It goes without saying that Camden’s reputation as a long-established hub for fostering musical creativity is far-reaching. Countless acts have cut their teeth in the independent clubs and backroom stages whilst internationally renowned venues such at the Roundhouse and The Jazz Cafe have played host to innumerable career-defining performances. I mean… that’s what this site is all about, right?!
And as the live music scene starts to slowly but surely take off again following a challenging 18 months, we decided to take the opportunity to take a look at some of the greatest albums associated with Camden.
Over the next few months we’re going to be presenting our candidates for the Top 50 Camden Albums of All Time. Some of the candidates have been put forward by people involved in the Camden Scene and we’ll be holding a vote after we’ve made the case for all the albums to decide the final 50 that make the grade!
So, here’s the first ten candidates. We’d love to hear your opinions or memories of the albums or artists in the comments section. And of course, let us know your suggestions for the next round-up!
The Clash – The Clash
If you ask anyone to think of a band they associate with Camden, ‘The Clash’ are guaranteed to be the top of most people’s list. The cover photo of their debut album was shot in the alley outside their rehearsal studio in Camden Town, ‘Rehearsals Rehearsals’. That same studio would soon find itself at the epicentre of the British Punk scene. Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols recounted running into Joe Strummer outside the very same studio when I interviewed him last year.
Unlike the Westwood/Mclaren-styled punk of the Pistols, The Clash in many ways were the purist representation of the rebellious counterculture that came to define Camden. They rubbed against the burgeoning facade of British bureaucracy, sewing sharp commentary on London’s murky underbelly into two-minute foot stompers. Their debut album is The Clash at their barest; a raw collection of anthems for the spiritual liberation of the working classes. Their own sharp image on the cover was a subversion of the white collar facsimiles.
The Clash were all about expression of attitude through art. An early quote from Joe Strummer in NME could be a slogan for the entire Camden scene; “We’re anti-Fascist, we’re anti-violence, we’re anti-racist and we’re pro-creative.”
ProjeKct 1 – Live at the Jazz Cafe
The Historic Jazz Cafe in Camden Town has seen a few live albums recorded on its stage over the years, but one particularly worthy of mention is ProjeKct One.
ProjeKct One were an offshoot of King Crimson’s ‘ProjeKct’… erm….project. Less of a side… (?!) and more of a “research and development” department for King Crimson. There were 6 ProjeKcts in total, all consisting of smaller groupings of King Crimson members, sometimes swapping instruments and all based around improvised instrumental music. Which means, of course, that as an album of mind-blowing improvs, this is the only record on which you can hear these tracks in this form. Incidentally, it also happens to be the last album to feature Bill Cruford playing live with King Crimson personel.
The album is heavy listening, leaning hard into the prog. Try pulling this one out the record bag on a Saturday night at the rock clubs, the dance floor’s going to look like a giant game of Twister (which would give ‘Face Down‘ a whole new meaning). But as a stream of consciousness from a tight group of virtuoso players pulling out all the stops, it’s hard to fault.
Madonna – Madonna
Madonna’s debut performance in the UK, was at Camden Palace (now Koko) in 1983. Having originally come from a hard-rock background, with her band Breakfast Club, Madonna’s self-titled solo debut broke her into the British scene as a bleeding edge pop artist and commercial force to be reckoned with. Her next live performance in the UK would be at Wembley Stadium, which makes her intimate Camden appearance all the more special. Madonna had such fond memories of the venue that she returned in 2005 to celebrate the release of her album ‘Confessions On A Dance Floor’.
Her entirely self-penned debut album is a landmark in pop history. Tracks like ‘Lucky Star’ and ‘Physical Attraction’ still feel fresh today. Their tight melding of 70s disco-funk basslines and the then contemporary/now retro-chique LinnDrums, infused with dazzling synths and infectious hooks have effortlessly weathered the generations. The welcome nostalgia of more anachronistic tunes such as ‘I Know It’ and ‘Holiday’ is a testament to their worth as an epoch in Pop music history.
Q. Tips – Q. Tips
The one and only release by blue-eyed soul/new wave rock band formed from the remnants of Paul Young’s first outfit, Streetband.
Q.Tips. have been put forward for this list thanks to the standout gig at Dingwalls they played on New Years Eve, 1980…
Bonkers night . It was morning as we headed out of Camden. Classic album, classic gig, classic night.
Never listened to any of his stuff since.
Ray Jones – Talentbanq
The album swings and shakes through 16 tracks, mostly consisting of catchy foot-stompers with the occasional interval for a sentimental ballad which wouldn’t feel out of place as the theme tune to an 80s sitcom. It’s chock-full of the kind of rocked-up rhythm and blues soul that would feel right at home among Jake and Elwood’s reptoire.
Maybe it’s that party-band vibe and nostalgic roots which kept this band from achieving the same level of recognition as the heavy weight acts they were supporting which included the likes of Thin Lizzy and The Who. Still, despite the eventual departure of Paul Young who moved on to bigger, though not necessarily better things, when looking back at this album without all the expectations of contemporary pop cool to tie it down, this is LP is pure dynamite.
Up the Bracket – The Libertines
By this point you may have noticed a lot of debut albums on this list. That’s largely because so many acts have carved the niche on which they built their careers in Camden Town. And though so many acts have found their musical and spiritual home in Camden, for few bands is that quite so true as The Libertines. A true-born Camden band; they were formed by Pete Docherty and Carl Barât in 1997 after dropping out of uni and moving into a flat together on Camden Road. They grafted their way to recognition, playing at one point 100 gigs in 2002 alone, including a run of gigs at The Dublin Castle (a venue they were initially turned down for twice).
Though arguably their second, self-titled album was a greater success both critically and commercially, ‘Up The Bracket’ oozes of the band’s authentic, home-grown vibes. Their feverish energy and thirsty spirits are tangible in tracks like ‘Horror Show’, title track (and absolute banger) ‘Up The Bracket’ and rowdy crowd-pleaser ‘I Get Along’. Meanwhile, more diverse offerings such as the slovenly ‘Radio America’ and the dynamic, harmony-ladened ‘Boys in the Band’, which bops along on a deliciously cheeky little drum groove, show off the band’s true range and a breadth of influences which the near-constant Clash comparisons often fail to acknowledge.
Coldplay – Parachutes
Coldplay were never the coolest band on the block. Even Ed Power, the A&R rep responsible for finding them and elevating them to international stardom once described the band in their formative years as, “A bit naff”. Still, though admission of fandom could lead to a few raised eyebrows, it’s material like the understated melancholic ballads of ‘Parachutes’ that made Coldplay the guilty pleasure of more people than would care to admit it, this compunctious child of the grunge-era included *insert embarrassed dog meme here*.
Chris and Jonny used to share a flat in Camden which was, as chance would have it, the same flat once occupied by The Clash’s manager. Since those early days, Chris seems to have retained a personal attachment to the area, buying a house by Regents Canal in 2010 with his wife at the time, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Before evolving into the stadium-filling U2-gazing prodigies they are today, Parachutes broke Coldplay to the world as a youthful indie band making their mark by crafting tales of beauty and sorrow into 3+ minute tearjerkers. The churning guitars, lightly dipped in fuzz and steadfast drums are just rock enough to make your heart race and just soft enough to break it a few times over by the time you’ve made it through this 10 track voyage.
The Golden Year – Ou Est Le Swimming Pool
Probably one of the lesser-known albums on this list, though no less worthy of recognition. Ou Est Le Swimming Pool were a synthpop band based in Camden. Their verb-drenched gang vocals and sparkling synths bring to mind influences such as MGMT and Foster the People. The solid electro dance beats are vehicles for smart, considered lyrics travelling on penetrating melodies. Though the album boasts it’s fair share of potential floor-fillers such catchy electro-noir ‘Jackson’s Last Stand’ and bolshie lead single ‘Dance the Way I Feel’, it’s not without it’s poignant breathers in particular ‘Outside’ and sentimental opener ‘You Started’.
The album title is tinged with tragic irony, owing to the passing of the singer Charlie Haddon, who died by suicide prior to its release. The remaining members of the band organised a festival , Chazzfest in 2010, at Koko to raise money for Mind including performances by the likes of The Kooks and Tony Hadley.
The Courteeners – St. Jude
Camden Town Brewery named a beer after this album! What more do you need to know? Though originally from Manchester, indie rockers The Courteeners, found themselves skyrocketed to international status when Morissey played their track “What Took You So Long” on US Radio station KRCW after seeing them play in Camden. This eventually led them to joining him on tour in 2009.
In 2018 they teamed up with Camden Town Brewery to release a their own personalised brew, St. Jude Pils commemorating the launch of their debut album.
St. Jude is an album packed tightly with upbeat, alt-tinged indie rock charmers. Stand-out tracks include four-on-the-floor indie-pop anthems ‘Cavorting’ and ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ both of which would sit comfortably on the turntable next to The Killers or the Editors, and ‘Kings of the Road’ which is laced with the kind of nicotine stained, watering-hole grit that the Black Keys thrive on.
Hunter – Anna Calvi
In 2011, Anna Calvi played a satisfyingly sweaty set for the HMV Next Big Thing showcase at the 200 capacity Camden Barfly. Cut to 2019: “Don’t beat the girl out of my boy!” demands Anna backed by thunderous drums to an enthralled audience of more than 8 x the size at her very own headline show. She’s here at the prestigious Roundhouse in support of her latest album ‘Hunter’.
Anna’s operatic voice and technically masterful, yet satisfyingly crunchy guitar work was drawing the attention of critics and music-lovers alike even prior to the release of her self-titled debut album.
‘Hunter’ was a gift to the faithful fanbase that she amassed over the 8 years following her Barfly appearance. It breaks down the creeping theatrics of the assured and otherworldly sound that made her first two albums so gloriously unnerving and rebuilds the elements into a fervid rock opera. Her enormous vocal range is utilised to full effect to challenge your perceptions of the genre, gender and the world at large.
The first full-length release in 5 years, ‘Hunter’ comes slinking out of woods with the surreptitious chord progression of ‘As A Man’ balanced on a tense construct of finger clicks, percussion and hooky backing vocals. It subtly slides layer upon layer before charging to an unsettling climax, setting the tone for an album which dips and soars through dark alleys of sordid rock riffage (Alpha), chambers of haunting nu-wave electronics laced with tantilising guitar licks (Hunter, ‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out of My Boy’) and ascends into grandiose, atmospheric symphonies (Swimming Pool, Eden) often all within the in the confines of a single track (Indies or Paradise, Wish).
If you’ve never listened to anything by Anna Calvi before, there’s no better place to start than this transcendental masterpiece.
Parklife – Blur
“Nice music, sh*t clothes,” is the pithy line that legend tells ignited the infamous feud between Oasis and Blur; a rivalry that came to represent the entire Britpop movement. And it was at none other than Camden’s own ‘Good Mixer’ that Noel Gallagher apparently gave that charming slice of unwelcome advice to Blur’s guitarist, Graham Coxon; a regular patron of the venue.
But while Oasis were dressing up soft rock for the khaki generation, Blur were sweeping in to fill a the vacuum left by the likes of The Clash and the Jam, effortlessly crushing together the lads-on-tour aesthetic with the kind of creative smarts normally deemed too esoteric for the brit rock crowd. Though their debut, ‘Leisure’ sported just enough verve and catchy tunes to make for a promising debut, Parklife benefits from the lick of spit and polish that comes with a modicum of success. The cleaner production and the fruits of experience result in a more refined sound, that took a few large steps to distance itself from the sinking ship of shoegaze and ‘The scene which celebrates itself’.
Vocalist/Keyboardist Daman Albarn felt a pressing need at the time to double down on the British aesthetic following a disenchanting brush with the American grunge scene. This new clarity, together with the subtle integration of synths, organs and quirky backing vocals elevate the tunes beyond the limits of jangly indie-rock and into the realms of endearing alt-pop.
In-between the unforgettable hooks of the ‘Parklife’ and ‘Girls and Boys’, quirkier numbers like the angular, ‘London Loves’ with its squiggly sci-fi synth and dissonant guitars and the dizzying merry-go-round refrains and seductive French whispering of ‘To the End’, hint at the much-revered twist in direction that would follow with their self-titled album a couple of years later.
Think you know better? Let us know which Camden albums should be in the top 50 – email us at email@example.com.