‘ROCKAWAY BEACH’ FESTIVAL – BUTLINS, BOGNOR REGIS 10-12.01.20
This is the second year that I’ve attended the Rockaway Beach Festival, having booked up immediately at the end of last year’s festival. This festival is aimed squarely at music enthusiasts, and indie music enthusiasts in particular. There’s no chance of Ed Sheeran performing here (thank God!). So what went down??? Well, read on and I’ll tell ya!
Friday 10th January:
Today started for me with Trupa Trupa, a powerful post-punk (with elements of psychedelia and stoner rock) three piece from Poland. Their lyrics at times seem slightly limited, but then, English isn’t their first language. I suspect my attempts writing in the Polish language would be significantly worse! They’re a classic three piece, with loads of space which Trupa Trupa make great use of. There are some interesting tempo changes, and the bassist plays chords, which is always nice to see.
Black Country, New Road are one of the most interesting and inventive bands of the moment. They are both ridiculously young and prodigiously talented. Indeed, it’s tempting to yell “it’s not fair!” on both counts. The six musicians come from a variety of musical backgrounds, and the music unsurprisingly doesn’t hold back from crossing genre boundaries. There is a sometimes limiting requirement for journalists and record companies to define artists’ output – to put those artists into a particular box. The furthest I will go is to describe them as possibly being ‘avant-rock’. I sincerely hope that Black Country, New Road remain difficult to pigeon-hole for a very long time.
On the surface SOAK appear very easy to define: a singer-songwriter with a band, right? Well…… sort of. Soak are certainly a vehicle for the heartfelt songs of Bridie Monds-Watson, and indeed for her crystal clear voice. However, the band are much more than just a backing band, clearly sweating blood to bring the songs’ arrangements to performance fruition. The arrangements are largely quite delicate, although towards the end of the set the lead player unleashes some superb guitar histrionics, which was absolutely not what I was expecting! Bridie Monds-Watson is only 23. She still has a lot more great music to make.
John Cale is a man who has done his damnedest to avoid being pigeon-holed for the bulk of his career, something he has achieved admirably. This being a festival, Cale veers towards providing the nearest he can get to a greatest hits set. However, people gradually drift away. Are they insane??? This man is legendary!! More fool them. They miss a tour through some of the best of Cale’s solo back catalogue. The great man is backed by a cracking band – the guitarist is virtually a ‘stunt guitarist’ – a role that actually existed in Frank Zappa’s band!
Whilst this may possibly be John’s attempt at a ‘greatest hits’ approach, it doesn’t mean that he’s going to play the songs as they appear on the record. No sirree. Thus ‘Half Past France’ from ‘Paris 1919’ gets an almost ambient treatment, with the bassist playing his instrument with a violin bow. Some may have found it a challenging listen perhaps, but on the other hand it’s a good way to make a 47 year old song sound fresh.
The fact is though, everything tonight sounds fresh, whether it’s ‘Ghost Story’ from ‘Vintage Violence’ (1970) or ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ from ‘Words For The Dying’ (1989) as everything is constantly being reinterpreted. Who cares if it doesn’t sound like the record? You can listen to that anytime. Even the Velvets’ ‘Waiting For The Man’ doesn’t slavishly follow the record. It’s recognisable, but different. Live performance should itself be art, not just an hour’s regurgitation of the performer’s back catalogue. If you’re with me on that one, then John Cale’s yer man.
Saturday 11th January
We stayed up late to see Princesteen, who as the name semi-suggests perform a mix of Prince and Bruce Springsteen covers. They were entertaining but less than essential, and I specifically blame them for me not getting to bed until 3am.
I was therefore somewhat surprised to find myself stage front at midday to see Penelope Isles. At first I thought that I had made a dreadful error in leaving my bed as what appeared to be their jangly indie was all but masked by very bassy feedback. This was entirely unintentional however, the feedback was rectified and as their set progressed we were treated to much more ‘rocking out’ than I had initially expected. They had an ethereal side too, together with some quite lengthy motorik instrumental passages. Their bass player crowd surfed whilst still playing, which impressed me a great deal. Last year they played 100 shows, and today was their first of 2020. This suggests that there will be many more opportunities to see them this year. If such an opportunity arises, I would strongly suggest that you take it!
Rascalton are fast, punky and tuneful and come from Glasgow. They are young and give the impression that they can see their destiny stretching out in front of them. The singer declaims like he’s emoting unassailable truths. There is something of a Jam/Paul Weller influence at work here, but it’s not overpowering. Rascalton are a tight and exciting live band with good material, and I hope we see and hear a lot more of them.
The Sweet Release Of Death are noiseniks from Holland. There is the occasional hint of My Bloody Valentine, but there are more metallic influences at work. In a nutshell they rock …really quite hard.
The final band on the first stage (aka Reds) are Self Esteem. They are very highly regarded and I have heard plenty of good things about them. They are an experimental pop act and are the brainchild of Rebecca Taylor from the rather spiffing Slow Club.
Unfortunately, they are twenty minutes onstage because it appears that they are having problems linking their Apple laptop to the PA. The live band consists of Rebecca, two backing singers, a drummer and that accursed laptop. I stay for one song. Self Esteem have made some great singles, but I feel that this should really remain a studio project. I know a lot of electro bands (CHVRCHES being a prime example) use laptops as their main instruments onstage, but ultimately this is glorified karaoke isn’t it? To quote the Musicians’ Union: keep music live!
One musician who is making a fine job of keeping music live is Peter Perrett. Having seen him having a most illuminating Q & A session with John Robb earlier it was with some anticipation that I waited for him to take the stage. He has the same band as when I saw him at the Scala in Kings Cross last year, which includes his sons on guitar and bass. This band is absolutely top notch, and includes two keyboard players, one of whom also plays the violin. Indeed, the violin and lead guitar lines interweave beautifully.
Tonight’s set is broadly based upon Peter’s two recent albums ‘How The West Was Won’ and ‘Human’. The exceptions to this are opening song ‘Baby Don’t Talk’, which is from The One, one of Peter’s earlier musical incarnations, and three covers. Peter tells us that as this is a festival there will be a lot of people here that won’t be familiar with his work. Hence the covers. The first one is ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ by The Kinks, and the third one is ‘What Goes On’ by The Velvet Underground. The middle one is, of course, ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ by The Only Ones. For those who may not know, The Only Ones are where Peter first found fame, and ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ is one of the best singles from the late 1970’s, even though it wasn’t a hit. ‘What Goes On’ is the final song in a triumphant, but too short, set. Today is Peter and his wife’s 50th wedding anniversary. I hope they had an enjoyable time.
Astonishingly the NOVA TWINS are higher up the bill than Peter Perrett! The reason for this may be that The Jesus And Mary Chain didn’t want to follow Peter Perrett onstage. Whatever any ulterior motive there may be, it soon becomes apparent that The Nova Twins are occupying this lofty position out of sheer merit. Their heavy rock/rap is positively virtuosic. Their album comes out next month and they tour the UK in April. They’re an astonishingly good live band and I strongly suggest that you get to know them better!
The Jesus And Mary Chain are dark, loud and awesome. I believe the correct term is “rock ‘n’ fu**ing Roll”. Indeed, there are times this evening when one feels that they are defining the genre. Are the perma-warring Reid Brothers getting on these days? It’s difficult to say. There is no obvious onstage communication between the brothers. Then again, there isn’t between any of the other band members either. One thing is for sure though, the front half of the stage is Jim Reid’s territory. During the gig, no-one else tries to enter it.
There are five tracks from the Mary Chain’s most recent album, ‘Damage And Joy’. As befits a band of their stature, the rest of the set cherry-picks from their back catalogue. The Reid brothers may be in their fifties, but they certainly give the impression that it would be inadvisable to disagree with them. After all these years there’s still something inherently dark and sinister about this band. Long may it continue!
Sunday 12th January
Sunday’s festivities commence with Adwaith, who are a mostly Welsh language indie band. Their music is sinewy and supple. One song – ‘Hey’ – is about “people not giving a f*ck what happens in the world” and how they should do so.
Eyesore & The Jinx are heavily post-punk inspired. They have the angular rhythms that you might expect, but still manage to sound very fresh. Their arrangements are pleasingly busy, with interesting song structures and tempo changes.
LIFE are from Hull. They are slightly reminiscent of Fontaines DC with spoken or shouted vocals, and are both punchy and tuneful. They’re an exciting live band with a scissor-kicking guitarist and a crowd-surfing singer, who reminds me somewhat of Jarvis Cocker.
Melys are from Betws-y-Coed in North Wales. Their songs are in both English and Welsh. They were great favourites of John Peel and came top in his Festive Fifty in 2001. Indeed, one song commences with a recording of the great man lamenting how he’d never learnt to speak Welsh! They were on hiatus for quite a few years but on today’s evidence are very firmly back. They sound as if they could be related to Super Furry Animals which is no bad thing. More gigs please Melys!
I’d never heard of Heavy Lungs before today, but they certainly know how to make an impact! Their set starts with a squall of guitar effects and the singer cranking up an air raid siren. They are purveyors of fast punk, which at times becomes quite trance-like in a Hawkwind/Krautrock kind of way. They have a lot of fun and so do we. They take the p*ss out of Butlins, and at one point the drummer emerges from behind his kit to add some strange vocal effects. There’s quite a lot of witty onstage banter. Worth another look methinks.
I last saw Brix Smith onstage with The Fall in 1987. She formed her band Brix & The Extricated in 2014. Four-fifths of the band are former Fall members, and they initially played Fall songs that they had co-written. Since then they have released three albums of original material, which almost inevitably sound a little Fall-like. They finish tonight’s set with Fall classic ‘Totally Wired’. Earlier in the set other highlights are The Fall’s ‘Glam Racket’, and a song about depression called ‘Dinosaur Girl’, which is from the band’s latest album ‘Super Blood Wolf Moon’. I don’t remember Brix having a particularly extroverted stage presence with The Fall, but she really goes for it now! She’s a thoroughly engaging front person, and you’ll travel a long way before you see as proficient a live band as The Extricated.
Indie perennials The Wedding Present are the penultimate band tonight. Although the only remaining original member is singer and main songwriter David Gedge, the band’s identity is in no way weakened as a result. Indeed, Gedge tells us that the band is “now an indie supergroup”, as the current drummer is from My Life Story and the guitarist is from Sleeper. The set (apparently put together by bassist Melanie Howard) features old songs and newer songs, the highlights for me being ‘What Have I Said Now?’, ‘Kennedy’ and ‘Brassneck’, all from the immortal ‘Bizarro’ album. Before the final song ‘Heather’, Gedge reminds us that they don’t do encores. The Wedding Present always had an air of frustrated fury when playing live. They still have that, and I hope they retain it for a long time to come.
Fontaines D.C. are another band who don’t to encores. They have become very big very quickly, and with vocalist Grian Chatten in particular you feel that there is a certain degree of the rabbit caught in the headlights. Were it not for the fact that he is a published poet (as are the rest of the band) and a lyricist, you would think that he is a man of few words. He is not, but between songs (apart from telling us before the last song that they don’t do encores) he utters not a sound. He gives the audience little waves and at one time sits down in front of the drum riser. He also repeatedly bangs the base of his mic stand on the stage. Yep – he knackers two mic stands doing that.
To be honest I really wouldn’t care whether Grian lit his farts between songs when the music is this good. The next album is already written and there are some new songs in the set – the band are already bored with the songs on ‘Dogrel’. Luckily for the Fontaines most people are a long way from being bored with their album, which is as flawless an album as I’ve heard in a very long time. Tonight’s setlist is pretty flawless too: starting with ‘Hurricane Laughter’, and ending with the triumvirate of ‘Big’, ‘Liberty Belle’, and ‘Boys From The Better Land’. This band are on a very fast and steep trajectory which can only increase when their next album is released. I’d bet money that they don’t play festivals in holiday camps again for a very long time.
And so Rockaway Beach 2020 comes to a close. Another inspired line-up that the attendees will be talking about for months to come. I’ve booked up for 2021. My only complaint was that it was only three days!!!
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