Camden Rocks founder Chris McCormack on London's loudest festival

The former guitarist with Britrock quartet 3 Colours Red, Chris McCormack is the brains behind the TeamRock-sponsored Camden Rocks festival, which takes place on May 31. We caught up with him for a lowdown on what to expect on Saturday...

Q. So, Camden Rocks is back: what can we expect this year Mr McCormack?

“Beautifully organised chaos! It’s grown every year so a lot more people. It’s going to sell out this week too so I’m really pleased with how it’s going. We have Vans doing in-stores which will be cool. I managed to talk some of the bigger bands to do acoustic shows earlier in the day too which I think their fans will appreciate. It’s packed full of golden nuggets! There’s some great new bands in the early part of the day so get there early.”

Q. What’s the concept behind the festival?

“It’s 200 energetic guitar bands making as much noise as possible in one day. I try to make it a real mix every year but the essence of it is pretty straight forward—guitar bands with energy and great songs - whether rock, indie, punk or metal. I have the privilege of discovering a ton of up and coming new bands all year round at Friday’s Jubilee Club at Barfly. I book the best of those and combine it with some more established bands, invite eight thousand people to join us and then you’ve got a rock n roll festival!”

Q. Why Camden?

“I’ve been to other urban festivals where bands play in multiple venues across a town, but none of them really work the same as Camden in my opinion. Camden Town has a one mile stretch of legendary musical venues and pubs. You stumble out of one and in to another. There’s no sobering up between catching bands here! Camden also just breathes revelry. You step off the Tube and you feel it straight away. Or at least I do, even after living here for 20 years. There’s pretty much nowhere else on earth that I could think this festival would work with the same electricity. Camden’s a one of a kind.”

Q. Putting on a festival like this is obviously a learning curve: what mistakes from previous years helped teach you what not to do this year?

“Plan it earlier! I gave myself 6 months this time around and I’ve realised I should probably start the next one the week after this one ends.”

Q. Tell us your top 3 Camden Rocks memories.

“When I did the first one in 2009 I remember going down to the ticket/wristband exchange office and the queue stretched right around the building. That was a good memory.

That year we had Pete Doherty at the Underworld and Carl Barat at the Monarch directly after which in my naivety, I thought was a stroke of genius, as it would give Libertines fans the opportunity to see the two of them on the one night. And then, I’d arranged a kind of reunion: it was Carl’s birthday and Pete was going to come onstage and they were going to do some Libertines songs together. It would have been a big deal, pre-reformation. But basically when Pete finished 500 people came running up the road towards Carl’s show which was already at capacity. The 500 people outside started to scale the building and get through the roof and toilet windows, It was total madness. I was in a car with Pete and when we got to the venue the police wouldn’t let us in! Pete had to go back to his hotel…

My top memory of last year was the overall vibe on the street. There was a real carnival vibe, the sun came out and the whole of Camden was electric. All the bands and punters mixing together on the street. Everyone had a smile on their faces, and the atmosphere was fantastic all the way into the night!”

Q. You’re a musician yourself: what’s the best piece of advice you can pass on to the younger acts on this year’s bill?

“Rehearse your best 30 minute set and buy a tuner…”

Q. Any chance of seeing you onstage with a guitar around your neck this year?

“I’m too busy with other things at the moment and I’ve just had a little Pixie (who’s 7 months old) so I want to be around for her. To be fair I’ve been on tour since I was 16 so I’ve managed to get that out of my system. I still write and produce but I can do that from my own studio in London.”

Q. We heard a rumour you’ve roped Pixie in to help with the festival…

“She’s my A&R. Basically, I put a band’s track on, and if she doesn’t cry within 30 seconds they can play. If she cries, you’re fucked. It’s been a risky technique but as we’re going to sell out I’ll let her know she did a good job…”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.