It’s June 3rd, thousands turn up for 2017’s Camden Rocks Festival. 250 bands in 25 different venues surrounding the NW1 area, embracing the sunshine, enjoying the camaraderie – all for love of live music.
The pollen count’s high, my eyes water, nose pouring, and my sneezing could be put on a loop and entered in the charts. But that’s ok; I’ve arrived at The World’s End, the hub for ticket collectors queuing around the block for a wristband to enter the 25 different venues. With this wristband, you’ll get in The Black Heart, The Monarch, The Underworld, Electric Ballroom, plus Koko; a new entry on the board. We can get to The Crowndale, The Winnicott and more, so much more.
It’s time to make a choice, it’s 12 o’clock, the festival starts, so off I stride to Camden Assembly. White Eskimo open proceedings. Four Northern lads in black suited attire seem to love every minute of their time on stage. In the style of Dennis Hopper from Speed. “Pop Quiz Hot Shot”: who was, or is their manager? Can you guess?
No? Well, it’s ex-Blue Peter and current Mostly Haunted presenter, the lovely Yvette Fielding. One more. Who was their original vocalist?
Harry Styles of X Factor and One Direction fame.
Lead singer Will Sweeney bounces around the stage with Northern attitude. They remind me of the Arctic Monkeys. Will and Alex Lewis share drumming at the end with a little shoulder barging competition. Rob Mcintosh on bass and Marcus Chetwood on guitar make up White Eskimo. A great way to start my day off, these four guys really set the bar high for the day and are ones to look out for.
Oh, choices, choices, where to go, who to see. Chris McCormack, the organiser has a lot to answer for.
Along from Camden Assembly is The Monarch, on stage Tokyo Taboo. Dolly Daggerz wears a Jeremy Corbyn t-shirt. Her husband, as of this Friday coming, is Mike on guitar. The venue fills nicely for this pop punk group, whose debut record, 6th Street Psychosis, is out now.
Back out, roaming the streets of Camden, perusing many different food shops, making sure the Bang Bang Chicken stall is still near Camden Market. It is…good!
I caught a little of singer songwriter Albert Mann at the Brewdog. His peaceful, soulful voice captures calmness. During the hustle and bustle of the festival, there are moments when tranquility is required. Albert Mann allowed that to happen.
The Underworld calls, it’s around 1-ish. Hardcore Welsh blokes, When We Were Wolves are on. Sadly, I missed some of their set due to choices of where to walk or which bus to get. I caught the last three tracks at this banged out venue. The guys explode their hardcore love on the crowd, who lap it all up. The Bridgeport/Newport natives are going to erupt this year. Mitchell Block told the metal drenched crowd to have a drink with ‘em, if they spot them out on the Camden strip.
Being a non-drinker, such as myself, it’s great to see who charges for soda water and lime… or sober water if you’re in that game. This is a soda water and lime pub crawl, loved it.
Anyway, off to the Crowndale, formerly the Purple Turtle. On Stage are Blank Parody, and the soda water and lime was a couple of quid. Blank Parody are an alternative rock band and powered through a section where the sound decided to make noises like a radio station as you enter a tunnel. Vocalist Joby Fitzgerald just ploughed through the issue; it was resolved.
Following Blank Parody are three-piece rock outfit The Kut. I’ve seen them before, in fact I saw them here last year. Today they take over the Crowndale, the crowd are lapping up their riffs, beautiful baselines and Diana Bartmann’s ferocious drumming. Bartmann doesn’t hold back, it’s a pleasure watching her create maniacal faces while hammering the skins. Maha smiles at the audience exploding riffs and giving us “DNA” and “I Want You Maniac” among others. Maha gets the crowd singing “Bad Man”. I caught myself at another gig chanting it. Keep your eyes out and ears open for The Kut with their ever-improving live shows. This British rock band can take over with the amount of love they put into their work.
The Koko club’s open, the heat beams all around us, the security are tight, which I’m pleased to see. Checking my bag with only had a hoodie in case it rains, but it didn’t. The pollen hit my eyes like a Tyson left hook, like a Jon Jones elbow, like a Mick McCready guitar riff, like a Chris Cornell vocal. But I fight through it, like a don, like a trooper.
Moses take the Koko stage. A throwback to a Brit-rock era, the London based band finish with a track about the River Thames. Moses continue their reign on the rock world with a UK tour happening in June and July. Also, just in case you were concerned, the soda water and lime is free at the Koko.
Hold on… did I just read this right? The King Blues are back, didn’t they split? They got back together? Why didn’t anyone tell me. They’re on NOW!
From Koko to Electric Ballroom is a seven-minute walk, but today tourists are about, people with dogs and pully cases, but I get there. Last time at this venue I saw Five Finger Death Punch, which is some time ago. The King Blues are on, the venue’s banged out, arms in the air for their returning heroes. It’s an hour of punk and poetry. Johnny ‘Itch’ Fox tells the crowd, as he picks up the ukulele, back in the day they had two chords and lot of heart. The crowd love it and still connected. The King Blues are back with latest record Gospel Truth.
I wander the streets, like Bruce Springsteen in Philadelphia. Upon me is The Good Mixer. The walls are adorned with Amy Winehouse paintings with other celebs. I’m told back in the day it was a celeb hang out, and Moshville Times are here, so it must be true.
Setting up is Dominic Harrison AKA Yungblud with his band in the pool room of the Good Mixer. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out. The crowd feel his energy, the band smash out the tunes. His Northern vocal style is reminiscent of Arctic Monkeys. He flows like Jamie T, and all in a style of Yungblud. He touches rap, touches ska, he touches the indie vibe. The great thing about festivals like this are the surprises.
“Polygraph Eyes” got the crowd swaying. The track finished, a sigh came over the audience, this track would get Ed Sheeran nervous. His political references give the younger generation a voice. This 19-year-old musician captivated me and his audience. His single “King Charles” is out now, with a lot of air play. His time’s up, he says “I’m Yungblud, see ya later.” This guy and band completely tore the roof off this place.
A festival like this isn’t about headlining bands, it’s about the men and women who need to get up on Sunday morning for work, it’s the ones who still study, still trying to break through to where they should be. A lot search for this, but not all find what they are looking for.
On that note…
I make my way to The Black Heart, at the back of the World’s End. The Black Heart’s rammo, one in, one out it seems. The venue’s upstairs. I don’t fancy waiting in line for soda water and lime, but there’s a queue, and us Brits love a queue. A queue to me is like a moth and a light bulb, it’s attractive. This queue was attractive, it could’ve been for the toilet, but it wasn’t, it was to get upstairs for The SoapGirls. I didn’t get in, I stopped on the stairs, as their sound flows down this hot steamy stairwell.
I decide move on.
The horse hospital gallery is full of stalls – food stalls from all over the world, book stalls, clothing places and the Canalside bar, which you may guess is by the canal. Outside, people lean against the railing listening to the band inside, as I did. Food was needed, I’m like a Honey Badger attacking an ice cream. That’s all I need. To accompany this sweet taste of ice cream are the Flight Brigade. Seven of them I can see on the small stage getting the crowd on the inside loving every minute, and the people on the outside were forgetting what their partner just said, due to the music swamping their hearing.
Back to the Monarch, opposite the galleries so not a far walk. The bar is filled with festival goers – also it’s free for a soda water and lime. On stage is a four-piece called Glam Skanks. A great name, The Hollywood rockers have been touring with Prince Charming himself, Adam Ant. I can see why. Lead vocalist Ali Cat’s storytelling and charisma has everyone eating out of her hand. Even when her hair is caught in her vest top (? I’m not sure what the apparel is called, may be a vest top, I don’t know).
Her roadie dismantles her hair from the vest, all while Ali Cat bursts out her strong clear vocals. Sticking the middle finger in the air, everyone in unison chanting “Fuck Off” to this appropriately named song. Veronica Volume, the axe grinder, belts out riffs like there’s no tomorrow. This has been a superb introduction to this glitter glam rock band.
Where to go next? At the start of the day, I was like a leopard after a gazelle, moving like Nico Rosberg, swaying past oncoming walkers. Knowing the destination each time, I’ll get there first. By the end of the day, I’m of sloth speed, my limbs weak, my feet are so sore, so, so sore, my eyes filled with pollen, my ears ringing, my feet striding slowly, only stopping for Chinese food. Oh my feet…
What a great festival. Nirvana shirts everywhere, “I Love MCR” everywhere, the odd Soundgarden shirt for all to see. Music has the power to join people together, to make us feel as one, headbanging in harmony, swaying together like Iglesias, and free “sober water” and lime at certain venues.
Congratulations Chris McCormack and team. I look forward to next year, to see who’s the rising star, the comeback king and queen. There’s many I missed, but it made up for who I saw and the exceptional behaviour of the people treading the pavement of Camden.
Anyone know of a good place for a foot massage? Anyone? Bueller, Bueller, Bueller?