Public Service Broadcasting, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 11 November 2021

It was a full venue for the return of Public Service Broadcasting to Cambridge, along with opening act EERA, also part of PSB for this tour. EERA’s free-flowing sensuous songs build around sparse instrumentation and her echoing voice, especially on the low-fi ‘Christine’. She moved into rawer territory for ‘Ladder’ when PSB surprisingly appeared as a rocking backing band towards the end of this well-received set.

Public Service Broadcasting have broadened their distinctive sound with longer instrumental pieces on their new Berlin concept album ‘Bright Magic’, strongly featured tonight and described by the band; ‘….the album’s theme is light… the light bouncing off of Dietrich’s cheekbones, of neon signs in the rain. I wanted to celebrate movement, colour and joy in an urban environment….’

Decked out in white suits and with of course a brilliant sequence of lights and visuals their long set maintains unstoppable momentum.

The ‘Every Valley’ mining community tracks take on a distinct poignancy this evening as the Glasgow Climate talks were taking place at the same time, but the older ‘Sputnik’, ‘E.V.A.’, ‘The Other Side’ seem to be a timeless slice of history. 2014’s ‘The Race For Space’ also provides two of their showstoppers; ‘Gagarin’ complete with dancing astronauts and the manic energy finale of ‘Go’.

EERA’s vocals soared throughout, particularly in the glorious ‘Blue Heaven’, probably my favourite song of the night out of so many highlights. As the brass section added textures to the last song ‘Everest’ there was no doubt that PSB continue to be a formidable live attraction.

https://www.publicservicebroadcasting.net/

https://www.eera.co.uk/

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Ward Thomas : Epic Studios, Norwich, 8 November 2021

A much-anticipated show at this fine all-purpose venue, opening tonight with the passionate performance and emotionally powerful ballads of Dan Owen. First track ‘Icarus’ immediately pulled the audience in and with his warm anecdotes and a barnstorming blues rendition of ‘Little Red Rooster’ he set the positive tone for the evening.

After many years of performing and a long career break, County Affair are a four-piece having a second life promoting an Abbey Road recorded album of a new batch of Americana songs. The tracks deal with eternal country music themes, joined with a likeable background of accordion, keys, guitar and percussion.

Ward Thomas started with the low-key duet ‘Dear Me’ and as soon as they segued into the descending vocal harmonies in the chorus of ‘No Fooling Me’ and the bitter-sweetness of ‘Cartwheels’ we knew that the emotional and musical magic was all in place. With varying amounts of input from their empathetic band this was a fantastic set, balanced between the pop oriented songs of 2019’s ‘Restless Minds’ album and the big country ballads such as ‘Guilty Flowers’ and the stomping ‘I Believe In You’ as well as the heart-tearing ‘Someday’ and ‘One More Goodbye’. With final encore ‘Safe’ performed as just a duo the show had gone full circle as the harmonies gently floated in the air.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/thecountyaffair/

https://www.facebook.com/danowenmusic

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Bouquet Of Dead Crows : Hemispheres Part 2 – Cerebral, EP released October 2021

A new EP from Cambridge quartet Bouquet Of Dead Crows, following on from Part 1 ‘Celestial’, released back in April 2020 (see review below)……

1.Idle Thoughts : Don’t be fooled by the quiet intro, the deep dark guitar and bass soon steers the track into raw rock territory, as the vocal calls across the wasteland in this ever-changing epic.

2.Standing At The Precipice : Faster work-out for the band, especially the fireworks drumming, but full of surprises with time signature and dynamics changes all packed into two minutes thirty.

3.One More Sunrise : Straight into the soulful tones of a thoughtful ballad structure which alternates with some of the heaviest rock on the collection.

4.The Longest Road : The Crows are adept at creating longer conceptually rich pieces; this elegantly brooding anthem has the time and space to deliver the full emotional impact.

5.Somewhere In The Static : Built around the most satisfying bass and guitar riff at the start the vocal builds over the descending chord pattern to a false finish part way through. This song has many moods; weaving together the finesse of some of the prog rock directions of the band with sections of sledgehammer power to make it a fitting end to the double EP.

https://bouquetofdeadcrows.bandcamp.com/

The Staves, Junction J1, Cambridge, 24 September 2021

Live music at last!

First onstage was US singer/songwriter Samantha Crain, a performer with a quiet authority evident from the first track ‘Joey’; a languid leisurely waltz with the gentle instrumentation as a perfect platform for her rich vocals. The tempo was increased for ‘Pastime’ and through her short set her accompanying musician played pedal steel, second guitar and keys to add extra colour to the involving narrative strengths of the songs. A highlight was the emotive tale told in ‘Elk City’, sung to a solo guitar as her overall performance effortlessly won over the audience.

The Staves create an intimate and welcoming musical atmosphere; opening song ‘Failure’ features the harmonies and indie folk rock ambience that instantly draws the listener in. Sisters Camilla and Jessica (Emily is currently not touring) are joined by an empathetic band that knows how much to push the sound forward or keep in the background more for a track like ‘Good Woman’; the title song from the 2021 album that makes up most of the set.

The songs can move into moody territory like the walk through a dark forest of ‘Blood I Bled’ or luxuriate in the deceptively simple beauty of ‘Make It Holy’. It all flew by in a delicious haze of ethereal melody and musical textures, a triumphant performance after too long away..

https://www.thestaves.com/

https://www.samanthacrain.com/

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th’sheridans : Pieces of General, LP released 10 September 2021

A collection of songs from Adam Sherif and Julia Oertli, also known as London-based indie duo th’sheridans, celebrating plenty of their back catalogue of addictive ‘incongru-pop‘.

The bleakly atmospheric ‘Cabot Cove’ from 2014 opens the listings then the words and music of ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Dismembered’ pull the listener right into their world as the two and a bit chords punch and roam. ‘Welcome To Town, Pussycats’ has the guitar voice and drums racing each other in a winning combination before ‘Architecture’ is a cleverly twisted social commentary ending with a emotive viola solo from Julia.

‘Hot Day in 20-05’ is one of my favourites; a compact mix of pace, pathos and bursts of electric mayhem, flowing nicely into the similar atmosphere of pre-released single ‘Awesome Summers & Kate’. ‘Ashley Is A Geek’ is a Ramones style mini rock opus, contrasting with the folk-powered guitar of ‘A Quiet Year’.

And there is much much more, the fourteen tracks constantly varying in tone and pushing the minimal instrumentation in all directions, culminating in the finale ‘Keep Warm’ where Adam’s vocals carry the restrained reflection and regret of the lyric with conviction.

The album is a heartwarming, rich and fun compilation of thoughtful but edgy DIY pop.

https://thsheridans.bandcamp.com/

https://recklessyes.com/

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Tape Runs Out : Ode to Barry, single released 8 September 2021

A new single from Cambridge ensemble Tape Runs Out is a dreamy tribute to the bearded dragon belonging to lead singer Liam.

Starting with a hypnotic figure generated by the haunting sonics of the hammered dulcimer the track adds layers of acoustic texture to produce a stately paean to the precious pet ‘….Barry you know we’re here for you….Barry won’t you stay with us…’.

The song gently eases along but continues to build the boldness of the sound with strings, a guitar solo and overall a feeling of melancholy and lost prog-folk drifting off into the ether. Watching the video it doesn’t seem like the languid lizard is going to wander too far away anyway, but this track acts as a splendid showcase for the instrumental possibilities and otherworldly viewpoint of future recordings from this unique group of musicians.

https://www.taperunsout.co.uk/

https://www.trappedanimal.com/home

review of 2020 EP ‘Sleepwalking Into A Fire’ here

Katy Hurt : Face to Face, single released 27 August 2021

A gorgeous new single from Katy Hurt; a country waltz full of wistful regret that is another example of her strong songwriting talent.

Starting with a gentle free-form guitar introduction the band ease into the mix with a shuffling, easy rhythm that creates instant atmosphere. Instrumentally this is judged perfectly but the glorious vocal performance from Katy is the show-stopper. As the feelings and tension are only just restrained the listener is pulled into her world of possible heartbreak, ‘…..I’m searching for the rhyme or reason for what’s going on…we’re supposed to be closer than ever before….but somehow we’re further away…’.

It is a track that is at the opposite end of the spectrum to many of Katy’s previous rockier releases such as the pop energy of ‘See Ya Later’ and the road trip narration of ‘Revved Up’. The new track ‘Face to Face’ has parallels with the pensive poetry of her excellent 2019 ballad ‘Unfinished Business’, ‘….there’s a book on a nightstand I’m ten pages in and the spine has already been broken….’, a song full of raw emotional imagery resolving into the melodic grace of the chorus.

https://www.katyhurt.com/

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The Wandering Hearts, LP released August 2021

A new self-titled album from country-rock trio The Wandering Hearts; a celebration of their varied styles built around rich vocals and strong song-writing….

  1. Hammer Falls : As a prelude to the album this one is given a big build-up as a dusty introduction gathers in intensity before the bluesy voices gradually push into the foreground.
  2. Over Your Body : A jumpy pace gives a momentum to this unpredictable track before the combined voices fly fully in the chorus.
  3. Build A Fire : One of my favourites; full of energy with the harmonies setting light to the clear positivity in the refrain.
  4. I Feel It Too : With the dream combination of the three contrasting voices interacting a simple tune is raised to a higher plane.
  5. Gold : Addictive and driving anthem full of rhythm and tension before the big reveal of the catchy chorus.
  6. Dolores : On a par with the ethereal lightness and luminescence of 2018 track ‘Burnng Bridges’, as gentle acoustic guitar and cello form a platform for gorgeous vocals.
  7. Dreams : Pensive and a bit melancholic this is a real grower.
  8. Never Too Late : A strong rhythm pulses through this amiable and rousing pop song.
  9. Tell Me When I Wake Up : Tender and calming, full of longing and texture with a minimal instrumental backing.
  10. On Our Way : The opener to their previously released EP, this is a barnstorming spiritual, reflective and optimistic with a huge chorus.
  11. Stardust : A gradual come-down from the heights of the previous track, with imagery and positive sentiments ‘…we are diamonds in the air…we light it up…’
  12. Lullaby : Showcasing the trio’s vocals for a final time and with only an acoustic guitar to counterpoint the melody, it is a gentle bookend to this fine album.

https://www.thewanderinghearts.com/

https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/03/03/ward-thomas-junction-cambridge-1-march-2019/

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Public Service Broadcasting : Blue Heaven, single released August 2021

Another teaser for the September release of the fourth Public Service Broadcasting LP ‘Bright Magic’, this time featuring the simultaneously rich and icy vocals of Berlin-based performer and lyric co-writer Andreya Casablanca. She steers the song from a low-key start, bristling with musical tension before the band gradually add layers to the sound. Then the explosive guitar flourishes enrich the dense production of repeating bass notes and the full-on drum sound that we know and love. The chorus line ‘….I, in my blue heaven….’ takes on a haunting, disconnected feeling as it reappears through the track and Andreya’s vocal delivery is rewardingly unpredictable and intriguing.

This is a road movie of a song, carrying all before it as it travels to a resolution somewhere in the high ether. Growing in power with every listen, hopefully this will be part of the live set when the band tours later this year…

Public Service Broadcasting

Andreya Casablanca | Facebook

Public Service Broadcasting : People, Let’s Dance [ft. EERA], single released June 2021 | cambridgemusicreviews

Blue Heaven
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Various Artists : Cambridge Calling Volume 5, released 23 July 2021

Compiled by renowned Cambridge105 DJ Dave Hammond, Cambridge Calling Vol 5 is a new and varied compilation of tracks from musicians based around the Cambridge area, with proceeds going to Cambridge Aid | Helping local people in financial crisis since 1880

  1. BansheeVa – Janus. The title character can be described as ‘….god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, frames, and endings…’. That just about sums up the mind-expanding pathways of this jumpy psychedelic instrumental extravaganza.
  2. Death To Slow Music – Pressure. Two minutes of minimalist punk single line bass and guitar erupting into an explosive chorus.
  3. People Look Like Dogs – Allan Thinks We Don’t Move. Probably the best combination of band and track name on the album for this untamed cacophony of guitars, drums and wild vocal.
  4. Jaymotts – Love Paralysis. Retro jazz-funk, sounding enigmatically timeless.
  5. Collars – Hey Lizzie, Lay It On Me full review here
  6. Creepy Neighbour – The Optimist. Striking but slightly disturbing piano-led ballad featuring a strong vocal from Max Taylor along with lush string stylings.
  7. Naomi Randall – Cabbage White. Lovely indie folk; evocative and effortless with the acoustic guitar adorned with other subtle instrumentation and echoing voices to frame Naomi’s sublime vocal.
  8. Dom Howard – Cascade Mix. Like a coda to the previous track, a sparkling guitar chimes out a repeated riff over the lightest of jazzy backing before an introspective solo.
  9. Lady Birdface – (I’m Gonna Give You) The Clap. DIY pop splendour from creative multi instrumentalist and songwriter Kate Shore, full of barbed edges and sparse couplets ‘…don’t you look too close or you’ll feel morose…’
  10. Sunday Driver – Time Machine. Classy acoustic steampunk fusion and sinuous vocal whisks the listener into a cabaret club of the future.
  11. Percy Black – Code Name Covid-19. If you need reminding about the subject, this is as pleasant way as it could be, super-smooth reggae with golden-voiced lead and backing vocals and laced with brass and sax; the messages are clear, ‘….give the scientists the wisdom to eliminate Covid-19….’
  12. Tom Bainbridge – Nocturne. All-acoustic multi-layered piece, built around a gently swinging pendulum rhythm and a chorus of voices.
  13. Keith Somerville – Red Angel. A loosely structured prog-psych song pulls the listener into a spiral of mellow musings, interrupted by a surprise electric solo.
  14. Helefonix – Song Thrush Serenade. Pure atmosphere of delight here as sampled birdsong tonally competes with the semi-ambient electronics.
  15. The Routine – Come Knocking At My Bedroom Door. Strong rock-pop anthem from Cambridge/London quartet with the upfront vocal and musical intricacies giving way to a huge chorus.
  16. Star Pixel – The Circle. full review here
  17. Shambertans – Wallflower. Likeable summery pop song driven at pace by the rhythm section and a busy guitar.
  18. The Mardlers – Mad To Live. Full of desperate punk-fuelled energy; the as-live sound pushes all before it through continual musical changes..

Volume 5 – German Shepherd Records

Cambridge Calling Volume 5 | Various Artists | German Shepherd Records (bandcamp.com)