Successor to High Voltage Festival came to the Garden of England with four genres on three stages over two days, come rain or shine.

The inaugural Ramblin’ Man Fair, brought to us by Team Rock, boasts three UK exclusives amongst the acts performing on the rock, country/blues, and prog stages, giving the crowd plenty to choose from. If you stood in the right place, you could hear all three stages at once, as they were fairly close together pointing in a central direction. Friday’s rain showers didn’t affect the ground too much, and Saturday was a dry day with sunshine breaking through.

First it was over to the Outlaw Country Stage to catch Jess and the Bandits. They’re a great new country band lead by the ever-smiling Jessica Clemmons backed up by keyboard, rhythm guitar, and lead/slide guitar. They played a great set of songs lifted from the recently released debut CD, Here We go Again.

Starting with the catchy “Get Set,” the band went on to the real country, “Single Tonight.” Jess had a beautiful voice and put in a great performance that included constant interaction with the crowd.

The band sang with beautiful harmonies too, especially apparent in “Love Like That” creating one of those “goose-bump” moments. After a cover of The Lumineers song “Ho Hey!,” they finished with a couple of extremely catchy songs including their last single, “My Name is Trouble,” and their new single, “Nitty Gritty.” It was a fantastic performance by a great band, who will be on tour in October.

Next at the Classic Rock Stage was FM, a band who was riding high on their second wind. The band’s appearance in the lineup is one of the dates on their Heroes and Villains tour. They opened up with “Digging up the Dirt” from the said release. They showed their old school 80s style as the band played mostly songs from their earlier incarnation in a set spanning their whole career from first to last albums.

Since the 2007 reformation, the band’s line-up has been the same with Steve Overland, Merv Goldsworthy, and Pete Jupp having been joined by Jem Davis in ’95 and Jim Kirkpatrick in 2007. The band members gel well, and Steve worked the stage like the old pro that he is. They played fan favourites such as “Closer to Heaven,” “Tough it Out,” and “That Girl,” before finishing with “Bad Luck.” They have a few more festival dates this year as they finish at Planet Rockstock, Wales in December.

Next at the Country tent was the wonderful Buck & Evans. Sally Ann Evans’s vocals balanced Chris Buck’s screaming guitar to great effect in their set-opener, “Run Cold,” with Bob (yes, THAT Bob) Richards on drums and Dominic Hill on bass providing the rhythm superbly. Sally thanked the sunny weather while Chris wished it would rain so more people would come to the tent. He needn’t have worried, as it is soon packed out.

“Impossible” followed before a change to the set-list as Chris decided to put in their very respectable cover of Otis Redding’s “Dreams to Remember.” Sally brought her amazing voice, doing the song great justice while having Bob join on backing vocals. Another sublime guitar solo from Chris brought applause from the crowd.

“Trail of Tears” was followed by Bob going straight into “Screaming,” bringing Sally out from behind the keys to exercise her voice to full effect. Taken from the new Live at Rockfield EP, this song was heavy in all four corners with Dominic shaking his long blond hair whilst thumping out the bass. Then it was time to mellow out with “Sinking” before closing with the funky “Aint no Moonlight.” The band thanked the crowd for being “absolutely f**** amazing.”

It was back to the Rock Stage for the rest of the day to catch three greats. Saxon was up next as part of their Warriors of the Road tour with a backdrop of a long American desert highway behind them. A roaring motorcycle engine introduced the inevitable “Motorcycle Man” before going on to “Sacrifice” (the only song in the set not from the 80s period).

Biff Byford proclaimed how it is great to be back home in the UK before going on to play a hit-filled set with “Power and the Glory,” “Strong Arm of the Law,” “Heavy Metal Thunder,” “And the Bands Played On,” and “747 (Strangers in the Night).” The twin guitars of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarrett were driven on by Nibbs Carter and Nigel Glockler on bass and drums to great effect. Biff asked the crowd what they wanted to hear, as there was no set list, and went on to tell them they would keep playing til’ they got dragged off.

After “Princess of the Night,” he continued talking to the crowd, saying that the next song was the one that was first played on the radio – a magic moment, like Maiden’s “Running Free” or Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” – yes, it was “Wheels of Steel.” They closed the set (shorter than their usual two-hour) with a song written for the fans back in 1981 and still for the young and old in the crowd today – “Denim and Leather.” The crowd sang along and gave a loud cheer, applauding at the end of a classic Saxon set on their only UK festival appearance this year.

Dream Theater opened with a dramatic video/audio intro and played a chronologically ordered set-list, starting with “Afterlife” from their first album. James Labrie’s vocals intertwined with long instrumental breaks. He prowled the stage like a tiger and gave the whole band a chance to show their skills.

Everything was intricate, technical, and theatrical. With Jordan Rudess stepping out from behind the keyboard with his Zen Riffer keytar on “Burning my Soul,” there was a little touch of humour thrown in as well. As “As I Am” started, James told the crowd he was expecting a few people to help him with the singing, because of all the Dream Theater T-shirts.

A great guitar solo from John Petrucci showed his amazing talent and the crowd responded well. John Myung on his six-string bass and Mike Mangini on the over-sized drum-kit complimented each other well, making this band a very tight group. “Behind the Veil” brought the band to the end of their career-spanning set and the crowd was left wanting more.

Headline act Scorpions were 25 minutes late and a few people impatiently left while muttering obscenities. The band was playing this UK exclusive show in support of their Return to Forever tour. Eventually, air-raid sirens screamed and smoke billowed out from behind the emblem-adorned curtain. The curtain disappeared to the start of “Going out with a Bang” from their new album. Klaus Meine told the crowd it was great to be back in England before going into “Make it Real” as the Union Jack was visible on video screens and on the wall of the drum platform.

During “The Zoo,” Klaus started playing a cowbell with a handful of drumsticks before throwing them one by one into the crowd. “Coast to Coast” highlighted Klaus playing guitar, making a line of four guitars on the front of the stage with James Kottak climbing onto his kit. Four early songs followed on from the 74-78 period, including “Steamrock Fever” and “Speedy’s Coming,” before “We Built This House” from their new album. An acoustic section followed with Kottak joining the band at stage level with a cajón for three songs. “Always Somewhere” and “Eye of the Storm” were followed by the beautiful “Send me an Angel.”

The crowd sang along as “Wind of Change” followed. Their new song, “Rock and Roll Band,” was followed by the old favourites “Dynamite,” “In the line of Fire,” and “Kottak Attack.” The drum platform rose on chains as James banged out his solo, relying heavily on his double bass drums. He got back behind his kit to tell the crowd he was glad to be back in the UK. He then took off his “Rock and Roll Forever” T-shirt to reveal his “Rock and Roll Forever” tattoo underneath.

“Crazy World,” “Blackout,” and “Big City Nights” followed to close the set. The encore started with “Still Loving You” and finished with fan favourite, “Rock you like a Hurricane.” It was a great performance to end a great day.

Sunday morning brought dark skies and, by about 10 am, it started to rain. However, it didn’t seem to dampen people’s enthusiasm as crowds formed early.

The first act on the Rock Stage was Blues Pills from Sweden (well actually Sweden, America, and France), playing to an already large audience as the rain stopped. Set opener “High Class Woman” could be named after Elin Larsson herself, who toured the stage in her usual style, tambourine in hand, urging the crowd to sing along. A long instrumental introduction to “Ain’t No Change” gave Dorian Sorriaux (guitar), Zack Anderson (bass), and André Kvarnström (drums) a chance to show their skills.

The rain started again as Elin dedicated “No Hope Left for Me” to the crowd and another fantastic solo from Dorian. This was followed by a cover of “Elements and Things” by Tony Joe White (the only song in the set not lifted from 2014’s debut album). “Little Sun” was dedicated to the singer’s friend. She thanked them for the busy, good time the band had been having. The set finished with “Black Smoke” and the crowd was pleased as they continued to endure the rain.

At the Blues Stage tent was Aaron Keylock. He started early with a full tent. People who turned up on time may have been upset, but they soon forget once they heard him. Aaron is an extremely talented 17-year-old blues guitarist, in the mould of Rory Gallagher even clad in bell-bottom jeans.

He started heavy with “Medicine Man” and was soon front of stage plying his wares. “Against the Grain” was ironically followed by “The Sun is Gonna Shine.” Jordan Maycock on bass and Sonny Miller Greaves on drums laid down some great rockin’ blues. He introduced “Just One Question” as inspired by Peter Green, and threads of “Need Your Love so Bad” could be heard through the intro. “Spin the Bottle” had a Faces feel to it before a cover of Johnny Winter’s “Ain’t that a Kindness.” “Give me a Chance to Explain” closed the set with a big solo bringing big applause.

Back out in the rain, the Rock Stage eagerly awaited The Temperance Movement. Having been in the US for the last three months, the hardcore fan group has travelled from afar to see their heroes. The set opened with “3 Bullets,” a new song, before going into favourite “Midnight Black” with Phil Campbell saying it was great to be back in England. The crowd sang along through “Be Lucky” and “Ain’t No Tellin’,” before Phil said how great it was to be playing in front of rock royalty, pointing out the Rival Sons boys watching from side of stage.

A rockier “Smouldering” followed. Although it is usually done acoustically, it was nice to hear it in a different form. Phil was his usual self – dancing around the stage, arms waving, maracas in one hand, tambourine in the other, and at one point wiggling his bum at to the video camera. He was truly a great front-man. Paul Sayer and Luke Potashnik on guitar, Nick Fyffe on bass, and Damon Wilson on drums provided solid sounds throughout, with Paul putting in some blistering solo work. Another new song, “Battle Lines” was aired, which sounded great, and was a good sign of what to expect on the new album.

Damon stood behind the kit for the introduction to the crowd favourite “Only Friend,” which also brought Paul to the front of the stage for another great solo. The band was loving every minute of it and Phil thanked the fans for staying out in the rain to watch them and giving special mention to the true Temperance Movement fans. “Pride” followed, and then Phil on harmonica introduced “Take it Back” featuring “Magic Man.” Nick played a superb bass solo to finish the set. This band went from strength to strength and gets better as time passes.

Rival Sons took the award for the best celebrity introduction as Vic Reeves sauntered on stage to introduce his good friends. He explained how they flew into France and then had trouble on the ferry coming across the channel. The theme from the movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” introduced “Belle Star” from the new album, Great Western Valkyrie. Jay Buchanan’s voice was in fine form and the heavier “Electric Man” got the crowd more into it after Scott Holiday’s teasing intro. “Secret” had Jay getting the crowd singing along to the ‘woah woahs’ before the story telling of “Rich and the Poor.” “Torture,” from the debut EP, and the keenly received “Pressure and Time,” broke the set of new album songs, which left some of the audience wishing for more of the hits.

Scott’s guitar work was a delight as always. Michael Miley was on target and a joy to watch. New bass player Dave Beste has settled in well over the last year too and, with Todd Ogren Brooks on keys, he added an extra dimension. “Open My Eyes” finished the set and the large crowd was very appreciative.

Back at the Blues tent was Joanne Shaw Taylor, a wonderful guitarist who over the last six years has gone from strength to strength. The set opened with “Mud, Honey,” the lead track from the new album, The Dirty Truth. Joanne was front and center stage for a heavy solo early in the set. “Just Another Word” followed from her first album, White Sugar, pleasing the fans who have been on board from the start. Next up came “Watch ‘em Burn,” another track from the debut album. This was followed by the slow blues cover of “Jealousy,” which is a regular standout moment in Joanne’s sets. Many people cover this Frankie Miller classic, but this was one of the best. They followed with more songs from the new album, including “Wicked Soul,” a melodic blues head-shaking song which is also their new single. They continued with “Tried, Tested and True” before ending with “Tied and Bound” from Almost Always Never. It was a fantastic set of masterful guitar playing that was over all-too-quickly.

Back at the Rock stage was Seasick Steve. Forget Royal Blood, this was one of the most entertaining guitar/drum combos fans will see!

The set started with “Thunderbird” from the album, I Started Out with Nothing. He proclaimed, “What the f*** is going on?!,” as his guitar strap got tangled with the whistle hanging around his neck.

“Bring it On” followed on a four-string homemade guitar made from a round tin with a metal broom handle for a neck. Wearing his trademark John Deere baseball cap and check shirt, he held up a guitar with one string made from a washboard and a banjo neck, all held together with a Mississippi number plate. His chats between songs were part of the act and he went on to explain the health and safety behind taping a thimble to his finger with a band-aid to “stop it flying off and hitting one of y’all.”

“Roy’s Gang” ensued, with Dan Danielson beating his drums like it was going out of fashion. He ended with a struggle to get the thimble back off. He told the crowd that he had seen a couple of the bands earlier – Blues Pills, who took him “back to the day” and The Temperance Movement who he complimented saying, “f*** me those guys were great!”

This was followed by a jump off stage to go to the barrier to lift a lucky girl from the crowd up onto the stage. He sat the girl opposite himself and told her to pretend was summer before singing “Walkin’ Man.” The crowd appreciated that nearly as much as the girl did. It was “all about the dream” as they went into “Keep On Keepin’ On.” Steve thanked the crowd for being his employers in this great job of his and finished with “Dog House Blues.”

Sunday night finished with a highly anticipated UK exclusive set from the amazing Gregg Allman and friends – a great band consisting of drums, percussion, keyboards, bass, guitar, and a three-piece brass section, with Gregg on hammond organ. The set opened with a cover of “Statesboro Blues” as old pictures were shown on a video screen. This was followed by “I’m No Angel,” “Come and Go Blues,” and “Aint Wastin’ Time no More.” Then covers of old blues classics by the likes of T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters were played. “Trouble No More” brought solos from the brass section and the guitar.

The crowd had been thinned a little by the rain, but those that stuck it out witnessed a great set by a group of accomplished musicians. Allman Brothers favourite “Soulshine” was warmly welcomed. A great, although insanely long, percussion solo by Marc Quinones had a funky vibe to it. “Melissa,” “Midnight Rider,” “Love Like Kerosene,” and “Whipping Post” followed with “Kerosene” going down particularly well. The whole band got a chance to show their skills throughout the set as they proved their worth. The encore cover of Elmore James’ “One Way Out” ended the set with a tired and wet crowd showing their appreciation before “Georgia” played over the speakers to ferry them home.

It was a great first Ramblin’ Man Fair in a the perfect location. A few minor teething problems to be sorted maybe, but a great line-up across three stages of four genres of music made for a fantastic weekend.

Photos by R-O-C-K PHOTOGRAPHY, with a little help from Doug Bearne.

Jess and the Bandits
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Buck and Evans
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Dream Theater
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Blues Pills
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Aaron Keylock
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The Temperance Movement
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Rival Sons
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Joanne Shaw Taylor
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Seasick Steve
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Gregg Allman
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Ramblin’ Man Fair
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Team Rock
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