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Pigeon Detectives get festival off to a flyer

Fans pound the streets in the sunshine to see 200 bands play at 20 key venues, as Camden Rocks returns for its 10th year

06 June, 2019 — By Emily Finch

The Pigeon Detectives playing an acoustic set at the Stables Market during the Camden Rocks festival

THESE days it can feel as if Camden Town has lost its rock and roll soul.

With the closure of venues such as The Black Cap and the end of market stalls which once sold luminescent bongs, magic mushrooms and knock-off heavy metal T-shirts, the area now appears to cater far more for tourists than those interested in music and counter-culture.

As large flats shoot up into the skyline there’s a worry that more venues will fade away in the not-too-distant future for fear of upsetting new neighbours.

But for one weekend, you can forget about all that and bask in a different era, thanks to Camden Rocks, which saw 200 bands play in 20 key venues dotted between Chalk Farm and Mornington Crescent. Now in its 10th year, the festival was born during the heyday of the Camden Crawl, where thousands turned up to watch Yeah Yeahs Yeahs at the Roundhouse.

While the Crawl is no more, the crowds still pounded the streets in the sunshine last weekend to see the likes of Frank Turner and New Model Army.

The Five Hundred at The Devonshire Arms

First on the Saturday was indie-pop band Brand New Friend from Northern Ireland. Possessing the boundless energy of youth, they packed out the legendary Dublin Castle. The five-piece told the audience they had travelled 22 hours to play the festival but added: “This has been our favourite venue ever.”

Although the collective ages of the group may not total 100, they had the melodies to keep the audience hooked.

Next up came guttural screams from heavy metal band The Five Hundred, at noted gothic hotspot The Devonshire Arms. They sound like a cross between As I Lay Dying and Trivium, and their performance is euphoric. While hailing from Nottingham, the band seemed right at home in their surroundings and were headbanging in unison. Frontman Johnathan Woods-Eley’s reminders to the shy crowd to stand nearer the stage suggested they would have been better suited to a later slot where their energy could have been matched by the crowd.

Doomsday Outlaw at Kolis

Blues rockers Doomsday Outlaw played new venue Kolis in Kentish Town Road. The lead singer resembled a cooler iteration of Mr Bean and it was strangely refreshing that they didn’t take themselves too seriously and seemed to be having fun. Their music is catchy and stands out. They deserve to make it big but who knows when (or if) blues rock will ever become mainstream in the UK.

It was good to see that The Pigeon Detectives were still going strong. Their acoustic set – ballot access only – at the Dr Martens room in Stables Market was one of the highlights of the weekend, mostly for nostalgic reasons. They would later go on to headline Dingwalls, clashing with New Model Army. The Yorkshire band emerged during the mid-2000s in the latter years of the indie resurgence. Lead singer Matt Bowman admitted to the crowd that they hadn’t played an acoustic gig for five years and the set started awkwardly with the band standing in a circle testing out their instruments. But once it started, the audience was enraptured by their rendition of their most popular songs which included This is an Emergency and I’m not Sorry.

Headlining Saturday night was folk musician Frank Turner at the Electric Ballroom. He played just before New York legends Wheatus whose audience seemed bored until they played their 2000 hit Teenage Dirtbag, turning the venue into a karaoke room. Frank is a cross between Bear Grylls and Billy Bragg minus the politics. His lyrics are syrupy and based on harmless themes such as kindness and positivity.

While the audience lapped him up, he stepped things up towards the end when he returned wearing a black “Punk Isn’t Dead” shirt accompanied by a band which included festival director Chris McCormack on guitar and Camden Rocks regulars The Virgin Marys. They played covers of The Clash and Sham 69, raising the energy of the venue – after all, you can’t end the first day of a rock music festival with just an acoustic guitar.

The weather was slightly worse on Sunday when Norfolk rockers Deaf Havana headlined.

Jordan Cardy, also known as Rat Boy, played indie rock with his band who all had floppy blonde hair on Sailor Jerry Stage at the Electric Ballroom singing songs about fake IDs and other pressing matters for youngsters. They even managed to convince the audience to “go down low” and throw cans of lager in the air, which is an impressive feat at 5pm.

The Last Internationale

Alternative rock band I Within treated The Black Heart to their impressive vocal range and guitar skills just as the rain started to tip down outside – a fitting response from the skies given their songs are based on heartbreak and isolation.

Old-school punk-rockers The Ruts DC showed they still had the power to draw in crowds as they packed out the Underworld for renditions of their hit Babylon’s Burning.

Maybe it was more down to my poor choices than the festival organisers’, but it was hard to find bands fronted by female talent. There was Average Sex with Laetitia Bocquet on vocals, and Delila Paz as the lead singer of the Last Internationale on the Sunday.

My plea to organisers for next year: more women, please.

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