Found myself in the Sham last night, hail hailing rock n roll at the Assembly Hall, something I’ve been meaning to witness for ages; and I’m pleased to report, they do it with bells on……
Passing through Swindon’s GWR works prior to the Steam Museum, I perchance to natter to an aged engineer prepping a locomotive for display. He frustrated his vocation was fading, and with no apprenticeship, the knowledge would be a lost trade. Art is different from a trade; it lives beyond the creators’ years naturally; it is only hope it inspires enough to attract devotees from future generations.
Creative types rarely contemplate this, tending to live for the moment. Rock n Roll was perhaps the first youth culture to transcend social and political barriers into mainstream. Generations of segregation had worn-out the connection of railroad slaves, mimicking four-beat folk of their masters, and white youths of the 1950s reunited it by blending blues into country, much to the outrage of traditionists. But would those early, wide-eyed rock n rollers have stopped to consider seventy years later their voices would still be ringing out, their fashion would be epitomised and their dances displayed with such enthusiasm, in a market town hall in South-West England?!
Geoff and his wife proudly sit on the door of the Melksham Assembly Hall and welcome me. They have been the backbone of The Melksham Rock N Roll Club since its formation, twenty years ago. Recently two clubs opened in Bristol, he expressed, but prior he’s had free reign of the niche market for a few years. Coupled with winter’s chill and the resistance to head back out post-lockdown, he shrugs, unruffled attendance is slightly down. I pulled up a chair for a chat of all things Buddy Holly to Shakin’ Stevens, then popped inside to see for myself.
Despite his reservations and taking into account the hall is wonderfully spacious, it feels suitably packed in there, if this is an evening of lesser ticket sales it certainly doesn’t show. Devotees of rock n roll have come from afar to attend; Geoff cites members trek from Bristol, and even as far as Essex.
The closest we have here in the ‘Vizes is the Long Street Blues Club, which while spectacular can be a library-like appreciation society; I was shushed in there while thanking Ian for inviting me! Here appreciation is displayed rather differently, events aptly referred to as “dances,” while hold factors akin to many clubs, a live band, DJ and a raffle, the most astounding part was the dancing. There was no way I dare step onto that dancefloor to be showed up, as matured and authentically attired regulars would put upcoming generations to shame with their astounding moves! Trade in your gym membership, come here instead for a rock n roll workout!
With poodle skirts whirling around refined gents in double-breasted Chesterfields and winklepickers, it’s an impressive spectacle. I was interested to observe the age demographic, concerned, like the steam engineer, for his disappearing trade. I’d spoken to Geoff about diversity, for what is considered “rock n roll” is altered by later age-groups, through Zeppelin to punk. But acceptance of progression felt like a no-go zone; this was traditional, fifties fashioned rock n roll, like it or lump it.
I thoroughly enjoyed the band, hailing from various locations from Hungerford to the Cotswolds, this five-piece ensemble called Haney’s Big House had the classic arrangement; bona-fide frontman on lead, bassist, drummer, harmonica and an outstanding upright double-bass player. It proficiently spelled rock n roll to me, they played their own awesome compositions, and relished in covering Bill Haley and Chuck Berry, to name a few. Yet conversing outside, nick-picking gossip circulated it was too blues, whilst others suggested too rockabilly.
True, but the band don’t hide this blues influence on their own website, and inside the crowd danced on seemingly unconcerned. I huffed at a minority of grouches, they revelled in nights of yore through rose-tinted specs, when unfortunately, that era has passed. Haney’s Big House made for an excellent evening, seemed to love the spotlight and were a perfect match for a rock n roll club.
Akin to the contemporary scooter scene, subgenres have to merge back into one another in hope of survival, as Northern Soul mods meet ska-led skinheads, so rockabilly, RnB and blues should be accepted as fair game by fundamentalist rock n rollers, otherwise the scene risks fragmentation over time.
A heartfelt concern, because I’m with Joan Jett, loving rock n roll, put it every time on the jukebox baby; I grew up listening to Elvis, Buddy et al, via parents. There’s nothing like the authenticity of original rock n roll, with an epoch to match, The Melksham Rock N Roll Club is an institution upholding this ethos and they do so with matchless effort.
It was a brilliant evening of beguiling retrospection and long may it continue for another twenty years plus. My demographic observations came up trumps, while a palpable majority were retirement age diehards, a sprinkling was younger, equally excited about the scene. Though that number has to be upped, so I urge anyone affectionate of old timey rock n roll, try this affordable club for size; it’s reelin’ and a rockin’ to the point age is just a number, folk of all ages twirling the night away; absolutely wonderful!
Stay updated via their Facebook page.
Check out other forthcoming events at Melksham Assembly Hall Here, from Abba and Carpenters tributes to Madness and Led Zeppelin…and erm, “ladies” nights!
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