The opening night of a short tour by electronica performer Dos Floris, with more dates to follow in the spring next year. The Lexington is one of those cool London venues with a legacy of many musicians playing on their way upwards.
Opening the show was Orlando Seale, with a stage decorated with inflatable animals and swimming aids, he introduced an unconventional support set, with elements of performance art keeping the audience on their toes. He was accompanied by a clipboard-wielding actor who chose to commend or reprimand Orlando on the quality of his performance as well as a second guitarist wrenching unearthly electric sounds to complement the calm and simple delivery of some haunting songs such as the sublime ‘Wrestling’.
He has recorded a superb EP and more with a full orchestral backing, tonight’s show was a complete contrast but nonetheless as effective.
If watching Orlando was like being part of a play by Samuel Beckett, the one-woman powerhouse that is Dos Floris took us onto another heavenly plain altogether. Florence Donovan is an excellent singer and pianist, as showcased later in the show with the stripped-back ‘Human Relations’ but her use of electronic loops, layers and textures brings her debut album to sparkling life this evening. ‘To The Wolves Part 1’ sets the agenda of sweeping soundscape and holds the audience riveted, their silent attention being testament to the compulsion of the occasion.
There is a pleasing unpredictability to the live versions of the tracks, with so many keyboard buttons that can be pressed to twist and enhance. The bass pulse of ‘That Day’ rocks you to the core, the anti-war message of ‘All The Kings Horses’ still cuts through and ‘Before You Loved Me’ is stunningly effective. The album title track ‘The Widowed Earth’ weaves its ethereal spell and when the show is all over somehow those haunting sounds are still echoing around this fine venue as Florence leaves the stage.
When support act Seán McGowan took to the stage, the great majority of the sold-out Junction audience had already arrived and he seemed pleasantly overwhelmed but confidently rose to the occasion. His fast and furious protest songs feature the everyday but essential; minimum wage and insecure employment, petty crime and poor decisions. There is a slower, considered emotional undercurrent in the longer ‘Millbrook Road’ (a thoroughfare in his home town of Southampton). ‘No Show’ and ‘Costa Del Solution’ from his new mini-LP (with wage-packet sleeve) went down well. It was a blistering performance and by the end the audience in J1 were totally won over. As he and Billy might say, ‘..the boy done good..’.
I have seen Billy Bragg many times over the years as solo, duo and with a band; tonight he was accompanied on some songs by multi-talented CJ Hillman, ‘UK Americana instrumental musician of the year’ and making sterling contributions on pedal steel and second guitar, including stepping-up with some Johnny Marr jangle on ‘Sexuality’, the opening song of the evening. Billy can pace a set as well as anybody and he has so much material to draw on, in nearly two hours there was time for early classics ‘Milkman Of Human Kindness’, ‘Man In the Iron Mask’, ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and many more, played on his distinctive green Burns guitar.
Interspersed with the familiar was the new EP reflecting the current affairs of the day. The optimistic ‘Saffiyah Smiles’, environmental ‘King Tide And The Sunny Day Flood’ and the poignant ‘Full English Brexit’ were put into context by Billy’s introductions and he also reflected how many of his early song themes had come around again. ‘There Is Power In A Union’ and ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’ are always going to ignite his loyal audience and we never tire of ‘A New England’, the perfect ending to this brilliant show.
It is good to know that a bit of searching finds that the folk and roots scene in Cambridge extends far beyond the annual folk festival and includes events such as this triple showcase hosted in the intimate surroundings of J3, set out cabaret style with candle-lit tables creating a very friendly and supportive ambience.
Having established themselves in other bands, Yve, Clare and Lu are still deciding on a name but in the meantime play guitar and violin and on a night where harmony vocals featured strongly they did justice to some timeless songs, including a subtle version of the Bee Gees ‘To Love Somebody’. Original compositions too are promised in the future.
Trio Luna Falls instantly create a captivating sound; three acoustic guitars and vocals that gel with each other perfectly and reflect many years of sisters singing together. They play tracks from their EP and also cover versions including a spirited rendition of ‘The Irish Rover’. I think their own material is very strong; the haunting waltz ‘Gentle Lies’, the multi-layered tones of ‘Breakthrough’ and of course the impressive, award-winning ‘Falling To Pieces’, a favourite of mine from a recently reviewed compilation.
From acoustic folk the evening then went into pure country rock with SJ Mortimer & The Flying Pigs. SJ has a great voice and her original songs reflect more of the up-side of the genre; travelling on (‘Hit The Road’), celebration of love (‘Heart Beats Faster’) and with ‘American Dream’ the desire to make music in Nashville (where SJ actually recorded her album!). The combination of violin, guitars, banjo and beefed-up cajón with extra bass drum effect gave plenty of depth to the sound with SJ’s voice soaring effortlessly through it all.
There was a cover of the late Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin” and a rowdy ‘Fireball’ which is the title track to her new EP and a good excuse for a drinking game. With guest backing vocalists on the contemplative ‘Smokey Mountains’ we were treated to some emotional six part harmonies. The final encore was the glorious ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, (which always seems to make it sound a fine place to be?!), a fitting conclusion to a really good show.
There is plenty of musical talent in the area not directly in the city of Cambridge; St. Ives, Haverhill and from Ely come Elma , named after singer Ellie Gillett and multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Mark Ellis. Tapping into a sixties revivalist sound, this duo comfortably inhabit several styles and contrast with the many current performers who pursue pure psychedelia from that era. For a concert advert they say ‘see us!! We’ll make you laugh, then cry, then we’ll put you back together again’ which seems a fair assessment based on these four fine songs.
1. Slo-Mo. Co-written with highly regarded songwriter Boo Hewerdine, this end-of relationship waltz builds well with repeated listens.The mostly acoustic instrumentation ebbs and flows and somehow the direct lyric really nails the emotional idea, (‘…I read your letter, the black and the white and suddenly everything’s grey…’). Check out the video, filmed at the Cambridge Union café/bar, all good fun.
2. Butterfingers. Another collaboration with Boo, this is my favourite track on the EP. With hints of Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love and Eric Carmen’s All By Myself it is a plaintive piano ballad with a stunning vocal performance from Ellie; heartfelt, vulnerable yet still powerful. I love it.
3. September. I usually quite like this month but may have to reconsider after the traumatic lovelorn reminiscences described here, set to a full-on Phil Spectorish backing with handclaps, multi-tracked vocals and a proper middle eight section.
4. Settle Down. A quiet end to the EP, both of the duo get to sing here, gentle verses and a catchy hookline underpinned by acoustic guitar.
The band are regularly gigging around the area, on the evidence of this EP I look forward to a full LP too….
A second choice of tracks showcasing the diversity of the Cambridge music scene, DJ Dave Hammond has again aimed for quality, variety and surprises. The proceeds from this release go to the Cambridgeshire Alliance for Independent Living, a charity run by and for people with disabilities.
1. Beverley Kills – Sticks And Stones Great entertainment vibe with an intro straight from the punk of 77, you wish you were up on stage with them. Clever change of tempo part way through to keep you focussed. 2. Sound Menagerie – House Of Yesterdays Recent album title track of sixties spookiness from dreamy psychedelic revivalists. There is no-one else in the city quite like them. 3. Perfect Machine – Lost In The City A childhood nightmare of paranoia set to an electronic 1920s Berlin style soundtrack, the first entry on the collection from a multi-persona muso. 4. Searching Grey – I Accomplished melodic rock, adventurous drumming, soaring vocals and guitar solo too. 5. Izi Phoenix – Fears Gentle tune with warm vocal and lovely sparse guitar work. 6. James White – Take Me Home Solid boogie-blues with a brass section, much soloing and an as-live sound. 7. The Sound Of Pop Art – Freedom Sultry groove of jazz-rock with recurring ringing guitar motif. Smooth! 8. Psychic Lemon – Death Cult Blues Much reviewed on this site, the Lemon’s tracks always have something different to reveal on repeated listens to the complex, fiery fuzz. 9. Shyer – Bad Company Another favourite on this site, here with a brooding, intense piece driven by dark guitar and a great vocal performance from Amanda George. 10. Louis Perritt and Maverick – You Gotta be Strong Wow. I didn’t expect this; it is an epic, orchestral sounding mid-tempo stormer with Rick Wakeman style piano and a yearning vocal line. 11. Farlanders – Come Back Home A mellow, comfortable groove, all a bit retro celtic folk with the title phrase reflected in the lyric and the music. 12. Saving Scarlett – Hourglass A guitar fanfare heralds an in-your-face beefy rocker, a taster for their forthcoming debut album. 13. Nero’s Thumb – It Said Down and dirty with sampled preacher vocal, guitar riff never goes away. 14. Ricky Boom Boom and Tom Colborn – Eyes Of Strangers Characterful blues from tireless live performer, with of course a sad lyric, punctuated by the earthy slide of the second guitar. 15. Tape Runs Out – Red Vines Hear the unique instrumental line-up of this experimental ensemble, haunting and involving voice too. 16. Luna Falls – Falling To Pieces Superb songwriting on this deceptively simple arrangement, with three acoustic guitars and three-part harmonies. Great chorus line, the whole effect is pure magic. 17. The Abstracts – Aquarius Rising This band is a prominent fixture on the Cambridge scene, each of the musical elements of the players gel together here in a masterly rock anthem, featuring an impassioned vocal. 18. For The Hornets – I Believe Tight, minimalist power with great riff and drum bursts from this energetic three-piece. 19. Transoceanic – If You Look Up At The Sky At Night 13 minutes of ambient drifting, electric-ish piano and synthetic harp blending into some sort of cosmic music-box.
Another excellent choice, I look forward to Volume 3….
The historic town of St. Ives is sometimes in the musical shadow of its close neighbour Cambridge but there is much talent and creativity to be found there. Rockers Hollowstar and multi-faceted soloist Gavin Chappell-Bates spring to mind; now relative newcomers False Hearts stamp their mark with this superb hard-hitting single. This four piece band features twin guitars, bass and drums and recently scored the rare accolade of being the unshakeable favourites for 20 weeks on the New Music Generator unsigned chart, seeing off any Cambridge opposition effortlessly with their last release ‘Dream On’.
An exuberant local DJ described this track with the evocative lines ‘It’s an absolute screamer….it blew my ears off’. I see where he is coming from, the production and mix on this song is spectacular, it even sounds loud if you play it quiet.
The guitar and percussion introduction quickly gives way to full-on noise wall then vocalist Emma Hodgson delivers a powerful vocal with the twisted hook line ‘I despise you….but I love you’, a reflection of the ambiguity of the lyric overall. With no time for flamboyant solos it is belting guitars and pulsing beat all through; pure thunder and lightning for 2 minutes 50 seconds…
Another sold-out show at the Portland started with the acoustic guitar and lived-in vocals of Lee Forsyth-Griffiths. Originally from Manchester he is now based in London and preparing his third album. Referencing some difficult past times in his lyrics and exchanges with the audience he performed a short set of intense and musically free-form songs, with passionate vocals veering into the hurting tones of the late lamented John Martyn and Kevin Coyne.
It was a good night for vocals, Tom Robinson had politely introduced Lee to the rapidly building audience, but once the bass was strapped on and his band took to the stage his voice showed no restraint as he blasted out the opening number ‘Up Against The Wall’. As is the welcome trend with many established musicians the show was mainly a complete performance of an album; in this case the first LP from the Tom Robinson Band ‘Power In The Darkness’. It is an album that has retained relevance with its many references to disillusionment (‘…I’ve given up reading the papers, I’ve given up watching TV…‘), alienation, government inaction, media, discrimination, racism – all sounding remarkably contemporary. On top of that the music is strong stuff and although the original TRB imploded after 2 years this specially assembled incarnation played it loud.
There were so many standout tracks; ‘Ain’t Gonna Take It’ with added Hammond organ sound, the slinky groove of ‘Too Good To Be True’, ‘Man You Never Saw’ ( according to Tom it was too difficult for the original TRB to play live! No problems tonight..), celebrating the iconic 70s ‘Grey Cortina’ (‘…8-track blazing Brucie Springsteen…’) and the prophetic ‘Winter of ’79’.
These ten original album tracks were encored with the music hall singalong ‘Martin’, the ground-breaking (and banned by the BBC) protest of ‘Glad To Be Gay’ and of course the all-time classic ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’. A bonus encore of later period hit ‘War Baby’ finished off the set.
Tom may be more well-known these days for breaking new music on BBC 6Music, but he has lost nothing of the anger and flair of live performance.