Tag Archives: live

12 Highlights From 2019 : A Sampler Of The Year

A distillation of tracks taken from some of the memorable albums, singles and Cambridge shows of 2019…

1. Sleaford Mods: Into The Payzone
Opening salvo for their storming Junction set; minimalist, wry and addictive.

2. Ward Thomas: Hopeless
Alt-country harmonies first heard at an instore appearance then in a superb show at the Junction.

3. Luke James Williams: Still in Bed
From 2018, but with steadily gathering airplay and compilation appearances this is still an emotional tour de force.

4. Hydra Lerna: In the Dark
Strong and perfectly crafted single from Norwich multi-talented electropop performer, making her live debut in Cambridge.

5. Billy Bragg: A13, Trunk Road to the Sea
After many BB performances I have finally heard this favourite live!

6. Captain Handsome: I Wish I Had a Dog
Lily from Fightmilk releases an excellent solo single – thoughtful but playful, tense but catchy.

7. Big Joanie: Used To Be Friends
Passion, politics and sharp tunes at the Portland Arms. (Enjoyed support Sink Ya Teeth too!)

8. Robyn Hitchcock: The Speed Of Things
Another fine song from the intricate Hitchcock canon and as always a brilliant live show.

9. Molly-Anne: Cold Is the Night
Chance discovery of this acoustic gem from Gloucestershire folk-country rising star.

10. Caswell: Surface
Classy upbeat single from this dynamic live performer and skilled songwriter.

11. The Tuts: Let Go of the Past
Cambridge debut from energetic indie trio, electrifying the show in a Corn Exchange double bill with The Specials.

12. Jeremy Tuplin: Humans
This elaborate and engrossing single with famous people name-checks was a highlight of his art-folk album which was brought to gentle life at his Blue Moon show.

The New Fools, Relevant Records, Cambridge, 20 December 2019

From the opening in 2014, Relevant Records in Cambridge’s Mill Road has been the perfect combination of relaxing coffee shop and a basement full of new and old vinyl. Live music has regularly featured too, sometimes amongst the records but now more often in the larger area upstairs.

Arriving late I unfortunately missed support Karalinga but after some seasonal sing-alongs Cambridge five-piece The New Fools opened their set with a cover of ‘Day Tripper’ (the Christmas Number 1 in 1965!). The rest of the set showed that the band have plenty of their own material to draw on, with featured tracks from the album ‘Brilliant’ from earlier this year (reviewed at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/07/07/the-new-fools-brilliant-lp-released-june-2019/) and a soon to be released new collection.

‘Martine and Me’ is a bittersweet tale and ‘New Way Of Thinking’ brings the piano to the fore. I enjoyed the Höfner bass lines in a new summery song (about a druid?) and ‘Something About Jane’ was an admirable slice of Britpop. Lead singer and composer Tony Jenkins says he wants to create an original northern soul song and ‘House Of Having Fun’ has the trademark energy and certainly got the audience moving. New single ‘John Candy Talking’ is out soon and ‘The Big Wheel’ is as ever a standout track; the melody, words and atmosphere perfectly driven along by the band.

The finale was the optimistic but realistic ‘(Waiting For) The Good Times’, setting up the crowd for the festive season.
It was an excellent, upbeat show in this very warming and welcoming venue…(though I was looking forward to a live outing for their acerbic tribute/dissection of Morrissey ‘Oh Steven, Why?’, but I suppose no-one would have wanted to lower the mood!?)

https://www.thenewfools.co.uk/

Billy Bragg, Junction J1, Cambridge, 28 November 2019

Billy Bragg returned to Cambridge Junction J1 for three sold-out and different shows; featuring his current set, only songs from his first three albums and for tonight songs from the next three: Workers Playtime (1988), Don’t Try This at Home (1991) and William Bloke (1996).

Opening with his most well-known track ‘Sexuality’ the long set (with no support) was punctuated with musings, reminiscences, and of course specific political campaigning given the proximity of the general election. The three featured LPs contain plenty of ballads of break-up, make-up, disappointment and contentment but always laced with dry wit and a smart turn of phrase.

Although this was the umpteenth time I have seen him live there had not been enough room in his sets for many of these songs – so definitely a treat to hear the wordplay of ‘The Short Answer’ (‘…between Marx and marzipan in the dictionary there was Mary….’), the resignation of ‘She’s Got A New Spell’ (‘….she’s gone to get the cat in The next thing I know she’s mumbling in Latin….’) and the gentle melody and sentiment of ‘Brickbat’ (‘…I steal a kiss from you in the supermarket I walk you down the aisle, you fill my basket…’).

‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘The Space Race’ are both ‘over’ in two of his most affecting and thoughtful songs. The politico-folk of ‘Thatcherites’ and an unaccompanied ‘Tender Comrade’ make their message clear and you cannot fail to be uplifted by his performance of ‘There is Power in a Union’ and the topically adapted ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’.

After two emotionally-involving hours there was a real surprise bonus – the ultimate UK road-movie soundtrack and one of my favourites ‘A13, Trunk Road to the Sea’ was the final song…

Home Page – Billy Bragg at the BBC


Big Joanie, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 13 November 2019

Formed in 2015 in Norwich, Sink Ya Teeth are a duo of singer and instrumentalist Maria Uzor and bassist Gemma Cullingford. Always embracing a pulsing dance beat their music builds layers around punchy repeating bass riffs, uncluttered synthesiser layers, live electronic percussion and excellent vocals from Maria.
The superb sound balance leaves space where necessary and as the lyrical ideas added to the experience there was more buzz and movement than usual in the Portland Arms crowd. ‘Pushin” drives all before it, ‘Complicated’ is catchy but tense while set closer ‘Substitutes’ is a deeper, brooding groove. A great performance, highly recommended!

Big Joanie are a trio from London, getting their messages across with raw guitar and lead vocals from Stephanie Phillips, Estella Adeyeri on bass guitar and at the front-of-stage drums was Chardine Taylor-Stone. They are very much an ensemble, all contributing to the vocals and crowd interaction. Many of the tracks tonight were taken from last year’s debut album ‘Sistahs’, but also new songs getting their first outing on this initial night of the tour.
With subversive social comment (the haunting ‘Token’), relationship politics (the sublime pop of ‘Used To Be Friends’) and cryptic words that just sound good (the addictive strangeness of ‘Down Down’) they are a riveting band to watch and hear. Lyrics are a strength but the music which is kept sparse and razor-sharp is always fresh and interesting. It is mostly fast-paced but ‘Cut Your Hair’ is more reflective and mellow and ‘Crooked Room’ abstract and sinister.

Their on-stage interactions and enthusiasm generate a supportive and warm atmosphere in the venue and as with the support Sink Ya Teeth it is good to see a band really enjoying themselves. A recent support slot for veteran art-punksters The Raincoats was a highlight they described with enthusiasm and relates to their own punk sensibilities which weave through all the music. While it is always good when at a show to escape fully into the musical world of the performers, this is a band with a conscience and awareness who made a point of reminding the audience about voting in the forthcoming surreality of the winter general election.

It was a brilliant set; by the time we reached the closing pair of ‘It’s You’ with its cymbal rushes and stealthy bass line then the all-out blast of ‘Fall Asleep’ the electricity was irresistibly flowing through the venue….

https://en-gb.facebook.com/bigjoanie/
http://www.sinkyateeth.com/


(photos by @MirnaGuha)

Robyn Hitchcock, Storey’s Field Centre, Cambridge, 26 October 2019

Storey’s Field Centre in the new Cambridge community of Eddington is continuing to host quality music; the room may lack a distinctive atmosphere but with the very high ceiling and versatile design features the acoustics are excellent for the two solo performers tonight.

First onstage was Emma Tricca, playing thoughtful acoustic pieces, many drawn from her 2018 album ‘St. Peter’. Using a fluid, gentle guitar style as a platform for her voice to summon and float a complementary jazz-folk melody, songs like the opener ‘Winter, My Dear’ are full of appeal.’The Servant’s Room’ reflects how cities change as time passes based on observations from a café window while ‘November At My Door’ is as captivating as the title promises.
It was a delicate and enticing beginning to a much anticipated show.

Robyn Hitchcock started his set with two songs from his Cambridge days with The Soft Boys – the darkly-catchy ‘Tonight’ and surreal treat ‘Queen Of Eyes’. You never know what is coming next from his vast back catalogue of solo work and collaborations; ‘Madonna Of The Wasps’ was from his time with The Egyptians, then the fast country-blues ‘I Pray When I’m Drunk’ was the first of four tracks from his self-titled 2017 long player.
Communications between songs this evening ranged from flights of fancy about the 1976 heat wave and speculating on what was underneath us before Eddington existed, but most frequently it was improbable banter with the sound desk about his fictitious requirements. He extends the range of his acoustic guitar with effects and adventurous playing excursions at the end of ‘The Lizard’ and final song ‘I’m Only You’ (for which he wanted sound settings that made his voice like ‘…a bundle of asparagus full of Art Garfunkels…?‘). A harmonica appears for two songs too.

Often it is the quieter moments that really hit home; ‘Stranded In The Future’, ‘Full Moon In My Soul’ and especially the requested encore ‘The Speed Of Things’ ‘…..You held my hand when I was crying…you were allergic to bee stings…I threw some earth onto your coffin…and thought about the speed of things…’; traditional-sounding folk transposed into a psychedelic masterpiece.

Robyn tours a lot and continues to record, most recently an EP with Andy Partridge from XTC. He also played latest single ‘Sunday Never Comes’, a melancholic and melodic anthem that has had its profile raised by a version featuring in last year’s movie ‘Juliet, Naked’.

It is an ongoing mystery why he isn’t a hugely popular performer playing giant auditoriums but to the faithful gathering in the church-like venue tonight he is unsurpassed in the musical firmament.

https://www.robynhitchcock.com/
https://www.emmatricca.com/

Snapped Ankles, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 16 October 2019

An evening of three artists pushing musical boundaries at the Portland.
Adrena Adrena are a performing duo using laptop-generated and manipulated sounds with live drumming and visuals to match. In two long-form pieces the electronic washes and pulses flow and morph unpredictably, while the giant globe screen looms like the guardian balloon in ‘The Prisoner’ and shows projected abstract images; from the beauty of ice crystals forming to bass drums on fire and rolling down waterfalls.
In true psychedelic avant-garde style it was definitely a musical ‘happening’.

While I am still processing the experience of Adrena Adrena, Nuha Ruby Ra arrives on stage – then she is soon down into the audience with her striking vocals and electro-industrial backing. Usually playing live with a band as an extra focal point, it is a challenging task to engage the polite and generally static Cambridge crowd by direct interaction, but by the second track with its repeated ‘…Rise!…’ she had succeeded in establishing a rapport.
She has created a futuristic inter-genre musical persona which fits in perfectly with the performance art atmosphere of the whole evening.

This show had been sold-out for a while – a reflection of the substantial cult-following for headliners Snapped Ankles. Taking the stage with their identity-disguising headwear (though they are not that secretive, it didn’t seem to be in place in the bar earlier!) and the keyboard player wearing antlers and a bike-light (to connect with the local crowd?) it takes a while to engage fully with their world. On the surface they produce a conventional rock band sound, interwoven with beats activated by hitting synthesiser tree branches and a build-up of doomy tones. But when ‘Let’s Revel’ goes into overdrive, followed by the B-52s dance flavour of ‘Tailpipe’ and the audience starts to move, their appeal becomes obvious. ‘Drink And Glide’ continues in this vein then the social commentary of ‘Pestisound (Moving Out’) is sparser and percussion led.

There were many forays into the audience by the lead singer during the set, including a trip to the bar for hydration, it must get hot under the headgear. ‘Letter from Hampi Mountain’ is a strange, hypnotic groove, while ‘Rechargeable’ speeds up and pushes all before it. All the tracks have some facet that drives in an unpredictable direction, but even when the band enter relentless Fall-type instrumental poundings there is still something interesting going on in the mix, including some excellent drum fills and brilliant bass sound.

It was an hour of unsettling but satisfying weirdness to bring this top-quality show to an end.

https://www.snappedankles.com/
https://www.facebook.com/nuharubyra/
https://www.adrenaadrena.com/

Penguin Cafe, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 30 September 2019

Rising from the ashes of the late Simon Jeffes’ pioneering ensemble Penguin Cafe Orchestra his son Arthur has now built on the legacy with his own compositions and re-imagined versions of earlier pieces performing as Penguin Cafe. The first half of the show featured the new LP ‘Handfuls of Night’, based on Arthur’s Greenpeace trip to Antarctica, embracing the mysticism of the landscape on tracks like ‘Winter Sun’ as well as the characteristics of four of the penguin species to be found there.

With a rock band lightshow and flanked on stage by two watching Emperor penguin head sculptures, this seven-piece incarnation of the band is a string quartet with added percussion, bass (electric and upright), harmonium and of course those rippling piano figures that drive many of the pieces. ‘Chapter’ is a perfect example of this, a lengthy meditation likened by Arthur to a 70s TV cop show theme (he carefully introduced each of the tracks played) whereas ‘Pythagoras On The Line Again’ is an experiment using beat frequencies, octave resonance and dialling tones.
My favourite is ‘At the Top of the Hill, They Stood’ with gorgeous impressionistic chord changes and a gradually building sound.

The second half was a trip through the Penguin back catalogue, with the familiar ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ and ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ being very popular with the audience. A cover of Simian Mobile Disco’s ‘Wheels Within Wheels’ was an unexpected excursion and the show ended with the evocative ‘Rescue’, a soundtrack for a film yet to be made.
The Cafe in full flight is an immersive experience but perhaps the most affecting moment in the show was near the end when Arthur Jeffes played ‘Harry Piers’, a solo piano piece simply described as being ‘…written for my Dad…‘. This musical innovator died in 1997 (aged 48) but his musical inspiration is certainly living on.

https://www.penguincafe.com/