Before I start to extoll the virtues of the annual Rockaway Beach Festival, possibly the best recommendation I can give, should you be thinking of giving it a whirl, is that within four hours of arriving home, we’d already booked for the same event next year, without having a clue as to who will be appearing there, and it that doesn’t convince you of just how good it is, then I don’t know what will.
It’s also fair to say that many of our friends took even less time than that, booking before they’d left on a cold January Monday morning, and so it’s my challenging job to try to explain why.
In fairness, it’s not going to be that difficult, as Rockaway Beach is quite simply the most fun you’ll have across three days, even if it IS on the South coast (nothing wrong with that either, unless maybe if you’re travelling from Hull or Newcastle) in the first week in January.
Essentially, the acts are split between two stages, the first (and smaller) of these being Reds which starts at 16:00-ish on the Friday, to allow you plenty of time to get there, get booked in etc, then reboots at midday on the Saturday and Sunday, running past midnight.
The larger of the two venues, Centre Stage kicks off at 19:00 on each of the three days and runs through to maybe 01:00, depending on the acts in question. And what’s the difference? Well, the larger and headline acts appear in Centre Stage with newer, and (possibly) lesser-known acts appearing at Reds.
However, it all boils down to whether YOU know the bands or not, and if you don’t know all of them, there’s a really good chance that you’ll discover your new favourite band over the course of the weekend. The biggest challenge is working out your clash list from 19:00 onwards and deciding who you want to see the most. And in the unlikely event that you want a rest from live music, there are tons of other activities such as Q&A sessions, films, quizzes and bingo, you can nip off for a swim during the day and take in the bizarre delights of the silent disco until 01:00 once the music has finished.
There are lots of types of accommodation, ranging from the hotel with rooms big enough for 7-8, right down to chalets for 4, but for any of you who might equate Butlins to Hi-De-Hi (ask your grandparents, kids), think again – those days are LONG gone.
Whilst you’ll find that you can’t come in on a day-to-day basis (the packages all include accommodation), you CAN choose whether to have your meals included, or to simply take advantage of the many on-site fast-food establishments, some of which made their first appearances in 2023, and if that doesn’t appeal, Bognor town centre is only a few minutes away, should you fancy a hearty breakfast to soak up the previous evening’s revelries.
And why am I telling you all this, instead of just getting down to the music itself? Well, mainly because I want you to go next January and experience it for yourselves too! Over thirty hours of pretty much back-to-back live music, alongside a miscellany of other entertainment (you’ll usually find a record fair on the go too), and as you definitely won’t be camping (you can’t), you’ll be warm and dry too. Really, what’s not to love? Get yerselves onto that there Tinterweb and see what’s what, with all haste!
Due to the number of artists appearing over the weekend, I’m obviously not going to cover every band, song by song (as I’d usually do), because it would be time for Rockaway 25 by the time you got to the end of this review – also, like many, I found it almost impossible to see every band, but in our case, in addition to the need to eat and sleep once in a while.
Editor Girl (or possibly EditTog Girl now, given her increasing enthusiasm for taking a photo or two) had been graced with press passes allowing us to photograph the first three songs from each band in the Centre Stage (a special shout out to Alex for making this happen, by the way.
I hope we did you proud), so we needed to be there at specific times too. It was also annoying (in a happy sort of way) to hear many fellow giggers raving about Frozemode, who we now need to see as soon as possible.
So, what did Rockaway 2024 present us with in its ninth year? Well, in amongst a cleverly thought-out mix of newer bands alongside some veterans to keep the larger part of the audience demographic (myself sadly included) happy, there was a lot of well-focussed (if not quite well-contained) anger, delivered in spades by luminaries of loudness Bob Vylan, Benefits, and the inimitable Sleaford Mods, the latter of whom headlined Saturday night in Centre Stage, with The Bobs being one of the three headline acts on Friday, prefacing their act with the now obligatory warm up exercises.
You can read about Sleaford Mods’ unfortunate encounter with a Palestinian flag in Madrid at the back end of last year elsewhere, then make your mind up about it for yourselves, but alongside regaling us with a tale of how he encouraged Slaves to change their name to Soft Play because he felt uncomfortable about wearing their merch.
Bobby also alluded to this particular event which concluded with the inevitable cries to, “Free, free Palestine”. The Mods however, didn’t rise to the bait in their subsequent set, preferring to let their beats do the talking (or possibly shouting).
Benefits, meanwhile got the shouting going early on Friday afternoon over in the smaller but well packed-out Reds. Their April album “Nails” deserves your ears’ attention should you have forty minutes to spare, as does their live set if they’re in your vicinity and agree that certain parts of society are well and truly up the spout at the moment.
Oh and if you’re not a massive fan of the Tories, this may go a long way to help matters too. They were preceded by London-based punk quartet Ghost Car who had the unenviable task of opening up proceedings, but who quickly showed that they were eminently up to the task.
Benefits give way to Dublin quartet M(h)aol (pronounced “Male”, as if you didn’t know that already) who delivered a somewhat reserved version of their usual post-punk feminist set, still perhaps recovering from the recent departure of their former lead singer Roisin, sharing vocal duties between the remaining members, to fill the gap left by their fallen comrade.
Still, they were always going to be up for the challenge of playing somewhere that they’d “Only ever seen on TV” and still managed to include the short but intriguing, “Kim is a Punk Type Dog” from debut EP “Attachment Styles”, which you should definitely check out, alongside their “Gender Studies” EP. I’ve seen them on a couple of occasions in their larger incarnation, love them a lot, and will follow their progress throughout 2024 with great interest.
Belfast-based industrial-sounding Chalk took the crown this year as MY new favourite band, so much so that I’ve already got tickets for when they play Manchester in March and I’m anxiously hunting down their back catalogue. Positioned somewhere between Underworld, fellow Belfast boys Enola Gay and Glasgow’s VLURE, they need to be listened to – REALLY listened to.
JOHN delivered a typically intense set of guitar/drums/shouty shenanigans and Brighton-based DITZ did the same with frontperson Cal (having already had his mic stand confiscated) proceeded to bait the Butlins’ Health and Safety staff first by leaning into the crowd and accepting a beer from a punter after having being told that he couldn’t have one on stage, then climbing the scaffolding at the side of the stage and refusing to come down.
When he DID, it was only to turn a monitor on its end and sit on it like some demonic garden gnome. THIS is exactly what we paid our money to see, as well as the ear-battering set that we’ve come to expect. Lily from Lambrini Girls made a fine substitute on bass due to some confusion over times of flights back from the US, but it’s highly likely that their set could be heard mid-Atlantic too.
One thing that WAS apparent (and happily so) was that although we DID have a lot of shouty chaps over the three days, the bill was a lot more gender balanced than we might have had a right to expect, with well-received and energetic performances from Dream Wife, who closed proceedings in Reds on Saturday (necessitating a swift dart from Sleaford Mods in Centre Stage) and who were just a teensy bit late, meaning we didn’t miss much of their happy and energetic set, Ghost Car, the utterly charming Malta-based Genn and the punky goodness of Heartworms.
What was also much appreciated was the spread in the artists age-wise, from the youth of some of the Reds acts (which, it’s fair to say, wasn’t really reflected in the audience) right back to 70s and 80s stalwarts Skids and the Selecter and The Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell. Skids only featured a single Skid in the form of the ever-present Richard Jobson.
We also saw in a most entertaining interview carried out by Louder Than War’s John Robb earlier in the day and The Selecter, boasting two of their original lineup in the form of Arthur “Gaps” Hendricksen and the impeccably dressed Pauline Black, both delivering fine sets aimed squarely at the, er, more mature members of the crowd.
The Skids hold a very special place in my heart as they marked my transition from 6th form disco dancing to “proper” moves as I aped Mr Jobson’s distinctive shuffle kick style for hours until I got it just right. They deliver a fine selection including “Into the Valley”, “Working for The Yankee Dollar”, the ever-present “TV Stars” all finished off with “The Olympian” from the epic “Days in Europa”. I wasn’t Scared to Dance (and there’s my, “Aha, see what I did there?” moment), but I felt every one of my 61 years by the time I’d done.
Jobson is a natural end engaging frontman, entertaining us with stories of his hatred for Leo Sayer (you had to be there) and his (tongue in cheek) resentment of Stuart Adamson’s success with Big Country after the original Skids’ demise.
The Selecter are also right up there for me, as purveyors of one of the three albums without which no self-respecting sixth former would be seen dead back in 1979 (this being their “Too Much Pressure”, along with The Specials’ self-named debut and Madness’s “One Step Beyond”). Although they have shiny new material to showcase, it’s the older songs that the majority of us are here to see, delivered by Ms. Black, Mr Henderson and a tightly-knit set of musicians that have the crowd bouncing along appreciatively.
An unexpected treat was a late addition to the bill in the form of Lonely Tourist – frontman Paul Tierney cheerfully admitted that he was both surprised and annoyed to be on the lineup as he’d already bought tickets to attend as a punter!
Accompanied tonight by guitarist Chris Webb, he brought a wonderfully observed set of songs (do dads REALLY still answer the phone with the last four digits of their phone numbers before going to get Mums as soon as possible – oh yes, they DO) which actually managed to bring Reds to as near a silence as it’s likely to see for a long time as folk realise there’s something to be heard here, but they won’t hear it unless they shut up. The rounds of applause after each song are loud, long and absolutely well-deserved. Another one to seek out, for sure.
Sunday’s Centre Stage opener Deadletter were another young band who delivered a powerful set – I’ve seen then previously, but in much smaller locations, yet tonight’s cavernous venue held no fears for them as they delivered a wryly observant collection of songs. Desperate Journalist also gave us a fine set that managed to fill the space around it perfectly, combining Jo Bevan’s haunting voice with Cure-esque instrumentation that will again have me hitting Spotify soon.
The weekend is finished off by veterans The Cribs, who have been ploughing their particular furrow for two decades, and who deserve to have people know more about them, other than the fact that their ranks once included a certain Mr Johnny Marr. Although the sound isn’t the best down in the bowels of the photo pit, it’s thankfully better further back, where their powerful vocals can be enjoyed to the full – special shoutouts to the lighting and sound folk for making things just right too.
Aside from JOHN and DITZ, the highlight of the weekend (for me, at least) had to be Brighton/Sheffield-based trio Snayx, starting with the meetup of the Facebook-based “Belly Crarlerz Social Club” fan group, with sets of named badges being produced for over 300 people, to the set itself with frontman Charlie Herridge, bass monster Ollie “HOW many pedals?” Horner and most recent recruit and furious drummer Lainey Loops, delivering an infectious blend of punk, hip hop, dance and grime that leaves you breathless, but with a big daft smile all over your face.
Probably as daft as those on THEIR faces when they saw their name on an Amazon Music billboard in Trafalgar Square earlier in the week. In an unusual twist of fate, Charlie informs us that his parents actually met for the first time in Reds many years ago, so for it to be the site of such a triumphant performance is somewhat fitting. Last year’s fan meetup which consisted of fewer than 50 was eclipsed this year with a group shot that was the width of the interview stage. Snayx are one of the finest live acts in the UK today and I defy you not you love them.
So, there you have it – we didn’t see everybody, nor did we expect to, but that’s the double-edged sword of Rockaway Beach – an incredible lineup of bands from a diverse range of genres and age demographics, but split over two stages, meaning that even with the best will in the world, you’re going to have do a bit of planning and prioritising, before packing your FOMO away, and accepting that you won’t be able to see everything.
What you WILL have though, is the absolute BEST time, especially if you go down there with a gang of mates and an open mind. We’re already looking forward to 2025 and hope we’ll see some of you there.
Friday (Reds): Ghost Car, Benefits, M(h)aol, Trupa Trupa, HiFi Sean and David McAlmont, Pale Blue Eyes, Patrick Wolk, Hinds
Friday (Centre Stage): Chalk, Bob Vylan and The Selecter
Saturday (Reds): Trout, Frozemode, Genn, Lonely Tourist, Heartworms, Big Special, DITZ, JOHN, Hugh Cornwell and Dream Wife