From a Trail of Dead to Polly Paulusma, via a Ferocious Dog

I haven’t written about music for ages, so looked back through my gig going year to date. Since my last gigs post back in January, I’ve been to just five gigs in five months – and there are no summer festivals on the horizon for the first time since the 80s. What on earth is going on?

While I still love live music, I’ve fallen out of love with going to gigs on the train or seeing things I see as overpriced; as well as now avoiding gigs I’m not sure about when before I probably would’ve taken a punt on them. I also seem totally incompetent at staying up to date with who is playing when – how could this have been easier before the internet?

Apathy has, of course, played its part – along with other interests taking up much more of my evening time. The fact these tend to involve going somewhere local with a bottle of wine, rather than on a train with a £30 bar bill at the end, is another deciding factor. But, that said, the gigs have all been corkers. I should get out more…

And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, with Lonely The Brave

Trail of Dead aren’t a band I know well. I was impressed by the early stuff, saw a couple of great gigs and then slowly drifted away as my interest waned. The last time I saw them was with Rival Schools at Electric Ballroom in Camden and while they rocked, the sound was dodgy and the atmosphere never sparked.

Two years on and we’re in a sweaty Portland Arms, Cambridge with Trail of Dead jumping around like loons on stage and god knows what coming out of the speakers. It could’ve died on its ass right there, as the soundman failed completely to deal with the room, but a combination of enthusiasm both on and off the stage kept the atmosphere high enough for the sound to catch up.

Make no mistake, this was the kind of gig they could’ve done on auto pilot – and many bands would’ve. But Trail of Dead were in their element, sparked by the tiny room rather than insulted and firing on all cylinders. By the end you felt like you’d been to ‘one of those gigs’ – a sweaty, chaotic reminder of how awesome it was to see them in the early years.

Support came from Lonely the Brave, who seemed strangely subdued – but were wonderful all the same. Finally Cambridge looks to have found another band that will rise above the local curse and make a few quid out if this music thing. It seems a long time since the wonderful Broken Family Band said goodbye in 2009, but these guys are worthy successors of the ‘one band from Cambridge’ tag.

If you don’t know them, Lonely the Brave make a great big fucking rock sound brimming with melody and craft. The vocals are big enough to stay atop the wall of sound, which is impressive in itself, while the lyrics are thoughtful and accomplished. But don’t be distracted – the biggest thing here is the fucking ROCK. It’s marvellous – and that’s from someone who doesn’t ordinarily like ‘the rock’.

Polly Paulusma, with Annie Dressner

I remember falling in love with Polly Paulusma at Cambridge Folk Festival many moons ago, before some rotter swished in and married her. She’d been teetering on the brink of the big time, but put family first – and why not? The lure of fame may be behind her, but she seems happy on stage and still has the assets that got her all the attention in the first place – which is great for us, as we get to see her down the Portland for a fiver rather than in an enormodome for fifty.

Lets face it, there’s a lot of singer-songwriters out there and the vast majority of them should be lowered into a big vat of meh. But for me, Polly is one of the few who really strike a chord with me (no pun intended); she plays beautifully, her voice has an ethereal yet powerful quality and the lyrics always have just the right mix of honesty and believability without being clichéd – plus there’s a nice edge of humour on occasion too.

It can all get a bit hippy dippy at times, but the between song banter is lovely and overall it’s a great set – even if she didn’t play my favourite (One Day). I’d certainly recommend first album ‘Scissors in My Pocket’ and I’m now going to track down more of her stuff myself.

Support came from Annie Dressner, a former New Yorker now living in Cambridge (and married to friend and cracking singer-songwriter Paul Goodwin). She’s another performer that’s more interesting than the average, and another with an ethereal quality to her voice – but this time with a resonance that recalls an old favourite of mine Mazzy Star (Annie’s definitely more upbeat, folky and twangy though).

Annie’s been making some waves and building a strong reputation over here and on this showing it’s easy to see why. She plays subtle, heart-felt and personal songs that demand your attention, while you can see a real progression in her song crafting on recent EP ‘East Twenties‘. If you like folky singer-songwriters, you should definitely check it out.

The Wonderstuff, with Ferocious Dog

While I like to moan about travelling to gigs, some bands are worth it simply for the company; and one of those is The Wonderstuff. The guys who still follow this lot around the country may have lost their hair over the years, but they’ve not lost any enthusiasm – or drinking ability. The kit bags and hitching signs may have been replaced with family saloons and Travelodges, but the energy remains.

So off I plodded to Nottingham’s Rock City for Wonderstuff gig number eleventy billion (and I’m miles (not Miles) behind many people), more to have a beer with friends than to worry too much about the bands. It wasn’t full, so the atmosphere wasn’t quite what it could’ve been, but they played the usual cracking set – despite the loss (again) of Malc and my continued reservations about Erica’s playing style; for me, the band still needs a fiddler, not a violinist. She’s clearly a brilliant musician, but for me she’s in the wrong band.

Caveats aside, if you were once a fan and haven’t checked in on them for a while, The Wonderstuff are still every bit the blistering live band they’ve always been. Come on, you owe yourself a night out; so get your wallet out and treat yourself to a ticket for Sleigh the UK in December, with Jesus Jones and Pop Will Eat itself in tow.

Perhaps one reason why the atmosphere didn’t quite click for me on the night was that I was still reeling from my first blast of Mansfield band Ferocious Dog. They’re a six-piece folk rock band that are unashamedly Levellers inspired – but with everything turned up to 11. I was blown away – these guys are fast, rocking and infectious and if there’s any justice they’ll become the hit on the festival circuit they deserve to be.

They’ve got a bunch of gigs coming up and I’ll not be missing them. I picked up both their CDs on the way out of the gig and have been playing them a bunch – I can guarantee you that if you like the Levs, you’ll fall in love with these guys instantly. Don’t believe me? Have a listen.

July is looking good already; tickets are in the bag for Half Man Half Biscuit, The New Mendicants (Joe Pernice and TFC’s Norman Blake) and Fight Like Apes – plus there’s still The Pharcyde and Jesus Jones to wax lyrical about.

But with my move to a gig-less town now going ahead at the end of the month, things may dry up dramatically – unless I start counting karaoke and covers bands…

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