Ramblin Man Fair, Mote Park, Maidstone, July 2015; a new style of British festival

Panda review face picBy Alexia Axxe

July 25th 2015 could well turn out to be an important date – that of the first ever Ramblin Man Fair – and how fabulous it was to witness such an amazing turnout, despite competing with Steelhouse in Wales on the same weekend.

Promoted by Abbie Marshall and Gary Turner of Rock Collective, this festival was born out of the dying embers of High Voltage, a festival greatly missed.  So it was with excitement no, correction – hopping anticipation – that the artists were revealed with what Abbie describes in the collectors’ programme as “one hell of a line-up”.

The festival, positioned as somewhat of an ‘Ye Olde Rural Fayre’,  is distinguished by its combination of Classic Rock, Progressive Music, Country and Blues on three stages with a seriously grown up and balanced mix of acts.

Ramblin man fair

Fun at Ramblin Man Fair

The fair hurled itself into action with 80s Irish blues band No Hot Ashes.  Giving it all they had, the Celtic minstrels got the rapidly burgeoning crowd off to an excitable start.  No Hot Ashes are definitely worth seeing for they put on a tight and energising set.  They were followed in quick succession by Toseland, FM, Blue Oyster Cult and the mighty Saxon on the Classic Rock stage.  Saxon just never let up touring and Biff was on great form as he joked and caroused the screaming fans, powered in the engine room by Nigel Glockler, back pounding the skins following a brain aneurism as if he had never been away.

Turning to the Prog Stage a convenient couple of minutes away, fans of progressive music of various flavours were treated to  Messenger,  Anathema and  Camel who staged an ethereal, stunning comeback after Andy Latimer’s illness.   Stroud neo-progsters Pendragon were a welcome appearance following their tour last year to promote “Men Who Climb Mountains”.    Pendragon incidentally toured extensively with another great act headlining the Prog stage, Marillion.  Enchanting their ever loyal following, Nick Barrett and the boys delivered five cracking numbers from various albums over the years ending including “Faces of Light” and “Indigo”.

Good reports emerged from the Outlaw Country stage with Waylon’s son Shooter Jennings, Hayseed Dixie and the charismatic Bob Wayne stomping down a sheriff-shooting storm in their cowboy boots.

The penultimate act on the main stage was a heartfelt, eight-song immersive experience culminating in “Behind the Veil” from Dream Theatre.  The band has rapidly recovered from the blow of Mike Portnoy’s exit with replacement Mike Mangini on percussion and despite speculation across the internet on ‘who is best’, the band delivered a melodic and atmospheric prog-metal medley full of impact.

Day one ended in a Teutonic extravaganza; Rudi Schenker and Klaus Meine leading The Scorpions into band raging battle.  Not the slighted hint of their years acting up after two score and ten on the road, the hot Hanoverians lit up the County of Kent belting out 18 top rock hits like a group of teenage mates.  With 100 million records, three generations in their audience plus one of the most successful careers of any heavy metal band, this spectacle was surely a career milestone.  The Scorpions will be laid to rest next year. Devastating news from the ultimate heavy rock icons and we can only hope that, like Judas Priest’s terminal High Voltage appearance, there will be a revival.  This show bore no hint of a swansong as guitarists rampaged across the stage across each other.  If this wasn’t enough, mad and daring, fresh from a somewhat unfortunate stint in a Dubai jail, James Kottack, climbed up on top of his drums.   Not so outrageous for a 51 year old hell-raiser …. except for the small fact that the percussion was swinging high up suspended on a precarious platform from the roof of the stage.  This man showed no fear as he swivelled around on the kit waving his sticks, rousing the audience into a frenzy, following an exhausting-to-watch  drum solo.  It featured an amazing light show with scintillating colours and digital film backdrop; heavy metal just could not get any better … or badder.

Whilst The Scorpions were the apogee of Saturday, the following day brought another stonking line-up leaving too little time for those nice little necessities, the bar, posh burger stand or even the loo lest any act be missed.  Pretty much every artist was impressive in their own way which was just as well given that the weather was foul.

First off on the Prog stage was the beautiful and delightful Anna Phoebe with an elegant violin performance verging on classical with a strong prog twist.  Anna has played with Ian Anderson who was further up the bill the same day. Anderson, currently on a gruelling set of EU gig dates to promote “Homo Erraticus”,  fulfilled the desire for classic Jethro Tull yet surprisingly played nothing from his own well publicised new opus.

Other acts of note on the Prog stage were The Pineapple Thief (emotive psychedelic rock) Riverside (hailed as Poland’s answer to The Procupine Tree with a strong hint of Pink Floyd) and Alcest.

Alcest’s drummer, Winterhalter, and singer Niege represented the Francophone contingent with what can only be described as an entrancing other-worldly prog-soft metal aura with dreamscape tones. Equally other-worldly, Marillion, the last act of the day is of course, known for a cult-like fan base and amazing live shows.  This was exactly what we got, fantastic atmospheric sound, a brilliant light show as dusk descended and absolutely superb musicianship from this veteran quintet with 15m album sales behind it.

On the Classic Rock stage stunning performances came from Solstafir, (1st prize for top Doom-laden band) Blues Pills, The Quireboys (rowdy, wild and fun as ever), ex-hobo Seasick Steve (who was disarming in his interaction with the crowd) and another veteran, Gregg Allman.  It is Gregg Allman who provided the name and much of the inspiration for the fair with his song, ”Rambling Man”, so he was a  fitting finale to a stunning weekend.  Gregg played a long, strong set to a huge, raptured crowd.  For some reason the eponymous song did not feature, but the 17 songs included Allman Brothers numbers, a bit of Muddy Waters,  Gregg’s own band material and finished off with Elmore James’ “One Way Out”.

The third stage on Sunday dropped the cowboy theme and welcomed lovers of the blues.  The Blues Stage played host to the rapidly up-and-coming  Joanne Shaw Taylor, ex Mott The Hoople and Bad Company’s  Mick Ralphs  and was topped by virtuoso guitar player of Whitesnake fame, Bernie Marsden.

In conclusion, everything worked at Ramblin Man; importantly there was usually good sound on all stages – much better than at many festivals and it was needed to appreciate this combination of acts. The convenient location in Maidstone eliminated all the hell of trying to trudge through fields following long bus, train, taxi excursions which leave you shattered before you even get to the stage.

However there were some of the fundamental errors of all fairs. The organisers assumed all visitors are beer swilling teenagers.  First given that the audience was older and more discerning in its tastes, the range of food and especially drink on offer was appalling. No decent wine, no champagne for special events and not even a proper range of spirits.  Second, the overlap of acts between stages needed more thinking through.  Better staggering and consideration of types of bands on each stage would have made it easier to catch more of the music and more of one genre of music.  Finally the orientation of the viewing platforms and the stages could be improved for better visibility next year.

Ramblin Man has the essence of a medieval country fair – the sort Ian Anderson would take in his stride. It was totally laid back – with echoes of the olde worlde combined with a touch of Woodstock and cannabis-in-the-air hippy sensation.

Word is already out that the event covered its costs sufficiently and made a profit so there should be nothing to stop it from running next year.

Joseph Dean Osgood – London’s Rock N’ Roll Man on the Road to Revival

Panda review face picBy Alexia Axxe

When Joe introduced Ronnie Wood to his parents after supporting The Faces at Polo Rocks festival in 2011, he thought he’d arrived as a professional singer songwriter. And in a sense he had. His soft rocktail sound became in-flight entertainment across a whole fleet of BA planes. Yet four years on, universal recognition proves high hanging fruit. Until now.

For all you aspiring musicians out there, Joe’s story is a reminder never rest to on your laurels.  Plan your career forward well because it’s not enough being a great musician.  Joseph is talented, he has released two EPs and two videos in the last four years, the latter video produced by Jamie Cullum’s brother Ben.  There is an enduring clique following on London’s circuit as a solo artist and from previous band ‘The Trellicks’;  in essence, the JDO music making act never stops working, be it across the city in bars and pubs or at special events and private parties.

Joseph Dean Osgood

“Meeting and working with the Faces was a nice little milestone, but you don’t realise you have to put the same amount of work in again – to keep pushing forward for the next one.  I had the money to put out my first EP but then no resources to follow it up”.

Nevertheless, it seems the boy from Coulsden who began absorbing his parents’ music from an old box of 45s at eight (Cat Stevens, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Queen & Quo) once again on the up.   Now on a second incarnation fronting a new band, there’s a substratum of hard hitting material, a serious promoter and showcasing events imminent.    This is an unusual folk-rock fusion and addictive gravel-toned voice – Rod Stewart meets Quireboys’ Spike Gray.   The music is uplifting and enriching listening even when the lyrics are about the downs as well as the ups of what Joe calls this strange thing called life.

“This band is much edgier, tighter and harder than anything I’ve done yet holds on to my singer-songwriter roots.  We have been noticed in the right circles and have got a couple of showcasing events in the offing, so I’m really excited about where this will take us”.

Watch out for Joseph Dean Osgood on the 2016 music festival circuit and keep an eye out on Facebook for those impromptu sessions around London’s pubs – it’s a convivial night out.

Paradise Lost: The Plague Within review – more lead than a church roof

Panda review face picBy Alexia Axxe

Yorkshire’s doom metal quartet has returned to its original style with the heaviest album in 25 years.

 Thanks to its leaden and spirit-draining melancholy, The Plague Within is a satisfying earful for goth and doom metallers. Going beyond mere shouting and noise, Paradise Lost’s 14th album retains that familiar throbbing tempo, pulsing an unrelenting yet positive beat despite the melancholic undertone.

Paradise lost - the plague within album coverAll ten tracks are interwoven with strong melodic vocals and guitar riffs just rousing enough to stop you throwing yourself into a demon-infested abyss.  With lyrics such as “See the righteous fall as the rise of the damned, denied, See others crawl to the towers of rancid spite”, the morbid tone is magnified to true blackened metal might.

As the tour looms, guitarist Aaron Aedy claims this is their harshest work ever and it is indeed a head banger as the grim medieval cover forewarns. Imbibe – very loud, in pitch dark and alone.

Jurassic World – film review

By Tola Onasanya

Our favourite pre-historic predators are back in this latest adrenaline-fuelled offering from Isla Nublar.

Colin Trevorrow’s new dino epic has taken a giant bite out of worldwide box office takings – it’s the third highest grossing film of 2015 so far, but movie-goers expecting an improved version of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic, may be disappointed.

In the film’s opening sequences all the makings of a great ‘Jurassic Park’ movie are present. A dinosaur hatches from an egg, two young brothers getting ready for their trip to the resort, instilling a sense of impending doom in the viewer. It’s all there.

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22 years on from the disaster of its predecessor, the Jurassic World theme park is running like a well-oiled machine. Business is booming and park director Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is running a tight ship. Elsewhere, protagonist and 2015’s sweetheart; Chris Pratt – who plays velociraptor trainer (yes really) Owen Grady, is brought in to assess a new ‘asset’ that is set to boost the parks ratings.

As impressive as the CGI critters are, the script lets the 2-hour flick down. At best the writing is juvenile, and some of the character clichés are so bad that the 1980s called to ask for their movie tropes back. The workaholic parent-figure with no time for the kids, (Howard) feels overused and cheap.

The kids are just annoying; it feels like they were thrown in for symmetry with the prequels’ other “essential” child characters. When younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins) announces to hormone-fuelled brother Zach (Nick Robinson) that their parents are getting a divorce it feels tacked on. Complaints aside, Howard comes good and steps up as the über-aunt – despite outrageously running around a tropical island in heels.

It’s a fast paced adventure that keeps you wanting more, with some impressive solo stints from Jake Jonson (New Girl), who is the cinematic embodiment of the 93’ fans, from his dinosaur toys, down to his classic Jurassic Park tee.

Verdict: Jurassic world is a highly watchable summer action movie that delivers on action but is a little light on intellect.

Restaurant chain Bill’s accused of ‘duping customers’ over tips

By Jamie Elliott

One of the UK’s larger and fastest growing restaurant chains has been accused of deceiving customers by using tips to pay rock bottom wages. Unbeknown to diners, upmarket eatery Bill’s is using the optional service charge added to customers’ bills to subsidise rates of pay as low as £7.00 per hour.

A recent graduate who this summer worked at a west London branch of the chain, which  employs 2,200 staff in over 50 restaurants, told London Journalism Centre she felt “exploited, used and unappreciated” when she found out how tips were being used.

Bill's diners

“I was shocked to find that Bill’s was using the service charge left by customers to top up the minimum wage to pay me just £7.00 per hour,” she said. “It felt fraudulent because the customers were paying 12.5% on top of their bills to go to tips and we saw next to none of it.”

Staff at an east London branch of Bill’s visited by London Journalism Centre also said they did not receive tips in addition to their hourly pay. One waitress said she was paid £7.00 per hour, which she said was made up of the national minimum wage [£6.50 per hour] topped up by the service charge left by customers.  But she received nothing in addition to her hourly rate.  Another waiter, who had worked in the restaurant for almost a year, said he was paid £7.50 per hour, but again, received none of the service charge on top of his pay.

Bill's diners outside

Greg Hinchliffe, Finance Director at Bill’s, acknowledged that the firm used the service charge left by customers to pay wages throughout the restaurant, which, with the exception of managers, ranged from £6.50 to £10.00 per hour. But he added that if there was anything left in the service charge pot after wages had been paid this was passed on to staff at three month intervals.

“Where a restaurant finds it is building up a surplus [of service charge] this is distributed in full to team members on a quarterly basis – splitting across the entire team,” he said.

According to Dave Turnbull, Officer for the Hospitality Industry at Unite the Union, the restaurant chain is increasingly out of step with the rest of the industry.

“It’ll be news for customers of Bill’s that their tips for good service are being used to subsidise low pay. Many restaurant chains have turned their back on such sharp practices, but it would be appear that some like Bill’s are short changing staff and duping customers to squeeze out every last drop of profit. We’d question how such practices sit alongside the founding values that Bill’s markets itself on and urge the chain to get its house in order.”

See also:

Waiters hit out at bad table manners as restaurants use tips to pay wages

Celebrity chef leaves waiters with bitter taste over tips

Cafe waiters fear the axe over cash tips

 

 

Anti-Muslim backlash fears after French tourist is beheaded

Damian picBy Damian Grabiac

There is growing concern that the beheading of a French national, Herve Gourdel, by Islamic extremists on Wednesday could make life more difficult for Muslims living in France.

“I’ve been getting hostile looks on the underground and on the street since this happened,” says 23 year old Parisian Muslim student Assia Mansouri. “Some people think all Muslims are to blame for it, and this makes me and my family feel bad. I’m afraid that this anger will grow.”

The  brutal murder of Mr Gourdel in Algeria by jihadists linked to Islamic State, was in direct response to the French government’s decision to participate in air strikes against IS fighters in Iraq.

Herve Gourdel

French economist Julien Rabin, who lives in London, believes there is a lot anti-Muslim sentiment lurking beneath the surface in his home country, which the recent murder of Mr Gourdel is likely to unleash.

“I think what happened yesterday could increase negative attitudes towards Islamic people in France, especially among people who are already are islamophobic,” he says. “People are not yet really saying what they are thinking.

Support for the far right continues to grow in France with a Le Figaro poll published early this month suggesting that Marie Le Pen’s National Front party has a good chance of winning the presidential elections in 2017.

LGBT Scots set to vote overwhelmingly yes in independence referendum

Damian picBy Damian Grabiec

A big percentage of Scottish LGBT people are expected to vote in favour of independence in today’s referendum according to an opinion poll and preferences on social media.

More than three quarters of 1000 Scottish LGBT people surveyed by gay charity KaleidoScot at the beginning of this month backed breaking away from the rest of the UK. The Facebook page of the Yes LGBT campaign has also attracted enormous support compared to its No equivalent. Almost 17,000 people liked the Yes LGBT Facebook page, compared to only 1000 who liked the LGBT together page.

According to a one gay pro-independence campaigner, the LGBT community in Scotland will vote yes because it feels let down by Westminster.

Scotland

“The full powers of independence being held in Scotland offers our community the opportunity to press for so much to change in policy that has been ignored by Westminster,” says Yes LGBT Campaign Manager for Banffshire and Buchan Coast Paul Robertson. “The equalisation of private pension rights for gay couples, for example.”

Robertson also claims that the high support for a yes result amongst gay and lesbian voters is explained by their higher than average interest in politics.

“LGBT communities tend to be strongly politicised and the support for equality, diversity and social justice which pervades the politics of LGBT people has meant that the positive and aspirational Yes campaign is a rather natural option for LGBTI individuals,” he says.

But lesbian Glasgow Labour councillor Judith Fisher believes leaving the UK will weaken the gay community in Scotland.

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Glasgow councillor Judith Fisher

“It makes sense to be part of a larger unit, giving us more influence on the world stage, so we can help secure the rights of LGBTI individuals elsewhere in the world,” she says. “The rights we’ve secured have been hard fought for and I think we can be proud of what we’ve achieved together. So many of our rights are newly secured and need to be protected. Remaining part of the UK, as an active member of the EU, is the best way to do that.”

Transgender models storm fashion world

Damian picBy Damian Grabiec

Transgender people are enjoying increased visibility on the catwalk as designers and photographers respond to a growing demand for gender-bending models who challenge the old distinctions between male and female.

“Over the last decade or so I have most definitely noticed an increase in interest in transgender models in fashion photography” says PR and event management professional and transgender model Amanda Dee. “About 15 years ago we were looked upon as some freaks of nature, but today the photographers are more ready to accept us.”

Only last month, bearded transgender model and Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst shocked the fashion world by modelling women’s lingerie alongside a pregnant model in a series of shots taken by top photographer and designer Karl Lagerfeld.

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Conchita Wurst poses for top fashion photographer Karl Lagerfeld

And just this week, transgender model Andreja Pejic launched a kickstarter campaign to fund a film about her life. Pejic caused a sensation last year when, still living as a man, she became the first male model to appear on the cover of Elle magazine. She previously shook up the Dutch fashion world when she modelled a push-up bra in a poster advert for fashion store Hema.

Transgender model Andreja Pejic

Transgender model Andreja Pejic

According to Trans Media Watch chair Jennie Kermode, transgender models are appealing to an increasingly wide and mainstream audience.

“A few years ago, trans models were generally spoken of with derision, or people expressed shock that they could look attractive,” she says. “Now we find that heterosexual men are increasingly willing to be open about being attracted to trans women.”

The high visibility of some of these increasingly daring and successful models is having an impact beyond the fashion world.

“There is still some loud hostility toward obviously ambiguous models like Conchita Wurst but even in that case we see a lot of women describe them as beautiful, and some men adding their voices to this,” adds Kermode. “This is really helping to create a space for gender variant people to live openly within society. In addition, it’s raising awareness of the fact that not everybody wants to live in a clearly defined male or female role.”

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Russians in cut-off enclave face food shortages as import embargo bites

Damian picBy Damian Grabiec

Almost a million Russians in Kaliningrad, an isolated enclave squeezed between Poland and Lithuania, are facing empty supermarket shelves as Moscow’s embargo on food imports from Europe hits them hard.

“My family and lots of my friends are going to Poland to buy basic vegetables and fruit because it’s increasingly hard to get them here,” Ksenia Pavlova, a Russian woman from Kaliningrad told London Journalism Centre. “As the situation gets worse, I’m afraid we’ll have to buy most of our food there.”

Residents of the Russian outpost, which produces virtually no food of its own, are forming long queues at the Polish border as they wait to cross to stock up with basic grocery supplies.

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Russian cars queuing to cross from Kaliningrad to Poland last week

“Since the Russian embargo has been put in to place, we have observed an increase in Russians coming from Kaliningrad,” says Polish customs spokesman Ryszard Chudy, based at Olsztyn, a city close to the border. “Until now Kaliningrad could import food it needed from EU countries, but now people need to come to Poland and buy food privately.”

Polish shopkeepers are reporting bumper sales as residents of the Kaliningrad enclave flood across the border to buy food, taking advantage of the lifting of visa restrictions agreed by Poland and Russia two years ago.

“Russians have been coming here to buy everything, from home electronics to cleaning supplies,” says, “Janina Kowalik, the owner of a small Polish store close to the border. “But now they are focused mostly on food and they are already majority of my customers.”

Polish gay rights symbol attacked

Damian picBy Damian Grabiec

An art work which has become a symbol for gay rights in Poland was the target of an arson attack last week.

The Warsaw Rainbow, which dominates one of the city’s main squares, was set on fire by two men on Thursday morning.

Created by artist Julita Wójcik, and strongly identified with Poland’s LGBTI movement, the Rainbow has already been attacked by arsonists five times.

Polish LGBTI activist and member of the Greens Daniel Michalski told London Journalism Centre: “I’m shocked that the Rainbow has been attacked yet again. It’s incredible that there is so much hate against LGBTI people nowadays in Poland, not helped by the Catholic church and parties, like Law and Justice, which justify and even provoke such behaviour.”

Rainbow in Warsaw on fire pic

The Warsaw Rainbow in flames on Thursday morning

Homophobia and transphobia are big problems in Poland. 77% of young Poles encounter hate speech towards LGBTI on the Internet according to University of Warsaw and The Stefan Batory Foundation studies.

Nonetheless, attitudes towards gay people in Poland are becoming more tolerant. 55% of Poles said they were in favour of civil unions for homosexuals in a 2013 Homo Homini poll.

Some gay Poles however, like Tomasz Marcinkowski, who now lives in the UK, chose to leave their country.

“If the authorities of my country don’t react to aggression against me, I don’t care about this country,” he says the student of biology. “I need a place where I could feel safe and where I can plan the future with my partner.”