Review Rockabilly Rave #10 - 2006

The Rockabilly Rave is an event that we always look forward to eagerly, but somehow the tenth one felt extra special. The anticipation reached fever pitch as we made final preparations and swooped down on poor unsuspecting Camber Sands.

We were 24 hours earlier than usual, the Rave having been extended by a day. We knew we could take it; we are hard people with harder livers. But would we reduce the Pontins camp to a heap of smouldering rubble? Cat clothes on and three sheets to the wind, we thronged to the halls, all set to put the bar staff through the toughest test of their working lives.

There was already an army of 1600 souls on site when those Dutch crazies THE TIN STARS kick-started festivities on Thursday night. Razor sharp licks applied to well-chosen covers and innovative self-penned tunes are the order of the day here. Tjarko Jeen leaves a big gap to be filled but Erwin meets the challenge impressively, powering through ditties like Miss Froggie (Warren Smith) and Take Me To That Place (Jack Earls). A riotous launch to the weekend.

Always popular with the locals, Brit-boppers THE SKIP RATS never fail to put on an entertaining show. A warmly received return to this venue after a five-year hiatus, they were as invigorating as ever.

Arguably the globe's most popular rocking band, Californian stars BIG SANDY AND HIS FLY-RITE BOYS need no introduction to this crowd. No matter how often we see them perform, the Fly-Rite Boys are always as fresh as dew on an Anaheim buttercup. Surprisingly, this was the first time that this line-up had played at Camber, the previous visits having been by the Trio. Big Sandy's songs have become classics, and we sang along cheerily with lengthy versions of their familiar tunes, Chalk It Up To The Blues being a highlight. Robert's spine-tingling voice is an American national treasure.

Evergreen punter-pleasers THE GO GETTERS rounded the evening off nicely with an adrenaline-fuelled blast through self-penned floor fillers like Mexigo, and juicy covers including a fun demolition of Teenage Kicks (Undertones).

Half past three in the morning and time to shuffle back to the chalets, tired and emotional, to snooze up a hangover.

Believe it or not, it was actually sunny on Friday morning when the squawking of huge seagulls woke us up.

At the painfully early time of one PM, former Ricardos front man Dave and Willie Briggs from the Tennessee Rhythm Riders presented us with their new joint project THE RADIO RAMBLERS. Time-honoured numbers such as I'm Coming Home (Johnny Horton) and How Come It (Thumper Jones) were served up in efficient style, their two voices harmonising sweetly on Hey Mae (Rusty & Doug Kershaw). But the real interest is in their own material. Gonna Find Someone New and the perky hillbilly shuffler Mama's Little House stood out as pearls in their performance. This is a very listenable country Rockabilly trio with some of Britain's most respected musicians. The Radio Ramblers are surely destined for greatness.

Hot rodders' pick THE TAIL DRAGGERS showed themselves to be a powerful quintet with steel guitar and an outstanding rhythm section. Tuff country rockers such as I'm Gonna Live (Faron Young) were beefed up and belted out with vigour. Guest female vocalist Miss Marnie added sweetness to the mix with songs like False Hearted Girl. Unfortunately she was unable to hear her voice through the monitor, making it hard to stay in key on the challenging standard Raining Teardrops From My Eyes. This was an unusual lapse from the normally reliable sound engineers.

Ah, sweet pretty RUBY ANN, delicate flower of Portugal! Well, not as delicate as you might think. This slip of a girl delivers a roundhouse kick to your ears with her fabulously expressive voice. Popular German tunesmiths Ike & The Capers backed Ana. Although fine players, I did miss P Rocka Serra, the guitarist and songwriter from the Boppin' Boozers, who has been a real asset to her recordings. Seven Lonely Days was simply charming. Ruby Ann has stupendous vocal pitch and a warm, satisfying tone, she is a first class singer. (As she is Portuguese, I wonder if she sings Fado? Hmm, Fadobilly, now there's a real niche market). Don't Call Me Honey, written for her by Shaun Young, is a terrific song, Ruby taking an obvious delight in the control she exerts over her voice. She has been in the studio with The Capers, and judging by this appearance her new album is a must-buy.

Representing the north of England, THE INFERNOS returned in devilish triumph with their poetic update on the classic Sun sound. Ian Agar's muscular and confident voice is well suited to their breakneck stompers, driven at speed by his brother, drummer Gary. The Infernos are tightly knit, accomplished musicians, and they know how to get us dancing, too. Hey Slim (Jack Earls) was a smouldering stroller, while their own You Don't Know What Your Missing makes an enervating bopper. Truly the best of British.

After vanishing off our radar for over two decades, BUZZ WAYNE of the Flyers made a welcome return to our shores. Buzz and the Flyers were the name for hep kids to drop back in the early eighties, and the punchy New York combo are fondly remembered by all that saw their exciting shows. There was trepidation that he could not possibly live up to our youthful memories. We needn't have worried. While his physical presence may not have been as energetic as 25 years ago, his fabulous voice has lost none of its vigour. Sean Mencher was an inspired choice for lead guitar, lifting Little Pig (Dale Hawkins) and Pretty Baby (Gene Vincent) into the stratosphere. When Buzz gave us his strolling monster My Baby Can't Be Satisfied, he brought the house down. A triumphant return, and one I hope Mr Wayne will repeat very soon.

The word 'legend' seems to be applied to any Z-lister celeb these days. Make no mistake; 'legend' barely starts to do justice to Arkansas bop avatar SONNY BURGESS. With a brace of original Pacers on piano and drums, along with the youngsters from Mars Attacks in the rest of the band, they gave us the ideal mix for an authentic Sun Studio sound. Sonny is in fine voice, looking slim and fit. He recorded masses of superior music for Sam Phillips' magical little company on Union Avenue, and Burgess gave us virtually all of them tonight. It was a suitably marathon set, the longest showing of the festival, yet finished too soon for his ecstatic fans.

We barely have time to grab our umpteenth beer from the exhausted bar staff before squeezing up to the stage to dig THE DAVE AND DEKE COMBO. It has been fifteen years since this multi-talented duo graced our shores, during which the ebb and flow of their tempestuous musical relationship has become the stuff of legend. All of the quarrels were water under the bridge now, as they grinned and japed through a ribald comic show that demonstrated as much cornball humour as musical mastery. A few friends argued that the clowning was disrespectful or even derogatory to the culture of rural and Appalachian Americans that provided the musical heritage we came here to celebrate. This po-faced attitude is palpably unfair; any student of western music knows that similar comedy (and doubtless the very same jokes!) was an integral part of early country shows. Laughter lightens the grim realities of farming life. And besides, who could fail to smile at the hick spoof version of In The Ghetto called In The Meadow? Or that much-loved chuckler about excessive familial affection, I Am My Own Grandpa? Not only are they funny, Dave Stuckey and Deke Dickerson are top-flight musicians, as they confirm with super-swift hayseed stompers like Salty Boogie (Jimmie Dickens) and Sweet Rockin' Mama (Hi Toombs). A rambunctious final band for Friday night.

Three more hours of shoe-melting platters from DJs Carl, Jerry & Go lay ahead. No early night for us; the halls were still packed when 5AM rolled around and the loudspeakers fell silent.

Saturday meant an early start as Mark Lamborn, Tall Mark Greenaway and I set about rounding up some staff to open the pub for the VINYL JUNKIES CLUB. This two-hour orgy of vintage wax has become a Rave fixture, a time when the only tracks spun are original 1950s pressings of very scarce and valuable Rockabilly 45s. A move to afternoon slots meant late risers, and those incapacitated by crapulence, can enjoy the obscurities via a live broadcast on Pontins television channel in their chalets. Despite having this comfortable option available to them, the Queen Victoria pub became extremely full with a large and enthusiastic audience. The DJs were delighted that they received a mass of feedback, all of it strongly positive.

They only downside was that I missed the BIG BULL FIDDLE FORUM. A serious disappointment, this; there were so many superb bassists in town that it couldn't fail to be astonishing.

Eastern Europe is growth region for rocking music, and Russia was represented by THE NEVA RIVER ROCKETS. The drumless trio is named after a train. It is strange how romantic this sounds to us; after all, to form a band called The Thameslink Teds would be daft! It is a particular pleasure of the Rave that we get to see emissaries of nations previously thought to be beyond the Rockabilly atlas. This triumvirate of handsome young Slavs was the second Russian band that we have seen here over the years, and for my money the best one. Although not massively wild, their jaunty country Rockabilly was the perfect start to a long day of great music.

Titian flame-thrower KIM LENZ has been keeping a low profile recently; this was an uncommon visit to our shores. Tonight she was back with the afterburners set to maximum, an effective dominatrix to her capable band members THE JAGUARS. I must confess that her voice has little to thrill me. She is over-reliant on vocal gimmickry and showbiz shtick, plus she tends to prattle inanely between songs. But it has to be said that she looks utterly gorgeous! I got the distinct impression that the ranks of slavering lads at the front were paying rather more attention to what lay underneath Miss Lenz's scarlet outfit than to the sound she was making. When she announced that Rockabilly music had almost died out before being revived "in the early 1990s", I decided that I was probably fifteen years too old to stick around.

I escaped to the "fast" food counter and force-fed myself a lump of cold sick and Styrofoam masquerading as a beefburger, accompanied by albino-worm fries. Next time, I'm packing sandwiches...

Why in God's name is MARTI BROM not an international superstar? Her voice is heart-stoppingly sublime, her face is traffic-stoppingly beautiful, and she can swap effortlessly between bopper and ballad. I know that Austin is packed to the city limits with accomplished singers, but this diminutive Texan chanteuse stands head and shoulders above the rest. We have become used to seeing her with those Finnish firecrackers the Barnshakers, but tonight only Jussi 'Lester Peabody' Huhtakangas was here on guitar and steel, ably assisted by Tjarko Jeen (guitar) and lovely Lisa Pankratz (drums), along with Lisa's husband Brad on bass. Mrs Brom looked stunning in a shimmering black dress as she rocked through Love Hound, Black Cadillac and Tom Cat. The lovely Three Hearts Later burnt like a volcano, but it seemed to be the dazzling Teri Joyce song Blue Tattoo that got the biggest cheer. Compere Kav Kavanagh told me that his daughter was conceived to that song. Considering that it is less than three minutes long, this says more for his taste than his stamina! When Marti dedicated the angelic ballad Wicked White Lies to yours truly it made my weekend. And she is funny, too. The Rave was sold out so, to create more space, many of the musicians and DJs had been housed in caravans off-site. Marti's graciously understated response? "I would like to thank Jerry Chatabox for fulfilling my childhood ambition to run away and join the circus... and live in a trailer!" The encore closed to tumultuous applause with a full-power rendition of Great Shakin' Fever (Dorsey Burnette), complete with an archetypal Tjarko break.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, HIGH NOON is the greatest Rockabilly trio on planet Earth. The Texas-based threesome rarely play together these days, all them pursuing their own successful projects. So it was a delight to witness this reunion. They display no signs of rustiness, and their sound remains as tightly knit as a Rocking Rex sweater. Sadly, Kevin Smith is currently playing bass on tour with Dwight Yoakum. We could ask for no better qualified substitute than Jimmy Sutton, his harmonies an effective foil for Shaun Young on I'm Still Blue. High Noon's songs have become an integral part of the Rockabilly revival movement, so it is no surprise songs such as Flatland Saturday Night and Rocking Wildcat sent the felines crazy. Rattlesnake Daddy even manages to capture a genuine spark of Elvis' lightning-in-a-bottle from 1954, yet the highlights for me were the haunting Hanging From The Old Oak Tree and the true genius of guitarist Sean Mencher with the instrumental Comanche Moon.

Of all the female Rockabilly singers of the 1950s, RCA artist JANIS MARTIN is held in the highest esteem. Her discs still get fans up and jiving at record hops across the world. It was a joy to see this sassy girl back in Britain and wowing the crowd as always. The ace up the sleeve of her backing band, THE RAGTIME WRANGLERS, is guitarist Joe Sixpack. Admired by his peers as an expert exponent of the git fiddle, that boy sure can pick! The last time I saw Janis, her six-stringer was Malcolm Chapman of the Bandidos, who stunningly matched her recordings exactly.

Sadly, I didn't get to see how Joe measured up, because I was DJing in the downstairs hall. This set went very well, and I was gratified that the dancefloor stayed jammed throughout, despite playing mostly less obvious records.

When I read on the program that those Croatian cats THE MAD MEN were returning to the Rave for an unheard-of second year in a row, I did a little dance for joy. This searing collective was the best surprise of last year's weekender, and I predicted big things for them then. The handsome and talented young south-east Europeans lived up to their promise tonight by delivering an unforgettable performance. With increased confidence, and even tougher and tighter than twelve months before, the stupendously skilful guitarist and Lenin-lookalike bassist, plus their fine singer make the Mad Men the band to watch in the 21st century. Covers such as Baby Baby (Dale Hawkins) were given a thorough rebuild into fascinating new arrangements. Most refreshing of all, the majority of the show consisted of their own delicious concoctions. This was authentic Rockabilly of the highest calibre.

And so Saturday night blurred into Sunday morning as the world's biggest DJ names kept us wide awake and thirsty. Dave Crozier excelled with the small label boppers as always, while Jerry Chatabox and Tom Ingram kept the Rockabilly ear candy straight on topic, right down to Little Carl's heavier garage strollers and the 7AM finish. At one point I staggered through a little-used side door into the pub, only to suddenly find myself a stooge in King Kukele's epic revue. Luckily I was pickled enough to giggle at my own public humiliation.

It seemed as if everybody was still there when the time came for us to return unsteadily to our berths in blazing sunshine.

Somehow, we manage to be resurrected a brief time later to provide two more hours of vintage vinyl from the two Marks and Bill. There was already a bustling atmosphere, the pub being even more packed than the day before, and it seems that this came across in the TV broadcast. That fine, upstanding, all-American-boy DEL VILLAREAL, whose entertaining and varied radio show followed ours, even managed to set up an audio webcast to the world at large.

There was drama during Del's interview with Dave Stuckey and Deke Dickerson, when German rocking die-hard Markus Rehmet seized the microphone and gave an impassioned diatribe about the records being played during the weekend. His argument was that, despite the event being billed as the Rockabilly Rave, music in that style was in the minority when it came to the DJs. While this was an exaggeration, Markus did have a point. Several of the DJs followed a trend that has been on the increase in the last few years; they relied heavily on 1960s garage punk, insipid hillbilly pop or even the ghastliest Elvis disco remixes imaginable to make their sets 'different'. It was gratifying to see these tactics killing dancefloors at the Rave, only to see them fill up again when much-loved boppers were played. These renegade spinners should read the writing on the wall. Let lesser events become mixed 'oldies and party records' holidays if they wish; The Rockabilly Rave is designed to do exactly what it says on the tin!

The next band, MARS ATTACKS, is a good example. As inexhaustible as the Duracell bunny, this crew was a shot of oxygen to anyone feeling stale on Sunday afternoon. The songs may be straightforward choices but their delivery is far from mundane. It can't be easy maintaining a band between Switzerland and Austria. Despite the logistical nightmare of rehearsal, you would imagine to hear them that MARS ATTACKS play together for hours every day. They understand that in order to play Rockabilly effectively, it has to be fast, furious and with total belief. This was terrific, uncomplicated stuff. I just wish they could find a better name for the band.

My only exposure to TWO TIMIN' THREE before this gig was a fragment of MP3. This lo-fi snippet was enough for me to suspect that this was going to be a show worth catching, and gosh was that true. The fine bass player has played close attention to the Kevin Smith video. The most evident influence is Big Sandy. The singer shares Robert's distinctive high register with a hint of tremolo, whilst jazz trimmings are prominent in the guitar runs. One acquaintance even went as far as to describe them as a tribute band, but I have to disagree. They write their own catchy songs, and I liked them so much that I bought their CD on Vinylux straight after the show. It has been in heavy rotation in my player ever since.

Tail records have given us a slew of seminal Rockabilly albums over the last fifteen years or so, many of them by IKE & THE CAPERS.

Perhaps the first rocking band to come to prominence from East Germany, their long experience serves them well in keeping the crowd lively. I have seen them live several times before, so I just looked in briefly on them today. I would prefer Ike's voice to be stronger; the highly capable band is held back by the vocalist's lack of potency. It's not that he's bad, just not very inspiring.

For hillbilly fans, the combination of English vocal maestro CHARLIE THOMPSON and divine Goofin' recording star MISS MARY ANN was a mouth-watering prospect. No hard rocking tonight, although they are both fully capable of delivering a belter when the occasion demands it. Here, they accurately recreated the great mixed duets of hillbilly and country from the 40s and 50s. Their combined range, accurate pitch and delicate tones complemented each other exquisitely. This was a gentle, warm and memorable act. I certainly enjoyed it, particularly their take on the Everly brothers' Claudette, though one friend shrugged and said, "I didn't come here to listen to Slim Whitman".

If you ever want to make a roomful of rough, tough, raw-knuckled hepcats dissolve into a river of salty tears; mention the name of Ronnie Dawson. In the few short years since his tragic death from throat cancer, he has become an almost saintly presence in our pantheon, sorely missed on a very personal level. Nobody who saw his farewell performance at the Rockabilly Rave will ever forget it. It was fitting, therefore, that the Rave should host the RONNIE DAWSON TRIBUTE. After a moving introduction from Chris Dawson, Ronnie's widow, the world's finest musicians of the world's finest music showed us why Mr D hand picked them to be in his band during his career. Just look at these names; Jimmy Sutton (bass), Lisa Pankratz (drums), Sean Mencher (guitar), and that's just for starters. Jimmy takes the mic for Red Hot Mama; Sean Mencher for a terriffic Wam Bam Jam; Marti Brom on a tough Knock Down Drag Out; Pete Sandberg on Shim Sham Shimmy; Shaun Young on Monkey Beat and his own composition Home Cooking, with Deke Dickerson joining the band. Lisa is astounding, like a supernatural force pushing the rhythm of Rockinitis and the evergreen Rockin' Bones to unimaginable heights. As if even this line-up is not enough, Big Sandy steps up to give us I Make The Love and also Congratulations To Me. Robert was visibly emotional at this point, and let's face it, so was everybody else. Chris came back to the front and managed to whisper a 'Thank you' before returning, overcome, to the wings. Exciting, uplifting, moving and inevitably tear jerking, this was a worthy tribute in memory of a man who remains the ultimate hero to so many of us, myself included.

It would be odd if there were no British bands here, and HIGH VOLTAGE flew the St Andrews flag with a typically amp-melting jolt. It was a real joy to see the return of these potent Scots. Displaying bundles of energy, they kept the last revellers alert and revved up for the final hours from the DJs.

In the pub we got a chance to dig unusual tunes from some deserving wax-spinners that hadn't been able to get a spot elsewhere during the weekend. We can expect to see more from these stylus-wielders at future Raves.

Despite the epic length of the tenth Rockabilly Rave (around 75 hours of music!) there still didn't seem to be enough time to cram everything in. I didn't get a chance to check out the indoor hot rod show. Sleeping and eating had to be scheduled into tiny windows of opportunity, even top name DJs got less than three hours each on the Technics, and with well over 3000 attendees packing Pontins to full capacity there was never more than a few minutes available for conversation with a friend. I cannot recall ever seeing a bigger or better list of bands presented at a single event in Europe. Where the Rave leads, other promoters must follow, but it seems impossible for any event (the Rave itself included) to better this year's show.

With the exception of a handful of DJs, the weekender stayed within its remit to promote Rockabilly music above all else. Inevitably, there will be glitches in organising such a mammoth undertaking, but the professional approach of over 200 staff, musicians and DJs ensured that any problems were completely invisible to the customers. It is the small, unnoticed details that add up to make the Rave run so smoothly. Additional air conditioning to keep the temperature down; extending the music hours in one area to prevent overcrowding in another; premium quality audio equipment; a softly-softly (but far from soft) approach from security staff; keeping bar queues to a minimum - such thoughtfulness kept everyone in a jolly mood.

Pontins Camber Sands camp reported record takings across the bar every night (yes we really did drink even more than ever)! When you consider that most people would sneak in a few drinks from their chalets at the start of the night, and undoubtedly there were a few miscreants who boosted their staying-power with chemical contraband, this was a miraculously trouble-free four days. There were no reports of serious trouble, and even the local inhabitants told us that we are their favourite visitors of the year, never giving them any problems.

Most of us came home with an unwanted souvenir: the most virulent strain of 'weekender flu' ever. This consequence of long-term excess may be unavoidable, but the symptoms this time were horrific, like something from a bad sci-fi movie. By my highly scientific and accurate calculations, the Rave and its aftermath cost industry around fifteen thousand lost working days!

It gets harder with every passing year to find fault with the Rockabilly Rave. As someone who has been to almost sixty weekenders, I can't recollect a better one than the 2006 Rave. (Mind you, it's startling that I can remember any of them at all). Jerry Chatabox has made a rod for his own back; in order to make the event bigger and better next year he will need to give us a Killer cavalcade of stars. Can it be possible? We will find out in twelve months time.

Bill Smoker