February/March 2018 – Minute Taker mini-tour of England with Runes (2nd, 3rd, 10th, 17th February); Holly Penfield’s rescheduled Fragile Human Monster dates in London (23rd February, 23rd March); Joss Cope and Emily Jones in Worthing (2nd February)

26 Jan


 
Ben McGarvey, better known as ambient-torch-y folktronicist Minute Taker is heading out on a brief February tour taking in a brace of Saturdays, a Friday and four of the country’s more impressive churches. It’s in support of his new mini-album ‘Reconstruction‘ which he claims reflects “the search for new improved ways of rebuilding yourself when your world has been blown apart.”

Ben’s last pair of tours were more directly theatrical multi-media affairs, fleshing out the doppelganger/ghost story of ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ with tie-in animations, strings and extra guitars. This time, it’s just him – piano, looped harmonies, distorted Eastern-influenced percussion parts, glockenspiel and synths. In addition to the slow dream-jazz-styled songs from ‘Reconstruction’, he’ll be playing rearranged songs from ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ and his previous albums ‘Too Busy Framing’ and ‘Last Things’, plus some rethought-out cover versions from his various influences. Expect an atmosphere of drawn-out, deliciously lovelorn confessions and self-realisations set to luscious, trembling tunes, each with a core of silver-wire determination.


 
Also along for the ride is Greek-turned-Mancunian singer-songwriter Harry Selevos, a.ka. Runes, who has two albums of dreamy cherubic pop behind him – 2015’s ‘Orphic’ and the 2017 OP3 collaboration ‘AWSS’, sublimating his classical piano training via Asian-influenced vocals, a near-ambient synth pulse and a blissful energy (ending up somewhere between Jimmy Somerville and Mark Hollis).


 
Dates:

Prior to the tour, Ben will be performing a couple of live-streamed concerts from home via his Facebook page on Sunday 28th January. The first, at 7.30pm, is a general one with a Q&A session; it will be followed by a bonus session for his Secret Facebook Group covering the ‘Secret Songs’ album series in which he explores cover versions and reinventions.

* * * * * * * *

Live At Zedel/Crazy Coqs presents:
Holly Penfield: ‘Fragile Human Monster’
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Friday 23rd February & Friday 23rd March 2018, 9.15pm
– information here and here

The last Minute Taker tour, in October last year, coincided with Holly Penfield scheduling time out from her ongoing reign as jazz-cabaret queen and camp icon in order to return to the ‘Fragile Human Monster’ show she’d spun into a strange and shamanic synth-pop cult-of-the-broken during the early ‘90s. Back in October – and earlier – I wrote about how the old show had a “compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set” and about how “being a member of Holly’s audience meant being enticed into shedding those cloaks of cynicism and reserve we use to insulate ourselves, and opening your heart up to the rawest kind of sympathy and honesty. The show became a part of us, as much as we were a part of it, the church of the misfits she embraced. We dropped our guard, she sang: a voice for our odd angles and our visceral fears… If you led with your sense of cool, or your cynicism, there was no chance. But at full tilt, it was unmatchable.”

Holly Penfield, 23rd February & 23rd March 2018Both ‘Fragile Human Monster’ and its related ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album had been a second-stage reaction to Holly’s previous career as a blow-dried Los Angeles rock starlet (during which, in classic fashion, she’d been sidelined, ground up and spat out by the dream machine). Both had starred Holly alone but for the saxophone and suss of her partner and husband Ian Ritchie and for the evocative night-time sound of her Kurzweil sampler-keyboard. Over these, she spilled her self-composed, gloriously-sung narratives and metaphorical fantasias of collapse, vulnerability, madness and healing like an obsessive, loving, slightly deranged blurring-together of Laurie Anderson, Jane Siberry and Pat Benatar; framed by a stage set of trinkets and keepsakes which assumed the magical associations of a voodoo shrine – or, as I put it previously, “a travelogue of places been, of people touched and gifts given and received.”

It was the kind of gig into which, whether performer or audience member, you had to throw your whole self… and in turn it eventually flamed out, eventually making way for Holly’s camper (yet straighter) third stage as a knowingly decadent flaunt-it-all singer-performer of jazz and torch standards, commanding top-notch acoustic bands. It’s that latter stage that finally made her name – yet some of the willing therapeutic madness of FHM has always been present in those slinks through Fever and I Wanna Be Evil, the wigs and costume changes, the brassy fragility and the phenomenal voice. (Back in California, Holly had shared a voice coach with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior. It showed.)

It wasn’t clear what was impelling Holly to bring the old show back; nor whether she was resurrecting the synths and sequencers and ditching the jazz quartet and feather boas. In any case, it was promptly derailed by her surprise leather-clad showing on ‘The X-Factor’ in full-on kook mode, teasing Simon Cowell with a riding crop during the auditions phase. She did get a market-friendly Cowell soundbite out of that – “a cross between David Bowie and Liza Minnelli” – to go with her Tim Rice citation (“more than one fine diva – she’s a whole host of them, and they all look wonderful and sound sensational”) but it also meant that the planned Vauxhall Tavern FHM shows got showbizzed, and abruptly morphed into the familiar jazz cabaret albeit with a Halloween tinge. Escape velocity lost and an opportunity missed, even if some of the FHM songs still got stirred into the mix.

Now she’s rescheduled the Monster for a couple of dates at the swish London Zedel eaterie: a luxuriant art-deco cabaret capsule. Again, not much about how she’s going to do it, or how much habit and setting is going to shape instrumentation and presentation, but I’m hoping that after last year’s false alarm this will be the real deal, and that whatever twenty years away have added to the show’s energies will add to the spice. Sadly, there’s nothing directly from the Monster on Youtube – and nothing of ‘Parts of My Privacy’ – so instead I’ll have to whet appetites one of the more Monsterous moments from the cabaret show, an excellent new number Holly posted up the other year (like a Bowie torch song for the American dream), and an FHM ballad in its original glossy LA-pop ’80s garb before Holly pared it back to an art-pop synth shimmer.




 
* * * * * * * *

Musica Lumini presents:
Joss Cope + Emily Jones
The Cellar Arts Club, (basement of) 70 Marine Parade, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

Joss Cope + Emily Jones, 2nd February 2018It’s always nice to hear about a new venue, pushing back against the swelling tides of blandness and land-banking; and Worthing’s Cellar Arts Club must be a godsend for the more inquisitive characters who live in Brighton’s smaller, sleepier cousin town. I say “new”, but in fact it’s been in existence for nearly a year – a small, sprightly co-op effort providing music, poetry, stand-up, discussion and small-scale theatre and film showings. This February, it celebrates a small coup in pulling in both Joss Cope and Emily Jones for a concert.

Any discussions of Joss inevitably involve invoking (and then quelling) the shadow of his big brother – Julian Cope, the ‘80s psych-pop chart star and holy fool who spent the next three decades evolving into a garage-rock pagan shaman, a looming Archdrude and more recently a heathen-folk Biker of Ragnarok. So here I go… While there are a few shared traits (a sibling similarity in tone, including the Midlands yawp that occasionally cuts through their middle-class diction; their West Coast way with a melody; their tendency to move from proclaimer to informal intimate in a heartbeat by slipping a conversational twist into a driving lyric) they more often sound like two boys who heard the same records but went away having heard and learned different things. For all of his anarchic ways, whenever Cope the Elder yomps off on his Odinist trip, dooms Christianity or tries to brain-bugger you into enlightenment with 12-strings and Mellotrons, he always seems anxious to please, impose and impress; to garner attention from (and for) his assorted upendings and derailments. More outrightly affable, Joss may have come along on some of Julian’s musical trips, but his own are more relaxed and chatty, drawn from the confidence of one who takes more pleasure in the deft shapework of being a craftsman than in being a noisy prophet of the heath.


 
Ever since his emergence thirty-odd years ago (with short-lived bands such as Freight Train Something Pretty Beautiful and United States Of Mind), Joss has brought Cope-ular bounce and chattiness to the acid wistfulness and garage grooves. Since then, apart from a longer stint with counter-pop collective deXter Bentley, it’s been mostly innumerable multi-instrumental pick-up collaborations between Brighton and London (from Sergeant Buzfuz to Crayola Lectern). However, with last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’ (recorded in Joss’ part-time home of Helsinki with a set of amenable Finnish musicians including Veli-Pekka Oinonen of the Leningrad Cowboys) he’s unveiled an album where his own voice comes clear to the surface. A luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron, it also shows that there’s more than enough in Joss’ songwriting to ensure that it’s worth listening to him even if he just rocks up alone with an acoustic guitar. With a delivery not too far off the drowsy cut-glass musings of Guy Chadwick (and travelling through similar musical territories to or the Robyn Hitchcock or The Monochrome Set, although he’s less frivolous than either), he provides deceptive sunny reflections on our currently souring culture with its intolerance, its blame-shifting and the growing poisoning of discourse (“fell voices charm the crowd and there’s a bill for everything / Heard the claim that destiny was waiting in the wings… / Gotta get out of this cauldron before it starts to boil / there’s the frog and the kettle, pour on toxic oil”). At the same time, he’s got a healthy disregard for the idea of singer as preacher – admitting, in Cloudless Skies, that “the truth is understated, there’s no reality to be debated, / but no-one wants to hear that in a song.”

So far, the singer-songwriter work of Truronian hinterland-folkie Emily Jones (daughter of cult sixties folk singer and instrument inventor Al Ashworth-Jones) has rambled across two albums and a collection of Bandcamp oddments. In these pages, she’s mostly shown up in connection with the regular support slots she’s played backing up the Spratleys Japs revival. Opening for Joss should provide a bit more of a window for getting across her own particular songview, which layers ancient drone-lays and Sandy Denny musings with latterday and merges ancient folk tropes with latterday horrorfolk tales and strands of modern rurality, in particular the mystical fraying of reality that comes with too much time alone in a remote cottage. Picking at her songbook reveals the makings of an intriguing psych-folk visionary, with stories of strange transformations, blurrings and exchanges (from her recasting of traditional selkie tales to the peculiar trash-moth creature that flits through Hermegant And Maladine to her musings on the supernatural interplay of housework, psychic memories and ghost-hopes in Pieces Of People).




 

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