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ROCKABILLY HALL OF FAME

REVIEWS


54th My Way - Rock'n Roll Jamboree
at Honkala, Aitoo, Finland 12-13 June 1998

by Bill Smoker, London - published July 1, 1998

Although it is run on a smaller scale than better known events such as Hemsby, My Way records has just hosted its 54th successful jamboree in the forests of Finland. This event showcased 14 bands from 6 countries over 2 days in two rustic but serviceable halls.

Friday 12 June started at 9pm with GAZOO BIL. This Finnish band is a fine psychobilly outfit who play loud, fast and with great spirit, but maintaining a rocking tune at the same time. I didn't get to concentrate much as I had just arrived and was saying my hellos, but their mostly self-penned songs were driven along by a talented guitarist and they put me in mind of early Meteors. A run through Hava Nagila was the highlight for me; dark and viscious. It has been a few years since I listened to much psychobilly but Mental Hospital made me feel that I might be missing out on something.

Over in the smaller upper hall, a band that revels in the name (deep breath) RAUTAKITARALANKAYHTYE HURMIO were just starting up. These boys from Pori, Finland, whose gigantic name means something like "iron string guitar band" turned out to be a slick combo playing in the style of Finland's first rock'n'roll flowering of the early sixties; sort of Ventures/Shadows sound. Dressed in period-perfect black Italian cut suits and slim jim ties, they looked as well as sounded like a band that Joe Meek could have had a field day with.. Early 50s Finnish pop songs were given a surf reworking and instros like the Shadows Apache were given Finnish lyrics. If Aki Kaurismaki were to remake Pulp Fiction, he would use these guys for the soundtrack. Chris Isaaks Blue Hotel, again in Finnish, was outstanding and they also did a few songs (e.g., Move It, Mexicali Baby) in English. RKLY Hurmio's sound probably wouldn't travel far outside Finland which is a pity. I thought they were great! I was less impressed by American band the QUAKES. They have an early 80s neobilly sound, Stray Cats with a strong punk streak (although I hate to compare anyone to such a cliché). Opening song Lonely Boy and a Polecats-style stab at the Stones' Paint It Black were enjoyable enough but much of their set I found lacklustre. As somebody said to me: why are they in such a hurry?

Russia's Mean Traitors took to the stage in the other hall. Sporting an electric bass rather than the traditional upright, and the guitarist singing in English, they played frantic hardcore psychobilly that had the faithful moshing like there was no tomorrow. Not my cup of tea though, so it was time for your reviewer to hit the horrifically expensive bar. Popular British band RED HOT AND BLUE didn't take long to put some life into the crowd. By their third song, a Bo Diddley Medley, the shack was really shaking. Singer Mouse worked the crowd like a trouper, showering them with beer and exhorting them to dance. Their blues-heavy rockabilly bop was infectious as they drove through the Pirates Casting My Spell, and Eddie Fontaine's One and Only proved to be a great motivator. For Bobby Roberts' classic Big Sandy, Mouse encouraged the audience up onto the stage to dance, much to the chagrin of the sound engineers, who still remembered the bill for damage the last time that they had played Aitoo. In true teddy boy tradition the stage was filled with happy stomping people. Hi Fi Baby and Move Baby Move, energized by the thrilling guitar of Mark Harman (Restless) did nothing to calm the mob. So when the Londoners played the club hit single Jumpin' Around folks didn't need asking twice to clamber onstage again. Mouse managed to shepherd this security nightmare back to the dance floor before giving us arguably the most influential rockabilly song of the last decade, Sure Like the Look In Your Eyes. Of course we couldn't let them go without an encore, and so we had a reprise of Jumpin' Around, the band surrounded by the best of Finnish womanhood bopping like crazy. A fabulous show.

Last act of the Friday night was American outfit the ATOMICS. I had to catch a lift before I had heard much of their modern, rocked-up sound but knew that I could see them again on Saturday evening. At Aitoo, the accommodation is very much "bring your own". A camping area is provided, but this is far too rustic for me, so I booked into the motel 10km away where the bands were staying. I may have missed some good parties, but at least I got a good night sleep.

Saturday 13 June. The gates didn't open until 5 p.m., and most of the campers seemed to have spent the day curing their hangovers by drinking up a fresh one. They were still doing this when Finnish band NASHVILLE BUM (great name, huh?) started proceedings at 6pm. This talented 3 piece played mostly cover versions with a tight, well rehearsed flair. I'm a King Bee and Georgia Slop, mixed with standards like Hip Shaking Mama and Do Me No Wrong, had a bluesy Rockabilly/Rock'n Roll sound reminiscent of Jack and the Rippers or recent Playboys recordings. There was some problem with guitar tuning under the hot lights, and the crop haired guitarist had a slight Scandinavian accent on his vocals at times, but a powerful slap bass and confidence from all of them pulled them through to a warm reception from the growing audience.

Fellow Finns the RAT CATS boasted a similar line up, with heavier slap bass. They played a wide variety of rocking styles, straight Rock'n Roll with backing vocals from drummer and bass player, pounding Rockabilly, even a dash of psycho at times. I Got Rhythm and Cliff's We Say Yeah were highlights for me, but they showed themselves to be solid, all round rocking entertainment.

Now came a second chance to catch Virginians the ATOMICS. I wasn't too fond of their brash neo-rocking sound. Their choice of cover versions such as Bolan's Ride a White Swan and Ant Music should have been great but failed to live up to their potential. Gene Vincent material such as Well I Knocked (Bim Bam) was more successful, but I found myself at the bar topping up my alcohol level. Drinking was supposedly not allowed in the dancing areas (although this didn't stop people bringing in bottles, apparently with impunity) so beer at typically horrific Scandinavian prices had to be sampled out of sight from the bands.

I managed to drag myself away to catch the SLIPPERS. This group was very big on the Finnish rocking scene in the early 80's, and the revival period sound was intact. The drummer took care of vocals with a powerful voice, leaving virtuoso guitarist Tokela free to concentrate on his sparkling runs and fills. Many of the songs they covered were perhaps over familiar, for example, Baby Let's Play House or Lonesome Train, but the foursome transcended the 'ho hum another Rockabilly band' factor by being a splendid solid rocking combo. The reunion went over a storm with the Finns who remembered them from the first time around.

To the larger hall, well, barn for JOHN WHITELEATHER and the KING RATS. Opening with Lonely Fool, familiar from it's release on Finnish label Goofin', they romped through a short set of redneck roadhouse stompers like Tequila Hangover and Go Rat Go before standing back to let Austin legend RAY CAMPI into the spotlight.

Ray has traveled to Finland many times over the last 20 years and remains one of the most popular rocking acts there, as elsewhere in Europe. Stepping straight into Rockabilly Man and Hollywood Cats, Campi never let up the pace of his all-conquering slap bass for a moment. Well chosen covers of material by likes of Werley Fairburn, Glen Glenn and Johnny Horton mingled with Rollin Rock-era classics such as How Low Do You Feel and Tore Up. At 64 years of age, Ray Campi rocks more than most performers a third of his age. Rockin' at the Ritz saw him clambering over his bass and singing up a storm. We roared our appreciation, and Ray returned to give us his 50's waxing Caterpillar. A quick verse of Finlandia is Grandia and the Texan was gone. He had to call a stop at some point: we would have been quite happy to hear him play all night long. Ray Campi is a star of dazzling brilliance, and the King Rats proved to be the perfect backdrop for his skill.

The bands play back to back at Aitoo with no DJs to cushion the timetable. An overrun in the large hall, plus a mob of people clamoring for Ray Campi's autograph, meant that Switzerland's HOT STUFF opened their show to a tiny audience. However, word soon spread about Simon Walty's haunting voice and it wasn't long before the place was jammed with felines dancing to Walty compositions such as Wild Nights at the Junction and Little Darlin'. The slower-paced Stella gave me goosebumps. Classics like Domino, Lovers Rock and Flying Saucers Rock'n Roll made up the bulk of their set. Splendid stuff, but having written so many great songs themselves it seems pointless for Hot Stuff to play so many cover versions, even if they are done this well. Special mention should go to bassist Max Dolder who played on heroically despite a broken left hand. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Hot Stuff are destined for greatness.

Over to the big barn to catch Hightone Records star ROSIE FLORES. Hailing (like Campi) from Austin, Texas this was Miss Flores second appearance at Aitoo in as many years. Backing was provided once again by top Finnish band Rave On who showed that their fabulous work last year was not a one off. Rosie and the band got cracking with Crazy Mixed Emotion. Next was Blues Keep Traveling which is on the Rockabilly Filly CD (with Janis Martin, with whom Rosie is playing in Seattle on August 1). For some other Janis Martin numbers such Party Time, Flores was joined by Tia, Rave On's gorgeous vocalist. You Tear Me Up proved particularly popular with the audience. Rosie also showcased several songs from her forthcoming album on Rounder label, including the title track Dancehall Dreams and I'm Ready To Fall in Love, a country stroller that could put some pep into a line-dancing class. There is no doubt about it, Rosie Flores is a classy act.

RUNNING WILD from Belgium had added a drummer to their ranks since playing at the Rockabilly Rave in November, filling out their already meaty sound. Handsome vocalist Patrick leapt from the stage for a vigorous bop during Rocking the Blues, kick-starting more dancing throughout the hall. A mix of well performed favourites such as One Woman Man and a frenetic Crazy Crazy Loving rubbed along the bands own compositions e.g., the flamenco-flavoured Please Mr. Ghost and Low Down Blues. They call Pat the Shaky Boy for good reason; he wriggles as though he has a bomb factory in his underwear! This feature of the show drew enormous interest from some the ladies present. His rendition of Loretta sailed close to obscenity, raising screams from the girls and wry smiles from the lads. Excellent though their album on El Toro may be, you have got to see them live to appreciate Running Wild's full impact. Boundless energy and a huge sense of fun, allied to wonderful musicianship, make their shows hugely enjoyable.

The final band of the weekend was the PALADINS. This popular American band has seen some lineup changes recently, and their powerful vocals and confident guitar work now have a stronger blues tint. Rockabilly is still present, as evidenced by the opener, Jack Earls' Slow Down. I found Right Now especially refreshing,. Going Down The Big Way was spectacular, the guitar break may have gone on for almost 5 minutes but it was a lulu, gorgeous pyrotechnics from the hollowbody.

I can't tell you much more as my notes become illegible at this point. This was a weekender, after all, and idiotic alcohol consumption is an essential part of any weekender. The Finns certainly know how to enter into the, er, spirit of this; unconscious drunks littered the place by the end of the night.

The Aitoo jamborees are relaxed, fun events little known outside scandinavia. This seems a shame because although the amenities are extremely basic, it is an excellent opportunity to see a wide range of rocking bands over two days for around $4 a band. And you can't say fairer than that...

Details of forthcoming events are available from My Way records, Varisenkuja 7, 28300 Pori, Finland.