Review Rockabilly Rave #9 - 2005


Attendees always eagerly anticipate the Rockabilly Rave. Let me give you an example. As I walked from the gate where the taxi had dropped my horribly overpacked luggage and I, someone zipped by on a vintage motorcycle wearing his trousers as a scarf. A very excited person from an unidentified European country yelled something unintelligible into my face, before running away whilst swigging from a bottle of Jim Beam. Then two women fell down in a heap in front of me for no apparent reason, roaring with laughter, patently blind drunk. I stepped over them in to the reception area, which was jam-packed with greaseball weirdoes of all shapes and sizes, trying to check-in as loudly as possible.

It was not yet 4 o'clock on Friday afternoon.

Something told me that this weekend might get a little bit lively…

After four hours of handhakes, hearty backslapping and scurrilous gossip, the majority of us that were still standing gathered to catch the first band, Canadians ROY THOMPSON & THE ROYAL ACADIANS. These sharp looking felines have a tight and consistent sound with a substantial rhythm section, their energy levels rising to meet the occasion. ‘Not for Love or Money' (Gary Hodge) was a highlight for me.

Friday night's headliner band was JOE BENNETT and the original SPARKLETONES (Sparky Childress guitar, Jimmy Denton drums & Wayne Arthurs on bass). I hadn't caught this act at Vegas or Hemsby a couple of years ago but had heard good reports, so my expectations were high. They did not disappoint; it was a delight to see these guys in good shape and giving it some welly. After years of playing together they have an almost psychic connection. As well as ‘Black Slacks' and other familiar dance floor favourites they did cool versions of 50s standards like Maybe Baby. Lovely stuff

Those Portuguese prodigies the MEAN DEVILS are not new to the Rave, see my review of Rave number 7. They get better and better each time I see them. Powerfully enthusiastic, particularly on their own fine material, they effortlessly electrify the huge hall.

Off to the smaller downstairs hall to bop the night away with the marvellous DJs. Before we know it, 5AM rolls around and it is time to hit the hay.


Waking up later on Saturday, I'm a little puzzled that I don't have a hangover and it isn't raining. There is even a glimmer of yellow brightness in the sky that might just be the sun. Head for the beach but get no further than the record fair over the road. Return to my chalet skint.

I didn't get to the guitar forum. These are sometimes rather workaday, going-through-the-paces jam sessions so it is hard to work up any enthusiasm. I bet the one time I missed it the guitar forum was sizzling.

I did catch BIG CHIEF from Japan . These guys sure looked dapper, dressed up to the nines in vintage threads. A short set consisting of covers was delivered with terrific technical precision, warmly received by the audience. If the band has a weakness, it is the singer's voice. However, he seemed nervous so that might have been the problem?

The most exhilarating and original DJ set of the whole weekend was followed by SHAUN HORTON & THE TENNESSEE TRIO. As the name suggests, these mean-eyed cats come from the spiritual home of Rockabilly music… good old Britain ! Shaun has a impressive voice and imposing stage presence, while the band is so tightly knit that you couldn't fit a cigarette-paper between their arrangements. I was impressed by the quantity and quality of their own material, all of which was memorable but could use some lyrical innovation to lift it above ‘bop at the hop' clichés. They certainly chased away any afternoon lethargy.

The ROUND UP BOYS from Germany were the perfect band to kick start the evening session. This sturdy Rockabilly four-piece has a satisfying country edge that suits material like Lafayette Yarborough's ‘Cool Cool Baby'.

Legendary Sun Queen BARBARA PITTMAN demonstrated that the years have not robbed her of an impressive voice. A likeable, matronly personality, this doyenne of the Memphis rockers looks like she would be happy chasing the Florida sunshine in a Winnebego, squandering her kids' inheritance and having fun. The RHYTHM WRANGLERS do an outstanding job of backing duties, when have they ever done otherwise? Clive Osborne added the essential sax on Pittman classics like Sentimental Fool. A fine take on Lonely Weekend (Charlie Rich) was a crowd pleaser, and Sentimental Fool got a tremendous cheer.

Ms Pittman's erstwhile labelmate, BILLY LEE RILEY was spectacularly good, the best performance I have ever seen him give. His powerhouse voice still packs a hefty punch of excitement to the adrenaline glands. He looks wonderful too. Riley's chiselled and handsome Irish/native American features have a timeless and monolithic quality, similar to Johnny Cash but better preserved. It was an inspired decision to pair Billy with Portuguese rockers the MEAN DEVILS, who rose to the occasion magnificently. All of the Sun classics (and boy were there plenty of them) were terrific, Rock With Me Baby a stand-out scorcher. Camber Sands is a long way from Pocahontas , Arkansas but it was easy to forget that tonight.

Sweden 's best export since pickled herring, JACK BAYMOORE & THE BANDITS, have played the Rave so often they are almost the resident band. Their popularity is justified, and tonight they turn in a typically ace show. A newly slim and fit-looking Jyrkki sure shows those six strings who's the daddy. We are guaranteed never to be disappointed when Kent and the Kats rip it up. It was also enjoyable to seeJan Svensson (AKA Wildfire Willie) joining in with guest vocals. Expertly executed, good value and ubiquitously popular, truly these guys are the Ikea of Rockabilly!

And so the packed throng wound down the evening playing chess, discussing philosophy and reading poetry. Well, OK, we didn't. We behaved like gin-soaked hoodlums who had tumbled out of a Hogarth etching. Roaring, laughing, carousing, stumbling, slurring, puking, groping, drunken, idiotic Yahoos, every one of us. Fabulous, isn't it?!! How much money does the bar take at one of these weekenders? It must be an astronomical sum. The level of abuse the rocking crowd give our bodies, it is a miracle that Rye undertakers don't make a fortune out of us.


Guess what we felt like on Sunday morning. Did we have hangovers? Does the Pope shit in the woods?

One of the pleasures associated with the Rave is the opportunity to catch new and unknown bands from countries that one would not normally consider to be hotbeds of Rockabilly culture. The MAD MEN from Croatia are a case in point. This superb quartet of young and good-looking lads was a revelation. Boasting an impressive singer (no trace of a dodgy accent) and accomplished guitarist, they seized numbers such as Something Baby (Dazzlers) and Til The Law Says Stop (Johnny Faire), making them their own. The Mad Men are a moving testament to the benefits of independence and democracy. They put me in mind of early Jack Baymoore; this is definitely a band to watch. Is Croatia the new Sweden?

Californians the ROY KAY TRIO lived up to the shining promise of their records. Roy has a potent and confident voice and the band was tightly rehearsed and coherent. To their credit, they played mostly their own material. The overall effect is akin to the Bellfuries, a very fine thing indeed.

English rose LYNETTE MORGAN & her band perform country boogie, western swing & hillbilly in perfect period detail. Even the look is straight out of the Opry circa 1949. Tuff rockers they are not, but this gentle and expertly performed act is just the ticket to kick-start Sunday evening. They should be a nod-through for a spot on Garrison Keillor's radio show. Lynette's imposing performance tonight far outstretched anything I heard from her before.

Thanks to his hits on Challenge, including Pucker Paint and Teen Queen (smartly delivered this evening) and several White Label LPs, HUELYN DUVALL enjoys a deity status among the Rockabilly faithful. The ROUND UP BOYS are on support duties, a role they fill admirably. Huelyn is in far stronger voice than the last time I saw him. What a cool dude! We should never forget that it is an honour for us to see, performing in person, the generation that changed our culture forever. Duvall has bundles of his own prestigious material to choose from, but it was still a kick to hear him pay homage to his friends and colleagues with ditties like Let Her Roll (Sid King) and Thunder and Lightning (Tooter Boatman). Huelyn Duvall cuts a dashing figure as a distinguished elder statesman of Texas rockabilly; an inspiration to us all.

EDDIE BOND is another star in the pantheon of Memphis music makers. He retains solid vocal chords, though he is in poor physical shape (he performed much of his set seated, plainly exhausted). A dedicated and hardworking band provides the cement to hold the show together. Bond knows what this crowd demand, and he delivered all of his popular Mercury-label boppers and others from his long career, including Monkey & the Baboon.

Rockabilly Rave number nine was rounded off in suitable style by British faves NUMBER NINE. It is a shame that Malcolm Chapman is no longer on guitar, but his replacement does a fine job. Paul Ansell gives a terrific show as always, oozing star quality while reworking pop standards like Passenger and Red Light into stomping neo-billy anthems

Weekender reviews inevitably concentrate on the music side of the event, but this is not the only reason we attend. For many, it isn't even the primary reason. The social aspect of the rocking scene, meeting up with old friends from far and wide, and catching up on news, these are what make the Rave unmissable.

Those long, happy chats in a quiet corner or slumped in an untidy chalet are every bit as important as drinking or dancing. The rocking scene is an ancient and venerable institution. The ageing sections of our crowd inevitably have health problems, relationship breakdowns or personal tragedies to deal with. The Rockabilly movement acts as a support group; we are all united in our ‘outsider' status in this non-rocking world. For many of us the rocking community is the only real family we have. It was joyful and life-affirming to meet friends that have overcome severe illness, injury or bereavement and came to the Rave to celebrate their survival and strength. I feel moved and humbled by the way we share our triumphs and tribulations. We demonstrate a lot of love at weekenders like this and could teach the world at large a lot about how to live harmoniously.The Rockabilly Rave has its own strong personality now. The event remains as close to its true roots as possible while continuing to grow. It is amazing that more than 2000 people attended the Rave this year, when one considers that Viva Las Vegas and the massive Green Bay festival had taken place so recently. This indicates that, on an international scale, our scene is growing rapidly if it can support so many events of this size. The Rave does not rest on its laurels or become complacent, but continues to change and develop. This means that each one is exciting in a different and interesting way

Next year the Rave celebrates its tenth incarnation with an extra day of fun and frolics, and a mouth-watering line-up that is certain to take your breath away. Mark my words, it is going to be massive

Bill Smoker