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Rock’n’Roll will never die
John Harrison

f you think that rockabilly, the original country / hillbilly version of rock’n’roll is dead outside of the southern states of the US, you may be in for a surprise. Rockabilly for those of you don‘t know (I didn’t) is 1950s style rock’n’roll that takes a lot of its influences from country and western, southern sources. So what’s this got to do with mid-crisis Moscow 2010? It would be incorrect to say that there is a rock’n’roll revival bursting out around us, but with films like Stilyagi which came out last year, the era is not being forgotten about musically, and there are at least around 500 rockers in Moscow alone who actively follow the original 1950’s rock’n’roll. According to Richard Hume, the compere of the show at the Doolin House Club on the Arbat I attended in late January, of those [Russians] that follow the original rock’n’roll music, as embodied by such stars as Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, there is a higher percentage (as opposed to overall numbers) of rock’n’rollers in Moscow who follow rockabilly than anywhere else in the world. One of the reasons for this fascination with 1950s music and youth culture is its importance historically: The rockabillies, Teddy Boys, rockers, etc., of the 1950s represented the first real generation of youth culture rebels, with their own music, their own style and their own brand of social rebellion. All youth culture movements after the 50s were simply a progression from the original. Richard’s motto is: Rock’n’roll will never die.

Two groups were billed at the Doolin House concert: Al & the Hi-Jackers and the Great Pretenders. The former were loud, brash and a bit unpolished, which wasn’t surprising because they are a brand new group, but the sound was good anyway. The Great Pretenders were brilliant, and rightly so as they are, says Richard, “one of the best rockabilly groups in Russia.” The place was packed out, the music load, winkle-pickers, grease-backed hair styles (where am I?) and drape jackets, turn-up jeans, leather jackets and thin sharp ties abounded. A couple of expat rockers in heavy disguise, their winter clothing completely covering their true natures, quickly transformed into well-dressed, if not middle-aged or beyond, rockers. But this was real, this was like being back in the past of my eldest brother, or maybe like being back in the future, you never can tell, as the raw energy of this music and the sheer exhilaration displayed on the faces of the dancers was by my reckoning something quite boutiquely unique.

Talking of dancing, how do you do it? It looks easy, a kind of Tango in high speed with back-breaking arabesques to much stomping of feet and wild expressions. But easy it isn’t. Richard Hume also runs a rock’n’roll dance club, and he demonstrated to brave members of the audience a sample few routines between the two groups’ performances. The semi-geriatric author of this piece tried his hand, or rather feet, at this and got into a right old mess within a few seconds; perhaps (he would like to think) it was because he was wearing those huge galoshertype plastic boots from Aushan, to keep his feet from getting frostbite, as it was rather cold outside. Richard mercifully (for the author’s dancing partner) moved the partners around at the end of every new dance step routine. Meanwhile young old hands who pirouetted (in a rockabilly style) around us made the author feel totally jealous. Those with more self-confidence than him (almost everybody), or suitably inebriated, stuck it out and were soon well on their way to being converted to rockabilly by the time the evening was over, which was, and actually in all honesty, great!

Richard runs regular free rock’n’roll dance classes in Moscow, and comperes rock’n’roll evenings. Contact him on: tel. 454 0757 or via his web-site at  

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