Somehow, although it’s what we go there for, I always find writing about the music at the Rockabilly Rave the hardest bit. Maybe it’s because there’s just so much of it – three days and four nights of live bands, all interspersed with record hops to make up a pretty much continuous flow of good music from when we surface to when the last night owl staggers to bed. Maybe it’s because I always feel I ought to be making copious notes about what every band covers, who plays what instrument, and what’s captured on their latest release. Sadly, I have to confess that, while the Rave remains our once-a-year weekender treat, my coverage will have to remain just a personal take on what we caught, and we’ll always be tempted away from all but our favourite acts by a DJ spinning a bunch of great originals, but there was lots to attract us, so here goes.
We started well, when Glenn Doran and the Prairie Echoes gave us a taster of what was to come by rehearsing outside our chalet on Friday afternoon, so we made a beeline to catch their act. I’m not a massive fan of hillbilly and western swing, but their approach was so authentic that I was glued from start to finish. With a classic line-up including steel lap guitar and fiddle, they could have stepped straight off the stage of the Grand Old Opry in 1957, and I would lay money that no Opry fan, transported to Camber Sands in the Rockabilly Tardis, would guess for a minute that they’re a bunch of Brits who done their homework to the Nth degree. They sealed the deal for me by slipping in a note-perfect version of Jimmy and Wayne’s ‘Love Me’ towards the end of the set. A hard act to follow…
Back in the main hall early on Friday evening brought a strong start to the headline part of the event. Pat Capocci maintained the image established by Scotty Baker of Australian rockabilly acts as incredibly nice guys. Some great guitar work and a big sound were slightly at odds with the huge grin of someone clearly thoroughly enjoying himself. Some real experience followed, with James Intveld proving that you could wow a rockabilly crowd with a very country-influenced set in a prime Friday night slot. In contrast to Pat, James maintains a quite dark, Johnny Cash-esque, stage presence with a fantastic mature backing band, with Bob Gothar starring on guitar, producing a level of performance that wouldn’t be out of place on a top level Vegas stage (and not just for a VLV audience). It was the first time we’d caught his act, and I could see instantly why he’s so highly regarded.
After that, we slipped off downstairs for a night of very warm jiving and bopping to a storming succession of sets from Silvie from Germany, Dannys from UK and Spain, and Be Bop Kaz Fowler. We’d had good intentions of popping next door to the Queen Vic pub to catch the Brighton gang’s night, particularly Dave Mumbles on decks and Danny Mc Vey on stage, but every time we were on the verge of moving out, another wild instrumental jiver dragged us back onto the floor. Good job the heat was drawing some of the crowd outside, as the floor was packed.
Saturday saw us kicking off with the traditional Saturday afternoon meeting of the Vinyl Junkies in the pub, with Tall Mark Greenaway and Bill Smoker trading collectable original for collectable original in a three-hour object lesson in superb rockabilly on record. There was no time to spare for a rockabilly nap before we headed back to the halls to catch (the real) John Lewis and his Trio, with John, a veteran of UK bands, combining complete musical professionalism with a dry wit to produce a kind of Welsh version of the Big Bopper. Again, my first exposure to him (I was away on various travels when most of these guys were gaining fame), and again much impressed.The Hi Boys followed, proving that Queensland turns out the naughty end of Australian rockers (clearly where we dumped all the convicts!) with a very gutsy and altogether less smiley performance.
A quick break for food and changing meant we only caught the tail end of Darrel Higham’s set, which was a shame as he’s another artist I’ve heard a lot about, but we were intent on being in pole position for what could well be the last UK performance of the Austin-based Bellfuries. It’s hard to describe quite the impact these four guys have had on the British crowd, and I suspect they’ve been rather stunned by the reaction their albums and performances have prompted here (including one friend rushing up to them to press the price of a CD into their hand, having only been able to obtain one as a bootleg copy!). A wholly authentic sound, but not derivative of any one artist or label, original songs that manage to avoid all the beer, chicks ‘n’ hot rods clichés, they’re in many respects the soundtrack to the contemporary rockabilly scene, so it was a blow when we learned that they planned to split the band to move onto other projects. On top of that, their planned farewell tour earlier in the year had been cut short when the lead singer’s wife fell seriously ill; we all wondered if they’d be able to make the Rave, so when news came that they’d arrived and were rehearsing on the Saturday afternoon, it was a huge boost for many reasons. And they didn’t disappoint for a minute – an impatient crowd weren’t waiting for the MC’s build up and the boys took the stage to a mighty roar of welcome. An inspired choice of material from their two albums followed, with well-known songs giving a harder-edged treatment in a nod to the direction the band have been taking, but also reflecting the desire from the crowd for a big performance on this special night. We’re hoping they’ll be able to make good on their ambition to deliver on the cancelled gigs but, for those present in the Main Ballroom at the 2017 Rave, if that turns out to be their farewell UK gig, it’ll be one to remember. Mrs M couldn’t resist capturing a couple of our favourites on film, which you’ll find on Youtube here and here.
So, how on earth do you follow that? With a band who hit the big time in 1979, when Rockabilly was a pejorative word, tossed as an insult to anyone who wasn’t quite comfortable following the prevalent Ted revival scene. The Polecats arrived as the Cult Heroes with manic energy 40 years ago, tore up Top of the Pops without shedding a drop of credibility, and seem not to have lost a bit of their attitude or zest for the stage since. We saw them at the Rave a couple of years back, and they’ve been getting back together at fairly regular intervals, so again they were playing to a partisan crowd, built around a core of us who were around back then but with a whole bunch of new fans. I almost wanted not to like them, prepared to dismiss them as a passing moment in the evolution of the UK rockabilly scene, but it’s impossible not to be drawn in by their energy, humour and stagecraft. It was a treat to see the full original line-up back together, with Boz Boorer having been given the night off from his day job by boss Morrissey, and their enjoyment shone through. Lead singer Tim, as ever, worked every inch of the stage, flinging himself around like a dervish but knowing exactly what he was doing all the way. Boz never lost a note of some wild guitar licks as he attempted to match Tim’s karate kicks; bass player Phil just grinned and slapped, while drummer Chris ended the set with a shirt on which you could just spot the odd dry patch at the very collar tips. They tore through a playlist of their classics, carefully forgetting to do some of the most memorable so that they could end on a raging encore. What a way to end a Saturday night.
As ever, we had to forgo Sunday’s performances in favour of a day spent on a very hot motorway, but left feeling very satisfied – and pretty much exhausted. As usual, my photos are pretty rotten – snapping away in the crowd doesn’t produce terribly good results and I’d rather be listening and watching. Fortunately, the whole Rave was captured in some stunning shots by photographer Tony Bruce, who generously shares the whole lot on his Facebook page – where you can also see all the bands we missed!