Camden Crawl, Saturday 30th April 2011

Frankie & The Heartstrings are in fine spirits, and what a way to open the festival - glorious indie pop.

Rating: 8



For ten years, Camden Crawl has been synonymous with two things: missing half the bands you want to see because they all clash, and bloody long queues. Whilst the excitement of seeing your New Favourite Band in the smallest of venues fills you with joy in the preceding weeks, the reality is that the queues snaking down the high street and the knowledge that you’re missing your New Second Favourite Band in the second smallest of venues often makes for an unsatisfying experience. After all, who wants to spend the entirety of a festival stuck in a poxy queue on a vomit stained street?

So it’s with some trepidation that we set off for this year’s replacement Roundhouse, the Forum, which, geography fact fans, is in Kentish Town and thus a bit of a blinking trek from everything else. Whether the proximity (or lack thereof) of the venue from the rest of the festivities contributes to the refreshing lack of a queue, we can’t say, but the Forum is still comfortably full inside of punters eagerly awaiting the delicious Frankie and the Heartstrings and their self proclaimed ‘Best Trousers in Rock’. Despite the trouncing experienced by their beloved Sunderland FC earlier in the day, they’re in fine spirits, and what a way to open the festival – glorious indie pop, with Frankie easily charming the boys and inducing swoons amongst the female contingent. Halfway through the set, an ‘I Heart Bieber’ t-shirt lands at his feet, after which he leads the audience in a ‘Fuck Bieber!’ chant, but no one’s taking bets on how long before those t-shirts are exchanged for underkrackers – it’s a sure thing. ‘Don’t Look Surprised’ seems to be an apt instruction, as it fills the venue with an unexpectedly epic thrall, and set closer ‘Hunger’ leaves us famished for more.

But there are no encores allowed this early in the proceedings, so it’s up to Villagers to change our moods from ‘bouncing off the walls’ to ‘chin stroking’ in one easy step. As frontman, Conor O’Brien steps on to the stage, a lone figure with his acoustic guitar, it’s not hard to ascertain that this is a man who really means it. First song over, he’s joined on stage by the rest of the band, we’re met with the feeling that this is merely a warm up for all the fields that Villagers will be captivating this summer. Whilst we’re appreciative of the aural pleasure that’s currently besieging our ears, after Frankie, it just feels a tiny bit too earnest. We came here for manic pop thrills, and manic pop thrills we shall find, so with this pledge in our hearts, we head back to the centre of Camden in search of our kicks.

Now, I’m a sucker for bands named after animals (except: Curiousity Killed the Cat and The Wombats), so off we trot to the Monarch to catch Bear Driver, about whom I know nothing bar that they’re named after a Bear and a golf club (I think), which ergo must make them good. And Ed Westwick - Chuck from “Gossip Girl” for those readers who are cooler than I - clearly concurs, because he’s bounding around like he owns the place (who knows, perhaps he does). Fortunately, the band do nothing to disprove the theory (unlike those pesky Wombats), and we’re in jangly indie-pop heaven, with a set so frenetic that at one point, guitarist (and professional Chelsea defender David Luiz lookalike – probably) Harry gets a bit carried away, and falls right off the stage. Prize for the worst stage dive of the entire festival not withstanding, Bear Driver are exactly what the doctor ordered, and with our spirits lifted and a Hollywood star gawped at (he’s quite short, girls), off we scuttle into the night to find out what treats Steve Lamacq has laid on for us…

A quick jog to the packed to the rafters Dublin Castle later, and we’re greeted by France’s latest exports, the shoegaze-tastic Team Ghost. We’re late and it’s impossible to get properly through the doors, but even from the back door, we’re enthralled in a cacophony of sonic goodness. Swirling guitars, reminiscent of fellow Gallic cousins M83 (which, it transpires, is probably to do with band leader Nicolas Fromageau having been one half of said band), oh Monsieur Lamacq, how you are spoiling us.

It’s up to self proclaimed ‘singer songwriter’ Benjamin Francis Leftwich to follow on from Team Ghost, not an easy feat, but the expectations are clearly weighing heavy as the crowd does little to disperse. Already a playlist favouite of Radio Two, he’s obviously heavily inspired by Springsteen, although the effect is somewhat ruined by a bloke behind me loudly pointing out the vocal similarities to Bryan Adams. That’s Bryan, not Ryan. And once noticed, it’s impossible to ignore, so cheers for ruining it all for me, I’m off to Koko to watch ‘men of a certain age’ drool over every teenage indie boy in the nineties first love, Ms Sarah Cracknell.

Had you merely glanced at the posters for this year’s Camden Crawl, and just cast your eyes over the headliners alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking that someone had ripped off the top and revealed the original 1995 Camden Crawl poster beneath. St Etienne, Lemonheads, Killing Joke… the cynical might wonder if they’re perhaps deliberately trying to appeal to a slightly older audience with a bit more disposable cash and less propensity to get smashed on Sambuca and fall under the nightbus. And it seems to have worked, as Koko is half full of middle aged men and grumpy looking partners (only love can break your heart, indeed), clearly dragged along, but as it later becomes apparent, also unable to not fall for the Cracker’s enviable charm(s). As Messrs Wiggs and Stanley skulk in the shadows, it’s all about The Girl, who actually has the audacity to utter the words ‘this is a new song’ at numerous times during the set. Opening with ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, (and chewing gum throughout, tsk tsk), it’s an interesting mix of old and new, with the visuals accompanying new track ‘Tonight’ appearing to pay tribute to the late Tony Ogden from the World of Twist. It’s a nice touch that one would imagine that the audience of thirtysomethings would approve of.

The realisation hits that the ‘best fucking live band in the fucking world’ are about to blow the roof off the Jazz Cafe, so with distinctly less cash in our pockets (bar prices at Koko are insane), and a little more alcohol in our blood stream than the General Medical Council would necessarily approve of, off we run to catch some of Dananananaykroyd’s raucous brand glorious of indie-rock. The Jazz Cafe is literally jumping, one fears for the floorboards, and although some complaints are overheard about how ‘new song’ heavy the setlist is for the night, it seems clear that by the end of the summer, when we’re all familiar with the new tracks, these boys might actually receive the commercial success to match their critical acclaim. Hopefully, anyway. Ten pence says the punters don’t normally look so gloriously sweaty at the end of most Jazz Cafe gigs…

With a quick check that the roof is indeed still attached to it’s rafters (it is, don’t panic), and a little bop along to what will surely be noted as one of the best indie discos of the night, it’s time for our final band of the day, those erstwhile Antipodeans, Cloud Control. Tracks like ‘Gold Canary’ and ‘Death Cloud’ fill the venue like a psychedelic Vampire Weekend, which sounds like a terrible idea but in reality, they’re catchy and clever, and the perfect end to our crawl around Camden.

Dodging the casualties that are now littering the streets at every turn (there’s going to be some sore heads tomorrow – not least, mine), we run for our last train, pausing only to harass Steve Lamacq briefly as he tries desperately to cross a road and get away. Whaddayoumean we have to do it all again tomorrow? I wonder if those scary men outside the tube station would sell us any aspirin…