Looking back over three years of the country’s greatest rock festival
Has it really been over three years since the very first Ramblin’ Man Fair? Scarily, yes it has. During that time, more than 120 bands have graced the festival’s multiple stages, making it tricky to boil it down to the very best. But we’ll give it our best shot…
When it was announced that Mote Park would play host to a brand new festival featuring the finest classic rock, prog, blues and country bands around, the reaction from the mainstream was predictably clueless: “Does anybody care?’ The answer was emphatic: “Of course people care, you clueless gibbons!” The fact that the Scorpions turned up for their first UK show in donkey’s years to headline the very first Ramblin’ Man Fair proved it. And the Teutonic titans didn’t disappointing, rocking out with classic after classic and lighting up the whole of Maidstone during Rock You Like A Hurricane.
RIVAL SONS (2015)
The LA four-piece had earned their spurs opening for Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. But it was on a soggy Sunday in 2015 that they imprinted themselves on several thousand rock fans in Maidstone with a swaggering set – introduced, bizarrely, by comedian Vic Reeves – that cut through the rain and proved they were stars of the future. A couple of years later they’d be back to headline the inaugural Grooverider Stage with a show that was no less stellar.
Ramblin’ Man is first and foremost a chance to listen to killer music with great mates in fantastic surroundings. But it’s also a celebration of all those great bands that so-called ‘tastemakers’ wrote off years ago. And no one embodies that quite like Marillion. The Aylesbury icons’ most recent album, the stunning Sounds That Can’t Be Made, had rubber-stamped their return from the wilderness years of the late 90s and early 00s, and their showing as the inaugural festival’s Sunday Night Prog Stage headliners was a crowning triumph.
Whitesnake are no strangers to huge festivals, as anyone who ever saw them at one of their multiple Donington appearances can vouch. And they brought that Big Stage Magic to their headlining appearance at the second Ramblin’ Man Fair back in 2016. Their set was a journey through an unmatched back catalogue, and the Mote Park Choir was in fantastic voice on Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City.
Whoah, did anyone see this coming? Actually, maybe you did. After all, the Aussie nutcases have carved out a reputation for being one of the finest live bands around, a full-force hurricane of hair, attitude and AC/DC riffs. And their Ramblin’ Man appearance remains the stuff of legend: the musical equivalent of a vodka-laced pint of lager that makes you forget just where you put your head. Hats off to Elf’n’Safety’-defying mainman Joel O’Keeffe for making like a monkey and scrambling up the scaffolding, to the ire of the stage manager. Greatest Ramblin’ Man set ever? Hmmm, could be…
THIN LIZZY (2016)
There were loads of great appearances at Ramblin’ Man 2016: hard rock veterans Europe and Sunday night headliners Black Stone Cherry on the Main Stage, Warren Haynes and Walter Trout on the Blues Stage, rising Outlaw Country star The White Buffalo. But few were as life-affirming as Thin Lizzy. With Scott Gorham the sole remaining member from the band’s classic line-up and Ricky Warwick filling the shoes of the legendary Phil Lynott, there were some who though they would never pull it of. How wrong they were – Lizzy proved the cynics wrong with a set of songs that proved they’re one of the greatest bands the UK has ever produced. And they’d return the following year in their Black Star Riders incarnation, proving they could do it under their own steam too.
The third Ramblin’ Man threw open its doors a day early, kicking the party off with a four-band Friday night bill on the Main Stage. Saxon were the perfect headliners. The Barnsley Big Teasers had made a memorable appearance in the festival’s first year. More importantly, they had an arsenal of classic heavy metal anthems that spanned the decades, as they proved on that night. The band were on fire, Biff Byford tore up the setlist, and even the rain decided to take an hour off. Gawd bless ’em!
BLACKWATER CONSPIRACY (2017)
The Rising Stage has turned out to be one of the best-loved elements of Ramblin’ Man, with a dedicated an audience on the lookout for the next big thing. Blackwater Conspiracy were one of the great discoveries of 2017 – a bunch of Northern Irish rogues who gave their bluesy, Black Crowesy rock’n’roll a gritty, AC/DC-influenced edge. Expect to hear more from them in the future.
Extreme and ZZ Top both turned in sterling Main Stage headlining appearances last year. But one of our favourite sets came midway on the Sunday in the shape of Monster Truck. The sun was out, the ground had dried up, the beer was flowing and the Canadian quartet came out swinging, serving up stream of fantastically heavy numbers designed to ramp up the good vibes. Exactly what Ramblin’ Man does best, in other words.
KRIS BARRAS BAND (2017)
He looks like Tom Hardy and plays like Gary Moore. But the Devon-based blues rocker is one of Ramblin’ Man’s breakout stars, as anyone who caught his electrifying Rising Stage appearance last year. Big-hitting blues label Mascot certainly though so – they offered him a deal on the back of it (his first album for the label, The Divine And Dirty, is one of the best things we’ve heard so far in 2018). And he’s back this year on the Blues Stage…
Words: Dave Everley