Queues, plaid shirts and – what’s this? – uninterrupted sunshine in April. The Camden Crawl once again fired the starting gun for the UK’s festival season.
That unseasonable sunlight was coupled with a line-up luminous enough to tan the skin of even the pastiest indie fan. Over 150 ‘groundbreaking’ acts (less The Enemy – but more of that later) packed into most of Camden’s sweatboxes, all just a hop, a skip, jump and lengthy queue down the Chalk Farm Road.
Early in the sunny afternoon the music programme was split between busking sessions in the Camden Eye, local acts showcasing in the reopened Hawley Arms, a bill of all sorts at the World’s End and Food Records founder Andy Ross’s own programme at the Spread Eagle.
It was to the latter we headed for a spot of Broadcast 2000, who divided their six hands between banging glocks, thumping drums and strumming guitar in a manner perfectly suited to a late afternoon.
For most people, though, the day began in a queue to try and get to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Crawl HQ, the Roundhouse. While a line of increasingly frustrated bloggers, journos and blaggers tried to argue their way to the front, inside the early birds were treated to the sight of never knowingly under-quirked Karen O singing from inside what appeared to be a curtain, dressed in a green sequined catsuit. Backed by an impressive giant floating eyeball, the band were on imperious form – old favourites Maps and Cheating Hearts perfectly augmented their new dancier sound from new record It’s Blitz! In fact, it was new single Zero and the blistering yelps of Heads Will Roll that went down best with the still-sober crowd.
For those that didn’t make it to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, what could be closer (both lexically and geographically) than The XX, squeezed onto the stage upstairs at the Enterprise. Unfortunately, despite all those parallels, they were nowhere near as successful. Atmosphere they could do. Each song began with an abundance of eerie potential, but the thing with atmosphere is that it’s a bit difficult to get excited about. And once you realised that nothing they did had anything approaching a climax or a focal point, it was easy to drift off. Getting excited about The XX is a bit like getting excited by fog.
Although whoever was in charge of the Electric Ballroom certainly seemed to have some kind of fetish for it, judging by the amount of dry ice that dressed the stage for The Big Pink. Through the haze, there was a dazzling wall of droning sound being thrust at an audience divided between bafflement and delight. A soundsystem which did a marvellous job of leaving things sounding as murky as they looked meant that there wasn’t much subtlety about the performance, but it was hugely impressive nonetheless, even if most of the crowd only knew first single Velvet.
On the way between venues attention was diverted to local boys Madness who, with a new album and a reunited line-up to shout about, had set up their gear on the top deck of an open-top bus. For much of the afternoon they’d been touring NW1 in it; now they’d parked in Inverness Street and the audience overspill was delighting traffic and police alike. From where we were (the traffic end) little could be seen, though of course the oldies were instantly recognisable. As sundowners go, this was a fine way to bring in the evening.
Down the road at the Earl of Camden a sizeable queue was remonstrating with door staff, desperate to be let in to see Orange Unsigned winner and the latest Swede to lay claim to our shores, Tommy Sparks. Like a discoclash version of Billy Idol, Sparks’ peroxide spikes bounced about over the heads of a crowd enthused with stabbing synths and packed-like-sardines energy. The single I’m A Rope got him a decent response, though more than spikey hair needs to be seen for any conclusive judgement to be formed.
A shock at the Jazz caf – no queues, sightlines and real pint glasses for Alessi’s Ark, AKA up-and-coming young singer songwriter Alessi Laurent-Marke. If anyone deserved more queues over the weekend, it may have been her – producing remarkably mature baroque folk ballads like Asteroids Collide and Magic Weather. She’s sure to succumb to Laura Marling comparisons, but this would be unfair – Laurent-Marke is a fascinating prospect in her own right.
Further north, another set of hotly-tipped young things, Hockey revelled in the party atmosphere enveloping the Roundhouse. But in all honestly, the dance/indie, Strokes-by-LCD Soundsystem shtick they were peddling sounded pretty tired.
The briefest of brief stops at the Black Cap for Goldielocks revealed little more than an impenetrable crowd, so we headed back to the Earl of Camden, where the incongruous rave-up continued with Filthy Dukes. Bereft of their recent debut album’s special guest vocalists, Tom, Olly and Mark still turned the boozer into a dance tent for a brief moment in time.
A snaking conga line of a queue greeted us at the packed Cuban Bar for the first of Marina And The Diamonds‘ appearances at the Crawl. Marina’s star is decidedly in the ascendant, as intelligent pop like debut single Obsessions testified. Girls danced on the bar, transforming the atmosphere into something akin to a hen party. One security chap remonstrated, then gave up and jumped onto the bar for a shimmy of his own. A smashed-up booze cruise around NW1 was probably not the best way to experience her for the first time, but her feisty set already has us looking forward to more.
The next act on at the still-packed bar was doo-wop indie star VV Brown, proving that, despite being just a far-off bobbing hat to two thirds of the audience behind a series of bizzarely-placed speakers, she’s got enough star potential to light up the whole of Camden. From what we could see (and it wasn’t much) a combination of her bodice-tight backing band and hyperactive stage presence gave fun-but-undemanding tracks like Crying Blood and Leave a Go! Team-esque bounce, and her debut album cannot come soon enough.
A pretty sparse crowd turned out to see punk godfathers Wire at the Electric Ballroom, but those who did were rewarded with an ear-bleeding bombast of old-school Situationist righteousness, showing the young whippersnappers at the Crawl a thing or two about being real rock stars. Songs like Comet and Pink Flag have weathered the past 30 or so years remarkably well, and this was one of the most thrilling, and loudest, shows of the weekend. The antidote to all the Next Big Things elsewhere in NW1.
There are a lot of things in life that one needs to apologise for. Infidelity. Flatulence. Ripping off Paul Weller. But not being The Enemy? That’s definitely not one of them. No one ever needs to apologise for not being The Enemy. But with their withdrawal due to illness (Shitsecondalbumitis? Sprained career?) it was left to Idlewild to step into The Enemy’s tiny shoes to close Day One of the Crawl, and to then spend the first portion of their second set of the day being unduly apologetic about the fact they weren’t Coventry’s ‘finest’.
So, no Enemy. Ah well. Idlewild, plucked straight from a their sweaty show at the Dublin Castle, deposited themselves into the slightly more airy climes of the Roundhouse to attempt to fill the void. It wasn’t packed by any stretch of the imagination, but a slightly bashful looking band still tore into their unexpected headlining slot with plucky abandon – A Little Discourage and When I Argue I See Shapes in particular reminding just how good they can be. And whatever they did, we could always console ourselves with the fact they weren’t The Enemy.
With the crowds beginning to thin, and good gigs becoming scarcer and scarcer, it was a left to The Invisible to close day one of the Crawl in suitably atmospheric style at the Electric Ballroom. While we could level allegations of them being a little bit like a prog-rock TV On The Radio, it would would be a disservice. After 12 hours of crawling, we were ready for our beds, and another day in sunny North London beckoned.