JOANNA GRUESOME/ MAMMOTH PENGUINS/ NEWTS- Portland Arms, Cambridge 2.10.16

The Portland is full this evening, so this must be quite an occasion for local trio, NEWTS, despite looking like they should be at home preparing their briefcases for the morning commute. Though they are unlikely-looking rockers (apart from the plaid-shirt-and- Converse attire of the lead singer), they prove that they can pen a rollicking tune. Having just released their first eponymous EP, NEWTS take us on a brief canter through grunge, post-hardcore and indie; the guitar work during the slightly trippy ‘Pure’ cements an air of doom only betrayed by their energetic and engaging live performance. However, the stand-out track is ‘Back’, a brief punch to the giblets just begging for a mosh pit. Of course, it’s Sunday night and Cambridge does not oblige. Still, quite a few heads nodded so I would call that a success.

And while Newts look like they are having a genuinely good time, has something happened to piss Mammoth Penguins off? The answer, we later find out, appears to be ‘yes’ as the fire alarm goes off mid-set and so does the sound, for a time, cutting their performance short. That said, they do seem a bit peeved before this. Maybe they’re a bit tired? But anyway. Another threesome- this time fronted by Emma Kupa, former singer of Sheffield indie-popsters, Standard Fare- Mammoth Penguins are also very much a local band, and a local band doing really rather well for themselves. Completed by someone that I used to go to school with (Tom Barden- Return Of ID/The Pony Collaboration) and someone the plus one used to go to college with/be in a band with (Mark Boxall- a million Cambridge bands), Mammoth Penguins have been championed by 6 Music recently and, er, do indie-pop like them other bands they were in. Not that that’s a criticism. It was good then and it’s good now. Kupa’s distinctive melodic vocal splices up their jangly, slightly jaded songs about being old and disappointed, and, with a potentially shy performance, they aren’t reinventing the wheel by any means but they are very pleasant.

And the revisiting of musical ground sets the precedent for headline act, Joanna Gruesome, a band I have decided that deliver a feeling of what it was like seeing the most-hyped acts on their way up through the toilet circuit about twenty years ago. The toilet circuit was a lot more dingy then but it was ours. I frequented The Boat Race in Cambridge most nights, stalking/annoying local bands, head stuck in the NME, ears plugged into The Evening Session, destroying my hair with Sun In and upsetting my friend’s Mum by the way I dressed. I imagine that the teenagers here now (and those on stage that probably aren’t much older) have the same lust for live performance that I did then (with no doubt the same rituals) and it makes me stop and wonder. Has the music scene brought itself full circle, as in I have now heard it all before? Does that mean there’s no place for me anymore? Did I even have a place in it to begin with? After all, I am probably the only person in my generation who would admit that I saw BIS back in the day and this lot sound a bit like them, for Crying Out Loud. I never thought I would repeat that experience (actually, I loved them. I saw them a few times. Sssshh).

I enjoy watching JG too. Their fringes are strong and there is a joy to their gang mentality. Two female vocalists (one shouty, one less shouty) lead the noisy pop alongside a younger, blonder David Baddiel stage right (staring at the wall), another bloke who looks like Rob Newman (not staring at the wall), a guitarist who looks far more punky than the rest of them and a drummer (couldn’t see them). With songs so similar that, when they improvise their set list, they have to stop (‘we’ve played that one already), what I admire more than their songwriting is that they don’t care. Because Joanna Gruesome could quite obviously be doing a day job, or maybe studying or working in an alternative clothing store. Yes, what makes them interesting is that it’s clear that they know how lucky they are and are out to enjoy it for as long they can. Which, as the last night of their recent tour draws to an end, I am sure will be a little while yet.

Thanks to Lucy at ‘But I Like You PR’ for sorting this evening out for us.

Words and Pix : Anna C