The Hayman Kupa Band, LP, released July 2017

A joyous confluence of the talents of singers/guitarists/songwriters Emma Kupa (also of the Mammoth Penguins, they have a new concept album due soon) and Darren Hayman (currently engaged in the ‘Thankful Villages’ music and arts project, commemorating the villages where all the soldiers in World War One returned home).

Opening track ‘Let’s Do Nothing’ is perhaps a surprising choice to start, it is the longest song and is a slow-burning musical dialogue between the couple. Layered with bittersweet regret and ambiguity behind the sung words it is given the time to build the emotion.
‘No More Bombs’ continues the lyrical tension and traded words but this time over a delicate summery guitar and a quick bass solo. In ‘Red Petals’ the two voices blend in harmony with an up-beat chorus. ‘Over’s Now Overdue’ is a beautifully crafted pop gem, with the irresistible title hook, the band sounds like they are having a great time too. ‘Do You Know’ is a real grower, nostalgically romantic in its simplicity.
‘A Tent Of Blankets’ has the biggest chorus on the LP (…I want you to always be there…) and it works a treat, ‘Pretty Waste Of Time’ is an affecting country ballad.

Emma sings solo for the gorgeous ‘Reach Out’, a subtle and sensitive lyric with acoustic guitar picking and gentle bass, then grand finale ‘Then We Kissed’ showcases how well these songs work with the dual voices.

There are other excellent tracks too and although there is no appearance for previously released single ‘Someone To Care For’ which is also a very fine song there is more than enough to sit back and indulge in here.

http://shop.fikarecordings.com/album/the-hayman-kupa-band

Gavin Chappell-Bates : Lovely Day, single released August 2017

In the movies we had Vincent Price, Charlton Heston, Will Smith….and now Gavin Chappell-Bates will empathise with being the last person alive on Earth on his much-anticipated second album ‘The Last One’, due out later this year. As a precursor to that we have ‘Lovely Day’, an acoustic guitar-driven romp that is presumably an early track on the album, full of exuberance lyrically and musically, before the ‘end of the world’ scenario kicks in.

A folk-rocky vibe from the backing band glides along nicely underneath while a multi-voiced and blissfully unaware Gavin projects endless optimism about what is to come, with a nice mellow middle eight too. Recorded with an as-live production, the mix is spot-on.

I always enjoy his videos; this one is filmed at Cambridge tree-filled beauty spot Wandlebury and features some of Gavin’s musical comrades portraying woodland animals. It is all satisfyingly bonkers and reminiscent of those late 1960s promo films for the psychedelic leanings of Pink Floyd’s ‘Arnold Layne’ and mid-period Beatles, with lots of speeded-up movement and quick jump-cuts, what’s not to like?

(admire the beautiful original artwork on the sleeve too, drawn by Ali Chappell-Bates…)

http://gavinchappellbates.com/
https://alichappellbatesart.com/

Various Artists : This Is The Sound Of Sugar Town, Vol 2, released July 2017

A new collection from the musical cauldron which is ‘rock city’ Bury St Edmunds, also known as the ‘sugar town’ of East Anglia.

1. Sun Scream – She Strong opener, a powerful riff, some nice ooh-oohs with the vocals and an instrumental spectacular to finish.

2. Cathedrals And Cars – The Concierge This is one of those songs that you think you have heard before (perhaps I have?), always a good sign. With busy guitar lines and a rallying call type chorus, it is raucous and uplifting.

3. Janet Street Slaughter – The Sensitive Side Of Bill Sykes Crazy band name and song title, this is a pounding rocker, the vocalist starts off like Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs then loses it in spectacular style at the end.

4. The Wilsons – If It Wasn’t So Soon A fine burst of country-rock, a lyric of desperation leading to the hook line each time. Good ‘as-live’ sound on this one conjuring up the wide-open spaces of the journey narrative.

5. The Cuts – Hometown Punk rock never died; here is the proof. Profane and sort of profound.

6. Gaffa Tape Sandy – L’Appel Du Vide Fresh from an appearance at Glastonbury, this power-pop trio play a noisy and very catchy song named after the syndrome that makes you want to jump off buildings if you look down…

7. Bracken – Slaves Pt II Six and a half minutes of engrossing doom laden rock, with a vocal that is not for the faint-hearted. Whatever happened to Pt 1?

8. Horse Party – Looking For Life I love and miss Horse Party who are sadly no more; they were a superb explosive band live and recorded. This song showcases their mellow and mysterious side.

9. Suburban Minds – Sun Break A pulsing drum-driven power waltz at times dense then sparse with emotive vocal.

10. The Virtues – Moon Man
A bit of psychedelic-edged rock with a winning chorus and energetic instrumental break. Great bass sound!

11. Jack Rundell – Wicked Words ’21st Century singing cowboy’ and obsessive Hank Williams fan (read the tribute on his website) lightens up the album with this warm and cleverly crafted lo-fi track.

12. SIAH – Susie Smokes A swaggering belter of a song from the this four-piece fuzzy guitar combo but I still can’t work out the band name?

13. Tundra – Vacation(Cheer Up Chuck) With a raw recorded sound and a simple chord structure this garage band track pulls you in. A gratifyingly loud guitar crashes into the mix near the end.

Many of these fine performers can be seen at the Hunter Club alternative music nights run by local promoters ‘Washing Machine’, see you there!

https://repeatfanzine.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-the-sound-of-sugar-town-volume-2
http://www.washingmachinebse.co.uk/
http://www.hunterclub.org.uk/

Public Service Broadcasting: Every Valley, released July 2017

The follow-up to the acclaimed ‘The Race For Space’, the new Public Service Broadcasting album debuts in the album charts at Number 4, not bad for a concept album about the decline of the coal mining industry in South Wales. Given those perhaps limited parameters this is a superb result, it is more introspective and less immediate than its predecessors but repeated listens brings overall reward and many glistening nuggets like that which no doubt were sometimes found in the coal seams (…enough for another 400 years…).

The narrative starts with the perceived and semi-romanticised nobility of the miners in the opening title track with of course spot-on sampled voices including a too-short snippet of the legendary Richard Burton (which made me want to re-listen to his voicing of The War Of The Worlds!). ‘The Pit’ tells us what it was really like, the 80 degree heat of the tunnels …three feet six inches high from floor to roof… (for further reading see Orwell’s Road To Wigan Pier…).

There are lots of acoustic instruments on these opening tracks, using local strings players and recording in their purpose-built studio in Ebbw Vale. The wryly titled ‘People Will Always Need Coal’ is a favourite of mine, the band using a more familiar electronic-based sound underneath the subtle ironies of a recruitment campaign film ‘….you’ll discover the excitement of going underground, there will always be something new…’. It builds up well, I can imagine it as a future live favourite. ‘Progress’ follows in a similar vein, with the vocal hook added by Traceyanne Campbell.

Then this optimism begins to crumble; the closures, strikes and strife reflected in the angry rock guitar of ‘All Out’, PSB’s noisiest track since car crash opus ‘Signal 30’ on their debut album. The rest of the album deals with the aftermath and how local communities were affected. Guest vocalists (James Dean Bradfield, Haiku Salut, Lisa Jên Brown) contribute effectively but it is those real-voice clips that really hit home.

And if listening to the gradual mellowing of the music towards the end of the album doesn’t leave you spiritually part of the landscape and its uncertain future, the final emotional heft of the male voice choir singing ‘Take Me Home’ is a glorious coda to an affecting musical journey.

https://www.publicservicebroadcasting.net/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/04/26/public-service-broadcasting-corn-exchange-cambridge-25-april-2015/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/03/01/public-service-broadcasting-the-race-for-space-released-february-2015/

ABC, Parker’s Piece, Cambridge, 7 July 2017

As part of the long-running institution that is the Cambridge ‘Big Weekend’, what seemed like the entire population of the city were on the historic green space for a rare appearance by 80s originals ABC. Founder member and creative force Martin Fry fronted a seven piece band, reminding us that the mid eighties charts weren’t just full of electronica and there was room for lush, sweeping romance tempered with underlying world weariness….and just how good those songs still sound.

The pounding stomp of later hit ‘When Smokey Sings’ opened the set and we were soon into some choice selections from the 2016 album ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’. The classy ‘Viva Love’, big ballad ‘Ten Below Zero’ (…It’s not surprising there’s snowflakes in my room…) and best of all ‘The Flames Of Desire’ with its historical Roman references over a ‘disco classic’ beat; though I’m surprised Martin didn’t push the spoken …vene vidi vici… line a bit more, after all we are in Cambridge…

On the album and some live dates these tracks are woven through with strings arranged and conducted by original collaborator Anne Dudley but tonight it is left to the two keyboardists to effectively handle the orchestration. As you would expect for this complex music the band were top-notch with a special mention for the elaborate special textures from the percussionist.

The finale was the mighty quartet of hits from the original ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ album; step forward ‘Poison Arrow’, ‘Tears Are Not Enough’, ‘All Of My Heart’ and of course ‘The Look Of Love Part 1’. A fine collection indeed as a prelude to the fireworks afterwards…

http://abcmartinfry.com/

Flowers Must Die, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 19 June 2017

On the hottest day of the year so far and as the summer solstice approaches a double header of psychedelia featuring Swedish collective Flowers Must Die and Cambridge band Psychic Lemon.

I have followed the career of Psychic Lemon and reviewed them several times, hearing them satisfyingly evolve into the mighty trio on show here tonight. If ‘psychedelic’ conjours up images of trippy acoustic interludes and 60s keyboard solos the band are well removed from that, instead we are hearing space-rock power; relentless drums and slicing bass lines with unpredictable raw guitar and the effects pedals becoming instruments too. There are occasional vocals (and some keyboard too), a contrast with the songs on their debut album. The four extended tracks played tonight presumably form the substance of the highly-anticipated second long-player due later this year.

This band are totally immersed; it is like they are a conduit for pre-existing natural and technological sounds somewhere in the ether. They have tapped into the source and the audience are completely pulled in too. Enthralling, primal and hypnotic!

Flowers Must Die
show a similar no-compromise approach to their music, from the stage setting with a single backlight and revolving colour dome keeping the six members as outlines and shadows for the whole set (not quite sure how they could see to play, but it all sounded fine!) to the build-up of musical ideas within the tracks. The two guitars, bass and drums line-up is enhanced by added electric violin, keyboard and the extensive use of that always fascinating electronic marvel the theremin!

‘Don’t You Leave Me Now’ was a standout song, with impressive vocals over a mutated disco-funk backing. ‘Hit’ was a complex groove, another track from their 2017 album titled ‘Kompost’ with its enigmatic mixture of Swedish and English titled songs.
Flowers Must Die have finely honed their live sound but they have still retained an effervescence and sheer enjoyment in their performance.

http://www.flowersmustdie.com/
http://psychiclemon.co.uk/

Pet Crow : A Simple Guide To Small And Medium Pond Life LP, released March 2017

I missed this when it first came out but having liked the idea of a domesticated corvid and seen the striking sleeve it just had to be looked into further…
Pet Crow are a four piece from Derby, confidently managing to extract a distinctive sound from the conventional guitar/bass/drums line-up. The as-live sound is spot on with the echoing vocals appearing over the distant hills to slice through some aggressive drums and bass.

Opener ‘Harold And Maude’ (named after a 1971 dark comedy drama) has an introduction reminiscent of old standard ‘Can’t Get Used To Losing You’ but don’t be fooled, when the band crash in there is no easy listen as the vocals carve their own path on top. ‘She’s back’ is driven by a busy bass line and guitar fireworks, ‘Bazwatch’ name checks David Hasselhoff (of course) and is all over in a minute and a half.

‘Pressure Sores’ is my favourite, with the plaintive vocal (…why can’t I just be me?…) never resolved over the restless instrumentation. Heavy. ‘Let Your Hair Down’ is superb too, with twin vocals, dissonant guitar and a bass and drum middle eight as anything but light relief. The longer track finale ‘Absorbed’ incorporates many of the musical ideas from the rest of this short and loud but perfectly realised album.

https://petcrow.bandcamp.com/releases