The much-loved Half Man Half Biscuit returned to the Junction J1 for another sell-out show, once again supported by Cambridge stalwarts Model Village, whose early set time caught out many of the audience (including me!).
Half Man Half Biscuit arrived on stage to the Portsmouth Sinfonia’s dissonant version of the 2001 theme. When the band opened with anti-tribute ‘Bob Wilson – Anchorman’ quickly followed by new bat-themed audience favourite ‘Renfield’s Afoot’ and death-ode ‘When The Evening Sun Goes Down’ it was clear this could be a vintage show with leader Nigel Blackwell full of dry asides and an excellent sound mix at the Junction.
They have a huge back catalogue, virtually any of the tracks can make a surprise reappearance in their lengthy sets but tonight there were plenty from their newest LP, including the bittersweet poetry of ‘Terminus’ ‘…time creeps up unseen, and it puts me back at the front of the bus…. hands I once held no longer there….grey falls on the green..as I try and get used to ‘me’ and not ‘us’….’
As always the superfans in the audience know every word, but the band continues to draw in new converts to the cause as they play infrequent shows across the UK.
The surreal imagery of the lyrics is much documented and bizarre juxtapositions give life to the low-level celebrities and imaginary characters that populate the songs ‘….sour-faced she picked out the gherkins, saw Christ in Dorothy Perkins…’. The Cambridge audience is attentive to every nuance but let go for the sheer celebration of ‘Joy Division Oven Gloves’ and ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Upcoming Train)’, as well as uplifting gems like ‘Swerving The Checktrade’.
The traditional cover version encore tonight was Pink Floyd’s ‘Bike’, given the closeness of the venue to composer Syd Barrett’s house. Another local reference and one of their best ‘For What Is Chatteris’ followed and finally the brooding semi-spoken ‘Every Time a Bell Rings’ was a strong finale.
The more you listen to this band the more the lyrics lodge in the consciousness and as many fans will say they begin to overlay your view of some of the obscurities and references of life and culture…
All together now, ‘…Is this your sanderling?…’
DoYouThinkHeSaurus? are a Cambridge quartet with an experimental, creative approach to their music. They produce a loose art-rock sound laced with sonorous jazz-toned guitar effects, along with memorable lyrics built around short almost random phrases. But the overriding feeling is that they are a group of friends making a great sound!
The steadily growing audience warmed to their range of styles, developed over a substantial set with many highlights, from a surf-rock instrumental (‘Party Song’) to the bold bass and driven drums workout of ‘Cross-Words’ (showcasing the talents of their stand-in drummer). Clearly very happy to be the support to the much-loved headliners they made an excellent impact.
Durham-based four-piece Martha are acknowledged indie-pop royalty with a loyal following and three fine albums to their name. From ‘Wrestlemania VIII’ which opened their set, it was immediately clear that the elements were all in place; a tight sound, powerful drumming, the dual guitars, brilliant bass high in the mix and the endless possibilities when you have a band with four vocalists.
It is mostly uptempo; very danceable and uplifting musically and of course peppered with the indie-angst of many of the lyrics. ‘Into This’ was a noisy clatter with brilliant drums and a simply stated message of disappointment ‘….my heart flutters then it sinks…cause you only want to kiss me when you’ve had a drink…’
The much-streamed favourite ‘Ice Cream and Sunscreen’ was of course a high point, especially the contrast between the quiet and loud sections and the poignant lyrical turns ‘…I know you wish for fireworks to light your July sky…I was the dampest box of matches you could ever hope to find…’.
Mostly playing tracks from 2019 long-player ‘Love Keeps Kicking’ they still have a substantial back-catalogue to draw on, including the lyrical paranoia and fantastic vocal finale of ‘Bubble In The Bloodstream’.
This likeable quartet was always going to get an encore from the faithful and converts in the audience and ‘1967, I Miss You I’m Lonely’ was an essential for the evening with a guitar riff to haunt your brain and the lines’….when I invited Frank and you, back to mine for a mange tout….when I meant ménage à trois…’.
Finishing with ‘Come To Durham and Never Leave’, it was a triumphant set on their first visit to Cambridge!
A new album from Cambridge art/folk rockers Ember Rev, a complex mixture of acoustic mystery and thoughtful intensity. It is said there are only seven basic plots for any story, this presumably applies to concept albums too; here it is the ‘quest’ and the ‘voyage and return’ that give an arc to this set of songs and instrumentals.
‘Like Dreamers’ places the story in possibly an imaginary context, a floating ethereal landscape where the cymbals roll in and out and the accordion becomes a haunting meander. ‘From The Country ‘ describes the optimistic and youthful narrators setting off on an odyssey across the countryside into Cambridge ‘….and with our hip flask full and boots tied tight we set off to search for gold….’. The groove of this track stays restless and Dan Ecclestone’s vocals immediately pull you into the action.
‘To The City’ jumps ahead to a surreal interlude of a parade of lanterns in the capital, a metaphor for moving on. The most uptempo track here, it has a satisfyingly loose structure with a neat hookline and guitar figure, eventually dissolving into an extended workout with guest clarinet making a welcome contribution.
Two instrumentals follow, the first a short scene-setter with extra tuned percussion cameos then ‘Walk/Don’t Walk’ is a more ambitious piece, with terrific drumming driving a late seventies Brand X influenced piece of jazz fusion. ‘And So To The Sea’ hints at a tragedy to come on the final stage of the journey/quest ‘…..but I waited, I waited there at the water’s edge you never returned….’. The acoustic guitar gleams with melancholy and dominates the song. ‘Be Still’ is a wordless meditation where the mournful voice becomes a darker instrument to counterpoint the light of the accordion.
‘Ultramarine’ is a multi-sectioned piece with surreal musings on life and death with the inevitable draw of the sea for the central character ‘…let’s swim with the fishes tonight..and dance to their ebb and their flow…had you asked me jump I’d have jumped; and the waves would’ve welcomed me under…’. Instrumentally there is lots going on here – all of the band making an excellent contribution to this affecting mini-movie.
As Dan performs the Peter Gabriel-esque final track ‘Like Dolphins’ he leaves the listener in no doubt that the allusions in earlier songs reference a tragedy ‘….for though we slowly came of age you remained…and of your bones are coral made…’; one that lingers with those involved, as does this very personal and thought-provoking album.
A track by track review of the new album from Cambridge band The New Fools (their name drawn from a Bob Dylan lyric…)
1. The Big Wheel A cracking opener – rolling along and relentlessly driven by acoustic guitar. With sharp similes to describe the excitement of a new relationship it is a warm and engaging lyric ‘….like the first page of your diary…you make me feel brand new….’. There may be a darker twist at the end but the Wave Pictures/REM groove makes this one of the best tracks on the album. I saw the band play this at the Cambridge NCI club back in February; it is an excellent live track too.
2. A New Way of Thinking Optimistic but tinged with regret; a manifesto for starting afresh and moving on over jazzy bar room piano and some neat brass lines.
3. Singalong A fun but searing indictment of the modern music ‘industry’ and hopeful recollection of a possibly non-existent past when ‘…we were happy enough to just singalong…’. The acquisition of money and fame for its own sake leading to decay brings to mind the seminal 1974 film ‘Stardust’, touched on again in recent Beatles-themed movie ‘Yesterday’.
4. Martine (and Me) There is plenty going on in this song, a sort of mini dramatic opera where the narrator lives a normal drab life while fantasy partner Martine is on a different plane altogether. The track succeeds in blending these worlds together over an ever-changing musical background featuring a cello sound and lots of interesting guitar work. After a gradual picking up of pace it ends with ‘…when the cops burst in they think they’re gonna find Bonnie and Clyde…but all they find is Martine and me….’ and a playout guitar solo completes the circle.
5. Everything This track is a bit of a grower – a thoughtful meditation on the passing of time and our cosmic insignificance. Perhaps they are depressing thoughts but lifted by a strong melody and a stealthily building guitar-driven rhythm and keyboard colouring.
6. George & Adele More comment on the media, music industry and its distortion by reality talent shows (I think?). A distinctive brass fanfare and some angry-sounding electric guitar provide the tension while you ponder on who exactly is George?
7. The Boy You Met On Holiday This is the melodic and emotional highpoint of the album. A simple tune goes straight to the heart with an evocative timeless lyric of longing and loss. The mournful and well-judged flugelhorn solo gives that flavour of melancholy like a long-forgotten colliery brass band.
8. (Waiting for the) Good Times Irresistibly catchy but different in tone to anything else on the album. An anthem of procrastination (always an uncomfortable trait to admit to!) juxtaposed with a jaunty call and response vocal and rolling along instrumentation. As an album closer it is certainly a memorable end to the collection.
A loud triple bill at the Blue Moon was opened by The Menstrual Cramps from Bristol. In current music there is a dearth of proper protest songs; many songwriters personalise their issues of workplace frustration or environmental platitudes and ignore any actual politics but this band confront it all head on. Their coruscating lyrics rip through the noisiest of noisepunk, the five-piece producing a blistering wall of sound to frame early highlights ‘Frack Off’ and ‘Tinder Girl’.
The singalong chorus of ‘Cull The Tories’ (…save the badgers!….) gets the audience going but perhaps the best moments are ‘Boycott The Lot’ with its multi messages per second and the ascending riff of ‘Idols’, a searing summary roll call of fallen reputations ‘…don’t idolise your idols, otherwise you compromise…..’. Follow that!
Last seen at the Cambridge Indie all-dayer, Dream Nails from London are preparing their new album for later this year and much of the set featured tracks from it. The four-piece have an infectious confidence in their performance, drawing energy from the now fully arrived sold-out audience to fuel their songs.
The classic punk stop-start anger of ‘Tourist’, the adoration and fun of ‘Jillian’ (….some say you’re not a qualified personal trainer….but I don’t care I’m not a complainer…whatever we do will be worth the pain yeah….’) and the one minute barrage of signature song ‘Deep Heat’ all slot seamlessly into the show. Brilliant!
The idea of this mini tour was having a revolving headliner in each hometown so Cambridge favourites The Baby Seals took to the stage as the final act. Opening with the stealthy bass-driven power of ‘It’s Not About The Money Honey’ (‘…we just want the same…’) the band’s heady lyrical mixture of relationships, sex, body image and modern attitudes is firmly embedded in dense, spiky bass and guitar and drumming that fills every corner of the track.
The trio’s upfront messages are delivered with plenty of instrumental fire tempered by harmonies, but the humour always underpins the serious messages, especially in ‘Period Drama’ and new song ‘ID’ed @ Aldi’, a ritual you have to go through despite making obvious adult purchases.
‘Chaos’ was the big finale track; an epic onslaught of stately sound, bringing this excellent show to an end.
The 55 are a five piece indie-rock band from Cambridge, with a strong showcase of their own originals, played with the swagger that is always refreshing to see. Lots of positives here; the relaxed confidence of their frontman, spiky guitar and drums, extravagant and impressive bass stylings and a surprising secret weapon – trumpet and flugel horn as an incisive feature rather than just an add-on ‘brass section’. It was a well-structured set, building in momentum and pulling the initially reserved audience along with them. An excellent warm-up band (though they were occupying very different territory compared with what was to come!).
BBC 6Music has featured Mega Emotion on many occasions – the band occupy a genre all of their own due to their music and distinctive presentation. Bedecked in kaftans and laurel wreaths the trio move between keyboards and guitars, with big bold percussion and unpredictable sharing of vocals and harmonies, standing out from the featureless tundra of many bands’ stage shows. The music is still the dominant factor with ‘Uncomfortable’ an early highlight. With always something different to listen to and watch, the set flowed along with style and peaked with the triumphant triumvirate of ‘Laura’, ‘OK Maybe OK’ and best of all, ‘Brains’.
After a gap of ten years since playing in Cambridge it was evident that Hull band Fonda 500 have a dedicated and adoring following. The audience were enjoying every nuance and second of the pounding guitar and bassy synthesiser sound, coupled with industrial strength drumming which then changes in a moment to a sunny piece of lightweight pop or the surreal musings of frontman Simon Stone sitting behind his well-worn Casio keyboard wearing his bear hat.
Tracks vary in length with some under a minute; they have a huge back catalogue to draw on but many performed tonight were from the 2018 album ‘I (Heart) Fonda 500’ including the mighty roar of ‘Helicoptore’ and special dedication to Cambridge ‘Mattermathique’.
Oldies ‘Jenny#8’ and ‘I Love Stereo, Stereo’s Good For Me’ are gems and as Simon waves the keyboard in the air at the end you realise what a brilliant live attraction this band are.
Friends recommended this show to me, they were right; if you have seen Fonda 500 you will know this already, if you haven’t seen them it is time to check them out when they are in your town….
This show had been sold out for months, third time at the Portland for Brighton-based quartet Yonaka; this time with their acclaimed debut album just released.
First on was Los Angeles musician tiLLie, a multi-talented singer/songwriter and instrumentalist. Opening song ‘Save Yourself’ was a high-energy stomp with a pace that she sustained through most of her set, eventually overcoming the polite inertia of the Cambridge audience. With a live drummer, backing tracks and her own guitar playing she powered through new ‘Loud Mouth’ EP, lacing her set with occasional pauses for anecdote and reflection on tracks like ‘mood swings’. There was a cover of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, ‘Whole Wide World’ was an anthem for empowerment then ‘Good Song’ and ‘Loud Mouth’ restored the full pop punch to her performance.
The Ninth Wave were more of an enigmatic prospect; their keyboard and guitar driven first song ‘This Broken Design’ was a revelation as the eighties-influenced production coupled with the richness of the voice was suddenly boosted as one guitarist became full-on drummer to propel this song into the stratosphere. With the quartet hailing from Glasgow it would be difficult to not make the connection with brilliant fellow Scots The Twilight Sad on a track like this but they have many more facets to their sound too. With male and female lead vocals combining fluidly on many songs and strident keyboard lines pushing the sound along the vitality and passion were infectious. Excellent set!
I had never seen Yonaka before, but two songs in and it was clear that the faithful had turned out in force – the confident foursome are at that cusp of live perfection when the tour venues are intimate, sold-out and bursting with atmosphere, as a prelude to even bigger things. Singer Theresa Jarvis is an electric stage presence and the band successfully bridge the gap between indie sensibility and tight full-on rock, with an excellent sound mix that showcases the skill of the players.
‘Bad Company’ is the first track on their debut album and tonight sets the agenda for a relentless onslaught of tight, noisy rock bursting with class, style and ideas. Often the quieter passages give way to monster crashes of full-band action, as in ‘Creature’ but there are also more thoughtful moments such as an acoustic version of ‘Guilty (For Your Love)’ and the mental health awareness messages that went with LP title track ‘Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow’.
Many in the crowd seemed to know most of the words and sang along to all the nuances, in thrall to the fun commands from Theresa; I don’t think I have ever seen a whole Portland audience crouch to the floor and jump in unison. I missed the track by the band that I first heard ‘Own Worst Enemy’ but there were plenty of other coruscating nuggets of gold throughout this compact, well-structured set.
Go and see them – it will be in a much bigger venue next time….
(photo by @KimJonHill)