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)
The Strawberry Fair – Cambridge’s highly regarded free festival of music and culture is a platform for a huge range of talented acts, many drawn from the local area. Featuring on the Cambridge 105 stage on this still and warm evening, Amethysts are two performers who continue to build a following for their interweaving of ambient, atmospheric electronics with sublime pop sensibilities.
Opening track ‘Stones’ sets up a sparse but smooth rhythm pattern as keyboard loops and embellishments are added by the duo. Creative live guitar parts played by Simon complement the brilliant voice of singer Clarice. ‘How It Is’ has an infectious chorus and some neat vocal harmonies to add to the atmospherics.
Early single ‘My Love’ has now amassed one million streams with its heartfelt lyric and subtle melody. As it was a festival audience the band played a cover; ‘Dreams’ is not my favourite Fleetwood Mac song but there is no doubt that they did justice to the longevity and classic status of this much-loved track with a restrained, echoing instrumentation and powerful vocal.
Recent single ‘Imitate Me’ is more uptempo with some busy percussion loops then the closing ‘Alone’ built up from a distant horizon of sound into a glorious finale with an impassioned emotional message and some bold pulses of electronic punctuation.
As the sun went down the band’s enigmatic and graceful set drifted away over one relaxed corner of the festival site…
(Amethysts will be appearing at The Blue Moon, Cambridge on 27 September 2019)
The sold-out venue was already nearly full when delayed arrivals Holiday Ghosts hit the stage. The four-piece were straight in with some rowdy surf rock, introducing an excellent set that was always unpredictable but ultimately satisfying; a bit like the Velvet Underground’s first album. With acoustic guitar giving the rhythmic pulse for some sixties-style lead guitar stylings and the versatility of three lead vocalists to alter the texture of the songs they drew mainly on tracks from their recent album ‘West Bay Playroom’.
This included the good rock’n’roll advice of ‘Take Heed’, the barely-contained anarchy of ‘Slipstream’ and the warmth of ‘Human Race’. I liked the way they stood in a semi-circle, maintaining a tight sound as the guitars sparked off the busy bass and drums.
Pip Blom and her band have a new album out; ‘Boat’ is a strong collection of relentless indie rock, with tonight’s opening song ‘Tinfoil’ setting the pace with its abrasive bold metronomic beat. More familiar song ‘I Think I’m in Love’ has a great catchy chorus and notes that bend while ‘Hours’ is a stealthy treat.
New single ‘Ruby’ continues to grow in stature and went down very well in the Portland tonight. Pip told the receptive crowd it was their first time in Cambridge and looked genuinely pleased with the reaction they were receiving. ‘Come Home’ is a sparser, darker slow-builder that stays lodged in your brain and ‘School’ is a loose dissonant groove that is over too quickly.
All this builds to the show-stopping double header at the end; ‘Daddy Issues’ and ‘Pussycat’ show the four musicians at their best, especially the brilliant drummer driving the point home at maximum energy as she had for the whole set. The well-structured set left no need for encores tonight; there was no doubt that this band make a great noise and impact, with the quality of musicianship and song writing shining through.
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….