Hello high-speed access to the midlands, goodbye sticky-floored rock thrills. With the grand old Astoria already lost to the blasted planners of transport infrastructure, are we now to lose half of Camden to HS2 as well? Will Proud be a Pumpkin in eighteen months? Will there be replacement buses idling where the Roundhouse once stood? Will KOKO be lost to the loco?
Well, no. At present all we’re threatened with is a possible closure of Camden Market for extended periods while the track area is widened, not a whacking great out-of-control intercity ploughing through the rubble of our capital’s proud rock heritage, smashing through toilet venue after toilet venue, demolishing Barfly after Underworld after Dublin Castle, driven by a cackling Boris bellowing Ocean Colour Scene’s ‘The Day We Caught The Train’ to show just how little he knows or cares about great British rock.
Or are we? If the lengthy closure of Camden Market kills off rock tourism in the capital, and thus Camden itself as a cultural fulcrum, the Dalstonites will laugh all the way to Efes but the damage may well be significant. Sure, London’s stylistic hub long since shifted East, but Camden remains a hive of sweaty, shitty-arsed rock’n’roll, and the epicentre of a fine tradition that’s driven our nation’s musical development for decades and we should be wary of losing the grotty pub gig.
You know the drill. Pissy lager, both spewing from the bar-taps and, in dried form, gluing you to every flat surface. Four bands for three quid, three-and-three-quarters of which are awful, and the remaining quarter is your brother. A PA that sounds like it’s made from condensed straw, a bass drum made largely of gaffa tape and half rotted away from a sweaty towel that Good Shoes left inside it in 2007, and microphones that health and safety haven’t yet got around to clearing of asbestos. The ceiling is in constant danger of falling in and the place smells like they’ve plumbed the lavatory outflow pipes directly into the air conditioning and invited Eric Pickles round for peri-peri Friday. It’s a place, at first glance, so irredeemably awful it may well be made City Of Culture 2015.
Yet, every four or five bands or so, there’s a cracker. More bands play per square inch in Camden of a wet Wednesday night than in any other quarter of the city, and it’s really not tough to stumble across a great one. In putting on a monthly Camden club night over the past few years, I’ve been randomly blown away by dozens of bands. Turnpike Glow, This Is My TV, Houdini Dax, An Escape Plan, The Wholls, Bear Driver, The Rusty Suns, Fin – at least one act a night provided a riot. And while the inventive tykes of Dalston are singing to an insular, moustache-preening choir, the clatterers of Camden are belting it out to tourists, tramps, students and other touring bands, i.e. people capable of spreading a wider word. Camden may, to a greater or lesser degree, be merely churning out its punkoid tradition for tradition’s sake, but it remains a fervent breeding ground that will inevitably spew up many more next big things.
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Closing the market won’t stop dozens of small venues operating as normal, of course; its not like NW1 will cease to rock until further notice. But if the weekend tourists stop coming and nights become unviable, could it cause a slow, agonising suffocation of bottom-end live music in the capital, starving us of cheap and cheerful rock nights out, and denying future stars their chance to become mates with Graham Coxon? London’s rock furnace relies on fuel from these fetid Camden fires; snuff them out, however briefly, and the UK scene may get significantly darker.