Three great traditions ring in the end of one year and the beginning of the next. These are, of course, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and… Rockaway Beach at Butlin’s Bognor Regis.
Rockaway Beach is the only one of these occasions with an all-you-can-eat buffet included (and some bands playing, too), so is clearly the best of three. With that in mind, we returned to the home of the year’s first festival to check live music was still going, spot a few seagulls, and see if we could finally hit it big on arcade machines.
Arriving as one of the first bands of the weekend, Grandmas House are a shot of adrenaline. Spiky, gripping and raw, their set is an uncompromising call to arms, from early cut ‘Devil’s Advocate’ all the way through to scorching new material from their latest self-titled EP. They practically grab the lapels of early-bird festival-goers, each cut a step-up in pace and intensity. Scuzzy, fuzzy and immediately setting the tone, it’s an eye-opening confirmation that Grandmas House are a must-see force for the year ahead.
Simply being at Rockaway Beach this year feels like an achievement in itself. With acts understandably having to pull out just before the festival (due to factors relating to ‘you-know-what’ for the most part), some true magic is at hand to bring in replacements at the last minute.
One such Dork favourite to answer the call is Do Nothing, stepping in for Working Men’s Club’s planned late-night set on Friday night with the sort of accomplished and commanding set that leaves a mark for the rest of the weekend. The fact it comes at short notice makes it even more impressive, clicking play on a post-punk disco full of luscious grooves and visceral intensity. From swooning opener ‘Uber Alles’ through electric swings of ‘Glueland’, ‘Contraband’ and ‘Rolex’ – Do Nothing’s ability to take on any stage with ease and turn it into a wide-eyed party are on full display.
Picking across an already ridiculous catalogue of hits (‘LeBron James’, ‘Handshakes’ and ‘Gangs’ the sort of trio that most bands would do anything to have in their back pocket), Do Nothing seize the momen to prove themselves as one of the most exciting bands around, last minute call or not.
Italia 90 kick things back off with a bang on the Saturday, vocalist Les Miserable pacing the stage like it’s a prison yard. Slow burning spoken word tracks stand shoulder to shoulder with the shouted, punk-inflected political refrains of ‘New Factory’. If the sideways rain hadn’t woken everyone up on their walk over, they’re definitely awake now.
Some bands just know how to do it live. To make people pay attention and pull them into a whole different world at the drop of a track. If there’s ever a band who symbolise that more than most, it’s Crows – whose late addition to the Rockaway lineup is a welcome treat that stamps its mark for the rest of the weekend.
Wrapping themselves in the sort of menacing wall of sound that could take down a skyscraper, they blitz through a set of unstoppable power as they gear up for a bold new future. Frontman James Cox is a captivating master of ceremonies, prowling the stage. ‘Empyrean’, ‘Wednesday’s Child’, ‘Chain Of Being’ and ‘Hang Me High’ from their 2019 debut album ‘Silver Tongues’ have aged like a fine wine, while new track ‘Slowly Separate’ lays down the marker for what comes next. Rockaway Beach serves as an appetising re-introduction for a band hungrier than ever. Just ask the hundreds still chatting about their set hours later.
Jarv Is…, the pun-tastic moniker of Jarvis Cocker’s solo outfit, rounds off day two with a performance that takes in Elvis’ birthday, cheap plastic arcade toys and fun facts about King George V’s hatred of Bognor Regis. Although you may know him best from his days fronting Pulp, Jarvis seems more keen to explore his solo efforts than to take a trip down memory lane. Opener ‘She’s a Woman’ and closer ‘My Legendary Girlfriend’ are the only whiffs of Britpop past to make it into the set, and let’s be honest – they’re not exactly the biggest hits Pulp ever did, are they?
Instead of a greatest hits jamboree, Jarvis covers the French language ‘Aline’ by Christophe and leads the crowd in a rousing rendition of ‘Cunts are Still Running the World’. The man himself is on top form, and his easy rapport with the crowd is enough to melt even the coldest heart. Still though, would a couple of minutes of ‘Common People’ really have been too much to ask?
Post-punk shouty men TV Priest have the unenviable task of waking everyone up at midday on Sunday, but if the size of the crowd is anything to go by, they succeed admirably. It’s a double espresso in audio form, frontman Charlie Drinkwater sauntering on in glasses and complaining he ‘looks like Steve Jobs’ for blasting through the set with barely a pause for breath. Never before has a group of Butlins attendees sung along to a sarcastic takedown of Pudsey the Dog’s appearance on Britain’s Got Talent with quite as much enthusiasm as they do now.
bdrmm serve up the sort of intoxicating cocktail of shoegaze and dream-pop that has us running back for more. With a heavy wall of sound wrapping the smaller of the festival’s two stages, they take the crowd on a journey that at times soothes and at others hits them over the head with a medium-sized soft toy. Not too hard, but enough to always make them acknowledge what’s happening in front of their eyes. It’s a gem of an afternoon set.
The Sunday night of Rockaway Beach has become a bit of a proving ground. For a weekend that does its fair share of celebrating the past and the iconic figures who’ve come to define it, the festival wraps up by pointing to the essential voices of the future. It’s no surprise that Porridge Radio sit in that category. After Mercury Prize nominations and vast acclaim, their ascent to headliner level makes their closing set at an opportunity to drive their flag in the ground for what comes next. They deliver in style.
Enrapturing the festival, there’s a confidence in every move Porridge Radio make. The ripped-open cries of ‘Born Confused’ set the stall for a set that captures what makes them so brilliant. At one moment overflowing with rage, the next cutting right to the core of human emotion – Porridge Radio manage to walk that fine line between incredibly personal and undeniably universal in style. It’s accentuated live when tracks like ‘Long’, ‘Give/Take’, ‘7 Seconds’ and the soaring refrain of ‘Lilac’ can be heard calling out to ‘get better’, taking Porridge Radio from a beloved alternative favourite to something altogether more powerful.
Whilst revelling in those moments, it’s in their nods to what comes next that Porridge Radio feel all the more exciting. One track (tentatively titled ‘Splintered’) bolsters the sound Porridge Radio have become known for, but in a more direct manner in everything they do. These new offerings sound like a band firmly spreading their wings, from almost acoustic numbers that sound akin to The Cranberries to genre-flipping detours that ultimately set them apart.
The step up to headliner level can be a daunting one, but for Porridge Radio it’s embraced with both hands – serving up not only a nod of approval, but an affirming show that’s only the beginning for a band well and truly onto something special.
They serve as a perfect closer for Rockaway Beach 2022, a festival that continues to shine as a weekend like no other. Where else will you find frenzied air hockey at one moment, a big screen showing cartoons the next and enough late-night discos to keep you up into the night. Whilst Butlins may more be used to families and weekend escapes, Rockaway Beach flips the script. A curated mix of thrilling new sounds and enough 2p machines to build a bank on. There’s no better way to start the year.