It’s a great shame that the Rockin’ Round Up has joined the list of events that have fallen victim to the lockdown. I was planning to post this review of last year’s event, which appeared in Now Dig This, just ahead of this year’s as an appetite whetter. Instead it’ll have to do as a reminder of just how good it was and the sort of live events we hope will be a possibility again before too long.
Although in its third year, and attracting a dedicated crowd of regulars, the Rockin’ Round Up has hit something of a sweet spot in low-key but high quality (and excellent value) weekenders. Located at Court Farm Country Park on the outskirts of Weston-Super-Mare (the nucleus of a burgeoning West Country rockin’ scene) it offers the rare combination of an idyllic rural setting just right for raw country bop, but just a spit away from the M5. There’s loads of free parking and camping space just a short stroll away from the nicely-refurbished barn that makes up the main venue, and with space for a few stalls inside, and some good quality food wagons in the farmyard just outside, you can drink, dance, eat and socialise without ever getting out of earshot of the music. Add some strategically-placed haybales to add to the seating, and a fifty-foot bar serving good beer at very reasonable prices and you’ve got all the makings of a cracking weekend of bands and DJs.
And both there were aplenty, with the emphasis soundly on good solid rockabilly in keeping with the surroundings and with the collaboration of Western Star Records. We couldn’t make the Friday night opening session, which featured Jack and the Real Deals, The Bullets and Johnny Bach and The Moonshine Boozers, but got there on a blazing Saturday afternoon to catch the Sonny Richards Trio in fine rockabilly form. Unlike some all-dayers where the DJs can feel like an afterthought squeezed in between bands, the timetable allowed for a full hour of records between each live show, which gave Carrie Hope, our pal Rusty Rockaphonic and Simons Moon and Flintstone ample opportunity to get the dance floor jumping. Meanwhile, the organizing team, fronted by compere Rudy La Croix and with Ian working away like mad behind the scenes, did a good job of keeping the programme on schedule. The Dallas Roots Combo were up next, with another set of storming classic rockabilly sounding just right in the surroundings.
The early evening slot went to Danny ‘O’ and the Astrotones, relatively new on the scene but already generating the kind of anticipation you’d expect from a headlining band. We’ve been trying to catch them for a while as we’ve been intrigued to see what from Danny’s return to the stage would take after his early success with the teenaged Caezars who parted amicably just a couple of years ago, and we weren’t disappointed. They tore into a blistering set, with Danny clearly relishing the chance to step up from his role on lead guitar with the Caezars to add lead vocals to his guitar prowess on a bunch of self-penned numbers. So much of the set was original material that it was hard to spot the covers – the few that there were drawn from the more obscure end of the rockabilly spectrum but all delivered with complete confidence and showmanship from this young band. There’s rock’n’roll pedigree here, with both Danny himself and drummer Curtis (‘the angry teen’) able to lay claim to scion-hood of the much-missed Paul Dawkins and the hard-gigging Doel family respectively, but there’s no sense here that being from good rockin’ stock will cut out the need for hard work. With experienced supporting guitar work from Sam French (formerly of the Quantums and the Runawayz) and rock-solid stand-up bass rhythm from James Bowen (currently of the Devil Wrays, graduate of the psychobilly scene and standing in while the regular bass player becomes a father), the whole set was tight and well-rehearsed, with deft switches in pace and between vocal and instrumental numbers that kept the energy level high without getting lost in a headlong frenzy (other young bands take note – wild is great, but it needs something else to show it off). The crowd loved them, as did guest compere and veteran champion of rock’n’roll on radio Geoff Barker; indeed, you can catch highlights from the whole weekend, plus exclusive interviews on Geoff’s shows starting with the broadcast due on 16 June.
After hitting such a peak early in the evening, it was a good job that the rest of the line-up was a strong one, and you couldn’t have done better than the Hayriders to keep the atmosphere bubbling with a set of storming rockabilly, driven home with skill by Neil Wright, backed by Darren Lince on guitar, with backline stalwarts Ricky McCann and Pat Reyford on drums and bass – just what was needed and sounding all the better for the authentic surroundings (indeed, the sound was excellent for all the bands, with the engineer hitting just the right levels to fill the hall with clarity for vocals and instruments alike).
Headline honours, though, went to Paul Ansell’s Number Nine. I still remember vividly seeing Paul fronting the Blue Rhythm Boys at one of my first Caister weekenders back in the early 80s, and he’s barely paused for breath since, with both voice and style maturing nicely to produce a set ranging confidently and skillfully across a wide range of genres, all delivered with punch and supported by a line-up of equally experienced and talented musicians. The last clutch of numbers from the set show just how varied it was: from Johnny Burnette, through Big Maybelle, Billy Ocean (yes, honestly), an Ansell original, finishing on Elvis, then returning to the demands for an encore to tear into Carl Perkins’ ‘That Don’t Move Me’. The audience would happily have kept him there all night, but there were records to play, and dancing to be done before twelve solid hours of rock’n’roll drew to a close.
Purely by chance (mainly because ‘backstage’ was a tent adjacent to the stalls), I caught up with Danny ‘O’ late in the evening when the buzz created by the Astrotones’ set had subsided and he was quietly tucking into pizza. Having only had those shouted brief conversations that you always get in clubs, it was a real pleasure (for me at least) to have a decent chat with this thoughtful and bright young rocker about how he’s made the transition from the Caezars to fronting his own band. It’s been a project a good couple of years in the making, as he was determined not to start gigging until he’d written an album’s worth of material and rehearsed the band thoroughly; he’s acutely conscious that the stagecraft that comes naturally to him has to be built on a foundation of solid musicianship – as he put it, you can’t just look good and expect that to be enough. Even then, he’d been worried about whether it would work – particularly if he found he couldn’t sing well enough to put across some very personal lyrics drawn from his own experience; fortunately it’s abundantly clear he has no need to worry on that front.
It was refreshing, too, to hear that he’d fully expected to be filling slots further down the bill than the Caezars had come to earn, and to be the supporting act, but that they’d been delighted at how quickly they were making an impact and started to be in demand. Even so, each gig is followed by a bit of analysis as to what went right and wrong, so it can be fed back into the next one. For someone who first heard this kind of music in the womb, who’s been immersed in it since boyhood and learned from a father still hugely well-regarded across the scene, it would be easy to be arrogant, but Danny has a great respect, not just for those who made our scene what it is, but also for other fringe music types, and one of his ambitions is to reach venues where rockin’ sounds can be heard by a young crowd new to it. That takes hard work and, as well as throwing himself into every aspect of the band’s stage and recorded image, he recognises that the job doesn’t stop when the performance or recording session stops – and that promotion is a job that most bands have to do for themselves. With two singles under their belts, an album on pre-order, a full gig diary, and a nifty website (https://planetastrotone.com/), all the signs are that the hard work is paying off.
With the success of this third Rockin’ Round Up, let’s hope that there’s another in the pipeline. As we headed home with ears ringing, feet aching, a bag full of records from Spindrift, new togs from Geronimo and a lampshade from Retrashade on order, we were only sorry that we couldn’t stick around for the Sunday morning car boot sale and closing gig from Dry White Bones. And next time I’m definitely going to get someone to send a shot of red eye sliding down that long bar!
With thanks to Tony Bruce for use of the good photos! This article first appeared in Now Dig This magazine, the longest-running and best magazine dedicated to the Big Beat.
And hot on the heels of this gig came the arrival of a copy of Danny ‘O’ and the Astrotones first album, recorded in 2018. Fourteen storming tracks, plus intro, outro and a bonus, all with Danny’s meticulous attention to detail stamped all over them and the presentation. You can find all the details on the band’s website.
Of course, as I write this update before putting this article up on the blog, the chances of seeing the Astrotones, or any band, live are pretty slim. However, it’s been some consolation to be able to share both Rusty and Danny’s excellent taste in wild sounds on the various Facebook spin-ups they’ve taken part in or organised. Thank god for great record collections!