Ramblin' Man Fair at Maidstone - live review

Devin Townsend, Focus, Magnum, Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash, iamthemorning and The Gift grace the Prog In The Park Stage at Ramblin' Man

Devin Townsend points at the audience from stage
(Image: © Kevin Nixon)

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After a Saturday during which the rain fell sideways and misery was unconfined, day three of Ramblin’ Man finds the Prog In The Park stage basking in warm sunshine.

Making the most of the good conditions are early starters The Gift, whose ambitious music takes pointers from the giants of early prog, but with the dramatics of their presentation, it’s possible Thotch are a bigger influence than either King Crimson or Genesis.

“We write songs about death and pain and suffering and dead people,” says iamthemorning singer Marjana Semkina, a statement delivered with a cheeriness and charm entirely at odds with the subject matter. It’s as if Kate Bush had continued on the path of Babooshka and Breathing and ended up in a realm of delightfully quirky chamber pop, instead of wobbling off towards more cerebral noodling. Matches (“a song about how amazing it is to burn down houses”) is beautiful, while the syncopated handclaps on 54 show that it’s never too early for a successful plea for audience participation.

Whatever name Prog’s learned friends demand we use to describe Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash, it’s difficult not to get sucked in when the band play their classic Argus in its entirety, and those crystalline guitar lines suit the warm weather perfectly.

Focus also sound great, delivering a set of classics that includes Sylvia, Focus I and House Of The King. The highlights are a rousing version of Eruption during which Thijs van Leer engages in a bout of call-and-response scat with the crowd, and a rattling version of Hocus Pocus. Magnum, unfortunately, are wretched. The sound is sludgy, Bob Catley’s oncerich voice is an emphysemic croak, and the backing vocals are wildly out of tune. And despite a strong opening salvo of Soldier Of The Line and On A Storyteller’s Night, people are already streaming away from the stage as the latter finishes, presumably to find something less painful to endure. Perhaps there’s a tattooist on site.

“Fuck prog in the cunt!” shouts Devin Townsend. As opening lines go, it’s hardly designed to woo the uncommitted, but he perseveres. “And thanks to Kansas for pulling out,” he adds, “so we could come along and make your lives worse.”

Fortunately, Townsend is one of the few frontmen who, through sheer force of personality alone, can pick up an audience and take them on a journey they had no idea they were about to embark on. And amid all the puerile jokes and inflatable phalluses, there’s a band who comprehensively prove they can headline a festival, from the triumphant romp through Supercrush! to a churning, vibrant March Of The Poozers. An absolute triumph.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.