Review Rockabilly Rave #4 - 1999

Friday 12 November was the date set to kick off the fourth annual Rockabilly Rave weekender. The first band to take to the stage at 10:30pm was England's own Jump Cat Jump. Their guitarist Graham is fantastic. He received plenty of good-natured ribbing from the band because it was his thirtieth birthday. They played lots of tracks from the new LP in addition to some cover versions, Do Me No Wrong (Pat Cupp) was particularly outstanding.

Eva Eastwood and The Major Keys from Sweden were also impressive. Any band that includes Jyrki "JJ" Juvonen is guaranteed to be a bit special. Eva has a splendid, resonant voice that has none of the shrillness that blights some other fem rockers currently doing the rounds.

Hot Rhythm and Booze from France were probably a fantastic authentic rockabilly band. I say probably because I was far too pissed to remember. Retired drunk.

Saturday starts with me DJing in the pub. The singer of surprise band Texas Shakedown didn't make it back from abroad in time so folks got an extra hour of me instead.

Miguel and Cosmic Keith played hot boppers to get the ballroom ready for Japan's Bloomin Brothers. This fine band were plagued by bad sound; thankfully, by the time they reached their most popular song, Bad Streak, things had improved, revealing a good solid rockabilly combo. Songs like Uranium Rock or Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache may not be the wisest choices for a singer with such a pronounced Japanese accent, but there is no denying the power of material like Drop Down Mama or Blue Moon Light.

Boppin Vic from New York, my favourite of the overseas DJs was followed by The Ranch Girls and the Ragtime Wranglers. This enjoyable Dutch band gave us watertight female harmony vocals and bitter-sweet hillbilly tunes beautifully delivered.

From the moment the Smith's Ranch Boys took to the stage and tore into the song Corn Whiskey they dazzled with their gorgeous, blistering and fast hillbilly picking. Former Fly-Rite boy TK Smith is a guitar-playing deity who sounds like he has more hands than the average Hindu god. More than one guitarist was overheard to mutter enviously about breaking his fingers. Each number they played from their two albums was a showstopper. Best of all is Johnny Macree's high, spine-tingling voice. Lets hope that someone brings these swinging westerners back to Europe soon.

The stars of leading traditionalist label Tail Records, Jack Baymoore & the Bandits, made a storming end to Saturday night's bands. Singer Kent Vikmo is a showbiz trouper and works hard at livening up the crowd. Once again, special mention must go to JJ who gave us some thrillingly fresh runs and riffs. New songs from the latest 10-incher, Big Boys Rock, are up to the high standards of earlier classics like AV8 Boogie. I particularly enjoyed the two numbers with guest Clive Osborne on sax, Peggy Lee and Jo-Anne; heavyweight rockers indeed. As Kent climbed on top of the speaker stack to sing Tag Along (Rocket Morgan) the crowd went crazy. The Bandits made a tough act for the DJs to follow, and worked us up to a raging thirst.

Sunday morning arrives with a fecal tongue, blurred vision and a technicolor headache. Oh what fun we have! Tall Mark Greenaway was in charge of the stylii, and a fine job he did. The Queen Vic pub is a great venue for DJs to try out new and unusual material as there isn't any pressure to keep people bopping (there isn't a dancefloor).

It is also a great spot to check out a skillful acoustic band like Da Gous Ket Ramblers. All of these guys from France can really play, I was mightily impressed with fiddler Paul Suzen, and vocalist Rodolphe Guiheux (who had played an unusual and fun DJ set of similar material the day before) captures a south-western American accent perfectly. Exquisite, stripped down, pure hillbilly with a hint of cajun is the order of the day with the Ramblers. The small pub was packed with cheering punters who lapped up the country boogies with a rockin beat.

Five minutes to eight, an expectant throng gathers around the footlights in the ballroom and the cry goes up "Where the f!*k is the band?!!". Woken from a siesta in their chalet and bundled onto the stage in record time, Little Boy Arnold and his armada of 'Billies launched into Raw Deal (Junior Thompson). They rumbled through a set of common cover versions with scarcely a new song in the bunch. Arnold puts plenty of energy into his singing but his distracting accent, along with hesitant backing from the band made for an unmemorable show. Perhaps they need more rehearsal with the new line-up; I have seen them play considerably better than this.

Far more enjoyable were the Raging Teens. With all the lovable enthusiasm of a labrador puppy, these American cats (and sexy, Gretcsh-wielding kitten) put me in mind of their compatriots the Racketeers. The Teens material was again mostly covers but played with enough vim and vigour to make them sparkle. It takes real spirit to make Raging Sea and Gangwar live up to Gene Maltais' originals but they managed it with aplomb. And the sheer chutzpah of their frantic Rockabilly take on Sham 69's If the Kids are United blew me away, a stupendous finish to their set. Offensive to the Rockabilly fundamentalist, perhaps, but full of the true rocking spirit.

Absolutely without doubt the finest act of the whole weekend for me was the stunning Marti Brom and the Barnshakers. A whole roomful of men fell hopelessly, deeply in love with the smouldering Mrs Brom on that Sunday night. What a beautiful voice, like an angel crying in your ear. I think the show may have been even better than the one at Viva Las Vegas, it was THAT good, and Finland's finest the Barnshakers were a perfect match to her prodigous talent. Without TJ Bonta they could only play a few of the tracks from the new Snake Ranch CD, but guitar maestro Lester Peabody and the others have nailed down Marti's earlier catalogue and perhaps even improved on it. The encore of Wicked White Lies, a haunting ballad from the Mean box-set, turned grown men around me into quivering, weeping jellies. And when she wants to rock, Marti' can really rock; bizarre murder-bopper Unproclaimed Love was jet-propelled. Wow!!!

Impossible to beat, but the Wild Goners from France were a good choice to finish with. Their material on Tail records (a Rave sponsor) is terrific and they punch the tunes out with gusto during their live show. The stonking Rockabilly version of Bunker Hill and the Raymen's You Can't Make me Doubt My Baby" was a real adrenaline kick. A truly excellent band. Dave "El God" Crozier and Cosmic Keith forced us to bop out the last of our energy before the shame, pain and self-recrimination of Monday morning.

The Rave was undoubtedly an artistic triumph, with a fantastic line up of bands and wide variety of DJs. There was rather more hillbilly/western content than usual, which is fine by me but those who are more into the out-and-out rockers got a little restless with some of the bands. No matter what your tastes, there is no denying that all of the musicians were of the very highest calibre. The chalets are comfortable, the food in the canteen palatable and Rob Villareal of Dallas, the best quiffster on the planet, was cutting his boogie on the razor strop.

All of which makes it sadder that the turnout was disappointing. Only around 800 showed for the event, but those of us who were there made sure that we partied twice as hard. The promoter is thinking about moving the Rave so it doesn't come so close to Hemsby, so people can make it to both. Early Februrary might be good (though the weather would be terrible, but who goes to the Rave to sunbathe?)

Those of you couldn't make it, what a shame. It was one to remember...

Bill Smoker