In what is now only a matter of days, our nation will come together to decide our fate in the EU referendum; are we ‘stronger in Europe’ or standing alone as good ol’ Great Britain? With this in mind it feels particularly poignant that the big draws of Camden Rocks 2016 have all made their name dealing in the sentiments & realities of our fair isle. And whether you grew up with the ‘New England’ manifesto of Billy Bragg, Carl Barat (& his Libertines cohort’s) mythical tales of Albion, or The Cribs’ hometown heroics, there’s no doubt that these men have helped form the views of their followers.
Mr. Bragg’s 5.15pm set to a packed Proud Galleries was quick to divide the audience; as he took to the stage for an hour of discussion which fell somewhere between memoir & Question Time the less patient or politically engaged amongst the audience departed for pastures new and noisy, but those that stayed were treated to Bragg’s views on everything from his most successful songwriting (those which attempt to ‘realign [his] ideals & urges’) to his renewed faith in the Labour Party & the aforementioned EU referendum (‘don’t let Europe be the scapegoat for the failures of our society & government’). The crowd for the most part lapped it up, & were rewarded with renditions of favourites including ‘Scousers Never Buy the Sun’ & ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’.
The Libertines legend is alive & well in Camden Town and does well to explain the enormous crowd which congregated in what felt like seconds as a fresh faced Carl Barat & his Jackals appeared at Electric Ballroom. The band played a lively mixture of new and old, with ‘Death on the Stairs’, ‘I Get Along’ & Dirty Pretty Things hit ‘Bang Bang You’re Dead’ all being as crowd pleasing as you’d expect., while new numbers including ‘A Storm is Coming’ were equally impressive, if lacking the nostalgia. Most memorable though, was the band throwing their arms around each other and embracing in front of a roaring crowd before departing the stage.
Wakefield’s finest headline slot at Electric Ballroom was an energetic close to the day, with the The Cribs on good form. A hyped up audience, kept waiting from almost 20 minutes erupted when greeted with the opening chords of Jarman brothers classic ‘Our Bovine Public’ and continued to jump & sing along throughout the hour long set. The band played with a confidence that comes with knowing many an audience member would buy a ticket for the event based purely on them; and if Ryan Jarman’s Johnny Ramone posturing seemed a tad OTT, the crowd loved every second.
There is much debate on the relevance of Camden Rocks in the current musical climate, one weighed down by seemingly endless festivals, yet where album sales continue to fall; however, it cannot be argued that the promoters, acts & fans of Camden Rocks are doing it for the love. The authenticity & passion so clear at this event could teach a lesson or two to it’s cool young competitors. In the words of Billy Bragg himself; ‘The feeling of communion you get at a gig… you can’t get that over the internet’.