Public Service Broadcasting, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 10 April 2018

The return of Public Service Broadcasting to the Corn Exchange after three years of a steadily increasing profile culminating in their new album reaching number four in the charts.

Support was from Jane Weaver, multi-talented singer/songwriter tonight showcasing tracks from her most recent album with her keyboardist and guitarist laying down some bold electronic grooves and featuring some excellent live drumming. Jane’s vocals float effortlessly above the music and the hypnotic qualities of ‘The Architect, ‘I Need A Connection’ and older favourite ‘Don’t Take My Soul’ went down well with the sold-out crowd.

With a stage flanked by two moving pithead wheels and miners’ lamps descending from above the four performers of PSB opened their set with the first three tracks from the very successful ‘Every Valley’ album, describing the central position of the coal industry in communities in the Welsh valleys; the decline of the industry to be revisited later in the show.

Their use of visuals has reached a new level, the striking images projected onto several screens, illustrating the archive voice samples. The musical core of the band continues as strongly as before, with live guitar, drumming and bass giving extra heft when necessary.
Older songs such as ‘Theme From PSB’, ‘Night Mail’ and concert rarity ‘Elfstedentocht’ (‘…a song about ice-skating in Dutch…’) were real treats but the surprise mid-set highlight was definitely ‘ROYGBIV’ when the voices describing the invention of electronic colour were accompanied by a visual spectacular.

We cheered the re-establishment of contact with Apollo 8 as it returned from ‘The Other Side’ of the Moon, enjoyed the dancing astronauts and brass-players in ‘Gagarin’, went misty-eyed over film of the pioneering ‘Valentina’, were shocked by the images of confrontation and musical dissonance in ‘All Out’, revelled in the eccentric singalong of spacecraft technology in ‘Go’ and were carried along by the emotional history lesson of ‘Everest’. And there was more too.

What a great show! In 2015 I described them as a ‘…formidable live attraction…’, they are even better now…


Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Fopp, Cambridge, 5 April 2018

Cambridge record store Fopp was the venue for a short acoustic performance from highly-regarded folk duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, a prelude to their show later in the day at The Portland Arms….
….and what a treat for the tired CD and vinyl shopper, as the pair spun their wistful melancholy with single guitar and unamplified voice, (adding a brief appearance from support act Samantha Whates on backing vocals for two songs). They opened with ‘The Birds’ from their ornithologically themed EP from 2017. Josienne has a pure, rich yet delicate voice, fully inhabiting the lyrical tales she tells. Having instantly won over the audience the pair then played the poignant ‘Something Familiar’ (5.8 million listens on Spotify!).

Currently touring to promote a new LP, Josienne and Ben have an extensive back catalogue including some covers of traditional folk tunes and more contemporary works such as ‘Dark Turn Of Mind’, a slow waltz from US alt-country singer Gillian Welch’s 2011 album ‘The Harrow & The Harvest’ which was performed next. Their current stage show adds drums, bass and keyboards to the sound, but the sparseness and space in the sound produced this afternoon was a hypnotic mix on its own. Ben plays acoustic mainly but also featured a retro Gibson hollow-bodied electric; what a superb sound that made.
They finished the set with the mellow ‘Seedlings All’, the title track to the new disc.
Pure Magic.

Toria Wooff : Drako, EP released 2017

Toria Wooff is a singer/songwriter and guitarist who describes herself as having ‘….a 70s black magic folk influence and spider fingerpicking style…’. That is an excellent description of these four self-penned and carefully crafted tracks, delivered with intensity and feeling.

The opening track describes ‘Drako’, a malevolent presence who ‘…turns the tides just to watch you drown….grows the trees just to watch them fall down…’ set to some relentless guitar picking with added slide and an acoustic bass. ‘Author Song’ is slower with satisfyingly complex guitar and Toria giving her voice full rein including some of her distinctive sliding phrasing.

‘June’ is a hypnotic delight, with electric counter-melody intermittently weaving around the unstoppable waltz rhythm and Toria’s intimate storytelling vocal performance.
The ode to ‘James Edward’ is probably the most impassioned singing on display here; a soulful and ethereal ballad that balances delicate guitar figures with a timeless folk-lyric that drifts away into the far distance….

Gavin Chappell-Bates : Album Launch, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 24 March 2018

Opening the show at the constantly improving Blue Moon venue room was local singer/songwriter/guitarist Claudia McKenzie, otherwise known as I,Claudia, with a set of uplifting and varied tracks, based on her own experiences and anecdotes. Best of these was the blues of ‘Rain Down Hell’ though she can soon lighten the mood with the start-stop pace of ‘Staying In Tonight’.

Last seen playing outside at a freezing cold Mill Road Winter Fair, Louise Eatock, better known as Flaming June played a short selection of her extensive back catalogue of powerful folk tunes, tonight joined on stage by violin and cajon to add extra pulsing rhythm and soaring melody to her timeless lyrics. ‘Little Love In A Cruel World’ and ‘Wednesdays & Weekends’ sounded as good as ever, with final track ‘The Deviling Kind’ neatly weaving a sinister lyric around an irresistible instrumental backing.

Gavin Chappell-Bates has spent many months crafting the rare treat these days of a ‘concept album’, and tonight he played it in full. It is an ambitious theme; whereas Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ attempted to describe the spectrum of all human existence, Gavin details the build up and consequences of the end of the world for an individual who literally becomes ‘The Last One’. It may sound a bit of a grim prospect but the music is generally uplifting and as he explains, the message to take away is that we should appreciate what we have and live in the moment.

The first optimistic songs are full of memories of growing up; the gradual building of musical layers in ‘The Philosopher’, the spirited romp of ‘Lovely Day’, ‘Young Lovers’ with its catchy hookline and a tribute to ‘Mother’. ‘Bad Faith/Good Faith’ sees an edgier tension across the lyric, but with another potent hook. The recorded versions of some of the tracks feature strings and keyboards, but they are not missed tonight; Gavin’s specially assembled band (The Singing Trees) have a life of their own with solid bass, 12-string electric and sparky drumming supporting his own guitars and harmonica.

‘Do What You Like’ is a topical and bitter summary of human disregard for the planet and as a consequence Armageddon arrives in my favourite track on the album ‘The Last One’……after all if the world is going to end it is good to set it to a 70s glam rock shouter, much enjoyed by the audience.
‘Cinematic Memories’ and ‘The Sanctuary Of Stars’ are moving and thoughtful big ballads, then guitar-led rocker ‘This Is It’ brings the album to a close; no triple gatefold concept excesses here, it is all very much to the point.

A quick cover of REM’s ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’ was followed by final encore of Gavin’s older single ‘We Are The Ones’ and left us feeling fine.

Well played Gavin and the band. A triumph!

Snowpoet : Thought You Knew, LP released February 2018

Snowpoet join together elements of folk, jazz, ambient and of course poetry to produce a captivating fusion of sound. The writing and performing core of the band is singer Lauren Kinsella and instrumentalist Chris Hyson joined on this album by other talented acoustic players.

Opening track ‘The Therapist’ is a glistening series of guitar arpeggios with the soulful vocal of Lauren on a haunting journey where the melody never quite settles. Other instruments steal in and out and the overall effect is beguiling and mellow. Instrumental track two ‘Under The Tree’ has a ticking clock theme and paves the way for some shimmering string effects on the pastoral ‘Water Baby’ along with the piano figure constantly returning under the voice.

‘Love Again’ is a longer piece and probably my favourite track on the album, a jazzy late-night treat with a slightly up-tempo bass and a saxophone solo; like much of this album it is never too hurried. ‘Dear Someone’ is vocal only, you can imagine this one making an impact in a live context. ‘Snow’ is a measured, smooth ballad with a gorgeous vocal performance, ‘Two Of Cups’ (a tarot card that ‘…shows the beauty and power that is created when two become one…’) is a slow, evocative waltz that is reminiscent of a mid-period Van Morrison instrumental track.

And there are more special moments; the semi-spoken word of ‘It’s Already Better Than OK’ and the simple piano accompaniment to the free form ‘Another Step’, a short and powerful vignette that brings this impressive album to a satisfying end.

Wave Pictures, Esquires, Bedford, 15 March 2018

In their many years of extensive touring, the Wave Pictures had never played in Bedford, historic home town of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. It was also new territory for Cambridge’s Mammoth Penguins, the opening act in Bedford Esquires; ‘one of the UK’s most beloved independent small music venues’.
Tracks from their superb debut LP (‘Cries At The Movies’, ‘Propped Up’ and the matchless ‘Strength In My Legs’) were mixed with songs from their new concept album where a person’s disappearance is described from the viewpoint of all the affected parties. As a power trio they produce a bold balanced live sound, with plenty of space for instrumental nuance and the subtleties of Emma Kupa’s sharp lyrics.

The Wave Pictures have a core of adoring fans and gather new converts whenever they come to town; their reputation for hard work is reflected in the news that they have two new albums out this year in June and October. This productivity rate results in a vast back catalogue and tonight’s show mines gems from this rich seam including the opener ‘Little Surprise’ and fan-favourite ‘Spaghetti’.

If you have never seen them before prepare to be impressed by the relaxed but confident musical interplay between the trio, the quality of the songs and of course the guitar playing intricacies from unassuming frontman Dave Tattersall unleashed early on in ‘Lisbon’ and especially later in ‘Tiny Craters In The Sand’.

Jonny Helm steps out from behind the drums for the affecting ‘Sleepy Eyes’ and Franic Rozycki constantly develops bass lines that mesh perfectly around each rhythm, as the style ranges between the rock blast of ‘Pea Green Coat’, the slower blues grind of ‘H.D Rider’ with new companion piece ‘House On the Beach’ and the effortless shuffling groove of ‘Before This Day’.

One of the only bands you will see who can take requests and instantly play them, we were treated to ‘Stay Here And Take Care Of The Chickens’ and an encore cover of the brooding blues ‘Green River’. The final song in the main set was the pensive ‘Like Smoke’, drifting upwards into the rafters and fading away into just the vocal refrain, as we all wondered when we could join them for the next show (It is Cambridge on June 23rd…!!)

R J Archer : No Consolation Prize, LP released March 2018

A new LP of his own compositions from Cambridge acoustic guitarist R J Archer. Also known as Ricky Boom-Boom or Richard Archer he continues to project the blues through a neo-folk prism when recording or playing live and the opener ‘Trouble Will Find You’ is a fine example of this crossover.

‘Walking Blues’ is a smooth waterfall of guitar while ‘Song Of The Seasons’ and the delicate ‘Bitter End’ shows some psychedelic roots. Richard described ‘Spilt Milk’ as depicting how regret is a corrosive emotion, set to an unrelenting set of chord changes and strong hook. Considering the supposed limitations of one man and an acoustic guitar, there is a satisfying variety of material on show in these twelve tracks; ‘I Need To Sleep’ being a technical workout beneath the somnolent lyric.

‘Tired Old War’ is a straightforward protest song, always good to hear. Previously released ‘Barbara’ is the most unusual sonic track here, it was reviewed on this site as ‘….a stately amalgamation of dense guitars and a lyric and vocal delivery reminiscent of Syd Barrett’s later solo material….’

‘Downtime In The Panoptican’ is a challenging title that invites further research ( and creates an uncomfortable atmosphere of dissonant paranoia. ‘Bottlenecks And Barriers’ is more soothing and final song ‘Discotheque In The Dark’ is an impressionistic, intricate piece ‘..Who knows where everybody goes…now the doors have all but closed….’, a long way removed from the bright lights and loud noises of the institution in the title. This is perhaps echoed in the cover artwork where a knowing R J, guitar in hand, is leaving the party behind…