B-U-T-L-I-N-S that's the way you spell SUCCESS! What better way to wipe away those January blues than with a hop, skip and a train ride down to the seaside? If you have no clue as to the meaning of 'Dry January' and wouldn't mind enjoying a variable smorgasbord of new, old, weird and wild music making your way out to where you can meet some like-minded spirits is at the top of your to-do list. There is no shortage of characters and bands with character.
It's 12:30pm Friday the 9th of January, the Chief and I are supposed to be setting off out my door for our train at this very moment when the zipper to a packed duffle bag breaks off in my hand and the bag splits open like a fortune cookie. I look up at the Chief, he looks back at me through his stone-cold blue marbles emotionless. Fortunately there's a Plan B. Unphased by our plight behind a thick bearded and lush mane of hair I draw strength from the Chief's indifference to the situation unfolding before us. “Two minutes Turkish” I wish I'd yelled instead I duck into the wardrobe for a backup bag still in it's original packaging waiting to save me on this very date fated by the universe itself. Somewhere just out of earshot a starter pistol cracks off a blank, and we're off.
I'm not sure what Bognor Regis is like, or the Butlins for that matter, in the summer but I'm almost certain I'd hate it. I hate crowds and children but this place suffers from neither near mid-January. The tiny town is littered with unplucked vintage items hanging heavy on the vine, reasonable prices and a seemingly never ending string of cozy pubs and parks. Not only that but follow any of the winding village roads down hill and you'll be met with the roar of the ocean as the tide crashes into the pebbled beach in the morning only to ebb away at night with equal force. It's a delight to both wake up and fall asleep to if you can manage either of those that is with so many things going on. Okay, okay, let's talk music.
Day One kicks off for us at 19:00, giving those leaving cities plenty of time to make it in for the first act. Musos' Crew however were more concerned about hitting the buffet as we'd arrived with plenty of time to spare. Attacking the salad bar with a fervor unseen by most the Black Country, New Road (@BlackCountryNewRoad) crew slinks in behind me. At buffets I've got compound vision so while I stare and continue loading my plate(s) I yell, 'oh hey, really looking forward to your set!' which is met with young faces full of concerns for my welfare, but more likely their own well being considering the sight before them. The 6-piece were highly recommended by Martin, bassist of Cling Film (@ClingFilmBand) touting them as not to be missed. He was right. Whisper's of 'they're so young' came from the middle aged+ crowd surrounding me at the front of the stage but quickly turned into awe before the end of the first track. Raucous applause continued to rise and fall throughout the rest of their set as well. Slow building and methodical each note is deliberate and cutting. The music swims in bridled restraint, brimming with tension. The pacing reminds me of soundscapes from years ago, each of their songs told a story. They didn't speak much outside of the lyrics sung by Isaac (vocals/guitar) but if you watched closely you'd see a shorthand shared between band mates of candid smiles and subtle nods. Unhurried and remarkably uninterrupted by the tanked up crowd it was an experience that stood out this weekend. The next morning after a gluttonous breakfast I ran into them as they checked out of our hotel. We chatted for a few and recommended if anyone in the UK wanted to catch a performance they'd be rolling through January and February. Most performances I've learned are sold-out, unsurprisingly, but if you're lucky enough to be in place where they aren't (yet) catch a show, you won't be disappointed.
Speaking of anything but disappointment out comes John Cale in blazer and jockey trousers; next level man. A legend to me personally he doesn't let down. On the streets you'd likely pass John without drawing a second glance, on stage however, good luck taking your eyes off this Demon God, he drew them in in droves. John's left hand grips and slackens around the fretboard sliding up and down the neck like a piston while his right snipes each string precisely, each note hits hard and dirty. Watching John, a multi-nstrumentalist as comfortable behind the keys as he is the strings is impressive enough in and of itself. His voice is another thing completely, a musical machine of feat and strength it belts out and holds the notes for what seems like an eternity. Although he's survived the '80s and being surrounded by heroin on this night he was blasted by LED torches thanks to the stage crew that rocked him so hard off balance and probably within inches of his life. Nonetheless he left the stage as gracefully as he entered, albeit with detached retinas.
The next day after a light breakfast trunks and towels in hand we head off to the indoor, newly built state of the art, water park situated next to us, purely for research ... Ambient music piped through the speakers as we ripped and shot through pipes and flumes unencumbered by the lack of children which was the cherry on the sundae of an already glorious afternoon. Truth be told, I've always hated ambient music but it takes all kinds and now I'm certain of it. Floating upside down on a giant inflatable banana with a smaller inflatable bat under my feet for support as half naked human people around me bounce giant inflatable eyeballs off each other over the waves and music rolls off us all alike. I was pretty blissed out when I caught the DJ's eye as he spun tunes from between two inflatable palm trees behind the decks. Upside down on my giant yellow banana I threw up, to him an inverted, thumbs up, which in hindsight I now realize betrayed my true feelings on his set. He reciprocated by cocking an eyebrow in acknowledgment and returned to making the sweet ambrosia that trickled its way back down my ear canal as I closed my eyes and wiggled my pruned toes in the wave pool's water. Two heavily chlorinated waves filling up both nostrils and sinus cavities I crawled and hacked a lung up back ashore. Land-ho, landlubber.
Dried out and un-pruned at the Red Stage we catch our first gig of the day, The Sweet Release Of Death (@the_sweet_release_of_death). Is there any way to prepare for TSRD? No to both band and tragic ends. If I could sum up in a few words their sound, it would go a little like this. Imagine if you will the terrible (in a GREAT way) sounds from far and wide across the land by some horrible miracle came together to find themselves near one another. Eventually they'd meet crashing into one other uncompromisingly, culminating in a perfect storm of sound and calamity. I'm still probably selling them short. It was pretty wild, an organized chaos I very much enjoyed them. Small on talk, big on sound, would recommend.
Up next we caught Our Girl (@weareourgirl). I had the pleasure of watching them open for Blood Red Shoes back at the Oslo circa 2016. That year I must've watched them another 3 times as they toured. I was happy to see them on the bill and made the time to catch their set. The band has fully crystallized since it's synthesis. Nathan, (vocals/guitar) has had a very good year and rocked all around the stage more than ever before, she seeped confidence and was in her element, 'it's our first show this year' certainly won't be their last either. Looking forward to big things from this gang and hopefully hearing some new tunes as nothing on the bill had changed from 2016 ... If you haven't already heard of Our Girl, where've ya been?
Speaking of where've ya been, if you weren't at the main stage for Nova Twins, fuck if you didn't miss out on catching the Golden Goose. These East London meets Harajuku Birds of Prey are not only out of this world, they're from another galaxy all together. Materializing before us they came out blasting, BOTH barrels, klap, klap, krack, KRACK. It was fucking insane. Let's go through the check list, shall we? Look, check and on point. Attitude, check, obviously. Talented AS FUCK Double/Triple check, in the eternal words of the B.B., you can't, you won't and you DON'T stop, illest of communication. These bad-ass-shes blew my mind. Hyperbole aside they didn't break a sweat while dropping some SERIOUS heat. Georgia South, if Flea, Morello and Sailor Moon had a lovechild, is by far the most prolific, talented and technically profound bassist of her generation that I have EVER seen I was awed she augmented that bass into some sort of technical wizardry with bluetooth ring wah? Lethal as all get-out, all while wearing a smile on her siren face. Might be I fell a bit in love, speaking of love, Amy Love. Her axe and those epic locks of hers shredded most absolutely. Nothing and no one was safe, she tore apart the stage with her pipes and then set her sights on the crowd, diving in to bring everyone's bodies bouncing up and down. They came fast and hard and it feels like they left all too quickly because before I knew it the set was gone. They're playing Feb 6th in London, don't miss it. If you do, they've got gigs across the land (galaxy) coming, catch 'em while you can.
Rounding the bases for the final day in B.R. we walk by the beach on a most windy but gloriously sunny day that sets the spirits soaring. Attempting to hit the town museum we hit a wall instead, closed. Around the corner however is the Dog and Duck a hole in the wall but brightly lit and packed micro-pub. We chin-wagged with owner/bartender/former Londoner/full time cockney and ex-TV cameraman Steve 'what's the girl version of your name' who had no shortage of fine ales and banter. 'Oi ai, I've seen plenty of Kennethina's in my day' the chief touts as I snagged a half of a still/cloudy blood orange cider and crossed the street to lean against a sunbeam streaking down and across a weather beaten cement one storey. The ocean crashed in the near distance and I crashed back for seconds before I nearly forgot, Go-Karts, MUSIC!
Rushing back to Rockaway Beach we threw ourselves around the petrol fumed bends on karts made of steel, best opening band ever? They certainly had chops. Thoroughly rung-out we headed to the Red Stage to catch an afternoon of tunes. Unfortunately the afternoon for me would be spoiled by the front-men for both Life and Heavy Lungs. Both had excellent musicians irrespective of their front men, essentially caricatures of what a front man should be. Absolutely ridiculous and clowny antics seemingly for no other reason than a lack of musical capability. Ravings and watered down philosophies spewed out of their mouths in the form of banter and lyrics, yikes. Unlike them, their band mates could very much throwdown. I don't mean to be this harsh, honestly I'm biting my tongue. Truly I'm sorry they're not both lead by Heavy Lung's drummer George Garratt who beats the drums as hard as he does his voice. 'Is this music?' he yells into the mic from behind front man Danny Nedelko who dances like a confounded fool belly dancer molesting himself shamelessly while removing his shirt front and center stage, 'we don't know' he offers with a shrug. My boy George, it surely is not. (Knowing the bloke's name now further cements my indifference to Idles - Ed.)
Although the rest of the day's music didn't do it for me I was given coins by the chief to play the 2p push-coin games as a distraction. Walking away after a few minutes of having squandered my riches, hands smelling of dirty copper, I reminisced about what I'd learned over the weekend, other than the fact I'm most likely incubating a gambling problem deep within me. Firstly, the vegetarian sausages are still as addictive as ever during the breakfast buffet. I did also become fairly proficient with the unlimited ice-cream machine by the end of the festival, stick to filling up mugs instead of bowls is my advice. FYI, Butlin's, removing the handles from the (my) machines so I couldn't drown my scrambled eggs in ice cream during breakfast? Dirty pool, shame on you! This year, as in last I discovered new music and looked forward to catching these acts again live as they once more tour the UK throughout the year. There were so many side events outside of the music too from pop up record shops, quizzes, dancing, Karting, Swimming the list goes on and on so that I was never short on having something fun and cheerful to do. From this year to last I also noticed a fair shift in both age and variety of the crowd. More youngsters and a lot more weirdos so I'm definitely down with that! Speaking of being down, I've never been one to be down with package deal holidays, I like creating my own adventure personally. That being said I will say I cannot begin to explain how refreshing it was having my every whim catered to and having to think zero percent of the time, truly a boutique festival experience. But don't take it from us, take it from Hollywood Super Star (tax evader) Wesley Snipes, always bet on Rockaway (Passenger 57 rerun on late night tv Sunday, couldn't help myself).