July of each year sees rock and blues fans descend on Mote Park in Maidstone for the annual Ramblin’ Man Festival and 2019 promised to be a bumper year with headline acts Foreigner, Black Stone Cherry and The Darkness amongst 60 acts spread across 5 stages. This year was my fourth Ramblin’ Man, although my first as reviewer.
The forecast had promised us glorious sunshine, showers and thunder storms so it promised to be interesting from that point of view at least, but with so many bands there was bound to be something for everyone.
Day 1 is always just the single stage and so it was Aussie rockers The Lazys who kicked off proceedings at 4pm on the Friday with their brand of hard rock, which soon got the crowd bouncing. The band, formed in 2006 are hardly newcomers, having journeyed from Sydney via Toronto, where they found a faithful following and on the evidence of this set, they will soon be winning fans over in the UK. Leon Harrison on vocals has got a good strong rock voice and in Matt Morris the band have a very talented lead guitarist, who’s solos were received with gratitude from those who had taken time away from work to be here. The 6 song set was over too soon and whilst this may have been The Lazy’s first festival showing, it might finally be the right time for these boys to hit the bigtime.
Next up was The Kris Barras Band who have earnt themselves a bit of following at Ramblin’ Man in recent years after successful showings , firstly on the Rising Stage and then The Blues Stage – a fact not lost on the band when they acknowledged the local support they had received. Opening with ‘Rock n roll running through my veins’, the audience was onside from the very start and after a quick guitar change they were soon into their stride with tracks for the back catalogue as well as tracks from the new album, including new single ‘Ignite’, due for release in September. The band closed out the seven song set with ‘Hail Mary’ as the crowd sang along in the late afternoon sun.
By the time eighties rockers FM took to the stage the crowd had largely dispersed to explore the beer and food options available with just a hard core left to appreciate the early efforts of the five piece band as they ran through a selection of their better known numbers from the eighties up to date. Their polished, tight set coupled with the vocals of Steve Overland started to draw the numbers in and the audience filled out as the set played out. There were no surprises here from a band who have been around the block, but they certainly reached out to a few festival goers who were going to check them out after the weekend.
The numbers started to swell with those who had finished work and arrived for the evening session just in time to see The Wildhearts. Fronted by Ginger Wildheart, the band hit the stage rocking and the growing audience numbers were soon bouncing as they could see that the band were really up for it. Ginger was smiling away as they rocked their way through a set that was tinged with punk and exactly what the masses needed after a hard week at work. This was rock n roll at its very best. In the front row a couple had bought their 3 Sons, all under 10 years old and all decked out in bright yellow ear defenders. Irresponsible parenting or a great education? I prefer to think the latter but will leave you to make up your own mind. Across the crowd a pre-teen young girl and her Dad sported matching Wildhearts t-shirts whilst another young lad on his Dad’s shoulders thrashed away at his infaltable guitar. The range of ages was diverse with old and young alike loving the show they were being dished up. Ginger was like a Geordie in Wonderland (or at least in the Garden of England) with the reaction from the crowd, patting his heart and pointing to the crowd to illustrate how he was feeling the love. As the set came to close, they broke in ‘Vanilla Radio’ much to the delight of the amassed onlookers who sang along. With a final pat of the heart, Ginger departed with the band, with the sound of a very, very happy crowd ringing in his ears.
Friday headliners were The Darkness who I’ve never seen live before but was looking forward to, as love them or not (and I have had plenty of views from both sides since saying I was seeing them live), this is a band who have hit the highs are are perfectly capable of hitting them again. So enter stage right, Justin Hawkin, doing his best Hong Kong Phooey (younger readers may need to Google that) impression in full kung-fu suit with a headband emblazoned ‘Hawkin’, as if anyone could have any doubts. Some of the crowd who had been so enthusiastic for the Wildhearts had drifted away but with the assistance of some pyrotechnics, The Darkness began to warm the crowd up a little, even if there was a strangely stagnant feel around the arena.
The band launched into their 2005 hit ‘One way ticket” which got the crowd dancing, but then a strange silence followed, before Hawkin challenged the crowd to scream for as long as possible, which just started to make the set feel a little dis-jointed. An hour in and Hawkin went off for a costume change before returning stating, tongue in cheek, that he wouldn’t perform “our biggest hit” until the entire crowd was bouncing up and down. After much persuasion he settled for around 10% before breaking into ‘I believe in a thing called love’ – during which his vocals were superb and the crowd lifted again to sing along. It was a shame then that as the set came to a climax, Hawkin resorted to handstands on the drum riser and wearing a blindfold whilst being carried out through the crowd and then it was over with a few fireworks. The hardcore Darkness fans loved it, some calling the band great entertainers, others not convinced from what they had just witnissed.
Day 1 came to a close with The Wildhearts definitely the band of the day and the rest of the bands leaving the punters with plenty to chew over as they headed for their tents, pods and caravans.
Review by Howard Whitlaw
Photography by Metal Planet Music