Review Rockabilly Rave #3 - 1998

To the superstitious, Friday 13th of November may seem an inauspicious date to start the third annual Rockabilly Rave. Luckily the fates decided that this event should suffer no worse luck than typically bleak autumnal weather.

I arrived at the Pontins holiday camp in Camber Sands after a full days' work at around ten thirty. The SURESHOTS were taking to the stage, but I wasn't able to catch much of their set as I was too busy gossiping with the gang. I had seen their sharp show several times before, so I knew I was missing something good, but there would be another chance to see them later. Promoter Jerry Chatabox then manned the decks for a brief set of jivers and boppers, not all rockabilly, but all fine and rocking. The hall had undergone some changes, most notably the removal of a glass partition along one side. While this was an improvement, the drawback was that the hall was larger and thus seemed emptier of people. Attendance was just as large as last years event, though.

Just after midnight came a band that I had been eagerly anticipating, DON CAVALLI & THE TWO TIMERS. This Parisian trio have made stunning records for European labels Tail and Lenox, and their skills are welded together so seamlessly that they appear almost to be in psychic contact. The big O's Rockhouse was action packed, Two Timer (Jimmy Gray) full of energy and Howard Vokes' Mountain Guitar' was a joy; Yannis Dubois' pleasure in his sublime picking was infectious. He somehow manages to sound like he is playing four guitars simultaneously. There were other cover versions, all rendered with great confidence and style, but it was with their own material that they truly shone. Some people that I spoke to later felt that the lack of drums weakened their overall sound, but for my money they bring
such passion and enthusiasm to gems like Carmella and Coffee Baby that they blow away many of the more 'hard-core' or electrified bands. Despite late running in the schedule, they played two encores. Tongue Tied Jill was played in tribute to the late Mr. Feathers, their most obvious influence. They finished on Cavalli's own Claustrophobia Blues, which raised a huge cheer from the audience. Don sang his heart out, giving everything he had to the number. It is very reassuring to know that some people are still out there writing new Rockabilly classics that can stand alongside the ancient songs that we all know and love. Bring them back again soon please, Jerry.

And now for another treat, top US rocking band KIM LENZ & HER JAGUARS
playing their European debut. No rough edges here, the Jaguars have a honed and polished sound. A large part of the crowd, including those who had already worked a full day before arriving, were starting to flag by the time Kim hit the stage at around 2am, but the sultry flame-haired beauty soon put some life back into them. She worked the crowd like a trouper, mostly singing songs from her Hightone CD alongside a few numbers that were new to me. Her distinctive voice works as well live as it does on wax and this, combined with the consummate musicianship of the Jaguars, meant it was a show to remember.

London DJ Cosmic Keith spun some super-cool dance floor fillers, including some inspired and popular choices, but tired eyes were telling me it was time to hit the hay, so I took the short and freezing cold walk back to my comfortable chalet and commenced sleeping up a hangover.

Saturday dawned with the customary nausea and pain. The Rave had expanded somewhat since last year, and included an 'afternoon session' in the recently fitted pub. The atmosphere was great, not unlike a good Saturday at the legendary Elephant's Head. DJ Skinny Tim from Norfolk played a short set that demonstrated that his talents go from strength to strength, followed by a fresh and fascinating selection from Tall Mark Greenaway. At four in the afternoon, the first 'mystery' band of the weekend, RICHIE & THE POOR BOYS, climbed the small dais. This superb, traditional Rockabilly combo from Rostock, Germany played a splendid set of mainly cover versions, classics such as 'Rock Ola Ruby' (Sonnee West) and 'How Come It' (George 'Thumper' Jones). The volume was very low, and I would have preferred to hear more of their own numbers, but these guys sung and played up a storm.

America's finest, Bopping Vic, played out the afternoon with tunes to make dancing feet itchy. Shame about the lack of dancefloor in the pub. Upstairs, Parisians Scary Jerry and Leroy spun some rarely-heard boppers. Not many folks about so I took the opportunity to grab some food and take a nap (decrepit fossil that I am).

I made sure I was back in time to see AL WILLIS & THE SWINGSTERS. What's this? Disaster! Al Willis had decided to leave the band at the eleventh hour before the gig, leaving the Swingsters up the creek and not a paddle in sight. I was devastated, I had so been looking forward to seeing them. Their records are wonderful and they have a reputation as a hot live act. Thank heavens that Gino from the Midnight Riders was on hand to man the microphone. With almost no notice or rehearsal he did a five-star job. He possesses a pitch-perfect memorable voice, well suited to standards like Narvel Felts' 'You Don't Care' or 'Guitar Rock' (Bill Flagg). Even his apparent and understandable nerves didn't mar our enjoyment. The audience seemed to appreciate the limitations and warmly welcomed the inventive choice of covers they played. The Swingsters busked behind their impromptu leader with artful confidence.

Following another floor-filling set by the stellar Keith, Dutchmen JUNIOR MARVEL & THE HI-FLYERS strutted their stuff. 'Lies Lies Lies' and 'High Flying Bop' were faithful to their waxings, a very tight, sharp sound. 'Train Kept a-Rollin' may be a mundane choice of song but was nicely done, the band full of sparkle. The Hi-Flyers played a brief tribute to Carl Perkins and Jackie Lee Cochran - 1998 has been a busy year for the Grim Reaper. The encore of Haydn Thompson songs suited Junior's distinctive voice well and we roared our approval.

No time for more, the schedule was shot to pieces by now, Jerry Chatabox spinning a handful of jivers before the second and final American band of the weekend, THE RACKETEERS from Boston, Massachusetts. From the moment they tore into 'Cast Iron Arm' (Peanuts Wilson) it was obvious that we were in for a wild old time. Full of enthusiasm, the drumming vocalist and two guitarists sounded redolent of the Blue Caps. 'College Man' and 'Who Slapped John' were highlights for me, but what makes the Racketeers special is their plain joy in just playing good-time music.

The rest of the night belonged to the DJs, Go (Japan) was outstanding.
There was a small fracas by the bar with a drinks-throwing incident between rival weekender organisers that I shall diplomatically gloss over here. 9am saw me semi-standing in a chalet party thrown by some German bands. It was a pleasure to see this sadly-neglected tradition revived, it was even fun to have the festivities broken up by Pontins' security. Somehow I made it to my bed and woke up everyone else in the chalet with my snoring...

Sunday afternoon bludgeoned me into wakefulness, sweating vodka and shaking like a Mexican jumping bean. You would think that with all the practice I'd have learnt some self-restraint by now. Our chalet was very near the hall and when I heard some smart sounds coming from the pub, I dragged my sorry carcass down to see who was making them. It turned out to be THE DiMAGGIO BROTHERS from Italy. This excellent drumless rockabilly trio featured the two brothers on guitars and vocals, with Nick Gilroy (Blue Rhythm Boys, NG Kombo) standing in for the usual bassman. Their skillful picking and strong confident vocal harmonies soon chased the hangover blues away. They ran 'It Doesn't Matter Anymore' through the rocking mangle very prettily. After a
couple of Elvis Sun songs I was just thinking that they were playing
obvious covers when they did a spectacular version of 'Every Breath You Take' (Police). No, honestly, it was really good, though it went down like a lead balloon with the punters. I was feeling seriously unwell by this time and put myself back to bed before the end of the set, but their new CD (issued by went straight to the top of my shopping list.

Up-and-coming Italian quintet HOWLIN' LOU AND THE STARLITERS went on at around 8pm. The crowd had thinned out a little, quite a few seemed to have gone home a day early. Launching into 'Catfish Boogie' and 'Real Cool Cat', the Starliters have a swinging sound on the Western side of Hillbilly Bop. The steel player is outstanding, they have obviously worked hard at honing a slick, polished style. They looked good, too, in eye-catching vintage suits. Some of the material was a little pedestrian for my taste, but undoubtedly well played,"Rock'n'Roll Ruby" being a case in point.

I had seen THE WESTERN BOPS a few times before, the London-based band
improve greatly with every show and are rapidly making a name for
themselves. Les did a fine job with Vic Gallon's stomper 'I'm Gone', even remembering all of the words about trousers and back-seat speakers. Dean "Kid Rocker", his hair streaked red, dazzled as usual on lead guitar and treated us to a song or two on vocals 'Down the Line' coming across strongly. 'Brownfinger' Neil thunked the doghouse frantically as he clowned in a wig that made him look like the Killer in drag. With Richie bashing away behind it all, the Bops ought to put a record out soon. Judging by the applause it would be bound to sell well.

JESSE AL TUSCAN AND HIS LUMBERJACKS from Sweden next, in place of the
Hi-Winders. Mr. Tuscan was almost hidden behind his huge vintage
microphone. Again the sound was very quiet but of a high tonal quality. The precision guitar picking and stomping slap bass were just the ticket for diehard fans of authentic (ouch!) Rockabilly. 'Shake The Hand' (on Tail compilation LP Rough Tough Rockabilly volume 3) and Jimmy Witter's 'If You Love My Woman' were especially good. 'Barbara Ann' was a showstopper, Jesse falling to his knees and popping a string on his acoustic guitar. He had an energetic stage presence and while the drummer and guitarist may look laconic, they sure blasted some wild noise.. But it was the encore and the monumental self-penned number 'Jenny Barn' that they came into their own. As my notes say, bloody fantastic!

Final act of the weekend was THE SURESHOTS and special guests. They played a couple of their own numbers before being joined by LITTLE BOY ARNOLD. 'Lonesome Rhythm Blues', 'Be-Bop Baby' and a spirited rendition of Carl's 'Honky Tonk Gal' demonstrated his unique, hiccuping vocals admirably. The guitarist was a virtuoso with a bright, slightly neo sound.

WILDFIRE WILLIE (JAN SVENSON) had been at the same chalet party as myself and had sounded croaky then. A further days drinking hadn't improved matters much, but he blasted what he had left into his masterwork, 'Whole Lotta Power'. His hoarseness actually gave the song an extra hard edge, assisted by a searing guitar break. Willie welcomed a swig of Smirnoff Black from someone in the front row. He then turned 'Boogie Woogie Feeling' (Tony Casanova) into a totally wild screamer. Considering that this was essentially a jam session the Sureshots maintained a very tight and together performance. The next guest singer was Charlie Thompson from the Blue Star Boys. 'Movie Magg' (Carl P. again) and 'Half Hearted Love' (Mac Curtis) suited his lovely, haunting voice very well. Jan returned and sandblasted his throat to oblivion with 'Something Baby' (Dazzlers). Gary Mark, Pete and Joe finished the weekender with a few songs by themselves before handing the show back to the DJs.

Many of the wax-players would have done well to pay more attention to the tracks that their colleagues played; the same songs cropped up time after time. No such problem from Tall Mark Greenway, who on Sunday night played the kind of show that legends are made of. Obscurities and scarce wildies tumbled over each other in a cornucopia of rocking bliss. It seemed as if almost everyone was on the dancefloor. Mark is the most revolutionary DJ working in rocking music today and is certainly the man to watch.

Well, here I am a week later trying to focus on the words and ignore the total collapse of my immune system. I may have gout, liver damage and haemmorhoids as a result of the Rockabilly Rave but I also have a lot of happy memories. The Rave isn't for everyone; there was nary a surf track or R&B song all weekend. But if Rockabilly is your main bag, this is the only place to be. We raised a glass to Carl and Charlie and we will do the same again next year. See you then.

Bill Smoker