CATS IN TOWN 2006
Pontin’s Seaside Village, Lowestoft, East England
30th June 2006 to 3rd July 2006.
With the news that Jack Scott and The Top Rankers were to headline at The Wildest Cats In Town weekender, I decided that it was time Mrs Wilkinson, daughter Colinda and I attended this weekender which has built up a great reputation. Accordingly, we arrived at the scenic Pontins Holiday Camp at Pakefield, just south of Lowestoft ready to rock ‘n’ roll in glorious sunshine. Boy, we were not to be disappointed.
I quickly gained the impression that, whilst the Hemsby weekenders focussed on great rock ‘n’ roll with the accent on rockabilly, the Rhythm Riot! was musically across the board but more centered on Blues come R&B come jump jive and The Rockabilly Rave lived up to its name, this particular weekender was more aimed at the rock ‘n’ roll club scene existing here in the UK.
Friday, 30th July 2006.
Friday night’s rockin’ opened up with Porky’s Hot Rockin’, a solid workmanlike outfit who concentrated in the main of known rock ‘n’ tunes such as ’40 Days’, ‘Honky Tonk Man’ ‘Red Cadillac and A Black Moustache’, ‘Mean Little Mama’ and ‘Hip Hip Baby’. The band excelled themselves on ‘One Hand Loose’ and ‘Stutterin’ Cindy’, accurately capturing the magic of Charlie Feathers. Porky himself is quite a bubbly character, a somewhat akin to Big Sandy, and went on to act as M.C. for the rest of the weekender. Next came the club favourite Darrel Higham And The Enforcers. Darrel is of course one of the top-notch guitarists’s around and certainly is no slouch on the vocals side. This was amply demonstrated on a selection of songs like ‘Fancy Dan’, Chopin’ And Changin’ (from the Cliff Richard songbook), a radically different treatment of ‘Wondrous Place’, an atmospheric ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So’ and a great rockin’ workout on Roy Orbison’ ‘(A Cat Called) Domino’. He nailed Tommy Sand’s ‘The Worrying Kind’ close to perfection, a real show-stopper. Darrel exudes the mean ‘n’ moody portrait of a rocker and his music lives up to this persona. He has always performed as a trio the numerous times that I have caught his act but this can have limitations. One wonders what he would sound like with an added brass section?
The headliners for this night was Graham Fenton’s Original Matchbox’ who of course scored top ten hits back at the time of the rockabilly revival and have continued on ever since, albeit in several line-ups. Here tonight was the original Matchbox and sheer professionalism shone through. Fenton handled the lion share of the vocals and projected well on such as ‘Buzz Buzz A Diddle It’ and Gene Vincent’s ‘Baby Blue’ ‘You Belong To Me’ and ‘Over the Rainbow’. The selection of numbers was varied ranging from the Crickets’ When You Ask About Love’ through the original ‘Gunning For The Dog’ to the rapturously received ‘Teenage Boogie’ and Midnight Dynamos’. Other members of Matchbox stepped forward and took over the lead vocals on such as ‘Washing Machine Boogie’ and ‘Setting The Woods On Fire’ whilst Steve Bloomfield on the instrumental ‘Hurricane’ was awesome. The band knew how to work the stage and had to perform several encores.
Friday night’s shows closed out with The Jive Romeros, an outfit firmly based in the jump jive end of rock ‘n’ roll. Their regular saxophone player was off touring Scandinavia with The Stargazers and so Clive Osborne stepped in – however such is this guy’s musical skills that it was seamless. A partial list of the songs performed will provide the taste and style of the excellent band. These ranged from Bill Haley’s ’Burn That Candle’ and ‘Happy Baby’ through Art Baxter’s ‘London Rock’ to Freddy Bell’s ‘Giddy Up A Ding Dong’ and The Jodimars ‘Now Dig This’. They excelled on ‘Barracuda’ and ‘Jump Jive And Wail’. The stage was full of visual action and I went to bed a fluffy bunny.
Saturday, 1st July 2006.
Thankfully Mrs. Wilkinson was not around whilst I attended the indoor market on Saturday morning where I found several rockin’ gems on disc, albeit the bank balance took a hammering. But, she was with me when the opening band in the main hall, Rudy La Crioux & His All Stars, took the stage. These are another of those solid bands currently plying on the club circuit and tended to concentrate more on mid-tempo numbers with back-up harmony vocals such as ‘You’ll Find Love’, ‘A Lovely Kiss’ and ‘Sweet Love’. The dance floor was filled with lovely ladies along with a few brave men, dancing the stroll – this was to be a consistent feature throughout the weekend. Another common theme weekend long was the preponderance of Johnny Horton numbers, both from the bands and from the disc jockies. Rudy joined in with this theme with a good treatment of ‘One Woman Man’.
Next up was a new band, to me, in the form of the three-piece The Spitfires. Looking at the lead guitarist, I realised that I was watching Lucas from Lucas And The Dynamos fame. However, the young bass player handled most of the lead vocals whilst Lucas undertook the lead guitar chores and bopped around the stage like crazy. This was a first rate outfit and handled material ranging from ‘Little Pig’, Billy Lee Riley’s Flying Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ a superb version of Buddy Holly’s ‘Modern Don Juan’ and a splendid ‘Trickle Trickle’ that was originally by The Videos but is better known by The Manhattan Transfer. A surprising choice of material was the Brook Brothers ‘Warpaint’ but the Spitfires rocked it out well and received a great reaction. Certainly, they are a band to watch out for.
Crazy Cavan And The Rhythm Rockers - a band that has a large and fanatical following (and this was evident on the night) came on next. I am not sure what it is about Cavan but they are not to my taste. To remedy this, I attempted to stay and catch the whole set. After about a half dozen numbers including ‘Hot Rock’, ‘Are You Still Crazy’ and ‘Teddy Boy Blues’, the sauna like conditions in the main hall got to me and so I retreated outside . I came back in about an hour later, the hall was jumpin’ like mad but, for myself, it sounded like the same number as when I left. Still, all credit to the band, they clearly serve up what a large portion of the rockin’ public wants - and that’s what matters.
The closing act for Saturday was billed as The Johnny Burnette ‘56 Show. This was intended to be a 50th anniversary tribute to the marvellous and ground-breaking music of the Johnny Burnette Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio. Lead by Johnny’s son Rocky, we also had appearances on the stage by Randy Burnette, Johnny Burnette Jr. and Shonnie Burnette. This was truly heady and emotional stuff and did the aforementioned rock out. Providing the solid and authentic backing was Darrel Higham & The Enforcers, although Johnny Jr. also demonstrated that he was a more than capable guitarist.. Rocky took the opening vocals on ‘Tear it Up’, ‘Hip Shaking Baby’ and ‘Drinking Wine Spo-De-Oh-De’ before Johnny Jr. took over with ‘All By Myself’. He clearly has the Burnette magic on this front but perhaps does need to develop his microphone technique a bit more by cutting back on shouted vocals. The joint was really jumping as Rocky sang ‘Lonesome Train’ before brother Randy stepped up to the microphone for ‘Eager Beaver Baby’, a song that he has in fact recorded and which appeared on an obscure single back in 1990. He too is a fine vocalist. Shonnie handled ‘Rock Therapy’ and from hereon out, the remainder of the vocals wee handled by either Rocky or Johnny Jr. We were treated to first rate versions of ‘Rockabilly Boogie’, ‘You’re Undecided’, ‘Please Don’t Go’, ‘’Blues Stay Away From Me’ (with Randy and Shonnie joining in), ‘The Train Kept A Rolling’ and ‘Sweet Love On My Mind’. The set closed out with reprises of ‘Tear It Up’ and ‘Please Don’t Go’. All in all, it was moving stuff - not only from a musical perspective but as a more than fitting tribute to the style of music that emanated from their parents back in the fifties.
Sunday, 2nd July 2006.
Perhaps it is time to pay credit to the hard working disc jockies who served up a great selection of numbers and, as an added bonus, actually announced what they were playing. Sunday night’s main performances opened up with the German band, The Lennerockers. This was a first time for yours truly and it was soon evident that the reputation that this outfit has as good musicians and as a show band is fully justified. The set was a mixture of originals like ‘I’m Always In Trouble But It Is So Much Fun’, ‘She’s A Rebel’ and ‘Women and Booze and Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and good covers in the form of ‘Judy’, ‘High Class Baby’ and ‘Tennessee Rock ‘n’ Roll. It was so good to hear an acoustic piano featured prominently in the set, especially when the piano pumper stood on top of it still playing. The stage was generally full of exciting visuals, clearly there were set piece routines but the band pulled them off well. The bass player literally threw himself into the heart of a rockin’ show and performed feats, with his instrument, that were breath taking. Another must see again act.
The time had finally arrived for Jack Scott along with his own band, The Top Rankers, to take the stage. This was the same line-up of musicians seen on previous occasions, including the great Steve Nadella on lead guitar, and so I just knew we were in for a special night. From the outset, as Jack launched into ‘Baby She’s Gone’, ‘Two Timin’ Woman’ and ‘Greaseball’, it was pure rockin’ magic. The sound was right, the feel was perfect and the quality of musicianship was awesome. On we went ploughing our way through the Scott catalogue of original music with ‘My True Love’, ‘Baby Baby’, ‘Oh Little One’, a unique treatment to ‘What Am I Living For’ and ‘I’m Satisfied With You’. It was evident that Jack is a perfectionist when it comes to his music and that is one reason that puts him head and shoulders above many artists performing today. In my book, he could sing the telephone directory and still obtain that special feel. ‘Patsy’, ‘’Geraldine’, ‘Cry Cry Cry’ and the mean ‘n’ moody and magnificent ‘Found A Woman before we ventured into slightly different territory with ‘Mountain Dew’. There was a passionate audience response as Scott went into ‘Go Wild Little Sadie, ‘One of These Days’, ‘Bella and ‘The Way I Walk’ before performing one of his biggest hits in ‘What In The World’s Come Over You’. You may have gathered that I was really enjoying myself listening and watching a master of his art up there on the stage. This was as good as it can get, especially on ‘Goodbye Baby Goodbye’, ‘Long John’ , ‘Save My Soul’ and ‘I Never Felt Like This’. We also got a marvellous reading of ‘Trouble’ with, I believe, had an added verse. The spell binding set closed out with ‘Leroy’ and ‘Midgie’, it had been eighty minutes of perfection.
The final act for the weekender was The Rat Pack, a rockabilly trio who come from Essex, indeed I believe the hail from my home town of Southend-on-Sea. The main singer was the bass player but all three took turns at handling the vocals. They performed a good selection of umbers such as ‘Rocky Road Blues’, ‘Your True Love’, ‘Old Black Joe’ and ‘Honey Bun’. Enjoyable and they got the dance floor filled at midnight on a Sunday in blistering hot hall, no mean feat.
That was it, time to retreat to my chalet and mull over what had been a great weekend for rock ‘n’ roll. I see that for next year’s event, The Comets, Sonny Burgess and Jack Neal (from Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps) will be headlining. Scintillating.
© Tony Wilkinson