This was the first Ramblin man festival, and while it’s clearly similar to the old High Voltage festival, there are some big changes. Firstly it’s not in London, but instead is in Maidstone. It’s rare to find a big rock festival venturing away from London or the Midlands, but Maidstone has good transport links to London and is also easy for bands coming over from Europe.
First impressions weren’t good – a total absence of signage for motorists or for people arriving by train made the journey to the site less than ideal. On arrival there was confusion as people queued up for an hour or more waiting for the gates to open before security belatedly labelled the entrances separately for weekend and day tickets. Happily people just ignored the signs and were allowed in either entrance.
Once inside the arena then things started to look a lot better – a nice layout and plenty of space meant that problems with sound spilling over between stages was minimised, and it was easy to get around. Lots of trees meant that although the park is in a residential area, the sound was blocked so volume levels in the arena could be kept high – a massive issue at Victoria park in London where noise restrictions made the sound levels unacceptably low.
There were three stages – the main stage, the Prog stage and a smaller stage that on day one was the “outlaw country stage” and on the second day became the “Blues stage”, and with a strong lineup there was plenty to see on all the stages.
For me the day started with Northern Irish band “No hot ashes”, who reformed a year or so ago after a long absence. It was a decent performance but I felt they lacked the power needed to really get the festival off to a great start. Toseland who came next did kick things up a gear and with a far more energetic set got the crowd rocking nicely. A trip over to the Prog stage meant I was able to see Touchstone kicking that stage off in style. The lights on the prog stage were far better than on the main stage – possibly as it was smaller, but I did think it really was a benefit for the prog bands as the lightshows during the day added nicely to the great music.
Back on the main stage, British melodic rock legends FM came next and delivered what they always do – a great strong set that makes me wonder why they aren’t bigger than they are.
For me though the highlight of the afternoon was Blue Oyster Cult. Everyone knows “Don’t fear the reaper” – one of those all-time great songs, but like many people I wasn’t sure what the rest of their music was like. Well I can tell you they don’t disappoint and their set really was great – this is a band I’d recommend to all rock fans.
After their set I headed over to catch the last part of the set from Buck and Evans, a Welsh band fronted by guitarist Chris Buck and Sally Evans on keyboards and vocals. Her great vocals and his superb guitar playing are a great pairing and their music is a great mix of blues and rock with some soul thrown in too. A band that’s well worth checking out.
I decided to skip Saxon on the main stage – they’re always good live, but I’ve seen them a lot so instead I headed back over to the Outlaw country stage to see Bob Wayne, which turned out to be a great decision. His set includes outlaw country style covers of well known songs from bands such as Led Zeppelin or Guns’n’Roses, and they sound great. A very enjoyable set.
Dream Theater are a band who I think are superb live when playing their own gigs, but at festivals they never feel quite right – I think the shorter festival sets make it harder for them to deliver their best, but they are still very good today – I’d just rather see them playing their own shows instead.
For me, the highlight of the day on the Outlaw country stage was Hayseed Dixie. Long before they were due to start the tent was packed out, and once the band finished their short soundcheck they announced that although normally they’d wait till their official start time, since nobody else could fit in the tent anyway they’d start early. If you haven’t come across Hayseed Dixie before then you really need to give them a listen. They play covers of rock and metal songs, but they play them in a bluegrass style which may sound like an odd mix but it works amazingly well and as a result Hayseen Dixie are a real fun band, and the large crowd they’ve drawn shows they have plenty of appeal among rock fans.
After a long changeover it was finally time for the curtain hiding the stage to drop and for the Scorpions to kick off their first UK show in around 7 years. Straight away it was clear why the changeover had been so long – they’d brought a ton of stuff (several lorry loads according to reports) with raised platforms and huge screens, and as a result they were the first (and only) band of the weekend on the main stage to deliver a visually impressive performance. The band are true professionals and with 50 years of songs to pick from they play a very strong set packed with classic songs. They are all masterful performers and move around the stage, pose for the cameras, throw drumsticks to the crowd and generally give most other bands a lesson on how to put on a stunning show. A superb end to the first day.[flickrapi user=”planet mosh” get=”photoset” id=”72157654154632363″ size=”z” count=”100″]