Tag Archives: Cambridge

Ward Thomas, Junction, Cambridge, 1 March 2019

A sell-out Cambridge crowd arrived early for the appearance at the Junction of two rising stars of UK Alt-Country music. Opening the show were The Wandering Hearts, with the central trio augmented by extra guitar and upright bass. First song ‘Fire And Water’ had the immediacy of many of their tracks, with a tight, rhythmic verse turning into a huge chorus. The combination of two female and one male voice gives their spot-on harmonies the lustre and depth of classic period Fleetwood Mac, shown off especially in the airy, ethereal ‘Burning Bridges’. There is a harder edge to ‘Rattle’ and finale ‘Devil’ is a pacey, pounding crowd-pleaser with a redemptive hookline. An excellent start to the show and the Junction’s sound system has never sounded better?!

Ward Thomas
are riding high on the impact and chart placing of their third album ‘Restless Minds’ and tonight they featured all but one of its tracks. Twin sisters Cathy and Lizzy play acoustic guitars and blend their voices in harmony to mesmerising effect, as well as trading solo lines and responses. Combined with a band that can switch from subtle acoustic backing to a big part-electronic contemporary sound Ward Thomas have structured an immaculate show.

Some of the songs on the new LP are reflections of modern mores and impacts on the individual; the nurturing of social media self-appearance on opener ‘Lie Like Me’ and a longing for the removal of these new conventions on ‘No Filter’ and ‘Same Love’. These ideas make for bold pop songs, delivered with power, but for me the emotional core of the show is the resigned melancholy of the ballads spread through the set. From the betrayal symbolised by ‘Guilty Flowers’ to the beautiful melody and despair of ‘Hopeless’ (a song I saw them perform during their ’15 cities in 3 days’ in-stores promotional tour!), they sing from the heart.

‘Little Girl Sorrow’ is a waltz with an undercurrent of optimism and best of all is the gospel chords and big chorus of ‘One More Goodbye’. They introduced this as one of their favourite songs; I’m not surprised, it is one of mine too, it is brilliant.
It is not all wrenching at the heart and mind; ‘It’s Not Just Me’ is an up tempo acceptance of the world set to a warm and positive instrumental backing and ‘I Believe In You’ is a celebratory and glorious three minutes. Lots more highlights too including their debut LP being represented by a medley of faster songs which shows how their sound has developed over their three albums.

An encore of the pensive, thoughtful ‘This Too Will Pass’ was followed by a grand finale, with The Wandering Hearts back on stage to add to the vocals on a scorching performance of signature anthem ‘Carry You Home’…..still resonating with me now as is the rest of this memorable show.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.com/
https://www.thewanderinghearts.com/music/

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Moonstrips : We Love You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, LP released January 2019

A recently released album from Cambridge quartet Moonstrips; a follow up to ‘Glimpses’ from 2016.

1. Heading For Dust Kicking off the collection is this riff-driven burst of rock energy, motoring along like a late 60s Who single. A brilliant effects drenched guitar solo kicks in near the end.

2. Suzette Previously released as a single this sublime two and a quarter minutes of garage rock has the constantly frustrated narrator detached from the mysterious Suzette ‘….you have so many faces, I always see them in many different places…’. There are plenty of instrumental and melodic twists and turn crammed into this compact track.

3. Ride To The Centre The original trio has now added a saxophone to the line-up and on this medium-paced track its plaintive theme line punctuates the vocal and threads effectively through the whole song, finally letting loose at the end.

4. Out Of Phase A lyrically dense, thoughtful piece with a riff reminiscent of Bryan Ferry’s twisted version of ‘The In Crowd’. Lounge music with sharp edges as the sax snakes subtly into the song.

5. Had To Find Out This is my favourite song; heard live it is a tour de force as the slow waltz time is pushed to its limits. Starting with just guitar and sax and a suppressed drum beat, the bleak lyric gradually builds up the tension of the narrative. Finally the guitar jumps to the front of the mix with a strident solo, counterpointing with the sax.

6. WLYYYY
The title track is as strange and striking as the cover art, where a giant hare bestrides a motorway blocking the transit of an ice cream van following a sign directing it to moonstrips airport. It is an instrumental spectacular; busy bass and drums, yearning saxophone notes and guitar using all the tools and noises in the box to thunderous effect.

7. Reasons To Be Fearful Back to basics riff for this one, the faster tempo giving it a lighter, funkier feel than the rest of the album. Enigmatic lyrics keep an atmosphere of paranoia ‘…don’t read that book, throw it on the fire, its message hurts you and the author is a liar….’ The sax punctuates the track with a jazzy solo, before the big finish.

8. Think Happy Thoughts
A pastoral, relaxed end to the album, built around a repeating guitar figure and pedal bass note. Never straying far from this structure the track eventually drifts off into the ether.

A formidable live band, Moonstrips have attempted to crystallise the energy and intrigue of their stage performance into these grooves. I think they have succeeded…

https://www.moonstrips.com/

BansheeVa : debut album, released February 2019

The debut long player from BansheeVa, one of Cambridge’s premier live psychedelic bands finally arrives. The album starts with the pacey fire of ‘F.O.Y.C’, a short burst of instrumental power built around staccato drums and a stop-start guitar figure. Clocking in at less than two minutes ‘Woman From Mars’ is more of a retro piece with full-on late 60s sound. It is ‘Space Invaders’ when the trio go into controlled power-drive with a full band propulsive riff and the welcome appearance of some indecipherable shouted vocals blended into the mix.

‘Janus’ is the god with two faces, looking into the future and back into the past and so represents a perfect manifesto for the psychedelic genre; on this track the core musical idea is a repeated single note but adorned with complex drums, a manic guitar solo and ultimately bludgeoning the listener into submission. In a good way.

Every Cambridge band that inhabits this musical territory is going to be aware of the ghost of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd and I have seen BansheeVa play ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ as a feature of their live set. I sense that the languid ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’ is a spot-on tribute to mid-period Floyd with its laid-back instrumental colours, distant vocal and loose but always interesting guitar touches.

The final fourteen minute track is a widescreen, cinematic epic – the solo guitar arpeggios introducing the piece are gradually blended with a stately bass then the thunderous laying down of solid metal chords builds an effective platform for some more otherworldly vocals. Over this first third we get a guitar solo and dive-bombing synchronised with the bass. The track does not let up; the doom-laden bassline sounds like a portent to Armageddon and a deceptively quiet section allows some contemplation before it all kicks off again.

This is a loud and louder unrestrained debut, well worth the wait.

https://www.facebook.com/BansheeVa

Pink Lemonade : Sugar N Spice, single released January 2019

A belting new single from Cambridge trio Pink Lemonade. On their previous outing the stratospheric ‘Space Girl’, they were out in the cosmos for two and a half minutes of power pop ‘….surfing the waves of the Milky Way…not your usual Friday, hey!…’, a burst of energy featuring a na na na na chorus, fuzzy guitar and as much outer space terminology as they could cram into the grooves. Follow that!

They have – although back to Earth lyrically the energy level has been maintained and probably increased. An insistent guitar line drives the song from the start, introducing a lyric of fitting in and alienation, a story being told over driving drums liberally adorned with cymbals, busy bass and a punchy lead vocal. The rest of the band join in on the vocals for a killer chorus which will lodge permanently in your brain.

The song structure is suddenly disrupted with a surreal spoken and shouted call and response middle eight before we return again to the security of ‘…sugar and spice and all things nice….’. The trio seem to have a gift for writing excellent choruses and as the track goes into overdrive it finally ends with the line ‘…love, love, love makes the world go round…’. Indeed it does, listen and enjoy!

https://www.facebook.com/PinkLemonadeMusicUK/

Wave Pictures, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 24 January 2019

A triumphant return to a sold out Portland Arms for the Wave Pictures.
The opening act Pony Collaboration first played with the headliners in 2007 so a reunion was long overdue. The six-piece perform heartfelt, emotionally self-deprecating songs, many from their new album ‘Everything Was Ages Ago’. Occupying similar musical territory to The Smittens from the USA and Cambridge’s own Model Village this ensemble make a great sound, driven by acoustic guitar, organ and virtuoso percussion.

The Wave Pictures
have such a massive back catalogue, every show is different in setlist and subtle variation of overall tone. Tonight opening with the loose polyrhythms of ‘Roosevelt Sykes’ there was a rockier sound in ‘House By The Beach’, ‘The Running Man’ and chart hit ‘Pea Green Coat’.
New songs ‘Hazey Moon’ and ‘Close Your Eyes Mike’ with its inviting imagery of ‘…alligators stirring in the soft white street…’ fit neatly into the set and Jonny Helm steps up from the drum kit to deliver an impassioned vocal on the slow ‘Sleepy Eye’ and ‘Now You Are Pregnant’, accompanied by the most delicate guitar and bass.

The triumvirate of ‘Pool Hall’, ‘Spaghetti’ and ‘Stay Here And Take Care Of The Chickens’, each with gradually increasing bass solo prominence from Franic Rozycki provides a peak near the end of the set. Through it all shines the majestic guitar intricacies of Dave Tattersall, effortlessly integrating solos, chords, riffs and impossible tricks into his playing. He is a versatile singer too and with some absurdist links between songs and a beguiling vocal performance on the mellow groove of ‘The Red Suitcase’, he bonds easily with the audience of believers and recent converts to this brilliant and much-loved band.

Rare rocker ‘Canvey Island Baby’ made a surprise appearance at the end, then the unrelenting drive of ‘The Woods’ was an excellent encore leaving us all wanting more but knowing we could wait until the next time they visit…

http://thewavepictures.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ThePonyCollaboration

Lizard Brain : Stray, LP released 18th January 2019

The third album from Cambridge band Lizard Brain is a refreshing cornucopia of a dozen tracks where each one is completely different in style and substance; lovingly crafted in their studio by the perfectionist quartet.

Opening with an electronic sequencer pattern ‘Lost In Sound’ is a poppy song drenched in effects and frequently returning to the hookline of the title, referencing Bowie’s Space Oddity along the way. ‘Gannets’ is a guitar driven rocker with a neat descending chord sequence. Then to surprise the listener we have the loping reggae of ‘Am I Just A Name Now?’, with a lyric of resignation regarding the digital world ‘…I’ve got more friends now…than I’m ever gonna need…’.

‘My Thing And Your Thing’ is a cryptic folk-rock prog piece, needing extra listens to untangle it. ‘Red Dress’ is a standout. As deep industrial electronic slabs of sound drift in and out the surreal words are darkly comic. It is an excellent song; a hybrid of Robyn Hitchcock meeting mid-period Depeche Mode.

‘Nothing To Say’ rocks along solidly then a tight 80s jazz-funk feeling pervades the next two tracks; ‘Should I Tell You?’ is a catchy pop single then ‘Never Felt So Good’ is nearly seven minutes of laid back goodness featuring flute, saxophone, bar chimes, synthesiser, languid vocals and some of the instrumental unpredictability of later Steely Dan.

My current favourite is the unexpected blast of Northern Soul of ‘Back To You’, a perfectly formed confection of upbeat lyric, blaring horn and Hammond organ sounds, pounding drums and bass and the biggest hookline chorus on the album. Brilliant!

‘Are Your Hands Any Warmer Yet My Dear?’ is a medieval psychedelic waltz with beautifully played classical guitar, recorders, crickets and a gothically sinister lyric about a strange relationship featuring imagery such as ‘….I buy a guitar cut out from cardboard…see I drew on some strings…’. This is a track to treasure; unusual and satisfying.

Finally we hear the insistent pulsing patterns of ‘Freedom (Summertime)’, a gradually building anthem of escape and optimism. As the album reaches the end you realise that you have never heard anything quite like this celebratory and stylistic collection of excellent songs.

https://www.facebook.com/LizardBrainBand/

12 Highlights From 2018 : A Sampler Of The Year

A distillation of tracks taken from some of the memorable albums and Cambridge shows of 2018…

1. Wave Pictures: Sugar
Two albums this year and this uptempo loveable confection has already established itself into the trio’s live set.

2. Public Service Broadcasting: ROYGBIV
Stunning visuals made the live version of this lesser known track unforgettable.

3. Fightmilk: Your Girlfriend
Excellent new album but this stealthy masterpiece is in a class of its own.

4. Colour Me Wednesday: Sunriser
Album and live set opener, a summary of all the features that make this band something special.

5. Suggested Friends: Please Don’t Look At Me On The Bus
Short burst of DIY angst, delivers its message as the hookline haunts your brain.

6. Gaffa Tape Sandy: Water Bottle
High-energy set opener from explosive power trio.

7. Teleman: Cactus
One of many highlights of the new ‘Family Of Aliens’ LP, a stupendous and unrelenting electronic riff marches into the consciousness, with even more energy in the concert version.

8. Ember Rev: Bring It Right Down
Thoughtful and message filled accordion-based rock, works well on stage too.

9. The Sunbathers: Girl You Left Behind
Gentle seaside themed concept album includes this indie-folk waltzing gem.

10. Elma: September
A reminder of a celebratory album launch at the Portland for a fine collection of retro 60s delights. Special mention too for heart breaking ballad ‘Late To The Party’.

11. The Smittens: Upper West Side
Many vocalists and moods in a brilliant show at the Blue Moon from USA Indie collective.

12. Robyn Hitchcock: I Used To Love You
Cambridge references in this song from probably the best gig of my year, a church venue the perfect setting for the intimate performance of songs from a glorious back catalogue of timeless psychedelic imagery.