Review Rockabilly Rave #5 - 2001

In March 2001, after a 16-month hiatus, the Rockabilly Rave returned to the harsh landscape of Camber Sands in Sussex for its fifth incarnation. Almost a thousand disciples of bop descended on the large and comfortable Pontins camp for three booze-fuelled days of Gretsch-powered insanity, your reviewer amongst them.

If I had been pre-warned that the first band on Friday was a Portuguese combo with a female singer I would have been tempted to turn up later. Good job that I didn’t; the beautiful RUBY ANN and her BOPPIN’ BOOZERS were an inspired choice for the opening act. With a powerful voice that had none of that squeaky shrillness we associate with some of the rockabilly gals playing the circuit, Ruby Ann set a high standard for the following acts to meet. Their own numbers were distinguished and the Boppin’ Boozers’ talent transcended their cheesy, cliched name.

The ROUND UP BOYS are an exceptional four-piece combo from Germany. Glorious vocals and guitar skills that leave one puzzling ‘how the hell did he play that?’ give novel impetus to numbers like " I Got Love (Sonny Deckleman) and an uptempo "Careful Baby" (Joe Poovey).

Sweden sometimes seems to have a factory churning out dozens of top-flight traditionalist Rockabilly bands that put the anglophone nations to shame. SONNY ROGERS AND THE KINGPINS are graduates from this Scandinavian production line. Hot numbers familiar from their must-have records, along with some well-chosen covers made for a rousing end to the evening.

A tip for those attending the Rave; don’t come after a day’s work on Friday, take the day off. You might be too tired to last the pace. Sometime during promoter Jerry Chatterbox’s DJ set I fell asleep into a bag of chips. Some invisible beer pixies took pity and very kindly put me to bed.

Saturday saw our chalet up at the crack of midday and off to the Queen Victoria pub for the lunchtime session. Skinny Jim helped the aspirin to kick in with a typically innovative set of contemporary records.

Nobody was quite sure what to expect from the GUITAR FORUM, not even the participants, who were Graham Murphy from Jump Cat Jump (England), Paul Patterson of High Voltage (Scotland), Darrell Higham of the Enforcers (England) & Marco di Maggio from Italy. These maestros of the git fiddle served up standard jam fare such as 20 Flight Rock and That’s All Right Mama, along with a slew of instrumentals. Patterson demonstrated a pleasantly light Chet Atkins style, Grazza’s picking revealed a love for Jimmy Bryant & Speedy West. Marco di Maggio’s lightning fast fretwork proved that his star is in its ascendancy. These guys could have used some rehearsal to blend their techniques and enliven the choice of material, but the forum provided a unique chance to catch some world class guitar talent, all on one stage.

England’s own SKIP RATS turned in a typically virtuous set. Although I have seen them many times, they always manage to give a show blossoming with freshness and vivacity. Also praiseworthy was DJ Tall Mark Greenaway, who once again demonstrated that there are still thousands of glorious obscurities still waiting to be re-discovered by the rocking masses, and that he has most of them on original 45!

A new outfit from Finland, the ROCKIN’ 8 BALLS were a sublime revelation. Goofin’ Records keeps on finding prodigous talent and have landed yet another winner with Kekka (vocal), Mancu (bass), Jamppa (guitar) and Janne (drums).; the album "Eight Balls of Fire" hasn’t left my CD player in weeks. Erstwhile angelic choirboy Kekka has truly embraced the devil’s music and brings an awesomely potent voice and a commanding stage presence to numbers like Midnight Train (Johnny Burnette). Freight Train Boogie was astonishing, a highlight of the weekend for many people. If I have a criticism, it is only that their material is all covers. If they were to write a few of their own songs, who knows how far they could go?

The SOUTHFLAT STOMPERS had a muscular sound boosted by a cracking pianist, though they were let down by a weak vocal. They provided fine backing for the CASEY SISTERS. The female duet harmonies were not at all to my taste, but the Kansas City duo wowed the crowd with their lovely voices. THE RIMSHOTS from Wales have long been at the pinnacle of rocking music and they gave us their usual slick set. Wonderful though it was, the Rimshots should consider writing some fresh material to prevent staleness from creeping into their shows.

Until now the Rave has eschewed booking 1950s vintage US artists, preferring to highlight the talents of younger, up and coming talents. It was a break with tradition, then, when the legendary LEW WILLIAMS took the stage. The mild-mannered Texan ripped through all of his classics for the Imperial label with a vigour that belied his years. The Rimshots kept the pace peppery while Lew proved that his voice can still cut the mustard. Umpteen encores of Cat Talk got the felines jumping and made that record the most requested of the weekend for DJs.

The final act of the night FLATFOOT SHAKERS brought classy rocking all the way from down under. The distinctive vocals made this a stand out band. And so the DJs played out the night to the hardcore bopping crew. Go from Japan spun some fabulous tunes and there were some maniacs still wanting more when the lights finally went up at 7am.

Just five hours nap before the lunchtime pub session. BARNEY & THE FOLSOM PRISON BOYS performed a great Johnny Cash tribute set. Guest vocalist Chrissie took the June Carter role during a splendid take on Jackson. Barney remembered all of those tricky words to A Boy Named Sue and One Piece At a Time. While his voice catches the Man In Black’s nuances well, Barney’s English roots sometimes show, like when he sings of driving "froo" your "taahn". Graham Murphy picked furiously throughout, putting Luther Perkins to shame on Big River and Get Rhythm. When they rockabillied-up Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger it confused and delighted the audience in roughly equal measure. The hilarious novelty song Ernie (Benny Hill) works fine as a Johnny C number, though god only knows what the Japanese contingent made of it. The scores on the doors was that it was hard, Everard.

London favourites NUMBER 9 started weakly with Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town (Kenny Rogers). There was a change in line-up as Mick Wigfall returned to the band after regular their bass player was hurt in a road accident in France. Guitarist Malcolm Chapman is what makes the band truly great. Paul Ansell has a spectacular voice, but the band would be far weaker without that sublime git fiddlin’ on songs like Hey Slim. No wonder that Lew Williams sought Malcolm out after recommendation from Ronnie Dawson, Mac Curtis and others. Lonesome Train proved as popular as ever, rising above the drab experience that a RNR Trio cover normally becomes, though Ready Teddy was perhaps perfunctory. Tracks from the album Moving On proved to be successful, particularly Fugitive and Passenger. The pub played out with a fun set of hillbilly boppers from a spectacularly talented DJ who would surely only blush if I named me, erm, I mean, him.

I was busy offloading my records so I didn’t catch SKINNY JIM & THE WILDCATS, but I was reliably informed by their namesake from Norfolk that they were a fine Swedish rockabilly combo .

I made sure that I did catch CAVE CATT SAMMY, a very young teenage band from the US of A.
They opened with a spirited rendition of Dig That Ford (Doug Harden) Singer/bassist Beau "Sammy" Sample did lots of mugging throughout songs like Supersonic Mama, giving it plenty of Brian Setzer-style lip. These guys are like the Jensen Button of rockabilly! "Let’s get wild" they sang, and they sure did, an action packed, frenetic show full of enthusiasm.

Last band of the Rave, Scots HIGH VOLTAGE played a slew of classic covers done fast & a bit neo. Great guitarist, powerful voice but there was little distinctive to stick in the memory. Some more of their own compositions would help them to stand out. And so the DJs blatted us into the dust until 7am with hot, shoe-busting toons.

I am pleased to say that there was an increased turnout at this Rockabilly Rave. The weekender now has its own groove as a fun and friendly, small-scale weekender for the hardcore Rockabilly enthusiast. It is a short sharp shock to ones system that recharges the rocking batteries (and discharges them!) at a reasonable price. The next one, featuring the evergreen Ronnie Dawson is already taking bookings. Long may this wonderful event prosper

Bill Smoker