When Trev ‘Rock Ape’ Stewart lost the venue for last year’s inaugural Rockabilly Rebellion in Weston Super Mare half way through the planning for it, we imagined we’d end up in a venue far from the sea. However, we’d not reckoned for Trev’s powers of persuasion, which saw us not only back on the sea front but also in the very period surroundings of the newly-restored Winter Gardens – one of the nicest venues for a rock’n’roll all-dayer we’ve ever been in. Trev’s gigs are never less than ambitious, and he’s earned himself a place amongst the select band of promoters who can bring everything together on budget; even so, six bands and five DJs was no mean feat – especially for a tenner!
As with last year’s event, the Rebellion is an opportunity to showcase bands from the Western Star stable. This year featured a series of classic four-piece line-ups, kicking off with the Crawlin’ Kingsnakes, making the short journey across from Bristol. Given that they were a bonus addition who hadn’t made it to the flyer, they provided a strong start to the day, with a range of cover versions in rockabilly style, but avoiding slavish replication of the originals, plus a few of their own numbers which offered a good range of styles. “Sure Like the Look in Your Eyes” cracked the boppers duck for the afternoon and they ensured their kudos with Trev with the inclusion of Johnny hjorton’s “I’m Coming Home”. Next up were El Camino who, judging from their Facebook page, have made a transition from a more psychobilly influenced style to a heavier rockabilly sound, reinforced with a Peaky Blinders aesthetic that made it clear that they were not opting for the ‘play for dancers’ approach. Nonetheless they were well-received by the crowd, ripping into a lively set with classics such as “All By Myself” and “High School Confidential”, plus a version of “Rock-a-Hula Baby” that would have given Tom Parker a heart attack.
With only half an hour between bands, there was little time for encores as the stage was cleared again for Rusti Steel and the Star Tones, taking the early evening slot. Rusti and bassman/harmony vocalist Stewart Dale go back to the early 80s, with a progression of bands through the Jumpin’ Jax, Rusti Steel and the Tin Tax, and a divergence into western swing with Check Crosby and his Red Hot Wranglers, before forming the Star Tones in 2007 to focus on authentic sounds from across the rockabilly, rock’n’roll and blues genres. From the outset you could tell that this was a band striving for an original sound of stripped back rockabilly – and succeeding. Over a succession of classic numbers, from “Rock It”, through “Midnight Shift”, “Lover Boy” and “Your True Love”, and including a shift to twin neck and steel guitars, the look and sound were what you could imagine coming from the back of a flat bed truck somewhere in rural 50s America rather than a quintessentially English seaside building.
Another brief pause brought the Daventry-based Retrobaits to the stage, breaking the trend with a three-piece line-up. This was a band clearly experienced at playing for dancers, tackling a range of standards from rockabilly to doo wop (probably the first time I’ve heard the Cliques’ “I’m in Love with a Girl” and Bob Doss’ “Don’t You Be Gone Long” in one band’s set list). They even gave Del Shannon’s “Runaway” an outing, with a bit of audience participation for the high bits! Taking no prisoners for anyone tempted to dance were the next band up, the Deadshots from Redditch, a young four-piece band with a penchant for high octane rockabilly. A mix of covers and originals were taken at a frantic pace but, unlike many young bands, there was no sacrifice of musicianship for energy. Stand-up drummer Jack Smith kept up a stream of innovative rhythms, complementing Kev Griffiths’ solid double bass, while lead guitarist Billy Jenkinson shows huge promise as he drove home some tasty riffs. Fronting all of this was vocalist and rhythm guitarist Matt Waterhouse, one of the strongest young vocalists we’ve seen in a long time. This band is definitely one to watch.
All of which brought us to the headliners for the evening, Jack Rabbit Slim making their last appearance in the south west and, as I understand, their penultimate UK gig. So much has been written about Jack Rabbit Slim and Bob Butfoy’s influence on the contemporary rockabilly scene since they emerged in 2004 that I won’t try to parrot it here. I’ve also got to confess that, after a horribly early start that day (nothing to do with the gig) and with my records to lug back to the car, we slipped away early so I’ve been waiting with bated breath to see the video of the set whilst judging the atmosphere from Phil Parr’s photos. It’s clear, though, that Bob and the gang were putting everything into this performance, and the crowd loved it.
Of course, none of this would happen without the team behind the scenes, not just Trev, but also Clare Underwood and, capturing the whole thing on video, as well as keeping the screen behind the bands turning over throughout the day (much to the alarm of unsuspecting DJs), cameraman Jase. You can see the whole thing on the Keepin’ it Rockin’ channel on You Tube, while we wait to see what Mr Rock Ape will do for Rebellion No 3. Greetings, too, to fellow DJs Little Ian, Rock Ape, Simon Flintstone and Ian Wobbly Webster who bookended the day and filled in the brief intervals between bands with non-stop rock’n’roll.
Here’s to Rebellion No 3 on 31 August 2019!
With thanks as ever to Phil Parr for waving a camera around. Other images culled from Facebook reports of the day.