Drones / Damn Dice / Evil Scarecrow / Black Casino & The Ghost / Suzie Stapleton / Gun / Ginger Wildheart / Hands off Gretel / The Graveltones / Carl Barat & The Jackals / The Cribs
I’m getting used to these city festivals where you hare around the town looking for cramped sweaty venues to see relatively unknown artists play their heart out to a new audience. It’s a feeling of both exhilaration, exhaustion but also the antithesis to the belief that there isn’t any good new music out there.
Get off your arse I say to the talent show watchers and come to Camden for a day out, I guarantee you will find a new favourite, as I certainly did! There are hundreds of bands split over 20 venues, so you could have seen a completely different festival to me, but this is my take on it – and the artists I chose to watch.
Kicking off at the Good Mixer with ‘Drones’ a confident noisy bunch from London, back on their home turf after a brief jaunt to Europe and full of all the energy of a great young band. It’s packed in here but Lois McDougall makes use of all the available space bouncing around and splitting the room to get a run up. It’s a great opening set and plenty are here to see them play their Gallows punk style rock.
Walking across the road to the Electric Ballroom I catch the tail end of ‘Damn Dice’, and I’m glad that was all I saw, as they demonstrated everything wrong about the heavy rock cliché band, completely corny and unoriginal from start to finish – with the black leather, long hair, over the top gestures, it’s Spinal Tap for the next generation – without the reality that they are really a comedy show. Lead guitarist head-butts the microphone and falls over, lead singer climbs the lighting rig and then rather than leaping off, slowly steps down again and the whole band take the bows at the end like they have just headlined Download.
I’m really here to see ‘Evil Scarecrow’ and wish that I had taken a break earlier at the bar, and I have to admit I’d never heard of them either, I liked the look of the poster and thought they would be interesting to see and photograph. That said, as I watch them set up their gear in blood stained cloaks, spikey hellraiser headbands and panda style goth make up I’m thinking that I’ve made another wrong decision. I hadn’t, this lot are so much fun – despite the outfits, they do not take themselves too seriously (take note Damn Dice) and manage to entertain as well as play some stirring metal. Third song in and everybody in the crowd is doing a weird robot dance whilst a metal clad band member clunks around the stage holding a box with an alien in it. I stay for their whole set as the metal comedy show continues with a very serious death march around the room that “is not a f###ing conga” and topping that with ‘Crabulon’ the story of a genetically mutated crab set to take over the world, where the band get the entire Ballroom to scuttle left to right holding their crabby claw hands in the air, you couldn’t make it up – it’s ridiculously good fun and it’s only 2pm!
Walking further down Camden Road I get to see ‘Black Casino & The Ghost’, previously viewed earlier this year as support to Kula Shaker at the Roundhouse, but this time a much smaller venue and with probably the worst lighting I’ve ever seen with an orange led strip and 2 blocks of equally orange lights obscuring most of the view. Elisa Zoot however is in fine form belting out some great vocals and the tight band saunter through as best they can in the room that they have, I’m disappointed that I can’t stay for more, but I’m equally keen to check out an artist recommended earlier this morning to me – ‘Suzie Stapleton’ and I’m so glad I did. A tiny basement area of the Brewdog and a single microphone with Suzie and her guitar weaving a gorgeous blend of dark compelling lyrics and looping raw and gentle notes. If you could meld PJ Harvey and Chrissie Hynde together then you are getting somewhere close to the style and presence that she commands in the room, and this performance is before she has released her debut album. We will be hearing much more from this lady very soon and I certainly plan to be there when it happens.
A short and sweet introduction to a new favourite artist and then a quick scurry back to the Ballroom again for an old favourite ‘Gun’. I haven’t seen this band since the early nineties and only have about 4 songs before I need to be somewhere else, but 2nd track is ‘Better Days’ and whilst the band might start to be in their senior years now they are still a powerhouse live, those guitars are loud and one of Glasgow’s finest rock bands in the last 20 years tears up this crowd even though they only arrived less than half an hour prior to starting. It’s still only 4:30pm and by now I’m starting to get into the zone of racing from one place to the other to catch a snapshot of what’s going on. Camden High Street is packed with revellers and slow walking tourists (get out of the way!!) as I walk/run to the Forge, a venue I’ve not seen before, but one which has a feeling of open space and daylight for a change, it’s almost an open air concert.
I’m here for ‘Ginger Wildheart’, he’s playing several sets throughout the day at different venues, the first session was a disaster with the amplifiers not working, and so it became acoustic guitar and tambourine only. This set is much different, everything checked and working, and Ginger quickly raced through a selection of tracks from more recent albums and made jokes about forgetting to bring his drink out and how it was torture that the bar was so close you could almost reach out and touch the beer. He also had a shot of Krakken which he described as “it tastes like the Krack of your arse”. A stalwart of the live scene over the years, a music and comedy genius, and a lot of people down the front are just making a day of following him from venue to venue.
Realising I needed to be at Barfly in 10 minutes I left the Forge and hadn’t appreciated how far down the road it was, there was a big crowd still queuing up outside when I managed to charm my way in (“I’m the bands photographer” – try it, worked every time!). I’m standing on tables and chairs to get a view of ‘Hands Off Gretel’. This is a very young band from Yorkshire who are already making some waves judging by the turnout. We reviewed them at the Whitby Goth Festival earlier in the year and tonight they were on form in this hotter than hot venue. Lauren Tate fronting the band with her bright red dreadlocks, big eyes, small frame, punk guitar and a scream that has the Barfly windows begging for mercy. This is a lesson in how to play a showcase to new fans, and everyone left with ‘Be Mine’ as an earworm for the rest of the evening. Keep an eye out for this band, definitely one to watch as their debut album will soon be launched this year.
A much shorter trip across the road to ‘Proud’ for another favourite of mine ‘The Graveltones’. Having just come back from their native Australia the two piece of Mikey Sorbello (Drums) and Jimmy O (Guitar and Vocals) are itching to play live in front of a London audience again. Jimmy prowling backwards and forwards and man mountain Mikey pounding the kit is a sight to see. Sweat flying off his hair Jimmy screams “I love you so much” like his life depends on it. Most tracks were from the ‘Love Lies Dying’ album but they said they were in the process of writing some new material, so look out for that later this year. Having watched the whole Graveltones set it was time to head back to the Electric Ballroom for the festival headliners ‘Carl Barat & The Jackals’ and ‘The Cribs’.
Carl Barat and his Jackals are formidable live and as a side project from the reformed Libertines they play a complete range of stuff including ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ tracks like ‘Gin & Milk’, ‘Deadwood’ and ‘Bang Bang Your Dead’. The surprise comes when he throws in the odd ‘Libertines’ track like ‘I Get Along’, ‘France’ and ‘Death on the Stairs’ and even a version of the Pete Doherty written song ‘Ballad of Grimaldl’ which for me is a much more refined version with Barat than it is with Doherty. Not afraid to tackle some of the big tunes whilst away from his partner in crime, and for me he was the real headliner of the festival tonight. Just the right amount of chaos, energy, drive and a setlist to match, with some poignant acoustic moments and full on pogo punk throw your beer around times too.
The Cribs on the other hand were more chaos and very raw energy, Ryan Jarman who appeared to be worse for wear (I think that’s normal though) and he opened proceedings by throwing his beer over the front row, kicking over and moving the mic stand and playing parts of the first few songs with his back to the audience. “I’ve been to Camden so many times” he said in a high pitched squeal before launching into ‘Our Bovine Public’. It felt like he’d been in Camden all day and was now suffering because of it. Don’t get me wrong I still enjoyed it, but having just watched Carl Barat, The Cribs were a poor relation. The Jarmans were trying to recreate the natural energy of their predecessor, but preferring to use a chaotic frenzied approach than a hard working professional ethic. By now most of the crowd didn’t really care though as the crowd surfing and beer throwing reached new heights.
Leaving the festival with a few new artists to follow and plenty of good memories of such a great day out. The itinerary could be cut so many different ways, but if you want to hear some fresh new artists then a day in Camden is just perfect for it! Book it in the diary for next year.