As the Rockabilly Rave entered its seventeenth year, Famous Last Words (FLW) was present to provide a critical eye of the music festivities on display.
The 17th Rockabilly Rave proved to be an enthralling ride of frantic musical mayhem with occasional respite coming in the form of western swing and hillbilly harmonies that greatly complimented the whole programme. In order to get through this mammoth four days, however, one requires the stamina and strength of an ox because this weekender will literally drain every last drop of fuel from your very soul if, like FLW, you want to witness nearly everything that is on offer musically, as well as shoehorn in the odd interview with international artists residing on the other side of the globe and therefore unlikely to see again in the foreseeable future. So it is without further ado that FLW is proud to bring you our interpretation of this truly epic of festival activities, The Rockabilly Rave.
Thursday 13th June
Despite not really knowing what to expect, The Rhythm River Trio proved their worth and provided the perfect introduction to this year’s Rockabilly Rave.
With a lead singer who looks as if he was freshly plucked from a period residing somewhere between the 1920s – 1940s, The Rhythm River Trio went about their business in steady fashion, picking away at the senses with a number of their own compositions as well as a few covers (Buddy Holly and the Crickets ‘Rockin’ With Ollie Vee’ springs to mind). What really appealed about their performance this evening, however, was the manner in which the band really began to close ranks, with eventually all three members packed tight like sardines in a tin and bouncing their infectious rhythms off one another which had the desired effect as the audience were literally eating out of the palms of their hands in sheer appreciation by the end.
The bottom falling out from beneath us moment one…
The ground below decides to make way as there is no Mike Bell and the Belltones and in place of these Finnish rockers steps Country Cattin’ who initially took some time trying to convince. Whether this was due to the unfortunate circumstances of the aforementioned band’s nonappearance or the indifferent appeal of the first three numbers this five-piece delivered is not clear.
Then something clicked into place as the band delivered a driving instrumental that was nicely followed by a couple of Gene O’Quin numbers and they were beginning to win over my heart! Added to the mixture was drummer Tony Dolman, who picked up the tempo further with two songs that revealed some lovely vocals into the bargain as well, and a bass player who failed to break sweat even during a terrific midpoint solo effort which whipped the crowd into frenzied appreciation, then it became clearer why these cats were gracing the main stage. Once the band delivered the quite gorgeous ‘Rain’ via the rather charismatic Dave Brown, who resembles a geography teacher and a 50s game show host rolled together, and a guitarist who is the spitting image of actor Seth Rogan, it’s safe to say Country Cattin’ claimed my heart.
America’s The Bellfuries are a real muso’s band; technically gifted and running a tight ship of songs built on experience coupled with lead singer Joey Simeone’s gifted tonsils that turns heads with relative ease with its occasional Elvis Costello inflections. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the band had been invited for another Rave appearance as their songs are often blessed with hidden subtleties that steer even the most pedestrian of numbers which, FLW hastens to add, are few and far between. In fact, The Bellfuries reside in an enviable position as their music would equally sit at home with other audiences not particularly versed in rockabilly as the band is definitely ploughing a different furrow as evidenced by songs in their repertoire as ‘Death of An Idol’ and ‘Wasted On Him’. It remains, however, that ‘Just Plain Lonesome’ is the ace in their pack as it sweeps you along on a midnight stroll under the stars before departing on the next leg of a European tour.
Next up is the much anticipated appearance on these shores of Pat Capocci who is also in the enviable position of possessing crossover appeal. With his charismatic good looks, wafer thin moustache, swept backed barnet, not forgetting the swath of tattoos weaving their way to a point of no return, the Rockabilly Rave’s main stage provided the perfect backdrop to the varied set of songs compiling latest album ‘Call of the Wild’ that was perfectly supplemented with a fine balance of older material. This diversity in sound is part of the appeal as there is often a sense of unpredictability (always a good thing) ranging from the jazz influenced ‘Upper Cut’ to the refined western swing of ‘Absolutely Positive Baby’ to a shot of adrenalin of the more rockin’ ‘Slave To The Beat’ that sees Capocci bobbing and weaving on the spot à la Beck circa ‘Odelay’ when a ‘Devil’s Haircut’ was all the rage. Truly gifted without a shadow of a doubt, Pat Capocci is a man with bags of self-belief as he makes it all seem so effortless and in the process rendering that nameplate adorning his trusty guitar justifiable.
Friday 14th June
The bottom falling out from beneath us moment two…
It’s a downstairs session first today at the Queen Vic. featuring new and hotly tipped wonderkid Jamie ‘Bubba J’ Faulkener. Unfortunately, the ground beneath our very feet begins to open up once more leaving us with nothing but a dark cavernous hole to fall through as FLW literally had to strain at the neck to catch even a glimpse of this purported new prodigy as the hostelry is absolutely rammed to near capacity and therefore rendering this experience void. Hopefully a recall to the slightly roomier confines of the Lunchtime Club Sessions (LCS) will be on the cards for next year which, judging by the turnout this afternoon will be given the green light.
All is definitely not lost as FLW hotfoots it over to the LCS next door arriving just in time as The Wolftones take to the stage. As with the previously mentioned anticipation surrounding the live showing of Pat Capocci, The Wolftones have been on the FLW ‘To see’ list for some time, and like the Antipodean yesterday they did not disappoint. With the day barely a few hours old, The Wolftones set about their business with ‘Hot Rod Car’ that tingles up and down one’s spine in sheer ecstasy once the opening guitar line revealed itself. It’s then the pin was pulled and the whole place literally erupted as The Wolftones trailblazed through a set of rockabilly and blues-inspired rawness that gathered more and more momentum leaving one to ponder how the brakes were going to be applied once nearing the finale. This set contained all the right ingredients of danger and unpredictability as The Wolftones literally tore the place up. Whether it was James ‘Jimbob’ Sullivan’s redhot and in your face harmonica throughout ‘I Just Can’t Help Myself’ or vocalist Jay-B and Graham ‘Slapskat’ Sanders taking it in turns to holler when duty called or the sparks emanating from Sully’s lead guitar, the excitement and tension was close to fever pitch as both band and audience were in a complete state of shared elation.
With a perfect balance of sincerity and a knowing sense of frivolity when called for, The Wolftones, if they play their cards right, could be set to take the music world by storm. As it stands, this was a mesmerising live performance that will live long in the memory.
Joe Fury & the Hayride really impressed this afternoon. Looking like a burly version of Elvis, Joe Fury possesses a laidback charisma that warms the crowd but does not extend to his choice of covers as these are injected with considerable energy. Look no further than the gritty and stretched guitar sounds of Steve Earle’s ‘The Graveyard Shift’ or the pacey ‘Catty Town’ making the song his own, whereas the grizzly rendition of ‘Guitar Man’ was characteristically appropriate. Considering these four musicians had never performed together before, Joe Fury & the (temporary) Hayride had every reason to feel vindicated as they performed overtime at the behest of an enthusiastic crowd especially when one of the DJs commented in jest about this time lapse only to be greeted with “F*** off then!” Absolutely priceless.
Nerves seem to get the better of Carolina & her Rhythm Rockets as their performance starts off meaningful but petered out towards the end due to remaining a little too static to warrant the same comparisons with their impressive debut album of the same name. Certain key elements remain intact, however, as Carolina’s vocal is truly a gift from the gods as it injected life into the equally sublime ‘Can’t Stop Boppin’. Fortunately, time is on their side as this four-piece band is merely at the beginning of what looks to be a promising career.
Second mesmerising performance of the day goes to Marc & the Wild Ones as the band really lived up to their moniker blitzing through a mixture of old and freshly baked compositions. There is a real presence about the band, especially frontman Marc Valentine who has a real sense of menace in his eyes that projects added tension to the band’s songs and especially during a cover of Charlie Feather’s ‘Stutterin’ Cindy’ with guitar hanging high around his neck and moving in fits of pent up energy. There is much intrigue with new song ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’ that possesses dark undertones of guitar whereas ‘Boppin Mary Lou’ springs from the traps at breakneck pace. The relentless speed of delivery from Marc & the Wild Ones is maintained throughout due to the deft backbeat of the much-sought after Stefan Durrbeck and the ball of energy that is Andy Hummer (bass). This four-piece is perfectly complimented with the epitome of cool on guitar Rene Rottmann who steals the stage during the closing (if the memory bank serves FLW correctly) beefed-up version of Link Wray’s ‘Run Chicken Run’. As the band departure to a mass of appreciation, FLW alerts security to assist with lifting our jawline from the floor because it was quite simply that good.
The dual vocals of the New Ranch Girls throws a real spanner in the works by breaking up the frenzied wildness in terms of what has gone before with an array of beautiful hillbilly harmonies. Looking resplendent in red the New Ranch Girls, supported by the Ragtime Wranglers, know a thing or two about how to project a song with the coolness that was ‘Fine Tuning Buddy’ and the inch perfect cover of ‘Rock-A-Bye Baby’. Having spoken with the band earlier during the day, the song ‘Just Play The Jukebox’ was exactly as described (i.e. tearjerker), “I can’t go on living without you I know, so I just play the jukebox until it’s time to go” as the hankies were collectively wrung out at the song’s conclusion.
Then the mood and tempo shifted somewhat with suspicions raised that somebody added something to the New Ranch Girls’ tea at halftime as the band delivered a barnstorming ‘The Old Town Hall’ and followed by another notch skywards with ‘Real Gone Daddy’ leaving our scribbled notes simply stating, ‘This is rockin!’ Normal service, however, was swiftly resumed with the closing ‘Tupelo County Jail’ and nicely paving way for the imminent storm on the horizon.
The Rip ‘Em Ups was precisely that as they tore up the manual once more with their adrenalin-fuelled and sax-powered rock ‘n’ roll that was an absolute powerhouse as songs literally battered down the doors and leaving no room for respite. Songs such as ‘Baby Doll’ with its meaty saxophone were a prime example of this relentless noise that pounded like a sledgehammer at FLWs’ cranium to the point that one’s ears felt the blood flowing. It seemed appropriate that a man dressed as a shaman crossed our vision several times complete with handheld totem pole and skull sitting pretty on top grinning like a Cheshire cat as the voodoo swamp rock pumped out “Wild savage woman with blood red eyes”. Not for the fainthearted.
What began as a pretty lacklustre affair ended up with The Lucky Bullets heading into their own heart of darkness as these Norwegians were one stop short of a visit with Colonel Kurtz. Despite the noted rawness in Butch Comet’s guitar, and this was a welcome addition, the first few songs emanating from The Lucky Bullets stable meandered somewhat; ‘Gold Digger’ being public enemy number one here as it was a frustrating and paler version of its former self. Even fans’ favourite ‘Fire Below’ failed to ignite as the band for whatever reason struggled to find their rhythm. Whether it was a bad dose of nerves or general fatigue setting in due to running the same treadmill of songs once more only The Lucky Bullets have the answer(s) to this enigma. The saving grace, however, came in the form of new single and cover ‘The Cry of the Wild Goose’ as it was compellingly theatrical in its delivery and finally, finally you could see the band edging towards their best. ‘Big Fat Dolly’ and a manic and very comical version of ‘Cold Heart’ picked up the tempo further before ‘The Bosses Daughter’ really saw the band finally find their momentum. This may have arrived too late for some but the climaxing descent into madness of Butch Comet in fetching red long johns suggested a band on the verge of a definite crossroads as the call of “The horror, the horror, the horror…” rung out with the tail end of guitar feedback.
Saturday 15th June
The Doel Brothers received a rapturous reception, and deservedly so, after such sweetly addictive delights as ‘Laughing and Joking’ with its far from convincing confession, “I’m going to tell myself I don’t love you no more”. Elsewhere there is great steel pickin’ of strings to ‘What Do You Want To Do That For?’ and western swing flavour of ‘Kissin Bug Boogie’ that brought a smile to the face and kick-started the LCS off in some style.
The bottom falling out from beneath us moment three…
The lovely quirk that was The Doel Brothers was soon quashed once news reached us that the Ukraine’s Wiseguyz will not be performing at this weekend’s events. The complexities of red tape and visas probably played their hand here, but either way there is a real feeling of dejection because FLW has been ever-present since the issued warning that was ‘Don’t Touch My Greasy Hair’. Coming off the bench were quickly assembled substitutes The Mee Kats who, through no fault of their own, failed to fill the void despite performing a solid set of rockabilly numbers.
As the afternoon quickly mutated into the evening, standing like giants awaiting the call to start proceedings for this evening’s first venture on the main stage, The Slingshots removed that darkened cloud with an inch perfect set that revealed their experience and a clear indicator as to why they received the call to attend this year’s Rave. The band had clearly done their homework as the always welcome ‘Steamhammer Jones’ raised its head to much rapturous applause and followed by a steamin’ rendition of Carl Perkins’ ‘Say When’ that even coaxes Mr Chatabox away from his hectic schedule backstage as he slips to the front of the crowd in order to catch a glimpse of this glorious version. There were further delights with the yodelling ‘Bone Idle’ and plainly beautiful yet tear-soaked ‘Couldn’t Get Along’; both songs revealing the vast range of Steve ‘Big Cleveland’ Russell’s vocal capabilities to great effect. Highlight in the set remains ‘I Quit’ which is cranked up to maximum with Dave Invicta slappin’ his bass as if his life depended on it and J.D. England wielding his guitar with the enthusiasm of a pent up teenager ringing out those frustrated emotions. Even Steve Russell can’t help himself as he gets in on the act with the occasional Elvis inspired leg wriggle and vocal soaring high above this delightful racket before closing the set with ‘I’m In Love Again’.
The rockabilly kings of Sheffield turned in a majestic performance that belied their years and one that deserved to be among the frontrunners if this were a contest. As it stands, FLWs’ affection for these misfits just got bigger.
Having been carefully selected from a remote village consisting of very few inhabitants somewhere in the Australian outback, Scotty Baker suddenly found himself as the promotional poster image for this year’s Rockabilly Rave. Such a decision was not difficult to comprehend once the Antipodean took to the main stage this evening as the man resembled a throwback to another era and was an uncanny resemblance to that poster image (i.e. no Photoshop required) of George Clooney with a side order of Gene Kelly. Physical attributes aside, once the opening ‘Set Me Loose On That Blonde’ followed by the equally compelling ‘Broke On Payday Again’ it soon became clear why this Australian’s music deserved top billing. You see the attraction is in the lyrics, as Scotty has a knack of spinning tales, often laced with much humour, of various complexes concerning ageing and that bugbear of hair loss among the male species (‘I’m Past My Prime’) to more open road narratives involving cars (‘Bumper To Bumper’). The best was saved to last, however, as Scotty Baker really slipped into character during the closing encore of ‘C’Mon On and Fight Me’ where an unfortunate member of the crowd was selected for a non-stop eyeball-to-eyeball interrogation literally throughout the entire song! It really was something special.
The Planet Rockers brought more tales of (truck) driving during their electrifying set of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll as we were transported to another era once again. Songs such as ‘Big Wheel’ with its all-chugging’ bass finale really emphasised the subject matter. ‘Truck Driver’s Rock’ continued the thematic and high-speed tempo. ‘Yes I Do’ provided a great conclusion with all four band members drawing the song inwards and feeding off of each other before entering mid-tempo territory with ‘Big Daddy’. Surprisingly, it was the two instrumental numbers in The Planet Rockers’ set – one of which we were informed topped the Finnish charts – that stood out the most and almost brought the house down. The years were truly rolled back.
Closing this evening’s main stage events was Dave Phillips & the Hotrod Gang; a three-piece unit that first emerged during the 80s. Dressed like the Krays’ elders, there was definitely a whiff of old-school about the Hotrod Gang that resembled more a 60s time capsule with a heavy scent of the East End just around the corner. What really translates during the band’s set, however, was Dave’s passion for the covers that were transmitted tonight whether Johnny Burnette’s ‘Tear It Up’ or Jean Vincent’s ‘Pink Thunderbird’ the Hotrod Gang’s frontman really poured his heart and soul into the music.
In addition to the main event, there were a number of special guests who offered to lend a hand from The Jets to Levi Dexter (see ‘Tear It Up’ above) which gave the feeling of a real super group in progress.
The closing finale of a solid ‘Susie-Q’ and ‘Tainted Love’ – Marc Almond, for our money, still holds the definitive version – provided a fitting conclusion that was finally sealed with a spikey ‘My Turn’ that had Dave Phillips clinging on to his bass as a means of support as there was nothing left in the tank. A truly awe-inspiring performance.
Sunday 16th June
Viva la France! Just when you thought the previous day’s events could not be surpassed, Jerry Chatabox pulls the rabbit from the proverbial hat once more and thrusts French rock ‘n’ rollers Ghost Highway under our noses. What a stroke of genius as FLW was left drooling in a pool of fervour induced saliva by the end of what can only be described as breathtaking.
Blessed with a pronged attack of dual vocals that also took turns when duty called for a solo outing, Ghost Highway was the perfect package of good looks (i.e. Chris Isaak meets Ricky Nelson on lead vocals), bags of energy and of course great (choice of cover) songs. ‘Tired of Sleeping’ arrived early in the band’s set but was noted as possibly the best song. There was great conviction in the vocals during ‘She Said I Love You Daddy’ before opening way to a plethora of songs that left any note taking simply incomprehensible (e.g. was it ‘Catch My Love On Fire’ or ‘Burning Love’ during the scintillating finale of, by this point, raw vocals and red-hot guitars?) as FLW was left fixated on the events unfolding before our very eyes. There is no better feeling than when you know relatively little about a band claims your senses and your heart in the space of one hour. Viva Ghost Highway!
By the time The Lonesome Drifters take to the stage we’re wading through swampy waters or at least that’s what it feels like. Lead vocalist Steve Stick complains about the temperature, and rightly so, as the poor dear is dripping in sweat only a few bars into their first song. Such diversions are soon forgotten once that sweeping the depths vocal kicks in and FLW finds itself somewhere between here and heaven! There is simply no hiding from the fact that we are among the converted to The Lonesome Drifters tales of lost love and heartaches and it doesn’t take too long – second song in fact – before the band begin to find their feet. New single ‘Lover Boy’ was given an airing and is something of a wild affair that saw the three-piece loosening up further. ‘Lonesome Feeling’ traded vocal duties with bassist Joe Klein, which added a nice touch of variety to proceedings. With the persistent heat bearing down on The Lonesome Drifters, and clearly taking its toll as they were nearly on their knees by the end, a raw and swampy rendition of the ubiquitous ‘Susie-Q’ provided a fitting conclusion to a more than admirable performance.
It’s not always an enticing prospect to stand and watch an artist belt out an assembly line of instrumental covers but that’s exactly what Eddie Angels did with his Link Wray tribute and without question he did it in style. All of the usual suspects were present such as ‘Rumble’, ‘The Swag’, ‘Raw-Hide’, ‘Jack The Ripper’ and of course the ‘Batman Theme’; the latter of which Eddie explained Link Wray was actually a keen admirer of the television series and not meant as a tongue-in-cheek gesture. It was the anecdotes and various comments regarding Link Wray in between the instrumentals that added extra flavour to this set: “The beauty of a Link Wray track is that if you f*** it up, it sounds more like Link Wray!” One of the key highlights was the ticking time bomb signature of ‘Run Chicken Run’ that was definitely ahead of its time when first issued and still stands as equally strong today.
Moving for one final time to the cooler confines of the main ballroom upstairs, The Black Kat Boppers did their covers thing admirably before making way for a piece of rockabilly history in the shape of Rocky Burnette.
It was a real honour to hear his father’s songs in the flesh and paced at a slightly slower tempo adding a nice touch of variety. Rocky Burnette was supported on guitar by Darrel Higham, who maintained a respectful distance in the wings, adding real bite to the particularly impressive and edgy ‘Rock Billy Boogie’. ‘Drinking Wine (Spo-Dee-O-Dee)’ caused much delight whereas ‘Dreamin’ brought a tear to the eye.
As with Eddie Angels earlier in the day, Rocky Burnette was more than willing to share a few stories regarding his family history; one in particular regarding his mother and how she couldn’t listen to her husband’s records anymore after his tragic death. Hearing such anecdotes would have been enough in their own right, but as it stood there was a live performance to consider as well.
‘Please Don’t Leave’ saw The Jets Bob Cotton take up bass and lead vocal duties, and in the process turning in one of the songs of this enthralling set due to a raspy vocal that was later explained as a result of too many late nights! ‘Tear It Up’ was given two outings before Rocky Burnette bid farewell to an ecstatic crowd.
As the final curtain drew nearer of the 17th Rockabilly Rave, The Zazou Cowboys provided the perfect climax to an otherwise wild and wondrous weekend of rockabilly. The western swing flavoured sounds of The Zazou Cowboys who, it has to be said, looked resplendent in their matching red outfits, brought a sense of calmness to the final festivities with one or two Bob Willis numbers and quite a few of their self-penned compositions. There were also bouts of black humour with the quite wonderful ‘Pine Box Blues’ and another superbly titled ‘Do You Ever Think Of Me Cause I Never Think Of You Either’.
Once the Zazou Cowboys finished their lengthy set, the door was held open for a whole array of special guests nearly the length of a shopping list and ranging from Roy Kay, Billy Harlan, Lynette Morgan all the way through to Paul Ansell in order to add the finishing touches to the Ranch Party Show.
First up was Roy Kay (USA) looking dapper in red and aided by The Zazou Cowboys who traded their red attire for a white and turquoise outfit. Two songs were aired; the second of which, ‘No More Blues’ brought the best out in Kay’s vocal and made his night.
Hot on his tail was the legendary Billy Harlan (USA) who did an admirable job and paid full credit to Mr Chatabox for providing a second chance for singers of his ilk. Top marks all round.
Next on the Ranch Party conveyor belt was England’s very own Paul Ansell who immediately offered an apology for not packing a shirt and reassured the audience the creases in his trousers were really pleats! Then, rather appropriately, he broke into ‘Guess I’ll Cry Instead’.
Randy Rich (Germany) maintained the musical momentum with a plead for happiness before Scotty Baker made a welcome return with a repeat of his rather excellent ‘Broke On Payday Again’ (those lyrics again!) and this time given a western swing twist à la The Zazou Cowboys.
Sixth on the Ranch Party bill was the debonair K.C. Byrd (Holland) who provided a convincing version of Hank Thompson’s ‘I Cast A Lonesome Shadow’, with great sinister undertones, and leaving FLW to scribble ‘song of the Ranch Party by a country mile’.
Glen Doran (UK) stylish in his western attire never let the side down with two superb songs; one of which had a bad case of the blues and then followed by Lynette Morgan (UK) who whipped the crowd into a frenzy of appreciation after her rendition of ‘Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray’.
The final fling for this year’s Rave was given to Charlie Thompson who produced a splendid version of Webb Pierce’s ‘You’re Not Mine Anymore’ and then followed with the deeply sad ‘I’m Tired’.
There was time for one final farewell from all members of the Ranch Party and then it was business as usual for the majority in the audience as the Monday morning blues started to descend upon us after a seriously successful and joyous end to another Rockabilly Rave.
The beauty of a Link Wray track is that if you f*** it up, it sounds more like Link Wray!"
FLW - From the Tapes
Jerry Chatabox offered his opinion regarding press coverage of the genre of rockabilly when FLW popped in for tea and a chat not so long ago.
“That’s a difficult question because the rockabilly scene is quite an insular one as far as the press is concerned as over the years it’s received very bad press and most journalists have come into the scene, looked at it and said, ‘There’s a load of Elvis freaks and let’s find the one wearing blue suede shoes and interview him and ask about Elvis Presley’. So over the years, as that’s happened, and the passion for these unsung heroes has been greatly ignored, I think the whole scene has pretty much ignored the press and the press coverage as well. Recently bands have broken through, with various versions of rockabilly with Imelda May as a good example and Darrel Higham, her husband and guitarist and who was a rockabilly guitarist for twenty years plugging away at little gigs, who clearly sees the irony of Imelda May now being hailed as a new rockabilly icon after performing at pubs and clubs all of his life! We all enjoy that on the scene when there is press coverage and a possible knock-on effect where people discover our scene through that, but we don’t expect anything from the press other than being treated like weirdos as we totally get that we’re outside of the mainstream and will probably always remain that way as that’s generally accepted and comes with the territory.”