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Camden rocks around the clock

The sun shone as the crowds trekked to venues between Mornington Crescent and Chalk Farm at a festival that's proved itself to be a formidable force

09 June, 2017 — By Danny Cage, David Triggs, Ian Penman, Róisín Gadelrab

Carl Barat and the Jackals at Koko

CAMDEN Rocks has grown into a formidable force with a line-up more varied than the name suggests, from nightmare-inducing metal-core from the worldly-named Continents, via punk and rock, to the more melodic strains of Liverpool psych-band The Coral, who seemed to attract a significant Essex-boy following.

On a similar scale now to the Camden Crawl in its heyday (250 bands, 25 venues this year), if Camden Rocks did choose to widen its genres just a little more, it could likely achieve its objective of being London’s strongest rival to SXSW. As it stands, it does justice to the many acts it does include, encouraging industry figures to check out the talent on show. The sun shone as the crowds trekked between Mornington Crescent and Chalk Farm on Saturday – we easily clocked up 20,000 steps on our quest.

The Coral at Koko

Here’s a round-up of the acts we managed to see…

First up was Brandy Row, at first sight, many images rolled into one: stark black punk hair, tatts from neck to fingertips, a slick Mod suit and donning an acoustic guitar and Bob Dylan harmonica getup – a clever tactic for confounding expectations. Brandy packed out Brewdog’s little basement room with an attentive crowd, playing a gentle acoustic set that betrayed little of his punk roots, and the many bands he had played in before. But then, that is why he went solo, to play the material that didn’t fit in his previous incarnations.

The Sugarmen are one of Liverpool’s hottest properties – see their Mick Jones-produced debut single Dirt – so it’s a shame their Winnicott slot was cancelled at short notice. Fresh-faced Barking boys Cavalcade stepped into the Scousers’ boots and gave it their all in front of a small gathering of loyal fans. Their crisp, catchy indie wasn’t a bad consolation for anyone who had turned up at the venue searching for Sugarmen.

The King Blues at the Electric Ballroom

On to a steamroller of a performance from Switzerland’s greatest ever heavy metal band, Daxx & Roxanne, at The Fiddler’s Elbow, although they probably haven’t had much competition. Frontman Cedric (Montreaux answer to a young, better-looking bass-playing Meat Loaf) smashed through their seven-song set, interacting brilliantly with a spectacular display from lead guitarist Cal throughout (especially on the outro to final song Wrong Side). Highlight of the set was the first single from their debut album, Ticket to Rock. A rock singalong in true Bon Jovi style. One to watch.

You don’t usually expect to find a crowd-surfing, lung-exploding rock god floating across heads at pub chain Be At One, but dammit Aaron Buchanan & the Cult Classics weren’t gonna let that stop them. The electrifying atmosphere was palpable as soon as the solemn bouncer opened the door to a venue full of devoted fans. Despite the unfortunately narrow stage, which limited visibility, Buchanan et al rocked like Axl and Slash had possessed them.

Daxx & Roxanne at The Fiddler’s Elbow

Carl Barat and the Jackals rattled through 45 minutes of snarly rock ‘n’ roll before a captive Koko crowd. It may have been sweltering but Barat maintained his rock-star cool until the final few songs, when he finally ditched his leather jacket to go with the more practical white-vested look favoured by bassist Adam Claxton. Glory Days was an early highlight, as was new single Sister, where guitarist Billy Tessio took on lead vocals, screaming out the apt refrain “everybody’s wasted” judging by many of the 5pm crowd. The beer really began to fly overhead when the Jackals kicked into Dirty Pretty Things’ Bang Bang You’re Dead. A couple of Libertines tracks – Death on the Stairs and a riotous I Get Along – cranked up the chaos before the band left, holding up a “Vote Labour” banner which had been draped across one of their amps. Preaching to the converted, perhaps, but the Jackals certainly won Camden’s vote.

Reverend and the Makers followed, the whole crowd bouncing to every song, Heavyweight Champion of The World being the notable classic. Silence Is Talking was a memorable finale, with most of the crowd continuing to sing the hook all the way back up Camden High Street.

Lupus Dei (above), Latin for Wolf of God, was one of the stand-out acts of the day with a blistering set at the Dublin Castle. Despite having to replace regular bassist with stand-in Mikey Mayhem – who did a good job of looking like the ghost of Ritchie Edwards dressed as a Halloween droog – the raucous threesome left an impression like few others. Acid-tongued lead singer Paul James is every inch the gothic rockabilly rockstar, and their 100mph cover of Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London was arguably the best three minutes of the whole day.

Back at Koko for The Coral, where the psych group played a delicious set of early hits and some more sophisticated tracks from their new album. While there was little interaction, save for a confession that they’d had “a boss time”, the band played an effortless, fulfilling and all-round uplifting set, a real high point of the day.

Inklings is a great little band with a BIG future. With some really original songs and Robert Fripp-style soundscapes from the lead guitarist Michael Lane. A guitarist vocoder? Why not. Lead singer Kier Kemp (ex-Fearless Vampire Killers) is a sure star of the future, with the ability to cover a variety of dynamics, from Coldplay-esque melodies to Manic Street Preachers grit (via The Cure and a touch of Stipe/REM). Inklings achieved some very cinematic themes, heard in Let It Out which will lend themselves to scoring some great movies in time. The dark and packed Camden Assembly only served to focus the crowd all the more, most of whom realised that they were witnessing the birth of something special.

Drama School Rejects at Dingwalls

London’s own The King Blues, who played Electric Ballroom, are an interesting prospect; a mix of politically-minded pop, ska, rock and rap with the occasional ukelele thrown in for good measure. Jonny Fox, aka Itch, is the perma-scowling frontman that carries the whole show, but the broad mix of influences was decidely hit-and-miss. Though the huge mid-afternoon crowd loved it, it’s hard to swallow a band that wants to be Rage Against The Machine but with choruses that sound more like Busted. By far the strongest moment was when Itch scratched his ukelele for catchy solo Tory is a four letter word – perhaps a solo career beckons?

Three piece girl-band Berries replaced Gold Key for their set at the Dingwalls Canalside. The trio blended Sleater Kinney with Blood Red Shoes but there was little here to excite. It felt more like a rehearsal than a gig but continued exposure to crowds at festivals like Camden Rocks can only do them good.

Love Zombies at Dingwalls

When you see a band with a name like Drama School Rejects (Dingwalls), you probably don’t expect a tribute to the best of 1980s big hair heavy metal. But the Newcastle four-piece have a classic sound and songs that sound like cover versions even if they’re not. They impressed an ever-growing crowd but could do with adding more distinctive personality to the material to avoid coming across as a tribute act.

As the second UK/LA new-wave band Love Zombies (Dingwalls) take to the stage you think Kids in America and the impression never really leaves. From Blondie to The Cramps the band wear their influences on their sleeves. Singer Hollis J is an accomplished frontwoman, echoing the mannerisms of her idols. But it all felt a bit too like karaoke.

Probably because they didn’t fit the Britpop mould, Therapy? is one of the great forgotten bands of the 1990s. If you needed a reminder of how strong their material still is, the fact it worked so well when stripped down to one singer Andy Cairns with an acoustic guitar at Proud should be enough proof. Cairns has mellowed with age but makes up for the lack of bandmates with entertaining chat between middle-aged singalongs. His cover of Bert Jansch’s Needle of Death was as moving a tribute to the late, great Chris Cornell as you’ll find. So, it appears that The Jam are alive and well. At least they are in the souls of tight Chingford four-piece The Rifles, who played a late evening set at Dingwalls. What was particularly impressive was that their packed audience knew every word of the setlist from their five-album history, singing them with gusto. Most popular cut Local Boy had them pogo-ing in the aisles. As far as the raucous fans were concerned, this may as well have been the Oasis reunion. Grown men hugged each other on the verge of bromance tears as one euphoric, melodious song rang out after the next. Yes, they sound like they should be from Manchester, but given recent events we could all do with a bit more of the Manchester spirit in us. How are they not huge?

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