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.
When support act Seán McGowan took to the stage, the great majority of the sold-out Junction audience had already arrived and he seemed pleasantly overwhelmed but confidently rose to the occasion. His fast and furious protest songs feature the everyday but essential; minimum wage and insecure employment, petty crime and poor decisions. There is a slower, considered emotional undercurrent in the longer ‘Millbrook Road’ (a thoroughfare in his home town of Southampton). ‘No Show’ and ‘Costa Del Solution’ from his new mini-LP (with wage-packet sleeve) went down well. It was a blistering performance and by the end the audience in J1 were totally won over. As he and Billy might say, ‘..the boy done good..’.
I have seen Billy Bragg many times over the years as solo, duo and with a band; tonight he was accompanied on some songs by multi-talented CJ Hillman, ‘UK Americana instrumental musician of the year’ and making sterling contributions on pedal steel and second guitar, including stepping-up with some Johnny Marr jangle on ‘Sexuality’, the opening song of the evening. Billy can pace a set as well as anybody and he has so much material to draw on, in nearly two hours there was time for early classics ‘Milkman Of Human Kindness’, ‘Man In the Iron Mask’, ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and many more, played on his distinctive green Burns guitar.
Interspersed with the familiar was the new EP reflecting the current affairs of the day. The optimistic ‘Saffiyah Smiles’, environmental ‘King Tide And The Sunny Day Flood’ and the poignant ‘Full English Brexit’ were put into context by Billy’s introductions and he also reflected how many of his early song themes had come around again. ‘There Is Power In A Union’ and ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’ are always going to ignite his loyal audience and we never tire of ‘A New England’, the perfect ending to this brilliant show.
Back to Cambridge for Teleman; this time playing to a much larger audience in Junction One.
Support act were Cambridge five-piece Lunacre, confidently rising to the occasion on the big stage. With keyboards, guitars and intermittent saxophone they have a varied palette of sonic textures to choose from and the songs show restraint and subtlety as the instrumentation drifts in and out to create a relaxed, hypnotic sound.
The title track from their new EP ‘Schtum’ is a highlight as are the sax and vocal layers on ‘Occam’s Razor’. ‘(Re)Cycle’ had the insouciance of a song by the fast rising band Glass Animals. Best of all was ‘Engine’, including driving drum pattern and full-on bass punch, showing off the wide range of the band.
Teleman have a spring in their step, with an appearance on BBC music showcase ‘Later…with Jools Holland’ last week, many sold out dates on their current tour and two albums of quality material to perform. I saw them in April and since then they have expanded and refined many of the live versions of the songs to fill the larger stage (also including a frenetic lightshow and columns of steam for ‘Steam Train Girl’!).
They benefitted from the recently improved sound quality in the Junction, especially for some of the raucous edgy guitar parts and some foreboding keyboard moments. The drumming of Hiro Amamiya was spot-on and adds so much to the glorious ‘Dusseldorf’ and the celebration of ‘Skeleton Dance’.
My favourites tonight were the double keyboard electronica of ‘Brilliant Sanity’, the quiet desperation in the vocals of ‘Drop Out’ and the triumphant final song ‘Glory Hallelujah’ where the chord progression just seems to be different from anything you have heard before.
Hopefully now they will get the recognition they deserve (but I will miss them playing smaller shows in the Portland Arms!)
A welcome return to Cambridge Junction J1 for the much-loved Half Man Half Biscuit. I saw them last year, reviewed here…
…and it was just as good this time around. Perhaps there was more of an emphasis on the rockier songs, but many of my favourites songs were still in place; the locally lovelorn lyric of ‘For What Is Chatteris’, the musings of mortality of ‘When The Evening Sun Goes Down’ and their tour de force of music and words, ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train)’.
Songs assuring the extended cultural longevity of B-List celebrities were also featured; ‘Bob Wilson – Anchorman’, ‘The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman’, ‘Dickie Davies Eyes’, the nightmarish ‘Gubba Look-a-Likes’ and the sad moments of ‘Tommy Walsh’s Eco House’.
A blasting cover of The Damned song ‘New Rose’ was part of their encore, a super example of how good their band sound actually is, underpinning their unique lyrics…
All together now,
‘I said “Would you like to go the zoo?”, she said “Yeah, but not with you”
Twenty-seven yards of dental floss, but she still won’t give me a smile…‘
Father John Misty arrived at J1 as part of a sell-out UK tour. First onstage was singer Anna B Savage, performing compositions accompanied by her subtle and spacious guitar playing. Opening with cryptically titled ‘IV’ from her debut EP her intense, personal lyrics pulled us into a private world. Background audience noise spoilt the moment a bit but many were appreciative.
Song ‘I’ is a lovely melody over gently picked chords and the more free-form ‘II’ with opening line ‘I will never amount to anything…’ and build-up to an abrupt ending completed the short set strongly.
Father John Misty is the performing name of former Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman and after showcasing his new sound on the album ‘Fear Fun’ he has now released the highly acclaimed ‘I Love You, Honeybear’. And what an album it is, a lush mixture of folk, rock and country with an overarching and personal theme of falling in love. So how would this transfer to live performance? Brilliantly.
Playing acoustic and electric guitar FJM was backed by guitar, keyboards and drums. From the first (title) track, we were bowled over by the magnetic stage presence and his great singing voice and connection with the audience. ‘Strange Encounter’ echoed the retro western themes played between the acts and ‘True Affection’ is a neat electronica based surprise. ‘When You’re Smiling…’ is a soaring ballad delivered even more powerfully than the album version and was an early highlight among many.
Some of his astute modern life observations were shared with the audience between songs but of course many of the lyrics contain these too, especially ‘Bored In The USA’, a bit of a show-stopper with just piano accompaniment and described tongue-in-cheek as a meta-ballad about despair. During this he used a borrowed phone from the audience for an elaborate selfie/filming session, this ‘special’ moment then absurdly deflated when the phone-owner pointed out it wasn’t recording anyway!
I’m Writing A Novel’ was a country rock rouser then the compact delight of ‘Chateau Lobby #4…’ had the crowd singing. And plenty more…
It was a great show, one of the best I have seen at The Junction in a long while.