by Joanna Orland
The legendary Camden Crawl returned for another year with music-filled evenings and comedy / cabaret-filled days. Once a draw for secret gigs from the likes of some big names, Camden Crawl is a bit past its grand hey day with rivalling hipster area Dalston deciding to directly compete by putting on a similar festival, Land of Kings, on the very same weekend. But Camden Crawl is not going down without a fight. A stellar line-up by some serious up-and-coming talent and established names on the music & comedy scenes.
After a Friday night launch party at Koko, the festival kicked off on Saturday with comedy and cabaret from the likes of various people – I’m not quite sure who because the schedule was completely inaccurate. We were about 3 for 6 on our attempts, but one of these was eating a burger. The greatest disappointment on Saturday was the no-show of Hannibal Buress – former 30 Rock and SNL writer now stand up comic. We were GUTTED. Bless comedian Simon Fielder who had shown up to watch the Hannibal gig but was ushered on stage to fill the time, with backpack still in place. He did quite a good job considering, but still.
Once we relaxed and realized that anything we had planned to see would likely not be seen, we just had to go with the flow and that flow was awesome. We had such a great time. The comedic highlight was certainly Phil Kay and his musical ramblings. He followed Adam Hess whose best joked involved eating a banana.
Onto the evening’s music. We had a bit more luck here schedule-wise. Our first musician on our list was Eugene McGuinness at Koko. He delivered a most excellent set! Or perhaps I was still riding high from getting asked my age upon entry… um… 17? Really? And then being swiftly let into the VIP area which had a prime viewing spot and its own queueless bar. Or perhaps it was Eugene’s slick dress sense and sharp tunes. He is a great performer and both me and @mowgliandy agree that we must see him again soon.
And then our schedule fell apart again. We, along with many other people, shuffled on next door to The Purple Turtle to see who we had assumed would be Clock Opera. It wasn’t. Even the band didn’t know they were supposed to be on that’s how confused the schedules were. Instead, we were “treated” to a band called fiN who have definitely been listening to a lot of Muse and prog rock. We swiftly moved on back to Koko to check out the rest of the Big Pink set. They are terrible live. Dominos is their hit song, and even that was terrible. They’re way better on album, and even then, not so good.
Time for the highlight / lowlight / most confusing moment of Saturday – The Futureheads. Now, for the record, I am not overly familiar with this band and keep mixing them up with Maximo Park. However, I do know some of their songs and what they sound like. At 3:10pm in the afternoon I was in the press area waiting for @mowgliandy when what I assumed to be some random barbershop quartet was singing. I thought, hmm, pretty good, but I don’t get why a random barbershop quartet is performing here for the press. Then @mowgliandy called and I left.
It was only later when I checked the press schedule that I realized that was supposed to have been The Futureheads. I described what I had seen and heard to @mowgliandy and he said that it indeed sounded like I was unwittingly attending a Futureheads performance. But I don’t think he understood what I had meant by barbershop quartet and had assumed I had merely meant they were harmonizing a bit. No @mowgliandy – I meant barbershop quartet!
This is either career suicide for The Futureheads, or a stroke of genius. I think this is where the fans and critics divide. The band came on stage to a packed out Koko and started singing acapella. Eventually doing a few acoustic, bluegrass and more acapella numbers. It was a very strong start for them. They can really sing and harmonize and in support of their new acapella release Rant they chose to present their music in this fashion to a lairy Camden audience. Right performance, wrong crowd. This would have gone down amazingly at a smaller more intimate venue with a slightly more sober crowd who didn’t expect the indie guitars to keep them dancing. There was a clear turning point in this gig where not only the audience gave up, but the band themselves.
The quartet brought on stage a six-piece choir who weren’t even audible as they weren’t using microphones. Everyone got restless, the mood was broken and there was no going back. Such a shame as clearly this is the music the band really want to make, now that they don’t have a record label to please. And you know what? They’re pretty good at it vocally, with banjos, cellos, mandolins and acoustic guitars. They just need to find their audience as it certainly wasn’t in Camden.
Roll on Sunday. Our first scheduled stop was breakfast. Even that was a bit of a rocky start as The Diner was closed to the general public outside of artist and crew. All we wanted was some pancakes! Anyway, we sorted it out and onto the crawl!
First performance was Niki & The Dove, the Scandinavian act who sounds a hell of a lot like another Scandinavian act called Fever Ray. They were playing in the press bit and they were pretty good. But, I might as well just keep listening to Fever Ray.
Back to the comedy. First stop was The Jazz Café to see Ross Lee’s new comedy-horror-musical Horace Fingernips. Unfortunately due to the dodgy scheduling, we had to run away halfway through the set, which is never cool. There were some really clever moments, with our favourite being Harry Deansway dressed as a mattress sitting in the audience as though he were a regular comedy gig punter. That was hilarious, and I’m sorry we couldn’t see how it ended. You can check out our interview with Ross here.
We had to rush off to see The Beta Males perform as part of Really Lovely Comedy’s curated day at The Black Heart. Damn, they got it right. Really Lovely Comedy packed the place with acts including The Beta Males, Jay Foreman and the brilliant Frisky & Mannish. We got there in time to catch Jay Foreman who is so funny, talented and endearing even as he sings of how he’s glad John Lennon Died (trust me, you will laugh -not throw drinks). Another highlight was Jay bringing guest John Henry Falle of The Beta Males on stage to sing a duet entitled Spirograph. Just genius.
After Jay were The Beta Males themselves, killing it as always. Performing random sketches rather than one of their longer shows, they brought it home and the audience loved it. They’ve got great chemistry, energy and funny material. Destined for greatness. You can check out our interview with The Beta Males here.
Then it was the act that had people queuing out the door – Frisky & Mannish. This cabaret duo is one I have wanted to see for a long while as they have a damn good reputation and an appeal that seems to be directed right at me – musical pop culture parody! And boy they delivered. Unfortunately due to scheduling, we had to leave during their set, but what we saw of them making fun of both the band Busted and the competitive spirit of duets was amazing and we loved it. Both @mowgliandy and I are in agreement – we are going to go to one of their proper gigs in the very near future.
What we were rushing off to see was Abandoman at Dingwalls, although not on the schedule, we had some insider information that they would indeed be taking the stage at 5:30pm (ish). But when we got there, to our surprise, Hannibal Buress was on the stage! WHAT? So we finally got to see the man deliver a hilarious set at the Camden Crawl. Win! Again, forgetting the schedule is the way to go with this festival. Genuine highlight.
Following Hannibal was Abandoman, the improvised comedy hip hop act who are so impressive, you can’t believe what you’re hearing. The audience loved it. Even the less-than-enthusiastic shy participants overcame their disdain for being singled out, and had a blast. A total joy, and as frontman Rob Broderick himself said, “bridging the gap between comedy and music.” You can check out our interview with Abandoman here.
And onto the music. Kyla La Grange packed the Wheelbarrow pub to the max. We could hear her fine, but could not see a thing. This greatly disappointed @mowgliandy as while he likes her songs, he prefers her looks. He was getting frustrated, I was getting bored, so we moved on and caught the end of Niki & The Dove at Koko. It was a much more impressive set than the one in the press area earlier that day. Their sound filled the venue and it just worked. Still, I would have preferred to see Fever Ray themselves, but this is a decent enough substitute.
Next up was the hilarious, talented, and smackable Spector. I had seen them at a festival once before and recalled how good they were musically, and how annoying the lead singer was verbally. This is still true. @mowgliandy LOVED the four-eyed Jason Schwartzman look-a-like who I will refer to as Specstor, but while I was seriously amused by him, I still wanted to smack him so they could get on with the tunes. Turned out that Karma stepped in to do the job for me.
The most hilarious moment of the gig was when Specstor was trying to be all cool, throw a towel up in the air and attempt to grab it. He missed the towel, tripped and fell right under the keyboard. His specs then flew off his face and he fell again face first into the monitors, all the while sliding around on the floor trying to be all cool as he got up. He realized there was no way he could claim that as a cool move, so he did what he does best – and talked his way out of it. He threatened if anyone put this on the Internet or told anyone about it, he would come find them and erase their memory of the gig. This was one of many millions of things Specstor said. While amusing at times, arrogant at others, the crowd loved him, and even I must admit that I was amused by the nonsense spewing out of his mouth. But overall, LESS TALK MORE ROCK!
Spector was a difficult act to follow as they were damn good and hilarious. But it was time for the one act I actually declared as a “must-see” from my list. Micachu & The Shapes played the Jazz Café with their brand of music I am just going to label GeekCore for lack of a better term (NerdCore already exists apparently). Whereas Spector’s frontman embodied the spirit and looks of Jason Schwartzman, Micachu herself embodied everything about Michael Cera to the point where @mowgliandy thought he was watching a live interpretation of Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
Onto watching Clock Opera – for real this time. @mowgliandy had seen them twice before and told me they were a must see and that I would love them. True, I did. With their lusciously full sound, melodramatic pop stylings and technical musical talent, how could I not? They were the musical highlight for me as not only were they technically and creatively the best musical act we watched, but they’re a band I garnered actual respect for. Also, we are fontmates.
I was admiring the font they use in their name Clock Opera and realized it’s awfully similar to the one we use for Loose Lips.
As we were taking comparative photos, we ended up in conversation with the nice bearded chap who fronts the band with his beautiful vocals. We discussed our fontal similarities, @mowgliandy’s previous experiences in seeing them live, and how they would be getting a glowing review from me! And here it is!
The copious amounts of alcohol kept us going from midday to midnight in order to see Hey Sholay who were recommended to me by a friend. They were good, but by this point, nothing special. Clearly talented and will appeal to the likes of psychedelic indie pop fans, but I’d just felt I’d heard it all before 15 years ago. That didn’t stop us from enjoying it nonetheless and we ended our Camden Crawl experience on a high.
As I write this with a bit of a banging headache on the bank holiday Monday, I can honestly say that Camden Crawl was a full weekend of fun and entertainment. Amazing talent on display at various venues across Camden with fun surprises and lots of randomness. The fact that I have managed to write a four page review of it, most of it glowing, whilst vodka is still seeping out of my pores, should say enough.
Here is a Spotify playlist of our musical experiences. Sadly, I can’t do the same for the comedy highlights.