With Graham Coxon, Ghostpoet, The Phantom Band...

By eight o’clock the queues were snaking thirty deep down the cobbled alley feeding into Proud; maybe it was Graham Coxon - maybe it was word of mouth – that for breadth and adventure, the Levi’s Craft of Music roster was well worth the hassle at the Camden Crawl.

Things had started early. By 2pm the private rooms flanking the arena – that used to stable horses injured pulling barges up Camden Lock – were packed with backstage activites, from opportune photoshoots and interviews, to the solemn figure of Fyfe Dangerfield trying various jeans on. Martyna Baker kicked things off – an Eska Mtungwazi-mould soul singer, ‘Going hard tonight’ she told us, her tone asperated and grainy like it came through a saxophone valve.

The much-hyped Ghostpoet followed, a mixture of slam poetry and 80s dancehall deejay drawl that Roots Manuva also borrows from. Ghostpoet also had the the now-mandatory looping / FX panel creating some cloudier cloistral effects to bring the mood back to London 2011. Cash and Carry Me Home was the highlight, with a beautifully wry sung chorus – elsewhere lyrics reference ‘Eski Boy’ scenes to romance like ‘Rocky Balboa and Adrienne’. Another highlight was a surefire hit combination with singer Rox which, more accessible than his less distinct offerings, was a huge success with the big crowd that had gathered for him. A gathering Dutch Uncles maintained as they belted out complex, yet somehow danceable, time signatures, lead singer jerking on stage to each beat, bellowing out addictive, androgynous vocals.

The biggest and most unexpected smash of the afternoon was without doubt Marques Toliver, an unclassifiable xylophone/mini-harp/violin/drum on- man performer from New York, who honed his voice singing gospel in his local church. Signed to Bella Union and published by Universal, he recently appeared on Jools Holland and his appeal is quick yet far from obvious. His minimal approach [lush vocal over ululating pizzicato] is at times reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, with brilliant, simple nursery rhyme lyrics.

Legendary Glasgow group The Phantom Band started the evening in a harder vein. Lead singer Rick Anthony, red beard and wide-open check shirt, toasted the packed crowd with a drained scotch and proceeded to get primal. Anthony has been – oddly – a librarian in a past life, and is a fan of epic power ballads. Here his approach was more nuanced, with some extended electronica adding layers, and his tone varying from impossibly deep to falsetto. Arcane, primitive stuff.

Then came the iconic Graham Coxon in all his trenchant, pissed-off glory. Donning Levi’s but with his own trademark take, a yellow-striped t-shirt and sans glasses, he brooded unimpaired out into the audience, moodily signing Coffee & TV-video milk cartons and playing by far the most intense set of the night. The highlight was City Hall, his ‘Going down to the City Hall’ chorus cutting an acid sneer through the wall of guitar. Coxon was using a Fender Telecaster and had at one point four other guitarists on stage, looking around him and glaring bravura out of each. Shingai from the Noisettes joined him on one tune, wearing a red slik mini-dress studded with gold, and Coxon finished in classics mode with Freakin’ Out and tracks from his first solo album.

Grandmaster Flash and Delphic DJs culminated the night, teasing a bop out of the crowd, who were by this point sated but still in for a bit of afters - squeezing the juice out of the long, hot weekend, on the tables in the stables until it’s time for school again. Levi’s Craft of Music return with another gig in June, and a standard has been set.

Words by Miguel Cullen
Photo by Tom Bunning

View a photo gallery of the onstage action from the gig HERE and a behind the scenes gallery HERE.


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