23rd July 2019
& 3rd August 2019
The Railway Hotel, Southend, Essex Tuesday 23rd July 2019
& The Lexington, London
Saturday 3rd August 2019
Rosalie Cunningham is an English singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer from Southend-on-Sea, Essex. Best known as founder and leader of Gothic Psychedelic Progsters, Purson. 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. Over the next couple of years Cunningham went on to guest with numerous bands and artists such as These New Puritans, where she played keyboards on tour with them in 2010, going on to play guitar with Willy Moon, as the support act for Jack White's 2012 UK tour. She also contributed backing vocals to Cathedral's final album in 2013, 'The Last Spire'.
It was in 2011 when Cunningham formed the internationally acclaimed Purson. Described as a 70’s Psychedelia-laced, 60’s Pop-inflected Folk/Prog Rock band with heavy influences from the Folk/Prog of Pentangle and Curved Air to the dark Gothic heaviness of Black Sabbath and hints of The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson and Deep Purple thrown in for good measure! The Purson name was derived from the name of one of the kings of hell! 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 Cunningham 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 Rosie’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 excellent, wildly eclectic and adventurous 'Desire’s Magic Theatre' album on the Spinefarm/Universal label. A kaleidoscope of effervescent sounds and rich musical textures!
As well as several successful headline tours of their own, Purson have also supported KISS, Ghost, Alan Parsons and Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. The band also had the honour of winning several major accolades; in 2015 the band won the Vanguard award at the Progressive Music Awards in London. Despite continuing success and growing audiences, Cunningham surprisingly 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. They have performed a few times at The Railway Hotel in Southend, Essex, and will do again on Friday 27th September 2019 to play the whole of The Beatles ‘Abbey Road’ album live!
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.com Sadly this platform went bankrupt recently, 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 on 26th July 2019 on the Cherry Red/Esoteric Antenna record label. A powerful, ambitious and monumental Psychedelic Progtastic theatrical masterpiece! With a sound that is not a million miles away from that which she created with Purson, but definitely slightly more adventurous, eclectic and melodramatic! Recorded on analogue at Soup Studios in East London and Cunningham's own Mushy Room Studios in Essex, with all eight tracks written, produced, mixed and performed by Cunningham. A true labour of love - additional instrumentation was provided by Ross Wilson (guitar/bass), Mark Stonell (keyboards) and Samual Thompson (drums). The album is cleverly constructed and well crafted with multiple interesting and intriguing deep layers to discover and reveal upon repeated listens. The overall sound is rich, sharp and clear with amazing depth. The colourful striking album cover is a painting of Cunningham, depicted as some kind of psychedelic queen or priestess, by Tom Di Capite.
Cunningham’s inaugural ten date UK solo headline tour got underway at the quaint old Railway Hotel in sunny Southend on Tuesday 23rd July 2019, and it was a scorcher! With temperatures outside exceeding thirty degrees and as much inside! The Railway Hotel is a great little live music pub hidden away behind Southend Central train station. The interior and exterior décor is unaffected by the twenty first century, in other words no gentrification or gastro pub makeover here! Which is no bad thing as it retains a sense of character and a certain kind of retro vintage look and atmosphere. Unfortunately places like these are few and far between these days and sadly on the demise! With a recent threat of closure, I suspect they will be forced to modernize and evolve in the not too distant future! On the sign outside is a picture of the legendary Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, who lives in nearby Westcliff-On-Sea, and is also a regular punter of the venue. Inside, the jukebox blares out Classic Rock records and the surrounding walls are decorated with Rock memorabilia of music legends of yesteryear.
The support band at the Railway Hotel was Tuppeny Bunters, a duo of drums and keyboards, which featured the manager of the venue, Fi Nancy Dulake. The duo swapped between keyboards and drums during their energetic set. They describe themselves as Vaudeville Punk! They played in the upstairs smaller side room before Cunningham’s band played in the larger ‘sold out’ upstairs main room of the venue. The last date of the tour was at the Lexington club in London on Saturday 3rd August 2019. This was the venue that hosted the very last ever Purson gig back in 2016, quite apt that Cunningham should play her first solo gig in London at this venue. The support band at the Lexington was Cunningham's keyboard player, Lee Spreadbury's band Gu-Ru. Originally dreamt up as a vehicle for Lee Spreadbury’s Psych-Jazz Fusion compositions, it has evolved into a Technicolour Wizard Disco, a Space-Dance Glitterbomb explosion of cosmic goodness! The band consists of Lee Spreadbury (Vocals, Keys, Moog, Synth Bass) Naomi Perera (Flute) and Malcolm D’Sa (Drums). They have just released their debut album, ‘Tales From The Ashram’.
Rosalie’s band line-up consisted of herself on vocals/guitar, Ralph Mura (ex-Purson) on drums, Alpha Michelle on bass/backing vocals, Lee Spreadbury on keyboards and Rosco Levee on guitar/backing vocals. The evening’s proceedings kicked off in style with the opening track on the new album, the exuberant and magical 'Ride On My Bike', a delightful Psychedelic trip full of wonderful fuzzy guitars, Wurlitzer organ and infectious grooves! “Rubber and steel making me feel just like a hybrid future creature flying through an electric evening sky”, far-out and whimsical lyrics! Great song arrangement and fantastic performance! The band was clearly well rehearsed, as their playing was very instinctive, locked in and super tight. Next up for our delectation was the beguiling and haunting 'Fuck Love', another slice of pure excellence from the new album. With its tension building riff and hard hitting, no messing, and straight to the point lyrics all adding to the overall drama, and delivered with compelling attitude and intense panache!
Cunningham has a captivating, charismatic and entrancing stage presence, with her wide staring eyes transfixing and hypnotising the audience, and a warm eloquently expressive spellbinding voice like smooth textured velvet that sparkles bright, with an effortlessly controlled vibrato that trills with smoky overtones. Impressive stuff indeed!
More high-octane melodrama greeted us next in the form of the alluring and beguiling 'Dethroning Of The Party Queen', a vibrantly vaudevillian, but delectably enticing song from the new album, which excites the senses and tantalizes the mind! Quite simply a stunning song and awesome performance from the band! Onto a more sedate but haunting piece with 'House Of The Glass Red', also from the new album. It is about a party that goes slightly wrong and takes on a more macabre twist. This track flowed gently along like a meandering stream; a more straightforward Melodic Rock track that has a seductive groove and enticing hooks, with lyrics that have interesting and compelling twists and turns!
The time had come for a short set of Purson songs starting with the enchanting 'Desire's Magic Theatre' from the 2016 Purson album of the same name. A nice tight chugging guitar boogie galloped along before seguing into a glowing dreamy sequence, with some tasty tempo changes and colourful instrumentation. Intriguing and mysterious! A surprise came next in the form of 'Chocolate Money', the 2017 posthumous Purson single. A live premier here and another break from the theatrical stuff, more a straightforward Glam Rock stomp, with some exceptional guitar soloing from Cunningham and Levee. Not the strongest or most memorable of Purson songs, but entertaining none the less! Another Purson classic followed in the form of the sensational 'The Sky Parade' from Purson's 2016 'Desire's Magic Theatre' album, which washed over the audience like a welcoming breeze on a hot day! A delicate acoustic guitar intro by Cunningham led into some vibrant Hammond organ flourishes from Spreadbury that transported the attentively listening audience on an imaginative sky drive journey through a galaxy of stars and beyond! Very enjoyable ride!
Another brilliant song from the new album followed, the majestic and absorbing 'Nobody Hears', an arresting, atmospheric and seductive song of great proportions! This heart-wrenching track is about people who fall on hard times and end up broken and ultimately homeless. “Open casket shopping basket pyre, cardboard flowers cry with raindrop tears, but nobody hears”. A powerful song with a strong message for the human race and society in general! A change of pace next with the riff heavy 'Riddles & Games', a slightly heavier and a more hard hitting Rock track from the new album, full of infectious hooks and melodic runs. With a great bass throb from Michelle and some tasty guitar solos from Levee, the performance was spot on and suitably rocked the room to the core! The addition of Ralph Mura on drums was a masterstroke; he was in the final line-up of Purson when they were on top of their game as a live act. With his experience in Purson and his musical chemistry with Cunningham makes him the perfect choice of drummer for her band. His exquisite and solid drumming anchors those complex and intricate songs with precision.
The main set was brought to a triumphant close with the monumental, wildly dramatic and esoterically theatrical, and also the closing track on the new album, 'A Yarn From The Wheel'. A thirteen minute mesmerizing and luscious Prog Rock creation of grand proportions! A cosmic construction of spiralling and twisting sonic exploration peppered with effervescent kaleidoscopic soundscape elements and textures, all neatly packed together in a treasure trove of interesting and complex tempo changes, with multiple layers, twists, turns, dips and swirls to tickle the senses and blow our minds! Everything you'd expect and want from a Prog Rock song! You can definitely hear subtle influences from the likes of Curved Air, Caravan, early Genesis, Yes, Bowie and a sprinkling of Beatles for good measure, all rolled into one veritable feast of tantalising delights! Cunningham describes the piece as “being a metaphor for the grander cycles that repeat throughout the universe, then the micro – the journey of one life and the lessons learned within that cycle to bring the character back to where he began – like the fool’s journey in the tarot. On a personal level, it deals with my journey as a musician through the highs and lows and eventually coming back to what it’s all about – feeling the simple joy of music again.” A top-notch performance showcased Cunningham’s versatile vocals to great effect.
For the encore we were treated to the vivacious and tumultuous maelstrom that is 'Tragic Catastrophe', an exuberant and melodramatic song from Purson's excellent 2013 debut album 'The Circle & The Blue Door'. A multifaceted panoramic Psychedelic musical cabaret trip to a mythical and magical world full of juxtaposing twists and turns! Indeed, a fantastic conclusion to a brilliant set of quality tunes and first-rate musicianship.
Steven C. Gilbert