Tag Archives: live

Public Service Broadcasting, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 11 November 2021

It was a full venue for the return of Public Service Broadcasting to Cambridge, along with opening act EERA, also part of PSB for this tour. EERA’s free-flowing sensuous songs build around sparse instrumentation and her echoing voice, especially on the low-fi ‘Christine’. She moved into rawer territory for ‘Ladder’ when PSB surprisingly appeared as a rocking backing band towards the end of this well-received set.

Public Service Broadcasting have broadened their distinctive sound with longer instrumental pieces on their new Berlin concept album ‘Bright Magic’, strongly featured tonight and described by the band; ‘….the album’s theme is light… the light bouncing off of Dietrich’s cheekbones, of neon signs in the rain. I wanted to celebrate movement, colour and joy in an urban environment….’

Decked out in white suits and with of course a brilliant sequence of lights and visuals their long set maintains unstoppable momentum.

The ‘Every Valley’ mining community tracks take on a distinct poignancy this evening as the Glasgow Climate talks were taking place at the same time, but the older ‘Sputnik’, ‘E.V.A.’, ‘The Other Side’ seem to be a timeless slice of history. 2014’s ‘The Race For Space’ also provides two of their showstoppers; ‘Gagarin’ complete with dancing astronauts and the manic energy finale of ‘Go’.

EERA’s vocals soared throughout, particularly in the glorious ‘Blue Heaven’, probably my favourite song of the night out of so many highlights. As the brass section added textures to the last song ‘Everest’ there was no doubt that PSB continue to be a formidable live attraction.

https://www.publicservicebroadcasting.net/

https://www.eera.co.uk/

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Ward Thomas : Epic Studios, Norwich, 8 November 2021

A much-anticipated show at this fine all-purpose venue, opening tonight with the passionate performance and emotionally powerful ballads of Dan Owen. First track ‘Icarus’ immediately pulled the audience in and with his warm anecdotes and a barnstorming blues rendition of ‘Little Red Rooster’ he set the positive tone for the evening.

After many years of performing and a long career break, County Affair are a four-piece having a second life promoting an Abbey Road recorded album of a new batch of Americana songs. The tracks deal with eternal country music themes, joined with a likeable background of accordion, keys, guitar and percussion.

Ward Thomas started with the low-key duet ‘Dear Me’ and as soon as they segued into the descending vocal harmonies in the chorus of ‘No Fooling Me’ and the bitter-sweetness of ‘Cartwheels’ we knew that the emotional and musical magic was all in place. With varying amounts of input from their empathetic band this was a fantastic set, balanced between the pop oriented songs of 2019’s ‘Restless Minds’ album and the big country ballads such as ‘Guilty Flowers’ and the stomping ‘I Believe In You’ as well as the heart-tearing ‘Someday’ and ‘One More Goodbye’. With final encore ‘Safe’ performed as just a duo the show had gone full circle as the harmonies gently floated in the air.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/thecountyaffair/

https://www.facebook.com/danowenmusic

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The Staves, Junction J1, Cambridge, 24 September 2021

Live music at last!

First onstage was US singer/songwriter Samantha Crain, a performer with a quiet authority evident from the first track ‘Joey’; a languid leisurely waltz with the gentle instrumentation as a perfect platform for her rich vocals. The tempo was increased for ‘Pastime’ and through her short set her accompanying musician played pedal steel, second guitar and keys to add extra colour to the involving narrative strengths of the songs. A highlight was the emotive tale told in ‘Elk City’, sung to a solo guitar as her overall performance effortlessly won over the audience.

The Staves create an intimate and welcoming musical atmosphere; opening song ‘Failure’ features the harmonies and indie folk rock ambience that instantly draws the listener in. Sisters Camilla and Jessica (Emily is currently not touring) are joined by an empathetic band that knows how much to push the sound forward or keep in the background more for a track like ‘Good Woman’; the title song from the 2021 album that makes up most of the set.

The songs can move into moody territory like the walk through a dark forest of ‘Blood I Bled’ or luxuriate in the deceptively simple beauty of ‘Make It Holy’. It all flew by in a delicious haze of ethereal melody and musical textures, a triumphant performance after too long away..

https://www.thestaves.com/

https://www.samanthacrain.com/

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Malena Zavala : La Yarará (Live at Studio 2), single released June 2020

This is a new version of La Yarará by Malena Zavala; it was the title track on her second album released earlier this year but this is an as-live studio recording cut at the legendary Abbey Road studios. The singer is based in London but draws on her Argentinian roots, she describes herself as being influenced by many sub genres; Cumbia, Afro-Cuban, Afro-funk, Andean folk, Argentine folk, bolero-son, and for this track, ‘reggaeton’ which is a music style originating in Puerto Rico during the late 1990s.

From the mysterious ascending keyboard in the introduction before the full band effortlessly join in the party it is a sinous, flowing track which evokes the image of the serpent of the title. As well as Malena’s sparkling voice the percussion and unadorned drums are crucial to the essence of the song and a spectacular trumpet solo appears from nowhere and nearly steals the show at the end as it duels with the graceful electric guitar lines.

I saw Malena and her band at the Blue Moon in Cambridge last year (see review below) so this is a reminder for me of an excellent show which has stayed in my memory…

https://www.malenazavala.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/04/28/malena-zavala-blue-moon-cambridge-25-april-2019/

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Salt House, Storey’s Field Centre, Cambridge, 15 March 2020

Storey’s Field Centre in the new settlement of Eddington near Cambridge welcomed folk trio Salt House.
The clarity of the acoustics and the lofty church-like structure were an ideal setting for their haunting, celebratory music – conjuring images of stark but beautiful landscapes from the Scottish islands where they record.

Opening song ‘Turn Ye to Me’, “a tale of a baby stolen by a sea monster and replaced by a changeling whilst her mother gathered seaweed” is a new interpretation of an existing poem; immediately the music and voices on this and the following ‘Lay Your Dark Low’ set the tone for the evening. With acoustic guitars, a Gretsch hollow-body electric twelve-string, violin, viola and an indian harmonium the instruments were as lovely to look at as to listen to.

Imagine seeing hump-backed whales and orca off the coast then the northern lights in the sky, top it off by writing the gorgeous ‘Old Shoes’, with its fast guitar picking, relaxed harmonies and a lustrous violin solo and you have a perfect song to go with the ideal day.

Over the course of two sets they played many songs from their 2018 album ‘Undersong’ as well as all the tracks from their new long-player ‘Huam’ (the call of an owl), released at the end of the week. Each song was introduced and explained, drawing the audience into the rewarding layers of this rich musical genre.

The band feature the history and folklore of traditional Scandinavian and Scottish themes such as ‘The Sisters’ Revenge’; an epic seven minutes built around the recurring words ‘…the summer comes the summer goes…the grave of my father green grass grows…’. The words and music built the tension as the title characters prepared for the gory final act ‘…they hacked him into pieces small…’.

There were more contemporary reflections too; ‘All Shall be Still’ ties in the tedium of work routines with thoughts of escape and the timelessness of the natural world, also evoked in ‘Mountain Of Gold’ and ‘Staring at Stars’. Musically there was plenty to gently immerse yourself in but there was also darker, sombre moods such as the hypnotic dream of ‘The Road Not Taken’ with pulsing rhythmic guitar and soaring violin.

It was a warm, flawless and brilliant show.

http://www.salthousemusic.com
https://www.hudsonrecords.co.uk/
https://www.storeysfieldcentre.org.uk/


Josienne Clarke, The Musician, Leicester, 8 March 2020

The Musician pub and venue is hidden away on the edge of Leicester city centre, hosting an extensive programme of live music that crosses the genres.

Tonight the mellow audience welcomed two solo singer/songwriters; first on stage was Autumn Dawn Leader fusing folk and blues as a platform for her very personal lyrics of emotional exploration. Starting at the piano but mostly accompanied by guitar, her vocals fully inhabit the theme of the songs as they move through their thoughtful structure. ‘Bottle’ takes a simple idea and spins it into an impressive ballad, new single ‘Another Year’ is a considered lament for the passing of time, while the much-streamed ‘What It Is’ fuses distant and haunting verses with a powerful and catchy chorus.

Weaving together subtle and varying guitar playing with her mesmerising and pure voice Josienne Clarke makes music of breathtaking beauty, showcased immediately by her opening tracks ‘Seconds’ and ‘The Drawing of the Line’, two highlights from her 2019 album ‘In All Weather’. The lyrics have the timeless imagery of the best folk music ‘…the swallows only sing the summer long…and leaves will turn to ochre in the fall…’ as well as more contemporary themes ‘…I’m leaving London but I might be back….I’ve given him my best years and he’ll never give them back….’.

More experimental tracks such as the song about a song ‘Season & Time’ (‘…this one struggles with structure…it wanders in its rhyme and its reason….’) appear alongside brief ideas and interludes – like the loop-pedalled vocals of ‘Fair Weather Friends’ that we share for less than two minutes and then drifts off hauntingly into the ether. ‘Onliness’ was a fragile and melancholy vignette, ‘Cast In Stone’ was a track that she recorded with previous collaborators Pica Pica and there were new songs too.

In this intimate performance space Josienne effectively communicates and invites the listeners into her musical world, the two sets she played tonight were over all too quickly…

https://www.facebook.com/josienneclarkeHQ
https://www.facebook.com/AutumnDawnLeaderMusic
http://www.themusicianpub.co.uk/

Mammoth Penguins, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 3 March 2020

A big turnout for a Tuesday night at the Blue Moon, full of well-wishers for the upcoming appearance at the US ‘SXSW’ festival by Mammoth Penguins.
It was a cracking support bill too, started by Peterborough quartet SUDS. Opening with the catchy recent song ‘You’ll Feel Better’ the sound is immediately established; a warm, ethereal jangle-pop, topped with smooth vocals that float over jazz-infused guitar lines, a bass line that descends and garnishes reassuringly and drum playing that weaves everything together.
The breezy pop of ‘Evergreen’ was a highlight – this was their debut single and included on their EP ‘It Suits Me Well’, a fine collection soon to be added to with recordings of some of the new songs featured in this impressive set.

Last time I saw Goldblume they were playing live in a summer storm and as always generating enough energy to compete with the elements. Opening with ‘Fawning’, tonight they were showcasing the instrumental power and complexity when the ensemble lets loose, with math-rock time changes and the volume and dynamics of the trio constantly varying. A great communicator with an audience, singer/guitarist Jethro brings the lyrics to life with a vocal performance that cuts through the noisy wall of sound, especially on ‘Bleach’, one of their best songs.

Cambridge three-piece Mammoth Penguins have two excellent albums to draw songs from and they opened tonight with the compact and to-the-point ‘Propped Up’ and ‘Cries at the Movies’ from 2015. Emma Kupa’s vocals sound simultaneously disconnected yet right in the middle of the narrator’s viewpoint in the songs, especially on the more recent album tracks such as ‘I Wanna’, an uplifting and clear statement of love (‘….I wanna be waiting when your train arrives…I wanna save your life….’).
The tense longing of ‘Put It All on You’ with the lyric of contradicting pairs of phrases (‘….you filled me with confidence and then you drained it all out…’) is another highlight, especially when the band go into overdrive, as they also do on the power pop of ‘Cold and Lonely Place’.
Mid-set they perform ‘Closure’, one of my favourites and probably their definitive song in all areas, with the resigned melancholy of the vocal, the chorus that sounds suspended and unresolved and the bass and drums that alternately sit back then explode into action.
It was a standout set in an atmospheric venue…good luck at SXSW!

https://www.facebook.com/MammothPenguins
https://www.facebook.com/goldblumeband
https://www.sudsband.com/
https://schedule.sxsw.com/2020/artists/2022509

Smoke Fairies, Norwich Arts Centre, 3 February 2020

The city of Norwich is full of historic churches; this church of St Swithin was converted into an Arts Centre in 1980 and won the NME award for best small venue in Britain in 2014. It was the perfect venue for the gothic-folk of Smoke Fairies.

Accompanied by a drummer (and later to join the headliners on bass), John J Presley lets his guitar, bottleneck and deep-toned voice bring the audience into his world. With an echoing guitar sound straining and distorting, his songs use dark riffs on the lower strings on ‘Dance with Me’ and delve into murky blues for ‘On a Sunday’. ‘Left’ was a faster pop-like stomp and I found that the final song ‘Riders’ was a concise movie soundtrack lingering powerfully into the memory.

Smoke Fairies have a very new album out evocatively titled ‘Darkness Brings The Wonders Home’ and that formed the core of their set tonight, brought to life by the atmospheric guitar playing and magical dual voices of Jessica and Katherine. Opener ‘Super Tremolo’ has a tense, urgent structure and immediately all the elements are in place, a firm foundation from bass and drums as the guitars intertwine lines that fade in and out and the double line of vocals power through but float above the song.

Like a dark medieval folk song ‘Out Of The Woods’ is a definite highlight, the melody sounds like it is coming at you through the silvery trees and the harmonies in the chorus are otherworldly and sublime. Older songs such as ‘Summer Fades’ and ‘After The Rain’ from their first LP show how the band has developed to embrace different styles. ‘Left To Roll’ was the slow-burning emotional centrepiece of the show and the paranoid dream of ‘Elevator’ is built round a fuzzy, sinister chord sequence.
The encore featured the dense, complex ‘Feel It Coming Near’ and finally another new highlight, the rocking ‘Chocolate Rabbit’ (‘….you’re hollow inside, you leave me unsatisfied…’)

This is one of my favourite venues and Smoke Fairies are a band who can effortlessly weave their music into the fabric of this ancient building, as their majestic harmonies float up into the vaulted roof…

https://www.musicglue.com/smokefairies/
https://www.facebook.com/John-J-Presley-180387252007865/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/08/10/smoke-fairies-out-of-the-woods-single-released-august-2019/


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/