A British seaside attraction turned on its head...

Butlins is seen as the traditional British get-away set in quaint, tourist driven seaside towns where the coast is littered with cafes and vendors selling Mr Whippy ice creams and sun hats blend in with a splattering of fairground rides and noisy arcade halls.

In recent years they have also become seen as a perfect get away for hosting Eighties nostalgic led weekenders and desired destinations for hen parties and stag do’s for people looking for a weekend of fun. Though rock bands playing such venues is nothing new there is still a juxtaposition that occurs when a rock weekender heads into an unnatural habitat for rock ‘n’ roll excess.

The opening day of Rockaway Beach is one that slowly teases us in before erupting and the site is still half empty when the festivals opening act Furs take to the Skyline Stage, but as time goes on, the atmosphere increases.

The festivals first of rowdiness should occur slightly before the appearance of The Fall when a large swarm make for the festivals second stage. What followed would be a scene in which dance floors left sticky from over split alcohol that has escaped the attendees plastic cup whilst the would be drinkee casually let themselves free from the rigours of normal life and instead relax into the moment and take in the spirited performance, allowing themselves to get lost deep within it until the final notes of set closer Sparta FC dissolve into the nights sky.

Rumours that Mark E. Smith had requested 64 cans of lager for his rider can only further solidify his hard earned reputation; as will the Hen Party that decide to walk out after the first two songs had ended, adding further weight to the idea that The Fall are an acquired taste. The Fall in typical fashion have and always will be The Fall.

Like the aforementioned Friday night headliners Echo and The Bunnymen have a rich history. Ian McCulloch in his now custom winter coat and sunglasses leads the Bunnymen through a set that mixes old hits with recent new material and it is in the second half where the band perform their best known numbers that the performance hits its high point. Indulging us with a bit of typical Scouse humour before the start of ‘Killing Moon’ where he describes it as being the best song he has ever written; it would go onto be part of a theme that would sees him make similar claims over ‘The Cutter’ and many more that followed.

The encore of ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ and ‘Lips Like Sugar’ serve as further evidence to cement that they are often a overlooked and underappreciated band. Whilst many are still nursing hangovers from the previous night – the soothing shoegazery tones of Fever Dream act as todays early introduction to a day that welcomes more than just guitar bands.

In fact one of Saturdays highlights proves to be one where the guitar lurks in the background. Social channels became rife with compliments after the end of Ghostpoet set. The charismatic Obaro Ejimiwe leading his backing band through a setoff laid back minimal grooves such as ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’ and ‘Lines’ from his Mercury nominated debut and a choice selection from his more recent offering 'Shedding Skin'.

Shortly after in the main room, Nadine Shah will make a comment over the rooms decor and the comparison to a cruise ship, much like her Goth tinged rock reverberates with the influence of early PJ Harvey it is a comparison that will be made for neither the first nor the last time.

Saturday night headliner, Johnny Marr and his band are musically tight –a band primed and ready to jump on stage and power through a set that balanced his own solo material with that from The Smiths. That songs such as ‘Hang The DJ’, ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ and every other song from that legendary Mancunian band have more than as hint of Stars in Their Eyes about them, that extends further onto ‘All My Life’ from his Electronic collaboration with Bernard Sumner should be little surprise – frankly hearing them in any other style vocal would just be odd. But what is safe to say is that the performance that also included airings of ‘There is a light that Never Goes Out’ and encore of ‘You Just Haven’t Heard It Yet Baby’ and a cover of The Primitives ‘Crash’ as well as closer ‘How Soon Is Now’ is one that left the majority of the audience in awe.

The final day saw the theme of mixing musical legends with splattering of the best up and coming bands such as Skinny Girl Diet. Attaching the Riot Grrl tag to Skinny Girl Diet may be a lazy move, but it is also one that stands true – singer Delilah Holiday has a touch of Bikini Kills Kathleen Hannah contained in her fierce vocals. The raw unbridled energy that pulsates through the veins of ‘Wasted Smile’ and the other half a dozen or so songs that makeup the body of their brief, blink and you miss it punk spirited set.

If the senses required a short, sharp shock to knock them from their Sunday evening slumber than the answer proved to be Young Fathers. Opener ‘No Way proving to be the initial shot of what proved to be an electrifying set. It is with a fierce and passionate rendition of ‘Get Up’ that the performance reached its energetic peak where hard hitting rhythms hit proud and forceful vocals to form tight, bullet like doses of music.

This festival should swerve into a psych territory nears its completion makes logical sense and the hypnotically alluring cinematic psych of Lola Colt serves as a magical pre-cursor to Sunday night headliners Spiritualized. Seated and sun glasses wearing Jason Piece taking us through a series of melody heavy powerful songs such as ‘electricity’ as psychedelic touched images flickered onto the main screen behind them.

There can be no quarrelling over whether the inaugural edition of Rockaway Beach is a success or not - this years comfortably attended three day festival with its backbone of established acts and choice selection of new comers was always going to be one that attracted a certain selection of people, much like a light at night attracts moths. Organised and that it was easy to flit between rooms, casually catching a little bit of everything that ensured that Rockaway Beach is one that many will look forward to making a return visit to.

Words: Nathan Westley
Photo Credit: Andy Sturmey

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