Everything begins with rumours. Just ask Fleetwood Mac. Go. Now. Go and ask Fleetwood Mac and see what rumours did for them.
Then, when you’re back, we can explain what they gave Day Two of this year’s Camden Crawl. Impetus. That’s what we got.
So on a sunny Saturday in North London we began, cramped into the Spread Eagle awaiting a rumour: Graham Coxon. The soon-to-be-once-again Blur guitarist’s ‘secret’ gig, the culmination of fully four days of secret Blur gig rumours.
Some 20 minutes late, Coxon struggles to get in to the room. A hefty bouncer bulldozes a path for him. After an age, he gets going with In This House, the first of a set full of tracks from his upcoming new album of countrified, downtempo numbers The Spinning Top.
After much mumbling he follows it with In The Morning, with drums and double bass accompanying. “It’s all so serious,” he sings later, but the audience get enthusiastic, with some even presuming to offer the guitar hero some advice. “STAND UP, GRAHAM!” hollers somebody well watered at the delicate flower seated shyly before us. “It’s just like being in maths class,” he quips back, as assorted faces press against the windows from Parkway outside and his fingers fly across the fretboard for set closer Sorrow’s Army.
Tiny pubs and Britpop survivors are all well and good, but in the end it’s not really what you’re expecting on a trek through Camden. No, what we’re expecting is ridiculously over-hyped performers singularly failing to live up to the totally over-inflated expectations thrust upon them by the media… Oh, hello Little Boots.
Actually, that’d be really rather unfair. Tasked with an early evening opening slot as only your fourth ever live performance (or something) isn’t exactly easy, and Victoria Hesketh went about it with admirable gutsiness. And a spangly dress. Both of which can get you further than you might think. With her Tenori-On strategically positioned at the front of the stage, pretty much the second most charismatic thing up there, it was better than may have been expected. As she flailed at a theremin with unfettered abandon on a set closing Stuck On Repeat, she was a mere horse’s tail short of being Alison Goldfrapp‘s bratty little sister.
Down the Chalk Farm Road, The King Blues stormed KOKO with discernible determination. Ukuleles and acoustic guitars are rarely associated with punk-ska outfits, but since contributing to the success of artists such as Manu Chao and Gogol Bordello it’s apparently improper not to use them. The energetic six-piece ploughed through the poppier tracks off their latest album Save The World, Get The Girl, with the biggest crowd responses reserved for Come Fi Di Youth and Mr Music Man – both from their widely under-appreciated debut.
At the Roundhouse, regeneration kids The Maccabees were touting their second album, Wall Of Arms, which has been surprising all sorts. And while their audience for their Roundhouse set wasn’t anything like as large as that for labelmates the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the night before, it was no less enthusiastic. Orlando Weeks’ plaintive vocals opened with No Kind Words from the new album; a dark, stark place to begin, thrilling in what it leaves out rather than packs in. Much of the rest of the set relied on more crowdpleasing numbers – it was almost as if they wanted to get their darkest side done and dusted as soon as possible. Love You Better, by contrast, sounded like a homage to Arcade Fire as the band faced a sea of surging arms.
Next, Gold Teeth. Who require some polish. Or maybe filling-in. Because it wasn’t good: a Hard-Fi, saaarrrfff London slant on Vampire Weekend‘ chino’n'loafers re-appropration of Paul Simon‘s take on Afrobeat. Looking more like a sixth-former than a frontman, Joe Da Costa jokingly accused his audience of being on drugs before launching into Tasty, yet these subconscious insecurities musically translated to mixed effect. Frankly, the Barfly is a sticky-floored dive at the best of times and for some reason this attempt to channel calypso rhythms into a dark room above a pub made you feel quite violent.
On to the Cuban Bar and an anaconda of a queue for Datarock. Quite when these sunshaded, betracksuited Irishmen became this popular is unclear, but their knowing cheesiness is offset by their innate ability to get a party started. With another album due this summer to add to a canon that includes titles like Computer Camp Love – a Klaxons piss-take if ever there was one – and I Used To Dance With My Daddy, they were never less than pleased to see us.
The other big queues were soon tracked down to the Electric Ballroom for The Joy Formidable, who’d cancelled their Day One set, and the Black Cap for Golden Silvers. With a barrage of fuzzy sound, coupled to enough dry-ice to worry a Norwegian trawlerman and more strobing than you get on a Japanese cartoon, the former’s impressively loud set was enough to make you feel quite unwell. But in a good way.
As for the Golden Silvers, the trio’s live show was a faster, more energetic experience than recent debut album True Romance suggests. The single Arrows Of Eros has been kicking about for a while, sounding like what might’ve happened if Johnny Marr had been really into cheap synths when Morrissey first met him. If too many of their songs pack in too much at the expense of memorable hooks or lyrics, it’s only because they have lots of ideas and can’t wait to tell us all about them. At once.
Over at the Dublin Castle, with seemingly bugger-all effort socialist survivor Billy Bragg was one of the highlights of the weekend. He strolled on, he played a Woody Guthrie song, he regaled a well-lubricated audience with tales of meeting George Osborne on The Andrew Marr Show, and then delivered a fantastic rendition of A New England. He also was the sole act we saw during the course of the crawl who was forced, through sheer crowd will, to perform an encore.
Over at the Jazz Cafe, Dizzee Rascal‘s Newham Generals dropped beats from their latest record Generally Speaking, with MCs Footsie and D Double E rapping relentlessly over them. There was a palpable expectation that Dizzee might show. Sadly he didn’t, and though these two lesser proteges are fun, they left without making much of an impression.
At Dingwalls, South African foursome BLK JKS rocked the building with their monstrously jazzy psychedelic dub numbers, all of which are wonderfully woven together by the intricate and intuitive drumming of Tsepang. Surely post-rock has never sounded or felt this good. They are, without any doubt, one of the most exciting new bands we’ve had the pleasure of seeing at this year’s Crawl. A pity, then, that they were scheduled at the same time as Mark E Smith’s The Fall. We really should have caught their set, but twas ever thus with the Camden Crawl – you can’t be everywhere all the time and inevitable sacrifices, however painful, have to be made.
Like ‘em or loathe ‘em, Kasabian were the sole act to truly own the stage of the Roundhouse. If you discount Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Maccabees. There was a rabble-rousing, beer-chucking sense of unity that they brought to the party. They played it safer than they might have done, with only two new songs from the forthcoming album, but heavy, raucous renditions of Reason Is Treason, Club Foot and Stuntman, delivered with an arrogant confidence and with Tom Meighan in full-on ‘I-am-Bobby-I-am-Mick-I-am-a-golden-GOD‘ posing mode, it was marvellously entertaining stuff.
An opportunity to party like it was 1996 at KOKO with Graham Massey’s acid house ravers 808 State was too good to turn down. They’ve grown into the nightclub bouncer look with the passing of the years but their front man still holds the microphone in a unique manner, dangling it at his face from above like a sardine at a seal. A surprising number of bald pates and expanding waistlines boogied all about, remembering yesteryear and looking glad to have these raveheads back. As cited influences of both Aphex Twin and Autechre, who can blame them? Cubique’s no-nonsense synth bass riff, much sampled since (notably by Soulwax), sounds as fresh as it did 15 years ago and Pacific State, the only song ever in which it’s okay to have a lead clarinet, caused a mass breakout of silly grins. Of all the bands reuniting at the moment, this lot are particularly welcome returns.
Still dizzy from BLK JKS’ dramatic climax at Dingwalls, it was down to the Purple Turtle to host the final live band of the night, Three Trapped Tigers. This musically muscular trio play the glitch drum ‘n’ bass normally associated with artists like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin – live. Where BLK JKS were free-flowing and organic, TTT are a comparatively taut and confined experience. With two of the band raging behind machines, drummer Adam Betts’ arms flailed with absolute purpose as the unit realise each song’s dynamics with adrenalin-fuelled sweat.
There were parties long into the night for anyone still in need of a good excuse to boogie, and it seemed there were more of them this year too. The weather had smiled on the 2009 Camden Crawl all weekend, the queues – although there certainly were some – were hugely improved on 2008 and the addition of the Roundhouse to the Crawl’s venues cements the event’s burgeoning mainstream credentials. While there’s still not enough being made of Saturday afternoon, it’s staggering to think this event was, just a decade ago, a midweek one-nighter.