Never Too Late To Rock ‘N’ Roll

Age is but a number. Neil Thomas is one reason why it’s never too late to rock ‘n’ roll.

Never too late to rock ‘n’ roll. This is especially true when it comes to vocalist and lyricist Neil Thomas. Currently known for his involvement with neo-rockabilly outfit Big Black Cadillac; a band currently riding a wave of positive reviews after their recent album release, ‘Boppin’ & Shakin’, it becomes apparent that the Big Black Cadillac’s frontman has been involved with music for a much longer period.

Having been part of numerous bands that have come and gone, entry through the gates of rock ‘n’ roll did not happen for Neil Thomas until nearing his forties. Despite this unconventional route, the decision made by Neil Thomas to try his hand at this thing known as rock ‘n’ roll was, perhaps, a brave move, given the tag of “youth” often associated with many rock and roll bands. However, such a decision was not made by an ageing rocker deciding to come out of retirement and get the “old band back together” scenario, no, this was a first attempt, and a fresh start, at trying something that had been simmering away in the recesses of his mind for some time.

With experience on his side, and a deep knowledge of the rockin’ scene, there is, however, a lot more to Neil Thomas than what immediately appears on the surface.

Once initial discussions between Neil Thomas and Famous Last Words (FLW) got underway, various details began to emerge with, interestingly, a big affection shown for other genres of music outside the church of rock ‘n’ roll; hence why there is a story to be told here, and one that sits comfortably with One Cup Of Coffee. So, retracing the steps, FLW posed the questions in order to find out as much as possible regarding the career of Neil Thomas.

“It all started around 2000 at the grand old age of 39 years,” begins Neil Thomas on the less conventional route in terms of his entry to rock ‘n’ roll. “I used to watch my friend’s band and thought, I wish I could do that. My good friend Mark Beckley, a great guitarist who, along with another friend, Wayne Beauchamp, asked me up on stage and I sang an early ‘56 Elvis track. I asked Mark if he felt I could do this, and he said yes. Since then, we have practiced religiously every Saturday in a village hall in Norfolk (UK), with my first band being born, Shock Therapy, which was a neo-rockabilly band.

“I was also in a skiffle band formed by Wayne Beauchamp. The band was a seven piece plus band called Ugly Dog Skiffle Combo, playing all genres from skiffle to Motorhead. I played washboard and did some vocals. I was in the skiffle band for approximately fifteen years, so it overlapped. I then formed Big Black Cadillac, a rockabilly band with Wayne’s guitarist brother, Dale Beauchamp. In between, I spent two years helping my friend James and his band The Johnny Jump Band; a folkie, punk-rockin’ skiffle-type band. I am no drummer, but I did percussion with bass drum, and washboard bolted on and with three cymbals (laughing)!”

Do you have a favourite memory from this period with any of the bands you mentioned?

NT: “In terms of Shock Therapy and the first album, ‘Tearin’ Up The Road’, I wrote the lyrics for six out of the eight tracks for the album. Wayne donated the other two tracks, and Mark Beckley (guitarist) came up with all the music. We had a great time recording the album with the great and talented Alan Wilson (The Sharks) at his Western Star Studios. Going into Alan’s studio was a great experience, and one I will never forget. Two to three weeks later, we were fortunate as Guido (Owner of Crazy Love Records), put the album out. It was also thanks to Steve Hooker & Boz Boorer who oversaw everything and worked, in a way, as agents.”

How would you describe your sound and influences when it comes to your own music? Also, who is the most influential artist you have worked with?

NT: “Early Elvis, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and especially Gene Vincent. I would also include from mid to late 70’s, Crazy Cavan & the Rhythm Rockers, and Sandy Ford’s Flying Saucers. Then my love for 80’s bands such as The Blue Cats, Stray Cats, The Polecats, The Jets, Deltas and so many more including good friends Fireball XL5. I have worked with local talents as some of the above mentioned, but I must also mention the amazing slap bass skills of Clive Perchard, who still plays on the psychobilly scene with his excellent band Stage Frite.”

Have you always been a fan of rockabilly music or did this affection for said genre develop later? Furthermore, are there any other genres that appeal to you outside of rockabilly?

NT: “I grew up loving rock ’n’ roll as did my late Mother, but I have to say early Shakin’ Stevens, and the movie, Grease, also had an impact on me. After that, I then began to go deeper and deeper into the music genre. I also love much psychobilly with examples The Sharks, and The Meteors. Outside of these genres, then I would say bands such as The Smiths, Bauhaus, Depeche Mode, and Theatre of Hate. In fact, many, many more genres from the mid 80’s onwards.”

Delving a bit further into your history, can you provide more background to the bands you have been involved with, and any recorded works?

NT: “Mainly with Shock Therapy because after the first album, there was a second [album] after Mark left the band. Wayne took over for a second [album] at Western Star, with a recording session where we wrote and played some very different sounding named tracks such as ‘Skeleton Man’, ‘Invaders From Mars’, and ‘Not Guilty’.”

Do you have any anecdotes to share that stick in the memory from these recording sessions with Shock Therapy?

NT: “Alan Wilson kindly put the band up at his own home when we first went to his recording studio, which also used to be at his home. So, I would like to apologise to him because I kept the entire household awake as I snore badly. Sorry Alan! Also, a funny thing happened when Alan set up some strange spooky sounding noises that would come on through a set of headphones near where Mark Beckley and I were sleeping on the mixing room floor. It was timed to start after about thirty minutes when we might have been half-asleep, but we went for a smoke, and I sat down and then the strange noises started. I thought I’d touched something on the mixing desk, so I had to tell Alan but, of course, he knew all about it (laughing)!”

Turning attention to where you are living in the UK, is there much of a “scene” in Norfolk for rockabilly bands?

NT: “Norfolk has a pretty good scene, in addition to some very good rockabilly bands from the area. For example, Fireball XL5, Porky’s Hot Rockin’, Fat & Furious (another of Porky’s bands), and an authentic band by the name of V8 Rockets. We are glad to have the great Hemsby Rock ‘n’ Roll weekender local to us and, prior to this, it was Great Yarmouth and Caister. We also play many pub gigs, although not too much during the last two years for obvious pandemic reasons.”

In terms of your ongoing band Big Black Cadillac and considering the gap between recording your debut album and latest, ‘Boppin’ & Shakin’, did you ever feel like calling time on your career, especially in relation to the pandemic and all of its restrictions?

“If I am honest, then yes,” Neil replies. “We had a two-year break from playing when Dale left the band. I contacted our drummer, Dom, and we decided to look for a new lead guitarist and bassist. The entire music scene in the UK could have collapsed as a result of the pandemic because all the hospitality side, DJ’s, promoters and sound crews all suffered, along with the bands, and it is still not fully returned to how it was and may never, sadly.”

Who is responsible for the lyrics when it comes to Big Black Cadillac (Thinking mainly your debut album here)?

NT: “One song was a cover of an Iron Maiden track, one a Deltas’ cover, one or two from Dale, and the same from Wayne. The other songs were all written by me.”

Do you feel that rockabilly has much of a place in 2022 or do you feel that the genre is losing support?

NT: “Rockabilly has a great future in my humble opinion, along with related genres such as psychobilly, mainstream rock ‘n’ roll, swing and jive.”

How do you feel about modern rockabilly bands?

NT: “As previously said, I have a passion for 80s neo rockabilly, which is my favourite. That said, I neglected to mention The Ricochets, who inspired me a lot. So, I love most genres and listen to most, but especially love the 80s when I was probably aged 18 in 1980.”

What can you never be without in life?

“My voice,” quickly answers Neil and laughing. “Also, my lovely wife and family, along with friends and music in general.”

Do you have a Top Five albums and/or songs which you are currently listening to?

NT: “Not really a true Top Five but it could be Stray Cats first album, The Polecats and their ‘Polecats Are Go!’ album, Benny Joy, and I have to include The Meteors ‘In Heaven’, and The Ricochets.”

If you could travel back in time to the 1950s, which artist would you have liked to have worked with and why?

NT: “I think I’d love to have been able to work with some of the great musicians, but too many to mention.”

Back to the present, what is next for Neil Thomas and Big Black Cadillac?

NT: “More gigs, especially as they are slowly building up again. I would also like to play more often at bigger rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly weekenders in the UK and Europe.”

Any final words of the day?

NT: “Thanks to everyone who turns out to see us, and all the staff at the venues we play at. Thanks also to all the bands for keeping this genre alive ‘n’ kicking and, finally, don’t stop rockin’!”

(Photography courtesy of Neil Thomas)

Big Black Cadillac’s ‘Boppin’ & Shakin’ is available on CD/Digital from Raucous Records

FLW - From the Tapes

For a rockabilly band from Norfolk, Big Black Cadillac has earned quite a few followers and gained much respect outside the church of rock ‘n’ roll. Vocalist, Neil Thomas, provides one such example involving Big Black Cadillac and a well-known music festival.

“We were invited to play at Camp Bestival at Lulworth Castle and on the same bill as Madness, Human League and Billy Bragg. The invite came from a shellac shop (78’s) and fellow Norwich band, The Vagaband who were also performing at the festival. We were on for two nights and performing in a huge marquee tent and not the main stage. We had Radio DJ Mark Lamarr on stage with us, and there was a crowd of around 3000. Big Black Cadillac was well received, and when Mark Lamarr went to do his set afterwards, the crowd were still chanting for Big Black Cadillac!

“Outside of performing with the band at the festival, only I could make the mistake of setting up my one-man tent unknowingly next to the bloody drum & bass marquee! I was ok during the first night as I had had several beers, but during the second night it was more difficult because no booze as I was driving home the next day. Not a wink of sleep as the drum & bass went on until 4am! However, we had a laugh with a security guard as we were set up with our tents next to a huge Carlsberg lorry and, just for a laugh, we asked the guard for a beer and explained that we were a rockabilly band playing for two nights. Surprisingly, he said, “Come grab a case of 24 beers!”. It really was a great weekend.”

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