Rockabilly Hall of Fame® Archives
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The Bird's Nest Theatre, SE8 (1997) UK

By David Tayler

This was the second run of Race With The Devil at The Bird's Nest this year, and for me it can run forever. Only someone with a lifelong admiration for these rock 'n' roll heroes could get anywhere near the fun and flavour of this turn-of-the-Sixties pastiche.

Like most, I only saw Gene Vincent and/or Eddie Cochran either on TV's Oh Boy! or miming snippets from films like The Girl Can't Help It. Sadly, Vincent left us in spirit (if you know what I mean) and Cochran in body too in that car crash that opens this flashbacking, backtracking trip through the latter's last tour in April 1960.

Although this play depicts the tension, excitement and dangers of on-the-road rock 'n' roll it also illustrates the differing styles of these two talented stars - Cochran, the good-looking, mild-mannered singer-songwriter, Vincent the wild man with "the voice of an angel". And as we know with all great bands, from The Beatles to Spinal Tap, it takes a woman to mine the fallibility of the respective personalities; in this case the arrival from the States of Cochran's childhood sweetheart, Sharon Sheeley, to join the tour doesn't spoil any friendship between Gene and Eddie though it does tenuously lead to the fateful journey.

Meanwhile, impresario Jack Good learns that, because of his fondness for the bottle, Vincent's reliability and possibly his popularity is waning and that Cochran, with his blue-eyed, good-mannered, all-American respect for authority, is the favourite to follow and should head the forthcoming concert bill. But Cochran's adoration for and loyalty to his idol finds this hard to swallow.

Throughout the evening an album-full of the best of these rock giants are performed by Charles Early as Eddie and Charlie Maitland as Gene, who, with their fascinatingly accurate mimicry, I imagine could spend the rest of their lives as tributeers. Polly Sands is a warm Miss Sheeley (as well as a fine backing vocalist) and Jonathan Hansler as the shrewd Jack Good trebles as a hilarious railway guard and Saturday Clubís Brian Mathew. Musicians including Carlos Hagi, Francis Jack as a wonderfully witty Joe Brown ("What do you call someone who follows musicians? A drummer"), Paul Turner and Biba Lille-West (another backing girl) expertly differentiate the two rockmen's techniques.

Naturally, John Turner and John Collis who wrote and directed this masterpiece want it transferred to somewhere, shall we say, more lucrative than a pub theatre. Well, we have West Ended Elvis and Buddy, surely Gene and Eddie would complete the four Evangelists of rock 'n' roll? No, I didn't see them live when they (and I) were in our heyday, but I have now! I hope it isnít too late for you either.