Friday 29th October 2021
The Lexington, London
Rosalie Cunningham's fifteen date 2021 Autumn UK tour not only honoured gigs that were postponed from her spring 2020 tour due to the COVID pandemic, but had extra dates added including a couple of festivals and debut solo headline gigs in Scotland. Most of the venues were small and intimate pubs/clubs giving fans the chance to experience the gigs up close and personal. This Lexington Club gig was the penultimate night of the tour and, by all accounts, drew the biggest crowd of all the dates. It is also one of Rosalie's favourite London venues to play, having played there many times. The venue’s website describes the place eloquently: “The Lexington is a classic London boozer turned lounge bar, with a hint of Kentucky charm and lashings of Rock & Roll excess.”
Cunningham has many strings to her bow, not only being a gifted singer-songwriter and talented multi-instrumentalist, but also a proficient record producer. Hailing from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, she is probably best known as founder and leader of Gothic Psychedelic Prog Rockers, Purson, who achieved moderate success and critical acclaim in the Rock world from 2011-2016. 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. Over the next couple of years, Cunningham went on to guest with numerous bands and artists such as These New Puritans, where she playing 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'.
Cunningham formed the internationally acclaimed Purson in 2011. 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! 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 with founder 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 eclecticly dramatic and musically adventurous 'Desire’s Magic Theatre' album on the Spinefarm/Universal label.
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 growing success and expanding 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.
Cunningham’s eponymous titled debut solo album was released in 2019 on the Cherry Red/Esoteric Antenna record label. A monumental Progressive Psychedelic Rock masterpiece! The subsequent low-key tour of small venues to promote the album sold out in quick time and received glowing reviews. Intriguingly, in early 2021 saw the release of two new songs ‘Number 149’ and ‘Fossil Song’ in the form of the double A-sided single released on limited edition green vinyl only. Her eagerly awaited second album ’Two Piece Puzzle’ is due to be released on Cherry Red/Esoteric Antenna records in Spring 2022.
The support band on all dates was Southend’s very own Tuppeny Bunters, a duo of drums and keyboards featuring husband and wife team Dave and Fiona Nancy Dulake – they both also play keyboards in Rosalie’s current touring band. The duo swapped between vocals, keyboards and drums during their vibrantly energetic set which consisted of tracks from their 2015 debut album ‘A Tuppeny Upright’, including such gems as ‘Mr Quilp’, ‘Boppy Nan’, ‘Wind It Back’, ‘Beer Gynt’, ‘Innocent Curls’, ‘Rail Penny Blues’, ‘Old Toys’, ‘Geigerkali’, ‘Barmaid Song’, ‘Imax Boy’ and ‘Spiral’. Their music is an eclectic mix of Punk, Garage and old time Music Hall. They describe themselves as Vaudeville Punk! Their new album ‘Tuppeny Hangover’ will be released in March 2022. Brilliant stuff!
Rosalie’s live band line-up consisted of herself on vocals/guitar, her partner Rosco Levee on guitar/backing vocals, Bo Walsh on drums, Alpha Michelle on bass/backing vocals and Fiona and Dave Dulake from the Tuppeny Bunters on keyboards. The Dulakes are longtime friends of Rosalie’s and have supported her many times over the years. Decked out in 1970's retro vintage clothing and with a cool cherry red Gibson SG strapped on, Cunningham counted the band into the opening song of the set, also the opening track on Cunningham’s 2019 debut solo album, the exuberantly magical 'Ride On My Bike'. A delightful Psychedelic juggernaut 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 whimsical lyrics, luscious musical arrangement and an all-round jubilant performance from the band!
The dramatically alluring 'Dethroning Of The Party Queen', also from her debut solo album, came next. A vibrantly vaudevillian and delectably enchanting song, which excited the senses and tantalised our 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”. Third song in was a new track called ‘Scared Of The Dark’. A seductively atmospheric tune, with swirling deep grooves and heavy overtones. Cunningham's haunting vocals sent shivers down the spine! The band were obviously well rehearsed and tightly locked in. Great stuff!
Next up for our delectation was the beguiling and scrumptious 'Fuck Love', another track from her debut album. With its tension building riff and mysterious hard hitting no-holes barred lyrics adding to the overall drama and suspense, all delivered with compelling attitude and intense panache! “Fuck love said the Vedic priest when he saw my chart, just like the high priestess when reading my cards. Fuck love said my mother and her mother before, to her baby when a daughter she bore”.
A welcome surprise to the set followed in the form of ‘Tempest And The Tide’, a Gothic Folk Rock masterpiece from the first Purson album 'Circle & The Blue Door' released in 2013. A beautifully haunting melody glides over delicately picked acoustic guitar, with tension building keyboard flourishes and delicate cymbal swooshes setting the scene before all hell breaks loose in a tsunami of crashing drums and power chords! Some fine nimble electric guitar soloing from Levee and stunning warm velvety vocals from Cunningham. “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”. Another new song called 'Corners' appeared next and washed over us with intrigue and wonder. Looking forward to hearing more of this on the new album.
A change of pace came with the riff fueled 'Riddles & Games', a slightly heavier and hard-hitting Rock track from her debut solo album, full of infectious hooks and undulating melodic runs. Alpha Michelle anchored the groove with a great bass throb and Levee impressed with exquisite fluid guitar soloing. Bo Walsh's solid drumming, percussive dexterity and inventive flair added extra weight and intrigue. Cunningham's vocal delivery was exquisitely 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.” 'Donny Part II' was another new song, which I hope is destined for the forthcoming album. An idiosyncratically quirky track, with its ascending and descending fairground sounding keyboard arpeggios, being rather absorbingly infectious, and Cunningham's silky smooth vocals being compellingly enthralling. I look forward to hearing the complete track in all its pomp and glory on the new album!
Back to the solo debut album again for 'Nobody Hears', an emotionally arresting song about people who fall on hard times and end up broken and ultimately homeless. “Open casket shopping basket pyre, as if it was kindling for his, 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 majestically seductive performance, with enchantingly smoky vocals from Cunningham.
Another welcome surprise to the set came in the form of 'Electric Landlady', originally from the 2016 Purson album 'Desire’s Magic Theatre'. A groove laden dark riffing rocker with an obvious ode to Hendrix and Cream, bewitching and drenched in allure! Rosalie's tantalisingly thrilling vocals added an ethereal quality. “I was a flower in full bloom, was born when Pisces was the sign of the moon, needed a rock to anchor my roll, she gave a warm and caring home for my soul, gypsy treasure space dust, However you pay the electric landlady wants you to stay”.
The penultimate song of the main set was the monumental, wildly dramatic and esoterically theatrical, also the closing track on Rosalie's solo debut album, 'A Yarn From The Wheel'. A thirteen minute mesmerisingly luscious Prog Rock creation of epic proportions full of cosmically spiraling and twisting sonic explorations peppered with effervescent kaleidoscopic soundscape elements and velvety 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! You can hear subtle influences from the likes of Curved Air, Mellow Candle, 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 dazzlingly spellbinding performance, which showcased Cunningham’s versatile and eloquently expressive vocals to great effect. Despite an abundance of lyrics to be delivered, she manages to vocalise every word and syllable with ease and vivacity! “They rise and they fall, like all the stars and their life cycles, let me spin you a yarn from the wheel that we turn on, the business that we call show...” Cunningham has a captivatingly charismatic and entrancing stage presence, with her wide staring eyes transfixing and hypnotising the audience.
To conclude the main set we got 'Chocolate Money', the 2017 posthumous Purson single. Quite a contrast to the musical complexity and intensity of the previous track. This song is a more upbeat straight forward four-to-floor Glam Rock stomper which allowed the band to let loose and have fun jamming, exemplified by the exceptional electric guitar interplay and soloing from Cunningham and Levee. For the encore we were treated to another new track called 'Linear Notes'. A multifaceted panoramic Psychedelic musical cabaret trip full of juxtaposing twists and turns! A fantastic conclusion to a brilliant set of great songs and first-rate musicianship. With the quality of the new material being aired, the new album is definitely shaping up to be something special!
Steven C. Gilbert