Monday, November 21, 2011

Bobbettes & Jivin' Gene shine at Rhythm Riot

The annual Rhythm Riot at the Camber Sands Holiday Camp marks an essential date in the diaries of many UK and European rock and roll fans. They dress in fifties fashions or military uniforms, they jive energetically and they show off their wonderful 1950s American cars. Most of my Woodie friends go every year, but I've never been - until this year. My reasoning has been that the weather is usually cold and the US acts that I want to see are few and far between.
Well this year the weather was great - thank you global warming - and the American acts, few though they were, were pretty good. So I think I made the right decision.
Following my preference for American acts, the first performance that I saw was Jerry Lee's niece, MaryJean Lewis and the Starlight Boys. She lives in Scotland these days so she's almost an honorary Brit, but she retains some Memphis credentials and, like the rest of the family, she's pretty handy on the piano. Her set was quite a varied mix of music, from rockabilly to honky tonk to country and included tracks from her new CD Missin' Memphis such as the title track, Valley of Tears and Lovin' Fever. Other songs included Ruth Brown's Mama You Treat Your Daughter Mean and Daddy Daddy. Whilst not quite up to Uncle Jerry's exalted standards, she's quite a class act and this was a promising start to the festival. After MaryJean, things really hotted up with one of the stars of this year's show - Texan swamp pop king Jivin' Gene. I saw Gene at the Ponderosa Stomp recently and, good though he was, the fact that he was restricted on time meant that he couldn't really show what he's made of. This time he had a full 45 minutes (plus encore) and was able to show that there's a lot more to him than just his 1959 swamp pop hit Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. Surprisingly he didn't perform his other best known record Going Out With The Tide, but his voice was strong on some of his other early recordings including Up Up and Away, My Need For Love and, a real highlight, Lovelight Man. He's got a strong New Orleans feel and performed some Smiley Lewis numbers including One Night and, as an extended encore, Shame Shame Shame and I Hear You Knocking, plus Fats Domino's Poor me and Roy Brown's Let The Four Winds Blow. Definitely one of the real high spots of this year's Rhythm Riot I think.

Next on stage was Big Joe Louis and his Blues Kings. One of the UK's best blues bands, this was a solid set, but there was some rather annoying reverb and Joe's gold lame trousers were rather disconcerting.

Saturday night's opening act for me (after an excellent meal at the Green Owl pub) was a Belgian band featuring Lawen Stark and the Slide Boppers. Something of an Elvis imperonator, Lawen showed that he can whistle, lie on his back while playing his guitar and generally raise a bit of a storm. I liked his 21 Days In Jail and a speeded up version of I Really Don't Want To Know, but I found his voice just a bit dodgy.

The real highlight of the weekend came next - The Bobbettes, whose 1957 hit Mr Lee was one of the earliest smash hits by an R & B girl group. The current line up featuring one (or is it two?) original members is supremely versatile and professional, and featured some great doo-wop and not a little humour (in a James Brown show style way). Starting off with Sam Cooke's Good News, they harmonised beautifully on several of their own numbers including Don't Say Goodnight, Clyde McPhatter's Have Mercy Baby, Look At The Stars (the B Side of Mr Lee), the weirdly entitled Rock and Ree-Ah-Zole, You Are My Sweetheart, Johnny Q, The Dream, Um Bow Bow, Dance With Me Georgie (a reworking of Etta James' Roll With Me Henry) and I Don't Like It Like That (an answer to Chris Kenner's number). They also slipped in James Brown's Try Me, Ray Charles' The Night Time Is The Right Time and the Teen Queens' Eddie My Love, before launching into their big hit Mr Lee and the rather odd follow up I Shot Mr Lee (they got tired of him apparently). These four ladies put on a great show and for me, as someone who hasn't seen them before, it was a real treat. The whole thing was beautifully choreographed, right down to their excellent encore - Old Time Rock and Roll. Here are a couple of photos.

Sunday night's US star was Ray Sharpe, whose 1958 hit Linda Lu is popular with rock and roll and blues fans alike. Wearing what I took to be a Native American smock, Ray seemed unhappy with his guitar strings and perhaps a little out of practice but he was well supported by Big Boy Bloater and the Rhythm Riot Kings of Rhythm. His mostly blues set included the original A side of Linda Lu, Red Sails in the Sunset, the later B side, the Chuck Berry influenced Monkey's Uncle and a later recording Justine, but it didn't really catch fire until his extended version of Linda Lu itself at the end. Ray shows that he has a fair voice (despite a very small mouth) but his guitar playing ranged from the ragged to the excellent. I saw him years ago at the 100 Club, but this time he was not quite up to the standard of that show I thought.

The final act (for me) was Lil' Mo and the Dynaflos, a dynamic, fifties style doo-wop band from Los Angeles with a college boy look. The band features four excellent vocalists, including Lil' Mo himself, and most of their material is their own. Backed up by four instrumentalists, including a lively saxman and an equally proficient guitarist, they really rocked and came across as a cross between Dion and the Belmonts and Danny and the Juniors.

This was a great finish to an enjoyable weekend but will I go again? Maybe, if the line up is good. Not to mention the weather!


At 5:00 pm , Blogger Dave C said...

I agree with you on the Bobbettes (a marvellous show), and was hoping that somebody would come up with the names of the members, as they did not appear in the programme. The website states “These days the two original lead singers, Emma Pought Patron and Reather ‘Dimples’ Dixon Turner, are carrying on with the group with two new singers, Debra Thompson and Pamela Tate.”
In your photo of all four on stage it appears that they are, from left to right, Reather, Emma, Pamela and Debra. Perhaps somebody would care to correct or confirm?

At 12:04 pm , Anonymous Vintage Vicky said...

Thanks for the review-it was a great weekend! Loved the Bobbettes and J D McPherson(did you see him?) most of all. And as for Big Joe's trousers - we girls loved them!


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