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  THE MUSIC SHINES THE BRIGHTEST AT RAMBLIN' MAN
Ramblin' Man Fair, Mote Park, Maidstone, 28th-30th July 2017

Words: Andy Rawll, Liz Medhurst, Mark Taylor
Photos: Robert Sutton, Eric Duvet
3rd August 2017

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Ramblin' Man Fair got bigger this year with an extra day on the Friday. With the action sensibly starting late in the afternoon of the festival's third edition to enable ramblers to set up their tents, the first day had a nostalgic feel of the old Monsters Of Rock festivals with only one stage in use and just the four acts, one less that graced Donington in 1990.

Graham Bonnet is no stranger to festivals having headlined the first ever Monsters Of Rock at Castle Donington back in 1980 fronting Rainbow, and his taste in suits hasn't changed in that time, opting for a bright pink number today.

At 69 years of age, Bonnet's voice can sometimes lose its strength but that doesn't stop the charismatic vocalist from belting out the notes the best he possibly can. This was a career perspective set that mainly focused on some of the great artists he has worked with, including the aforementioned Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group and Alcatrazz - who also featured keyboardist Jimmy Waldo who was back guesting with Bonnet for this run of festival dates.

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Graham Bonnet. Photo: Robert Sutton

'Stand In Line' from Bonnet's time with Impelliteri was a surprise addition and 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' was most impressive but it was inevitable that the loudest cheers were reserved for the karaoke singalong of 'Since You've Been Gone'. A fine start.

Ronnie James Dio may no longer be with us, and Jimmy Bain for that matter, but Last In Line reinforces the legacy of the music that the great man left behind.

Vivian Campbell and Vinny Appice were an integral part of the Dio sound on the first two albums and although vocalist Andrew Freeman is very much his own man, singing in a different style to Ronnie, there's no denying that these songs still need to be heard in the live setting to feel their true greatness – and he did them justice. Ramblin' rocked hard to 'Rainbow In The Dark' and horns were highly raised for the affirmative 'We Rock'.

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Last In Line. Photo: Robert Sutton

Y&T were a man down with guitarist John Nymann phoning in sick the day the band flew over to the UK. Undeterred, the San Francisco outfit vowed to do the show as a three piece with a little extra help on a few numbers from Scotsman Ross McEwen who more recently performed with Joe Lynn Turner on a couple of acoustic dates in his native homeland.

A reconstructed set saw Dave Meniketti work harder but it was nice to hear his wonderful vocals and exquisite solos on songs like 'Dirty Girl' without any other six string interference. Despite the battle scars Y&T still put on a classy performance.

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Y&T. Photo: Robert Sutton

It didn't take long for the glasses to be raised high for Saxon who are worthy headliners of any rock festival. Typically British, typically Heavy Metal - real Metal full of nuts and bolts that you can actually headbang to; a forgotten art.

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Saxon. Photo: Robert Sutton

The Barnsley bruisers bulldozed the Ramblin' Man Fair with a historic set that included their seminal live album 'The Eagle Has Landed' performed for the first and apparently only time in its entirety. It's an album that marked the end of their true classic early 80s era when they regularly graced the Top 40 hit singles chart with head crunching numbers like '747 (Strangers In The Night)', 'Wheels Of Steel' and 'Never Surrender'.

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Saxon. Photo: Robert Sutton

Biff Byford rips the setlist up and tells the band to lead into 'Crusader' followed by the festival anthem 'And The Bands Played On'. By now the day had been won and Saxon were having fun as Biff chases bassist Nibs Carter around behind the stacks for fluffing the intro to 'Solid Ball Of Rock'.

Saxon set the spirit free with 'Denim And Leather', the song that describes everything that is great and passionate about being a rock fan. Another conquering effort from the mighty Saxon.

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Saxon. Photo: Robert Sutton

The weather forecast proved to be absolutely right for Saturday, with the rain starting almost as soon as the first acts took the stage and only letting up for brief periods until the end. Fortunately, the bill was packed with enough of the good stuff to distract the wet and muddy audience.

Opening proceedings and setting the bar sky-high, lion-maned guitarist Jared James Nichols roared his muscular brand of bad boy blues on the main stage, while Dirty Thrills were on offer on the small, but no less impressive Grooverider stage.

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Jared James Nichols. Photo: Eric Duvet

With a style and swagger at least equal to later stage headliners, Rival Sons, the QOTSA meets Zeppelin vibe of closing song 'Law Man' highlighted the impressive voice of Louis James and thrilling band interplay that made this performance an early highlight. Clutch-endorsed cats Lionize, with their eclectic blend of funky 70s classic rock with and dub overtones, were not be outdone and delivered an enthralling set.

Returning to the main stage after a year's absence was the high-octane, piston-pumping arena rock of Toseland, showcasing the more evolved sound of their strong second album 'Cradle the Rage'.

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Toseland. Photo: Eric Duvet

Meanwhile, the torrent of riffs pouring from the Rising Stage, matching the almost incessant rain, was causing a deluge of beautiful noise in the lower field and provided real competition to the bigger name bands, not least the exultant modern rock of Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics. Lead track 'All The Things You've Said And Done' well encapsulates their melodically rich sound which recalls the classic pomp of Queen with the drive and grit of Stone Temple Pilots and Audioslave.

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Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics. Photo: Eric Duvet

It was great to see hardworking, constantly touring bands, like Brummy gems Broken Witt Rebels and Fens-men Bad Touch elevated to the festival bill and, despite the short set-times, taking full advantage of a receptive crowd and a loud yet crystal clear sound system, with their respective takes on blues-based rock.

Back on the main stage, British Lion gave us an explosive and energetic display of Metal that threatened to blast the clouds away. Being Steve Harris' side project, it was no surprise that "Maiden-esque" is a most fitting description, but clones they are not and this set gave us an idea of what to expect on the second album, and that sounds very tasty indeed. Next up was Reef who continue to draw affection from the UK. Their new material was well received, as was the chance for a mass sing-along to 'Place Your Hands'.

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British Lion. Photo: Eric Duvet

The stage clashes that are the menace of festivals were out in force this weekend, meaning that Topy Jepson's new band, Wayward Sons, remain top of the must-see list as for many the draw of Glenn Hughes was irresistible. The 'Voice Of Rock' turned in a hard and heavy set that delighted. In awe at the strength and tone of Glenn's vocals, the crowd were captivated by three tracks from recent album 'Resonate' spliced with one Hughes/Thrall, two Deep Purple and one Black Country Communion. With form like this, the return of the latter with 'BCCIV' later this year is mouth-watering.

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Glenn Hughes. Photo: Eric Duvet

Back on Groove Rider, The Kyle Gass Band gave us good time rock with a lot of substance, with Scorpion Child providing exhilarating power psychedelia before it was time to return to the main stage.

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Scorpion Child. Photo: Eric Duvet

After the bulk of the band appeared at last year's event for the Thin Lizzy anniversary shows, it was back to current business for Black Star Riders. They were on superb form and the field was buzzing with the electrifying performance, 'Finest Hour' and 'Bound For Glory' being good descriptors of the set.

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Black Star Riders. Photo: Eric Duvet

New drummer Chad Szeliga, replacing Jimmy Degrasso who departed earlier this year, brought a commanding heaviness to the sound established by Ricky Warick, Scott Gorham and co, and the songs from new album 'Heavy Fire' are pretty much instant classics. 'Testify Or Say Goodbye' was almost as much a crowd pleaser as the few included Lizzy classics. A triumphant set and evidence that BSR are one of the most vital and important bands around today.

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Black Star Riders. Photo: Eric Duvet

Rival Sons brought proceedings on Groove Rider to a close with their stylish classic blues rock, injecting dampened and flagging spirits with a boost of energy. Thankfully, by sundown, the extreme weather that had threatened, but failed, to dampen the wonderful spirit of the rock fraternity, had abated to be replaced by Extreme as main headliners for the day.

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Extreme. Photo: Eric Duvet

Although initially envisaged as a celebration of their genre and career defining 'Pornograffitti', tonight's set went somewhat off-piste and included less than half of that album. From one perspective, this made sense, as the band had toured the UK in 2014 playing that complete and very popular pre-grunge rock album. However, although, the more career-spanning range of songs in tonight's setlist delighted hardcore fans, it carried less appeal for the casual fan of the band, who had not waited for the punchline in 1995 or had a hunger for their 'Sausages Of Rock' platter in 2008.

The well-weathered sinew of Gary Cherone's voice, the dextrous blur of Nuno's lead guitar, the assured bass and backing vocals of Pat The Badger and the funky drums of Kevin Figueiredo all combined wonderfully into a performance of precision and flair. Yet, whenever the band veered away from the crowd-pleasing material from the first two albums, the euphoric mood was lost for many. For example, the opening salvo of 'It's A Monster', 'Li'l Jack Horny' and 'Get The Funk Out' was absolutely superb, but the rightly raucous initial reaction was then tempered by the lukewarm response to the two later era songs that followed.

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Extreme. Photo: Eric Duvet

This meant that familiar, if somewhat repetitive, 'Play With Me' struggled to restore the momentum. However, there was much to love and overall, by sheer force of nature and spirited performance, Extreme surprised many by how good a live band they remain and are sure to do brisk business on the cannily announced November tour as part of funk-rock dream package with Dan Reed Network.

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Extreme. Photo: Eric Duvet

The sun came back out for Sunday, and fittingly given tonight's headliners, the market stalls were doing a roaring trade in cheap sunglasses to those who had turned up ready for another deluge.

Stone Broken and Snakecharmer were the first two up on the main stage. Both bands were late substitutions on the bill but there were few complaints as Stone Broken drew a healthy crowd with their assured brand of rock and Snakecharmer let their music do the talking with an accomplished display of hard rock with a touch of mellowness.

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Snakecharmer. Photo: Eric Duvet

The Rising stage continued to bring rewards with a powerhouse opening trio from Killit, Knock Out Kaine and SKAM, all three bands seriously impressing and winning new friends.

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Knock Out Kaine. Photo: Eric Duvet

As had happened yesterday, there was a pause on all the music stages while a different sort of action was going on out in the fields – a re-enactment of the American Civil War, complete with cannons and rifles and authentic camps. The attention to detail was impressive and this was a great touch, adding to the uniqueness of the event.

Whether you would classify the music of Wishbone Ash as prog or not is a mote park point but the fact is that the prog stage provided absolutely the perfect setting for Martin Turner to deliver one of the best performances of the whole festival.

Not only was the sound beautifully balanced, loud and clear, but the opportunity to hear their catalogue masterpiece, 'Argus', played in its entirety was too good to miss. Forty-five years on from its original release, the seven constituent songs remain a spellbinding and cohesive suite of music. Better still, the gorgeous bass tone, the incisive drumming and the sweet lyrical lead guitar provided by Martin's band transcend the album when performed with such virtuoso reverence in a live setting.

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Martin Turner Ex Wishbone Ash. Photo: Eric Duvet

The Dutch proggers Focus are a perfect sunny afternoon experience. Personnel come and go but attention is always fixed on the wonderfully eccentric Thijs van Leer who always rewards, whether coaxing magic out of that battered old Hammond held together with tape, doing scat jazz vocals or madcap flute playing. The essential 'Sylvia', 'House Of The King' and 'Hocus Pocus' were all present and correct and really rather wonderful.

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Focus. Photo: Eric Duvet

Magnum did a pleasing greatest hits set which went down well with the faithful. Their ranks are somewhat depleted as drummer Harry James was absent and keyboard player Mark Stanway who left during the last tour was replaced by Rick Benton but the veteran pomp rockers produced a cohesive display that more than did justice to their rich catalogue. As always, the rockier numbers sat well with the slower tunes and this was a memorable performance, despite no 'Kingdom Of Madness, 'The Bringer' or 'The Spirit'.

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Magnum. Photo: Eric Duvet

Monster Truck are rapidly driving their swaggering brand of redneck rock into the hearts and ears of UK rock fans. With a monstrous template that marries Zepp and Sabb riffs with the groove of Queens Of The Stone Age, this heavy horsepower band of Ontarians is custom-built for the big stage. Opening with the aggressively inquisitive 'Why Are You Not Rockin'?' from their 'Sittin' Heavy' meat-feast of an album, this was uncompromising heavy rock of the highest quality. 'Don't Tell Me How To Live' was a further highlight with its 'Whole Lotta Love' style riff and Grand Funk Railroad blues groove suddenly transforming into a Clutch-meets-Nickelback chorus. Mightily monstrous.

Meanwhile, under canvas, intense sounds flowed all day from the Blues Stage, kicked off by the psychedelic stoner sounds of be-hatted Jack J Hutchinson. There was nothing bloated about Big Boy Bloater who played a tight raucous set of punchy blues with attitude.

Still only 18, Aaron Keylock's firebird mastery remains remarkable and promises much for the future, particularly once his still adolescent voice matures. Tyler Bryant and his band gave a packed tent a right old shake-down with a strong set of anthemic rock with a modern and sometimes grungy twist.

A good festival will always have a surprise new discovery and Supersonic Blues Machine filled that slot with style. Any murmurings about who these newcomers were and why they were placed so relatively high on the bill were dispelled almost instantly. This was the live UK debut for the core trio of Lance Lopez, Fabrizio Grossi and Kenny Aronoff, who currently have one album to their name, but theit collective experience stretches to decades of the highest possible pedigree.

The trio were augmented by quality keyboards and backing vocals, and thrillingly the maestro Eric Gales came on and the whole thing went into overdrive. Smart move to get a UK crowd to sing along to 'Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City', the Bobby Bland track which also features on the album getting a new lease of life. There were rumours that Billy Gibbons would reprise his album guest spot on 'Running Whiskey', but there was no disappointment that he didn't – how could there be with a set this good.

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Supersonic Blues Machine. Photo: Robert Sutton

This is an alchemy of blues via Texas and Tennessee, dashes of California and Motown Funk, and shades of Hendrix, Cream and Mountain. It might sound like it's all been done before, but these guys have that extra touch of magic. Come back and see us soon.

Following this we were treated to another side of the blues spectrum, this time of the rollicking sort as The Quireboys treated us to their new covers album, 'White Trash Blues', giving these classics a definite Quireboys twist. Spike was his usual shy, retiring self on stage, quipping before 'Take Out Some Insurance' that nobody would insure the band. Coming right after he had nearly brained himself with the microphone stand and almost had someone's eye out, we believed him.

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Quireboys. Photo: Eric Duvet

It takes quality musicianship to pull off this standard of performance and the band, augmented with Pearl Handled Revolver's brilliant Lee Vernon on harmonica, deserved the packed out tent and rapturous reception.

At the same time as The Quireboys, the old guard of UFO took to the main stage. UFO turned up the heat and the volume, as they rolled back the years with a blistering display that nearly sent the lights out.

Following travel-shy Kansas' withdrawal from the festival, the prog headliner's baton was passed to Devin Townsend. Having performed a short set of ambient blues with Che Aimee Dorval at last year's festival, this time Devin was armed with his full Metal project and proved to be the most astounding, entertaining, engaging and brilliant show of the weekend.

With song titles like 'Supercrush!', 'Hyperdrive' and 'Stormbending' you can feel the intensity of the music even before a note is played, yet it's the unpredictability of the resulting musical maelstrom that's most remarkable. A triumph of transcendence.

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Joanne Shaw Taylor. Photo: Eric Duvet

And so as Joanne Shaw Taylor headlined the Blues stage with a powerful and mighty set, the festival is almost at an end, and there's just ZZ Top, the mightiest of little ol' blues bands, left.

Dialling down slightly on the flamboyance of tours back in the day, there was still just the right amount of smooth moves and embellishments, but ultimately it was the music that shone the brightest. Unsurprisingly it was the big 'Eliminator' tracks which received an ecstatic response, but the old school 'Waitin' For The Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago' reminded us just how strong the catalogue has always been.

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ZZ Top. Photo: Eric Duvet

Showing the other side of their Texas roots, the steel guitar made an appearance on the self-described redneck song 'Act Naturally', triggering plenty of dubious barn dancing in the crowd. Must be what counts for a mosh pit at Ramblin' Man.

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ZZ Top. Photo: Eric Duvet

The trio do their thing and do it to perfection. Gibbons, Hill and Beard are masters of their craft and satisfaction was guaranteed. With encores of 'La Grange', 'Tush' and 'Jailhouse Rock' the festival was brought to a close. With this line-up, once again Ramblin' Man Fair proved its worth as one of the jewels of the UK festival scene.

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ZZ Top. Photo: Eric Duvet

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ZZ Top. Photo: Eric Duvet

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MONSTERS OF ROCK IN FULL FLIGHT SURE TO BECOME FUTURE COLLECTOR'S ITEM

monsters of rock

Monsters Of Rock In Full Flight is strictly limited to 300 worldwide and is available from 30th November but those ordering before 31st October will have their name published within a dedicated page in the book.

It's a deluxe 128 page hardback book in a metal flight case with a narrative by Jerry Bloom.

When promoter Paul Loasby put on the first Monsters Of Rock Festival in 1980 he could probably never have imagined it would become an annual event that would endure for so many years.

Featuring bands from the UK, Germany, Canada and USA, Loasby chose to stage the event at the Donington race circuit in the middle of England and it would prove to be a defining moment for many of the bands on the bill.

Not least for headliners Rainbow as it was the their last ever show to feature drum legend Cozy Powell. As it would happen it turned out to be the last for vocalist Graham Bonnet as well. For many of the other bands on the bill such as Scorpions, Judas Priest and Saxon, they were all on the ascendancy and would soon go on to even greater success.

Now in celebration of this first ever Monsters Of Rock Festival comes this hardback book full of glorious photos of the bands that took to the stage for that inaugural event including back stage shots. Most of these shots have not been published before which add to the uniqueness of this deluxe 128-page book which is packaged in its own flight case.

Also included are stories surrounding the event with tales and recollections from those who were there, including artists and fans alike. Each book will be signed by the author. The 300 will sell fast and definitely go on to become collector's items so order yours now right here to avoid disappointment.



 


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