@Maidstone Leisure Centre, July 22 2016
The basketball hoops tucked away and the last of the evening’s swimmers ushered out of the main building, Maidstone Leisure Centre was transformed into an edgy rock and roll venue on the eve of the Ramblin’ Man Fair. At least that was the plan.
A later than advertised start, the most basic of lighting rigs and a rush on the limited alcohol supplies suggested Whitesnake won’t be playing here anytime soon. But Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson have probably played worse venues. Many times over. And none of the three bands that rolled up to the edge of Mote Park on a muggy Friday night allowed the frustrating delay or the soulless surroundings to affect their music.
Leogun – catch them on Ramblin Man’s Rising Stage on Saturday – kicked things off with a gutsy mix of post-grunge and heavy blues. Brilliant set closer By The Reins channelled frontman Tommy Smith’s inner Robert Plant but their earnest take on Soundgarden failed to convince.
There’s no genre blurring where Hogjaw are concerned and their heavy country rock captured the imagination of the masses – and probably added a few score to their crowd ahead of Saturday afternoon’s Outlaw Country Stage set. Where Have You Gone got the party started and the sublime, meandering County Line – a 10 minute-plus riff trip – featured a Skynyrd-esque outro of epic proportions. When the band was ordered to cut short its set it didn’t come as a big surprise but for many it was a huge disappointment.
Headliners Warwick/Johnson have meticulously honed an acoustic Best Of show that gives Dan Reed and Danny Vaughan a run for their money. Like the DRN/Tyketto pair, the Black Star Riders band mates mix unscripted banter with a back catalogue showcasing two rich and varied careers. And it works a treat.
Warwick’s Belfast growl and Johnson’s soft American drawl are perfectly complementary and allow the duo to tackle a slew of rock and roll classics. The Almighty’s Free N Easy, Lizzy standard Jailbreak and a raucous cover of Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades all hit the mark. But the Johnson-penned Pontiac stole the show and it’s little wonder Warwick was so generous in his praise of a classy piece of songwriting.
As an entertaining evening reached its denouement, diligent staff were still carrying boxes of cider and lager from the car park in a frantic, almost comical bid to quench the thirst of their demanding Friday night crowd. This was a far from faultless event but the consistently inspiring music made it memorable for all the right reasons.