Review Rockabilly Rave #6 - 2002

Ah, springtime, when a young feline’s thoughts inexorably turn to getting utterly bladdered by the Sussex coast. Yes, it is March 2002 and time once again for the Rockabilly Rave at Camber Sands.

As I sauntered majestically into the main upstairs ballroom just after nine on Friday night, Welsh four-piece GENE GAMBLER & THE SHUFFLERS were cooking up a salubrious stew of covers like Speed Limit & Bopping Bonnie. Imbibing commenced.

The first of three female vocalists of the weekend, Holland’s MARY ANN was as pretty as a tulip in shimmering gold lamé. Backed by able sidemen in bizarrely Masonic stage gear and fezzes, she sounds as good as she looks, ripping through numbers like Mama’s Here and Flipsville.

What a treat it was to see the original line-up of BIG SANDY & THE FLYRITE TRIO. Robert, TK, Wally & Bobby had lost none of their legendary cohesion and they were on top form as they ripped through tunes from their classic first album, On The Go. Hi-Billy Music, Draggen-It Boogie, Ootchy Coochie, One Sided Love, all of them magnificent. They encored with an asphalt-melting Kaw Liga and Goodbye Little Star. This was a rare opportunity to appreciate this epoch-making Californian band. Magical.

Tired after all this excitement and a tough day at work, I let Skinny Jim’s boppers serenade me off to beddy-byes. Those of stronger constitution danced through the night in the downstairs hall to Tom Ingram, Jerry Chatabox and Mouse, London’s triumvirate of star rocking DJs.

Saturday dawned with a rarity for weekenders; clement weather. An invigorating stroll on the scenic beach was just the ticket for blowing away those smoky cobwebs. Rodolphe was just spinning the last of his hillbilly boppers when I returned, before he handed over to the GUITAR FORUM. Bobby Horton (Horton Brothers) was first in the spotlight, and as he and his fellow musicians found their feet with each other they were slightly reticent in their playing. Tjarko Jeen (Tin Stars) gave us a boogie with super fast picking. Joe Sixpack demonstrated a nice Les Paul style with few dropped notes. TK Smith was the star here, his technique watched very closely by the others. This was not flashy style over content, just ace musicianship to astonish every guitar player in the room. While the forum once again was limited by the lack of rehearsal, the chance to catch this much talent on one stage is irresistible.

Work time for me as I took my first turn of the weekend on the decks, then Kav introduced SMOKESTACK LIGHTNING. This excellent German band wowed us at Hemsby last year and did the same here, with 60s style country plus a tasty dash of garage. Not an obvious choice for the Rave, but certainly a popular one.

The RIZLAS from Japan excelled, just as they had in Vegas. Playing all cover versions, there were no big surprises but all the songs were done with such passion and enthusiasm that they put a smile on every face. Special commendation must go to the potent guitarist. Singer Go is a much loved institution among the Brits, having spent more time in London than the prime minister, and the affection in which he is held was obvious in the warmth of the audience’s applause.

The BELLFURIES from Texas are a salutary lesson in why it is worth writing your own songs, rather than playing covers. With new material you are only in competition with your own records, which they matched closely despite a new bassist in Billy Horton. What a wonderful band, exquisite pop country informed with a deep love for rockabilly. Joey Simeone surely writes the best lyrics since Chuck Berry, and Bobby Horton’s riffs are infectious. They played plenty of tracks from the Just Plain Lonesome CD, instant classics like You Must Be A Loser and Wasted On Him proving very popular with crowd. The Bellfuries must have won lots of new European fans with this show, the album sold out while they were playing. Numbers like Letter To My Maybe Baby from the forthcoming release mean that this band is going a long, long way.

The only artist from the fifties at the Rave, GENE SUMMERS was a last minute replacement for Ronnie Dawson, who had to postpone his visit to Europe due to ill health (get well soon, Ronnie). Gene sung all of his classic hits (School of Rock’n’roll, Nervous, etc, even Fancy Dan) backed ably by the SURESHOTS and John Lewis (Rimshots) on piano. While these were fine in themselves, I am sorry to say that this was not the best show we have seen from Mr Summers. His attempts at working the room were frankly toe-curling. This was a rockin’ weekender, not a Catskills cabaret. A wasted opportunity.

WILDFIRE WILLIE & THE RAMBLERS did a proficient and enjoyable set, though their usual flamboyant stage show did seem more subdued than normal. As always, JJ was superlative on guitar with squillions of inventive runs and fills. Just about the last thing I have any recollection of was a fun guest spot from Phil Trigwell, a Brit who lives in Sweden.

During every weekender, each attendee will have one night when they misjudge their pace of drinking. Saturday was my night for seriously abusing the jungle juice. In the words of Sir Rowley Birkin, I was very, VERY drunk. I have no idea of how I got back to my chalet.

Sunday morning. A tiny demon working for Osama Bin Laden has crept into my room just before I awoke, beaten me about the head with a cricket bat and evacuated his satanic bowels on my tongue. It is the only possible explanation for the state of my health when I prise my bleary eyes open. Having been sent to Coventry by my chalet mates for some alcohol-erased misdemeanour of the night before, I decant myself into some slightly less smelly clothes and potter off to the halls.

MYSTERY GANG are a Rockabilly band from Hungary. You are right, that doesn’t sound too good on paper but they turned out to be an entertaining little trio. Bundles of energy and enthusiasm, lots of bouncy stage antics and eccentric but enthusiastic vocals on material like early Buddy Holly boppers. A very satisfying surprise.

The HORTON BROTHERS are up next, bringing us duet harmony with western flavour accentuated with delicate fretwork on songs like Lend Me Your Comb and Farmyard Boogie. The may be physically unprepossessing but they sure can play. TK seemed subdued behind Bobby, probably due fact he stepped in at the last moment. I would have liked to see him take the limelight a little more than he did.

Although you would swear they were from Louisiana to listen to them, DA GOUS KET RAMBLERS hail from France. These men can really lay down a tune! Fiddler Paul Suzen is deeply impressive, and vocalist Rodolphe Guiheux handles the swamp beat cadences superbly. Country boogies straight from the farm with a hint of cajun is what the Ramblers do best. The highlights for me were Miserlou done in a Western swing style and Leon Bass’s 60s classic Country Hixs.

Everybody now trekked upstairs to the main ballroom. Once a sound engineer had been found to switch on the power, the next DJ did a fantastic set. Well, at least I enjoyed me.

Holland’s finest, the TIN STARS blasted out some belting numbers, guitarist Tjarko Jeen making them shine. Singer LIL ESTHER is no Marti Brom but she has a pleasing enough voice.

I can’t say that I was impressed by DEE LANNON from the States. Despite an excellent backing band including JJ on the guitar, she could not transcend her weak country vocals or lack of stage presence. Time to prop up the bar

HOT STUFF from Switzerland is a great band, with several albums-worth of quality songs under their belt. They hadn’t played together for a while but didn’t seem too rusty. Singer Simon Walty appears to be his own biggest fan. Built like a brick rabbit-hutch and fuelled by cattle hormones, he smarmed across the footlights like an oleaginous condom packed with walnuts. With cracking material such as Wild Nights at the Junction at their disposal, playing two Johnny Burnette covers is just plain lazy. Let’s face it, nobody is going to improve on the RNR Trio, so why make yourself look bad trying? Despite these and some other poor choices of material, there were some enjoyable moments, such as a particularly overwrought Stella.

My God, I love the Rockabilly Rave. Loads of excellent bands, always an act or three that we haven’t heard before, nice chalets, not too long or short. A guaranteed good time every time!

This year saw a much increased attendance, gave us all enormous fun and proved that the Rave is still the best and growing stronger. I do feel that this increase in scale and a discernable shift away from 100% Rockabilly is in danger of slightly watering-down the unique atmosphere and making the Rave difficult to distinguish in style from other UK events. But how can we argue with such a wonderful weekender? See you all again next year

Bill Smoker