Cover bands, you either love them or hate them. They are even left behind their big sisters, tribute bands. But when we foolishly cast a negative connotation upon them, we often forget that, even before the emergence of Rock and Roll, what made music popular was the song not the band. Back then, the music business was about writing good songs and getting as many different people as possible to perform them. Everybody was covering everybody else’s song, and the performers were those marking the songs with an original style. It happened also later, with songs like ‘My Way’ or ‘New York, New York’, where it’s difficult (and even sinful) to say whether Frank Sinatra’s versions were better than Liza Minnelli’s or Elvis Presley’s. The song is one entity and the performance another. And while tribute bands are about the original bands, the cover bands are about the songs.
The UK is soaked in music. Cambridge makes no exception and cover bands are a big part of the city’s live music scene. Each evening, you will find nice gigs in various venues. One of them is Relevant Record Cafe, a nice cozy place with a record store at the basement and live music whenever needed. On Saturday 15 July, they hosted DarkHorse and Little Black Dress Duo.
Little Black Dress Duo
Little Black Dress Duo means Amanda Hall on vocals and guitar and Dawn Loombe on piano accordion. Amanda Hall has an impressive performance career, founding and joining bands covering a wide range of styles, from jazz, blues, bluegrass to electro/acoustic since early 90s. Dawn Loombe is playing accordion since ever and is currently in other Cambridge-based groups like Redhouse Radio and Lemon Street Cafe Band.
Two fascinating, stylish (sorry I missed those shoes that everybody was talking about afterwards!) and very talented ladies, paying tribute to various artists, melting music and theatrical style in their work. Each song they performed (from the repertoires of Edith Piaf, Tom Lehrer, Kirsty MacColl or Lionel Bart) were brought on stage in cabaret style, making everyone feel the sadness or the joy of life, the glamour or the misery of unrequited love, the nostalgia or the sweetness of past memories, the destructive romance or the true love. What unified these songs into an impressive performance was the Little Black Dress Duo’s style and power of suggestion through their musical format. With just voice and accordion, you are gently transposed back in an era of drama and passion.
Their performance was short due to early curfew but definitely memorable, endorsed all the way by the warm applauses of a cordial audience.
The evening continued on the same highly enjoyable note, this time with a different style of music. At Relevant Record Café, DarkHorse was the very definition of good music and great time. The recipe? A high-ranking setlist made of songs which were built to last over time, plus DarkHorse’s own interpretation based on respect for that music and with the only purpose of bringing back good memories and passion at each audition.
Besides the high quality of their considerate setlist, they offered a dynamic performance onstage, with a sound and steady rhythm section (John Bowyer on bass guitar and Mike Nathan on drums) and plenty of interaction between bands members. Vocals are ensured by John Hammond, also on guitar, and Heather Jones, simultaneously, alternating or doing backing vocals for each other. But Heather is also playing flute which means plenty of delightful duet moments with the saxophone of Owen Prévost.
My highlights of the evening definitely count ‘All Along Watchtower’ for the original interpretation and therefore, the great tribute brought to this iconic song, ‘Living in The Past’ which is obviously proof of their excellent taste in music, and ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ which sounds wonderful in their style. ‘Venus’, ‘Fever’ or ‘Coming Home Baby’ kept up the beat and never failed in reaching out to the audience, while songs like ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ and ‘Minnie the Moocher’ were simply meant to make people have a good time and dance, which actually and inevitably happened that evening at Relevant Record Cafe.
A good band spirit always goes beyond songs or instruments; it’s a feeling that may come from many other things. In DarkHorse’s case it’s also about their passion for music, respect for the songs and the dedication to the scene they are being part of. They play in other bands as well – John Bowyer in The Outliers and Owen Prévost in Special Groove, and John Hammond is organizing the ‘Live Music at The Haymakers’ series of events for groups who do covers in their own style.
If you’re in Cambridge during summer, DarkHorse are playing on the Acoustic stage on the final night of this year’s Cambridge Rock Festival on August 6.
All Along WatchTower (Dylan) / Fever ( Peggy Lee / Neville Bros.) / Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood ( The Animals) / Yeah Yeah ( Georgie Fame) / Food for Thought ( UB40) / You Never Can Tell ( Chuck Berry) / Fire (Springsteen/ Pointer Sisters) / Living In The Past ( Jethro Tull) / Love Potion # 9 (The Coasters) / The Weight (The Band) / Jackie Wilson Said ( Van the Man) / Worksong (Cannonball Adderly / The Animals) / Venus (Shocking Blue) / You’re No Good (Linda Ronstadt) / Late in The Evening (Paul Simon) / I Wanna Be Like You ( Louis Prima/ The Jungle Book) / Coming Home Baby (Dee Dee Sharp) / Minnie the Moocher ( Cab Calloway)
Little Black Dress Duo
- Amanda Hall – vocals and guitar
- Dawn Loombe – piano accordion
- John Hammond – guitar and vocals
- Heather Jones – flute and vocals
- John Bowyer – bass guitar
- Mike Nathan – drums and percussion
- Owen Prévost – saxophone
More photos: DarkHorse @Relevant Records, Cambridge, UK
Relevant Record Cafe Facebook
Live Music at the Haymakers Facebook
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