It’s a very long time since Weston Super Mare featured in our rockabilly diary – not since the weekenders moved there for a few years in the late 80s when the good folk of Caister took exception to our mass descent on their village. But having been deeply disappointed to miss Sonny West’s appearance at Hot Dang Dilly in the Holloway Road earlier in the year, we were delighted to find that he was headlining an all-dayer in the heart of Weston at the end of September dubbed the Rockabilly Rebellion.
Weston at the fag end of the season isn’t a magnet for Saturday trade, but we wondered how close to the centre of things the organisers might have been able to find a venue. Pretty much dead centre turned out to be the answer, in a nightclub that must once have been a big seafront cafe right opposite the pier. It was a slightly strange set-up for a gig, with a horseshoe-shaped bar and diner dominating the centre of the room, and the bands tucked away just to the left of the entrance, but that left just enough room for a dance floor and had the advantage that one was never far away from the centre of the action.
And action there was in spades, with no fewer than five bands filling the programme which ran from 10.00 am through to 1.00 am, each delivering a full hour and a quarter’s set. Even if, like us, you’d not been able to plan ahead far enough to get advance tickets, at £15 each, that was just £3 a band, or a little under £2.50 an hour for live music – not taking into account he DJs who filled the spaces in between. This was obviously going to be an event run for the love of the music rather than for anybody’s profit!
Sadly, we’d just missed the opening set by Little Lesley and the Bloodshots, fitting in an early gig before heading off for a later performance, which was a shame as this New York-based three-piece, headed up by the eponymous (I love that word!) lead singer and bass player, looked to have been worth a listen. However, we didn’t have to wait long for the next act to appear – the locally-based Red Hot Trio filling in for a late fall-down in one of the scheduled acts. Led by Jimmy Lee on vocals and stand-up drums, this was definitely a rockabilly band in the modern vein, with more than a hint of Slim Jim Phantom (no surprise, they’ve backed him) and a dose of Tim Polecat energy. Backed by ‘DD’ on bass and Henry Evans on guitar, they kicked off at a blistering pace with a mixture of covers and self-penned numbers and stayed full-on throughout. I’m afraid I don’t do set lists (taking copious notes doesn’t make for a fun day out), but this was everything you’d expect from a young, neo-rockabilly-ish band who clearly thoroughly enjoy what they’ve been doing since forming in 2004 (so not that young!).
A brief respite for a coffee and hunk of cake from the cafe just down the road (nice collection of Tretchikoff prints), and a jive to work off the sugar rush, and we were into Delta 88, another trio, this time from Devon and, like the previous acts, signed to Western Star records. This was an outfit with a clear idea of the look they were after, and drummer and vocalist Nikki Clews’ stand-up bass drum hinted at a band with a definite style of their own. Backed by brother Simon, sharing vocals and adding some nifty guitar licks, and stalwart bass from Julian Wood, they too ripped into a mix of covers and their own material with a more original rockabilly sound. Though comparatively new on the scene, having been formed in 2014, they’d clearly secured themselves a dedicated following, and took the event cruising neatly into the evening sessions as the rain poured down outside.
More rekkids, more jiving on an increasingly slippy dance floor, and into the fourth of the Western Star stable bands, but a vastly more experienced team in the shape of The Bullets. With a more conventional rockabilly line-up of Brett on vocals and guitar, Darren on bass and Gary on drums, they reflected a hard core 50s rockabilly-with-a-hint-of-garage sound. Again, they blended rockabilly standards with their own numbers, showing real energy where it counted by not letting the individual numbers be lost in a blaze of sound. For lovers of instrumentals like us, that’s where the true measure of a band is as you can’t hide behind the personality of the lead singer or a recognisable set of lyrics, and this bunch certainly knew how to pack an instrumental punch. Having nailed Mickey Hawks’ ‘Cotton Pickin’, they took on the more obscure Excels’ ‘Let’s Dance’ (OK, it’s got words, but they’re not exactly Cole Porter) and delivered a wild Link Wray tribute that sounded like all the great Link records rolled into one. A great note on which to line up the headline.
So we sidled down to the front for a prime spot. Somehow I’d missed Sonny West in the first flowering of his UK rock’n’roll career as I think he’d arrived on the scene just as other things took me away, and his 25-year break from rock’n’roll gigging didn’t help. But if this is what a self-imposed rockabilly exile does for your performing style, I’d recommend it to any aspiring artist. A consummate showman, he tore into the opening number with style, professionalism, and a vocal and guitar technique that outshone anything we’d seen that day – and just stayed there for the next hour or so. The wonders of wireless technology saw him disappear into the crowd every few numbers, not missing a beat as he threw out – literally – in your face guitar solos. Perched on a handy speaker, I was doing no better at tracking the set list than before, but I’m pretty sure the vast majority of his set was original material, albeit reaching back throughout his career. In the relatively intimate setting of the gig, his whole act had added impact, and sent Mrs M and I off back to the car park with ringing ears but a definite sense of satisfaction from a solid day of rockabilly.
Full marks to the team who put the Rebellion together. Hopefully, the success of the day and the feedback they’ve had since will lure them into doing it all again.