It’s been a long time coming, but the sun is finally peeking it’s face from behind the clouds and our evenings are starting to get longer.
That means that we can dust off our glad rags on and get ourselves on the dance-floor once more!
The UK’s jive and rock’n’roll scene really gets going at this time of the year, with many acts coming off their winter breaks and organising tours around the country for the popular summer season. Home to dozens of exciting rock’n’roll bands, you can often find these groups playing at small halls and clubs across the country, but you might be interested to know that this old style of popular music is starting to gain traction with younger audiences.
Thanks to an aggressive college advertising campaign led by up and coming rock’n’roll bands, more and more young people are getting into the scene, so expect to see fresh faces at these upcoming summer events:
The Wildest Cats In Town Summer Show
The Wildest Cats in Town are one of the longest established rock’n’roll societies in the UK, having rocked out for an amazing 22 years! Their annual Christmas and Summer events are two of the highlights of the rock’n’roll scene and always play host to some of the most exciting acts in the country. This year’s Summer show is no exception with Hayden Thompson, The Comets, Jimmy Van Eaton and Rip Mastes taking to the stage in what should be a thrilling weekend of jive.
Where? Pontins Seaside Holiday Village, Lowestoft When? 4th-7th July 2019 from £165 including food and accommodation.
Ray’s Rocking Jamboree Weekender
Yet another full weekend (but at a more affordable price), this year’s Jamboree plays host to 12 rocking bands and 3 DJs who should offer plenty of thrills and spills for rock’n’roll addicts. There’ll also be a vintage car show and cruise on the Saturday, as well as a pool party with an Elvis impersonator, not to mention a whole host of vintage clothes stores and record stores. Artists this year include: The Jets, Johnny Horsepower, The Riot Rockers and The Rhythm Aces.
Where? Beachcomber Holiday Park, Grimsby When? 14th-1th June 2019 from £40 for the whole weekend.
2019 Enfield Pageant of Motoring
There’s a wonderful synergy at the moment between lovers of old cars, vintage clothes and rock’n’roll music, this event is a great example of all those things being brought together in one place! Hosted by Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust, this is primarily a fundraiser for Whitewebbs Museum of Transport and its well supported by the local community. On offer this year is a fantastic fairground, plenty of live rock’n’roll music, fashion shows, dance classes and even an autojumble!
Where? Enfield Playing Fields, Enfield When? 25th-27th May 2019, £10 for adults, accompanies kids under 12 go free.
Have a look and see if you can make any of our top picks for May…
Hot Rod Night ‘Spring Riot’
Spring will have well and truly arrived for the motor enthusiasts of the legendary Ace Cafe London, so why not celebrate by dropping by to check out Hiway 51? This band began playing together all the way back in 2012, since then they’ve had considerable success playing stripped down covers of 50s country and rock classics. The Ace Cafe consistently puts on a string of great events which makes the most of their Rock’n’Roll heritage whilst also appealing to lovers of fast cars, enter a raffle here to win tickets to more great events, like the Great British Tattoo Show in London.
Where? Ace Cafe London, Stonebridge. When? 2nd May 2018 from 6pm. Entry is free.
Just for Kicks Rock’n’Roll Club
Hailing from the Midlands town, Daventry, the fast-paced Retrobaits have certainly made a lot of ground since forming in 2014. In the matter of just a few years they have risen to become one of the busiest groups on the rockabilly circuit with bookings all over the country. The three pieces are signed to Western Star Recordings who they’ve cut one record with so far and have even amassed a modest online following of international listeners. This Rock’n’Roll club convenes once a month and always sees an impressive turnout, making it well worth the trip.
Where? Yaxley Royal British Legion, Peterborough When? 7th May 2018 from 7:30pm. Entry £3.50.
Hiam Rock’n’Roll Club
The South Wales rockabilly 5-piece, Memphis Lee & The Creepers hit the road on a huge tour this year taking in all corners of the UK. Their stop at the Hiam Rock’n’Roll Club gives you a good excuse to drop in at this well established venue. Taking their cues from the likes of Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran and Billy Fury, this act’s fast and furious brand of traditional R’n’R is well worth experiencing live and you can guarantee that there’ll be plenty of support for them at this popular monthly event.
Where? Hiam Sports and Social Club, Prickwillow When? 12th May 2018 from 7pm. Entry is £8 for non-members.
Two of the most energetic Rock’n’Rollin’ bands take to the stage here in what promises to be a night that will be impossible to forget. The Swing Commanders play a broad range of classic rock tunes, upbeat swing and jive, but it’s the way they play them that has furnished them with the reputation that they hold today. ‘Energetic’ and ‘joyous’ are two words that have been used to describe them and with good reason. Supporting them will be Good Rockin’ Tonight, a rock’n’roll outfit that has been entertaining the world for nearly 20 years now.
Where? Longfield Suite, Prestwych. When? 18th May 2018 from 7:30pm. Entry is £15 in advance/£17 on the door.
A massive lineup of highly regarded performers will be playing at this special charity event raising money for research into the treatment of Neuroendocrine Cancer. Top of the bill are the fantastic Wildkatz who are supported by Relentless, Starlights, Memphis Riders and This Little Girl & Dillicats. Many of these acts exemplify the true spirit of Rock’n’Roll right the way from the wooden crate bothering days of skiffle through to the electrifying psycho-billy of the 80s.
Where? Mayfield Family Club, Louth When? 21st May 2018 from 12pm. Entry is £20 for Adults OTD or £15 in advance. Under 16s £10 OTD or £7.50 in advance.
‘The Big O’, as he was often known, was a singular Rock’n’Roll artist whose influence can be seen throughout the history of popular music.
When Roy Orbison broke into the mainstream the concept of Rock’n’Roll was quite rigid.
The spirit of Rock’n’Roll was then synonymous with the sultry scowl of James Dean, whose Rebel Without A Cause had single-handedly popularised the notion of teenage rebellion and the hip-swinging sex-appeal of Elvis Presley, who came to fame at about the same time. At a time when Rock’n’Roll seemed to be settling into its firm masculine spirit, Orbison represented a completely different side to the coin.
Instead of the strutting and macho demonstrating that was fast becoming the staple of the rising Rock star, Orbison’s stock-still performances, combined with his emotionally rich voice provided an alternative approach to Rock, with his operatic voice often soaring far beyond any note that his contemporaries could have dreamed of reaching. Orbison took a direct hand in the writing of many of his songs, co-writing a string of 22 hit singles between the years of 1960-66, most of which made extensive use of his three-octave vocal range.
Even before his life was dogged with tragedy, Orbison wrote music that was tinged with sadness. Vulnerability was his unique selling point, despite producers at the start of his career insisting that he would ‘never make it as a ballad singer’, this would be the style of song that he would become famous for. Although he often took to the stage with an electric guitar (usually jet-black to match his outfit) his records would frequently feature the lush instrumentation of an orchestra, elevating his ballads beyond those of his peers.
His first hit was ‘Only the Lonely (Know the Way I Feel)’ in 1960 and typified the style of music that be his trademark over the course of his chequered career. Orbison’s success, although stratospheric, was short-lived. The fast-paced, racy rock tunes of the British Invasion drove Orbison and his slower-tempo music out of the charts in the US.
As Orbison’s records began to fail commercially, his personal life also suffered a series of setbacks. He divorced his wife over a series of infidelities in November 1964, although they reconciled 10 months later their union was short lived. In June 1966, his partner’s life was cut short in a motorcycle accident, the loss of which sent Roy into a depressive downturn – he threw himself into his work and, despite no longer releasing commercially successful material, stayed financially stable thanks to some smart real estate investments. This wasn’t the end of his woes though. In 1968, his home in Tennessee burned to the ground, the flames taking his two older sons with it.
Despite these tragic setbacks, Orbison was able to return to prominence, albeit not until nearly 20 years later. Although he had by and large been forgotten by the A&R men of the music industry and the record buying public, his fellow still artists remembered The Big O. Numerous covers of his hits were released over this time, by performers as wide-ranging as Van Halen, Don McLean and Nazareth. His music made a complete cultural return to the spotlight when his hit, ‘In Dreams’ was featured in David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet. Lynch had used the song without Orbison’s permission and, although he was initially shocked by the use of the song in the film, he soon grew to appreciate the ‘otherworldly quality’ that the director had imbued the song with.
The revival of interest in his music led to his re-recording many of his hits, as well as working on new music with The Travelling Wilburys and ELO bandleader Jeff Lynne. He completed work on his last studio album, Mystery Girl, with Lynne just weeks before his death of a heart-attack in 1988 at the age of 52.
Ever a man of mystery, Roy Orbison is said to have appeared, much like his hauntingly expressive voice, out of nowhere. Perhaps fittingly, his music lives on today performed live around the world by a state-of-the-art hologram with a full orchestra providing the epic instrumentation that his music always demanded.
Dance the night away at one of our top picks this month…
Boppin’ in Bolton
Although you might not associate Bolton with Rock’n’Roll music, there’s a fast-growing love for the genre amongst the pub-goers of this Northern city. With demand high, R’n’R covers band are flocking to the city, The Roadrunnerz are the latest to do so. This Northwest based three-piece are well established and always worth a look, playing a string of classic hits from Chuck Berry to The Space Cadets. Make sure to get down there early to grab some food and a pint!
Where? Old Three Crowns, Bolton When? 2nd June 2018 from 7pm. Entry is free.
Rock Around the Dock
This long-running Jive club has had to cut the number of their events down due to a fall in demand, despite this they continue to organise events and their Record Hop is one of the best in the country. Compered by experienced disc jockey, Cj the DJ, expect a fun-filled night of R’n’R and Rockabilly classics that are sure to put a smile on your face and a skip in your step. Whilst this might not be the most hotly attended event of the year, the dancing will be impressive as ever.
Where? Park Pavilion, Essex When? 12th June 2018. Entry £10.
Rockabilly vs. Psychobilly
This series of self-explanatory gigs continues at the atmospheric The Salty Dog, with two quality acts facing off against each other which should make for a fantastic night’s entertainment. The Jack O’ Bones have worked hard to build their stellar reputations over many years which has resulted in them taking headline slots across the UK at some of the biggest Psychobilly nights, they’re joined by Hobo King and The Freight Train who have been working hard trying to build a following of their own.
Where? The Salty Dog, Northwich When? 22nd June 2018. Entry £7.
Ronnie Rockets’ Video Hop
What’s better than a packed dance floor with some fantastic Rock’n’Roll tunes? How about adding a massive video screen to the occasion! Ronnie Rocket has been providing the people of Halifax with a regular event to get their jive on at for the last two years and it’s proven to be quite the success. The R’n’R lovers of the local area have been filling the floor every month, so you can guarantee a good night out with some truly enthusiastic punters to beat.
One of the most established R’n’R bands on the circuit today, Go Johnny Go’s repertoire has to be heard to be believed. Covering some of the biggest selling artists of the greatest generation of rock artists, they’ve played at events all over the country and also supported major legends such as Showaddywaddy. Although you’ll usually find them at weddings accompanied with themed iced sculptures, they do play the occasional public gig – make sure not to miss them!
Where? Ivy Leaf, St. Ives When? 30th June 2018. Free entry.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: Rockabilly Legend & Influential Glam Rock Pioneer
Despite the continued popularity of R’n’R in the UK, it’s safe to say that there aren’t really any Jive performers today attempting to emulate the wild cat antics of one of Rockabilly’s weirdest performers.
James Hawkins, as we he was born, did not have the easiest of starts in life yet you could say that his diverse upbringing helped him achieve the kind of orginality and style that other performers could only wish they thought of at the time. Abandoned by his mother at birth, he was raised in an orphanage until he was adopted by a Native American family at 18 months old. During his early years he developed an affinity with music, teaching himself to play the piano and learning to read music by the age of six. At fourteen he had picked up the saxophone and was also developing a considerable talent with his fists.
Hawkins took home the top prize at the Golden Gloves Championship in 1943 at the age of 14, but his love for musical eclipsed his natural talents as a fighter. That same year he enrolled at the Ohio Conservatory for Music to follow in the footsteps of his idol Paul Robeson and learn to sing operatically. Hawkins did not complete his education there, soon he’d dropped out to join the War effort and found himself entertaining tired soldiers with his unique brand of blues.
Hawkins was often known to tell outlandish tales of his times in the army including stories of parachuting behind enemy lines and becoming a POW. One particular story, which remains completely unsubstantiated, details a grisly encounter between Hawkins and one of his captors, involving the forced swallowing of a live grenade. This kind of bizarre, shocking humour was very much apart of Hawkins’ nature and would prove to be both his undoing and his making.
After his discharge from the army and a brief return to boxing, Hawkins began playing music professionally for a number of renowned jazz performers including Charlie Parker and the Art Tatum Trio. His career as a session musician soon came to and end when he was fired by Fats Domino for attempting to perform in a leopard skin suit. Although his wild-man style did not sit with the traditional jazz band leaders of the time, he soon caught the eye of Okeh Records who signed him. His first record with them did not sell well but has come to be recognised as a true cultural landmark in popular music.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, as he was now known, is said to have recorded an early version of ‘I Put A Spell On You’ in 1956 whilst in the midst of a booze-fuelled binge. The next day, when going over the take, all involved agreed that the wildness of his vocals was something that should be replicated again. The record did not perform well, but laid the foundation for his identity as a shamanic, ritualistic performer who drew ire from groups as disparate as the NAACP and the National Coffin Association.
Hawkins continued performing right through to the mid-90s, opening for acts that he had influenced such as Nick Cave and The Clash. During his period he scored his one and only UK hit, a cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Heart Attack and Vine‘ which peaked at number 42 in 1993. Screamin’ Jay might not have been appreciated during his heyday but it’s a testament to his ingenuity as an artist that he was able to be recognised by his peers later in life.
Filmmaker Nicholas Triandafyllidis made a documentary based on Hawkins’ life and featuring his last ever performance, which you can watch below:
Check out our pick of April’s R’n’R nights right below…
Rockin’ By The Sea – Burnham
The Old Pier Tavern is one of those great seaside boozers that truly encapsulates what is great about a decent British pub. Just back from the charming seaside promenade, this old school Tavern features some of the best Rock’n’Roll bands at their Rockin’ By The Sea gig. This month brings Woolacombe outfit Borderlines, a Jerry Lee-style crew that promise some fast-paced covers to bop to. Support comes from DJ Dynamite and DJ Rockape.
Where? The Old Pier Tavern When? 1st April 2018 from 1pm. Entry is free.
Phil Haley & His Comments – Nottingham
After being told for a lifetime how much he resembles legendary R’n’R man Bill Haley, Phil set up his tribute band in 1995 and has since seen his group go from strength to strength. In addition to covering many of the classic songs that Jive fans will be sure to know, the band also has a string of their own numbers which they have recorded in Australia of all places! Bringing with them an electrifying stage show complete with bespoke lighting design – this will be a show not to miss!
Where? Junction 27 Jive Club When? 6th April 2018 from 7:30pm. £7 entry.
Blue Cats w/ Norm & The Nightmarez – Cannock
The Blue Cats are considered by many to be one of the greatest groups to have come out of the British Neo-Psychobilly scene of the 1970s. Amongst several of their peers they pioneered the production of original R’n’R whilst staying true to the spirit of their influences. They might be a little more grey behind the ears but they can still play as hard as they did back then. They’re supported by Norm & The Nightmarez a pyschobilly band that has been relentlessly touring for the last few years now.
Where? The Station, Market Place When? 14th April 2018 from 8pm. £12 entry.
Jay Bluehorn & The Telephones w/ Paulie Victory – Bolton
If you’d have told Jay, an oven cleaner of three decades, that he had what it took to become one of the most celebrated Rock’n’Rollers in Bolton’s history he probably would have pointed you to his stellar oven cleaning reviews and told you that he’d already found his calling. Still, head to The Jeweller’s Crown on a Thursday evening and you’ll likely find him in the corner rocking out with his band, The Telephones. This month you can catch him performing a one-off show with the fantastic Paulie Victory playing support duties.
Where? The Jeweller’s Crown, Barberry Street When? 19th April 2018 from 7pm. Free entry.
The Chicken Shack – Leytonstone
The Plough & Harrow, in Leytonstone is one of those brilliant pubs that makes as much effort with its regular events as it does with its beer. Each month there are a slew of things to do for members and non-members alike, including tribute acts, comedy shows and The Chicken Shack, their monthly Rock’n’Roll and Rockabilly club night. April brings The Riverboys, a well-established group that has been active since the 80s. Expect to see some impressive jiving on display, but don’t be afraid to join in yourself!
Where? The Plough & Harrow, Leytonstone When? 21st April 2018 from 8pm. £5 entry.
Pyle Rock’n’Roll Club – Bridgend
Two great singers from two excellent rockabilly groups will be playing at the Royal British Legion Club in Pyle. John Lewis from the legendary Rockabilly band The Rimshots will be playing a special solo show, whilst Marc ‘Pummy’ Pumford from The Killer Dillers will also be on hand to play a set. Stick around after the sets to check out the Welsh heat of the Atomic Festival Jive Competition, the two winners will get free entry into the next stage of the competition.
Where? Royal British Legion Club, Bridgend When? 28th April 2018 from 7:30pm. £7 entry.
Born on a cotton plantation in 1925, you could argue that the start of Riley B. King’s life was far from illustrious.
King’s parents were both sharecroppers, an occupation that was not far removed from the enslaved lives that their parents would have survived.
They were tied to the land that they lived on and constantly indebted to the owner of the land – escaping the system that they were entrenched in was near enough impossible. Before Riley B. King became the legendary B. B. King he worked as a sharecropper too, becoming indebted to a farm owner at the age of 14 and being forced to work long hard hours picking cotton, in addition to attending school.
Left to fend for himself after the death of his Grandmother, he would later be reunited with his estranged Father, but this would not be a relationship that lasted. He married in 1944, whilst still struggling to make ends meet, an accident with a broken tractor sets him back even further and left him working to repay another debt. It’s not until late 1948 that the burgeoning guitar player lands his first professional gig selling an alcoholic health tonic Peptikon.
Regional stardom soon follows as ‘The Peptikon Boy’s‘ popularity begins to snowball. King cuts four tracks for Bullett Records in 1949 and is rechristened as the ‘Blues Boy’, which is soon abbreviated to ‘B. B.’ King. In 1952 he signs with Universal Attractions and proceeds to tour extensively playing to huge crowds, however his audience remains entirely black. Blues music has yet to break into mainstream American culture and despite his success he is still struggling for money.
Tax problems, divorces, bus theft and fires dog B. B. King’s career throughout the 60s, but the national sentiment towards his music is changing as well as the social acceptance of black people in America. In 1968, he is introduced on to the stage of the Filmore Auditorium to the sound of a standing ovation from an audience of predominantly white people – his arrival into the mainstream is quickly followed up by the recording of two seminal albums: Live and Well and Completely Well. The last track on Completely rocketed King to fame: The Thrill Is Gone took B. B. to the Grammy Awards in 1970 and claimed his first of 15 in his long fruitful career.
A man that exemplified and popularised the blues as we know it today, B. B King influenced countless Rock’n’Roll artists that we now know and love.