The Camden Crawl started with a long, slow-moving queue for wristbands. For most, it would not be the last queue of the weekend. We didn’t seem to mind too much at the time. The air was buzzing with the electricity you get when you overlay the expectant excitement of festival goers onto the bustle of a Saturday in Camden Market. But that was before the deluge.
There was a welcome sense that good things might just spontaneously happen. Wandering past the Barfly, a blackboard pronounced that Art vs Science were due any minute. Heading inside, their dumb, fun Aussie shtick got the party started. Their performance was endearingly amateurish, and while the music doesn’t bear over analysis you couldn’t knock their energy – there’s something of an electro Wyld Stallyns about them.
With the music line-up not starting in earnest until the evening, it was off to explore the eclectic afternoon options like spoken word, stand-up comedy and scrabble. Choosing to exercise our cerebral abilities we promptly trounced all challengers at the Moshi Moshi pub quiz. We knew those hours locked in a darkened room listening to indie records would pay off one day.
As evening approached, the heavens opened and the deluge began. For a festival mainly conducted in indoor venues, the Camden Crawl seems to have somehow contrived to incorporate that authentic festival fear of developing trench foot. Whether it’s trudging up and down Camden High Street during the hefty gaps in the line-up or queuing up because you’ve made the outlandish decision to attempt to see a band play the ludicrously under-accommodating Black Cap, you’re going to spend a lot of time in the rain.
That is unless you were propped up at the Roundhouse’s VIP bar waiting for whoever’s in the Sugababes these days to appear on stage and mouth the words to some songs. They were late on and early off, and quite why they were at the Camden Crawl in the first place remained moot.
Back at the Barfly and Leafcutter John‘s set was faring little better, but for entirely different reasons. The Polar Bear member’s cerebrally experimental solo output made absolutely no impression on the lager-swilling excitables ambling aimlessly to and fro. About-turning back to the Roundhouse, we discovered that Calvin Harris is still tall.
Putting dampened spirits into perspective we headed to Pulled Apart By Horses at the Electric Ballroom. Trench Foot is the least of their worries. Two days ago guitarist James Brown popped his knee out of its socket; we’re told it left him looking troublingly like he had a “testicle sticking out of his leg”. A quick hospital visit later and he was showing no ill effects at all, hurling himself off ledges and equipment as he and his band crunched their way through a typically explosive set.
With the news that both Villagers and Holly Miranda were MIA, we headed down past the snaking queue awaiting Emily Barker at the Black Cap to catch Billy Childish storm the Blues Kitchen with the energy of a man of half his 50 years. On stage with his band, he was transformed from the uncomfortable artist we’d seen a few days earlier giving an impromptu book reading at his ICA exhibition. He might look uncannily like Gogol Bordello‘s Eugene Htz, but he sounds like a thoroughly British punk rocker. He drew tracks like Troubled Mind and Archive From 1959 from his considerable back catalogue, while putting his own indelible mark on The Who‘s A Quick One While He’s Away, Blues staple John The Revelator and Jimi Hendrix‘s Fire.
Also doing good business were Race Horses at the Jazz Caf. We caught the end of a rammed set that owed much to the band’s influences; their final track’s rhythm was an aural doppelganger of Free‘s All Right Now. Lavish individual bows and appreciative whoops ended their spell, and we were into another sizeable schedule gap. With many of the biggest draws playing simultaneously to split the crowds, and start and end times identical in most of the 22 venues, the line-up frequently felt like it was spread too thin. The brand of power-folk that The Smoke Fairies play probably has a time and a place, but 9pm at KOKO during the Camden Crawl was not it.
But this was the peak clash time. Eschewing Plan B at the Roundhouse in favour of New Young Pony Club‘s well attended set at the Electric Ballroom, we witnessed Tabitha convincingly channeling a buxomed stein-carrying Bavarian lady from the Oktoberfest – perhaps the surprise of the evening so far. Leaving their set early to catch the tail end of others, we saw half a song from Surfer Blood and missed Skepta. And then came another gap.
At the end of it, the night’s biggest draw amongst the newbies was undoubtedly The Drums, whom we opted for over Shy Child, I Blame Coco, Ms Dynamite, Cornershop and Slow Club in the worst clash of the evening. Reports reached us of money changing hands at the door of the Blues Kitchen, so desperate were some to see some blond American boys channel The Smiths. Front man Jonathan Pierce’s voice is in excellent form, as are he and his guitarist Jacob Graham’s deliberate Morrissey-esque claps and shimmies. In a short set they confirm an ear for melody and a penchant for Manchester – and leave the audience in no doubt that they’ll not be in London venues of this size again.
The performance that Teenage Fanclub delivered, by comparison, was sadly underpowered and underwhelming. They weren’t helped by KOKO’s sound system, which distorted the sound in all the wrong ways, but their set was lacklustre. Yet their harmonies are still impeccable, and at their best they sounded like Crosby, Stills & Nash with added feedback. Whether we missed a trick by missing Pendulum two tube stops away was moot; they’d have been over by the time we got there.
An even larger gap followed while people floated off ahead of a choice of Silver Columns, Male Bonding or Summer Camp, with Chrome Hoof not due to take to KOKO’s stage till 1:45am. Finally defeated by the vagaries of the schedule, well before then we trudged off down Camden High Street – now a river – and into the soggy night.