Like all the best sequels, Ramblin' Man Fair is bigger and better than before. For its sophomore year they've opened up Mote Park to create more attractions, (including a very hardcore Wall Of Death!) added a Rising Stage for upcoming artists, brought us more beer plus a Planet Rock signing stage where headliners Black Stone Cherry had their Sharpies poised for some serious scribbling. The downside is that there seemed to be more overlaps than last year, leaving veteran bands like Uriah Heap, The Zombies and Hawkwind competing with the larger stage. On the plus side, the re-positioned Prog stage meant that there was not the noise crossover which was a criticism from last years event; but you can't please everyone.
Inglorious gave the festival its opening salvo with some top notch new rock from their self-titled debut album. The band were relentless in showing off not only their own material but a superb cover of Rainbow's I surrender, something the band never did, despite early sound issues. Saturday's antics on the main stage quickly turned into cock rock, with plenty of peacock strutting and pouting to make Mick Jagger green.
Terrorvision's lively and raucous set was an unexpected highlight with a Tangoed Tony Wright bounding around the stage like Tigger on acid, to tunes like Alice What's The Matter and D'Ya Wanna Go Faster - and not a Tequila in sight. Ginger Wildheart and his band continued the playful atmosphere and The Dead Daisies also put on strong performances on the main stage. The Daisies new singer John Corabi certainly made his mark, opening the set with a cover of Alex Harvey's Midnight Moses.
Europe rocked the night, with Joey Tempest giving his usual competent performance to an ever-adoring crowd. Tracks from their latest offering War Of Kings proved to any doubters that the band have certainly moved on from their trademark 80s sound. This is a testament to Tempest's love of music enabling the band to continually drive forward. Needlessness to say, the old favourite, The Final Countdown, with bags of pyro did its job of livening up the crowd for the rest of the evening.
Thin Lizzy paid tribute to the 30th anniversary of Phil Lynott's death by playing Live and Dangerous and even brought out old member Midge Ure for a couple of numbers. Other legendary rockers Scott Travis and Tom Hamilton joined the line-up for the show, helping this Lizzy show to pack a serious punch. Given the amount of memorable songs in the set, Lizzy's slot created a real party atmosphere and could well have been a better choice of headliner than Whitesnake, who put on a straight forward hit friendly set, sans surprises. It would have been nice to have some Deep Purple material thrown in, especially as David Coverdale is contemplating retiring next year. Alongside the predictability was the seemingly endless padding of the set with drum and guitar solos, perhaps the band are saving their best for their last hurrah. Let's hope so. Nevertheless, they top and tailed their energetic set with the ballsy Bad Boys and the explosive Still Of The Night, with David working the stage and channelling his inner Robert Plant all the way. Had he been around on Sunday I would have been convinced the deep purple McLaren backstage was his!
Vying for attention from Europe and Thin Lizzy were two of the UK's best veteran bands The Zombies and Uriah Heap, who managed to both draw a strong crowd. The Zombies, have really taken off in the last few years hitting the gig scene regularly and proving that even without the pyrotechnics and flashy stagecraft, Colin Blunstone and co have just as much energy and ability to have a crowd enthralled. Uriah Heap also put on a no-frills show that hinged on front man Bernie Shaw's superb performance. A terrific version of Gypsy placed alongside newer material was a reminder of the credibility of this legendary band.
Procol Harum who headlined the prog stage on Sunday, sadly found their audience depleted because of Black Stone Cherry. Gary Brooker held the show together, even if he let his disappointment show a little. Headspace singer Damian Wilson made the assertion that his band are “the best bunch of musicians you'll ever hear.” They were certainly pretty bloody good, helped by the fact that Rick Wakeman's son Adam is also in the band. Quite frankly the standard of musicianship from the Prog stage outshone anything the main stage had to offer.
The Blues and County stage was also the place to find extraordinary musical talent. Newcomers Tax the Heat played their unique hipster rock to a packed tent, showcasing tracks from their debut album. Led by guitarist Alex, the band have the lyrical sensibilities of The Beatles, the swagger of Aerosmith and the attitude of the Kaiser Chiefs. Blues legend Walter Trout pulled off a no-nonsense blues session paving the way for former Allman Brothers guitarist, Warren Haynes.
Haynes may have been pitted set alongside Black Stone Cherry, who I'm sure wouldn't have objected to ramblers heading over to the Blues tent to watch this legend at work. Playing material largely from his latest album Ashes and Dust. Warren surrounded himself with some fine country musicians, Railroad Earth, advancing the country/blues fusion of his work with a some mandolin, banjo and fiddle. Another truly astonishing display of musicianship earlier in the day was Simo. This three piece are simply sublime. Finding inspiration in blues, classic rock and even jazz, these guys knock spots off most of the bands over the weekend in terms of technical ability. A definitive cover of A Little Help From My Friends cemented the band in the minds of the awe-filled crowd who watched one of the most exciting acts to play over the weekend. Stupendously brilliant! They are breathtaking live, the kind of band you dream of discovering at a festival.
Elsewhere the crazy antics of Airbourne were an entertaining mix of AC/DC and Captain Caveman with bonkers frontman Joel O'Keeffe jumping around and smashing cans of beer. Rock and roll! The Cadillac Three brought some slow southern style to the main stage. Teasing us with songs from their second album Bury Me In My Boots.
Newcomers Massive Wagons and Cats In Space also put on stellar sets, no doubt picking up new fans. Certainly, a credit to the Cat's credibility is the fact that Thunder lead singer Danny Bowes was sporting one of their T-shirts during their set!
Thunder have really risen back to the top of the rock game since releasing their latest album Wonder Days. They've always skirted around the edge of greatness, despite having several hits. After reforming in 2011 it seems that there is no stopping Luke Morley, Danny and the gang who put on an exceptionally enjoyable show worthy of the headline slot.
Black Stone Cherry made a surprise guest spot with Kentucky Headhunters earlier in the day to support them on their first UK show, which was pretty impressive. Later on, BSC returned the favour by bringing them on stage along with Cadillac Three for a fully fledged hillbilly hoedown! The band kicked off with the outlaw attitude of Me and Mary Jane before jumping into the repertoire of influential Willie Dixon for Built For Comfort and drawing on their own back catalogue for tracks like Rain Wizard and Soulcreek. A cover of Ace Of Spades and the appropriate The Rambler finished a blinder of a set by the Kentucky lads.
There was definitely plenty of choice at this year's festival, so much so that on occasion it was impossible to choose. There were some amazing displays of musicianship dotted around that you had to venture away from the main stage to find, but then that's the best part of a festival. The headliners, of which there were many, lived up to their name and served to keep the crowd buoyantly entertained. For another year Ramblin' Man has produced one of the most friendly and vibrant festivals around, drawing classic rock fans of all ages to pay homage to the spectacular lineage and future of the genre.
(PS We're still trying to track down the owner of the McLaren to hitch a ride to next years festival...)