Goldblume, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 6 January 2017

This was the launch for the EP ‘Go Figure’ from Cambridge grungy trio Goldblume.

The show opened with alt-rockers Fall From Glory, spreading the noise from a possible new crucible of power rock in the Midlands town of Daventry. Driven by an extra punchy bass with drum pulse (how did they get that sound?) the five-piece features two guitarists and strong vocals from singer Megan Gibson.
It is proper rock, lovingly played and featuring many clever flourishes such as a quick burst of Thin Lizzy style twin harmony lead guitars, the reassuring punk repetition of ‘What Do You Take Me For?’ and the mellower ‘Home’, which builds up to a big finish. A great start to the evening!

Next up were Maud; they describe their music as alternative/dream pop/witch rock. Tonight they were without their bass player so the two guitars and drums created a sound all their own. With gentle echo on repeated guitar lines underneath the twin vocals, held back in the mix to add to the atmosphere and to give an impression of distance they performed enigmatic sonic grooves, with mysterious one-word titles such as ‘Moon’, ‘Woolf’ and ‘Saline’. The sound drifted in and out; it was all strangely addictive.

I had seen Goldblume playing a support slot for Tellison a while back but tonight they stepped up to headline and blew away this reviewer and the rest of the audience. The guitar, bass and drum musical interplay is razor-sharp and the vocals from Jethro Steel constantly surprise. It is mostly fast and furious edgy stuff but there are art-rock touches and even a bit of 70s style virtuoso prog when the bass and guitar duel.
‘Bleach’ is a signature track with many of these elements present and the slower ‘Wisconsin’ (…It’s colder, in Wisconsin, without your allure….) is a highlight, with a disquieting introduction, maniacal shouts and starts and stops all over the place. ‘Dr Wu’ (not the Steely Dan song of that name..) and immortalising ‘Eddie Bloody Izzard’; the titles and lyrics as well as the music seem to be one step ahead of the listener, which to me is a very good place to be. Towards the end of the set, the brilliant and varied drumming stepped up a gear into real fireworks; on this performance they must be one of the hottest live bands in Cambridge at the moment.

Unmissable, go and see them!

https://www.facebook.com/goldblumeband
https://www.facebook.com/ffgband
https://www.facebook.com/maud.cambridge/

Marika Hackman : Wonderland EP, released December 2016

A seasonal offering from singer/guitarist Marika Hackman. After a short introduction it is ‘In The Bleak Mid-Winter’, one of the most haunting and atmospheric carols combining the words of Christina Rossetti with the memorable simplicity of the tune by Holst. The vocal gets some striking treatments but resolves into the pure voice in the end.

‘Driving Under Stars’ is my favourite track, motoring along nicely with some skittish guitar punctuation and multi-tracked and echoing voice. ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ is a favourite of the King’s College choir on Christmas Eve so it is as good a start to Christmas proper as any, this version sounding like the accompaniment to a long and hopeful pilgrimage.

The final two tracks are both a bit disquieting; ‘Paper Crown’ is a foreboding and emotional tale demanding repeated listens, then secular anthem ‘Winter Wonderland’ is given such an original, multi-layered and dark treatment I am left wondering what it is all about…

No clichéd ‘Merry Christmas’ here, but plenty to enjoy.

http://marikahackman.com/

Model Village, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 2 December 2016

Paul Goodwin (“Cambridge’s premier pedlar of melodic melancholia“) started the show at the Blue Moon, threading carefully constructed words across an amiable acoustic guitar. It was a similar set to when I saw him earlier this year at the Corner House, again it was reassuring but never too comfortable, nicely punctuated by personal anecdote.

It was the first visit to Cambridge by Owl and Mouse, a five sometimes four-piece London band fronted by the vocal talent of Hannah Botting from Brisbane. ‘Keep Your Eyes Open Wide’ is a strong opener, with a stately but simple keyboard line driving the song and underlining the plaintive voice. With an instrumental line-up of many possibilities (including ukulele and violin) they featured tracks from their 2015 album ‘Departures’ and unrecorded material too. It seemed a very short set, leaving a very genial and mellow feeling in the intimate surroundings of this welcoming venue.

Model Village released their ‘Healing Centre’ album just over a year ago, and they play many of the best tracks such as ‘Junction 30’ and ‘Time To Share’, (but I missed ‘Stop The Clocks’, a gorgeous waltzing ballad). With confident musicianship, including lots of neat guitar and bass twists and the matchless vocal prowess of Lily Somerville they are an impressive act. I especially like some of the jazz chords and stylings almost hidden away in some of the songs, successfully blended with the indie-pop jangly sounds, these contrasts reflecting the lyrical content which can be unexpected.

Three excellent performers and all for the princely sum of £4 (and advertised on a poster with a guinea pig on a skateboard??)

https://modelvillage.bandcamp.com/
http://owlandmousemusic.com/
http://www.paulgoodwin.com/

Moonstrips, Blue Moon , Cambridge, 19 November 2016

A free psychedelic rock spectacular to celebrate the release of the new album from Cambridge trio Moonstrips. Supporting band BansheeVa were noisy and relentlessly hypnotic, pulsing bass lines and power drumming with biting guitar and occasional vocals. Very appropriate to see the backdrop bubble projections and always good to hear a lengthy cover of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, the definitive Pink Floyd consciousness-expanding opus. Heavy and spaced out.

Moonstrips had a sharp and addictive EP out earlier this year and they opened with two of the tracks; ‘How Do You Do?’ an insistent rocky riff with distant vocals dissolving into a noisy workout of echo and effects, a short-form song that crams a lot in. ‘543’ is a slice of pop reminiscent of 60s Who-ness with good hook phrases and a neat descending line driving through the whole piece. Heavier guitar eventually arrives on top for the finale.

I really enjoyed the newer tracks from the album ‘Glimpses’; the band are not afraid to allow time for the songs to develop, establishing mood and style with a variety of guitar effects at the fore. The twelve minute ‘Silver Screens’ closed the show; a psychedelic manifesto of epic proportion.

Mind-expanding stuff, live and loud in an intimate, packed venue, a perfect Saturday evening for Cambridge music fans?

https://moonstrips.bandcamp.com/

Billy Bragg And Joe Henry, Apex, Bury St Edmunds, 15 November 2016

From Billy Bragg’s website….”In March 2016 Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, guitars in hand, boarded a Los Angeles-bound train at Chicago’s Union Station looking to reconnect with the culture of American railroad travel and the music it inspired. Winding along 2,728 miles of track over four days, the pair recorded classic railroad songs in waiting rooms and at trackside while the train paused to pick up passengers.”

Now touring the resulting LP, the show begins with the intrepid duo performing ‘Railroad Bill’, ‘The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore’, ‘Waiting For A Train’ and other timeless Americana, along with plenty of anecdote and musings in the week following the American election. Their voices blend well, with Billy Bragg’s deeper tones and musically Joe Henry adds some extra guitar flourishes which he then showcases more in his five song solo section.

After the interval it is Billy’s turn for a solo spot, ‘Between The Wars’, ‘Help Save The Youth Of America’ (of course!), ‘Power Of The Union’, classics all. (Unfortunately no ‘A13, Trunk Road To The Sea’ which may have fitted the travelogue mood?!)
As Billy and Joe were reunited for the rest of the railway album it is clear how much of a modern message is carried by the words of these old songs (helped by the excellent sound quality in the Apex). Towards the end of the show we also had a gorgeous cover of the classic ballad ‘Gentle On My Mind’ and following a trawl through the songs of Bob Dylan they had decided on a version of one of my favourites ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’.

Contemplative, poignant, downbeat but still optimistic and celebratory, the audience left having witnessed a unique evening of performance.

http://shinealight-joehenry.billybragg.co.uk/

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Indiepop All-Dayer, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 12 November 2016

Inspired by similar events around the UK, The Blue Moon pub and venue hosted the first all day festival of Indie pop for Cambridge. Unfortunately we missed the afternoon performances, just arriving to catch the end of the set by Suggested Friends, who were playing ‘jangly punkish’ songs about ‘regret and micro-aggressions’. They sounded good to me and ended their set with ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Horcrux For Your Soul’, Harry Potter goes Indie for the first time (though Jarvis Cocker did play at the Hogwarts Ball..).

¡Ay Carmela! are a three-piece named after their singer (and a song sung in the Spanish Civil War) and make a splendid noise, with thundering drumming setting the pace on ‘Dog Tired’ and no let-up until they had played most of their recent LP ‘Working Weeks’.

I was very pleased to see Chorusgirl on their return to Cambridge, a year on from the release of their brilliant and highly recommended debut album. The sound was tight last time I saw them but now it is honed even more, the bass and drums feeding into the two guitars and of course the relaxed but so crucial vocals of song-writer Silvi Wersing. The songs are like intricately painted detailed pictures, the imagery in the lyrics shimmering above complex arrangements and sonic changes. Two new tracks were previewed, ahead of a new album in production. But while we wait, continue to enjoy the delights of ‘No Moon’, ‘Oh, To Be A Defector’ and the finale ‘This Town Kills’.

Top of the bill were Edinburgh quartet The Spook School, playing in Cambridge for the first time. I wasn’t able to stay for their set but listening to some of their tracks afterwards I’m sure they maintained the quality of the rest of the show. I look forward to All-Dayer 2017…

http://chorusgirl.co.uk/band/
https://thespookschool.com/

The Specials, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 11 November 2016

The spotlights shone out from the stage accompanied by the familiar wailing introduction of ‘Ghost Town’ to herald the arrival of The Specials in Cambridge, many years after their only other performance in the city in the early Eighties (Terry Hall mentioned that on that previous show he was arrested for ‘inciting a riot’!).

‘Ghost Town’ is of course a genuine classic, as relevant as ever and probably one of the most unusual and political UK number ones. Despite the departure of original member Neville Staple and the untimely death of drummer John Bradbury the band make a great sound, tight, hefty ska underpinned by the hammering bass guitar of Horace Gentleman and sterling drumming from Gary Powell of The Libertines.

The signature songs rolled out in the first part of the show; ‘Do Nothing’, ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’, ‘Rat Race’, much appreciated by the animated audience. Lynval Golding vocalised on a moving version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ then via ‘Gangsters’ (the song that started it all!) we arrived at the compact masterpiece ‘Too Much Too Young’.
Through it all Terry Hall is the central presence on stage, he doesn’t move much but he really doesn’t need to, the words and delivery say it all. The main set was finished with that strangely optimistic/depressing standard ‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think’). How True.

As a tribute to John Bradbury and Leonard Cohen becoming the latest in the long list of losses for 2016 the band encore featured a cover of ‘We Have All The Time In The World’. This was a highlight, sounding reminiscent of Terry Hall’s extensive and excellent solo work in between the original and current incarnation of The Specials.
It has been a long time for the return to Cambridge but it was definitely worth the wait…

http://www.thespecials.com/