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Interview with Camden Rocks organiser and founder, Chris McCormack

Interview and Photos : Adrian Hextall

With just over a month to go until the 2019 Camden Rocks Festival commences, the event celebrates it’s tenth anniversary by making the whole thing a 2 day affair this year. What is logistically one of the hardest things to put on, 25 odd venues and over 400 bands across the weekend, shows the commitment founder Chris McCormack has when it comes to bringing all manner of band covering multiple genres into Camden Town to help them be discovered by thousands of fans descending on the mile long strip. We spoke to Chris over a few beers at the Holiday Inn in Camden as he puts the final touches on this year’s festival.

Chris McCormack with The Professionals

AH: I saw you at Vive Le Rock Awards recently. They offer that same independent spirit that you do with Camden Rocks.

CM: We do these things, Camden Rocks, and I put Vive Le Rock and Eugene (Magazine owner and Awards organiser) in the same kind of space. Helping others, helping people progress, he supports so many great bands. He supports all these rock and roll acts. He gives them a platform to do something. And there’s this something with Camden. We’re all doing the same thing in a different way. He gives them a platform, that’s it. He makes things happen for them. He’ll put things together, and he’ll make sure people see those bands that he loves. He pushes the right people that he loves. (Our review of the night is below)

AH: Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. I mean, you’re doing the same sort of thing. And if I can rewind you slightly to when this first kicked off, you did this one-off by the looks of it. Back in, what was it? 2009?

CM: Yeah.

AH: And smaller number venues, obviously a much smaller bill at that time, and what was it, just like a foot in the water let’s see if it works?

CM: All I was doing with that, it was a one-off. It was never meant to be more than a one-off.

AH: And then what made you convince to come back?

CM: Because it started off because I was doing clubs nights and these ‘Jubilee’ named events as well. I was putting these bands on, which are brilliant little bands. Also, I’ve come from a little tiny town called South Shields, which nobody fucking goes to. And there’s a great load of musicians there.

So I thought when I moved to London, I was in the middle of, I knew everyone. I knew all guys and all the publishers, I knew the agents, so I was in a position where I was in the middle of it with the bands. So I thought, why don’t I get all of these people that I know, to see some of the bands that I really liked. But they couldn’t get even get arrested in Camden let alone pull in a crowd, they couldn’t get anywhere with what they were trying to do.

AH: They couldn’t get in on their own, presumably. And they get to play a gig to the likes of five people?

CM: Yeah. It was really difficult, and it’s always been like that. You can’t be full energy, play and support, come back home and work the next day. We were fucked. There was not many people, there was not enough people in Newcastle but, the reason we came down here was because of the off chance an agent might be in here. Somebody that could change your life in London. That was why you came down. And London was the only place. So I kind of wanted to make Camden Rocks a little bit about… I wanted to bring bands from South Shields to give them that chance.

Or Glasgow, or fucking Edinburgh or wherever, just bring them down. There’s no network up there. Give them a chance to get signed in London, that was the idea.

AH: And there’s a buzz now, isn’t there? About people being able to play this every year. The volume of bands has gone up. The names you attract has gone up. The excitement that people get discovering a new act, the calibre is such that the first band on the bill of the day could be a future headliner.

CM: Yeah, yeah. Well there’s no shit bands playing. There’s only good bands play in that festival. The calibre is always going to be the same, I think. I mean, this year has been a bit weird because KOKO’s refurbished and we can’t use that. The Roundhouse are being difficult, so we can’t use that.

AH: Which is a shame. Because that would’ve been an ideal one for the bands that draw crowds.

CM: Well listen, Roundhouse should’ve been the venue because of the way it was set-up, and the way it was supposed to work as a venue, from the government to promote local artists and to promote and help the area. It was supposed to be for the area. But they’re the one venue that just isn’t used at Camden Rocks.

AH: That’s really frustrating because the layouts of all the venues, we need something at their location to make the Fiddlers Elbow not so out of the way.

CM: Yeah, it’s a shame, I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried everything.

AH: So your headliners this year, are going to be at Electric Ballroom and you’ve expanded this to a two day affair as well. Is that same number of bands, just spread a little bit more evenly. Or have you got way more bands coming?

CM: No, there’s 400 bands. 3,000 musicians included in all that.

AH: Fantastic. Bloody hell, that’s insane.

CM: That’s insane. But listen, we put a website together with every band, every video, we put videos in every single band. Go check the bands out that you want to see. We put a program together, which is– I mean, this is all about checking new bands out, really. The whole point of this festival–

AH: My friend who I commute with spends a month with me on Spotify, doing nothing but checking out the right bands to go and watch…..

CM: [Cue emotional moment from Chris who instantly launches himself across the table for a hug] Fucking hell, I love you for that. This why we do that, this is why we do that. [Laughs]

This is why we do it. Because of people like you. That’s what I want to do. I want to create something where people can just watch a minute of the video and go like, “Fuck, they sound good.”, and then they’re getting into that band. And then, they’ll start buying music from that band, and then they’re getting into the music. “Oh fucking hell, this is a great band”. That’s the idea of it.

AH: Totally.

CM: So you’ve got to have that, and so we’ve got this website where every single band that are playing on a Friday, this Saturday, even genre, size it, “Oh I like rock music, I like metal music”. You get a program, given you’re free on the day.

AH: Yeah.

CM: When you look at it, and you’ve got to plan your day basically.

AH: You do. That programme is a Godsend.

CM: Yeah, you need that.

AH: The program in the middle pages, tick tick tick!

CM: Yeah. And you can do it in advance as well. You don’t have to wait until the day. You can do it in advance, we put it out online. You can have your schedule, you go like “I’m going to get there, and let them get my tickets. So, 12 o’ clock, I want to go and see that band, 11 o’ clock–” but you’re going to literally see two songs or three songs about– and you’ve got nothing to do for two hours that you don’t really care about. Go and see a load of bands, go and see a song by– that’s why we stagger the stage times as well. We stagger them, so you can go like “I’m going to go and see…” otherwise, you’re sitting around waiting for a band to start.

So you want to watch two bands here, you have one band, one song there, three songs there. You can do a lot. You can fill a lot in.

AH: You would never feel like you’re overwhelmed in terms of how many people are crowded around you. It’s only probably the final band of the night, where you think, “You know what, I’ll go and see the main band on the bill.” that it gets a bit crowded.

CM: I want people to get in. I don’t want to oversell.

AH: In terms of the bands that you’ve brought onto the bill, what stands out as one of your favourites? The one that you think, “Goodness. I managed to get them”?

CM: Do you know the best band I’ve ever booked? My favourite band is, Public Image Limited.

Public Image Ltd

AH: Yeah?

CM: Yeah. I love John Lydon. I mean, John Lydon is an absolute gentleman — and obviously, I’ve hung out with him a lot. And he’s been a massive tit. I mean, he’s been lovely. But I tell you what, he’s the most genuine fucking human being over the lot of them.

AH: He just tells it as it is, does he?

CM: Oh, absolutely. He’s a fucking gem. Absolute gem. His missus is going through so much at the moment with her health. She’s really struggling and he’s struggling with it. And just to see him, he’s the most genuine person you can ever see go through something like that. And it’s very fucking hard, man. It’s hard.

AH: Oh, I can’t imagine.

CM: But it’s going to get worse for him, it’s going to get worse. But I just wonder how he’s going to deal with that. He’s going through a lot, he is. But he was so professional, he was beautiful. I sat with him in The Hawley Arms [Camden] for a drink. Me and him were hanging out until five o’ clock, six o’ clock in the morning, just having brilliant chats and all that. And he was my hero ever since I was a kid. He was the reason I picked up the guitar, he’s the reason why I fucking got into music, he’s the reason why I’m a little bastard, and like I’m a really angry little shit. He’s the reason of that, he gave me a reason to do shit like that. And then to meet him, and to just hangout with him, he’s a lovely– he’s one of my heroes. I met him and he was brilliant.

AH: That’s wonderful. You also play with Paul [Cook] in The Professionals as well now.

CM: Yeah.

AH: So playing with Paul must bring it full circle for you?

CM: Yeah. That’s why I love Paul. Paul is the most beautiful, beautiful human being. He can’t book a rehearsal studio, but he can fucking play — he’s a great drummer. He’s a great person, he’s a great human being. And I love being in a band with him. I love it.

AH: Well, those guys are responsible for getting you back out there playing again, aren’t they?

CM: Yeah, it is. I struggle, I do struggle. I do struggle.

AH: Doesn’t show on stage, I’ll tell you that.

CM: I’m struggling because they’re bunch of bloody idiots, them lot. They really are. I love them all.

AH: Are you down to three, at the moment? Is Paul no longer playing with you?

CM: Well, Toshi’s [Hey! Hello! / Lupus Dei ] been playing the last few gigs, yeah. I don’t know what’s happening, to be honest. I don’t know if– yeah. I mean I know he’s [Paul] not well.

So we haven’t really pushed it. I mean, I love Paul to be honest, I love playing with– Paul Myers is genuinely brilliant. He’s a funny bloke. He’s great because he’s just pranks the guys all the time.

AH: And you need that!

CM: Nothing is serious. Nothing is ever serious with Paul Myers. Oh God, you can go through the worst situation. Your mom will die and he’ll go like, “She was old”. He would just say the weirdest shit.

AH: Yeah. Thanks to Paul for putting this into perspective.

CM: Thanks, mate. Yeah, I feel good now. That’s alright.

AH: That works [laughs] So, last question, Who haven’t you managed to get that you’d love to, so far?

CM: If I was going to get a band to end this whole silly saga of what I do, Sex Pistols. Get them all back together, dig Sid up. [Laughs] No, I’ll get Glen Matlock. [laughs] And yeah. No, I don’t know. I don’t have anything– to be honest, it’s not about that. It’s not about the fucking big band.

AH: They don’t have to be big band, do they? It’s just the one that you would love to see there.

CM: The whole point of this festival, is not about my personal fucking ride. It’s not about that, it’s not about this. It’s about little bands getting a little step-up. If you’re never going to be anything about this whole fucking silly 10 years of doing this, it’s getting that little band that I couldn’t get a-fucking-rrested. The little band that was playing pubs in South Shields, or Glasgow, or fucking Liverpool, or something, and then they got put in a situation where those people that see them and sign them. That’s the whole thing. Yeah, that’s the fucking idea of this whole thing.

AH: That’s what we love. I want to see a dozen bands that I’ve never heard of before. The lead up to the festival discovering new music to find out that I like them before I come to the show. That’s the whole point.

CM: This is the fucking reason — this is it!!

CAMDEN ROCKS TAKES PLACE ON JUNE 1 AND 2 2019.

TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE HERE:

The line-up is split over 2 days and the details are here:

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