I wasn't able to go last year because I was in Washington state watching two more of my best friends get married. No such jetsetting this year so I met up with Shep and Pam again in Waterloo station (in Benugo, on the mezzanine, near the big clock, standard) and we set off for a brief wonky stroll down to Camberwell Green.
The weather forecast hadn't been promising and, of course, as soon as we left the station it started hoying it down so, predictably, we took shelter in a pub. The Crown and Cushion on Westminster Bridge Road. An old Irish boozer playing the unlikely mix of The Carpenters and B*Witched to men drinking alone, one of whom had brought a loaf of bread along for company.
Less predictably both Shep and I opted for a soft drink. Pam, clearly made of stronger stuff, chose a Bermondsey Best. We chatted about John Ruskin's aversion to female pubic hair and recounted escapades from last week's Lambeth Country Show, an occasion I'd 'enjoyed' so much I'd only just recovered from (and hadn't even blogged about - shock, horror!).
With the rain relenting, briefly, we set off past the Imperial War Museum, across the Elephant and Castle roundabout (checking out the Faraday Memorial), before then cutting through what's left of the Aylesbury Estate. We witnessed gentrification and we witnessed areas very very far from gentrification. A visit to this area in 5-10 years will probably see a considerably different area.
We wandered across Burgess Park, saw local kids preparing to have a sack race, took in an old lime kiln, and heard the music blowing over from Camberwell Green. A quick slash in the disgusting toilets of The Tiger pub and we were in the site. The sky opened up again. Damn.
We bought a pint from one of the most miserable barmaids in existence and watched a few fearless, or already drunk, punters dance to the reggae and African music the DJ was playing. First band up for us were Kakatsitsi, a six piece Ghanaian drumming ensemble. I'm not normally a huge fan of overly percussive set ups but this was different. It sounded like some of the drummers were playing rhythm and melody which gave the music much more depth, far more colour. One guy even winningly drummed with his socked feet. Despite the rain they bought the crowds out and by the end we were merely subject to drizzle - which was roughly how the rest of the day played out weatherwise.
Over at the Camberwell Stage (main stage was called Wormfood!) a decent poet called Sam was coping with drunken hecklers, drunken stage invaders, and child stage invaders to deliver some fairly heartfelt, and pretty well constructed, political poetry. He then introduced Reload who mixed up his own brand of political poetry with his Wolverhampton flavoured grime that nodded more to the first wave than J Hus or Stormzy.
Reload was good but nobody could compare to the guy above who had a small reggae sound system set up and was spitting bars for several hours non-stop. With a passion and integrity bordering on insanity. His main beef was the closing of Brixton institution Passing Clouds but at one point he seemed to be toasting over some dancehall classics about jellyfish.
Tantz were on the main stage knocking out a fast and furious set of infectious clarinet led klezmer. One of the more 'enthusiastic' punters was sat on the front of the stage waving two plastic forks in the area, a girl was dancing in the rain in her bra, and an old lady was stood by with her Trolls (the DreamWorks film) shopping bag at hand. It's safe to say that Camberwell, like Brixton, is rich in 'characters'. It's why I bloody love those places.
Afrikan Boy was the only act at the (free) festival I'd ever heard before. I'd seen him support Criollo a couple of years back at Village Underground. His uptempo afrobeats (not afrobeat) songs about shoplifting from LIDL and getting his visa stolen had been complemented by a new, more political, dimension and, of course, a song about his beloved Nigerian cuisine. He was rather good.
All that talk of food had got us hungry. Shep has a pizza, Pam had a tasty looking bowl of Indonesian soto, and I went for a Cyprus Grill, a rather puntastic halloumi wrap that tasted good, filled the hole, soaked up some of the beer, and set me up for more music.
The Mouse Outfit played a sort of hip-hop infused rock that was full of energy and headliners Balafonics, over from Paris, got a huge crowd dancing to their headlining set of brass fronted bangers and African soaked guitar. But for us, Jellyfish/Passing Clouds guy was the sure winner of the festival. As his sparring partners and DJs cued him up with 80s ragga cuts, Atari computer game noises, and tape rewinds he ranted righteously about pretty much everything under the sun - and by that time the sun had indeed come out.
The Camberwell Fair may be a small event but it's one of those vital ones that communities sacrifice at their peril. Like its much bigger brother, the Lambeth Country Show, it puts smiles on peoples faces and brings people from different backgrounds together to dance to each other's music, try each other's food, and in some instances, swap each other's bodily fluids. What's not to like?