Various Artists : ‘200’ A Compilation from German Shepherd Records

A compilation from the ever-questing independent Manchester record label to celebrate their 200th release, with proceeds going to the Coffee4Craig homelessness charity…

1. The Get – When The Oil Runs Out Veteran minimalist punksters sum up this burning issue (‘….will we get KFC?…will my solar panels power me?….’) They are a great live band too.

2. JD Meatyard – Ubu@Erics I saw him supporting Half Man Half Biscuit and he seems to have picked up on their surrealistic lyrics but added something of his own intensity. I saw (Pere)Ubu@Junction in Cambridge but it doesn’t scan quite so well.

3. The Screaming Love Collective – Come On A pleasant groove, a bit reminiscent of T.Rex ‘Get It On’ but that is no bad thing. All over too quickly.

4. M.T. Scott – The Auctioneer Piano dominated strange ballad, haunting and thoughtful. A neglected subject in popular music, I will never view Bargain Hunt in the same way again.

5. Issac Navaro – Swam Oceans To Drown In Concrete Ambient delights for 11 minutes. Good to hear the acoustic piano over the top of the electronics.

6. Moff Skellington – The Clegg Twins As well as drawing the artwork for this album(see below) Moff Skellington contributes characteristic fantastical prose over an uncomfortable backing. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the picture of two Nick Cleggs out of my mind but perhaps that was the strength of the track.

7. The Junta – MCR Bassy electronic instrumental, it needs to be loud.

8. Space Museum – Esoteric Another instrumental, drift off into the cosmos with this one.

9. House Mouse and Space Museum – Bigger Than The Beatles The title tells how it could have been; with spoken word over electronic backing, it is like a history of pop music from the last 40 years (‘…with more hits than Simply Red…make Bob Dylan eat his words…’)

10. Toska Wilde – The Death And Life Of A Dreamgirl Minimalist and graphic tale of woe, reminds me a bit of the late lamented Kevin Coyne, high praise indeed.

11. Keltrix – Alibi (Acoustic Version) A bit of timeless folk-rock from Cambridge stalwarts Keltrix, good to hear the violin and the colour-filled vocal.

12. Pearl Divers – Angel in New York Rocky waltz-time epic, the band claim they feature ‘…strong melodies anywhere from Happy Mondays style to Bond themes…’.. I happily listen to that combination…

13. Night Operations – When Night Fell Smooth ambience, the gentle beat underpins slight variations at each cycle, keep listening…

14. The Electric Cheese – 20 Years of Hate Probably the best band name on the album, sounding a bit like the Wave Pictures in their noisier moments, great as-live sound with reassuring up-front guitar.

15. Bouquet of Dead Crows – Without You (Scotch Bonnet Remix) Scarily different remix of one of my favourite Cambridge band’s best tracks, it has gone reggae instead of rocking out, but don’t be fooled.

16. PrunX – Devils Cookbook PrunX are from Berlin, describing themselves as ‘triple p rock, psychedelic – progressive – political’ It carves its way nicely through two of those three genres I think.

17. Dominic Carlton Jones – Cat’s Front Door A sort of acoustical Oasis anthem, DCJ sounds like he has really lived it – hold up the lighters and celebrate the end of a great compilation!

https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/200

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Shyer : Hideout, single released August 2017

The debut single from new Cambridge band Shyer is a summery concoction about the effects of a new relationship.
The lyric of ‘Hideout’ is a mosaic of references to perceptions all going a bit addled with some neat phrases threading through ‘….All the electrical output…the sudden surge of excitement and I’m charged for days…’ and my favourite ‘…. it’s like the sun’s under my skin ….’.. All assuredly sung by wordsmith Amanda George. The Marr to her Morrissey is guitarist/composer supremo Zak Tysoe, in this song he is always playing something interesting in jangly or full-on rock mode. Firm foundations are provided by the rhythm section of Chris How and Damiano Porcelli – and they are given their chance to shine in the middle eight section.

This is a classy and lovingly crafted single, with so much going on in one track you wonder if they have any more to offer, but don’t worry, the follow-up single ‘Bad Company’, a more rocky piece is finished (complete with ominous chord sequence and angry guitar but another catchy chorus line) and waiting to be formally released in a few weeks.

And there is plenty more to come; I recently saw them play outdoors as the sun went down (see picture below…) over the picturesque Three Tuns Beer Festival outside Cambridge, where they delivered a sparkling twelve song set of upbeat originals to an appreciative audience.
The band’s memorable name reflects the conflict that is common in many performers between the urge to reach out with their creativity balanced against lack of confidence and shyness during the process.
Look out for this energetic four-piece, they are developing as a force to be reckoned with on the Cambridge scene.

https://shyer.bandcamp.com/track/hideout

The Hayman Kupa Band, LP, released July 2017

A joyous confluence of the talents of singers/guitarists/songwriters Emma Kupa (also of the Mammoth Penguins, they have a new concept album due soon) and Darren Hayman (currently engaged in the ‘Thankful Villages’ music and arts project, commemorating the villages where all the soldiers in World War One returned home).

Opening track ‘Let’s Do Nothing’ is perhaps a surprising choice to start, it is the longest song and is a slow-burning musical dialogue between the couple. Layered with bittersweet regret and ambiguity behind the sung words it is given the time to build the emotion.
‘No More Bombs’ continues the lyrical tension and traded words but this time over a delicate summery guitar and a quick bass solo. In ‘Red Petals’ the two voices blend in harmony with an up-beat chorus. ‘Over’s Now Overdue’ is a beautifully crafted pop gem, with the irresistible title hook, the band sounds like they are having a great time too. ‘Do You Know’ is a real grower, nostalgically romantic in its simplicity.
‘A Tent Of Blankets’ has the biggest chorus on the LP (…I want you to always be there…) and it works a treat, ‘Pretty Waste Of Time’ is an affecting country ballad.

Emma sings solo for the gorgeous ‘Reach Out’, a subtle and sensitive lyric with acoustic guitar picking and gentle bass, then grand finale ‘Then We Kissed’ showcases how well these songs work with the dual voices.

There are other excellent tracks too and although there is no appearance for previously released single ‘Someone To Care For’ which is also a very fine song there is more than enough to sit back and indulge in here.

http://shop.fikarecordings.com/album/the-hayman-kupa-band

Gavin Chappell-Bates : Lovely Day, single released August 2017

In the movies we had Vincent Price, Charlton Heston, Will Smith….and now Gavin Chappell-Bates will empathise with being the last person alive on Earth on his much-anticipated second album ‘The Last One’, due out later this year. As a precursor to that we have ‘Lovely Day’, an acoustic guitar-driven romp that is presumably an early track on the album, full of exuberance lyrically and musically, before the ‘end of the world’ scenario kicks in.

A folk-rocky vibe from the backing band glides along nicely underneath while a multi-voiced and blissfully unaware Gavin projects endless optimism about what is to come, with a nice mellow middle eight too. Recorded with an as-live production, the mix is spot-on.

I always enjoy his videos; this one is filmed at Cambridge tree-filled beauty spot Wandlebury and features some of Gavin’s musical comrades portraying woodland animals. It is all satisfyingly bonkers and reminiscent of those late 1960s promo films for the psychedelic leanings of Pink Floyd’s ‘Arnold Layne’ and mid-period Beatles, with lots of speeded-up movement and quick jump-cuts, what’s not to like?

(admire the beautiful original artwork on the sleeve too, drawn by Ali Chappell-Bates…)

http://gavinchappellbates.com/
https://alichappellbatesart.com/

Various Artists : This Is The Sound Of Sugar Town, Vol 2, released July 2017

A new collection from the musical cauldron which is ‘rock city’ Bury St Edmunds, also known as the ‘sugar town’ of East Anglia.

1. Sun Scream – She Strong opener, a powerful riff, some nice ooh-oohs with the vocals and an instrumental spectacular to finish.

2. Cathedrals And Cars – The Concierge This is one of those songs that you think you have heard before (perhaps I have?), always a good sign. With busy guitar lines and a rallying call type chorus, it is raucous and uplifting.

3. Janet Street Slaughter – The Sensitive Side Of Bill Sykes Crazy band name and song title, this is a pounding rocker, the vocalist starts off like Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs then loses it in spectacular style at the end.

4. The Wilsons – If It Wasn’t So Soon A fine burst of country-rock, a lyric of desperation leading to the hook line each time. Good ‘as-live’ sound on this one conjuring up the wide-open spaces of the journey narrative.

5. The Cuts – Hometown Punk rock never died; here is the proof. Profane and sort of profound.

6. Gaffa Tape Sandy – L’Appel Du Vide Fresh from an appearance at Glastonbury, this power-pop trio play a noisy and very catchy song named after the syndrome that makes you want to jump off buildings if you look down…

7. Bracken – Slaves Pt II Six and a half minutes of engrossing doom laden rock, with a vocal that is not for the faint-hearted. Whatever happened to Pt 1?

8. Horse Party – Looking For Life I love and miss Horse Party who are sadly no more; they were a superb explosive band live and recorded. This song showcases their mellow and mysterious side.

9. Suburban Minds – Sun Break A pulsing drum-driven power waltz at times dense then sparse with emotive vocal.

10. The Virtues – Moon Man
A bit of psychedelic-edged rock with a winning chorus and energetic instrumental break. Great bass sound!

11. Jack Rundell – Wicked Words ’21st Century singing cowboy’ and obsessive Hank Williams fan (read the tribute on his website) lightens up the album with this warm and cleverly crafted lo-fi track.

12. SIAH – Susie Smokes A swaggering belter of a song from the this four-piece fuzzy guitar combo but I still can’t work out the band name?

13. Tundra – Vacation(Cheer Up Chuck) With a raw recorded sound and a simple chord structure this garage band track pulls you in. A gratifyingly loud guitar crashes into the mix near the end.

Many of these fine performers can be seen at the Hunter Club alternative music nights run by local promoters ‘Washing Machine’, see you there!

https://repeatfanzine.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-the-sound-of-sugar-town-volume-2
http://www.washingmachinebse.co.uk/
http://www.hunterclub.org.uk/

Public Service Broadcasting: Every Valley, released July 2017

The follow-up to the acclaimed ‘The Race For Space’, the new Public Service Broadcasting album debuts in the album charts at Number 4, not bad for a concept album about the decline of the coal mining industry in South Wales. Given those perhaps limited parameters this is a superb result, it is more introspective and less immediate than its predecessors but repeated listens brings overall reward and many glistening nuggets like that which no doubt were sometimes found in the coal seams (…enough for another 400 years…).

The narrative starts with the perceived and semi-romanticised nobility of the miners in the opening title track with of course spot-on sampled voices including a too-short snippet of the legendary Richard Burton (which made me want to re-listen to his voicing of The War Of The Worlds!). ‘The Pit’ tells us what it was really like, the 80 degree heat of the tunnels …three feet six inches high from floor to roof… (for further reading see Orwell’s Road To Wigan Pier…).

There are lots of acoustic instruments on these opening tracks, using local strings players and recording in their purpose-built studio in Ebbw Vale. The wryly titled ‘People Will Always Need Coal’ is a favourite of mine, the band using a more familiar electronic-based sound underneath the subtle ironies of a recruitment campaign film ‘….you’ll discover the excitement of going underground, there will always be something new…’. It builds up well, I can imagine it as a future live favourite. ‘Progress’ follows in a similar vein, with the vocal hook added by Traceyanne Campbell.

Then this optimism begins to crumble; the closures, strikes and strife reflected in the angry rock guitar of ‘All Out’, PSB’s noisiest track since car crash opus ‘Signal 30’ on their debut album. The rest of the album deals with the aftermath and how local communities were affected. Guest vocalists (James Dean Bradfield, Haiku Salut, Lisa Jên Brown) contribute effectively but it is those real-voice clips that really hit home.

And if listening to the gradual mellowing of the music towards the end of the album doesn’t leave you spiritually part of the landscape and its uncertain future, the final emotional heft of the male voice choir singing ‘Take Me Home’ is a glorious coda to an affecting musical journey.

https://www.publicservicebroadcasting.net/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/04/26/public-service-broadcasting-corn-exchange-cambridge-25-april-2015/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/03/01/public-service-broadcasting-the-race-for-space-released-february-2015/

ABC, Parker’s Piece, Cambridge, 7 July 2017

As part of the long-running institution that is the Cambridge ‘Big Weekend’, what seemed like the entire population of the city were on the historic green space for a rare appearance by 80s originals ABC. Founder member and creative force Martin Fry fronted a seven piece band, reminding us that the mid eighties charts weren’t just full of electronica and there was room for lush, sweeping romance tempered with underlying world weariness….and just how good those songs still sound.

The pounding stomp of later hit ‘When Smokey Sings’ opened the set and we were soon into some choice selections from the 2016 album ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’. The classy ‘Viva Love’, big ballad ‘Ten Below Zero’ (…It’s not surprising there’s snowflakes in my room…) and best of all ‘The Flames Of Desire’ with its historical Roman references over a ‘disco classic’ beat; though I’m surprised Martin didn’t push the spoken …vene vidi vici… line a bit more, after all we are in Cambridge…

On the album and some live dates these tracks are woven through with strings arranged and conducted by original collaborator Anne Dudley but tonight it is left to the two keyboardists to effectively handle the orchestration. As you would expect for this complex music the band were top-notch with a special mention for the elaborate special textures from the percussionist.

The finale was the mighty quartet of hits from the original ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ album; step forward ‘Poison Arrow’, ‘Tears Are Not Enough’, ‘All Of My Heart’ and of course ‘The Look Of Love Part 1’. A fine collection indeed as a prelude to the fireworks afterwards…

http://abcmartinfry.com/