While our hearts will always be true to the rock’n’roll and rockabilly that have been the staple of our lives for decades, it’s rare that one manages to get to a rock’n’roll club where you’re going to hear many original records that we’ve not heard before. That’s not big-headedness, or a criticism of the rockin’ scene clubs, but the combination of the need to cater at least to some degree to what people know and like, the constraints of playing to the ‘jivers, boppers, strollers’ dance rhythms, and the fact that the source of such records has been heavily mined over the past 50 years – with desirable originals commanding hefty prices – means that it’s hard for DJs to come up with much that isn’t familiar.

Like quite a few from the rockin’ scene, though, we’ve been dabbling with the closely-related rhythm and blues scene. That in itself is quite a catch-all term (in much the same way as the rock’n’roll scene encompasses several genres of up-tempo music from the late 40s to early 60s), but it’s allowed us to feast our ears on a wide variety of records from the same period, many of them from artists with feet in both camps, but spanning a wide variety of rhythms from the very bluesy to the more soul end of the spectrum and every point between.

February saw us heading north to Sheffield in the company of DJ, record collector, promoter and all-round fun-to-be-with Rusty Rookes and his wife, Ali, to check out the Federal Club, which runs every few months, flipping between Sheffield and Crewe. The venue is a converted workshop, appropriately dubbed The Toolmakers, in the heart of the former industrial quarter. Arriving in the pouring rain through streets of disused factories itself created an atmosphere that’s often missing from more ‘refined’ venues. We got there soon after opening time, but there was already an appreciable crowd which confirmed that this was a place where people took their music seriously and wanted to hear everything the DJs had to offer – a stark contrast from clubs where the DJ is only there to fill in the bits between sets by a band. Inevitably, our first call was to the table of records for sale; one of the joys of dipping into genres on the margins of our core interests is that sometimes some there are some surprising finds to be spotted at attractive prices and, after managing to work out who to pay for the contents of which box, we both came away with soe new acquisitions. That done, we settled in to enjoy the music, and what music it was. DJs Jodie Lamb, Damian Hewitt, Martin Matthews, Gav Arno, Mace, Clive Read and Neale Dewey (yes, there are that many DJs on one of these sessions – and one more was stuck across the water) ranged widely across 50s and 60s genres, from pure R&B, through Exotica, Popcorn, Ska and a few stops in between. I was, honestly, quite overwhelmed – after 40-odd years of digging music from that era, I’m used to being at least on nodding acquaintance with most of the content; instead, I found myself being firehosed with tracks I’d never heard before, with nothing that I didn’t like and loads that I loved. It reminded me of being 15, walking into rock’n’roll clubs with a knowledge that didn’t go far beyond a few greatest hits LPs and feeling this wave of great music wash over me. Maybe this is the secret of eternal youth! It helped that the crowd were decidedly friendly, the beer was good and the pouring rain outside made this the ideal place to be. A comfortable hotel nearby and a productive morning’s trawling the local antiques markets left us determined to make a return visit, especially as the next Sheffield Federal Club gig on 23 April features guests from the Hoochie Coochie Club DJ roster including Steve Stack’O’Wax, Craig Simpson and Tom Lawrie, offering a mixture of top R&B and carefully selected rock’n’roll.

Back from Sheffield, and our sights immediately turned to the opening gig at Rusty’s new venue at the Crown pub in the heart of Bristol. Niftily dubbed ‘Jewels in the Crown’, Rusty’s aim is to bring a rolling roster of respected DJs playing a broad spectrum of rare and classic 50s and mid 60s sounds, taking R&B as the unifying theme but ranging widely to ensure there’s always something there you won’t have heard before – so long as it meets the golden rule of being on original vinyl (and, of course, being good). As a Saturday afternoon club, it can benefit from the advantages of attracting customers in a vibrant city market quarter, without the downside of trying to operate amid the carnage of an inner-city Saturday night. Having heard his plans come together, we were honoured to be asked not only to join the team of DJs for the opening event but also to kick off the proceedings. No pressure then, though that does have the advantage of being sure that the records you take along won’t already have been played by someone with an earlier slot!

Come the day, we headed down early to make sure we could find the venue and get a bite to eat beforehand. As soon as we got to the Crown, we could see why Rusty was so excited about the possibilities: a classic vaulted cellar area, finished in dark red paint, with its own bar, a circulation area, and a dance floor with low stage at the far end – perfect for losing ourselves in music away from everyday mundanities. Decks up and running, and we kicked off a little ahead of time – with six DJs, we weren’t going to run short of tunes. Familiar faces were soon appearing – not just the DJs: Nick Wells, Steve ‘Stack-O-Wax’ Jepson, Vernon Whittle and an old buddy from my youth ‘back east’, Johnny Pezella (and Rusty, of course), but also fellow local wax spinner, Ian Webster, and a steady stream of music-loving types including a surprise visitor from my London office days. The atmosphere amongst the DJs at a club like this is great – not competitive in a ‘who’s got the best records’ way, but each bringing their best game (and that’s probably the first and last time you’ll get a sporting analogy from me) to complement what others will be spinning.

Four hours disappeared in a flash, some disappeared to local hotels to drop off their precious boxes of discs while we stacked the decks, then rounded up the gang for food and drinks to relive a cracking afternoon. Jewels in the Crown will be back every second Saturday of the month. You can catch the latest news on future gigs at the Jewels in the Crown Facebook page, and catch up with the music you missed on MixCloud starting with the first chunk here. And the best bit is that it gives us the excuse to buy more records!