Now I’m not a snob. I don’t stay in posh hotels. When traveling, Travelodges are my mainstay and as a child, family holidays would involve staying in caravan parks and holiday chalets. So I have quite low expectations and know Butlins offer good value for family holidays. But as an adult I never expected to stay at Butlins, it’s just not aimed at me. So it was a little trepidation that I ventured down to Bognor for the inaugural Rockaway Festival.
Arriving at Bognor Regis, I can’t say I was overly impressed. I’d say that it’s probably seen better days, but I’m not sure it ever had better days! There’s a main high street and very little else. It definitely wouldn’t be high on my list of places to visits. There’s a little bit of ‘faded elegance’. But when compared to some other south coast resorts with their elegant hotels, Bognor clearly wasn’t the biggest holiday resort. Butlins is a short walk from the station.
My main concern about Butlins staying at Butlins were some horrendous reviews on TripAdviser. It’s alway difficult to work out if these are realistic reviews or reviews from people with unrealistic expectations. But I set my expectations very low. Arriving at the site. I was welcomed by friendly staff (as were all staff at Butlins) and was told that despite being told we wouldn’t have access to our rooms until 4pm, they’d made most rooms ready for early arrival. I’d been bitching about the fact that you couldn’t check-in until after the music started. So first big plus for Butlins.
Okay, time to be honest. The rooms aren’t great. Mine was an end room with a double bed and a second room with twin beds. Not the roomiest family room, but fine for families who want to get away for a week and will only be using it as a base. But the decor in the rooms was pretty poor. Furniture old and worn. The bed, wasn’t great (but then my own bed is pretty poor, so probably shouldn’t be casting stones!). The bedding, although clean, wouldn’t be re-used by most hotels as there were small black scuffs. The walls needed painting, looking faded with lots of little marks and the carpet was ‘clean dirty’. It had clearly been cleaned. But there were stains on it. So not great. However, this was pretty much what I was expecting and still better than staying in a tent!
The Butlins site is pretty big. Centre of the site is the pavilion. It’s a big canvased tent structure. I think it’s about 20 years old, so probably could do with a clean. But it’s pretty impressive. Inside are a number of venues, bars, shops and amusements.
The site also has a small amusement park, crazy golf, climbing wall, splash zone, tenpin bowling, pool tables and a small astroturf pitch. Lots to do for families. (But all at extra cost!). However, for this weekend, many of these had restricted opening hours. Probably something that could be looked at for next year’s events.
The music started at about 3pm on the Skyline stage. This was a stage inside the big pavilion. It looked like a permanent stage so I expect it’s used for Butlins own shows. But it wasn’t the greatest place for a stage as the sound quality suffered, often being too quiet. I’m not sure if Butlins were using external crew, but a regular occurrence were delays building up so that the band second to last, had sets cut short so that the headline act didn’t lose time. Nadine Shah, Lola Colt and Public Service Broadcasting all had big delays due to setup issues. In Nadine and Lola Colt’s case, this meant their sets were significantly shortened so that headline acts were unaffected. This is something they need to figure out for next year.
FURS opened to a very select audience. Sound wasn’t great. They were pleasant enough but I think they’d come across better in a smaller venue with louder PA
Next up was Whyte Horses with a pleasant set
Opening the main stage was RM Hubbert. A rather odd choice as he’s a guy with a guitar and a acid sense of humour. Again, it was enjoyable enough fair. But he wasn’t really suited to the main stage. One thing I think Butlins could improve for next year is to use another venue for small acoustic acts. The room doesn’t have to be big as I think it would have been nice to kick back at times and sit with a pint listening to some acoustic music.
Back on the Skyline stage, Du Blonde finally kick started the afternoon. With another of their energy packed set. I think these guys are finally starting to grow on me as I thoroughly enjoyed their set.
My first surprise of the day was the John Knox Sex Club who, despite playing to a spartan crowd played a really great set. (crowds only seemed to appear for around headline act time).
Grasscuts were finishing off their set on the main stage. I’m covering their appearance at Daylight Music in November, so I wasn’t too bothered about the clash. What I saw was pleasant enough.
The Telescopes were up next with a fine performance of noise.
Emma Pollock’s set was pleasant and inoffensive, but didn’t really do anything for me.
The Membranes are a new band for me. Punk’s a movement I like, but it’s not something I have spent much time listening to. So I was unaware of the Membranes. However, I was aware of John Robb, their lead singer from his appearances on radio and TV. So I didn’t know what to expect. But hell, what a fun band they are. Clearly they’re still playing because they enjoy it.
The Errors have never appealed to me. Far too electronic and bland. But, I was willing to give them a chance. It didn’t start well with problems with the electronics. Once they started. God, they were just so bland. I didn’t give them much chance. Instead I decided to head downstairs to see the Fall.
The Fall have never really appealed to me. I’m sure if I’d listened to them at the time I would have loved them. But taken as a historical band, I just don’t get them. But I was really interested to see what their latest incarnation looked like. As you would expect they’re very much Mark E. Smith. He walks around the stage shouting and he seemed drunk, but then he always seems drunk even when he isn’t. It was entertaining I suppose. But they didn’t convert me.
Headlining the first evening where Echo and the Bunnymen. Another band that don’t register on my radar. The crowd seemed to be loving them. But they didn’t do much for me
The last band on Day 1 was Flowers. I’ve seen them before. I thought they were pleasant and inoffensive. But I’ve met some people who really like them, so I thought I’d give them another listen. Although enjoyable, it was a very similar experience to last time. Nothing to dislike. But nothing distinctive enough to differentiate them.
There was one other band playing after Flowers, Astral Patterns. But I really disliked them last time I saw them. So I called it quits and went for a beer.
Day 2 started with a walk down into Bognor and an impromptu chat with John Robb. He seemed a really nice guy and passionate about music.
Fever Dream opened the day to a very select group. I’d seen them before. But they were still worth catching again.
Matineé were first up on the Skyline stage. They didn’t do much for me
Daudi Matisko was an interesting diversion. Simply him and a guitar and a few songs and stories. It would have been nice for a few more acts like Daudi.
One of the acts I wanted to catch was Jennie Vee. I’d heard some good things about her. But it was hard to judge on this performance. There were serious sound issues with vocals so low in the mix, I was unable to hear her at times. What I heard sounded okay.
I gave up on the next band, Cherry Wave. I just didn’t get them.
At this point, it was one of those lulls you get with every festival. Unfortunately, this is when Butlins felt very limited. With only three stages and little overlap. If there was a few bands that didn’t appeal. There wasn’t much to do. Zyna Hel, like Cherry Wave, just didn’t connect with me.
The next few bands improved the afternoon with decent sets from Orange Yellow Red and St Deluxe.
Next, was Day 2’s big surprise. The Band of Holy Joy were fantastic. The lead singer walking arrogantly around the stage. He’s a very good front person. Singing with passion and leading from the front.
Spot what’s wrong with the image of Miaoux Miaoux below. Yes, that’s right. Two guys thought ‘lets start a band and play keyboards’. No. No drum machine is better than real drums. There’s just no reason to watch these guys live because nothing interesting happens. Go and get their album.
Ghostpoet was one of the acts I wanted to catch. He also was clashing with Nadine Shah. So I knew I couldn’t watch his whole set. What I saw was really impressive. Picking up from an earlier point. Ghostpoet could just go out with a backing track. But he doesn’t. He has a good band behind him and this gives everything that extra dynamism.
Unfortunately, I didn’t need to leave Ghostpoet. Upstairs, the sound guys were being completely incompetent and leading to a short set from Nadine Shah, one of the acts I really wanted to see. The short set was still great. But no sooner had she started an then she had to finish. This was so that the headliner had their full set. But really annoying as I frankly didn’t care about the headline act!
Downstairs yet more sound issues. This time the sound guys were struggling to setup Public Service Broadcasting. This meant there was now a clash with upstairs. What to do? I love Public Service Broadcasting, but then I’ve seen them loads of times. So it was time to bounce between PSB and Johnny Marr.
I have to admit, I don’t get the Smiths. Or rather I don’t like Morrisey’s voice so haven’t tried to get the Smiths. But Johnny on his own, won’t convert me. The Smiths stuff was interesting, but seemed to be played by the band and not him and the none Smiths music frankly isn’t very good. So I headed back downstairs to catch what was left of PSB
Gum Takes Tooth
Due to all the late running, Teeth the Sea closed Day 2 around 2am. Few people were left. Sadly, they missed an excellent set. A really great way to close Day 2
I started Day 3 with less energy than Day 2. But that’s the way it’s meant to be. So off into town to find a cafe and have breakfast.
Unlike me, the openers on Day 3 didn’t seem to have any problems with a lack of energy. The Jaguar Club put in a full high energy performance. The band have the swagger of a band that should be higher up the bill and playing the main stage. I’m not sure I liked their music, but I loved their performance.
The next few bands were okay but didn’t stand out. Prince Vaseline, Big Hogg, Alex Ohm, Walleater were all okay. But didn’t do much for me.
St Sleep then dropped the standard. I really didn’t like these guys. Sorry, they just didn’t appeal to me.
Back on the Pavilion stage, Skinny Girl Diet, a band I’ve seen countless times and one I kind of have a love/ambivalence relationship with as I think they lack consistency. Today, was a decent performance from the girls. They seemed to be up for this more than they sometimes are. Which is a good job, because oddly they drew the first big crowd on the Pavilion stage over the whole weekend. The thing that did let them down and falls into the ‘lazy attitude’ I think these girls have is that despite having a 30 minute set, they played just over 20 and then finished. Leading to the first encore from a none headline act. Obviously having not played their full time, there was loads of time for them to do an encore. Something they seemed reluctant to do. Somebody really need to give these girls a massive kick up the backsides. For me, they should be bigger than they are and it’s simply down to their attitude.
Another surprise was Misty Miller who played a really lovely set.
Emmecosta, Blaenavon and Jonnie Common provided some diversion but nothing memorable.
Pinkshinyultrablast are a band I’ve seen before. They had sound issues that day but there was something about them. But this was a small venue at the back of a pub. Today they were on a big stage and although I enjoyed the performance, it wasn’t as good as I was expecting. They just didn’t give a ‘big stage performance’, all rigidly stuck to their position on the stage. They just seemed to be missing the stage craft their music needs. It’s easy creating a wall of sound when the crowd is a metre away from you. It’s less easy when it’s a big stage.
The next band were the exact opposite. The Young Fathers, a band I dismissed at SXSW as they failed my ‘one song rule’ but then saw them play an acoustic session that really showcased their talent are a band they convince you through their performance and what a performance. These guys were one of the highlights of the weekend.
Just like the night before, back on the main stage, the sound guys were doing their best to undermine the second to last act. This time another band I wanted to see, Lola Colt. The sound guys just seemed so amateur frustrating both the audience and band. This again meant the act before headliners had to cut short their set. What they did play, was up to their usual standard. But it was rather disappointing, especially as I left the end of the Young Fathers set to catch Lola Colt. I’m not sure what led to these setup issues, but hopefully they can learn from it for next year.
To prove my point about drums are always better than drum machines. Downstairs James Holden was twiddling knobs creating interesting electronic sounds. If it was just him, I’d have given up very quickly. But luckily he also had a drummer. It makes everything more interesting.
Upstairs, the headliner that caused Lola Colt to finish early were Spiritualized, a band I’d seen earlier in the year and wasn’t overly impressed back then. So I watch bits of their set but took the opportunity to grab Burger King. It seemed to be full of bands.
Downstairs, the Cult of Dom Keller were closing the show. Sadly, few people remained to watch an excellent set. I
So all in all. Not a bad first festival. There’s still some tweaks needed before I’d book the festival without knowing the bands. They need to sort out the sound issues. They need a few more bands so there’s no downtime between sets. Ideally an acoustic stage. But I’d definitely go again in they have the right set of bands,