Various Venues, London
30th May 2015
200 bands, 20 venues, 12 hours, one entry wristband and many songs sung with two lips two lungs and one tongue. Keith Goldhanger reports back from Camden Rocks 2015.
A couple of times during this long day I was worried.
Worried that I’m here under false pretenses.
I don’t like Camden on the weekends and I don’t like it when the words Camden and Rock are in the same sentence.
Rewind back seven months and the word Halloween was on the posters and I survived that. We all had a great time as it happens, but this time … well … I haven’t really studied the form and the five page list of attending artists (200) may as well be names of horses registered for next year’s Grand National.
So an early apology is required towards the people responsible who allowed this “Coldplay listening self obsessed arsehole with bum hanging out of his jeans because it’s apparently deemed ‘cool'” (have you met the missus yet? – too late but these were her parting words after screaming something about slowing down the motorbike…) into this proverbial sweet shop with unlimited access to the chocolate bars containing golden tickets.
By the time the head that the ale was pouring into hit the pillow it would be a lie to say this wasn’t enjoyable and hopefully (at the time of writing I haven’t written it yet) you’ll understand why these events work well when run well in an area you can walk around in a fairly short amount of time even though we’re in the busiest area of the capital this side of Wembley. (The place was even being interrupted by opened top busses with Arsenal fans travelling to the cup final).
Camden Rocks 2015 has sold out before the sun rises.
No one really seems to know what this means in terms of numbers but it’s obviously worth being reminded that some of these venues are small and some of these bands are big (shall I just end this review there?)
There are big queues for wristbands that move briskly for the early attendees and there’s a queue forming outside The Black Heart for opening band HEALTHY JUNKIES.
We’re all loaded with plans, loaded with programs that’ll get dropped, loaded with fags and loaded with anticipation in regards to what awaits us…
By the time the clock has struck one twenty PM four bands have been witnessed and five venues visited. The already mentioned HEALTHY JUNKIES, REVERTED, A WEEK AWAY and PINK CIGAR were all as feared Nirvana riffs, nods to the Stones, pouting guitarists (doing solos), singers going BLLEEEEEEUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGHH!!!!!!!! tunes going chugga chuga twaaaanGGG!!!! A lot of jumping up and down, bands drinking their body weight in lager as they played the odd slightly emotional verse followed by a big chorus that remind us of the sound almost every band make that appear on the main stage at Reading festival nowadays. At least one member of each band has the obligatory self cut sleeveless T-shirt, over tattooed arm (leg or neck), the occasional appearance of a hat on stage being worn even though they’re sweating as they throw themselves around on stage. Everyone appears to be wearing good quality footwear whilst also throwing out the kind of Rock Music I expect my gran was imagining I was experiencing when I earlier mentioned I was attending a Rock Event today and it’s all far too loud.
There would have been a visit to the Electric Ballroom amongst the opening hour but a bag containing a couple of banana’s was enough to be refused entry even though my argument about Banana’s being my current cigarette substitute were not listened to. Electronic Cigarettes are OK apparently but those blokes on the door that weren’t even BORN when some of us saw The Smith’s here bottom of the bill all those years ago wouldn’t have none of it. An hour later with a bulging trouser groin and not especially happy to have met anyone (but blending in nicely) I was in the venue for the appearance of the UK’s new stadium stars GOD DAMN.
Setting out their stall for a forthcoming Foo Fighters support, this duo came and tore the place apart with some truly loud shredding riffs and pounding drums that sound like the noise they’re making is being held together by an army of thousands (well, ok then, four). God Damn appear to be a good example of recognising the difference between a band on a big journey, riding the crest of a wave and a band happy and grateful to have reached this far in life with all the huff and puff of forming, rehearsing and writing the tunes still ingrained in the heads of the individuals involved.
THE MEN THAT WILL NOT BE BLAMED FOR NOTHING pulled such a huge crowd in the Cuban Bar that some of us were left outside for a few songs. This band will have their CD’s in a section marked “Steampunk” in our favourite record shops and they seem destined to eventually cram folks into their gigs at even larger music establishments in forthcoming months. Musically, they skip between short sharp tracks not dissimilar to 80’s Peel favourites The Electro Hippies and a good old (Victorian) Cockney knees up. Playing to what they described pre event as “an away crowd” they came away with a resounding victory and made many new friends which one would argue is a reason why events such as these are not just for the run of the mill Rock establishment but for those looking for a bit more than the already mentioned and sometimes overheard Nirvana, AC/DC or Iron Maiden structured songs reverberating around North West London today. This band are doing something I don’t really understand but many people are getting to like it. A fifty two year old bloke with purple facial hair, a high hat (an actual high hat, on a blokes head, not the thing the drummer hits) two stand up comedians and a dreadlocked drummer playing combinations of old Victorian Music-Hall Punk, Metal, Grindcore, sweary shouty stuff is all I can tell you really. I’m happy to follow their progress even though I don’t get it. I’m never going to make a difference to the Steampunk culture so I’ll leave that to someone else who may have a lot of literature on the subject and can teach me sometime.
Or I’ll just go to yet another gig and try to work it all out myself before bullshitting my way through it as I do everything else.
Photo of this one guys jacket © Keith Goldhanger
THE TOTEMS in the Good Mixer were seen for a couple of tunes that couldn’t hold our attention so I crept up towards the back of a woman and papped the back of her jacket before realising i’d had enough of this racket so a wander around the corner to catch something else (anything else) was agreed upon.
Describing themselves as “Four great mates drinking beer and making music on a Saturday afternoon” is a good way to be introduced to Leeds quartet BRAWLERS and you can tell this is a band that’ll be going on and on until we expect a Reading/Leeds main stage slot that one or two of us often stroll past taking a cursory note of in between visits to the smaller stages on an annual basis. Their pop punk rock is exciting, raw and pulls no punches in letting us know how much they love what they’re doing (another difference between those bands that appear to have something and those that don’t) If our ears heard this right they might even have a song called “I am a worthless piece of shit”.
That’s how to get our attention.
The show ends with a guitarist climbing onto a balcony (The Jazz Café couldn’t be any more inappropriately named at this moment), a bass player dancing along with the front row and vocalist at the bar, microphone still in hand, hugging people, arms in the air pointing at people and asking us if we believed in the “Power of Rock and Roll ?”
For these few minutes we did.
Only to lose faith again after a quick visit through The Cuban Bar a short time later to see what was going on. We may have seen a couple of songs by a band called HEEL or we may have got to the point when we couldn’t be bothered to don our specs and read the program.
Time for a visit towards the Northern end of the street to see what’s occurring leads us into a packed Monarch for a band we later learn are called IN SEARCH OF SUN who are busy dividing the crowd up with drinkers on one side of the room and the non drinkers opposite. We fear a potential messy wall of death and stand to one side.”Daft Heavy Rock” is what we write down and then depart as the drinkers are supping up fast whilst the non drinkers are head-banging. “There’s a lot of hair in this pub at the moment” is an observation commented on by those standing at the bus stop outside looking through from the back of the stage.
We see the last note of a band called HANDS OFF GRETEL in our only visit upstairs at the Barfly and then stroll into the downstairs bar to catch a very impressive MY LITTLE EMPIRE (Not to be confused with the children’s accessory for plastic ponies) who, with their belted out coherent lyrics that we might like to sing along to one day win us over completely. Hints of a young Phil Lynott come to mind and a little Manics (… er … isn’t there a song by The Manic Street Preachers called “My Little Empire”?) and a performance that at one point has the crowd singing backing vocals all the way through (simply by shouting out HEY! over and over again – simple but effective). We’re asked a few too many times to participate in loads of hands in the air nonsense but that aside this appears to be a band that may be worth another look one day.
ASYLUMS are possibly one of the best bands in the world (this week). The most exciting jumping up and down whilst singing their collection of tunes you’ll all get to know over the coming years did not deserve the smallish crowd they played to (well, small compared to the audience The Men that will not be blamed for nothing played to earlier in the same venue). A deep sea diver and four females in wetsuits behind a gaggle of photographers greeted us at the start of this Asylums gig but as the room filled it appeared obvious by the jaws hitting the floor that those here recognised they had found a winner in this bands short sharp tunes that went from fast to faster the longer the set continued. The photographers were wiped out one by one by frontman (Lou) jumping on them and those ladies in the wet suits were giving out some kind of wonderful liquid ginger flavoured refreshment that may have had rum in it. This was a sponsoring issue that has obviously backfired by the result of one audience member supping too much of this, finding himself in a position of writing about this and saying how nice it was but then forgetting the name of the company promoting the drink.
THE WILD LIES at the Monarch were getting us all to “Put our Muvverfuckin hands in the air” and going “GGrrrrrrrrrr!” a lot until the couple of songs we caught drove us away fast before catching up with Welsh Trio TRAMPOLENE who, interspersed a few poems in between their tunes that were just about audible via a quiet mike and a broad welsh accent. We feel that these boys have a good reason to be here with us. They wanted to get out of their hometown, gave up everything and give the appearance of a band that will just simply never give up playing writing and performing. It’s been far too long since we’ve crossed paths but Trampolene are a band who first impressed a while back and impressed enough for some of us not to forget them. That’s the sign of a good band, one you can one day get a glimpse of and see enough straight away that makes you want to remember to make a mental note to catch again however long it takes (often more than once).
After watching Aston Villa then lift the FA cup and send the Arsenal fans present home with their tails between their legs it was then time for a little reflection on the day and the realisation that so far there’s been a combination of truly awful acts, one or two maybe’s and a couple of things we already knew we’d like.
The day was on a knife edge to be honest.
This wasn’t looking good so a make or break decision had to be made……..
THE ANTI NOWHERE LEAGUE were fucking ace and had a mosh pit full of old men shaking our …erm.. their fists in the air singing along to songs we’d previously convinced ourselves we didn’t know (“We all fall down, we all fall down, we all fall down like Chocolate soldiers !!”). A short poem introduced one of their tunes that began with those immortal words…” I’ve been to Hastings, I’ve been to Eastbourne….” you know the rest. There’s not a lot musically between this band and HARD SKIN to be honest (haven’t got time to tell you about Hard Skin at the moment but you know how to use a search engine by now I’m sure). Are we laughing with or at this band still ? ….Frankly my dear, life too short to attempt working these things out any more. This was very enjoyable but I’m OK to wait another thirty years before being reminded which words appear to rhyme with hunt. Sometimes It’s good to dip back into this stuff and sometimes it needs to be acknowledged that a band like the Anti Nowhere League still exist. So I hereby say thank you for still existing and thank you for forty minutes of very enjoyable noise on a Saturday evening. We left before the predictable “Streets Of London” cover version because we’d worked out that many people here will be making a bee line for New Model Army straight after and some of us, although keen to see the band we also hadn’t seen since we were younger and had longer hair wanted to have another look at DEATH KOOLAID no matter what gets in our way.
DEATH KOOLAID are the most bonkers band of the day in the most utterly brilliant way. We caught these previously at the (now closed) Black Cap last year and were rather impressed then. The tiny Good Mixer is perfect for this band who make an unholy racket, throwing themselves at each other as well as the walls and floor, are covered in black ink and have a vocalist that sports at the end of this a rather nasty bloody bruise on her head due to the continuous hitting of it with her microphone as she simultaneously attempts to catch breath between each sentence. We’ve no idea what she’s on about, it really doesn’t matter. This is entertaining as fuck. Imagine a really messed up Hole or even an equally riotous Fucked Up. Once we get some of the catchy choruses that may or may not exist in their repertoire we’ll tell you more. This band are worth seeing, especially in these surroundings, shoulder to shoulder, balancing our pints between gripped fingers with one hand and scratching our heads with the other.
Finally onto NEW MODEL ARMY who disappeared from this writer just after the debut “Vengeance”, a truly classic UK album if you’ve never heard it (Oh that bass guitar is bloody wonderful throughout it). Fortunately there are enough fans of this band to keep them going for another dozen or so albums and tonight they rattle off tune after tune that everyone here seems knows every word to tonight. A couple of drummers that at one stage we accuse of being from a machine ignite the Jazz Café (can’t beat a bit of Jazz eh?) into one big glorious celebration and a mosh pit of 40 + aged gents, naked from the waist up is an odd sight to behold and send us home to have nightmares.
And that was that.
Nearly eleven hours that varied between utter nonsense to utter mayhem. A day when timings advertised were adhered to, security chilled as long as you weren’t bearing fruit and smooth changeovers between acts meaning that during the day is was rather difficult to get some peace and quiet for more than Twenty minutes. This event didn’t appear over subscribed as those punters keen to see certain artists seem to be organised enough nowadays to realise that turning up a minute before advertised stage times for a main act is daft and most important, it allowed some bands to play in front of decent audiences that could be seen staggering along the high street either holding memories that will linger on for a while, totally forget or remind them of earlier years when bands made such an impression that decades later we can still remember (once prompted) and get the opportunity to see again and catch up with their current activities.
Sure there were many artist and bands here today that I for one have no interest in, there was certainly a lot of shouting, swearing and requests to put our hands in the air but there were two hundred of the fuckers scattered around. I’m glad to say my own personal quest resulted in a great and entertaining day out including couple of new names I’ll hunt down again in weeks to come.
If you can’t find half a dozen acts of your liking out of line ups such as this then the day would be a failure. This is what some of us love about these events, you can either get sucked in fast towards what’s going on up on stage or simply thrown away faster than a loose wire in a toaster can achieve.
Bands such as The Anti Nowhere League and New Model Army have been going for years maintaining a healthy fan base which is something many other bands will never achieve, even in this day and age of the internet and fools such as myself waxing lyrical about as many as time allows.
Get reliable people to throw a line up such as this together and people arrive in their droves to actually try to find something new that may even return into their lives decades later.
It is events like these help create what Camden Town is whether you like it or not. When people come to London now they always (even if begrudgingly) visit this place. Often when they do, things can be seen happening. Like seeing Justin Sullivan from New Model Army walking down the high street and being talked to by so many passers by it’s a wonder that he even made it to a venue. London’s a strong place now musically and that’s a good reason to suggest that these events are as important as any building or Royal bleedin’ Family to attract the tourists. Surely this stuff is more important than needing a old lady in a hat to be given milk baths and huge tellys and chocolate donuts whist other people need food banks and fags ? Imagine being in the same fucking band for over thirty years? That’s better than being Ken Barlow in Coronation street granted, and definitely better than most of us have ever achieved, and this is what makes up tiny bits of our lives. Small soundtracks as we walk down the street, sit on delayed overpriced trains and forget about the mundane.
Some of us can just scratch the surface and tell you what we enjoyed that I’d like to think you’ll reference at a later date but in all honesty you know as well as I do that if you’re keen and refuse to stand still during events like this you’ll all eventually find what you’re looking for yourselves.
Just don’t get put off by the wording of these things and just go where you wanna go and do whatever you want to do.
If that took too long to read then you may like to see it all condensed into five minutes …hold tight now…… and I’m sure you’ll let us know if we’ve got the wrong band names matched up with any of the clips
Thank you Photographers :
- The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing pic by Sophie Garrett
- Jacket pic Keith Goldhanger
- Asylums pic by Kana Waiwaiku
- Death Koolaid pic by Jeff Moh
We’re sure Camden Rocks will be back next year, to find out all the news as it’s released bookmark the website: camdenrocksfestival.com, like the fuck out of it on Facebook and follow it’s on the twits: @camdenrocksfest.
All words by Keith Goldhanger, find his Louder Than War archive here.