As London's long-established homelier cousin of Texas A&R shindig South By Southwest, The Camden Crawl is the musical equivalent of Good Friday; the first long-awaited Bank Holiday weekend of the year only with the added bonus of a feast of musical delights, not to mention a change in climate too. Its also one of those events that, due to its location, often brings with it any number of unannounced shows in the tiniest venues imaginable, not to mention guest appearances from those you'd least expect.
Certainly this year's line-up was every bit as mouth-watering as the free Red Stripe quaffed by the media assembled in the Lock 17 bar, and with the rumour mill already in overdrive about who would be playing (Coxon in a tiny boozer - TRUE. Winehouse in an alehouse - FALSE, The Enemy pulling their show at the last minute - RESULT!), the circus wasn't going to leave town without creating its own whirlwind of myth behind it, even if leaving the confines of the free bar proved a different story..
Its only teatime on Friday but a well-sozzled Contact is already having a "discussion" with a member of Wire over a pint and a sarnie, as you do.."Its 29 years since we played the Electric Ballroom" he says, ".and I bet the audience will all be shouting for the same songs we played back then" he snarls. He was right, they did, and after arguing the merits of Nottingham gig goers over those from London, we disperse, people to see, bands to watch, soundmen to annoy..
Our first port of call is the spacious confines of The Roundhouse, where THE VIRGINS and THE YEAH YEAH YEAHS dominate the early evening slot respectively. If the former suffer from a lack of charisma, and in the flesh at least, songs, then the latter's enthusiastic performance is overshadowed by the sound of Nick Zinner's guitar wafting in and out of the mix at random intervals. Contact has a word with the engineer. He isn't happy, and neither is Karen O at the end, flinging her mic unceremoniously in his direction as 'Date With The Night' brings their set to a close.
We move to The Electric Ballroom where THE BIG PINK are set to play, only for "technical difficulties" to delay the start somewhat. Too bad, they're playing tomorrow night we mutter to ourselves, and head off towards The Dublin Castle via catching the last few bars of 'It Must Be Love'. Yes, that's right, it's MADNESS. On a bus. In the middle of Camden High Street. Surreal? You bet.
Once inside the Castle, IDLEWILD's pedestrian set not quite what we'd expected from a band whose mere mention would be enough to induce mass excitement not so long back, the post-punk of BRAKES actually livens the evening up to perfection, eventually turning the backroom of the small pub into a fearless moshpit from back to front.
Several more on-street performances later - local four-piece CALL ME ANIMAL's energetic scream-punk proving particularly incisive - Contact retires disgracefully to bed via the local Vietnamese curry house.
The next morning, paracetamols at the ready to counteract our hangover, Contact vows not to touch a drop of beer until at least the early evening, so professional as ever, we stumble into a gashed James Pulled Apart By Horses, Danananananaykroyd goofing around in a supermarket and LITTLE BOOTS being passed from pillar to post - or in this case, journo to journo - in the Lock beer garden.
With the knives already being sharpened for Ms Hesketh and her radio friendly electro-pop, we're somewhat taken aback by her quite-impressive-actually early doors performance in the Roundhouse, which someone standing close describes as being "Like Kylie, but in a good way".
Following on from her are the consistently reliable MACCABEES, and even though 'Latchmere' is missing from their set this evening, the boundless mix of new and old material not to mention a supremely confident Orlando Weeks stalking the stage with the prowess of a lion and finally living up to the domineering frontman tag we always knew he was capable of, suggests 2009 could very well be their year both in a critical and (whisper it) commercial sense.
Full of energy and raring to go, we head over to Dingwalls where dance-tinged experimentalists THE INVISIBLE, fresh from supporting Doves on their recent tour of small venues, kick out an incendiary noise that mixes feedback, reverb and a healthy dose of funk in admirable fashion. Over the way, THE JOY FORMIDABLE are creating a similar effect with their Polly Harvey-meets-The Boo Radleys shoegaze pop, 'Austere' sounding impressively seductive and sinister in equal measures.
Having mastered this walking lark to perfection, our next trek to the Enterprise finds THE SHITTY LIMITS in forceful mode, their Home Counties reared old-school punk rock evoking memories of the Dead Kennedys before money, fame and celebrity wrecked Mr Biafra's head.
One of the biggest draws of the weekend was always going to be THE FALL. Given a primetime Saturday evening slot in one of Camden's bigger venues (The Electric Ballroom), the many whispers surrounding their appearance ranging from Mark E Smith will be performing in a wheelchair to he won't be playing at all - their late arrival provoking a very worried looks and calls of "Get on with it!" before Smith and co.'s imminent arrival. Twenty minutes later, nonplussed at the self-indulgency of it all, Contact is making tracks again.
And boy, are we glad we did, because THE BIG PINK don't just prove to be the most hallucinogenic musical experience we've heard in a long while, they also stand out like sore thumbs as the best thing we've witnessed all weekend. Forget the celebrity associations (frontman Rob Furze is allegedly Lily Allen's part-time squeeze, fellow singer Lauren Jones is the daughter of former Clash legend Mick), The Big Pink are a calamitous melange of blissed-out reverb and feedback underpinned by hip hop beats that brings to mind a feral Massive Attack toying with Spiritualized's songbook and A Place To Bury Strangers effects pedals. New single 'Velvet' is like the aural equivalent of being smothered in dry ice while 'Count Backwards From Ten' feels like the perfect axis point between noise rock's ardent fury and shoegaze heaven.
With this year's proceedings all but over, Contact head to the aftershow and witness a once-in-a-lifetime performance where LEE MAVERS, ably assisted by CARL BARAT and various members of Babyshambles, Dirty Pretty Things and Reverend & The Makers run through a selection of Las and Libertines songs that while not being note-for-note perfect, cause more than a few tearstained eyes to head off nostalgically into the Camden mist.
All in all, Contact are shattered and hungover, yet can't wait to do it all again next year!