Down by Law/The Vibrators/Koffin Kats - live in Camden Town (Cover Artwork)

Down by Law / The Vibrators / Koffin Kats

live in Camden Town (2014)

live show

So there's me sat at home on my shitty old laptop one day, and I discover the legendary punk band The Vibrators are playing at a tiny venue in Camden Town the following weekend. I decide to check out their listings, and see two other legendary bands are playing a day either side of The Vibrators gig, Down by Law, and Koffin Kats. Sweet! 3 great gigs, 3 days.

The gigs are at the Black Heart, a stones throw away from Camden Town tube station, and I have to admit I'd never been to a gig their before. The venue is upstairs, but the bar downstairs is one I have frequented many times. As the name might suggest, it's dark, it's gloomy, apart from the odd neon religious cross dotted about. There's some awesome artwork and old school gig posters on the walls, along with the ironic religious 'shrine' and other holy viewings, and a black felted (obviously) pool table in the corner. The place serves cool beers, some you've heard of, others you definitely haven't.

August 1, 2014 – Down by Law

Up I go to the venue and it's exactly the same décor as downstairs, dark, gloomy and freakin' TINY! I mean, you'd struggle to get 100 people in there comfortably, which gets me more excited as I'm about to see a very intimate gig with the one and only Dave Smalley. Formed in 1989 after Smalleys' stint with "All" he remains the only original member of the band. He strolls out on stage, tunes up, and gets straight into "Independence Day" from 1996's classic album "All Scratched Up". The sound is fucking amazing, I'm right down the front and can hear every lyric and note crystal clear (I complimented the sound guy after the gig, cos ya know, credit where's credit's due. He modestly says it's all down to the PA, but we've all heard a great PA sound shite haven't we). Smalleys voice has lost none of its aggressive yet melodic clarity, as he slams and smashes his way through songs old and new, including the anthemic "Gruesome Gary".

"No Equaliser" from 1997s' "Last of the Sharpshooters" is introduced by Smalley as a song he's very proud of, and so he should be, it still sounds relevant to this day, lyrically and musically — "You want a perfect prefab world, where the boy always gets the girl? Well the world's not really like that". His melancholic voice has lost none of it's passion for the words, or music for that matter.

The gig finishes with a song from Smalleys other project "Dag Nasty", which gets a great reception. The crowd is left dripping with sweat, which is probably 90% Camden Hells Lager, the only lager they have on tap in the venue, which is appropriate because is as hot as 'Hell' up there. Even Smalley stops during the gig at one point to remark "it's hotter than Florida up here". Well, we have had a good summer in England this year....

You can tell that the band and Smalley still have all the enthusiasm for the music, and it's great to see them touring on these shores, I've been a fan since I first heard them on Punk o Rama Volume 2 at the tender age of 14, and didn't really know what to expect but it was a great gig. The rawness and energy of that late 80's Californian punk sound with the pitch perfect vocals of Smalley, what's not to like? And, as Smalley says during the gig, "when you leave a punk rock show, you leave with something", and I left knowing I'd just seen something special.

August 2, 2014 – The Vibrators (Death to Cancer Tribute Gig)

Yea yea yea, I know everyone's thinking 'oh it's just another crusty old punk band desperately clinging on to their youth'. Well I say, who gives a shit, the band have a history few can boast. They were on top of the pops in 1978 for God's sake, probably sandwiched in between Boney M and the Bee Gees or some bollocks like that, so that's good enough for me. And yea, drummer John 'Eddie' Edwards is the only original member and it's not the same without founding member Ian 'Knox' Carnochan, but deal with it, it's for charity, and there's a raffle where you can win a hair cut or a pizza voucher, what more do you want?

When the band starts it takes a while to get the crowd warmed up despite the sweltering heat once again in the venue. Only when they kick into the old crowd pleaser and classic "Automatic Lover" from 1978s' V2 album, does the crowd spring into life. There's old punks a plenty in the place, as you'd expect, and a few heavily tattooed, stud laden young ones too, which is good to see (I reluctantly put myself in the middle of those 2 categories...).

The band sounds solid, Eddie Edwards' drumming is spot on, and Pete Honkamaki holds things together up front on bass and vocals. He's got that old school cockney punk growl and tone which fits well with the stuff all 3 guys produce. They have energy, and the crowd appreciates it, and possibly the best thing about the gig is when they announce they're gonna play a new song, and it's probably the best material you've heard all night. So we have something to look forward to there, and we know the band can still produce.

Great gig, good sound, I didn't win the pizza or the hair cut, but for only £8 to get in I ain't complaining. I'm growing out my hair anyway.

August 3, 2014 – Koffin Kats

This was a gig I was very much looking forward to, having been a fan of the band for a while and having never seen them before. I get to the venue just in time, the band are literally walking out on stage as I enter the room. I'm pretty knackered from the previous 2 days (which may have included multiple pint skulling after gigs...), and I've probably sweated out about 2 stone of weight from the heat in the venue, but onwards and upwards.

The crowd is a sea of cats and bettys as you'd expect, many of the latter wafting themselves with their foldaway fans, so much so as I look forward toward the stage, it looks like a flutter of giant butterflies has invaded the place. Oh well, everyone looks cool, who's to complain, especially as you get the occasional cool breeze to your own sweat riddled face. Cheers girls!

On to the gig, once again the sound is freakin' AWESOME. Vic Victors bass is brutal, you can hear every slap, twang, and those fast double punches just vibrate your eyeballs. It's bloody brilliant. His voice, a mixture of Elvis and Glenn Danzig, is perfect all the way through, and Johnny Kay's 6 string chords and fantastic backing 'whooaaaas' and blinkless stares into the crowd add to the spectacle. E Balls drums are as tight as.......well you finish that sentence.

The band tears into songs new and old, "Born of the Motors" "All Of Me Is Gone" and "Giving Blood" go down well, and sound great, and it's not long before the pit at the front starts to de—clothe mid song to get a small break from the unbearable heat, to only instantly get straight back into the mini slam dancing mosh pit. The girls meanwhile retreat with their fans. The band loves it: "This is the best crowd we've ever had in London", shouts Vic, and you can tell he means it, although he does get a sarcastic boo from the pumped up crowd when he politely asks them to try not to knock the equipment on stage. "Is that me being a dick?" he asks. I think it's just good old fashioned British sarcasm mate.

As the band continue to pound their way through song after song, the crowd and band refuse to relent, Vic continually lofting his huge bass above is head while playing it one handed, the guys even switch instruments for a song and it still sounds fucking tight. Johnny Kay, not wanting anyone to think he's only a 2 trick pony even jumps on drums for a sick solo even Joey Jordison would be proud of (ok, I might be exaggerating a little, but it was still sweet), only for Vic to slam him back down to earth "I fucking hate drum solos".

After an hour and a half of sweaty, machine gun sounding slap bass, creepy ass chords and riffs, speedy as hell pure Psychobilly excellence, the gig ends, not after an encore though. That's pretty good going for the energy and pure entertainment these guys put into their performances. What a gig, loved it. I leave knackered, sweaty, ears ringing like Camden hell, so I know it's been a good one.