When you tell people you’re going to a music festival at Butlins it doesn’t immediately conjur up the right images. But the reality is, instead of stages in fields you get 2 nice indoor venues and instead of a tent you get a hotel room or an apartment, and lets face it, if you’re going to attempt a festival at the start of January this is really the only option!

This is the 5th Rockaway Beach festival and this year they really hit the ground running. Sets are based in Reds Bar in the afternoon and Centre Stage in the evenings, there’s no clashes so there’s lots of music to ingest!

Music News arrived on Friday in time for Young Knives spectacular aural assault. We last caught these guys in the summer when it was just the Dartnall brothers, Henry and his brother, the House Of Lords!) and a drum machine. This time they outdid themselves with double drummers! Material was largely new with a few from 2013’s Sick Octave thrown in. The new fresh avenue they’ve gone down is a far stride from the infectious indie of early tunes and they really create a sonic soundscape with which to use as a springboard to propel ourselves into the rest of the festival.

Later on Centre Stage is Cambridge 7 piece, Black Country New Road. These guys have caused quite a stir over the last 6 months or so. they’ve still only got 2 singles to their name, but it’s their live performances that have been grabbing the attention of critics. With violin and saxaphone adding to the more classic instruments, the Black Country sound is nigh on impossible to pin down, especially with Isaac’s strained, wavering dark vocals holding everything together. Sunglasses sucks you in and spits you out wanting more, it’s wonderfully erratic yet mesmerising flow of a chunky riff enhanced by seemingly random synth and sax blasts and complimented by Isaac’s bizarre lyrics can’t really be described. If you haven’t heard it already, please do. The band have some interesting material here, and a clear depth of musical talent. They leave us hungry for more, we look forward to the album.

Friday evening headliner is the legendary John Cale. The Spritely 77 year old and his band are one of the most anticipated bands here. A guy with a huge back catalogue of his own, but of course it’s the chance of hearing a few Velvet Underground gems sprinkled in amongst that’s got everybody on tenter hooks. His set is at times arty and immersive, in a good way, however when the unmistakeable riff of Velvets, I’m Waiting For The Man kicks in that the place erupts and the whole dancefloor begins to shake. The set is closed with a wonderfully drawn out cover of The Modern Lovers – Pablo Picasso. the irony is not lost that if it weren’t for the Velvet Underground there probably would have been no Modern Lovers to cover in the first place. We’ve seen a legend here tonight backed by an immensely capable band.

Fresh after a dip in the new Butlins pool and a few goes on the flumes, we feel rejuvenated for Saturday’s line up.

This festival really does have an enviable mix of establised talent mixed with an array of genuinely exciting new acts. Penelope Isles dreamy indie really comes to life live with long riff filled outros mesmerising the crowd. Rascalton’s Punk vs Libertines vibe hots’ up reds Bar while they bang out catchy tunes born in the heart of Glasgow. Our Girl impress with dreamy shoegazey effect heavy guitars. Still Life is a highlight and their final number, Boring (in title not in essence) bullds and builds into a tumultuous crescendo

Highlight of The afternoon in reds was Dutch band The Sweet Release of Death. Thsi 3 piece make a tremendously cocophonous noise sometimes reminiscent of Sonic Youth. Bassist and vocalist Alicia Ferrer Breton’s vocals delivered in a husky urgency are screeched over by Martijn Tevel’s guitar almost as visciously as he moves around the stage. Their album The Blissful Joy of Living (see what they did there) is a pure guitar noise treat.

Nova Twins are one of the most refreshing acts of the weekend. The sound these ladies kick out from just a guitar and bass is incredible. The crowd bounces around to songs like Vortex which just burst with energy, distorted bass, heavy guitars and a hugely energetic performance. Elements of punk and a little sprinkling or grime make this act as individual as they are loud!

The Jesus and Mary Chain finish Saturday with a slice of pure cool. Amputation (from the superb most recent album) kicks them off into a career spanning set full of total quality. Nearly every track is a stone cold classic. it’s easy to forget just how many fantastic songs they’ve produced over the years. Jim seems pretty chirpy and offers a bit of banter every now and then. William just skulks in the background, just the way it should be.

We see a host of young talent in Reds on Sunday, whoever has booked the bands here has done a great job of choosing some exciting and diverse acts. The picks of the day for us were Eyesore and the Jinx and Heavy Lungs. Eyesore’s frontman walks on stage and exclaims ” We are Eyesore and the Jinx from the people’s republic of Merseyside” and off they kick into their enthralling set. Angular art rock with a punk edge and some complex guitar licks fill their extremely catchy tunes. You can tell a new band when they say we’re going to play an old one now, and it turns out it’s only from last year! They thanked Steve Lamacq for his airplay of either On an Island or Leisure time, both tracks were played here tonight. These guys have something just that little bit different and are sure to rise quickly is their material and performances stay this strong.

Idles buddies heavy Lungs wake the crowd up after Melys with a total onslaught of in your face guitars and attitude. They prove there’s no hanging on the coat tails of their mates needed. These guys blow the crowd away completely. Frontman Danny Nedelko (Yep, they named the song after him!)owns the stage and drummer George Garratt can’t stay still, he runs around the stage almost as quick as his wit, he’s a funny guy and as if we needed any more entertaining, keeps the one liners coming. Adwaith and Life also gave stong performances on a packed schedule in the final day on the Reds Stage.

We’ve seen some superb acts, old and new over the course of the weekend, but for this reviewer, the programmers of this festival have the best until last. The semi legendary Wedding Present followed by newcomers on the block Fontaines DC, who were probably booked to play half way up the bill on Reds instead of headlining the Centre Stage, such has been their meteoric rise over the last year.

David Gedge and his latest band members (I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen them and never seen the same line up twice) come onto the stage one by one. there’s a great start to the gig. Drums start for a minute, then the bass (at which point we realise it’s the intro to My Favourite Dress), then guitar, then Mr Gedge himself.

This band seem to be constantly on tour ( hence, I would imagine the fairly high staff turnover!) and it shows with the slickness in their performance. Gedgey tells us bassist Melanie Howard has chosen tonights setlist so if they don’t play our favourites, blame her. She didn’t do half bad. With the amount of classics tucked under the Gedge belt it would be easy to bemoan what’s missing from the setlist. But, we get a sublimely dark Coruroy, a raucous Brassneck and yes, we get Kennedy, at one point it feels like the floor might cave in!

Fontaines DC are moody, a dark, charismatic moody. The poetic lyrics and simple but oh so clever riffs just eat away at you and work their way into your psychi.This crowd is hungry for them tonight, and it was the right choice to keep people here till the end, a lesser pull may have resulted in some not seeing the weekend out, it is still early January after all!

The room is dark for once, it has been for all of the headliners all weekend ( but the awful flourescent lights that fill the Centre Stage area have sadly remained on for the rest of the acts ) and the dry ice is flowing. As usual they start their set with Hurricane Laughter and you can already hear half the crowd shouting back ” and there is no connection available…”. Fontaines don’t do filler. They play the whole of Dogrel and smatter it with a handful of new tunes which sound just as strong. Grian barely says a word, but shuffles aqwardly around the stage inbetween tracks, banging his mike stand on the stage, as if impatient for his band to start the next song.

Fontaines DC live sound is more reminiscent of the early ( Darklands ) versions of most of their singles. it’s a slightly more laid back and darker sound than that of the more polished up production on the album, and it’s fantastic. The mosh pit really comes alive when they play Too Real ( the song that 6 music really grabbbed a hold of on their playlist last year ) and continues frantically through Liberty Belle and Boys in the Better Land. Dublin City Sky gives everyone a breather before a perfect encore of Big, and they are gonna be big!

As well as the constant stream of live bands playing,we also had DJ’s in Bar Rosso ( including a fantastic surprise set from Idles own Adam Devonshire ) Movies on in the Skyline ( Including Tremors and The Shining ) some incisive band interviews conducted by John Robb, and of course the Butlins Arcade. More 2p pusher machines than you’ve ever seen before!

Rockaway Beach have outdone themselves this year making this first,fantastic boutique little festival of the year a dead cert in next year’s calendar.

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