Tag Archives: Portland Arms

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/

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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/

Wave Pictures, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 24 January 2019

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…

http://thewavepictures.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ThePonyCollaboration

The Nightingales, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 4 October 2018

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.

https://thenightingales.org.uk/
http://www.stewartlee.co.uk/
https://en-gb.facebook.com/NearJazzExperience/

Elma, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 27 September, 2018

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.

https://www.facebook.com/elmaband/

Amber Arcades, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 26th July 2018

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!

http://www.amberarcades.net/
https://www.facebook.com/lemondazeband/