What is rockabilly? I know what it is when I hear it, but I can’t put it into words… Kind of rock and roll, a bit bluesy, a bit country and western? I had an opportunity to have an introduction to the genre as UK rockabilly legend Darrel Higham was rolling into Adelaide to perform at the Gov on Wednesday Night, after headlining the huge greaser culture festival Greazefest in Brisbane.
Darrel Higham has been performing rockabilly for thirty years and his career has included the playing Eddie Cochran, in Elvis, The Musical in London’s West End, and he’s played with other contemporary rockabilly stars, such as Imelda May and Jeff Beck.
He’s also been in bands with members of Guns N’ Roses and the Stray Cats, playing his own compositions and covers of the greats. Support acts for the show at The Gov were local bands The Saucermen and The Satellites. When I arrived, the greasers were out in force and The Gov was starting to fill up with fifties A-line dresses, quiffs, rolled up jeans, and denim and leather adorned with hot rods and motorbikes.
Launching the proceedings were The Satellites who warmed the crowd up with some rocking honky tonk tunes, broken up with some soulful crooning by their lead singer Belinda Hartman.
Next up were The Saucermen celebrating twenty years of rockabilly mayhem who set the crowd alight with their rollicking set of covers and their own original compositions. A highlight for me was the rockabilly rendition of Gangsters by the Specials.
The dance floor was full as they finished off their set with the track Devil’s Elbow, celebrating coming home to Adelaide, including a reference to that cloudy ale which every proud parochial South Australian knows so well! Interesting fact was that The Saucermen’s first gig was at The Gov, nineteen years ago when they were supporting The Satellites!
Next up was what the fans had been waiting for. Darrel Higham didn’t bring a band with him and he sourced some local talent to provide the backing musicians. On double bass was Steve Mitchell and on drums was Lee Jones, both from the Satellites.
Lee told me after the gig they got the set list a couple of months before to learn the songs, and then they had just thirty minutes to practice before the performance. That was not evident at all as what followed was a stellar performance. They sounded really tight and there was a lot of on stage chemistry going on.
Darrel treated the crowd to classics from Cal Perkins, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Cash and Ricky Nelson, as well as some of his own songs from his extensive back catalogue. Stand outs were Ghost of Love and Hell’s Hotel, which had a more modern and sophisticated feel than the classics but still had the rockabilly soul.
The crowd were getting right into iit, and the dance floor was filled with twirling dresses, with couples jiving and dancing. It was a mixed crowd with a diverse range of ages, coming together to celebrate their love of all things greaser, and it was great to see the classic dance moves.
For the encore we were treated to a rockabilly version of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m on Fire, before finishing off with some more Gene Vincent. It was my first proper introduction to the genre of rockabilly and a privilege to see it played by such a master.
If you have a hankering for some live rockabilly, check out The Satellites and The Saucermen Facebook pages for upcoming gigs – you won’t be disappointed.
Live Review by Jeremy Watkinson