Camber Sands in East-Sussex, a place you would by-pass if it were not for the fact there is a holiday camp situated there, and why would anyone holiday at the camp in November? The answer is music! The Rhythm Riot annual weekend festival of roots R&B, blues, doo-wop, rock ‘n’ roll, and for those who get their kicks from earlier age swing music, is the magnet. The Queen Victoria pub is an appendage to the main hall venue and where the swing people get there kicks, from 20.00h till dawn, sunday evening is their own special evening of entertainment. Here a soft shoe shuffle is laid down to the sounds of a DJ’s and this year (2011) Benoit Viellefon and his Orchestra were “The live band”.
The pub will seat around 100 holiday makers, for this evening close to 500 people had packed into the room from stage to the rear door, to see the main attraction. After the DJ set to limber up the audience Monsieur Viellefon and his Orchestra were introduced to an enthusiastic roar. An interaction with the audience that would happily grace any 1940s movie introduced the opening song ‘Douce Ambiance’, oh la la seven men working as one to create one mighty fine sound ‘old chap’. The feet were swinging left and right, the arms were raised in the air circling to the rhythms, for a moment you may have thought you were on the set of the ‘Swing Kids’. This was only the first number. Django is clearly a favourite of the band, and during the third number ‘Swing 42’, the festival organisers (Robin and Colette) came into the room growing large smiles that would grace any toothpaste advert, as they took in the vision.
But wait! Did this scribe not say standing room only? Why yes, they used the back door to get in, which indeed several of the camps staff repeated during the evening. The reason being, the middle size venue next door (there are three in total) was dead compared to this spectacle that they wished to witness what was quickly spreading by word of mouth. The party was in full action, when a clever sales stunt was introduced, a quick change of lyrics ‘I Want You To Be My Babe’, became (I Want You To Buy My CD). Indeed at the end of the show many were sold, sadly no shellac was available to manufacture 78rpms, however to keep faithful to the era an optional purchase of spam could give ambiance to the CDs rhythms once home.
Digression over, the show was still swinging and jumping, the audience shimmering and the perspiration dripping down well made up faces (the ladies did not mind they were having a ball). A cool beer was certainly required; the room was incredibly hot, the staff had to approach me (I was the MC) to make a request to the crowd. “Please return all empty beer glasses so we can serve you with more drinks”, they could not get out to collect the empties. The show was brought to an end with ‘Home Made Blues’, here the talented Benoit played his guitar behind his head while introducing the boys in the band, need I tell you the reaction from the crowd?
Two encores finally brought the show to an end, well it should have over, but here Benoit invited me in my capacity as a MC to participate in one more song. The audience said yes, I went the colour of the stage lights and totally stepped into the unknown. Thankfully the unknown was an uplifting version of Dick Dale’s surf instrumental ‘Misirlou’, with the band smiling behind me (or was it laughing) I became the eighth member for one song. I noticed the gleam in Benoit eye and a smile; to get my revenge I combed his hair into a slick quiff to the audience’s laughter. Show over it was time to sell the previously mentioned CD to an enthusiastic audience who left a festival totally satisfied.
May I say to anyone reading this page I am first and foremost a rockabilly music fan who works for the festival, swing I only listen to if it is good, this show was not good it was excellent. I play the bands CD while writing this review to invoke memories of that evening, which would have won the Orchestra many new fans, if they are in town try to catch them, you will be sorry if you don’t. Swing Heil!
(MC and Dee Jay and UK representative and writer for the German magazine Dynamite. November 23rd 2011)
Please check out the Rhythm Riot festival http://www.rhythmriot.com/