Tag Archives: live

Wooden Arms, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 13 December 2017

On a damp December evening, the welcome prospect of three acts making waves in their own not easy to classify genres.

The show started with the ethereal dreampop soundscapes of upcoming Cambridge trio Carolyn’s Fingers. Named after a song by the Cocteau Twins they weave their music from a simple combination of bass, keyboard and an echoing guitar that sounds like it is appearing over a distant horizon. Add hypnotic vocal cadences, unpredictable taped percussion clicks and bursts and you have their signature track ‘Glemora’. Their lyrics address some difficult issues such as the mental state of residents in a detention centre in the minimalist ‘Vapour’. A new single was being filmed during the set for video release and I think we will be hearing much more of their haunting sound.

I last saw Xavier Watkins fronting psychedelic revivalists Violet Woods a couple of years back, here he was back at the Portland with his new project Twenty-Three Hanging Trees; one man and his analogue modular synthesiser. He builds up electronic textures in extended pieces, requiring concentration from the audience to absorb the ever-changing sonic layers. With blurred back projections of images in reds and greens and the visual necessity of plugging in and removing wire connections it was all strangely involving.

Norwich band Wooden Arms describe themselves as a ‘genre-fluid contemporary quintet’ and with the addition of a new bassist they are creating a thoughtful acoustic-based ensemble sound, playing tracks from their new album ‘Trick Of The Light’. Seated at his electric piano singer Alex Carson is the creative drive behind the band, drawing on difficult personal experiences for many of the lyrics. Co-writer and lead vocals (and trumpet) on some songs Jeff Smith has a similar but subtly different voice. All of the band contribute backing vocals, adding an extra dimension to the infinite variations of instrumental light and shade.
The tempo of songs is sedate but there are so many intriguing touches; the sprightly birdsong violin on ‘Brevity’, the John Barry string motif on the smooth roll of ‘Cole Porter’ and the way the plaintive piano figures seem to underpin the direction of the songs. From the novel by Patrick Hamilton, ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky’ is a great title and the song seems to lose itself in an evocative journey too. The final two tracks, the older ‘December’ and newer ‘Burial’ (released as a single) are fine summations of the band’s work, ending the show on an emotional crescendo.

http://www.woodenarms.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/23hangingtrees/
https://www.facebook.com/carolynsfingersband/

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Indiepop All-Dayer, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 18 November 2017

I have been looking forward to this one for ages with 9 bands in the friendly and intimate environment of The Blue Moon, now with its lighting and sound system upgraded. I missed Emma Kupa and Rainbow Reservoir‘s set but as previously reviewed on this site I’m sure they didn’t disappoint. Arriving to see Faith Taylor who I last encountered jangly-guitaring in Chorusgirl, she was showing a complete other side with an acoustic, dreamy folk accompanied only by her own guitar, violin and occasional backing vocals. This gives her chance to show the full range of her beguiling voice, particularly on the gorgeous Astral Weeks vibe of the closing number ‘Soon’.

Baby Arms is the side project of Jen Doveton of Colour Me Wednesday and from the deliciously titled ‘Eviscerator’ (‘..I will pull the truth out of you and your guts will spill…’) these songs moved along very nicely, brought to life by her fine backing band. There is a reassuring uncluttered DIY feel to the set, and she has a great clear pop voice, shown off particularly well in the plaintive ‘Garden City’ and ‘A Sign’.
It was a hard act to follow, but Chrissy Barnacle is in a category of her own; telling unpredictable and involving stories of her native Glasgow over gentle acoustic guitar. In contrast Shande are a noisy bunch, plenty of raw energy in the fuzzy guitar, mixed down vocals and relentless drums, this trio went down very well with the committed (and sold out) audience.

After a break to recharge, anticipation was high for ‘DIY punk Witches’ Dream Nails and just how good were they? Sparkling presentation, politics, protest, interaction, excellent and loud sound quality and short, short songs; the pure punk ethic embodied for half an hour of musical bliss. ‘DIY’ and a song to describe the retrograde motion of planet Mercury and its influence on our lives were in the best bonkers spirit of the B-52s and the track about rising fascism in Europe was over as soon as its point was made after a few seconds. I loved it!

Personal Best have some very strong songs, opener ‘If You Meet Someone In Love – Wish Them Well’ is irresistibly catchy and with a wall of guitar, some neat instrumental nuances and strong vocals they are the complete package. The mighty anthem of tolerance ‘This Is What We Look Like’ is an impressive and thought-provoking achievement.

Stepping up effortlessly to the headline slot was the brilliant Chester trio Peaness seeming quite moved by the welcome and affection of the crowd, with the band genuinely surprised to realise that many in the audience were singing along with the lyrics. The songs are sparse and uncluttered with no indulgent extended instrumental passages; the shared vocals and all those little drum tricks – everything is in its rightful place. The sudden stops and glorious chorus in ‘Summer Song’, the fuzzy rhythm guitar and intertwining bass line in the environmental ‘Ugly Veg’, and the camouflaged political message of my favourite ‘Oh George’; all are moments to treasure. Three new tracks were included tonight then the frantic finale of ‘No-One’ – Peaness were the perfect end to another superbly curated showcase of infectious indie pop…

https://peanessband.bandcamp.com/
https://personalbest.bandcamp.com/
https://dreamnails.bandcamp.com/
https://allthingsschande.bandcamp.com/
https://chrissybarnacle.bandcamp.com/
https://babyarms.bandcamp.com/
https://faithtaylor.bandcamp.com/
http://www.rainbowreservoir.com/
https://emmakupa.wordpress.com/
https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeIndiepopAlldayer/

Dos Floris, Lexington, London, 13 November 2017

The opening night of a short tour by electronica performer Dos Floris, with more dates to follow in the spring next year. The Lexington is one of those cool London venues with a legacy of many musicians playing on their way upwards.
Opening the show was Orlando Seale, with a stage decorated with inflatable animals and swimming aids, he introduced an unconventional support set, with elements of performance art keeping the audience on their toes. He was accompanied by a clipboard-wielding actor who chose to commend or reprimand Orlando on the quality of his performance as well as a second guitarist wrenching unearthly electric sounds to complement the calm and simple delivery of some haunting songs such as the sublime ‘Wrestling’.
He has recorded a superb EP and more with a full orchestral backing, tonight’s show was a complete contrast but nonetheless as effective.

If watching Orlando was like being part of a play by Samuel Beckett, the one-woman powerhouse that is Dos Floris took us onto another heavenly plain altogether. Florence Donovan is an excellent singer and pianist, as showcased later in the show with the stripped-back ‘Human Relations’ but her use of electronic loops, layers and textures brings her debut album to sparkling life this evening. ‘To The Wolves Part 1’ sets the agenda of sweeping soundscape and holds the audience riveted, their silent attention being testament to the compulsion of the occasion.

There is a pleasing unpredictability to the live versions of the tracks, with so many keyboard buttons that can be pressed to twist and enhance. The bass pulse of ‘That Day’ rocks you to the core, the anti-war message of ‘All The Kings Horses’ still cuts through and ‘Before You Loved Me’ is stunningly effective. The album title track ‘The Widowed Earth’ weaves its ethereal spell and when the show is all over somehow those haunting sounds are still echoing around this fine venue as Florence leaves the stage.

http://www.dosfloris.com/
http://www.orlandoseale.com/

Billy Bragg, Junction, Cambridge, 8 November 2017

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.

http://www.billybragg.co.uk/
http://www.musicglue.com/seanmcgowan
http://www.cjhillman.com/

‘A New Routes Special’, Junction J3, Cambridge, 5 November 2017

It is good to know that a bit of searching finds that the folk and roots scene in Cambridge extends far beyond the annual folk festival and includes events such as this triple showcase hosted in the intimate surroundings of J3, set out cabaret style with candle-lit tables creating a very friendly and supportive ambience.

Having established themselves in other bands, Yve, Clare and Lu are still deciding on a name but in the meantime play guitar and violin and on a night where harmony vocals featured strongly they did justice to some timeless songs, including a subtle version of the Bee Gees ‘To Love Somebody’. Original compositions too are promised in the future.

Trio Luna Falls instantly create a captivating sound; three acoustic guitars and vocals that gel with each other perfectly and reflect many years of sisters singing together. They play tracks from their EP and also cover versions including a spirited rendition of ‘The Irish Rover’. I think their own material is very strong; the haunting waltz ‘Gentle Lies’, the multi-layered tones of ‘Breakthrough’ and of course the impressive, award-winning ‘Falling To Pieces’, a favourite of mine from a recently reviewed compilation.

From acoustic folk the evening then went into pure country rock with SJ Mortimer & The Flying Pigs. SJ has a great voice and her original songs reflect more of the up-side of the genre; travelling on (‘Hit The Road’), celebration of love (‘Heart Beats Faster’) and with ‘American Dream’ the desire to make music in Nashville (where SJ actually recorded her album!). The combination of violin, guitars, banjo and beefed-up cajón with extra bass drum effect gave plenty of depth to the sound with SJ’s voice soaring effortlessly through it all.
There was a cover of the late Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin” and a rowdy ‘Fireball’ which is the title track to her new EP and a good excuse for a drinking game. With guest backing vocalists on the contemplative ‘Smokey Mountains’ we were treated to some emotional six part harmonies. The final encore was the glorious ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, (which always seems to make it sound a fine place to be?!), a fitting conclusion to a really good show.

http://www.sjmortimer.net/
https://lunafalls.wordpress.com/

Tom Robinson, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 12 October 2017

Another sold-out show at the Portland started with the acoustic guitar and lived-in vocals of Lee Forsyth-Griffiths. Originally from Manchester he is now based in London and preparing his third album. Referencing some difficult past times in his lyrics and exchanges with the audience he performed a short set of intense and musically free-form songs, with passionate vocals veering into the hurting tones of the late lamented John Martyn and Kevin Coyne.

It was a good night for vocals, Tom Robinson had politely introduced Lee to the rapidly building audience, but once the bass was strapped on and his band took to the stage his voice showed no restraint as he blasted out the opening number ‘Up Against The Wall’. As is the welcome trend with many established musicians the show was mainly a complete performance of an album; in this case the first LP from the Tom Robinson Band ‘Power In The Darkness’. It is an album that has retained relevance with its many references to disillusionment (‘…I’ve given up reading the papers, I’ve given up watching TV…‘), alienation, government inaction, media, discrimination, racism – all sounding remarkably contemporary. On top of that the music is strong stuff and although the original TRB imploded after 2 years this specially assembled incarnation played it loud.

There were so many standout tracks; ‘Ain’t Gonna Take It’ with added Hammond organ sound, the slinky groove of ‘Too Good To Be True’, ‘Man You Never Saw’ ( according to Tom it was too difficult for the original TRB to play live! No problems tonight..), celebrating the iconic 70s ‘Grey Cortina’ (‘…8-track blazing Brucie Springsteen…’) and the prophetic ‘Winter of ’79’.

These ten original album tracks were encored with the music hall singalong ‘Martin’, the ground-breaking (and banned by the BBC) protest of ‘Glad To Be Gay’ and of course the all-time classic ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’. A bonus encore of later period hit ‘War Baby’ finished off the set.
Tom may be more well-known these days for breaking new music on BBC 6Music, but he has lost nothing of the anger and flair of live performance.

http://www.tomrobinson.com/
http://lee-griffiths.co.uk/

The Big Moon, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 24 September 2017

There was a definite anticipation in the air for a sold-out gig on a warm Sunday evening at the Portland. It meant that the room was already full for the spirited support band Get Inuit, a four-piece from Kent combining mercurial lyrics with some stop-start rock. With a clear American surf-pop influence of three part harmonies and a good-time vibe they won the audience over immediately. The highlight was the catchy surrealism of ‘All My Friends’ (…all my friends are dead, their corpses lie in bed…) and the slowburn intro of ‘Barbituates’, soon kicking into some serious loud guitar pounding.

The Big Moon are riding high, flying the flag for guitar bands at the Mercury Prize with their sublime album ‘Love In The 4th Dimension’ nominated and a great performance of ‘Cupid’ at the award show. Taking the stage with a backdrop of a large blue moon, we knew we were in safe hands as soon as ‘Silent Movie Susie’ opened the set with its soundwall opening and that three-voice descending hookline. Songwriter Juliette Jackson has put together a set of songs that seem to breathe new life into the basic guitar-band formula in a similar way to the first Franz Ferdinand album.
In a live situation the relaxed onstage chemistry between the four players extends out into the audience and we all share in the good times. There were new songs never played before, a bonkers cover of ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ and Fern Ford had the difficult task of swapping between drums and the occasional atmospheric keyboards, all adding depth and resonance to the show.

The final one word titled ‘tetralogy(?)’ of ‘Cupid’, ‘Formidable’, ‘Bonfire’ (complete with an invasion into the crowd..) and ‘Sucker’ rounded it all off in style. A great night, I think it will not be in the intimate surroundings of the Portland the next time The Big Moon come to town….

http://thebigmoon.co.uk/
http://getinu.it/