Camden Rocks. The one day of the year when 8000 people descend onto Camden for a full day of rock and all its bastard offspring across the entire town. Having attended the last two years, knowing the lay of the land is an essential with regards to venue sizes and band popularity. As you read on, it’ll be a recurring theme.
Grabbing the sleeper train from Glasgow to London overnight, it’s a fitful sleep and a wait before anywhere is open for breakfast. Then, Rachel shows up and I have coffee in hand for her, reciprocating her procurement of mine last year. After we wait for mates, we stroll up to Camden from Euston and head to the infamous wristband exchange at The World’s End before we bump into Mark as well as some other familiar faces.
The atmosphere, just like the past couple of years, is electric as we amble up to Fest. It’s been some time since I’ve been in the converted stables. Beer in hand, Sick Joy become the first band of the day, bringing the heavy grunge tones. Whilst they’re not to my taste, it’s hard to ignore the quality of their performance. Rachel should have something more in-depth (and maybe a cheese-related anecdote).
The Dublin Castle is full to capacity and there’s already a massive queue for the band following Tequila Mockingbyrd at 1pm. We’re told by the doorman “Not a chance!” so it’s the first split up of the day as I head to The Good Mixer. A new venue to me at Camden, a lot of others have the same idea of catching Doomsday Outlaw. It’s been quite some time since I last saw them and in the intervening time, they’ve considerably upped their game. Far tighter, and while I can’t see much of the band, they sound great. Mixing blues-y and Southern tones and mixing it in with a hard rock sound, there are singalong moments and it seems even the band are cramped into their spot.
Whilst The Kut has people leaving wiping the sweat away, people are eager to queue, if just to catch a glimpse of them. From outside, they sound good but after a pit-stop for food, it’s on to The Black Heart for Skarlett Riot. Whilst this one wasn’t full when I got there, by the time the four-piece take the stage, the place is rammed and once again, uncomfortably warm. There are some technical hitches but the band take it in their stride and as ever, are out to give the performance of their lives. Having seen them a number of times since Les-Fest 2013, it’s night and day as they’ve came on so well. The pop gloss has been well and truly ripped away in favour of something far darker and grittier. Frontwoman Skarlett spends the short set right in the face of the crowd, a dominant force as guitarist Danny’s mop of hair is a blur as he bangs out riff after riff. Meanwhile, Martin and Luke (bass and drums, respectively) work in perfect sync to ensure the crowd are banging their heads for the duration.
Back to Fest and the chilled-out sounds of Echobelly act as a nice breather before one of the big draws of the day for me: Rews. Having been mightily impressed by their album, I was eager to see them perform the material and from the crowd they drew, it seemed there was a lot of people in agreement. The two-piece are full of energy as the girls take a moment to thank the crowd as well as the festival itself for having so many bands with girls in them. As they meld bluesy tones with an alternative rock vibe, Shauna Tohill (guitar and vocals) and Collette Williams bounce off each other perfectly and give a dollop of pop varnish for good measure.
Shauna makes full use of the stage when she’s not singing, battering her guitar and the songs from Pyro translate to sound even better in a live format. There’s a preview of a new song and even that sounds like it’s been around for a long time. As the set progresses, the crowd only seek to give them a warmer reception than they started out and by the time they leave, the packed room have grins on their faces to match the girls and you’re left wondering who got the better deal.
RavenEye are setting up their stage by the time I’m at Dingwalls. This is the band I’m refusing to miss today and much like the rest of the venues and bands over the course of the day, it seems a lot of people are in the know. They take to the stage with their usual force and despite having not performed in a couple of months, you’d never know it. Old favourites like “Hey Hey Yeah” and “Breaking Out” are mixed in with the best of Nova’s work like “Come With Me”, “Inside”, “Madeline” and the gargantuan “Oh My Love” which is preceded by guitarist Oli Brown’s virtuoso solo.
The band also tease some new material with “You’re a Lie”, driven by Aaron Spiers’ frenetic bass work as Oli takes the song without his guitar. It’s as catchy as it was back in the February tour and fits in with the rest of the set. Meanwhile, it’s the first ever outing for “I Wanna Know” which is a snipe at the state of the world in 2018. As always, drummer Adam Breeze makes sure he’s essentially up front with his brothers and reliable as ever, putting Animal to shame.
It’s gritty and energetic hard rock, the type the band have been plying as their trade for the past few years. As there are a number of retro-style hard rock bands over the day, RavenEye ensure they’re pushing the genre forward to stop it growing stale and prove they’re one of the leading lights of rock. As the band down their tools for the evening, they end on “Hero”, having to cut the set short. With the band hard at work on their second album, it’s a great way to keep their live muscles in perfect tune.
Meeting back with Rachel, unfortunately former Black Spider Pete Spiby and Those Damn Crows are both crowded nightmares to get into. Certainly, it’s the general feeling among the patrons that it’s not the strongest line-up Camden has played host to so the high-quality acts have even more demand than usual. It’s about the only problem I ran into as a reviewer – we’re unfortunately not able to jump the queue to see a couple of songs from more bands. Indeed, if that were the case, I’d have been able to cover a lot more bands than I did and its sentiments I share with Rachel and our friend at the end of the night. With the festival expanding to two days next year (and tickets already on sale), I’m interested to see how they configure it but having been a success for so many years, I have no doubt that the mammoth 2019 will be no different.
However, that niggle aside, it’s hard to wipe the grin from my face after another excellent day at Camden Rocks and ending it with RavenEye, whilst a little early in the evening, was perfect before saying my goodbyes and heading to Victoria for the coach back home. Now, let’s do it all over again next year!