Tag Archives: Cambridge

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…



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.


Carolyn’s Fingers : Her Howl, single released January 2018

Refreshingly new and making an impact on the Cambridge scene, Carolyn’s Fingers (named after a song by the Cocteau Twins) are bringing their original music to life in live performance and now on this sparkling first single release.

‘Her Howl’ is a hypnotic, ethereal journey of the mind, painting an intense, personal picture through words and music of the nature of depression and dark thoughts. The four minutes include so many sections falling into each other; it is as if there are several songs overlapping and one of the great strengths of the piece – there is no room for complacency or background listening here. The audience is drawn in to become part of the band’s private meditation.

Sparse keyboard and subtly programmed percussive glitches weave their way between echoing electric guitar and minimalist bass foundations as the multi-voice layers finally resolve into an a cappella style chorus which disturbingly drifts away taking you with it.

Play their other intricate tracks on SoundCloud, watch their YouTube channel and better still, catch them in live action at the Portland Arms in Cambridge on 18th April…



Psychic Lemon : Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay, CD released January 2018

Psychic Lemon continue to challenge the senses with this new long-player; their sound has moved on substantially from their first album which now seems almost light and song-based in comparison.
It is an accurate recording of their live sound; as when I saw them perform this album at the Portland in Cambridge last year, comfortably holding their own against headliners Scandanavian psych behemoths Flowers Must Die. In December they were enthralling a freezing crowd once again at Cambridge’s Mill Road Winter Fair, and now here at last is the new album release.

‘Exit To The Death Lane’ begins with moody ritual drums then the layers of guitar and bass creep stealthily in, including some incomprehensible vocal chants. A jarring guitar solo ensures the vibe does not become complacent and at eight and a half minutes there is time for the groove to be fully explored.
The establishment of the rhythmic shape of ‘Hey Droog!’ (the slang term for friend in cult novel ‘A Clockwork Orange’) is pile-driving drum and riff, a distant choir fills in the texture and the effect-laden guitar does the rest before ending the piece in a solo riot of feedback.

‘You’re No Good’ is definitely not the early sixties hit for the Swinging Blue Jeans, but it does have a more sprightly pop touch than what has come before, also with the bonus of a manic saxophone and a bit of singing at the end; this is the nearest they get to their debut album sound. The last two tracks are nine minutes plus; the band have been opening their live sets recently with the paradoxically named ‘Interstellar Fuzz Star’, the fuzz of this celestial object being the guitar effect inextricably pulling the listener towards its gravitational centre. Some impressive bass playing on this track too.
The final track is ‘Satori Disko’, a reference to a state of spiritual awakening, in this case waking to the sound of a hypnotic undulating drum pattern, rock solid bass and a guitarist ripping up the effects pedals and reassembling them randomly.

Overall, listening to this is a unique sensory experience, a combination of you feeling like you are weaving amongst the buildings in a flying car as part of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or being plugged into the endless pulse of primal signals emitted by distant galactic objects…

Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay Space Rock Power!



Wooden Arms, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 13 December 2017

On a damp December evening, the welcome prospect of three acts making waves in their own not easy to classify genres.

The show started with the ethereal dreampop soundscapes of upcoming Cambridge trio Carolyn’s Fingers. Named after a song by the Cocteau Twins they weave their music from a simple combination of bass, keyboard and an echoing guitar that sounds like it is appearing over a distant horizon. Add hypnotic vocal cadences, unpredictable taped percussion clicks and bursts and you have their signature track ‘Glemora’. Their lyrics address some difficult issues such as the mental state of residents in a detention centre in the minimalist ‘Vapour’. A new single was being filmed during the set for video release and I think we will be hearing much more of their haunting sound.

I last saw Xavier Watkins fronting psychedelic revivalists Violet Woods a couple of years back, here he was back at the Portland with his new project Twenty-Three Hanging Trees; one man and his analogue modular synthesiser. He builds up electronic textures in extended pieces, requiring concentration from the audience to absorb the ever-changing sonic layers. With blurred back projections of images in reds and greens and the visual necessity of plugging in and removing wire connections it was all strangely involving.

Norwich band Wooden Arms describe themselves as a ‘genre-fluid contemporary quintet’ and with the addition of a new bassist they are creating a thoughtful acoustic-based ensemble sound, playing tracks from their new album ‘Trick Of The Light’. Seated at his electric piano singer Alex Carson is the creative drive behind the band, drawing on difficult personal experiences for many of the lyrics. Co-writer and lead vocals (and trumpet) on some songs Jeff Smith has a similar but subtly different voice. All of the band contribute backing vocals, adding an extra dimension to the infinite variations of instrumental light and shade.
The tempo of songs is sedate but there are so many intriguing touches; the sprightly birdsong violin on ‘Brevity’, the John Barry string motif on the smooth roll of ‘Cole Porter’ and the way the plaintive piano figures seem to underpin the direction of the songs. From the novel by Patrick Hamilton, ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky’ is a great title and the song seems to lose itself in an evocative journey too. The final two tracks, the older ‘December’ and newer ‘Burial’ (released as a single) are fine summations of the band’s work, ending the show on an emotional crescendo.



Gavin Chappell-Bates : Bad Faith/Good Faith, single released 8 December 2017

As a prelude to his much-anticipated second long-player ‘The Last One’ Gavin Chappell-Bates releases this philosophical concoction inspired by French savant Jean-Paul Sartre and his reflections on how a person should aspire to authenticity and make free choices. Despite JP’s intellect I’m sure that while smoking his pipe in the salons of Paris that even he could not have predicted this satisfying combination of challenging lyric and punchy indie-rock.

Although Gavin could probably multi-track and loop the other instruments himself he has chosen to feature two of Cambridge’s top performers and session players, Neil Bruce of Bouquet Of Dead Crows on guitar and Fred’s House drummer Paul Richards (who has just launched a new drumming film project, see link below). The spiky words and edgy music encourage the listener to reflect on the profound issues carefully, or just dance along anyway.

The accompanying video consists of graphic interpretations of the lyric, no personal appearance this time, before bombarding us with the big question: ‘…bad faith, good faith, decide, this is your life…’. Deep stuff indeed, but ridiculously catchy too.

With this song and the previous single Gavin is enigmatically trailing the forthcoming album, hopefully due early 2018?



Motor Tapes : Shine EP, released November 2017

An EP of four top-quality new songs from Cambridge band Motor Tapes, moving into a more synthesiser based sound but as always paying meticulous attention to all aspects of the final production. The distorted tower block imagery on the CD sleeve reflects the simmering tension behind the façade as in the novel and movie ‘High-Rise’.

1. Shine The lead track is a deep synth stomp with dominant vocal and despite the doomy portents has quite an optimistic lyric about shining lights from mirror balls (I saw one of those at a show recently, it is such a timeless, simple special effect..)

2. Get On The drum machine and solid bassline drives this one along as the husky vocal urges and cajoles. Lots going on in the instrumentation and then brilliant guitar fireworks in the closing bars.

3. Storm Bouncy 80s electronic keyboard pulses give way to some smooth melodic lines and a great earworm chorus. Keep listening, one of the great strengths of the band is there are always some subtle musical twists as the songs progress.

4. Burn The band are currently playing a storming version of ‘Personal Jesus’ in their live show and this track lets the Depeche Mode mode of their current direction run free. Dense, deep and dark, with sampled panicking voices(?) at the end this is a dystopian nightmare, but is probably my favourite on the EP.