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Rosalie Cunningham + Under the Surface

Saturday 22nd June 2024

Dingwalls, Camden, London

British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rosalie Cunningham has just completed an extensive European tour and is now back on UK soil playing a few select dates before she continues with the recording of her third solo album. One of those dates was tonight at the famous Dingwalls Club in Camden Town, North London.

Rosalie is probably still best known as founder and leader of Gothic Psychedelic Prog Rockers, Purson, who had some success in the late 2000s before disbanding in 2016. She founded her first professional band, the all-female, Punk Psychedelic outfit Ipso Facto in 2007, releasing three singles and the mini album 'IF...' in 2009. They managed a couple of high-profile support gigs for the likes of Magazine and The Last Shadow Puppets before splitting in 2009.

It was in 2011 when Rosalie formed the internationally acclaimed Purson. Described as a 70s Psychedelia-laced, 60s Pop-inflected Folk/Prog Rock band with heavy influences from the Folk/Prog of Pentangle, Curved Air, Trees and Mellow Candle to the dark Gothic heaviness of Black Sabbath with subtle hints of The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson, Slade, The Beatles, and sprinklings of Bowie thrown in for good measure! Initially signed to Rise Above Records, they released their critically praised debut album, 'The Circle & The Blue Door' in 2013, which included the singles ‘Rocking Horse’ and ‘Leaning on A Bear’.

The band went through several line-up changes since their inception, founder Rosalie Cunnigham being the only original and consistent member. Ed Turner, Rosalie’s then partner, guitarist and co-writer left before the debut album was released. The last line-up consisted of Rosalie’s childhood friends Sam Shove (keyboards) and George Hudson (guitar) with Justin Smith (bass) and Raphael Mura (drums) completing the line-up. The debut album was followed by the EP, 'In the Meantime…' in 2015, then in April 2016 Purson released the eclectically adventurous 'Desire’s Magic Theatre' album on the Spinefarm/Universal label.

Purson have had the honour of winning several major accolades, most notably in 2015 they won the Vanguard award at the Progressive Music Awards in London. Despite elevating success and growing audiences, Cunningham decided to disband Purson in late 2016! With their last ever gig being at The Lexington Club, London on 15th December 2016, where Rosalie shockingly announced on stage, that “this will be the last gig we ever do!” Reminiscent of Bowie’s surprise announcement on stage in 1973, declaring the end of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars!

After writing what became Purson’s 2017 posthumous single, ‘Chocolate Money’, Cunningham recorded and issued a 50th anniversary cover of The Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ with her musician/journalist father, Mark Cunningham. She also formed a Beatles 'late period' covers band, The Sky Diamonds, an occasional live band with her dad and her new partner, guitarist Rosco Levee.

After taking some time out of the music business to write new music and reassess where she would take her career next, Cunningham reappeared with a set of new songs, for a proposed solo album, at a low-key solo gig at the Railway Hotel in Southend on 17th July 2018. Her plan was to finance the recording of her new album through the crowd funding online platform PledgeMusic. Sadly, this platform went bankrupt, with most of the artists signed up not getting paid and many of the fans that had already pledged money not being refunded!

Despite these setbacks, her eponymous titled debut solo album was eventually released in 2019 on the Cherry Red/Esoteric Antenna record label. A powerfully ambitious and theatrically intriguing masterpiece! 2021 saw the release of the limited-edition green vinyl only double A-sided single ‘Number 149’ and ‘Fossil Song’ with her eagerly awaited sophomore album ’Two Piece Puzzle’ being released on Cherry Red/Esoteric Antenna records in Spring 2022.

The support band for this evening’s musical feast was a rather interesting Dutch band called Under the Surface. Their music has been described as improvisational with Jazz, Prog Rock, Folk, and Tribal music influences. Formed in 2015 by drummer Joost Lijbaart, guitarist Bram Stadhouders and vocalist Sanne Rambags, they have released three studio albums to date including the free-improvisation albums, ‘Under the Surface’ (2017) and ‘Trinity’ (2019), with the latest album ‘Miin Triuwa’ being more composed. Their all-Dutch language set included their latest album played in full featuring the tracks ‘Bure Thii Northwint’, ‘Samo Stark So the Dooth’, ‘Vrohta Endi Bivunga’, ‘Over Himila’, ‘Sunna Wiisheida’, ‘Reinon Githankon’, ‘Miin Triuwa’ and ‘Thiin Stemma Skelle in Ewon’. A thoroughly enchanting performance.

Rosalie’s current live band consists of herself on vocals/guitar, her partner Rosco Levee on guitar/backing vocals, Bo Walsh on drums, Claudia Gonzalez Diaz on bass/flute/backing vocals and Aaron B. Thompson on keyboards. Decked out in retro gear, the band kicked off their lively set with the instrumental juggernaut ‘Start with the Corners’ from the 2022 ‘Two Piece Puzzle’ album. Suitably warmed up it was on to the triptastic opening track from the 2019 debut solo album, the exuberantly magical 'Ride on My Bike'. A Psychedelic box of delights laced with fuzzy guitars, wailing Wurlitzers and spicily peppered with infectiously spectral grooves. “Rubber and steel making me feel just like a hybrid future creature flying through an electric evening sky”. Far-out whimsical lyrics, luscious musical arrangement, and an all-round jubilant performance from the band who were clearly well rehearsed as their playing was instinctively intuitive and tightly locked in.

Next up for our delectation was the extravagantly dramatic ‘Dethroning of the Party Queen’. A vibrantly vaudevillian and delectably enticing song which excited our aural senses and tantalised our well-oiled minds! Psychedelic cabaret at its finest! “I'd say off with her head, but I can't pretend I won't be scared, of the one that appears there with the dawn. Oh, to be the life and soul will be the death of me, dethroning the party queen of old protect the dynasty.” Rosalie has a captivatingly entrancing stage presence with a charismatically warm personality that rapturously transfixes audiences, her eloquently rich resonant voice is like smooth textured velvet that trills with smoky delight.

Despite a few stage lighting issues, it was on with the show and time for the ‘Ellington’ trilogy to begin, starting with the lusciously lavish ‘Donovan Ellington’ from the 2022 ‘Two Piece Puzzle’ album. The trilogy charts the journey of Ellington from humble beginnings to dreams of a better life in utopia! “Donovan Ellington lived a simple life, Laboring time away for his children and his wife, But Donovan, he had a dream, Of a new world that he'd heard about, where men are free, Across the sea.” ‘Donny, Pt. Two’ continues Ellington’s travels over seas and charts his mind expanding escapism. “So out we sent a search party, everyone was there, We went up to the lighthouse and we saw him setting sail, Why'd you come, look for me? Excuse my brief soliloquy.” A curiously quirky track with trippy ascending and descending fairground sounding keyboard arpeggios full of pomp and glory! Cunningham's silky-smooth vocal delivery being distinctly delectable.

Completing the trilogy ‘Return of the Ellington’ is a brand new track that will feature on Rosalie’s next solo album due out later this year. Ellington’s voyage has come full circle, which finds him returning to pastures old and regaling tales of distant lands. “Donovan Ellington, not a name we've heard for years, Mother's embellishments made me blush from ear to ear, And I was young, the odds that she would spin, Would spin me 'round in circles searching for my home gin, Return of the Ellington, a fanfare to declare, Jealous the rest of them, 'cause they would never dare, Which story of the seas, a pinch of salt I'd take, And shots to keep our trays of doubt from showing on my face.”

Sadly, it was becoming more and more evident that some of the band members were being distracted by sound issues from their stage monitors. Rosalie had to stop songs periodically to tell the sound controller to turn the bass down! Fortunately for us in the audience the sound was just fine, but to add insult to injury the power then cut out on the Hammond organ! Whilst the sound engineer sorted out technical issues, Rosalie kept the show on track by performing a stripped-down version of another new song called ‘Home’, an arrestingly winsome ballad that is destined for her next solo album. Despite the distracting scramble on stage, Rosalie and Claudia nailed the tune and harmonised beautifully. “Somewhere green, somewhere I can scream, I'm trying my own ice cream, Now that's somewhere I can call home, Where the mess is neat to your eyes, Its lights from composition could be a still life.”

With sound issues rectified and power restored, it was back to the 2022 ‘Two Piece Puzzle’ album for the effervescently jaunty Beatle-esque sounding ‘Duet’ which, as the title suggests, is a duet! Rosalie and Rosco battle it out with some humorous vocal sparring about stardom! “Well, you say you're gonna be a big star, Whaddya know, whaddya know? You had your day in the biggest play, Now you're getting a role, What do you know, what do you know?”

A change of pace came next with the riff heavy 'Riddles & Games' from the debut solo album, full of flamboyantly fueled hooks and undulating melodic runs. Claudia anchored the groove with a solidly steadfast bass throb over which Bo’s dynamically solid drumming, percussive dexterity and inventive flair added potently feisty weight to the lively scene! Rosco impressed with exquisitely fluid guitar soloing over which Rosalie’s vocal delivery was decorously expressive and eloquently evocative. “I hear you speaking the slang of my heart, through a thick accent so foreign it's hard to believe you're on the same page as me, I've asked the cards and tea leaves.” Another new song hot paced it up next in the shape of the electrically charged ‘Rabbit Foot’. Rosco takes the lead vocal on this one with Rosalie relegated to backing vocals. The track is steeped in the American Southern Rock sound of The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd! A great vocal from Rosco, however, this song did feel slightly out of place here. Maybe this is a new direction Rosalie is looking to take? I did hear that a duet album with Rosco is on the cards.

Events then turned a bit esoterically exotic for ‘Tristitia Amnesia’ from the 2022 ‘Two Piece Puzzle’ album. An eccentrically zany track filled with much sorrow and sadness! “Tristitia, bottle dry, River run, end is nigh, Bottle dry, River run dry, dry River run dry, Tristitia, Ask me again, Who, what, why, or when, And I'll tell you that I couldn't, For the life of me remember, It was way back in December, And it's January now.” Rosalie’s hauntingly stirring vocals dominated and sent shivers down the spine!

A welcome surprise followed in the form of ‘Tempest and The Tide’, a Gothic Folk-Rock masterpiece from the debut Purson album 'Circle & The Blue Door' released in 2013. An affectingly eloquent vocal melody glides playfully over delicately picked acoustic guitar, with tension building keyboard flourishes and floaty cymbal swooshes animating the scene before all hell breaks loose in a tsunami of explosive drums and electrifying power chords! Spryly nimble electric guitar soloing from Rosco and euphoniously mellifluent vocals from Rosalie galvanised the performance. “My ribbons are a'tattered and torn, my hair is in a tangle, my eyes they stare a thousand miles, my chests a ball of bramble, ooh ooh ooh here in the hell between, ooh ooh ooh the devil and the deep blue sea”. A mind-blowing conclusion to the main set. It is fair to say the audience were suitably satisfied by their enthusiastic shouting and hollering!

Not to disappoint, Rosalie and band banged out one more song in the form of the 2017 posthumous Purson single 'Chocolate Money'. This track is an upbeat four-to-floor Glam Rock stomper which allowed the band to let loose and have some fun as exemplified by the feistily frisky interplay from Rosalie, Rosco and Aaron! “Be my Coca-Cola, My rocket up to the place I've been dreaming of, I will be the Mento in your cup, For an eruption of a passionate love, Chocolate money's burning a hole, Chocolate money's watching my soul.”

Steven C. Gilbert.

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