UFO, ZZ Top raise spirits at rain-hit Ramblin’ Man Fair

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Mott the Dog, Hells Bells and crew ventured to England once more to attend the Ramblin’ Man Fair music festival at Mote Park in Maidstone Kent, from 28-30 July.  Due to heavy downpours we barely left the VIP area on the Friday, so only caught fleeting glimpses of the acts on the Planet Rock main stage throughout the evening.  We did witness most of Graham Bonnet’s set, and he was definitely on form.  His set list comprised of some absolute classics such as MSG’s “Assault Attack” and “Desert Song”, Rainbow’s “Lost in Hollywood” and of course “All Night Long” and “Since You Been Gone”.

UFO’s Phil Mogg and Vinnie Moore command the stage.
UFO’s Phil Mogg and Vinnie Moore command the stage.

The incessant rain finally drove us back to the relative luxury of our hotel, so regrettably we missed most of Saxon’s set, only hearing them in the background as we headed to the taxi rank.

Saturday we were awoken by the sun peering through the curtains, yeah, it was actually pleasantly sunny and warm outside.  We timed the fast entry VIP queue perfectly and made the most of the weather by taking a wander around the whole site before moving over to the main stage to catch Toseland’s performance.  They proved to be a fairly decent and competent act and probably worth a closer look in the future.

Then, suddenly we were surrounded by loud explosions and gunfire!  No, this wasn’t some premature pyrotechnic display or a car back firing, it turned out to be Union and Confederate soldiers conducting a re-enactment of the first Battle of Bull Run from 1861.  It was an entertaining addition to the festival and amazingly all participants were sufficiently revived to fulfil a second Battle of Bull Run on Sunday!

As the last of the Confederates were killed off, the rain set in once more and sadly never really left us for the rest of the evening.  We did venture out at one point as I really wanted to see Toby Jepson’s newest venture, Wayward Sons.  I’d loved Little Angels back in the day and expected great things from this band, I wasn’t disappointed.  The band gave it their all, and interacted with the small crowd which had braved the elements to watch them on the Rising Stage.  It was such a shame that monsoon season decided to return only 3 songs into their set.

ZZ Top closed the festival in fine style.
ZZ Top closed the festival in fine style.

Back in the VIP bar we enjoyed Black Star Riders from the comfort of our seats.  We’ve been lucky enough to see these guys on numerous occasions over the past couple of years, and there is no denying they have great stage presence and some impressive material, but to be perfectly honest, I enjoy them more in the intimacy of a smaller venue.

Sunday finally brought the long awaited sun we’d been craving and once more we took the slow stroll to Mote Park.  Fast track entry was super-efficient, so once through we went over to the Planet Rock main stage to catch Snakecharmer.  You know exactly what you are going to get with this band, and they were as good as ever.  The sun continued to shine for once, so sitting on the grass frontage of the VIP area we had a great view of the main stage for most of the mid afternoon session.

Dirty Thrills entertain Saturday’s crowd of rock fans.
Dirty Thrills entertain Saturday’s crowd of rock fans.

Of course the band I had really wanted to see was UFO, and so we decided to chill out before heading to the front for their performance.  It wasn’t long before I was joined by Classic Rock Magazine’s Dave Ling, and we ended up singing along to all the UFO anthems.  It doesn’t get much better than this, and we all agreed they should have been the headliners this year.  The crowd that had gathered for these guys was by far the biggest of the entire weekend.  Great to see how appreciated they still are after all these decades.

No-one was left feeling disappointed, as Phil Mogg et al belted out classic after classic.  “Lights Out” started the set with gusto and was swiftly followed by “Run Boy Run” and “Ain’t No Baby”.  Then came some real crowd pleasers in the form of “Too Hot to Handle” and “Only You Can Rock Me”.

“Cherry” toned down the set a tad, allowing Phil to rest his vocals and handing the spotlight over to Vinnie Moore’s beautifully executed guitar solos.  “Love to Love”, one of my all-time favourite UFO tracks followed and it never ceases to amaze me just how good this song sounds live!  Finally, we had the two truly infamous and timeless tracks, “Rock Bottom” and of course “Doctor Doctor”.

UFO’s time on stage was over way too quickly, despite the audience chanting their name over and over.  Still, with a new album of covers in the offing in the not too distant future, I’m sure we’ll see these guys back on the road again very soon.

The old bones dictated another trip to the VIP bar and a sit down before catching the headliners ZZ Top.  For almost 50 years this American band have been bringing their blues and boogie rock to fans all around the world, and there is no sign of them stopping any time soon.

Pretty well everyone on site appeared to congregate in front of the main stage to see ZZ Top perform, and they ensured the whole festival ended on a massive high.  Treating spectators to songs spanning slightly short of 5 decades it was a real mixed bag, ranging from 1970’s classics like “La Grange” and “Tush” to tracks from their most recent album “La Futura”.  The current tour has also seen the inclusion of a number of covers, ranging from an excellent version of Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” to a slightly more dubious version of “Jailhouse Rock” as a final encore, which even I have to admit somehow worked.  Everyone filed away fully satisfied, talking about the weekend’s highs and lows, and already planning a return trip to RMF18.

(Review by Helen Westby/Photos by Harpic Bryant)

Union and Confederate troops re-enact the Battle of Bull Run.
Union and Confederate troops re-enact the Battle of Bull Run.