Still rockin' the weekend away

Simon Parkin Music fashions come and go, but thousands of fans still congregate every year at Norfolk's holiday camps to share their passion - for soul, dance and rock'n'roll. SIMON PARKIN on the enduring appeal of the seaside weekender.

Simon Parkin

Music fashions come and go, but that doesn't stop thousands of fans congregating every year at Norfolk's holiday camps to share their passion - for soul, dance and rock'n'roll. SIMON PARKIN on the enduring appeal of the seaside weekender.

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Dress is the most obvious way of identifying members of the tribe. It maybe 2008 but in Hemsby for one weekend in October the fashions to be seen in will be closer to 1958.

Vintage Levis, Brylcreem quiffs, retro pin-up girl dresses, bowling shirts, biker jackets, high collared gingham blouses will be the order of the day. The men go for a more authentic take on Mark Lamarr's 50s-throwback look, the women modelling themselves on 50s pin-ups.

Add to that parades of big wings and chrome American cars up and down the main street, jive dancing, 50s cocktail parties and a soundtrack of pure 50s rock'n'roll and it could be a scene from American Graffiti.

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People come from all over the country, indeed in some cases all over the world, to the Hemsby Rock'n'Roll Weekender, which this year is in its 41st incarnation.

Chalets at the Seacroftday Site are booked up months in advance by fiercely loyal enthusiasts. They gather to revel in pure Americana, impress around the dance-floor with their authentic look and dance to music from bands you'll almost certainly never have heard of. Rockabilly acts with names like Dave Philips & The Hotrod Gang, Rochee & The Sarnos, Smokestack Lightening and The Infernos.

“The Seacroft is popular because it's the original 1950s accommodation plus it's got the original 50s sunken ballroom which means the jiving is absolutely fantastic,” said event spokeswoman Ann Ellerington. “We put on loads of bands, it starts at 12pm and goes right through until 5am, it's just a fantastic weekend.

“And at the moment we also seem to be getting a lot of younger people getting into the rock'n'roll scene, which is fantastic because you've got to keep it going and we need younger ones to come through and take it over from us older ones. It's just great to see younger people enjoying the older 50s music.”

Stuart 'Wildwax' Wester, remembers rock'n'roll from the first time round. He used to be a rock'n'roll radio DJ, starting way back and continuing until 1972.

“Rock'n'roll is like a family,” he said. “I know a quarter of the 2,000 people who go to Hemsby. When you come to a weekender like this you don't have to explain to anyone who you are. I've had three heart attacks, but I'm going to keep going to weekenders 'til the end of my days. That's the way I like it.”

The rock'n'roll weekender brings hundreds of extra visitors to Norfolk's seaside every year, but it's not unique. Hemsby has already this year played host to a dance music weekender.

The fashions were different, and certainly the sounds were a world away, but the enthusiasm for a riotous weekend at the seaside celebrating music that rarely registers in the mainstream was just as intense.

Bloc 08 drew hundreds to Pontins in March for a weekend of dubstep, electro, hip hop, techno and breakbeat, including performances by the likes of ex-Kraftwrek member Karl Bartos, and DJs Dave Clarke, Juan Atkins, Underground Resistance, Joey Beltram, Red Snapper and Amon Tobin.

Seaside weekenders can trace their roots to the Mods and rockers' bank holiday rave-ups in the Sixties. In the 70s, soul boys started holding weekend parties in seaside holiday camps, which are still the favoured venue.

Most weekenders define themselves by music, but few people go just to see the bands. The associated lifestyle, the sense of community and not being the outsider for 48-hours are the real pulls. And they are big pulls. Weekenders come to rule people's lives. They consume pay packets, introduce prospective partners to one another and console them when they break up. Lives are based on weekenders.

“Hemsby has now got a worldwide reputation,” said Ellington. “We get people coming from all over the world, from Japan and even from Russia. It is a way of life. People come back year after year.”

Norfolk, together with the South Coast, has long been a favoured weekender destination. Great Yarmouth saw invasions of scooter boys in the 1960s and Pontin's in Hemsby will again host a rally in October.

Soul music is the other major draw for weekender lovers. Like rock'n'roll, vintage soul is rarely heard in the mainstream, but that doesn't stop thousands descending every year for the Caister Soul Weekender.

The legendary event began in April 1979 and is now is the world's longest running soul event, firmly established in the calendar of avid fans, many of whom come back year after year.

The event began as a soul all-dayer but quickly expanded into a weekender. The first was held at the Ladbrokes holiday campsite at Caister. Revived in the 1990s, it now takes place twice each year, over the May Bank Holiday and September/October, at the Vauxhall Holiday Centre in Yarmouth.

Dance-floors are packed with 'Caister Boys' in ever more outrageous costumes. And though it sometimes barely registers on the local music radar, the event has a genuine worldwide reputation.

The performers who've taken to the stage over the years read like a who's who of classic soul, from Alexander O'Neil to Womack & Womack and Mis-Teeq.

t Hemsby Rock'n'Roll Weekender takes place on October 10-13.

t Caister Soul Weekender takes place on September 26-28.