This year’s Ramblin Man festival saw the addition of a Friday bill. Rather than a full day it was just an afternoon/evening affair and fans were tempted in with the offer of a free beer. There was a good turnout even though not everyone was able to get down there early enough to catch all the bands.
The show kicked off with Graham Bonnet butchering a couple of Rainbow songs at the start of a set that included Rainbow, Alcatrazz, Michael Schenker Group and Graham Bonnet’s solo material. The problem is his voice sounded dreadful at the start of the set although it did seem to improve later on – I can only assume he doesn’t do any vocal warm-ups before going on stage which would explain how bad those opening songs are – and that would also explain why when I saw him last, during cold weather his voice was awful for the whole set. What he does have on his side though is that songs such as “All night long” and “Since you been gone” are so well known that the fans happily sing along and overlook the shortcomings of his voice.
After Graham Bonnet came Last in Line, one of two bands formed by former members of Dio (the other being Dio Disciples). It must be a real challenge for any singer to front a band that plays Dio songs – Ronnie James Dio had such an amazing voice that trying to cover his songs is not an easy task, but Andrew Freeman does a great job of it. It’s a really enjoyable set – the fans know all the songs, the vocals are great and the musicians all do a superb job and on a wet friday then that’s what you need to keep fans entertained at an outdoor festival.
Y&T were next up despite a last minute illness meaning that instead of the usual four members we only had three – there wasn’t even time to arrange a stand-in. With many bands that would have been enough for them to cancel, but Y&T didn’t just carry on, they gave us an excellent set. They really are a great live band and never disappoint, and they did such a good job that nobody really noticed the fact they were a member down.
Finally though it was time for Saxon. It may only be the Friday warm-up for the festival but it’s still long overdue to see Saxon headlining a UK festival. Sadly they didn’t bring the full stage set with the eagle, but in many ways that doesn’t matter – what matters is the performance and the songs, and Saxon excel at both. I’ve never been disappointed by a Saxon show, whether it’s a headline tour or a festival appearance – they really are such a solid band that they are very consistent, and their years of experience show in how they all individually entertain the crowd rather than just standing there playing. Biff Byford is not only a great frontman, he’s still got one hell of a good voice.
Saxon are a band that know full well that when playing a festival not everyone will be one of their fans, so they make sure the set isn’t just the latest album but is instead packed full of classic songs that most people will know, so after opening with “Battering ram” (from the latest studio album of the same name), we get songs like “Motorcycle man”, “Strong arm of the law”, “Wheels of steel”, “Denim and leather” – the list goes on and on as they have so many great well known songs. It’s a fantastic set and a great end to this first night of the festival.