Tag Archives: review

Robyn Hitchcock, Unitarian Church, Cambridge, 18 May 2018

The small Unitarian Church is an ideal venue for the close bond that Robyn Hitchcock has with his devoted followers, he was playing the second of two long ago sold-out shows, with the promise of a completely different setlist for each evening.

Support Jessica Lee Morgan sings her own compositions with acoustic guitar and some jazzy bass. She has a warm and versatile voice; opener ‘Texas Angel’ shows shades of Joni Mitchell while ‘I Am Not’ is a bold alt-country statement of independence. ‘Nobody Knows’ is a short sharp up-tempo bluesy number and then back to the country stylings and catchy chorus of ‘Waiting To Leave’. ‘The Less Said The Better’ was co-written with Jessica’s mother, singer Mary Hopkin, then she managed to get the normally reserved Cambridge audience to sing along to set-closer ‘This Is My Love Song To You’, leaving a real feel-good atmosphere in the church.

Robyn Hitchcock draws on his substantial back catalogue and his attachment to Cambridge for his set (most recent album not featuring at all?), opening with his original band Soft Boys song ‘Tonight’, probably written he says across the road on Midsummer Common in 1979.
The songs work with just his acoustic guitar accompanying; often using quite a complex instrumentation. With a warning that a throat infection may render his voice a bit more “Leonard Cohen” than usual he launched into the excellent ‘My Wife And My Dead Wife’ with its multitude of twisting lyrical rhymes (‘..my dead wife’s upstairs, she’s still wearing flares…’) and a macabre but irresistible chorus.
The surreal words stay in dark territory for ‘Sinister But She’s Happy’ but how can you not raise a wry smile to the line ‘…like a chandelier festooned with leeches…’ and so many others.

With its pop laced with psychedelia ‘Beautiful Girl’ would have sat nicely at the top of the charts in the late 60s, while ‘I’m Only You’ is another tour de force of lyrical imagery (…I’m a liquid you’re dissolving in…’) and then a cover of Syd Barrett’s ‘Octopus’ fits in well.
Being a church venue, you could expect to find a piano, so Robyn moved across to the Steinway upright for a trio of ballads ending with ‘I Used To Love You’ with local references galore ‘…the police station is still on Parkers Piece, it hasn’t drifted and nor have the police…’.

Local guitarist and original musical collaborator Kimberley Rew stepped up to add some spiky electric guitar colours to four more songs, including the timeless political frustrations of ‘I Wanna Destroy You’ and a moving cover of alternative national anthem ‘Waterloo Sunset’ bringing this brilliant show to an end.

http://www.robynhitchcock.com/
http://www.jessicaleemorgan.com/
http://www.greenmind.co.uk/


Robyn and early arrivals outside the venue (photo by http://www.karenfranceseng.com)

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Trick Bird : The Conversation, EP released May 2018

A new six track EP (LP?) of mystery and imagination from enigmatic Cambridge songwriter/performer Trick Bird. Who knows, it may or may not be named after the semi-cult Francis Ford Coppola movie, a film that portrays some of the paranoia that seems to pervade many of these tracks?

1. Holly Holy. Up-tempo opener rolls along nicely with some glistening guitar and irresistible hookline chorus. Not sure who the heroine is but she sounds like potential trouble, lovely sparkling short solo near the end.

2. Can You See Me? Overlapping and echoing vocals at the start then the ‘band’ crashes in to turn this into the most immediate track on the album, a sort of brooding, pulsing, melodrama in the style of underrated electronic troubadours Teleman.

3. Our Lives. An organ driven sound on this song, including some 1970s type built in percussion patterns. The different musical textures drift in and out and a wistful but sinister vocal describing scientific advances and their consequences.

4. The Conversation. The longest track on the album, staring with a country harmonica vibe it is a duet with talented guest vocalist Gabriella Davalos about a disconnected relationship (‘…when twenty-six letters aren’t enough any more…’). Another voice and a soundtrack sample is in the background; it is a complex, rich and rewarding track with a possible fantastical resolution (‘…you dream of riding wild horses in fields of gold…’)

5. Eye To Eye. A short and subtle ballad with combining voices backed with smooth and evocative strings from Cambridge musician Sharon Sullivan of the band Keltrix.

6. Another Heist. A simple descending chord figure on the piano is given plenty of space, driving the song above a montage of passing sampled sirens and featuring a floating, dream-like lyric.

And don’t forget the amazing cover art…


http://www.trickbird.co.uk/

Bury Fringe All-Dayer, Hunter Club, Bury St Edmunds, 5 May 2018

Thirty bands across four stages in the welcoming surroundings of the Hunter Club, mainly showcasing performers from the musical cauldron of Bury St Edmunds. Curated by Seymour Quigley, local veteran of many bands including the inestimable and greatly missed Horse Party, a favourite on this site. And he must be congratulated on a superb job; with so much choice and quality on show during the day.

There was a mellow and relaxing start on one of the stages from Alicia Hall and then Robert C Taylor, with subtle acoustic guitar and a mix of covers and own compositions. Cambridge based Lemondaze were a revelation of loud, artful, psychedelic energy. With all the infinite possibilities arising from bass and two guitarists with a mountain of effects pedals, three voices and industrial strength drumming the songs hit and lifted the audience onto another plane for their half hour.

Duo Kulk played the first of two sets, the heavy electric guitar and frenetic drums combination works brilliantly in an intimate venue, with guitarist Thom Longdin down in the audience or roaring some vocals, while Jade Squires pounds the drum kit mercilessly. Back on the ‘Rock Against Racism’ stage we found another intriguingly named duo: Grandma’s Waffle Velocity from Colchester, this time the vocals and unrelenting drums interlinked with an effects-laden bass. The Glitter Shop brought a dream-pop, keyboard driven vibe to the main stage performing some powerful versions of best known tracks ‘Alive’, ‘Fizz and ‘Sleep’. I caught the end of the set by Cambridge trio The Baby Seals, consummate performers with a great sound and stage presence; and also a couple of rapid fire rock-pop songs from SIAH, very well received by the audience.

I was looking forward to Londoners Fightmilk having seen them recently and they certainly didn’t disappoint, with a set drawn mainly from their soon to be released new album the four-piece mesh brilliantly on stage with a wall of noisy mayhem tempered by light and shade in their mix and neat instrumental flourishes. Witty lyrics are delivered knowingly by lead singer Lily Rae and older songs ‘Pity Party’, the stealthy ‘Your Girlfriend’ and the mighty ‘Bank Of Mum And Dad’ went down well too.

While Cambridge trio Goldblume were weaving their magic of edgy blues next door, Bury rockers Tundra thoroughly warmed up the home crowd for the arrival of local heroes Gaffa Tape Sandy, returning from playing in Leeds earlier in the day. Opening with ‘Transylvania’, it was second track ‘Water Bottle’ that sent the faithful into overdrive, with crowdsurfing carrying on through the set, even when the music was briefly interrupted by a charity flexi-disc raffle. The rhythm powered trio make an incredibly full sound and the pace and momentum did not let up throughout, reaching its apex in the majestic ‘Beehive’, a glorious end to a fantastic day.

http://www.gaffatapesandy.co.uk/
https://fightmilkisaband.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/TUNDRABANDOFFICIAL/
https://goldblumeband.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/SIAHbury/
http://thebabyseals.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/theglittershopband/
https://www.facebook.com/Grandmaswafflevelocity
https://kulk.bandcamp.com/
http://www.hunterclub.org.uk/

Sun Scream : Take It Easy, EP released April 2018

I first encountered four-piece band Sun Scream when they contributed the sparkling lead-off track ‘She’ to renowned compilation ‘This Is The Sound Of Sugar Town, Vol 2’ celebrating the riches of music produced around the Bury St Edmunds area. Now they have released their debut EP, complete with distinctive artwork drawn by band guitarist Emily Wallace. Over this four track collection these psychedelic adventurers create their own collage of depth and subtlety.

1. Extract Sinister introduction soon gives way to some heavy fuzz guitar and a mind-bending lyric about putting a piece of a soul in a hole. This of course fits perfectly with the variant structured sections of the music, eventually loosening into an textured onslaught of lead guitar and bass lines, some synth-type bubbling and a general good-time vibe.

2. Marmalade A short instrumental meander, extreme echoing guitar creating almost a harp-like feel.

3. Samsara ‘…The Sanskrit word samsara means “flowing on” or “passing through”…with the connotation of cyclic, circuitous change’, it is a title which gives a broad canvas to this epic track. Mainly based around a stately descending guitar figure, the mobile bassline and fluid drumming weave around to great effect. This is a proper psychedelic workout, with words of rivers, skies, life and death to add to the heady mix.

4. Take It Easy The title track is a brooding delicacy, built around a repeated bassline and counterpoint guitar. The vocal is more forward in the mix for this one and the sparser sound has the required addictive atmosphere of weird menace.

With a growing live performance reputation too, this is a band to watch…


https://sunscreamband.bandcamp.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/07/29/various-artists-this-is-the-sound-of-sugar-town-vol-2-released-july-2017/

Tragical History Tour : Aphorisms, LP released April 2018

Tragical History Tour is the stage name of Derrick Johnston, a singer-songwriter from the East Coast of Scotland who has substantial experience of performing in various bands and solo. With many stories to tell he is finally releasing his first long-player.

Opening track ‘Fight For Light’ sets the tone; a hybrid of folk, country and acoustic punk with a fiery, roaring vocal unleashed to great effect. The political message of ‘Come On Home, Hero’ is a previously released single, easing up a bit on the voice over a rockabilly backing.

‘Old Words’ shows a more tender side (‘….when I cut myself open in front of you to prove my heart was pure, but now not so sure….’) sung over a slow introduction, but then speeds up into a melancholic heartfelt song with an electric guitar line cutting through the acoustic.

‘What Would Vinnie Mac Do?’ has a cryptic lyric delivered over some sparkling guitar picking. The melody and arrangement of ‘It’s Cool, I’ve Got This’ is a highlight, an affecting and emotionally raw performance.

And there is much more, eventually reaching the epic conclusion of the album; ‘The Final Intervention’, an anthemic, wide-ranging summary of many of the elements of what has come before with the addition of well-judged piano, spoken voices and an almost orchestral ending.

Like the stark black and white landscapes featured on the cover art of this and his other releases the music can be agonised and angry, but always authentic and there is still a warmth to be felt from these ten tracks.

https://tragicalhistorytour.bandcamp.com/
http://www.real-records.co.uk/product/tragical-history-tour-aphorisms/

Shyer : Compliments, single released April 2018

As the warmth of Spring finally arrives Cambridge rockers Shyer release the ideal track for a relaxing evening of music; a punchy but laid-back three minutes which in their words is ‘..about seeing through the facade to what’s really there. Even when it’s not pretty….’. The recording is accompanied by a performance video on YouTube and some striking cover artwork! (see below).

Starting with an inviting guitar chord sequence the voice kicks in with some of the lyrical ambiguity that vocalist Amanda George is so adept at delivering, tempered by infectious ‘…uh-oh’s…’. The song reaches an irresistible chorus, where the barbs of ‘…I may be a liar, I’m inclined to forget, but tell me does this bruise your confidence…?’ float over an onslaught of perfectly tempered guitar fuzz, fighting against the dynamics of the bass and drums.

As in all the best songs the middle-eight takes the song in a different direction rhythmically and musically and on this occasion does not lead back into the chorus or any thematic resolution, instead leaving the emotional conclusion of the repeated ‘…I never asked for this…’ ominously hanging in the air.

I recently saw Shyer as first act on stage in a triple header of Cambridge favourites at popular rocking venue The Cornerhouse (with The Scissors and Bouquet Of Dead Crows) and was treated to a blistering set which showcased this fine song.

https://www.facebook.com/Shyerband/

Diving Station : Alice, EP released 2017

This EP from Diving Station has been out a while, but it is still a discovery well worth making. The four-piece from Manchester describe their sound as indie-folk and harp-driven rock with other genres blending in too. The harp features strongly on short instrumental opener ‘Alice I’ with a bold chord entering over the sound of raindrops.

‘Plastic People’ has an alienating lyric over a roving bass and drums with sparkling harp glissandos. A middle section gives way to a repeated chorus line then an enormous electric guitar crashes in and drives the song into a big finish with a gradual drift away. It is full of surprises, as is much of this EP.

‘Turn Off’ is a more conventional rock song, with an irresistible hookline, sung with emotion by main vocalist Anna McLuckie. Another short instrumental, then pivotal song ‘Origami Warfare’ broods and builds over five and a half minutes, drawing the listener into the offbeat lyrical ideas; some fine free-form drumming on this track and that big guitar crashes in again.

‘Drown’ is probably my favourite track, an acoustic and atmospheric duet showing the folk/dream-pop side of this talented band. As the music fades away over the horizon it certainly leaves a lasting impression…

https://divingstationmusic.bandcamp.com/