It’s both a joy and a challenge that each year’s Rockabilly Rave tends to leave me with the same things to write about – a joy because it means that the Rave can be relied on for a weekend of good music and good mates, but a challenge when I come back determined that it should feature in this blog! Of course, I really ought to be able to turn in a detailed analysis of every band that played live, but that would not only need me to be there from Thursday evening through to Sunday night, which just isn’t possible for us, but would also need me to forfeit our nights in the downstairs club listening to brilliant records and dancing until we melt, which is the real attraction for us.
This year’s outing went past in a flash and, although the programme of live acts was as packed as ever, with the exception of Big Sandy and the Fly Right Boys, our priority was to spend as much time listening to our favourite DJs as we could. Fortunately, I know others will be writing up the bands, and as soon as I spotted Tony Bruce with camera in hand, I knew that every act and an awful lot of the off-stage action would be meticulously recorded in his superb photographs (and sure enough, there are hundreds of them on Facebook already). So rather than try to construct any kind of coherent narrative, and with the luxury of writing this for the blog alone, I decided to indulge myself in a series of largely unconnected impressions jotted down at intervals throughout the weekend…
I wonder how many people religiously attend every Rave and never get past the Queen Vic pub? Whenever we head in or out of the halls, there’s always a crowd drinking in (and drinking in) the sunshine/moonshine, and I’m convinced some of them are there all weekend.
Likewise, I’m sure there’s a completely alternative Rockabilly Rave going on consisting of bands and DJs playing in and around the chalets. Not many years ago, it was rare to encounter much more than someone with a big portable stereo and a band crashing away in the kitchen of their chalet. Now there are sound systems to compete with those in the halls, and bands who bring a full set of kit even if they’ve not got a slot on the programme. For those who like their rockabilly al fresco, there’s no need to go indoors at all.
Turning to the inside world, it’s amazing how many variations there are within a single weekend format, with different folk enjoying multiple different weekenders in the same place over the same three and a bit days. I’m sure there are those who religiously watch every band, and others can be found dancing away in the middle of the afternoon in the downstairs hall. Meanwhile, there are people like us who treat the weekend as a couple of good nights out strung together, with a hunk of record shopping and mingling with fellow vinyl junkies in the pub thrown in on the Saturday afternoon. What a difference from the first weekenders way back in the late 70s and early 80s, which saw pretty much everyone queued up outside the only hall champing at the bit for our few hours of music.
How come no matter how confident I am that I really don’t need any more clothes, I’ll come back with something even if I’ve only done a quick spin round the stalls to catch up with stallholder chums? And as for records – well, I could blame Jerry Brill for allowing us an advance peek into his box of delights on Friday afternoon, but that still wouldn’t explain the clutch of other vinyl that found its way into my suitcase over the weekend.
What is the secret to the precise mix of searing rockabilly classics, pounding familiar jivers, and awesome records we’ve never heard that makes up the perfect DJ set? I don’t think anyone could ever distil it exactly, but DJs like Danny from Spain, Little Carl, Be Bop Kaz and Double Trouble from Germany came pretty damn close with their sessions downstairs. Great record after great record kept us heading back to the dancefloor, oblivious to Mrs M’s dodgy knee and my lungs trying to remind me that if I want to bop like a 19 year-old, I need a time machine and not just a pair of white bucks.
How come it feels odd to keep bumping into members of bands, especially if they’re not playing at the weekender? They’re part of the scene just like us, and I’m really getting too old to be pointing out ‘Ooh, look – there’s some Deadshots chatting to some Astrotones’.
What is it with people who see the dance floor as this convenient space to stand and hold a conversation or check their mobile? Even worse are those who use it as a space to jig around just enough to spill drink all around them and so make an already crowded dance floor even smaller.
Why does it seem so strange to some of us that other folk like to dance to bands, rather than just stand and watch them? It can’t just be one of those unwritten rules of which newcomers to the scene are ignorant. Is it a London thing, or is it a reflection that if you’d paid for a band you really wanted to see, you wouldn’t see much if you were jiving about, and if you didn’t want to see them, you wouldn’t dance to them?
Who’s the nostalgia geek at Pontins who is determined to keep the 80s alive by stocking the bar and camp shop entirely with products from a dodgy pub and corner shop of 30 years ago? And is there any point to those bizarre drinks containers beyond sneaking in something half decent to drink?
Do the good folk of Camber Sands, and the thriving little businesses around the camp, build their plans around the succession of music tribe weirdos who cycle through the holiday camp in their midst? It’s no surprise that some enterprising type has set up a nice little vintage fair in the local village halls during our weekend, but do the proprietors of the Gallivant restaurant and Little Owl pubs come to expect us every year when we venture out for our weekend ration of proper cooking, or are we like some Brigadoon-esque phenomenon?
Am I alone in feeling desperately sorry for those for whom a week at Pontins in Camber Sands is the most they can expect from a summer holiday? Those chalets may be fine as a crash pad for a weekend of music, beer and rockabilly socialising, but take away the music, stalls, crowds of friends – and especially the numbing effect of the beer – and what’s left isn’t much advanced on what I remember of holiday camps of the 70s. You’d need more than a Yellowcoat to make that an attractive proposition.
And, yes, there was a problem with the water supply and, yes, I’m sure Pontins could have done a bit more than to send three blokes with a mini digger to dig a hole and peer into it hopefully, but strange that the only people complaining about it were those who weren’t there, determined to take to Facebook to describe the terrible time we were having. Funnily enough, those of us actually there just shrugged it off, waited for the water to come back on, and drank beer instead of tap water. Even those unfortunate enough to fall victim to taps left turned on and unattended dried out their stuff, laughed it off, and got on with having a great time.
And finally, how wonderful is it that, 40 years on from the first weekenders, we’re still unearthing new records, listening to new bands, making new friends, and finding new things to laugh at together as we dig the same great Rockabilly sound over a few days away by the seaside. Thanks for making it happen, Jerry and team, and roll on next year…