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Tue, 20 May 97 - HEMBSY 18...THE FLAVOUR & THE MUSIC, Rod Pyke, UK WWW RAB HOF reporter.
It was Friday 9 May 1997, what were my wife and I doing in Hemsby, a sleepy English Village on the Norfolk coastline, 6 miles North of Great Yarmouth. We had come along with 3,000 other people to experience one of the world's largest and authentic Rock 'n Roll Weekenders, Hemsby 18. This event provided five days and nights of all that was best in Rock 'n Roll, Rockabilly and Doo Wop for its followers. The weather may not have been hot, but the music and the atmosphere were. The event, held twice annually, at Hemsby Holiday Centre attracts thousands of music fans from all corners of the world. People travelled from Japan, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and Europe, just to participate. It was wonderful to see so many people of different nationalities assembled together in one place to witness an extravaganza of musical talent and enjoy one long rocking party.
The Holiday Centre catered for everybody's needs, providing self catering chalets as accommodation for its guests. Some of these chalets could accommodate up to eight people. The Centre had a large Ballroom, with stage, where the main acts performed. There was also another very large area, the Norfolk Bar. This provided seating, a dance floor and had non stop music provided by the top DJ's around. The Norfolk also doubled as a cinema , where films such as, High School Confidential, Go Johnny Go and Mr Rock 'n Roll were screened. Other events to take place there were, a Pool Tournament, Horse & Dog Video racing, Jiving Lessons (British and American styles), Fancy Dress Competition and Miss Hemsby Contest. A smaller quieter bar was also provided, The Windmill Arms. Here people could sit, chat and recover from their exertions on the dance floor. An Arcade catered for the best of fifties fashions and bric-a-brac. The outdoor Marquee was an area for records, CD's and memorabilia to be purchased and Inside the Foyer, Hemsby merchandise and T-shirts were available.
The Holiday Centre also provided a large Restaurant, Take Away, Pizza Bar, Ice Cream Parlour, Supermarket, Sports facilities, Swimming Pool, Launderette, Photo Shop, Hire Shop, Boating Lake, Children's Area, First Aid, Club Room and Playroom. The local bus service from outside the Centre provided a service to Great Yarmouth, which is one of Britain's biggest and most popular holiday resorts, and other neighbouring areas. Many visitors had arrived in Classic and Custom Cars, Motorcycles and Hot Rods, these all helped to create a fifties feel. The vehicles, Buicks, Lincoln's, Cadilacs etc., were parked all around the Holiday Village and provided added interest to the event. They were all in pristine condition and were a great attraction for photographers and Classic Car enthusiasts.Fashion also played its part, and every night everybody was dressed in eye-catching regalia. The male attire ranged from Black Leather to Blue Denim, from authentic expensive 50's gear to T-shirts, with all manner of motif's. Teddy Boys were dressed in their drapes, velvet collars and suede shoes. Overall a wide selection of Rockers outfits. The females really did themselves proud with their dress sense. Hairstyles played a big part in their preparation with 50's styles figuring to a large extent. Blue jeans and pony tails were very popular and there seems to be a return to Hot Pants among many of the younger girls. There are no age barriers at Hemsby, from babes in arms to the elderly they all intermingled as one happy family with just one intention, enjoy themselves. Security at the centre was very tight. Everybody attending was issued with a pass with their photo. Access could only be made into the music area on production of this.
GETTING ON TO THE MUSIC SIDE OF HEMSBY: the entertainment started on most days at midday and went on non stop until 4am the next morning. What with the bars being open until 7am each morning, there was not a lot of time for sleeping for most folks. The main American acts were given the prime spots to perform, at 10pm and Midnight. This was when the Ballroom was at its fullest and the party was in full swing. Because of other commitments, my wife, Kathy and I were only able to attend on the Friday and Saturday. The Weekender, as it is called, actually runs from Wednesday until the last reveller leaves on Monday at 12 Noon. We were more fortunate than most as we stayed at a Hotel in Great Yarmouth where most of the Star acts were also staying. The Hotel basement had a rehearsal room which most of the bands took advantage of, so we were lucky enough to get a double helping of most of the acts, including Ronnie Dawson and Mickey Lee Lane.
Our first venture into the Ballroom came on Friday evening when we were treated to a first class performance by THE BE BOPS. This No. 1 Belgium Rockabilly band were making their debut at Hemsby after the success of their 45 'Gonna Find Me A Baby'. Other releases by them include 'Hot Weather Rock' (ROCKCD 9217) and 'Celebratin' (ROCKCD 9506). They were a new group to most people here in the UK, but after a couple of numbers they proved they were a very exciting band. The audience grew as the set went on, as word got around the complex that The Be Bops were getting the joint rocking. They kept a good beat going and were gaining friends among the audience with every number they did. The singer played guitar and had a unique voice, there was a lead guitarist, upright bass and drummer. The group had a feel of Bill Haley about them, but a with a faster rhythm and they generated much more energy. The two encores, and enthusiastic applause they received, will guarantee them many more bookings in Britain.
The next act due up were the Cam Wagner Combo. Whilst their equipment was being set up this gave the dancers a chance to take the floor and show their paces. Top DJ's filled the gaps between the groups and provide a wide choice of R & R and Rockabilly records for the dancers. The breaks also gave the chance for those empty glasses to be refilled. As 11pm approached the crowds began to return to the Ballroom and take up their vantage points and await Cam's arrival. Cam Wagner is Vancouver based and was the former lead singer and song writer with Jimmy Roy and the Five Star Hillbillies who appeared at Hemsby 11.He is best known in Britain for the song 'Midnight Ride' which was used as the title song for GLR (Greater London Radio). He also wrote no less than nine songs that appeared on the Roy Fury CD (FCD3029). Cam is a natural frontman and along with his new band was warmly welcomed by the Hemsby audience. His style of Rockabilly was very pleasant to the ear and showed off his great song writing talent. This set generated several encores before the band were finally allowed to leave the stage. It was now well after midnight and still another four hours of music for those who could last the pace. My wife and I were, unfortunately, not among these. The long day and the long drive from our home had taken its toll.
Back at the Hotel, Saturday at lunch time, we were lucky enough to catch Ronnie Dawson and his band rehearsing and he was followed by Mickey Lee Lane and the Rough Diamonds in the afternoon. The Five Keys had also arrived at the Hotel by now and came into the lounge in the afternoon. Five really nice, polite and friendly people, who had plenty of time for everybody. Mickey Lee Lane spent a lot of time going through his routine with his band and after rehearsal took up a corner of the lounge to have a final run through his routine with the band and an agency model who had been hired in especially for the act. After he had finished he came to apologise to everyone for taking up all the space, a nice gesture on his part.After an early evening meal it was time to head back to Hemsby. Tonight was the main night and it showed, everybody was dressed in their best attire. The first band we caught were Rocket Ronnie Hayward and his trio. Canadian, Ronnie Hayward had also been a member of the Jimmy Roy band. Ronnie plays slap bass and started his professional career at the age of 17 in 1984 with the Bopsters. He reckons he has played in over a hundred bands since. Another famous name to play with the Bopsters was Britt Haggerty who wrote the book about Gene Vincent, 'The Day The World Turned Blue'. Ronnie who is a half Cree Indian played some real raw Rockabilly. Along with Ronnie the rest of the trio were Pete Turland, Lead Guitar and Darwin Fisher on Rhythm Guitar. The three of them complemented each other well and played some superb retro rockabilly. The crowds in the foyer afterwards buying their latest CD 'Move Around' (E5015) and waiting to get it autographed confirmed their popularity.
The next act up was Mickey Lee lane backed by the Rough Diamonds. Mickey originates from Rochester, New York. He started his band The Skyrockers in 1956. In 1958 he moved to Brunswick records from Warner Brothers and recorded with Shonnie, their first release was Toasted Love/Daddies Little Baby. A tour followed around Boston and Massachusetts where Mickey played with Della Reese, Jimmy Clanton, Jo-Anne Campbell and The Kalin Twins. Up to now the sound system had been first class, but alas, as soon as Mickey began his first number he was plagued with problems. Twenty seconds into his debut number in the UK, he had to stop and start again, his microphone was not working and these problems continued throughout the whole of his act. This caused the audience to become restless, as there were lengthy delays between each song. Many people started to drift away. This was no reflection on Mickey as he was a very talented performer, a multi-instrumentalist and song writer. He played Guitar, Piano and Saxophone. He had put more thought and time into his act, than anybody, it was a pity that all this effort was not rewarded. When everything was working correctly he was a very competent performer, bringing a touch of humour into his act. He did renditions of all his famous numbers, The Zoo, Rock The Bop, Shaggy Dog and Senior Class, all released on Stateside in the early 60's. He also did Tutti Frutti, Blueberry Hill and The Fool. In his novelty numbers he was joined on stage by a pretty young girl, called Fanella, who danced around the stage carrying placards and throwing all sizes of beach balls into the audience, culminating with one really large one. I enjoyed Mickey as a singer and musician, but on reflection, his act may have been more suited to a night club. The Hemsby crowd demand more continuity from the artists.
DJ Mark Armstrong filled the next break and did a good job building up the atmosphere before the highlight of most peoples weekend, the appearance of Ronnie Dawson. As the clock ticked round to 11.45pm the Ballroom had become increasingly crowded. Everybody was vying for a good vantage point to see probably the finest Rock 'n Roll performer in the world today, The Blond Bomber, Ronnie Dawson. Ronnie's best known records are 'Action Packed' and 'Rockin' Bones' the latter penned by Don Carter, Dub Nallis and Jack Rhodes, who also wrote Gene Vincent's B-I-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo-Go. As the last record of Mark Armstrong's session came to an end, the lights dimmed and Ronnie's backing group, Kevin Smith (High Noon) on Bass, Liza Pankratz (Horton Brothers, Derailers - Texas finest) on drums and Charco (Tin Stars) on guitar, started pounding out a pulsating rocking beat. The spotlights lit up the stage and picked out each member of the band. But where was Ronnie?
Then a cheer rose from the back of the audience. In a flash the spotlight had switched to the back of the room, and there flanked by six security guards was Ronnie Dawson, his guitar held aloft. Slowly but surely he edged his way through the mass of bodies, everyone was trying to shake the hand of their idol. Finally they reached the stage and a loud cheer went up as Ronnie vaulted up to join the band. The show had began, and what a show. The best performance I had seen by an artist and a group for many years. Brilliant from beginning to end, a real professional act. He had won the Hemsby audience over from the moment he appeared on the stage. Every number was greeted with deafening applause as he went through a repertoire of new songs and everybody's favourites. People by now were standing on chairs, girls were on their partners shoulders and Ronnie was working his audience as only a true professional could. Every member of his group was introduced and received rapturous applause. Nobody wanted the night to end but, unfortunately, it had to. The audience kept cheering for more, and more they got. Encore, after encore. Ronnie and the band were enjoying themselves as much as the fans. Unknown to the audience, at the time, this was the last performance by Ronnie and the band. The tears were flowing freely between them as they embraced each other at the end of the performance. A pity to break up such a talented group of artists. They were perfection. The foyer became very congested afterwards as fans clamoured for autographed copies of Ronnie's finest recordings on No Hits Records, ROCKINITIS (LP NH004), JUST ROCKIN' & ROLLIN' (NH CD 019) and his latest release on 10" entitled ACTION PACKED on No Hits Records (RDL P2).
Back at the Hotel afterwards, the bar was a buzz of excitement with everybody enthusing on what had been witnessed. A party atmosphere was the best way to describe it. Everybody was arriving back, Mickey Lee Lane, The Five Keys, many band members, the event organisers, agents, journalists etc. Ronnie and his entourage returned at about 4.15am and were really pleased with the reception they had received at Hemsby.
Due to work commitments this was to be our last night at the Hotel and we finally got to bed at 4.45am. We heard in the morning that the party finally broke up at 5.30am. If there was a disappointment that weekend, it was not being able to stay and see Rudy West's Five Keys perform on Sunday night. To give an overall verdict on the weekend, I considered it a very well organised event with top class acts. Special praise must go to the organisers, Willie Jeffery, Vivien Brittan and the many other associated staff who worked long and hard to provide an event second to none. An occasion like this is only as good as the attendees make it, and everybody joined in the spirit of things to make it the success it was. I would personally like to thank Willie Jeffery for telling me about and inviting my wife and I to Hemsby. We are already looking forward to Hemsby 19. This will take place from Weds 8th to Mon 13th October 1997. Why not come along and join the party? -Rod Pyke