REVIEW festival Rockaway Beach Festival

Johnny Marr and three days of awesomeness at Rockaway Beach

There was a light that never went out in my hotel room at Butlins (Bognor Regis branch) this weekend, that’s for sure. The mighty Fall, Echo and the Bunnymen, Ghostpoet, Public Service Broadcasting, Spiritualised, Young Fathers and Johnny (flipping) Marr, plus a whole bunch more, all bravely trooped into the holiday camp that was opened by Mr. Billy Butlin in 1960. I’ll wait while you read that again. It took me a while to get my head round it too.

Billed as ‘a fresh eclectic music festival’ and the latest addition to a series of Butlins live music ‘adult weekends’, I was very interested to see who would make the trip south. Rockaway Beach certainly looked in advance as if the organisers knew exactly who they were targeting. The whole feel of the run up to the festival, the promo materials, the merchandise, even the logo, and of course that formidable line-up, all looked tailor-made for men of a certain age. And yes I’d say that there was a disproportionate percentage of men with pony tails at this festival. There were also a fair few couples, a small amount of hen/stag parties, some rowdy forty-something women let loose for the weekend, oh and more bands than you could ever have hoped for!

From 3.15 on Friday afternoon, through to ‘can’t remember o’clock’ on Sunday night/Monday morning this three day festival packed in some mostly awesome sets across four stages. Yes there were a few minor hitches, with late stage times, headline clashes, and a few people griping about the fact that the swimming pool was only open for two hour slots at particular times, but for a newly born festival still in nappies, these were all just very insignificant teething troubles. And to be fair the organisers were asking for social media feedback from the attendees the whole weekend, which meant that most of these pint-sized hindrances were immediately addressed. Not the pool opening times thank goodness, but who goes to swim when there’s a festival on? To those people I’d seriously say ‘GET IN THE SEA’ … which happened to be gloriously and temptingly visible from the hotel balcony.

Favourites from Friday included Membranes with John Robb rousing the crowd and looking like a speeding dodgem car weaving back and forth through the stage. Luckily there were no head-on collisions. The Fall followed with their epic ability to split the audience into lovers and haters. One stage side critic was overheard saying ‘to be honest it sounds like they’re just making it all up as they go along’ which was a nice summary of Mark. E. Smith’s shambling rambling performance. He did the two microphones thing, they played Sparta. I loved it! Their late running did mean that I only got to a small part of the main stage Friday headliner Echo and the Bunnymen but what I did hear was beautiful. This was a band clearly not making it all up, but banging out classic track after classic track, and it was one of those moments where you could definitely feel the love in the room.

After the discovery of a fairground (!) and some almost tame seagulls on Saturday morning, it was time to get back on the Rockaway blend of old and new. The Cherry Wave with their killer set of hypnotic fuzzy loudness, sadly a bit under-attended and also maybe better suited to a more conventional tenty-type festival setting. The Band of Holy Joy nailing some very quirky sounds and avante-garde dance moves. At one point they had everyone there absolutely spellbound with ‘There was a fall/The fall’ an unforgiving piece based on Ian Tomlinson, utilising parts of the coroner’s report into his death.

In sharp contrast my next two choices, Ghostpoet and Public Service Broadcasting both put in first-class performances to lift my spirits again and get me back on the happy horse. Ghostpoet, who took the time to have a little chat on my balcony earlier in the day, was truly amazing from start to finish and a lot of people who’d wandered in with minimal knowledge of his sound, left as some of his greatest fans. Those technical glitches struck down PSB, meaning that they were very late starting, despite their obvious frustrations, they put on their best bow ties and tweeded it up to the maximum. Love them. I did have to do quite a sprint over to Johnny Marr afterwards and was totally blown away to hear the songs of The Smiths. He was just remarkable and mixed up his set with those Smiths songs, some Electronic, and a cover of ‘Crash’ which had the whole of Butlins singing and dancing along. My light stayed on all night long after that performance.

Sunday was a bit of a mixture, Skinny Girl Diet punked it up with screams that sounded like the seagulls had gone on the rampage and were ripping their hearts out with their razor like beaks. It all went a bit pink on the main stage with Shocking Pink followed by Pinkshinyultrablast from Russia. To be honest I couldn’t tell if they were singing in Russian or English and at one point I’m sure it wasn’t the sound of the female vocalist I could hear but a beautiful robot who had just been gargling with wind chimes and got some stuck in her throat. For me one of the highlights of the whole three days was next, Young Fathers smashed it with their vibrant energy and their mind-bending sounds. A drum got absolutely beaten to a pulp by one of them, and their dramatic moves and facial expressions added another layer of coolness. Rockaway Beach really pulled out all the stops this year. Time to switch the lights off and hope and pray that this festival becomes an annual fixture.

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