May 2018 – Bob Drake’s complicated solo pulp fantasia on tour in England and France (4th-12th May), and details on some of his gigmates en route…

26 Apr

I started mentioning upcoming Bob Drake shows a few posts ago, but wasn’t able to go further than that until they coalesced; now, like spits of mud hitting a wall, they’ve fallen into place.

Born in the American mid-West, forged and frustrated in Denver and Los Angeles, and now living happily in the south of France, Bob’s become an increasingly regular visitor to British shores, able to take advantage of a growing number of friendships and affinities which provide fertile space for his delightfully off-the-wall guitar-and-voice gigs. He’s built on a previous career in heavy avant-prog bands (such as Thinking Plague, 5uus and The Science Group) to kick off and develop his own very specific brand of American musical storytelling. Rather than sombre accounts of depressions and dustbowl, or frontier myths, or urban cowboy ditties, he creates crazy quilts of short-but-complicated songcraft drinking deep from the well of American pulp fiction – specifically, the weird end. Modern (or at least recent-antique) spieling and riffing on monsters and strangeness; never far away from horse-laughs and absurdity, but also a couple of dimensional rips away from the kind of spindle-fold-and-mutilate pocket universe which, one sometimes suspects, he feeds his music through.


 
These days, he’s variously described as “a pop alchemist”, “a multi-fingered, omnipotent, all-seeing instrumentalist”, “a peddlar of avant-garde, individual but always highly melodic tales of bears, skulls, meerkats, griffins and more” and as the player of songs about “anthropomorphic animals, haunted farmhouses, mystical reveries and inexplicable phenomena”. All of the descriptions fit. So does the one that suggests he’s actually a kid’s TV presenter who saw the fnords one day and happily went rogue.

Dates:

  • Le 108, 108 Rue de Bourgogne, 45000 Orléans, France, Friday 4th May 2018, 8.30pminformation
  • The Others, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 5SA, England, Sunday 6th May at 19:30–22:30 (with Bing Selfish & The Windors + IG Witzelsucht) – information here and here
  • The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England, Tuesday 8th May 2018, 7.00pm (with Moliné/Gagarin Summit and others t.b.c.) – information
  • The Cellar Arts Club, 70 Marine Parade (basement), Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England, Wednesday 9th May 2018, 7.30pm (with Random Nature) – information
  • The Evening Star, 55-56 Surrey Street, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 3PB, England, Thursday 10th May 2018, 8.00pm (with Kemper Norton) – free event – information
  • The Urban Bar, 176 Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel, London, E1 1BJ, England, Friday 11th May 2018, 8.00pm (with Bing Selfish & The Windsors + Kazumi Taguchi) – information
  • ‘A Spring Symposium’ @ Coombe Bissett Village Hall, Shutts Lane, Homington Road, Coombe Bissett, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 4LU, England, Saturday 12th May 2018, 2.00pm – information here and here

While the Orléans event is Bob and Bob alone, it’s the only time (bar a quiet house gig along the way) that he’ll will be playing on his own.

Of the three shows in London, the one at the Harrison on the 8th should be of interest to Pere Ubu fans since it also features Moliné/Gagarin Summit, a fresh teaming of Keith Moliné and Graham “Gagarin” Dowdall, musical compadres for two decades who currently hold down/expand on the guitarist and synthesist roles within Ubu. Between them, they can also muster a history of stints with Frank Black, Nico, Roshi feat. Pars Radio, Ludus, Prescott and They Came From The Stars I Saw Them.

What’s likely to emerge may feature some of Ubu’s “avant-garage” touch; the factories, beasts and spill of Keith’s guitar noises; the blend of electronic grain and field recording in Gagarin-sound. Or perhaps none of these things. All they’re promising is “guitars that don’t sound like guitars and electronics that don’t sound electronic, presided over by intense, exploratory artists who have just as little idea where the music is heading as you do.” There should be other people alighting on the bill closer to the date, pulled from the intriguing contact book of organisers Westking Music & Performing Arts… meanwhile, I’ve just dug up something from Keith’n’Graham as a musical pointer.


 
Both of the other two London shows – on the 6th and 11th – see Bob reunited with a regular gig-sharing friend: sarcastic avant-garde underground pop star Bing Selfish, plus the experimental surf/garage-pop of his micro-lounge backing band The Windsors. Also in place are Rotterdam experimental music supergroup IG Witzelsucht featuring guitarist Lukas Simonis, drummer Cor Hoogerdijk and multi-instrumental/polydisciplinary flâneur Ergo Phizmiz, whose work includes singing, sound collage and opera as well as stop-motion animation and radio drama: at least a few of these skills will make their way into the set. The band’s been described as “a rapid-fire songwriting bonanza (with) tunes about mermaids, mistakes, compost manufacture, celebrity perverts, geometry, and so on”, so Bob’s songs will be in good company.


 
I don’t know about the rest of the Depresstivallians on offer. There’s some incomprehensible gargle about “Bill Oddie’s Goth Watch”, “data wrangling”, “an angrier and less prolific Joanna Newsom” and a possible guest slot for the mysterious “guy from the kebab shop”. The last is probably one of many absurdist Depresstival in-jokes; but I’m really hoping that some guy with a greasy apron saunters in and explodes into a sword dance with a pair of those giant doner slicers.

The gig on the 11th also features a set by Kazumi Taguchi. Once she was half of cult/spoof London-Japanese art-popsters Frank Chickens, who sang about ninjas, geishas, karaoke and other aspects of Japan-aphernalia, simultaneously entertaining, mocking, embracing and challenging their Western audience. These days, Kazumi presents and cross-fertilises her home culture more soberly: drawing on Okinawan folk and classical music, Noh theatre and Korean drumming, she performs art-gallery gigs and assorted musical teamups on Okinawan sanshin (a three-string proto-shamisen) and sanba (castanets) and Chinese guqin zither. I know no more than that. It’s quite a turnaround from the old days of pop culture gags, but then the separation between high and low art can be as thin as fine rice paper these days… or cheap bog-roll.


 
It’ll be a more conventional evening at Worthing on the 9th, when Bob shares his stage with the doubled acoustic guitars and easygoing songcraft of the Random Nature duo. He’s likely to make up for that the following night in Brighton, when he’s playing a free/donations-only gig with ambient landscape-folk singer Kemper Norton, a genial lyrical hauntologist with a love of folding noise and field recordings into his songs. Kemper rejoins Bob a couple of days later when both play the Tim Smith ‘Spring Symposium’ fundraiser just outside Salisbury. There, they’ll be joining a host of musicians who balance happily on multiple cusps: folk, punk, progressive rock, psychedelia, dashes of prog and kosmische, and a warm inclusive feel of roots they’ve crafted and grafted themselves. More on that later…



 

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