It’s new! It’s Jet-Age! It’s ATOMIC!
With a wham-bam, thank-you, ma’am blast of confidence like that, the new Atomic festival sets itself a high bar. But then Robin and Colette, Jerry Chatterbox and Miss Mary Ann know a thing or two about organising festivals. Both the Rockabilly Rave and the Rhythm Riot have been going 20 years now, and the two couples are veterans of pretty much every snag known to vintage clubbers. Carefully considered detail, highly professional but with a keen sense of quirk, corners aren’t cut because as vintage lifestylers themselves the team are creating the festivals they want to go to.
Atomic was built from the ground up, with the guys rolling up their sleeves and (literally) getting their hands dirty.
The choice of Sywell aerodrome near Northampton, complete with art deco hotel, bars and hangars is inspired; the perfect backdrop for stylish folk in mid-20th Century chic, top bands, superb food, classic cars and vintage stalls to, shall we say, ‘special events’(more about that later…)
I love the Atomic Bombshells, a team of fabulous-looking women in specially-designed 50s Jet-Age air hostess uniforms, perfect festival ambassadors.
Some come for the cars – scores of gorgeous American and European classics on the main field (petrol-heads note: the car park boasts more vintage chrome, fins and bench-seats than many other festivals’ actual exhibitions). The roar and smoke of the 50s drag strip over the guitar-jangle and bass-thud of rock & roll in the big top lends an authentic ‘American carny’ feel to it – almost more than the excited squeals from the helter-skelter and grinding terror of the Wall of Death.
Some come for the aerial displays, including a 1954 DeHavilland Venom and a 1947 Piper Cub stunt plane ending one of its shows by landing on the back of a moving truck, the other with an explosion of fireworks.
Some are there for the music. This year look out for Marcel Bontempi, Cherry Casino and the Gamblers (both from Germany, which is producing some of the best bands around just now) as well as veterans such as the Extraordinaires, Darryl Higham and Jackson Sloane.
First year round, the Aerodrome, more used to hosting family weddings with the odd skittering toddler and dancing dad, was shocked when the Atomic Four asked for a gigantic dance floor. In the event, it could have done with being twice as big – it was, at times, far too cramped for comfort, though some of the dancing, both in and out of the UK Rock & Roll Jive Championships final, was jaw-dropping to watch. For those new to swing and jive there were free classes, also heavily subscribed. By year two, the dance competition had so many spectators it was impossible to get inside.
And then there are those who are there for the Poodle Parade. No, really, I know at least one chap who went especially for that. It was as gloriously kitsch as it sounds. A bit of a gamble; Robin freely admits they weren’t sure if anyone would actually turn up to see gorgeous people dressed in gorgeous outfits parading gorgeous French poodles along a catwalk, but the hangar gets so packed it’s hard to get inside.
This surprise hit of the festival owes much of its popularity to the wonderful tongue-in-cheek commentary: ‘Fifi is wearing her whiskers long this season…’ delivered with the deadpan bafflement of a man that can’t quite believe he’s saying those words out loud.
How to top it in 2016? I have no idea. But I know a gang of four who do.
Atomic 2016 is on Saturday 30th April and Sunday 1st May.