Tag Archives: Cambridge

The Specials, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 12 May 2019

A return to a sold-out Corn Exchange for the The Specials, as part of an extensive tour to celebrate 40 years of the band.

Accompanying them on all the dates are The Tuts, an excellent indie-pop power trio from Middlesex. Opening with the sublime ‘Let Go Of The Past’ they immediately blast the audience into submission, the guitar and bass intricacies building towards the life-affirming chorus. ‘Tut Tut Tut’ is their self-narrative band manifesto with the purest of hooklines. ‘Dump Your Boyfriend’ is a deceptively uplifting pop single but with a darker message ‘…he took my liberty away…he clipped my wings so I stay…. I’ll leave it off for another day…’. Main singer and guitarist Nadia trades vocal lines with bassist Harriet while drummer Beverley lays down the foundation for these many-sectioned songs. ‘1982’ is a blast, then a Clash cover and final song ‘Back Up’ descends into tuneful anarchy. Earlier in the set Nadia describes how they have got this far with no label, management etc resulting in the highly-regarded album ‘Update Your Brain’ and these blistering and fun live shows.

Last seen in Cambridge in 2016, The Specials opened their set with the apocalyptic ‘Man at C & A’ then it was the double glory of ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Do Nothing’ that set the crowd alight. In front of a backdrop of placards and protest slogans the three original band members are all focal points; Lynval Golding’s rhythm guitar and trademark vocal interjections, Horace Gentleman running around the stage and playing possibly the loudest and most spot-on bass I have heard in the Corn Exchange for years and, as ever, Terry Hall’s vocals and presence are the core of the band. Newer songs like ‘Vote For Me’ slot in effortlessly and the re-birth of ‘The Lunatics’ is a welcome and topical addition.

As well as DJ-ing between sets, special guest Saffiyah Khan delivers her powerful ’10 Commandments’ to a heavy-echoing and unpredictable backing. Wow. There are no low points in the set, all the old songs sound as fresh as could be, especially the tense and taut ‘Blank Expression’ and the bleak humour of ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ and ‘Nite Klub’ (about to be re-recorded by The Tuts?).
They ended with ‘Gangsters’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’ before a reggae instrumental encore then finally the thoughtful closer of ‘You’re Wondering Now’. Maybe we missed ‘Ghost Town’ a bit but instead there were so many new and old gems in this show by a band who seems to have the momentum and energy to keep them going forever….

https://www.thespecials.com/
https://thetuts.bandcamp.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2016/11/16/the-specials-corn-exchange-cambridge-11-november-2016/

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Sleaford Mods, Junction J1, Cambridge, 10 May 2019

A fourth visit to Cambridge for the headliners, playing to a sold-out crowd.
John Paul opened the show with a short set of sharp observational punk poetry, with backing recorded on his phone. ‘Glasshouse Street’ was a key track, describing the Nottingham thoroughfare in vivid detail over some twisted lounge music. He quickly drew the early arrivers at the venue into his world; getting an encore then leaping the stage barrier to meet the audience.

After being main support for 30 shows so far on this tour, LIINES have cemented their reputation as one of Manchester’s premier exports. This power trio were a revelation – with a sharp Rickenbacker bass sound to die for, spicy guitar, an abrasive but yearning voice and a drum style that minimised cymbals blurring the beat in favour of rock-solid pulses driving the point home. The finished sound is tight and tense and many of the tracks were taken from their impressive 2018 debut album ‘Stop-Start’. Hypnotic, dynamic and hugely impressive this was their first time in Cambridge, but after the mighty reception they received I am sure they will be back soon.

Sleaford Mods
have their own genre, a unique combination of social comment, observation and bleak comedy set to infectious beats. Tonight they were on top form from the off, as the stealthy deep riff of ‘Into The Payzone’ filled the venue and Jason Williamson launched into his vocal salvo.
‘Flipside’ is an unrelenting lyrical tirade ‘….Graham Coxon looks like a left wing Boris Johnson….’ and the bizarre narrative of ‘Stick In A Five And Go’ is a bass-driven sing-along crowd favourite. ‘Kebab Spider’ has the killer hookline ‘…Who knew?…’, as does ‘T.C.R’ ‘…total control racing!…’ but it is ‘B.H.S’ which really hits home, linking personal disintegration to the demise of the much loved retail chain.
All of these words are underpinned by Andrew Fearn’s sparse and incisive instrumental tracks – he switches them on and stands back, no pretence at manipulating and enhancing the sounds – after all they are already perfect. Bobbing around with a bottle of beer and off-mic vocal backing he is a affable stage presence, reflecting and contrasting with Jason’s dance moves and compelling voice.
The surreal bitterness of ‘O.B.C.T’ (Oliver Bonas Chelsea Tractor?) was the doom-laden end to the main set but the duo returned for more including the familiar paranoia of ‘Tarantula Deadly Cargo’.
They have a vast back catalogue to draw on and we certainly got some of the best of it tonight, including many highlights of recent album ‘Eton Alive’. The minimalist stage presentation focusses attention on the music and makes the whole experience brilliantly unmissable!

https://sleaford-mods.myshopify.com/
http://www.weareliines.com/
https://www.facebook.com/JohnPaulNoFILTER/

Honeyblood, Junction J2, Cambridge, 1 May 2019

FEET are a five-piece happy band formed in Coventry, with an addictive amalgam of up-tempo Blur, the bizarre unpredictability of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and the louche grooves of Fat White Family ( whose last single was called ‘Feet’??). Behatted lead singer Jeep has some neat dance moves and the two guitar, bass and drums bring alive such delights as the rant of ‘Petty Thieving’ and the gloriously funky new single ‘Ad Blue’, a sort of homage to water? with a spaghetti western video and surreal lyrics (‘….you left me solo at the empty silo….‘).
Final song ‘English Weather’ is an evocation of the horrors of a bad summer in the UK (‘…you’d better pack an umbrella…‘). Without analysing too much, we and they all had a good time and together look forward to their debut album in August, ‘What’s Inside Is More Than Just Ham’…

I last saw Honeyblood in the intimate confines of the Portland Arms (https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2014/09/25/honeyblood-portland-arms-cambridge-24-sept-2014/) and as then they arrive on stage making an immediate impact. The current incarnation of the band has songwriter/guitarist Stina Tweeddale augmented with bass and drums to make a spectacular full power-trio sound.

About to release their third LP the band have a shimmering collection of gems to draw on, from the opening blast of ‘Sea Hearts’, the wistful older track ‘Biro’ and one of the highlights of the set ‘The Third Degree’. This recent single is the Honeyblood sound distilled to its pure essence; a stark, sparse track with a killer hookline and a stunning performance of the biting lyric.

‘(‘I’d Rather Be) Anywhere But Here’ is a love song of sorts for Glasgow while ‘Super Rat’ makes the narrator’s negative feelings about a relationship very clear. ‘Killer Bangs’ is a punk blast dedicated to two young fans in the front row and then current single ‘She’s A Nightmare’ is a stealthy, dark treat (‘…I follow her down the darkest path, I’m a dormouse and she’s a cat…’).

‘Ready For The Magic’ rocks out to end this excellent set, preparing us for the forthcoming album ‘In Plain Sight’, due on 24th May…
https://www.honeyblood.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/FEETbandUK/

Malena Zavala, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 25 April 2019

First on at the Blue Moon were Love Trapezium, a likeable trio from Norwich and London. They were playing a blend of keyboard-driven funk, with rhythm guitar, vocals, rapping and a brief saxophone appearance too. They were a bit cramped on stage but presented as a unified and tight playing unit, every keyboard and percussion interjection in just the right place. With featured EP ‘Hyperlink’ and the infectious groove of ‘See U Around’ they were an enjoyable opening act.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Wovoka Gentle (their name taken from two poems by American poet Gary Short) but when they started with three-part harmonies and sounded like a sixties folk-pop chart act as they were joined by guitar I knew I would not be disappointed. With a set that visually featured many changes of staging structure and instrument line-up and complete genre-free unpredictability it was all a bit special.

Many keyboards, guitar, violin and percussive effects drifted in and out but it was the strong vocal combinations that leave the lingering memories for me. I was very impressed; the sonic textures and musical directions were really like nothing else I have ever heard, I look forward to their new album in June.

Malena Zavala is an Argentinian-born Londoner who brings her mix of influences to a stunning set drawn mainly from her debut album ‘Aliso’. As singer/songwriter she is a serene, magnetic personality in the middle of her accomplished band; the musicians able to maintain a restrained presence for many of the songs but able to push forwards when needed. Malena plays occasional keyboard and guitar including some subtle lead lines but her voice is always the key ingredient in the mix.

The easy groove of signature song ‘If It Goes’ had an early appearance, sounding like it was already a familiar hit, followed by the thoughtful dream pop of ‘Moon Song’. Up tempo ‘Cumbia’ brilliantly brought Latin dance rhythms into the middle of her set but it was the slower, musically rich ‘I Never Said It’ and ‘Should I Try’ that were the emotional core of her performance.
Finishing with the slow-building ‘A Vision That’s Changed’ with the ringing guitar accompaniment gradually building to an anthemic flourish finale, it was one of those shows where I felt it was a privilege to be there.

https://www.malenazavala.com/
http://www.wovokagentle.com/
https://www.facebook.com/lovetrapezium/

Teleman, Junction J1, Cambridge , 23 April 2019

ᙀᖺ (or ‘uh’) are an experimental electronic duo; Fionnuala Kennedy and Dominic Kennedy use a variety of synthesisers and treatments to create a sound that is at first challenging but soon pulls you into their world. With spoken lyrics, singing, a voice becoming a keyboard and intense manipulating of the sonic palette, each of the four performed tracks has its own character, but always propelled by a deep funky-ish bass. ‘Starchild’ features an inverted riff on electro-pop classic ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’, while new eight minute single ‘Seasick In Salts’ changes speed, rhythm, pitch and everything in between. Mesmerising and hypnotic, uh are immensely likeable, showing once again that Teleman can find excellent support acts.

Regular readers of this site will realise that Teleman are one of my favourites, this was the sixth time for us; fortunately they continue to develop their live show and have a recorded back catalogue that is now rich enough to overfill a set with gems. Tonight’s show featured only two songs from their second album as last year’s long-player ‘Family Of Aliens’ is now the source of most of the set. The title track and the mighty ‘Cactus’ were early highlights, with the unusual and distinctive ‘Submarine Life’ continuing to grow in stature.

The rewarding and dissonant 5/4 beat of ‘Repeater’ and the extended reworking of ‘Steam Train Girl’ interweaved perfectly with the rolling keyboards of new live addition ‘Sea Of Wine’ and the doomy splendour of ‘Fall In Time’. ‘Song For A Seagull’ has an ethereal splendour all of its own and as to be expected the irresistible march of ‘Strange Combinations’ and the relentless main set closer ‘Not In Control’ were electrifying crowd pleasers.

As an encore Tom Sanders returned to the stage for a solo version of rare and haunting ballad ‘Nights On Earth’ before the essential finale of the fabulous driving pop of ‘Dusseldorf’.

As always, a brilliant show!

https://www.telemanmusic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/uhlive/

Ward Thomas, Junction, Cambridge, 1 March 2019

A sell-out Cambridge crowd arrived early for the appearance at the Junction of two rising stars of UK Alt-Country music. Opening the show were The Wandering Hearts, with the central trio augmented by extra guitar and upright bass. First song ‘Fire And Water’ had the immediacy of many of their tracks, with a tight, rhythmic verse turning into a huge chorus. The combination of two female and one male voice gives their spot-on harmonies the lustre and depth of classic period Fleetwood Mac, shown off especially in the airy, ethereal ‘Burning Bridges’. There is a harder edge to ‘Rattle’ and finale ‘Devil’ is a pacey, pounding crowd-pleaser with a redemptive hookline. An excellent start to the show and the Junction’s sound system has never sounded better?!

Ward Thomas
are riding high on the impact and chart placing of their third album ‘Restless Minds’ and tonight they featured all but one of its tracks. Twin sisters Cathy and Lizzy play acoustic guitars and blend their voices in harmony to mesmerising effect, as well as trading solo lines and responses. Combined with a band that can switch from subtle acoustic backing to a big part-electronic contemporary sound Ward Thomas have structured an immaculate show.

Some of the songs on the new LP are reflections of modern mores and impacts on the individual; the nurturing of social media self-appearance on opener ‘Lie Like Me’ and a longing for the removal of these new conventions on ‘No Filter’ and ‘Same Love’. These ideas make for bold pop songs, delivered with power, but for me the emotional core of the show is the resigned melancholy of the ballads spread through the set. From the betrayal symbolised by ‘Guilty Flowers’ to the beautiful melody and despair of ‘Hopeless’ (a song I saw them perform during their ’15 cities in 3 days’ in-stores promotional tour!), they sing from the heart.

‘Little Girl Sorrow’ is a waltz with an undercurrent of optimism and best of all is the gospel chords and big chorus of ‘One More Goodbye’. They introduced this as one of their favourite songs; I’m not surprised, it is one of mine too, it is brilliant.
It is not all wrenching at the heart and mind; ‘It’s Not Just Me’ is an up tempo acceptance of the world set to a warm and positive instrumental backing and ‘I Believe In You’ is a celebratory and glorious three minutes. Lots more highlights too including their debut LP being represented by a medley of faster songs which shows how their sound has developed over their three albums.

An encore of the pensive, thoughtful ‘This Too Will Pass’ was followed by a grand finale, with The Wandering Hearts back on stage to add to the vocals on a scorching performance of signature anthem ‘Carry You Home’…..still resonating with me now as is the rest of this memorable show.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.com/
https://www.thewanderinghearts.com/music/

Moonstrips : We Love You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, LP released January 2019

A recently released album from Cambridge quartet Moonstrips; a follow up to ‘Glimpses’ from 2016.

1. Heading For Dust Kicking off the collection is this riff-driven burst of rock energy, motoring along like a late 60s Who single. A brilliant effects drenched guitar solo kicks in near the end.

2. Suzette Previously released as a single this sublime two and a quarter minutes of garage rock has the constantly frustrated narrator detached from the mysterious Suzette ‘….you have so many faces, I always see them in many different places…’. There are plenty of instrumental and melodic twists and turn crammed into this compact track.

3. Ride To The Centre The original trio has now added a saxophone to the line-up and on this medium-paced track its plaintive theme line punctuates the vocal and threads effectively through the whole song, finally letting loose at the end.

4. Out Of Phase A lyrically dense, thoughtful piece with a riff reminiscent of Bryan Ferry’s twisted version of ‘The In Crowd’. Lounge music with sharp edges as the sax snakes subtly into the song.

5. Had To Find Out This is my favourite song; heard live it is a tour de force as the slow waltz time is pushed to its limits. Starting with just guitar and sax and a suppressed drum beat, the bleak lyric gradually builds up the tension of the narrative. Finally the guitar jumps to the front of the mix with a strident solo, counterpointing with the sax.

6. WLYYYY
The title track is as strange and striking as the cover art, where a giant hare bestrides a motorway blocking the transit of an ice cream van following a sign directing it to moonstrips airport. It is an instrumental spectacular; busy bass and drums, yearning saxophone notes and guitar using all the tools and noises in the box to thunderous effect.

7. Reasons To Be Fearful Back to basics riff for this one, the faster tempo giving it a lighter, funkier feel than the rest of the album. Enigmatic lyrics keep an atmosphere of paranoia ‘…don’t read that book, throw it on the fire, its message hurts you and the author is a liar….’ The sax punctuates the track with a jazzy solo, before the big finish.

8. Think Happy Thoughts
A pastoral, relaxed end to the album, built around a repeating guitar figure and pedal bass note. Never straying far from this structure the track eventually drifts off into the ether.

A formidable live band, Moonstrips have attempted to crystallise the energy and intrigue of their stage performance into these grooves. I think they have succeeded…

https://www.moonstrips.com/