Regular readers of this blog will already have gathered that, when it comes to rock’n’roll clubs, our hearts are in the London clubs that we both grew up with, and particularly the ones featuring the DJs we know well and who share our taste in records but, with our domestic roots now in the west of the country, we’ve been determined to put more effort into exploring what’s on our doorstep. Of course, I’ve been doing my little bit to add to the local scene with my regular record hops at Smokey Joe’s café in Cheltenham, but that too has given me the spur to get out and find the roots rock’n’roll scene around Gloucestershire as a lot of what might at first sight seem to be potential attendees are more inclined to the swing jive end of the spectrum than hard core 50s rockin’ sounds. All of which is a long way of saying that at long last I’ve renewed my acquaintance with the Gloucester Rock’n’Roll club after a good 27 years absence, just in time to share in their change of name and venue for 2018.
My first and only previous visit to the Club was way back in 1990 at one of their former homes in the old Bristol Road Hotel in Gloucester, where I had the privilege of seeing the Shadows’ first bass guitarist, Jet Harris, performing on home territory. Ironically, I was to see him again in the county many years later, and much closer to the end of his life, just a few miles away in Tewkesbury, backed by those masters of early 60s British sound, the Rapiers, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that Mrs M and I had the opportunity to revisit the Club itself, since relocated to the other side of Gloucester City Centre in the social centre attached to one of the City’s old churches. After attending a few other events laid on predominantly for those attending jive classes, the difference was immediate as we felt ourselves in the company of true rock’n’roll veterans. On that occasion, the band was Joe and the Overriders, standing in at short notice to fill a gap in the bookings, with DJ John from one of Bristol’s regular rock’n’roll clubs in charge of the music in between. Impressed by the atmosphere, we were keen to make a return visit, but it took us until the Christmas 2017 gig, with the added draw of Gene Gambler and the Shufflers as the featured band, to get back there.
Gene and the boys feature David Williams on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, with Rob Nedin on lead guitar, the solid rhythm section pairing of Mark Kemlo on drums and Tony Biggs on bass, with David’s son Billy Lee hammering out a mean boogie woogie piano. Their set is a no-nonsense mix of authentic rockabilly and rock’n’roll, mixing credible self-penned tunes with 50s originals. Although the turn-out was good, the hall was big enough to watch and hear every aspect of their performance, and I was struck by just how true to the essence of a 1950s act they were able to conjure up without any sense of imitation. As they wound themselves into a crashing end to the second of two solid sets with a Sonny Burgess classic, I couldn’t help but feel that this was pretty much just as it would have been like to watch Sonny himself, or any of his small band contemporaries, playing at school halls around Memphis while they waited for the summons to Sam Phillips’ Union Avenue studio. And that’s about as high a compliment as I can pay any band!
If the Gloucester City centre venue had one drawback it was the availability of parking (though the nice lady in the nearby filling station very kindly let us leave the car on their forecourt when we vaguely explained we were going to an event ‘at the church’). Hence for 2018 a move slightly out of town to the Saintsbridge Sports Club in Painswick Road with not only plenty of parking but the possibility in the future of overnight parking for those with camper vans. With it comes a change of name to ‘Rocking in Gloucester’, avoiding putting off any potential visitors with any false impression that this is a Club-members-only kind of organisation. Far from it, and any new faces can bet that master of ceremonies Stuart will be around to welcome them in person. There’s a gig every month, with full details listed on the Facebook page, with a supporting record hop on every occasion.
So, my New Year’s Resolution: Support your local Rock’n’Roll Club!!