Look Out For Summer Camp: The Beautiful Band Who Play In Crypts

Andrew Willis and his "Sunderland bred cohort" check out Summer Camp in the depths of Guildford's Crypt Bar. Turns out they can function without a synth after all, and bloody well too.
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Andrew Willis and his "Sunderland bred cohort" check out Summer Camp in the depths of Guildford's Crypt Bar. Turns out they can function without a synth after all, and bloody well too.

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Guildford is a terribly dreary place, described by many as ‘quaint’. It sits conveniently between Portsmouth and London on one of the nation’s busiest roads (the A3 since you ask) and is called ‘home’ by hoards of 4x4 owners, all boasting 2.4 privately educated children, a cosy villa in Spain and a mutt called Monty. Zzzzz.

You get the idea. Ninety-nine per cent of the time it’s hell; minus all the fire and brimstone action.

Tonight is the exception to that over-zealous statistic. Tonight, Elizabeth Sankles and Jeremy Warmsley, the painfully attractive duo behind Summer Camp, one of 2011’s most talked about bands, brave the delayed trains south from Waterloo to play a 12th century haunted crypt.

And their debut album Welcome to Condale was only released on bloody Halloween wasn’t it? Perfect.

Accompanying me this evening is a friend from Sunderland (via London), who is witnessing Guildford for the first time. The pressure to deliver a reasonably entertaining night out is more intense than that nervous, stomach churning anxiety, experienced only before your opening GCSE exam and the first time you drop your kecks in front of that girl you’ve liked forever, all rolled into one.

Failure is inevitable.

We find the 800 year old crypt beneath a 15thcentury coaching inn half-way up the lavishly decorated cobbled high street. A sentence I never thought I’d type right there. It all looks nice enough, but there is a distinct lack of activity and anticipation around, which often comes gift-wrapped before a great show.

The pressure to deliver a reasonably entertaining night out is more intense than that nervous, stomach churning anxiety, experienced only before your opening GCSE exam and the first time you drop your kecks in front of that girl you’ve liked forever, all rolled into one.

Standing outside the inn it’s hard to believe this is the place. No queue, no bouncer, nothing. Surely there can’t be two 800 year-old crypts come music venues? A mid-week show in sleepy Guildford was bound to be a little under-subscribed, but this is worrying.

As we descend the original stone spiral staircase, the crypt itself is less spooky dungeon, a la cobwebs and mice, more swanky wine bar with olives and half-cut insurance brokers. The expected younger ‘Tumblr-generation’ crowd is nowhere to be seen, presumably locked into a Skyrim orgy or the like. Instead, the current dwellers of the whitewashed tomb are more intent on hushing the slightest whimper of conversation with a maddening school-teacher “SSSSSHHHHH”, than they are in actually enjoying the talented support act.

My northern friend sips from his five pound bottle of cloudy cider, shakes his head and starts rolling a cigarette. “So the ‘quiet’ zone on the train actually meant the entire county of Surrey. Rock n Roll” he mutters. Not a great start then.

The headline act finally arrives, later than scheduled, simply introduced as Summer Camp from London to a congregation of 20 or so people, largely unaware of the group’s increasingly prominent footprint. The pair look a touch uncomfortable and almost apologetic as they perch on a couple of bar stools, Westlife style.

This could be a complete disaster I shudder to myself.  Not a synth or drum pad to be seen, fundamental sounds so synonymous with the Summer Camp experience, and welcomed to the stage with a wary yet polite applause, the kind only ever experienced at singer-songwriter love-ins.

The content and aesthetics of the songs about to be performed are hardly challenging, but will such an older and reserved audience be able to relate to the bubble-gum laced tales of romance, love and loss, set in fictional 80s America; all sepia-tinged memoirs, ripped denim and fumbling in the back seat of rusting old muscle cars.

Within moments Warmsley’s acoustic guitar is out the case, the mics are on and the unassuming duo tear into a hassle-free version of their ludicrously catchy ‘Better Off Without You’.

The content and aesthetics of the songs about to be performed are hardly challenging, but will such an older and reserved audience be able to relate to the bubble-gum laced tales of romance, love and loss, set in fictional 80s America; all sepia-tinged memoirs, ripped denim and fumbling in the back seat of rusting old muscle cars.

“Stop calling me late at night” croons Sankey, swaying on her stool with glass of water in hand and immediately it’s clear why the music press have been ripping the knickers off each other to get their paws on the action.

As Warmsley strums fervently into the euphoric chorus, Crypt bar in dreary Guildford just turned into the best little room in the land.

“Better better off, better off without you” rolls the refrain of the chorus, echoing against the arched walls of the tiny room, as the pair, both with their own distinct vocal approach, trade a knowing smile.

It turns out Summer Camp can ‘do’ small-time local gigs with acoustic guitar and bar stools just fine thanks.

No-one is more relieved than my Sunderland bred cohort, who excitably taps his foot, mere moments from bursting into a fully-fledged boogie right in front of the tuneful twosome. If these Summer Camp songs don’t set your heart racing then it really is too late for you and your stone cold, conked out, lifeless body.

As quickly as the hard-hitting opener arrived it abruptly finishes, just as any good pop song should. It’s over in a blinking of an eye, like the rollercoaster relationship it so accurately depicts. Sankey and Warmsley look settled and confident suddenly, and who can blame them with songs like that in the arsenal?  With the opening song they have already surpassed any expectation of tonight’s show, justifying the early hype.

The problem with being a buzz band – even if said band contains the talent and charm of Jeremy Warmsley – you still need to cut your teeth and prove you are worth something. For anyone that didn’t already know; Summer Camp are really good.

The set rolls on at a proficient pace, with Warmsley cueing the running order from his mobile phone, comforting the silent audience with “don’t worry, I’m not checking my texts”; “from his mum” mocks Sankey.

The all-important presence of an artist in small rooms like this is fundamental to a successful show. If you come across like an unmannerly festering dish cloth, no one is going to care about how great your songs were, you’ll forever be remembered as the rancid after-taste that ruined everything.

Thankfully Summer Camp back up the triumph of their songs by engaging the locals, while excitably reminiscing about childhood birthday jaunts to The Spectrum Leisure Centre, one of Guildford’s prime attractions it seems. The duo appear genuinely thrilled to be playing to an attentive audience in such humble surroundings, and it feels truly special to witness these songs performed in front of such an intimate crowd.

Highlights include the energetic single ‘Down’ with the opening lyric “cold nights, so sick of cold nights. Of wasting all my life, in a black house where I grew up” chiming true in the ears of many this Christmas.

The forlorn nuance found within the Summer Camp lyrics penetrate effectively, but fail to truly break hearts thanks to the expert use of buoyant melodies and fluid chord structures, constantly leaving a sense of hope and nostalgia rather than crushing hurt.

The relentless ‘Brian Krakow’ which chugs under a heavily distorted guitar on record, transforms into a showcase of dynamic technique by Warmsley on guitar and vocal, breaking up the song which ebbs and flows from dark moody verses to piercing crescendos in the chorus and outro. The ruthlessly honest lyrics throughout come to their callous best in the line “I don’t wanna meet your folks; they like the other guy most. I don’t care about your dreams; I’ll rip you apart at the seams. I don’t have time for your hopes”.

The forlorn nuance found within the Summer Camp lyrics penetrate effectively, but fail to truly break hearts thanks to the expert use of buoyant melodies and fluid chord structures, constantly leaving a sense of hope and nostalgia rather than crushing hurt.

Warmsley perfectly summarises the selfish struggle for happiness between lovers everywhere when delivering the line “You say I’m a loaded gun, but we’re just having fun. You don’t want a broken heart”. It’s hardly uncharted ground, but when it feels this good, who really cares?

Christmas is of course just around the corner and Summer Camp have it covered. The set takes a festive turn with the album’s title track ‘Welcome to Condale’ sounding like it was written especially for this time of year.  “I’m coming home” harmonise Sankey and Warmsley, both with eyes clamped shut and even the humbug brigade at the back appear to edge closer to their loved-ones. A complimentary Christmas cover follows and suddenly all the exuberant high street decorations become more bearable.

Summer Camp close their brisk set with ‘Ghost Train’, a picturesque showcase of Sankey’s impressive vocal ability, both commanding and tender, that slows a breakneck collection of songs to a fitting and tranquil end. Warmsley credits the crowd with a modest “Thanks, we’ve been Summer Camp” as the room bursts into smiles and applause warm enough to console the several ghosts apparently complimentary with the room hire.

Tonight, the very thing that could have destroyed the fuss surrounding Summer Camp and their impressive debut record; a more than quiet, acoustic show in Guildford Surrey, of all places, has turned into one of the most enchanting live experiences I have witnessed. Even more so that the majority of tonight’s crowd are totally unaware that the day after, Summer Camp will be playing to a sold-out Brixton Academy, supporting The Vaccines in front of nearly 5000 people.

Summer Camp are by no means a cherished secret anymore, but tonight’s show in Guildford’s Crypt Bar feels like just that. A personal and engaging acoustic set by one of the country’s brightest musical hopes delivered with endless no-fuss magnetism.  And the definitive review from the northerner? “That was buzzing that like”. Successful evening for all concerned then.

Welcome to Condale’ is out now.

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