A hot and sunny afternoon marked the start of the festival season proper. This particular weekend, Camden would experience an onslaught of thousands of rock fans and have 200 bands covering 20 venues in the local area.
The festival has grown substantially over the past few years and has pulled in big names along the way allowing punters to not only experience intimate club shows with some of their favourite headline bands but, also a wonderful crop of newer talent on the rock scene.
Dave Ashworth, Dan Stent, Steve Brixey, Grieg Clifford and Nix Cooper give you Pure Rawk’s take on Camden Rocks 2015. Photos by Greig Clifford and Sophie Garrett.
Kicking us off bright and early at midday in the Black Heart are North London regulars Healthy Junkies. These guys have been plugging away at the live circuit for a few years now, including a residency at their own night at the Camden Unicorn, and they’ve always been good, but over the years they keep getting better, incrementally show by show. They are really pulling together a killer setlist these days, although my personal favourite is still the old classic Copycat, which they close with today. (DA)
Early doors and dark electro rock aren’t a winning combo but Star Scream bring a bit of glamour into the Cuban this afternoon. The three piece, fronted by Adam Lightspeed play to a small and chilled crowd. It feels a bit awkward given the setting but memorable tunes such as ‘Scenester’ and ‘Harlots Web’ show why they are one of the bands to watch on the independent scene. Slick, dark and delightful. More please! (NC)
In the Dingwalls Canalside bar, Bad Sign showed they are a band that like huge choruses, riffs meaty and their sets sweaty. The room is quite full for the South London three piece and they are in full flow by the point that I catch the second half of their set. Frontman Joe and guitarist Jonathan decide to go for a bit of a walkabout between the crowd in the venue during the set closer. The gathering loved it. Can’t wait to catch a full set in the future. (NC)
Hitting the stage at Dingwalls Canalside, White Room put on a show which exuded a maturity and quality of song-writing which you’d struggle to find in many bands, let alone such a youthful one. This five piece hail from Brighton and if this performance is anything to go by, they clearly have a bright future. Their alt-rock sound is rooted in Brit-pop, with elements of desert rock thrown in for good measure. Think The Stone Roses meets Screaming Trees and you’ll be along the right lines. In singer Jake Smallwood, they’ve got a top front-man with a great voice. Rest assured this band won’t be playing small venues for long. (DS)
The Amorettes have the rock-out stage presence of Airbourne, the sassiness of The Donnas and the sheer heavy metal chops of Girlschool, this Scottish three piece really pack a punch. This is bar room rock, heavy as hell and ready to party, with easily the energy to lead the room, headbanging onstage to set the standard. It’s not the most original sound, but when it’s that good who cares, these are probably my best new find of the day, and I look forward to seeing them at a show of their own soon as that promises to be a great night out. (DA)
The Jazz Café was packed solid for The Graveltones’ matinee performance, playing again at The Barfly later in the evening. Even though it was a little early in the day to expect a raucous crowd, the Aussie duo’s rootsy Blues tinged Rock certainly seemed to hit the spot, judging by the many cheers and raised beers. (GC)
Old Pure Rawk favourites next, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. The UK’s finest exponents of raucously silly, but shreddingly hardcore, steampunk mischief easily fill tiny rum bar The Cuban to capacity before their 2pm stage time with the faithful, and the curious. Probably also the loudest band I saw today (FYI Andrew O’Neill, you owe me one left eardrum), they made their mark with not just brute volume, but also the sheer joy of a 30 minute greatest hits set of their most accessible material, including Charlie, The Gin Song and Brunel, easily winning a raft of new converts from the curious crowd. They also played a new one, about stalking Victorian music hall legend Marie Lloyd, in the style of an early 60s British Invasion pop group, which was, um, different. (DA)
Love Zombies infectious brand of day glow pop is purpose built for sunshine soaked, alcohol fuelled afternoons like this. Arriving on stage in a giant pair of heart shaped glasses like she has just strolled out of the pages of a manga comic, singer Hollis Mahady knows how to work an audience, whether she’s dancing, playing the keytar or stealing a cheeky swig of someone’s pint. Okay, it’s safe to say that a good percentage of the packed out Proud Camden crowd are here this afternoon at the behest of Mr Ginger Wildheart. But it doesn’t matter in the slightest; by the end of the set, tunes like ‘Be Honest’ and ‘Gasoline’ have made everyone a fan. Love Zombies made a lot of new friends today. (SB)
One of the benefits of having a festival over many different venues and a 12 hour day is that some bands get to play twice, and one of those is Richie Ramone. Now almost the sole surviving Ramone, although not of the original lineup, Richie’s first set at the Electric Ballroom was a crowd pleaser of Ramones numbers, ably backed up by a backing band that includes Claire and Alex from Antiproduct. It’s not the best Ramones covers show you’ll ever see, but it is probably the most authentic one left in town, and Richie will return again later this evening to play his solo material at Proud. (DA)
Scaramanga Six soon get busy making themselves at home in old London Tahhhhn. “It’s a lovely jubbly build-up” sings bassist Steven Morricone, looking resplendent in a rather fine turban, before “Pincers” explodes in all its unhinged glory. It’s an intense set from Yorkshire’s most evil pop merchants that threatens to fall apart at any second but always stays on just the right side of chaos. The likes of ‘The Poison Pen’ and ‘You Should Have Killed Me When You Had the Chance’ showcase the more frantic side of this most versatile of bands, elating and terrifying a rammed Good Mixer in equal measure. Which you can’t help but imagine is just the way they like it. (SB)
The last time I saw Black Spiders was in The Garage in Islington, and it wasn’t exactly full, so it was quite pleasing to see them fill out the Electric Ballroom as afternoon drifts toward evening. Lead singer Pete Spibey takes a more stadium approach to proceedings with the bigger crowd, goading and playing with us a bit between (and indeed during) the stonerish hard riffing of tracks like Stay Down, Balls and Kiss Tried To Kill Me. (DA)
I couldn’t stay too long for Black Spiders sadly, as there was very important idiocy afoot at the Underworld, in the form of the mighty Lawnmower Deth. How many other thrash bands have you seen where you have to call out for a giant rabbit to come onstage, so they can play a track like Sumo Rabbit and His Inescapable Trap of Doom? Or have a 15 second song whose entire lyrics are “bllururrblrlrlrrgh bllubrlbruubrgh egg sandwich”? Lawnmower Deth tonight inspire the fastest heavy metal conga line I have ever seen, and have the capacity crowd enthralled, amused and alarmed in equal measures. They close with the self-explanatory epic that is Satan’s Trampoline, and common sense was never seen again. (DA)
When Eureka Machines take to the stage early to make sure they can blast through as much pop rock goodness as they can, the Cuban is already heaving, front to back. It’s undeniable; there is something special about this evening’s show. It isn’t just a gig, it’s a celebration. Vindication for all the hard graft a little DIY band from Leeds have put in to get to this point, and for those that have supported them and helped make it happen. Both band and fans seem to sense it and are genuinely thrilled to be in each other’s company this evening. Tracks aired from the new album sound amazing live, ‘Brainwaves’ (with its refrain of “being normal’s overrated”) getting a particularly rapturous response. ‘(I’m) Wasting My Time (Yet Again)’ elicits what must surely be one of the loudest singalongs of the whole festival and when that riff kicks in during set closer ‘Zero Hero’ the whole place just erupts. One of the best sets of the day, without question. (SB)
The award for downright weirdest venue of the day goes to The Stillery, hands down. Inexplicably without any lighting save for a few bulbs hanging over the bar, the gloomy near dark makes for a strange atmosphere. To their credit, Hawk Eyes soldier on regardless, unleashing punishing versions of ‘Witch Hunt’, ‘Die Trying’ and ‘That’s What This Is’ to a frenzied crowd who respond with a mosh pit so ferocious it nearly takes out half the equipment on the stage. Finishing with a feral version of ‘Bears By The Head’, singer Paul Astick signs off with “Thank you … and don’t forget to pay your electricity bill”. A triumph in the face of adversity. (SB)
An unfortunate scheduling clash with Eureka Machines left Huddersfield party-rocksters Tropical Contact performing to a sparse Dingwalls Canalside. Regardless, we were treated to a top set filled with the usual mix of excellent songs, swagger and…well, sperm (Singer Ben Janet at one point noting “All the songs in this half of the set are about sperm”).
From crowd favourites “Everybody in the world is on TV” and “The Wheel” to newer tracks like “The Right Thing”, Tropical Contact have an undeniable knack for writing a catchy song. Janet is in his element on stage and has a great rapport with the audience. We even had time for an impromptu encore (“Nightmare Baby”) thanks to the bands eagerness to get going at the start. (DS)
“… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead” are one of those bands so highly regarded that much of the crowd were at the Electric Ballroom on a recommendation rather than being true fans of the band. The faithful knew exactly what to expect though and were not disappointed. Trail Of Dead’s expansive soundscapes, with powerful and heavy riffs one minute to light washes of melody the next, filled every corner of this large room, drawing nods of approval from the uninitiated and ecstatic reactions from those in the know. (GC)
Performing their second set of the day, God Damn had the unenviable task of following on from Max Raptor – a band who could’ve packed out a venue twice the size based on the hordes unable to fit into the Barfly (myself included). Luckily God Damn are more than up to this, and as their recent support slot with the Foo Fighters has shown, they’re starting to get the recognition they deserve.
The duo, playing tracks from their awesome new album “Vultures”, are always impressive live. The crowded Barfly soon got into the swing of things and it seemed almost inevitable that a mosh pit would start, initially during recent single “Horus”. Drummer Ash fed off this energy, pummelling the kit with frenetic abandon. Guitarist/Vocalist Thom was hardly retiring either, darting into the crowd and performing front-man duties with a relaxed confidence. All too soon epic set closer “Skeletons” was upon us and the audience was left baying for more. (DS)
In Proud, One of the biggest crowds of the day almost inevitably went to Ginger Wildheart. Punters were being turned away well before the start of his set, but those lucky attendees were rewarded with a cut-down version of his “Songs & Words” show. Joined on-stage by long time collaborator (and Wolfsbane guitarist) Jase Edwards, Ginger set about running through acoustic medleys which covered the first Wildhearts album, up until the solo pledge album 555%. Featuring excerpts of classic tracks like “I Wanna Go Where The People Go”, “Sick Of Drugs” and “Geordie In Wonderland”, Ginger and Jase were on top form with the crowd in fine voice throughout.
There was little room for conversation, Ginger only stopped the music to briefly tell a few eventful tales from his prolific career. During one of these pauses, Ginger, with tongue-in-cheek, thanked the crowd for their “impeccable taste” in coming to see him rather than the other acts playing at this time. It’s clear to see why though, as he always puts on a great performance and this was no exception. (DS)
Original 77 punks Anti Nowhere League come growling onto the stage at Dingwalls some time before 8pm, and whilst a little long in the tooth by now, prove themselves to be no less foul mouthed and menacing for it. The gravel-voiced antisocial pervert that is lead singer Animal puts on a good show, sleazing his way across the stage with a sweaty misanthropy that is totally unlovable, but at the same time compelling and very entertaining. Their signature tune So What is disposed of fairly early on, but there’s a good half hour more of good stuff to follow, including the crowd favourite Never Drink Alone (briefly featuring Phil Roadkill from Stereo Juggernaut on additional vocals). (DA)
They just don’t make rock stars like Michael Monroe anymore. Bursting on stage to the anthemic ‘78, the former Hanoi Rocks singer proceeds to spend the next hour high kicking, climbing on anything put in his way and generally displaying more enthusiasm than most frontmen half his age. It’s a high energy set that draws heavily on Monroe’s last two career-reinvigorating albums, with killer versions of ‘Trick of the Wrist’, ‘Ballad of the Lower East Side’ and ‘Stained Glass Heart’ delivered by the amazing band of Rich Jones, Sami Yaffa, Steve Conte and Karl Rosqvist. There are some classics thrown in for good measure too, with a blast through Demolition 23’s ‘Same Shit Different Day’ prompting a noisy call and response with the crowd. The set finishes with the punk rock rush of ‘Dead, Jail or Rock n’ Roll’ and if this was your last band of the day, there really wasn’t a better way to end Camden Rocks than in the company of rock royalty. (SB)
While She Sleeps had driven for 16 hours to play their Electric Ballroom set, but showed no sign of road weariness, and powered through a typically riotous show including several off stage forays which saw vocalist Loz Taylor suffering a “cheeky grope” and bass player Aaran Mackenzie getting some rougher treatment… enough to call the culprit outside after the show. Guitarist Mat Welsh climbed the speaker stack and general mayhem was most definitely the order of the day. Sounding tighter than ever and with a certain air of menace about them, the band, bathed in the blood red lighting, confidently stomped a lasting impression all over the crowd. Magnificent. (GC)
The queue to get into The Underworld for Skindred’s headlining set snaked around the block. Inside was a hot mass of pogo-ing, whining, and headbanging bodies having the time of their lives and no one was leaving for sure. Skindred were busy living up to their reputation as THE band for a party like no other, with frontman Benji Webbe on top charismatic form. His berating of the crowd for downloading Skindred songs for free (and taking the food from his family’s mouths) was particularly amusing. All the standards were there, and by the time everyone was doing the Newport Helicopter in set closer “Warning”, sweat was literally dripping off the walls. (GC)
Closing the day at the Electric Ballroom were Bullet For My Valentine, and the excitement in the venue was tangible, growing to bursting point for many when the stage was cleared and Michael Thomas’ double bass drum kit unveiled. When Matt Tuck & Co hit the stage they sounded faultless. New band member Jamie Mathias on bass fitted in a treat, his vocal parts spot on, and certainly a great addition to the live show with plenty of energy and expressive playing. Understandably, for the first time all day the full lighting rig was used, which really added to the atmosphere in the room. With bands of the calibre and popularity of Bullet For My Valentine Camden Rocks has set themselves a very difficult task finding a headliner to top this in 2016. (GC)
Malificent are a strange beast, part death metal, part gothic ballet, but are always an engaging live act. Based as much on theatre as they are on riffs, Malificent’s key appeal is that they can consistently creep you out, Maleficent Martini bringing an undead dancing doll breathlessness to the stage, and Mortimer Cain an unnerving circus freakshow death growl. Sometimes a little arty for my tastes, tonight these guys make a nice counterpoint to the more straight-up acts that dominate the bill. (DA)
With Bullet for My Valentine at The Ballroom, and Skindred at the Underworld, the choice for last band of the night was obvious really – Skarlett Riot at The Stillery! Ok, perhaps only obvious to me, but there you go. Given they’d been open for 10 hours of a festival, it was perhaps understandable that the bar here had run out of booze, and the staff were running back and forth to Sainsbury’s buying crates of cheap lager, but it doesn’t really explain where the stage lights had gone to. Still, Scunthorpe’s Skarlett Riot did an admirable job through the gloom, playing some great upbeat female fronted metal that perked up a flagging crowd. Being almost the last band on of the festival, they had a full room going with them by the end at 11pm, which is no mean feat after 11hrs of non-stop rock. (DA)