I shall make no apology for extolling the virtues of this festival in similar terms to previous years. Simply a great music weekend featuring many bands appearing on the radar for the first time, alongside a number of established names.
One slight negative is that this is mostly a ‘mature’ crowd, a good number of who drift away home on the Sunday evening; so it actually wouldn’t do any harm to bring the band roster to a conclusion mid-evening on the closing day.
But the overwhelming plus is the timing, brilliantly placed on the first weekend of January. So for those of us who keep a tally of bands seen each year Rockaway Beach is a great way to get the band-count underway. We saw 25 this weekend:
Ghost Car – All female 4-piece. A rockin start to proceedings
Benefits – Lead Singer Kingsley Hall appears to be angry at everything including the audience. “Question Everything” he implored repeatedly in the first number. “Wave Your Fucking Flag” was the call in the second (slightly more tuneful) song, the whole mesmeric performance supplemented perfectly with shots of urban decay. The tone lightened somewhat toward the end as he expressed his admiration for everybody there and amongst the politically-laced rhetoric treated us to one of the best lines of the weekend: “There’s a new-found spring in their goose-step”
Chalk – Superb 3-piece. A Gilla Band sound in places but deftly lowered the pace through the set to reveal some mellower moments with occasional touches of Nick Cave angsty balladry. Most definitely a discovery for me and a band I'm already scheduled to see again (they’re on the bill for Ritual Union, the Bristol one-dayer in March)
Bob Vylan – two ‘Bobbies’, one on drums, the other on lead vocal, both unashamedly walking adverts for the Fred Perry brand. The frontman is truly humorous and exudes the panache of a seasoned showman, making his political utterances relevant and interesting. A really entertaining set
Pale Blue Eyes – simply brilliant. The last 3 years has seen this band perfect their distinctive wall-of-sound style. A 10 song set leaning heavily on their 2023 album ‘This House’ with an airing for ‘Dr Pong’ and ‘TV Flicker’, classics from first album ‘Souvenirs’
The Selector – Pauline Black dazzles with age-defying style and energy. Timeless tunes
Patrick Wolf – The ‘Reds’ stage was running more than 30 minutes behind schedule by the end of the evening. Some folk that I spoke with afterwards had got frustrated by the elongated tuning up and as a consequence weren’t able to fully enjoy the performance. We got lucky….. strolling in just as PW was starting so were able to dip straight in for one of the most enjoyable sets of the weekend. With his bass player in Odessa and drummer absent just having had a baby, this was a stripped back set with just flautist and violinist; and PW on various instruments including his own skeletal violin. A wonderful showman delivering a beguiling set of tunes.
Trout – is the moniker of 23 year old Cesca. Accompanied with bass, guitar and drum, a wonderful set of songs, many with an early noughties indie vibe - standout tune ‘In My Room’. Saddled with the 12 noon opening slot Cesca coyly announced “We’re on so early, we were worried nobody would be here. Thank You for coming!” – a frequently voiced line but delivered with humility and style
Freezemode – entering 10 minutes late we bumped into a friend exiting the show. ‘Not my cup of tea” he said. We went in anyway to find a sizeable, bouncy crowd watching these three rappers with bass and drums. Whatever your choice of hot beverage, there’s no doubting the talent required to deliver a show like this.
Genn - As the band started playing I thought this was a shoegaze indie outfit. Then the lead singer popped onto the stage. “We are Genn”” she announced – with the energy of Billy Nomates, moves of Kate Bush and a soaring voice. “We’re from Malta - never been to an event anything like this - we need you to show us how to have a great Butlins experience”. Songs started in cabaret-sounding style but acquired greater levels of quirkiness, not least ‘Rohmeresse’ opening track of 2023 album ‘unum’ that strays into Syd Barrett territory
Lonely Tourist - Scottish tongue in cheek humour, a late addition to this years bill, having performed previously in 2022. Some very friendly anti-Morrisey rhetoric and lampooning of dads who persist in answering the phone by announcing last 4 digits of their number .“I’m using a dead man’s stapler” was typical of the deadpan humour laced into the songs, all played to a backdrop of Butlins shots from 60s/70s. My favourite line: “He looks like someone who….folds up his crisp packets”
Heartworms Jojo Orme today dressed in Prince like shoulder epaulets. Highly accomplished guitar work enhancing her exciting tunes. ‘Retributions Of An Awful Life’ standout track
Big Special – There has been lots of recent talk & debate about the best new rising band of 2024. For me it’s Big Special all the way. They are a duo of Callum (drums & vocal) and John (vocal), the former playing today with a strapped thumb following a ‘Turkey stuffing accident’. Observational ‘real life’ lyrics but (refreshingly) more conceptual than political. Recent 6-Music favourite tune ‘This Here Ain’t Water” was a strong early feature alongside other standout songs ‘Desperate Breakfast’ and ‘Shithouse’. “This is the first New Year we haven’t had to go back to work” they announced before going into newer song ‘Ill’ featuring the brilliant line “I’m a sceptic tank half-full kinda guy”
John - Rockaway Beach certainly had its fair share of two-person combos this year. This particular duo gave us throaty, growly vocals from drummer John accompanied by grungy sounds from guitarist John.
The Skids - Serious energy from Richard Jobson. A superb canter through their hits. SFC scarfs were in the air for ‘The Saints Are Coming’. RJ introduced ‘Albert Tatlock’ as ‘the worst punk song ever written’; ‘Masquerade’ as ‘my favourite Skids song”; and their cover of ‘Complete Control’ as “without The Clash I would never have formed a band”.
Fat Dog - Interesting how fashions change. 3-4 years ago you couldn’t move in a gig venue for saxophonists. Today we were 16 bands in and had the first sax rendition of the weekend. Multiple pit circles including one for a Russian cossack freak-out!! None too serious and brilliantly different to anything else this weekend. The tunes occasionally wandering into a serious ska vibe.
Sleaford Mods - billed to play 1 3/4 hours. We spent the first hour having fun in the Silent Disco …. wandered in for last 40 mins only to find them bid goodnight after 15 mins. Seen this interesting act before, and truth be told, exhausted through beer and band overload, 15 minutes was probably enough.
Enjoyable Listens - Orthodox crooning amidst a masterfully unorthodox setting. Luke Duffet is a real talent and truly funny guy. Accompanied today by Dominic on bass and. Sarah (?) operating the tunes console. A highly entertaining (and of course enjoyable) way to start off Sunday
Japanese Television - I was reliably informed by a JT super-fan next to me that the usual drummer & keyboard player were both on paternity leave. All I can say is that the understudies did a great job; no mean fit given many of these instrumental numbers are keyboard led. Vocalist Alex Lawton was front and centre on bass in a striking kimono. Intense instrumental set, accompanied by brooding expressions and the occasional enchanting smile. As is commonplace with this shoegaze genre, there was very little between-song banter. The only words towards the end: “This is our last song …” (brief pause and indistinct stage chatter ) “ … oh yeah we’ve got some merch over there. “
Joyeria - This 5 piece have been on my radar for a while but I’ve always contrived to miss ‘em. Excellent indie rock with shades of Isaac-era BCNR on ‘Death’. Standout track though was ‘Colour Film’ with ‘Wild Joy’ providing the best line “All the best dads are secret smokers”
Shelf Life - another two piece. This one a boy/girl combo, him on guitar/console, her on
vocals. Down in the mouth lyrics reverberated in the early numbers : “I’m so boring that nobody likes me” and “I hate people and people hate me”. A Confident performer with odd screechy vocal. Difficult to judge how long this band will be around but I reckon a long time til they reach their best before date
Traams – From Chichester so sort-of their hometown gig. Originally a 3-piece, recently grown to a four and today with a fifth (female) member added on keys and console. A truly excellent band, building their half-hour set from standard indie sounds to overwhelmingly excellent freak-out guitars. One of the best sets of the weekend.
Deadletter – As a 6-piece today with sax. Frontman Zac Lawrence on usual exuberant form, in the crowd from the second song. “Really keen aren’t we? ….. It’s only just the New Year - you’re already back on holidays ! “. ‘‘Fit For Work’ got the mosh pit to next level including a few grey haired people who should know better. Played a couple of new songs, one with sax lead, the second in more classic DL. style that saw Zac slowing the vocal right down before bringing it back to a crashing climax
Desperate Journalist – I felt rather sorry for this band; the whole room felt a little flat, the crowd reaction was perfunctory rather than enthusiastic. A highly capable band but felt like lead vocalist Jo Bevan was going through the motions. Maybe some questions about the scheduling here?. With a good number of people planning to head home on the Sun night (or already having left) there’s an argument for putting the Sunday headliner on mid-evening to allow the fest to come to a conclusion rather earlier.
……. But what a conclusion we were in for ! ….
The Cribs - Hey scenesters, this was the place to be on the first Sunday of 2024. A first-class festival finale from Wakefield’s Hardest. An 18 song set, spattered with a few recent tunes and loadsa banging classics, catering for men’s needs, women’s needs and everything else in between