DALE THE ROCKIN’ TORNADO
24th ANNUAL ROCKERS REUNION
Rivermead Leisure Complex, Reading, England
Saturday, 20th January 2007
Vince Eager & Rockola
Lucas and The Dynamos
Crazy Cavan & The Rhythm Rockers
As we get into the year of 2007, it was time to head off again to the annual Rockers Reunion again held at the Rivermead Leisure Complex, an easily accessible and spacious complex located on west side of Redding. As is now normal for this event, there was a large audience to watch and dance to the rockin’ music, purchase clothes, records and, for this year, books from the extensive Music Mentor catalogue. I love this event as there is always a good buzz as people are there to shake off those post Christmas blues, meet and greet old friends, eat, drink and enjoy themselves against the backdrop of rock ‘n’ roll music.
As a consequence of catching the tail end of a bad accident on the motorway, I unfortunately missed the opening two acts. However, checking around, the general consensus was The Sunsetters were a competent band whose set nicely set the mood for the night. Opinions on the performance from The Kingcats ranged from excellent through bloody marvelous to second best act of the evening. In view of the quality of the ensuing acts, I am sorry that I was not there to catch the set that comprised a mixture of originals such as ‘Kingcat Boogie’ to covers such as the Mac Curtis ditty ‘Grandaddy’s Rockin’.
That said, I was there up the front when Vince Eager And Rockola set up and launched into what proved to be a tasty performance. For those old enough to be in possession of or just about to obtain a bus pass, one will have fond memories of the Larry Parnes touring revues that criss-crossed the UK. They generally either opened or closed at the Odeon, Southend-on-Sea and I do not think that I missed any of them. I have fond memories of Billy Fury lying full length on the stage shagging the microphone stand or puffing away at a cigarette (that kept going out) whilst singing ‘Wondrous Place’. Then there was The Sheik Of Shake, Dickie Pride, who went into convulsions at a whim, an excellent showman. On one occasion, I recall Vince Eager appearing at the second house with a plaster cast on his leg. Apparently, he had got a little excited in the first show of the evening and had accidentally fallen into the orchestra pit. Such were the requirements of touring in those days, possibly down to demands of Mr. Pounds ‘n’ Pence Parnes, that after a quick visit to Southend General Hospital between houses, Vince was back on the stage.
Fast forward some odd forty five years and here was the same Vince Eager (not Vince Everett as the compere mistakenly announced - the latter has only played Europe once and that was a good rockin’ show a few years back in Munich, Germany) on stage backed up by his own band, Rockola. Indeed, one could say that this was a family affair as the group included two of Vince’s sons and a daughter-in-law. Tight, professional and more than competent musicians, they provided a powerful and sympathetic backing to Mr. Eager. Possessing a powerful baritone voice that is now a little deeper than his early days, he performed a good selection of numbers that ranged from standards like ‘Midnight Special’, the rockin’ ‘Gum Drop’ and ‘Lend Me Your Comb’ (both from that hard to find Decca label E.P. issued back in 1958) through beat ballads such as a first rate interpretation of ‘This Should Go On Forever’ and ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ to memories of his early days as a skifler. I suppose that ‘No Other Baby’ could also fit into the last mentioned category as it was composed by Dickie Bishop (who recorded it twice, one as a straight forward skiffle tune and once as a rock ‘n’ roll song) and more than successfully covered in the USA by Bobby Helms. However, Vince turned in a unique and haunting version of this song, wonderful stuff. Easily, this treatment was the highlight of his set.
Between numbers, Eager told of various highlights of his career, including a few references to his friendship with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. As a tribute to the first mentioned, he included good versions of ‘Something Else’, ‘Cut Across Shorty’, Summertime Blues’ and a Cochran styled ‘Hallelujah, I Love Her So’. He also sang a good version of ‘Be Bop A Lula’ but sadly did not include ‘Five Days, Five Days’ that he covered for a release on the Parlophone label. The reality of the situation is that Vince has never stopped performing, be it in the seventies (when he performed in a musical stage play revolving around Elvis Presley) or as the entertainment director for fifteen years on various cruise liners. This has stood him in good stead as the man is a true professional on the stage, an entertainer with a rockin’ edge.
Next up was Lucas And The Dynamos who are a rockin’ show band, one of the best. Sad to say, due to the varying geographical locations where the members of the group reside, the outfit now only performs a limited number of dates in a given year. Gone are the days when the band was a regular at the dances held on a Friday night at the Palace Hotel, Southend and then could be found busking the next day in the High Street (they probably made more money on the latter). Dressed in gold lame jackets, it was straight into the Champs ‘Midnighter’ followed by ‘Giddy Up A Ding Dong’, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz’ before reverting to another instrumental with ‘Night Train’. The stage was a constant whirl of movement and excitement as the guys rocked away like crazy with bags of set piece entertaining routines. But equally as good was the quality of the musicianship, especially that of the sax player – boy, was he good. There was a strong Bill Haley influence in their show and this was amply demonstrated with sparkling versions of ‘Sweet Sue’ and ‘See You Later Alligator’. The group demonstrated their versatility by mixing in originals such as ‘Spend All My Money’ with covers such as ‘Washing Machine Boogie’, Henrietta’ and ‘Flying Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll’. The perspiration was literally dripping of the group by the time they had finished. This had been top notch rock ‘n’ roll.
Then came the star of the evening, Louisiana’s finest, Dale Hawkins who was backed up by an all star band in the form of Antonio Coni on lead guitar, Clive Osborne of rhythm guitar (he left this sax at home for the night), Wayne Hopkins on upright bass, Rev. Dave Brown on piano and Marc Strekler (from Belgium) on drums. Stepping on the stage, Dale looked rather frail which is not surprising as he only finished his last chemotherapy session in his battle against cancer on 4th January this year, but he rocked away like crazy from the onset. Opening up with ‘Wildcat Tamer’, he continued with ‘Little Pig’ and ‘La-Do-Da-Da’, the last mentioned Dale advised was his second biggest hit. Clearly enjoying himself, and admitting to being inspired by the quality of the backing musicians, he segued ‘This Train’ into ‘My Babe’ demonstrating that the roots of the latter were based on the gospel song. It was then time for ‘Mighty Mississippi’, the first of three songs performed that night from his hot off the press CD ‘Back Down In Louisiana’. This song is a tasty mid paced country blues influenced item. The other two songs from the CD that we were treated to were ‘the evoking ballad ‘This Love Of Mine’ and the rockin’ ‘Bang Bang’. The last mentioned is dedicated to Dale’s two cats but is a delightful catchy piece of music. A highlight of the act was his performance of ‘No. 9 Train’ which rocked away like no tomorrow as did his treatment of ‘Tornado’ and ‘Suzie Q’. The crowd was with Dale from the word go and bopped away as he was called back to the stage for a blindingly brilliant workout on ‘Baby Baby’. It is a fact that the Rockers Reunion inspires acts of the caliber of Dale, and Marvin Rainwater last year, to excel themselves and provide what can justifiably be classified as stunning performances. The man had been the equivalent of a rockin’ tornado and had swept all away before him.
It is now traditional that the night closes out with perennial Rockers Reunion favourites Crazy Cavan & The Rhythm Rockers. I have previously made the comparison that they are the Status Quo of rock ‘n’ roll. Like the Quo, they have their legion of followers who will go and see them perform whenever they can and they are clearly one of the favourite acts to perform at the Rockers Reunion. They had to crowd jumping away like crazy and seemingly could do no wrong. At the conclusion to their spirited performance, they were presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award to mark the fortieth anniversary of their formation. In all that time, they have only had one change in their line-up
Once again, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and well worthwhile making the trek. I am looking forward to next year's Rockers Reunion. However, before then, there is oodles of good rock ‘n’ roll heading our way to salivate over: especially Hemsby 38 in April with Jack Earls, Marti Brom, Ray Campi Wayne Hancock, Rusty York, Mike Sanchez and The Star Devils included in the twenty one act line-up. Be there or be square.
© Tony Wilkinson