Dos Floris, Corner House, Cambridge, 17 July 2016

On a steamy summer evening the place to be was the Cambridge Corner House pub and venue, for a rare UK appearance of singer and multi-instrumentalist Dos Floris.

Opening the show was a special set from Bouquet Of Dead Crows, pared down to Toni Cooper’s voice and acoustic guitar from Neil Bruce. At present they are working on a follow-up to their accomplished song collection ‘Of The Night’, and tonight there were re-imagined versions of many of the tracks from that album. Musically Neil added extra guitar nuance and colour to underpin Toni’s confident vocals which combined to great effect, especially on the new single ‘Epicentre’.

I have been an admirer of the majestic Dos Floris album ‘The Widowed Earth’ since its release, and at the time of writing I still can’t quite believe that I was watching a performance of that hypnotic music and meeting its creator.

The sound is complex and multi-layered, necessitating some backing percussion and electronics being co-ordinated by laptop, but there was plenty of interesting keyboard lines and experimental effects played live as the tracks developed beyond the album versions. Add in some flute, a pure captivating voice and looped backing vocals for the complete picture.

The ‘natural world’ theme that threads through these songs is most evident in ‘Rivers’ but so cleverly are the music and words intertwined that the simple protest of ‘All The Kings Horses’ seems to be a statement that war is somehow a violation of nature (and possibly is as effective a statement against the Iraq War as the 2.6 million words of the Chilcott Report?!).

One of the highlights was ‘Before You Loved Me’, a torch song that could be from 1920s Berlin if they had had waves of electronica in the jazz clubs. Then a version of ‘To The Wolves Part II’ was dedicated to this humble reviewer which made the evening even better…

Gavin Chappell-Bates : Church Of Rock and Roll, single released July 2016

Gavin Chappell-Bates returns to his musical roots for this rocking new single, the opening track from the 2016 album ‘We Are The Ones’,

The video version begins with birdsong in a quintessential English churchyard, then the shock…a gravestone cross commemorating the demise of Gavin? But don’t worry, he is firing on all cylinders as the guitars crash in for an all-out celebration of his musical influences and the simply stated logic of the importance of ‘rock and roll’.

Like many tracks on the album the hookline is strong and the relentless pace of the song still allows time for a guitar solo and bass break. The Manic Street Preachers get a reference ‘All I learnt was from my own Holy Bible…’, made explicit in the video as the priest flicks through some influential CDs, also including Suede, Led Zep and the Beatles. Definitely not a conventional priest, rolling pages of the prayer book for a use probably not sanctioned by the Church as well as ending up with a non-traditional twist on clerical garb….it is all great fun and in these enlightened times not likely to cause the controversy of Madonna and her ‘Like A Prayer’ video??

But back to the music, it is a compact, gutsy track and it sounds great live!


Atomised : Virtual Strangers LP, released 17 June 2016

Cambridge indie rockers Atomised (named after the edgy French novel by Michel Houellebecq?) release their new album ‘Virtual Strangers’, a follow-up to ‘Dreamlands’ from 2008. They are an accomplished six-piece band, producing an intense and multi-faceted sound.

The opening track is the curiously named ‘Tinselhead’, a guitar driven relentless blaster, setting the agenda for this varied collection of songs.
‘Slipping On Tightropes’ is more mellow, sounding like it could belong comfortably in the Suede back-catalogue. As on many of these tracks the many and subtle guitar effects are meticulously crafted. A title like ‘Fading Polaroid’ is suitably evocative for probably my favourite piece on the album, with a piano line underpinning a touching love song, strongly vocalised by Andrew Ashworth.

‘Virtual Strangers’ is the epic cinematic title track, at nearly seven minutes the different sections describe how our life is driven by modern digital technology ‘zeros and ones…changes our lives’ . It is all a bit bleak lyrically but strangely powerful and addictive (and just when you are feeling alienated a trumpet line soars across the mix to give hope..). In these days of bland lyrics from so many performers it is always refreshing to hear something more reflective/incisive/political.

‘Why Can’t We Be Lovers?’ is the impassioned vocal plea on the next track over a dense but well-balanced backing. ‘Impossible World’ is a quieter contrast, until an explosive drum break takes the sound into a different direction. The album closes with the acoustic country-rock of ‘We’re OK’, an optimistic counterpoint to some of the themes that have come before.

Overall, a very impressive achievement, with some of the 80s and 90s influences distilled into a bold set of ambitious well-produced songs.

‘Beach Sessions’, Waterbeach, Cambridge, 30 January 2016

Half Man Half Biscuit, Junction , Cambridge, 9 June 2016

A welcome return to Cambridge Junction J1 for the much-loved Half Man Half Biscuit. I saw them last year, reviewed here…

…and it was just as good this time around. Perhaps there was more of an emphasis on the rockier songs, but many of my favourites songs were still in place; the locally lovelorn lyric of ‘For What Is Chatteris’, the musings of mortality of ‘When The Evening Sun Goes Down’ and their tour de force of music and words, ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train)’.

Songs assuring the extended cultural longevity of B-List celebrities were also featured; ‘Bob Wilson – Anchorman’, ‘The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman’, ‘Dickie Davies Eyes’, the nightmarish ‘Gubba Look-a-Likes’ and the sad moments of ‘Tommy Walsh’s Eco House’.

A blasting cover of The Damned song ‘New Rose’ was part of their encore, a super example of how good their band sound actually is, underpinning their unique lyrics…

All together now,

I said “Would you like to go the zoo?”, she said “Yeah, but not with you”
Twenty-seven yards of dental floss, but she still won’t give me a smile…

The Wedding Present, Junction, Cambridge, 29 May 2016

As part of a Bank Holiday weekend mini-tour, the ever-popular Wedding Present arrived in the intimate setting of Junction J2 for a real fan treat, the complete performance of their fifth album ‘Saturnalia’.

Support was from Leeds four-piece Deadwall, with some mellow songs featuring unlikely protest lyrics about the Paris Climate Accord and Shell’s oil activities in the Niger Delta over some moody backings, each time allowing the sound texture to develop with keyboards and subtle drumming. Radiohead are probably an influence, but Deadwall go in their own direction.

The Wedding Present have maintained quality in their output since formation in 1985 and one of the many jewels from the back catalogue is ‘Saturnalia’. This sounds as fresh as it would have on release in 1996 when there was critical acclaim for its experimentation. Playing the album in original sequence involved plenty of guitar changes and some extra keyboard and drumming parts but the energetic band pulled it off in style.

The driving force for the show is of course David Gedge; composer, guitarist, frontman, singer and all-round likeable bloke. The opening ‘Venus’ is to-the-point, ‘Skin Diving’ is a guitar-dominated plea of desperation but my favourite is ‘Montreal’, an incisive tale of rejection.

The second half of the set was a mix of old and new, including a preview of new LP ‘Going, Going….’ due out later this year. The double burst of ‘Kennedy’ and ‘Brassneck’ featuring David’s explosive rhythm guitar and the show ended with ‘Perfect Blue’, showing that after all the emotional hurt of some of the preceding lyrics he is still an incurable romantic….

Michael Kiwanuka, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 18 May 2016

The Portland Arms was packed to the rafters for a long sold-out performance by London singer songwriter Michael Kiwanuka, a warm-up gig for a tour to promote his long awaited second album due in July.

Clean Cut Kid are a four-piece from Liverpool, mixing together dual lead vocals, some 80s style keyboard and pulsing rhythms to make infectious pop such as the opening song ‘Runaway’. The intensity of slower blues of ‘Brother Of Mine’ led into their best two songs of the night ‘Pick Me Up’ and single ‘ Vitamin C’. They were feisty, tight and enthusiastic, setting us up nicely for the evening.

As the stage was meticulously prepared for the six musicians, expectations were high. When Michael arrived on stage the opening tune stretched the anticipation further with a lengthy instrumental, slide guitar over stately keyboards. But when he started singing, that stunning emotive vocal prowess and super-cool instrumental arrangements were perfectly in place. After two songs from the forthcoming album we were on more familiar ground with ‘Tell Me A Tale’, the opening song from his acclaimed debut, the 2012 LP ‘Home Again’. Like an early ’70s Van Morrison track it slides and floats, with a simple lyric driving a complex backing.

‘One More Night’ and ‘Black Man In A White World’ are newer and show a change towards a faster tempo. For me, the highlights were when Michael picked up the acoustic guitar for ‘Always Waiting’, ‘I’m Getting Ready’ and the quietly tender ‘Rest’ (the first song he wrote, accompanied tonight by just the bass).

Of course the encore had to be his most well-known song ‘Home Again'(24 million Spotify plays!) and then a long version of ‘Love And Hate’ when he seemed to simultaneously sing the lead and backing vocals. The band were splendid, with smooth drumming and percussion as well as some timeless electric piano, showcasing the star quality of Michael Kiwanuka.

Three Trapped Tigers, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 10 May 2016

Cambridge quartet Grieving opened the show tonight, they are gaining a reputation for their distinctive rock with Indie and American emo shades. They are at their best when the full-on guitar and drums is unleashed in unpredictable bursts on many of their songs and were a strong musical contrast with what was to follow. With recordings now appearing they are a welcome addition to the Cambridge music palette.

Named after a Ulysses-influenced novel, Three Trapped Tigers are a trio from London, playing tonight to an enthusiastic crowd in the Portland to support their newly released album ‘Silent Earthling’. Like many paradoxical aspects of the band, they were anything but ‘silent’; this was probably the loudest gig I had seen in this venue for a while.

There is something about their all-enveloping instrumentals that seems unique; jumping between genres as keyboards flow under screaming guitar, then synthesiser lines that suddenly leap back to the tones and rhythms of 70s prog rock but without any of the more ponderous baggage. Underpinning it all is the drumming fireworks of Adam Betts, a great example of how a live drummer is a near-essential for high tech electronic based performances (see also ‘Public Service Broadcasting’…).

Perhaps the lack of vocals makes the listener concentrate on the intricacies of the music without trying to decipher lyrics or be in thrall to the antics of the lead singer (a bit like classical music?) and there was plenty of density, richness and adventure in their intoxicating sound.

As Brian Eno has said….‘TTT is at the cutting edge of contemporary music. Watch your fingers!’