Tag Archives: Cambridge

Robyn Hitchcock, Unitarian Church, Cambridge, 18 May 2018

The small Unitarian Church is an ideal venue for the close bond that Robyn Hitchcock has with his devoted followers, he was playing the second of two long ago sold-out shows, with the promise of a completely different setlist for each evening.

Support Jessica Lee Morgan sings her own compositions with acoustic guitar and some jazzy bass. She has a warm and versatile voice; opener ‘Texas Angel’ shows shades of Joni Mitchell while ‘I Am Not’ is a bold alt-country statement of independence. ‘Nobody Knows’ is a short sharp up-tempo bluesy number and then back to the country stylings and catchy chorus of ‘Waiting To Leave’. ‘The Less Said The Better’ was co-written with Jessica’s mother, singer Mary Hopkin, then she managed to get the normally reserved Cambridge audience to sing along to set-closer ‘This Is My Love Song To You’, leaving a real feel-good atmosphere in the church.

Robyn Hitchcock draws on his substantial back catalogue and his attachment to Cambridge for his set (most recent album not featuring at all?), opening with his original band Soft Boys song ‘Tonight’, probably written he says across the road on Midsummer Common in 1979.
The songs work with just his acoustic guitar accompanying; often using quite a complex instrumentation. With a warning that a throat infection may render his voice a bit more “Leonard Cohen” than usual he launched into the excellent ‘My Wife And My Dead Wife’ with its multitude of twisting lyrical rhymes (‘..my dead wife’s upstairs, she’s still wearing flares…’) and a macabre but irresistible chorus.
The surreal words stay in dark territory for ‘Sinister But She’s Happy’ but how can you not raise a wry smile to the line ‘…like a chandelier festooned with leeches…’ and so many others.

With its pop laced with psychedelia ‘Beautiful Girl’ would have sat nicely at the top of the charts in the late 60s, while ‘I’m Only You’ is another tour de force of lyrical imagery (…I’m a liquid you’re dissolving in…’) and then a cover of Syd Barrett’s ‘Octopus’ fits in well.
Being a church venue, you could expect to find a piano, so Robyn moved across to the Steinway upright for a trio of ballads ending with ‘I Used To Love You’ with local references galore ‘…the police station is still on Parkers Piece, it hasn’t drifted and nor have the police…’.

Local guitarist and original musical collaborator Kimberley Rew stepped up to add some spiky electric guitar colours to four more songs, including the timeless political frustrations of ‘I Wanna Destroy You’ and a moving cover of alternative national anthem ‘Waterloo Sunset’ bringing this brilliant show to an end.

http://www.robynhitchcock.com/
http://www.jessicaleemorgan.com/
http://www.greenmind.co.uk/


Robyn and early arrivals outside the venue (photo by http://www.karenfranceseng.com)

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Shyer : Compliments, single released April 2018

As the warmth of Spring finally arrives Cambridge rockers Shyer release the ideal track for a relaxing evening of music; a punchy but laid-back three minutes which in their words is ‘..about seeing through the facade to what’s really there. Even when it’s not pretty….’. The recording is accompanied by a performance video on YouTube and some striking cover artwork! (see below).

Starting with an inviting guitar chord sequence the voice kicks in with some of the lyrical ambiguity that vocalist Amanda George is so adept at delivering, tempered by infectious ‘…uh-oh’s…’. The song reaches an irresistible chorus, where the barbs of ‘…I may be a liar, I’m inclined to forget, but tell me does this bruise your confidence…?’ float over an onslaught of perfectly tempered guitar fuzz, fighting against the dynamics of the bass and drums.

As in all the best songs the middle-eight takes the song in a different direction rhythmically and musically and on this occasion does not lead back into the chorus or any thematic resolution, instead leaving the emotional conclusion of the repeated ‘…I never asked for this…’ ominously hanging in the air.

I recently saw Shyer as first act on stage in a triple header of Cambridge favourites at popular rocking venue The Cornerhouse (with The Scissors and Bouquet Of Dead Crows) and was treated to a blistering set which showcased this fine song.

https://www.facebook.com/Shyerband/

Public Service Broadcasting, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 10 April 2018

The return of Public Service Broadcasting to the Corn Exchange after three years of a steadily increasing profile culminating in their new album reaching number four in the charts.

Support was from Jane Weaver, multi-talented singer/songwriter tonight showcasing tracks from her most recent album with her keyboardist and guitarist laying down some bold electronic grooves and featuring some excellent live drumming. Jane’s vocals float effortlessly above the music and the hypnotic qualities of ‘The Architect, ‘I Need A Connection’ and older favourite ‘Don’t Take My Soul’ went down well with the sold-out crowd.

With a stage flanked by two moving pithead wheels and miners’ lamps descending from above the four performers of PSB opened their set with the first three tracks from the very successful ‘Every Valley’ album, describing the central position of the coal industry in communities in the Welsh valleys; the decline of the industry to be revisited later in the show.

Their use of visuals has reached a new level, the striking images projected onto several screens, illustrating the archive voice samples. The musical core of the band continues as strongly as before, with live guitar, drumming and bass giving extra heft when necessary.
Older songs such as ‘Theme From PSB’, ‘Night Mail’ and concert rarity ‘Elfstedentocht’ (‘…a song about ice-skating in Dutch…’) were real treats but the surprise mid-set highlight was definitely ‘ROYGBIV’ when the voices describing the invention of electronic colour were accompanied by a visual spectacular.

We cheered the re-establishment of contact with Apollo 8 as it returned from ‘The Other Side’ of the Moon, enjoyed the dancing astronauts and brass-players in ‘Gagarin’, went misty-eyed over film of the pioneering ‘Valentina’, were shocked by the images of confrontation and musical dissonance in ‘All Out’, revelled in the eccentric singalong of spacecraft technology in ‘Go’ and were carried along by the emotional history lesson of ‘Everest’. And there was more too.

What a great show! In 2015 I described them as a ‘…formidable live attraction…’, they are even better now…

https://www.publicservicebroadcasting.net/
https://janeweavermusic.com/

https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/04/26/public-service-broadcasting-corn-exchange-cambridge-25-april-2015/

Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Fopp, Cambridge, 5 April 2018

Cambridge record store Fopp was the venue for a short acoustic performance from highly-regarded folk duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, a prelude to their show later in the day at The Portland Arms….
….and what a treat for the tired CD and vinyl shopper, as the pair spun their wistful melancholy with single guitar and unamplified voice, (adding a brief appearance from support act Samantha Whates on backing vocals for two songs). They opened with ‘The Birds’ from their ornithologically themed EP from 2017. Josienne has a pure, rich yet delicate voice, fully inhabiting the lyrical tales she tells. Having instantly won over the audience the pair then played the poignant ‘Something Familiar’ (5.8 million listens on Spotify!).

Currently touring to promote a new LP, Josienne and Ben have an extensive back catalogue including some covers of traditional folk tunes and more contemporary works such as ‘Dark Turn Of Mind’, a slow waltz from US alt-country singer Gillian Welch’s 2011 album ‘The Harrow & The Harvest’ which was performed next. Their current stage show adds drums, bass and keyboards to the sound, but the sparseness and space in the sound produced this afternoon was a hypnotic mix on its own. Ben plays acoustic mainly but also featured a retro Gibson hollow-bodied electric; what a superb sound that made.
They finished the set with the mellow ‘Seedlings All’, the title track to the new disc.
Pure Magic.

http://josienneandben.com/#contact

Gavin Chappell-Bates : Album Launch, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 24 March 2018

Opening the show at the constantly improving Blue Moon venue room was local singer/songwriter/guitarist Claudia McKenzie, otherwise known as I,Claudia, with a set of uplifting and varied tracks, based on her own experiences and anecdotes. Best of these was the blues of ‘Rain Down Hell’ though she can soon lighten the mood with the start-stop pace of ‘Staying In Tonight’.

Last seen playing outside at a freezing cold Mill Road Winter Fair, Louise Eatock, better known as Flaming June played a short selection of her extensive back catalogue of powerful folk tunes, tonight joined on stage by violin and cajon to add extra pulsing rhythm and soaring melody to her timeless lyrics. ‘Little Love In A Cruel World’ and ‘Wednesdays & Weekends’ sounded as good as ever, with final track ‘The Deviling Kind’ neatly weaving a sinister lyric around an irresistible instrumental backing.

Gavin Chappell-Bates has spent many months crafting the rare treat these days of a ‘concept album’, and tonight he played it in full. It is an ambitious theme; whereas Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ attempted to describe the spectrum of all human existence, Gavin details the build up and consequences of the end of the world for an individual who literally becomes ‘The Last One’. It may sound a bit of a grim prospect but the music is generally uplifting and as he explains, the message to take away is that we should appreciate what we have and live in the moment.

The first optimistic songs are full of memories of growing up; the gradual building of musical layers in ‘The Philosopher’, the spirited romp of ‘Lovely Day’, ‘Young Lovers’ with its catchy hookline and a tribute to ‘Mother’. ‘Bad Faith/Good Faith’ sees an edgier tension across the lyric, but with another potent hook. The recorded versions of some of the tracks feature strings and keyboards, but they are not missed tonight; Gavin’s specially assembled band (The Singing Trees) have a life of their own with solid bass, 12-string electric and sparky drumming supporting his own guitars and harmonica.

‘Do What You Like’ is a topical and bitter summary of human disregard for the planet and as a consequence Armageddon arrives in my favourite track on the album ‘The Last One’……after all if the world is going to end it is good to set it to a 70s glam rock shouter, much enjoyed by the audience.
‘Cinematic Memories’ and ‘The Sanctuary Of Stars’ are moving and thoughtful big ballads, then guitar-led rocker ‘This Is It’ brings the album to a close; no triple gatefold concept excesses here, it is all very much to the point.

A quick cover of REM’s ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’ was followed by final encore of Gavin’s older single ‘We Are The Ones’ and left us feeling fine.

Well played Gavin and the band. A triumph!

http://gavinchappellbates.com/
http://loui552.wixsite.com/flamingjuneuk
https://www.iclaudiamusic.com/

R J Archer : No Consolation Prize, LP released March 2018

A new LP of his own compositions from Cambridge acoustic guitarist R J Archer. Also known as Ricky Boom-Boom or Richard Archer he continues to project the blues through a neo-folk prism when recording or playing live and the opener ‘Trouble Will Find You’ is a fine example of this crossover.

‘Walking Blues’ is a smooth waterfall of guitar while ‘Song Of The Seasons’ and the delicate ‘Bitter End’ shows some psychedelic roots. Richard described ‘Spilt Milk’ as depicting how regret is a corrosive emotion, set to an unrelenting set of chord changes and strong hook. Considering the supposed limitations of one man and an acoustic guitar, there is a satisfying variety of material on show in these twelve tracks; ‘I Need To Sleep’ being a technical workout beneath the somnolent lyric.

‘Tired Old War’ is a straightforward protest song, always good to hear. Previously released ‘Barbara’ is the most unusual sonic track here, it was reviewed on this site as ‘….a stately amalgamation of dense guitars and a lyric and vocal delivery reminiscent of Syd Barrett’s later solo material….’

‘Downtime In The Panoptican’ is a challenging title that invites further research (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon) and creates an uncomfortable atmosphere of dissonant paranoia. ‘Bottlenecks And Barriers’ is more soothing and final song ‘Discotheque In The Dark’ is an impressionistic, intricate piece ‘..Who knows where everybody goes…now the doors have all but closed….’, a long way removed from the bright lights and loud noises of the institution in the title. This is perhaps echoed in the cover artwork where a knowing R J, guitar in hand, is leaving the party behind…

https://www.facebook.com/RJArcherMusic/

Franz Ferdinand, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 23 February 2018

Meggie Brown is a singer/songwriter/guitarist from London playing a mystical punk rock, showcased perfectly in her debut single ‘Coming Back Again’, (produced by FF’s Alex Kapranos). Tonight she was playing with her sharply dressed and tightly drilled band, who although as support they were all confined to one side of the cluttered stage, impressed and engrossed the steadily growing sold-out crowd. It was an enjoyable set, I particularly liked the sudden instrumental twists in amongst the spiky lyrics, and I am still pondering the meaning of ‘crying for 14 years’ appearing on Meggie and her companion guitarist’s frock coats..

Albert Hammond Jr has a reputation founded on his guitar playing in cult legends The Strokes, and he has continued to push boundaries with his solo work, soon to release his fourth album, ‘Francis Trouble’. Fronting a five-piece band he is a likeable and lively performer, able to share his affability with ease as he leaps around the stage, climbs onto speakers, plays guitar or serenades his stripy jacket. The band are reassuringly adept too, able to switch smoothly between wall of sound and sparser tracks based around single line figures.

Since Franz Ferdinand released their debut album in 2004 they have built a strong reputation based on live performance and a succession of contrasting albums, with constant experimentation weaving through their own distinctive sound. Now expanded to a five-piece, new disc ‘Always Ascending’ featured heavily tonight, with ‘Lazy Boy’ and ‘Paper Cages’ particular highpoints. In an artfully crafted set, old favourites also appeared at key moments, with ‘Do You Want To’ and favourite of mine ‘Michael’ (in the absence of ‘Jacqueline’!) which really kicked the crowd off. Some moody moog synth textures featured more in mid-set but of course the wall of guitars for ‘Take Me Out’ was stunning.
During the encore the back-projections of the band members and other effects went into overdrive and then the double header of new (‘Huck and Jim’) and vintage (‘This Fire’) brought the show to an explosive finale.

http://franzferdinand.com/
http://www.alberthammondjr.com/
https://www.facebook.com/meggiebrownmusic/