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Hell’s Bent On Rockin’ * Craig Brackenridge (2007)

Welcome to the world of flat-tops, quiffs, hard-slapping and most of all, wrecking. However I have been aware of the music style of psychobilly for a while, for a long time I had the idea that it was a current in the larger rock/punk scene. This is possibly because in the Netherlands this is largely the case. When there is something rockabilly, often a few psychobillies appear. When Peter Pan Speedrock have a party, there are psychobillies present. It never really occured to me that the horror-themed music of psychobilly represents a different scene from horror punk. In my hometown there has been a psychobilly (“and related” I used to usually add) festival and last year my eye fell on a book about psychobilly. I bought it at this years’ edition. Psychobilly proves to be a scene of its own. Psychobillies are very recognisable, but it also proves that this scene has its own labels, mailorders, concert organisers, festivals, etc. Actually, it is much bigger than I would have guessed. Even in the early days when a release came in a 2000 piece edition, this was limited, while my usual music 2000 is quite a normal edition for a regular release. Brackenridge came up with a nice, and in his eyes hardly needed, history of psychobilly. He describes how in the mid 1980’ies there were people in the rockabilly scene who pushed the boundaries of the style, mostly thematically. There appeared what Brackenridge describes as “neo rockabilly” and later when the lyrics became more horror-themed, “psychobilly”. The first psychobilly band who also gave the name to what was to become a genre of its own, The Meteors. Several classic compilations appeared who clearly show the transition in the music style, one of those compilations lent its name to the book. Pretty soon many old-style rockabillies started to distance themselves from the wicked, new form of rock’n’roll and slowly but surely, psychobilly became a genre and later a scene. In the early days the sound was still quite rockabilly, but perhaps sped up. Early bands experimented with other music styles, but the scene evolved to be quite narrowminded initially and there soon grew a typical sound, a typical look and typical themes. Later other people joint the scene with a punk background and psychobilly started to stretch to both extremes of the spectrum, some bands having more of a punk-sound, others more classical rockabilly. Especially when the disease left the UK (it all started in London), the sound became rougher and sometimes closer to rock. All these developments make that nowadays “psychobilly” is somewhat of an umbrella term for a variety of rock’n’roll based music styles. The scene melds with the punk scene on one end, with rockabilly on another and with rock on yet another, but basically it stands on its own. The followers are numerous, the same goes for labels, distros, websites and inspite of a dip in popularity in the 1990’s, especially the USA has rekindled the fire. Somehow the complete scene has been ignored by the main music press only making short encounters of a handfull of bands with major labels. Since psychobilly is (still) mostly an underground scene, many people might have never heard of it and yet, a festival will draw thousands of fans, quite like with my usual music.
Brackenridge wrote somewhat of an encyclopedia with a shitload of bands, labels, distros and individuals covered. He talks about clothing and hairstyles, subgenres, developments, different countries, name it. The problem is that this book should have come with an index, especially because it is mostly unstructured. There are different chapters, which appear to be pieces that the author wrote at some point in time, but the texts just run on an on and without even a white line, you are suddenly reading about another band or even a completely different subject. Also it is impossible to look back band information. Brackenridge uses psychobilly slang like everybody knows what he is talking about (perhaps the book was written for internal use?). It even took a while before I found out that “flat tops” are not shoes and “quiffs” not a psychobillies. Inspite of this, the book is amusing and informative and makes a very nice introduction to an interesting scene.
2007 Cherry Red Books, isbn 9781901447804

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