Ringo Deathstarr, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 1 Sept 2014

I was pleased to see Horse Party from Bury St Edmunds opening this show and as I have said in a previous review they are a trio of confident performers of strong songs, many from their debut album ‘Cover Your Eyes’ (highly recommended…). The mix tonight allowed drummer Shannon Hope to particularly shine, the changing dynamics of the music unleashing the thunder and lightning of her constantly changing percussive power, blending with the two guitars. From a band with no bass, next we had a band with a strong bass presence, high and loud in the mix playing counterpoint lines to the two guitars. This was Cambridge band My Estranged, drawing on the influence of the punk pop sounds of Talking Heads, Wire and Television for their original and interesting songs. The audience had built up to see the main attraction Ringo Deathstarr, all the way from Austin, Texas and from the outset it was clear there was more to this trio than a clever band name. No fragile indie pop here, it was a mighty wall of sound from the guitar effects of songwriter Elliott Frazer which was underpinned by the bass and the ethereal vocals of Alex Gehring and a great drum performance from Daniel Coborn. I heard echoes of The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Wedding Present in their short tracks, sometimes catchy hooks (‘So High’,’Slack’), sometimes impenetrable hypnotic instrumental passages. The songs kept coming, it was an hour of demanding but rewarding and immersive listening….




St Vincent, Junction, Cambridge, 19 August 2014

There was a clear sense of anticipation tonight in The Junction, sold out a while ago for the first Cambridge appearance of St Vincent. To set the tone, the support act Arc Iris were also not following the standard rock or indie template. Composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Jocie Adams was accompanied on multiple keyboards by Zach Tenorio-Miller, one of her many collaborators. The musical styles kept changing, country-folk to jazz to florid prog-rock piano, at times within the same song. It was enjoyable, interesting and engaging listening.

I first listened to St Vincent when she recorded and toured the critically acclaimed joint album ‘Love This Giant’ with David Byrne. She is a formidable talent and stage presence, from her opening song ‘Rattlesnakes’ her two keyboard players and drummer laid down slabs of pounding electronica beats while her voice sailed above, punctuated by slick guitar runs.
As the show progressed her range and variation of stagecraft and music was evident, climbing onto the stepped platform for ‘I Prefer Your Love’, the later songs breaking out in guitar driven energetic weirdness. There were moments of bonding with the audience with random spoken observations but she retained the air of mystery and other-worldliness which added to the overall interest. A generous encore featured enigmatic introductions to her band, some crowd surfing on the security staff then she was gone…to charm and win over the next audience….


Home Festival, Mundford, Norfolk, 9 August 2014

Hidden away in the small village of Mundford in Norfolk, the Home Festival reaches its second year. It has the worthy aim of raising money for the St Martins Charity for the homeless and even with the small village carnival feel it is clear that a big effort has been put into the choice of music, with 17 bands and soloists on the two stages.

Chasing Creation are an Indie/Rock trio from Norfolk, with an American sound and complex instrumentation, confidently playing their original songs. The Sea Creatures play up tempo catchy alternative country rock, with acoustic and electric guitars and usually a violin too, absent today but featured prominently on their recordings. The song ‘Love Royale’ was a strong finish to their set. The electronic soundscapes created by duo Treasure Season floated dreamily through the fine sun of the afternoon as a contrast to the guitar based bands. The guitar certainly has a strong role in Norwich four piece Secret From Richard, it rings out and soars through the anthemic alt-rock songs, backed by adventurous basslines and the most energetic drumming of the day so far. A cover of the Black Keys song ‘Lonely Boy’ fitted in easily with the rest of their varied sounds, fronted well by singer Jason Sturman.

Any band that cites Tom Waits, Nick Cave and The Doors as influences surely must be worth a listen and The Thinking Men did not disappoint. The line-up looks nearly conventional, two guitars, drums, keyboard and an electric upright bass, but the sound produced is something very different and special. When speaking to the crowd singer Johnny Raspin is modest and mild-mannered but when the vocals start and he unleashes his inner Tom Waits growl the songs are given a flavour all of their own. All of the band are talented musicians and the elaborate songs change tempo unpredictably, tangoing and serenading in all directions, with lyrical subject matter ranging from the Elephant Man to the Witchfinder General and the definitely surreal…. It was a brilliant show-stealing performance, well suited to the festival audience.






Van Morrison, Cambridge Folk Festival, 3 August 2014

The Cambridge Folk Festival reaches its 50th year, sold out as usual and finishing the weekend with a headlining performance from Van Morrison. Like Bob Dylan he has attained the status of ‘living legend’ by continually recording and touring, yet retaining that special air of mystery by avoiding too much interaction with the media and his devoted audience.

He opened his set by leading an instrumental on sax, setting the jazz tone for many of the songs. The basic band was augmented by two brass players on a range of instruments, along with trumpet from the keyboard player. Van has a huge back catalogue of jazz, folk, gospel, blues and pop to draw from and it is clear that the choice of songs depends on the atmosphere and feeling of the night, the band are ready to go in whatever direction Van indicates from his central position in the semicircle of players. Suiting the festival audience, it was mainly up tempo with less of the extended quiet passages and vocal adventures of some of his performances.

‘Little Village’,’Whenever God Shines His Light’ and ‘Someone Like You’ showed that the voice was as good as ever, duetting with the contrasting voice of his daughter Shana Morrison. An emotive version of ‘Queen of The Slipstream’ featured harmonica touches and great Hammond organ but it was the next song, the familiar ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’ that really set the crowd going for the first time. The words ‘This is a folk festival so we will do a folk song’ introduced ‘Dead or Alive’ and turned out to be the main moment of speaking to the audience but we didn’t mind, we preferred the music…’Days Like This’, a mellow version of ‘Moondance’ with short solos from all the players, ‘Enlightenment’, ‘Precious Time’, ‘Real Real Gone/You Send Me’, a cover of ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ then ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. Back to the blues for ‘Help Me’ then ‘Gloria’ with lots of crowd singing, then before we knew it Van had left the building (tent) as the band let loose and played on….


Allo Darlin’, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 24 July 2014

An evening of Summer Indie-pop at the Portland opened appropriately with Cambridge based trio The Centimes. They have a distinctive original sound as I have said in previous reviews and the long instrumental introduction to opener ‘Stormy Tuesday’ laid down the template of solid drumming and bass with that stylish 12-string guitar jangling above. ‘La La Land’ showcased a bit of funk guitar and ‘I’m Fine’ and ‘Local Pool’ impressed as usual with strong vocal performances. The venue had filled up rapidly during the set and the band were well received. I look forward to the debut album, with some extra input spice added by The Organ Grinders Monkey..

Next on were the six members of Model Village, an Indie Folk band I had last seen at The Junction as support for Half Man Half Biscuit, not the most likely combination?! On that occasion there was more of an acoustic feel but they have a varying line-up and last night it was mainly electric guitar with excellent piano contributions and some welcome short bursts of harmonica. They also have the options that three different lead singers give and the musical styles vary greatly, from the up tempo opening song ‘Splitting The Risk’ to the mellow ‘Stockholm’ and the emotive ‘Red Chair’. It was a confident and enjoyable performance setting the tone for the headliners..

Allo Darlin’ are a London-based four piece formed in 2010, fronted by Elizabeth Morris. They play catchy guitar based Indie-pop, with involving lyrics drawing on human relationship dilemmas, cultural references (‘Woody Allen’, unfortunately omitted tonight) and reminiscences of Australia. It was generally an up-beat summer sound but listen to the lyrics carefully, there is plenty of darkness and light. The sound quality and instrumental playing were top-notch, like the Smiths with ukulele added to give an extra dimension of rhythm. There were two great interplay songs between male and female vocals, ‘Bright Eyes’ and the exquisite oldie ‘Dreaming’, three and a bit minutes of pop perfection…

The long set was engaging and varied, tracks from the forthcoming album ‘We Come From the Same Place’ to be released in October 2014 slotted in nicely with the more familiar songs. The band seemed very pleased to hear the audience singing along and there was a clever encore, ‘Kiss Your Lips’ segueing into the Paul Simon song ‘You Can Call Me Al’ (including that fast bass run..). It was a great show and from speaking to the band afterwards, the friendly onstage personas are all genuine!




28 Boulevard, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 19 July 2014

A hot Cambridge evening for a bill of 4 varied bands at the Portland, the common link being loud indie-ish rock rather than mellow introspection. I only caught the end of the set from opening band Rubber Duck, but as that featured a belting cover of ‘Seven Nation Army’ that seemed to be a good omen for the evening.

Preacher’s Son from Dublin is a rock trio led by bass player and singer Brian Hogan who has been around on the Irish music scene in various incarnations for many years. They are on a short tour of the UK, pleased to be in the presence of the music loving audience of the Portland. They are taut and confident, excellent sound quality and musicianship. A hybrid of Thin Lizzy and The Fratellis?

Cambridge four piece Motor Tapes go from strength to strength, concentrating tonight on their faster, rockier songs. Frontman Paul is relaxed and likeable in front of the enthusiastic audience who are appreciative of the carefully crafted original sounds on offer. These include the excellent, hypnotic ‘Shore’ and ‘Aspirin’, the lively closing song. Their cover of ‘Blue Monday’ gradually appears from the instrumental end of their own song, and with limited use of electronic sounds it is a very convincing performance with metronomic drumming and an aggressive bass tune line on the guitar.

The final act was 28 Boulevard, brash swaggering indie pop, enthusiastic and loud. The five members are obviously committed to their music, powerful drumming backs up the three guitar soundwall and Tim Lloyd Kinnings can deliver the lead vocal with confidence. Their songs are brimming with ideas instrumentally and lyrically and the live sound lived up to expectations, a good end to the evening…
(PS Check out their song ‘Electric Feet’…)




Slow Club, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 16 July 2014

Opening act tonight were Cambridge 5-piece Fred’s House, with their engaging folk/pop/country blend. Two acoustic guitars, electric bass and cajon (the beat box you sit on) back the two or three part harmonies and the lead vocals of Vikki Gavin and Griff Jameson, shown to great effect in ‘Hold On’. The songs featured roving, sensitive bass lines, some banjo and gentle guitar picking, the music occasionally letting loose to give some extra contrast. The real-life sentiments of ‘Standing Next To Me’ and ‘Fine Life’ struck a chord with the rapidly growing audience and then ‘Beautiful You’ brought the set to a close with its Spanish flavour and changes of tempo. It was a good performance, appreciated by the audience. It was announced that drummer Paul was greatly looking forward to Slow Club and so were we…

Slow Club are Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor, multi-instrumentalists and vocalists from Sheffield and they have just released their third album ‘Complete Surrender’ this week. The music is not trapped in a single category, the new album is a change in direction from earlier folk-tinged sounds but the range of indie/folk/pop/rock sounds still vary. From the opening ‘oldie’ song ‘If We’re Still Alive’ the talented duo (with added bass and drums) set the tone for an evening of great sounds. They played the whole new album, the crowd were stunned, silent in the pauses in the slow songs, amazed by the Motown stomp of brilliant single ‘Suffering You, Suffering Me’. The album features extra strings and brass but they were not missed tonight in the intimate setting of the Portland. The air conditioning broke down during the show but the effortless cool of the band saw us through. The slow burning blues of the memorably named ‘Queen’s Nose’ and the big vocal of ‘Not Mine To Love’ were two of the many highlights.

They have a coordinated stylish image but any distance that may be perceived from the ultra-cool look is completely removed by the likeable interaction with each other and the audience. A great strength in their performance is the different instrumental combinations and the contrast when Charles or Rebecca takes the lead vocal and shines individually. It was a sensational show, they were brilliant, buy the album and see them soon….