Tellison : Hope Fading Nightly, released September 2015

A belated review of ‘Hope Fading Nightly’, the third album release from indie-rockers Tellison.

Opening track ‘Letter To The Team – After Another Imperfect Season’ is a plaintive tale of fate and failure, sung over gentle acoustic background with a bit of keyboard. It is a distinctive, unusual and effectively disturbing song. When the guitars crash in for ‘Helix And Ferman’ we feel on more familiar territory but the lyrical despondency ‘now all things just pass, you still come in last…’only has the answer of ‘drink red wine’ . It is a belting rock song, quickly followed by the energy and superior pop structure of ‘Boy’ with its hookline that you can’t get out of your head.

There is more despondency in the lyric of ‘Wrecker’ with an efficient demolishing guitar. And so it goes on, mostly lyrically bleak and musically powerful (the sublime ‘Tact is Dead’ needs to be played extra loud..!), especially on my favourite track ‘Orion’. Beginning delicately, then the band crash in as the narrator walks out on his life ‘And Orion looked down vengefully on me…’. I look forward to hearing this one live when they return to Cambridge next year.

‘Hellhole’ sounds like pure electronica but played on guitars. ‘Tsundoko’ is a Japanese word for the act of buying books and never reading them, I’m glad there is a special word for that, it is also the title of the epic final track, with the closing line ‘They said if I tried and tried I’d be happy…’

This is a heartfelt, thought-provoking, challenging album and there is a musical and lyrical depth that makes it a bit special.

Model Village, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 13 November 2015

Good to see another show at The Blue Moon, lined with sofas and Christmas lights, it was like your lounge at home but with better entertainment and beer. It was to celebrate two bands releasing their albums on the same day, Cambridge favourites Model Village and first on stage London quartet Chorusgirl.

Silvia Wersing is the songwriter, singer and rhythm guitarist of this stunning indie pop band, sounding like a jangly version of the Cure, B-52s and Talking Heads with one of the sharpest bass sounds I have heard live for a while. Opening with ‘No Moon’ (‘ice and ammonia, never been lonelier’ ), the vocals skate over ultra-tight backing. That was good but then ‘Dream On, Baby Blue’ was even better, that bass again and a catchy chorus. More deft tracks from the album, then a bit of a change with their Velvet Underground style cover of Bill Callahan’s ‘Ex-Con’ and then a strong finish with the urgent riff and soaring chorus of ‘This Town Kills’.

The album is ‘Chorusgirl’, they sound even better live, highly recommended..

There seems to be a band in Cambridge filling every musical niche and it feels good to be invited into the melodic dreamy rock of Model Village. With a six-piece lineup featuring 2 guitars, bass, organ, electric ukelele and guest drummer, ‘Red Chair’ is a low key opener that immediately shows the flexibility of the collective. There are varied instrumental touches and the smooth vocals of main singer Lily Somerville, also well showcased in ‘Sunlight’, the first of the songs from the new album ‘Healing Centre’ (‘a name taken from one of Cambridge’s most joyless-looking buildings’). The vocal duelling and overlapping in ‘Back Together’ is another strength as is the Steely Dan jazz feel of ‘Family Restaurant’ and ‘Sorry’. ‘Time To Share’ ended the set, an insistent rhythmic figure through the song all the way to a noisy finish.

Available as vinyl, download and cassette(!), give it a listen, this excellent new album is a grower.

Bouquet Of Dead Crows, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 6 November 2015

The launch party for the new album ‘Of The Night’ from Cambridge rockers Bouquet Of Dead Crows. First band on were Londoners Cherry White, with some down and earthy blues-rock, vocalist Donata Sounds belting them out over some tight backing from a fluent rock trio, notable especially for some John Entwistle bass styling and some good contrasts of light and shade.

Gavin Chappell-Bates brought his sensitive tunes to the stage flanked by two microphones and a bank of pedals to facilitate an elaborate level of looping creating a multi-layered texture of sound, all from the acoustic guitar, voice and simple percussion. Impressive indeed. There is a warm and nostalgic feel to his songs, including recent singles ’95’ and ‘We Are The Ones’.

An exuberant performance from Cambridge stalwarts The Scissors impressed the growing audience, their sharp pop songs a riot of colourful Hammond organ flavoured keyboards, edgy guitar, crescendos of drums and punching bass, with some interesting lyrical twists. Hopefully a new CD is due soon, to include the dark blues of ‘Why Don’t You Cry?’ currently one of the standout songs in their live set.

As the stage filled with smoke the headliners arrived to a welcoming crowd. Opening with the slowly building ‘Everything Is Temporary’ then into the heavier delights of ‘Epicentre’ and blasting single ‘Just A Little More’, it is clear that the continual gigging and recording of these songs is paying off with a finely honed instrumental unity, topped with Antoinette Cooper’s confident vocals.
The dark riff of ‘Drownout’ pairs well with the sadness of ‘Without You’, ‘Fundamental Flaw Of Solitude’ sets us up nicely for the epic opus ‘Endless’ (its not a happy lyric, ‘over and over I’m drowning in the flames’) with one of the best instrumental work-outs of the evening. Time for a quick encore of early track ‘Implode/Explode’ (‘We should be killing time, but you’re killing me..’) then it was the end of the party.

Bouquet Of Dead Crows should be very proud of this album (with its striking design by Stewart Harris of The Scissors and triple gatefold sleeve..!) and it translates brilliantly to a live environment like the Portland, or of course to a larger venue…

The Proclaimers, Corn Exchange , Cambridge, 4 November 2015

The ever-popular Proclaimers arrived in Cambridge as part of their latest tour. First on stage was Pete Williams; as a vocal foil to Kevin Rowland in Dexys (and an original member of the band from its founding in 1978) he knows how to build a rapport with the audience as his well-paced set related tales of growing up, working and relationships, drawn from his two albums and ably played by his compact band.

Craig and Charlie Reid have continued to perform to packed halls and festival audiences and their music has lodged itself into the general consciousness. The opening ‘Sky Takes The Soul’ from their first album recalled the days when they performed as a duo rather than with the multi-textured full band now featured.

They still pack a punch with their powerful semi-shouting vocal delivery, of course with no concessions to rock and roll conventions by modulating their Scottish accents. They have so many good songs, from the wistful longings of ‘Letter From America’, the infectious optimism of ‘Lets Get Married’, the waltzing splendour of ‘Spinning Around In The Air’ to the relentless barrage of ‘Joyful Kilmarnock Blues’.

As many new bands steer clear of any political or controversial references the Proclaimers are happy to step up on Independence (‘Cap In Hand’) and immigration (‘Scotland’s Story’). Then of course there is the one that everyone knows, ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’, closing the main set tonight, a song that most folk-rock exponents would be very glad to have written.

Their other anthem ‘Sunshine On Leith’ is a perfect song, with an emotional and musical timelessness (a future national anthem for an independent Scotland?). The film of the same name has given their profile a recent boost (gently affecting ‘Misty Blue’ one of several tunes featured tonight) and as they continue to record and perform they will go on forever….?

Father John Misty, Junction, Cambridge, 27 October 2015

Father John Misty arrived at J1 as part of a sell-out UK tour. First onstage was singer Anna B Savage, performing compositions accompanied by her subtle and spacious guitar playing. Opening with cryptically titled ‘IV’ from her debut EP her intense, personal lyrics pulled us into a private world. Background audience noise spoilt the moment a bit but many were appreciative.
Song ‘I’ is a lovely melody over gently picked chords and the more free-form ‘II’ with opening line ‘I will never amount to anything…’ and build-up to an abrupt ending completed the short set strongly.

Father John Misty is the performing name of former Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman and after showcasing his new sound on the album ‘Fear Fun’ he has now released the highly acclaimed ‘I Love You, Honeybear’. And what an album it is, a lush mixture of folk, rock and country with an overarching and personal theme of falling in love. So how would this transfer to live performance? Brilliantly.

Playing acoustic and electric guitar FJM was backed by guitar, keyboards and drums. From the first (title) track, we were bowled over by the magnetic stage presence and his great singing voice and connection with the audience. ‘Strange Encounter’ echoed the retro western themes played between the acts and ‘True Affection’ is a neat electronica based surprise. ‘When You’re Smiling…’ is a soaring ballad delivered even more powerfully than the album version and was an early highlight among many.

Some of his astute modern life observations were shared with the audience between songs but of course many of the lyrics contain these too, especially ‘Bored In The USA’, a bit of a show-stopper with just piano accompaniment and described tongue-in-cheek as a meta-ballad about despair. During this he used a borrowed phone from the audience for an elaborate selfie/filming session, this ‘special’ moment then absurdly deflated when the phone-owner pointed out it wasn’t recording anyway!

I’m Writing A Novel’ was a country rock rouser then the compact delight of ‘Chateau Lobby #4…’ had the crowd singing. And plenty more…
It was a great show, one of the best I have seen at The Junction in a long while.

Morrissey : List Of The Lost (novel), published September 2015

Morrissey has always been able to summon up compelling character images with few words, from Hector the protagonist in ‘First Of The Gang To Die’ and going way back to ‘This Charming Man’.

This is a short novel about an American college relay team, set in the 1970s and in its 118 pages the four young men….‘Ezra, Nails, Harri, Justy. You’d dig hard and deep to excavate four names quite so unusual’ (a bit like the Brighton Rock gang ‘Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt’ name-checked in pivotal Morrissey song ‘Now My Heart Is Full’?)…. take part in a quickly moving plot that soon diverges from conventional adventures on the running track. Other characters flit in and out, sometimes with detailed musings on the ills of society and steer the tale to an unexpected conclusion.

It is an engrossing read, the structure is loose and playful ( ‘Electrons from you need electrons from me to become electrons’) with abundant wordplay (‘her Elizabeth Taylor non-taming of the shrewd’), alliteration and sudden leaps of content into unexpected rants about animal rights, war(‘every government needs a war to balance the books’), famous political figures and the nature of love (‘But, look, you are my heart. You save me every day from…absolute boredom’) and ageing.

This compact Penguin edition novel has a lustrous retro orange cover with a 1962 photo of a relay runner (who some have mistaken for the author?!) and with its hints of influence from Catcher In The Rye to A Clockwork Orange it did not disappoint.

The Travis Waltons, Corner House, Cambridge, 3 Oct 2015

The world cup hopes of the England rugby team slowly faded away on the big screen of the Corner House….meanwhile in the stage area it was much more uplifting as The Vigilantes opened their set with the brash optimistic blast of ‘No Money’, featuring a hypnotic repetitive monosyllabic riff and rolling chorus. Hailing from the unlikely musical territory of Boston (Lincolnshire) they play noisy, confident indie guitar rock, bursting with energy and ideas. ‘Get What You Pay For’ is a strong pop song and throughout the set their wall of sound was punctuated with clever guitar touches and solid drumming.

It was a good night for the drummers and I was pleased to see Cambridge favourites The British IBM back playing as a full band, boosted by the complex and riveting drumming of Paul Richards. Opening with ‘Cannibal’, ‘Animal’ and ‘Sugar Water’ from their debut album they were soon into the more mellow and introspective tones of the recently released ‘Psychopaths Dream…’, the string-laden recorded versions being rendered with plenty of fuzzy guitar and a emphasised edge in the vocals. This was particularly showcased in set closers ‘We Were The Stars’ and of course ‘The British IBM’, both being stylish hymns of longing and regret expertly crafted by singer/guitarist and creative force Adrian Killens.

I never knew quite where Bristol-based headliners and enigmatically named The Travis Waltons were coming from musically, which I view as a very positive quality. The guitar/bass/drums line-up was augmented by subtle keyboard lines and from the opening ‘Land Of The Giants’, with calm solo electric guitar and vocal, followed by the stately ‘Vampire Bite’ I was not sure what was to be next. It was a strong performance, successfully absorbing the appreciative audience, with tales of drastically thwarted relationships inbetween songs. There was even a cover of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out'(referred to in some quarters as ‘the National Anthem of Smithdom’) and not forgetting ‘Separation Season’ their unique collaboration with Charlie Simpson of Busted and the closing and moving ‘Millionaire’. I really enjoyed their set, I am still trying to pin their sound down in a few well-chosen words….