Camden, or as it’s quickly becoming: my second home. 5th year and 6th festival, I’m excited as ever to get to this vibrant town crammed full of some of the country’s finest music venues. As ever, Euston Station is the meeting point for friends that have come from the length and breadth of the country and across from Europe just for today, which just shows it isn’t just my heart that holds a special place for this iconic festival. Fellow reviewer and friend Ross is a welcoming sight (nothing to do with the large coffee awaiting me!) and we have time for a catch up as we await the others. With around 8,000 rock fans expected to descend on 21 venues, we make our way quickly to the wristband exchange (where we also bump into Mark) at The World’s End as I’m eager not to miss the first band of the day Sick Joy.
Map in hand we amble up to Fest Camden at the old stables. I’ve managed to convince a handful of friends that this is a band they’re not to miss and everyone is buzzing as we approach the outside bar and the sun is blinding. Great organisation as ever, the security is tight and it’s reassuring to see bag checks at most venues. Hilariously, my large slab of sealed cheese (a gift from my Rotterdam friend) is deemed contraband and I’m refused entry. I implore for a few minutes that I don’t intend to unwrap it and start eating it during the set (I’m vegan anyway) but it’s not until I offer to throw it away, because I am not gonna miss the first band, that it’s finally agreed I’m allowed entry (cheese an’ all).
I reviewed Sick Joy’s debut EP Amateurs earlier this year, and there’s nothing amateur about it, I can assure you. I couldn’t wait to see how their music transitioned to the live setting. The guys were just taking to the stage as we got inside and it was great to see such a good sized crowd this early on in the day. They wasted no time launching into their grunge-fuelled set. Raw and passionate, it was everything you got on the EP and more. Mykl’s vocals were raspy and haunting, really finding his feet in the more screechier moments such as in “Senses” and “Smiling Shame”. Crunching guitar and a coarse bass carried by rabid drumming combined with the great sound produced in this venue just emphasised the organic, stripped-back rock you expect from a garage band, no gimmicks just prodigious songs executed with ardour.
The venue filled up nicely as the set progressed, there was a great connection and presence on stage from this 3 piece, the infectious choruses activating head nodding and dancing amongst the enthusiastic crowd. Thrashing through their songs, you couldn’t help but think you’re witnessing something pretty special here and it seems over all too soon. A huge round of applause and cheers goes up. Well played, Sick Joy; what a great opener to the day!
Here the group split and half of us legged it up to the Dublin Castle to catch Tequila Mockingbyrd only to be told not only was the venue full to capacity but they were also queuing already for the following act! This is the juggle and struggle as always at Camden Rocks, the distance between venues in an extremely overcrowded town along with time clashes. But it all adds to the fun, and you have to plan your day very carefully. If there’s a band you don’t want to miss, be prepared to be there a couple of hours before they play to ensure entry.
So we split ways again and I’m pleased to see there’s no queue at The Underworld, as it’s some time since I’ve seen Brigade play and I was keen to see where they’re at. This venue is literally like stepping into the underworld as you move through the bar it becomes pitch black and you have to wait a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the light before you dare descend the steps to the venue floor itself. People are piling in and not only does the floor fill quickly but people are hanging over the raised barrier above and behind as far as the eye can see, Brigade have pulled a huge crowd. There’s a real buzz in the air, Brigade are back after a 7 year split and it’s great to see so many there to support them.
A huge roar goes up as they walk on stage and I can’t help grinning when I spot Mark in a Rattlesnakes t-shirt. They launch straight into some of their older tracks “Magneto”, “Queenie” and “Together Apart”, this five-piece create an immense sound, huge swells of noise-rock that you have to head bang and foot stomp along to. Around this point Will Simpson loses a string and cleverly juggles fixing that with a cocky heckler screaming for “Raining Blood”. “Haha! Look at me,” he yells, “I could do a gerbil version”. Eventually, the guitar is tuned and Will talks about the band being back together, having great fun recording the new EP and how he hopes everyone will like the new direction in sound they’ve taken.
And wow! It sure seems like it, taking a heavier approach along with dual vocals by James Plant, it gives them a far edgier, punk rock sound. The band thrash the living daylights out of their instruments each solidifying their right to be there. Flying through their new tracks “Coexisting”, “Whites”, “Hot Sick”, “Trunchbull” and “One Day at a Time” I’m utterly blown away! Massive surges of noise, catchy choruses and a huge stage presence, I can’t wait to get home and download this album, Brigade are back!
Coming out of the venue and being blinded by the sun, I hear my name being yelled and I meet up with Ross, Garry and Mark again and we grab a quick bite before heading off in our own directions. I’m heading back up to Dublin Castle, this time to catch our very own Sheggs’ recommendation Screech Bats. This time I take no chances and get to the venue early, an ice cold rum and coke goes down an absolute treat, (Camden Rocks Fest = guaranteed sunshine!) and so it should at a whopping £10.60! Needless to say, I nurse this one drink throughout the whole set.
Admittedly I know nothing about this band, this iconic little venue is filling up nicely and I bump into old friends and photographers. This punk rock quartet bound onto the stage and get the party started! With oodles of energy and attitude they grab my attention from the get go. Esme is captivating with her lustrous, angsty vocals broaching uneasy topics lyrically and delivering them with virtue. “That Valentine Song” and “Just Like You” particularly heart felt and you could see Esme was visibly moved delivering with such passion. Even though (she laughs) she’s been told in the past she’s ‘too posh’ to have emotions! Equally as passionate, Kit on guitar, bouncing around and swinging the guitar with immense dexterity whilst consistently hitting technical riffs. Rio on bass was seductive and grungy, adding that darker edge and Lexi just pounding the drums effortlessly to within an inch of their lives, the connection and performance was electric. Giving a shout out to fans, new and old respectfully, especially one who had travelled from Sweden, they finished on fun number “E.T” which has the whole room bouncing along, you’ve definitely gained a new fan here Screech Bats!
Time for me to race back up to the other end of Camden and back to Fest venue, to catch highly recommended Rews by Ross. This female two-piece slayed their set. Needless to say, they didn’t disappoint, but I’ll leave Ross to tell you all about it. And absolute kudos here to Camden rocks Fest for supporting so many female artists this year, it’s got to be said!
The day was flying way too fast, but my absolute not-to-be-missed band for the day were Longy & The Gospel Trash, so I bid my farewells and head up to The Monarch in plenty of time as from previous years experience, Longy always packs out his venues. 4 years ago I first stumbled across the then elusive ‘who is Longy’ playing a beautiful acoustic set whilst awaiting Ally Dickaty (The Virginmarys). I was bewitched then by the quality of his songs which are lyrically gut wrenchingly honest and provocative. Add into that his sublime gravelly vocals and the special touch musically by the uber talented trumpet player the Feral Child, and there is nothing else like that being produced out there. Then I got to discover a whole new depth to the songs later that day by a full on plugged in set and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Now with a new band name and after completing a mammoth 500 gigs in a year (yep, you work it out) tour, the most hard-working musician I know is about to take to the stage in this packed-out venue. The band start up and the room comes alive to the bluesy, groovy “Healing Hands”, you cannot stand still to this music. Longy’s beautiful, dulcet tones suck you in and the rest of the world slips away, completely lost in the moment and the music this band penetrates your very soul. You feel nothing but connection with the band and the music entirely. “Down on Victoria” has the place bouncing with a more uplifting beat and that trumpet at the forefront, Longy rhythmically chanting his lyrics, it’s a spell binding performance.
We’re then treated to new tune “Drip Fed Internet Blues” which is due for release later this month. “Hamlet Court Blues” and “Penthouses & Pavements” keeps the uplifting vibe in the room, dancing and singing along you can see no-one wants this set to end. It seems the band are over running, with people side of stage signing ‘cut’ but the band can feel the vibe from the crowd and I’ve seen old favourite “Careful What You Wish For” on the set list and no-one is showing any signs of stopping, Longy shrugs and launches into the track regardless and the place is on fire. It’s electric in here, totally smashed it, guys, I’m overwhelmed, that was my headliner right there.
Bursting with joy, I race to try and catch the end of RavenEye’s set, but to no avail, it’s coming to a close as I get there and it looks full to capacity regardless. Ross comes bounding out, sweat lashing, both of us buzzing. It’s time for some much-needed food and drinks; no way in hell can I get into PiL so we retreat defeated but happy into the Elephant’s Head with good friend Garry, where we drink and reminisce about the day and how much we love Camden Rocks Festival, it has a vibe like no other. We then hear it’s going to be a two-dayer next year, and we eagerly start making plans. Thanks for having us Camden Rocks, we’ll be back!