Music has been in Camden’s blood for a long time, as has alcohol. In many ways, Camden’s pubs are the adoptive parents of its music scene. BBC Radio London presenter and long-time local, Robert Elms, roots Camden’s musical pulse in the area’s Irish community. “If you came from Ireland to London, you arrived at Euston. It used to be said that Camden Town is as far as you can walk from Euston with a suitcase.”
Alongside their popularity for good ‘craic’, lots of the local pubs became places people went to listen to music. “Traditionally it would have been Irish music, but in the 60s and 70s other bands arrived,” Elms says. “Madness played their first gig in the Dublin Castle having told the management they were Irish. Back then, Camden had an infrastructure; spaces to play, a potential audience, and it was relatively cheap. You could afford to live and go out.”
With the cost of living inexorably on the rise, the borough isn‘t as hospitable a destination for creatives as it once was. In between pulling pints and mopping the urinals at the Rose & Crown, a 100-year-old pub on Torriano Avenue, I got to know Rob and Amine, bar staff by night and musicians by day.
Amine [pictured performing below] is part of Frances and the Majesties, a seven-piece that draws inspiration from the home countries of its members (Italy, Morocco, and the UK) and plays in Baby Vanga, a six-piece inspired by Bossa, Latin percussive music, and psychedelia. Both bands have what he describes as “cinematic aesthetics, in look as well as sound.” Recently he’s been working on Act Cool records, building the studio [pictured bottom]. Rob is a songwriter, guitarist and occasional drummer who plays in bands and solos, drawing inspiration from “somewhere between post-punk and pop music.” He’s currently the drummer for The Dirty English.
Rob and Amine both make it clear that working in one of Camden’s pubs is something of a last resort, the only way they can afford to keep playing. “Different work combinations don’t work well, which makes this the very last option, if you want to do what you want to do”, Amine explains. “You can’t have a nine to five and go to rehearsals and gigs, do shoots, write. It’s also a good place to meet people that are into what you do.
Rob concurs, “If you’re clever with where you work, it’s a great platform to plug your music because you’re meeting people all the time.” He describes Camden as having had its day. “I quite like that there’s this sad but exciting hangover of what it once was, it’s weird. It’s alternative and bohemian. It’s a shithole ultimately.”