Name in Lights -
Boo Hewerdine, The Winter Kings, Paul Richards, Alex Harris and Alighting
Cancer Research UK Charity Gig
Legends Bar, Cambridge - Friday 20th June 2008

I've learned not to expect anything especially, my cynical side says, from local music nights in Cambridge. Tonight I turn up without expectations but in support of a friend who is doing some good with the creative medium that fulfils that purpose better than most.

The night begins with Alighting, a well established sibling duo who now, thankfully, look to be expanding the canvas of their sound once again and not before time. Whilst they have always written delicately haunting songs they certainly benefit from the extra dimensions additional musicians allow them to explore and this is highly evident tonight with only a bass player thrown into the mix.

The changeovers are quick and we only have a few moments to reflect on the sobering facts about cancer that are presented to us before Alex Harris appears on stage with his new slim lined backing band. I've not seen Alex perform for some time and I'd almost forgotten what a lost treasure this man is. Whether you like his brand of sentimentality or not I defy anyone to find a better songwriter locally who incorporates such a range of emotion. It is a unique ability to be able to move a human being from tears to reflection to an uncontrollable urge to dance within a few minutes.
Slipped in next is the charity single Name in Lights penned by Michelle Bessant and featuring an ensemble of musicians taken from tonight's' various acts. The poignant lyrics delivered by Alex Harris' soulful voice, whilst not directly related to tonight's subject matter, provide a rousing three minutes of touching pop melodrama which, although tainted with a hint of sadness, leave us all with a sense of hope.

Alex Harris

Paul Richards, the organiser of tonight's events, gets to show off his real talents next by throwing all kinds of jazz beats and quirky time signatures at us with his band Under The Streetlamp. As usual Jess' powerful voice uplifts the audience as they slowly begin to shuffle closer to the stage. The similarly jazzy pop trio Fingersmith follow this and I have often thought of them as a poor Ben Folds without the songs - style but no substance. Tonight, however, I am pleased to say I can push all cynicism to one side as they continue to propel the evening on and even manage to get my toes tapping.

If I had any real hopes for tonight then they lay with the next band - The Winter Kings. For once in my life I am not disappointed. I don't know the band well enough yet to even recognise any of their songs but it doesn't matter because they have so much power, display so much raw emotion and are led by such an effervescent front man that it is impossible not to get drawn in to their show. I have never seen a front man locally who is more at home and yet so uneasy on stage as Austin. His words roll around his pervading accent as he awkwardly moves around the empty floor until slowly he pulls us in closer to the stage and suddenly this starts to become something very intimate. The audience no longer stand as voyeurs but become complicit in the dark words and melodies of the band. I can't stop thinking that they should not be here, that they should be filling stadiums but the fact that they are here makes this moment even more beautiful and I don't want it to end.

The Winter Kings

I have no idea how the next act can follow this. Boo Hewerdine is tonight's headliner and whilst he is an established songwriter he is not one I am familiar with and when he strides alone toward the stage with only an acoustic guitar I start to feel a slight pang of concern. However, the crowd does not move, it remains in anticipation. Most likely they know a lot more than I do because even whilst the sound level may have dropped there is now such a buzz in the room that his first song slips so perfectly into place but it is what follows that turns this into quite possibly the most magical musical experience I have ever encountered in Cambridge.

One by one Boo begins to 'borrow' members of The Winter Kings line up to accompany him impromptu on stage much to the drunken disgruntlement of their front man. Their musicianship is of the highest quality and they play as if they had been a band for thirty years. I for one could have listened to Max's blues guitar howlings layering over the top of the delicate acoustic ensemble all night but it is not just the new found band that make this special - it is the audience. This is my first encounter with Boo but even with my reserved nature I find myself clapping along, tapping my foot, singing along to lyrics I've never heard before and we are all in it together. We have grown from the intimacy provided by the Winter Kings to the raucous nature of friends. In that one moment the whole room is as one and it encapsulates everything that is positive and unique about music.

When the band leave the stage Boo remains alone to screams of 'more' and finally Austin gets his chance to return to the stage. For a final few moments we are treated to a more sombre melody that allows The Winter Kings' front man to show off his ability to improvise and his sense of dark humour. The audience laugh, then cheer and eventually remain standing. The lights go up and we all look around. None of can explain, that is the beauty of it.

I am inspired again, there is hope.


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