‘VARIOUS ARTISTS’, ROCKAWAY BEACH – BUTLINS, BOGNOR REGIS 5-7.1.24
It’s early January so it must be the Rockaway Beach festival in Bognor Regis! Let’s face it, what else are you going to do at this time of year? Sit at home eating leftover mince pies and the last of your Christmas choccies? Of course you’re not!!! Having said that, on paper at least this year’s line-up seems to be the weakest so far. Indeed, some of the regular attendees that I know have decided not to come along as a result. Are they right? Let’s find out!!!
FRIDAY 5TH JANUARY 2024
The first band that I see today are Trupa Trupa who are from Poland. I saw them here in 2020, when they were quite low on the bill. Today they are still quite low on the bill. This is no reflection on the quality of their music in my opinion, although some of my friends leave after only a song and a half. To be fair, their music is not an easy listen, and their songs are certainly not immediate. However, some of the more interesting music requires a degree of effort on the part of the listener. Trupa Trupa’s music is angular post-punk with shouty vocals. The guitarist and bassist both provide vocals. The bassist’s mic is distorted and his vocals sometimes go through a phaser. Both the stage announcements and vocals are quite indistinct, thus I have no song titles for you! Basically, if the early Fall came from Poland, this is probably what they would sound like. Trupa Trupa’s music would make a good soundtrack to a particularly ferocious acid trip. They’re an interesting band, and I wish they would play in the UK more often.
Following on from Trupa Trupa are Hi-Fi Sean & David McAlmont. David McAlmont has a voice for which the term sublime is simply insufficient. He is probably best known for the album ‘The Sound Of McAlmont And Butler’, which he recorded with guitarist Bernard Butler, and was released in 1995. The backing tracks created by Hi-Fi Sean are possibly a little character-less compared with Bernard Butler’s efforts, but in reality all that they’re required to do is to provide a bed from which McAlmont’s vocals can soar, and this is a function that they perform perfectly. Although the songs are occasionally somewhat oddly reminiscent of David Bowie circa ‘Young Americans’, broadly speaking this is soul with a capital ‘S’. McAlmont absolutely bosses the stage. Not only is he a superb vocalist (he’s up there with Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding and David Ruffin) but he’s an ace showman to boot. Most of the songs tonight come from Sean & McAlmont’s album ‘Happy Ending’, which is out now.
Next up are Pale Blue Eyes, who I’ve seen a couple of times before, and been greatly impressed by. Their tuneful indie has hints of both electro-pop and psychedelia. Live the band have a fourth member who plays guitar and keyboards. He uses a plethora of guitar effects, but we’re not quite into Kevin Shields territory, thankfully not in terms of volume either! The band rock, but they also have a groove too, which is mostly courtesy of bassist Aubrey Simpson. Drummer Lucy Board’s drumming has a motorik feel, which in turn leads to inevitable comparisons with Krautrock. Honourable mention must be made of Matt Board on guitar and vocals. He only fronts the band so obviously isn’t that important….. The band have released two albums: ‘Souvenirs’ and ‘This House’. Check ‘em out!
We head upstairs to the main stage where ska legends The Selecter are headlining. They still boast three original members from 1979: Pauline Black on vocals, Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson also on vocals, and drummer Charley ‘Aitch’ Bembridge. The band retains every bit as much of the energy and passion that they had in those days. An example of this is Pauline Black, who worked as a radiographer for the NHS for five years, giving an impassioned speech about how badly NHS employees are paid. The music is pretty impassioned too. ‘Three Minute Hero’ is just awesome, we get the title track of their second album, ‘Celebrate The Bullet’, not to mention the title track of their most recent album, ‘Human Algebra’. ‘Murder’ features a wah-wah guitar solo, which I wasn’t expecting. ‘Missing Words’ is a highlight from ‘Too Much Pressure’, and ‘Train To Skaville’ features another wah-wah guitar solo plus a Hammond organ solo. ‘On My Radio’ (what else?) finishes the main set. Pauline Black still hits the high notes with apparent ease. The band very briefly leave the stage but return for ‘Too Much Pressure’ which also features a lengthy segment of ska classic ‘Pressure Drop’.
The Selecter’s set would have been a fantastic end to the evening but we’re not finished yet. The second stage (Reds) has been running late all day. By the time we return to see some of Hinds’ set, Patrick Wolf is just finishing. Reds is running almost an hour late!!! A lucky consequence of this is that we get to see all of Hinds’ set!!! Hinds hail from Madrid, and are not only really good, but are very funny too. They clearly very much enjoy what they do. Guitarists Carlotta Cosials and Ana Garcia Perrote share lead vocals, often swapping during songs. At one point they strum each others’ guitars, whilst still playing chords on their own guitars with their left hands. At one point they play in formation like The Shadows, and almost succeed in keeping straight faces! They acknowledge their heritage by covering ‘Spanish Bombs’ by The Clash. Like all bands they continue to develop, and play a new song with just guitar and vocals – it’s only just been written and they haven’t worked out the full band version yet. It’s not just about music though, it’s about performing too. Towards the end of the set one of the guitarists carries the other on her shoulders like Brian Johnson and Angus Young of AC/DC! They invite four friends onstage, who dance around and don’t do much else. After their set has finished, the band dance around onstage for a bit. It’s all about having fun right? Hinds: Punchy tuneful music and funny as f*ck. Really, what’s not to like???
SATURDAY 6TH JANUARY 2024
Saturday at Rockaway Beach Festival starts for me with the superlative ĠENN. I saw them at the Mutations Festival in Brighton in November and was blown away by them then. Sometimes a band is so good that you doubt your recollection and need to see them again to ensure that your memory isn’t playing tricks with you. I felt a little bit like that about ĠENN. However, I’m pleased to report that I wasn’t disappointed. Their music is so individual that it is quite difficult to classify. This is a very good thing indeed! There are various audible influences, but none of them are overused or followed slavishly. The result being that ĠENN sound very much like themselves and nobody else. There are elements of post-punk present, there are Zeppelin-esque riffs, hints of psychedelia, and the odd North African flavour as well. This is perhaps unsurprising as the band come from Malta. Altogether it makes a very individual and delicious sounding stew. ĠENN are my band of the weekend – no contest!
Lonely Tourist are next up. I would say that they have the misfortune to follow ĠENN but that really isn’t the case. They played here two years ago and I was impressed with them then, I’m no less impressed with them today. Lonely Tourist is actually the solo project of Paul Tierney, but he is always accompanied by another guitarist who may or may not be Jim Lang (I’m happy to be put right about this dear readers). Paul Tierney is needlessly self-effacing. His first utterance is: “£400 and you’re watching an open mic!” Lonely Tourist may be playing acoustic guitars, but they’re head-and-shoulders above your average open mic act! Paul is very much aware of how much the tickets cost: he bought one several months ago, and only found out that he was going to be playing the festival the Tuesday before the event! The songs are very socially aware, and cover subjects that most listeners will be familiar with. ‘Four Phone Calls’ for example is dedicated to “anyone who’s dad still answers the phone with the last four digits of their number”. It’s all very witty stuff and well worth a listen.
The next band I see are Heartworms, who are essentially a vehicle for the songs of Jojo Orme. I first saw them fourth on the bill to Grandma’s House at the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch two years ago, as part of that venue’s run of “Hello 2022” gigs. It’s very tempting to say “my, haven’t they grown”, as the self-assured band onstage today bear no comparison to the visibly nervous band of two years previously. The music is gothic post-punk as per the t-shirts that they were selling when I saw them at Shoreditch Village Underground in November. There’s a very definite Gang Of Four influence, along with The Cure and Killing Joke. The band collectively make it clear that this is very serious music. Jojo is very self-assured. As well as vocals she also seems to play most of the lead guitar. She seems to be unfazed by anything. Whilst the crew attend to a problem with the drum kit, she recites some poetry, which turn out to be the lyrics of the next song. There’s no dead airspace anyway. The band more than live up to the promise that they showed two years ago, and they have a theremin, which is a plus point for any band! In all seriousness though, whilst I don’t like to make predictions, I can’t help but feel that Heartworms’ upward trajectory can only get steeper.
We head across to the main stage to see the Skids. When I saw them at the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool in 2022 they had Bruce Watson on guitar. This time he’s absent. I suspect he’s preparing for Big Country’s lengthy tour, which commences next month. He’s been replaced by a hip young guitar-slinger whose identity currently seems to be something of a mystery. Richard Jobson looks his age, but there’s no shame in that. He still does what John Robb describes as “that f*cking stupid dancing”, but is a very engaging frontman, and his vocals are superb. He’s really funny too. He tells funny stories about Dave Lee Travis and Leo Sayer, and describes ‘Albert Tatlock’ as “the worst punk song ever written”. Tonight’s set isn’t entirely a greatest hits set, but it’s pretty close. The only new song is ‘Destination Dusseldorf’, which is the title track of their latest album. It’s pretty good, so there’s clearly life in the old dogs yet! They cover ‘Complete Control’ by The Clash. It’s a good version, but it seems a bit pointless when they’ve got so many great songs of their own. Thankfully, we get plenty of those, including: ‘The Saints Are Coming’, ‘Working For The Yankee Dollar’, ‘Circus Games’ (which was the last song that Jobson wrote with Stuart Adamson), ‘Masquerade’, the superlative ‘Into The Valley’, and ‘The Olympian’. They have gigs dotted around pretty much throughout the year, including a support tour with From The Jam from January through to the end of April. See them if you can. You won’t be disappointed.
We return to the second stage, Reds, for Hugh Cornwell. That the great man is only playing the second stage must surely be a mistake by someone? Still, on the plus side we’re able to get right down the front. Although I haven’t seen Hugh play live since 2006, I’m delighted to see that he, and the rest of his band, still wear black. The first two songs are from his most recent album ‘Moments Of Madness’, which came out in 2022. His solo material still has a definite Stranglers feel. Hugh may not like me saying that – but it’s true! Third song in we get The Stranglers’ ‘Skin Deep’. Hugh’s band is (including himself) a three piece, so the approach is relatively stripped back, but it doesn’t adversely affect the song. The next two songs are from 2008’s ‘Hooverdam’ album. One of them resembles Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Crosstown Traffic’, the other recalls Grieg’s ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’. This is really unusual, as I can’t remember hearing anything that Hugh Cornwell’s been involved in that sounds like anybody else! Hugh starts to have problems with his guitar, which eventually cuts out completely. I start to wonder whether Hugh is going to have a hissy fit, as he keeps looking at his guitar tech in askance, but he takes the whole thing in good grace, and a degree of amusement. ‘Strange Little Girl’ is played without any guitar at all, with Hugh singing the guitar solo! Eventually the guitar tech restores sound to Hugh’s guitar and all is well. We get a song from ‘Totem And Taboo’ which sounds like The Stranglers meet Motown. You can’t imagine it? Buy the album! ‘Who Wants The World’ is “a blast from the Stranglers’ past”, with the drummer adding backing vocals via a head mic. There are more problems onstage as Hugh’s artist’s wristband is too tight. His guitar tech cuts it off. This minor hiccup is followed by the title track of ‘Moments Of Madness’, which most surprisingly is a reggae song. I must confess that the last person that I ever imagined writing a reggae song is probably Hugh Cornwell! Hugh’s band are excellent musicians and they fit well together. They’re touring the UK this month. You know what to do!
Tonight’s headliners at Reds are Dream Wife, who I had seen at the Mutations Festival in Brighton in November, and had been well impressed by. They impress no less tonight. Guitarist Alice Go and drummer Alex Paveley get proceedings underway with an instrumental, and are gradually joined by bassist Bella Podpadec and vocalist Rakel Mjoll. ‘Hey Heartbreaker’, probably their most well known song, is disposed of early in the set. This band uncompromisingly rock! They have attitude and the chops to back it up. Alice Go in particular has a very lyrical style of playing guitar. They also display a great deal of showmanship. At one point Alice and Bella have a musical ‘fight’, with different sides of the crowd rooting for each of them. They rock like hell, they’re fun to watch, and songs such as ‘Somebody’ have a serious message too. As I (probably too) often ask: what’s not to like?
SUNDAY 7TH JANUARY 2024
Sunday at Rockaway Beach commences with Enjoyable Listens. Initially I’m disappointed, as everything apart from the bass and vocals are on a laptop. Indeed, there is even a band member, possibly called Sarah, whose sole job is to play the track for each song on the laptop. She has a mic that she doesn’t use once. She doesn’t smile either, and barely moves. She does add the odd bit of percussion though. Enjoyable Listens are the brainchild of Luke Duffett. He is possessed of a surprisingly fine baritone voice, and writes extraordinarily witty lyrics. Essentially this is what makes Enjoyable Listens. Luke writes great songs. There is a whole plethora of instruments on the backing tracks, and a plethora of different styles too. Although if we were being lazy we could perhaps get away with calling it electropop. Perhaps. Donny Rose is on bass, and he does a jolly fine job too. I do wonder why they have a live bassist though. Why not a live guitarist? Maybe the bassist gives the live sound a bit more ‘oomph’. Luke’s stage announcements are very humorous, and quite sick at times too. They are very funny though. He plays the suave English gentleman very well. His act veers towards stand-up. Indeed, Luke should do stand-up!!! However, before Luke makes such a potentially disastrous career change, Enjoyable Listens have a single called ‘Tear Up The Picture Of My Kids’ released towards the end of January. They also have gigs supporting The Bluetones in April and May.
Enjoyable Listens are followed by something completely different: Japanese Television and their instrumental psych-surf. Musically they sound like the mid to late 1960s viewed through a 21st Century lens. The Korg synthesizer sounds like a Farfisa keyboard most of the time, and the Danelectro guitar is perfect for this kind of music. They could be viewed as a muso’s band, in that maybe you have to be a musician to fully appreciate them. There’s certainly a lot of very interesting things going on. With its occasional hints of Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd it’s music that draws you in and envelopes you. It’s wonderful stuff anyway.
Shelf Lives are next up. They’re London based and comprise Sabrina Di Giulio (originally from Toronto) on vocals and Jonny Hillyard on guitar and production. Jonny plays keyboards too, although most things are on the backing track live. The band would probably describe themselves as electro-punk. The vocal delivery is rap-like. They seem to be quite wrapped up in creating their own legend, as their band name is mentioned in more than one song. In general the songs’ lyrical content is pretty negative: “I hate people and people hate me”. The music is energetic, but overall they come across as being a bit bratty.
Next up are Traams, grown-ups to follow Shelf Lives’ snotty adolescents. I first saw Traams ten years ago at Camden Underworld as part of the Camden Crawl. To be honest, they haven’t really changed. They were good then, and they’re good now. I’m surprised that they have never become bigger than they are. They say that they are from Bognor Regis. This isn’t strictly true as they actually come from Chichester. It’s near enough though I suppose. Traams deal in proper post-punk with motorik drumming. They sound like they have just walked in from 1979, which is fine in my book. The songs have lengthy and enthralling instrumental passages that emphasise their debt to Krautrock. They have an album entitled ‘Personal Best’ out now.
Traams are followed by Snayx, who I reviewed when they headlined Brighton Patterns back in October. They are a stupendous live band, and have a pretty confrontational stance. Bassist Ollie has such a powerful sound that there’s virtually no need for anything on the backing track. What is there is kept to an absolute minimum. Vocalist Charlie tells us that his parents met at this very venue “about 500 years ago”. He asks people what they do for a job. He asks if there are any bankers here. There aren’t, but he does find an accountant, which I guess is fairly close. This is essentially the introduction to ‘Up To You’, a song about banks providing their usual level of customer care.
Next up is a band who I seem to have been waiting to see for ever: The Vaselines. I must confess that I was first alerted to their existence by their songs being covered by Nirvana. I have a suspicion that I may not be alone in this! I must confess that they are pretty much as I expected: tuneful indie with some extra bite live. The Vaselines were initially a duo consisting of Eugene Kelly on guitar, vocals and harmonica, and Frances McKee on vocals and guitar. They gradually became a full band and today feature Michael McGaughrin on drums, Graeme Smillie on bass and Carla Easton on keyboards. They also have another guitarist, but he may be a touring member. He seems to spend most of his time in the shadows anyway! They still sometimes play as a duo, and have duo shows booked for March in the UK. Frances McKee looks out into the crowd and says it’s “so nice to see somebody under the age of 50”. Maybe so, but people in the flush of youth are still relatively rare at this particular festival! ‘Molly’s Lips’ appears fairly early in the set, to a massed roar of appreciation. Carla Easton plays an old car horn during this song, which I certainly wasn’t expecting, having only heard the Nirvana version I’m ashamed to say. Eugene and Frances share lead vocals, sometimes swapping during the same song. At one point Eugene is taking some time to tune his guitar, and Frances asks if “anyone has any crystal meth?” Audiences may have that in Glasgow Frances, but probably not at Butlins! A lot of the band’s material is punchier than I was expecting. I had always viewed them as being a bit twee, but they’re really not. Certainly not with the current Vaselines three guitar army line-up anyway. Reaching the end of their set they don’t bother going off before the encore, which is the Nirvana-covered ‘Son Of A Gun’. For me this has been a great introduction to the live Vaselines. I shall certainly be back for more.
I head across to the main stage for Desperate Journalist, who I saw supporting Suede at Portsmouth Guildhall last month. They’re a band I’d been meaning to see for quite some time, and they were certainly worth the wait. They play tuneful post-punk. Vocalist Jo Bevan has a superbly powerful voice. Guitarists Rob Hardy and Caroline “Caz” Herbert both play lead. The lyrics are mostly interesting and intelligent. The band are obviously quite serious, but without being precious about it (hi Porridge Radio!). ‘Resolution’, which is apparently about New Year’s Eve parties, is pretty ferocious. It has a superb rumbling bass line with unsettling guitar slashes and swoops throughout. ‘Personality Girlfriend’ includes what appears to be an impassioned declaration of failure from Jo Bevan, which I sincerely hope isn’t based on personal experience. If it is, then not many people have been the vocalist in a band as good as Desperate Journalist, Jo.
Well, this year’s Rockaway Beach Festival draws to a close with The Cribs headlining the main stage. It’s certainly going to go with a bang! However, it’s around ten years ago that I last saw The Cribs, and I’m a little worried that as they approach middle age they may have tamed their act a little. I needn’t have worried as if anything they seem to be louder and rowdier, still gloriously raw and energetic. Lead vocals are shared between Gary and Ryan Jarman. Gary is the polite one whilst Ryan generally dispenses dryly humorous asides. They both keep telling everybody that they’re “The Cribs from Wakefield”. They certainly were from Wakefield, but hasn’t Gary been living in Portland, Oregon, USA for knocking on for twenty years? Still, you can take the boy out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take Yorkshire out of the boy! ‘Hey Scenesters’ gets an early thrashing, and ends up with Ross stood on his drum stool, still playing. We get a song from the band’s most recent album, ‘Night Network’, which I haven’t heard, but that particular song sounds like classic Cribs. Talking of classic Cribs, we get a storming rendition of ‘Cheat On Me’, which ends with Ryan sliding his mic down the fingerboard of his guitar. He’s worried about “troubled shouting” coming from the audience. He says that before he “kicked the drugs” he would have thought (adopts interested tone) “oooo….what’s happening over there?” Now he says that he just wants to stay away from it. Apparently they were worried about following The Vaselines onstage. They needn’t worry, they’re both different kinds of bands. The Cribs are good, powerful headliners. We get some surprisingly accurate harmonies from the Jarman twins. The band give the impression of being a bit shambolic, but they’re absolutely not. A scorching ‘Men’s Needs’ indicates that we’re approaching the end of the set, which finishes with ‘Mirror Kisses’ and ‘Pink Snow’. As the last song finishes Gary jumps off the bass drum and leans his bass against his amp, whilst Ryan throws his guitar down on the stage. Much feedback ensues. The Cribs: what a great rock ‘n’ roll band. Never grow up fellas.
In answer to the question that I asked at the beginning of this festival: the line-up may have looked weak on paper, but by God it rocked onstage!!!