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Rockin' On The Mediterranean
The Screamin' Festival
Pineda de Mar, Spain.
1st to 5th June 2011
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After hearing for some considerable time that the Screamin' Festival held annually in the Pineda de Mar on the Costa Brava in Spain was one of the must attend events on the rockin' calendar, I decided that it was time to loose my virginity and make it along. With easy access from London Airports to Barcelona and then a short coach ride to this very pleasant town, I was left wondering why I had not made the trip previously. This is a festival organised annually each June by Carlos Diaz of El Toro Records and basically takes over the whole town for a week. Every hotel and restaurant had a poster advertising the festival and many establishments had rock 'n' roll pouring forth from their PA systems. At the edge of the town boundary with adjacent Calella, daily rockin' sessions were held at Santi's Beach Bar Party with music supplied by top DJs and a live band around 17:00 hour hours. Elsewhere in the town, the Hotel Koppers (otherwise known as 'hot fuzz') had a doo wop workshop together with a meet 'n' great session with Tommy Hunt of the world famous Flamingos vocal group. On the Wednesday night, the opening salvo of the Screamin' Festival took place at the Magma, a large ballroom located in the northern part of the town. After collecting our wrist bands, it was time for live music from Johnny Trash, a Johnny Cash inspired singer who was accompanied by a great lead guitarist who took Link Wray's 'Rumble' and turned it into the Fendermen's treatment of 'Mule Skinner Blues'. |Other acts on this night were The Bop A Tones and The Betty Boop Lovers. But from Thursday night onwards, the main music took place at the Main Hall On The Beach, a steel framed double marquee style structure, located at the opposite edge of town from Santi's Beach Bar. We did get fit on this festival, possibly just as well as there were great restaurants around complete with splendid local wines. The following review is therefore based on the activities in the Main Hall which took place from 21:00 hours each night until dawn came breaking.

 

Thursday, 2nd June 2011 (the rockin' starts big time...)

Opening live act was the American outfit Ruby Dee and The Snakehandlers who suffered from under amplification at the start but the stage crew lead by Tipton Bill (a character well known to Hemsby attendees) corrected this flaw and it remained just fine for the rest of the festival. A mixture of originals and covers were all given a unique treatment, much of which worked such as a splendid update on 'Your Cheatin' Heart' and a rockabilly slanted take on 'Human Fly' originally by The Cramps. However, their version of 'White Lightnin' forced myself out to the bar. They were followed by Spanish outfit The Vibrants whose brand of music veered towards the garage strain of rock 'n' roll at which they were excellent, They performed a selection of instrumentals such as 'Ramrod' and a few surf based tunes alternating with vocal number such as Al Casey's 'Teenage Blues' and Ritchie Hart/Deke Dickerson's 'The Great Duane'. This band was excellent and thankfully was to reappear on the Sunday night but more about that later.

Next up was Chicago based Jimmy Sutton making the first of three festival appearances. Former bass man with Deke Dickerson, Jimmy fronts his own six piece band, known on this occasion as 'His Many Charms', and these guys are some of the best on the rock 'n' roll scene today. There we have it, high quality musicianship mixed with liberal dashes of magnetic stage presence on a selection of originals such as the evocative 'Down In The Everglades' and 'Up Jumped The Devil' mixed with storming versions of 'Little Pig' and 'Farmer John'. A top act comprising two saxes, piano, bass, drums and lead guitar and strong vocals. But they were followed by another top combo, namely The Domestic Bumblebees from Sweden. This trio performs rockabilly laced with blues like there is no tomorrow and have appeared at most of the festivals throughout Europe Songs included 'Gonna Shake It, 'My Girl' and 'She's Supposed To Be Mine'. The bass player had been plucking away on an upright instrument but now he switched to second lead guitar and the guys cut loose on Fat's Domino's 'I'm Ready'. I was instantly reminded of The Fendermen and this was awesome stuff. Closeout act for this night was the current rage Si Cranstoun along with his own five piece band. His current popularity in the UK was again clearly evident and, as I have remarked previously, it so important for our music to have artists such as Si introducing new blood. Seemingly, he knows only one way to perform and that is to give his all on a combination of own songs like '50s' Pin Up', 'Lonesome Heart Bandit' through tributes to Jackie Wilson with 'To Be Loved' and 'Reet Petite' and similar to Nappy Brown with superlative treatment of 'Little By Little' and 'Don't Be Angry'. His signature song 'Dynamo' is clearly well known on the continent judging from the audience reaction. This guy and his backing musicians are oh so professional and must surely be bound for commercial glory.

 

Friday, 3rd June 2011 (rockin' beats and top harmonies...) /p>

For the next night, we had The Starlighters out of Milan, Italy as the opening act. Their brand of music is that melting pot of western swing rumbling around with rock 'n' roll. Indeed, the lead singer is clearly inspired by the late Johnny Horton down to adopting his stage stance and style of hat. Nothing wrong with that as Horton was one of the all time greats. The band proved adept at switching from country tinged mambo rhythms through to Hawaiian melodies with liberal dashes of that rockin' beat included. Particularly outstanding was the guys' treatment of Tennessee Ernie Ford's 'Tennessee Local' and Al Terry's 'Watchdog'.

Then came a festival highlight with Tommy Hunt accompanied by Barcelona's The Velvet Candles recreating the music of the top vocal group The Flamingos. Tommy of course was a Flamingo between 1956 and 1960, a period that many consider was when the group recorded their finest body of work. He left the vocal group to pursue a solo career initially on Scepter Records where he cut the original version of 'I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself' and eventually made his way to Great Britain where he has resided for the past forty years. He continues to have a very successful career as a soul singer but for this performance, it was back to his doo wop days.... and how! I have seen many vocal groups at festivals in New York State but, believe me, this performance was equal to anything that I have witnessed to date. Tommy, at 78 years young, had carefully selected the tunes and in a set of fourteen songs, only one (his hit record of 'Human') was a non-Flamingo song. We must also pay credit to the four guys of The Velvet Candles as they had clearly gone to great lengths to learn the songs and harmonies and were virtually word 'n' note perfect on the night. Tommy, with justification, called them his 'new Flamingos'. What was a revelation was the number of up tempo songs that the band had recorded such as 'Jump Children' and 'Ko Ko Mo'; all performed this night along with the ballads such as 'Lovers Never Say Goodbye', 'Besame Mucho' and 'I'll Be Home'. This was such a well balanced set. and it even included a scintillating treatment of the standard 'Old Man River'. The performance closed out with a great treatment of 'I Only Have Eyes For You'. Hopefully, this will be only the first of many such shows by these guys as a joint team, the combination deserves to reach the top of the ladder.

This festival had the habit of varying the styles of music that comprise the broad church of rock 'n' roll and so it should have come as no surprise when the reformed UK band Whirlwind took the stage. This band, along with Crazy Cavan & The Rhythm Rockers, spearheaded the rockabilly revival back in the late seventies. Unfortunately, the original lead singer Nigel Dixon is no longer with us but this lineup did include two original members of the band. A spirited performance that included the song 'A 1000 Stars' as a tribute to Nigel Dixon, a spirited version of Billy Fury's 'Turn My Back On You' and a work out on 'Boppin' High School Baby'.

My body temperature rose when The Del Moroccos took the stage. These are three delectable young ladies who look and sound raunchy when they sing dance and shake their maracas in a most suggestive way. If only to cool myself down, I should explain that the lead lady singer is Gabrielle Sutton who is the wife of the previously mentioned Jimmy and who was leading the excellent hard rockin' backing band. This was another highly professional act from a cohesive unit and - for this show - Jimmy Sutton was playing the lead guitar. Opening up with 'Action Packed', which is a fair way to describe the ensuing proceedings, many of the following songs were from their CD 'Blue Black Hair'. Other stand outs include 'Baby Doll', 'I Want Some More' and 'Skinny Jimmy'. One review of their music described it as 'a perfect Quentin Tarantino rock 'n' roll soundtrack. I cannot better that. Close out act was the return to the stage of the Domestic Bumblebees but fronted by the UK's Mouse Zinn, a vocalist, top disc jockey and instigator of the popularity of boppin' blues.

 

Saturday, 4th June 2011 (more top rockin' ...).

Dashing in and thankfully avoiding the worst of the thunder, lightning and rain, the opening act was Melbourne's finest, namely Benny & The Fly By Niters. However, the Fly By Niters were on this occasion Spanish deputies and so I guess it would have been more accurate to title the band Benny & A Shot of Spanish Fly. Well worth singling out in set was the hard driving instrumental 'Hammerhead' and the song 'Big Black Train' which was served up with Slim Harpo overtones. 'Juicy Fruit' came complete with a lovely interchange between Benny on guitar and rockin' riffs from the sax man. Benny appeared to favour shuffle blues but when he wanted to lift up the tempo, he could rock real hard and well. A most enjoyable performance.

Barcelona has two vocal groups and the second of these, The Earth Angels, took the stage. This was a four piece vocal group fronted by Jordi Major who has a great vocal range including a lovely falsetto. Like such as the UK's Roomates and Germany's Crystalairs, this outfit stuck in the main to up tempo material with frequent raids on the Dion & The Belmonts songbook with such as 'I Wonder Why' and 'A Teenager In Love' along with other hit tunes like 'Duke Of Earl' and 'Runaway'. They demonstrated that they knew how to harmonise vocally by opening and closing their set singing in excellent acapella style. However, at times, the presentation had been a trifle ragged and demonstrated the need for some work. Then it was time for a true rock 'n' roll originator, the wonderful Jack Scott along with his American Band. I have not seen Jack on stage for about fifteen months and in that time, his regular backing band appears to have significantly changed. Of the original Top Rankers, only the bass player was present for this show. The lead guitar and back up vocal duties were adopted by Chris Casello who has previously been seen in Europe playing alongside Johnny Powers. As such, the musicians did not seem to be able to read Scott quite as well as their predecessors but this, in reality, is a minor gripe as Jack showed himself again to be Scott The Magnificent. The sound and vocals were all there as was the broody rockin' intent of classics such as 'The Way I Walk', 'Midgie', Found A Woman', 'Patsy' and 'Leroy'. The last mentioned was later reprised in the set as 'Greasball', the original working title of the song. The beat ballads such as 'My True Love' and 'What In The World's Come Over You' were also included. In an unexpected development, Jack asked if there were any requests and responding to one, we had a great version of 'Goodbye Baby'. Included in this set were several songs, such as excellent versions of 'Ubangi Stomp' and 'The Fool', that are not usually included in the Scott portfolio. All in all, another memorable show.

Following on were Wise Guyz, a Ukrainian rockabilly trio who went down well with the audience. They certainly has plenty of energy and one big plus was that the songs were virtually all original. Then it was time for an act who has the hottest CD on the rock 'n' roll circuit at the moment, namely J D McPherson. This guy is the lead guitarist for Jimmy Sutton's Charms and so, it was no surprise to see Jimmy and the rest of the band on stage backing up McPherson. However, be under no illusion, this was JD McPherson center stage with the other musicians there in a supporting role. From the outset, this was a 'take no prisoners' performance, McPherson was there to rock and win the audience over. Bearing in kind that it was now around three o'clock in the morning, the hall was still full and the audience was cheering him on. Sutton and the other musicians provided a truly excellent backing ass McPherson sung, and played guitar, most of the titles on his debut CD 'Signs & Signifiers'. There were a couple of Bo Diddley starts to tunes such as 'Mona' which then developed into totally different songs. All the time, the excitement was building in layers. Stand out songs on the night were 'Fire Bug' and 'North Side Gal' but in all honesty, there was not a duff offering in the whole set. We have a new rock 'n' roll hero.

 

Sunday, 5th June 2011 ( the rockin' closes out ...)

It was with a degree of sadness that we turned up for the final night as it meant the realisation that this particular festival was drawing to a close - but It went out in real rockin' style. Opening up the proceedings were Laura & The Moonlighters from the UK. This was a another powerful hard hitting R&B come rockin' set as Laura B strutted her stuff and sang her heart out against a pulsating hard edged backing form The Moonlighters. Plenty of visuals emanated form the stage that served to enhance the top quality of the music as they performed tunes such as 'Tough Lover', 'Country Man', 'Mambo Baby' and 'Jump Jack Jump'. I particularly enjoyed the hard rockin' edge to 'Down By The River' and 'Strange Things Are Happening'. They were followed by The B-Stars who are described in their publicity hand outs as a San Francisco-based country band that stirs up a hearty stew of honky tonk and hillbilly hits for your listening and dancing pleasure complete with nods to the country and western stars of the late 1940s and 1950s. That is an almost perfect description of the guys as they performed most of the songs, all originals, from their debut CD.

It was then time for the final visiting American originator, George Tomsco who was the lead guitarist for the instrumental, and subsequent vocal, group The Fireballs. Backed up by the previously mentioned Vibrants, this show proved to be another demonstration of careful thinking, planning , rehearsal and a great execution on the night. This was top notch music with an instrumental offering alternating with a vocal selection. The vocals mainly came from members of The Vibrants but occasionally, Tomsco showed that he also had a good set of vocal chords. As a guitarist, he was excellent and he demonstrated this in no uncertain way on hits for the Fireballs songbook such as 'Bulldog', 'Torquay', 'Quite A Party' 'Dumbo' and 'Gunshot'. All the time there were routines being performed. Tomsco obviously knew them well but it is credit to the Vibrants that they took to them without any hesitation. Vocal selections included 'Long Pony Tail', 'Rockin' In The 50s', 'Peggy Sue Got Married', 'Don't Stop' and 'Brown Eyed Handsome Man'. This had been a show offering high quality of music accompanied by oodles of visuals - in fact, great rock 'n' roll.

The final two acts for the festival were Cherry Casino And The Gamblers plus Runnin' Wild. Phew, I returned to my hotel room a tired but very fluffy bunny. It had been one heck of a good festival. Hope that I get invited back next year.

Tony Wilkinson

June 2011

 




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