At about 4pm on Thursday a Hercules must have flown over Camden and deposited its cargo of 70s and 80s thrift store, retro chic on to the assembled throng below. It was followed by the resounding rumble of the legacies of the Clash; the Specials and Joy Division, at first drifting and then powering from the entrance to G-Lounge. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2006 Camden Crawl is upon us, reeling from last year's success: bigger, badder and bolder than ever before.
Not for us was it to resist the urge to walk North London's hollowed musical streets, the temptation to stumble and fall where once Graham Coxon may once have stumbled and fallen, the urge to breathe in the sweat of a hundred thousand teetering dreams, and to toast the cheeky guitar pluckers whose faces still appear in NME poster pull-outs. Which is how Londonistas Mark, Dave, Talia and Ricky find themselves and their posses assembled at various pre-arranged points across Camden, ready to cover as much ground as possible to bring you what we can only describe as THE DEFINITIVE Crawl report. Our paths are NOT to cross, we shall communicate by text message only and we shall all endeavour not to get too pissed so we can remember what we did in the morning. It's 7pm and the clock is ticking Keifer Sutherland stylee...
10 minutes to kick off and Mark and Dave are still in the Edinboro Castle gathering their posse. Ricky has raced over from a three hour strategy meeting in Shoreditch, whilst Talia is already in the Buck’s Head, hard at work jotting down the evening’s point scoring system (50 points for spotting Simon Pegg; a mere 7 Steve Lamacq). After much forward planning, the consensus across the board is something along the lines of “sod it, let’s just wander." After a swift Jack and Coke, it was off to the wristband exchange to face the inevitable tedium of the Camden Queue. Except this year, they seemed to get it right. The space next door to G Lounge on Kentish Town Road may have looked like some kind of indie livestock market, but it worked a treat. We were in and out in a flash, taking the time to bop quickly to Simon Price's DJ set as he entertains the queue. It is decided at that point that the Wolfmother badges and posters win the best merchandise award. Kentish Town Road is a minefield of discarded plastic bags and roach material disguised as fliers. Already the environmental impact of the Crawl is beginning to disturb us.
Of the fresh-faced bands kicking off the bill around the Camden Crawl’s eleven venues, The Delilahs seemed as good a choice as any, so Ricky's first port of call was to be the Dublin Castle. But with the doorman checking his clicker and muttering the mantra ‘one-in-one-out’, he cuts his losses and moves on. Sorry, Delilahs; maybe next year. Talia tried the Delilahs too and although waiting a little bit longer it was decided that the DC was basically full of Supergrass fans, in way ahead of the headliners with absolutely no intention of leaving. Mark and Dave and co have plumped for Louie at the Underworld because its right next door. Apparently Ricky is heading there too. Our plans to bring you the broadest coverage is already looking shaky with three Londonistas out of four in the same place at once. Louie have two two frontmen, Jordan and Gaz, which makes them two better than Babyshambles and seem to be quite down to earth and shouty in a pleasantly English kind of way. Is this the start of a homegrown strand of Emo? With a plan to see the mighty Automatic at 8.15, Talia headed back to the G-lounge to catch the end of S.Rock Levinson's set who were shouty and noisy in a mainly unpleasant way.
After Louie’s set, Ricky is 'delighted' to make the acquaintance of a bearded, tattooed fella named Russell, who proceeded to show the gang his Prince Albert. Were we not in Camden, this may have raised a few eyebrows. Regardless, it wasn’t long before 65 Days Of Static took to the Underworld stage and blew all visions of pierced genitalia away. Their fusion of drum ‘n’ bass loops and buzz saw guitar riffs found a perfect setting in the Underworld, and sounded even better live than on record.
In the meantime Talia's ears was trying to get over the loudness of the previous act and prepare herself for the singalong of 'Let's go See Raoul' down in the G Lounge for The Automatic. Never before had we seen a mosh pit in a venue so small, with no less than 6 crowd surfing attempts throughout the short gig, the majority of which ended up with the surfer just kicking people and lights. The crowd reaction was insane and as expected the band were awesome. When they play the Electric Ballroom on the NME tour on May 24 we are so there at the front.
Mark and Dave are currently crouching down to experience the viewpoint of the smallest member of the group, who really is very small, down at the Electric Ballroom. It's not good (and hard on the knees). Do concert venues discriminate against vertically challenged gig goers? We think so, and in these politically sensitive times would like to call for raised standing areas for short-arses. Larrakin Love are what you might get if the NME had to rebuild The Levellers. That unfortunate description gives no idea as to how damn good they really are; their hi NRG English eclecticism giving you the feeling they're a little like the Mystery Jets only influenced by the Clash and not quite as barking. They're definitely the best band of the night. Or as Dave would put it: "odd but very talented".
Awesome though 65 Days were, Ricky and his cohorts tear themselves away in the spirit of the Crawl in order to catch some of Guillemots at Koko. Bad move. He should have read Mark's text message warning him not to go. Three Londonistas wasted on a band totally dwarfed by their stage and barely holding the crowd’s attention. They may sound rather pretty on CD, but don’t really cut it live just yet. Dave decides the singer's head needs to be attached to his body more firmly, lest it fall off with all the silly side-to-side wobbling that's going on.
Ricky and co. leave the grandeur of Koko after two songs and trudge up to NW1 to see The Fratellis, whose debut single “Creeping Up The BackStairs” is a real blinder. No such luck – more queues. Bizarrely, there are probably just as many camera crews and reporters doing vox pops as there are punters on Parkway. His backup plan takes him back to the G Lounge for Paolo Nutini. Paolo, he decides, is a cross between Jack Johnson and Jamie Cullum, but far cooler. Upstairs at the G Lounge, he gets a bird’s eye view of his head whilst supping on cocktails. Very pleasant, indeed - you get the impression he'll be massive within months, but also that it'll be OK to like him. For a while.
None of Mark and Dave's posse have been to Purple Turtle before and since it's just over the road and there's a band called The Marshalls playing, which has nothing to do with anything by the way, they head over to catch The Marshalls playing at Purple Turtle. The Marshalls are two brothers, one of whom is much shorter than the other, a bloke who might be in a Kasabian tribute band in his spare time and a drummer whom we argue long and hard over whether might be ginger or not. The Marshalls play an enjoyable upbeat rock sprinkled with the hundreds and thousands of all that has come before. We still haven't seen a a single band from beginning to end. We're embroiled in a conversation about whether men with no bums should be allowed to wear skin tight jeans, but try to offer little opinion on the subject. It would halve the Crawl's capacity should that be made so. Purple Turtle's a great little dive of a venue. We will have to return.
Following Mr. Nutini at the G Lounge are Londonist favourites, The Pipettes, hence Ricky stays put to get another drink while Talia does a major queue jump and gets in, albeit squashed at the back. It’s a long wait before they appear, and the place is rammed, unsurpringly. It’s quite possibly the smallest stage we’ve even seem them on, and sadly Rose, Gywn and Becki don’t really have room to shine. Meanwhile, right at the back, Talia is enjoying the view of their hair bands and nothing else. There though we are dancing and singing along ourselves. We don't need the real thing - we've created an impressive tribute band complete with dance moves. However, given that the majority of the crowd is too squashed to dance, there isn’t much of an atmosphere. Some consolation then for Dave who's waiting in vain in the line outside. A real downside to this year's Crawl has been some of the queuing, especially at the end of the evening when every band seems to have been placed in a venue completely unsuitable for their popularity forcing a last minute dash of hopes and Russian roulette before being subjected to London's state of the art transport system, safely delivering Londoners to their homes in hi-tech safety throughout the night. Otherwise we could have stayed for the DJs.
Londonist Mark returns to the Purple Turtle, having lost out to the enormo-queue snaking round the World's End hoping to catch a sniff of Wolfmother, nodding along to Morning Runner's amiable enough Supergrass meets Starsailor satellite town escape plan. And they play his favourite Morning Runner song which is good. Dave meanwhile is not having much luck with the Futureheads who have hauled their inflated egos onto Koko's stage to squeeze out three half-arsed mediocre songs and then, without warning, flounce off. For ten minutes. It's more luck that Talia is having though as she stands in the cold outside in a queue that only Koko could fail to manage, with no hope of getting in, and an actual liking of these supposedly 'mediocre' songs.
When they finally bother to return to the stage, they stumble their way through another song before mumbling some excuse about "some sort of fire alarm". Obviously the sort of fire alarm that only requires band members to evacuate the premises. To hell with the audience - let them burn. Their performance continues its lacklustre and uninspired progress through the next half-hour or so, only soaring to the lofty heights of adequacy with their cover of Kate Bush's 'Hounds of Love'. Despite the fact that the audience is by now sufficiently lagered up to dance to anything, there is still no doubt in our minds that The Futureheads are by far the most over-hyped band of the evening. Shame. At least the minicab fare home in the early hours of Friday morning is surprisingly reasonable.
As we haul arse back to the safety of civilisation, we ponder the nature of the crawl. Held in the spiritual home of the occasionally fragrant and interestingly dressed with a disparate and oft argued about line up; spread over numerous venues, often with everything good happening miles apart at the same time; dodging the dealers and contemplating how ill you can afford to be after purchasing from one of the local catering establishments. With o2, Virgin and Carling, battling to serve up prime time festival spirit to the children of the televolution, perhaps the true successor to Britain's great festival spirit lies up in NW1. We look forward to next year when Coldplay will headline the Barfly, the gatecrashers will ruin everything for us all and the accusations of sell out as soon as a suitable sponsor is found. Until then it remains one of the most enjoyable ways to stagger around a flea-ridden hell hole, catching a few surprises, and you'll always have their nifty little CD sampler to make you realise that you didn't see any of the bands you would have enjoyed.