This day is nothing if not a celebration of all stages of the musical journey. It features bands that you might never have heard of before and may, however unfortunately, never hear of again. It also features bands that have been an integral part of our musical lives and personalities for decades. It features those that are destined to only glimpse stardom and those that are already tumbling headlong into the path of international notoriety; those on the ascendancy, those who are on a plateau and those who may be approaching a decline. Whichever category these 250+ bands fell into, the day remained as joyous and celebratory as you might imagine.
As a one-day/one town/multiple stage festival goes, this is easily the most ‘Glastonbury esque’ in that tickets are snapped up long before the full line-up is known. While Camden is a ‘honeypot’ for many musical genres within the UK, it is clearly the ‘rock’ section of the spectrum that is best located in a spread of dingy, scuzzy, hyper, overheated and downright lovable venues as are used here. From improvised stages next to pub toilets to cavernous and ornate buildings, there isn’t a venue here that isn’t a pleasure to visit and that generates a gig-experience to be valued. Eat your heart out Hyde Park – you’re never going to create this sort of experience, try as you might.
The sheer goodwill and range of smiles that perpetuate these days makes for the best atmosphere that a festival of this ilk can generate. The drunkenness is good-natured, the abuse being yelled is good-hearted and the queues at every bar show that people are here to tune in, top up, and carry-on. The stewarding is friendly, the bag searches are thorough and met with good humour and the overwhelming feeling of spirit and community is tangible.
The sun always shines on Camden, and even when it rains, it does so as simultaneous headliners are hitting various stages, ensuring that we are not dampened in spirit, outlook or atmosphere.
I’m aware that I seem to be going over the top somewhat but whether it’s the politically-charged and challenging nature of Tokyo Taboo’s festival opening funfest, or The RPMs spreading sunshine indie-pop to all and sundry, or HVMM assaulting us with the heaviest and most charged blues you can imagine, there is nothing here to criticise, and nothing that leaves a sour taste. When B R I C K S take the stage with their charged and aggressive post-punk, they recognise the potential for misunderstanding and remind people that they can move closer to them because they don’t bite (even though they swear a lot). When Asylums’ singer Luke launches himself onto the heads of the assembled masses he is carried to the rear of the venue and back to the stage with hearty cheers and our passion travels with him.
When The Virginmarys’ front man Ally takes to an acoustic stage (serving up free rum) in glorious mid-afternoon sunshine it feels that this atmosphere simply can’t get any better, until he plays a set of wonderfully restrained and understated VMS classics that warm the heart as the sun’s rays toast our foreheads. When Hands Off Gretel launch into the most gloriously distorted grunge and make us all, as one, yearn for the good old days when all music was like this, there is no better feeling. When Imperial Leisure create the glorious Notting Hill carnival vibe while inside a darkened basement room, you know there is nothing that can replace this.
Yes, I know I used the word ‘glorious’ three times in a row but that’s the point – this festival defines the glory days of music that we find ourselves within, where we celebrate as one, welcome everyone as an equal and share whatever we have with whoever might benefit. It is about unity, about spirit and about the uplifting and genuinely emotional nature of being among kindred souls who want everyone to feel this good.
On yet another day when the impact of politics, ideology and Governments make us determined to battle on regardless, bloodied but unbroken, we can find comfort, normality and freedom in times like these.