spotlight away from the singer, who still talks humility while blowing kisses. While not as convincing as their Download set last year, it’s a solid performance.
But for sheer showmanship you’ve got to hand it to Crobot, with singer Brandon Yeagley (sporting the sparkliest jacket this tent will see all day) leading the Pennsylvania-based rockers’ heavy, funky parade like a bug-eyed cartoon Dio. They even dive into a bit of the Ghostbusters theme: “Let’s think about this, Ramblin’ Man,” says Yeagley. “You’re under a circus tent, it’s all strange here…”
Having grooved along to the hearty, wellattended set from Gin Annie on the Rising Stage, we dart over to the Main Stage for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Flying the freak flag for all the weirdos and Dead Heads present, they’re a band built for open-air stages in sunny fields, where jams are perennially spaced-out and beards are probably a legal requirement. A total trip-fest, of course, and a good one.
Rising Stage headliners the Fallen State have a serious frontman in Ben Stenning, a livewire, charismatic performer. The backing vocals need work, and the band need bigger stages – but a tribute to missing guitarist Dan Oke (currently being treated for cancer) is genuinely moving, and the set is a triumph.
Three years ago, Airbourne were one of the wonders of Ramblin’ Man. This year they’re back with as much vivacity as ever. Simply watching the non-stop movement of these Aussies can be tiring; Joel O’Keeffe is a blur, the frontman prepared to scale any heights to get attention. Opening with Ready To Rock and Too Much, Too Fast, Too Young, these guys are priceless entertainers, and throughout their set you cannot help but smile.
Orange Goblin’s sound man seemingly thinks: ‘Airbourne playing outside? Fuck that, we’ll give you actual AC/DC...’ as he blasts out It’s A Long Way To The Top as their pre-set music. Headlining the Grooverider Stage, OG thrash out heavy metal beasts like Sons Of Salem and Red Tide Rising, plus a killer cover of Motörhead’s No Class. “Get drunk!” roars Ben Ward. “Smash the fuck out of each other!” That’s not going to happen here, and Ward knows it, but he’s so damn watchable and goodhumoured it hardly matters.
Guitarist Mick Jones arrives late to his own party, joining Foreigner on stage after they’ve already played half a dozen songs. But even without him they’re still flawless, playing hit after hit after hit, with Kelly Hansen a charming, occasionally hilarious frontman. There’s a long, rather silly slow funk jam that slips gently into I Want To Know What Love Is, and the rest is history. The crowd sways, grown men weep, and Ramblin’ Man 2019 ends on a delirious high.