After years of enjoying sunstroke-inducing heat waves, and coming in the middle of a British summer that had just finally seemed to kick into gear, day one of Ramblin’ Man Fair 2019, on Friday, 19 July, featured all-too-frequent bursts of rain – a taste of the thunderstorms that would break as midnight rolled around. But with only the main stage open on this first day at the fair, it was easy to catch every band that braved the weather to perform before the earliest ramblers of the weekend.
For a band whose new album is called Tropical Hazards, it would have been nice if Aussie openers The Lazys had brought some sunshine with them. Instead, however, they brought bags of energy to open the festivities. ‘Little Miss Crazy’ could have been named after the lady who clearly felt that a sodden field had no chance of spoiling her all-white ensemble – it was a punchy choice for a weekend marked for downpours. Whether her clothing emerged unscathed has yet to be confirmed, but The Lazys asserted themselves admirably, defying their name to deliver a set that rewarded those who made the effort to get in early.
Kris Barras Band
If The Lazys worked hard at kicking Ramblin’ Man off, Kris Barras Band made it all seem so easy. There was something fitting about hearing Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’ blast out of the PA shortly before Barras and co took to the stage – the Devonshire guitarist is about to hit the road with New Jersey’s finest, and his no-nonsense set had hints of the bluesier end of the Bon Jovi spectrum. What you saw was what you got, and while Barras was less at pains than The Lazys’ frontman, Leon Harrison, to hit the crowd with a full-force personality, his music more than did the talking for him.
Twenty years ago, FM were the sort of band that could have headlined a day like Friday Fun At The Fair. In the event, frontman Steve Overland confidently threw the gauntlet down before the day’s actual headliners, The Darkness, as if showing Justin Hawkins what he’ll need to do in order to keep a voice going at its prime for three-plus decades. If Overland’s voice wasn’t flashback-inducing enough, however, FM’s slicker than slick set was pulled straight from the 80s synth-rock playbook. Thirty years separate ‘Tough It Out’ and new tracks like ‘Killed By Love’, but FM and their fans seemed untouched by any musical developments in that time – and that’s probably just how they like it.
With FM offering a throwback to the safe days of AOR radio, The Wildhearts were all about being in the moment. If the title of ‘Caffeine Bomb’ didn’t make it clear, the Ginger-led outfit were out to destroy during their Ramblin’ Man set, torpedoing the audience with their punk-infused rock and getting the blood pumping during Friday’s penultimate set. Ginger wouldn’t be the only Friday artist to reference the challenge of making meaningful album sales in a streaming world, but he did it with a knowing wink (“You can buy one of our T-shirts from the merch desk and listen to our new album for free. It’s about the same price”) while also proving that the true spirit of rock is on the live stage anyway. His own enjoyment was infectious, and on the closing ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’ he declared, “Just so long as there’s an atmosphere/We’ll be round… come on down,” speaking for much of the audience who had, indeed, come for just that.
None of Ramblin’ Man Fair’s Friday acts, however, united the crowd like The Darkness. With The Lazys’ frontman down in the pit and Ginger watching from the side of the stage, it was clear that rock’s most persistent pastiche-peddlers had something for fans of all stripes – not that frontman Justin Hawkins always felt that way. “We’re still making albums, but none of you c__ts are buying them anymore,” he said, passing it off as a joke, though given that most of the crowd were there to hear faithful retreads of Permission To Land’s 16-year-old material, the comment was tinged with an embittered self-awareness…
… Which is slightly where The Darkness always resided, anyway. Justin’s still throwing the same shapes, the group are still hammering out riffs as if they don’t know how to stop; but their relentless determination to win the crowd over generally rubs off on everyone just looking to have a good time. And since they’ve always existed slightly out of their own time, The Darkness didn’t have to worry about suffering from the anachronistic feeling that FM laboured under.
In an interview with uDiscover Music earlier that day (which will be live on our YouTube channel in the coming week), bassist Frankie Poullain spoke of the group’s risk-taking on stage. There was, in truth, little of that on show – apart from perhaps choosing to not end a festival set with a blistering ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ – but by the time Justin had swapped his yacht-rock white trousers and Hawaiian shirt for a Freddie Mercury-style leotard, soloing while being carried through the crowd on his roadie’s shoulders, everyone’s rock’n’roll dreams were complete… both Hawkins’ and those of an audience looking to revel in nostalgia for an era many of them missed the first time around.