Tag Archives: Portland Arms

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)

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/

Black Country, New Road : Portland Arms, Cambridge, 29 September 2019

Opening the evening at this much-anticipated show were Cambridge’s Culture CT, a no-compromise post-punk quartet. With an instrumental line-up that had the clout of unrelenting drums and the guitar/bass combination somehow sounding like two basses they set up extended grinding Fall-style grooves as a platform for caustic vocals.
The band were on good form but I’m not sure if the audience were quite on the same wavelength tonight, as the reception given to pounding industrial rockers like ‘The Bludgeon’ seemed a bit polite!

Crossing many genres and with much media interest leading to an early sellout for this show Black Country, New Road were destined to make a big impact on a quiet Sunday evening in Cambridge.

The seven-piece band are in their own world and we were soon drawn into it with unpredictable instrumental passages, modern jazz excursions with violin, keys and saxophone alongside the conventional rock band line-up. The bass was blowing the walls down and the fireworks drumming is a performance in itself. Add to all this the strange dissonant vocals that appear on tracks like ‘Athen’s France’ and signature tune ‘Sunglasses’ with its alienation lyric resolving into ‘…I’m modern Scott Walker…I’m a surprisingly smooth talker and I am invincible in these sunglasses…’. The track builds into a two chord industrial pounding that is exhausting in its intensity.

With the declaiming vocals, abstract lyrics and some of the angular music on show comparisons may be made to the ‘Remain In Light’ era Talking Heads but BC,NR doesn’t even copy themselves over their tight forty-five minute set. Like a bar band in an 80s movie of a dystopian sci-fi society this ensemble seem to be simultaneously futuristic and rooted in current sounds. Amazing!

https://www.facebook.com/BlackCountryNewRoad/
https://www.facebook.com/CULTURECT/

Martha, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 3 September 2019

DoYouThinkHeSaurus? are a Cambridge quartet with an experimental, creative approach to their music. They produce a loose art-rock sound laced with sonorous jazz-toned guitar effects, along with memorable lyrics built around short almost random phrases. But the overriding feeling is that they are a group of friends making a great sound!
The steadily growing audience warmed to their range of styles, developed over a substantial set with many highlights, from a surf-rock instrumental (‘Party Song’) to the bold bass and driven drums workout of ‘Cross-Words’ (showcasing the talents of their stand-in drummer). Clearly very happy to be the support to the much-loved headliners they made an excellent impact.

Durham-based four-piece Martha are acknowledged indie-pop royalty with a loyal following and three fine albums to their name. From ‘Wrestlemania VIII’ which opened their set, it was immediately clear that the elements were all in place; a tight sound, powerful drumming, the dual guitars, brilliant bass high in the mix and the endless possibilities when you have a band with four vocalists.

It is mostly uptempo; very danceable and uplifting musically and of course peppered with the indie-angst of many of the lyrics. ‘Into This’ was a noisy clatter with brilliant drums and a simply stated message of disappointment ‘….my heart flutters then it sinks…cause you only want to kiss me when you’ve had a drink…’
The much-streamed favourite ‘Ice Cream and Sunscreen’ was of course a high point, especially the contrast between the quiet and loud sections and the poignant lyrical turns ‘…I know you wish for fireworks to light your July sky…I was the dampest box of matches you could ever hope to find…’.
Mostly playing tracks from 2019 long-player ‘Love Keeps Kicking’ they still have a substantial back-catalogue to draw on, including the lyrical paranoia and fantastic vocal finale of ‘Bubble In The Bloodstream’.

This likeable quartet was always going to get an encore from the faithful and converts in the audience and ‘1967, I Miss You I’m Lonely’ was an essential for the evening with a guitar riff to haunt your brain and the lines’….when I invited Frank and you, back to mine for a mange tout….when I meant ménage à trois…’.
Finishing with ‘Come To Durham and Never Leave’, it was a triumphant set on their first visit to Cambridge!

https://www.facebook.com/marthadiy
https://www.facebook.com/doyouthinkhesaurusband/

Fonda 500, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 14 June 2019

The 55 are a five piece indie-rock band from Cambridge, with a strong showcase of their own originals, played with the swagger that is always refreshing to see. Lots of positives here; the relaxed confidence of their frontman, spiky guitar and drums, extravagant and impressive bass stylings and a surprising secret weapon – trumpet and flugel horn as an incisive feature rather than just an add-on ‘brass section’. It was a well-structured set, building in momentum and pulling the initially reserved audience along with them. An excellent warm-up band (though they were occupying very different territory compared with what was to come!).

BBC 6Music has featured Mega Emotion on many occasions – the band occupy a genre all of their own due to their music and distinctive presentation. Bedecked in kaftans and laurel wreaths the trio move between keyboards and guitars, with big bold percussion and unpredictable sharing of vocals and harmonies, standing out from the featureless tundra of many bands’ stage shows. The music is still the dominant factor with ‘Uncomfortable’ an early highlight. With always something different to listen to and watch, the set flowed along with style and peaked with the triumphant triumvirate of ‘Laura’, ‘OK Maybe OK’ and best of all, ‘Brains’.

After a gap of ten years since playing in Cambridge it was evident that Hull band Fonda 500 have a dedicated and adoring following. The audience were enjoying every nuance and second of the pounding guitar and bassy synthesiser sound, coupled with industrial strength drumming which then changes in a moment to a sunny piece of lightweight pop or the surreal musings of frontman Simon Stone sitting behind his well-worn Casio keyboard wearing his bear hat.

Tracks vary in length with some under a minute; they have a huge back catalogue to draw on but many performed tonight were from the 2018 album ‘I (Heart) Fonda 500’ including the mighty roar of ‘Helicoptore’ and special dedication to Cambridge ‘Mattermathique’.
Oldies ‘Jenny#8’ and ‘I Love Stereo, Stereo’s Good For Me’ are gems and as Simon waves the keyboard in the air at the end you realise what a brilliant live attraction this band are.

Friends recommended this show to me, they were right; if you have seen Fonda 500 you will know this already, if you haven’t seen them it is time to check them out when they are in your town….

https://www.facebook.com/fonda500/
https://www.facebook.com/MegaEmotion/
https://www.facebook.com/The55Band/

Yonaka, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 3 June 2019

This show had been sold out for months, third time at the Portland for Brighton-based quartet Yonaka; this time with their acclaimed debut album just released.
First on was Los Angeles musician tiLLie, a multi-talented singer/songwriter and instrumentalist. Opening song ‘Save Yourself’ was a high-energy stomp with a pace that she sustained through most of her set, eventually overcoming the polite inertia of the Cambridge audience. With a live drummer, backing tracks and her own guitar playing she powered through new ‘Loud Mouth’ EP, lacing her set with occasional pauses for anecdote and reflection on tracks like ‘mood swings’. There was a cover of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, ‘Whole Wide World’ was an anthem for empowerment then ‘Good Song’ and ‘Loud Mouth’ restored the full pop punch to her performance.

The Ninth Wave were more of an enigmatic prospect; their keyboard and guitar driven first song ‘This Broken Design’ was a revelation as the eighties-influenced production coupled with the richness of the voice was suddenly boosted as one guitarist became full-on drummer to propel this song into the stratosphere. With the quartet hailing from Glasgow it would be difficult to not make the connection with brilliant fellow Scots The Twilight Sad on a track like this but they have many more facets to their sound too. With male and female lead vocals combining fluidly on many songs and strident keyboard lines pushing the sound along the vitality and passion were infectious. Excellent set!

I had never seen Yonaka before, but two songs in and it was clear that the faithful had turned out in force – the confident foursome are at that cusp of live perfection when the tour venues are intimate, sold-out and bursting with atmosphere, as a prelude to even bigger things. Singer Theresa Jarvis is an electric stage presence and the band successfully bridge the gap between indie sensibility and tight full-on rock, with an excellent sound mix that showcases the skill of the players.

‘Bad Company’ is the first track on their debut album and tonight sets the agenda for a relentless onslaught of tight, noisy rock bursting with class, style and ideas. Often the quieter passages give way to monster crashes of full-band action, as in ‘Creature’ but there are also more thoughtful moments such as an acoustic version of ‘Guilty (For Your Love)’ and the mental health awareness messages that went with LP title track ‘Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow’.
Many in the crowd seemed to know most of the words and sang along to all the nuances, in thrall to the fun commands from Theresa; I don’t think I have ever seen a whole Portland audience crouch to the floor and jump in unison. I missed the track by the band that I first heard ‘Own Worst Enemy’ but there were plenty of other coruscating nuggets of gold throughout this compact, well-structured set.

Go and see them – it will be in a much bigger venue next time….

https://www.facebook.com/weareYONAKA/
https://theninthwave.online/
https://www.whoistillie.com/


(photo by @KimJonHill)

Pip Blom, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 29 May 2019

The sold-out venue was already nearly full when delayed arrivals Holiday Ghosts hit the stage. The four-piece were straight in with some rowdy surf rock, introducing an excellent set that was always unpredictable but ultimately satisfying; a bit like the Velvet Underground’s first album. With acoustic guitar giving the rhythmic pulse for some sixties-style lead guitar stylings and the versatility of three lead vocalists to alter the texture of the songs they drew mainly on tracks from their recent album ‘West Bay Playroom’.
This included the good rock’n’roll advice of ‘Take Heed’, the barely-contained anarchy of ‘Slipstream’ and the warmth of ‘Human Race’. I liked the way they stood in a semi-circle, maintaining a tight sound as the guitars sparked off the busy bass and drums.

Pip Blom and her band have a new album out; ‘Boat’ is a strong collection of relentless indie rock, with tonight’s opening song ‘Tinfoil’ setting the pace with its abrasive bold metronomic beat. More familiar song ‘I Think I’m in Love’ has a great catchy chorus and notes that bend while ‘Hours’ is a stealthy treat.

New single ‘Ruby’ continues to grow in stature and went down very well in the Portland tonight. Pip told the receptive crowd it was their first time in Cambridge and looked genuinely pleased with the reaction they were receiving. ‘Come Home’ is a sparser, darker slow-builder that stays lodged in your brain and ‘School’ is a loose dissonant groove that is over too quickly.

All this builds to the show-stopping double header at the end; ‘Daddy Issues’ and ‘Pussycat’ show the four musicians at their best, especially the brilliant drummer driving the point home at maximum energy as she had for the whole set. The well-structured set left no need for encores tonight; there was no doubt that this band make a great noise and impact, with the quality of musicianship and song writing shining through.

https://www.pipblom.com/
https://holidayghosts.bandcamp.com/