An evening of musicians pushing the boundaries of expectations. Due to time constraints two of the supporting acts decided to share the stage. Local guitar maestro C Joynes interwoven with the dark spoken words of Pete Um was a one-off collaboration that fitted logically with the rest of the show.
Irma Vep attired in cape and shades made his presence felt as he fronted Kiran Leonard’s band (including the man himself on second guitar) and blended underground rock with cryptic words, mostly indecipherable through distortion effects. Violin added texture and by the end of the set it had all become a bit addictive.
When Kiran Leonard stepped up and opened with sixteen minutes of ‘Pink Fruit’, the pivotal track and single(!) from new album ‘Grapefruit’ the attentiveness of the audience went up to the level at a classical music concert. Standing sideways to the audience so as to interact to the maximum with his band Kiran Leonard played guitar and sung with melancholic light and shade through the huge disparity of musical genres, and that was just the first track. There is lyrical complexity and imagery that adds another layer too.
Much has been written about his prodigious talent and creativity, and on the evidence of this performance I would agree. The music splits into unpredictable sections, there is prog rock virtuosity, gentle folk, all-out rock and much in between. Some of the shorter songs such as ‘Secret Police’ follow conventional routes before breaking apart in desperation. They ended with a blistering ‘Geraldo’s Farm’, brilliantly complex and energetic drums from Andrew Cheetham propelling the song on seemingly for ever.
We left the Portland Arms quietly, feeling the world had shifted slightly on its musical axis, the performance was that good.
An experimental night at The Portland, free entry and biscuits. Squadron Scramble are a duo, playing keyboard and guitar and totally lost in their music, anonymous to the point of standing in the shadows and not speaking with the crowd. But they didn’t need to, the sound was powerful, adventurous guitar underpinned by sympathetic keyboard, backing tapes and an animated back projection. The overall theme of the instrumental played was flying, from the Second World War to echoes of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It was hypnotic, pulsing, sometimes challenging and discordant but always interesting and the visuals fitted well.
Pete Um has been on the Cambridge music scene for a while but this was the first time I had seen him. Seated at a table like a character in a Samuel Beckett play he speaks or sings over tapes of varying low-key musical styles , most tracks lasting less than a minute. Reflections on relationships, political ideas, war and peace, Cambridge, all a bit random but you keep listening to see where he goes next..
The Organ Grinder’s Monkey is talented guitarist Ben Garnett, inextricably linked to his laptop (‘Bill’), together on a restless quest to alter the form and structure of song. Describing the sound as ‘lo-fi glitch-rock’, he plays guitar and sings, interacting with loops and effects, triggered by guitar, pedals and voice. Audience participation was taken to a new level when one of the crowd was given a controller for a personal real-time mix of one of the songs. In ‘See This Through’ at the end of the set, the staccato bursts of bass and percussion invaded the existing complex structure of melody and vocoder. The ideas are strong, as conventional songs they stand up anyway but the constant diversions and changes sustain the listeners’ interest. Have a listen on Soundcloud, including some intriguing remixes of other peoples songs…