Since its beginning in the 1970s, Strawberry Fair has become a much-anticipated fixture on the Cambridge summer calendar. Full of colour, costume, protest, food and drink it is still primarily a free music festival with upwards of 100 acts on show, only a few of which I was able to stay to see this time round.
Some years the event can be slow to get going but this time the weather brought out a substantial crowd early on, including an appreciative audience for The Scissors opening the Rebel Arts Stage at midday. After a decade at the forefront of the Cambridge scene they can still strike a pose and rip it up with the best of them, aided by a selection of their own fastest and loudest songs, including I thought an extra turning up of the blazing sound system to a volume beyond 11 halfway through the set. Having seen them recently in the confines of the Cornerhouse venue, their rich and hypnotic swirling sound easily steps up to an outdoor show.
Meanwhile in the Portland Ballroom (a large tent with excellent ale bar) Garden Birds were on stage; singer/songwriter/guitarist Sarah Taylor-Morris accompanied by another guitar and with an extra enhancement of five backing singers to add an ethereal choir to her uptempo folk tales.
Next on were indie fun-folksters Jacquie And Geoff, the duo joined by electric upright bass, percussion and the lushness of a clarinet. It was all enjoyable feel-good stuff, even with an occasional ukulele showing its ability to sound uplifting and melancholic at the same time.
Cambridge 105 radio have many ways of promoting local artists, with dedicated specialist DJs and the very popular ‘unsigned chart’. Here they host a stage, showcasing local artists of all genres; we caught the end of a set by Ffion Rebecca, originally from Wales but now living in Cambridge and making waves on the local music scene. Performing her own songs and covers she has a rich and versatile voice and a confident stage presence, accompanied by some jazzy stylings from her companion’s acoustic guitar.
I last saw guitarist Kimberley Rew guesting with cult legend Robyn Hitchcock two weeks ago, now here he was on the Flying Pig stage as the lynchpin of the band Jack, a good-time blues-rock band regularly gigging around the city. Rew is not an extravagant soloist, his short and spicy guitar lines and chops weave effortlessly over rock solid bass and drums and complement the traditional blues vocals. Definitely a band and vibe to savour as the afternoon turned to evening and the crowds continued to arrive…
In these days of political and social upheaval it is good to have something to rely on; this year is the 35th anniversary of the first recordings by Southend band The Get, and here they are on stage at the Corner House with singer Bruce Gordon strutting around and delivering a set of punk laced with irony and wit on songs like, ‘Dalek’, ‘Batman And Robin’ and a concise guide to the music industry on ‘Hit!’. They have a newish EP out, and from that ‘You Made Your Bed…Now Lie In It’ could be taken as a commentary on large government decisions, or just as a diatribe against an ex-partner…
I have enjoyed and reviewed the album ‘Resounding’ by Moscow Circus (https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2016/08/29/moscow-circus-resounding-lp-released-june-2016/) so it was great to get an opportunity to hear it live at last. Songwriter Jonathan Beckett delivers the complex lyrics, vocal nuances and jangly guitar parts effortlessly and the four piece band are a tight playing unit.
‘Timebomb’, ‘Bleed For You’ and especially ‘Princess Rainbow’ were all highlights, but there were newer unrecorded tracks too including the enigmatically titled ‘4000 Weeks’ (that’s 77 years…Hmmm).
The set ended on another high with the noisy rocker ‘Ex-Genius’. This music had a long gestation time and has rarely been performed but tonight it was definitely job done.
One of Cambridge’s finest, The Scissors are seasoned presenters of spirited mini-movie songs and taking the stage quite late in the evening they featured many cuts from their 2016 album ‘Haunted Mirror’.
As I see so many guitar bands, it is always good to hear some keyboards too, especially when it is the timeless timbre of a Hammond organ, rolling in on ‘Do You Believe In Modern Love’ or more ska-laced on ‘Gone’. The strident guitar line and theremin wail herald ‘Why Don’t You Cry?’; their standout torchsong which is always a highlight of the varied set.
A quick encore of the album title track (as recently featured on charity compilation ‘Cambridge Calling Volume 1’) ended the trio of authentic acts in the welcoming setting of The Corner House (and all for free too…!)
After ten years on the Cambridge music scene The Scissors release a new album, the grammatically challenging ‘The Scissors Is The Haunted Mirror’.
The four-piece promise ‘carnival freakshow organ, primitive synths, and rock’n’roll guitar powered psychpunkpop.’ and much of this manifesto is to be heard in show starter ‘Come With Me’, the opening track on the LP. In the week that Keith Emerson of ELP became the latest rocker to die in 2016, it was good to be reminded of the great Hammond organ sound as it pushed its way into the chorus of this punchy bass-driven song.
‘No Go The Lowdown’ is a rocker with a cryptic lyric and the clever effect of all instruments and voice sharing the hook line. We had a brief acoustic interlude featuring antique accordion and acoustic guitar for ‘Attack Of The Phantom Teardrops’ then ‘Phone Calls From The Dead’ and final track ‘Your House Has Ghosts’ are back to noisy pop-rock. Best of all is the slow-burner blues of ‘Why Don’t You Cry’, with theremin textures (always fascinating to watch), guitar fireworks and the vocals from Stewart Harris making the most of the straight to the heart melody.
It was a good advert for the album (although I would have liked to hear the keyboard rushes and emotional turmoil hidden behind the title of of ‘Don’t Hate Me Just Because I’m Yours’).
Their free lyric sheet proclaimed it was ‘a phantasmagorical entertainment to thrill and beguile the senses…’, they certainly proved again that they are one of the best live bands in Cambridge.
The launch party for the new album ‘Of The Night’ from Cambridge rockers Bouquet Of Dead Crows. First band on were Londoners Cherry White, with some down and earthy blues-rock, vocalist Donata Sounds belting them out over some tight backing from a fluent rock trio, notable especially for some John Entwistle bass styling and some good contrasts of light and shade.
Gavin Chappell-Bates brought his sensitive tunes to the stage flanked by two microphones and a bank of pedals to facilitate an elaborate level of looping creating a multi-layered texture of sound, all from the acoustic guitar, voice and simple percussion. Impressive indeed. There is a warm and nostalgic feel to his songs, including recent singles ’95’ and ‘We Are The Ones’.
An exuberant performance from Cambridge stalwarts The Scissors impressed the growing audience, their sharp pop songs a riot of colourful Hammond organ flavoured keyboards, edgy guitar, crescendos of drums and punching bass, with some interesting lyrical twists. Hopefully a new CD is due soon, to include the dark blues of ‘Why Don’t You Cry?’ currently one of the standout songs in their live set.
As the stage filled with smoke the headliners arrived to a welcoming crowd. Opening with the slowly building ‘Everything Is Temporary’ then into the heavier delights of ‘Epicentre’ and blasting single ‘Just A Little More’, it is clear that the continual gigging and recording of these songs is paying off with a finely honed instrumental unity, topped with Antoinette Cooper’s confident vocals.
The dark riff of ‘Drownout’ pairs well with the sadness of ‘Without You’, ‘Fundamental Flaw Of Solitude’ sets us up nicely for the epic opus ‘Endless’ (its not a happy lyric, ‘over and over I’m drowning in the flames’) with one of the best instrumental work-outs of the evening. Time for a quick encore of early track ‘Implode/Explode’ (‘We should be killing time, but you’re killing me..’) then it was the end of the party.
Bouquet Of Dead Crows should be very proud of this album (with its striking design by Stewart Harris of The Scissors and triple gatefold sleeve..!) and it translates brilliantly to a live environment like the Portland, or of course to a larger venue…
Shooting Suns were the opening act of another varied line-up at The Portland Arms, with their confidently played ‘alternative soft rock’. The first two songs showed the influence of Coldplay with featured piano and voice tone, then for the pair of songs ‘Just Friends/Parallel’ piano was changed to guitar, with a haunting ringing high-note sound, very effective. They are a stylish and interesting band, with good variety, the lyrics and musical changes drawing the audience in. I will look forward to the new E.P, ‘Overload’.
The Scissors are a talented local band who have recorded and played in a range of venues around Cambridge, their driving sound (‘rock’n’roll guitar powered psychpunkpop’ as they describe it) filled out by a bold Hammond organ rush, superbly pushed forward in the mix tonight. Mostly up-tempo songs, such as ‘Phone Calls from the Dead’ with a much repeated and effective guitar line, then the slower ‘Why Don’t You Cry’ featuring the eerie tones of the theremin, a rarely seen and heard musical instrument (think ‘Good Vibrations’ by the Beach Boys or the ‘Midsomer Murders’ theme tune). ‘Your House has Ghosts’ finished the set on a high.
Then the headliners, Raglans (from Dublin). I had listened to their debut album and they seem to already have it all in place, powerful catchy songs, full of hooks and swagger. This was brilliantly reproduced live, with pounding drums and bass added to the winning combination of guitars, electric and acoustic…..then the mandolin thrown in too, used to drive the beat and also to pierce through the full sound. Vocal harmonies were spot on and the band radiated likeability, confidently interacting with the audience as if they knew us all. Nearly every song sounded like a hit, ‘Before Tonight’ and ‘The Man From Glasgow’ were particular highlights. There was also a cover of ‘Paper Planes’ by M.I.A. for extra variety. No encore, we had been won over from the start.