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/

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Indiepop All-Dayer, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 12 November 2016

Inspired by similar events around the UK, The Blue Moon pub and venue hosted the first all day festival of Indie pop for Cambridge. Unfortunately we missed the afternoon performances, just arriving to catch the end of the set by Suggested Friends, who were playing ‘jangly punkish’ songs about ‘regret and micro-aggressions’. They sounded good to me and ended their set with ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Horcrux For Your Soul’, Harry Potter goes Indie for the first time (though Jarvis Cocker did play at the Hogwarts Ball..).

¡Ay Carmela! are a three-piece named after their singer (and a song sung in the Spanish Civil War) and make a splendid noise, with thundering drumming setting the pace on ‘Dog Tired’ and no let-up until they had played most of their recent LP ‘Working Weeks’.

I was very pleased to see Chorusgirl on their return to Cambridge, a year on from the release of their brilliant and highly recommended debut album. The sound was tight last time I saw them but now it is honed even more, the bass and drums feeding into the two guitars and of course the relaxed but so crucial vocals of song-writer Silvi Wersing. The songs are like intricately painted detailed pictures, the imagery in the lyrics shimmering above complex arrangements and sonic changes. Two new tracks were previewed, ahead of a new album in production. But while we wait, continue to enjoy the delights of ‘No Moon’, ‘Oh, To Be A Defector’ and the finale ‘This Town Kills’.

Top of the bill were Edinburgh quartet The Spook School, playing in Cambridge for the first time. I wasn’t able to stay for their set but listening to some of their tracks afterwards I’m sure they maintained the quality of the rest of the show. I look forward to All-Dayer 2017…

http://chorusgirl.co.uk/band/
https://thespookschool.com/

The Specials, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 11 November 2016

The spotlights shone out from the stage accompanied by the familiar wailing introduction of ‘Ghost Town’ to herald the arrival of The Specials in Cambridge, many years after their only other performance in the city in the early Eighties (Terry Hall mentioned that on that previous show he was arrested for ‘inciting a riot’!).

‘Ghost Town’ is of course a genuine classic, as relevant as ever and probably one of the most unusual and political UK number ones. Despite the departure of original member Neville Staple and the untimely death of drummer John Bradbury the band make a great sound, tight, hefty ska underpinned by the hammering bass guitar of Horace Gentleman and sterling drumming from Gary Powell of The Libertines.

The signature songs rolled out in the first part of the show; ‘Do Nothing’, ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’, ‘Rat Race’, much appreciated by the animated audience. Lynval Golding vocalised on a moving version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ then via ‘Gangsters’ (the song that started it all!) we arrived at the compact masterpiece ‘Too Much Too Young’.
Through it all Terry Hall is the central presence on stage, he doesn’t move much but he really doesn’t need to, the words and delivery say it all. The main set was finished with that strangely optimistic/depressing standard ‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think’). How True.

As a tribute to John Bradbury and Leonard Cohen becoming the latest in the long list of losses for 2016 the band encore featured a cover of ‘We Have All The Time In The World’. This was a highlight, sounding reminiscent of Terry Hall’s extensive and excellent solo work in between the original and current incarnation of The Specials.
It has been a long time for the return to Cambridge to wait but it was definitely worth the wait…

http://www.thespecials.com/

Hooton Tennis Club, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 3 Nov 2016

Earlier in the evening, the Sgt Pepper album was playing to the steadily growing audience, soon to be treated to the sounds of SWEAT, a South London five-piece brimming with talent and swagger.
The songs usually grew from a keyboard theme, with a distinctive 70s analogue tone. Add the full might of drums, guitar and powerful bass and it was a heady brew, topped off by the riveting stage presence of the lead singer (and tambourine exponent!). The songs maintain a hypnotic groove, reflected in the enthusiastic response of the crowd. It was a great start to the show, keep an eye out for their next appearance..

Hooton Tennis Club are a four-piece from the Wirral, on the road to promote their second album ‘Big Box Of Chocolates’, produced by the band and indie legend Edwyn Collins. With that title you would expect a varying range of delights and many featured in the show tonight, each of the intriguing titles describing a mini-confection of regret, unrequited emotions and eccentric characters.

The band gel very well on stage, with Ryan Murphy and James Madden as lead singers/guitarists taking turns with different songs, reinforced with rock-solid drums from Harry Chalmers and the always animated bass playing of Ryan McFadden. ‘Meet Me At The Molly Bench’ is wistful nostalgia, the recent single ‘Katy-Anne Bellis’ is the lingering memory of an ex-flatmate, while ‘Statue Of The Greatest Woman I Know’ is a rock and roll blast.

My favourite is the slower ‘Sit Like Ravi’, with a great hookline and summer jazz mood. They finished with two highlights from their debut album ‘Always Coming Back 2 You’ and the slightly sinister ‘P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. P.I.E.R.R.E’, (always good to hear a song with a spelt out chorus…)

(Unfortunately they didn’t play ‘Frostbitten In Fen Ditton’, named after an unfortunate experience here in Cambridge but hopefully we will hear that next time around….)

http://www.heavenlyrecordings.com/author/hooton-tennis-club/

Teleman, Junction, Cambridge, 26 Oct 2016

Back to Cambridge for Teleman; this time playing to a much larger audience in Junction One.

Support act were Cambridge five-piece Lunacre, confidently rising to the occasion on the big stage. With keyboards, guitars and intermittent saxophone they have a varied palette of sonic textures to choose from and the songs show restraint and subtlety as the instrumentation drifts in and out to create a relaxed, hypnotic sound.
The title track from their new EP ‘Schtum’ is a highlight as are the sax and vocal layers on ‘Occam’s Razor’. ‘(Re)Cycle’ had the insouciance of a song by the fast rising band Glass Animals. Best of all was ‘Engine’, including driving drum pattern and full-on bass punch, showing off the wide range of the band.

Teleman have a spring in their step, with an appearance on BBC music showcase ‘Later…with Jools Holland’ last week, many sold out dates on their current tour and two albums of quality material to perform. I saw them in April and since then they have expanded and refined many of the live versions of the songs to fill the larger stage (also including a frenetic lightshow and columns of steam for ‘Steam Train Girl’!).

They benefitted from the recently improved sound quality in the Junction, especially for some of the raucous edgy guitar parts and some foreboding keyboard moments. The drumming of Hiro Amamiya was spot-on and adds so much to the glorious ‘Dusseldorf’ and the celebration of ‘Skeleton Dance’.

My favourites tonight were the double keyboard electronica of ‘Brilliant Sanity’, the quiet desperation in the vocals of ‘Drop Out’ and the triumphant final song ‘Glory Hallelujah’ where the chord progression just seems to be different from anything you have heard before.

Hopefully now they will get the recognition they deserve (but I will miss them playing smaller shows in the Portland Arms!)

http://www.telemanmusic.com/
http://www.lunacre.com/

Van Morrison : Keep Me Singing, released Sept 2016

Nearly an hour of new music from Van Morrison, what a treat!

The opening song ‘Let It Rhyme’ sets the tone; gorgeous strings, Hammond organ, harmonica break and of course the timeless voice of Van The Man, which shows no decline over the years. The thirteen tracks here are all original songs apart from a cover of ‘Share Your Love With Me’ and the a co-writing credit with Don Black for the striking ‘Every Time I See A River’.

The first four tracks follow the laid-back loose jazz/blues feeling, immaculately arranged and produced. ‘Memory Lane’ is nostalgic; “It’s autumn time, going on November, I view the leaves in all their splendour, is it déjà vu, I just can’t remember..”, this is a recurring theme in the Van canon, but he manages to give it a new twist. ‘Holy Guardian Angel’ recalls some of the spiritual atmosphere of two of my favourite albums ‘Avalon Sunset’ and ‘Enlightenment’, as does much of this new collection.

‘Look Behind The Hill’ is short and sweet, then Van teases us with the twelve-bar blues of ‘Going Down To Bangor’ (“…bring me my bucket and spade..”) and plenty of place-name checks. Whereas the crowd pleasing live track from 1999 told us “…precious time is slipping away…” the penultimate track on this album says it’s ‘Too Late’, maybe so, but it is a great pop song.

‘Caledonian Swing’ is the closing instrumental, a celebratory groove showcasing much of the musical talent on this album.
Following on from the excellent ‘Duets’ from last year, this is a fine and welcome addition to the living legend’s catalogue.

http://www.vanmorrison.com
Van Morrison: Duets, released March 2015
Van Morrison, 3 August 2014