The Camden Crawls 10th anniversary bash moved from being a Friday-Saturday to a Saturday-Sunday affair, with a Bank Holiday helpfully assisting afterwards for recovery. The weather was perfect and NW1 was ready for a party as, on the Roundhouse Terrace, a succession of acoustic acts complemented the blue sky and sunshine.
As we arrived it was young troubadour Benjamin Francis Leftwich calling us to our last glimpse of daylight before being hurled into the maelstrom of darkened sweatboxes and sticky floors. We’ve raved about him before, and although this set seemed even more languid than usual, his sweet, emotive songs of love and loss (choice moments singles Pictures and Atlas Hands) were welcome distractions to the sunbathers planning out the rest of their day.
Inside the building, Akala was merging hip-hop and Shakespeare. Further south, The King Blues on the Red Bull stage can be heard from Camdens busy main drag. Both Moshi Moshi and Rough Trade put on their pub quizzes, while at St Michaels Church, one of several new venues on this years crawl, UNKLEs James Lavelle was curating the first of two days worth of an exhibition that blurred the boundaries of music, film and even sculpture.
At the intriguing new venue the Forge, as part of an afternoon of sound and vision curated by Saint Etiennes Bob Stanley, epic post-rock, featuring guitar fights, was the order of play for Team Ghost, who overcame sound issues to impress. The new project of M83s co-founder Nicolas Fromageau, it was anything but cheesy; this quartet of Frenchmen laid down a marker for their debut album, which theyre currently recording, with a mash-up of stargazey krautrock. Later in the same day they’d pack out the Dublin Castle and be a name on many a tongue come nightfall.
Now, it’s just a suggestion to organisers, but surely the Camden Crawl should be in… well, Camden? Kentish Town may not seem like a million miles away from the action as the crow flies, but when you’re struggling to get back to the Lock in time for a band with only a few EPs under their belt, the Forum seems like another city away.
Sunderland scamps Frankie & The Heartstrings kicked off what might have been a sparse dog-leg of the event. The titular Frankie spent most of the gig hopping about on one or other leg as the band upped a gear, owned the space and played, in fact, to an enthusiastic crowd surely bigger than theyd expected.
Many also braved the frozen north for the early-evening slot by Mercury-nominated singer Conor O’Brien or Villagers as he’d rather you call him and were lucky to have made the effort. An impressive talent just on record, his live show really has to be seen to be believed. He creates a rich, mysterious, all-enveloping atmosphere even in a large venue as disquieting and beautiful as a David Lynch film, one laced with tales of dancing with jackals and punctuated by feral yowls. Comparisons with Jeff Buckley are easy but warranted perhaps not the most commercial of propositions, Villagers showed a sizeable crowd that he’s far more than just another singer songwriter.
Glasgow fourpiece Veronica Falls have been receiving some polite notices in the music press of late, and while theirs was a sound as old as the hills (well, gloomy 1980s hills at least) they went about their poppy-drone rock in perfectly decent fashion at Dingwalls. It’s impossible to talk about them without referencing forebearers The Pastels, such is the band’s less-than-subtle nodding back to that group’s warm, fuzzy, jangling indie, but on the whole there was a lot to be enjoyed and refreshed by here. Songs like Starry Eyes and Found Love In A Graveyard were neat, evocative pop, and it bodes well for when they define their own voice.
Another of the myriad bands on the lineup with one foot in the 1980s is Wild Palms, who strive manfully to match the industrial aesthetics of Joy Division/ Orange Juice et al with some more rounded pop hooks. The band teeter on the brink of invoking The Temper Trap mostly because of lead singer Lou Hill’s energetic falsetto and the bands penchant for driving each song along with a ringing, phasers-to-U2-style guitar line, but, look, it’s no bad thing to aim for aim for a bit of commercial clout to go along with your slightly clever-clever post punk. Wild Palms have all the attributes to become a massive group time will tell if they step up to the plate.
Fictions propulsive drumming and multi-instrumental lead pair ought to have been a highlight; despite sound issues stopping the gig at Dingwalls, they give the impression of being at the start of what could be an interesting journey. Their debut album is a work in progress; given time to bed in, this material could become addictive.
Further south, DELS at the Jazz Cafe was one in, one out; it would remain so for new Transgressive signings Dry The Rivers set. Curiously, Xenomania-associated one-woman pop parade MNDR, aka Amanda Warner, at the same venue offered plenty of space; playing out in front of a bigger screen, the effect was of high-tech karaoke. Mark Ronson would join her on stage towards the end of her set.
Along the road at the Earl of Camden, Sonic Cathedral signing and sometime Brian Jonestown Massacre collaborator Sarabeth Tucek made a room woozy with guitar-based songs of an atmospheric nature. The labels other offering this weekend, the aforementioned Team Ghost, have by now decamped to the Dublin Castle at the behest of Steve Lamacq. It is rammed, the sound is improved and they underline their status as one of the best acts of the festival so far.
Coldwave five-piece S.C.U.M. are fronted by Underage Festivals Sam Kilcoyne, who looks like a man au fait with Mutes back catalogue, combining the hair, rake-thin poise and voice of Liars front man Angus Andrew and Nick Cave. Their brand of art-rock is perfectly suited to the venerable Electric Ballroom.
Saint Etienne uncork three new songs in a short set at KOKO. Sarah Cracknell is still the pinnacle of all that is yummymummy, resplendent in a well-fitting white outfit and black boots. She shimmies gracefully in the moments shes not singing as Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs show off their way with melody to longtime fans and, hopefully, some new converts. And, even with slightly soupy sound, who could fail to be won over by set closer Hes On The Phone?
Bo Ningen provided amongst the day’s most memorable scenes. Psychedelic acid-rock Japanese hairybeasts, they screamed and made guitars scream along with them at the Earl of Camden. Nearby a girl cut some moves, her face covered with hair and sunglasses. It was as though wed been transported to a ZZ Top convention, and the humour in the music was of a winning strut.
Our last stop of the evening is the crowded Barfly, for bright new star Ghostpoet. The Londoners night-time rhymes are augmented live by drums and guitar, while a Mac on a rack pivots his sounds. His amiable, relaxed style win him many fans at the Barfly in a late-night set for which trains are missed and shapes danced. Pitched somewhere between the sleepy, stoned lyricisms of Roots Manuva and, oddly, Julian Casablancas, 24-year-old Obaro Ejimiwe is a very modern MC, his slightly haunted lyrics reflecting a post-Burial worldly unease, but all delivered with a wry, Mike Skinner-esque eye on modern life. Far less classifiable than many of his contemporaries (Toddla T, Tinie Tempah), Ghostpoet’s music veers from the almost comatose to a sudden burst of ecstatic, violin-drenched pop. Keep an eye on this one.
And so came the briefest of respites before Day 2.