Film Review of ‘Yesterday’, released June 2019

The premise of this film is now well known; struggling musician wakes up in a world in which nobody knows of The Beatles so he seizes the opportunity to pass off the classic songs as his own. The concept is then weaved skilfully into romantic comedy, family and buddy movie, satire on the music business, East Anglian travelogue, a cameo from Michael Kiwanuka and generous helpings of Ed Sheeran. In the hands of writer Richard Curtis and director Danny Boyle this all works as it should but of course some of the prominent reviews are predictable and fairly lukewarm.

I have limited interest in the much more favourably reviewed recent megahit music biopics (I would rather watch a proper documentary!) but I believe this film delves into something deeper – through the vehicle of well-known Beatles music there is a less frequently told tale of the huge creative and emotional investment that so many artists have in their writing and performing which is probably never going to lead to ‘bigger things’ – the antithesis of reality TV easy fame.
Lead character Jack has stumbled on a goldmine but still wants his ‘Summer Song’ to feature on the album, as he is so connected to his own compositions.
Few around him share his enthusiasm, except some well-meaning friends and sweet-natured but steely superfan Ellie. Unfortunately this is so true – many original musicians continue to play and record while the world around them only seems interested in the well established acts or variations that are openly commercial.

I didn’t grow up with the Beatles as a soundtrack, they have always been in the background with some songs far too overplayed (heresy warning – especially ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let It Be’). In recent years I have heard some of their album tracks for the first time and realised the depth and richness of the back catalogue.
The song selection here is not huge but there are many gems; ‘Back In The USSR’ helps develop the plot, the sublime ‘In My Life’ probably surpasses ‘Yesterday’ as a show-stopping ballad and best of all the triumphant ‘Help’, a punk-scarred full-band blast in front of a huge crowd of extras on Gorleston beach. (I wish I had been there….and are there other outtakes from this mini-show?)

With some fun plot twists and star performances from Himesh Patel and Lily James this is a heartwarming entertainment with plenty of interest for the music enthusiast. I highly recommend it.
To paraphrase Noël Coward; “Strange how potent Beatles music is.”

https://www.yesterdaymovie.com/

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The New Fools : Brilliant, LP released June 2019

A track by track review of the new album from Cambridge band The New Fools (their name drawn from a Bob Dylan lyric…)

1. The Big Wheel A cracking opener – rolling along and relentlessly driven by acoustic guitar. With sharp similes to describe the excitement of a new relationship it is a warm and engaging lyric ‘….like the first page of your diary…you make me feel brand new….’. There may be a darker twist at the end but the Wave Pictures/REM groove makes this one of the best tracks on the album. I saw the band play this at the Cambridge NCI club back in February; it is an excellent live track too.

2. A New Way of Thinking Optimistic but tinged with regret; a manifesto for starting afresh and moving on over jazzy bar room piano and some neat brass lines.

3. Singalong A fun but searing indictment of the modern music ‘industry’ and hopeful recollection of a possibly non-existent past when ‘…we were happy enough to just singalong…’. The acquisition of money and fame for its own sake leading to decay brings to mind the seminal 1974 film ‘Stardust’, touched on again in recent Beatles-themed movie ‘Yesterday’.

4. Martine (and Me) There is plenty going on in this song, a sort of mini dramatic opera where the narrator lives a normal drab life while fantasy partner Martine is on a different plane altogether. The track succeeds in blending these worlds together over an ever-changing musical background featuring a cello sound and lots of interesting guitar work. After a gradual picking up of pace it ends with ‘…when the cops burst in they think they’re gonna find Bonnie and Clyde…but all they find is Martine and me….’ and a playout guitar solo completes the circle.

5. Everything This track is a bit of a grower – a thoughtful meditation on the passing of time and our cosmic insignificance. Perhaps they are depressing thoughts but lifted by a strong melody and a stealthily building guitar-driven rhythm and keyboard colouring.

6. George & Adele More comment on the media, music industry and its distortion by reality talent shows (I think?). A distinctive brass fanfare and some angry-sounding electric guitar provide the tension while you ponder on who exactly is George?

7. The Boy You Met On Holiday This is the melodic and emotional highpoint of the album. A simple tune goes straight to the heart with an evocative timeless lyric of longing and loss. The mournful and well-judged flugelhorn solo gives that flavour of melancholy like a long-forgotten colliery brass band.

8. (Waiting for the) Good Times Irresistibly catchy but different in tone to anything else on the album. An anthem of procrastination (always an uncomfortable trait to admit to!) juxtaposed with a jaunty call and response vocal and rolling along instrumentation. As an album closer it is certainly a memorable end to the collection.

https://www.facebook.com/thenewf00ls/

Hydra Lerna : In The Dark, single released June 2019

After the critical acclaim for her debut EP last year, singer/songwriter and electropop performer Hydra Lerna releases a new self-produced single.

The resonant words paint pictures of love and loss, with some acute phrases ‘…our skeletons are kindred…’, ‘…the silence never rang so loud….’ The lyrics thoughtfully reflect the mood, beautifully framed by the sheer power of the music. Here the layers of synthesisers sound like they were recorded in a cathedral, filling the vast space above as a deep and organic bass pedal strides underneath.

The title evokes ambiguous sentiments; it could be applied to being lost in an oppressive relationship or the negative feelings created. But ultimately this is a song of optimism and moving forward – identifying the problem as a first move towards empowerment and importantly the realisation of not being alone in the situation.

Hydra Lerna is a talented harp player; on this track it is sampled and contorted as part of the sonic palette, but it is the overall effect of massed keyboards, subtle percussion and her pure, emotive singing voice that is mesmerising.

The narrator finishes on an upbeat but slightly sinister note ‘…he won’t get away…we’ll get justice…’ which fades away on the track but stays and lingers with the listener….

(Hydra Lerna plays at The Blue Moon, Cambridge on Friday 27th September 2019)

https://hydralerna.com/

The Baby Seals, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 22 June 2019

A loud triple bill at the Blue Moon was opened by The Menstrual Cramps from Bristol. In current music there is a dearth of proper protest songs; many songwriters personalise their issues of workplace frustration or environmental platitudes and ignore any actual politics but this band confront it all head on. Their coruscating lyrics rip through the noisiest of noisepunk, the five-piece producing a blistering wall of sound to frame early highlights ‘Frack Off’ and ‘Tinder Girl’.
The singalong chorus of ‘Cull The Tories’ (…save the badgers!….) gets the audience going but perhaps the best moments are ‘Boycott The Lot’ with its multi messages per second and the ascending riff of ‘Idols’, a searing summary roll call of fallen reputations ‘…don’t idolise your idols, otherwise you compromise…..’. Follow that!

Last seen at the Cambridge Indie all-dayer, Dream Nails from London are preparing their new album for later this year and much of the set featured tracks from it. The four-piece have an infectious confidence in their performance, drawing energy from the now fully arrived sold-out audience to fuel their songs.
The classic punk stop-start anger of ‘Tourist’, the adoration and fun of ‘Jillian’ (….some say you’re not a qualified personal trainer….but I don’t care I’m not a complainer…whatever we do will be worth the pain yeah….’) and the one minute barrage of signature song ‘Deep Heat’ all slot seamlessly into the show. Brilliant!

The idea of this mini tour was having a revolving headliner in each hometown so Cambridge favourites The Baby Seals took to the stage as the final act. Opening with the stealthy bass-driven power of ‘It’s Not About The Money Honey’ (‘…we just want the same…’) the band’s heady lyrical mixture of relationships, sex, body image and modern attitudes is firmly embedded in dense, spiky bass and guitar and drumming that fills every corner of the track.
The trio’s upfront messages are delivered with plenty of instrumental fire tempered by harmonies, but the humour always underpins the serious messages, especially in ‘Period Drama’ and new song ‘ID’ed @ Aldi’, a ritual you have to go through despite making obvious adult purchases.
‘Chaos’ was the big finale track; an epic onslaught of stately sound, bringing this excellent show to an end.

http://thebabyseals.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/yourdreamnails
https://www.facebook.com/TheMenstrualCramps

Fonda 500, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 14 June 2019

The 55 are a five piece indie-rock band from Cambridge, with a strong showcase of their own originals, played with the swagger that is always refreshing to see. Lots of positives here; the relaxed confidence of their frontman, spiky guitar and drums, extravagant and impressive bass stylings and a surprising secret weapon – trumpet and flugel horn as an incisive feature rather than just an add-on ‘brass section’. It was a well-structured set, building in momentum and pulling the initially reserved audience along with them. An excellent warm-up band (though they were occupying very different territory compared with what was to come!).

BBC 6Music has featured Mega Emotion on many occasions – the band occupy a genre all of their own due to their music and distinctive presentation. Bedecked in kaftans and laurel wreaths the trio move between keyboards and guitars, with big bold percussion and unpredictable sharing of vocals and harmonies, standing out from the featureless tundra of many bands’ stage shows. The music is still the dominant factor with ‘Uncomfortable’ an early highlight. With always something different to listen to and watch, the set flowed along with style and peaked with the triumphant triumvirate of ‘Laura’, ‘OK Maybe OK’ and best of all, ‘Brains’.

After a gap of ten years since playing in Cambridge it was evident that Hull band Fonda 500 have a dedicated and adoring following. The audience were enjoying every nuance and second of the pounding guitar and bassy synthesiser sound, coupled with industrial strength drumming which then changes in a moment to a sunny piece of lightweight pop or the surreal musings of frontman Simon Stone sitting behind his well-worn Casio keyboard wearing his bear hat.

Tracks vary in length with some under a minute; they have a huge back catalogue to draw on but many performed tonight were from the 2018 album ‘I (Heart) Fonda 500’ including the mighty roar of ‘Helicoptore’ and special dedication to Cambridge ‘Mattermathique’.
Oldies ‘Jenny#8’ and ‘I Love Stereo, Stereo’s Good For Me’ are gems and as Simon waves the keyboard in the air at the end you realise what a brilliant live attraction this band are.

Friends recommended this show to me, they were right; if you have seen Fonda 500 you will know this already, if you haven’t seen them it is time to check them out when they are in your town….

https://www.facebook.com/fonda500/
https://www.facebook.com/MegaEmotion/
https://www.facebook.com/The55Band/

Kammahav : Glass Bottle Green, EP released 2019

An interesting four-track EP from two musicians who have never met; Christian Gustafsson from Forshaga in Sweden and Tony Jenkins from Cambridge unite to form Kammahav showing how words and music can be united across the internet, creative processes that have now been happening for many years in various fruitful collaborations across the world.

1. Everlasting: The most immediate song on the EP, an instrumental compendium of guitars, Hammond organ and percussion – all unprocessed and with a refreshing 60s jangling clarity. The vocal and harmonies follow a strong melody, especially on the soaring hookline.

2. A Magical Place: A widescreen, epic track densely filling its eight and a half minutes. Starting with a mandolin forlornly strumming over a distant but slowly building electric guitar figure, eventually the slowly delivered and questioning words arrive. We are in prog rock territory here – but the music and words work their spell as much of the genre does, becoming an immersive, theatrical experience. It is a bit like one of those mid-period Pink Floyd tracks with a haunting personal alienation lyric, eventually consumed by a big, echoing guitar solo.

3. Repeat: The whole EP has a retro feel; ‘Repeat’ is firmly embedded in the sixties sounds of The Byrds and early Moody Blues. Evocative images float in and out of the narrative ‘……I could be a poet writing sonnets to the girl of my dreams….I could be in politics…I’ve got the honest face….’; these are tempered by a more downbeat middle eight with the overall effect making a good stand-alone single.

4. The Moment:
With a ticking clock (metronome?) setting the beat, this pastoral interlude has some sweet-sounding acoustic guitar arpeggios, a connection to the EP title and a detailed description of an abandoned room ‘….fraying edge of the linoleum…books unopened…words redundant…’. Ending with ‘…..just a memory…just a picture…just a fading photograph….people smiling to catch the magic of the moment’. The sentiment and instrumentation could be an outtake from early Genesis album and gothic minor classic ‘Nursery Cryme’.

http://www.facebook.com/Kammahav/

Homegrown Festival, Bury St Edmunds, 8 June 2019

Set in the village of Barrow just outside Bury St Edmunds, surrounded by countryside and with the tower of the Norman church visible through the trees this was a good place to spend a day.

The weather threatened this idyll around lunchtime, but Cambridge trio Goldblume played on through the gales and rain to an audience mainly appreciating their passion and complex math-rock song structures from the marquee at the back of the arena. Never mind, Jethro was as always the consummate frontman, weaving his lyrical spells with unpredictable guitar embellishments as bass and drums gave a substantial backbone. To help overcome the elements the volume was turned up to eleven, enhancing defining highlights ‘Husk’ and ‘Bleach’.

Next on the acoustic stage was guitarist Laura Wyatt singing a mixture of her own compositions and covers (including ‘California Dreamin”, with top quality audience echoes of the lines courtesy of the barbershop group who had performed earlier!). I particularly liked her own ‘The Space Between’ and ‘I L.O.V.E You’ (?) and ‘Thinking Of You’ was a well-judged version of Ed Sheeran’s popular track.

A lively burst of country music from Sam Coe and the Long Shadows was followed by an impressive roster of upcoming talent from the Queens Road School of Rock, then we returned to catch the end of an acoustic performance from bluesy singer and guitarist Ben Sayer.

With their ‘Powerpuff Girls’ cartoon fancy dress and hundreds of bubbles blowing across the arena Cambridge-based trio Pink Lemonade made a big impact from the start with their deep dark ‘Down In The Woods’. Debut single ‘Space Girl’ was the catchiest tune of the day so far, its sparse instrumentation giving clarity to the perfect song structure.
The revival of the Spice Girls was celebrated with a cover of ‘Wannabe’ – like the whole set this was a high-voltage blast with great vocal interplay. New song ‘Rewind’ and ‘Can’t Escape You’ (‘…siesta in a fiesta…?‘) kept the momentum going and recent single ‘Sugar N Spice’ was the punchy finale and fun signature track for this excellent band.

Ffion Rebecca plays many shows in and around the Cambridge area and continues to hone her live performance into something really special. She owns the stage and has the confidence in a festival setting to perform her late-night soulful compositions that demand full attention, ably assisted by an empathetic band with nuanced bass and drums and especially the smooth electric guitar stylings.
The tempo was mellow and she delivered the lyrics with a balance of passion and respect for the key melody with fine control of the jazz embellishments that add so much to these heartfelt words. Personal songs such as ‘Wondering Mind’, (dedicated to her brother) were put into context by her introductions and good interplay with the audience. ‘Bye’ was the most uptempo track from Ffion then ‘Till The Moon Dies’ featuring some subtle drumming with brushes and a gorgeous chorus line melody was the thoughtful close to this emotional set.

We had to leave, although there was much more to follow – grateful thanks to the volunteers who put together this established but still off-the radar (and free…) musical showcase!

https://www.facebook.com/Homegrownmusicfestival/
http://www.facebook.com/FfionRebecca
https://www.facebook.com/PinkLemonadeMusicUK/
https://www.facebook.com/goldblumeband
http://www.facebook.com/laurawyattmusic