A triumphant return to a sold out Portland Arms for the Wave Pictures.
The opening act Pony Collaboration first played with the headliners in 2007 so a reunion was long overdue. The six-piece perform heartfelt, emotionally self-deprecating songs, many from their new album ‘Everything Was Ages Ago’. Occupying similar musical territory to The Smittens from the USA and Cambridge’s own Model Village this ensemble make a great sound, driven by acoustic guitar, organ and virtuoso percussion.
The Wave Pictures have such a massive back catalogue, every show is different in setlist and subtle variation of overall tone. Tonight opening with the loose polyrhythms of ‘Roosevelt Sykes’ there was a rockier sound in ‘House By The Beach’, ‘The Running Man’ and chart hit ‘Pea Green Coat’.
New songs ‘Hazey Moon’ and ‘Close Your Eyes Mike’ with its inviting imagery of ‘…alligators stirring in the soft white street…’ fit neatly into the set and Jonny Helm steps up from the drum kit to deliver an impassioned vocal on the slow ‘Sleepy Eye’ and ‘Now You Are Pregnant’, accompanied by the most delicate guitar and bass.
The triumvirate of ‘Pool Hall’, ‘Spaghetti’ and ‘Stay Here And Take Care Of The Chickens’, each with gradually increasing bass solo prominence from Franic Rozycki provides a peak near the end of the set. Through it all shines the majestic guitar intricacies of Dave Tattersall, effortlessly integrating solos, chords, riffs and impossible tricks into his playing. He is a versatile singer too and with some absurdist links between songs and a beguiling vocal performance on the mellow groove of ‘The Red Suitcase’, he bonds easily with the audience of believers and recent converts to this brilliant and much-loved band.
Rare rocker ‘Canvey Island Baby’ made a surprise appearance at the end, then the unrelenting drive of ‘The Woods’ was an excellent encore leaving us all wanting more but knowing we could wait until the next time they visit…
A long ago sold-out evening at the Portland started with Near Jazz Experience playing a set that explored the seemingly limitless possibilities of a jazz trio; with drums and hefty electric bass providing the foundation for multi-instrumentalist Terry Edwards, mainly on saxophone (sometimes two at once!), melodica and pocket trumpet. Together they produced a super-tight rhythm driven sound varying from complex up-tempo pieces to the more wistful new single ‘Afloat’. The audience were happy to join the celebration of their addictive sound by playing along with percussion shakers (which I think were mostly handed back at the end…)
There was a time when a music line-up would often feature a comedian or poet (John Cooper Clark, Attila the Stockbroker, John Shuttleworth et al) and The Nightingales have maintained this tradition for their shows; on this tour it was cult legend Stewart Lee performing a relaxed and hilarious 20 minute act drawn from some of his 1988 club routines. Much-loved and appreciated, he certainly made his mark and left the audience wanting more!
The Nightingales continue to be a formidable live attraction with an energy and commitment that doesn’t diminish with time. Tonight playing an hour of continuous songs with no let-up for audience interaction or appreciation; it was a fully immersive experience. They have an immense back catalogue to draw on but also still release new material with album ‘Perish The Thought’ just out and featured single ‘Chaff’ being one of the highlights tonight.
Dynamically supported by spiky guitar and incisive bass and the superlative drumming and duelling vocal from Fliss Kitson, the lyrics and vocal demands of founder member Robert Lloyd draw you into their special and unique world. A a bit like listening to the late Mark E Smith, it is an onslaught on the senses. From the noise fuzz of ‘Real Gone Daddy’ to the punching art-rock of ‘Best of British Luck’ and the timeless sentiment of relative oldie ‘Company Man’, tonight showed that the Nightingales continue to push against the barriers.
This was the album launch for ‘Dreamland’, the debut long-player from sixties revivalists Elma. With the Portland already nearly full, Fragile Lives (aka Sandy Mill and newly solo) performed a short well-received set of very personal own compositions, mostly with acoustic guitar and a bit of experimental looping.
Chris Fox has more folky roots, and coaxed a whispering, bluegrass sound from his acoustic. As a devoted fan of John Martyn, rather than performing a cover he has written an excellent song in the style of the late, great performer. New single ‘Bird Of Paradise’ is a soothing taster of a forthcoming third album and ‘Pirates’ imaginatively stretched the boundaries of his set. His fine songs, relaxed delivery and skilled musicianship easily won over the supportive audience.
The evening belonged to Elma, with the long awaited release of their album (full review here https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/08/23/elma-dreamland-lp-released-september-2018/).
This was a real showcase for their music, usually performed as a duo but this time with eight players on the Portland stage for the stomping opener ‘California’. The timeless sixties sound was made full by a three piece brass section, two semi-acoustic guitars and a solid backline featuring album producer Chris Pepper on drums. Mark Ellis’s guitar moved effortlessly between styles, as Ellie Gillett’s vocals sailed above, especially on the exuberant but melancholy ‘Slo-Mo’ and the lounge jazz of ‘All I Want’.
The heartbreaking showstopper ‘Butterfingers’ was balanced by the optimistic blast of ‘On My Way’ and two new songs made an appearance too. The audience of many friends and followers (and musical collaborator Boo Hewerdine) were behind the band all the way, it was an evening of genuine celebration.
The finale was appropriately ‘September’ and what an excellent song that is (I love that middle eight!).
A short encore ended with Mark and Ellie performing ‘Over The Rainbow’, which fitted in well as a reminder of the talents of the core duo of tonight’s unforgettable ensemble.
On another hot summer night, the Portland was host to two contrasting bands; unfortunately I missed most of local psych-noise four-piece Lemondaze, but I did see enough to realise they were maintaining the high standard since I saw them at the Bury all-dayer earlier this year. Clearly enjoying themselves on stage they were still punching holes in the sub-ether with their effects-drenched exuberant, enjoyable and loud hypnotic grooves.
Amber Arcades is the band fronted by Dutch singer/songwriter/guitarist Annelotte De Graaf, soon to release her second full-length album.
Lead single ‘Simple Song’ opened the show tonight, with heavenly vocals floating in the air over her suitably subtle and skilled backing musicians. The songs draw on many influences, with jazz and country infusing the indie-folk atmosphere.
The mellowness of new track ‘Alpine Town’ moves onto another plane when the vocals soar at the end while ‘Goodnight Europe’ seems to sum up a state of sad confusion with a stately but catchy tune. There are excellent contributions from the band, with restrained keyboard tones and some lovely echoing guitar chiming through many of the tracks.
Too few bands are prepared to cover Nick Drake songs but the band takes on ‘Which Will’ turning the acoustic original into a shimmering jewel of re-invention, perfectly suited to Annelotte’s voice. The main set ends with the pounding drive of ‘It Changes’ then the encore included the poptastic track ‘Come With Me’ built around a trance-like guitar line, followed by its companion up-tempo piece ‘Fading Lines’.
An excellent set, warmly received and I’m sure they will have gone down a storm at the Indietracks festival!
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.
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.
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….