Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lovebox, 18th-19th July

For the first time (I’ve only lived in East London 7 years, and literally down the road form Vicky Park for 4) I went to Lovebox. And I was gonna do it right – that meant both days back to back. Previously it has been a Friday to Sunday event, but they decided to condense this year and concentrate the quality into two days. By going both days we noticed a marked difference in crowds and vibe.

Friday was the young, dancey, druggy day. The place was awash with gurning students, all doing that weird shuffle dance, like it was some big musical and everyone had spontaneously broken into a choreographed dance. It was actually rather eerie to watch sometimes. Everyone dancing in exactly the same way like robots. It was also one of the hottest days of the year – merely standing still caused an obscene amount of sweating. So there was a LOT of demand for the free water taps. Which were a great idea, but: 

a lot of people chewing their faces off 
the hottest day of the year 
queues for water that were half an hour in duration. 

Not pleasant. By the time you got to the front to fill your water bottle, you were thirsty enough to empty it again. We noticed later in the day that on top of the number of bars (of which there seemed to be a plentiful amount) they had some guys with portable tanks of beer and cider, filling up pints on the go. Oh, if they had only done that with water as well!

There were a lot of artists I wanted to see, but I also just wanted to soak up the festival atmosphere so we got there early and wandered around the whole site before getting into dance mode. My favourite tent in terms of aesthetics had to be the Red Bull tent – it was like a tiki beach hut in there!

There were also cocktail tents, a pirate ship and a dance off stage where we learned and then watched some belly dancing, and then a dance troupe killing it to African beats and Drums of Death. And there were some tents that weren’t tents at all, but areas for dancing cordoned off by a wall of music. Such was one of my favourite sets of the day – Shy FX at the Bearded Kittens manor, treating us to some jungle, drum n bass, reggae and hip hop. And the headliners Chase n Status were phenomenal. By this point a few drops of rain had started to fall but it was welcome relief after the immense sun of the day, and made Chase n Status cool in more ways than one.

Saturday had a completely different feel – more a bands festival than a rave. On the Friday I think we only heard two live voices all day, Saturday was awash with live acts and bands. And a much different crowd – the drinker crowd. Suddenly the bars we thought were plentiful and easy to get to the day before seemed far less bountiful and all completely rammed. And everyone was being asked for ID, even though half the crowd were in their 30s. Same as the day before, there were a few random things happening as well as the main areas – we caught the burlesque parade (above) as we made our way to the main stage, and Little Gay Brother were once more set up at the Cider Tent. Saturday’s highlights had to be watching Soul II Soul in the sunshine – a perfect afternoon activity and they were just brilliant. Caron Wheeler looks like she hasn’t aged, and her voice was as soulful and mellow as ever. Nas wiped the floor with his set and M.I.A turned the whole place into a party with her amazing lightshow – both on stage and created by handing out glowsticks to the crowd. We unfortunately didn’t see all of her set though as we wanted to leave to go out partying at the Queen of Hoxton… among others (see below).


I don’t know what the food has been like previously but this year there were some serious eats to be had. There was a whole BBQ area where you could choose from Miss P’s, Smokestak, Smokey Tails and Kurobuta, and I noticed Spit and Roast, Bonnie Gull and Mama’s Jerk elsewhere. I had decided on my list were Kurobuta and Miss P’s but in the end I didn’t get Miss P’s – I had a Popdog instead, which was great – you choose your frank: pork or beef, and then it’s up to you to load it up with toppings. I smothered mine with jalapenos and sauerkraut as well as some ketchup and mustard.

But on the first day I made a beeline to Kurobuta to try some of their buns. Big, crispy on the edges slabs of pork belly came with pickles and this amazingly, fiery, nutty sauce on the side. Plus onions and cucumbers in the buns. Fabulous food.

We also had a Crosstown Doughnut as we chilled out listening to the pumping tunes from the Roller Disco, curated by It’s Supa Dupa Fly. Kind of a shame they didn’t have a proper tent to dance in!


What’s a festival without an afterparty? Well, in this case we eschewed the official ones and went to Queen of Hoxton for Artwork, Logo etc. But it shut at 2 and we never go home that early. Instead we found ourselves in the Joiners Arms, a gay pub recently threatened with licencing issues and saved with a loving campaign. This place did remind me a little of Ye Olde Axe – it’s just a large pub, but it was a lot of fun, and friendly, and not at all full of men just on the prowl, which is what I’d heard before. We made friends and when that place shut we went where everyone else apparently goes after – East Bloc by Old Street roundabout. Don’t ask me what that was like – by the time we got there my brain cells were just about functioning enough to keep me upright, never mind retain information!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

YOLO Bingo, 16th July

I’ve got a bit of a thing for bingo and as soon as I heard there was a new bingo night on at Oslo in Hackney, I knew I had to see what it was all about. This one was entitled YOLO Bingo, and I had to know what was so YOLO about it. Kind of implies a wild night, doesn’t it?

In this case, I think the YOLO was rather ironic. Our host for the evening, Nimrod, is a rather nerdy, straightlaced, deadpan caller – the very opposite of what YOLO seems to be all about. Not for Nimrod are dirty, made up bingo calls. No, for him: bus routes. ‘No 73. As in, the bus.’ Or, he might get a little risqué: ‘No 22: My age… No 69: Your girlfriend’s age’. But that was rather funny in its own way.

In between the six rounds of bingo were six rounds of a pub quiz which could only be said to have a hipster theme. The first round was exclusively about the London Fields area, which was infuriating as I know it fairly well but still didn’t quite know the answers. What was the name of the café that closed because of the building subsidence next to Oslo? What is the name of the first coffee shop you come to on Broadway Market? Etc etc. Or there was a round that was mainly Camden themed – on what square did Amy Winehouse live, for example?

Turns out my team won the quiz but that could only be because the questions were quite fiendish and everyone else did so poorly, not because we did so well.

Bingo was pretty straightforward – first person to get a line then the first person to get a full house would each win prizes, and they even had proper bingo tabbers. If two people shouted out at the same time, it was a tie break that had to be solved by guessing how many Twitter followers a celebrity had. In fact, to win the grand prize of the quiz (I don’t know what that would have been) we had to play Twitter-follower Play Your Cards Right whereby they showed you pictures of two celebrities and you had to say who had the most followers. I was doing very well until the last one where I discovered to my horror that Harry Styles has vastly more Twitter followers than Beyonce. Best get tweeting Bey – 8 tweets is no way to build a following.

But we still won a £20 bar tab for our efforts. All the prizes were either £10 (for a line) or £20 for a full house. My meetup group made up most of the participants so we just kept on winning bar tab after bar tab. We had so much money to spend, we didn’t even spend it all! Not bad going for a game that only cost a quid to enter! If you like bingo, or just like drinking, get on down to Yolo Bingo!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Places to throw a party!

Every now and then I do some serious research for particular nights - before New Year's Eve I will investigate everywhere I can think of for the night out, and list their features so I can decide which best fits my bill. Most recently I've done it for my birthday. What with running a meetup, I've acquired a fair few friends over the last couple of years and I thought I'd have enough people to hire a private room rather than just booking an area. So I started finding places I liked and I thought I'd share it with you:

Bohemia, Hackney

This is where I ended up choosing. They have a small cafe in the day that you can have completely for yourself for a minimum spend of 550. They can fit up to 60 with tables, up to 100 probably without and you can have full use of their PA system, mics, bring in a DJ and even decorate a bit if you like! I'm not bothering - I think the inside is nice enough as it is. You need to put down a 100 pound deposit in advance.

Dead Dolls House/Dead Dolls Club

The newish Dead Dolls Club at The Arch has a private area that overlooks the rest of the bar so you'd be subject to the same music everyone else is listening to. The Dead Dolls House has various areas you can have completely to yourself, depending on whether you just want drinks or a sit-down meal as well.

Callooh Callay
I love this place, with its quirky decor and cocktails. They have a couple of places you can hire out - through the wardrobe or the upstairs bar. The Upstairs holds 30 people and there's a minimum spend of 1500 pounds though that can be spent on food, drink and the service charge (and the cocktails aren't cheap so you'll probably get through it quicker than you think!). You have to put down a 30% deposit.

The Looking Glass
Another cocktail bar, and this one doesn't even have a minimum spend! Nor a hire charge. All they ask is for a deposit in case of cancellation, and you can get a part of, or even the whole area through the Looking glass depending on how many of you there are.

Mr Buckley's
They have a basement bar that you can again, have either part of, or the whole thing if there are enough of you. There's a minimum spend if you want the whole thing, otherwise there isn't but other people are free to wander down. Didn't get as far as finding out what the minimum spend was.

House of Wolf
I was *this* close to picking House of Wolf because it's such a cool, weird, splendiferous venue. THey have several rooms available - I had my eye on The Apothecary Bar (which also has the secret room) which would have been a 200 pound deposit and 1000 minimum spend before midnight. You would also be able to have your own music playing but after midnight they open it up to everyone and it would play the same music as the rest of the venue. Can take up to 40 people.

Paradise Inn
This can be hired privately but I didn't get as far as to ask for how much or really any other details as I'd pretty much decided on Bohemia by this point.

Tipsy Bar 
See above

The Macbeth
The Macbeth has an upstairs which is available to hire. It can take up to 60 people standing, there's a £1000 minimum spend and it requires a £100 deposit. 

The Star of Bethnal Green
This place has an upstairs that can be hired for £150 though you require at least 40 people to be able to hire it privately. There is then only a £750 minimum spend - not bad! 

The Red Lion, Hoxton
I didn't even think this place would do private hire but I found it on Barchick's list of private hire places. I was tempted by this one because it's a pretty cool, shabby old pub, laid back. You can hire one of the upstairs rooms and get access to its roof terrace. It can take up to 70 people and there's a minimum spend but I didn't end up enquiring about it because, it is such a basic pub - the wine is cheap and the beers aren't extensive. 

Other places to note: Shaker & Co, Pub on the Park, Far Rockaway...

Where have you hired and was it any good? Let me know!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Agent November, 12th July

So, for all you puzzle lovers and treasure-hunt enthusiasts, you’ll be pleased to know there’s another game afoot in London. Brought to you from a Hint Hunt ex-employee is Agent November – a game where you must use your wits and ingenuity to save London from a catastrophic explosion! Born of the same stable as Hint Hunt there are similarities, not least in the time frame and having to race against the clock. There is also a similarly constrained area in which to solve the puzzle, though this time you’re outside rather than in. Everything you will need for the game is provided, unlike with Door in aWall, where you wouldn’t get very far without a smartphone.

I went along to the inaugural game so we were very much the guinea pigs, meaning there are probably some things that will change or run more smoothly as it finds its feet. But we still had a really fun hour and a half and, I’m happy to report, we also managed to solve all the clues and save London from imminent disaster! Of course, I can’t say too much as I don’t want to spoil any surprises or give anything away!

You get about twenty minutes at the beginning of the game to be given the backstory and get a few initial clues together before being lead over to where the ‘action’ takes place. Some things are straightforward tasks to complete but others require a little sideways thinking, and of course there are a few red herrings along the way as well. Even seemingly unrelated things, though, were hidden clues, that made us all go ‘aaahhh’ at the end once we’d figured it all out. A couple of things in particular I thought were ingenious but obviously I won’t say what they were!

Agent November was on hand throughout to help should you get stuck though there aren’t any other characters to meet or interact with. I had a few seasoned puzzlers with me, and we would have preferred a bit less help. Some of the hints were some that seemed to appear out of nowhere when we would rather have figured something out. And, considering we did solve it with several minutes to spare, we wouldn’t have minded a few extra riddles or puzzles to solve, or spending some more time on solving clues ourselves rather than having a hint or clue given to us. I#d probably pitch its ease at a little below that of Hint Hunt, which doesn't help if you haven't been to Hint Hunt! Having said that, there was a point about halfway through where I really thought we were no way near figuring it all out and that time would run out before we did. You never know whether the next clue will pull it all together or lead to something else to solve, and of course it depends on the order you manage to find them in.  We had a full team of 6 which worked well but if you had less I think you could still manage to find everything within the time frame if you don’t mind a bit of running about!

This is a great way to spend a couple of hours, giving your brain a work out with some likeminded friends. If you've already done Hint Hunt or a Door in a Wall, and are looking for something new, or if you're yet to try them and want to see what these live puzzle adventures are all about, then Agent November is your man!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Finger in the Pie, 6th July

I'd only recently seen the crème de la crème of cabaret at Black Cat, so I was completely prepared to be underwhelmed by Finger in the Pie, a monthly cabaret show at Madame JoJo’s. On a Sunday.

But I've been wanting to check it out so took my Meetup group along with me. And when we got there and there was a queue, I began to wonder if I should expect a little more. I will admit, what followed wasn’t quite as sleek, sexy and showbiz as something like the Black Cat, but boy was it fun! And just plain weird.

Hosted by Michael Twaits, the manliest transvestite I’ve probably ever seen (he doesn’t even bother to shave his legs) we were treated to acts ranging from the ridiculous to the slightly less ridiculous. There was quite a heavy emphasis in this show on comedy, even when it wasn’t strictly a comedy routine. There were a few burlesque acts as well, a couple of which were rather routine, but one I really enjoyed – Little Lady Luscious did some actual ballet combined with a sort of dance of a thousand scarves routine. Different and effective, which is what I’m looking for in burlesque.

Some of the acts were just baffling but not necessarily in a bad way. Some of these were my favourites. ‘Katy’s friend’ for example, where ‘Katy’ came in dragging what I thought was a rock in a cart behind her. It wasn’t a rock, it was a sheep’s skull and then she sang ‘The first time ever I saw your head’ her ode to her deceased lamb lover.

Probably my absolute favouritest act was ‘Womans’. With a generic Borat-like accent she wooed us with the art form of dance. Unfortunately what she did doesn’t lend itself well to being described – it’s a ‘you had to have been there’ kind of act. Let me just say three words. Art. Bum. Tassles. Carlos, Istanbul’s premier operatic singer was a close runner for top performance. He came out with his accordion and ‘sang’ a song that is about as far from opera as you can get and was utterly hilarious. He’s actually got a solo show at Soho Theatre this week and I’d definitely recommend checking him out.

The truly weirdest act was probably Gentleman John and his friend. He came out with a colander on his head strapped on with an elastic band, a bushy moustache and boxing gloves, while his friend came out in multi-coloured clothes and some leggings on his head. And then they proceeded to fall about the stage muttering nonsense for about ten minutes. This actually was pretty funny, although for me probably went on for a tad too long before they muttered an almost incomprehensible ditty and disappeared off stage.

In between, Michal Twaits (who was at least as entertaining if not more so than the acts) would keep our enthusiasm levels high, make us laugh and even treat us to a song or two, taking suggestions from the audience. We persuaded him to sing Sweet Transvestite from Rocky Horror even though it went against all his instincts to avoid cliché, and that was a lot of fun, but his musical theatre ‘quartet’ was the best bit. He mashed up Nicki Minaj, Nirvana, Bon Jovi and one other into one of those ‘storyline recaps’ oft used in musicals where each separate character sings their theme song yet they all blend seamlessly into one new song. Know what I mean? No? Well then you probably don’t know musical theatre dahling!

So it was a fun night, and for only £10 you could do a lot worse – there were ten acts, excluding Michael, so a pound an act is not bad value at all. A good way to liven up a Sunday.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Death by Burrito at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, 3rd July

Having been to Death by Burrito when they were a pop-up at Catch, I was excited that they had a permanent place at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen (one of my ‘go-to’ bars when I’m in the area). My thinking was that, as with Rita’s, it would give them space and time to get creative and put some new items on the menu that would really show the breadth of what they could do. I was pleased to be invited for a sneak peek the day before they opened up officially. I imagined a sit down event with a selection of everything on the menu for everyone to try and maybe with some explanation of it all as well.

It turns out the night wasn’t quite like that. It was more of a party than a food event. Ryan Chetiyawardana (otherwise known as Mr Lyan of White Lyan which I have yet to get to) was responsible for the cocktail menu and the three I tried were all delicious, and strong, so no complaints there. But you start serving cocktails, and free cocktails at that, and the bar becomes a blockade very, very quickly. They probably should have just whipped up batches of one cocktail and lined them up on the bar for you to take as you pleased – let’s be honest, when something is free, people aren’t that picky about what it is.

(c) Vivek Vadoliya
I ended up talking to one of the bloggers from InformedLondon and his friend, and one of the BarChick girls, who, like me, were there to see what the menu was all about. We came hungry and we wanted burritos! And we stayed that way for quite a while as food didn’t start coming out until past 9pm. Finally, it arrived to a chorus of grumbling stomachs – a basket of chicken wings to share and a slider each. Not quite as Mexican as I was expecting. We waited for more, or, specifically – some burritos. But – can you believe this? – no burritos were to be found! What was even more bizarre was that the food we did get wasn’t even very good. If you’d never had DBB before, I don't think this offering would persuade you to come back to try the main event, unless of course once you had a hankering for burritos you couldn’t rest until you’d been back to get some. 

The chicken wings were alright – the agave gave them a sweet taste that I liked but they weren't as good as wings I’ve had elsewhere. Then we tried the sliders. Now, I know I’m not a burger fan but even I could tell these were not the way to do burgers. They were cold by the time we ate them, and had dried out (though there were signs they were cooked well originally, being slightly pink in the middle), and there was far, far too much bread. Assuming these were the candied bacon and jalapeno burgers on the menu, I didn’t realize any bacon was involved until looking at the menu afterwards, and the jalapeno might as well not have been there for all the kick it gave it. The mini-tacos were okay – the meat in particular was lovely; a slightly sweet, smoky flavour and a barbecued texture to it, and I liked the crunch of the radish on top, but they too were a little dry. I applied hot sauce liberally.

(c) Vivek Vadoliya
(c) Vivek Vadoliya
But don’t be too disheartened. I spied on the menu the items I’d had before, so if you wanted to know what their burritos are all about, which is where their strengths lie, read my previous post on them.

(c) Vivek Vadoliya
Because this was also to launch of their cook book there were a few copies on sale and I had a browse through it. Some pretty tasty-looking food in there, but I don’t cook so it was pointless me getting a copy. Several people did though, and there was a flurry of transactions which seemed to double as a signal for half the party to clear off! Which was a shame because the DJ they had was banging and if it had been a Friday I’d have merrily sipped a few more cocktails soaking in the tunes. The place has been done up all Mexi-macabre and looks the business so it’s a pretty cool place to hang out. And those cocktails are certainly worth a visit.

They didn’t have the slushie machine for slushie negronis, and they couldn’t make the most interesting-sounding drink on the list – the Sweet Papel with sweetcorn and coriander atomisation. But I tried the Pineapple and Cacao Smash, the Bandito Hi-Ball and the Ring-a-Ting-Ting. All were very easy to drink, easy on the mixer and strong on the liquor. I worried that the Bandito, being in a high-ball glass would be mostly ginger ale, but I needn’t have: slug after slug of tequila went into the cocktail shaker, and the ginger ale was only a quick gesture to sweeten things up at the end. My favourite though was definitely the Ring-a-ting-ting – not too sugary with a cucumber background aroma making it super-refreshing. I would have stuck to these but for the blogger in me wanting variety.

So, not sure what to make of this place. If you’ve been, let me know what you thought!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Kopparberg Urban Forest, 2nd July

A couple of years ago Kopparberg had a pop-up in Shoreditch called the unestablishment which I thought sounded good but never managed to get to. This summer they’re back, creating an Urban Forest round the back of Dalston Roof Park. Well, perhaps not so much of a forest as a woody clearing in a glade, or even a treehouse, but there’s wood, there’s greenery and if you go up in the canopy, there’s a lot of leaves so I guess it’s sort of creating a Swedish forest vibe. There are a couple of street food vans to stave off hunger, serving buffalo wings and pulled pork – Joe’s Buffalo (Stephen had some of these and preferred them to Orange Buffalo – bigger wings) or various jerk wraps and plantain from Mama’s Jerk. I had the chicken jerk wrap, which was bursting at the seams and was really good – hot sauce was hot, chicken was nice and crispy in parts and the mango pineapple mayo was a nice, sweet touch.

Fika, the Swedish bar/café on Brick Lane have also got in on the act, having a stall and providing us in the “VIP” canopy (yes, I got a wristband and everything) with some Swedish canapés. We had some smoked salmon and cream cheese and some beef with a sweet jam on thin rye bread (I think) which was very nice. These were spoiled a little by savoury beetroot cakes which had a nice flavour but a pretty horrible, claggy texture and meatballs which were, as Stephen put it, like the very worst burger. I didn’t even eat the whole of my half. It was dry and with a weird taste. Having nosied around twitter I suspect they might have been elk meat, in which case, I am not a fan of elk.

Being hosted by Kopparberg, they had several of their ciders and some cider cocktails on the go. The cocktail we tried with elderflower cider and tequila (I think) was delicious. So was the cider for that matter. I like Kopparberg cider. It is light and refreshing and they have some lovely flavours. I think we had elderflower and maybe even cloudberry. The problem is, after one or two it just gets too sweet to keep drinking throughout the night. But I guess that's where the cocktails come in. And of course there's beer.

This is the same area where Night Tales was held for the first time, except that where there was a bar, there is now a stage and a dance floor. If you like intimate gigs, then this is really a great space to go to. If you’re prepared to wait it out you can be less than an arm’s length from whoever is performing. And they’ve got some pretty good action lined up. We saw Kelis, who was fab, treating us to most of her hits in some form or other (be that remixed or just a burst of chorus) as well as her latest single. Her DJ was amazing too, pumping some excellent tunes before Kelis herself came on and the party continued long after the show was through. The other acts might not be quite on the superstar level that Kelis undoubtedly is, but they’re still pretty good – NYPC (formerly New Young Pony Club) and Lucy Rose among others will be gracing the stage. And it’s all free! Just arrive early as when Stephen popped to the loo at about 8 they were operating on a one-in, one-out policy. Oh, and you might want to pee before you get there – toilets were a bit of a rare commodity! My boyfriend and several others were herded by one of the doormen practically all the way up to Dalston Roof Park to go because the queue was so long.

If you like cider and live music, or even just want a cute place to party (So Fresh, So Clean and Supa Dupa Fly are both hosting their clubnights there) then head over any Thursday to Saturday from now until August 2nd.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

100 Hoxton, 29th June

So, I’ve kinda gotten into brunch in a big way lately, mostly because for the first time in a long time, I’ve not been going out until all hours on a Saturday night, meaning I’m up early enough to take advantage of brunch hours. Also, I had always assumed because I know the Breakfast Club always has queues for brunch, that everywhere else does too, and I would have to be up with the birds in order to get in anywhere. The last few weeks have proved otherwise. And it’s been great. It cannot last however, and I will soon be returning to my partying ways, but before I do I can probably squeeze in another couple of brunch destinations.

Last week’s was 100 Hoxton, the sister restaurant to a place Alison and I discovered and delighted in on Upper Street called Zilouf’s. In the evenings they serve small plates with a Turkish twist but on the weekends they do their own take on some fabulous brunches. We met at about quarter to one, and the sun was shining. It was threatening to disappear though so we didn’t eat outside, instead choosing one of the many scandalously empty tables inside.

Sunday has a more limited brunch offering than Saturday, as they then start doing roasts from 1 pm. But it had enough to satisfy us. I had the 100 Hoxton Big breakfast and Alison had mushrooms on toast.

Both plates were very generously sized, and a decent price – mine was £9.50 and Alison’s was only £6.00!

I can’t fault my brunch – a decent slab of pork belly croquette, two fried eggs done just right, a slice of sourdough with plenty of butter, a mound of avocado and tomato salsa and hidden underneath all that the finest, densest hash brown I’ve ever had. It also should have come with mushrooms but I don’t like them so requested mine without. Drizzled all over was a jalapeno sauce with a heavy dose of coriander. I enjoyed every mouthful and thought the portion was just right. Big enough to sate but not too big that I couldn’t finish it all (it helped that I hadn’t yet eaten anything).

Alison’s mushrooms came with two eggs and roasted tomatoes and, like mine, a heap of cress on the top as garnish. As just stated, I’m not a mushroom fan so I didn’t try any of this dish and can’t comment on what it tasted like, but it looked beautiful and Alison polished it off no trouble and proclaimed it lovely so who am I to argue?

I was off the booze as I attempt to get myself into some semblance of my former shape so we didn’t try any of the cocktails, which is a damn shame. But I would like to come back in the evening to try their interesting small plates and I’m sure when I do I’ll be allowing myself an alcoholic treat.

100 Hoxton on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Find the menu & restaurant information on Zomato

Monday, July 7, 2014

Camden Crawl, 21st June

The Camden Crawl took last year off to reorganize and reposition themselves. One of the original multi-venue festivals in London, they felt there were a lot of events in this space and they wanted to focus on what made them different and come back with a new look.

I almost put this live on Saturday and was going to say the following “And so the Camden Crawl became CC14 and instead of being in October it was held in June. As it was my first I cannot say whether they’ve come back bigger and better than before, I can only say that I had a fantastic day.” But I didn’t, and on Sunday I discovered that the Camden Crawl had gone into liquidation which I guess shows that they did not come back bigger and better. I remember one of my friends saying they were surprised it wasn’t busier and that Camden Rocks (on at the end of June) may have stolen some of their thunder. It seems she would be right. The sad thing is that many bands weren’t paid in advance and may not receive any of their money. I still had a fantastic day, though this post feels rather redundant if it’s never happening again. However, this was what my day was like…

Things kick off a lot later than I thought they did. I imagined it was an all-day festival but really it’s more of a night festival with the majority of the bands not starting until about 7pm. I wanted to head down a bit earlier though to get to as many venues as possible, and the Dig-It Soundsystem playing on the Roundhouse’s terrace (I did not even know they had a terrace) caught my eye, as the weather was wonderful.

And, as it turned out, so was the DJ. Me and my crew felt like we’d been transported to the White Isle, basking in the sun listening to some top notch dance tunes. It really was difficult to tear ourselves away over an hour later to get stuck into what I felt the festival is really all about – live bands. This also meant going inside and saying goodbye to the sun but needs must.

We went up to the Electric Ballroom first to see Dry the River. These guys had quite the crowd so must have a bit of a following. They were fine but not really my cup of tea. They were a little too ‘safe’ for my liking – I prefer my guitar bands to be a little grungier and heavier when I’m watching live music. I was starving by this point so we went to the Lock Tavern to get some food and wait for the next gig. Fatty Chan’s were in the beer garden serving up Vietnamese-inspired food and the pork banh mi I had was amazing. Seriously. It came in a roll rather than a long baguette, packed with meat, topped with crispy onions, I loved it.

And I loved the band, Autobahn, too (not the famous German Autobahn, a younger Londoner band, don’t know why they’ve chosen a name already in existence). I hadn’t been to the Lock Tavern before but it’s a really cool pub with a cool little venue upstairs and another open terrace. The emphasis is on little here. It’s a teeny tiny room and it was packed. We wiggled through the crowd to the terrace and then from outside leaned in, practically over the band to watch them. They were fantastic. Lots of energy, lots of heavy guitars, the singer had a great voice. The sound they made belied their very young years.

And so it continued, with all the bands I saw either impressing me in terms of their music, or at least their performance. The Slaves in Underworld particularly stand out for their showmanship and they also clearly had some loyal fans, intent on making a moshpit in the crowd.

The last place we went to was Belushi’s where the band was set up in the corner. These guys, Bad Wolf, were alright, I liked them, though the singer’s voice wasn’t my favourite of all the bands we’d seen.

I then had tickets to see the 2 Bears and Jarvis Cocker at XOYO but stuff was still going on in Camden until the early hours in a few of the venues where the focus shifted to more dancey stuff such as Mumdance and Mouse on Mars.

I paid about £25 for my day ticket although you could easily have got a ticket for less as there were discounts a plenty. Doesn’t look like I’ll be able to go again, given recent developments, but should they pick themselves up, I would say that, taking place in June, the weather has a reasonable chance of being pretty good and even at 7pm you may not want to spend your evening in dark and dingy rock clubs and pubs. It would be better as a winter’s event. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Black Cat Cabaret, 20th June

This. Was. Fabulous. And I do not say that lightly. I’ve been wowed and awed by some pretty stupendous acts, especially at the London Wonderground which seems to curate its shows with such care – Limbo and Boom Boom Club. And the Black Cat Cabaret was pretty up near these giddy heights.

I think what sets this show (and others like it) apart from other cabaret revue nights is that there is a story to everything. Each act is its own little vignette. And it’s coupled with a banging soundtrack to keep things sizzling. And of course, there’s a lot of sex to it. Not necessarily in nudity, but in the attitude it exudes.

Dusty limits is a debonair and devilish host as always. His risqué humour was perfect for this show. However, as with other appearances he has made, I do think one song is really the maximum he should be allotted. He’s a great performer but he’s not the best singer in the world.

Unlike the second act Lily la Scala whose voice is tremendous. She portrayed a boozy, libidinous, living doll, managing to wobble in a rigid, artificial way all over the stage and into the audience, while singing opera. This climaxed with, well, a climax for one poor (lucky!) sod in the audience who got to have Lily astride him as her song, and she, peaked.

Before this we had been wowed with an act I hadn’t seen before – Joe Moss did what I would loosely call acrobatics with a giant hoop, turning and twirling it while balanced inside. Hoops made another appearance later on, this time in normal ‘hula’ size. I’ve seen a few hula hoop acts before and they’re always quite fun. Jess Love made this one different by having a whole heap of attitude to her like she found the whole thing a drain on her free time. Oh, we're all clapping now? How very dull. And then she messed up! Oh no! Or did she…??

All the acts were good but one that I found rather stirring was Vicky Butterfly’s performance – it started out with a pretty standard burlesque act of wings, this time lighted, that she wound and wended about her, but then she climbed aboard the moon at the back of the stage and proceeded to ride it as if it was a big seesaw, holding on with ropes to an emotive? soundtrack of the theme to Requiem for a Dream and Edward Scissorhands. Beautiful.

Cabaret rouge were the ‘house’ dance troupe popping up to do quick routines such as an homage to the can can, or a tribue to Degas and his ballerina girls, alluding to what life was really like for an aspiring Parisienne ballerina trying to make ends meet and ending up on the wrong side of a coke addiction. The dancing was fun, funny, outstandingly good, but you couldn't forget its dark undertones.

Tom Baker who crops up at a lot of things (especially It’s Your Funeral) was a part of the band but also did a solo stint, engaging the audience in a singalong, which I have definitely seen him do before but I can’t pinpoint when – maybe at Boom Boom Club. Anyway, it’s a great song about the end of the world, fun to sing and it was no less fun this time.

I also liked the way they messed with gender roles - a love triangle involving a man and two women was danced out with all three parts played by women, and the aerial act was performed by a man and woman - but the man started out in a dress and the woman, in trousers, seduced him.

I enjoyed the night so much I am very tempted to go again as I feel I didn’t even have as good an experience as I could have, had I not spend half the acts writing notes about what each performer was doing for the blog!