An evening of musicians pushing the boundaries of expectations. Due to time constraints two of the supporting acts decided to share the stage. Local guitar maestro C Joynes interwoven with the dark spoken words of Pete Um was a one-off collaboration that fitted logically with the rest of the show.
Irma Vep attired in cape and shades made his presence felt as he fronted Kiran Leonard’s band (including the man himself on second guitar) and blended underground rock with cryptic words, mostly indecipherable through distortion effects. Violin added texture and by the end of the set it had all become a bit addictive.
When Kiran Leonard stepped up and opened with sixteen minutes of ‘Pink Fruit’, the pivotal track and single(!) from new album ‘Grapefruit’ the attentiveness of the audience went up to the level at a classical music concert. Standing sideways to the audience so as to interact to the maximum with his band Kiran Leonard played guitar and sung with melancholic light and shade through the huge disparity of musical genres, and that was just the first track. There is lyrical complexity and imagery that adds another layer too.
Much has been written about his prodigious talent and creativity, and on the evidence of this performance I would agree. The music splits into unpredictable sections, there is prog rock virtuosity, gentle folk, all-out rock and much in between. Some of the shorter songs such as ‘Secret Police’ follow conventional routes before breaking apart in desperation. They ended with a blistering ‘Geraldo’s Farm’, brilliantly complex and energetic drums from Andrew Cheetham propelling the song on seemingly for ever.
We left the Portland Arms quietly, feeling the world had shifted slightly on its musical axis, the performance was that good.
Robyn Hitchcock returned to his Cambridge musical roots with a performance at Junction J2.
The show was opened by C Joynes, a creative solo guitarist from nearby Histon. It was the pure sound of electric guitar, uncluttered by loops and excessive effects but there was still plenty going on, the elaborate instrumentals drawing on many influences from English folk to African music for some of the themes. A broken string was mended expertly by a member of the audience while CJ persevered with his spare guitar after some tuning problems but despite this interruption he completed his set with style. I was fascinated by the final piece, using the idea of ‘prepared guitar’, an experimental technique where a simple rod placed under the strings changes the tuning as you play on various parts of the fretboard.
Robyn Hitchcock describes his songs as “paintings you can listen to.” And as paintings they would of course be mostly surrealistic miniatures, colourful and intricately crafted. His expressive vocals and perfectly judged sparse guitar is hypnotic. The often quoted influences of Dylan, Lennon and of course Syd Barrett can be heard but he has a voice and viewpoint all his own. Take a listen to the special delight that is ‘My Wife and My Dead Wife’, or ‘I Often Dream of Trains’ and ‘The Cheese Alarm’ and be impressed. Tonight there are also some eccentric meanderings between songs, musing abstractly on the delights or otherwise of Cambridge and his extensive musical career.
He has continued to record and perform since his beginnings in the late 70s with psychedelic/pop band ‘The Soft Boys’, working as a solo artist and also collaborating extensively. His most recent album is ‘The Man Upstairs’, featuring original songs and covers including a brilliant version of ‘The Ghost in You’ by The Psychedelic Furs (remember them?). Unfortunately that wasn’t played tonight but as a bonus instead the show ended with guest appearances from Cambridge musicians Nick Barraclough on mandolin and banjo and Kimberley Rew on guitar. This included an encore of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the famous experimental Beatles track, fitting seamlessly into the show.