King George V probably wouldn't have said "Bugger Bognor" if he'd seen this line up. Julia Mason reports from the UK's first festival of 2022.
Rockaway Beach Festival
Butlins, Bognor Regis
January 7-9th 2022
Anyone who attended the Rockaway Beach festival at Butlins, Bognor Regis last weekend will no doubt be suffering from the ‘Rockaway Blues’. (Plus the plenty of folk in Ireland who can't attend anything at moment - Ed) There was little realisation back in January 2020, the last time the festival was held, that the world was going to suffer such catastrophic change due to the pandemic. Obviously there was no festival in 2021, and it was squeaky bum time around Christmas when it was unclear if the government would impose restrictions again in England, but take place it did, and it was a triumph. Naturally the impact of the pandemic was there with vaccination proof/negative lateral flow test evidence required on entry. In addition there were many cancellations of bands due to their own testing but the festival organisers did a magnificent job of dealing with ever-changing schedules, keeping festival goers updated across social media and plugging gaps with other bands at the last minute.
This is an extraordinary festival held over three days at Butlins, Bognor Regis with a quality line-up including new bands alongside familiar names. One of the joys is discovering new music and with few clashes it takes the pressure off decision-making. The varied accommodation also makes it accessible for every budget. Many of the bands stay overnight too and so you can find yourself in the lift with Grandmas House, having your photo taken with half of TV Priest, thanking the drummer of Italia90 for the setlist, having a chinwag with Steve Diggle or chatting to the lead singer of Crows as he sits on the stage after their set. I have acknowledged elsewhere the struggle the pandemic has created in every aspect of the music industry. For those attending it was an opportunity to see friends as well as live music. But it was an emotional experience for the bands too. Watching TV Priest at 12 noon on Sunday was worth getting up for! And they were so appreciative of playing to a packed room at this early hour. Of course there was disappointment for the likes of Working Men’s Club, Odd Morris, PVA and Sinead O’Brien who were not able to attend. For anyone who was there in 2020 LIFE were a standout performance on the smaller stage. They had been upgraded to the main stage this year but had to pull out and were gutted. Here’s hoping they can return in 2023. The replacement bands included Do Nothing and Crows, while October Drift did two sets. Crows grabbed the last-minute opportunity to play and delivered one of the sets of the weekend making a ton of new fans. Highlights of younger bands included the aforementioned TV Priest, Imperial Wax, The KVB, Grandmas House, Italia 90 and bdrmm. However it is the gems that you discover that provide the unexpected delights including Lonely Tourist, a Glaswegian based in Bristol who had the best banter of the weekend during his acoustic set and Roscoe Roscoe, a psych rock band who provided music perfect for early on Saturday. The Buzzcocks, JARV IS..., Tricky, The House of Love and Rhoda Dakar provided some of the older music highlights but A Certain Ratio were phenomenal with 3 cowbells, a saxophone, trumpet, flute and whistles helping to deliver a set full of funk. Incredibly there is a huge array of entertainment as well as the live music including movies, Q+As, DJs, quizzes, the amusement arcade, pools tables and a silent disco (the latter being highly recommended at 10.30pm!). One final shout out must go to the organisers and onsite staff at Rockaway Beach, Butlins. They were helpful, patient and always smiling. They were almost invisible and yet the whole weekend ran like clockwork even with the challenges they faced. The overall atmosphere was one of fun, music, friends and happiness to be having this shared experience, and all beside the seaside. Naturally many festival goers have already signed up for 2023. I’ll see you at the barrier!