Tag Archives: Corn Exchange

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.



The Specials, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 11 November 2016

The spotlights shone out from the stage accompanied by the familiar wailing introduction of ‘Ghost Town’ to herald the arrival of The Specials in Cambridge, many years after their only other performance in the city in the early Eighties (Terry Hall mentioned that on that previous show he was arrested for ‘inciting a riot’!).

‘Ghost Town’ is of course a genuine classic, as relevant as ever and probably one of the most unusual and political UK number ones. Despite the departure of original member Neville Staple and the untimely death of drummer John Bradbury the band make a great sound, tight, hefty ska underpinned by the hammering bass guitar of Horace Gentleman and sterling drumming from Gary Powell of The Libertines.

The signature songs rolled out in the first part of the show; ‘Do Nothing’, ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’, ‘Rat Race’, much appreciated by the animated audience. Lynval Golding vocalised on a moving version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ then via ‘Gangsters’ (the song that started it all!) we arrived at the compact masterpiece ‘Too Much Too Young’.
Through it all Terry Hall is the central presence on stage, he doesn’t move much but he really doesn’t need to, the words and delivery say it all. The main set was finished with that strangely optimistic/depressing standard ‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think’). How True.

As a tribute to John Bradbury and Leonard Cohen becoming the latest in the long list of losses for 2016 the band encore featured a cover of ‘We Have All The Time In The World’. This was a highlight, sounding reminiscent of Terry Hall’s extensive and excellent solo work in between the original and current incarnation of The Specials.
It has been a long time for the return to Cambridge but it was definitely worth the wait…


The Proclaimers, Corn Exchange , Cambridge, 4 November 2015

The ever-popular Proclaimers arrived in Cambridge as part of their latest tour. First on stage was Pete Williams; as a vocal foil to Kevin Rowland in Dexys (and an original member of the band from its founding in 1978) he knows how to build a rapport with the audience as his well-paced set related tales of growing up, working and relationships, drawn from his two albums and ably played by his compact band.

Craig and Charlie Reid have continued to perform to packed halls and festival audiences and their music has lodged itself into the general consciousness. The opening ‘Sky Takes The Soul’ from their first album recalled the days when they performed as a duo rather than with the multi-textured full band now featured.

They still pack a punch with their powerful semi-shouting vocal delivery, of course with no concessions to rock and roll conventions by modulating their Scottish accents. They have so many good songs, from the wistful longings of ‘Letter From America’, the infectious optimism of ‘Lets Get Married’, the waltzing splendour of ‘Spinning Around In The Air’ to the relentless barrage of ‘Joyful Kilmarnock Blues’.

As many new bands steer clear of any political or controversial references the Proclaimers are happy to step up on Independence (‘Cap In Hand’) and immigration (‘Scotland’s Story’). Then of course there is the one that everyone knows, ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’, closing the main set tonight, a song that most folk-rock exponents would be very glad to have written.

Their other anthem ‘Sunshine On Leith’ is a perfect song, with an emotional and musical timelessness (a future national anthem for an independent Scotland?). The film of the same name has given their profile a recent boost (gently affecting ‘Misty Blue’ one of several tunes featured tonight) and as they continue to record and perform they will go on forever….?



Belle and Sebastian, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 7 May 2015

Belle and Sebastian formed in Glasgow in 1996 and despite several albums and live performances they have passed me by, so tonight at the long sold-out Corn Exchange was a chance for me to see what I have been missing…

Opening the show were Lower Dens from Baltimore, a four piece band fronted by the emotive voice of enigmatic songwriter Jana Hunter, the vocals sounding like a hybrid of Anna Calvi and Siouxsie Sioux. Musically dark and quite sparse, at times a variant on pop keyboard electronica and then taking a turn into bottleneck guitar loops. There was a gorgeous song featuring the unique tones of a fretless bass. The intriguing and compact set was well received (the Cambridge audience in place early as usual!) and lingered in the mind long after they had left the stage.

While the stage was being set for the headliners, we were treated to a documentary film about the history of Glasgow up to 1980. Fascinating stuff, then finally the string players arrived on stage, followed by the rest of the band, thirteen in total to reproduce the instrumental style and quirks of their recorded output with a combination of guitars, keyboards, cello, recorder, flute and more. Stuart Murdoch is one of the most relaxed and engaging frontmen I have seen for a while, starting seated at the electric piano for ‘Nobody’s Empire’, he was soon off the stage and walking along the tightrope of the front barrier, supported by the arms of the crowd (including me!?). ‘I’m A Cuckoo’, one of their more well known songs was followed by the disco-stomp of ‘The Party Line’ (an appropriate title for general election day). ‘Perfect Couples’ was sung by guitarist Stevie Jackson and like many of the songs this featured artfully designed back projections. Just for this show this included a quick view of ‘University Challenge’ while the string section performed the theme tune…

There was always plenty going on, scan the stage and see that the band had swapped instruments or something new to contribute to the sound had appeared. There was a big crowd reaction for the stripped back acoustic ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’ which I think shows the key to their longevity; I heard that a fan said that whatever your emotional state or life-experience there was a Belle and Sebastian song that would describe it and their devoted fan base have bought into this. They are not always comfortable lyrics, as some of the slightly strange album and song titles indicate. ‘The Cat With The Cream’ was introduced as their political song, ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ was high energy europop. Members of the audience were on stage dancing to the sixties hipster vibe of ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’, some stayed up there for another song and somehow it just seemed part of the laid back celebratory feel of the evening.

‘Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance’ is the new album, many reviewers say it shows a new direction but all the essentials are still there and they sound superb live…



Public Service Broadcasting, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 25 April 2015

Public Service Broadcasting arrived at a sold-out Corn Exchange as part of their biggest tour so far. Support was from the excellent Smoke Fairies, playing dreamy, atmospheric folk-guitar based songs, the dual female voices blended carefully in the mix to become like another instrumental texture for most of the time, occasionally with a single lead vocal. Sustained bass and deep keyboard notes hovered over some mighty drumming and the atmospheric retro/future look of black and silver for simple stage set and costumes worked well.

Then there was an intriguing half hour while the stage was set, roadies and band members all up there fixing the bits and pieces. No doubt there was probably more technological power than that used to control the moon landings. The three bespectacled and necktied musicians of PSB, complete with visuals and effects co-ordinator opened with ‘Sputnik’ (including a satellite rising from the stage) and set the tone for a great show. They were playing live drums, percussion, various guitars, keyboards, loops, flugel horn and banjo (!)….on CD the music and sampled voices work well (see my earlier review), but beef up the concert sound and add the visuals too and it makes the band a formidable live attraction.

Two large screens at the back and flanking towers of retro TVs show images of the space race, film of the band as they played and in the most arresting and poignant section of the show, civilian preparations for World War Two and the development of the Spitfire. All communication with the audience was through pre-recorded then manipulated soundbites in a robot voice, which is either a subtle comment on the artifice of modern rock shows or actually just a very entertaining joke (why are robot voices intrinsically funny?).

I was stunned by the hypnotic roll of ‘Night Mail’, the rocking out of ‘The Now Generation’ and ‘Signal 30’, the pulsing electronica of ‘Theme From PSB’ and the newer space songs were woven in to maximum effect. Smoke Fairies were back on stage to add heavenly voices to ‘Valentina’ and the final Moon landing song and new single ‘Go!’ closed the main show. Back for the encore with the musically different and extra-funky ‘Gagarin’, complete with brass section and astronaut dancer. Finally it was ‘Everest’ (have the band peaked?!) and that was it, the crowd were very happy and it was one of the best shows I have seen at the Corn Exchange for a long time.

I think there is much more to come…



Robert Plant, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 20 Nov 2014

The crowd were in early for the sold out show with Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, the latest of the many performing incarnations of the former Led Zeppelin frontman.

Support trio The Last Internationale played American blues rock, underpinned by folk and protest roots, a sort of Billy Bragg with louder guitars. Delila Paz opened the show with solo acoustic guitar and a soaring powerful voice, singing ‘Workers of the World Unite’. The rest of the set was electric and punchy, showing how sometimes the basic combination of guitar bass and drums is all you need for a satisfying sound. ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Indian Blood’ was the standout track and their covers of an Elmore James blues and Neil Young’s ‘My My, Hey Hey(Out of the Blue)’ went down very well with the audience too.

Robert Plant is a legend in rock music, his modest and relaxed stage presence and still stunning vocal talents deliver a superior show, a mixture of material from the latest album ‘Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar’, blues standards and reworked Zeppelin classics. The band is superb, all given individual personalities by Robert’s jokey asides and having many opportunities to bring their musicianship into the spotlight. Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson’s prowess on the acoustic guitar duetting with Justin Adams on mandolin and the eerie sounds produced by Juldeh Camara playing a ritti (one-stringed fiddle) were among the many highlights. Other eccentric stringed instruments add variety to the harder-edged sound that showcases Robert’s distinctive voice to perfection.

When an emotionally draining ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’ gives way to the opening riff of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ the audience go crazy and we know we will leave the show happy. Then the icing on the cake, an encore of ‘Rock and Roll’….



Johnny Marr, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 21 October 2014

Imagine being in an indie guitar band and being on tour with the man who wrote the hymnsheet/instruction manual/bible of how to play the whole genre. Anyway, support band Childhood from South London rose to the occasion with style and swagger. Singer/guitarist Ben Romans-Hopcraft led the band through many of the tracks from their confident debut album ‘Lacuna’, much praised in the NME and given some extra energy in the live performance, filling the rafters of Cambridge’s most cavernous venue. There was a warm reception from the growing crowd, their set was a real bonus to the evening and Johnny Marr was to praise them generously later on..

To a rapturous ovation, the winner of the NME ‘Godlike Genius’ Award in 2013 took the stage, the backlights spelling out the name of the new album ‘Playland’, the title track being the opening song. Extra guitar, occasional keyboard and tight and rock solid bass and drums from his band were a secure backing through the evening but it was the guitar moves of Johnny Marr that we all wanted to see. In case anyone wondered how the old songs would fit in, Smiths classic ‘Panic’ was next, with its prophetic ‘Hang the DJ’ refrain..(of course the DJ playing the Damned/Roxy Music/Talking Heads/Magazine vinyl singles during the interval should certainly escape that fate…)

The next 90 minutes followed this in a similar way, great punchy songs from JM’s two solo albums and more Smiths songs too. A highlight was the quieter ‘New Town Velocity’, a thoughtful, nostalgic tale of alienation. Building up to a finish with Electronic’s ‘Getting Away With It’ and then the distinctive opening strum of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, sometimes known as ‘The National Anthem of Smithdom’ and quite simply one of the greatest pop songs ever.
Five songs in the encore, including a cover of ‘Lust For Life’ and ending with the unmistakeable tremolo layers of an extended version of ‘How Soon Is Now?’, another classic and a great ending to the show.