Sleaford Mods, B.H.S., single released January 2016

As once-famous retail names disappear from the High Street they are rarely celebrated in popular song, although we do have ‘…Saturday’s girls work in Tescos and Woolworths..’ by The Jam, ‘Man At C&A’ by The Specials, ‘Freeman Hardy & Willis Acid’ by SquarePusher and Van Morrison sang ‘…the orange boxes are scattered against the Safeway Supermarket in the rain…’ as he gazed out on ‘St Dominics’s Preview’.

On a release from their forthcoming album ‘English Tapas’, The Sleaford Mods commemorate the demise of department store stalwart British Home Stores last year with a combination of low-fi electrobeat and a lyric of personal paranoia. Starting near the bins in an alleyway (sounds a bit like the back area near the Cambridge BHS?) our hero is weighed down with problems ‘…we’re going down like BHS, while the abled bodied vultures monitor and pick at us…’. Peppered with subtle references as to the causes ‘…Laying on a boat mate look at you (Look at you!)…’ we even get a namecheck for TV sitcom royalty ‘…we are the Baldricks son, and Blackadders….’

A fitting tribute to the end of an era, check out the video too…

http://www.sleafordmods.com/

Such Small Hands : The Deep, released October 2016

Such Small Hands is the performing name of Brighton musician Melanie Howard.
This is a double release of single and EP titled ‘In Your Most Fragile Gestures Are Things Which Enclose Me’, a reference from the poet e.e.cummings, as is ‘such small hands’ from the same poem. This is a minimalist gem, slipping through the net on release but finally reaching my review site.

Opening with ‘The Deep’, a subtle concoction of delicate voice and sparse keyboard backing, the sounds processed to make them appear as they have indeed travelled through many fathoms of water. Gentle percussive patterns introduce ‘Legs’, even sparser musically but with a more natural sound to the vocal. ‘Ghost’ has as near as we get to a catchy chorus line, then ‘Hello’ sounds ethereal and a bit sinister. ‘Psycho’ is an intriguing mix of elements from what has come before with some busy percussion and the most up-front vocal so far. ‘Rachel’ is plaintive and melodic with simple guitar lines and ‘Ominous’ has a similar style.

It is all relaxing, mysterious and irresistible….

https://www.musicglue.com/suchsmallhands

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/

Homepage