With the big beat scene catching up for lost time, and weekenders popping up here, there and everywhere, we were lucky that one of our favourites is on our doorstep and kicked off our UK summer schedule. The venue for the Rockin’ Round Up is just perfect: within minutes of the M5 on the outskirts of Weston Super Mare, loads of camping space for them that likes it, and a central barn that seems to be able to absorb the early doors crowd at lunchtime through to full attendance without ever feeling either empty or crowded – and which, with farm park animals next door, serves as a perfect backdrop for a bit of rural rockabilly.
Thanks to the Jubilee Bank Holiday, we were able to head down in time to catch the early Friday evening sets, arriving to see the classic four-piece line-up of Memphis Lee and the Creepers delivering a classic barnstorming set that kicked off the proceedings with a bang. It’s so good to see a and hear a piano played with energy and confidence at the heart of a set. Next up were the Drugstore Cowboys, another experienced band who fitted the Round Up ambience perfectly – our Somerset barn might easily have been a bar in Texas, and some nifty shared vocal duets just added to the atmosphere. A mix of original numbers was complemented by an interesting selection of covers – everything from the Shakin’ Pyramids to the Beatles – and a guest appearance from Sam French.
Headlining Friday’s evening’s live acts were the Rimshots, with Gary Agar sitting in for Mark Kemlo on drums. Again, a vastly experienced outfit, effortlessly professional but still putting everything into the act – the only John Lewis guaranteed to pay a dividend every time these days! With decades of repertoire to draw on, the numbers flowed with only momentary pause and unobtrusive covers slipped in amongst the original compositions, including a very nice steel guitar version of Whole Lotta Shakin’. For our first weekender since the dark days of lockdown, a closing tribute to ‘Cosmic’ Keith Marples in Planet Bop was a poignant end to the night’s performances.
Saturday’s live acts opened with a revelation that made us glad we’d gone across early in the afternoon, as the Buzzcuts delivered a set that exemplified stripped-back country rockabilly and blues. Featuring Dave Williams aka Gene Gambler on acoustic guitar, with sons Billy Lee on piano, harmonica and sharing the vocals, and Danny Jay (aged 17) on drums, the trio put across a wide selection of covers looping in everything from Fats, Buddy, Chuck, the Everlys to Don Gibson. All three are outrageously talented – watching Billy play a boogie beat with one hand, harmonica with the other, and still remember the words was a treat, and Danny’s drumming echoed a Jimmy Van Eaton style without any sense of imitation. It was also refreshing to hear a band without bass or lead guitar, allowing the pianist’s left hand and a tidy drummer to drive the beat while the right hand took care of the fills. A perfect rendition of As Long As I Live that would have gladdened Mr Lewis’ heart brought a superb set to a close. A bit of frantic vehicle shuffling and domestics got in the way of catching a set by Haney’s Big House and their full-bodied sound of swinging jump blues – so many good bands, so little time to fit everything in!
The early evening set was an occasion that all present, especially the lead singer, were looking forward to with anticipation as Bob Butfoy took the stage after a tough three-year break that has seen him fight back from serious illness. With his ‘Caravan’ of experienced musicians, Brett Waters on guitar, Nick Whitfield on bass and Tony Hillebrandt on drums, all clearly determined to give him the backing he needed in every respect, the set was a glorious return to form, with Bob giving the impression of a performer who had barely stepped off a stage in the gap. Drawing from an extensive stash of original compositions built up over his years of fronting a range of bands, Bob exuded confidence and commanded the stage with his customary swagger. A cover of Whole Lotta Love (much more fun than the Top of the Pops version) and his own Typhoon brought a storming comeback to a reluctant end.
Fortunately, Rusti Steel and The Star Tones were more than capable of picking up and running with the ball and taking us straight into a set of good ol’ fashioned rockabilly standards that worked perfectly against the Round Up backdrop. Another hugely hard working band, they’ve mastered the art of authenticity without losing originality, and any band who’ll play Jimmy and Wayne’s ‘Love Me’ with the right mix of steel and electric guitars gets my vote. Sadly, the planned Saturday night headliners, Carlos and the Bandidos, weren’t able to make it, with the gap filled by the McCurdy Brothers, who describe themselves as a busking band playing country, blues and swampbilly on homemade instruments. They certainly threw themselves into the breach with energy and volume, and were well received by a warmed-up crowd, but I’ll confess it was all rather on the heavy end of the scale for my ageing ears.
We had to leave at the end of Saturday night’s shenanigans, driving off into the thunderstorm, which denied us the chance to enjoy a strong line-up of bands for the extra third day of this year’s Round Up. A bit of You Tube cruising had us regretting that we’d had to miss sets by Ponchartrain, an interesting and inventive Bristol-based outfit fronted by scene veteran Paul Godden with a varying line-up performing a wide range of vintage American sounds. Likewise, fellow Bristol-based trio the Tight Lipped Combo offered a more swinging but equally authentic take on R&B roots music. Relatively recent Western Star signing the Strays opened the evening’s acts. What must be one of the hardest-working young bands on the scene continue their relentless round of performing, recording and video-making, with their sound maturing steadily into something unique to them and popular with audiences, including by all reports the Round Up crowd. And as for the Doel Brothers and Paul Ansell’s Number Nine – well, no one reading this august magazine needs to hear me giving a second hand review of either of these hugely popular and talented groups. We’re only sorry we weren’t there ourselves.
Full marks to Alan Wilson and Ian Hibbert for putting together a varied bill of quality bands, to the DJs – Simons Moon and Flintstone, Carrie Hope, Rusty Rockaphonic and Mark Happy Cat – for keeping the dance floor jumping, and to all the team at Court Farm Country Park for so expertly looking after this strange crowd of music junkies who invaded their premises for the weekend. Here’s looking forward to Round Up 2023…
This article first appeared in Now Dig This, the finest and longest running journal of the Big Beat!