‘VARIOUS ARTISTS’ – ‘ROCKAWAY BEACH’, BUTLINS BOGNOR REGIS RESORT 6-8.1.23
Ever since November 1977, the words ‘Rockaway Beach’ simply meant to hundreds of thousands of people across the planet, the title of the Ramones single found on their terrific ‘Rocket To Russia’ album…..
“Chewin’ out a rhythm on my bubble gum,
The sun is out and I want some,
It’s not hard, not far to reach,
We can hitch a ride,
To Rockaway Beach”
Of late, others will think of ‘Rockaway Beach’ as the legendary punk club night run by Timmy DeRella at the legendary Hope & Anchor in Islington, where the Stranglers lived, where The Damned recorded the ‘New Rose‘ video, and where a host of legendary punk acts have screamed, sweated and crammed themselves into the tiny dressing room.
Then in 2015, ‘Rockaway Beach’ meant something totally different with the arrival of the West Sussex music festival held across three days at Butlins Bognor Regis, a venue which originally opened its doors on 2nd July 1960. It is now one of only three such establishments left throughout the UK. A decade ago there were 35 famous red coats staff still employed across the 60 acre site that now has 4,800 beds available on site.
‘Rockaway Beach’ 2015 featured a wide range of music acts which included Echo & The Bunnymen, The Fall and Johnny Marr. The following year featured Suede, Saint Etienne and Killing Joke. After a year off, the festival returned in 2018 and saw Gang Of Four, The Orb and The Horrors amongst the line-up. 2019 witnessed live sets from Gary Numan, Maxïmo Park, and Echo & The Bunnymen were back. Pre-lockdown 2020 festival saw performances from The Jesus & Mary Chain, Fontaines D.C. and John Cale. Last year (a low key affair) featured JARV IS… (aka Jarvis Cocker), Buzzcocks and A Certain Ratio.
It’s fair to say that back in the 80’s and 90’s, many of the above acts wouldn’t have ever considered appearing at a Butlin’s resort. Clearly things have changed and multi-million pound investments from the owners has seen a dramatic change of fortune. Now in 2023 ‘Rockaway Beach’ can proudly state that they are bringing great new young bands to old fans…
Rockaway’s model is a simple but effective one – nail down a handful of old-school headliners and then fill the rest of the bill with some of the hottest new young bands on the scene.
This is a great opportunity for those acts to gain exposure with older audiences (the ones with money to buy records), because the programming means that during the day there is hardly any overlap between sets, ensuring that a large proportion of the audience are there for the majority of the time for every band.
So it may be Bognor in the rain in the first week in January, but that doesn’t mean anything once you are inside one of the two live rooms (Centre Stage and Reds Stage) with hundreds of like-minded souls whose only mission was the music…oh, and trying to drink the bars dry.
Here we check out the live performances across the three day festival, and have featured every artist that played as well as managing to review a majority of them. So without further ado, let’s “hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach”…
FRIDAY 6th JANUARY:
Panic Shack (Reds Stage 3:00-3:30pm)
The opening act for this year’s festival are Panic Shack who were formed back in 2018 in Cardiff by Romi, Sarah, Emily, and Meg. They are well and truly on the Brighton & Hove News Music Team’s radar, having witnessed them performing live at last year’s ‘Great Escape‘ new music festival in Brighton on 13th May, ‘Rebellion‘ punk festival in Blackpool on 4th August, and the ‘Ritual Union’ festival in Bristol on 1st October. They crashed through the UK music scene with a tidal wave of ear-crunching noise. Immediately building up a reputation for their raw, unapologetic live shows and off-kilter songs, Panic Shack prove that DIY does it better. Since their inception it’s been non-stop for this Welsh punk quintet. With support from BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 6 Music, Huw Stephens, Jack Saunders, Radio X, Bob Vylan, and PRS, it’s clear that this band have started something special. Having also already played prestigious stages at ‘Green Man Festival’, ‘Liverpool Sound City’, Cardiff Castle, and ‘2000 Trees Festival’, and joined bands like The Wytches, Grandma’s House, and Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard on stages across the UK,
Panic Shack are armed with brash, witty lyrics and killer hooks and are only going to continue to create unhinged, earth-shattering music (until, of course, they’re rich enough to be sipping champagne after taking a dip in the pool at their mansions). If sharp riot grrrl power pop with hooks a plenty is your bag, then Panic Shack are for you. The band are set to make a welcome return to Brighton on Thursday 16th February, courtesy of LOUT promoters, where they will be thrilling punters for a sold out performance at The Prince Albert.
Deep Tan (Reds Stage 4:00-4:30pm)
Hackney based Deep Tan are a memorable trio consisting of Wafah on vocals, who also plays a very distinctive sounding handmade tiny guitar, as well as bassist Celeste, who has a striking otherworldly appearance and completing the trio is the jaunty post punk drumming style performed by Lucy. They are very much an act that are ploughing their own furrow. There isn’t really anyone out there that sounds like them. We attended the band’s first ever appearance in Brighton, which was on 7th November 2021 at The Prince Albert as part of the ‘Mutations Festival’.
As you would correctly surmise, the Deep Tan sound is governed by their French frontperson’s (Wafah’s) small guitar. I can recall her telling me at one of their previous concerts that it is a one-off and was specifically built for her using her specifications. It has a high pitch twang like that found on The Cure’s ‘Killing An Arab’. The average length of each of their songs is less than three minutes, including some compositions that take certain quarters of the audience by surprise by ending rather abruptly. If you are fan of the band, then it’s well worth investing in a signed copy of their 12” red vinyl 4 track ‘Creeping Speedwells’ EP, which is limited to 300 copies. You can currently find it HERE. Drummer Lucy Rushton also goes by the name of TV Room and she will be playing a free entry concert in Brighton at The Hope & Ruin on Sunday 12th February, courtesy of Love Thy Neighbour promoters – Find out more HERE. Check out her work HERE.
Low Hummer (Reds Stage 5:00-5:30pm)
Low Hummer are a six piece post-punk, garage rock band from Hull that the Brighton & Hove News have previously witnessed live at the Green Door Store‘s ‘234 Fest‘ back in September and also at The Brunswick as part of the 2021 ‘Mutations Festival‘. They sing about modern life, largely about being skint and disillusioned and their own social observations. Their lyrics are backed with repetitive synth bass lines and distorted guitars. That may sound gloomy, but their set was anything but. They are yet to release their first album, but they are already clocking up 15,000 listeners a month on Spotify … so that might pay for a round of drinks once a year at the office Christmas party. They released their debut album ‘Modern Tricks For Living’ back in September 2021.
They secured a Manic Street Preachers support slot very early in their existence, and we’d love to see if they can capitalise on that experience to build a wider fan base. As it is, early doors festival slots such as this one at ‘Rockaway Beach’ are perfect vehicles for young bands to catch the attention of new fans, so hats off to ‘Rockaway Beach’ for giving a stage to a young outfit who will hopefully have a bright future.
Life (Centre Stage 6:00-6:45pm)
Also from Hull are Life who are already three albums into their career and have garnered critical acclaim along the way. That said, their brand of punk is very much of the melodic nature. There are even vocal harmonies lurking in the mix if you take the time to listen. The band are certainly no strangers to us at Brighton & Hove News and we last caught up with them at Patterns in Brighton on 11th October 2022 – Review HERE.
The band really caught our attention at ‘Rockaway Beach’ and we’ve regularly heard them on BBC 6 Music with songs like ‘Big Moon Lake’ – “I think I’m spending far too much on fairly average takeaways”. This track alone elevates them from straight punk to our favourite new genre of New-No-Wave. And given how many bands of this breed have found their way into the Rockaway lineup, we feel we are in good company this weekend. Sound engineers of the world take note – bands from this mould need vocal definition above everything else. The riffs and bass lines are simply carried waves for lyrics, and if the words don’t come through there is simply no point…
Acid Klaus (Reds Stage 6:15-7:00pm)
Sheffield’s Adrian Flanagan (AKA Acid Klaus) is a long-time purvey of electro-pop and he’s fought his way to his current place in the music scene through a variety of gruesome dances with the grim reaper, including a smash on the motorway that left him concussed for six months, but that still didn’t stop him taking to the stage mere days after. Coming off life support.
‘Step on My Travelator: The Imagined Career Trajectory of Superstar DJ & Dance Pop Producer, Melvin Harris’, is his latest work, which on first listening is a segue between Kraftwerk and the acid rave scene that doesn’t seem to quite work when listened to in the sterile atmosphere of Spotify. But it successfully bursts to life on the live stage once the volume and bass is cranked up and the energy of a live performance is added to the mix of industrial beats and sometimes political themes. The album is a true concept work with a story running through it – as befits its protected title. We won’t repeat here what has already been written about that storyline – you just have to look it up – but we would say that given our intro to the music was in the middle of a wet January afternoon at Butlins in Bognor and it still caught our attention is testament to the fact that Acid Klaus are probably worth checking out next time you see the name on a festival line-up. The dance tracks are laid down lush and live and if there’s a party going on somewhere nearby they may well have started it.
Billy Nomates (Centre Stage 7:15-8:15pm)
It’s been said before and we’ll say it again that Billy Nomates needs some friends on stage. Chatting to a BBC Introducing DJ after the ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival show there was a common agreement that Tor Maries may have the songs and the dance grooves, but she really could do with a couple of accompanying musicians on stage with her to flesh out the show. In a sense that might fly in the face of her stage-name, but we’d delight in the irony of it, and we’d guess others would too. What we would insist on though is that if our advice is taken there are strict rules put in place that keep both drums and guitars sotto voce…. In fact we’d go so far as to insist on electronic drums and DI’s guitars so that Tor’s vocals can always be kept as high in the mix as her lyrics deserve.
This was our third encounter with Billy, the previous times being at The Old Market in Hove as part of the ‘Mutations‘ festival in November 2021 and also as a headlining act a month earlier at The Moth Club in London – Review HERE. Tonight her opening introduction as she walks onto the stage tonight is “I’m Billy no mates and I’ve really got nothing else to say” – but actually nothing could be further from the truth. This is the intelligent and poppier end of the ‘New No Wave’ scene (can we have a poll please about what this damned genre should be called?) that we are such great fans of at the moment, and that makes it a great access-hatch to a whole bunch of excellent bands and artists for people who haven’t yet taken the plunge.
Scrounge (Reds Stage 7:30-8:00pm)
As two-piece girl-boy bands go, Scrounge go a long way. Within a day of posting up a few photos of their gig at ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival we had a slew of comments about what a great band they are and how they rank up there with a lot of the more well-known bands on the circuit right now. Taking the time to listen to some of their tracks on [insert name of your favourite streaming service here] we definitely developed a greater degree of appreciation as the lyrics dropped into earshot and it was possible to extract the thought process from the noise of a live show.
There’s a couple of things here… one, if you are a punter, take the time to listen to a band’s music before you go to see them, so you can hold their words in your head rather than trying to pick them out in the maelstrom of a live environment, and two, if you are looking after the sound at a gig, listen to the band’s music first, so you can do your best to replicate the balance they achieve in the studio on a live stage. Rockaway’s engineer did an 8/10 job, but in today’s world of ‘punk’ bands who centre on clever lyrical content the voice has to dominate and be centre stage…or what’s the point?
The Primitives (Reds Stage 8:30-9:30pm)
We have loved and will always love The Primitives especially their lead singer Tracy Tracy (Tracy Cattell). There, we’ve said it. We don’t care if it’s cool or not, they are simply a great band with great songs and great attitude. Formed in 1984 in Coventry they lasted eight years first time around, and then reformed in 2009. Anyone who was knocking about the indie scene in the late 80s and early 90s will have danced their socks off to ‘Crash’ (which peaked at number 5 in the UK Top 40 in 1988) and ‘Out Of Reach’. We were there, and we remember those days with such fondness that any chance to relive our youth as the sparkly guitar intro to the former track lights up the room is a more than welcome relief from the dystopian future/present we seem to have found ourselves plunged into.
Oh – and ‘Spacehead’ is glorious in its innocent perfection. Wave your arms in the air like you just don’t care!! Thanks ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival for letting us stop down memory lane with a band who retain relevance to this day. Some of the biggest goosebumps of the festival. This was our third time covering the band within the last 6 months, with the previous two being at the height of summer last year. The first of those being at R-Fest as part of the Rebellion punk festival in Blackpool and then a week later at the Concorde 2 along with The Wedding Present. You can read that review HERE.
Self Esteem (Centre Stage 9:00-10:15pm)
Now we are moving into big-hitter territory and watching ‘Rockaway Beach‘ festival punch above its weight with a multi-million-listen contemporary act who is poised to be one of the biggest things on the clever pop circuit. Rebecca Taylor has really found herself after stepping out on her own from Indie duo Slow Club. We previously caught her headline show in Brighton at Chalk last March – Read that review HERE.
Tonight she simply owns the audience at ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival as she dominates the main stage and shows how it’s possible to subvert current underground trends by taking them into the mainstream. Rebecca and her all-female backing vocalists and dancers perfectly deliver the quality of carefully crafted choreography which we would expect from far bigger productions, with the spectacle definitely adding to rather than distracting from the impeccably delivered vocals. We get a wonderfully relaxed, confident and heart-gratifying performance. Lyrically Rebecca is not afraid to open her soul, talking about uncomfortable subjects, but delivering her messages with an honesty, humour, and individuality which at once connects her to and strikes a chord with the audience. And, of course it goes without saying that she delivers gorgeous vocals, and a catchy pop chorus to make up the full package. There’s no point in harking on about ‘she played this song and then she played that song’ – if you know them, she played them… and she played them well, with a great team of dancers and backing singers and dancers who never missed a move to a beat.
W.H. Lung (Reds Stage 10:00-10:45pm)
Sometimes you watch a band and simply get so immersed in them that you forget to take any notes. It doesn’t happen often, but it did during Manchester’s W.H. Lung set as they brought their highly danceable synth pop sound to the ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival performance. So reflecting back what was it all about?
Well tuning into one of their streaming service feeds, turning up the volume, shutting my eyes, and thinking back to a wet Friday night in Bognor Butlins, I do recall that I was quite simply drawn into their performance and found myself seeking out the meaning behind the music as they band slipped seamlessly from song to song. But go figure the meaning in: “This could this be the verse, ignominy festers inside of Johan Strauss” – it’s creative for sure, though its secrets remain hidden from me at least. Putting words aside, that high register voice of animated front person Joe Evans (who must have covered every inch of the stage during the set), harks to some of the last few decades’ biggest power-pop big-hitters (from The Communards to Mika) – and there is so much pent-up energy being released as the night goes on that it’s impossible not to be drawn in to the frenzy. The shared vocal arrangement with Hannah Peace on synths was impressive and it’s a live performance that you definitely need to experience for yourself. We last caught W.H. Lung at Chalk as part of the ‘Mutations’ festival last November – Review HERE.
Peter Hook & The Light (Centre Stage 11:00pm-12:45am)
World-famous bassist Peter Hook was born in Salford in 1956 as Peter Woodhead and had his surname changed to Hook at the age of 3 due to his mother remarrying following a divorce. Adopting the surname of his stepfather, he would become known by friends and eventually fans as Hooky. The 66 year old was a founding member of the ground-breaking and timeless band Joy Division with vocalist Ian Curtis, guitarist Bernard Albrecht and drummer Stephen Morris. The band were originally called Warsaw and were formed after watching Sex Pistols play at Lesser Trade Free Hall with childhood friend Bernard Sumner. Thrilled by the power and energy of the show, he borrowed £35 from his mother the very next day and bought a bass. They took the name from the David Bowie song ‘Warszawa’ found on his 1977 ‘Low’ album. Joy Division wrote and recorded 43 songs and played over 120 shows in just 29 months between 1978 and 1980. We have covered this outfit on a number of occasions with one of the last being their appearance at the Concorde 2 in April last year – Review HERE.
Oh lord… there’s nobody on the planet more entitled to the God-given right to push out Joy Division songs than Peter Hook… but despite having seen and loved this show a dozen times in the past (or maybe it’s for that very reason), tonight’s ‘Rockaway Beach’ gig seems to not quite nail it. It’s really hard to pin down the issue, but it may quite simply be that the PA in the main room is a clean machine and the heart of Joy Division was always a deep, dirty and dark affair. Anyone who has seen a really full-on Peter Hook & The Light show will know how stupendous they can be… check out ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ with a full choir at Manchester Cathedral for a perfect example. One thing is for sure – we’d never give up the chance to see Peter Hook and his band because when they are on top form they blow the house down with the sorts of anthemic songs that it’s hard to imagine many new bands topping for originality or intent.
Anna Meredith (Reds Stage 11:30pm-12:45am)
The final act on the Red Stage tonight is Anna Meredith, but unfortunately this totally clashed with Peter Hook & The Light on the Centre Stage and we all went to see them instead. The Brighton & Hove News did cover Anna’s performance on 10th February 2020, when she performed a headline show in Hove at The Old Market as part of the venue’s multi-genre ‘Reigning Women’ season of shows. We also caught her at Chalk as one of the headline acts at the ‘Mutations’ festival on 7th November 2021. Our review of that night read as thus:
“Tonight’s headliner Anna Meredith is probably the most well qualified musician playing at this year’s Mutations Festival. She has a Master’s degree from the Royal College of Music, an honorary doctorate, and was awarded an MBE in 2019 for services to music. This is all very impressive, but is she actually any good? Of course she is!!! Anna has achieved the very difficult goal of making complex music that is accessible. A prime example is opening track ‘Sawbones’ (which almost immediately has Anna jumping up and down incidentally) where the tuba plays in counterpoint to the rest of the band. Much of the set is taken from Anna’s 2019 album ‘Fibs’, so is well-known to most of the audience. There are almost too many highlights to mention, but one is ‘The Vapours’, from Anna’s 2016 debut album ‘Varmints’, where guitarist Jack Ross taps like Eddie Van Halen. Another is ‘Killjoy’, where the whole band sing in absolutely faultless harmony. At one point the band sing the melody line whilst Anna Sings backing vocals. The band play an encore which is a combination of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and ‘Purple Rain’. Naturally these are very much ‘Meredith-ised’ versions, but both songs gain rather than suffer from that. Besides, what’s the point of playing covers if you slavishly copy the original? Live, Anna Meredith’s music is something to gloriously luxuriate in, and that’s what this audience did tonight. If you haven’t had that experience, I would strongly suggest that you remedy that next time she plays live. Check out her work on her Bandcamp page HERE”. We hope to catch her next time around.
SATURDAY 7th JANUARY:
Winter Gardens (Reds Stage 12:00-12:30pm)
Day two of ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival 2023 and the opening act are Winter Gardens – a popular choice if the long queue running way back into the main arena was anything to go by as the clock ticked away the minutes until the early noon start. Winter Gardens are a Sussex based quartet featuring the vocal and keyboard talents of demure early twenties Ananda – yes it is spelt like that, it’s an Indian based name that her mother gave her. She is accompanied in the band by the go-getter guitarist Jamie (Jim), who sure knows all of the guitar-rock poses that are required for photographing one of their concerts, and completing the team are Matt and Alex, on bass and drums.
Musically, they have absorbed influences from 80’s post-punk, Factory, Postcard, 4AD, Creation era bands, and mixed it all together to come up with their own blend of shoegaze dreampop. This is solid indie fare, with a healthy dose of keyboards and some fine samples to complement quality vocals and some energetic guitar and bass work. We love finding fresh music at festivals and have made a note to track down their studio work to take it in more thoroughly during the week ahead. If you get the chance to witness this young band perform live, then I would definitely say go and enjoy! We at Brighton & Hove News have previously covered the band’s live performances on a number of occasions, one of the early ones being at the defunct Richmond Bar in Brighton back in March 2019. You can read the account of their headline show HERE.
Personal Trainer (Reds Stage 1:00-1:30pm)
Personal Trainer, who we first encountered at the newly opened Chalk venue in Brighton as support to fellow countrymen and women, Pip Blom, on 17th October 2019 and then we caught Personal Trainer again in action at the popular ‘Mutations’ festival in Brighton on 4th November last year. They hail from Amsterdam and is the project of singer/songwriter Willem Smit. Willem and the band (consisting of Abel Tuinstra, Kilian Kayser, Ruben van Weegberg, Kick Kluiving, Franti Maresova and Leon Harms) play foot-stomping and mature indie anthems that are totally on-point in the current rise of the New No-Wave phenomenon exemplified by the likes of Squid, Dry Cleaning and Bodega. The music is punchy, powerful indie and reminds me of The Wannadies. It’s a style of music we really love, and the near-capacity early afternoon crowd here at Butlins for Rockaway Beach 2023 seemed to agree.
There’s been a lot of amusing and eccentric behaviour during this performance, but laughing aside, Personal Trainer are shit hot. They’re good enough to mess about without detracting from the quality of the music. Their latest record dropped last November and is called ‘Big Love Blanket’. It contains ten new compositions that are euphoric and thoughtful in equal measure. This Dutch band are definitely ones to check out any chance you get!
Panic Shack (Reds Stage 2:00-2:30pm)
Playing their second set of the ‘Rockaway Beach’ 2023 festival is Panic Shack. This is on account of Juice Menace not being able to appear for one reason or another. Thus Panic Shack (who we covered at last year’s Rebellion punk festival) are the only act to perform live on stage twice at this year’s bash. Suffice to say that the outfit (and no doubt copious hordes of punters) were all sporting mild to heinous hangovers from last night’s party antics. A younger audience would have been headbanging and moshing like their lives depended on it, but ‘Rockaway Beach’ pulls in punters who are generally more content to simply lap up the music of a fresh generation of rising stars. Panic Shack are the new sound of punk that write lyrics about annoying everyday happenings and are a band that fit Brighton’s mindset.
During the set the quartet of ladies like to do their dance routines, such as for the extremely catchy ‘Mannequin Man’. The vocals are often offered in a talky style as in telling a story to music. As stated previously “If sharp riot grrrl power pop with hooks a plenty is your bag, then Panic Shack are for you”. Catch these ‘Hot-100’ darlings of the NME at a flurry of festivals this year, or try to bag tickets at one of their headline gigs. Although many are already sold out. Festival confirmations so far are: ‘Ritual Union’ (Bristol), ‘Teddy Rocks’ (Dorset), ‘Are You Listening’ (Reading), and ‘Manchester Psych Fest’. The band’s forthcoming Brighton gig has already sold out, but there are currently a few tickets left for their performance the day before on Wednesday 15th February at The Forum in Tunbridge Wells – Grab your tickets HERE.
Vlure (Reds Stage 3:00-3:30pm)
Post-punk quintet Vlure (stylized as VLURE) formed back in 2018. A trio of them hail from Glasgow (frontman Hamish Hutcheson, bassist Niall Goldie and guitarist Conor Goldie), whereas keyboardist Alex Pearson comes from Reading and drummer Carol Kriekaard originated in The Hague in the Netherlands. Last January they dropped their 5 track ‘Euphoria’ EP, which took over the mantle from their terrific ‘Shattered Faith’ debut single release, which came out in March 2021. The Brighton & Hove News caught up with Vlure on 12th May last year when they played on Brighton Palace Pier at Horatios as part of ‘The Great Escape‘. They were simply mind-blowing! We saw them prior to that at Chalk when they were supporting White Lies on 18th March. Guess what….they were simply mind-blowing!
Vlure’s live format consists of preacher vox, guitar, bass, drums and two keyboards, with Hamish’s in-yer-face performance tending to address the crowd with his enthusiastic barrage of Glaswegian burrs during their sets. Vlure deliver industrial beats that echo Nitzer Ebb or Senser at their very finest, with powerful vocals that echo on into next month with no sign of stopping. The phrase ‘prowling the stage’ was coined for these guys. An energy filled set that pushed it to the max and one outfit that are gaining new fans far and wide! Catching them playing live is a must for fans who really dig the music of the Prodigy, SCALPING, The Ninth Wave, The Murder Capital and the KLF.
Pozi (Reds Stage 4:00-4:30pm)
Pozi, who dropped their ‘Slightly Shaking Cells’ single on 1st November are a band featuring drummer/vocalist Toby Burroughs, violinist/vocalist Rosa Brook and bassist/vocalist Tom Jones (no not that one!). They come steeped in the lineage of the very best weirdo British indie pop and have a skittish, restless energy. They say that their influences are the off kilter forward thinking Devo, Wire and Television, but it’s not evident to me in their sound as there are no guitars. Many of the songs deal with anxiety, and there is a really thrilling tension to the music.
Pozi have been on the circuit for around three years now, and the South London trio have drawn critical praise in a slew of publications to date. They sound sufficiently post-punk that one could almost believe that they came from Manchester circa the early 1980s. That’s not to say that they are in any way retro. Rosa Brook sounding like Satan’s violinist puts her instrument through an impressive array of pedals that takes the band well away from any post-punk gulag. Indeed, for much of the time she makes them sound positively lysergic, although it seemed a little lost in the mix for most of today’s mid-afternoon set. We have reviewed Pozi on a number of occasions including their headline show at The Hope & Ruin back in December 2021 – Read the account of that evening HERE.
The Goa Express (Reds Stage 5:00-5:45pm)
Over at the jangly-indie end of the Brit Pop spectrum are THE GOA EXPRESS (stylized in capitals). We’re clearly talking about the band set up by James Douglas Clarke (guitar/vocals), Joe Clarke (keys), Joey Stein (lead guitar), Naham Muzaffar (bass) and Sam Launder (drums), and not the daily superfast train run by Indian Railways connecting Vasco da Gama and Hazrat Nizamuddin in New Delhi. We have witnessed The Goa Express in action before, once in November 2021 as support to Shame at Chalk and again in the same month when they played The Hope & Ruin as part of the ‘Mutations‘ festival. This teatime they freshen up the Red stage at ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival.
The band, who opened up their recording account with ‘The Day’ single back in April 2020, are one for those who like the indie guitar pop sound of the late 1980’s. A group of friends originally from Burnley, they are a decent band with some very good tunes. As a young band they show some promise. These five guys scatter a little psych onto the well-worn path of garage guitar rock. It’s a refreshing change of musical direction mid-way through a long day of bands and shows sensitive programming skills on the part of the ‘Rockaway Beach’ bookers. At times the band veer perhaps a little too far into Oasis territory, but as it’s clearly their own take on the genre and not a pastiche we’ll let them off that minor misdemeanour. In my opinion they need to be more distinctive and develop their own identity and sound. Worth keeping an eye on though.
Melt Yourself Down (Reds Stage 6:15-7:00pm)
It’s been around 11 months since lauded London 6-piece Melt Yourself Down dropped their fourth studio album ‘Pray For Me I Don’t Fit In’. Apparently it was created for misfits, by misfits, having realised they are never going to fit the mould. The group deliberately drew on their myriad of influences, speaking all languages musically and lyrically. Led by the potent sounds of sax pioneer Pete Wareham, the punchy sax hooks pay homage to the traditional horn sections of late 60’s early 70’s era of Jazz, Soul and Rock’n’Roll, while showcasing African pentatonic scales and dance-inducing rhythms with raw 70’s rock and punk. This album sees vocalist Kushal Gaya celebrate his diversity – tonally, texturally, and emotionally while embracing lyrical depth.
This funky indie-band’s got soul… and the ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival crowd must have gulped down their food super fast to have got back in time to see Melt Yourself Down hit the stage bang in time for their 6.15pm slot. A solid horn section and some thumping additional percussion really fill out the sound, and we could imagine some big dance tents erupting if this exciting band were given the chance to let the DJs and MCs take a breather. They sold out The 100 Club last year, and we can understand how and why.
The Futureheads (Reds Stage 7:45-9:00pm)
The Futureheads original line-up met at City of Sunderland College and got it together in 2000. The band released five albums before calling it a day in 2013, but by 2019, the band were back at it. They consist of Ross Millard (vocals and guitar), David “Jaff” Craig (vocals and bass guitar) and brothers Barry Hyde (vocals and guitar) and Dave Hyde (drums). Their name comes from the title of The Flaming Lips album ‘Hit To Death In The Future Head’. The Futureheads influences include new wave and post-punk bands such as Gang of Four, Devo, XTC, Wire and Fugazi.
A 300-mile drive through a typhoon and a bad case of lost voice don’t dampen the spirits of The Futureheads and the launch into their ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival set with a rousing rendition of ‘The Beginning Of The Twist’. That was followed with the band giving a five-star food review for ‘Butlins Beef Corner’ and their one-and-a-half minute chargrilled steak…
Big Joanie (Centre Stage 8:00-8:45pm)
Musically, Big Joanie (featuring guitarist Stephanie Phillips, bassist Estella Adeyeri, and drummer Chardine Taylor-Stone) are a bit of a tough act to pigeonhole. There’s a punk feminist ethic that they wear in their sleeve, where they state that they offer “Black Feminist Sistah Punk”, but songs veer from blues to grunge and simple garage as the set progresses. Following on from 2018’s ‘Sistahs’, they dropped their latest long-player ‘Back Home’ last November which increased their critical acclaim. Yet another act that we covered at the 2021 ‘Mutations‘ festival, when they played Patterns. Prior to that we caught them at the Green Door Store back in 2019 as part of ‘The Great Escape‘.
Somehow Butlins just doesn’t feel like their natural stomping ground. But ‘Rockaway Beach’ is infamous for making incongruous bands work in this otherwise family-friendly environment. There’s lots of patter between songs… including an explanation about why ‘It’s You’ is quite simply about men being sh*t in bed. At another point the audience are asked: “How many of you have been to a chalet party here??”. Cue tumbleweed silence. The eerie hush is quickly broken with a laugh and the retort that: “I think maybe you all need to socialise with your neighbours a bit more!!” Big Joannie have certainly had a big year. They were nominated for a MOBO award along with bands like Bob Vylan and got to hang out with Skin, who, they say, has been a real mentor to them. They are politically charged and not afraid to shout about it. “Support the trade union movement. Don’t cross a picket line or I’ll haunt you forever.” No punches pulled there!
The Anchoress (Centre Stage 9:15-10:15pm)
Welsh multi-instrumentalist and producer Catherine Anne Davies works under the moniker The Anchoress. Her debut album, ‘Confessions Of A Romance Novelist’ was released on Kscope to widespread critical acclaim and was named amongst the Guardian critics’ ‘Albums of the Year’, won HMV’s ‘Welsh Album of the Year’, ‘Best Newcomer’ at the PROG awards, and a nomination for ‘Welsh Music Prize’. Her latest release was ‘Versions / EP 2’ which dropped back in November.
With cinematic swagger, The Anchoress takes over the ‘Rockaway Beach‘ festival main stage… and the lighting mirrors the music, with all the focus on Catherine playing her first live show in three-and-a-half years. She is bookended by a pair of industrial air-purifiers to protect her health, and we hope this proves a permanent solution for her. It’s a pleasurable audio mix, with Catherine’s powerful vocals loud and proud in the speakers, and the drums tucked away snuggly behind a thumping but not overwhelming bass line. And visually this audio delight is echoed by spotlights holding all the attention on the singer behind her bank of keyboards, whilst the rest of the band hang back in the shadows. This is exactly the sort of clever and enthralling pop that finds huge audiences, and it’s safe to say that air-purification permitting, The Anchoress will be at the top of a lot of festival bills in the coming months – and hopefully years. For those wishing to find out more, then you can catch The Anchoress live in Brighton at the Komedia on Wednesday 10th May – Grab your tickets HERE.
Scalping (Reds Stage 9:45-10:30pm)
Arguably Bristol based Scalping (stylized as SCALPING), who dropped their ‘Void’ album last April, ought to have been the last band on stage at ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival this bleak and cold Saturday night at the end of the first weekend in January. Their sound is dominated by a techno-rave energy that may have metal running through its veins, but it definitely works best for our money when midnight has passed by unnoticed and those with the energy to keep partying until dawn are bugged out and tuned into the sorts of crashing, but carefully crafted and calculated noise that Scalping work so hard to craft. But this isn’t that sort of festival and it’s not that sort of crowd.
This is Butlins in Bognor Regis, and the audience may be young at heart, but most have been on their feet watching bands since noon, so the concept of a post-midnight dance marathon probably isn’t high on anyone’s agenda. So Scalping provides instead a very loud punctuation mark in the evening, sandwiched between the intelligent pop of The Anchoress and the dual-headline shows featuring everyone’s favourite dads, OMD, and Leeds-based New-No-Wave provocateurs, Yard Act. It’s a set that takes place in almost total darkness except for the reflected light that scattered across the Red Stage crowd from the frenetic CGI projection show that is the only source of illumination. Not a photographer’s dream, but we did manage a few chance shots of the band through the gloom. Guess what…yep another band that we caught at last year’s ‘Mutations‘ festival. They played an absolute blinder at Chalk. Prior to that we also saw them as part of last year’s ‘Great Escape‘ new music festival. They are a must see band!
OMD (Centre Stage 11:00pm-12:45am)
Andy McCluskey may have broken a rib on Boxing Day, but it didn’t stop him putting in his usual energetic performance as the band headlined at ‘Rockaway Beach’ festival 2023. The duo of McCluskey along with Paul Humphries founded the band back in 1978 and the outfit ran until 1996. Then after a decade off, the magnetism was finally too great to ignore and thus they set about releasing some more terrific material in the form of 2013’s ‘English Electric’ and 2017’s ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ albums. With over 40 million record sales under their belts, OMD (AKA Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark) have a popularity that far outstrips the critics who have sometimes tried to write them off for any one of many different reasons. The fact of the matter is that the band are responsible for a significant number of songs that will continue to echo down the decades long after many other tunes have withered and died.
And as a live experience, OMD remain pretty special too. McCluskey has a real sense of theatre, and his stage presence is a true touchstone for any young performer who might be looking to work out what to do with their hands when they are not singing. Tonight we were given no less than 20 tunes, including ‘Messages’, ‘Souvenir’, both ‘Joan Of Arc’’s, ‘Enola Gay’ and the lads signed off with ‘Electricity’. Fabulous stuff! OMD are certainly no strangers to Brighton & Hove News as we have reviewed a trio of headline shows by them. These being twice in Bexhill-on-Sea at the iconic De La Warr Pavilion (2017) and (2019), as well as at the Brighton Centre in 2021 – Review HERE.
Yard Act (Red Stage 11:15pm-12:30am)
A few hours before their set Yard Act take to the interview stools for a Q&A session hosted by everyone’s favourite steel-eyed and pin-sharp rock-pundit, John Robb. Although we only caught a few minutes of the session, the theme seemed to be largely a focus on how a band, who had a vision for a unique sound, stuck to their guns, put in a lot of hard work, did all the right things – and then got lucky enough to see it all pay off. It almost feels as if their entire career is summarised in their song ‘Rich’… although one suspects they are still not flying around in private jets, or lounging off the Platinum coast of Jamaica on luxury yachts at the weekends…‘Almost by accident, I have become rich; Through continued reward for skilled labour in the private sector; And a genuine lack of interest in expensive things; It appears I have become rich…’
Yard Act epitomises everything we love about what (for the sake of argument) we like to call ‘New-No-Wave’. The world has been crying out for a new indie-genre for years, and it’s acts like Yard Act and Personal Trainer who are delivering the goods. We mention Personal Trainer here because they played yesterday at the festival – and also because Yard Act gave them a big thumbs up during their headline set on the ‘Rockaway Beach’ second stage. What defines these bands? It’s not easy to pinpoint. But when you put them all into a big pot and boil them down, something is left that is the essence of the music they play. Alongside Yard Act and Personal Trainer we’d throw in Squid, Bodega, Wet Leg, Sports Team, Warmduscher, Baxter Dury, and a dozen-or-so others. That essence is a coupling of vocal attitude and lyrical content that is whimsical but socially relevant with a Dadaist twist. One thing is for sure, Yard Act will probably be the band we see more times than any other during the 2023 festival season… with very few exceptions they will always be our go-to band on any festival line-up. Although it was noted by certain Yard Act fans that tonight’s performance only ran for 45 minutes instead of their 75 minute slot.
SUNDAY 8th JANUARY:
John J Presley (Red Stage 12:00-12:30pm)
Sunday for us starts for us with John J Presley who is a guitarist, singer and pedalsteel player currently residing in Brighton. We’d seen him the night before as guitarist with The Anchoress. However, his own music is somewhat different to that artist. We discover that he has a tough-sounding gritty voice. He plays with a much chunkier guitar sound, and wilder incendiary sounding guitar solos. He is accompanied by a drummer and a keyboard player who also plays flute and harmonium.
The music is blues influenced and dark. He’d make a great touring partner for Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (how about it Nick?). The guitar work throughout is brilliant, ranging from muscular soloing to delicate finger-picking and slide. John J Presley is probably my personal discovery of the weekend. Unfortunately he has no further shows booked at present. However, he does have an album entitled ‘As The Night Draws In’, which came out in January 2019. Check it out HERE.
The Pagans S.O.H (Red Stage 1:00-1:30pm)
Next up we have The Pagans S.O.H (Shepherds Of Humanity) who hail from West Bromwich in the West Midlands. They comprise Marcus Lesycsyznski-Hall on vocals, Daragh Guest on guitar, Conor Hodgkiss on drums and Nathaniel Hellier-Allport on bass. If anyone in the room was feeling in a sleepy Sunday afternoon mood, then that was immediately ripped away by The Pagans’ dizzying mix of hip-hop, punk and metal with an added dollop of funk.
I’m not sure what these guys are fuelled by, but I want some. It’s not just the music, but the singer’s razor sharp humorous asides between songs. When The Beatles first played in the clubs in Hamburg, they were frequently told to “mak schau”. Believe me, The Pagans S.O.H “mak schau”!!! With their frequently very high energy performance, they are an astonishingly arresting live band. Awesome! Check out their 4 tune ‘Le Coq EP’ which was unleashed to an unsuspecting world last April – Find it HERE. Their latest release, which saw the light of day last October, is titled ‘Emergence Of Forgotten Power’ -Find that HERE.
Dream Nails (Red Stage 2:00-2:30pm)
The act tasked with following The Pagans S.O.H are Dream Nails, who we covered as part of last year’s ‘Great Escape‘ festival. They played a set at Three Wise Cats (Casablanca) in Middle Street in Brighton. This afternoon they announce themselves as “a queer punk band from London”. So far so promising. They consist of Lucy Katz on drums, Mimi Jasson on bass, Anya Pearson on guitar and Leah Kirby on vocals. Very early in the set they ask “all women, trans and non-binary people” to come to the front. As I am right at the front and fall into none of those categories, I’m left wondering whether I should go to the back! However, I’m sure that their intention isn’t to exclude the likes of me. After all, inclusivity is everything!!
Many of their songs deal with sexual politics. ‘Non-Binary Resistance’ being a prime example. Another is about what it’s like to report a rape as a black trans person. However, the political content of the lyrics doesn’t override the music, which is taut punk. If all this sounds very serious, let it not be said that Dream Nails don’t know how to have fun. During the last song drummer Lucy Katz leads the audience in an ‘exercise class’. She gets us all to crouch down and then jump up again. The crouching down is fine. As far as the jumping up is concerned, I’m down at the front against the rail, I pull themselves up on that. Vocalist Leah has already had an excursion into the audience to mosh with the crowd. Now with Lucy back behind the drums, she chases Mimi and Anya around the stage during the close of the last song. If you fancy a laugh with your radical politics, Dream Nails are the band for you. Interesting lyrics? Check. Great music? Check. Humour? Check. This band has it all!
Rats On Rafts (Red Stage 3:00-3:45pm)
Rats On Rafts are an ever-evolving Dutch group which consists of David Fagan, Arnoud Verheul, Natasha Van Waardenburg, and Mathjis Burgler. They swear spiritual allegiance to Rotterdam’s New Wave, Pop and Punk scenes with one proviso, the weirder the better. They have been together for a few years and, after boring themselves into finally getting good, they embarked on a phase which is slowly seeing them recognized as something a bit special by their own countrymen. Their latest release is a live album, which is titled ‘Visions of Chapter 3: Live At TivoliVredenburg’. This dropped back on 23rd September.
The band are in the UK to play a trio of gigs and had actually hot-footed it from playing The Hope & Ruin on Queens Road in Brighton last night and were supported by Jungfrau as well as Terse Affection. The night before saw them entertaining crowds at The Lexington in London. We have these two photos of their ‘Rockaway Beach‘ performance, but sadly none of our reviewers were in attendance. Hopefully the guys will make a swift return to these shores so that we can rectify this.
Modern Woman (Red Stage 4:15-5:00pm)
The next act listed on the ‘Rockaway Beach’ bill today goes by the name of Modern Woman, which began life as the songwriting project of London based Sophie Harris. She then met David Denyer, an Anglo-German-Armenian composer and the two started playing together with Denyer playing an array of homemade violins, synths, effects and percussion – including a battered wooden table with a metal colander nailed into it and jagged remnants of cymbals that take a pummelling throughout the band’s live show. After a period of comings and goings of different line-ups the band was completed after meeting Madrid-born bassist plus occasional saxophonist Juan Brint Gutiérrez and Adam Blackhurst on drums. Playing their first show in the later half of 2019, the band quickly built a word of mouth following. Their music is based around Harris’ songwriting, exploring a diverse range of sounds drawing from their melting pot of influences from post-punk and 60s folk music to free-jazz and noise. Lyrical nods to myth and folklore sit amongst songs that range from poetic monologues, stripped back folk songs to the ferociously experimental.
Sadly we weren’t able to cover this outfit on the occasion, but you can listen to their work on their Bandcamp page HERE.
Hamish Hawk (Red Stage 5:30-6:15pm)
I’d missed Hamish Hawk when he played at ‘Mutations‘ festival in Brighton in November, (although the Brighton & Hove News did catch his appearance at the Brighthelm Centre at the very top of North Road in Brighton on 12th May last year as part of ‘The Great Escape‘), so I was determined to see him at ‘Rockaway Beach’. I’d initially thought that Hamish Hawk was the name of the band, but no. Hamish Hawk is the vocalist’s real name. Fact! He’s been around for a few years, and his fourth album ‘Angel Numbers’ is released next month – More details HERE.
He has an extraordinarily rich voice. His band sounds like a Scottish version of The E Street Band, but without the sax. In terms of both the lyrics and music there is a definite similarity to The Divine Comedy. There are lyrical similarities to The Smiths also. At times though the music veers dangerously close to Deacon Blue territory. One song, possibly called ‘Testing’, has a sinuously funky bass line, and is certainly the punchiest song of the set. Hamish has one of the best song titles that I’ve heard for a while: ‘The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973’. Not wishing to be pedantic in any way, but shouldn’t that have been in the plural? Hamish is a very interesting artist with plenty to say both musically and lyrically, and is worth checking out. Luckily, there are opportunities to do just that in London and Brighton next month: he plays at Kings Cross Scala on 5th February, and Brighton Komedia on the 6th. Grab your tickets for the Brighton gig HERE.
Fake Turins (Centre Stage 6:45-7:30pm)
North London outfit Fake Turins explore the psychedelic strut of New York City in the 70’s, using their strength in numbers to provide an immersive experience, the 11-piece unit explore noise, disco and funk through an unrelenting groove. They have been tipped across the board by press, summed up by So Young Magazine as, “lyrically subversive yet audibly untouchable”, with DIY noting their “cyclical, propulsive dancefloor groove”, and by CLASH as, “a truly multi-faceted piece of music [that] feels like the entry point into Fake Turins’ extraordinary world”. Radio support from Steve Lamacq (BBC 6Music), Gemma Bradley (BBC Radio 1), John Kennedy (Radio X) and Amazing Radio on both sides of the Atlantic has seen the band’s stock rise.
As with Rats On Rafts (above), we have these photos of their ‘Rockaway Beach’ performance, but sadly none of our reviewers were in attendance. Hopefully the guys will announce a Brighton gig in due course so that we can rectify this.
The Beat ft Ranking Jnr (Red Stage 6:45-8:00pm)
As with more and more acts from back in the 1970s and 1980s, you find that as members pass away – in this instance Roger Charlery (21st February 1963 to 26th March 2019), known professionally as Ranking Roger – bands can splinter into more than one gigging outfit, which certainly can confuse some fans. Arguably, the most famous of these being UB40 where the two main brothers are touting their own versions of the band. This has also happened with seminal ska outfit The Beat. The version playing at ‘Rockaway Beach’ is the one featuring Ranking Jnr. As with Rats On Rafts (above), we have these photos of their ‘Rockaway Beach’ performance, but sadly none of our reviewers were in attendance.
The Beat ft Ranking Jnr will be heading to Brighton’s Concorde 2 on Saturday 29th April. You can grab your tickets for that night HERE. The ‘other’ Beat which features Dave Wakeling will be opening up their UK tour here in Sussex when they play the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea on Friday 26th May. Support on the tour will come from BowWowWow with Annabella Lwin. Purchase your tickets HERE if you so wish.
The Undertones (Centre Stage 8:15-9:30pm)
Next up for our delectation we have The Undertones, who we have reviewed on a number of occasions, the last being in Bexhill-on-Sea at the De La Warr Pavilion on 22nd October last year – Read our review HERE. There is almost no need to review this band as they do exactly what you expect them to. This is in no way a criticism. In fact it’s another way of saying that we (the audience) rock up with a set of expectations of what we’re going to get from an Undertones performance, and they do not disappoint. Indeed, they deliver in spades, beyond our expectations. There are hits, there are album tracks, there are B-sides, and there is more recent material too. The band have fun. The audience have fun.
Highlights are almost too numerous to mention. There’s obviously ‘Teenage Kicks’ (dedicated by Michael Bradley “to the bride and groom”); ‘Jimmy Jimmy’, ‘Get Over You’, ‘Here Comes The Summer’, ‘True Confessions’, ‘More Songs About Chocolate And Girls’ (with drummer Billy Doherty all over his kit); not forgetting ‘My Perfect Cousin’. Quite frankly, The Undertones are probably the most fun you can have at a festival (or probably anywhere else) with your clothes on. If you don’t have an Undertones album, well there really is no excuse.
Sonic Boom & Panda Bear (Centre Stage 10:15-11:45pm)
So we come to tonight’s headliners, Sonic Boom and Panda Bear. Sonic Boom initially found fame as half of Spacemen 3 in the 1980s, whilst Panda Bear is a founding member of Animal Collective, as well as having a parallel solo career. I must confess I thought that they were a curious choice to headline the final night of the festival, but then again it depends what you want from a headliner. There certainly is no ‘biff bang pow!’ here, but rather music that is more engrossing and enthralling.
Much of the set is moody, ethereal and dreamy. Some is very melodic, even poppy. By and large though it is very mellow. There are plenty of motifs to excite the listener’s interest. This is music that you can get lost in. I was just thinking that this music would send the audience from the venue with a feeling of mellow well-being when the set went up a gear. One song sounds as if it was written with the Mardi Gras in mind. Another is dancey without actually being dance music. The set then returns to its previous more relaxing pace. The Sonic Pandas (as a friend has christened them) have an album that came out in August 2022 called ‘Reset’, which you can find HERE. On the evidence of tonight’s set, it’s definitely worth a listen.
‘Rockaway Beach’ 2024 has already been announced. It will run from 5th to 7th January. More information at www.rockawaybeach.co.uk.