As 2019's line-up is unveiled we meet festival founder and discerning music fan Ian Crowther to hear what it's all about
Cai Trefor
16:15 5th June 2018

Best holiday camp festival Rockaway Beach have just unveiled 2019's line-up

Having previously seen the likes of Killing Joke, Suede, and Peter Hook at this event held in Butlins Bognor Regis, expectations were high, and with Gary Numan and Maximo Park, and Terry Hall (The Specials) and Steve Lamacq (BBC 6 Music ) among the household names for 2019, we’re pleased to see a continuation of form for the event held 11 - 13 January.

They're joined by cult heroes Barry Adamson and Lætitia Sadier Sauce Ensemble with emerging acts Spare Snare, The Filthy Tongues, Jemma Freeman and the Cosmic Something, John J Presley, Madonnatron, Squid and The Luka State. Expect many more sharp bookings in the coming weeks from for them as festivals like to keep us guessing for months on end these days.

The festival may be held in Butlins but the feel of the festival is nothing like you'd expect. There's a genuine rock crowd, with discerning taste and enthusiasm for music wondering around a space that they'd never otherwise enjoy. It generally earns comparisons to ATP and is an intimately held event with many of the 4,000 punters getting to know each other as they go time-and-time again.

And as it's off-peak there's not much of a crowd except for Rockaway punters. Therefore breaking up seeing gigs - and other curricular activities such as hidden vinyl treasure hunts, film screenings, talks, and pub quizzes - with some bowling or arcade machines means no queues; it’s almost like getting a theme park exclusively for you and your friends. There's a real togetherness here.

Given our love of it we opted to meet the founder Ian Crowther. We discuss the pricelessness of staying true to your artistic vision as a curator, how they'll be adding improvements to the site, and some of the best memories of the last three successful years; among other things. Have a read below:

GW: One thing I really loved about Rockaway Beach is it feels like a tight execution of your vision. It comes from your heart, and doesn't seem to be victim to compromise or peer pressure of what anyone else think's is good. It doesn't seem to book bands on what numbers they might bring through the door. How important is it to stick to your guns?

I believe there are several factors that make Rockaway Beach work well. The authenticity of the lineup is probably the most important thing. The people who come to Rockaway Beach are just like you and me – all that matters is if the artists are doing something worth hearing.

GW: Have you ever had any corporation come and threaten to compromise your vision. If not, what's your price before you'd sell the creative control of the brand?

Hah, that’s not why we do it. We want to experience great live music, and to put on an event that other people appreciate. So there isn’t a price.

GW: Rockaway Beach isn't just about music, even though it's its main strength. You cherry pick other aspects such as album playback, vinyl treasure hunt, and pub quiz. Which of these extra experiences are you going to be flying the flag for next year?

You can definitely expect more of these things, and some new features as well.

GW: What's your background in music before starting Rockaway Beach?

I’ve put on bands before, but not on this scale. And I play guitar badly – hopefully I’m a bit better at curating and promoting.

GW: When did you come up with the plan of starting the festival?

It’s a blend of two simple things – the love of live music and the desire to share what you love with others. Once we started with the idea of a live music mixtape, the rest followed. It was apparent there was unsatisfied demand for an indoor winter festival for people with eclectic taste in music.

GW: A lot of what Rockaway Beach is about it's not just watching bands. It has a tigh-knit sense of community with regulars who visited the first ever one staying loyal and coming time and time again. Is that sense of community an important part of it?

I probably shouldn’t say this, but it kind of amazes me. The trust in the event is something I really appreciate personally - the loyalty of the audience, many of whom book before we announce a single artist. Seeing people proudly wearing their Rockaway T-shirts from previous years is fantastic. And it’s fun for me to see familiar faces each year.

GW: It's much like a family affair in terms of who you employ and the recurring nature of some of the acts. How encouraging is to have the likes of Tim Burgess and Steve Lamacq come time and time again?

It feels that way to me too. With some of the bands and DJs returning, sometimes coming back as guests.

The people on the Rockaway Beach team are all really sound. Maybe it’s a bit selfish but I just prefer working with good people - and I include artists, agents, even journalists in that. Life’s too short to work with arseholes.

GW: What makes Rockaway Beach unique compared to any other festival in the UK?

There are some great festivals in the UK, like Blissfields and Electric Fields, but I think we’re doing something different. For a start we bring people together in the winter, we think live music sounds better indoors, and that at the end of the night everyone deserves a proper bed.

GW: What's your music policy?

Our music policy is if it’s good we’ll put it on. But we like to think we provide a good mix of legends of alternative music and the best emerging talent. People seem to like it so we aren’t really going to change the recipe.

GW: Wardmduscher were one of your highlights last year, can you see Fat White Family fitting into the line-up for the year coming?

They’re an amazing live band, we’d be thrilled to have them play next year.

GW: I heard Snapped Ankles were phenomenal this year. What made them such a good fit for your festival?

Snapped Ankles were one my highlights - there must have been 500 people there on a Saturday afternoon totally lost in that show. They’re such an original band, but you can also join the dots with other unique artists that have played Rockaway Beach, like The Telescopes, The Fall, Clinic and Damo Suzuki.

GW: I enjoyed the talk held by Jaz Coleman just after the amazing Klling Joke film. Is the Q&As something you want to expand on, and have more chances for artists and public to mingle?

For sure, I think the intimacy of the event means you can get a bit closer to the artists. I remember seeing We Are Scientists playing video games in the arcade with a group of fans.

Similar to the Jaz Coleman interview, it was special to have Hayden Thorpe chatting in a bar just a few weeks after Wild Beasts announced their split. I hope we can keep bringing special moments like that to Rockaway Beach. <

GW: As well as putting on gigs, there's a film screenings as well that seem pretty tucked away. Are there plans to bridge the gape between director, actor's and fans on that artform as well?

We got really good feedback on the Q&As with Jaz Coleman and Aidan Moffatt at Rockaway #2. So we’d like to bring more of that kind of crossover between music and film to the main arena. But then equally happy to keep the late night film screenings for people to sit back and relax away from the live music.

GW: Butlin's has a long standing history of hosting alternative music events ever since Belle and Sebastian did the first one but in recent years its become less common, especially given the dissolution of ATP. Is Rockaway Beach truly the last standing event of its kind to be held in a holiday park in the UK?

Butlins’ venues are great for live music, with excellent sound systems and a great team of people. It works really well for us. And they host some other music events too, but The Way Of Music seems to be the only group doing what we do.

GW: One of the concerns with the show last year from fans was the amount of space when you're walking between venues. Do you plan to utilise any spaces that were left unused for the fourth edition?

In the first two years we had movies showing in the open space between the two main venues, but this time we opened a dedicated movie theatre. Both have their benefits, but we might revert back to the original set up next time. We’re also thinking of holding a record fair in one of the open spaces.

GW: Has a band ever come forward to you and revealed how playing Rockaway Beach helped their career?

Eyre Llew made such a positive impression on the audience when they first played we had to have them back in January. They have now built quite a following, released their first album, and toured internationally. Of course I’m not saying it was because of Rockaway Beach, but we’re just happy to have played a small part in that story. They are a brilliant live band, and great bunch of lads as well.

GW: Would you recommend people go for a pint in Bognor if they visit. If so, where and why?

Well there are some great bars on site, where you’ll find the Rockaway Beach DJs playing the best music around. But if you want to venture offsite then for a bit of history you could check out The Fox in nearby Felpham where William Blake used to drink and was once arrested.

GW: For anyone who's skeptical about going to Butlins for Rockaway, what would you say is the biggest mis-perception people have before coming?

Many people remember Butlins from when they were kids, and maybe can’t imagine what it’s like with no kids around. It may not be obvious that there are bars and restaurants there – but who doesn’t love swimming and bowling anyway, which of course it still has! It really is an adult playground, with as much – if not more – for big kids to than for little ones.

GW: What's the most legendary set you've ever seen at Rockaway?

There’ve been a few to be honest. I think both Suede in Rockaway #2 and Peter Hook in Rockaway #3 had such an amazing connection with the audience. I mean they both have bags and bags of great songs, but those sets were like big mutual love-ins.

But Young Fathers’ performance in Rockaway #1 really stands out; they were truly mesmerising that night, and like everyone there I was transfixed throughout.

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Photo: Press