Feeling slightly guilty that I didn’t manage to produce a full review of the third Rockabilly Rebellion held at Weston Super Mare’s Winter Gardens at the end of August, particularly as it was definitely the best so far and with an excellent line-up, but the day was so full with time spent behind the decks and, as Phil Parr’s photos sadly were eaten by a dodgy memory card (a crying shame as he was clearly getting some excellent shots of every band), anything I wrote would lack illustrations, so I’ll have to content myself with a few highlights from the day.
I’ll begin with credit to the guy who has masterminded this event and built it into what it is – Trevor ‘Rock Ape’ Stewart. Putting together any all-dayer is no mean feat, and this one has grown steadily in just three short years to have all the trappings of an event with a full team behind it, belying just how few are involved in making it happen. It was noticeable from the start that a broader line-up of acts had attracted a crowd from a much wider-ranging area than the more routine events in the Weston/Burnham area, drawn not only by the strength of the bill but also the quality of the venue. Quite how Trev managed to persuade the Winter Gardens to host it, I still can’t imagine, but on our second year there, they’d clearly worked out that we’re a friendly mob willing to put more than a few bob behind the bar and food outlets, and they’d gone out of their way to open up more bars as well as both a cafe and restaurant, making it dead easy to get food and drink whenever one got the urge.
Billed as one of seven DJs, and with six bands on the bill, I’d been in two minds how many records to take down as it was possible I’d just be filling a 45-min slot between bands. Fortunately, a combination of indecisiveness and the sheer effort involved in emptying out one flight case to fill it with a selection from three had persuaded me to take down a wide selection of discs as, when we arrived, we found that a couple of the billed DJs had been forced to drop out and, with his usual sound man working elsewhere, Trev wisely decided to concentrate on keeping the programme ticking over and acting as MC rather than tying himself up behind the decks. So I found myself covering the warm-up early afternoon session in partnership with Dave ‘Big Bopper’ Hook and looking forward to a couple of sessions between bands later in the day.
Live acts were kicked off by the Carl Morris Trio, a lively three-piece (the clue’s in the name, Clive) playing hard-edged rockabilly with a garage-y edge. I was intrigued when one of them came up to DJ Ian Webster later in the evening just after he’d played the storming ‘Don’t Call Me Flyface’ by the Reekers – I wonder if that’s going to be added to their set list in the future as it seemed just the sort of thing they’d like. Next up were the Crawlin’ Kingsnakes, another band taking their rockabilly at the harder end and making a return appearance from last year. The middle part of the programme held the treats for us, with a visit to the UK from Hervé Loison in both Jake Calypso and Nut Jumpers guises, with Larry Adams and his Rhythm Heirs filling the gap between while Hervé prepared his transformation. There’s something about French rockabilly artists at their best, as both Jake and his fellow countryman Don Cavalli seem to have mastered the art of writing and performing totally authentic sounding rockabilly whilst avoiding any sense of pastiche. Aided by a storming backing band, all of them proving the adage that less is more when it comes to a great sound, Jake blasted his way through a set full of original material, delivering strong and varied vocals while flashing around the stage and into the audience without missing a beat. At one point, he took the audience into a revivalist call-and-response routine worthy of the deep South, building to a crescendo that left us quite exhausted – and we were just watching. This is an act I want to see again.
Larry Adams proved a worthy following act, delivering a very pure rockabilly set more dependent on covers, but done in a very faithful style that demonstrated careful study of the original 50s sound. If one had been passing the venue at that point, one would have been mistaken for thinking it was a DJ playing the originals. That’s not to say that he and the Rhythm Heirs played slavishly and without their own interpretation, but the overall sound was absolutely spot on and an object lesson for the crash and bash approach often adopted to try to capture the excitement of rockabilly. The early part of the set was dogged by problems on the mixing desk – an inevitable risk when bands are following so closely on each other’s heels with DJs in between, and it’s to Larry’s credit that he’d not tried to dominate the record session by taking a long time to sound check. Still, for me, the settling down period only served to reinforce just how good the band were as the quality of the music was obvious, whatever was happening on the desk. Again, I’d like to see them again as they epitomise what original 50s rockabilly is about.
After the awesome Jake Calypso set, we wondered just what the Nut Jumpers would bring that was different – and we soon found out! With Hervé/Jake joined on guitar by Blimey O’Reilly (aka Helen Shadow) and former Stargazer Ricky Lee Brawn on drums, the band delivered a blistering set of garage-influenced hard core rock’n’roll. Whilst not to the taste of some of the rockabilly purists there, and frightening away the dancers, it took the music into the wilder end of the spectrum and was expertly delivered throughout. Interestingly, Hervé went on Facebook after the gig to apologise for the volume which I think had fallen victim to the sound man believing that the settings for Jake and his Red Hot would be the same for the second appearance. Yet again, a band I’ll be on the look out for future UK appearances.
Meanwhile, up behind the bands, Ian ‘Wobbly’ Webster, Noel Smith the Jailhouse Rocker and I were joined by Tony Toye, who’d kindly brought all the kit down and then had to abandon his planned slot outside owing to the blustery winds. It was great working alongside guys who were playing a lot of the same kind of stuff, but without any of us ‘stealing’ all the best tracks for one set (and how could we when there’s so many great records to cram in), meaning that we got to dance to some of our favourites rather than only hearing them while I was behind the decks myself. Oddly, the layout of the Winter Gardens means that the DJ can’t hear his own records too well (it echoes back as a bit of a mush), so it was all the more appreciated to hear fellow DJs digging into some all-time classic tracks. Spinning records at an all-dayer with a crowded bill of live acts is always a little nerve-wracking, as one’s fear is that the audience will use the short gaps between bands to grab a seat, top up with food and drink, and prepare for the next band; likewise, some of the time will always get eaten up with the next sound check. So it was massively encouraging to see the floor jumping to some tracks that folk might not know quite so well, especially from our elevated position up on the balcony.
Sadly, the clock running down on our car park ticket and the time needed to trolley flight cases up into the multi-storey meant we had to slip away before the end of the evening, forcing us to miss the closing act – the highly-rated Revolutionaires. Mind you, given that by that time we’d had over eleven hours of solid rockabilly, we felt pretty well done by. Here’s hoping that Trev can find as good a line-up for the 2020 Rebellion, already programmed for 29 August 2020, and that I get an invitation back to have another bash at the decks!