Ramblin' Man Fair live review - Maidstone

Ramblin' Man returns for a second year at Mote Park

Back shot of Headspace on stage at Ramblin' Man Fair
(Image: © Kevin Nixon)

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DAY ONE

Despite disconcerting levels of noise seeping through the trees from the Main Stage, IO Earth make a decent fist of kicking things off for the prog faithful. Vocalist Linda Odinsen occasionally struggles to cut through her bandmates’ slick yet soulful wall of sound, but it’s an enjoyable set.

Frost* offer a similarly absorbing range of noises and emotions, and the band’s sheer exuberance shakes the crowd out of their lazy, sun-kissed reverie. It also helps that Jem Godfrey’s crew are clearly having an obscene amount of fun – albeit while wearing some of the most heroically puke-inducing stage outfits Prog has witnessed in a long while.

Frost*

Frost* (Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Purson’s idiosyncratic mastery of the psychedelic pop formula makes them one of the most thrilling and uplifting live bands around. Rosalie Cunningham is a natural-born rock’n’roll star by any sane reckoning, and her songs – from the bolshy Electric Landlady to the wickedly creepy Spiderwood Farm – are the equal of the late-60s nuggets she’s so lovingly appropriated.

Revelling in their status as one of modern prog’s most cerebral pleasures, Lifesigns are a blur of lightly expressed complexity; a touch of much-needed spice, perhaps, to go with the meat and potatoes that’s on offer elsewhere.

The resurrected Zombies formed too early to be a prog band, but in terms of their contribution to making late-60s pop a fascinating sonic realm, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone deserve all the adulation they receive. Time Of The Season remains their greatest song, but every moment twinkles with timeless magic and class.

Perplexingly, Family are greeted by one of the weekend’s smallest crowds while closing the night. And with music from the Main Stage audible between songs, Roger Chapman is mightily pissed off. “Some of you might know Family, but most people have fucked off over there,” the singer says sarcastically, gesturing to where Whitesnake are huffing and puffing away.

Chappo’s voice has depreciated during the 18 months since this writer last saw him, but at 74 that’s inevitable, and few more compelling characters tread the boards.

The musicianship of the seven-piece backing unit is very impressive. Despite the brevity of their set, Family play some terrific tunes, including Top Of The Hill and The Weaver’s Answer, but there’s no denying the sense of anticlimax.

Purson

Purson (Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

DAY TWO

London’s prog noiseniks The Fierce And The Dead open Sunday’s proceedings to a very healthily sized crowd, although given the fondness with which the band’s guitar player Matt Stevens is regarded by the UK prog community, this is hardly surprising. Along with bassist Kevin Feazey, he provides the focal point for the quartet’s blend of artful noise and more standard progressive tropes.

Anglo-Iranian proggers Blurred Vision are perhaps a less well-known quantity than the openers, but after this set, that’s unlikely to last for long. The trio’s blend of contemporary modern prog with a dash of Floydian grandeur is certainly tailor-made for UK prog audiences, even if those crowds can remain inexplicably sniffy at those they’re not familiar with.

Five years ago, this magazine told you that if you put UK prog supergroup Headspace on a big stage, they’d be a massive hit. Today, they most certainly deliver on that belief. With a set that’s comprised of just four epics, and fired on by an incendiary performance from frontman Damian Wilson, they’re a revelation.

Headspace

Headspace (Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Von Hertzen Brothers take full advantage of their prime slot to concoct something masterful. Their well-practised combination of punch, complexity and tunefulness gets a big reaction. There’s an easy charisma about the Finns that makes Flowers And Rust irresistible, while Prospect For Escape is a fittingly climactic romp.

Hawkwind are loitering about on the stage, experiencing technical gremlins. Suddenly the silence is broken by Dave Brock. “Are you ready, Tim?” Responding, Mr Blake’s theremin emits a weird R2‑D2‑esque noise. “Okay… chocks away, old bean.”

Hawkwind

Hawkwind (Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

The Hawks begin with All Hail The Machine, a cosmic spoken-word intro, and The Machine, a pair of tracks from their current chart album The Machine Stops. And they’re on fine, confident form as they cruise through Spirit Of The Age, Orgone Accumulator and Assault And Battery. It’s a polished display, crowned by a thoroughly deserved encore of Silver Machine.

For many, seeing Procol Harum is about one song. But Gary Brooker and his current line-up show there’s more to them than the peerless A Whiter Shade of Pale. The band perform a set that ranges through the decades, with Brooker’s voice resonantly intact. Procol Harum are still a very relevant, class act.