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Rocks around the Lock!

Public Image Limited are among the headline acts as Camden Town welcomes around 200 bands for one-day festival

08 June, 2018 — By Danny Cage, Róisín Gadelrab

John Lydon, of Public Image Limited, during the band’s headline set at the Electric Ballroom

THE humid Saturday climes were not a day to be indoors, but for the many Camden Rocks festival wristband wearers who headed to the borough over the weekend, the weather was irrelevant as they ducked in and out of the high street’s many venues to catch some of the 200 or so bands on the line-up.

We braved the sweaty crowds to see what was on offer: Starting at Gabeto, The Men They Couldn’t Hang led an ageing crowd into a series of folk and protest songs, drawing a full voiced chorus of appreciation. Then, just around the corner at Fest, ’90s indie favourites Echobelly got off to a shaky start with sound problems, initially muting the soft vocals of frontwoman Sonya Madden, who shrugged off the technical hitches, taking the opportunity to perform to the max once her mic was working.

Taking the stage at Belushi’s early in the day were The Inklings, sadly not a musical celebration of the stars of Nintendo’s wonderful Splatoon game, but more likely a reference to tattoos – a common theme throughout the day. Impossibly youthful, it’s a fairly pedestrian affair with fuzzy Muse basslines covered in Gin Blossoms MOR. Still, the security guard on the door must have loved it as he danced along outside in the sunshine during the short set.

Eliza and the Bear should be sued under the Trades Description Act for featuring neither Eliza nor bear. Instead Koko suffered an ’80s Spandau Ballet pastiche that soon descended into Ellie Goulding lite, wasting one of the city’s best venues and seemingly out of place at what is supposed to be a rock festival. “Let’s see your hands in the air,” chirped singer James Kellegher. Seriously?

Raveneye playing at Dingwalls

It is hard to believe Sonic Boom Six have been going for 16 years but, given the infectious enthusiasm put into their live Underworld show, perhaps it isn’t so surprising. A lot of ska, a little metal and a leftie political message, the high-energy set is exactly what the festival needs mid-afternoon. They rely a little too much on nods to others’ songs but, dedicating their performance to “Tommy Robinson rotting in prison”, they certainly won the crowd’s appreciation.

Duo Blood Red Shoes feel like a band who have never quite had their moment and it’s not entirely clear why. The driving, grungey rock sound is there, but they needed that killer song to get to the next level. It didn’t help that they started with an interminable 10-minute soundcheck or that guitarist Laura-Mary Carter is tediously aloof, mimicking Alison Mosshart’s voice but without the predatory stage presence. Business really picked up when Tigercub bassist Jimi joined things for a few songs, giving the newer tunes a distinct edge. Perhaps it’s a sign the reverse White Stripes thing isn’t enough for them anymore.

Raveneye’s singer Oli Brown owes everything, from his look to his impressive voice, to Chris Cornell, but a lack of originality doesn’t stop this classic rock trio from being hugely entertaining.

Somewhere between the Black Keys and the Foos, they love every minute on stage and the crowd eats it up. There aren’t many good things that have come out of Milton Keynes, but this might be one of them.

The Inklings at Belushi’s

Bouncy ska-punk band Fierce Ideas do not worry about being taken seriously, if their Twitter tagline is anything to go by: “Music for humans. And animals. And humans who act like animals.”

Playing in Dingwalls Canalside, singer Ben Janet solves the problem of no one being able to see him by clinging to the rafters before trying to crowd-surf on top of five people. Who knows what he’d get up to when let loose on a larger stage, but the idea is appealing.

Urban Voodoo Machine, nearly a dozen musicians dressed in devil-red suits looking like a David Lynch movie set in a New Orleans graveyard – that’s more like it. Describing themselves as “bourbon-soaked gypsy blues bop n stroll”, the hugely charismatic vaudeville act is one of the highlights of the day. Frontman Paul-Ronney Angel doesn’t lack confidence as the band mesh accordion, sax, brass, guitar and pretty much anything else they can think of.

Given John Lydon’s reputation as a world-class contrarian, the most surprising thing about Public Image Limited’s headline set at the Electric Ballroom is that it all goes so smoothly.

In fact, the legendary acid tongue is kept relatively in check as he seems to have genuine affection for the audience (“proper people” as he calls us) as well Camden and the event itself – we even get an encore. Common consensus is that while the Sex Pistols are far more significant culturally, Lydon’s other band is the more musically accomplished and that seems true enough for their near 90-minute performance.

Although lacking the wonderfully named original member Jah Wobble, those fantastic prowling basslines are all present and correct, topped off with Lydon’s almost operatic wailing poetry on top. The one-two punch of singles This is Not a Love Song and Rise is fantastic, and the momentum keeps up with Public Image and a version of one of his finest works, Leftfield’s Open Up. He finishes with something only Johnny Rotten could get away with: Shoom – a six-minute track that’s basically chanting swearwords with a scowl. At 62 years old, long may he continue.


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