If, as the duke of Wellington pointed out 200 years ago this week, it’s as easy to write a history of a ball as of a battle, then trying to capture last weekend’s Rockabilly Rave at Camber Sands in a single blog post must equate to recording an entire campaign on the back of a bus ticket. My ability to produce any sort of comprehensive record isn’t helped by our not being able to get there until Friday night and having to leave on Sunday, let alone our pathetic inability to see the night through beyond about 3 o’clock! So, what you won’t get is a review of every band that played, who backed whom, and the set playlist, but here are a few impressions of a great weekend.
At the point I had to stop going to weekenders back in the late 90s, I’d got pretty bored of them, but Jerry Chatabox’s Rockabilly Raves have got it just right. For a start, the atmosphere’s so good – inspired by the tone of his thoroughly tongue-in-cheek programmes, and helped on by the very discreet security staff, everyone is out to have a good time. It’s amazing to see a couple of thousand pretty dangerous looking 50s hoodlums crammed onto a small site and fuelled by copious quantities of alcohol and not a whisper of violence, vandalism or any other sins beginning with ‘v’. Mind you, what with a wide range of clothes and record stalls, hair cuts, beauty pageant, classic car cruise and a choice of 3 venues running from lunchtime to the wee small hours, no one’s got time or energy left to create mayhem.
Picking on a few highlights, I’m always amazed at the quality and quantity of the stock on the clothes stalls. It wasn’t many years ago that the weekender stalls seemed to consist of the same rather tired and increasingly worn stock being recycled each year at ever higher prices. Now that cycle has been broken with more and more cottage industry traders making their own high quality reproductions at reasonable prices so that folk can buy clothes that a) fit them and b) they can drink and dance in without fear that they’ll fall apart destroying a priceless original. Of course, there are originals to buy, too, but these now tend to comprise some very choice pieces. The Sunday flea market is fun, too, and the combination of a concentration of people who know what they’re looking at and a sense that we’re finding new homes for items amongst our friends means that there are some real bargains to be had.
But a weekender’s all about the music, and this one was no exception in presenting a fantastic line-up of new and well-established artists. Particular favourites for us were the Bellfuries from the States, playing a choice selection of their original material. On a very warm Saturday evening, we caught part of the set from another stalwart of the contemporary US rockabilly scene, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, wowing the crowd as usual, plus Robert Gordon, who did so much to keep the flame of hard core rock’n’roll alive in the dark days of the 1970s. A surprise hit for me was the return of the Polecats – veterans of the early 80s UK ‘punkabilly’ scene. After they’d launched into frenzied versions of their big hits ‘Big Green Car’ and ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, I was afraid they’d run out of steam, but they kept up the pace for the entire set, with lead singer Tim leaping all over the stage and maintaining a hyperbolic commentary – though I think he must be the only act at the Rave ever to have used the word ‘paradoxically’ in introducing one of his songs. They’ve lost none of their edge and reminded us just how influential their style was at a time when performing 1950s material had to be done with absolute reverence to the originals.
The real treat of the weekend for us, though, came with an introduction to the music of German all-round wunderkind Marcel Bontempi. Superb singer, excellent guitarist, songwriter, witty patter, and his day job is producing fantastic 50s-influenced Beatnik style graphic art. What’s this bloke not good at!? Backed by Bill Fadden’s Rhythm Busters, his set grabbed our attention from the off and left Mrs MidCentury queuing for a copy of his CD (full, on top of 21 tracks, of copies of his event flyers and record covers – a few of which appear below with more of his work at his Facebook page).
You could pretty much have spent the whole weekend listening to bands, with just the record hops in between for variety but, with some of our favourite DJs spinning vinyl downstairs in the late night club, we switched between venues regularly and got in more dancing than was good for us. Saturday afternoon, though, gave us the chance to sit back and relish the fruits of some serious record collectors at the Vinyl Junkies session in the pub. The rules are simple – 45s only, and they must be originals – which makes for a select bunch of DJs playing prized finds that in some cases have set them back an eye-watering wad of cash. Anywhere else, and that little record box would need and armed escort to and from the chalet; these guys are renowned as amongst those who actually believe in playing what they collect as it was meant to be played – VERY LOUDLY. In between sets, you can find them trading quietly – no stalls, just a box of 45 inch goodies and a portable turntable and headphones for checking out content and quality.
With thanks to Kikka for the photos