February/March/April/May 2019 – upcoming English experimental/rock gigs – Markers and Haress on tour with appearances by Tom House, Anji Cheung, Caius Burns and Aby Vulliamy; plus later dates with Jaye Jayle and Motes

23 Feb

One of the connections which particularly intrigues me (for which read “always baffles me and induces me to go over it again”) is the one between folk music and hardcore punk. Apparently it’s a love based on a number of things – the inclination towards keeping to the basics, the austerity which is fostered both by that and by a distrust of commercialism and toys, a sense of political purity and of dodging corruption… It’s perhaps a little one-sided – punk tends to love folk more, although you’ll get some acknowledgement coming back the other way, increasingly so as more young folkies grow up with punk. Regardless of the relative exchange, you’ll see quite a bit of traffic moving around here. An upcoming British tour looks into this particular dynamic and feel, at the stripped-down point where the genres meet: along the way, there are more overlappings and enfoldings.

Markers on tour, February-May 2019Markers’ Jodie Cox always seemed like a gifted guy that strolled into hardcore with a positive attitude, rather than hunching or raging his way into it. Even when he was blitzing and shrieking away at the front of short-lived London seedbedders Ursa during the late ‘90s, he seemed cheerfully unlimited by the constraints of form. Ever since then (via transatlantic journeys through Earth, Narrows, Bullet Union, Sex Swing, Exes and others) he’s always seemed to be where he wanted to be rather than being forced into it: a sunny, enthusiastic character who’s helped humanise and hearten any project he’s been in. Jodie’s bandmate, contemporary and friend Jason Carty began his career in the same time and place. Stubborn, meticulous and sometimes anxious, he twitched and reeled various fluent post-rock/prog/post-metal guitar complexities through Geiger Counter and Foe like a ferocious engraver, then threw all of that aside to play blattering post-hardcore doom bass in Art Of Burning Water before embracing silence for a number of years.

Now reunited and united, Jason and Jodie’s all-instrumental work as Markers sees the two of them eschewing other musicians and hairy-arsed distortion in order to see what they can get out of two (mostly) clean electric guitars. Their debut album ‘Heaven In The Dark Earth’ is a beautifully executed thing. As Jodie’s put it elsewhere, rather than roaring easily through fuzz they’re now aiming for something “tonally heavy” (Even if they have covered Jesus Lizard, they went for one of that gonzo band’s rarer gentle tunes, and it came out sounding like late lamented bass frowners Rothko.)

Markers’ music is immediately atmospheric, recorded at a larger-than-life scale in which the listener feels as if they’re about a foot high, wandering around the duo’s feet and their suddenly gargantuan amplifiers. When processing does turn up it’s mostly in the form of encompassing shivers of reverb, or discreet echo – wider brushstrokes and spongeings to complement delicate penwork. Apart from that it’s wood, wire, pickups and an intuitive, space-filled musical marriage between the two players, pursuing a fluid sparseness and a sombre/passionate flaring of arpeggios and arabesques, flotsam folk figures and fragments rubbed smooth enough for their provenance to stay ambiguous. It’s a kind of post-industrial classical guitar, making the most of sparse resources and close-mouthedness, mysterious conversations through fingers and dusty speaker-cones. These buggers always had a lot more depth than previous circumstances have allowed them to show: or perhaps, more than they allowed themselves to make clear. In Markers, they no longer have either of these problems.


 
Following their recent showing at a mid-February gig in Brighton (hands up, I admit that I missed it) Markers are setting out on tour with kindred spirits Haress. Hailing from arty market town Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire, Haress are fundamentally the guitar duo of David Hand and Elizabeth Still. Mantric, minimalist, low-hanging and close-knit, theirs is a music in which several tight and lowering musical disciplines meets. Art-rock, hardcore edge, meditational post-rock and American electric folk fragments emerge via very loud, mostly clean electric guitars (on the lip of distortion and at the precarious peak of electromagnetic responsiveness) and meet shruti and amp drones plus delicate percussion tingles. Below are a couple of clips of David and Elizabeth meeting inside and outside:



 
Haress sometimes expand for live dates. The current ones see them augmented by a third guitarist (Chris Summerlin of dubby Notts psych/noise-ians Kogumaza, accelerated post-Beefheart screamers Wolves of Greece, and bluescore trio Lord), by a singer (Tom House, best known as the frontman for a pair of Brighton bands, hollering post-hardcore act Charlottefield and its more tender-fleshed followup Sweet Williams) and by drummer David Smyth of Liverpudlian synthcore/space-punks Kling Klang. No clips for that, I’m afraid…

At the London show (also the Markers album launch, with ticket/LP/download bundles available for those who want them), Anji Cheungprovides “audio intermissions”. She was in here earlier this month being previewed at the Matthew Shaw/English Heretic show, sandwiched between rural synth ambience and psychogeographic audio-visual. I can’t immediately improve much on what I said about her back then, so here it is again – “unnerving, frowning amplifier buzzes rolling over the listener like a gigantic clumsy wheel, with dramatically chopped/distorted/otherwise incomprehensible vocals implying pirate-radio-eavesdropping on a covert ritual… car-boot clatter under a lowering sky… beautiful lost female murmur-melodies stalked by drainage-ditch fuzz…. Another aspect of New Weird Britain: ambiguously multicultural and urban, mixing and obscuring London and Chinese references, but sounding mostly as if it stems from a place where jerry-built tower blocks break up old fields around the city’s tired periphery and where unknown syncretic practises are carried out (perhaps only half-understood even by the people involved).”



 
In Nottingham, Kagoule’s frontman Caius Burns will be bolstering the evening: sidestepping the noisy fantastical post-hardcore of his main band to deliver an acoustic voice-and-guitar set of his own songs, all in an old-school folk baroque form complete with slippery Jantschian fingerpicking. (And here he is in transient mode, halfway between folk and electropop…)

 
The Shipley show is the most extensive on the mini-tour: a four-act event with Tom House stepping forward out of the Haress lineup to perform a set of his own queasy, sludgy, draggy-pop slowcore. Hometown girl Aby Vulliamy is also joining the evening. A multi-instrumentalist (piano, viola, flute, musical saw, accordion) and singer/composer across a remarkable range of genres, she was covered in here a few years ago via her part-written/part-improvised Mothercore project, in which she teamed up with established musicians Laura Cole and Maria Jardardottir plus an ever-shifting cast of local musician/mothers who joined in whenever the main trio rolled into their town. Mothercore was inspired by, and triggered by, the ambiguous experience of motherhood, and appears to have led into last year’s long-overdue Aby solo album, ‘Spin Cycle’.

If Mothercore thrived on solidarity, ‘Spin Cycle’ places itself, sometimes unnervingly, on “mother alone yet not alone”: its songs tracing their way across a webwork of maternal experience (broader voicings of political anger at the forcing of roles onto women of childbearing age; the claustrophobic vortex of love, fear and exhaustion surrounding breastfeeding; an awareness of the greater female timespan of girl baby to young woman, watched over by mother all the way). Depending on your gender, your situation and where you are in your own lifespan, it’ll either shed light onto a much generalised-over, much-misunderstood state of being, or simultaneously rue and celebrate what’s one of the greatest and most turbulent tasks, all to a DIY backing of diverse, intimate floating-folk instrumentation.





 
The final tour show, in Liverpool, is just Haress and Markers on their own. I can’t tell you where the Old Brazilian Embassy is, although longstanding Liverpudlians might be able to hazard a guess, while the organisers appear to be a collective who throw concerts at home and overlap with avant-garde rock ensemble Ex-Easter Island Head (so now you know who to chase up and pester if you really want to come). Apparently this isn’t the only show these guys are putting on, although the proximity of neighbours and license issues means that they’ve got to keep the volume down… Merseyside art musicians who operate at the quiet end of things, here’s a new place to beat a pathway to (if you can find it yourself).

Outside the tour, Haress and Tom House will also be plying their trade at a mid-March gig in Bristol, for which they’re joined by obscure Somersetters Motes, who come bearing the priceless label of “drunk-minimal/hypnotist-un-rock based at the ventriloquistic intersection of Barrow Gurney and Old Market”. There’s no way I can better that sentence – it’s its own short film, all by itself – but here they are, playing a couple of their lo-fi guitar-and-drum, barn-under-the-motorway scrambles:



 

San Haress, Markers go on to play a couple of dates in Brighton and Leeds on the cusp of April and May with American “dark-indie” band Jaye Jayle. Formed in Louisville around onetime Young Widows songwriter Evan Patterson and with other personnel sporting a history including The For Carnation, Freakwater, and Phantom Family Halo, Jay Jayle connect American roots music and Southern Gothic musical sensibilities with drone, garage rock, and bits of kosmische analogue-tronic drive (much of it brought by Corey Smith’s “auxiliary instrumentation”). They’re an exciting thrumble of Velvets-y deathmarch, down-home fucked-up country backroads, factory sirens, momentary blackouts and haunted, incoherent confessionals. They sing the songs of drifters on long, dark trips; of people in back-prickling situations; and of people who’ve picked at the scabs of guarded obscure places just enough to show you why you shouldn’t pick at any more of them. Jay Jayle are compelling. I think I’ll be back to give them another listen.



 

Also on hand at the first of those two shows – the one in Brighton – is Nick Hudson’s own home-grown take on the “psychedelic dystopian gnostic-Gothic post-punk” approach, The Academy Of Sun. Some overlap with Jay Jayle’s sound, perhaps, but quite a bit more verbose and self-consciously literary, to be honest. Somewhere between Johnny Cash and dark cabaret, with a dash of biting chanson – but then as Brightoneers they’re not much more than a stone’s throw away from either the sea or Nick Cave (and, judging by the sound of this, from a mouldering salt-stained stack which when pulled apart bursts into a sprawl of old Furniture records and bright West Coast glad-rags).



 
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Dates:

Markers & Haress on tour:

  • Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019, 8.00pm(Markers album release gig, also featuring Anji Cheung) – information here, here and here
  • JT Soar, 2 Aberdeen Street, Nottingham, NG3 1JB, England – Friday 15th March 2019, 7.30pm(also featuring Caius Burns) – information here
  • The Triangle, 47 Bradford Road, Shipley, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD18 3DS, England – Saturday 16th March 2019, 7.00pm (also featuring Tom House + Aby Vulliamy) – information here
  • The Old Brazilian Embassy, somewhere in Liverpool, England – Sunday 17th March 2019 – ask around for information

Haress + Tom House + Motes
The Old England, 43 Bath Buildings, Bristol, BS6 5PT, England
Thursday 14th March 2019, 8.00pm
– information here

Jay Jayle and Markers:

 

February/March 2019 – upcoming British folk/experimental gigs – Bell Lungs on tour with Raiments (20th February to 2nd March, various) with appearances by Despicable Zee, Michael Clark, The Nature Centre, Halcyon Jane, Tara Clerkin Trio and various DJs. Plus sundry other Bell Lungs shows in March including a København evening with Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen, a show with David Toop and Rashad Becker, a date with Gaze Is Ghost.

16 Feb

Working with a multi-instrumental, device-heavy palette which includes guitar, harmonium, Omnichord, electric violin, lyre, bouzouki, saz, voice and a host of effects pedals, avant-folk singer/writer/sometime promoter Ceylan Hay (a.k.a. Bell Lungs) sits at the middle of a host of possible routes. Her sound incorporates post-folk and drone, dream pop, noise and free improv, psychedelia and site-specific realisations, while her psychohistorian subject matter takes in the ancient, the near-ancient and the presently numinous: probing prehistoric spaces, the ghosts of the industrial age, day-to-day feelings and the slide into a new virtual existence space via online culture.

Reflecting these overlaid levels (and what might be, at different perspective points, either shockingly near or completely occluded), her vocal delivery steps between ornamental trad-folk crenellations, feathery ambient warbles and horrific screams. You can never quite tell whether she’s going to lull you or scare you, but you know she cares about what she’s ferrying across to you.

With a new EP, the wintry ‘Wolves Behind Us‘, to promote (apparently it’s a return to folk and landscapes after recent science fiction/site-specific digressions, and is “Joan Aiken’s ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’, Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’, caravan living in the Highlands and the ancient cosmology idea of dividing the year into two halves; the opening and closing of the wolf’s mouth”), Bell’s embarking on five weeks of touring (primarily alongside Raiments) through Scotland, England, Wales, followed up by other Raiments-less shows in Scotland, England and Denmark. (She’ll also be playing in Wales next month, but more on that later…)




 
Before taking a look at the tour, let’s take a look at her tourmates. Formed on the Berlin avant-garde scene, Raiments are fronted by sing-murmurer/left-field guitarist Mano Camatsos, and they sound like a soft-stepping muttering blend of Lou Reed and Momus fronting a band that mixes lurking dark-jazz styling (hardwood clarinet burr and groove-pattering trashdrums) with the DIY rattle of Pram and the dark throb of Morphine. Mano’s wildcard guitar is a clinking noisemaker and pulse generator taking note of hip hop, of avant-garde classical extended techniques and of mysterious instruments and methods gleaned from ethnological recordings. His songwriting voice is a oddball surreal instinct leading inexorably towards songs about ants or baffling seductions.



 
Tracing their upcoming footsteps on the tour is a joy, like following a plough which turns up small treasures as it reveals what’s in the earth. It’s partly the succession of intriguing off-the-beaten-path venues – squatty art-pubs, recovered eighteenth-century coal basins, pocket cinemas and art centres, diehard folk rooms and out-of-the-way sipperys – but also the revealing of similarly off-the-wall musical talents and enthusiasts they join up with en route.

In Edinburgh, Bell and Raiments are playing with Claquer – previously three-piece improvisers Claque until they spun off their American drummer an unspecified time ago. Now it’s just the Edinburgh contingent: free/experimental guitarist Jer Reid and viola player/speaker Lisa Fannen. They deal in lo-fi clangs, loopings and scrapes and spoken word: momentary moment-music.


 
In Newcastle, the main support comes from the soft melody murmurs and drowsy, cushioned keens of ambient/improv folk duo Halcyon Jane, a Tyneside/Humberside teamup. Upfront with the voice, guitar and devices is Newcastle performance art polymath Jayne Dent, better known via her own electronic/noisy folk project Me Lost Me, in which she buffers and buffets her singing with concertinas and samplers: when she played Hull back in December, support came from local ambient electronic beatsman Halcyon Neumann, who’s worked with The Body Farmers and with Sarah Shiels and who carries out sonic explorations of “the technological vs. the archaic/the spiritual vs. the scientific/the supernatural vs. the psychological.” Together they tease out a semi-improvised border music, part weird electro-folk and part post-shoegaze wisp.

Also playing is Michael Clark, providing slurred, wise, trepidatious and crepuscular folk music with fogrolls of noise behind an acoustic guitar. Despite being a Londoner, he sounds more like a moor-dweller; or like someone who lives in the kind of port city London used to be, one in which strange tales and intimation billow up the streets with the dock mist: this time out, his strange tales are backed up by a full band.

 
I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before. Headlining the Club Integral-hosted Birmingham show above Bell Lung and Raiments, they’re an affable rural/suburban pop quartet like a four-person one-man band, sprouting banjos and clarinets and found percussion alongside their drum kit and guitars. Drawn to playing at weirder gigs, they’ve shared bills with people like Bob Drake and have their own batchful of three-minute pop songs avidly reflecting the off-kilter visions of previous English songwriter eccentrics (the Syd Barretts, Robyn Hitchcocks and Tim Smiths). Handling the in-between-bands slot is someone new to me but not new to Brum’s vinyl-istas: Moseley Folk Festival’s house DJ and Moseley Record Fair co-organiser DJ Rome, promising his own selection of crate-dug oddities and inspirations.


 
In Bristol, the DJ backup comes from “bleary-eyed staggerer” Siegfried Translator of the Grey Area radio show (another haven for intriguingly weird music from all over the globe), but the gig predominantly features the Tara Clerkin Trio: the DIY musical brainchild of a ceramicist who also seems to have a yen for gamelan/minimalist-sounding pattern tinkling sprinkled with voiceloops, friendly saxophonic intrusions and other pitch-ins from whichever musical friends she can rope in for the occasion. (At other times, she creates her own slumberous take on experimental countrified pop.)

 
The Oxford show (promoted by Divine Schism) is primarily a launch event for the second EP by Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani, a.k.a. Despicable Zee – a live-looper, improviser and conscious patterner of fifteen years standing, mixed Anglo/Irish/Iranian heritage, and a history of drumming in Oxford bands since her teens. Now the drums (plus loopstations and recordings) are used to create live solo tracks in which Zee employs a lo-fi, lo-technique approach to overlapping rhythm garlands and triggered conversations. As an artist (as well as an educator and mother), Zee’s increasingly conscious of the female lines she carries within her: the patched-in samples which wobble her current project along feature the voices of her mother and grandmother, mingling with Zee’s own sing-speak-raps as if they’ve dropped by for some kind of experimental music cross-cultural kaffee klatsch.


 
The London show (at Paper Dress Vintage) is an evening of music and spoken word put together by promoters Spilt Milk in order to raise money and awareness for North London Action for the Homeless. Shapeshifter experimental pop poet Alabaster dePlume comperes: also in the corner is Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, who showed up in ‘Misfit City’ a little over a year ago.

Jenny’s another artist whose field extends from the visual and situational into action and music: the Mystic Business involves pulling together friends and strangers into a collective performance event that’s part communal clapalong choir, part percussion workshop and good-natured culture-jamming protest (with food). Guileless and charming, but nonetheless political and détournementational, it’s an attempt to get collective conscience back into the body, containing and encouraging a cheerful but insistent protest.



 
The Conventry and Brighton gigs appear to feature just Bell Lungs and Raiments on their own, but news just coming in re. the Liverpool date (at dockside art-pub Drop the Dumbulls) says that support there comes from Merseyside “synthwhisperer” and outsider synthpopper Claire Welles. She’s been rolling out her contrary songs for over a decade now, singing increasingly unsettling lyrics in a deep deadpan tone with a sarcastic medicated edge, while the backings deliquesce from elegant ageless Europop into something a little misshapen. It all becomes something like those conversations during which you wake up a third of the way in, not quite sure how you got into them, not quite believing that you’re stuck in there and will just have to ride it out.



 
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Following the Raiments tour, Bell heads off separately for other shows. A mid-March showing at Manchester’s Peer Hat is a solo gig, but there’s also an Argyll event (in the enchanting recording-studio-as-art-nook surroundings of St Marys Space) at which she’s supporting baroque poptronic project Gaze Is Ghost: itinerant Northern Irish singer/songwriter/post-classical composer Laura McGarrigle, noted for “spectral vocals and impressionist piano playing” as well as drifts into harmonium and ambient atmospherics. In recent years Laura’s let Zed Penguin drummer/artist Casey Miller into the project and (following a number of pre-Casey singles), Gaze Is Ghost are finally readying a debut album as a duo.

 
A return to Glasgow on 28th March sees Bell performing on a talk’n’play bill with musicologist and audio culturer David Toop and Berlin sonicist Rashad Becker (who, having polished over a thousand records by other people spanning noise to techno, has begun stepping out into music creation of his own with the resonant faux-ethnological synthwork of ‘Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. I’).

On the 30th she’s back in Edinburgh to support another experimental folker, looper and performance artist: David Thomas Broughton, whose brilliantly wayward path has included looping his own heckles, blurring the line between song performance and experimental theatre. Along the way he’s released eight albums of accessible, tremulous, oddly haunting alt.folk delivered in an arresting genderless vocal tone a little reminiscent of Anthony/Anohni, and won the respect and collaborative contributions of (among others) Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, and Aidan Moffat. David will be in the early stages of his own tour, which I really should cover on its own.





 
Before any of these, though, she’s crossing the North Sea to perform at an experimental folk event in København. Part of the city’s Fanø Free Folk Festival, it’s hosted by local label Dendron Records, specializers in “small runs of abstract electronics, ghostly folk songs and surprisingly hummable tunes.” The concert will also feature two København-based British emigres Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen. Hugh’s been operating for years under various names including The Weave And The Weft and Taiga Taiga, creating shadowy understated mostly-acoustic songs with a literary bent, and he regularly helps out with David Folkmann Drost’s homemade folk project Moongazing Hare. Previously known as a radical electric guitarist in Vinyl Dog Joy, Amstrong and Distortion Girls, Tanja recently struck out on her own with a solo debut, ‘Feeling Love’ in which she embraces and deconstructs pop songs, writing them acoustically before bringing assorted damaged amplification and effects-pedal interference to bear on them, resulting in songscapes covering a field from heavy-lidded noise-folk to cataclysmic “drone-metal disco”.




 
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Dates:

Bell Lungs & Raiments tour:

  • Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16A Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8BJ – Wednesday 20th February 2019, 7.00pm (with Claquer) – information here
  • Cobalt Studios, 10-16 Boyd Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1AP, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.00pm(with Michael Clark + Halcyon Jane) – information here
  • The Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0QH, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 8.00pm (with The Nature Centre + DJ Rome) – information here and here
  • Cube Cinema, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 24th February 2019, 8.00pm(with Tara Clerkin Trio + The Grey Area DJs) – information here and here
  • Fusion Arts, 44b Princes Street, Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1DD, England – Monday 25th February 2019, 7.30pm(with Despicable Zee) – information here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019. 7.30pm (with Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business + Alabaster dePlume) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill Tavern, 70-71 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 4JL, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Tin @ The Coal Vaults, Unit 1-4 Coventry Canal Basin, St. Nicholas Street, Coventry, CV1 4LY, England – Friday 1st March 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Drop the Dumbulls @ The Bull, 2 Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England – Saturday 2nd March 2019, 7.00pm (with Claire Welles) – information here

Bell Lungs standalone dates with various others (tbc):

  • Fanø Free Folk Festival @ Alice, Norre Alle 7, DK-2200 København N, Norway – Monday 4th March 2019, 7.00pm(with Hugh Tweedie + Tanja Vesterbye Jessen) – information here
  • St Marys Space, Fasnacloich, Argyll, Scotland, PA38 4BJ – Saturday 9th March 2019, 7.00pm(supporting Gaze Is Ghost) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester M1 1BE – Thursday 14th March 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Stereo/The Old Hairdressers, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 5AR, Scotland – Thursday 28th March 2019, 7.00pm (with David Toop + Rashad Becker) – information here and here
  • The Waverley, 3-5 St. Mary’s Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TA, Scotland – Saturday 30th March 2019, 9.00pm (supporting David Thomas Broughton) – information here

February 2019 – upcoming London eclectic/multicultural gigs at Poplar Union – Grand Union Orchestra (22nd February); Mishti Dance (23rd February) with Conspirators of Pleasure, The Tuts, Kapil Seshasayee and Soundar Ananda

15 Feb

I don’t go down to Poplar that often, but despite its more confusing aspects – the hurtling convergence of the eastern motorway routes out of London; that strange dislocated/disassociated/dispossessed neighbour’s relationship which it has with the glittering towers of Docklands to the south – the place has always felt welcoming; from the wry hardiness of its shopkeepers to the gentle courtesy of the djellaba-clad pair of Muslim brothers (one twentysomething lad, one eight-year-old kid) who spotted me wandering (a lost, bald, bearded middle-aged white bloke) all nonplussed by the Limehouse Cut, and were kind enough to redirect me to Poplar Union.

PU still feels like a beacon for the area’s future – enthusiastically aspirational in its bright, clean, modern bookishness but also happily embedded in the area’s colourful swirl of cultures; decidedly unshabby but also entirely inclusive. Here are another couple of gigs coming up there this coming week.

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Grand Union Orchestra, 22nd February 2019

Sporting a thirty-plus roster of musicians from all across the world, Grand Union Orchestra have spent two decades playing and personifying an ethic of joyous multicultural cooperation onstage. With a tradition of creative diasporan work, and with an additional set of roots in left-wing community theatre, they’re a living rebuttal to British insularity. Usually there’s about eighteen of them on stage, drawn from a flexible roster of around thirty top-flight musicians from a variety of cultures and generations. You’ll see Bangladeshi, Chinese, English, Turkish, Caribbean, Roma, Bulgarian, Mozambiquian people and more, from striplings to grandmothers, all playing together, long accustomed to assembling rolling caravans of sound into which assorted musics – Carnatic and Bangladeshi classical, salsa, jazz – can be folded.



 
You can pick out the various components (even a quick dip will turn up players like Jazz Warriors trumpet veteran Claude Deppa, Carnatic violin virtuoso Claude Deppa, Roma accordionist Ionel Mandache, guzheng star Zhu Xiao Meng and a poly-hued battery of singers with backgrounds including fado, jazz, opera and Bengali classical) but you’re better off just enjoying the sweeping palette. Just looking at their gig flyers reminds me of the happy, souped-up neighbourly multiculture festivals in and around my primary school. It makes me want to bare my teeth against the chilly white monocultural wind that’s blowing from the future, from Brexit and from the surly side of Englishness; or – if I can’t do anything else – to at least turn up my collar, turn my angry back against the freeze and head for the lights, the warmth and the rhythms.

GUO’s current, workshop-driven project – ‘Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues’ – is helmed by tabla ace Yousuf Ali Khan: it leans back towards the music of the Asian sub-continent with classical ragas, Bengali songs and the aforementioned bhangra at the heart of it. Various young participants, having already enjoyed the previous week’s free instrumental youth workshops incorporated into the project programme, will be joining the main band for the concert.

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Mishti Dance featuring Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda, 23rd February 2019

I know Grand Union Orchestra, but I’m less familiar with PU’s Mishti Dance evenings and their Asian club/dance initiative. The idea strikes a fond chord of memories stemming from the Talvin Singh Anokha nights I’d occasionally attend in the mid-‘90s, in which all of the sounds I’d been vaguely aware of during an upbringing in multicultural Haringey suddenly seemed to grow up and stream together. Anokha, though, had its road laid down for it by the bhangra grooves and post-rave dance culture of the times, and while you could skulk up to the chillout room to listen to Shakti if you wanted to, it was predominantly about immersing yourself in sub-bass, remix chops and tabla frenzy.

Mishi, however, looks like a much looser bag: admittedly hung on the same British Asian peg but more tenuously, with room for just about anything and anyone with a Asian connection and in particular those who are following their own path out of the immediate cultural confines and bringing their innate cultural qualities to question, alter and enrich other spaces. The closest Anokha-type dance exemplar in this month’s gig looks as if it’s DJ Soundar Ananda of Indigenous Resistance, a French-Asian “conscious beats” deliverer, promoter and compilation curator working with “cutting-edge, futuristic, nu-skool, Eastern electronic music influenced by dub, dubstep, d’n’b, breakbeat, jungle, reggae.”

 
The Tuts, on the other hand, are a long way from Anohka beat culture, although I think Talvin and co would have appreciated their ethic. A fiesty, witty, self-propelled female throw-forward from the all-too-brief days of ’70s post-punk inclusivity, they’re a young DIY pop-punk trio of “proud Caribbean, English and Indian/Pakistani origin” and an immediate, salty working-class attitude of immediate self-assertion and street wit. Full of chop-and-change musical sharpness and girl-group zest (they’ve happily covered Wannabe, though there’s as much Fuzzbox or Slits to their vigour as there is Spice Girlhood), they’ll be inspiring girl moshers and wallflowers alike from Wolverhampton to Leicester, with little for old white gits like me to do but gently get out of the way, smiling as we do so. Bluntly inspirational.



 
The remaining two acts take us into delightfully eclectic and weird experimental pop and noise terrain. Bringing the majority of the weird noises are headliners Conspirators Of Pleasure: multi-media artists Poulomi Desai (who’s been in here before a few times over the year, toting her polydisciplinary stage shows and their festoonings of gizmos and collated contradictory content) and onetime Pop Group/Pigbag post-punk/funk/dub bassist Simon Underwood (once compared by Dennis Bovell to a white Robbie Shakespeare). Their adventures together have included helping to set Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ to music, and touring with Stewart Lee and other restless upsetters in the ‘Usurp Chance Tour’. Using repurposed tools of the cultural trade (Poulumi’s context-yanked sitar played with everything from an axe to a massage vibrator, Simon’s prepared bass guitar) plus assorted noisemakers, drone-sources, toys, stylophones and radios and a battery of makeshift audio-visual, they’ll spend their time onstage forking over textures and flotsam, touching on the industrial, on dance culture, on noisy improvised chaos and on the voices and ideas which emerge from this conflation.


 
Glaswegian-Asian singer-songwriter Kapil Seshasayee has parked himself on a junction where a variety of different ideas and approaches are coerced into meeting. He takes his beats from hardcore machine punk and Arca-ian experimental electropop; his guitar choices from a superimposition of Carnatic traditions and skinny-wire Hendrixian note-bending, crashes and hammer-on blues; his song structures from the kind of improvisational bardic rock which itself is drawing from griots or the ecstatic traditions which bubble away in various cultures despite having been vainly tarmac-ed over by Western rationalism.

His voice… well, I’m not entirely sure where that comes from. A beautiful Western/Indian rock clarion with hints of boy angel, Quwalli pronouncer and open-ended Beefheartian abstractioneer, it barrels up out of a position of assured strength only to lyrically splatter itself across parts of the landscape you’d not even noticed before. I could wave in Tim Buckley, Thom Yorke, Nick Harper and Van Morrison as whiter comparisons; I could point to some of the fiery ecstastic pitches and timbres of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, or toward youthful bluesmen with an axe to sharpen; but I still wouldn’t get it across to you or do it the right kind of justice.

Bald and impressively bearded (beating me on both counts, in fact), Kalil additionally decorates his wrenched-cable music with electronic fizz and spookings plus the eldritch acoustic wails he can scratch out of a waterphone. As for his songs, whether they’re upended experimental blues or club-leaning avant-pop abstractions (and often they’re both), they sound like distracted revelations in train marshalling yards, Kapil as a spasming, pointing Blakean figure continually spotting and sweeping the hidden numinous into his narratives and fracturing them into cracked landscapes. Somewhere inside Kalil there’s a bloke who wants to sing straightforward young-man songs about love gone wrong. Fortunately, his own brain continually waylays him in between impulse and expression.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Grand Union Orchestra: Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Mishti Dance presents:
Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Saturday 23rd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – LUME return for a Sloth Racket/Entropi double header (13th February); Jazz HerStory with Rosie Turton (21st February)

11 Feb

After a year away working on other things, the jazzwomen behind LUME are bringing it back to life. Hopping on board the fast-moving train of Kings Place’s ‘Venus Unwrapped‘ series (which I’ve really got to take a closer look at shortly), they’re presenting a double bill of two LUME spearhead acts: each led by one of the two LUME directors.

Baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts heads up and composes for Sloth Racket a scorching, heavy London-and-Manchester free jazz quintet in which she jousts and converses with Sam Andreae’s alto over a rhythm section of guitarist Anton Hunter, drummer Johnny Hunter and double bassist Seth Bennett (who aren’t actually that much bound by straight rhythm). Incorporating cells of conventionally-written material as well as graphic notation, Sloth Racket music is an aggregation of explosive rips, broken-up hums, forcefully lyrical micro-interjections and tense silences. They’re up to their third self-released album, ‘A Glorious Monster’.

 
Alto saxophonist Dee Byrne runs Entropi, in which she’s joined by trumpeter Andre Canniere, keyboardist Rebecca Nash, drummer Matt Fisher and bassist Olie Brice. Their music is built on discombobulated, mutually superimposed grooves and deconstructive/reconstructive melodic parts and harmonies, continually walking a wiggly line between falling apart and dancing together. Dee keeps everyone involved on supple, elastic musical leashes, letting them roam to the limits before gently reeling them back in.


* * * * * * * *

In a couple of weeks, the Jazz HerStory season out east at Poplar Union continues with a gig from Nerija trombonist Rosie Turton, now bandleading in her own right and with an EP, ‘Rosie’s 5ive’ out this year on Jazz Re:freshed Records. Following in the footsteps of two of Rosie’s biggest inspirations, Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, her 5ive band (in which she’s joined by Johanna Burnheart on violin, Maria Chiara Argirò on piano, Twm Dylan on bass and Jake Long on drums) works around a sensually airy intertwining of Indian violin, trombone and electric piano, in which adventurous tunes effloresce and sway around light-on-their-feet rhythm grooves: a clever, flowing, flowery architecture.
.


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Venus Unwrapped: Entropi + Sloth Racket
Hall Two @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Wednesday 13th March 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Jazz HerStory presents:
Rosie Turton
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming English folk-rock-but-not-just-folk-rock gigs – My Octopus Mind on tour (13th, 16th, 21st, 22nd February) with Jakabol, The Display Team, Lapis Lazuli and Malika Collective; Hexvessel and Arktau Eos in London (22nd February)

10 Feb

Flexible Bristol almost-acoustic trio My Octopus Mind occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them. There’s a jazzy rattle, predominantly via the gloriously noisy effected double bass of Izy Ellis (a growling, punchy, conversational art-box; upfront timber and raw electronic treatments). The whole band’s informed by post-Radiohead/Mars Volta art rock and by the mating of contrasts implicit in assorted culture collisions (such the Hindustani-classical meets New-York-loft-music teaming achieved in one particular favourite, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s ‘Passages’). Frontman singer and guitarist Liam O’Connell cites the sonic and psychological crescendos of Jeff Buckley and Josh Homme’s mix of heaviness and irony, but also the restraint of Jose Gonzales. Ex-Lambhorneer Oliver Cocup adds refreshed drum bounce, and racing through the whole thing is a rivulet – or, more accurately, an unstoppable jet – of skittish Balkan folk.


 
With a debut album, ‘Maladyne Cave’, nearing release, My Octopus Mind are out on a brief English tour wriggle this month, taking in Manchester, Canterbury, London and their hometown. In part, it’s to celebrate the recent release of their debut single Elska, with its increasingly disturbing Coppelian dance video (in which a man wheels an impassive doll-woman around in a suitcase, engaging in secret and increasingly frustrated trysts with her).

While Manchester is an evening for the band on their own, various temporary tourmates slot in elsewhere – in London, it’ll be the accomplished Afro-Latin groove band Malika Collective. The Canterbury show sports an eclectic psychedelic edge with local jam band and “maximalist psych-prog heroes” Lapis Lazuli plus the convoluted Zappa-brass meets London-urchin-pop of The Display Team (see passim) and psych/prog/punk funk/soul/dub/afro combination DJ interludes from Professor Appleblossom. The Bristol tour launch show, meanwhile, also features Jakabol, a warm Bristolian instrumental band in which violin, harp, guitar and drums leap and lurch tunefully around a set pitched midway between post-rock gutter and country hoedown (perhaps a further extension of the rural post-rocking I’ve been hearing from Rumour Cubes and Apricot Rail).



 
* * * * * * * *

Linkings between folk music and heavy rock go back pretty much all of the way to the start of the latter, especially in Europe. In plain sight, Led Zeppelin regularly immersed themselves in Welsh border hillsides and Janschian jangle; a little later, Jethro Tull brought in the jigs, liltings and mandolins while allying them to Ian Anderson’s witty, sardonic absolutely-in-the-moment songwriting voice (which swept in the eclectic interests and erudition of a restless, randy, contemporary urban boulevardier who could’ve make the idea of a leprechaun in your sitting room sound like something contemporary, adult and immediate rather than twee). In the ‘90s a swell of Celtic/Nordic folk metal and Gothic paganism via bands such as Skyclad led to a revival of mythic musical drama; in the Noughties, there was the feeling that the likes of Opeth were peering over their successive ramparts of black metal and prog in search of something offering more air and antiquity. Nowadays, you can hardly move for this sort of thing sprouting up from Ireland to Israel: driving a guitar through a hefty amp seems like one of the most effective ways to kick off an interest in your own folk history.

In many respects, latterday Anglo-Irish-Finnish heavy-folk-rockers Hexvessel hanker back to Tull – some of the lilts and jangles are there, as are the banging barn-door blurts of chunky electric guitar work – but they also trade in some of the dramatic minor keys and broody, nonconforming, subculture-meets-antiquity feel of Skyclad. Of course, this is probably incidental: it would be more constructive to reconsidering the swirling body of interests and philosophy surrounding singer and prime mover Mat McNerney. Despite Mat’s former black metal links (as “Kvohst”, he cavorted across stages with bands like Dødheimsgard and Code), Hexvessel avoid certain predictable pitfalls – no ludicrous demonic posturing; no arid hating; no polluted white-is-right old-Europe nationalism. This is primarily because under the corpse paint Kvohst always seems to have been a thoughtful and sensible chap with a well-calibrated bullshit detector, sorting the nourishing myths from the toxic ones.




 
Instead, Hexvessel explore a range of thinking stimuli – post-/pre-Catholic pagan magick; the connecting threads connecting contemporary Finnish woodland psych with the brooding kosmische stews of Amon Duul and the chatty verbal maximalism of early ‘70s British psych folk; comic book legendariums; and respectful pro-feminist reintegrations of women back into musical forms that have often wandered too far down macho paths. Later this month, they’re setting up camp at St Johns Bethnal Green; playing a London show as part of the European tour in support of brand new album ‘All Tree’, in which they’ve endeavoured to blend Mat’s memories of old ghost stories and other transmissions of folk culture with their own dramatic Samhain vibes and symbolic forest-folk musical experiments (including playing tree boughs with violin bows). Mat sees it as a way of connecting to Samhain’s liminal side; a time when ancestors, as spirits and memories, are that much closer.

Hexvessel’s tree-bowing was captured out by the band’s resident field recording/sound conjuring wizard Antti Haapapuro. In another incarnation – as half of sacking-masked ritual ambient/oneiric duo Arktau Eos – he and fellow Eosian Antti Litmanen open the show, rubbing the psychic gateways open with their primeval sounding drones, swells and invocation of significant spaces – simultaneously post-industrial and prehistoric, thrumming out of a green church, resonating nook or ancient gravehole like a stone-tape playback of ancient, dignified rites.

Steeped in hermetic philosophy and Apophatic theology, Arktau Eos come across as thoughtful ceremonial scholars in interviews such as this one in the ‘This Is Darkness’ ezine. Eloquent and courteous if you care to track them down for a respectful conversation, but unswayed by distractions from their business of the mining of the “ur-currents” of religious faith; the pull of site-specific mysteries, apprehending experience without attempting to stare it in the face or pin it down with sentences. In a similar spirit, I think I should just leave the descriptions there, as they stand. Essentially, it’s all in the sound and the placement, and the ceremonial use of the available moment. Understand them that way.


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

My Octopus Mind:

  • The Crofters Rights, 117-119 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RW, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 7.30pm (with Jakabol) – information here and here
  • The Old Abbey Taphouse, Guildhall Close, Manchester, M15 6SY, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here
  • UCA Bar Canterbury, New Dover Road, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 3AN, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.30pm (with The Display Team + Lapis Lazuli) – information here
  • The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm (with Malika Collective) – information here and here

Old Empire proudly presents:
Hexvessel + Arktau Eos
St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs plus previews – Edmund Finnis premieres new piano trio on Britten Sinfonia English mini-tour (12th,13th, 15th February) – plus looks at Edmund’s imminent ‘The Air, Turning’ album and Markus Reuter’s imminent ‘Heartland’ album

8 Feb

A new Edmund Finnis composition is doing the rounds on a Britten Sinfonia micro-tour next week, taking in concerts in Cambridge, London and Norwich. The piece is a piano trio nestled in amongst a programme of compositions which examine chamber music’s historical connection to, and evolution from, Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1. Starting with this sonata, the concert progresses through Leoš Janáček’ ‘Pohádka’ and Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Le merle noir’, with the piano trio then preceding a performance of Bohuslav Martinů’s ‘Sonata for flute, violin and piano’. The performers are flautist Emer McDonough, violinist Thomas Gould, cellist Caroline Dearnley and pianist Huw Watkins.

I can’t find a title – or indeed, much more context and background – for the piano trio beyond this, although all will probably be revealed at the time. At the London date, Edmund’s also providing more details in a ticketed public talk with Dr Kate Kennedy before the concert begins. I’ve previously noted his compositional style as “flow(ing) from the luminously minimal to frenetically eerie orchestral jousts”, so he should have plenty to talk about.

Britten Sinfonia: At Lunch 2 2018-2019 – Bach, Janácek, Messiaen, Finnis and Martinu

  • West Road Concert Hall, 11 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP, England – Monday 12th February 2019, 1.00pm – information here, here, here and here
  • Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 1.00pm
    – information here, here and here (Edmund Finnis in conversation with Dr Kate Kennedy, 12.15pm – free event – information here)
  • St Andrew’s Hall @ The Halls, St Andrew’s Plain, Norwich, NR3 1AU, England – Friday 15th February 2019, 1.00pm – information here, here and here

Edmund Finnis: 'The Air, Turning'

Edmund Finnis: ‘The Air, Turning’

Meanwhile, the first recorded collection of Edmund’s compositions – ‘The Air, Turning’, which has been six years in the making – is out on 9th February on NMC Recordings. Besides the sensual title composition (an orchestral work inspired by the concept of how music’s sound vibrations thrum and manipulate the atmosphere around us), it includes five other Finnis works. There’s the slow-ringing string orchestra piece ‘Between Rain’ (as performed at the Roundhouse and at ‘Organ Reframed‘ in 2016); the crepuscular, haunting ‘Shades Lengthen’ violin concerto; the blossoming ensemble work ‘Parallel Colour’ (in which clarinet, piano, strings and percussion drip and swell like heavy dew in an unexpected spot of bluster) and his ‘Four Duets’ for clarinet and piano.

Players include the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the London Contemporary Orchestra, violinist Eloisa-Fleur Thom and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The more electronic/electrophonic side of Edmund’s work isn’t really present (for a few examples of that, visit his Soundcloud page), but it’s nodded to via the violin-plus-reverb concert hall piece ‘Elsewhere’ (which was touched on in here around two years ago when I plugged its second ever performance by Daniel Pioro). All in all, it’s exciting music – simultaneously translucent, muscular and subtly cerebral, with a rare quality of mystique and engagement.


 
* * * * * * * *

Seeing that I’ve drawn myself into writing about Edmund’s album, I’ll add something about Markus Reuter’s upcoming string quartet project ‘Heartland’. This isn’t out on record for a couple of months but has just begun to tease on Bandcamp, although Markus was good enough to send me the whole recording this week to listen to. This isn’t the first time Markus has created music which has disengaged from his usual electrophonic world of direct sound-processing and touch guitar, or in which he hasn’t felt the requirement to be present as performer. That would have been the orchestral version of ‘Todmorden 513’ a few years ago: a dense slowly-evolving soundpool built from algorithmic processes, assuming a vast, eerie and slightly melancholic ritual character to overlay its logical progression.

Markus Reuter, 2017 (photo © Dutch Rall)

Markus Reuter, 2017 (photo © Dutch Rall)

Across the sixty minutes and eight sections of ‘Heartland’, algorithmic processes are once again the driving engines: mathematics lurk within the extended composition, with fractals, magic squares, and other numerical devices defining its elegant form. The piece, however (beautifully recorded in Berlin’s Kirche Zum Heiligen Kreuz, Berlin last October by the Matangi Quartet) brings more to the listener than an appreciation of structures. Beyond the initial brain-tickle, it seems that different listeners are inspired into different psychoactive responses. Active voyages of discovery seem to be a common theme. Various sleevenote contributors compare the journey through ‘Heartland’ to a Jungian river-ride through the collective subconscious, or to a Kubrickian Star Gate trip; while in the teaser video, Matangi violinist Maria-Paula Majoor appreciates the essential character of ‘Heartland’ as being “contemplative, maybe, (but) not very sure… I like that, in music… I think it’s nice to feel there is a doubt…that also gives the space for interpretation, and also for the listener to create (their) own interpretation”, and cellist Arno van der Vuurst comments that the music seems to be “searching for something”.


 
On a superficial level, ‘Heartland’ sometimes also suggests a bridge between the technical perfection of Bach baroque and the programmatic patterning of New York minimalism. It’s true that that particular bridge has already taken some heavy traffic, and from many different composers; but in Markus’ case he seems to have built his own separate bridge across the same river, and it’s only a part of the architecture and living space which the piece enables – it’s by no means its raison d’être. For initial promotion, Markus has mostly restricted himself to talking about translating processes into music, and about how his algorithmic/fractal note rows (and what progresses from them) work like carefully decorated modes or ragas; but the twinkle in his eyes suggests more. On the literary side, there are explicit references to Scarlett Thomas, short stories and sad goodbyes, and implicit ones to Thomas Mann: Markus also talks about “music that is there already and only needs to be uncovered”, and he’s clearly revelling in his opportunity to go wherever he wants and that “people want to be surprised, and they kind of like the fact that I’m an explorer.”

Matangi Quartet: 'Markus Reuter: String Quartet No. 1 'Heartland''

Matangi Quartet: ‘Markus Reuter: String Quartet No. 1 ‘Heartland”

Due to my own circumstances, I often find that I have to run much of my music-listening time in parallel with entirely unassociated work time. In some cases this works fine: the higher levels of my brain are usually bored with lying fallow while other tasks have to be done, and the business of processing and appreciating music occupies brain space which would otherwise make me rattle and rebel. However, I do find that certain kinds of music are tougher to listen to. Much of contemporary classical music is too immediately information-dense, too neurotically intellectual – and, in a strange way, simultaneously too directly assertive and too demandingly needy for to be able to split my attention while listening to it. (Oddly enough, I have a similar response to hip hop).

‘Heartland’ is certainly full of coding, but when I ran it through the mill of listening necessity I’ve described above – while concentrating fiercely on a pile up of day-job things which needed to be fixed – I found that it also had surprisingly calming qualities. In particular, it had qualities of order – as if the pulse and pitching of the music was putting things right without relying on the usual structural/dramatic clichés to which I respond. While ‘Heartland’ is full of detail and mechanism, and while Markus is particularly open about that, much of its devicery is camouflaged: the piece does not anxiously assert its complexity and importance. Instead, I found it subtle and confident in its own intelligence, like the workings of a brain; not the chaotic, nervy dramatisation of an unbalanced mind, but something more Apollonian, with a matter-of-fact humanity. On this particular pass I didn’t feel skilled enough to analyse everything in it, but from the off I felt the structures and the processes… and also felt that I was somehow sharing in them.

This might not be a purely rational conclusion (and a different week might produce a different flexion of the imagination) but for now I’m sticking to it. Perhaps, beyond its number processes, ‘Heartland’ is a self-contained flexible map for an inner journey; perhaps, for me, it works as a set of complex mental debugging routines generated and given impetus by the chug of bow on string and the singing self-contained musicality that’s propelled string quartets in common for three centuries (and which has built a proportion of my own responses for about a sixth of that time). To these ears, this mind, ‘Heartland’ is a generous piece. It inspires a kind of serenity, even a kind of hope.

‘Heartland’ is out on Solaire Records on 12th April, and can be pre-ordered here and here.


 

February 2019 – upcoming gigs in London and Sunderland (folk, country, etc.) – Mally Harpaz and Valeria Pozzo in London (12th); a resurgent Bill Jones in London and Sunderland (16th & 20th February); Sarah Jane Scouten in London (18th February)

4 Feb

Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo, 12th February 2019

On Tuesday next week, there’s yet another chance to see sometime Anna Calvi drummer/harmoniumist Mally Harpaz present her solo composer side, via live performances of her soundtracks for Clara Aparicio Yoldi’s video-art extrapolations from classic paintings. Debuted a little over a year ago (and revisited a couple of times since then, they’re post-classical piano-centric mood pieces. Various guests will be joining Mally as part of her ensemble – in the past, these have included Mark Neary, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford, Jessica Lauren, Eran Karniel and, indeed, Anna Calvi (a close friend rather than an employer, and one who repays loyalty).

 
As for the future, Mally is still incubating her intended debut album, with two brooding instrumentals having broken cover on Soundcloud two years ago – glowering Gothic impressionism for piano, drum and ghost guitar, dabbed with synth strings and wordless soprano wails. You can hear the imprint of mediaeval-toned cinema epics, Dead Can Dance, some of the foggier Braonáin-isms… but someone really needs to let this woman loose on a New Weird Britain film about a haunted pantry somewhere in the New Forest. Something nasty, with a scary cutlery drawer.


 
As she usually does, Mally is presenting this as part of one of her “off-the-beaten-track” Blind Dog Studio evenings, which also showcase other performers. In the past these events have often favoured under-the-radar female singer-songwriters with impressive multi-instrumental abilities. This month’s show is no exception, featuring Valeria Pozzo.

Originally from Italy, Valeria currently floats in that strangely nationless zone of acoustic jazz pop, where it’d be difficult to tell where she was from unless you asked. She’s the possessor of handy guitar and violin skills as well as being the owner of a supple voice; and from what I’ve heard of her so far she’s hovering on a cusp where she could either carve out a comfortable career supplying smooth, edgeless jazz-folk entertainment at upscale pizza restaurants or take a couple of small, delicate gambles and persistently deliver songs which could turn heads and stop jaws champing.

I much prefer it when she does the latter: easing subtly strange chordings and tunings into her work, adding an extra dimension. Not necessarily unsettling, let alone perverse, but providing a deepening, an extra quality of storytelling undercurrent. What would be, if she dealt in written stories, the story beyond the words: the bit that crept up on you.


 
Valeria’s also making another appearance later in the month, this time at Rami Radi’s Laid Bare At the Ritzy acoustic night in Brixton; where she’ll be appearing with assorted other south London singer-songwriters including post-Damien Rice caroller Archie Langley, Berlin-born acoustic soulster Adwoa Hackman and her white-soul-boy-next-door counterpart Josh Collins. As a bill it’s got its moments, but it’s a little too generic for me to say much here, to be honest; although George Pelham’s buttery lite-soul voice and apparently effortless shuffling of McCartney, Prince and Elton John songwriting sounds pretty good. I’m also going to go back sometime and have a closer listen to the coastal autoharp folk of Olive Haigh – the deliverer of a cute, winsome sound with a garnish of eerie weirdness which becomes more apparent the more you listen (slightly magical/slightly sinister fairytale undertones, and a subtle use of sound embellishments from fiddle slides to pebble rattles).

* * * * * * * *

Bill Jones, 16th February 2019

There was a time in the early 200s when Bill Jones looked set to be a British folk star with the profile of someone like Kate Rusby – upfront, nicely turned out, fairly straightforward and with her folk scholarship gently on display. (These days it seems to matter less whether you gained it at lockins or at university, though plenty seem to study at both of these schools. Bill was one of those who did both.)

My own initial memories of Bill are wilder, woollier and from a bit further back: from when she was singing loud, pure backing vocals from behind an accordion as an anchoring part of The Wise Wound, who have generally been snootily dismissed as “an indie band” in accounts of Bill’s prehistory but whose absorbing, sometimes frustrating work was more like a remarkable psychedelic quilt being disgorged through a chamber folk-funnel. Back then (still going through formative years) she was something of a band secret weapon: a dark horse who stood apart from the friendly-frictional mental wrestling and gag-cracking that made up much of the Wise Wound’s offstage behaviour, while secretly fostering a great deal of the charm that served her well when she eventually found her own voice and went solo.

It was interesting seeing Bill afterwards, since she was still something of a dark horse: managing to pull off (possibly unwittingly) the trick of being entirely open while remaining entirely enigmatic. Even when revealing something personal in song (such as her family’s Anglo-Indian Darjeeling heritage, as laid out a capella in the title track of 2001’s ‘Panchpuran’) she sometimes seemed less of a conversationalist in what she sang than a conduit, like the flute she also plays. Her sleekly-groomed picture-book folk sometimes made use of the varnished production of pop, but without any concessions or vulgarities; and there was certainly always a sense that while Bill was friendly and loved her craft, she was also keeping a careful reign on the interplay of life and music.

Bill Jones, 20th February 2019At any rate, after three increasingly well-received albums (plus a live record, an odds-and-sods collection and a trinational collaborative project and tour with Anne Hills and Aoife Clancy), Bill turned away from the road and the spotlight; taking the option of stepping back, while still in her twenties, in favour of home-life in Sunderland, teaching and raising a family. She hasn’t been completely absent from the stage since. Folk-music teaching has less differentiation between instruction and performance; plus there were a couple of 2016 support slots in Tokyo for Flook and a number of low-key charity gigs for Antenatal Results & Choices (a cause close to Bill’s heart).

Now, however, she’s mounting a more substantial comeback, with a new album – ‘Wonderful Fairytale’ – finally arriving this coming May and various folk festival appearances scheduled for England and the United States later in the year. The first sightings are a new song, My Elfin Knight, and a pair of February dates accompanied by violinist/viola player and album buddy Jean-Pierre Garde. Between them, incidentally, the gigs indicate the affable but borderline incompatible polarities of British folk music. The London show in the churchy environs of The Gresham Centre can’t help but come with a bit of lofty gloss (canonicity, scholarliness, high-culture), while the Sunderland hometown gig is much more down-to-earth (a Whitburn Village Heritage Society do at a cricket club which also features floor spots from local singers).

I don’t know whether Bill makes much of these differentiations, or whether the contrast makes her laugh. As far as I can see, she’s just getting on with the music. Here’s the video for My Elfin Knight, which shows that she’s lost nothing in the intervening time: musically, still as sleek as a seal and cool as an early autumn evening. If anything’s changed, it’s the emotional freighting: the passing years seem to have laid an extra presence on her, with the sense of unspoken things lurking closer behind the song.


 
* * * * * * * *

Among the Nest Collective events popping up for early 2019 is a show by Canadian country folker Sarah Jane Scouten – another artist with firm groundings in tradition plus the willpower to bring it to a fresh new audience. As with the spill of characters around the Laid Bare evening, I can’t say much for Sarah in terms of originality, or in terms of her bringing much that’s new to the table, but with her neither of these things need to matter.

Sarah Jane Souten, 18th February 2019

What does matter is how she takes her chosen song-form back into her corner (a genre that’s still too young to be ossified but is still too easy to render cheesy) and how she refreshes it. Rather than a young revolutionary, Sarah’s a restorer and a reconfigurer: someone who can already turn out classic-sounding songs to fit the canon, and who can personify its ongoing traditions in a way that looks forced and creaky on a rock performer but sits surprisingly well on a country figure. Maybe it’s the storytelling side of things – as with traditional folk, stories get picked up, dusted off and recast in country, rolling on like a wheel. At any rate, Sarah’s consistently impressive, whether she’s turning out honky-tonk or delivering typically countryesque tales of rural life, bereavement and memory with songs such as the recent single Show Pony. She might not be showing you where country is going, but she’ll certainly show you where it will always be coming from.

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo + guests
Hundred Years Gallery, 13 Pearson Street, Hoxton, London, E2 8JD, England
Tuesday 12th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

The Nest Collective presents:
Sarah Jane Scouten
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Monday 18th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Bill Jones:

  • Gresham Centre, St Anne And St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Whitburn Cricket Club, The Village Ground, Sunderland, South Tyneside, SR6 7BZ, England – Wednesday 20th February 2019 – information here and here

Laid Bare At the Ritzy presents:
George Pelham + Adwoa Hackman + Olive Haigh + Josh Collins + Valeria Pozzo Trio + Archie Langley
Upstairs at The Ritzy, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 1JG, England
Wednesday 27th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here
 

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