Live Review: The Rockaway Beach Festival – Saturday 06.01.2024

Don Blandford

The soft play area is still cordoned off. Nobody wants a ruptured hernia when there is so much more great music scheduled. Saturday on the Reds stage starts with Trout from Liverpool. Playing shimmering songs with more than a nod to Newdad – it’s a gentle soundtrack for the Bognor brunch gang. Then London punk rap trio Frozemode heat things up and take control of the stage. Covering more steps than the Rockaway regulars might do all day.

One of the many pleasures of Rockaway Beach is seeing beloved bands again but in a larger and far busier arena. I first saw Genn in the back of a North London pub in 2019 when they were known as Cryptic Street – many gigs later the Maltese (Brighton-based) band are gracing Reds with their fiery presence. Working way harder than many of their male contemporaries Genn are always a dynamic prospect. Léona Farruġia leads by example as she jumps, tumbles and stretches across the stage to the delicious wall of sound of her band. It’s a continuous assault on the ear and eye. One of the most outstanding performances of the weekend.

Those reliable souls Lonely Tourist step in at the last minute with their acoustic, fun and folkie everyday tales of life. These guys are Rockaway royalty and always offer an absorbing and amusing set.

Big Special, like Benefits before, bring a catharsis for the frustrated middle aged geezers at Butlins. After toasting the New Year with whisky donated by the front row Joe Hicklin and Callum Moloney offer angry, sweary fare with the similar wry wit of Yard Act. Callum was in pain throughout with a hand injury and wins the stick man of the weekend award for the way he played through the pain. Painting a bleak picture of Britain today. 14 years of a Tory shit show leaves popular culture laden with nihilism. Hate not hope, it seems.

There are some people who are just born to perform. They can walk on a stage and own it. Jojo Orme is one such commanding presence and Bognor is very lucky to have Heartworms. Like a home-grown Karen O, Jojo is breathtakingly talented. It’s a post-punk goth party and Jojo is the host. Almost seems like she isn’t trying so imagine what Jojo is going to achieve when she steps it up a gear. In the meantime, it’s a privilege to see her perform Retributions Of An Awful Life – “Look at me, I can fly…” and she sure does!

Ditz have to match this passion but vocalist Cal Francis is as grumpy as a petulant kid who’s lost all their money at the amusement arcade. Annoyed at not being allowed to drink a beer on stage Cal struts about before supping at a beer offered out from the crowd. Ditz is another band I’d first seen over five years ago at a makeshift venue in Hackney Wick. Cal seems suited to the bigger arena and soon launches into the fray and surfs around for a while. Ditz being Ditz there’s apocalyptic post-hardcore shenanigans aplenty and the energy is off the scale. Still grouchy, Cal partially climbs the rigging before the stage manager chastises him down. By no means boring, but this is still another Butlin’s performance for those who like their music cold and angry.

Talking of angry – here’s John. The very noisy duo bring their relentless aural assault which is equal parts metal and punk. No surprise that John have opened for Idles in the past. The imposing pounding sound could penetrate the walls of nearby Arundel Castle. Still, that undeniable undercurrent of nihilism and futility is potent. More Sussex downs.

It’s a relief to change venue. The Centre Stage is open for the evening but what could a sixty something with a band who had their biggest hit forty four years ago really bring to Rockaway?

Well, everything apparently – Skids are phenomenal, no really, Richard Jobson is an absolute star! Aside from the sublime back catalogue including the anthemic Into The Valley and the ridiculously daft Albert Tatlock (acknowledged knowingly by the Bognor demographic) Jobson delivered a masterclass in how to play a festival. A set packed with choice anecdotes and tales from the Skids past – both silly and sad. All this and Richard Jobson bobbing and weaving around the stage like a teenage boxer – wonderful and utterly awesome! Hand him his honorary Red Coat now, Richard rules Butlins!

After the exhilaration of that old dog comes Domino Records new golden boys Fat Dog. Full of effervescent self-belief Fat Dog produce a boisterous cacophony. A frenetic performance but Fat Dog would probably play like this in an empty room as they seem born to party.

Back at the second stage, it’s a little more sedate as the veteran Stranglers bloke Hugh Cornwell is engaging everyone with new and classic tracks including the gorgeous Always The Sun.

After the angry despondency and soulless abrasiveness issued by several bands at Butlins comes one of the godfathers of that new gloom – Sleaford Mods. Feeling like a pastiche of their former selves Jason dawdled through the Centre Stage set. At times, he appeared to feign a fondling of his crotch which as it turned out was appropriate as it felt like he was taking the piss out of the paying punters. Monotonous mediocrity. Fashion reporters present confirmed they had no clothes…

When it comes to entertainment, value for money and jaw dropping stage presence Dream Wife are unbeatable. Reds is great but really Rakel, Alice, Bella and Alex ought to have headlined the main arena. Love is always mutual at Dream Wife gigs – they love to entertain and everyone loves them for it. Rakel makes mischief throughout with her flirtatious playfulness as she interacts with the band and the crowd.

Like the very best bands Dream Wife slam the pause button on normal life and draw everyone into their orbit. Disco-punk, indie-pop, glam post-punk – who cares what it’s called – it’s just so good! Every song is a winner but Hot (Don’t Date A Musician) and Sports! featuring a bass and guitar battle (between Bella and Alice) are astoundingly executed. Dream Wife instinctively know how to deliver and every festival needs them. Someone, please award them the freedom of the town of Bognor!

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