When we gathered last year for an event to pay tribute to Colin Silcocks, who’d have guessed that live gigs would shortly become a distant memory. A year on, and with this year’s event on hold, here’s the article I wrote for Now Dig This to evoke a few memories…
Even before we’d reached the sad day of Colin Silcock’s funeral, the minds of many of us were turning to the only way we could really pay tribute to the years he’d put into the rock’n’roll scene as DJ and promoter, and that was with a gig that captured the spirit he always tried to generate. The wake itself gave us a taster of what it might be like, with a succession of DJs taking a turn behind the decks, and the Deadshots, one of the last bands to enjoy Colin’s support in their early appearances, being joined on stage by luminaries like Pat Reyford and Bob Cotton. Fortunately, a dedicated gang of Colin’s friends, including Rob Daniels, Mark Goodall and Danny Brown amongst others, were quick off the mark and 25 January quickly got inked into our diaries, swiftly followed by a venue in Rubery on the outskirts of Birmingham, easily accessible and typical of the kind of place that Colin had sought out over the years. Advance tickets went fast and, despite the addition of an extra room to expand the capacity, the event was a sell-out well ahead of the day itself.
For a tribute to Colin, an alldayer was the only format that would really do the trick and this was a classic midday to midnight affair; it was clear as we walked in, within an hour of opening time, that folk were going to make the most of it as the large main room was already heaving and the bar staff were wondering what had hit them! Having made our rounds of pals we found our customary slot close to the dance floor – when a great record comes on, you don’t want to waste half of it fighting your way to the floor. Sure enough, a couple of stormers gave us the chance to shake of the January chill from outside before the Hayriders hit the stage to open the live acts for the day. I’m not going to attempt a blow-by-blow review of the acts – or the DJs – for that matter; suffice to say that the Hayriders delivered a high energy set of classic rockabilly covers, and it’s always good to see the familiar faces of Pat Reyford and Ricky McCann making up the rhythm section. A brief pause for more records allowed time for the stage to be prepared for the much bigger line-up of the Stargazers. They were a big part of my early rockin’ years, when the concept of a bunch of young guys in authentic garb performing original Haley-esque numbers was a fresh change on a scene still largely dominating by bands oriented to the Teddy Boy revival scene (or at least the ones that appeared at my local rock’n’roll club). The band’s sound has aged well, though I was a little disappointed at the number of covers in the set list which suggested that their gigs nowadays tend to include a lot of venues for those who need to hear something familiar from the rock’n’roll greats songbook. I’m pleased to say they redeemed themselves as the set went on, reaching a pinnacle by launching into ‘Groove Baby Groove’ as an encore, sounding just as good as they did in 1982.
The next DJ set celebrated Colin’s later love for the hillbilly sound – a bit of an acquired taste for us dyed-in-the-wool rockabillies, but the day wouldn’t have been complete without a slice of that element of Colin’s musical make-up. Besides, it set the theme for the next act on stage, and for us the highlight of the day, Glenn Doran and the Prairie Echoes. I still can’t get over how good these guys are, straddling the borders of hillbilly and rockabilly (particularly with the addition of drums in place of the fiddler they featured when we last saw them), and massively authentic in sound. If you could drop these guys onto the stage of the Louisiana Hayride in 1954, no-one would bat an eyelid other than to cheer them to the rafters. They have the kind of self-deprecation you can afford only when you know you’re very, very good, and I love the fact that, in between numbers delivered with pitch-perfect styling, the guys make no pretence at being anything other than a bunch of Brits having a good time. Whether playing originals or covers, they just sound right.
We dived out for a bite as their set came to an end (curry – what else on the outskirts of Brum), which was a shame as I think we’d have spent a lot of time on the dance floor during the next DJ set judging from the photos of some familiar jivers cutting rugs, and arrived back to find Jesse James and the Outlaws in full swing. Not a band we’d encountered before, though they were very much part of the scene some years back and they’d come back together after a long break from performing to pay tribute to Colin who’d supported them in their heyday, and were having a gloriously unrehearsed rockabilly ball blasting through a succession of classic covers, with the energy on stage making up for any rustiness in the musical precision (so pretty much a classic rockabilly band, then!). Another selection of Colin’s western ‘farmyard favourites’ to lay the ground for the final live band, Lynette Morgan and the Blackwater Valley Boys, again delivering a set laced with a faithful country sound and look – you could see why they were big favourites of Colin and regulars at the Hillbilly Hoedown.
We slipped away to get on the road as the band finished and the organizers took to the stage to thank all those who’d given their time and efforts to make this not only a night to remember but also the kind of gig that Colin himself would have loved to have arranged and attended. With Kav Kavanagh as MC, whipping the bids up for a set of the records that Colin had a hand in, the charity element played a big part, and the spirit and warmth amongst all those who attended was reflected in a haul of over £4600 for Colin’s beloved Cats Protection League – I’m not quite sure what the two ladies from the local branch made of the crowd of cheering rockabillies, but I’m sure they gathered that the individual we were commemorating much have been pretty special. That was reflected in a separate collection which raised over £2500 for the hospital who cared for him at the end.
Now, Rob and co – you’ve found a good venue there, and showed you’re pretty good at arranging a big gig – I wonder what’ll be next…
As so often with gigs like this, I didn’t need to wave a camera around as Tony Bruce was doing his usual sterling job at capturing everyone and everything. The photos are just a selection of those he’s put on Facebook, along with the poster designed in tribute by Marcel Bontempi.