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Camden Rocks Festival 2017 – Review Part 1, June 3rd 2017

Words & Pictures : Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media 

If there’s one thing that Camden Rocks Festival can do, it’s bring together strangers and turn them into life long friends. My first festival saw me cover around a dozen bands, dashing in and out of venues with barely a nod to anyone in the assembled crowds other than to say “Don’t worry, I’ll be out of your way in a minute, I just need a few pictures for my article.” A few muttered grumbles and grudging millimetres of movement out of the way later as people almost let me get the shots i needed and I’d move on to the next venue and repeat. 

Contrast that to the fourth year of coverage that MyGlobalMind has done for this wonderful assortment of bands, genres and venues and I now find myself in great company every year, drawn to mutually favoured acts with a group of friends that honest feel like family. Various factors have combined over the years to generate this friendship and camaraderie but this is THE festival that will always draw everyone together. It helps open your eyes and ears to new music every year, how can it not when some 250 bands play across 25 venues ranging from a shoe-box holding less than 100 people to places like Electric Ballroom and KOKO that attract some of the biggest names in music.

With no Ginger Wildheart on any stage this year, the day was open to discovery, reflection and rejuvenation as bands new and old were sought out at various venues up and down the Sunset Strip of North London. With venues starting at Mornington Crescent and ending past Chalk Farm Tube station, a good pair of boots and time travel would always be needed  if all boxes were to be ticked. 

Starting at The Diner, with aforementioned group of friends at what shall henceforth be known as “Ila’s Gathering” pancakes, syrup, sausage, cream, more syrup, bacon and….. Camden Hells lager, because well, it’s a festival, we ‘gathered’ chatted, agreed schedules and then headed off to see the first band of the day at Dingwalls Canalside venue, The Idol Dead.  

Hollow Point Curses was a fantastic experience for The Idol Dead. The support they received through the campaign created a fantastic family of friends and fans and those same people are all present and correct, half of whom could also be found at ‘Ila’s Gathering’. The Canalside room in Dingwalls is a sweaty mess from the word go but somehow perfectly suits the Idol Dead and with both Polly Phluid (what a name!) and KC making the most of all available spaces to twist, turn, climb, scream and energise the audience. With dashes of rock, a soupçon of roll and the sort of punk music that reminds us where the movement really did start.

Chuck in a spoonful soul and an audience that laps up every word, note and drop of sweat flying off this energised band this was really the perfect opening experience for a festival that would unfurl and reveal itself to the unsuspecting ticket holders over the following 11-12 hours.

On then to Vertebrae. A quick wander down the road and a swift (it has to be when so many bands are on) cold one at the Oxford Arms with my fellow MGM reviewer Karan Dutta and then I’m off to see what can be slotted in before Fierce Ideas go on stage at the Black Heart. 

A new venue to me, Simmons, located just behind Camden Tube Station has a small floor level stage with a reasonable amount of space for the three members of Vertebrae. Members Daire Mulvihill, Josh Clark and Anthony Sullivan are a London based outfit with a little more than a hint of Irish about them they straddle the foundations laid by Radiohead and Biffy Clyro. It fits perfectly with their rock, punk, grunge ethos and a return visit to see them to understand their as yet unexplained love of Celine Dion is warranted. A short trip, a quick drink, 20 mins of Vertebrae, positive thoughts and notes for future and we are off to the hot box that is the Black Heart. 

Fierce Ideas are formed from the ashes of two great acts. Former lead vocalist from Hey!Hello! Victoria Liedtke is now singing with Tropical Contact front man Ben Janet. The resultant mash up is supported, at the festival at least, by members of Eureka Machines and the end result is a glorious mix of 70s tinged British glam rock n roll. 

According to the band’s post shortly after the Festival was over, they “experienced megatriumph at Camden Rocks Festival at the weekend, to the soundtrack of approx 1,000,000 baying fans, hungry for Fierce music and festival kebab.” Whilst the numbers are currently subject to a recount,  much like Brexit and the recent election, the numbers take a lot of focus away from the real issues but the resultant ‘Gathering’ has created ‘F.I.S.T (Fierce Ideas Support Team)

Image may contain: 12 people, people smiling, people standing

Describing their sound as Music for humans. And animals. And humans who act like animals, you can see what you think with this glorious cover of Sweet’s Fox on The Run. 

Catching Ben later who, like me, had gone to KOKO to see Royal Republic, he’s adamant that this is no one off and that he and Victoria hope to make beautiful music that will result in the birth of an album in the not too distant future. I sense another gathering for that launch show!  

As the sound of ‘Foxy’ died out, a quick dash through the Camden Market and the Kraken Sounds Stage, made me stop in my tracks as the wonderful Louise Distras appeared like a dream complete with acoustic guitar. Louise really is the perfect summer accompaniment and her voice, acoustic guitar, a quick top up of Camden Hells whilst outside in the sun really showcased why Camden Rocks is such a wonderful event. I’ve yet to see Louise do an electric set but when someone can nail their music with such ease, armed with just an acoustic guitar a smile and a touch of attitude, the electric shows must be something to behold. 

Another artist with a PledgeMusic campaign, the latest material is now available and new single ‘Outside of You’ should be heard by all. 

Even the best intentions are sometimes scuppered but the desire to see Daxx & Roxane, won through and a run towards Chalk Farm and the Fiddler’s Elbow meant I arrived in time to watch the whole set.  

Screeching guitars and soaring vocals, the band bring a good dose of classic Hard Rock to proceedings. Hailing from Montreux, Switzerland, the band have three EPs and a debut album under their belt and severla years of hard touring to ensure that they know exactly how to put on a show. Not limited to the stage, they use the floor of the Elbow as well allowing both Simon Golaz and Cal Wymann to trade lick after lick with each other whilst vocalist and bassist Cédric Pfister (is there ever a better surname for a singer in a rock band??) looked on with a somewhat bemused glint in his eye. 

First and foremost though, the delivery is passionate, the songs are memorable and the audience in the hot (again) sticky (again) pub (again) lapped it all up and used their voices to register their appreciation with aplomb. 

From Switzerland to Sweden and all the way back down the high street to KOKO to see Royal Republic. The band from Malmö had arrived in the UK last minute, had lost half of their equipment and only just managed to get to KOKO in time to play yet they came, they saw they conquered with a brilliant performance in one of the larger venues of the day.

KOKO has a decent capacity and all tiers of the historic venue had people enjoying the set from Royal Republic. Regardless of the amount of equipment that was missing or the other missing items, the band were on fine form and looked every bit as sharp as they do on a normal show. Classics like Tommy Gun were played to great applause and the show felt, in some ways slightly isolated given the size and capacity of the venue, like a proper homecoming headlining set. It was one of the bigger ‘must see‘ sets of the day and also explained why so many band members from other acts had travelled to KOKO to see them.

As Royal Republic wound up their set, a swift dash (drink would follow) back up the high street to the Black Heart once more for the enigmatic and rather gorgeous The Soap Girls. There is no denying that many a bloke will have been taken in by the full page advertisement taken out by the band in this year’s CRF17 programme. Two very leggy blondes in tight outfits playing punk rock to the people. What’s not to like? 

French born sisters Ca(Millie) and Noe(MIE) Debray, managed by sister Sam (for whom they have written a lovely ditty – see the video below) first and foremost have supremely strong songwriting abilities and a clear dedication and determination to win. With their own fan club present, ‘The SoapSuds’, their show was a wonderful mix of theatre and showmanship that will have won over a lot of new fans (me included) over the course of some 45 minutes.

Although they argue their common ground is grunge, with Nirvana, Alice in Chains and L7 being their biggest influences, the fact that they both share vocals singing, in some case, about some decidedly iffy topics means that a show is never anything but unique and the sweaty mess of fans (It must have been nearly 40 degrees) simply stripped off their shirts and, well, got on with things. 

The SoapGirls play rock ‘n’ roll the way its meant to be: Loud. Raw. Dirty. Fast and furious. and the hard graft is paying off having already captured the attention of some movers and shakers in the industry.

There’s an album due soon…. miss it at your peril.

Desiring a quick half or two, a return to the outdoor stage in the Stables Market area to see Imperial Leisure seemed an appropriate thing to do

Taking influences from all around, the music is a fun-loving throwback to the ska-2-tone era combined with more recent punkrock-hiphop sounds. It’s always a party and it was a perfect place for them to perform. Having done a larger electric set earlier in the day it was obvious quite early on that I should have also tried to see that but that’s the thing about Camden Rocks Festival. If ever a festival left you wanting more, determined to find out more about new and exciting bands, it’s this one. Feedback about the earlier Imperial Leisure set was wildly positive from the people in the crowd and that’s enough to warrant checking out albums, 2008 – The Art of Saying Nothing, 2012 – Death to the One Trick Pony, 2015 – Life Style Brand.

A dash back up to the Fiddler’s Elbow ensured 30 minutes with Last Great Dreamers who brought back their glam tinged power-pop rock that harks back to the heady days of T-Rex, Slade, Sweet and more. With an energised band and a perfect front man in Marc Valentine, it’s no surprise these Brits have been identified as one of the saviours of British Rock in the last couple of years. Their debut album Retrosexual, and the impact they made in the 1990s suggested a brilliant career. Having called it a day they did reform in 2014, staged a fabulous comeback, released an album of rarities, ‘Crash Landing In Teenage Heaven’ and have landed lots of great support slots. Second time lucky maybe? They deserve it. Check out latest album, Transmissions From Oblivion.

From glam rock to blues. Big Boy Bloater & The Limits did a turn at Proud Camden and what a turn it was. If Last Great Dreamers are one of Britain’s best kept rock secrets then Big Boy Bloater is one of Britain’s best kept blues secrets. What he can’t make that guitar do is no-one’s business and with the sort of voice that would scare away alligators in the Florida swamp, this was a set to be remembered. 

The Limits do a great job in supporting him but the show belongs to BBB (Mr Bloater to you and I) and as he twists and turns and literally wrings the emotion out of his guitar, the crowd respond accordingly and by the end of the set, if we’d been seated, we’d have given him a standing ovation. As it was, well we cheered and clapped anyway. Brilliant – catch him on tour later this year. 

For those people not wanting to force their way into one of the bigger venues to see either The Damned or Feeder (the former at The Electric Ballroom, the latter at KOKO) then people had the opportunity to check out bands like the wonderful Lilith & The Knight

With the release of their debut single Wake Up in April 2016, the London based 4 piece are yet another up-and-coming London based hard rock band. Dark, mysterious, gothic and yet not gloomy at all, the band centres around Lilith, garbed in robes for the opening songs before looking more like a modern amazonian warrior as she prowls around the stage in tight leather wear. The Crowndale, opposite KOKO had a decent sized crowd, good beer on tap and Lilith and Co were in place to provide the perfect antidote to the hot tightly packed venues where getting to the bar was a pipe dream and watching the band meant you had to start queuing some 90 mins early thus missing another 2-3 opportunities to see bands during the day. 

And so, to our choice of final headliner for the night. Steeped in history and celebrating 40 years in the music business, The Damned seem to be just as relevant today as they did in 1977 when they took on the old guard of bloated prog rock and emerged triumphant as the British punk scene took off. 

Although the line up has been stable for some time, only David Vanian (Vocals) and Captain Sensible (Guitar) remain from back then. It’s enough though and the band are really as tight as could be with Vanian looking every inch the gothic lord of the castle as he stalks the stage with a venomous glare. The Captain is dressed as ever with the red beret and a red and white striped top and is the perfect foil to Vanian. That the two work so well together also reflects the music. Never just punk, not overtly goth, never just alternative rock and pop, the band can take on anything and succeed. 

Supported these days by Monty Oxy Moron on Keyboard, Pinch on Drums and Stu West on Bass they delivered a soundtrack for a generation and that generation had brought their children to the show so the crowd, packed as it was, contained a real mix of 50 somethings, 40 somethings, and every age group below it right down to teenagers who wanted to see what all the fuss was about. 

Well, now they know! 

Another year, another reason for time travel to exist to allow people to view more than a dozen bands in a day. Roll on 2018 when we get to do it all over again.

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