Having written about the Rockabilly Rave once before, there’s a danger that this year’s post might turn out to be another on the theme of ‘Had a great time, saw some great bands, heard some great records, danced a lot, did a bit of shopping and enjoyed time out with friends we love’. Well, we did all of that at this year’s 20th Anniversary event, but no two Raves are the same, so here goes…
I suppose I really ought to start with the live music, although in truth the line-up was less important to us this year than previously. Sadly, one of our favourites, Don Cavalli, had been forced to pull out – no reflection on either him or organiser Jerry Chatabox as much can happen between the flyer going out and event arriving, but that still left an appearance by Los Straightjackets to look forward to, a band we’ve been itching to see for a long time. Performing in Mexican wrestlers masks, and led by ace guitarist Eddie Angel, they didn’t disappoint with a storming set of wild guitar-led instrumental rockers. This is the sort of music that just wouldn’t have been played on the rockin’ scene when weekenders first started, when the line-ups centred on original artists, ‘classic’ rock’n’roll or slap-bass rockabilly. If their own talents weren’t enough, they were joined by Deke Dickerson for a word and intonation perfect rendition of ‘Surfin’ Bird’ and then, in a change of mood, the band brought Big Sandy on stage towards the end of their session for a Mexican-tinged rendition of Lonely Teardrops – very original and very moving.
Big Sandy returned on the Saturday night for his set with his own band, the Fly-Rite Boys. Sandy and his band are so consistently proficient, and so easy on the ear, that it’s easy to take them for granted. Only when one stops to listen does it strike again just what a quality of musicianship there is behind every number, and just how authentic a sound they produce. Another dedicated student of the 50s sound, Deke Dickerson, shared the billing on Saturday evening. Ever the showman, Deke combines his performing career with sustained efforts to document and archive the music that typifies the rockabilly era, and to seek out artists who have long ago faded from view. So it was that Deke’s set ended with his bringing out on stage Johnny Knight, whose 1958 recording of Rock’n’Roll Guitar has been a staple of rockin’ clubs for the past three decades but who only came to light when his son played piano on some sessions on which Deke also appeared. Some original artists are best left in retirement and remembered for their original performances – not so Johnny, who clearly relished his return to the mike and whose voice was instantly recognisable. Even from where we were standing, you could see the pride on his son’s face as his father rocked a crowd many times larger than any he must have played the first time around and, in return, was cheered to the rafters.
With fewer bands that we particularly wanted to see, Mrs M and I had more time to spend at the record hop downstairs, and found that this year’s line-up of DJs was a very strong one. We were blown away by the sets from USA-based Boppin’ Bud, who combined a string of unusual jivers with a non-stop string of classic rockabilly boppers that kept us either on the floor or very close to it so as not to miss the next choice platter. Note to self, though – at 53 there are some records that you just can’t dance to anymore, or at least not without wondering what a bopping coronary would feel like. Tom Ingram made a return to the UK to take a turn behind the decks, delivering a session very reminiscent of his early days in South London clubs and keeping the dance floor full of jivers, boppers and strollers in turn.
We were lucky enough to arrive earlier than usual on the Friday afternoon, which gave us a much better chance to check out the many stalls offering original items and beautifully reproduced clothing. With time to shop around properly, we were able to pick out some choice items from Geronimo clothing, Freddie’s of Pinewood and Rocket Originals. Even so, I’d made my first purchase of a very nice original Gab jacket from a friend before we’d got ten feet inside the door. There is, however, a cautionary tale about being too keen to show off one’s new purchases – more than once we spotted the same item that had newly appeared on the stalls sported by several people in close proximity, so it maybe pays to leave it a bit to avoid that ‘Oh look, there’s another one of those…’ comment in your wake. Mind you, I guess the same is true of originals when the reaction to a new acquisition is ‘Nice jacket. Didn’t so-and-so have one like that?’
Of course, we hit the record stalls, too, with our usual division of labour that saw Mrs M combing through boxes of originals while I worked my way through the repros. In addition to a fistful of newly-released material, I also came away with a few collectible repros. Such is the rarity of good rock’n’roll on 45, that records repressed in limited numbers in the 70s and 80s are now changing hands for three or four times the price of a new release which, for someone who did most of his record-buying back then, is rather heartening. Our more exciting purchases, though, came at Saturday afternoon’s vinyl junkies session where, as we listened to some fantastic original 45s being spun by Tall Mark Greenaway, Neil Scott and Bill Smoker, and enjoyed catching up with pals, Mrs M dived into the boxes of goodies being traded by fellow collectors and came up with originals of Senior Class by Mickey Lee Lane and Livin’ Lovin’ Wreck by Jerry Lee Lewis, both great jivers that I’ve been featuring regularly at the Smokey Joe’s sessions. Thanks for the Mates’ Rates, Jerry Brill!
There are always so many impressions to take away from a weekender – some unique to the occasion, others themes that return every time. The sight of a bunch of German Teds under the direction of Wildfire Willie constructing a bridge of picnic tables to allow others to get across the flooded pathways after some biblical storms; the overwhelming good humour of everyone there, from the chap behind me who tapped me on the shoulder to point out that my shirt collar was a bit crooked at the back, to the giant Australians (including Rockabilly’s Mr Nice Guy answer to Jimmy Stewart, Scotty Baker) who ushered a shorter bloke standing behind them through to get a better view of the band. Irvin’s sheer delight at his Teddy Tinling dancers pattern shirt. The French DJs who always manage to get you hanging on at three in the morning to see just what unknown gem they’re going to play next. Handbills everywhere for gigs and weekenders across Europe. It’s always a wrench to drag ourselves away from the Sunday morning flea market, where inevitably one runs into the old pal you’d not spotted the rest of the weekend, and hit the road back home, but at least there’s the knowledge that there’ll be another one next year. Can’t wait to see what you’ve got lined up for No 21, Jerry.