The Cuban Embassy
Review by Mark Wakeman
This was going to be a nice concise gig with just one support act and the main act due on before 8:30pm. This was due to the Cuban Embassy having a 10pm curfew probably to allow a club night. So allowing extra support acts would have meant a very early start.
The support Marcus Hamblett was a name that I didn’t recognize but when I saw him his face looked familiar this became apparent when I discovered the large list of notable names he had played with live, on record or had produced. He modestly described himself as being a member of Rachael’s band with no mention that he had produced her latest album or his huge list of other credits.
His set was largely instrumental and comprised mainly from his second solo album ‘Detritus’. The first couple of tunes were a bit unexciting with just Marcus and his guitar. Instrumentals of this nature don’t tend to work unless they are by The Shadows, an acoustic guitarist or jazz influenced.
Things picked up when he was joined on stage by saxophonist Emma Gatrill for a tune written by a fellow musician Steve Aston who sadly passed away last year.
Marcus joked that musicians always leave their best songs to last and this was certainly true as he was joined by the rest of Rachael’s band Alex Heane on double bass/bass and Rob Pemberton on drums. The final couple of songs were highly accomplished music workouts with even some minimal vocals from Marcus and Emma on these tracks, with Marcus even switching to trumpet on the last song.
For some reason there were a fair number of people sat on the floor school assembly like during Marcus’ set including a proud Rachael clearing loving her backing band’s music. The venue had filled up quite nicely by then with a fair bit of anticipation about seeing Rachael play.
Rachael has been on the music scene for well over 15 years having split her time between the UK and Japan. She is married to a Japanese gentleman and they have two young children who were referenced where appropriate in context to her set.
Rachael soon made it clear that she would be playing her latest album ‘Flux’ in it’s entirety so anyone wanting to hear older material would be out of luck. But with the band’s producer and also Emma and Rob who’d played on the album and Alex a more recent addition to her touring band this made perfect sense.
Interestingly Marcus played as much trumpet as guitar during Rachael’s set and Emma played some keys around her sax and bass sax duties.
Opening with the dreamy ‘Two Islands’ which featured some gorgeous vocal harmonies from Emma and herself, Rachael proceeded to play ‘Arrows’ before moving onto the more folksy ‘Beacon’ which was written about the Bristol area and the River Avon flowing into the sea.
The upbeat ‘Cut My Roots’ kept the concert moving along nicely before Rachael slowed it down by switching to keyboards and introducing the unusually titled ‘aleontologist’ which was written about her 7 year old son’s ongoing love for dinosaurs. Full marks for Rachael for getting a song out of a subject she must be asked hundreds of questions about by a young enquiring mind.
The quirky and uplifting ‘Super Moon Machine’ followed – this is a song about human connections and despite the title wasn’t another one suggested by her children. It gave her excellent band a great chance to shine too.
The jazzy and sparse Language of ‘Water’ had hints of Tori Amos at her best and was a clear set highlight. ‘Knot’ featured more beautiful Rachael and Emma harmonies and some great keyboard work from Rachael.
Rachael got the pace of her gig just right playing an unhurried set, not rushing from song to song or boring people with overly long explanations or pretentious reasons why songs got their titles. Her family and a few political occurrence’s were referenced but this was in the context of the upcoming song as Racheal’s lovely stage presence and easy going manner came across. It was clear that she could tell that the crowd were enjoying her set and we could see that the band liked playing to an appreciative crowd.
‘Two Coiled Springs’ and album closer ‘Connected to the Rock’ brought the on stage part of the set to an end before the band unplugged their instruments and gave a lovely rendition of ‘Animal’ stood in the middle of the crowd all bar Rob who showed his musical versatility by switching to keys for the finale.
Rachael is a performer clearly at the top of her game and backed by an excellent, rock solid backing band provided a lovely hour long set entirely devoted to her most recent album.