Camden Rocks Festival
3rd June 2017
Words by Alexandra Hawkins, photos by Svenja Block.
I’ve recently moved to London in March this year, I, being opportunistic, take every chance I can to indulge in everything London has to offer. Camden Rocks Festival hosting 250 bands was most appealing to me because it was right on my doorstep, just a few stops down the Northern Line.
I was up early and in Camden for 11am sharp. It was going to be a long day. I shuffled through the venue and band line ups and had to make a few important decisions in order to arrange my day. Most will not pay as much attention to this sort of detail as I have and there is something more appealing about just winging it, however I’m doing this write up so some tough decision had to be made. Through the day I overheard various people saying a lot of their favourite bands clashed, but I though this is a good thing as it would ensure even distribution of the crowds throughout the day, thumbs up to the planning committee on that one!
My first band was Agenda, at the Underworld at 12:00, the venue, upon my arrival was empty but as the band set up and started their set the people started shuffling in, which I was pleased of because being one the first bands to play must always be difficult and I myself felt anxious for them. Agenda were lively and loud and shook me up out of my relaxed morning state to bring me right into the here and now. These bristly rockers got my heart rate up and the lead singer looked like he was able to stop a truck dead in its tracks, they certainly put the early crowd in the mood and set the pace for the day.
I moved onto the venue Black Heart to catch Dead at Eleven, I found Clark Cater a strong lead and the band was a definitely a crowd puller, I loved their rock n’ roll and my favourite song from this band was “Calm down Daniel” the lyrics painted such a clear picture and transported me to right there with Daniel and it’s a story I related to directly. I love it when music pushes my buttons like that.
Time to hit the road again and I headed up to the Electric Ballroom, the vibe on the street was heating up and we ran into Hands Off Gretel, Lauren Tate looked stunning in her shimmering purple bell bottoms and multi-coloured braids, they were handing out leaflets and chatting to passer-by’s and fans. So friendly! I’ve never been to the Electric Ballroom before, it was large but not so large that you could not find a quite private corner. The walls literally ooze good memories with memorabilia posters of previously hosted bands and artists littered throughout the venue (and I mean this place dates as far back as the 1930). I caught Imperial Leisure, this band is a riot, one song that really caught my attention was “Animal” they got the crowd roaring and Grr’ing back and forth with them and everyone was jumping around.
Next band up, still at the Electric Ballroom, (keep up!), The Urban Voodoo Machine, they are all over the place in terms of style and genre, try as you might you simply cannot box this band, no way baby they are of the radar and in your face. Loved LOVED them! Initially I felt like I had been transported into a Quentin Tarantino movie with a hyper intro which I thought was very reminiscent of the ‘Adams family Mamushka’ or is that Greek plate throwing party with a hint of traditional Klezmer?, just when I thought I pinned it, out comes the banjos…I eventually gave it up and just surrender to whatever place they wanted to grate crash in my imagination. I mean wow this band has taken a hundred different influences and mashed them up to come out with a very original sound. It quite an exciting tease, leaving you feeling musically bi-polar! They swept the crowd up with their energy and it felt as if I might as well have been on the stage performing with them. I think it was at this point of the day that I felt myself constantly smiling. Singer Paul-Ronney Angel’s mesmerising voice safely cradled my soul in its deep manliness as he unfolded my vulnerable inner-self in song on stage yes…. “we will sing and we will dance, we will drink and we will laugh and we will not forget the past and our fallen brothers” and do not think for one moment you can miss the green painted drummer against the provocative red and black dress code of the band. Their insanity weaves a story worth repeating, numerously and loudly.
Skipping back to the Underworld I caught Hands Off Gretel, the crowd was tightly packed into the venue for this. The young Lauren Tate (complete with her now trademark chest bow) pulls you into her soul. Myself from the 90’ies grunge generation really appreciated this band in its raw brutality as is resurrects my younger demons who never fully quenched their thirst in a world gone wrong and so much to rage against and fight off. It’s called new age grunge, and it brings light to my life as fountain to offset my every frustration. Nothing is as honest and raw, my muscles tense and I hold my breath for fear that it will end all too soon, again. Don’t leave me again dear grunge, please, please bring the new wave. Her stage persona is bold, fearless, sexually enticing yet innocent. But make no mistake she will bite your head off it you get too close. Her voice carries mountains of aghast and rage into the new age. I did not catch as much of this band as I wanted to on account of the venue being packed to the brim. I’m definitely going to check them out at one of their next gigs, my appetite is craving more, but watch this band over the next few years, they are yet to come into their prime.
Back to the Electric Ballroom its 15:00 everything is neatly running according to schedule and so far I’ve stuck to my commitments, next up the The King Blues, who released a new album ‘The Gospel Truth’.This is a punk band that I found not very punk, I mean I get the punk in it but it feels like a punk undertone rather than full on punk, a bit more rhythm and lyric than normal for a punk band but a real crowd pleaser none the less I really enjoyed ‘head-butt’ it got everyone singing along.
Back at the Black Heart for 17:00 to catch The Soap Girls, this dingy little venue was packed out, I mean I had my hips grinding into some fella in front of me (lucky bugger) and I will not tell you what I had to endure on either side and behind me, I eventually found sanctuary near the DJ box while my photographer counterpart stood on the merchandise booth to get a photo of the duo. The Soap Girls plied us with steady bass, ominous overtones and angelic voices. A poison chalice to serve a revolution in, here’s to girl power! Whilst they suffered many a jibe from the predominately male audience (come on guys get a grip of yourselves??) their nonchalant retort was neatly packaged into ‘you can do what you like, so too can I’ and isn’t that what is really all about. Honestly why are women’s tits not yet a common sight, it’s just a bit more fat behind a nipple than a man, we are really not that different from men? Anyway if you do not understand what I’m ranting about you need to get down to their next performance and support this feminist but inclusive due. The likes of Wendy O. Williams and Courtney Love would be proud of them. So too am I.
So now I’ve moved back to the Electric Ballroom and the intent is to stay for the remainder of the evening, because in my mind this is where the shit is going down baby. I’m planted and the atmosphere is building like a tsunami wall of water hurtling towards the stage as The Professionals sound check. Reunited since 2015, with various shuffles of band members for logistical reasons, with Tom Spencer now the lead singer which is a welcome addition. The Electric Ballroom was packed with old and young alike, a much endured band celebrating 40 years in the industry, truly we are not worthy and thank you so much for your years of service. As they entered they were greeted with a roar of approval and hit us hard with the likes of ‘Crescendo’. Giving us old music from their vast history as well as new music from their new album, which is due to be released later this year. My favourites of the evening being ‘Oh you silly thing’ and ‘Good man down’ which they said was an ode to Viagra. They delivered songs relevant to the now with ‘Take me down’ which is about Facebook. Panties were thrown at the band and then a few more… Chris McCormack (who is also the event organiser aka ‘Mr Camden Rocks) proudly hung a pair of panties on his mic stand. Plenty of shits and giggles with this band.
As The Professionals moved off the stage leaving a smoking room behind them the venue filled up even more as Orange Goblin stormed onto the stage next. My resolve was to remain firmly planted in the front row as I could feel the push of the masses behind me. Now this is a band I’ve heard plenty on the radio but have not ever seen live, this is very much my first impression of them, in fact I’ve not seen a metal band live since my early thirties (fyi that’s over a decade ago) and the scene I come from was much smaller. It was so awesome to be in the thick of this again and not look out of place. That is after all the joy of these festivals now isn’t it? and it should be noted I was by no means the oldest here! Orange Goblin thundered in and delivered ‘Saruman’s Wish’ which came across as poignantly desperate and yet somehow despite the depressing theme of the song the lead singer, Ben Ward was so upbeat, this man truly loves what he does not only is he clearly of Nephilim decent in stature but the heart of an almighty warrior beats within him with his cascading locks and massively expressive hands, his eyes glistening with enthusiasm. A mosh pit broke out to my right and halfway through the performance he silenced it and divided it, only to crash it in on its self again, the result being… a much larger mosh pit! Now if you have never been to a heavy metal (or is this doom metal?) live gig this was the most perfect introduction, the moshers kept a respectively tight circle of madness and allowed us onlookers to enjoy from safe distance. Singer Ben Ward took time with the crowd to acknowledge that he knew that not everyone was into metal but thanked everyone for staying on to support them which really kinda pulled everybody into it, it created a “one big happy family” atmosphere. Ben Ward was intrinsically one with his audience his arms ever open and embracing, he has after all got circa 18 years’ experience doing this. I loved “Cities of Frost” and while it sang of asphyxiation and watery graves it just had so much positive energy behind. He also moved to every corner of the stage in acknowledgment of each sector of the audience, hailing us all one by one making direct eye contact, he even did his rounds on stage and hugged (I kid you not..) HUGGED his band members with exception of the drummer (for obvious reasons).
Exit Orange Goblin, enter The Damned. Now this is a band that everyone wanted to see today.The Electric Ballroom was packed to the brim, I took photos just of the sheer capacity this hall can take, I mean it was heaving with expectation and everybody wanted to see them. At this stage I’ve not had a drink since the last two bands and no way was I moving anywhere even if I had to. The first band member to emerge in his trade mark scull covered suit was Monty Oxy Moron (Keyboards) sound checking, which already had the crowd begging. On their entry Dave Vanian looked every bit the sophisticated gentleman in his tailored suit, which got stripped off layer by layer throughout the show. The Damned, as you well know laugh at themselves, at you and with you. Captain Sensible actually told somebody in between songs to ‘get off their phone and get into the moment’ in true form, and once he got started his antics did not stop, and yes he is still pissed at Phil Collins. So without fail they delivered all our favourites songs from “Eloise”, “New Rose” and “Jet Boy”. They had us singing along and even turned the microphone on us. This venue was practically a ‘sold out’ gig and I had to stand on my tip-toes because there was no space behind me to rest my heels and there was an awful lot of shoving and pushing going on around the floor space. Despite dripping in sweat and fighting to hold onto my premium front view of the band I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. I was closest to Captain Sensible who was flirting outrageously with the crowd and showing of his athletic guitar skills. At the end of the show they got an encore but they took their sweet bloody time getting back on stage, we had to really show them we wanted it. They came back on and played ‘smash it up’ among a few.
After the show the crowd neatly and orderly dispersed and being first in line we were last out by which time the streets were already mostly empty, everyone having graciously disappeared into the underground. I loved every moment of the day, meeting the bands on the street while they were handing out flyers, venue hopping, ebbing my way into the various venues getting up front to the bands. I’m in London soaking it up. The idea that I can watch Hands off Gretel and The Soap Girls followed by The Damned over the course of one day and all for the cost of one ticket, just one mile apart means the world has come to my doorstep. I cannot stress the importance of events like this, gathering all that talent into one caldron to brew this much music over one day. So next time get off your sofa and get onto the street and support your local bands. There are still so many bands I never got the chance to see for example Moses, The Franklys, Pretty Pistol, Love Zombies, Louise Distras, Ruts DC, The Virginmarys, Turbowolf, Carl Barat & The Jackals, The Coral, The Membranes… to name but a few but all of which are the 240 good reasons why I need to go to the next Camden Rocks. Keep on rocking!
Words by Alexandra Hawkins. This is her first contribution to Louder Than War.