Just north of Cambridge, in the village of Waterbeach, the unassuming ‘Sun Inn’ is host to some well-kept ales and also a well-kept secret…there is some great music being made in the upstairs gig room. The ‘Beach Sessions’ bring together a mix of local acts, carefully curated for their musical distinctiveness.
The room was packed to the rafters from the start for the opening act The British IBM. A favourite of mine and the incentive for the trip, they were playing a moody and thoughtful set, with just acoustic guitar and bass as accompaniment to the intense vocals of Adrian Killens. On the albums, the complex strings and drum arrangements work well, but stripped down the lyrics and sentiments take centre stage. ‘Nothing Ever Lasts That Long’ is an outsider’s desolation and ‘We Were The Stars’ and ‘The British IBM’ are still subtle but powerful anthems and close the set tonight.
Atomised are a six-piece Indie-rock band with roots in the 80s and 90s sounds of Echo and The Bunnymen, REM, Sisters Of Mercy and Simple Minds. A prestigious pedigree then, and with the excellent sound quality in this venue tonight (there is an enormous mixing desk at the back…) their sound is clear and multi-layered, with keyboard textures and lots of stirring guitar and strong lead vocals. Many of the tracks played were from their album ‘Dreamlands’, with a new one due out this year.
The memorably named Creepy Neighbour finished the show, even more people crammed in and there was a real sense of anticipation. With two members of the band soon leaving to be part of Mika’s touring band the musicianship was spot-on, with pure ethereal vocals from Max Taylor over some eighties popstyled keyboards, bass and guitar. It was a punchy and sharp performance and as the dry ice filled the room we realised that we had seen a storming show (and it was free?!). Roll on the next one…
The world cup hopes of the England rugby team slowly faded away on the big screen of the Corner House….meanwhile in the stage area it was much more uplifting as The Vigilantes opened their set with the brash optimistic blast of ‘No Money’, featuring a hypnotic repetitive monosyllabic riff and rolling chorus. Hailing from the unlikely musical territory of Boston (Lincolnshire) they play noisy, confident indie guitar rock, bursting with energy and ideas. ‘Get What You Pay For’ is a strong pop song and throughout the set their wall of sound was punctuated with clever guitar touches and solid drumming.
It was a good night for the drummers and I was pleased to see Cambridge favourites The British IBM back playing as a full band, boosted by the complex and riveting drumming of Paul Richards. Opening with ‘Cannibal’, ‘Animal’ and ‘Sugar Water’ from their debut album they were soon into the more mellow and introspective tones of the recently released ‘Psychopaths Dream…’, the string-laden recorded versions being rendered with plenty of fuzzy guitar and a emphasised edge in the vocals. This was particularly showcased in set closers ‘We Were The Stars’ and of course ‘The British IBM’, both being stylish hymns of longing and regret expertly crafted by singer/guitarist and creative force Adrian Killens.
I never knew quite where Bristol-based headliners and enigmatically named The Travis Waltons were coming from musically, which I view as a very positive quality. The guitar/bass/drums line-up was augmented by subtle keyboard lines and from the opening ‘Land Of The Giants’, with calm solo electric guitar and vocal, followed by the stately ‘Vampire Bite’ I was not sure what was to be next. It was a strong performance, successfully absorbing the appreciative audience, with tales of drastically thwarted relationships inbetween songs. There was even a cover of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out'(referred to in some quarters as ‘the National Anthem of Smithdom’) and not forgetting ‘Separation Season’ their unique collaboration with Charlie Simpson of Busted and the closing and moving ‘Millionaire’. I really enjoyed their set, I am still trying to pin their sound down in a few well-chosen words….
The second album from Cambridge based three piece The British IBM, consolidating their reputation with a new collection of thoughtful and distinctive songs. ‘All the Time’ is a low-key opener, strummed acoustic guitar and plaintive vocal from IBM songwriter Adrian Killens, it hangs in the air full of regret and disappointment. Electric guitar and glockenspiel fade in and out, perfectly setting the tone for the atmosphere of the album.
‘Hey Mikie’ is a favourite of mine; this one rolls along well with an infectious hookline belying acerbic lyrics. As the album proceeds it does not try to emulate some of the rockier dynamics of their debut but there are many more subtle pleasures on offer here.
Strings are used to great effect on the song of resignation ‘Nothing Ever Lasts That Long’ and resurface on many of the later tracks. It is good to hear some political ideas in ‘Evolution’ but it is the next track ‘We Were the Stars’ which is the pivotal summit of the album, a measured stately ballad about decline and ending, featuring massed voices and strings and also the subject of a smart retro animated promotion video. As a companion to ‘the British IBM’ title track on their first album it stands up well.
‘Nothing’ is bass driven with an insistent guitar line, then the final track is ‘What More Can I Say’, just guitar, voice and cello, ending suddenly.
Each of the eleven tracks has been meticulously produced to get the construction just right, although some of the lyrical concerns may seem a bit downbeat, the layers carefully reveal and sink into your consciousness with subsequent listens.
Free entry to the Corner House pub to see two Cambridge guitar bands of individuality and distinction, that’s a good night out!
The British IBM (named after a line in a TV drama about the aspirations of computer pioneers in Cambridge) were minus their drummer and so chose to play with just acoustic guitar and bass.
I have seen the full line-up previously and heard many of these songs so I knew they are sharp and impressive, even in the ‘unplugged’ mode. The opening two songs ‘Animal’ and ‘Sugar Water’ are short segments of pop zest, with interesting lyrical ideas (…do you want to sell sugar water or do you want to change the world?…). ‘3 Years’ and ‘Cannibal’ are heavier and angrier and promising new songs from their delayed second album were also featured. The stately final song ‘The British IBM’ is exceptional, the recorded version with strings (and exemplary drumming!) has the feel of Oasis and The Beatles with an aching lyric of disappointment and longing. And a great hook-line chorus that lodges into your brain. Tonight it was the perfect finish to a great set.
Psychic Lemon, reviewed previously on this site, have a contrasting sound, twin effects-laden guitars and long instrumental sections recreate the atmosphere of heady 1960s experimental shows and they do it incredibly well. Opening track ‘Dilator’ blended seamlessly into the next two. ‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’ was lighter, then the rest of the set built up to the explosive finale of ‘TickToc’.
I think their intensity (especially the formidable drumming!) had increased since the last time I saw them, perhaps the bass and drums were a little muddy in the mix this time, but I love the music and the dedicated way they play it.
Hopefully an album is appearing soon?