Never a dull place even at the worst of times, Camden Rocks had the whole borough buzzing on Saturday.
With 200 acts performing in 20 venues, wherever you turned there was live music to be heard. Beer, bands and bonhomie – what could be better?
With so much to see the only problem was where to drop anchor for the evening.
EP’s Matt Catchpole elected to base himself in the Electric Ballroom – celebrating its 80th birthday this year – to sample the delights of The Professionals, Germany’s Beatsteaks and the incomparable Public Image Ltd.
Founded by Steve Jones and Paul Cook after The Sex Pistols’ split, The Professionals were rebooted in 2015 to promote the release of a three-disc retrospective The Complete Professionals.
They’ve since gone on to release an album of brand new material What In The World. Jones features on the record, but he’s no longer an official member.
Cook, however, is very much part of the new line-up with Paul Myers, Tom Spencer and Chris McCormack.
So, on Saturday – with John Lydon’s PiL headlining – The Electric Ballroom had the distinction of having two Sex Pistols on the same stage – albeit about five hours apart.
Wisely alternating between new and old material, The Professionals pulled in a sizeable crowd for a blistering hi-octane set.
They’ve got a great frontman in ex-Lurkers and Yo-Yos guitarist Spencer and it was nice to hear songs like Oh You Silly Thing and 1-2-3 played live.
Cook’s powerhouse drumming is a pleasure to behold and the strength of the newer songs like Going, Going, Gone suggests that this is no mere exercise in nostalgia.
Massive in their native country, Beatsteaks also have a Sex Pistols’ connection – having won a competition to open for the reformed quartet in Berlin in 1995 – in what was only their 10th live performance.
They make the kind of ear-splitting racket you might expect from a band with three guitarists and two drummers. The sole bassist must feel quite lonely.
Clearly consummate musicians, they’re fast and aggressive, but with all the subtlety of a lump hammer.
Personally, this type of frat-boy rock leaves me cold, but their audience – judging by the fist pumps, chants and devil horn gesticulations – loved it.
A closing cover of The Beasties’ Sabotage, showed how good they can be if they allow a little light and shade through the cracks of their formidable wall of noise.
Beatsteaks’ departure meant it was almost time for the main event and everybody squashed up the front for the arrival of one of North London’s most famous sons.
Dressed in a red and white checked shirt that made him resemble a particularly belligerent J-cloth, Lydon may have lost some of his old menace, but he remains a natural performer.
The pipes are in good order too as he howls and whoops his way through typically uncompromising set opener Warrior.
There are stupefied grins all round as everyone realises what a treat it is to catch a band of this class and consequence in a venue of this size.
Lydon relies on lyric sheets these days, but far from detracting from his performance, it adds to the theatre as he hunches over the lectern to deliver the evening’s lesson.
“You’re so polite! Am I in the wrong building?” he asks at one point. “Of course not, we’re proper people being proper to each other.”
Fittingly for a band with a box set to promote, PiL’s set spans their 40-year history from early favourites to songs like Corporate from their 2015 studio album What The World Needs Now.
Despite multiple stylistic changes, it’s a fantastically consistent body of work, with Lydon’s rage and disaffection at what he calls the ‘shitstem’ to the fore.
While The Professionals make highly entertaining music that appeals to the teenager in all of us, PiL’s music is very much for the grown-ups
A mirror image of its frontman, the music is sophisticated, awkward, intense, humorous, even absurd, but always enthralling – demanding your attention.
Among the highlights was a scintillating The Body – with an animated Lydon acting out his lyrics, as long-time collaborator Lu Edmonds attacked the guitar riff.
Tribal drumming from Bruce Smith heralded a caustic, creepy Flowers of Romance, before we entered the home straight to with a pair of true PiL classics.
This Is Not A Love Song got the mosh pit into a frenzy, before Edmonds launched into the majestic chord sequence of Rise.
After a quick fag break, the band returned with a chorus of hellos by way of introduction to Public Image, while Scott Firth’s brilliant bass added extra-verve to Open Up, originally a collaboration with Leftfield.
With the clock ticking down towards the curfew, there was just time for one more encore Shoom – where Lydon labels everything from sex to success “bollocks”.
It’s a strange song and a strange moment on the night, but by then the frontman was in such control he could have recited the phonebook backwards in Swahili and still had us all in raptures.
“I mean this from the very bottom of my heart,” Lydon announced by way of a goodbye, “Fuck off!”
Then with a smile and a couple of taps of the heart, he was gone.
A top notch performance to crown an excellent day’s entertainment.
Hats off to the Camden Rocks promoters for a top booking and another great event.