Review Rockabilly Rave #7 - 2003

"Arrgh, please no!" screamed my liver as our car sped south towards Rye. "God help us" whimpered my kidneys as the plastic band clicked shut around my weakly pulsing wrist. Too late. I was now locked into 3 days of loud rocking music and chronic alcohol abuse at the annual 7th Rockabilly Rave at Camber Sands and it was a straight choice between booze oblivion or hospitalization. Or possibly both.

I bought a bottle of some pink, sickly sweet paint stripper and strolled up front to catch the first band, BILL FADDEN & THE SILVERTONE FLYERS (UK). This high energy combo zipped through numbers like "You Nearly Lose Your Mind" (Roy Moss),"Something I Said (Lew Williams) and a splendid "Raging Sea" (Gene Maltais). I would like to hear more of their own material. Female drummer.

JESSE AL TUSCAN (Germany) played a few covers such as "Blue Black Hair" (Jades) and "All Messed Up" (Jess Hooper) before bringing Tail records stablemate DOTTIE EASTWOOD onto the stage. Her self-penned material is extremely good, but I was puzzled as to why she thought she could play rhythm guitar while wearing gloves!

DEKE DICKERSON & THE ECCOFONIC BOYS (USA) were the undoubted stars of the night's entertainment. Looking sharp in a tasselled western shirt and toting his trademark twin-necked Mosrite guitar, Deke rocked straight out of the starting blocks with scorching takes on "Lets Rock To-Nite" (Jimmy Grubbs) and "Red Headed Woman" (Sonny Burgess). With help from Shorty on bass & Chris 'Sugarballs' Spragueon drums they plugged new songs from their new LP. "Wear Out the Soles of My Shoes " was the best of these, recalling the surf guitar of Untamed Youth. "Feelin’ low" (Ernie Chaffin) was very nice, thank you, and the showpiece when the whole band played "Rockin Gypsy" (Joe Maphis) on one guitar was beautiful. Well-deserved encores of the standards "Mexicali Rose" and "Muleskinner Blues" rounded off the set.

The call of a football match in the pub down the road meant that I missed most of the GUITAR FORUM. I saw a bit of John Lewis, Deke Dickerson, and Ashley Kingman, who laid down a virtuoso jam together. I then dashed off to the Sounds That Swing record stall to make myself cash-poor but vinyl-rich (as always!)

SEATSNIFFERS (Belgium) belt out hard-edged country rockers, a little in the same vein as Germany’s Smokestack Lightning but not quite as high a standard. Their best number in my view was a nice version of “A Cheat” (Sanford Clark). The band if far better than their awful name suggests, so they may want to consider a rethink on the nomenclature font.

The MEAN DEVILS from (Portugal) were a revelation. ‘Portuguese Rockabilly’ sounds a bit unlikely, like ‘Austalian culture’ or ‘Welsh hospitality’ but this was an outstanding four-piece. Covers were done with verve and their own material was exceptional. What with this lot and Ruby Ann & the Boppin’ Boozers, it seems that Portugal is the country to watch in future.

BREWSTERS trio (Germany), played nothing but covers. These were chosen wisely and the band added that special ‘something’ to them. ‘I Had a Gal Called Sal’ (Lightning Hopkins) and ‘Boogie Chillen’ (John Fred) were typical, blistering, rocking blues boppers. The Brewsters remind me of the Blue Rhythm Boys at their best, high praise indeed.

To be honest, there was really only one act that stole the show at this Rockabilly Rave, and that was RONNIE DAWSON. While Sweden’s Go Getters laid down a fat, earthy beat, Ronnie walked through the crowd doing ‘Red Hot Mama’ and ‘Shim Sham Shimmy’, flanked by security to hold back the throng of adoring fans. Dawson has always had the very best musicians in his band, so the Go Getter’s guitarist was up against some historic competition. He fully acquitted himself, while Ronnie took most of the lead breaks himself. Ronnie’s ill health was common knowledge among the crowd and this was perhaps the most emotionally-charged show I have ever seen. ‘Congratulations To Me’ (Darrell Glenn) was dedicated to his wife Chrissie, and it was at this point that the tears began to flow for me. ‘Yum Yum’, ‘Fish Out of Water’, ‘Knock Down Drag Out’ were all blasted loud and strong. ‘Veronica’ was a big crowd pleaser, and set off the waterworks again. The opening riff of ‘Rockinitis’ sent the crowd beserk. Long time collaborator Boz Boorer was on stage for ‘This Is The Night’ and ‘The Cats Were Jumping’ . ‘Rockin Bones’ was wonderfully sublime but lyrically heavy with significance, the whole audience visibly moved. ‘Action Packed’ and ‘Monkey Beat’ rounded the show out as we cheered the roof off.

As we now know, this turned out to be Ronnie Dawson’s last ever European show. The night could have so easily been a living wake. Instead he turned it into a triumphant celebration of his life and career, his performance showing absolutely no sign of weakness or special pleading. Nobody who was there will ever forget it, nor will they forget how many tears they cried that night.

The audience was unaware of just how much that performance took out of Ronnie. He strutted off stage, his jaw held high in his classic heroic stance, to a massive ovation. When he got to the dressing room he was utterly exhausted, drained, as weak as a kitten. He had truly given his all to provide his European fans with one last fabulous Ronnie Dawson rockabilly show. A lesser mortal would have left it there, satisfied that they had managed to make it that far. Yet Ronnie went further. From some God-given reserve he found the strength to get changed, go back to the record stall in the auditorium (run by his old friend Barney Koumis) and do the 'grip and grin' one last time. For two whole hours.

And to each person that came up to him, who had seen him many times over the previous two decades, the musicians and promoters who had worked with him, and friends that loved him, he said firmly and with a smile: "Goodbye".
That night we all saw true courage. It was the single bravest act I have ever witnessed. Ronnie Dawson proved that night that he deserved to be called a hero. God Bless you, Ronnie, and farewell.

It was impossible for anyone to top Ronnie Dawson, but the one and only RED HOT AND BLUE made a bloody good stab at it. Playing an epically long set at almost two hours, this was the original line up with Ashley Kingam of the Flyrite boys on guitar. Mouse is one hell of a showman, singing his heart out and dashing around like a man possessed. The songs are now all standards on the dancefloor and lifted the spirits of the audience, filled as they are with fun and exuberance.

Tall mark has technical troubles.

Lucky Cupids (Slovenia) east european bands always a nice surprise. Little sister (elvis), brand new cadillac, shakin’all over. Never going to be the next rimshots but nice to see a slovenian band at all. Rock billy boogie. Strangers in the night! Cry baby!!

Go Getters (Sweden) nice version of Summertime (Gershwin). Slow Down (Larry Williams). High School Caesar. Usual thing, stray cattish trio. Best guitarist (lonnie johnson? Check), madman blues. Various guests get up for "You don’t love me."

Noisy Boys (Switzerland) snaggle tooth ann. Good slap bass. Rock rock pitched a little too high. Ace guitarist. If you love my woman (jimmy witter). One toothbrush (phil trigwell, check title)

Rimshots (Wales) usual thing, planet bop ramblin man etc. they then back…

Mac Curtis (USA) ready to rumble, if I had me a woman, ducktails. Voice is well miked.good sound engineers all weekend but they need to pay a bit more attention to the DJ sound. Ought to see grandma rock, half hearted love. All the king sides and a healthy selection of rolling rock stuff. Distinguished southern gentleman, little miss linda, good rocking tomorrow, some newer songs,rab ready, keep on rockin’

Starliters (Italy)- steel guitar gives a western sound. Watchdog, catfish boogie, Saturday jump. My search is excellent

Bill Smoker