Live review & photo credit: Adrian Hextall (Writer / Photographer / Contributor MyGlobalMind Webzine)
Camden Town has a reputation as a hotbed of musical talent. Bands such as Oasis, Blur, Elastica, Sleeper and Menswear as well as The Strokes, The Libertines, At The Drive-in and My Chemical Romance have all done a turn at one of the venues that sit on the strip between Mornington Crescent tube station and The Barfly situated the other side of Camden Lock.
Continuing that fine tradition, festival organiser Chris McCormack started Camden Rocks in 2009 which saw The Libertines Pete Doherty and Carl Barat headline, alongside then up and coming talents Nine Black Alps, Young Guns, The Paddingtons, Black Spiders and Sonic Boom Six. This year, with some 200 bands on offer, the likelihood that you’ll see all of the ones you want to is nil. Hours are spent pouring over the stage times to try and work out a sensible running order only to discover that two key bands are playing at either end of Camden High street immediately after one another.
Our day began at 12pm in The Cuban, a small venue in the heart of Camden Lock, a place that oozes atmosphere, and truly flies the flag for the independent music scene with many venues all within a stones’ throw of each other.
Last year’s festival saw Star Scream vocalist and main song writer, Adam Lightspeed, play a solo acoustic set of some of the bands best known numbers. This year we are treated to a full electric show and that is most definitely the way to see this band. Energised, glam fuelled electro rock, Star Scream bring back memories of classic T-Rex with Adam’s voice almost a mirror for Marc Bolan’s on some of the softer moments of their set.
Thundering drumming via a pretty impressive PA that makes Sky London’s kit sound immense and he is backed up by solid bass work from relatively new band member Natalie Cherry. Between them all they fly through tracks from their début album ‘Sexploitation’ during their short 30 minute set window.
Highlights include latest single ‘Scenester’ which sees the band flip effortlessly from the glam like stomp of T-Rex in the first half of the song to a more epic wall of noise that typifies Muse and an angst ridden Matt Bellamy. Quite a feat to blend the two styles together so seamlessly. Another is ‘Break The Night’ a track that would not be out of place in the soundtrack to a gothic horror movie.
After such an excellent start, we move on to Proud, another venue in the heart of Camden and thankfully only a two minute walk from The Cuban that means we are able to get there in time to see the opening number from hot new act The Amorettes.
Marked by many web sites as one of the bands that must be seen at this year’s festival, The Amorettes, hailing from Scotland, bring with them highly energised classic rock tunes, huge riffs, solid rhythm and wickedly snotty attitude that sees everyone in the room look up and take notice during their set.
Now signed to Off Yer Rocka Recordings, and with their brand new album, ‘Game On’ , produced by legendary producer, Chris Tsangarides, The Amorettes show today why they matter and prove beyond a doubt that they are here for the long haul. Their set is tight as might be expected having come straight off a major support slot with Europe and Black Star Riders.
Gill Montgomery on vocals represents everything good about how to front a band and immediately brings back memories of classic performances from Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford and throws in a dash of Billie Joe Armstrong for good measure. Heather & Hannah McKay on bass and drums respectively drive (and I mean really drive!) the whole sound to another level and deliver a pounding back beat that ensures they hook the crowd in from the word go and don’t let up until the last note of the set is played.
There is no doubt at all that higher slots on future bills await them.
Last year at Camden Rocks, an enthusiastic Ginger Wildheart, speaking to anyone who would listen, stated that THE band to see were (a then unheard of) Love Zombies. Since then, their star has begun to ascend and the band, a five piece band from London fronted by American singer Hollis J find themselves on the same stage as Ginger, in the slot immediately before his.
With a stand in bassist who alone was worth the price of admission for his energy and shape throwing on stage, the band deliver an energy that confirms their British punk roots and top it off with catchy melodies that clearly mix influences from The Ramones, Blondie and No Doubt.
To categorise Hollis would be to take a dash of Debbie Harry, Joey Ramone, Cynd Lauper, Gwen Stefani and blend it all together. The result is a front woman who flies around the stage in a blur of colour and energy seamlessly blending pop, punk and rock in equal measure. The poppier elements will see mass commercial appeal and it’s likely that mainstream radio will pick them up for playlists before long.
With a record deal currently eluding them, this is a band that just needs that break to see them propelled into the big league. Labels take note. The room was packed, the crowd loved them… you’d be silly not to sign!
Playing the set before Ginger did the Love Zombies no harm whatsoever. The room was packed as people got there early, recalling how difficult it was to see Ginger at the Jazz Cafe the previous year. A smart move then by Mr Wildheart, helping place (I’m sure it was no coincidence) the band whose front woman will also help Ginger front Hey! Hello! in their second incarnation.
Ginger, of late, has been touring his ‘Songs & Words’ show. A 3 hour set that saw him run through his back catalogue from The Wildhearts début to his solo career defining, crowd funded, 555% release. With 3 hours not available to him today, what we get instead is a medley driven run through of all of those releases with the odd story thrown in as well. As such, there are snippets from 42 (yes… 42) different tracks with the backdrop changing to represent the album \ release and the era of his career to which the songs relate.
He’s aided by ‘Songs & Words’ partner in crime, Jase Edwards, Wolfsbane guitarist and current producer for Ginger’s solo material. Between them and their acoustic guitars they provide a wonderful sing along set for the eager crowd.
It’s also a set that almost didn’t happen. As anyone who saw the recent S&W tour will know the backing tracks \ drum beats etc.. are delivered via a laptop to the side of the stage over which Ginger and Jase then add the acoustic guitars and vocals. Said laptop would normally therefore accompany the band but today it was nowhere to be found. For a man who seems to be able to deliver more interesting stories than I’ve had hot dinners, this had all the hallmarks of yet another “you won’t believe this but…” moment from Ginger. With less than a couple of hours to go before their set, Jase’s laptop is not with the gear, no one knows where it is and there’s a suggestion that maybe the set will have to be cancelled…. Thankfully replacements were found and backing tracks were transferred and the set was flawless much to the clear delight of the crowd.
Another story for S&W Part II when the duo tour again next year perhaps…
Another interview window (with Love Zombies) meant that the next band to see live was Gun. The Scottish band are undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment with a new album, ‘Frantic’ fronted by former bassist and founding member Dante Gizzi. He and brother Jools, on guitar, are the only two original members of the band that saw their first three albums deliver multiple hit singles in the British charts including the ‘definitive’ rocked up rendition of Cameo’s ‘Word Up’.
Having seen Gun more times than pretty much any other band during the early 1990s and having caught them during the brief Toby Jepson fronted incarnation, it was with interest that I settled down today to see how they would fare with Dante as the main man, front and centre. The simple answer is “brilliantly”. The band are re-energised and although playing smaller venues and having to put the time and effort into rebuilding their brand and image all over again, they deliver a set that oozes quality and experience.
Opening song ‘Let It Shine’ is taken from the new album as is ‘One Wrong Turn’ and title track ‘Frantic’. All three fit seamlessly with the older material and prove how strong the song writing talents of the brothers still are.
Highlights include (not surprisingly) ‘Word Up’ and a blistering rendition of my personal favourite track ‘Steal Your Fire’ which saw the packed venue bouncing as one and threatening to break through the floorboards.
Welcome back Gun…. it’s been a while but this proves it has been worth the wait.
Setlist: Let It Shine / Don’t Say It’s Over / Better Days / One Wrong Turn / Money (Everybody Loves Her) / Frantic / Labour Of Life / Word Up
(Cameo cover) / Steal Your Fire / Shame on You
The choice of headliners at this year’s festival was unbelievable. Credit to the organisers that they can get names like Bullet for my Valentine, Funeral for a Friend, Skindred, New Model Army and more to play (essentially) much smaller venues than they normally would. As such, with 20 venues offering a plethora of talent, it made the choice for the final band of the day very difficult indeed for many people attending.
The choice for me however was a no-brainer. Having never had the opportunity to see Michael Monroe live before, this was a man with an amazing musical pedigree and a reputation for an electric live show.
Having been talked into performing by his guitarist Rich Jones (as he kept reminding him throughout the set) who also plays in the Ginger Wildheart Band, Monroe is looked after by Ginger’s guitar tech Dunc for the evening, through multiple mic stand ‘issues’ which just makes the whole event seem more like a family affair than ever.
Opening with ’78 (from Sensory Overdrive, the album he co-wrote with… you’ve guessed it Ginger Wildheart) Monroe storms out of the gates like a greyhound with a lit rocket tied to it’s rear end. It’s no surprise the man is rock star skinny… he oozes energy and doesn’t stop moving for the entire time he’s onstage. Whenever possible he spends his time perched precariously on the monitors so that everyone in the crowd has a great view of him even those of us at the back. It’s appreciated and helps draw the entire room into the set and the whole experience.
Several tracks from his latest releases ‘Sensory Overdrive’ and ‘Horns and Halos’ prove that some of his strongest material is his most recent. There are of course obligatory tracks thrown in from his Hanoi Rocks days, almost obligatory given former Hanoi bassist Sami Yaffa is now playing with Monroe again.
There are too many glamtastic highlights to note but it’s worth noting the sax work and how original it makes the show. Low down and dirty rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t normally come with a saxophone solo but when Monroe plays it, well, it just works perfectly and adds another layer of groove to the mix.
A great set, a great show and as ever a great festival that makes me wish I could be in 20 places at the same time to catch all of the quality acts on offer. Credit to the organisers for putting together such a unique experience and delivering it in such style. Roll on 2016.
Camden Rocks 2015 Gallery