The annual pilgrimage for classic rock fans was back for a third year in Mote Park. Ramblin' Man 2017 introduced a third day on Friday to help ease
revelers into a weekend of beer, blues, rock and country and of course the obligatory festival rain downpours.
Friday saw NWOBHM legends Saxons returning to the festival, headlining and performing classics: 747 Strangers In The Night, Wheels of Steel alongside new material from their Battering Ram album before resorting to taking requests. With their epic Solid Book of Rock collection due in August they certainly had an extensive back catalogue to draw from. Former Rainbow frontman Graham Bonnet with his band Californian rockers Y & T also graced the main stage.
But this year it was all about the bass as Glenn Hughes, Martin Turner, Fabrizio Grossi and some bloke called Steve Harris, all performed over the weekend.
With Saturday's line up we were spoiled for choice. Another festival fave, Toseland put on a characteristically energetic show on the main stage. On the Four Roses Outlaw Country Stage, Catlin Koch followed by Jessica Lynn who both reeled in the crowd with their infectious country tones despite the rain. Ghoultown and internet sensation Steve N Seagulls were also a popular choice for many.
Braving the rain and mud were a bunch of hard core Iron Maiden fans who had come to see the thunderous bass player (Steve Harris) with his side project British Lion. You have to hand it to him, the guy is in his 60s and had just finished a world tour a few days earlier and is back out on the road until the end of August: it's that kind of tenacity and drive that has made him so beloved by the fans.
German duo The Picturebooks was a superb addition to the weekend. They've got an astonishing energy and fans of heavy biker rock will love their tonality and passion. Tenacious D himself - Kyle Gass and his band offered some humour with a totally bonkers and brilliant set that included dual recorders, gigs and the drummer taking to center stage to perform a Michael Jackson medley.
Over on the main stage Reef offered some old school hippy vibes with tracks like Higher Vibration, Naked and their most well-known track Place Your Hands.
Despite his tan and Hollywood smile that would rival Joey Tempest, Glenn Hughes is British rock royalty. With plenty of fancy bass runs and swivel hip moves, Hughes teased the rapturous crowd with solo material and before finishing with an impressive live version of Burn from his Deep Purple days. Dokken followed and was on form with Don Dokken firing on all cylinders for tracks like The Hunter and Dream Warriors. With the band set to release a new album next year, the classic Dokken sound is better and badder than ever.
Crowded House once sang about taking the weather with you and that's certainly the case with Rival Sons: the first time they played Ramblin' Man it also pissed down. Even though they didn't bring some Californian sun with them, Jay Buchanan, Scott Holiday and the band would be worth seeing if there was snow on the ground. They may be between albums but listening to tracks from their latest masterpiece Hollow Bones and signature track Electric Man is a reminder that Rival Sons are not only one of the best bands of the weekend, but one of the best bands period.
Toby Jepson's new band Wayward Sons gave us a taster of the great things that are to come on the Rising Stage and Northern Irish band Screaming Eagles once again proved that they are a band to keep an (eagle) eye on...
The excellent Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band headlined the Outlaw Country stage with a full-length set. His slot focused on his extensive back catalogue and his acclaimed new album Lay It On Down with tracks like Heat of The Sun and Déjà Voodoo from his debut album Ledbetter Heights and a cover of the Elmore James standard Talk To Me Baby.
Black Star Riders, now a festival staple had their same upbeat sound and characteristic pizzazz but with some new tracks from their latest album, All Hell Breaks Loose. Soldierstown and Bound For Glory go down a storm but no BSR would be complete without some Thin Lizzy tracks, Whisky In The Jar and The Boys Are Back In Town always being a set highlight.
Extreme, best known in the pop world for their uber hit More Than Words, may have seemed an odd choice for a headliner for some, but they put on a wild show. Front-man Gary Cherone channelled his inner Mick Jagger for most of the set, prancing around the stage leaving guitarist Nuno Bettencourt to lay down some serious guitar licks. The first part of their set was an onslaught of tracks from their second album Pornograffiti. Surprisingly their classic acoustic song appeared early in the set, making way for more hard rock which also included two Queen covers: Crazy Little Thing Called Love and We Are The Champions.
The sun was shining on Sunday's parade, but the mud and sludge were present, like a monster hangover from the night before.
There's plenty of new talent on offer today on the Rising Stage including Blackwater Conspiracy, Massive and Xander and The Peace Pirates who have been the rounds for a few years and are an incredible band who will blow your mind.
Over on the Blues Stage Big Boy Bloater and 18-year-old Aaron Keylock proved that there is more than enough life in the blues. The Quireboys put in another good set with Spike's cheeky personality shining through as usual. For many, it was Joanne Shaw Taylor who stole the show at the blues tent,
even though she was competing with ZZ Top. Taylor has spent a lot of time extensively touring and as a result, her guitar playing and stage performance has grown in leaps and bounds since performing at the festival in 2015.
Over on the Prog Stage Martin Turner's, Wishbone Ash put on a terrific set of material including tracks from Argus. Turner's expertise as a bass player is top draw and he continues to be an unrivalled influenced on many youngsters. The set was far too short for such masterful musicians, but luckily the band are on tour later in the year.
Focus made a rare appearance and were another highlight performing Eruption alongside Hocus Pocus and Sylvia. The Devin Townsend Project filled the prog headline slot vacated by Kansas and playing their own brand of prog or 'gorp' as Devin called it.
Swedish rock band Blues Pills tore up the main stage with their impressive set. Singer Elin Larsson broke the testosterone fueled atmosphere by being one of the few female singers over the weekend, (and the only one on the main stage) but showed that girl fronted rock is far from a fad.
Monster Truck was another favourite on Sunday's lineup. The Canadian band cranked the energy up to eleven from the start as they ripped into tracks from their phenomenal album Sittin' Heavy. The influential UFO performing Run Baby Run and of course Doctor Doctor. Seasoned musical collective Supersonic Blues Machine caused a bit of a stir when they released their debut album last year, but up close they were astonishing despite performing together live a handful of times. Another blues stalwart, Eric Gales joined them for several tracks causing whoops and cheers from the crowd – definitely a highlight of the weekend.
Headliners ZZ Top put on and enjoyable, no frills set as expected with all their classic tracks, Sharped Dressed Man, Legs and Gimme All Your Lovin' appearing throughout their set. With many members of the crowd sporting beards and sunglasses throughout the day, ZZ Top was clearly an obvious draw to the festival and a welcome addition to the lineup.
Ramblin' Man Fair not only has some great music with new talent alongside old favourites, but it is one of the most friendly festivals in existence – you'd really be hard pushed to meet nicer people. The spirit of the festival is pretty much to chill out and rock on, and come rain or shine that's exactly what happens. GD
Photos by Gerry Driver
Review by Cathy Clark