Storey’s Field Centre in the new Cambridge community of Eddington is continuing to host quality music; the room may lack a distinctive atmosphere but with the very high ceiling and versatile design features the acoustics are excellent for the two solo performers tonight.
First onstage was Emma Tricca, playing thoughtful acoustic pieces, many drawn from her 2018 album ‘St. Peter’. Using a fluid, gentle guitar style as a platform for her voice to summon and float a complementary jazz-folk melody, songs like the opener ‘Winter, My Dear’ are full of appeal.’The Servant’s Room’ reflects how cities change as time passes based on observations from a café window while ‘November At My Door’ is as captivating as the title promises.
It was a delicate and enticing beginning to a much anticipated show.
Robyn Hitchcock started his set with two songs from his Cambridge days with The Soft Boys – the darkly-catchy ‘Tonight’ and surreal treat ‘Queen Of Eyes’. You never know what is coming next from his vast back catalogue of solo work and collaborations; ‘Madonna Of The Wasps’ was from his time with The Egyptians, then the fast country-blues ‘I Pray When I’m Drunk’ was the first of four tracks from his self-titled 2017 long player.
Communications between songs this evening ranged from flights of fancy about the 1976 heat wave and speculating on what was underneath us before Eddington existed, but most frequently it was improbable banter with the sound desk about his fictitious requirements. He extends the range of his acoustic guitar with effects and adventurous playing excursions at the end of ‘The Lizard’ and final song ‘I’m Only You’ (for which he wanted sound settings that made his voice like ‘…a bundle of asparagus full of Art Garfunkels…?‘). A harmonica appears for two songs too.
Often it is the quieter moments that really hit home; ‘Stranded In The Future’, ‘Full Moon In My Soul’ and especially the requested encore ‘The Speed Of Things’ ‘…..You held my hand when I was crying…you were allergic to bee stings…I threw some earth onto your coffin…and thought about the speed of things…’; traditional-sounding folk transposed into a psychedelic masterpiece.
Robyn tours a lot and continues to record, most recently an EP with Andy Partridge from XTC. He also played latest single ‘Sunday Never Comes’, a melancholic and melodic anthem that has had its profile raised by a version featuring in last year’s movie ‘Juliet, Naked’.
It is an ongoing mystery why he isn’t a hugely popular performer playing giant auditoriums but to the faithful gathering in the church-like venue tonight he is unsurpassed in the musical firmament.
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.
Robyn and early arrivals outside the venue (photo by http://www.karenfranceseng.com)
Robyn Hitchcock returned to his Cambridge musical roots with a performance at Junction J2.
The show was opened by C Joynes, a creative solo guitarist from nearby Histon. It was the pure sound of electric guitar, uncluttered by loops and excessive effects but there was still plenty going on, the elaborate instrumentals drawing on many influences from English folk to African music for some of the themes. A broken string was mended expertly by a member of the audience while CJ persevered with his spare guitar after some tuning problems but despite this interruption he completed his set with style. I was fascinated by the final piece, using the idea of ‘prepared guitar’, an experimental technique where a simple rod placed under the strings changes the tuning as you play on various parts of the fretboard.
Robyn Hitchcock describes his songs as “paintings you can listen to.” And as paintings they would of course be mostly surrealistic miniatures, colourful and intricately crafted. His expressive vocals and perfectly judged sparse guitar is hypnotic. The often quoted influences of Dylan, Lennon and of course Syd Barrett can be heard but he has a voice and viewpoint all his own. Take a listen to the special delight that is ‘My Wife and My Dead Wife’, or ‘I Often Dream of Trains’ and ‘The Cheese Alarm’ and be impressed. Tonight there are also some eccentric meanderings between songs, musing abstractly on the delights or otherwise of Cambridge and his extensive musical career.
He has continued to record and perform since his beginnings in the late 70s with psychedelic/pop band ‘The Soft Boys’, working as a solo artist and also collaborating extensively. His most recent album is ‘The Man Upstairs’, featuring original songs and covers including a brilliant version of ‘The Ghost in You’ by The Psychedelic Furs (remember them?). Unfortunately that wasn’t played tonight but as a bonus instead the show ended with guest appearances from Cambridge musicians Nick Barraclough on mandolin and banjo and Kimberley Rew on guitar. This included an encore of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the famous experimental Beatles track, fitting seamlessly into the show.