Tag Archives: Cambridge

12 Highlights From 2019 : A Sampler Of The Year

A distillation of tracks taken from some of the memorable albums, singles and Cambridge shows of 2019…

1. Sleaford Mods: Into The Payzone
Opening salvo for their storming Junction set; minimalist, wry and addictive.

2. Ward Thomas: Hopeless
Alt-country harmonies first heard at an instore appearance then in a superb show at the Junction.

3. Luke James Williams: Still in Bed
From 2018, but with steadily gathering airplay and compilation appearances this is still an emotional tour de force.

4. Hydra Lerna: In the Dark
Strong and perfectly crafted single from Norwich multi-talented electropop performer, making her live debut in Cambridge.

5. Billy Bragg: A13, Trunk Road to the Sea
After many BB performances I have finally heard this favourite live!

6. Captain Handsome: I Wish I Had a Dog
Lily from Fightmilk releases an excellent solo single – thoughtful but playful, tense but catchy.

7. Big Joanie: Used To Be Friends
Passion, politics and sharp tunes at the Portland Arms. (Enjoyed support Sink Ya Teeth too!)

8. Robyn Hitchcock: The Speed Of Things
Another fine song from the intricate Hitchcock canon and as always a brilliant live show.

9. Molly-Anne: Cold Is the Night
Chance discovery of this acoustic gem from Gloucestershire folk-country rising star.

10. Caswell: Surface
Classy upbeat single from this dynamic live performer and skilled songwriter.

11. The Tuts: Let Go of the Past
Cambridge debut from energetic indie trio, electrifying the show in a Corn Exchange double bill with The Specials.

12. Jeremy Tuplin: Humans
This elaborate and engrossing single with famous people name-checks was a highlight of his art-folk album which was brought to gentle life at his Blue Moon show.

The New Fools, Relevant Records, Cambridge, 20 December 2019

From the opening in 2014, Relevant Records in Cambridge’s Mill Road has been the perfect combination of relaxing coffee shop and a basement full of new and old vinyl. Live music has regularly featured too, sometimes amongst the records but now more often in the larger area upstairs.

Arriving late I unfortunately missed support Karalinga but after some seasonal sing-alongs Cambridge five-piece The New Fools opened their set with a cover of ‘Day Tripper’ (the Christmas Number 1 in 1965!). The rest of the set showed that the band have plenty of their own material to draw on, with featured tracks from the album ‘Brilliant’ from earlier this year (reviewed at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/07/07/the-new-fools-brilliant-lp-released-june-2019/) and a soon to be released new collection.

‘Martine and Me’ is a bittersweet tale and ‘New Way Of Thinking’ brings the piano to the fore. I enjoyed the Höfner bass lines in a new summery song (about a druid?) and ‘Something About Jane’ was an admirable slice of Britpop. Lead singer and composer Tony Jenkins says he wants to create an original northern soul song and ‘House Of Having Fun’ has the trademark energy and certainly got the audience moving. New single ‘John Candy Talking’ is out soon and ‘The Big Wheel’ is as ever a standout track; the melody, words and atmosphere perfectly driven along by the band.

The finale was the optimistic but realistic ‘(Waiting For) The Good Times’, setting up the crowd for the festive season.
It was an excellent, upbeat show in this very warming and welcoming venue…(though I was looking forward to a live outing for their acerbic tribute/dissection of Morrissey ‘Oh Steven, Why?’, but I suppose no-one would have wanted to lower the mood!?)

https://www.thenewfools.co.uk/

Various Artists : Cambridge Calling Volume 4, released 13th December 2019

Cambridge Calling Volume 4 is a new compilation of tracks from musicians based around the Cambridge area, with proceeds going to Emmaus – a charity which aims to reduce homelessness.

1. The Rugs – Blame It On Me Upfront, sparse rocker driven by a guitar counterline and some well-placed handclaps.
2. Colour Sergeant – Now it’s colour Dense ambient layers and creative sampling make a spectral, descending waterfall. A luminous three minutes.
3. ncklcng – Sleeper in the Valley This one is a bit of a grower, busy and accomplished jazz-funk with sax and sharp bass.
4. Kammahav – MLIRIR An acoustic version of the track from their second EP, standing for ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ and a mystery extra IR? ‘…fields full of skeletons….students on courses reciting white horses….’ populate the lyric as a strong rhythm guitar drives along like Gordon Giltrap’s cult instrumental hit ‘Heartsong’.
5. Luke James Williams – Still In Bed Brilliant song and performance, as previously reviewed on this site ‘…Sung with passion it is a standout track; a simple but stunningly effective ascending and descending guitar line is the only accompaniment to the emotionally raw lyric, coupled with a very attractive melody….’
6. RJ Archer and the Painful Memories – It’s Snowing In Hell As previously reviewed on this site ‘….adding an extra energy to the insistent riff, always returning to that great title line,‘…you tell me that you’re doing well, it must be snowing in hell…..’ With the gradually increasing desolation of the vocal it is a mini Tarantino movie soundtrack….’
7. SENEX IV – Valentine Dark rock from trio drilling deep into the mineshaft of Ziggy Stardust glam overlaid with a lovelorn lyric that doesn’t give up.
8. Moonstrips – Nothing Like You This has the initial flavour of echoey detachment of an early Pink Floyd piece then by adding extra noise to a full dense mix, the trio deliver a powerful rock song.
9. Kyanos – Egypt This four-piece draw on psychedelic and dream-like pop to construct a mainly instrumental piece which after gentle synths and a brief vocal sojourn surprisingly starts to rock out.
10. Cong-Fusion – Turned Tables Jazzy and with an 80s smooth sheen, this is an appealing and spirited pop song, embellished by electric piano, brass and a strong lead vocal.
11. Tribes of Europe – Intermission Sounding like it is straight from an imaginary film soundtrack, full of wide-open spaces and a restrained foreboding.
12. Annie Dresner – Nyack One of the brightest talents on the Cambridge indie-folk scene with a wistful reminiscence set over a gentle guitar and piano.
13. Absolute Beginners – Here Tonight Like a meandering river this sociable folky-rock track flows by and is a bit of a grower, winningly enhanced by the moog synth solo.
14. Pink Lemonade – Space Girl The poptastic trio have a new EP out but this is where their recordings started, as reviewed on this site previously ‘….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 can cram into the grooves. Follow that!…’
15. Slava B. – Games of System Singer/songwriter from Wisbech, sounding like more than a full band and with very distinctive vocals crossing between doom metal and The Ukrainians.
16. Future Now – Dying Universe Full-on rocker with prog rock storytelling and even though the song has many sections and paces there is no letup in the intensity over nearly seven minutes, good to hear the extended guitar solo ending too.
17. Karalinga – The Old Man Another track that grows in stature with each listen, reviewed on this site previously ‘… Laid-back semi-psychedelia driven along by an amiable saxophone line….’
18. Amethysts – Stones The gorgeous signature track by this soulful electronic duo; the voices, keys and guitar which sounds excellent live have transferred stylishly to this recording.
19. Lo-Grade Lawrence – Purple Pyramid An instrumental featuring dense layers of synthesisers, built around a steadily wandering theme and bass tone, garnished with other-worldly drums and percussion.

https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cambridge-calling-volume-4

Billy Bragg, Junction J1, Cambridge, 28 November 2019

Billy Bragg returned to Cambridge Junction J1 for three sold-out and different shows; featuring his current set, only songs from his first three albums and for tonight songs from the next three: Workers Playtime (1988), Don’t Try This at Home (1991) and William Bloke (1996).

Opening with his most well-known track ‘Sexuality’ the long set (with no support) was punctuated with musings, reminiscences, and of course specific political campaigning given the proximity of the general election. The three featured LPs contain plenty of ballads of break-up, make-up, disappointment and contentment but always laced with dry wit and a smart turn of phrase.

Although this was the umpteenth time I have seen him live there had not been enough room in his sets for many of these songs – so definitely a treat to hear the wordplay of ‘The Short Answer’ (‘…between Marx and marzipan in the dictionary there was Mary….’), the resignation of ‘She’s Got A New Spell’ (‘….she’s gone to get the cat in The next thing I know she’s mumbling in Latin….’) and the gentle melody and sentiment of ‘Brickbat’ (‘…I steal a kiss from you in the supermarket I walk you down the aisle, you fill my basket…’).

‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘The Space Race’ are both ‘over’ in two of his most affecting and thoughtful songs. The politico-folk of ‘Thatcherites’ and an unaccompanied ‘Tender Comrade’ make their message clear and you cannot fail to be uplifted by his performance of ‘There is Power in a Union’ and the topically adapted ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’.

After two emotionally-involving hours there was a real surprise bonus – the ultimate UK road-movie soundtrack and one of my favourites ‘A13, Trunk Road to the Sea’ was the final song…

Home Page – Billy Bragg at the BBC


Big Joanie, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 13 November 2019

Formed in 2015 in Norwich, Sink Ya Teeth are a duo of singer and instrumentalist Maria Uzor and bassist Gemma Cullingford. Always embracing a pulsing dance beat their music builds layers around punchy repeating bass riffs, uncluttered synthesiser layers, live electronic percussion and excellent vocals from Maria.
The superb sound balance leaves space where necessary and as the lyrical ideas added to the experience there was more buzz and movement than usual in the Portland Arms crowd. ‘Pushin” drives all before it, ‘Complicated’ is catchy but tense while set closer ‘Substitutes’ is a deeper, brooding groove. A great performance, highly recommended!

Big Joanie are a trio from London, getting their messages across with raw guitar and lead vocals from Stephanie Phillips, Estella Adeyeri on bass guitar and at the front-of-stage drums was Chardine Taylor-Stone. They are very much an ensemble, all contributing to the vocals and crowd interaction. Many of the tracks tonight were taken from last year’s debut album ‘Sistahs’, but also new songs getting their first outing on this initial night of the tour.
With subversive social comment (the haunting ‘Token’), relationship politics (the sublime pop of ‘Used To Be Friends’) and cryptic words that just sound good (the addictive strangeness of ‘Down Down’) they are a riveting band to watch and hear. Lyrics are a strength but the music which is kept sparse and razor-sharp is always fresh and interesting. It is mostly fast-paced but ‘Cut Your Hair’ is more reflective and mellow and ‘Crooked Room’ abstract and sinister.

Their on-stage interactions and enthusiasm generate a supportive and warm atmosphere in the venue and as with the support Sink Ya Teeth it is good to see a band really enjoying themselves. A recent support slot for veteran art-punksters The Raincoats was a highlight they described with enthusiasm and relates to their own punk sensibilities which weave through all the music. While it is always good when at a show to escape fully into the musical world of the performers, this is a band with a conscience and awareness who made a point of reminding the audience about voting in the forthcoming surreality of the winter general election.

It was a brilliant set; by the time we reached the closing pair of ‘It’s You’ with its cymbal rushes and stealthy bass line then the all-out blast of ‘Fall Asleep’ the electricity was irresistibly flowing through the venue….

https://en-gb.facebook.com/bigjoanie/
http://www.sinkyateeth.com/


(photos by @MirnaGuha)

Psychic Lemon : Freak Mammal, LP released 8th November 2019

An excellent new long-player from Cambridge experimenters Psychic Lemon arrives on the back of their coruscating live album released in May this year.

Dedicated to the late Stephen Hawking,‘Freak Mammal’ is five tracks of force-field intensity, beginning with the statement of intent that is ‘Dark Matter’ – astronomers say that this is the stuff that makes up most of the Universe and much of that substance seems to be present in this enormous track.
It all seems so calm at first as a soothing electro-keyboard repeats over the steadily building drums until the arrival of a sky-soaring guitar. One of the great attributes of an electric guitar is that it can be made to sound like anything but a guitar and this track proves that, especially at high volume.
Seven and a half minutes in and the music starts to dismantle itself into component parts; the drum pattern breaks into a rush of cymbals underneath a guitar solo of improbably sustained notes until the whole mighty machine crashes in again for the rest of the song.

The slower ‘Seeds Of Tranquility’ is a more contemplative thirteen minutes, driven by the bass octave stretching and muted complex percussion. Perhaps inspired by the unchanging melancholy of the lunar surface it feels timeless and far away.
Then ‘Afrotropic Bomb’ steps back up a gear, this time a distorted keyboard and bass riff is the musical chassis that the song is built on (a song without words; like all of this and their last LP Psychic Lemon have dispensed with the vocals and evolved the psychedelic experience into its purest form).

The ambiguously titled ‘Free Electron Collective’ is a relentless drum pattern workout, in some ways the most immediate track on the album and would certainly be a highlight of their live show.

The Velvet Underground reference in the title of ‘White Light’ gives a clue to the hammerhead pounding of this finale but I don’t know if the VU ever quite mustered this energy level on their recorded instrumental digressions. Previewed on Psychic Lemon’s ‘Live at the Smokehouse’ album this track shows how adept the Cambridge three-piece are at recreating not just the sound but the whole all-consuming onslaught of their live performances.

http://psychiclemon.co.uk/

Robyn Hitchcock, Storey’s Field Centre, Cambridge, 26 October 2019

Storey’s Field Centre in the new Cambridge community of Eddington is continuing to host quality music; the room may lack a distinctive atmosphere but with the very high ceiling and versatile design features the acoustics are excellent for the two solo performers tonight.

First onstage was Emma Tricca, playing thoughtful acoustic pieces, many drawn from her 2018 album ‘St. Peter’. Using a fluid, gentle guitar style as a platform for her voice to summon and float a complementary jazz-folk melody, songs like the opener ‘Winter, My Dear’ are full of appeal.’The Servant’s Room’ reflects how cities change as time passes based on observations from a café window while ‘November At My Door’ is as captivating as the title promises.
It was a delicate and enticing beginning to a much anticipated show.

Robyn Hitchcock started his set with two songs from his Cambridge days with The Soft Boys – the darkly-catchy ‘Tonight’ and surreal treat ‘Queen Of Eyes’. You never know what is coming next from his vast back catalogue of solo work and collaborations; ‘Madonna Of The Wasps’ was from his time with The Egyptians, then the fast country-blues ‘I Pray When I’m Drunk’ was the first of four tracks from his self-titled 2017 long player.
Communications between songs this evening ranged from flights of fancy about the 1976 heat wave and speculating on what was underneath us before Eddington existed, but most frequently it was improbable banter with the sound desk about his fictitious requirements. He extends the range of his acoustic guitar with effects and adventurous playing excursions at the end of ‘The Lizard’ and final song ‘I’m Only You’ (for which he wanted sound settings that made his voice like ‘…a bundle of asparagus full of Art Garfunkels…?‘). A harmonica appears for two songs too.

Often it is the quieter moments that really hit home; ‘Stranded In The Future’, ‘Full Moon In My Soul’ and especially the requested encore ‘The Speed Of Things’ ‘…..You held my hand when I was crying…you were allergic to bee stings…I threw some earth onto your coffin…and thought about the speed of things…’; traditional-sounding folk transposed into a psychedelic masterpiece.

Robyn tours a lot and continues to record, most recently an EP with Andy Partridge from XTC. He also played latest single ‘Sunday Never Comes’, a melancholic and melodic anthem that has had its profile raised by a version featuring in last year’s movie ‘Juliet, Naked’.

It is an ongoing mystery why he isn’t a hugely popular performer playing giant auditoriums but to the faithful gathering in the church-like venue tonight he is unsurpassed in the musical firmament.

https://www.robynhitchcock.com/
https://www.emmatricca.com/