On a horribly wet Friday evening around the end of November of last year I went on a “little” road trip which at first was meant to be just a stag do, but turned out to be my first venture into a whole subculture which has fascinated me since. The stag do was for a top fellow named Micha who I’ve known for around two and half years through playing together in bands in the North-East of England. A year or so prior to this road trip I found myself on, the young man in question found himself in the company of a girl named Catherine while watching one of my own bands. That night the immortal words of “Do you fancy coming back to mine to watch Ghostbusters?” fell from Micha’s lips. He is a smooth guy as you can see. One stag do, one wedding and nearly two years on and we’re expecting ginger twins from the happy couple.

Anyway, now you know the back story, let’s get back to that fateful November night. Due to my un-accommodating former bosses I was not able to take that Friday off to travel down with the rest of the party, so I decided to take the journey south on my own after work. This all might seem fine, but I should mention that the stag do took place at other end of the country literally - Camber Sands to be precise and at the Rhythm Riot festival in Pontin’s holiday camp. I set off from the lovely North around five o’clock armed with an iPod, a few changes of clothes and the worst set of directions I’ve encountered. Around eleven o’clock I found myself fairly close to my destination. Those directions, however, and the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere in the SOUTH led to me being what is commonly known as misplaced.

Somehow, due in part to the technology of my phone and the sheer grace of God helping my poor, poor car to not quite run out of fuel despite racking up around forty long and empty miles in the pitch black of the southern outback, I managed to find it. And find it I did, in all its glory, there it was before me - Pontin’s. Preferred holiday resort of the poor and pretty much England circa 1975 – I’m told.

This was, however, late 2009, and this was a particularly late Friday particularly late in 2009 and at the right end of a very long and lonely car journey there was only one thing left for me to do. Drink. The first obstacle came when I had to find the entrance. I thought I’d found it, but clearly didn’t, no luck there next to the hedge. Or along from the hedge. Then a strange looking lady walked by. “My, my,” I thought. “She looks like she’s from another time, a different era.” Had I stumbled upon some real live version of rubbish 1990’s sitcom ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’? Or maybe I was just in the right place. I took a chance at the latter and with special caution taken followed at a safe distance the 50’s looking maiden and I made my way in.

A confusing and not especially enlightening 10 minutes later I managed to get through security and into the resort, still none the wiser as to where on earth all my friends were. I’d spoken to them, but if you’ve ever tried to find a group of 15 drunken North Easterners on a Friday night in an unfamiliar territory you’ll know exactly what I was up against.

I made my way to the apartment and dumped my bag. Then I set out to see if I could find anybody. Find someone I did - Andy. Andy could provide me with the necessary means to gain entry into the actual “club” area where people were, as I wasn’t able to procure my own photo ID pass for the weekend at this late hour. Luckily for me Andy, standing at around 6’3, short black hair, cleanly shaven, looked possibly the least like me out of the whole lot of those who had come down for the stag do. Nevertheless as he turned in for the night I borrowed his pass in the hope the bouncers wouldn’t notice that the owner of the pass had seemed to shrink and simultaneously grown a beard and an over grown fringe, all this while losing about 6 inches in height within the last 10 minutes.

I made it in. Luckily it was that late that no one of vague authority really cared anymore, so in I waltzed. This sounds nice I thought as I strolled through the rows of makeshift 40’s style flats toward the main hall. I could hear music from another era, the 50’s, which all considered made perfect sense I suppose, but as I actually walked through the doors three things simultaneously happened:

One – I could spot my group of buddies at the other end of the hall, all at the bar, easily sticking out like a sore thumb.

Two – I fulfilled one of my boyhood fantasies of feeling like Marty McFly. I walked in slightly self conscious being on my own and sober at this wee hour, but was quickly confronted with the feeling of walking into a time warp. Not once in my life was there a point where a pair of white Reebok Pumps and an orange body warmer would have been more suitable attire. I was there, in the 50’s. This was another world, and I couldn’t have stuck out more. But this was no film, there was no Doc Brown goading me on, only a ginger fellow called Micha beckoning me to join in celebrating his future wedding. This was real. There was no real DeLorean car to get me here, although I probably did go at 88mph at some point on one of the many motorways that night. This was brilliant.

And then there was the third thing – Rockabilly. I had instantly fallen for its charms. This was brilliant, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I had jumped off the deep end, unaided by water wing, and, with no orange life jacket either to play the part, I was totally immersed by this whole new culture. I realised that it isn’t new. Far from it, and that in essence is the whole point of the rockabilly scene. It’s all based around the 1950’s, the music, the style, the tattoos, the cars, the girls. Filled to the brim with men with slick quiffs, leopard skin brothel creepers, drain pipe jeans and girls in mid length polka dot skirts. This was a truly amazing spectacle and it was this idea of a whole new world that really made me fall in love with this whole scene. This was the epitome of a subculture and I think it was this idea, this complete immersion in it which really grabbed my attention.

I lied when I said I’d never experienced anything like this. When I were a youth back in the heady days of the very late 90’s I discovered metal, and punk and all things in between, via late night MTV, when it actually showed music, and also at gigs and in night clubs. These were places where you went and it was like stepping into another world, unlike the drab every day existence we all know and tolerate. People looked different, they acted different, there were different rules, there and there was a very different soundtrack, but you felt part of it, accepted, encouraged. This is great, this is one of the most beautiful elements of music, the way it can remove you from normality and all that goes with it.

But over the years I’ve grown tired of what has become of the music scene. There’s just so much mediocrity, so many jaded and boring characters and so much safety. When I first went to “alternative” clubs it was just that - an alternative. Now it’s all so samey, and turn on MTV, or any of the other music channels and you’re confronted with mostly boring, seen it before toss that seems tailor made by record label execs who are making quick bucks. Maybe I’ve got a big pair of rose tinted specs on here, but it used to be different and as soon as I got a glimpse into the world of rockabilly I remembered all this and it warmed my soul. Needless to say I had a fantastic time, as did all involved on the old stag shenanigans. I’ll not go to much into detail about the following Saturday morning when I woke up in a sorry state.

The whole weekend was filled with DJs spinning old tunes by the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, the Cleftones and Carl Perkins, all of whom I really loved. Laden with tales of hardship of everyday life, the old way of life, the innocence of young love and the sound of rickety old drums and the double bass resonating through the whole camp, they made their way firmly into my psyche. There were also countless bands bigger and smaller, from all over the world, including Japan, the United States and Holland as well as plenty of home grown talent. There was also a wonderful involvement of people from all ages, not just youngsters, or oldsters, and this to me was a wonderful thing. Since then on I have made a real effort to follow the scene, pick up on the bands old and new and really get to grips with this whole body of music and way of life that had always been there somewhere just out of my eyes and ears shot.

One of my good, good school friends, Jimbo, is a DJ in what I would claim as the best night club in Sheffield. No sod it, Yorkshire. In fact, balls to it my favourite nightclub ever, the Corporation. He has an absolute wealth of knowledge when it comes to music and luckily for me he knew a thing or three about this whole rockabilly scene that I’d fallen upon and helped to introduce me to it further. As fate would have it, I was due to visit him in mid January, a few months on from the stag do and subsequent wedding, all of which went spectacularly. This was a good choice and, whether it was the ghosts of Elvis and Johnny Cash or not at work, but it just so happened that Jimbo was going to a gig that night, organised by an acquaintance named Jamie and his promotion company Mosh N Go. The gig was that of Psychobilly pioneers The Meteors.

Now you may have noticed a spelling mistake and that the word “billy” is preceded by “Psycho” rather than “Rocka”. This is on purpose. I’ve not just lost control of my fingers. The term ‘Rockabilly’ is derived from the styles and influences that made and still make that whole scene. This is of the 1950’s style rock n roll mixed with the loose edge of the Southern United States culture born around the 50’s, coined and overly generalised by the term Hillbilly. You know the sort of things – dungarees, the simple life, a work and play hard ethic and also very cool cars.

Now in the early 80’s the Meteors, who are from London, decided it would be a great idea to mix the sound and attitude of punk with the style of rockabilly. Led by front man Paul Fenech and heavily influenced by horror films, especially ones of the B-movie variety they wrote songs based around the three chord ethos of punk and mixed it in with the beats and very importantly double bass sounds of Rockabilly and the re-emerging styles of the Teddy Boy. As a result the genre of Psychobilly was born. And to this day the Meteors tag is still “Only The Meteors are Pure Psychobilly”.

Going to this gig brought me up to speed on where the genre is. Again the mix of brylcream, quiffs, car talk, leather jackets and walking bass lines rang true. Suitably situated in the depths of The Casbah in Sheffield, a real rock bar that you have to go under ground to get into, I was yet again taken into another world that was a far cry from every day life. This was a less polite, but nevertheless a highly enjoyable event again. Not as innocent as the Rhythm Riot festival, this was certainly a punk rock gig, but the themes still rang true. Another thing that the Meteors brought to the table nigh on 30 years ago was their crew – the Wrecking Crew – forever solidified in their tune of the same name, they set about to reek havoc wherever they may be. Again that feeling of belonging to something different really rang through, and I loved this - People getting into things properly and not just dabbling in it on a Saturday night. People live for this and you could see it all around you.

With bands of the same era like the Cramps, Guana Batz and The Reverend Horton Heat during the 80’s bridging the gap between the original 50’s rock n roll sounds and the introduction of the horror movie vibe, the scene is still thriving. Bands like Tiger Army, Jack Rabbit Slim, Nekromantix and subsequent (sort of) offshoot band Horrorpops has added a modern pop-edged slant to it all,

The Rockabilly and Psychobilly scene is still thriving and does not plan on going anywhere soon. I’m hooked and hope that my ramblings about this thriving subculture will give you a slight taster of what is out there. Go on, go see it for yourself!

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Commenting On: Rockabilly - So What's This Then? - Comment

ie London, England

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19195 Posted By: Lisa (Chicago)

Oh, I know people do live for this and it's so exciting. I loved your vivid description of this wild phenomenon, Adrian.

It does bring us all together in the most fun way possible. Thanks for a great read.

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