Rockabilly Hall of FameŽ Archives
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24, November, 1997 -
ROCKABILLY RAVE - PONTIN'S, CAMBER SANDS, UK 14-15 NOVEMBER 1997
At last, Friday 14 November rolled around and the much-anticipated 2nd Rockabilly Rave had arrived. The afternoon had been a whirl of sneaking out of work, frenzied packing, 'Oh no, turn back, I forgot all my clothes' etc. And at 9pm on a bleak, rainy sandmarsh on the English south coast our crammed hatchback (hey, I wish it was a caddy too, but it's a company car) screeched to a halt and disgorged us into two days of death by fun. I walked into the hall just as Norfolk DJ Skinny Jim was spinning his last tracks. Ubiquitous emcee Kav Kavanagh (the Bobby Crush of Rockabilly) introduced up-and coming UK band the Blue Star Boys. I hadn't seen them before and was very impressed by their crisp acoustic sound and judicious choice of material, staying away from the usual suspects. Mac Curtis' "Half Hearted Love" and Art Adam's "Dancing Doll" were exceptionally well-rendered and the BSBs benefited from the consistently sympathetic skills of the sound engineers. Perhaps the real show-stopper was a haunting version of Blue Moon, pitched somewhere between the big E and Vic Damone. "Hey Honey", the Wiley Barkdull classic, pleased the swelling crowd more than enough to ensure an encore of "Cool Off Baby" and "If You Don't Know". The Blue Star Boys proved to be a potent curtain-raiser for the weekender, and several people that I talked to afterwards rated them as the highlight of the event.
As Jerry Chatabox took to the decks, I checked out the ballroom. This had been moved from the Martello Hall used last year to a much larger room. This was up a staircase that proved to be a tough obstacle course for more than one drunkard. It was worth the extra walk, though, as the layout was a great improvement. A higher stage gave better visibility and the glass partitioned bar on the left side of the hall meant that one could keep ordering falling-over juice without missing a note of the bands. Next came the Infernos, the surprise hit of last years Rave. It was the third time that I had seen them and they seem to go from strength to strength. Ripping through "Having a Whole Lotta Fun", "Give Me Some Love" and a Carl Perkins' styled "Caldonia" got the felines hot and ready for their smash stroller "Fool", which has provided Goofin' records with a dancehall hit this year. More hectic covers followed, notably a breakneck "Mr Ducktails" and a raucous "Dixie Fried", until a stomping performance of "Local Boy" (the flip to "Fool") raised the roof.
The venue was by now heaving with people (attendance had more than doubled from the first Rave) and freestyle partying had commenced. Organiser Jerry Chatabox (the Grizzly Adams of Rockabilly) once again presided over the vinyl, filling the floor with boppers such as "A V8 Boogie" and Slim Dortsch's "Big Boy Rock". It was an exuberant crowd, therefore, that welcomed Johnny Bach & the Moonshine Boozers to the stage. The combination of the Rimshots' John Lewis' sparkling vocals and the Enforcers' hearthrob Darrel Higham on guitar proved particularly popular with the female half of the audience for some reason. Bass player for the occasion, Graham from Demented Are Go (alias Captain Drugbuster, the Dr Nick of Rockabilly), bravely battled inebriation to provide powerful slapping rhythm. Much of the material was familiar from their Crazy Gator 10 inch "Feelin' No Pain" and provided the ultimate accompaniment to an evening's lunatic drinking. "Folsom Prison Blues" and the Vince Taylor classic "Brand New Cadillac" were very eagerly received, and "Train Kept-a Rollin'" took my breath away. Drummer Ricky Brawn, (human beat-box and boyfriend of the Queen Bees' Helen Shadow) did that bizarre huffing and puffing that gives the Moonshine Boozers such a unique, infectious sound. The played a bloody marvellous set and topped it with an explosive performance of last year's record hop smash, "The Mill".
We were left feeling drained but happy as Dave Crozier, the man they call the Mephistopheles of Rockabilly, took control of the DJ booth. The all-Rockabilly policy seemed to be less rigorously enforced by most of the DJs this time, with many playing a more conventional mix of R&B and straight Rock'n'Roll with the slap bass boppers. Dave Crozier and Cosmic Keith deserve a special mention in despatches for steadfastly maintaining a Rockabilly-exclusive stance. Far from being restrictive, it enabled them to play the most exciting and interesting selections. It was about this time that I stopped drinking the disgusting draught beer (PLEASE do something about this, Pontins!), having discovered that they were selling double vodkas for just 1.75. In retrospect, this may have been an unwise move. My notes, already spidery due to darkness and the awkwardness of balancing a drink under my notepad, become illegible at about 3am. I'm afraid that I can't tell you very much about Jock Mc Rock, although I remember that it contained Graham and several other members from the previous band. I can just make out the words "bludd goood" and "greayt"in my notepad, so it appears that I did enjoy them. The return of "Diabolo" Crozier and a few bops restored my equilibrium a little but the combination of 23 hours without sleep, plus drinking on an empty stomach and emptier head finally took it's toll. At 5am I made the short stagger back to the chalet, snuggled up next to Kikka, who had given up an hour or so earlier, and fell into sweet oblivion.
Two o'clock the next day. Late brunch of cholesterol on a plate, Alka Seltzer, Ibruprofen, paracetamol. A quick shower and it was time to go shopping. The stalls were located in last years' dancehall. Shoppers were well supplied with a wide selection of record and clothes stalls; there was even a rocking barber! There were many great new albums released to coincide with the Rave: bargain of the day was a promotional offer of Jack Baymoore and the Bandits' debut 10 incher on Tail Records, a snip at just 5 pounds from reception. Tail had sponsored the weekend, and the stage boasted a handsome backdrop extolling the virtues of Tail's "Real 50s music". A couple of hours later, with a heavy bag of vinyl and gaberdine and a much lighter chequebook, I caught Cosmic Keith's hot range of obscure rockers and waited for the special bonus surprise guest band. Sonny George had been spotted at the Sounds That Swing stall earlier in the afternoon, and I had assumed that he would be the bonus act. It was a surprise, then, to see Darrel Higham and the Enforcers take the stage. It was a pleasant surprise though, as Darrel (the wildcat Fabian of Rockabilly) plays a mean geetar and has a wonderful voice. The Enforcers romped through a enjoyable thirty minute set of numbers such as "Sugar Sweet", "Jelly Bean" and "I Wonder If You Wonder", which had proved such a highlight of their first record.
Also outstanding was "Tennessee Gallup", a skilful pastiche of Blue Cap Cliff's stunning fretwork. As suspected, at the end of their set they added a steel guitar and Brian Neville on drums to transform into the Tennessee Sons. Sonny George stepped up to the mike and the air buzzed with anticipation. The steel gave the rockers a swinging spin, shown to great effect on "Hillbilly Train". They attacked several songs from the forthcoming LP with gusto, Sonny even busting a string on his acoustic. "Mama Don't Allow (No Hillbilly Fever)" showcased the combo's considerable talent, with each member taking a solo. A fabulous show from the weekend's only US act, my only complaint is that it was too short. Only a short session from the Cosmic one before Belgian outfit Running Wild came on stage. These boys sure looked good, the raven haired vocalist drew admiring looks from the ladies, although with his cowhide effect guitar and matching shirt I had the unsettling impression that they may have been sponsored by Gateway 2000. The guitarist seemed to have God syndrome, in that he looked rather like Eric Clapton in his designer suit and neatly trimmed beard. He played scintillating Rockabilly licks throughout and it is to his credit that this audience (well-known for it's tendency to listen with their eyes) took him to their hearts. "I'm So Lonesome Baby", the Kenny Smith stomper, was given a deep, dark and atmospheric treatment here. "Rocking The Blues" and Johnny Horton's "One Woman Man" were very nice, thank you, but it was the hurtling sexual energy of "Loretta", complete with orgasmic groans, that most impressed me. Running Wild played as a drumless trio but added Ricky Brawn (the Bobby McFerrin of Rockabilly) to chomp the lip-mic for "I Got the Rage Inside". Our Slowhand lookalike took the drumkit for "Right Now", "Catalina Push" and went back to chops for "Juke Joint Johnny", a strong finish that encouraged them back for a frantic nuclear strike at Johnny Carroll's "Crazy Crazy Lovin'".
Tom Ingram had been billed as the next DJ but had been unable to make it from California, so Jerry and Skinny Jim filled in his two spots on either side of the next band, Sweden's Eddie & The Flatheads. From a lively opening of "Have Mercy Miss Percy", Willie Svensson had the excited crowd in the palm of his hand. A playful version of "Bottle to the Baby" next, followed by a fine "Bop Bop at the Record Hop" and popular self-penned number "Spacecraft". As they reached Lloyd McCollough's "Gonna Love My Baby Now" it all proved too much for one fan, who clambered onto stage, flung his clothes to the audience and bopped in all his naked glory. The excellent, low-key Showtime security were booed as they retrieved the streakers trousers and led him away for 're-education'. The lads kept up the crowd-pleasing tempo with club favourites "Flathead Ford" and "Rock Bop". The Comets' "Hot Dog Buddy Buddy" worked very well and featured an impressive Frank Beecher impression. Willie Ward's "I'm A Madman" kept 'em baying for more, which the Flatheads provided with "Get Hot or Go Home" and a violent assault on Larry Donn's "Honey Bun". The encore saw Willie racing across the stage on every inch of his body in a manner reminiscent of his Wildfire namesake. A truly thrilling performance. The next nation to be represented on 'European night', as the promoters had styled it, was Germany. After the security had advised surprise attendee Rochee Sarno that the crowd probably didn't want to hear Madame Ruth's Parlour (at least not while he was that 'refreshed'), it was time for Ike & The Capers. They played a set consisting mostly of tracks from the splendid albums "Loud And Silent" and "I'm Not Shy To Do", including "What's The Show", "She's Gone" and the title tracks, all done with energy, enthusiasm and great skill. "Rocking Maybelle" and "Strange Kinda Feeling" completed the picture, and the Capers encored with an energetic writhe through "Hound Dog" which perfectly suited Ike's powerful voice.
The anticipation was mounting for the last act of the Weekend, Sweden's Jack Baymoore and the Bandits. Jack apparently used the first song, "My Baby", to resolve an awkward domestic situation. He brought an attractive and obviously unhappy young woman onto stage and sung directly to her. It didn't take long for her heart to melt, and they both disappeared to the wings during an extended guitar break for a (ahem) warm reconciliation. "Tag Along" and "Rock'n'Roll Riot" followed, along with several other goodies from the new Tail LP, which I can highly recommend. The Bandits create an accurate period sound. Even now, whenever they play "A V8 Boogie" or the very similar "Drunk Tank Boogie", I have to keep checking that there isn't a credit to Lou Millet. But they are far more than a mere tribute band and "A V8 Boogie", their benchmark debut recording, garnered a massive crowd reaction tonight; especially with it's lyrics customised to celebrate the 2nd Rockabilly Rave. The spectacular guitar licks of Jyrki Juvonen and Antti Pihkanen are never less than stunning, and Antti's brother Tage on drums doesn't let up the pace for a second. Bassist Uno Eiving, in common with all other bands at the Rave played a thunking good doghouse bass; not a single electric bass was to seen all weekend. Jack Baymoore & the Bandits encored with "Life Begins at 4 o'Clock" and "Baby Sue". We had now seen the last of nine bands and every single one of them was fabulous. Jerry has performed a major feat in laying on a weekender with such consistently top-notch entertainment.
At 2.00am, the night was still young and the rest of it belonged to the DJs. At first the majority of records were definitely Rockabilly, but as the morning went on this standard started to slip. Dutchman Jerome played a lengthy set of jivers and strollers which, while excellent in themselves, hardly qualified as Rockabilly. This resulted in his being subjected to Jan Svensson (Wildfire Willie, HiWinders) expressing his dissatisfaction in a full and forthright manner. There was no need to worry, however, as Brighton's finest once again stepped up to the wheels of steel. Dave Crozier, with his black vestments, goatee beard and shaved head, looks the very personification of satanic evil. He poisons the minds of our impressionable youth with relentless primitive rhythms that only serve to encourage the most vile of impulses. Sounds to me as though the man deserves a medal for meritorious conduct. The seven am finish gave us the chance to snatch a few hours sleep before heading home. Many people made the journey to Brighton on Sunday night to see an exclusive gig by Wildfire Willie & the Ramblers. Sadly, work commitments prevented me from going but by all accounts it was a suitably wild finish to a perfect weekend.
In the Rockabilly Rave we have an almost perfect event that will surely continue to grow in size and reputation. It has been blamed for weakening attendances at October Hemsby's but this is unfair. It is short and cheap enough that most people can probably afford both. After only two Raves, it is apparent that this will become a permanent and popular fixture on the international rocking circuit. If it continues to improve at this pace, then next years show will be simply unmissable. We'll see you there. -Bill Smoker, London