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June 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – gloriously complex experimental rock evenings – The Mantis Opera, Barringtone and New Born Animal (8th June); Lost Crowns with Sharron Fortnam and Kavus Torabi (June 14th)

27 May

Several of London’s more convoluted art-rock genii are emerging from the woodwork to play live in the early part of June, accompanied by assorted fellow travellers and burlesque pop sympathisers. Read on…

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The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal, 8th June 2018

If you’ve wondering what a band might sound like if it fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti, you’re in luck… and, to be honest, probably pretty marginal. Come over here and sit next to me.

Stemming from solo work by guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway, The Mantis Opera now delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.



 
Assuming that recent reports of a broken-wristed drummer haven’t entirely torpedoed their availability, Barringtone should be in support, continuing their live drive towards the release of their debut album on Onamatopoeia this summer. Released songs have been sparse over the past few years; but enjoy this new-ish brainy little post-power-pop conundrum, exhibiting Barry Dobbins’ own ambitions as he moves up from the band’s previous wry, ornamented motorik drive into much more castellated, conversational proggy territories while keeping their knuckly XTC-inspired edge intact.


 
Seven-piece big-pop band New Born Animal complete the lineup at this Friends Serene gig. Headed by singer/songwriter/arranger Thomas Armstrong, they’re a sonorous wall-of-drunken-sound effort who sound like Blur (during their music-hall period) dragging the Walker Brothers into a dressing-room tipple too far. If so, they also sound like the stage before it all turns nasty: slightly discombobulated singalongs where self-consciousness is just rags in the breeze, the emotional valves have been opened up and everyone in the room is temporarily your lifelong friend. If this in turn sounds sloppy, then I’d suggest that there’s a lot of craft going into something which sags and collapses so gloriously and visibly, but which never disintegrates. There’s longing, wonder and helpless laughter all brimming at the back of this.


 

On top of this, the whole evening’s free if you turn up soon enough…

Friends Serene presents:
The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Friday 8th June 2018, 7.30pm
– free entry – information here and here

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Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 14th June 2018

The following week, Richard Larcombe’s Lost Crowns spearhead “an evening of songs with a lot going on in them”. In many respects, it’s a re-run of their triumphant London debut at the same venue back in January. No Prescott this time, sadly (though their instrumental ping-pong twitch would have been welcome), but Kavus Torabi is back with a guitar, a hand-pumped harmonium and more songs from his ongoing solo project. Launched the other month with the ‘Solar Divination’ EP, this might be a holiday from the jewelled and roaring intricacies of his main gig with Knifeworld, but it’s certainly not an escape from the psychedelic shadows which nightwing their way through the band’s apparently celebratory rainbow arcs. For this isolated, darker, more grinding work, Kavus strips the flash-bangs away and leaves us with the droning echoes: the meditative bruises, fears and queries, many of which nonetheless contain their own seeds of determination and a kind of celebratory acceptance.


 
As for the headliners, last time I anticipated Lost Crowns as likely to be (deep breath) “a rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection… complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.”

A tall order (even it was based on what Richard’s delivered in previous projects), but I wasn’t disappointed. With Lost Crowns, Richard’s created the most dynamic and surprising music of his career.

As before, the rest of the band’s lineup is a cross-section of London art-rock luminaries: Charlie Cawood, Nicola Baigent, Rhodri Marsden, Josh Perl, drummer “Keepsie”. Certainly the influence of Richard’s brother and usual collaborator James is missed (his genial, warm, embroidering effect on Richard’s work is underrated) but his absence allows both Richard and the band to stretch out in different directions – fiercer, more crammed, sometimes brutal in their complication.

A vortex of influences funnel around Richard, including Chicago math, witty Daevid Allen psych rampage, contemporary classical music and skipping, tuneful folk singalongs. Shaped by his particular persona and thought processes – as well as his innate Englishness – it all emerges as a kind of prog, but one in which the fat and the posturing has all been burned off by the nerves and the detail, and in which his dry, melodious wit winds around the work playing mirror-tricks, theatrical feints, and the conspiratorial winks of a master boulevardier. As much at home playfully slagging off the precious venerations of synaesthesia as they are with nine-minute epics with titles like Housemaid’s Knee, Lost Crowns are a delightful self-assembling puzzle.

Frustratingly, with Richard still keeping everything close to his chest (outside of Lost Crowns’ welcoming gig environment), I’ve got nothing to show you. No embedded songs, no videos, nothing but those words and these words. Richard’s likely to keep everything culty, so the best way that you can find out whether I’m just lying through garlands here is to go to the gig yourself.

Originally this was to be a double-header with Lost Crowns’ other friends and allies, the revived psychedelic-acoustic band Lake Of Puppies (re-teaming North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Craig and Sharron Fortnam with William D. Drake, in order to build on the bouncing life-pop they cheerfully hawked around London together in the late ‘90s). Sadly, the Puppies have had to pull out of the show following Bill’s collision with pianist’s RSI in early May. Instead, Lost Crowns will play an extended set with Sharron woven into it as a special guest; while Kavus will be stretching out his own set, covering the remaining time that’s not taken up with snooker-ace-turned-avant-rock-uncle Steve Davis on DJ duty.

Lost Crowns (with special guest Sharron Fortnam) + Kavus Torabi + DJ Steve Davis
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and
here
 

June 2018 – upcoming London gigs – David McAlmont’s ‘girl.boy.child’ investigations of LBQT+ lives in British historic houses (2nd June)

27 May

Now this looks interesting – the last handful of tickets for this…

David McAlmont: ‘girl.boy.child’, 2nd June 2018

“Renowned singer-songwriter and historian David McAlmont delves into the closets of the historic houses of the National Trust, to explore LGBTQ histories and their contemporary significance and create a new series of site-specific performances.

“Commissioned by Professor Richard Sandell (researcher and museum practitioner at The University of Leicester) along with the National Trust, the performances are the culmination of research during the National Trust’s 2017 national public programme ‘Prejudice and Pride‘, and will shine a light on many of the houses’ LGBTQ heritage.”

The first of these is at London’s Sutton House, the tucked-away Tudor gem in the middle of Hackney that’s also recently been hosting gigs by Charles Hayward, William D. Drake and others… and that’s all the ready info available. Hmm. Should do better, press people. Other evidence, mostly gathered up from the various ‘Prejudice and Pride’ pages, suggests that the show’s based on three houses – Anglesey’s Plas Newydd, Dorset’s Kingston Lacy and Kent’s Smallhythe Place – and “the extraordinary lives” of five of those house’s past residents (Kingston Lacy’s William John Bankes, Plas Newydd’s Henry Cyril Paget and the Smallhythe lesbian ménage à trois of Edith Craig, Christopher St John and Tony Atwood). All of the stories have their share of flamboyance, sadness and determination.

Known as “the dancing marquess”, St John was a Victorian nobleman (both Earl of Uxbridge and Marquess of Anglesey) with an incandescent halo of queerness: he obsessively sank his own time and his family money into a vibrant full-life theatricality which included converting part of Plas Newydd to a showcase auditorium for his own starring roles, and which extended to his own ambiguous, highly feminised and narcissistic persona. Several heady years of leading his own theatre company round Europe in the early 1900s while neglecting an unconsummated, ill-advised marriage led to debts, divorce and an early death (although one in which he died surrounded by affection).

Living in an earlier and even less tolerant age, Bankes had to flee both Kingston Lacy and England in 1841 after being caught in the act in Green Park with a royal guardsman. Facing prosecution and a possible death sentence, he went into exile in Europe, continuing his life as explorer, Egyptologist and adventurer and amassing a huge art collection (which he sent back to Kingston Lacy, only able to visit it himself under stealth).

Craig, St John and Atwood were more fortunate – lesbians living without the threat of prosecution, they lived and worked as part of an active and productive network of playwrights, theatre people, socialists and suffragettes which also encompassed Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst. That said, their lives were not without challenge: their assumed male names, their triple union, family umbrage at their sexuality and Craig’s failed attempt at a heterosexual marriage all led to various frictions.

'girl.boy.child.' - the subjects...

Certainly there’s opportunities here for storytelling, the recreation of theatrical and period music, the fierce fellow-feeling and staunchness which comes with performative queer history, and perhaps original songs. I’m not sure exactly how it will all be passed through the McAlmont filter, but his own qualities, preoccupations and expressiveness promise what ought to be a fascinating evening.

Originally coming to notice in the mid-’90s (with the short-lived but stunning Thieves) as a dazzling singer and performer fusing classic soul with glittering gay fabulosity, David seemed set to become a LBTQ+ icon, acting out, singing out and openly discussing the exhilaration, contradictions and questions of the gay experience through his own incandescent prism. In the event, he did become one, but in a lower-key way. Despite the highs (his Top Ten pop hit ‘Yes’ with Bernard Butler, plus some superb work with Thieves, Michael Nyman, David Arnold and latterly Fingersnap and Hi-Fi Sean), caprice, prejudice and the often awkward uniqueness of his outlook means that he led a more fitful singing career. Still revered for his gorgeous and epicene voice, he’s most often found reinterpreting Prince, Bassey, Gershwin or Billie Holiday songs at the head of excellent jazz bands. Meanwhile, his mid-career digression into work as an art historian (“taken to stock up the inspiration reserves… they will never be lacking again”) has deepened his overall perspective and led to new work like this.

'girl.boy.child.' preview photo by @LawrenceRoots

‘girl.boy.child.’ preview photo by @LawrenceRoots

The National Trust presents:
David McAlmont: ‘girl.boy.child’
Sutton House, 2-4 Homerton High Street, Homerton, London, E9 6JQ, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

While we’re mulling over the possibilities for the upcoming show, there are some existing peachy McAlmont moments below:





 

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