REVIEW: Rain-hit Ramblin’ Man Fair returns to Maidstone

PUBLISHED: 13:14 01 August 2017 | UPDATED: 13:15 01 August 2017

Ramblin' Man. Photo: Andy Archer

Ramblin' Man. Photo: Andy Archer

Copyright AndyPhotos

We take a look back at the popular rock festival that drew big crowds in the county town over the weekend. Photos by Andy Archer and Chris White

Crowds. Photo: Chris White Crowds. Photo: Chris White

With the Download festival becoming heavier each year, there’s been an opening for an event focusing more on classic rock. And in its third year, Ramblin’ Man Fair has made that role its own.

Now expanded to three nights, there’s a stellar line-up, with rock, prog, country and blues brilliantly represented.

A special mention needs to be made of the Rising Stage, dedicated to up-and-coming bands. There’s no filler here and a festival comprising just these bands would be worth visiting in itself. Screaming Eagles, Bad Touch and Skam are just three that look destined for bigger things.

At the other end of the spectrum, the main-stage headliners each have their own niches. Saxon, who play on Friday, deliver a blistering set that shows why they are one of the great survivors of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

ZZ Top. Photo: Chris White ZZ Top. Photo: Chris White

By the time the gates open on Saturday, it appears that earlier confidence it would be a dry weekend was wide of the mark.

It means the beer tents are crowded for much of the day, and that brings us to one of the gripes heard around the site.

The price of beer – an important factor for many – is a nuisance, with most pints costing £5.20.

It’s not excessively expensive by festival standards, but staff and punters alike quickly get fed up with handing over fistfuls of change or rootling around for another 20p. Make it a nice round fiver and everyone would be much happier.

The whole family got involved. Photo: Chris White The whole family got involved. Photo: Chris White

Another annoyance for many is the decision to brand the Friday night as a spin-off festival.

‘Weekend tickets’ allow entry for Saturday and Sunday only, meaning a separate ticket needs to be bought for Friday at the Fair.

It’s the same with the merchandise – if you want a memento with all three days’ line-ups, you need to buy two T-shirts.

These gripes are a shame, because in every other way this weekend is a triumph.

Ramblin' Man. Photo: Andy Archer Ramblin' Man. Photo: Andy Archer

There’s unlikely to be a friendlier festival on the circuit, bar staff and stewards are helpful and good-natured throughout, and the sound is great on all four stages.

Extreme, who headline on Saturday, might be pooh-poohed by some, but they do what they do well. Lead singer Gary Cherone prowls around the stage and lead guitarist Nuno Bettencourt is another showman. While purists might prefer last night’s Saxon, Extreme literally get the funk out and don’t pretend to be anything they’re not.

It’s impossible to take everyone in, and there are inevitably some clashes that involve deciding which acts to skip. Monster Truck and Black Star Riders are both at the top of their game, while Devin Townsend Project, on the prog stage, follow up their amazing Download performance with another startling show.

Meanwhile, a couple of acts are dealt curveballs at the last moment. Y&T play on Friday without John Nymann, who was too ill to fly over for the US.

Ramblin' Man. Photo: Andy Archer Ramblin' Man. Photo: Andy Archer

Although they get some help from a stand-in guitarist who manfully plugs some of the gap, much of the time they play as a trio – for the first time in the band’s 43-year history.

And on Saturday, Dan Baird & Homemade Sin take to the stage without Baird himself, who’s in hospital with leukaemia.

The remaining trio take this in their stride, and Warner E Hodges is a consummate pro as he takes over lead vocals and carries it off superbly.

For many, though, the weekend is all about ZZ Top. Extreme might have put on a show but these Texans are surely going to let the music do the talking on Sunday night.

But they are not at their best. In some ways, it’s refreshing they keep it simple – they don’t even have a backdrop – but they seem uninterested at times and there’s little interaction with the crowd.

The songs are all classics but it gets a bit stale in the middle of the set.

Hits such as Sharp Dressed Man and Legs spice things up towards the end, but their prompt departure from the stage without a word to the audience just adds to the feeling that there’s something missing.

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