Tuesday, 5 March, 2024 in Music

Into Live Music Review: Rockaway Beach Festival (day one)

Concert: Rockaway Beach Festival (day one)
Venue: Butlins, Bognor Regis
Date: 5 January 2024

The avid gig-goer is often viewed as a peculiar species. Often going to shows seven days a week, often to see bands they’ve never heard, often waxing lyrically about the support act as the “next big thing” (rarely does this happen but so what) and often travelling distances some of us would baulk at unless it was for our main holiday break.

I confess, I am one of those peculiar gig-goers and I found myself pondering, at an ungodly hour, the bold Lux Interior singing The Cramps classic How Far Can Too Far Go? As it turned out, as the crow flies, the round trip from my home to Butlins in Bognor Regis clocked in at just under one thousand miles. A car trip, three trains and the joy of navigating the London Underground system was tiring but ultimately worth it for LIVE MUSIC!!!! 

Now, Bognor Regis might not be everyone’s cup of tea, least of all at the first cold weekend in 2024 but the Rockaway Beach Festival was simply fantastic. A self-styled ’boutique indoor music festival’ it may be but it is that and so, so much more. 

Over the course of the weekend, there are plenty of bands and artists to see across two stages, loads of food and drink options and the accommodation is spot on.  Generally, the crowds are respectful of the acts, attendees tend to be good company, the leisure activities on site are decent, the music/vinyl merchandise stalls over the weekend will lure you in plus there are artist Q&As, disco sets, quizzes and much more. In short, pretty much everything you could want for a boutique indoor music festival! 

The Benefits

And so to the music. Benefits were the first act we saw and if there was any tiredness after the long trip, the Teeside band’s raw energy was the perfect pick-up. On this display they were a live force to be reckoned with and no surprise following their album of the year award from Louder Than War magazine for Nails. The track Warhorse was a particular highlight, front man Kingsley Hall spitting out the lyrics “There’s Albion’s spoilt children, aching for fame, yet again. They’re fucking on the cliffs of Dover, on that post war hangover. And we bask in witless wonder, all this historic racist plunder, and we sit, and we sit, roll over”, almost unnerving with a malevolent violence in the air. Empire started with Hall alone, delivering more on the money lyrics before a sonic drone kicked in, a white noise enveloping the senses. Five songs, and that’s it, over and out. We stood, stunned, what the fuck was that and can I have some more please? This was anarcho-punk at its finest, the band delivering music that deserves to be heard and those lyrics…go listen to them, go read them. 


M(h)aol were our next stop, big things expected from the few tunes we’d heard and the YouTube videos watched albeit we were aware that their main vocalist Roisin Nic Ghearailt had left the band only a few months prior to this show. In truth, that was a gap that the Irish post-punksters failed to adequately cover on the day but there was definitely enough in their set to suggest a bright future. The vocals were shared across the band which meant there was no immediate focal point, though songs such as the set-closing Jack and a new tune possibly named Pursuit confirmed as musicians they have something potentially special. 

Hifi Sean & David McAlmont

Hifi Sean & David McAlmont. Wow, just wow. I could conceivably stop there as I am not sure my words can do justice to how good their short set was. All the more incredible given that this was only the second time they had ever played together live! Hifi Sean in his boiler suit looked like he meant business at the musical helm while David McAlmont’s voice has surely been blessed by the angels. The 2023 album Happy Ending was well represented here but the live debut of a new tune Sun Comes Up with its disco groove vibe was just sublime. A devastatingly gorgeous take on Beautiful was exactly that, McAlmont’s vocal bursting upwards and merging seamlessly with Hifi Sean’s beats. If you get a chance to see this duo live, don’t hesitate. 

Bob Vylan

Live, it’s fair to say that Bob Vylan are a force of nature. The two-piece featuring Bobbie on drums and Bobby on vocals go at it hammer and tongs, their songs spattered with lyrical inventiveness and despite only two of them on stage with one behind a drum kit, you simply could not take your eyes off them. However, they start with a bit of yoga, Yup, that’s right, yoga! Inviting the crowd to take part is quite the scene and many do. Certainly a new one on me! 

Early on we get the raw power of I Heard You Want Your Country Back, musically aligned to Rage Against The Machine, a statement and then some. This, this, this. Take That follows, not missing Elvis, Churchill, the Queen, gammons or Oxford grads. This, this, this. 

And so it went on for an hour or so for what is a truly memorable (and important) gig. Vylan’s lyrics are hugely relative to the U.K. (and the world) right now and the observational points made are rarely bettered at the moment. A band at the top of their game, I’ve found myself revisiting those songs again and again since the gig. Northern Line with its bass heavy rumble provided the platform for some crowd bouncing to the point I could have been in the Barrowland with its spring floor! New track Hunger Games (which debuted on BBC6 Music that day) was well received before Pretty Songs momentarily took things down a notch before quickly exploding into another raucous gem. 

A quick pit stop at the bar for a seat and a well overdue pint was had before heading back into the main arena to see Friday’s headliners The Selecter. The fact the Two-Tone band from Coventry formed over forty-five years ago is quite staggering but not as staggering at the energy levels Pauline Black and her band put into their live shows. There was nothing left at the door, they finished as they started, with style, panache and a steely determination to play the best show they possibly can…..and they did! 

Three Minute Hero featured early as does Time Hard, vintage old school ska which set off the skanking from the many rude boys and girls in attendance. The more contemporary Frontline was dedicated to the hard working NHS staff before the effortlessly cool Gaps Hendrickson took centre stage on a great (Who Likes) Facing Situations, the band showing off their musical prowess, guitars, bass, organ taking the track to a dancetastic level.    

There is no let up and looking around the venue, I was now in the midst of what could only be described as a dance craze. More skanking courtesy of Danger before Pauline Black mixed in some soul via the title track of the 2023 album, Human Algebra shows the variety the band possesses. Immediately, War, War, War follows and it is possibly the tune of the night, a sun-kissed slow burner with on point lyrics,.What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. 

Thereafter, we were treated to a sensational finish. Murder was all killer no filler, then we got a slower than usual, almost jazzy take on Missing Words while Last Train to Skaville was simply off the scale, this is revised, revisited ska mixing in dub with an amazing solo vocal part way through by Gaps while the band were just fucking epic, Charley “Aitch” Bembridge held the whole thing together with his dexterous drumming. Did I mention On My Radio or Too Much Pressure featuring a bit Pressure Drop? Nope? Well, they were also fucking epic. 

And that is why Pauline Black and co do it, for those moments when band/artist connect with the crowd, electric, special and impossible to bottle. And that’s why gig-goers travel one thousand miles, more or less, to get that connection, that feeling. 

Rockaway Beach day one is done. Ding, ding, bring on day two…

John Welsh



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