Live Review and Photo Credit: Adrian Hextall / MindHex Media
If you read the festival website, http://camdenrocksfestival.com/, it;s easy to understand why this iconic part of London has become a mecca for so many music venues and up and coming bands wanting to be recognised.
Camden Town has long been the hub of the UK’s rock ‘n’ roll scene. The bars and clubs of Camden where the raw talent which fuels the industry is incubated and developed, where the buzz on the world’s hottest new bands is amplified from a whisper to a scream.
The Roundhouse, a former train shed, has seen the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who, the Small Faces, Joe Cocker and John Lee Hooker all play there. More recently you could find The Manic Street Preachers, The Verve playing their reformation shows, multiple artists as part of the iTunes Festival all playing there as well.
As you head into the main Camden strip, like the LA strip but less sleazy, venues like The Underworld, The Electric Ballroom, Dingwalls, The Barfly, The Monarch and more play host to some 200 acts delivering what has to be one of the best value British music festivals available to the public.
Festival organiser Chris McCormack, of 3 Colours Red fame, has helped build this festival into a ‘must not miss’ event. For those in the know, it’s possible to see your favourite act in a room holding no more than 300 people. In other venues, the bigger acts can draw a crowd of 500 to 1,000. Of course with so many acts it’s difficult to choose which to cover. Our coverage this year is bigger than ever and as such we’ve broken the review into 2. A Camden by Day slot, covering the bands from 12pm to 5:30pm and Camden by Night covering the rest of the festival till 11pm.
The festival opens at 12pm and there was absolutely no contest for the first band of the day. Up and coming four piece JoanOvArc have impressed many crowds in venues around Camden in recent months.
JoanOvArc (Black Heart)
Launching straight into Live Rock n Roll , JoanOvArc the packed top floor of The Black Heart pub knew, like me, that this would be, by far, the best way to set up the rest of the day. White Trash followed, the latest single, and, for me, not one that is indicative of the energy and force with which the band deliver on all of their other tracks. Live however it adds quite a bit more bite and it certainly feels like the live arena is the best place to get to know this great act.
Bassist and lead vocalist Sam Walker pulls all of the right shapes and her voice is a perfect fit for the trashy rock’n’roll the band play. Lead guitarist Shelley Walker spends half of her time perched on the monitors pulling lick after lick out of her guitar and adding style and depth in spades to every track aired. Future single Seeds of Summer goes down well as does an emotional rendition of Prince’s Purple Rain.
The rhythm combo of Laura Ozholl and Debbie Wildish top of a great look and vibe and one of the notable elements is the ability with which the band swaps vocals and bass \ guitar around for different songs as well. Elements like this ensure that the band can dig deep every show and always pull something out to surprise the audience.
A great start to the day.
AvaGrace (Black Heart)
The challenge for a band playing a stage to the remains of a full house is ‘how to hang onto the crowd’. As AvaGrace kick off, the crowd has only thinned slightly but sees several people descending for the obligatory post set beer. What they do achieve however is within 2-3 songs, the applause and response from the crowd is enough to bring people back up and by the time they close, they’re once again playing to a fairly full room.
Given the band hail from my neck of the woods in East Kent, it would’ve been rude not to hear them out and I’m glad I did. Their style of alternative rock hits the mark and with Chris Horton on vocals, they have a fantastic, energised front man with a great voice to boot. My only criticism would be that Chris’s singing posture sees him facing the wall more than he does the audience. The pose allows him to wind up and let loose some amazing bellows pushing his range to the max but, cough, “the crowd are over here mate!”. Craig Matthews and Ben Goodey add to the vocal mix, be it with rancid guttural roars or simply harmonising on the choruses. The latter are what makes this band stand head and shoulders above some of their peers. Not content with a single vocalist and definitely not simply delivering the roars, the combination of vocal styles are excellent and well worth checking out when they play near to you. Special mention as well to Alby Wallbank and Will Evans on drums and bass respectively. Depth, power and energy exude from the pair and they provide the wrapping paper and ribbon to this excellent present of a band!
Zoax (The Underworld)
(Words & Pics: TG)
What did I expect from Zoax, a London based quintet who I decided to go see on a whim? Not sure but definitely not being taken on a twisty-turny road through another world, the world of Zoax.
Playing tracks from their debut album Zoax released just a few weeks ago and also from their previous EPs, their mix of groovy, aggressive, powerful but somehow subtle roller-coaster of a ride rock songs, leave the crowd not knowing where they will take us next but desperately wanting to find out.
The crowd seemed to feed off the synchronised leaping, energy and playing of the band on stage and Adam Carroll, the vocalist who, dare I say it, came across as an angry cheeky chappie in a cult leader kind of way. At one point when performing ‘The Wave’ from their new album, I heard silence from the audience, no chat, no laughter, nothing. Everyone was intent on Zoax – I’ve never seen that before.
That soon changed because with jumping into the audience, stealing someone’s hat, serenading (or screaming – I wasn’t sure) at a young lady amongst other things, Carroll’s introduction of Zoax being “Your best friends but also your worst fucking nightmare” left me and the rest of the crowd wanting so much more than this short set.
I want, no…. need!, to see this incredible band again!
Counting Days (The Barfly)
Counting Days were one of my ‘gamble’ bands at this year’s festival. I’ll be honest from the off, Metalcore and Hardcore acts do not typically pull me into a venue to see a band play live. However, to avoid a bias towards any particular genre of music, Counting Days seemed like a logical act to check out to see what they had to offer.
Arriving around 20 minutes late thanks to the notorious London traffic, a visibly frazzled band set up as quickly as they possible could and with a “FUCK UBER” from vocalist Thom Debaere, they launched into their short set. If one thing can inspire a hardcore band to perform with the anger levels up to 11, it’s being late, being pissed off and potentially having your set cut through no fault of your own. As such, Thom peppered the front few rows with angst and vitriol as he and the band charged through their set.
Hailing from the South of England, there’s no mistaking the energy and punch that the band project into the sweaty, rammed Barfly. Charlie Wilson and Curtis Ward split on either end of the stage drove the sound and Alex Dench on bass, ably accompanied by Lasselle Lewis proved why this band is being picked up on multiple playlists and getting the attention of the music media at the moment.
Reigning Days (The Monarch)
Never one to refuse a challenge, as I left the Barfly, having watched Counting Days, I passed The Monarch where Reigning Days were playing. Given that the mid afternoon slot was being filled by “Days” bands, it seemed only appropriate to stop and take in this three piece from Torquay, part of the English Riviera (if you believe in such a thing!)
Now stopping was easy, being able to take them in was another matter. The Monarch was full! so full that although my photo pass would have allowed me in there was nowhere at all to stand and take pictures. As such, Reigning Days set was observed from the tranquil location of the high street, on the other side of the window. I shall think of the set as one that had allowed me to shoot the band from the backstage environment as opposed to one that saw buses stop behind me to let people on and off as I tried to shoot and listen to the band.
What I did hear however was excellent. Solid hard rock music, catchy energised and garnered a great reaction from the tightly packed crowd (as you can see from my (cough..) backstage shot of vocalist and guitarist Dan Steer).
Playing tracks from their debut album Opera of Love, this was another band where their set time was too short. It’s also another where a bigger venue (or at least one I could get into easily) was warranted. Definitely one to check out in the near future.
Ginger Wildheart (The Cuban)
What a gent Ginger Wildheart is. Longtime collaborator with festival organiser Chris McCormack, whose brother Danny is the former bass player with The Wildhearts, had a cheeky word with Ginger and suggested that he might like to play 3 sets in 3 different venues. It’s good PR, it’ll help those fans of Ginger who missed his set in previous years (the queue for The Jazz Cafe in 2014 was a sight to behold) get to see the man play. Could Ginger and his faithful Guitar tech Duncan get everything from venue to venue in the allotted time? Thankfully the answer was YES!
The Cuban saw Ginger’s first set and if ever a venue needed the air conditioning on full, then this was it. Arriving on the back of the Reigning Days show (backstage!) the main entrance to the Cuban was blocked. Every inch of space was taken by eager fans wanting to hear what Mr Wildheart had to say, ably supported by Ai and Toshi of Hey! Hello! one of Ginger’s current projects.
A quick detour round the back and I manage to find myself truly backstage and able to get level with Ginger & Co. to hear them play. A delay in proceedings thanks to the people on the sound desk clearing off as Dunc tried to get everything set up meant I missed nothing of the show. Toxins & Tea from The Year of the Fanclub release was followed by Swimwear and then Brain Sugar, the Silver Ginger 5 number that takes on a life of its own when played live. Rather than a set of acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass played by Toshi and soothing backing vocals with a tambourine from Ai just add that little bit extra and make everything sound quite special.
By the time they get to the latter part of the set, the heat in the venue is unbearable. Sweat is pouring off Ginger although Ai seems impervious to the heat and simply radiates beauty. You Beautiful Thing You, Nita Nitro and a storming sing along of I Wanna Go.. the Wildhearts classic tune end the set and sees Ginger, Ai and Toshi pack it all up and head off to the next venue for Round 2.
Florence Black (The Monarch)
With a desire to see the Amorettes live and knowing that the Monarch gets very full very quickly a strategic decision to move to the venue for the earlier band seemed like a good idea. A cold pale ale also had my name on it and with a welcome sigh I sat to take in Welsh act Florence Black.
Having no idea about what to expect, with a name like that I’d assumed a female solo artist, it was an interesting and welcome surprise to hear the energised three piece kick in with their band of solid rock music. To quote the band, they bring passionate rock music to your ear drums. Nothing could be closer to the truth. Energised, never still for a second and in lead singer Tristan a fantastic set of pipes and a mean guitarist to boot.
A little bit of research later and I identify Fozzi on bass on one page and Jordan on bass on another. Given the three of them are childhood friends, I’m guessing real name and nickname are playing a part here. Perry on drums adds the final ingredient to the mix and the band rattle a breakneck speed through a set focusing their 5 track EP and other assorted singles they’ve released over the last couple of years. More studio time is apparently booked but for now check them out here: https://soundcloud.com/florenceblackuk
The Amorettes (The Monarch)
(words and pics: TG / MindHex Media)
Well its been a whole year since I last saw the Amorettes at Camden Rocks and what a difference a year makes. When I first saw them at Proud, Camden Rocks 2015 (a much bigger venue but I will come back to that later), their rock and roll attitude and performance blew me away but today? Wow! Their confidence shines through and makes for a much more ballsy (yes they are female but it still applies) performance which somehow makes their songs even heavier (and American?)!
They introduced us to some new tracks from their soon to be released pledge album White Hot Heat, due out 27th June. With the song Let Your Neighbours Call the Cops which had the crowd singing along and then hearing White Russian Roulette, it showed that even though they were still playing the same sound, they had managed to become heavier and harder than their previous album.
Now as much as I like The Monarch as a venue, I think given how much bigger the Amorettes are getting and especially after performing at the bigger venue, Proud, last year, it was too small and as even noted by the band, they were told it had reached capacity five minutes before coming on stage and people were still trying to get in. It ended up that a crowd built up outside the window but not to worry, Heather McKay (bassist) decided they needed to be a part of this too and played to them through the window!
Thankfully as well as their new songs, they played some old favourites from their previous releases which was just as well as the crowd consisted not only of people just out to try new bands but also a lot of Amorettes fans. We were all happy to hear Bull By the Horn mixed in but the Amorettes showed us how much they knew how to work their audience and finished their set with Hot’n’Heavy which involved everyone providing vocal support during the chorus with a little help from Gill Montgomery.
Again, the Amorettes proved they were the epitome of Rock and Roll in my eyes and my only complaint is that they definitely need a bigger venue. If this was a taster for what is to come, the new album cannot come quickly enough.
And so the first part of our review comes to a close. Part 2, Camden Rocks Festival by Night is HERE.