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ROCKABILLY HALL OF FAME

REVIEWS

2/July/97 - 50th MY WAY JAMBOREE IN FINLAND
by Bill Smoker (BillSmoker@compuserve.com) - Weekenders seem to be breaking out all over the place these days. Hemsby, Lead East, We Wanna Boogie, the forthcoming Viva Las Vegas, and now the My Way Jamboree in Finland extends from an alldayer into a 3-day event to celebrate it's 50th gig (it has twice previously run over two days). Promoter Marko 'Hakki' Hakala of My Way records has been organising these jamborees every summer for the last ten years. From 19-21 June 1997, at Aitoo (near Tampere) deep in the heart of the Finnish forest, 1300 rocking folk gathered from all over Scandinavia and elsewhere to bop under the midnight sun. A strong international line-up of bands covered all styles of rocking music from stripped-bare rockabilly to "revival" rock'n'roll to madcap psychobilly. There were some disappointing cancellations in the weeks running up to the big day: first, Reverend Horton Heat delayed his European tour and then, with only days notice, The Roadkings and Jesse Dayton dropped out. The last minute replacements, Britain's Sureshots and ex-Planet Rocker Sonny George were inspired and popular choices. And so, with two US acts, seven from the UK, eight from Finland and one each from Denmark, Sweden and the Ukraine (yes, really!) the show started in style at 10pm, a little later than planned, on a bright Thursday night. We arrived, after a two-hour drive from Helsinki with Pete and Satu fromGoofin' Around records, while the first band took the stage.

The Barnshakers are one of Finland's top rocking acts. While this meant a strong start to the weekend, it also meant that their mix of enjoyable self-penned material and smartly arranged covers were played to a smallish crowd that was still arriving and saying their "hello"s. The mixed crowd started dancing by the second number, a cool rock-a-billy version of Killer Diller, and didn't stop until the end of the set. High points included material from their LP & 45s on Goofin' Records such as Wiggle Like a Worm, Hot & Spicy and Heart Trouble. With the melody driven by the virtuoso guitar work of Lester Peabody, it was no surprise that they got a loud reponse from the audience, who called them back to encore with (a slightly unseasonal!) Desperate Santa.

I ran into a boy from my hometown, Marc Fenech of Southern & Rocking magazine, who gave me a long swig of some fiery Ukrainian chili pepper vodka (his commission for booking the MadHeads to the weekend). This put me in just the right mood to see the next band; Sweden's Eddie & the Flatheads. The hall (perhaps better described as a barn with a bar attached) was filling up with arrivals now and Tail Records' finest were giving them HELLFIRE! Stormin' their way through some well-chosen cover versions such as Bottle to the Baby, Knock Down Drag Out, and Rock Bop, they got a powerful reaction from the punters. Ater a hot version of Spaceman, singer Eddie shouted "We're REALLY gonna rock ya now!" Let me tell you, he wasn't lying. Tearing into a frenetic version of Larry Donn's Honey Bun, The Flatheads packed the dancefloor with fast moving, happy feet. A Link Wray instro or two, mixed with some of their own songs, kept the pace up. There was no way they were getting away without an encore, so they finished with Ronnie Speek's Get Hot Or Go Home and Clear Waters' Hillbilly Blues.

As the UKs Restless took to the stage, I found myself in the bar replacing vital lost fluids. From what I could see and hear, Restless turned in their usual slick neobilly set. They are regular visitors to Finland, and are perhaps becoming a little too familiar. After two hot rock-a-billy bands, the crowd seemed too tired to work up their previous enthusiasm (many had done a full days' work before setting of for Aitoo). Still, what do I know? I will let my final notes for the day speak for themselves. "3am and the sumn alreadup & kthints tiym fur drunkme bed."

Friday dawns and my hangover wakes me up. A chance to do some tourist -type stuff around Tampere, then off to Honkala (the venue) in time to catch Husky and the Sandmen. They were the first band to play in the second, larger hall. If the other hall was a barn with a bar attached, then this was a barn. Period. You could almost smell the manure. But with the addition of a good lighting rig and a reasonable sound system it was the perfect place to see a band. Husky and the Sandmen are a Finnish surf / instrumental band who record for Gas records. Opening with Surf Rider, they had a beautiful, gooseflesh-inducing sound that was just right for summer-time. Other covers included Miserlou (yeah, I know all surf bands do it but it sounded great) and Surfin' Mosquito. The latter was very suitable as the forest insect life were doing their best to make my life an itching hell! Most of the set consisted of self-penned numbers from their CD, eg, Stargate, Batcave and an intriguing re-working of Suki Yaki. They certainly deserved the loud cheering that they received for their blistering performance.

Next up, back in the smaller hall, were Gazoobil, a Finnish neo band. I caught the first couple of numbers but, while competent and obviously popular with the local crowd, their more modern sound was not to my taste, so I took the opportunity to check out some of the site's facilities. These were basic to say the least. Whilst there is an area provided, free of charge, for camping, there are no washing or shower facilities nor electrical outputs. Kinda cool if you like it real rustic but I would recommend that the more urbane cat should do what I did and get accomodation in the nearby town.

Just time to gulp down a beer, which was cheap for Finland but a little pricey for anywhere else (damn that taxman!). It's best to take a bottle of your own hooch, but don't let the security see you! Then off to see another Helsinki-based band, the Silver Bullets. They opened with Ray Smith's Break Up and continued with some well-chosen straight Rock'n'Roll covers. Songs such as Cast Iron Arm, I'm on Fire and Wild Little Willie got the Finnish Teds stompin' up a storm. Especially popular were their versions of Sea of Heartbreak and Sweet Sweet Girl from their Goofin' 45. Kekka has a good potent voice, without the strong accent that can sometimes mar a European bands' performance. It was good to see that they had added sax and piano since I last saw them, filling the sound out. Ending strongly on Justine, they encored with a smart take on the Doctor Ross Sun track Boogie Disease. The fans wanted more but as the schedule was already running late there was sadly no time.

So it was back to the smaller hall to see Mark Harman's spin-off from Restless, the Harmany Brothers. Presenting a fun, hillbilly-hick image with dungarees, straw hats and (for some reason) masks a la the Phantom, they have a similar instrumental set up to the Stray Cats. The sound, however, is a more vintage, strong Rock-a-billy thang. Mainly playing classic RAB numbers by Elvis, Johnny Burnette, Dale Hawkins, etc, they were hugely entertaining as they worked hard to keep the crowd bopping. I particularly enjoyed the version of Rock Therapy. I certainly hope to see them again soon.

As mentioned earlier, Jesse Dayton had cancelled, and the replacement act, the Sureshots, were on next. Unfortunately Joe, the British band's usual guitarist, couldn't make it at such short notice so Rob from the Rimshots stood in. Due to late running, the band started before the Harmany Brothers had finished in the other hall, so the venue was sparsely populated as they tore into Snaggle Tooth Ann. By the time they got to Eddie Daniel's Huh Babe, however, the place was packed with happy, dancing folk. It is notable that a large proportion of the audience danced to every one of the bands (sadly not something that we see much in blase, buttoned-up London), although it is also notable that not many of them danced very well. Who cares: as long as they dig it, that's all that matters. Also, there were no DJs and scarcely audible CDs/tapes between the bands. I would have liked to have heard some records, but maybe I am in the minority.

The Sureshots were largely limited to covering classic material due to lack of rehearsal with the stand-in guitarist, rather than playing their original songs. Happily this didn't detract from the show one bit, and the driving vocals ensured that the band kept a good tight sound. All I Can Do is Cry, Glad All Over and I'm So Lonesome sounded fantastic. Doing a wild sprint through the Ivan's Real Wild Child (aka the killer's Wild One) for an encore, they ended early so that Joe could have a quick breather, because his regular band the Rimshots were on next.

Dressed smartly in matching western suits, the Rimshots mixed their own songs with classic Sun numbers amongst others such as Flip Flop Mama and Vincent's Pretty Baby. John Lewis' fabulous voice, a blend of Narvel Felts, Charlie Feathers and Ray Harris intermingled with his own Celtic drawl, perfectly matched old favourites such as Whole Lotta Shakin' and Big River. But it was the band's own tracks that pleased most of all, and after a rousing outing for their new 45, Planet Bop, the Finns raised the rafters until the 'shots came back to give all their remaining strength to Boppin' High School Baby and Woodpecker Rock. It may be that Johnny Bach & The Moonshine Booozers (John's other band) are getting all the interest these days, but that is no reason to write off this wonderful combo.

They sure present the acts back-to-back here at Aitoo. There was hardly time to catch breath before rushing to the big barn to catch Hightone Records star Rosie Flores. This chanteuse from Austin, Texas is a leading light in the "new traditionalist" area of country music, but she sure sounds like good ol' rockin' stuff to me. Backing was provided by top Finnish band Rave On (renamed the Whiskey Boys for the evening) and they rose to the task with aplomb, and I would have been hard pressed to guess that they had only had one rehearsal together. Pausing only to wish the audience "Hyvaa ilta!" (good evening in Finnish) Rosie and the band got cracking with Crazy Mixed Emotion. Next was Blues Keep Travelling which is on the Rockabilly Filly CD (with Janis Martin, who wrote the song aged 17). For some other Janis Martin numbers such Hard Times Ahead the sparkling Miss Flores was joined by beautiful Tia, Rave On's usual frontwoman. You Tear Me Up got the dancers tearing it up, and a nice version of Buck Owens' Hot Dog kept the pace going. I was a little distracted during Hot Dog by the Helsinki rocker club the Oilers having a good-natured gang wrestling match. Those crazy, mixed-up Ton-Up boys! All too soon it was time for the final numbers, Rosie's own Sun records tribute It Came From Memphis and a fun rendition of Janis' Drugstore Rock'n'Roll, complete with audience participation.

The Necromantix played and were followed by Crazy Cavan. There have been several great Welsh rockers, including the Rimshots, but Cavan Grogan is the man that Tom Jones aspires to be. Dressed in black leather and leopardskin, he is still the Wildest Cat in Town. From almost total darkness come the first chords of Teddy Boy Rock'n'Roll, the stage lights come on, and the the Teddy Boys come out to play. Cavan and the boys have played in Finland countless times, and many of the fans (including me) may have seen them on a score or more occasions but the band's motto is, "You will ALWAYS have a great time at a Rhythm Rockers gig!" They might be going a little thin on top (guitarist Lyndon Needs' hair looks as though it should be tested for substance abuse) but they can still teach most bands half their age a thing or two about entertainment. All of the Cavan classics were present and correct, from the first LP, Crazy Rhythm (over 20 years old now) to the latest It's Wild, It's Weird, It's Crazy. Wildcat Scream, Sadie, Are You Still Crazy, Rockabilly Rules OK, the Teds lapped them all up in stomping style. At one point I was worried that the floor could give way. It was the full original band that played, including Mike Coffey, and featured Lyndon's infamous screaming, which is almost an institution (possibly where Mr Needs should be). And so it was that your reviewer ended the evening bopping his little heart out to Old Black Joe. To those of us who have grown up and grown old on their music, Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers will always be the greatest Rock'n'Roll band on the planet. It felt fantastic to walk out of the Bop Barn after this to see a huge full moon hang low in an already brightening sky. Beautiful music for a beautiful country.

On Saturday I had some things to attend to, and didn't get to Honkala until 8pm. This meant that I missed pschobilly bands Killers Crew and the MadHeads from Ukraine, and also (sadly) Rave On, who had done such a slendid job of backing Rosie Flores. Lapland neo outfit Nine Lives were just ending their show as we arrived. They had a Polecats-style stab at Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams, and gave a really enjoyable verion of the Stones' Paint It Black. With matching red and black outfits and a chequerboard-painted doghouse bass they had a good visual presentation. The next band, another Finnish bunch called the Stringbeans, were in a similar vein. Talented and slickly rehearsed they had a harder, more modern sound. I was keenly looking forward to the next band, Matchbox, who I hadn't seen live for almost 15 years. Like Crazy Cavan, they are venerable veterans of the British rocking scene, and it was good to see them in the original line-up with the skillful Steve Bloomfield on lead guitar. Steve even took the vocal on Hurricane and Promised Land. The old hits went over well with the large crowd, not only the older rockers but the sizeable contingent of teenagers, too. Mixed in with the hits were some of the classics they have recorded, like Tore Up (especially good) and I'm Coming Home. Of course, singer Graham Fenton, clad in black leather, did his polished Gene Vincent tribute, medleying several of the Blue Caps' rockers and ballads. But it was Matchbox biggest hits, Midnite Dynamos and Rockabilly Rebel, that really ripped the roof off. It was a moving moment, with everyone singing along, to know that the scene that these songs celebrated almost two decades ago is as strong as ever.

The Roadkings were billed next, but they had cancelled, so instead it was Sonny George, who had been recording in London. I was particularly pleased to be able to see him as I had missed two of his recent gigs in my hometown. Wearing his trademark stetson, Sonny was in good voice as he booted into Trouble Up The Road and Dixie Dog. On Link Wray's HillbillyWolf guitarist Boz Boorer (Polecats) showed his mettle, and his spectacular playing proved an excellent complement to Sonny's powerful vocal throughout the show. Boz himself took the mic for a rendition of his classic Rockabilly Guy, which the cats enthusiastically sang along to. Mainly singing material from his solo and Planet Rockers releases, Sonny George made a raucous finish to my weekend because, sad to tell, I missed the Meteors who were the final band of the event. I found myself in the bar catching up on the latest gossip with Boz and the Rimshots, and clean forgot to check out the kings of British Psycho. Oh well, my loss was the bar's gain, I suppose!

And so there you have it; my long-winded and opinionated view of a wild three-day rockin' bash in Finland's beautiful forest wilderness. It may not have the kudos of Denver, the pull of Hemsby or the lush accomodation and facilities of the Rockabilly Rave, but for sheer variety and quantity of today's hottest acts from around the world it is pretty hard to beat. If you can fit it in with a tour around some northern European clubs, a few days in Finland's stunning countryside with a bottle of vodka and a thousand mad-assed felines may be just what you need. There are 6 or 7 Jamborees every summer (mostly over just one evening) with this massive Jamboree every year. This was the the biggest one yet; Hakki is already planning for next year's to be even bigger. Who knows, maybe I'll see you there? --Bill Smoker, London