Ramblin' Man Fair 2017 Review

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A young musician friend of mine, told me a while ago, without a hint of doubt or humour, that guitar music has had its day, I laughed at the boy, but thinking about it,  I have to admit, there isn’t much of any real instruments audible in a lot of chart music these days, and at Ramblin man fair this weekend, my view was only re-enforced, that the singles charts possibly have as much relevance to real music as an unmade bed has with art, technically still the same pursuit, but poles apart.

Being a rambling man 1st timer I really wasn’t sure what to expect, I loaded the I-pod with Rock playlists, and we sang the entire 6hrs it took us to reach Mote Park in Kent, warming ourselves up and just hoping we wouldn’t hit a wall of Rock ego upon arrival.  But we needn’t have worried, this was a place of mainly old rockers in even older tour T shirts, who, with the passing of time have recognised that no-one’s daughter was actually going to the slaughter, and this weekend was all about great music, beer and good times, this was definitely rock with a “rye” smile and the benefit of hindsight, and over 3 days we fell in love with the spirit of Ramblin man. 

Friday nights opening act was ex Rainbow frontman Graham Bonnet, the one that never fully looked the part of rock god, but gave the band their hits that even your grandmother would know, belting out “I surrender”, “Night Games”, “All night long” and “Lost in Hollywood”, still sounding unbelievable and looking like he was drenched in the moment as well as the rain that hammered down the entire night.

Following Y&T, Saxon made a very welcome return to the Ramblin man to close the main stage for Friday evening and show why they were one of the leading lights in the 80s metal scene who can still produce the goods today. 

One of the most hotly tipped bands at the festival was Rival sons, surprisingly not on the main stage, and annoyingly clashing with another big draw in the form of Black Star Riders, who were on the main stage, I think a lot of people were torn between the two, but since the arena is essentially one big field, it wasn’t ever far to get between stages, and I managed to catch a bit of both, though I couldn’t honestly say which I should’ve stayed at, both were totally on the top of their game. 

There was genuinely so much going on at the same time here that it would have been an impossible task to see more than a small percentage of what was on offer, and as we all know, being at a festival shouldn’t feel like a chore, there was a civil war re-enactment, a motorcycle wall of death, festival stalls, laser clay pigeon shooting, the chance to sit on Harley-Davidson and dream, and obviously a few beers to put away. I missed so much I had ticked on my original line up list, Steve N Seagulls, Big Boy Bloater, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Toseland to name a few, let alone have more than a brief look at some of the emerging talent on the Rising stage.

One thing I did notice was the lack of areas to get out of the extremes of weather, a couple of covered seating areas would’ve been very welcome, rather than crowd the bars, especially during the Friday & Saturday rain we had this year.

American funk rockers Extreme finished proceedings on the mainstage Saturday night, putting on a masterclass in all aspects. I never quite got why this band weren`t bigger than they were, they have one of the best guitarists in the world, a front man that would rival Bruce Springsteen for energy and showmanship, one of the best backlines in the business and a million selling repertoire. I was absolutely blown away by the musicianship, of guitarist Nuno Bettencourt in particular, the crowd was singing, and the band was loving it, a great way to finish a day that had already exceeded my expectations.

For Sunday, two of the stages had a 60-minute makeover during the night, Outlaw Country had become the Blues stage, and Grooverider the Prog stage and, much to my delight, the latter contained Martin Turners Wishbone Ash, faithfully creating their most famous work, the album Argus. It was like I imagine heaven might feel, the sun had finally come out, and the sound of “Time was”, and “Blowin Free” was bouncing around inside a light breeze, sat under a tree with perhaps my first tipple of the day (well it was only 2.30pm), and people were coming out of the back of trader’s tents to get a taste of that sweet music, just one of those priceless moments.

There were all sorts of luxuries available here, but all for a price. The VIP area was one such, where you could watch from the comfort of a bar terrace next to the main stage, with no ques for a drink, and no trouble getting to toilet (which was a problem at times in the main areas), and with the added bonus of acoustic sets from some of the main performers.

In reality, nothing was cheap here, beer was £5.20 a pint, (also meaning you couldn’t just hand over a tenner for two drinks, either you or the barman had to fumble around for change), the camper van section was £49 each person, plus a £15 toll for a camping pass? If you wanted to sit in the dry to watch the mainstage you had to buy a grandstand wristband and if you wanted to buy a programme it was a tenner, the entry tickets themselves were 150 quid, plus and extra 45 if you wanted to do the Friday, so you might want to start saving early for next year.

But with so many of these types of events failing each year, the truth of the matter is, if you want big names and real talent, you got to pay the money. I can only imagine what price tag came with some of these bands, and to be honest, it was an awesome line up and in my opinion, well worth the extra amount. 

Following another day that saw genuine legends like UFO, Monster Truck, Focus, Magnum and Joanne Shaw Taylor playing to packed stages around the site.  The final festival headline act was original beer drinkers and hell raisers, the multimillion selling Texas blues power trio, ZZ Top, with a back catalogue longer than their famous beards, and sounding every bit as good now as the last time I saw them 25 years ago, It seemed like the whole festival was boogieing on down to the sharp dressed men, as they played through “Heads in Mississippi”, “Tush”, “Legs” and all the songs that made them a household name, as well as a fantastic booking for Ramblin man.

I have to say, I had such a good, fun weekend, and was genuinely impressed with Ramblin man’s pretty much unique position in the festival calendar, you get the best of your old school rock hero’s mixed with some outstanding new bands, amid the friendliest atmosphere, and even though the majority age was probably 40 plus, there were a lot of families and younger people lapping up the rock vibe, I don’t actually think you have to be a rock aficionado to appreciate and enjoy this festival.


Published on 03 August 2017 by Keith Dennelly

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