Our quest to explore the rock’n’roll scene in our new home in the west of the country continues to unearth unexpected delights. Last year’s Rockabilly Rebellion in Weston Super Mare turned out to have a more regular counterpart in the Sunday afternoon Rockin’ By the Sea events at the Old Pier Tavern in nearby Burnham on Sea. It’s everything you’d want from a classic rock’n’roll club – a substantial old pub, too big to survive on what remains of the passing trade on that bit of sea front, and so delighted to fill its no frills function area with lots of big beat making lots of noise and consuming very attractively priced beer. Thanks to the organisational efforts of Trevor ‘Rock Ape’ Stewart, Clare Underwood, Dave Norrel and a small team of regular DJs, they manage to offer a constant stream of bands and spin-ups on an almost weekly basis, with an entry fee only for special events, including the occasional Bank Holiday Sunday all-dayers, supported by Western Star Records.
May’s event was a particular treat for us, featuring a number of old friends who’d made the trek from the other side of the country. Sadly we missed the opening act, the Dog Gone Daddys, a solid rockabilly band with an authentic Johnny Burnette Trio sound, but we made it in time to catch the back end of the set from Delta 88, with Simon and Nikki Clews and bassist Julian Wood knocking out a mix of their own tunes and standards in a stripped-down style with some nifty guitar work. Picking up the late afternoon slot was Lew Lewis and the Twilight Trio, featuring Stix Outram guesting on drums. We last saw Stix as the landlord of the East Kent, a rock’n’roll rendezvous in Whitstable, now sadly returned to conventional trade, so it was great to see him back with a band. It was hard to believe that the Trio hadn’t had the chance to rehearse with this line-up, featuring regulars Tom Hayes and Nick Linton-Smith, as they quickly melded into a tight outfit, hammering out a succession of rockabilly classics and self-penned numbers in a set lasting over an hour with no loss of energy or Lew’s irrepressible enthusiasm as front man.
Headlining the day were the Houserockers, fronted as ever by all-round rock’n’roll polymath, Rob Glazebrook. As Rob pointed out, the Houserockers have been playing together for nearly 20 years, while Rob’s also been fronting the Playboys who have been going for even longer, and he’s been adding to the repertoire constantly throughout that time, as well as searching out alternative versions of well-known tunes with the avidity of the dedicated record collector. The long set and modest venue made it possible for Rob and the boys to dig deep into their catalogue of songs, dropping the overall volume and tweaking the echo to get just the right sound and giving Rob the opportunity to introduce each one with a bit of background. That seemed to work well, scratching the itch of those of us interested in the particular arrangements, but also drawing out those who like to dance to their bands. Rob’s musicianship evidences his years of study of the original artists, much of it gained backing huge range of them, but with a personal take that lifts it above mere cover versions, whilst the band’s own compositions feature riffs that could have come from any great recording of the period without ever being guilty of ‘lifting’ and reusing stuff we’ve heard before. The rhythm section, featuring Nicks Hoadley and Simonon is solid as the cliched rock, giving the outfit the kind of small group rockabilly sound we craved on the best of the Bison LPs. By the time the band were allowed to leave the stage and start the trek back to Southend, we’d been treated to an hour and 40 minutes of energy-packed pure rockabilly goodness.
Since I penned this article, Rockin’ by the Sea has moved premises to the Orchard Inn, just outside Burnham and close to the M5. The programme of gigs and record hops continues unabated, as do Rock Ape’s plans for Rockabilly Rebellion No 3 in 2019. You can find all the details on the Rockin’ by the Sea and Rockabilly Rebellion Facebook pages.
Photographs by Phil Parr.