As a final prelude to a new LP ‘Motus Octo’ in November, Cambridge quartet Bouquet Of Dead Crows release an alternative version of the album’s second track.
The phrase “the good God is in the detail” is generally attributed to Gustave Flaubert, but less certain is the author of its satanic counterpart. Whatever the origin the Crows have turned it into a hookline for a stately slice of highly-charged rock. Making full use of the stereo separation in the mix, Neil Bruce’s dissonant guitar in the introduction lays down the devil’s own riff, the bass and drums crash in and away we go.
Many diversions and subsections come and go and masquerade as new directions for the song before it keeps returning to that ultra-catchy title line. There is even time for a quick guitar solo, a bit of stabilising bass and a genuinely different middle-eight.
The angelic voice of Antoinette Cooper is the serene influence on this organised mayhem, leading the way over musicians at the heavenly height of their noisy powers.
The band are launching the album with a show at the Blue Moon in Cambridge on 24th November, with other shows being added. See you there!
On another hot summer night, the Portland was host to two contrasting bands; unfortunately I missed most of local psych-noise four-piece Lemondaze, but I did see enough to realise they were maintaining the high standard since I saw them at the Bury all-dayer earlier this year. Clearly enjoying themselves on stage they were still punching holes in the sub-ether with their effects-drenched exuberant, enjoyable and loud hypnotic grooves.
Amber Arcades is the band fronted by Dutch singer/songwriter/guitarist Annelotte De Graaf, soon to release her second full-length album.
Lead single ‘Simple Song’ opened the show tonight, with heavenly vocals floating in the air over her suitably subtle and skilled backing musicians. The songs draw on many influences, with jazz and country infusing the indie-folk atmosphere.
The mellowness of new track ‘Alpine Town’ moves onto another plane when the vocals soar at the end while ‘Goodnight Europe’ seems to sum up a state of sad confusion with a stately but catchy tune. There are excellent contributions from the band, with restrained keyboard tones and some lovely echoing guitar chiming through many of the tracks.
Too few bands are prepared to cover Nick Drake songs but the band takes on ‘Which Will’ turning the acoustic original into a shimmering jewel of re-invention, perfectly suited to Annelotte’s voice. The main set ends with the pounding drive of ‘It Changes’ then the encore included the poptastic track ‘Come With Me’ built around a trance-like guitar line, followed by its companion up-tempo piece ‘Fading Lines’.
An excellent set, warmly received and I’m sure they will have gone down a storm at the Indietracks festival!
On the hottest day so far of the endless summer this was the annual warm-up gig for the Indietracks festival near Derby at the end of July, with tonight an emphasis on some of the international acts featured.
First on were Let’s Whisper, a spin off band fronted by Dana Kaplan from the Smittens, with songs of insight and introspection based around acoustic guitar with additional support from fellow smittens on electric guitar and bass and Cambridge’s own Emma Kupa on bass. This was all very engaging and set us up nicely for the headliners.
Eureka California have been playing and recording since 2007, now performing as a duo their sound harks back to many sixties styles, played with a real swagger and featuring some thought provoking lyrics. There is a lot going on musically on guitar and drums and who can resist a band playing a track called ‘I Bet You Like Julian Cope’?…
The ever-popular Cambridge punk-pop trio Baby Seals then played a short but memorable set; their lyrics of modern attitudes and prejudices pull no punches but are always sung with a knowing smile and tongue firmly in cheek. Musicianship is spot on and above all the band have genuine fun on stage with the audience taken along for the ride.
The Smittens are a real treat to see on their debut in Cambridge, describing themselves as ‘….a hard-working, globe-trotting independent American twee pop band from Burlington, Vermont…’ . The six-piece opened the show with short but subversive love song ‘These Lips’ and in a set that seemed to fly by too fast they played tracks from their extensive back catalogue (they formed in 2002) and from the new album, officially released later this summer.
While bass and drums maintain a subtle reassuring groove the band are able to blend the four singers’ very varied voices in countless ways as well as giving each vocalist a chance to shine. Minimalist keyboard and melodica are added to the guitars to keep the much-loved DIY/Indie sound and this is used to great effect throughout. I enjoyed all the songs, especially ‘Half My Heart’, ‘Love Is A Word’, new song ‘Season One’, the joyous ‘Upper West Side’ and final track ‘Love Record Breaker’. They came across as lovely people and this was an excellent show!
A show in Cambridge’s newest venue; a multi-purpose performance centre for the new community of Eddington on the edge of the city.
Ian Jeffs is a local singer/songwriter and is now performing with an as yet unnamed backing band. He has an amiable personality which the crowd soon warms to, along with a lived-in voice and thoughtful lyrics. The slower numbers featured his own acoustic guitar with some echoing electric stylings a bit like classic ‘One World’ John Martyn. Second song ‘Higher’ appropriately enough drifted up into the distant elevated ceiling of this unusual cuboid venue, which must flood with light when used in the daytime. ‘Warm Blooded’ was rockier while ‘Talking To MH’ built up from some subtle acoustic picking to a haunting hookline. ‘Last Days At The Farm’ is the signature track, its descriptive words brought to life by his powerful vocals.
With no preamble Dave Tattersall started off with oldie country-folkster ‘Sweetheart’ and as the rest of the Wave Pictures joined in we knew that as always the next hour would be a treat. Second song ‘Remains’ was one of the highlights of their rare vinyl-only album ‘A Season In Hull’, the following sugar-themed uptempo jive I hope is on the next LP and when Franic Rozycki does the familiar slide down the neck of his bass it has to be the majestic ‘Pool Hall’. The first quartet of songs sat together perfectly and represented as good a short summation of the band as you could expect to hear.
Having only been released for a day the new ‘Brushes With Happiness’ LP is a concoction still to savour properly but it is very much a mellow, late night delicacy. ‘Volcano’ is steady, sparse and emotive and as the rest of the new collection it has a distant lyrical melancholia. These new songs describe a world of random discarded objects, burnt matches and rain through window panes; viewed with a similar detachment to the narrator in much earlier song ‘Beer In The Breakers’. Best of the newbies is ‘Laces’ (‘…i’m glad you never tried to change me..you never even asked me to stay…’).
It was no surprise when Jonny Helm stepped out from behind the kit for his customary solo vocal, but I didn’t expect a cover of Van Morrison’s ‘And It Stoned Me’, sung without microphone (there seemed to be some issues with mics and monitors that didn’t get fully resolved) and given the subtlest of guitar and bass accompaniment.
‘The Running Man’ closed the main set then the unrelenting nightmare tale of ‘The Woods’ and finally Dave ditched the microphone for newie ‘The Red Suitcase’ drifting away slowly and ‘..waving to the waves……‘.
Cambridge acoustic/electric performer Gavin Chappell-Bates has returned to a cosmological theme first incorporated into one of his early compositions ‘Black Holes’; this time he has moved beyond linking celestial metaphors with a personal relationship crisis and broadened his scope to look far beyond the Earth.
He envisages the departure of post-apocalypse humans to rebirth in the distant galaxies – a bold theme to tackle indeed, a bit like the classic 1950s sci-fi novel ‘Childhood’s End’. This is one of the final tracks on his recent concept album ‘The Last One’, a climatic ‘lighters in the air moment’ big ballad contrasting with some of the rockier numbers on the LP.
Beginning with simple and calm acoustic guitar, Gavin delivers a poignant vocal performance, then as on many of his songs the hook-line chorus lifts and gives the real emotional punch. Other instruments gradually appear in the mix, with sustained electric guitar notes, faraway echoing percussion and strings filling out the sound until the spirit of the song drifts away into the distance.
Gavin has always put a lot of effort into accompanying videos; this time the lyrics are superimposed over stunning images of outer space as a contrast to some of the worst excesses on Earth. In a week where some of the profound words of the late Stephen Hawking were transmitted towards the nearest black hole a song like this really makes you think.
A new single from Cambridge based trio Carolyn’s Fingers, making sounds unlike anyone else on the local scene.
Following on from recent release ‘Her Howl’ and a live showcase at the Portland Arms, they continue to tantalise and weave magic with a heady brew of unpredictable sonic textures and cryptic lyrics. This time bringing the mythological character of Dionysus to life (‘…described as the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy…’), who my researches show to be a major cult figure of ambiguity and multi-interpretations. This god is also known as Bacchus and sometimes given the epithet Eleutherios (“the liberator”), mentioned in the song and also the name of an earlier demo version of this track.
Beginning with a heartbeat, the pure vocal leads through, punctuated by keyboard clicks and distant effects before the guitar chimes in and takes over. A quieter section sounds almost like a Gregorian chant, sung in Spanish (and a made-up language?). That echoing guitar re-asserts itself as it all builds to a finale, controlled on the surface but with a frenzied undercurrent.
Quite how they achieve this hypnotic and distinctive sound with such minimal instrumentation is an enigma in itself, but with their own production skills (and cover artwork too) they are the complete package.
An excellent double-bill in the popular Blue Moon venue room, with an emphasis on keyboard-driven sounds.
First on was Cambridge based Luke Cowan; having recorded an evocative EP to illustrate the passing of the seasons he was performing this minimalist suite, having first set the tone with a cover of Bert Jansch’s ‘Veronica’. A quiet and unassuming frontman, Luke was directing his fellow seated instrumentalists from the piano as they added bass, acoustic guitar, drums and a range of percussion including a shaken cluster of shells and a singing wine glass.
Always building around a repeating and resonating piano motif each timeless, dreaming piece flowed and entranced, quite unlike anything I had heard in a live show for ages and very welcome too.
Red Red Eyes are Laura McMahon and Xavier Watkins, key performers in cinematic psychedelic adventurers Violet Woods back in 2014. This new band have recently released the impressive album ‘Horology’ (on which every track has something to do with clocks?).
The songs are based around sustained keyboard chords, varying from church organ to reassuring eighties synthesiser but the hypnotic, echoing and strangely soothing voice of Laura is the dominant sound. This is interwoven with Xavier’s effects box of tricks and sharp-edged electric guitar to cut through the mix as in the dissonant waltz ‘The Watch Ticks On’.
There are plenty of varied tones; the pulsing electro bassline on the up-tempo ‘Empty Land’, the mellotron accompaniment to the short and plaintive ‘Heart In Your Mouth’ and the many instrumental cross-currents in the sweeping epic ‘Wildfires’.
‘Control’ has a distant melody and piano line and is a sublime summary of many of the aspects of the rest of the all too short set. Persisting in the memory it was a thought-provoking, imaginative musical evening much appreciated by an attentive audience…