There may well be healthier ways of blowing away the new year cobwebs than indulging in a breezily raucous weekend in Bognor Regis, but when it comes to retox instead of detox the Rockaway Beach festival is hard to beat. Band-hardened indie blokes are foregoing porridge and pomegranate juice in favour of breakfast pints and passionate points of view on bands both old and new.
It’s a vigorous workout for the first weekend of 2024: three days, two stages and a heap of faithfully furious alternative acts infiltrating the holiday chalets and alarmed alleyways of Butlin’s. DITZ, BIG SPECIAL and the two Johns collectively known as, uh, JOHN form part of a riotous Saturday afternoon sonic boomathon; ENJOYABLE LISTENS opens Sunday with a set of electropop laced with macabre humour and JAPANESE TELEVISION bring the groovy instrumental-as-anything vibe, like Stereolab carefully soundtracking a ‘60s spy movie.
But amidst the deadpan likes of DEADLETTER and HUGH CORNWELL it’s Scottish stalwarts SKIDS who really rattle the rafters, primarily because theirs is literally a greatest hits set (see ‘Charade’, ‘Into The Valley’, ‘Working For The Yankee Dollar’) but also because frontman Richard Jobson does a brilliant job of, well, being a man fronting a band, all beaming enthusiasm and wild dancing. Sadly we can’t print most of what he says onstage here because it is hysterically libellous, but for a band whose commercial light shone brightest 40something years ago these Skids really are still alright.
So the Pandaman is already in esteemed company as he embarks upon his latest attempt to get to see 365 live turns play in one single calendar year. He managed a meagre 317 in 2022 and a slightly more boisterous, if still haplessly unsuccessful, total of 361 in ‘23…will this be third time plucky? If every gigging month were like January it would be as breezy as that lost weekend in Bognor as the tipsters and hipsters come to the fore with hefty new band showcases liberally scattered across the Lexington, the Shacklewell Arms, the Old Blue Last, Two Palms, the Sebright Arms and beyond.
The Grace in Highbury isn’t to be left out, choosing their own new talents to promote across a pawful of shows with not only free entry but even a free beer. SEARCH RESULTS are a particular / peculiar highlight, a tautly-wired trio with a shouty drummer and some happily lopsided slackery melodies. Is it the missing link between Squid and Pavement? The Pandaman is definitively no expert, but yes, yes they are.
Rather exquisitely for the Pandaman’s gig counting commute, downstairs at The Garage the very same Thursday night brings another three band bill, although this is of a slightly more thunderous hue. SAINT AGNES are the main draw, gothic of make-up and furiously metal of guitar, with the scarlet-themed BEX bringing up some high-kicking hysterics in the opening slot.
In the middle of this somewhat frenzied female-fronted sandwich we find CRASHFACE: much like Saint Agnes and Bex they hurtle through their set like they’re thrilling the rock thrillions down at Download Festival, all crunchy riffs and panic-stricken rhythms. The ace up their sleeve is a boy singer who manages to blend the crowd-shaking shenanigans of Billie Joe Armstrong with the aloof cheekiness, and indeed the cheekbones, of a young Adam Ant. Not a crashface at all – the irony!
We end the month where we began, revelling in the musical senses of the previous century. The past? Let us tell you about the past. RIALTO might have slipped through the brawny Britpop net in the ‘90s, arguably a touch too lavish and ravished for the adidas-addled masses, but their hedonistic chic has proved gently endurable. A Friday night show at the Lexington sold out within five minutes and there is a new album lurking in the shadows.
Singer Louis Eliot is now rather more grizzled of jowl yet much else seems pretty ageless, the punchy likes of ‘Hard Candy’ and ‘London Crawling’ being mixed in with warily romantic to-be-released tracks. The fact that one of the newbies is called ‘Neon & Ghost Signs’ simply proves that there will forever be a corner of a rain-soaked Holloway Road with Rialto’s name on it.
THE PANDAMAN’S 2024 TOTAL: 54