REAL GONE GOES OUT: Ian Anderson, Ramblin’ Man Fair, Maidstone, Kent 26/07/2015

It’s approximately 6:45 PM and it’s finally stopped raining after about twelve hours.  It’s wet and cold and half the field’s population are still shuffling about draped in waterproof macs.  French progressive black metallers Alcest are coming to the end of their set.  Their wall of sound approach is definitely an acquired taste and often makes a lot of their material indistinct within the live scenario, with only occasional tinkly prog flourishes cutting through massive doom riffs.  Even so, it’s been enjoyable…and as they churn out their last few oppressively heavy chords (for Alcest have arguably been the heaviest band to appear at the festival), the sun finally breaks through – too little, too late – causing a beam of light to centre upon the middle of the crowd.  Had this occurred barely minutes later, you could even jest that it was stage managed, as was such a spooky spectacle.  This of course, is the only sunshine we’ve seen all day, and with that, it sheepishly hides back behind a huge blanket of cloud and decides that it’s all too hard.

At this point, the crowd in front of the Prog stage is bigger than it’s been all day, gathering to see the legendary Ian Anderson, the stage’s nostalgia act for the evening.  Nostalgia, of course, is not meant as an insult; the Prog stage line-up on this particular day has most aspects of prog rock covered and it’s very much Anderson’s job to represent prog rock’s more formative years after the likes of The Pineapple Thief and Alcest show its current state.  Anderson has chosen, on this occasion, to play the hits as opposed to tunes from his current release ‘Homo Erectus’, so nostalgia – for many, if not all – will certainly play a role here.

At 7:30, amid an intro tape of many flutes, bassist David Goodier taps out the distinctive opening riff to ‘Living In The Past’ and the one-time Jethro Tull frontman and flautist wanders onto the stage with a grin.  With that, the crowd roars – he’s immediately won the hearts of the classic prog audience.  Delivering the first lines of the song, the flaw in the performance is immediately clear – his voice now has an odd jerky affectation.  Yes, he’s pulling back a little from longer notes – as is natural for a man of his age – but its more than that, as if he’s deliberately attempting to make it quirkier than need be.  Getting over that, however, there’s much to like and his flute skills are as top-notch as they ever were.

Digging further into Tull’s past, ‘Nothing Is Easy’ is well received and his band appear more than up to the job, even if guitarist Florian Opahle adds a heavier touch.  More Joe Bonamassa than Martin Barre, Opahle has a dirty tone, but most of the time it is one that doesn’t hamper the tunes too much and if at any point it does, Anderson is never far away with a quickly recognisable flute melody, always providing a great hook as per the Tull studio recordings.  Treating the audience to excerpts from the classic ‘Thick as a Brick’, a superbly heavy ‘Aqualung’ and ‘My God’, the band are tight and Anderson’s stage presence still looms large enough. He nimbly flits across the stage with the grace of a man younger than his years, only really still when singing,  As Opahle hammers through a workmanlike, dirty version of ‘Toccata & Fugue’ the set relies on a little filler, although this is clearly a tool to lead into the expected ‘Bouree’, where Anderson plays very well indeed.

Exceptionally chatty between songs, Anderson quips that the audience looks “elderly” before a run through of ‘Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll’, dropping in a few release facts at other times.  With his genuine enthusiasm for the occasion, the audience is carried along and the hour passes quickly, culminating with the much-loved ‘Locomotive Breath’.  What he lacks vocally at this time is made up for in other ways – his speaking voice is still wonderfully rich and his dealings with an audience so utterly charming – his placing on the festival bill is both important and justified.  It would be nice to hear some of Tull’s folkier leanings from ‘Songs From The Wood’ or ‘Heavy Horses’, but it isn’t to be on this occasion. Time is tight and Ian has to leave the stage to make way for the night’s headliners, Marillion, whose audience has started to arrive…and in reasonable numbers.

It’s now 8.30 PM.  The sun has not reappeared.

July 2015