Normally around this time of year, I’m writing detailed reviews of the Rockin’ Round-Up and Rockabilly Rave, not just for this Blog but also for the pages of Now Dig This magazine. Sadly, this year my attendance at both events was curtailed by other far less entertaining commitments which means I can’t offer a comprehensive review of either, but they’re both to good to pass without mention.
The Round-Up kicks off our weekender season (I know – there are loads more on offer, both in the UK and abroad, which we’d like to get to – one day, maybe…) and, being just an hour or so’s journey away on the outskirts of Weston Super Mare, is one we can do without a lot of prior planning. It helps, too, that the day passes come at a very reasonable rate meaning we can grab a day there even if the whole weekend isn’t feasible. The Court Farm Country Park venue works beautifully for an event like this, providing a genuinely country background for rockabilly music, but with a well set-up central barn venue with good acoustics, plenty of room for socializing and dancing alike, an efficient (and suitably very long western bar) and space for a few well-chosen traders.
We bowled down on Saturday lunchtime, arriving just in time to catch the closing minutes of a set by Lean Canteen, visitors from the US, before rolling into a DJ set with our pal Rusty ‘Rockaphonic’. Next up were the Pat Winn Combo, performing their guise as The Losers with the addition of Alan Wilson of Western Star records (sponsors of the event) on guitar. They’re a band I’ve got a lot of time for – very professional, very talented and with a range of material that runs from spot-on covers to fresh and interesting original tunes. Slipping out to grab a bite to eat, we were back in time to catch a set from the ever-entertaining John Lewis and band, stepping in to cover a fall-down at relatively short notice but capturing the room with his apparently effortless talent and repartee. There’s a man completely at ease in his environment, but never giving less than 100%. The later evening sets went to a couple of closely linked bands: the Bullets and Jack Rabbit Slim. As the Bullets, Brett Waters and the trio have been pumping out full-on rockabilly for many years, and did just that for the Round-Up crowd. The return of Jack Rabbit Slim built on last year’s comeback performance by Bob Butfoy which wowed the Round-Up, so it was natural that this year’s Saturday night headliner marked the revival of the band as a whole. And with the crowd still packing the area in front of the stage, we slipped away into the night, sadly having to forego the Sunday line-up which promised to be equally strong.
This year’s Rockabilly Rave was always going to be a special one – the 25th Anniversary event, and the occasion of a big birthday for Mrs M. Sadly, our plans to be there on Thursday morning fell victim to work commitments, so I didn’t arrive until Thursday evening, leaving only Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights before we had to head off again. Fortunately, Sean Mather had kindly stepped into the breach to cover the whole Rave for Now Dig This, leaving us free to concentrate on the bands we really wanted to see, catching the cream of the record hops and doing lots of socializing. Every night featured one of our favourite US acts: Deke Dickerson, the Bellfuries, and Big Sandy. I’ve written at length on all of them, so I’m not going to try to capture each performance afresh; suffice to say that all of them were as good as ever, and meant that Mrs M was played both in and out of her birthday by bands we love. Speaking of which, the Vinyl Junkies session on Saturday afternoon provided the ideal opportunity to celebrate with a roomful of record-obsessed friends and add cake to the heady atmosphere of old 45s and beer.
After last year’s intense post-lockdown, scorching hot Rave, this year’s felt a much more relaxed affair, no less entertaining and providing our annual chance to chill out with a huge gang of friends, make new ones, hear great records, buy some of our own, catch favourite bands and check out new ones, stock up on quality vintage clothing, dance, enjoy the odd beer knowing that bed was just a few hundred yards away – basically what the Rave’s been doing for 25 years now (note: other weekenders are available!). If we had one overriding impression this year, it was of a growing younger crowd – looking sharp, wearing the clothes that were designed for people their age, dancing in a way that made us tired just to watch, passionately digging for records, and giving us the feeling that the scene is in very good hands rather than becoming just an old school reunion for we survivors of the 80s and 90s rockin’ world. That’s a nice feeling and, if anything, makes us look forward to the next Rave even more.