Johnny Marr, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 21 October 2014

Imagine being in an indie guitar band and being on tour with the man who wrote the hymnsheet/instruction manual/bible of how to play the whole genre. Anyway, support band Childhood from South London rose to the occasion with style and swagger. Singer/guitarist Ben Romans-Hopcraft led the band through many of the tracks from their confident debut album ‘Lacuna’, much praised in the NME and given some extra energy in the live performance, filling the rafters of Cambridge’s most cavernous venue. There was a warm reception from the growing crowd, their set was a real bonus to the evening and Johnny Marr was to praise them generously later on..

To a rapturous ovation, the winner of the NME ‘Godlike Genius’ Award in 2013 took the stage, the backlights spelling out the name of the new album ‘Playland’, the title track being the opening song. Extra guitar, occasional keyboard and tight and rock solid bass and drums from his band were a secure backing through the evening but it was the guitar moves of Johnny Marr that we all wanted to see. In case anyone wondered how the old songs would fit in, Smiths classic ‘Panic’ was next, with its prophetic ‘Hang the DJ’ refrain..(of course the DJ playing the Damned/Roxy Music/Talking Heads/Magazine vinyl singles during the interval should certainly escape that fate…)

The next 90 minutes followed this in a similar way, great punchy songs from JM’s two solo albums and more Smiths songs too. A highlight was the quieter ‘New Town Velocity’, a thoughtful, nostalgic tale of alienation. Building up to a finish with Electronic’s ‘Getting Away With It’ and then the distinctive opening strum of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, sometimes known as ‘The National Anthem of Smithdom’ and quite simply one of the greatest pop songs ever.
Five songs in the encore, including a cover of ‘Lust For Life’ and ending with the unmistakeable tremolo layers of an extended version of’How Soon Is Now?’, another classic and a great ending to the show.

https://www.facebook.com/childhoodband

http://www.johnny-marr.com/

Real Estate, Junction, Cambridge, 20 October 2014

There was a full and atmospheric Junction J2 to welcome Alvvays from Canada and Real Estate from the USA.

Alvvays are a fizzing and fully formed five piece indie pop band, playing catchy songs from their outstanding self-titled debut album. Molly Rankin fronts the band and plays guitar, with excellent interplay with Alec O’Hanley on guitar and triggered effects. There is strong support from some deep bass synthesisers, drums and incisive basslines (played on a Hofner violin bass, Beatles fans!). This instrumental line up extends the variety beyond the indie guitar of ‘Atop a Cake’ to the more introspective keyboards of ‘Dives’. The engaging personality and sparkling voice of Molly shines through best on the two last songs ‘Adult Diversion’ and the memorably named and poignant ‘Archie, Marry Me’.
It was a brilliant performance, they won over the audience completely and as they later posted, they thought ‘Cambridge is cool’.

Real Estate are a completely different prospect, a band playing longer pieces, involving and intricate, two guitars, electric piano, bass and drums with occasional vocals from founder member Martin Courtney. Psychedelic sounds, a sort of indie-rock version of the Grateful Dead with shades of Gomez too (remember them? their album ‘Bring It On’ won the Mercury Prize in 1999..). The setlist drew several songs from the current album ‘Atlas’, there were some good exchanges with the audience and we were immersed in the musicianship and mellow feel of it all.
As the band say, their music ‘conjures quiet, late-night drives down wooded highways, rural rambles with friends (and maybe a love interest) on the sunniest afternoons of the year, and hazy summer evenings spent alone, thinking back to those times and the people who were with you for them’. I couldn’t put it better myself..

http://alvvays.com/

http://www.realestatetheband.com/

Album Review, The Centimes, released 12 Oct 2014

Track by track review of the new CD ‘Wooden Shirts’ by Cambridge Indie band The Centimes.

1. Wooden Shirts. A lively opener, setting the template of 12-string guitar, driving drums and solid bass. Some acapella vocals and harmonies add extra gloss to the mix.
2. Local Pool. Previously a single, a driving rhythm behind a full sound and strong vocal, the much repeated line ‘the party’s over, find another party’ indicating fruitless Saturday night wanderings or maybe a bigger metaphor.
3. I’m Fine. Coupled with Local Pool on the single release, a sparse but well-balanced and rather lovely song with a Velvet Underground first album feel. The sort of song to be playing in your head when you wave goodbye at the railway station after a weekend that didn’t go that well, perhaps with some regrets but ultimately tinged with optimism.
4. Locked Out. A moody echoing guitar figure slowly starts, then goes into another up tempo track. Lots going on behind the lead vocal, even a bit of synthesiser.
5. Billy. A change of direction into an American blues rock sound, heavier guitar and rolling bassline, smoky voice on the verse then blistering chorus that leaves no doubt that Billy is ‘the only one’.
6. La La Land. The guitar goes into full jangly mode, developing into a Chic style rhythm over steady drumming on one of the more musically changeable tracks on the album.
7. Stormy Tuesday. The musical centrepiece of the album, a long instrumental introduction, a pounding bass gathering storm, thunder and lightning on the drums and guitar eventually resolving into chords, then the voices blend well together for a lyric of threatening weather nightmare….play this one loud.
8. I Don’t See It Anymore. A slightly heavier track, each lyric line answered by the title phrase. A bit of keyboard and a guitar solo add to the atmosphere.
9. Little Table. Like a track from the first Orange Juice album the echoing 12-string skates on top of the bass and solid drum beat, then a tale of relationship aftermath unfolds with a strong optimistic chorus.
10. Spider. Often the first song of the live set, this is a confident but subtle mid-tempo closer to the album. An end of summer mood, beginning with a slow chiming picked chord, answered by a delicate descending bass run and some non-drums percussion and gentle vocal. The song keeps building, by the end we have strings and synthesisers and as the last chord fades away we are very glad we have shared 40 minutes with The Centimes, it is an impressive debut album.

http://www.thecentimes.com/index.html

http://thecentimes.bandcamp.com/

Wooden Arms, Junction, Cambridge, 11 Oct 2014

As the summer finally gave way to a mellow autumn Junction J2 was the venue for three musical performances of contemplation and experimentation. First on was Gaze is Ghost, singer-songwriter Laura McGarrigle from Strabane alone at an electric piano, with her plaintive voice and sensitive chords illustrating her songs of love and loss. The back projections of desolate seascapes and blurred light sources complemented the absorbing sounds.

After a short interval multi-instrumentalist and composer Tom Adams sang and played electric guitar. He augmented his songs using effects and guitar loops in the most imaginative way I had seen for a while, the patterns he set up twisting and turning and arriving in the mix when you least expected them. Even one of the control boxes seemed to have a life of its own and generate a chorus of sound when moved around. A multi-layered trumpet was used in the final song to create a rush like the wind blowing across the continuing background images.

Wooden Arms are from Norwich, touring to showcase their recently released album ‘Tide’. The six talented band members, led from the piano by main composer Alex Carson, play a variety of acoustic and electric instruments, violin, cello, trumpet, guitars and drums. All of the band sing and the resulting music produced has classical, ambient and folk influences with many fragile textures and subtleties. ‘Prelude’ opens the set, a repeating piano figure gradually joined by ethereal voices and strings. The pieces move at a gently flowing pace, vocals arrive and depart, sometimes the drums add fireworks, such as at the end of the evocative ‘December’. The album title track ‘Tide’ is a standout, a classical piece with a powerful build up of voice and instruments. New song ‘Burial’ brought the show to an end, yet somehow the haunting sounds of all three of the evening’s acts continued…

https://www.facebook.com/GazeisGhost

https://www.facebook.com/aswefallintostatic

http://www.woodenarms.co.uk/

Robyn Hitchcock, Junction, Cambridge, 6 Oct 2014

Robyn Hitchcock returned to his Cambridge musical roots with a performance at Junction J2.

The show was opened by C Joynes, a creative solo guitarist from nearby Histon. It was the pure sound of electric guitar, uncluttered by loops and excessive effects but there was still plenty going on, the elaborate instrumentals drawing on many influences from English folk to African music for some of the themes. A broken string was mended expertly by a member of the audience while CJ persevered with his spare guitar after some tuning problems but despite this interruption he completed his set with style. I was fascinated by the final piece, using the idea of ‘prepared guitar’, an experimental technique where a simple rod placed under the strings changes the tuning as you play on various parts of the fretboard.

Robyn Hitchcock describes his songs as “paintings you can listen to.” And as paintings they would of course be mostly surrealistic miniatures, colourful and intricately crafted. His expressive vocals and perfectly judged sparse guitar is hypnotic. The often quoted influences of Dylan, Lennon and of course Syd Barrett can be heard but he has a voice and viewpoint all his own. Take a listen to the special delight that is ‘My Wife and My Dead Wife’, or ‘I Often Dream of Trains’ and ‘The Cheese Alarm’ and be impressed. Tonight there are also some eccentric meanderings between songs, musing abstractly on the delights or otherwise of Cambridge and his extensive musical career.

He has continued to record and perform since his beginnings in the late 70s with psychedelic/pop band ‘The Soft Boys’, working as a solo artist and also collaborating extensively. His most recent album is ‘The Man Upstairs’, featuring original songs and covers including a brilliant version of ‘The Ghost in You’ by The Psychedelic Furs (remember them?). Unfortunately that wasn’t played tonight but as a bonus instead the show ended with guest appearances from Cambridge musicians Nick Barraclough on mandolin and banjo and Kimberley Rew on guitar. This included an encore of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the famous experimental Beatles track, fitting seamlessly into the show.

http://cjoynes.bandcamp.com/

http://www.robynhitchcock.com/

Honeyblood, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 24 Sept 2014

Following on from a support slot for Courtney Barnett back in May, a triumphant Honeyblood returned to the Portland to headline.
Opening the show were the Cambridge based four piece Beverley Kills, with their pure punk pop, fronted by singer Georgie Guns. Juliette on drums plays some of the fastest rolls I have ever heard, underpinning Kate on guitar and The Colonel Kills..(Elisa)(Good punk name!?) on bass. They play their original tunes, featuring many clever touches, chiming guitar notes building up to an onslaught in ‘Under Our Sleeves’, a bit of acapella vocals and the two contrasting sections of closing song ‘Sticks and Stones’. They are loud and brash, bringing a party vibe early on to the venue, clearly enjoying themselves and with a great rapport with the home crowd.

It was a homecoming gig for Bloody Knees, fresh from their performance at the Reading and Leeds Festival and raising their profile by supporting Honeyblood on all their national dates. Opening with ‘Luckless’ the sound needed sorting out but then was soon resolved and from second song ‘Bury Me’ onwards there was no stopping them. It is fast indie punk rock, presided over by the loud gravel voice of Bradley Griffiths, never giving up its intensity, even over the slower epic ‘Garbage Brain’. They are catchy tunes, you have to like the idea of a song called ‘Stitches’, based on ‘busting my head open when on tour with Wolf Alice’ and the short fast burst of energy that is ‘Ears, Eyes, Ohs and Yous’ has a cryptic title but great drum/guitar lines. It was a good performance, they will soon be headlining more often than supporting I think…

The venue had been quite full all evening, but a few extra squeezed in as Glaswegian duo Honeyblood took to the stage. Opening with the delicious ‘Fall Forever’ the minimal line-up of electric guitar and drums produced a big sound, as is heard on the current self-titled album. Singer Stina Tweeddale has a clear distinctive voice to deliver the songs of relationship making and breaking, at times very dark lyrically. Drummer Cat is new to the band, having only been a member for six days! She handled the pounding rhythms confidently, and also the complex wide open spaces of the challenging ‘Braid Burn Valley’. The normally reserved Cambridge audience generated a bit of crowd surfing for ‘Super Rat’ towards the end, then a persistent fan finally got their wish with a bonus encore of older song ‘Kissing On You’…and then they were gone, they had totally won us over.

https://www.facebook.com/BeverleyKills

http://www.bloody-knees.com/

http://honeyblood.co.uk/

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….

http://ringodeathstarr.org/

https://www.facebook.com/myestranged

https://www.facebook.com/horsepartyparty