JUANITA STEIN/ IAN JEFFS/ RICKY BOOM BOOM – Portland Arms, Cambridge 2/10/2017

I have been living in musical exile for the summer, moving back to civilisation from North Cornwall only yesterday and, quite frankly, couldn’t wait to see some artists that weren’t blues or funk. Newquay only had one band and they combined the two. I won’t lie; not even the stunning scenery and cheerful Northern immigrants made up for it. For someone that loves good live music as much as I do, safe to say that the last few months have been hell.

What’s more, Cornish audiences go to gigs to talk and barely listen to the bands at all. Cambridge, of course, is usually much more sedate, going for the awkward ‘gawk’ and rather polite applause and it is this reaction that tonight’s first support act, Ricky Boom Boom, is treated to. At least the handful of people in the room appear to be listening but why is no-one here? The gig-going public obviously don’t realise that Ricky is local music lothario, Richard Archer – you may recognise him as the man who was in punk act, Soldiers of Fortune, alt-country wonders, The Shivers, or, more recently, the charmingly shambolic and short-lived Biscuits For Bears. A prolific songwriter hailing from Hunts, and armed with just a guitar (so no boom boom at all actually), his trademark unpolished style is endearing and entertaining. With tracks about an evil administrator called Barbara; a definite theme tune- for me, at least- in the form of ‘Trouble Will Find You’, and ending with Beck tune ‘Pay No Mind’, which is a clear influence, Mr Boom Boom writes a soundtrack to your tired life about his tired life but in a clever and funny way that means you should get your arse out of the door a bit earlier so you don’t miss him next time.

And then we come to Ian Jeffs. I have been taught that if you can’t say something nice, say it anyway, which generally gets me hated so I’ll make this brief. Ian Jeffs is a local singer songwriter who has growly vocals to go with his rather dated often-anthemic rock. Though no blues/funk, I was nearly hysterical when he started singing about Sarajevo. I’m sorry but why was he getting the raucous applause? I never have liked Nickelback and I can’t get the comparison out of my head. Perhaps I’ve got sand in my ears. Sorry.

Moving on (thank God) and Juanita Stein is the tiny Antipodean former front-woman of Howling Bells, who were darlings of the music scene about a decade ago. It is hard not to draw comparisons to her previous band, particularly as she is backed by a couple of them this evening and not least when she actually plays one of their tracks, but she is here to promote new solo album, ‘America’. Stein’s performance is humble and naturally charasmatic, storytelling about her obsession with the USA that doesn’t veer too far from the path well trodden but is captivating nonetheless, sounding somewhere between an early sixties siren and a noughties indie goddess most of the time. When she invites her Dad, Peter, up on stage to perform, he proclaims her ‘the best singer in the world’. And she really does have a stunning, seemingly easy, vocal- best showcased in the harmonic and dreamily simple ‘Stargazer’ and the classic backroad bar picking of ‘Someone Else’s Dime’, though there are many moments to choose from. I thank her afterwards and tell her it was a beautiful show. I hope she feels the same as me: it’s good to be back.

Anna C