It’s Rockabilly Rave this weekend in East Sussex and DJ Swanny the original Hep Cat, DJ Supremo and musical director of Diamond Jive is playing a set. So to celebrate we thought we’d ask him a few questions.
What was the first fifties music you listened to?
S: My mum and dad had a record collection with Elvis and Buddy Holly records but the song I most remember from my youth is Bonnie Moroney by Larry Williams. It was the B-side on a K-Tel (as seen on TV) Rockin & Rollin compilation album. That song used to get played a lot and to this day every time I play it that song takes me back.
What was it like growing up in Carlisle and was there a rockin scene?
There was nothing in Carlisle. When I was at secondary school the two tone mod revival was popular. There was only a kid in the year below me who was interested in Rockabilly. The first time a group of Rockabillies appeared in my area coincided with the release of the film the Wanderers. A couple of brothers started a gang that all wore jackets like the gang in the film. I never owned a jacket but that is the first I can remember of a group of kids in town liking rockabilly.
Where could a Rockabilly go out in that part of England?
In that part of England at that time there where Rockabillies who referred to themselves as “Hep Cats” and Teddy Boys. The Teddy Boys were older and rougher and Rockabilly kids were not allowed into the Teddy Boy clubs. The Rockabillies had to go to clubs that catered for all subcultures. The music I listed to most then and which inspired me was the Stray Cats and the Meteors. Anyone who was interested in guitar like I was couldn’t look past the likes of Brian Setzer’s guitar playing.
When did you move to London and how did you find the scene down here.?
I spent a summer busking in Amsterdan with a band in 1988 and when we returned to England the bass player moved to London. Soon after moving down he invited me to come front a band. The Rockin scene in London then was amazing the band was gigging most Saturday nights.
I was active in the scene in London between 1989 to 1992. The clubs were rockin. Every Saturday afternoon Dj Mouse ran a club in Dingwalls, Camden. Tom Ingram (founder of Viva Las Vegas) and Jerry Chatterbox (founder of Rockabilly Rave, Atomic and Hotrod Hayride festivals) used to run a club on Thursday nights (later Saturday nights) at the Camden Workers in Kentish Town.
Unlike now all the clubs then were North of the river. Djs would play rare rockabilly songs and break out obscure tracks that have become today’s dance floor hits. They got their name by breaking-in obscure tracks which happens a lot less these days.
How did you get into Djing? Who gave you your first start?
I was more focused on playing in bands when I first came to London. I would Dj occasionally for John Donoghue who was running clubs in Gypsy Hill and Crystal Palace in the early 90s and a few of my own ventures but I started Djing properly for Caron and Steve Mason at 52nd Street Jump specifically at the Royston Club in Penge. Caron and Steve taught Lindy Hop but what I liked about the new scene circa 2008 was the mix of swing and rock n roll particularly the mixture of Rhythm n Blues and Rockabilly. It was a refreshing change from the old Rockin scene.
What makes for a good Rockabilly Tune?
The classic tracks are like lightning in a bottle. They just make you want to move, it’s the sort of music that sends me the most. It’s funny but a lot of the best tracks are poorly recorded and the levels are all wrong but there is an energy there that just moves you.
Lastly and most controversially who is your favourite Rockabilly artist?
I really like Carl Perkins but Johnny Burnette’s and Gene Vincent’s 1956 sounds are unbeatable. It’s just pure innovation. The music now is just imitation, back then they were creating it all out of nothing. It’s like John Lennon said: “Before Elvis there was nothing”.
DJ Swanny is playing this weekend at Rockabilly Rave on Friday from 4-6pm at the Queen Vic pub, Saturday at the Queen Vic pub and a late set from 1-2am in the Downstairs Hall.
Check out his top 10 dance floor fillers on Spotify!