Tag Archives: Portland Arms

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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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/

The Surfing Magazines, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 8 September 2017

Ricky Boom-Boom opened the show with the most obscure cover of the evening (‘You Belong In Rock And Roll’ by underrated Bowie side-project Tin Machine) and although he describes himself as ‘….playing songs about disillusionment, bitterness and smouldering anger….’ I found his set quite uplifting, with some sparky guitar work and lyrical entanglements. ‘It’s Snowing In Hell’ is a highlight , featured on his recent EP, along with the characterful ode to ‘Barbara’. New song ‘Discotheque In The Dark’ continues in the earthier trend of his work but my favourite was probably a bonus encore at the end, a burning blues that seemed part-improvised but showed that perhaps the devil does have all the best tunes.

Moonstrips have changed a bit since I saw them last, they are still filtering some fairly heavy rock through a psychedelic prism but now a saxophone has been added to the line-up and the music has increased in ambition. ‘Broken Catapults’ and ‘Why Do You Need It’ from their album ‘Glimpses’ stomp along nicely but it was the new ‘You Had To Find Out’ that brought the set to boiling point, an epic waltz sounding like seventies icons Sensational Alex Harvey Band and the Hazel O’Connor saxophone of ‘Will You’ fame had joined the party too. In a few spare minutes at the end they threw in a powerful cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Electric Funeral’ (which greatly impressed Dave T of the Surfing Magazines!)

Not since the formation of The Travelling Wilburys has a ‘supergroup’ been quite so anticipated; The Surfing Magazines consist of David Tattersall and Franic Rozycki from the Wave Pictures, Charles Watson from Slow Club and drummer Dominic Brider.
With a newly released album their onstage enjoyment of the music shone out from the opening track ‘You Could Never Come To Me Too Soon’, with all the expected flourishes from these players; forlorn lyrics, crisp guitar solos (now with extra rhythm guitar added), driving drums and slinky bass.

Taking turns to sing, David, Charles and Dominic all add something different to a cool set of songs, favourites of mine being the garage shuffle of ‘Goose-Feather Bed’ (featuring the exotic wordplay of ‘…pickled onion monster munch for lunch I had a hunch…’), the country lament duet of ‘One Of These Days’ and the brilliant build-up of ‘Lines And Shadows’. It is all such infectious good fun, a cover score of N Young 2, B Dylan 1 and don’t forget the surf guitar instrumental ‘A Fran Escaped’, propelled by Shadows-style dancing that may need some practice…

Like the famous quiz ‘fact’ that only one of The Beach Boys could actually surf, there may not be much sports activities here but this band can certainly play the blues/garage/pop/rock and have a great time too..

https://thesurfingmagazines.bandcamp.com/album/the-surfing-magazines
https://moonstrips.bandcamp.com/
https://rickyboom-boom.bandcamp.com/

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.

http://www.flowersmustdie.com/
http://psychiclemon.co.uk/

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.

https://www.facebook.com/hannahlouclarkmusic/
https://www.facebook.com/MammothPenguins/

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?”

http://www.pinegroveband.com/
http://lomelda.net/index.html