Tag Archives: review

The Specials, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 12 May 2019

A return to a sold-out Corn Exchange for the The Specials, as part of an extensive tour to celebrate 40 years of the band.

Accompanying them on all the dates are The Tuts, an excellent indie-pop power trio from Middlesex. Opening with the sublime ‘Let Go Of The Past’ they immediately blast the audience into submission, the guitar and bass intricacies building towards the life-affirming chorus. ‘Tut Tut Tut’ is their self-narrative band manifesto with the purest of hooklines. ‘Dump Your Boyfriend’ is a deceptively uplifting pop single but with a darker message ‘…he took my liberty away…he clipped my wings so I stay…. I’ll leave it off for another day…’. Main singer and guitarist Nadia trades vocal lines with bassist Harriet while drummer Beverley lays down the foundation for these many-sectioned songs. ‘1982’ is a blast, then a Clash cover and final song ‘Back Up’ descends into tuneful anarchy. Earlier in the set Nadia describes how they have got this far with no label, management etc resulting in the highly-regarded album ‘Update Your Brain’ and these blistering and fun live shows.

Last seen in Cambridge in 2016, The Specials opened their set with the apocalyptic ‘Man at C & A’ then it was the double glory of ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Do Nothing’ that set the crowd alight. In front of a backdrop of placards and protest slogans the three original band members are all focal points; Lynval Golding’s rhythm guitar and trademark vocal interjections, Horace Gentleman running around the stage and playing possibly the loudest and most spot-on bass I have heard in the Corn Exchange for years and, as ever, Terry Hall’s vocals and presence are the core of the band. Newer songs like ‘Vote For Me’ slot in effortlessly and the re-birth of ‘The Lunatics’ is a welcome and topical addition.

As well as DJ-ing between sets, special guest Saffiyah Khan delivers her powerful ’10 Commandments’ to a heavy-echoing and unpredictable backing. Wow. There are no low points in the set, all the old songs sound as fresh as could be, especially the tense and taut ‘Blank Expression’ and the bleak humour of ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ and ‘Nite Klub’ (about to be re-recorded by The Tuts?).
They ended with ‘Gangsters’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’ before a reggae instrumental encore then finally the thoughtful closer of ‘You’re Wondering Now’. Maybe we missed ‘Ghost Town’ a bit but instead there were so many new and old gems in this show by a band who seems to have the momentum and energy to keep them going forever….

https://www.thespecials.com/
https://thetuts.bandcamp.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2016/11/16/the-specials-corn-exchange-cambridge-11-november-2016/

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Sleaford Mods, Junction J1, Cambridge, 10 May 2019

A fourth visit to Cambridge for the headliners, playing to a sold-out crowd.
John Paul opened the show with a short set of sharp observational punk poetry, with backing recorded on his phone. ‘Glasshouse Street’ was a key track, describing the Nottingham thoroughfare in vivid detail over some twisted lounge music. He quickly drew the early arrivers at the venue into his world; getting an encore then leaping the stage barrier to meet the audience.

After being main support for 30 shows so far on this tour, LIINES have cemented their reputation as one of Manchester’s premier exports. This power trio were a revelation – with a sharp Rickenbacker bass sound to die for, spicy guitar, an abrasive but yearning voice and a drum style that minimised cymbals blurring the beat in favour of rock-solid pulses driving the point home. The finished sound is tight and tense and many of the tracks were taken from their impressive 2018 debut album ‘Stop-Start’. Hypnotic, dynamic and hugely impressive this was their first time in Cambridge, but after the mighty reception they received I am sure they will be back soon.

Sleaford Mods
have their own genre, a unique combination of social comment, observation and bleak comedy set to infectious beats. Tonight they were on top form from the off, as the stealthy deep riff of ‘Into The Payzone’ filled the venue and Jason Williamson launched into his vocal salvo.
‘Flipside’ is an unrelenting lyrical tirade ‘….Graham Coxon looks like a left wing Boris Johnson….’ and the bizarre narrative of ‘Stick In A Five And Go’ is a bass-driven sing-along crowd favourite. ‘Kebab Spider’ has the killer hookline ‘…Who knew?…’, as does ‘T.C.R’ ‘…total control racing!…’ but it is ‘B.H.S’ which really hits home, linking personal disintegration to the demise of the much loved retail chain.
All of these words are underpinned by Andrew Fearn’s sparse and incisive instrumental tracks – he switches them on and stands back, no pretence at manipulating and enhancing the sounds – after all they are already perfect. Bobbing around with a bottle of beer and off-mic vocal backing he is a affable stage presence, reflecting and contrasting with Jason’s dance moves and compelling voice.
The surreal bitterness of ‘O.B.C.T’ (Oliver Bonas Chelsea Tractor?) was the doom-laden end to the main set but the duo returned for more including the familiar paranoia of ‘Tarantula Deadly Cargo’.
They have a vast back catalogue to draw on and we certainly got some of the best of it tonight, including many highlights of recent album ‘Eton Alive’. The minimalist stage presentation focusses attention on the music and makes the whole experience brilliantly unmissable!

https://sleaford-mods.myshopify.com/
http://www.weareliines.com/
https://www.facebook.com/JohnPaulNoFILTER/

Honeyblood, Junction J2, Cambridge, 1 May 2019

FEET are a five-piece happy band formed in Coventry, with an addictive amalgam of up-tempo Blur, the bizarre unpredictability of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and the louche grooves of Fat White Family ( whose last single was called ‘Feet’??). Behatted lead singer Jeep has some neat dance moves and the two guitar, bass and drums bring alive such delights as the rant of ‘Petty Thieving’ and the gloriously funky new single ‘Ad Blue’, a sort of homage to water? with a spaghetti western video and surreal lyrics (‘….you left me solo at the empty silo….‘).
Final song ‘English Weather’ is an evocation of the horrors of a bad summer in the UK (‘…you’d better pack an umbrella…‘). Without analysing too much, we and they all had a good time and together look forward to their debut album in August, ‘What’s Inside Is More Than Just Ham’…

I last saw Honeyblood in the intimate confines of the Portland Arms (https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2014/09/25/honeyblood-portland-arms-cambridge-24-sept-2014/) and as then they arrive on stage making an immediate impact. The current incarnation of the band has songwriter/guitarist Stina Tweeddale augmented with bass and drums to make a spectacular full power-trio sound.

About to release their third LP the band have a shimmering collection of gems to draw on, from the opening blast of ‘Sea Hearts’, the wistful older track ‘Biro’ and one of the highlights of the set ‘The Third Degree’. This recent single is the Honeyblood sound distilled to its pure essence; a stark, sparse track with a killer hookline and a stunning performance of the biting lyric.

‘(‘I’d Rather Be) Anywhere But Here’ is a love song of sorts for Glasgow while ‘Super Rat’ makes the narrator’s negative feelings about a relationship very clear. ‘Killer Bangs’ is a punk blast dedicated to two young fans in the front row and then current single ‘She’s A Nightmare’ is a stealthy, dark treat (‘…I follow her down the darkest path, I’m a dormouse and she’s a cat…’).

‘Ready For The Magic’ rocks out to end this excellent set, preparing us for the forthcoming album ‘In Plain Sight’, due on 24th May…
https://www.honeyblood.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/FEETbandUK/

Panic Pocket : Never Gonna Happen, EP released April 2019

An excellent new four-track EP from London duo Panic Pocket . Cast adrift through the inconsistencies of modern life the pair sum it all up with dry wit and bittersweet irony tempered with an undercurrent of warmth….

1. The Boss After a harp glissando to start, the usual live line up of lo-fi guitar and mini-keyboard gets a kicking drumbeat and bass too behind the tale of unfair power structures in the workplace. With the cutting ‘…congratulations on your masculine power trip, save me a seat because it looks like I am coming too…’ and ‘…when will you listen to a single word I say, not gonna happen before close of play….’ the only answer to the irritations seems to be in the middle eight; ‘….got my P45, HR was never on my side….’.
Lyrically addictive, the word lines are duetted and interplayed between Sophie and Natalie into a frenetic and sparkling two and a quarter minutes.

2. You Have to Laugh There is a real melancholy underneath this description of non-compatibility and decline in a relationship. It is full of wryly crafted lines like ‘….we’ve been hanging out a while but I’m yet to see you crack a smile….’ as the music strolls along with the analogue keys filling out the sound. The despairing and repeating line ‘….you have to laugh, otherwise I’ll cry…’ sums it all up.

3. Pizza In My Pants Perceptive and fun tune celebrating escape from external pressures to succeed and endless planning ahead ‘….Emma’s got a house in the suburbs, she bought it with her banker husband, wonder if he has a brother?…’ ‘….Hannah’s baby’s due in the summer, she will be a brilliant mother, I’m not fussed about procreation, I prefer my PlayStation…’.
Featuring cool harmonies and percussion the song finally resolves into the defiant ‘…I’m not saving for a rainy day, I’m just doing it my way…’.

4. OK Cupid Another sadder track, the timeless idea of unrequited adoration set into the anonymity of social media. The music is as plaintive as the message, with yearning keyboard lines intertwined with the frustrated vocal.
This may be a low key, lo-fi song but like the rest of the EP it leaves a big impression….

https://www.facebook.com/panicpocket
https://panicpocket.bandcamp.com/

Malena Zavala, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 25 April 2019

First on at the Blue Moon were Love Trapezium, a likeable trio from Norwich and London. They were playing a blend of keyboard-driven funk, with rhythm guitar, vocals, rapping and a brief saxophone appearance too. They were a bit cramped on stage but presented as a unified and tight playing unit, every keyboard and percussion interjection in just the right place. With featured EP ‘Hyperlink’ and the infectious groove of ‘See U Around’ they were an enjoyable opening act.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Wovoka Gentle (their name taken from two poems by American poet Gary Short) but when they started with three-part harmonies and sounded like a sixties folk-pop chart act as they were joined by guitar I knew I would not be disappointed. With a set that visually featured many changes of staging structure and instrument line-up and complete genre-free unpredictability it was all a bit special.

Many keyboards, guitar, violin and percussive effects drifted in and out but it was the strong vocal combinations that leave the lingering memories for me. I was very impressed; the sonic textures and musical directions were really like nothing else I have ever heard, I look forward to their new album in June.

Malena Zavala is an Argentinian-born Londoner who brings her mix of influences to a stunning set drawn mainly from her debut album ‘Aliso’. As singer/songwriter she is a serene, magnetic personality in the middle of her accomplished band; the musicians able to maintain a restrained presence for many of the songs but able to push forwards when needed. Malena plays occasional keyboard and guitar including some subtle lead lines but her voice is always the key ingredient in the mix.

The easy groove of signature song ‘If It Goes’ had an early appearance, sounding like it was already a familiar hit, followed by the thoughtful dream pop of ‘Moon Song’. Up tempo ‘Cumbia’ brilliantly brought Latin dance rhythms into the middle of her set but it was the slower, musically rich ‘I Never Said It’ and ‘Should I Try’ that were the emotional core of her performance.
Finishing with the slow-building ‘A Vision That’s Changed’ with the ringing guitar accompaniment gradually building to an anthemic flourish finale, it was one of those shows where I felt it was a privilege to be there.

https://www.malenazavala.com/
http://www.wovokagentle.com/
https://www.facebook.com/lovetrapezium/

Teleman, Junction J1, Cambridge , 23 April 2019

ᙀᖺ (or ‘uh’) are an experimental electronic duo; Fionnuala Kennedy and Dominic Kennedy use a variety of synthesisers and treatments to create a sound that is at first challenging but soon pulls you into their world. With spoken lyrics, singing, a voice becoming a keyboard and intense manipulating of the sonic palette, each of the four performed tracks has its own character, but always propelled by a deep funky-ish bass. ‘Starchild’ features an inverted riff on electro-pop classic ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’, while new eight minute single ‘Seasick In Salts’ changes speed, rhythm, pitch and everything in between. Mesmerising and hypnotic, uh are immensely likeable, showing once again that Teleman can find excellent support acts.

Regular readers of this site will realise that Teleman are one of my favourites, this was the sixth time for us; fortunately they continue to develop their live show and have a recorded back catalogue that is now rich enough to overfill a set with gems. Tonight’s show featured only two songs from their second album as last year’s long-player ‘Family Of Aliens’ is now the source of most of the set. The title track and the mighty ‘Cactus’ were early highlights, with the unusual and distinctive ‘Submarine Life’ continuing to grow in stature.

The rewarding and dissonant 5/4 beat of ‘Repeater’ and the extended reworking of ‘Steam Train Girl’ interweaved perfectly with the rolling keyboards of new live addition ‘Sea Of Wine’ and the doomy splendour of ‘Fall In Time’. ‘Song For A Seagull’ has an ethereal splendour all of its own and as to be expected the irresistible march of ‘Strange Combinations’ and the relentless main set closer ‘Not In Control’ were electrifying crowd pleasers.

As an encore Tom Sanders returned to the stage for a solo version of rare and haunting ballad ‘Nights On Earth’ before the essential finale of the fabulous driving pop of ‘Dusseldorf’.

As always, a brilliant show!

https://www.telemanmusic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/uhlive/

Tom Williams : What Did You Want To Be?, LP released April 2019

A track by track review of the new LP from singer/songwriter Tom Williams, a varied collection of anthems, ballads and late night musings. A formidable live performer (see my older review https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/tom-williams-and-the-boat-29th-may-2014/) with a fanbase that continues to grow, this is his sixth album of original material, produced by Tim Rice-Oxley of Keane.

1. Run Down A big live show opener, with full band backing and a chorus that pushes all before it as musically it travels down an open highway. ‘… I’m a bit run down at the moment…I let the days get away from me….’

2. Rock & Roll A bitterish tale of the pitfalls of life in the lower echelons of the music ‘business’, the downbeat thoughts boosted by another anthemic chorus with dominant keyboard chords underpinning ‘….I don’t believe in rock ‘n’ roll no more….’.

3. Dawned on Me This one is a bit special, a relaxed ballad with some jazzy textures of various acoustic instruments and quickly arriving at an addictive hookline sentiment reminiscent of a latter period John Martyn song. Lovely.

4. Graveyard More of a pacey country-rock feel to this track, the band pounding along relentlessly driven by the key line ‘…there’s a graveyard in my head where all my dreams are dead…’. A thoughtful middle eight takes the song in another direction ‘…you’re kicking down the door…you’re living in a constellation….’

5. Stay Afloat A change of tone here with many delicate guitars filling the mix, synthesiser tones and a subtly urgent drum track. Tom’s vocals and harmonies drift along as light as air.

6. Keeping It In Moving along at a smooth pace, with short lyric lines and the instruments drifting in and out like a song by The War On Drugs, there is a ringing guitar solo at the end to add to the atmosphere.

7. Early Morning Rain One of the first songs written for the album back in 2016, with a hint of darkness in its chord sequence and a big chorus hookline as ‘…the early morning rain washes your pain away…’

8. Some Time A pure, compact song, accompanied by gentle acoustic guitar and a cello sound. Returning to the key line ‘….some time in the future none of this will last…some time in the future all of this will pass…’ It is a moving, emotive vignette.

9. It’’s Dark Now A preview single for the album, this is a punch-the-air big anthem, built around percussive guitar and piano with a call and response chorus. The narrator is suffering the tribulations of late night excesses and broadening it out into wider social commentary.

10. Crying at the TV This is a dissonant nightmarish rocking workout, with a guitar simulating sirens, Tom’s voice filtered and distorted and generating an atmosphere of paranoia and ennui.

11. Real Slow Back to the country-rock pace, a jaunty song but with a serious intent and lingering message ‘….depression its a new low… days are drifting real slow….winter’s coming in and my windows are broken…’

http://www.tomwilliamsmusic.net/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/tom-williams-and-the-boat-29th-may-2014/