Ramblin' Man Fair

The spirit of rock and metal finds a new haven

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A celebration of classic rock, prog and blues, the inaugural Ramblin’ Man proves to be an all-ages affair, as denim-clad metalheads rub shoulders with rock scene veterans and families with young kids, emphasising the communal nature and continuity this festival encapsulates so well.

Going against the soulful if cheese-laden AOR of FM on the main stage, MESSENGER [8] are a somewhat more subtle proposition, taking on added resonance in the open air. At once open-ended and intimate, songs morph as if a barometer for some capricious pastoral spirit. SAXON [8] get off to a faltering start as they adjust to a shorter than normal stage time, but Biff Byford is a master rabble-rouser and the likes of Wheels Of Steel and a storming Denim And Leather are received like incitements on the eve of battle. DREAM THEATER [5] repel as many as they enrapt, and for all their impressive musicianship and metal chops, the life of the songs are smothered by the band’s self-importance, reaching a nadir with the wince-inducing The Spirit Carries On.

ANATHEMA [8] can verge on the schmaltzy too, but it’s forgivable when it’s the result of genuine heart and vulnerability. Thin Air sounds stricken by its own amorous charms, and Lee Douglas’s vocals on Lightning Song have a soul-cleansing clarity as they take on a binding, celebratory air. Even for a long-term fan, SCORPIONS [9] take a short period of readjustment. On a spectacularly upgraded, video screen-bedecked main stage, the slower pace of the songs and Klaus Meine’s unique, slurred nasal vocals take time to cohere before the timeless, strutting nature of Top Of The Bill comes into focus. From the lighter-waving ballads to classic massed fist-raisers Blackout and Big City Nights, the joy overflows throughout the crowd, reaching an exhilarating crescendo during a closing Rock You Like A Hurricane that transports everyone into a singular state of nirvana.

Sunday’s contrastingly soggy environment is banished, mentally at least, by main stage openers BLUES PILLS [8]. Elin Larsson’s vocals are an eruption from some rarely tapped strata of sonic magma as the band sound like they’re transcribing a groove bubbling up from rock’s most original and effervescent source. While ALCEST [5] sound perfectly suited to the accompanying drizzle, SÓLSTAFIR [9] turn the rainswept field into something epic. Utterly leftfield to the rest of the festival, but charged with something revelatory and elemental, their overdriven, devotional anthems transfix a crowd on a delirious cusp between personal empathy and incalculable awe.

Having freelanced regularly for the Melody Maker and Kerrang!, and edited the extreme metal monthly, Terrorizer, for seven years, Jonathan is now the overseer of all the album and live reviews in Metal Hammer. Bemoans his obsolete superpower of being invisible to Routemaster bus conductors, finds men without sideburns slightly circumspect, and thinks songs that aren’t about Satan, swords or witches are a bit silly.