I haven’t been to Camden Town on a Saturday afternoon for many years. But I assume nothing has changed in that, the bars, shops and market stalls attract a cosmopolitan mix of bohemians, wannabies, has-beens and tourists looking for fake Michael Jackson Thriller leather jackets and bootlegged music. I love Camden for all of the above reasons. Well, maybe not the leather jackets!
But on Saturday 30th May, for one day only, Camden Town is congested with more music fans than tourists looking to buy an alternative look. The pavements are not only full of overspill from the pubs and bars but music lovers wearing Camden Rocks wristbands.
Camden Rocks Festival is a one day festival without fields, mud, enormous traffic jams down small country lanes, or the need to sleep rough (though this is optional). One wrist band allows entry to a 20 venues in Camden where no less than 200 bands play from midday to midnight followed by an after show party.
The venues range from small bars hastily rearranged to accommodate bands and small intimate crowds to the 1,000 capacity Electric Ballroom where the main headline is Bullet For My Valentine, who some have no doubt paid the £30 wristband entry price for alone.
Throughout the day there was a plethora of performances for a wide spectrum of rock fans. Whether revisiting your youth with the likes of old-time punks Anti-Nowhere League, loving the big hair of Michael Monroe & Gun, reliving the sound of The Ramones 1-2-3-4 thrash with the Richie Ramone band, chicken-dancing along to the recently reformed New Model Army or looking out for something new that may just kick on to bigger things, so if nothing else you can tell everyone you saw them when they were playing a gig to a handful of punters, one in a deep sea diver outfit in a Cuban cocktail bar!
No doubt many were hoping Glen Matlock would offer up a rousing set of Sex Pistols favourites. After all, he was responsible for writing the music for the best of Pistols songs. But like all of us, he is much older now; and stepped onto the stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar.
As with all festivals, choosing what to see and what to miss out on, is the most difficult part of the day. That, and attempting to stick to a plan. My plan was to get to Camden as early as possible and take in all 20 venues while undertaking short snippets of as many performances as I could and ending the day watching unsigned band The Parade @ Belushi’s and a few other headline acts. Unfortunately I failed miserably.
I was fortunate enough to be given a heads up by a PR company that Asylums would be playing The Cuban @ 4pm and that maybe I should check them out. I did, and definitely wasn’t disappointed. It was unfortunate for them and the punters that were unaware of just how exciting they were, that they played to only a handful of people. Their enthusiastic ‘ants-in-yer-pants’, pro-active and powerful performance was both exciting and mesmerising. Michael Webster (bass) and Henry Tyler (drums) keep things tight while Luke Branch (Vocals and guitar), Jazz Miell (guitar) jump about the small stage like two rabid psychiatric patients. At one point Luke jumps off stage and on to an innocent photographer, while Jazz throws himself around, pulling contorted faces akin to Stephen Merchant being consumed by Alien.
The songs are fast and furious. Think Weezer meets Lemonheads. Bubblegum punk pop at its very best. This performance deserves a much bigger crowd today. But I have no doubt Asylums will be playing much bigger venues and sold out shows once word gets out. Their set includes their current single, ‘Wet Dream Fanzine‘ and the familiar sounding, toe-tapping, sing-a-long ‘Joy In A Small Wage‘.
One of the best names in rock is without doubt …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. With the release of last year’s ninth album, simply titles ‘IX’ they have a large and devoted following. They had already started by the time I had finished talking to Asylums and walked down to an almost full Electric Ballroom. I’m not too familiar with their hardcore American rock. But judging by the size and participation of the audience, they still rock… hard!
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead were tight, heavy, loud and very professional. This is not the kind of music I would normally listen to and certainly not see live; and that’s the beauty of an event like the Camden Rocks Festival. It allows someone like me to walk in off the street and take it all in without prejudice to witness music and see bands performing I would otherwise not get to experience.
Headliners across 19 of the 20 venues were as followers: No Sugar @ The Enterprise, Turbowolf (upstairs) & The Hyena Kill (downstairs) @ Barfly, Skarlett Riot @ The Stillery, Jettblack (Monarch), Michael Monroe @ Proud, Menswear @ The Cuban, Red House Glory @ Hawley Arms, Funeral For A Friend (main) & IC1’s (canal side bar) @ Dingwalls, Masakichi @ Fifty-Five, B-Movie Thieves @ Good Mixer, Black Moth @ Black Heart, Skindred @ Underworld, Rob Lynch @ Brewdog, Buffalo Summer @ Purple Turtle, New Model Army @ Jazz Cafe, The Parade @ Belushi’s and Bullet For My Valentine @ Electric Ballroom.
To end the day, my original plan was to take in several headlining shows by making a quick dash between around Camden Town taking advantage of the fact that most punters would choose one or another and the route between each one would be fairly quiet. I was keen to hear a song or two from the likes of The Parade, New Model Army, Funeral For A Friend and Bullet for My Valentine. But this is where the plan fell down. Blame solely rests with The Parade for playing such an amazing set!
The Parade are an unsigned band I have seen live before. They play powerful pop ballads, full of dark storytelling tales that, like their live performances are full of grit, intensity, and edginess. There’s a feeling anything can happen about their edgy shows. The band includes a backdrop of bass, drums and keyboards to the sexual chemistry between Matt Pritchard (aka Lupen Crook) and Jemimah Dean. They share vocal duties while Pritchard plays guitar and Dean, percussion. They command the stage and play the songs with sexual tension that has the audience transfixed. Their set includes last year’s single ‘Connector‘ and songs from a forthcoming debut album.
Blame The Parade for playing such a wonderfully tight and exciting set that I didn’t get to headliner hop round the venues at this year’s Camden Rock Festival. But I’m glad I saw them, as like Asylums I won’t be expecting to see them play such small venues for long.