Music / Reviews

Review: The Rosalie Cunningham Band/Goldray, Fleece

By robin askew, Friday Aug 2, 2019

Tonight, Matthew, Leah Rasmussen is going to be a giant yellow butterfly with translucent wings – all the better for floating about the stage in shimmering Stevie Nicks-meets-Kate Bush interpretive hippy dance stylee.

Nobody could accuse Goldray of failing to put in the work on the visual aspect of their performance, from that glittery backdrop to those flower-festooned microphone stands and the luxuriant stage carpeting.

Musically, there remains a strong whiff of patchouli oil and unwashed loon pants here, suggesting that no matter how far they travel Goldray will never completely transcend their roots on Glastonbury High Street. This is, of course, no bad thing, but the spectre of chakra-balancing new-agey self indulgence is kept firmly at bay by the muscular hard-rockin’ riffage of birthday boy and former Reef guitarist Kenwyn House, who takes full advantage of the freedom afforded by being the master of his own destiny to showcase that enviable guitar tone.

Those craving a radical reworking of the wheel should look elsewhere, but this was a more confident performance than we’ve seen from the quartet during their previous Bristol shows, possibly because they’re so well matched with the co-headliner.

Leah’s voice has never sounded more powerful, while the rhythm section prove highly effective in driving along songs that are in no hurry to reach their destination. Better still, they opt to unveil several songs from their upcoming second album, all of which are a major improvement on their predecessors, notably The Forest and The Beat Inside – the latter being built upon a deliciously crunchy riff.

Rosalie Cunningham is already a huge star. It’s just that the great unwashed have thus far foolishly failed to notice. Her first band, Ipso Facto, were acquired-taste indie-goth NME darlings. But Rosalie found her creative feet with the hugely impressive if depressingly under-appreciated psych/prog act Purson, who crashed and burned in what was clearly a bruising experience that caused her to retreat from music altogether for several years.

But now she’s back, back, back with her first, eponymously titled solo album, which has received universal acclaim and may yet yield the success she so richly deserves. Multi-instrumentalist Rosalie plays much of this music herself, but her live band reunites her with Purson drummer Raphael Mura alongside her roots guitarist partner Rosco Levee, plus bassist/backing vocalist Alpha Michelle (possibly not his real name) and keyboard player Lee Spreadbury – the latter duo looking as though they’ve lost some kind of bet in the make-up department.

There are some sound issues at the outset, but the show opens, as does the album, with Ride On My Bike – a worthy addition to the noble tradition of bicycle-oriented psychedelic rock songs alongside My White Bicycle and Pink Floyd’s Bike. Rosalie moonlights in a Beatles tribute act with her dad and it seems safe to suggest that her favourite Fabs era spans the years from Revolver to the White Album, their influence being obvious, but not overbearingly so, on this potent and colourful blend of fairground Wurlitzer keyboards, cheeky music hall asides and heavy psychedelia of the most lysergic variety, topped with her distinctive rich, deep, knowing vocals.

As anticipated, she plays much of the album tonight including that epic 14-minute closer A Yarn from the Wheel – one of those jaundiced depictions of “the business that we call show” that everyone who’s been battered by the music business writes sooner or later (hey – Fish has practically built a career on them). Given that the album has only been out for a few days and many people are hearing this for the first time, it’s quite an ambitious undertaking, if not quite on the ‘Genesis premiering The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway‘ scale. But despite its length, this multi-part epic is fat-free and irresistibly catchy in parts, looping back on itself in a most satisfying prog fashion.

Since the album runs for just 43 minutes, the set is inevitably bulked out with some Purson songs, ranging from their hard-rockin’ farewell single Chocolate Money to the irresistibly lovely Sky Parade from Desire’s Magic Theatre. This boasts some her most flowery lyrics, but there’s also a welcome earthiness to much of her songwriting, which makes a welcome contrast to the “Hello clouds, hello sky” Fotherington-Tomas tendency of English psychedelia at its most retreat-into-childhood twee. The slightly startling Fuck Love (“It’s a bargain, a battle that can never be won”), for example, is clearly born of bitter experience.

Deftly handling multiple guitar changes, Rosalie is also an accomplished musician, wincing at her own rare mistakes, and seems relaxed and completely comfortable with her new band towards the end of this first run of gigs. Rosco Levee proves an effective musical foil, delivering some rather tasty slide guitar, while Alpha Michelle and Lee Spreadbury not only nail their parts effectively but also enjoy much gurning and larking about. The hair-tossing keyboardist in particular pulls such an impressive selection of exaggerated sex faces that one begins to wonder what’s actually going on beneath the screen that conceals his, ahem, instrument.

On this evidence, Rosalie Cunningham is just one well-deserved break away from playing to the bigger audiences commanded by lesser talents. Let’s hope fate finally gives her career a nudge in the right direction.

All photos by Shona Cutt

Read more: Metal & Prog Picks: August 2019

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