Tag Archives: review

Half Man Half Biscuit, Junction J1, Cambridge, 6 September 2019

The much-loved Half Man Half Biscuit returned to the Junction J1 for another sell-out show, once again supported by Cambridge stalwarts Model Village, whose early set time caught out many of the audience (including me!).

Half Man Half Biscuit arrived on stage to the Portsmouth Sinfonia’s dissonant version of the 2001 theme. When the band opened with anti-tribute ‘Bob Wilson – Anchorman’ quickly followed by new bat-themed audience favourite ‘Renfield’s Afoot’ and death-ode ‘When The Evening Sun Goes Down’ it was clear this could be a vintage show with leader Nigel Blackwell full of dry asides and an excellent sound mix at the Junction.

They have a huge back catalogue, virtually any of the tracks can make a surprise reappearance in their lengthy sets but tonight there were plenty from their newest LP, including the bittersweet poetry of ‘Terminus’ ‘…time creeps up unseen, and it puts me back at the front of the bus…. hands I once held no longer there….grey falls on the green..as I try and get used to ‘me’ and not ‘us’….’

As always the superfans in the audience know every word, but the band continues to draw in new converts to the cause as they play infrequent shows across the UK.
The surreal imagery of the lyrics is much documented and bizarre juxtapositions give life to the low-level celebrities and imaginary characters that populate the songs ‘….sour-faced she picked out the gherkins, saw Christ in Dorothy Perkins…’. The Cambridge audience is attentive to every nuance but let go for the sheer celebration of ‘Joy Division Oven Gloves’ and ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Upcoming Train)’, as well as uplifting gems like ‘Swerving The Checktrade’.
The traditional cover version encore tonight was Pink Floyd’s ‘Bike’, given the closeness of the venue to composer Syd Barrett’s house. Another local reference and one of their best ‘For What Is Chatteris’ followed and finally the brooding semi-spoken ‘Every Time a Bell Rings’ was a strong finale.

The more you listen to this band the more the lyrics lodge in the consciousness and as many fans will say they begin to overlay your view of some of the obscurities and references of life and culture…

All together now, ‘…Is this your sanderling?…’

https://cobweb.businesscollaborator.com/hmhb/index.htm

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Vic Allen : Ghost Town, single released September 2019

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Vic Allen has continued to release top-quality singles since her ‘Between The Lines’ EP in early 2018. The Norwich-based performer blends heartfelt lyrics with a new-country instrumental backing, subtle and always reflective of the sentiment of the song. ‘Talk’ had a longing and urgency in the sung short phrases before the chorus sailed in with its descending backing voices and raised the track to new heights.

‘Enough’ was built around a mid-tone guitar figure which continues effectively through the song as the lyric unwinds ‘… walking home with my headphones on…same old street…same old song…‘. The tale of frustration weaved through with the chasing of dreams resolves into the chorus line ‘…it ain’t enough for me…’. It is an impressive song of questing and questioning with a contemplative and cinematic soundtrack.

Now new single ‘Ghost Town’ is a more soulful ballad, with the vocal performance the key aspect as guitar effects drift in and out below. It is a slow building complex track featuring melancholy thoughts, ‘….I don’t want to fall asleep with this fear in my heart…’ with bleak conclusions ‘…out here it’s just a ghost town…’.
Halfway through the percussion joins to propel the narrator and listener through the emotionally desolate townscape of the title. With a mesmerising voice, a deep bass line and a spectrum of guitars and sonic textures this adds up to a haunting and memorable single.

https://www.vicallenmusic.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/03/05/vic-allen-between-the-lines-ep-released-february-2018/

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/

Emzae : As This Day Fades To Another, single released August 2019

Emzae‘s previous release ‘Another Lesson Learnt’ was an introspective and hypnotic opus, driven by an electronica pulse and unrelenting percussive beat, winningly combining with a sensuous vocal and rich melody to complete the song. Like all of her work it was immaculately constructed and sculpted to maximum effect.

Now there is a new single from the Derby-based electronic composer/singer/instrumentalist and for this track she has thrown off the shackles to deliver a tight mid-tempo anthem with a perfectly timed dance groove. Emzae has complete control over her recorded output and each element is in place; a reliable root bass note, a dissonant fuzzy keyboard masquerading as a guitar and a chorus that shoots off in a different direction altogether, when some echoing background vocals join the party.

The lyric carries a pensive message; the narrator of the song is passing through crowds leaving work and contemplating their existence and consciousness – do we all share the same problems, dilemmas and perceptions? And taking this through to the conclusion in Emzae’s own words describing the song ‘…do any of us truly give ourselves the time to live in the moment? do we sit and enjoy who we are, become content in our imperfection and find enjoyment in the journey…?’

Whatever the potential truths of some of these thoughts this music is a powerful burst of energy to fully enjoy, savour and of course dance to…

https://emzaemusic.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/03/07/emzae-another-lesson-learnt-single-released-22-march-2019/

Caii : Fuel, single released August 2019

A new single from Manchester-based writer/singer/producer/instrumentalist and all-round new musical force Caii. With a sound that is bold strikes of electronic percussion punctuated with synthesiser textures, her songs take their time to build an atmospheric lifeforce of their own – pulling in the listener as her rich singing voice flows and cajoles.

On her previous EP ‘Tease’, lead track ‘Rush’ moved from a conversational lyric-driven verse into a big bold stately anthem, while ‘The Carousel’ was a more playful, pulsing piece of electronica with multi voices and spiky percussion. ‘Slowly’ was an unstoppable cinematic ballad blowing in across the savannah and echoing with power and despair. She has also recorded a brooding cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’.

This new release ‘Fuel’ distills some elements from all of those previous tracks to create a monster pop song. The narration describes the corrosive balance of a relationship in uncompromising terms ‘…so insecure that you need me to be the same…you only treat me as a toy that you can break…’ and most disturbingly ‘….you’re only happy when you’re watching me in pain…..’. This is an emotionally strong lyric, delivered with conviction.

These heartfelt words are weaved into a constantly evolving tapestry of sound with unpredictable percussion adornments, swirling noise effects and sustained chords over a smooth bass progression. But towering above it all is the brilliant chorus, always driving the song to new heights. The synthetic strings build to a crescendo in the middle eight then back to the glorious hooklines; this is a majestic four and a half minutes of pop radiance….

Caii makes her live Cambridge debut at The Blue Moon on Friday 27 September 2019, see the link below…


https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pop-level-hydra-lerna-amethysts-caii-tickets-64634734230
https://www.iamcaii.com/

Film Review of ‘Blinded By The Light’, released August 2019

After Yesterday we now have another music themed ‘feel-good hit of the summer’, this time it is Blinded By The Light featuring songs by Bruce Springsteen. On paper it seems an inviting but improbable prospect, a teenager uses the music as a channel of escape from family pressures in an industrially depressed Luton in the late 1980s, but in the hands of director Gurinder Chadha, co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor (based on his memoir) and brought to vivid life by newcomer Viveik Kalra it is an excellent summer watch.

Luton is not the most picturesque of towns except the rolling-ish hills (overlooking the A505?) that bookend the film, but the period detail is immaculate – chopper bike, a first ‘mobile’ phone, battered cassettes, and of course the British-made car models that time forgot. This creates a cosy glow of memory, but it is unflinchingly interwoven with some of the harsh realities – redundancy, unemployment and ingrained racism. The National Front march looks like an echo of current news but the more personal attacks and abuse were viscerally straight to the point (a fellow cinema-goer was audibly shocked).

Life in the sixth form college looked pretty good though, with its own radio station (playing A-ha and Debbie Gibson!), an array of musical ‘tribes’ in the canteen and the caring/inspiring English teacher (played by Hayley Atwell).

I don’t think Bruce would have been prominent on most sixth-formers radar at that time but when he appears on the ubiquitous Walkman worn by our hero Javed and the words swirl around in the gale (as seen on the TV being mis-forecast by Michael Fish!) the connection is made. ‘Dancing In the Dark’ may be an unlikely lyric to trigger this; I had previously considered it to be a lightweight pop single in the Boss’s canon but maybe I have misjudged it..!

The film continues to engross and engage with some sharply written cameos, thoughtful moments, relationship twists and turns and the music a touchstone to all the action. The unexpected ‘Born To Run’ semi-fantasy production number is a brilliant highlight, showing that from the moment you hear that introduction what a 100% rock classic this song is.

I saw Springsteen on a stadium tour; there is no doubt he is a brilliant live performer, with mastery of the crowd and the majesty of the E-Street band driving the extra long set to new heights, but it doesn’t have a huge resonance in my memory compared with some shows I have attended – so maybe a personal re-appraisal of his themes and lyrics is overdue? But there is no doubt that by weaving the music into the perception of a troubled and ambitious Luton teenager the director and actors have created a very special movie treat.

http://www.blindedbythelight-movie.net/

Gaffa Tape Sandy : Family Mammal, EP released August 2019

A super-long EP or mini-album from East Anglia’s finest power-rock trio Gaffa Tape Sandy. It is a follow-up to their acclaimed collection ‘Spring Killing’ from 2017 and builds on their reputation for brilliant live shows, which has been captured in the excellent ‘as-live’ production here.

After an insightful spoken introduction from young Isaac (‘…banging tunes!!…’), the opener ‘Beehive’ pushes all before it; unbearably catchy vocal lines, a descending chord sequence, an impassioned natural history lyric and guitar noise that could not be bettered. With the flexibility of two strong and contrasting singers the band can keep the momentum going with the excellent ‘Meat Head’, a timely reminder of attitudes to personal rights.
Both of these tracks have been previously released and are familiar live favourites but the newer ‘My Desperate House’ maintains the high standard. After the deceptive calm intro and the band raise the fireworks to full volume there is no doubt that this is another fine tune.

‘Headlights’ has a syncopated, choppy rhythm and with the dual vocals trading exchanges it refers to the mental health issues that cloud the lives of so many people. As on the rest of the album the production and mix on this track blend the basic trio of instruments into something really special.

Departing into the quick waltz time of ‘So Dry’ the band show their prowess when stretched into a song of contrasting light and dark sound levels, as also ‘Dinner Jacket’ which is a more sedate outing…..until the trio suddenly burst into full flight near the end!

‘Turnstile’ has an anthemic quality with explosive drumming and spiky bass playing, then the finale ‘Kill The Chord’ is a protest song about cuts to the arts and the closure of small venues. It is a reminder that the lifeblood of creativity is flowing through the veins of emerging bands, captured at their best in an intimate, packed performance space playing the sort of show at which Gaffa Tape Sandy excel…

https://www.gaffatapesandy.co.uk/