Tag Archives: Portland Arms

Flowers Must Die, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 19 June 2017

On the hottest day of the year so far and as the summer solstice approaches a double header of psychedelia featuring Swedish collective Flowers Must Die and Cambridge band Psychic Lemon.

I have followed the career of Psychic Lemon and reviewed them several times, hearing them satisfyingly evolve into the mighty trio on show here tonight. If ‘psychedelic’ conjours up images of trippy acoustic interludes and 60s keyboard solos the band are well removed from that, instead we are hearing space-rock power; relentless drums and slicing bass lines with unpredictable raw guitar and the effects pedals becoming instruments too. There are occasional vocals (and some keyboard too), a contrast with the songs on their debut album. The four extended tracks played tonight presumably form the substance of the highly-anticipated second long-player due later this year.

This band are totally immersed; it is like they are a conduit for pre-existing natural and technological sounds somewhere in the ether. They have tapped into the source and the audience are completely pulled in too. Enthralling, primal and hypnotic!

Flowers Must Die
show a similar no-compromise approach to their music, from the stage setting with a single backlight and revolving colour dome keeping the six members as outlines and shadows for the whole set (not quite sure how they could see to play, but it all sounded fine!) to the build-up of musical ideas within the tracks. The two guitars, bass and drums line-up is enhanced by added electric violin, keyboard and the extensive use of that always fascinating electronic marvel the theremin!

‘Don’t You Leave Me Now’ was a standout song, with impressive vocals over a mutated disco-funk backing. ‘Hit’ was a complex groove, another track from their 2017 album titled ‘Kompost’ with its enigmatic mixture of Swedish and English titled songs.
Flowers Must Die have finely honed their live sound but they have still retained an effervescence and sheer enjoyment in their performance.


Hannah Lou Clark, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 29 March 2017

Opening the show tonight Mammoth Penguins played new and older songs, starting with ‘Cries At The Movies’ and ‘Propped Up’, two of many highlights on their debut album ‘Hide And Seek’. Released in 2015 it is a glorious package of hooks, fuzzy guitar and exuberant bass and drums, topped off of course by the carefully crafted words and spot-on vocal delivery from Emma Kupa.
In a live setting you can appreciate the musical extras, like the fathoms-deep rolling bass on ‘Played’ and some great drumming fireworks on a couple of the new tracks, hopefully destined to be on a follow-up album soon.
I was glad that what is for me their definitive song ‘Strength In My Legs’ was in the set, a super-poppy blend of vulnerable lyrics and powerful music.

Hannah Lou Clark is a singer/songwriter/ guitarist, fronting a quartet playing some atmospheric Indie rock to celebrate the release of new guilt-edged titled EP ‘The Heart And All Its Sin’. From that disc, the dual salvo of ‘Matilda’ and ‘Don’t Sweat It’ are stealthy, restrained build-ups to memorable choruses.

Introduced simply as ‘..a love song..‘ the ballad ‘We’re Rich’ is a show-stopper; over guitar triplets the plaintive emotional statement unfolds, as the instrumentation gradually weaves in the layers. Wow, just how good was that?

Back into rockier territory for ‘It’s Your Love’ and we also hear the unexpected bass noises and drum pattern of ‘Silent Type’, showing that the band is not afraid to stretch the sonic boundaries.
The anthemic, stately ‘Grief Underneath’ is a big finish to the show with crunching guitar echoing around the appreciative crowd, already won over by some good interaction from Hannah during this well-paced, energetic set.


Pinegrove, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 26 February 2017

Lomelda (aka Hannah Read) is a singer/songwriter from Texas. Accompanied by just her guitar, the attentive audience at the Portland were treated to a set of heartfelt songs, sometimes with almost freeform vocals over gentle or occasionally booming and echoing guitar. ‘Columbia River’ was a standout track. She seemed surprised at the quietness and polite respect of the audience, but that’s Cambridge… it was a warm, relaxed performance, a good musical complement to the headliners.

Pinegrove are an amiable band of excellent musicians from the USA, fronted by the confessional voice of singer/songwriter Evan Hall. They have a line-up of drums, bass and three guitars, allowing for many subtle tricks and touches in the brilliant sound mix, one of the best I have heard at the Portland. They played many of the tracks from their well-reviewed album ‘Cardinal’ (and known and much-loved too judging by the response of many in the audience).

It all rolls along in an easy-going mix of Americana, folk-rock and some sharp grooves, with lyrics that draw you in every time. ‘Old Friends’ is their signature tune, each section stopping and starting and greeted with enthusiasm from the sold-out crowd. Evan established a good rapport with the audience, explaining context and the creative process and adding some insight into the carefully crafted lyrics with some good dry humour too.

I particularly enjoyed ‘Size Of The Moon’, ‘Waveform’ and the newer songs due for recording in June were shaping up well. It was a sumptuous and satisfying show, summed up by the unifying finale ‘New Friends’…..

“…so I resolve to make new friends…what’s the worst that could happen?”


Goldblume, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 6 January 2017

This was the launch for the EP ‘Go Figure’ from Cambridge grungy trio Goldblume.

The show opened with alt-rockers Fall From Glory, spreading the noise from a possible new crucible of power rock in the Midlands town of Daventry. Driven by an extra punchy bass with drum pulse (how did they get that sound?) the five-piece features two guitarists and strong vocals from singer Megan Gibson.
It is proper rock, lovingly played and featuring many clever flourishes such as a quick burst of Thin Lizzy style twin harmony lead guitars, the reassuring punk repetition of ‘What Do You Take Me For?’ and the mellower ‘Home’, which builds up to a big finish. A great start to the evening!

Next up were Maud; they describe their music as alternative/dream pop/witch rock. Tonight they were without their bass player so the two guitars and drums created a sound all their own. With gentle echo on repeated guitar lines underneath the twin vocals, held back in the mix to add to the atmosphere and to give an impression of distance they performed enigmatic sonic grooves, with mysterious one-word titles such as ‘Moon’, ‘Woolf’ and ‘Saline’. The sound drifted in and out; it was all strangely addictive.

I had seen Goldblume playing a support slot for Tellison a while back but tonight they stepped up to headline and blew away this reviewer and the rest of the audience. The guitar, bass and drum musical interplay is razor-sharp and the vocals from Jethro Steel constantly surprise. It is mostly fast and furious edgy stuff but there are art-rock touches and even a bit of 70s style virtuoso prog when the bass and guitar duel.
‘Bleach’ is a signature track with many of these elements present and the slower ‘Wisconsin’ (…It’s colder, in Wisconsin, without your allure….) is a highlight, with a disquieting introduction, maniacal shouts and starts and stops all over the place. ‘Dr Wu’ (not the Steely Dan song of that name..) and immortalising ‘Eddie Bloody Izzard’; the titles and lyrics as well as the music seem to be one step ahead of the listener, which to me is a very good place to be. Towards the end of the set, the brilliant and varied drumming stepped up a gear into real fireworks; on this performance they must be one of the hottest live bands in Cambridge at the moment.

Unmissable, go and see them!


Hooton Tennis Club, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 4 Nov 2016

Earlier in the evening, the Sgt Pepper album was playing to the steadily growing audience, soon to be treated to the sounds of SWEAT, a South London five-piece brimming with talent and swagger.
The songs usually grew from a keyboard theme, with a distinctive 70s analogue tone. Add the full might of drums, guitar and powerful bass and it was a heady brew, topped off by the riveting stage presence of the lead singer (and tambourine exponent!). The songs maintain a hypnotic groove, reflected in the enthusiastic response of the crowd. It was a great start to the show, keep an eye out for their next appearance..

Hooton Tennis Club are a four-piece from the Wirral, on the road to promote their second album ‘Big Box Of Chocolates’, produced by the band and indie legend Edwyn Collins. With that title you would expect a varying range of delights and many featured in the show tonight, each of the intriguing titles describing a mini-confection of regret, unrequited emotions and eccentric characters.

The band gel very well on stage, with Ryan Murphy and James Madden as lead singers/guitarists taking turns with different songs, reinforced with rock-solid drums from Harry Chalmers and the always animated bass playing of Ryan McFadden. ‘Meet Me At The Molly Bench’ is wistful nostalgia, the recent single ‘Katy-Anne Bellis’ is the lingering memory of an ex-flatmate, while ‘Statue Of The Greatest Woman I Know’ is a rock and roll blast.

My favourite is the slower ‘Sit Like Ravi’, with a great hookline and summer jazz mood. They finished with two highlights from their debut album ‘Always Coming Back 2 You’ and the slightly sinister ‘P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. P.I.E.R.R.E’, (always good to hear a song with a spelt out chorus…)

(Unfortunately they didn’t play ‘Frostbitten In Fen Ditton’, named after an unfortunate experience here in Cambridge but hopefully we will hear that next time around….)


Michael Kiwanuka, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 18 May 2016

The Portland Arms was packed to the rafters for a long sold-out performance by London singer songwriter Michael Kiwanuka, a warm-up gig for a tour to promote his long awaited second album due in July.

Clean Cut Kid are a four-piece from Liverpool, mixing together dual lead vocals, some 80s style keyboard and pulsing rhythms to make infectious pop such as the opening song ‘Runaway’. The intensity of slower blues of ‘Brother Of Mine’ led into their best two songs of the night ‘Pick Me Up’ and single ‘ Vitamin C’. They were feisty, tight and enthusiastic, setting us up nicely for the evening.

As the stage was meticulously prepared for the six musicians, expectations were high. When Michael arrived on stage the opening tune stretched the anticipation further with a lengthy instrumental, slide guitar over stately keyboards. But when he started singing, that stunning emotive vocal prowess and super-cool instrumental arrangements were perfectly in place. After two songs from the forthcoming album we were on more familiar ground with ‘Tell Me A Tale’, the opening song from his acclaimed debut, the 2012 LP ‘Home Again’. Like an early ’70s Van Morrison track it slides and floats, with a simple lyric driving a complex backing.

‘One More Night’ and ‘Black Man In A White World’ are newer and show a change towards a faster tempo. For me, the highlights were when Michael picked up the acoustic guitar for ‘Always Waiting’, ‘I’m Getting Ready’ and the quietly tender ‘Rest’ (the first song he wrote, accompanied tonight by just the bass).

Of course the encore had to be his most well-known song ‘Home Again'(24 million Spotify plays!) and then a long version of ‘Love And Hate’ when he seemed to simultaneously sing the lead and backing vocals. The band were splendid, with smooth drumming and percussion as well as some timeless electric piano, showcasing the star quality of Michael Kiwanuka.


Three Trapped Tigers, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 10 May 2016

Cambridge quartet Grieving opened the show tonight, they are gaining a reputation for their distinctive rock with Indie and American emo shades. They are at their best when the full-on guitar and drums is unleashed in unpredictable bursts on many of their songs and were a strong musical contrast with what was to follow. With recordings now appearing they are a welcome addition to the Cambridge music palette.

Named after a Ulysses-influenced novel, Three Trapped Tigers are a trio from London, playing tonight to an enthusiastic crowd in the Portland to support their newly released album ‘Silent Earthling’. Like many paradoxical aspects of the band, they were anything but ‘silent’; this was probably the loudest gig I had seen in this venue for a while.

There is something about their all-enveloping instrumentals that seems unique; jumping between genres as keyboards flow under screaming guitar, then synthesiser lines that suddenly leap back to the tones and rhythms of 70s prog rock but without any of the more ponderous baggage. Underpinning it all is the drumming fireworks of Adam Betts, a great example of how a live drummer is a near-essential for high tech electronic based performances (see also ‘Public Service Broadcasting’…).

Perhaps the lack of vocals makes the listener concentrate on the intricacies of the music without trying to decipher lyrics or be in thrall to the antics of the lead singer (a bit like classical music?) and there was plenty of density, richness and adventure in their intoxicating sound.

As Brian Eno has said….‘TTT is at the cutting edge of contemporary music. Watch your fingers!’