Going to a gig in Camden? Not a clue how to get there? You are not alone. Camden venues are notoriously small and difficult to find. The following is a quick guide to finding some of those infamous toilet venues that are the stuff of legends on the indie circuit.
Camden geography centres round the High Street and Chalk Farm Road, where there are many interesting boutiques and restaurants, but they're a wee bit expensive, as, unfortunately, is much of Camden. A map or A to Z may well come in handy, but this comes with a warning. It's not a fantastic idea to stand on street corners in the dark, thumbing through your A to Z and making it patently obvious that you don't know where you are - especially if you're a girl or in some way don't look like you can defend yourself. It's unpleasant, but London is not the safest place in the world. If you're not sure of how to get back to the tube station, ask someone at the venue before you leave or, even better, take friends.
If you want to see what's on in Camden, a great listings website is irlondon.co.uk. Ents24.com is also quite good, and is available on WAP. Finally, have fun. Camden venues, for all their faults, have some of the best atmospheres in the world. And make sure you see the support bands - you never know when you might miss the next Manic Street Preachers or the next Pulp.
Getting to and from Camden
Camden Town tube station is on the Northern Line, and crosses both branches, which means you'll need your wits about you to figure out what train you need to get on. The last trains are just before midnight, so it's worth considering giving yourself a bit of extra time to negotiate the four platforms. Have a look at a tube map and make sure you've got your journey home figured out. It's not nice to have to sleep on a roundabout in Islington because you went the wrong way round the Circle Line and ended up missing your train.
If your gig goes on quite late, or the venue holds a club night after the gig (Casino Royale at the Monarch, for instance), you may end up missing the last train or tube and have to take a night bus. Camden is very well-served by the night bus network, so much so that there are too many routes to list here, but you will find full details on the London Transport Website. All night buses that go through Camden call at stops in the vicinity of Camden Town tube station.
Camden Road station can be a useful alternative to arriving by tube. The North London Line, operated by Silverlink, runs from North Woolwich to Richmond via Stratford, Dalston, Highbury & Islington, Camden, Hampstead and Willesden - it can be a lot quicker than taking a tube into the centre of London, changing lines and coming out again. However, it's less good for coming back from a gig because the last trains leave shortly after eleven o'clock - you can check the timetable at the National Rail Website. All directions below are from Camden Town tube station, but it's very quick1 and simple to get there from Camden Road, and it'll be on your way to the venue anyway. Turn right out of the station exit and keep going straight, over the crossroads, past Sainsbury's on your right and there you are.
Barfly @ The Monarch
Come out of Camden tube station on the right-hand side and turn right, heading down Camden High Street. It's quite a way down, unfortunately. Go past the market, over the canal, under the bridge, straight ahead at the lights, past the Esso garage, the Mexican restaurant and the massage parlour, and you're there, opposite the Safeway petrol station.
The stage itself is out the door at the back and up some stairs, and the decent toilets are out the door at the back and down some stairs - where there is also a cigarette machine and a cash machine.
The Barfly empire is steadily growing, and they really do support 'their bands'. Second only to the Dublin Castle, the Barfly is a good bet for a random gig. They're almost all, without exception, over-18s gigs, but so long as you're dressed relatively casually and don't look obvious, you don't need to worry overmuch about taking ID. There's a definite 'muso' atmosphere - the crowd are genuinely interested in the bands and are driven by the desire to find The Next Big Thing. It's one of the worst for 'the semicircle of doom' - people standing as far away from the stage as possible. Don't be scared to break that - go up to the front and dance if you want to. The bands'll appreciate it.
Camden Palace (for FeetFirst)
This one's quite a way from Camden tube. You're best off going to Mornington Crescent - come out of the station, go round the corner to the right and you'll see the Palace, all lit up in neon.
However, if Mornington Crescent is closed (as it often is) it is entirely possible to walk from Camden Town. It's about 15 minutes' brisk walk. At the top of the escalators, turn right. Then turn left out of the station and head straight up the road you're on. Just keep going. The Palace is on your side of the road.
The usual reason for going to the Palace is for FeetFirst. This clubnight starts at 9pm every Tuesday and carries on til 2pm. It's technically an over-18s night, but most of the audience are about 16 - little rock kids. Clothes-wise, anything goes, but comfy shoes for dancing are highly recommended. There's a band on at about midnight and about half the time they'll blow you away. It's pot luck really, unless you've already heard of the band. There are flyers available to print out on irlondon.co.uk that'll get you in for £3, or alternatively take an NUS card if you have one.
The Dublin Castle
This one's a little way out. It's always further than you think it is, but the bonus is it's right opposite a certain estate agents...Hotblack Desiato!
Anyway, to get to this one you turn right at the top of the escalators of the tube station and come out on Camden High Street. Cross over the road - preferably at the crossing. You're at a crossroads, right on the corner. Head straight up the road you're on, away from the Tube Station - this road is called Parkway. Stay on that side of the road. You'll go past Starbucks and the Jazz Cafe and some pasta restaurants and The Spread Eagle and a launderette and a cinema - not necessarily in that order. But eventually you will come to the Dublin Castle. It's a pub. There are big, signed Travis posters and an interesting jukebox. There are big doors at the back - these are the doors to the venue itself - it is possible to drink in the pub part at the front without going into the gig venue.
The Dublin Castle has bands on every night, and it's usually your best bet if you just feel like going to a gig. At least one of the bands will be fantastic. It's easy enough to get hold of a flyer to get in for a couple of pounds less, and there's also usually a student discount available. The vibe's pretty laid-back. Anything goes. Punk kids, ageing hippies and glam addicts are there in equal abundance.
There are signs on your way out asking you to remember that you're in a residential area and to keep the noise down - please pay attention to them. It'd be a shame if the pub where the likes of Madness started out was forced to stop doing gigs because you've upset the locals.
The Electric Ballroom
This one's on the way to the Monarch - not even as far down as the market though; it's more or less right next to the station. The Electric Ballroom is currently under threat from London Underground's plans to redevelop Camden Town station and the land behind it, which would be a shame as during the time of punk it was one of the best gig venues around.
Full Tilt, the big goth clubnight, is held here every Friday, and everyone goes all out to dress up for it, which is a lot of fun.
This venue is underneath the World's End pub, hence the rather witty name. It's directly opposite Camden Town tube station - you get to the top of the escalators and turn left - go out that way and you can't miss it.
It's not the best in terms of atmosphere, as the stage isn't easily visible from large parts of the venue, but it's generally quite clean and the service at the bar is pretty quick.
The feel varies from gig to gig, as the Underworld tends to play host to many different types of bands. Often when a big band wants to play a small gig, they'll play the Underworld.