After attempting to capture the past couple of Raves for the blog, and with little hope of seeing enough of the bands at this year’s to merit a proper review of the music on offer, I thought I’d confine myself to a few impressions of another fantastic weekend surrounded by like-minded rocking folk. As I started to make my notes, pretty much all of them started with a ‘B’ somewhere, so I figured that might make a bit of a theme (and with thanks to another B, Mr Tony Bruce, who selflessly records the whole weekend on film in some excellent photographs). Anyway, here goes, and although we didn’t spend much time in the main hall, it was the Rave, so we really ought to start with…
Bands. As our first love is original music on record, and we didn’t recognise many of the names on offer this year, we were a bit selective in the bands we made an effort to catch, but were lucky enough to be given some top recommendations for artists we’d not seen before, particularly in the shape of the visiting crowd from Austin Texas. First up were Shaun Young and the Three Ringers, a hugely proficient and experienced outfit who exemplify the benefits of quality over quantity in stripped down rockabilly. Tjarko Jeen’s guitar breaks showed the kind of concentration and artistry that hallmark James Burton’s days with the Shadows, whilst Bobby Trimble on drums proves that you don’t have to be crashing out a rhythm to make an impact – a definite case of less is more. And we can’t fail to mention bassman Todd Wulfmeyer, one of rockabilly’s nicest bass players! By half way through the set, we were already planning our trip to Austin if this is the kind of authentic music on offer, and that holiday plan was doubly reinforced by the performance by fellow Texan, Colton Turner, on the Saturday night. This young band, featuring Carlton on lead vocals/rhythm guitar, brother Zane on lead guitar, Alberto Telo on Drums and Yari Bolanos on bass, apparently had no idea there was such a thing as a rocking scene, and just started playing the music they’d discovered on old records. Like Shaun Young’s band, they managed to channel everything that typifies original 50s rockabilly, without ever giving the impression that they’re trying to recreate someone else’s performance. The result is like looking at one of the photos from the back of a Buffalo Bop LP while listening to a newly-discovered stash of forgotten small label recordings, both covers and their own songs. If we had one suggestion, it’s that they need a band name, because they’re much more than a front man with some backing musicians. Take away the Pontins surroundings, and you could be watching a hometown band playing the high school hop, under the watchful eye of the Principal suspicious of this wild new sound. Awesome, and worth the trip to Camber alone.
But we also had a treat in store from Bontempi – the Marcel variety of course. We’ve seen Marcel’s monster-tinged rockabilly set a few times, and loved it every time, but this was the first opportunity we’d had to see his Snake Oil Company line-up. As with everything this outrageously talented German embarks on, it was beautifully crafted, with showmanship in every detail. Based on the concept of a travelling show in rural America, it took some rock’n’roll classics and fed them through a hillbilly conversion that made it seem as if some backwoods outfit had picked up the sheet music and performed the songs in their own style without ever having heard the originals. There were original numbers in there too, of course, penned with typical Bontempi wit. As always, the musicianship was superb and, as with Glen Doran’s Prairie Echoes, we wondered how one tempts classically-trained violin players to ply their skills in a country-fiddlin’ style. The package was wrapped up with Marcel’s total attention to detail (echoed by his partner Miss Ira Lee’s keen ear for the sound mix), making this a show you could transport back to the heyday of the Louisiana Hayride or Grand Old Opry without anyone suspecting a thing. I only wish I had the nerve to carry off a pistachio-green western shirt!
Although these were the bands we were determined to catch, we couldn’t pass up the chance to Bring back the original artists, in the shape of Doug Kershaw, the surviving half of Rusty and Doug, who’s hit ‘Hey Mae’ remains a dance floor favourite. As so often with this dwindling band of originals, we were indebted to Deke Dickerson, not only for tracking them down, but also for presenting them with a backing that evokes their period sound with total faithfulness – so much more satisfying for all than the days when 50s artists arrived with their cabaret showband to wheel out a mixture of rock’n’roll favourites and Elvis covers. Doug’s set went down a storm, and his rendition of ‘Hey Mae’ was so well received he went straight back into it – clearly a man who loves performing.
But what of the record hops? Well, we certainly achieved our intention of getting in a lot of Bopping and Jiving. We spent a good part of both nights we were there in the downstairs late night club, taking advantage of the space freed up as headline acts were appearing upstairs. There were a few flat spots – no criticism of the DJs themselves, simply moments when their playlist didn’t match our particular tastes – but also good stretches of our favourite combination of late 50s/early 60s storming jivers and classic rockabilly boppers. Inevitably, we heard a few grouses about the music being played, but the rockin’ scene covers such a wide spectrum of styles that, unless they have very broad tastes, no-one can expect to hear only what they like all the time and, going by the crowd on the dance floor all evening, there was plenty there to please the ears. We noticed a definite shift in the quality of the dancing, too, with some energetic bopping replacing the ‘shuffle from one foot to another while holding drink and/or mobile phone’ and some impressive jiving. It’s always a sign of a good night when you make it back to the chalet in the wee small hours with ringing ears, sore feet and dripping shirt.
And while we’re on the subject of records, we couldn’t forget the Saturday afternoon Vinyl Junkies session, hosted as always by Bill Smoker and Tall Mark with guest Christian Kadow, organiser of the legendary Ingolstadt record fairs. While we indulged ourselves in the best of their collections, there was a chance for a bit of record trading, in particular the gems from Jerry Brillo’s Box – always a tempting selection that make paying the mortgage this month seem that bit less important if it means getting your hands on a rare slice of original vinyl. Indeed, the resurgence of vinyl was evident across the board at the record stalls, with more and more space being dedicated not only to original discs but also to the burgeoning supply of repros and new recordings being released on classic format. We didn’t mean to spend quite as much as we did, but my new career as mediocre rock’n’roll DJ does give us the ideal excuse.
So what else to report? A welcome reduction in the Hipster Beard Count, with a resurgence in a more original 50s look for the blokes, which seemed to be mirrored in some nicely authentic outfits amongst the rockabilly gals. Very little in the way of Beefs: it would be nice if the upstairs hall stayed open later as the mass exodus to the small hall outweighs the capacity of the dance floor, standing area and bar alike, although I know the need to secure the big hall with its stalls is a priority. Some decent Beer would be nice, too – surely Pontins must be in its own timewarp with an offering limited lager, Tetleys or Newcastle Brown. But those are small gripes compared to the sheer fun of spending a weekend immersed in the music we love with some of our best friends.