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/

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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/

Wave Pictures, Storey’s Field Centre, Cambridge, 23 June 2018

A show in Cambridge’s newest venue; a multi-purpose performance centre for the new community of Eddington on the edge of the city.
Ian Jeffs is a local singer/songwriter and is now performing with an as yet unnamed backing band. He has an amiable personality which the crowd soon warms to, along with a lived-in voice and thoughtful lyrics. The slower numbers featured his own acoustic guitar with some echoing electric stylings a bit like classic ‘One World’ John Martyn. Second song ‘Higher’ appropriately enough drifted up into the distant elevated ceiling of this unusual cuboid venue, which must flood with light when used in the daytime. ‘Warm Blooded’ was rockier while ‘Talking To MH’ built up from some subtle acoustic picking to a haunting hookline. ‘Last Days At The Farm’ is the signature track, its descriptive words brought to life by his powerful vocals.

With no preamble Dave Tattersall started off with oldie country-folkster ‘Sweetheart’ and as the rest of the Wave Pictures joined in we knew that as always the next hour would be a treat. Second song ‘Remains’ was one of the highlights of their rare vinyl-only album ‘A Season In Hull’, the following sugar-themed uptempo jive I hope is on the next LP and when Franic Rozycki does the familiar slide down the neck of his bass it has to be the majestic ‘Pool Hall’. The first quartet of songs sat together perfectly and represented as good a short summation of the band as you could expect to hear.

Having only been released for a day the new ‘Brushes With Happiness’ LP is a concoction still to savour properly but it is very much a mellow, late night delicacy. ‘Volcano’ is steady, sparse and emotive and as the rest of the new collection it has a distant lyrical melancholia. These new songs describe a world of random discarded objects, burnt matches and rain through window panes; viewed with a similar detachment to the narrator in much earlier song ‘Beer In The Breakers’. Best of the newbies is ‘Laces’ (‘…i’m glad you never tried to change me..you never even asked me to stay…’).

It was no surprise when Jonny Helm stepped out from behind the kit for his customary solo vocal, but I didn’t expect a cover of Van Morrison’s ‘And It Stoned Me’, sung without microphone (there seemed to be some issues with mics and monitors that didn’t get fully resolved) and given the subtlest of guitar and bass accompaniment.

‘The Running Man’ closed the main set then the unrelenting nightmare tale of ‘The Woods’ and finally Dave ditched the microphone for newie ‘The Red Suitcase’ drifting away slowly and ‘..waving to the waves……‘.

http://thewavepictures.com/
http://www.ianjeffs.com/
https://www.storeysfieldcentre.org.uk/

Gavin Chappell-Bates : The Sanctuary Of Stars, single released June 2018

Cambridge acoustic/electric performer Gavin Chappell-Bates has returned to a cosmological theme first incorporated into one of his early compositions ‘Black Holes’; this time he has moved beyond linking celestial metaphors with a personal relationship crisis and broadened his scope to look far beyond the Earth.
He envisages the departure of post-apocalypse humans to rebirth in the distant galaxies – a bold theme to tackle indeed, a bit like the classic 1950s sci-fi novel ‘Childhood’s End’. This is one of the final tracks on his recent concept album ‘The Last One’, a climatic ‘lighters in the air moment’ big ballad contrasting with some of the rockier numbers on the LP.

Beginning with simple and calm acoustic guitar, Gavin delivers a poignant vocal performance, then as on many of his songs the hook-line chorus lifts and gives the real emotional punch. Other instruments gradually appear in the mix, with sustained electric guitar notes, faraway echoing percussion and strings filling out the sound until the spirit of the song drifts away into the distance.

Gavin has always put a lot of effort into accompanying videos; this time the lyrics are superimposed over stunning images of outer space as a contrast to some of the worst excesses on Earth. In a week where some of the profound words of the late Stephen Hawking were transmitted towards the nearest black hole a song like this really makes you think.

http://gavinchappellbates.com/

Carolyn’s Fingers : Twice Born, single released June 2018

A new single from Cambridge based trio Carolyn’s Fingers, making sounds unlike anyone else on the local scene.

Following on from recent release ‘Her Howl’ and a live showcase at the Portland Arms, they continue to tantalise and weave magic with a heady brew of unpredictable sonic textures and cryptic lyrics. This time bringing the mythological character of Dionysus to life (‘…described as the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy…’), who my researches show to be a major cult figure of ambiguity and multi-interpretations. This god is also known as Bacchus and sometimes given the epithet Eleutherios (“the liberator”), mentioned in the song and also the name of an earlier demo version of this track.

Beginning with a heartbeat, the pure vocal leads through, punctuated by keyboard clicks and distant effects before the guitar chimes in and takes over. A quieter section sounds almost like a Gregorian chant, sung in Spanish (and a made-up language?). That echoing guitar re-asserts itself as it all builds to a finale, controlled on the surface but with a frenzied undercurrent.

Quite how they achieve this hypnotic and distinctive sound with such minimal instrumentation is an enigma in itself, but with their own production skills (and cover artwork too) they are the complete package.

https://www.facebook.com/carolynsfingersband/

Red Red Eyes, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 5 June 2018

An excellent double-bill in the popular Blue Moon venue room, with an emphasis on keyboard-driven sounds.

First on was Cambridge based Luke Cowan; having recorded an evocative EP to illustrate the passing of the seasons he was performing this minimalist suite, having first set the tone with a cover of Bert Jansch’s ‘Veronica’. A quiet and unassuming frontman, Luke was directing his fellow seated instrumentalists from the piano as they added bass, acoustic guitar, drums and a range of percussion including a shaken cluster of shells and a singing wine glass.
Always building around a repeating and resonating piano motif each timeless, dreaming piece flowed and entranced, quite unlike anything I had heard in a live show for ages and very welcome too.

Red Red Eyes are Laura McMahon and Xavier Watkins, key performers in cinematic psychedelic adventurers Violet Woods back in 2014. This new band have recently released the impressive album ‘Horology’ (on which every track has something to do with clocks?).
The songs are based around sustained keyboard chords, varying from church organ to reassuring eighties synthesiser but the hypnotic, echoing and strangely soothing voice of Laura is the dominant sound. This is interwoven with Xavier’s effects box of tricks and sharp-edged electric guitar to cut through the mix as in the dissonant waltz ‘The Watch Ticks On’.

There are plenty of varied tones; the pulsing electro bassline on the up-tempo ‘Empty Land’, the mellotron accompaniment to the short and plaintive ‘Heart In Your Mouth’ and the many instrumental cross-currents in the sweeping epic ‘Wildfires’.

‘Control’ has a distant melody and piano line and is a sublime summary of many of the aspects of the rest of the all too short set. Persisting in the memory it was a thought-provoking, imaginative musical evening much appreciated by an attentive audience…

https://www.facebook.com/redredeyesband/
https://lukecowan.bandcamp.com/