Camden Crawl – Lisa Poulson reveals its secrets

Many of London's indie pilgrims may feel like they've spent half their life in Camden, but for Lisa Paulson it's actually true.

The urban festival's seasoned director created the Camden Crawl in 1995 while working on the legendary Subpop label, fusing the idea of an old fashioned pub tour with live music along north London’s golden gigging mile. Tapping into Britpop’s free flowing fountain of bands for three successful, consecutive events, she then had the good sense to disband the mini festival the minute the music turned sour, tellingly the same year that ‘Be Here Now’ was released in 1997.

Lisa’s focus then switched to working for Polydor for five years but then something happened; live music started getting good again. Buoyed by the success of The Strokes, The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand, a sense of excitement returned to London's streets and in 2005 it was decided to resurrect the Camden Crawl to celebrate its tenth anniversary.

Since then, another two well received events have been staged to put the festival truly back on the map, with its format extending to two days, 25 venues and more than 120 acts. It may have evolved since its heyday but the principles are exactly the same. Ultimately, it’s a Camden thing and we caught up with one of the area’s biggest music fans to find out more…

VF: How’s this year’s line-up coming along?
Lisa Paulson: “It’s getting there. Just like in the ‘90s, all the bands are selected by a big committee which includes local promoters and people like Jon Kennedy and Steve Lamacq. Every member hosts a venue, and helps nominate the bands that are booked that year. We try to have a policy where no artist plays twice, so it’s always meant to be the fresh new things that everyone is tipping for that year. So that makes it a really strict remit. There are eight categories of artists ranging from breakthrough artists to the heritage acts to the ones which are already established. We were starting to become known as an indie festival and we didn’t want that tag. We want to have a varied event.”

VF: Do the committee generally agree who should get to play?
LP: “It’s a blind vote so they don’t know who each other are going for. Essentially the bands with the most votes get booked. It’s interesting because you look at who played last year and all the bands who everybody’s tipping now, artists like Adele, got loads of votes back then. It’s just taken a whole year for her to rise to the top. She played alongside the likes of Laura Marling, Kate Nash and Hadouken! last year.”

VF: Who got the most number of votes last year?
LP: “It was Xerox Teens, who are now known as XX Teens. I think every single person voted for them. It’s a weird one as they’re still quite unknown compared to some of the others, but then Jamie T got the second highest amount of votes. Foals also got a lot.”

VF: And what about this year?
LP: “The ones getting all the votes at the moment are bands like Vampire Weekend, Lightspeed Champion, Black Lips and Dirty Projectors. They’re all on the list.”

VF: Last year you had a few old favourites in there like Amy Winehouse. Is that a deliberate thing?
LP: “Yeah, we basically mix it up. There will bands that are already established and bands that have been around for a while. Bands like Cold War Kids, Les Savy Fav and Battles.”

VF: Are they playing this year?
LP: “Maybe, maybe not!”

VF: Also you tend to throw in a couple of last minute additions. Do you deliberately keep a few surprises up the sleeve?
LP: “No, we just don’t announce them until we sell out. Again it was the same thing with Amy Winehouse. Every year there will be four ‘heritage’ artists, ones that have influenced the next generation of bands playing, so there will be special guests we announce tight to the event. We’re not trying to sell tickets on that basis, they are just special editions to make the event more exciting. The committee may’ve voted for the bands, but no one knows who they’ll be except for me and a couple of other people. Last year we had Amy Winehouse, Travis, Ash and The Charlatans.”

VF: This is the first year you’re switching from Thursday and Friday to the weekend, why now?
LP: “We went to two days last year. Our long-term intention for 2010 is for it to start on Thursday and then run through until the Sunday afternoon. This year it goes from Friday lunchtime to Sunday afternoon and then next year we will add the extra day. All the activities around in the daytime are things like art, but related to music. For example we’re having film shorts that are related to music and we’re doing things like live art, auctions, music-related comedy and pop quizzes.”

VF: Do you find you’re competing with The Great Escape festival for bands?
LP: “I think you’ll find they started two years ago and we’ve been going for 13 years, so I think it’s more of an issue with them competing with us. They only sell 4,000 tickets and we sell 15,000 tickets. We’re not competing with them because we work with them as well. I think we tend to have crossover bands but I think they’re competing more with In The City in Manchester because they’re more of an industry event.”

VF: Is Camden is the world capital of Indie?
LP: “Yes, unfortunately! It is though isn’t it? It always has been and it always will be. To me, it looks exactly the same, it’s just different haircuts really. I was here then and I probably will be here in another ten years the way things are going.”

VF: Who is the best band you’ve had on at Camden Crawl?
LP: “There has been so much good stuff. Last year was the first year I even got to see any bands and I really loved Graham Coxon. I also loved it when The Buzzcocks played. Last year I saw The Barker Band and they just blew my head off. They’re amazing, very proud of their banjos. I wouldn’t want to do put it down to one thing. Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip was an amazing show last year. The Sway show in Dingwalls in 2006 was phenomenal, so there is a lot of stuff. I don’t want to put it down to just one thing.”

VF: Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse both played last year. If they were both playing this year, which one would you be more worried about?
LP: “Pete Doherty of course! I don’t think Amy Winehouse is problematic in the slightest. If you mean turning up – I don’t know, but as far as causing a scene I’d say Pete Doherty.”

VF: What other festivals do you love going to?
LP: “I really love Bestival. It’s probably the only one I’m going to go to this year. Also Electric Gardens and Tapestry, those would be the ones for me.”

VF: And what about your weather predictions for the year?
LP: “We’re always lucky because we’ve always had summer festival weather in April. I don’t want to curse it by saying that, but we plan on everything indoors anyway. It was 25 to 28 degrees last year so if you have your festivals in April be grateful, but I don’t hold out too much hope for the summer.”

VF: If someone had never been to the Camden Crawl and you’re trying to explain to them what makes it so special, how would you describe it?
LP: “I think what makes it so special is that it’s really about the experience more than the individual thing. It is about the queuing and meeting like-minded people and sharing tips and being prepared to have a random time. You don’t plan so it almost becomes like a treasure hunt and no one can know what to expect. I think that’s what’s so great about it.”

Camden Crawl 2008 takes place on Friday 18 April and Saturday 19 April. Tickets are now available, priced £29.70 for one day and £49.70 for both. Buy HERE.