The Hemsby Buzz Is Even Louder
Hemsby Rock 'n' Roll Show No. 40
15th to 18th May 2008.
Seven months had gone by oh so quickly since the last Hemsby and it was now time for the fortieth in the series. Back in 1988, when I had dark hair, the headliners had been Joe Clay and the late great Mickey Hawks, it had been a smaller affair. Since then, the name of Hemsby has become synonymous with top notch live rock 'n' roll. Indeed, it has become a world leader for quality rock 'n' roll and has not been afraid to take chances when presenting some of the more obscure acts, often with spell binding results. Verily, I packed my grip (otherwise known as a suitcase) jumped in the chariot and headed north to the Seacroft Holiday Camp at Hemsby. Upon arrival the buzz was louder than in recent years and this was evidenced by the increased attendance. Hemsby had reclaimed its rightful title.
As with preceding Hemsby's, the facilities at the camp are segregated into four main compartments. The Trafalgar Ballroom which had shows and a disc jockey playing each night and had the Record Stalls (I had to explain to Mrs. Wilkinson when I arrived back home that I had invested heavily for our children's future) and a 50's Vintage and Retro Market nearby. From here it was on to the Mayflower Restaurant, where food was available until the early hours of the morning, and an even larger adjacent 50's Vintage and Retro Market. Next came the Blue Lagoon bar which was well stocked and stayed open until midnight each night and was a great location to chill out and have a chat to the many friends one had not met for the last months. This venue again hosted the Hemsby Cocktail party on Saturday and, this time around, had an added attraction (see later). Finally, just across the way is the Nelson Ballroom which is where the main musical acts took the stage, the heart of Hemsby.
It was good to see that the meet 'n' greets session had been reinstated on the Friday evening, this time hosted by the magazine Tales From The Woods. This is a great way to warm up for the rockin' music, meet the artists and old friends plus make new acquaintances. An invaluable scene setter for the rockin' music to follow....
Thursday, 15th May 2008 (the rockin' introduction)
The practice is for a disc jockey to play rockin' discs, followed by a live act, then another jock and a live act etc. in both ballrooms (except that there is a late night record hop in the Trafalgar Ballroom until the dawn starts to break). Hemsby 40 kicked off in the Trafalgar Ballroom with three disc jockies and two live British bands, namely The Sundowners and The Small Town Giants. Whilst business commitments again prevented me arriving until Friday, the word was that the proceedings had kicked off in no uncertain rockin' manner.
Friday, 16th May 2008 (the rockin' starts in earnest.)
First act to take the main stage was Wes (Pudsley) & The Sonic Aces who had traveled from Australia for this performance. I had the opportunity to have a chat with Wes and he is a great guy, speaking in reverential terms of those Oz rock 'n' roll originators such as the late Johnny O'Keefe (who gave the world the original 'Real Wild Child''), Merv Benton, Johnny Rebb, Booka Hyland and Dig Richards. This band has been together for the past ten years and this showed in their seasoned and professional performance. Good sounding rockabilly with a modern edge. Clearly this band has the potential to go far.
Next up making his first Hemsby appearance was Dale Hawkins with the Hemsby House Band. It was good to see Malcolm Chapman back on the Hemsby stage as lead guitarist for the backing band and he showed his indisputable picking on the opening instrumental before Dale took the stage and launched straight into 'Wildcat Tamer'. This was top notch rock 'n' roll music from one of the originators who really was on form. After a snatch of the gospel tune' This Train', Dale metamorphosed this into 'My Babe' exactly as Willie Dixon had done in the Chess studios back in the fifties. Hardly pausing for breath, the rockin' continued with a person favourite in the form of 'Juanita' followed by the seldom performed 'Teenage Dolly' that had not seen the light of day until the recent release on Ace Records. Dale commented that he had totally forgotten about the song until he heard it again on this CD. His second biggest hit 'La Do Dada' was then served up complete with the appropriate vocal backing, the guitar lead being nailed brilliantly by the aforementioned Mr. Chapman. The perfectly paced show continued with 'Fool's Paradise (not the Buddy Holly song but from Dale's album release in 2000) and the haunting 'This Love Of Mine'. The tempo was quickly bought back to the rockin' boil with 'Bang Bang', from Dales latest album, and the hypnotic 'Tornado' prior to Paul Patterson (from the band Hi-Voltage) joining the musicians on stage to play amplified acoustic slide guitar on 'Doing Down The Road Feeling Bad', a blues drenched rockin' opus that came complete with a slice of 'When The Saints Go Marchin' In'. The show was reaching its high powered peak as Hawkins launched into 'Number Nine Train' and then we heard the familiar but powerful opening riff to the classic 'Susie Q'. For the encore, Dale changed the set list to play the requested 'Baby Baby'. All in all, a great performance as evidenced by the audience's reaction.
The next act was originally scheduled to have been Oceans Seven but they have broken up and in their place we had Laura B & The Moonlighters This seven piece combo contains many of the same musicians from the aforementioned act but now they are fronted by a sensuous attractive young lady. From the outset, it was evident that Laura B possesses a magnificent powerful voice, has great stage presence and came over as rockin' R&B torch singer in the LaVern Baker and Ruth Brown mould. As the combined instrumentation of two saxes, one trumpet, string bass, drums and piano (note the absence of a guitar) pounded out a pulsating beat, Laura B. launched into 'Act Right' and without letting up continued with 'Down By The River', 'Jim Dandy' and 'Teardrops From My Eyes'. Boy, can this lady sing as well as strutting her stuff. This was magical music and simply a stage show that was up there with the best. I was getting quite besides myself as the act plowed this hard edged R&B furrow with 'Ready For Love' and Etta James 'Tough Lover' before Laura B. rested her tonsils to let the piano player take over with a rousing boogie woogie treatment of 'In The Mood' that bought the house down. Laura B. recommenced wiggling it about with 'Jump And Shout', 'The Walkin' Blues', 'Jump Jump Jump' before closing out with the Big Maybelle treatment of 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'. The last mentioned was nailed to perfection by both the singer and the band. For the encore, we had the gospel based 'Revival Day'. If you perceive that I have gone overboard in this review, then you should have seen my reaction at the performance. The future of our music is safe in the hands of artists and musicians such as these. Close out act for this night was the UK outfit The Revolutionaires.
Saturday, 17th May 2008 (the rockin' continues unabated).
There is simply no excuse to be bored at Hemsby as there is something going on all the time. For example, on Saturday there was the classic car cruise from Hemsby to Great Yarmouth in the early afternoon that had been preceded by jive lessons presented by Kav Kavanagh. Whilst the car cruise was taking place, live music (interspersed with sets from DJs) took place in the Trafalgar room with sets by British acts Blue De-Ville and The Cat House Creepers. Then at 19:00 hours there was the second Hemsby Cocktail party but a party with a difference as there was a personal appearance by Bernie Dexter. This gorgeous young lady, who had many a male drawling and salivating, is a top model for numerous fashion companies and a leading pin up on the current scene. She is also married to Levi Dexter (damn it). Bernie happily posed for photographs with all requestors and was a delightful young lady to talk to. Oh, if only I had my time all over again...
Music in the main hall commenced with a show from the Swedish three piece The Blue Valley Boys. Despite having no drummer, the trio kept up a real chunky beat as they played with a truly authentic rockabilly sound on 'Kansas City', 'Get Rhythm', 'Baby Let's Play House' and 'Let's Go Boppin' Tonight'. Without moving about too much, they presented a fast paced show that continued on with 'Ting A Ling' (Buddy Holly style) and 'Be Boppin' Baby'. From the aforementioned titles, it is evident that this is a purist - and talented - rockabilly act. They further demonstrated this with a selection of original tunes such as 'I Don't Care About You', 'While We Rock' and 'Blue Valley Boy'. Their Hemsby portion finished off with a pulsating treatment of 'Crazy Crazy Loving'.
Now it was time for one of the main headliners, namely Sonny Burgess complete with two of the original Pacers in the form of Bobby Crafford on drums and Kern Kennedy on piano. They were more than ably supported by a selection of UK musicians from the Hemsby House Band. After opening with a rockin' instrumental, it was straight into 'My Bucket's Got A Hole In It' Burgess style followed by Crafford taking lead vocals on '40 Days' whilst pounding the heck out of the drum skins. This interchange of lead vocals between Sonny and Bobby continued throughout the performance and even Kennedy took the lead spotlight with his own 'KK Boogie'. This was superlative southern style rock 'n' roll performed by true seasoned professionals. Many of Sonny's classic Sun Record sides surfaced throughout this show such as 'The Prisoner's Song', 'Ain't Got A Thing', 'Restless', Fanny Brown' and 'We Wanna Boogie'. Mixed in with these were Crafford taking the lead on 'Wipe Out', playing the drums whilst blindfolded and not missing a beat, and covers of tunes such as 'The Chokin' Kind', 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy', 'Mathilda' and a somewhat unnecessary 'Don't Be Cruel'. The excitement built to a frenzy with a medley of 'Red Headed Woman' and Tear it Up' as the musicians pounded out the beat, complete with Wayne Hopkins on upright bass dropping to the stage floor still plucking those strings and Clive Osbourne providing that required muted trumpet sound. It was great to see, and hear. 'Sadie's Back In Town' included in the set which was over seemingly all too briefly (but the guys had been on stage for around an hour) with 'That's Alright Mama'.
Many attendees had been talking about the next act, The Blue Cats, who had reformed after a gap of fifteen years with the original Tunnel line-up of Clint Bradley, Carlo and Stef. Edwards and Paul Diffin and were anticipating great things. These guys showed no ring rust whatsoever as they launched into 'Casting My Spell', 'All I Could Do Was Cry and 'Galluping Man (a tribute to Blue Caps guitarist Cliff Gallup). From the start, they carried the audience along with them and it seemed like the rockabilly revival of the eighties all over again. They are a group of professional musicians with their own identity and sound and featured many of their original songs such as 'Fight Back' from 198, the obvious choice of 'The Tunnel' and 'Wild Night. The last mentioned bought out the 'dancers' for their own Rumble Rock in which they sought to seemingly knock five bells out of each other in a mock fight scenario. Apart from paying tribute to Gene Vincent with 'I Flipped', the Blue Cats also credited the influence of the late Johnny Kidd with a great version of 'Restless'. The guys closed to rapturous applause with 'Everybody Needs Somebody' and the Phantom's 'Love Me'. My guess is that we shall see this band at another weekender before not too long as they certainly have maintained and enhanced their popularity. Final act for the night was the rockin' show band Carlos & the Bandidos.
Sunday, 18th May 2008 (the rockin' finale).
Sunday morning saw the customary boot fair and my visit resulted in a thinner wallet (more investment for our children's future) whilst the afternoon saw the third second rockin' boat cruise on the nearby Norfolk Broads. Again a fun event organised by Andy Molyneux and Liz Holt. Leaving the camp on a couple of coaches, the 100 trippers joined the boat for a two hour cruise after a short journey through quiet Norfolk villages and countryside. Welcomed on board by promoter Willie Jeffery in best Captain Pugwash style, we set off with records being played by DJ Wild Cat Pete whilst live music was provided by The Lonesome Valley Boys. Several of the headliners joined in with a few numbers to pay for their passage (but no Americans as they were on route back to the USA). The weather was fine and the boat came complete with a bar.
Back at the camp, Kav Kavanagh had held another jive lesson (the guy must be worth a small fortune) whilst in the Trafalgar Room, there was a jam session with Blue De-Ville followed by the French act Hot Chickens that featured Southend-on-Sea's own Steve Hooker as added attraction. The third act of the afternoon session was the much talked about Elvis & The Blue Moon Boys, although this outfit hail from England.
The final evening for this Hemsby commenced with a jive contest hosted by Kav Kavanagh (yes, it was that man again) and this was followed by UK act The Red River Wranglers. Again an act without a drummer in the four man line-up, this was a mixture of western swing meeting rockabilly with bluegrass overtones. They performed enthusiastically but do need to work on their presentation. The sound was okay on 'Purr Kitty Purr', 'The Way You're Treating Me', 'Bawlin' Baby' and 'Cherokee Boogie' with 'The Mailman' being particularly good.
The headliner for this night was that good ol' Essex boy Levi Dexter who has resided in San Diego, California since 1978 and who was making his first Hemsby appearance. In the late seventies and early eighties, Levi and The Rockats were second only to The Stray Cats in the rockabilly revival in the USA. Backed up by The Cat House Creepers for this performance, Levi came on and gave it his all and then more. There is no doubt that he is an excellent showman as well as being a good vocalist, all in his own unique style. As to be expected, his act consisted of a number of originals such as 'Loaded Missile' and 'Victim of Cool' and covers like 'Oakie Boogie' and 'Sixteen Chicks' but performed his way. There was no let up whatsoever from Levi who I guess must now be in his late forties. He shamed many a younger act with his energetic but controlled show. He too paid tribute to Johnny Kidd with a sparkling 'Shakin' All Over' and Gene Vincent in the form of 'Bluejean Baby' whilst Little Richard's 'Rip It Up' was certainly different. He closed out his set with energetic, loud and raw versions of 'Please Give Me Something' and 'Tear It Up'. The audience clearly wanted more but I suspect that such had been the high energy expenditure of this show, Levi was knackered.
Close out act for this Hemsby were The Rhumba Kings from Belgium. Now with a name like that, one could reasonably have expected an R&B outfit or possibly a jump jive band with Latin overtones. Wrong, this was an excruciatingly loud thrashabilly group. Another high energy performance that is for sure but musically I was not so confident.
Well, that was another Hemsby concluded, certainly good from an enjoyment perspective. We have number 41 to look forward to between 10th and 13th October 2008 at the Seacroft Holiday Site. Headliners include Sid and Billy King, Alton Lott (half of Sun recording act Alton & Jimmy) making his first European visit and who can rock like there is no tomorrow, Dave Phillips & The Hot Rod Gang, Mike Sanchez, The Go-Getters and The Barnstompers. See's you there....
(c) Tony Wilkinson,
All photos ŠTony Wilkinson