River Town Festival, St Ives, Cambs, 11 Aug 2018

The Seven Wives pub was the venue for the River Town Festival ‘…bringing the best up-and-coming original Indie/Rock bands to the town….’. with a large stage at one side of the car park and plenty of room and facilities for local music lovers.

Singer/guitarist Calum Lintott had just arrived from his home city of Southampton; he played a set of well-crafted originals and the odd cover (‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’) and rose to the challenge of breaking the ice and entertaining the early arrivals. Saltfen are a four-piece from Ely, playing melodic rock with intricate work on the two guitars giving an edge.

After some initial sound mix problems Flint Moore from Downham Market conjured up the feeling of moody endless landscapes and long-forgotten rebellions with their sweeping cinematic sound enhanced by keyboards, acoustic and electric guitar, mighty bass and drums and the commanding vocals of frontman Francis Pennington.

Two bands had to pull out at the last minute; their slots were taken by singer/guitarist Nathan James King with his introspective and very personal songs (‘…Writing about the things I’ve experienced, mostly…’) and the very impressive up-and-coming performer Gabby Rivers from Suffolk who normally plays with a band but this afternoon let just her voice and guitar cast a spell over the audience with a mix of covers and own compositions.

London quartet Duke Of Wolves played a well-drilled set of tight alternative rock, with the pace not letting up all the way through to their ode to serial killer ‘Terry’. Peterborough five-piece Golden Bantic added a welcome lighter, funkier groove to the rock and donned sunglasses to keep the gradually approaching rain at bay.
I am a big fan of St Ives rockers False Hearts, their barrage of noise carrying all before them with songs of the quality of rifftastic ‘Dream On’ and ‘Cynical Love’, one of my favourites from last year. Their keen local following started to fill up the space nearer the stage, even though the weather was starting to deteriorate.

The spotlights were creating extra special effects as the beams cut through the rain when Gaffa Tape Sandy took to the stage. Opening with its familiar distant introduction, when the trio explode into ‘Water Bottle’ you realise what a brilliant live band they are; the three musicians create a sharp, full sound and each song is a perfectly honed gem of powerpop. Fresh from extensive festival performances and live shows there are new recordings due soon with their superb last single ‘Meat Head’ as a precursor. Their super-hooklined ‘Beehive’ was the triumphal set closer.
There was a more mellow sound from Oscar Corney , his expressive voice backed by a full band and going down very well with the rain-soaked crowd.

With bill-toppers Tom Lumley and Airways still to play, very reluctantly we had to leave before the end but with memories of a day where the high quality of music was very evident in the whole running order and the friendliness of the venue and crowd created a very special atmosphere.

https://www.airwaysofficial.com/
https://www.facebook.com/TomLumleyMusic
http://www.gaffatapesandy.co.uk/
https://www.falsehearts.com/
https://www.goldenbantic.com/#home-section
http://dukeofwolves.co.uk/index.html
https://www.facebook.com/GABBYMUSIC14/
https://nathanjamesking.bandcamp.com/
http://www.flintmoore.com/
‪http://saltfen.weebly.com/

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Jack Rundell : Stinking Cloud, single released August 2018

Following on from a release of double track single ‘Baby Listen Here’/’I Go Crazy’ last month on which self-described ’21st Century Singing Cowboy’ Jack Rundell unleashed his inner Hank Williams with two up-tempo stompers he now follows with new track ‘Stinking Cloud’.

I don’t think Hank would recognise the subject matter of this ode to the human impact on the natural world but he would probably identify with the thread of resigned disappointment interwoven in the music and lyrics.

Over a bass guitar, low-fi keyboard and glockenspiel Jack wanders ‘….lonely as a stinking cloud…’, keeps his cowboy credibility with ‘….wondered lonely as the tumble weeds…‘ and brings the references more up to date with ‘….a cloud of mustard gas and microbeads….’.

It is a gem of a song, with a catchy chorus, at least two key changes and an accompanying video in the Suffolk countryside featuring some neat backwards photography, so what’s not to like?

(The mood of the song also reminded me to re-listen to classic Talking Heads reverse-environmentalism classic ‘Nothing But Flowers’…!)

http://www.jackrundell.co.uk/

Amber Arcades, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 26th July 2018

On another hot summer night, the Portland was host to two contrasting bands; unfortunately I missed most of local psych-noise four-piece Lemondaze, but I did see enough to realise they were maintaining the high standard since I saw them at the Bury all-dayer earlier this year. Clearly enjoying themselves on stage they were still punching holes in the sub-ether with their effects-drenched exuberant, enjoyable and loud hypnotic grooves.

Amber Arcades is the band fronted by Dutch singer/songwriter/guitarist Annelotte De Graaf, soon to release her second full-length album.
Lead single ‘Simple Song’ opened the show tonight, with heavenly vocals floating in the air over her suitably subtle and skilled backing musicians. The songs draw on many influences, with jazz and country infusing the indie-folk atmosphere.
The mellowness of new track ‘Alpine Town’ moves onto another plane when the vocals soar at the end while ‘Goodnight Europe’ seems to sum up a state of sad confusion with a stately but catchy tune. There are excellent contributions from the band, with restrained keyboard tones and some lovely echoing guitar chiming through many of the tracks.

Too few bands are prepared to cover Nick Drake songs but the band takes on ‘Which Will’ turning the acoustic original into a shimmering jewel of re-invention, perfectly suited to Annelotte’s voice. The main set ends with the pounding drive of ‘It Changes’ then the encore included the poptastic track ‘Come With Me’ built around a trance-like guitar line, followed by its companion up-tempo piece ‘Fading Lines’.

An excellent set, warmly received and I’m sure they will have gone down a storm at the Indietracks festival!

http://www.amberarcades.net/
https://www.facebook.com/lemondazeband/

Indietracks Warm-Up, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 24th July 2018

On the hottest day so far of the endless summer this was the annual warm-up gig for the Indietracks festival near Derby at the end of July, with tonight an emphasis on some of the international acts featured.

First on were Let’s Whisper, a spin off band fronted by Dana Kaplan from the Smittens, with songs of insight and introspection based around acoustic guitar with additional support from fellow smittens on electric guitar and bass and Cambridge’s own Emma Kupa on bass. This was all very engaging and set us up nicely for the headliners.

Eureka California have been playing and recording since 2007, now performing as a duo their sound harks back to many sixties styles, played with a real swagger and featuring some thought provoking lyrics. There is a lot going on musically on guitar and drums and who can resist a band playing a track called ‘I Bet You Like Julian Cope’?…

The ever-popular Cambridge punk-pop trio Baby Seals then played a short but memorable set; their lyrics of modern attitudes and prejudices pull no punches but are always sung with a knowing smile and tongue firmly in cheek. Musicianship is spot on and above all the band have genuine fun on stage with the audience taken along for the ride.

The Smittens are a real treat to see on their debut in Cambridge, describing themselves as ‘….a hard-working, globe-trotting independent American twee pop band from Burlington, Vermont…’ . The six-piece opened the show with short but subversive love song ‘These Lips’ and in a set that seemed to fly by too fast they played tracks from their extensive back catalogue (they formed in 2002) and from the new album, officially released later this summer.
While bass and drums maintain a subtle reassuring groove the band are able to blend the four singers’ very varied voices in countless ways as well as giving each vocalist a chance to shine. Minimalist keyboard and melodica are added to the guitars to keep the much-loved DIY/Indie sound and this is used to great effect throughout. I enjoyed all the songs, especially ‘Half My Heart’, ‘Love Is A Word’, new song ‘Season One’, the joyous ‘Upper West Side’ and final track ‘Love Record Breaker’. They came across as lovely people and this was an excellent show!

http://www.smittens.com/
http://thebabyseals.co.uk/
http://eurekacaliforniaband.com/
https://www.facebook.com/letswhisper

Moscow Circus : This Train, single released July 2018

Jonathan Beckett is a singer/songwriter/guitarist, revisiting some of his earliest work with his band Moscow Circus.

This new recording of a song from 1987 shows the timeless appeal of his work; he is not afraid to challenge with his thoughtful lyrics, this time using various train metaphors as a platform(!) for philosophical musings on mortality and destiny. The messages are wrapped in some surreal imagery, as demonstrated in depth on his 2016 long-player ‘Resounding’, previously reviewed on this site.

On this excellent outing he is given formidable backing by Peter Temperton on bass and Tom Parratt on drums, with Jonathan providing extra keyboard texture to counterpoint the serpentine guitar figure around which the song is built. The wordplay is used to good effect throughout the song and particularly in the hooklines of the chorus ‘…the pain in my head is a train running red…life’s so short anyway…it sure stops me dead in my tracks….’

There is the possibility of two more songs to rescue from the archive and then hopefully some new material and more live dates to follow….


http://www.moscowcircus.co.uk/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2016/08/29/moscow-circus-resounding-lp-released-june-2016/

Colour Me Wednesday, Green Door Store, Brighton, 1st July 2018

Colour Me Wednesday return to Brighton on the final date of their launch tour for new album ‘Counting Pennies in the Afterlife’.

First on was Neil Singh, a guitarist singing his own songs, with thoughtful words about serious subjects such as war and oppression. In the best folk tradition the lyrical imagery was underpinned with taut and uncluttered music played by Neil with backing bass and drums; he is due to release an album soon.

Brighton duo ARXX use the drums and guitar format to showcase their new EP ‘Daughters Of Daughters’. They make a great noise, especially when Clara on drums lets loose and Hannah’s vocal cuts through. ‘Moments at a Time’ and ‘Intervention’ are mini riff-operas where the rhythm drives the song to new heights.

Sparkle Motion are led by multi-talented Jaca Freer, mainly a drummer with the headliners but also playing bass with Neil Singh. Billed as ‘..Brighton’s finest new queer covers band..’ the keyboard-driven line-up belted through a lively set including Placebo’s ‘Nancy Boy’, Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ and best of all Prince’s ‘Kiss’ mixed with ideal companion ‘Make Me Feel’ by Janelle Monáe. Interspersed with many protest and awareness-raising messages this exuberant line-up finished with cult 1999 outsider song ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ to a great reception from the crowd.

In this endless early summer it was getting hot in the venue, despite being hidden underneath the stone railway arches. Colour Me Wednesday were suddenly on stage with the introduction to ‘Sunriser’, the opening track on the new album. Harriet Doveton leads on guitar then at the last minute sister Jennifer grabs the mic and launches the tale of relationship uncertainty with ‘..I feel the cold before you feel it…’.
My current favourite, it is an excellent track, so much going on musically and lyrically with a speeded up section and Jaca’s intricate drums reaching new levels of complexity. Straight into ‘Boyfriend’s Car’, a sixties summery feel with harmonies and a key change in this story of post-apocalyptic automobile cruising.

‘Heather’s Left For Dead’ is a pounding wall of guitar but as always Jen’s voice floats effortlessly above. They are joined on stage on bass by Katie (from the band Personal Best) allowing Laura Ankles freedom to add extra guitar and intermesh with Harriet’s creative lines and rhythms.
‘Edge Of Everything’ is a rare celebration/acknowledgement of living near the M25 and final song ‘Entrepreneur’ sums up many modern job experiences (‘…loudest voice in my head…telling me to go back to bed…’) over a roving bass line and some neat chord changes. Then it was curfew, with no time for some of their excellent back catalogue and unfortunately no ‘Tinfoil’ from the new disc.

It is a fantastic new album, and live it is even better…

https://www.colourmewednesday.com/
https://www.facebook.com/sparklemotiontheband/
http://www.arxxband.bandcamp.com
http://www.neilvarunsingh.bandcamp.com

Elma : California, single released June 2018

California has always held a semi-mythic status as a destination in pop music, with fine songs from The Mamas And The Papas, Beach Boys, Wedding Present, Gomez and many others.

Now Ely duo Elma have added to the list with an uplifting prelude to their soon to be released album. Although many of their songs and their live shows are just guitar and vocals, here they have gone for a full-band instrumentation with horns, multi-tracking and some sparkling drumming. Starting with some sinister backwards guitar, the main brass-driven riff soon establishes itself as a platform for another strong vocal performance from Ellie Gillett.

Repeated listens reveal more and more neat touches in the excellent production, no doubt with many of the instruments played by Mark Ellis. A spoken middle-eight has that strange guitar sound effect again but then we finish suddenly, the narrator never gets there, maybe never leaves their home town and will unfortunately not find that ‘….our sugar coated dreams will come true….’

Check out the accompanying video too, with faded retro beach and fairground images…

https://www.facebook.com/elmaband/