Camden Crawl 2010 – Day 1

5 May

Once a year, thousands of indie kids, goths, skater kids and scenesters ascend upon the streets of Camden each trying to stylishly ‘out cool’ one another. “Once a year?” I hear you ask… actually, that is a good point. There’s nothing I love more than swaggering around Camden pretending to be Paul Weller thinking I’m the greatest and telling all the goths to “cheer up”. No wonder they’re so bloody unhappy in the summer – wear some light coloured clothes! Anyway, I digress.  

The difference about this weekend, of course, is that the place is hosting gigs and events from Mornington Crescent to Chalk Farm and everywhere else in between with ticket holders (not to mention media folk, label bitches and liggers) gaining access to all gigs by a magical piece of plastic on their wrist – or not in some cases (I will come to this later).    

One thing that I absolutely love about the Camden Crawl is not just the fact that it brings the best new talent (and the Sugababes production line) to one place but that it sums up the perfect British elements – rain, queues and, as a result of those two things, moaning and an awful lot of tutting.      

I do recall last year being somewhat different however. The sun was shining and I spent all day wishing I’d taken Phil Collins’ advice (no jacket required). Camden is amazing in the sunshine. A bit of sun and it’s suddenly OK to become a hobo and drink cider by the canal. But, that was last year. This year however was not last year. Obviously. It would somewhat spooky if it was.    

Given the rather dreary sky and the fact that I’m unemployed meant that we put off going to Camden until the first wave of bands started – missing out on the daytime events. A shame because there’s nothing I love more on a Saturday afternoon than a game of bingo and listening to a trendy London poet moan about his or her issues in prose form.      

The bag isn't mine by the way.

 We started the day at the Boogaloo in Highgate – not only did it recently host the Libertines reunion press conference and gig (no comment) but it is also my girlfriend’s local. The latter being more important obviously.       

As we were finishing up our first drink of the day, I started to feel some drizzle (no, I was not touching up Dr Dre) and quickly suggested we move on to Camden a) before we got too comfortable and b) we didn’t fancy a two-minute rain filled journey to Highgate station.     

Ten minutes or so later, we arrived at Mornington Crescent where I had to get my wristband from and this is where the British in me came out in full force. It started to rain. And by rain, I mean RAIN. So much so that puddles were forming around my desert boots as I stood in a non-moving queue outside Koko. Fortunately, me Julie had an umbrella (ella ella) thus keeping my recently straightened and waxed mod cut dry. Sadly though, the rain trickled off the umbrella soaking the rest of me – but, the hair was alright. That’s the main thing.    

Queue must be joking!

Eventually, we made it inside Koko for what I can only describe as being the worst run guest list queue I’ve ever been in. Usually, they work like a production line – get in, get out – but not this time. It took absolutely ages and that’s where the moaning and tutting I mentioned at the top began. Most of the people around me (and, OK, me as well) were muttering things along of the lines of “Well, this is RIDICULOUS. We’re supposed to be important people and this is how they treat us.”    

Nevertheless, EVENTUALLY, I got to the front and after a bit of hoo haa, got given an envelope which would contain “everything”. Well, not everything surely? What magical envelope had I been given?! An envelope that contains EVERYTHING?! How amazed I was to receive Narnia in stationery form – could it be that after years and years of asking, I would finally get that BMX I’ve always wanted? Answer –  no.    

"Alwight! I'm a geezer me."

In actual fact, all that was in the (disappointly non magical) envelope was a standard weekend wristband, a MEDIA pass for Saturday only (which I was told I  “might” get – meaning I couldn’t arrange interviews with anybody in advance) and a VIP wristband which I was told would get me into the aftershow party on Sunday night – giving me the chance to see Dave Berry in the flesh! You can imagine how excited this made me. He’s so dreamy in a “I want to punch you in the face for being so handsome” kinda way.     

OK, so I knew that I could go anywhere I wanted without queueing (hooray) on Saturday at least. But, where was I going to go with such a power? Answer – I had no idea. I was not given anything to tell me who was playing where/when. Not only that but my girlfriend (or as I like to call her “my plus one”) was told that she had to go to the Roundhouse to collect her wristband. Nice work organisers.    

We decided that due to the torrential rain, we’d get a bus to the Roundhouse. Which we did. We arrived to (surprise, surprise) more queues. So we’d been in Camden for over an hour and all that we had experienced was moist queueing and 360 degrees of tutting about the weather. But, we were now all wristbanded up and ready to go.     

We contemplated heading to Nandos but after noticing a peri-peri long queue outside, we decided against it. No hot chickaaaan for me. Gutted. Talking of Nandos, here’s a rather brilliant advert that you may not have seen.    

Despite my lack of hot chickaaan, I did cheer myself by the fact that Chickenhawk were playing on both days meaning that I could get some form of chicken related fun into my weekend.    

I consulted the guide and noticed that the first two bands on at the Electric Ballroom were two that I really wanted to see. Plus given the size of the venue, it never involves queueing and considering the rain, it seemed like the perfect place to start.    

The first band of the day were the marvellous ‘tut Leeds’ based quartet  Pulled Apart By Horses. Quite an explosive start to proceedings but that’s the way I like it. Their set was so loud, brash and ferociously riff heavy that them rude people at gigs who converse things such as “he’s shaggin’ whatsherface from accounts innit” had no choice but to shut up and listen.     

I did fear for Tom’s voice though – having had nodules myself, I did think “take it easy man” on several occasions. All that screaming can do some serious damage.  Long term vocal damage fears aside, I was blown away. They are such an incredible live band and I can’t recommend them enough if you’ve never seen them.     

Next up were Wild Palms, who I have seen and blogged about before but they took me by surprise because in the past few months, they’ve completely changed their sound from the angular Shoreditch friendly post-punk that I was expecting to something hugely expansive and ambitious. The core sound of before is still there of course but I was amazed by their new epic and atmospheric wall of sound.    

Several years ago, I caught White Lies at the Camden Crawl in the exact same venue and was overwhelmed by the sheer size of their tunes. I had the exact same feeling with Wild Palms – which, again, I didn’t expect whatsoever. The new tunes that they’ve kept somewhat secret (well, from me at least) are going to be massive. Mark my words. I don’t think I saw a better band for the rest of the weekend truth be told.     

OK, be honest, you’re still thinking about the Nandos advert aren’t you? Yes, I thought so. Please note, I am not being endorsed by them and I am not gaining anything by advertising their amazingly tender and delicious peri-peri chicken – which is available in a wide range of locations all over the world served by extremely friendly and helpful staff in an amazing carnival atmosphere. But as I say, I am not getting anything for advertising them here (not even a free meal) so please, let’s get back to the music yeah?    

After Wild Palms, I looked at the schedule and planned the rest of the evening. I had to take into account not just the time to get to each venue but also the chances of getting in and indeed the proximity to the next gig that I wanted to go to. I felt like a snooker player at times – not in that I was taking bribes (according to some…) – I mean that snooker players apparently plan up to six shots at a time. And that queueing would be involved… Queue/cue, come on, that wasn’t bad was it?    

Seeing as the Camden Crawl is about new music, I wanted to catch something that I had not seen before and/or wouldn’t get to see at any other festival this summer. I decided against Best Coast and Surfer Blood despite loving both their albums and went to see The Lost Levels at the Barfly instead. The Norwich based band have hints of Blur, Super Furry Animals and the Flaming Lips in their sound and I was quite excited about seeing them perform their brand of psychedelic indie pop for the first time.    

Whilst I had a media pass which allowed me to jump the queue, I was not going to leave my girlfriend outside on her own. I learnt a valuable lesson from Top Gun – never leave your wingman. My girlfriend wasn’t too keen on the nickname mind you but considering I invited her along in the first place, the name calling (much like her ability to vote) was a right that I was entitled to exercise.    

Given the rather small queue outside the Barfly, I wanted to test out my queue jumping pass (just to feel important) and I was told by the token burly man (who looked like a cross between Brian Blessed and Zippy) on the door that I had to queue up with everyone else. So, I have no idea what the point of the laminate was if it didn’t count for anything. My girlfriend rather cleverly said that the organisers of the Camden Crawl must think that VIP stands for Very Ironic Pass.    

It didn’t concern me though because, as I said, I wasn’t going to leave my girlfriend on her own. Don’t get me wrong, she can look after herself. She’s a tough Geordie lass and we all know what feisty women they are – especially towards toilet attendants.     

When we got up the stairs in the Barfly, a drunken lady went round whispering to a bunch of people that, on the count of three, they had to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ – completely forgetting to tell us who to. So on the count of three, almost the entire upstairs venue sang in unison; which was touching to some extent but ruined by the sound of a gigantic mumbling choir filling the air as the song reached the “Happy birthday dear….” section.  In all honesty, it was a nice gesture but if my friends did that to me I would be quite unhappy. I mean, at least get the logistics right.   

As for The Lost Levels, for some reason, I was not engaged in the way that I hoped I would be. I don’t deny they’ve got good tunes and an interesting sound but given the other distractions of other bands to see elsewhere, I really didn’t have time to be patient. The way in which the Camden Crawl is organised, you really feel on edge all the time – worrying about where you’re going next and whether you made the right choice to pick the gig you’re at. Maybe that’s just me though.    

As a result of this, we managed the short hop (or should I say “crawl”) to the Cuban Bar to catch the end of the highly underrated London indie/pop Stricken City ahead of the electro brillance that is Shy Child.    

I only managed to catch a couple of tunes in Stricken City‘s set but they’ve come on leaps and bounds since last May – with tunes that sit perfectly between indie and pop which have a heart-felt Smiths like quality about them – not to mention Rebekah’s voice sounding remarkably similar to Karen O in places. Speaking of Rebekah, she has the look of a girl that will break a few hearts. Which isn’t a bad thing – just be warned boys.    

Sadly, I was told I had to smoke my cigar outside.

Whether there’s enough in them to break out on their own remains to be seen but they are more than capable, I know that. They’re certainly a band that read the ‘How To Write Infectious Music” book (not a real book) every night in their jim jams before departing to the land of nod. Their powerful performance won over a packed Cuban Bar and they’re pretty flawless live. Go and see them if you get the chance.     

Next up were Shy Child – one of my favourite bands in recent years. They released their second album ‘Liquid Love’ earlier this year and obviously, are in the country to promote it. If the first record was “disco-punk”, then the second record is “disco-pop”. The sound is pretty much the same but there’s more emphasis on groove and radio-friendly unit shifting choruses this time around. Which is not a bad thing at all but I do think that a lot of the crowd in attendance were expecting to hear a lot more tracks from the first album because the gig did have an awkward vibe to it. Like taking a girl to Nandos on a first date only to find out when you get there that she’s a vegetarian.

That said, the epic nine minute psychedelic disco ‘Criss Cross’ and Daft Punk sounding ‘The Beatles’ are bold steps forward. When you listen to the new record, it’s hard to imagine that they’re only a duo. Yet, when they play live, they sound equally as big and by the end of their slow burning set, they had everyone’s jaws open. Of course, they didn’t leave without playing this classic from their 2007 debut as an encore:    

As we departed the Cuban Bar, we were rewarded with more rain. Initially, I wanted to head up to catch the mighty surf-grunge Sub Poppers Male Bonding at the Purple Turtle but due to the rain, I decided that I would get my rock craving filled by Dead Meadow instead at the much nearer Underworld.    

In the end, by the time we’d made it to the Underworld, down stairs, gotten used to THAT SMELL that slaps you in the face as you enter and bought ourselves a drink, Dead Meadow were playing their final two tunes. Which was a real shame as I’ve been wanting to see the LA psyschedelic stoner blues chaps  for bloody ages now. They won’t be for everyone – but if you’re a fan of the likes of Black Sabbath, Kyuss, HP Lovecraft and Pink Floyd then I am sure that you will love these Matador tenants. It’s music that you can really lose yourself in and I felt weightless after seeing them noodle out for ten minutes at the end of their set. Beautifully haunting and hazy.    

By this point, I felt like dancing – and that means that obviously I had been drinking. Who dances sober? I certainly don’t. I have to be drunk as it takes my mind of just how ridiculous I look.     

As a result, we decided to head to Koko to catch Autokratz instead of fresh on the scene Summer Camp or the equally brilliant Silver Columns. I kind of figured that I would be able to see these two bands another time soon enough.    

After arriving at Koko, I instantly regretted it. Not because of the music as such but because I got £1 change back from £10. £9 for two drinks?! Absolutely disgraceful. Especially as the staff pour them rather aggressively. If I’m paying £4.50 for a beer, I expect them to take their time with it – or better still get given another beer to go with it. Robbing bastards. Anyway, let’s not dwell too much on the bar prices shall we?

Autokratz were performing “live” apparently. Something that confused me greatly. Correct me if I’m wrong but a band playing along to what is clearly a backing track is not a live band is it? They had a big wide-eyed crowd bouncing and raving on all levels of Koko but in all honesty, I found them a little bit boring. There’s only so many filter sweeps, breakdowns and “put your hands in the air!” chanting that I can take. MCs are such demanding gentlemen. First they tell me to put my hands in the air, then they tell me to make some noise, I mean, why can’t they just perform?! I wasn’t really in the mood – it had been a long day and all I really wanted to do at that stage was get some chicken having missed out on *Nandos earlier on in the evening.     

As we were leaving, Autokratz ended their set with a rather brave (and pretty decent) cover of Primal Scream‘s ‘Swastika Eyes’  which was easily the highlight of their set. Which says it all really.    

All in all, it was a cracking night and we ended up seeing a lot more than I was expecting to. I realise that my description of the end of the night is a bit more vague and mysterious than the very beginning of the blog but what do you expect when I’d been drinking without eating for nine straight hours?!    

Check back here soon for my summary of day two. It’s pretty exciting. Not only can you find out who I saw, I’ve also got stories to tell involving saloon doors, mistaken identity, a drunken lady straight from the set of Jeremy Kyle wanting to beat me up, exclusive Pete Doherty gossip and a whole load more “jokes” (as you’d expect).   

*Remember, I have not been endorsed by the brilliant people at Nandos in any way whatsoever.

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