The Strawberry Fair – Cambridge’s highly regarded free festival of music and culture is a platform for a huge range of talented acts, many drawn from the local area. Featuring on the Cambridge 105 stage on this still and warm evening, Amethysts are two performers who continue to build a following for their interweaving of ambient, atmospheric electronics with sublime pop sensibilities.
Opening track ‘Stones’ sets up a sparse but smooth rhythm pattern as keyboard loops and embellishments are added by the duo. Creative live guitar parts played by Simon complement the brilliant voice of singer Clarice. ‘How It Is’ has an infectious chorus and some neat vocal harmonies to add to the atmospherics.
Early single ‘My Love’ has now amassed one million streams with its heartfelt lyric and subtle melody. As it was a festival audience the band played a cover; ‘Dreams’ is not my favourite Fleetwood Mac song but there is no doubt that they did justice to the longevity and classic status of this much-loved track with a restrained, echoing instrumentation and powerful vocal.
Recent single ‘Imitate Me’ is more uptempo with some busy percussion loops then the closing ‘Alone’ built up from a distant horizon of sound into a glorious finale with an impassioned emotional message and some bold pulses of electronic punctuation.
As the sun went down the band’s enigmatic and graceful set drifted away over one relaxed corner of the festival site…
(Amethysts will be appearing at The Blue Moon, Cambridge on 27 September 2019)
Since its beginning in the 1970s, Strawberry Fair has become a much-anticipated fixture on the Cambridge summer calendar. Full of colour, costume, protest, food and drink it is still primarily a free music festival with upwards of 100 acts on show, only a few of which I was able to stay to see this time round.
Some years the event can be slow to get going but this time the weather brought out a substantial crowd early on, including an appreciative audience for The Scissors opening the Rebel Arts Stage at midday. After a decade at the forefront of the Cambridge scene they can still strike a pose and rip it up with the best of them, aided by a selection of their own fastest and loudest songs, including I thought an extra turning up of the blazing sound system to a volume beyond 11 halfway through the set. Having seen them recently in the confines of the Cornerhouse venue, their rich and hypnotic swirling sound easily steps up to an outdoor show.
Meanwhile in the Portland Ballroom (a large tent with excellent ale bar) Garden Birds were on stage; singer/songwriter/guitarist Sarah Taylor-Morris accompanied by another guitar and with an extra enhancement of five backing singers to add an ethereal choir to her uptempo folk tales.
Next on were indie fun-folksters Jacquie And Geoff, the duo joined by electric upright bass, percussion and the lushness of a clarinet. It was all enjoyable feel-good stuff, even with an occasional ukulele showing its ability to sound uplifting and melancholic at the same time.
Cambridge 105 radio have many ways of promoting local artists, with dedicated specialist DJs and the very popular ‘unsigned chart’. Here they host a stage, showcasing local artists of all genres; we caught the end of a set by Ffion Rebecca, originally from Wales but now living in Cambridge and making waves on the local music scene. Performing her own songs and covers she has a rich and versatile voice and a confident stage presence, accompanied by some jazzy stylings from her companion’s acoustic guitar.
I last saw guitarist Kimberley Rew guesting with cult legend Robyn Hitchcock two weeks ago, now here he was on the Flying Pig stage as the lynchpin of the band Jack, a good-time blues-rock band regularly gigging around the city. Rew is not an extravagant soloist, his short and spicy guitar lines and chops weave effortlessly over rock solid bass and drums and complement the traditional blues vocals. Definitely a band and vibe to savour as the afternoon turned to evening and the crowds continued to arrive…
A new compilation of tracks representing the diversity of the Cambridge music scene, curated by Dave Hammond from his highly-regarded alternative radio show on Cambridge 105.
1. Trick Bird – Window Catchy opener from DIY popster, an up-beat tune carrying a lyric with dark undertones.
2. All We Earthlings – Berlin Plenty going on in this rock-prog epic with a story to tell over some powerful instrumentation.
3. Broadway Danny Rose – Find It/Hide It I really like this, Joe Bell effortlessly whisks you away into shadowy territory, a troublesome serenade sounding like it was recorded in the middle of the American desert…
4. I Strip For Couples – An Introduction Orchestral rap, killer guitar, crowd noise, fireworks? It is like a whole album condensed into one track.
5. Black Buttercups – 209 Sinister blues, hotel room 209 (and 208) sounds the place to be, before a buzz-saw guitar solo explodes into the mix.
6. The Seven Twenty – (Can’t Find No Love In This) City – Alt. Mix Evocative, thoughtful song, musically restless with violin roving in and out to great effect.
7. Garuda – Theta This one rocks, relentless drums and unusual guitar effects combine hypnotically.
8. Motor Tapes – Count To Ten Experimenters play electronic slabs over solid drums and bass pedals. Great vocals too, but I still can’t decipher the distant voices over the end fade…
9. Keltrix – Butter A martial drum approaching over the horizon heralds the arrival of a folk pomp-rock ode, the spirited vocal underlined by a violin sounding like medieval pipes. Complex and rewarding.
10. 3 Screaming Popes – Great Day A memorable name for the band and a laid-back, gently rocking track, taking its time and delivering a strong hookline.
11. Bouquet of Dead Crows – Drownout Heaviest track on the album, crackling from the speakers and capturing the high quality of their live performances.
12. Eil Marchini – Come and Go Introspective, intense and very melodic acoustic musings.
13. Datum Plane – Lighthouse Optimistic gospelly ballad with a timeless feel.
14. Pete Newman Clarinet Project – Cheap Black Plastic Cool jazz interlude from clarinet/sax virtuoso. Nice!
15. Lizard Brain – Bring The Curtain Down This is the longest track on the collection, atmospheric alt-rock with rolling percussion and warm vocal performance.
16. The Scissors – Haunted Mirror Prominent Hammond organ gives sixties vibe to a short groove from one of the city’s premier live bands.
17. Model Village – Don’t This is a folky-rock grower from one of my favourite bands. Do!
18. Umbrella Assassins – Chicken Crazy lyric of bird species over an addictive tabla/sitar type drone. Are all their songs like this? I hope so…
19. Gavin Chappell Bates – Follow The Light Live-looping troubadour gives the full band treatment to an impassioned anthem from his debut album.
Great stuff. There is such a rich seam of musical talent to be mined, there is enough for a Volume 2 already…
https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cambridge-calling-vol-1 (Proceeds going to the Arthur Rank Hospice)