Archive | July, 2018

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – flexi-clectica at Apple Tree: The Live Lounge Vol II with Rudi Douglas, J. Aria, Awkward Ndure, DJ Sonikku, Martell O’Neill, Daryl Fox-Huxley and DJ Kevin Morosky (2nd August)

31 Jul

Apple Tree: The Live Loung Vol. II, 2nd August 2018Since its launch earlier this year, broad-based London music-and-performance event Apple Tree has set itself a bold framework. Curated by tireless promoter and club personality Mark-Ashley Dupé and by cross-disciplinary designer/film-maker Samuel Douek, its Live Lounge event is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQIA musicians and artists from across the city (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual/allies, for those having trouble keeping up with those ever-burgeoning inclusive acronyms). It’s also happily intersectional in both intent and in entertainment. The convergence of queerness and blackness already seems to be a specialty, offsetting the compressive grinding of racism and the bristling aggression of homophobes by providing a stage for some fiery and assertive performers.

If this is starting to sound too specialised, too academic, or too much like a sexual/political cul-de-sac, I should reign things in a bit. In fact, the backbone of the debut Apple Tree evening back in June (which I only caught up and heard about recently, several months after the event) seems to have been electric/eclectic soul, provided by singer-songwriters Miggy Dela Rosa, Albert Gold and Awkward Ndure. Gay electro-acoustic composer Daniel McBride was also on hand, his work bridging that gap between the capital’s young classical scene, its queer-arts scene and the electronic music continuum which unites (in both work and play) pop, dance culture and high-art experimentalism. Bringing the words was topical poet and fervent discursor Black Ops Poetry; bringing the costumes and personae was queer cabaret sensation Rhys Holis (performer of Rhys’ Pieces and founder of Dalston cabaret night Queefy); and bringing damn near everything was operatic/discursive costumed electro-acoustic performance artist Oberon White (who considers himself “part of an eclectic tradition incorporating shamans, clowns, automata, cyborgs and drag artists”).

In other words, Apple Tree’s shaping up to be an event that’s equally comfortable with party pop and far-out high art concepts, unifying them through a flexible, diverse queer lens. There aren’t that many places where you can see a happy, possibly camp singalong immediately followed by a text-spouting man dressed as a mythical Greek bird-god.

The upcoming second Apple Tree Live Lounge show at the beginning of August is perhaps a tad less adventurous than the debut was, but it’s all part of the ebb and flow, and comes packaged with dinner care of Shoreditch’s Hoi Polloi brasserie and a DJ set from photographer/film director Kevin Morosky. As for the performers, Awkward makes a return from the launch event with her Latin-tinged folk-soul – at least I think it’s her, since some of the publicity suggests that it might be Evan Williams from MTV teen comedy ‘Awkward’ (which in turn makes me feel as if I’m slipping down some rabbit hole of an involved in-joke). Assuming that I do have the right Awkward, here’s a clip of her performing with guitarist Sim Chappelle a couple of years ago. I’m on more solid ground with the billing for accomplished soul’n’stage singer Martell O’Neil (whose past and current work includes the travelling Motown revue ‘How Sweet It Is’); and for Daryl Fox-Huxley, the current/former guitarist for house-tinged indie pop act The Hook, now concentrating on solo work with a folk-pop base, “his own East London twist and lyrics to match” and probably at least a few other hints and approaches brought in from his abiding love for reggae, techno and techhouse.



 
Headliner Rudi Douglas is a onetime ‘X Factor’ contestant (he was in the 2006 series when he was nineteen) but don’t hold that against him, or allow it to constrain him. Instead, take a look at and have a listen to this – ‘He Won’t Swim In My Ocean’, a four-year-old but evergreen song which proves that Rudi doesn’t need the Cowell circus to help him make grand heartbursting pop, with a gay theme but a universal touch.


 
For this session, the more experimental kudos is provided by DJ Sonikku (who mashes ‘80s house into chiptune with the aid of the purloined and repurposed guts of Sega Mega Drive consoles) and even more so by Jacob Aria – a.k.a non-binary soundscaper J. Aria. Interested in “tension, desolation, morbidity and eroticism”, J. creates intricate, absorbing musical washes, beats and tapestries via sampler, turntable and voice in which hauntology, psychedelic ambience and hints of house engage in a spectral, full-bodied mysterious dance: a ghostly neighbourhood of percolating histories for “a world of heterotopic ‘otherness’, pushing senses of horror and psychosis within queerdom and the incidental beauty of the fractured”.

 
Apple Tree Live presents:
Apple Tree – The Live Lounge – Vol. 2: Rudi Douglas + Jacob Aria + Awkward Ndure + DJ Sonikku + Martell O’Neill + Daryl Fox-Huxley + DJ Kevin Morosky
Miranda @ Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, 100 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 6JQ, England
Thursday 2nd August 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here
 

October/November 2018 – upcoming gigs – XTC’s Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers (as TC&I) live in Swindon (29th October to 1st November)

30 Jul

On sale as of this morning… tickets for the closest to an XTC live reunion that you’re ever likely to get.

“The thirty-six-year wait is nearly over. After releasing their debut ‘Great Aspirations’ EP under the moniker TC&I ten months ago, songwriter and XTC co-frontman Colin Moulding and original XTC drummer Terry Chambers have announced a string of live dates in October. XTC’s Andy Partridge also announced the shows via Twitter: “Well I never, CM and TC playing live. They should have done it years ago.”

TC&I, 29th October to 1st November 2018

2018 marks the 40-year anniversary of XTC’s first studio album ‘White Music’. While XTC was founded in 1972, it wasn’t until 1979 that XTC had their first UK charting single. Moulding had written the first three charting singles (‘Life Begins at the Hop’, ‘Making Plans for Nigel’, and ‘Generals and Majors’). Chambers left the lineup in the 1980s, while Moulding continued his partnership with frontman Andy Partridge through the group’s dissolution in 2006.

The new collective will be playing an exclusive mini-residency at Swindon Arts Centre, consisting of four evenings – on 29th, 30th and 31st October and 1st November. Other dates may be added for the following month.“These dates are probably commensurate with our output thus far. We’re not going to do the usual promoters’ circuit. Besides it’s kind of special this way. Like a stationary West End show or something,” says Colin Moulding.

“Exciting times. Eighteen months ago I couldn’t see this happening – I’m as excited about these gigs as I was in 1973 playing our first gig at the Arts Centre Swindon as a seventeen-year-old Helium Kid, and the first time to be playing with Colin together on stage since San Diego,” says Terry Chambers.


 
XTC’s long-standing rhythm section will be joined by music veterans Steve Tilling on guitar and Gary Bamford on keyboards and guitar. This is not the first XTC encounter for multi-instrumentalist and session musician Tilling, the man behind Circu5, whose debut album ‘The Amazing Monstrous Grady’ featured a guest appearance from XTC guitarist Dave Gregory. Swindon musician Bamford has an extensive history of music writing, orchestrating, teaching and collaborating, including working with The Beautiful South to orchestrate twenty-five songs for the musical ‘The Slide’ and as bandleader for the show at their premiere performances. His debut album ‘Jadj’ was co-produced with Jim Barr (Portishead).

In addition to their new material as TC&I, Moulding and Chambers plan to play a selection of the songs from the XTC catalogue written by Colin, several of which have never been played live (due to the fact that the band stopped touring in 1982, not long before Chambers’ departure).”

Not sure who’s playing in support yet. Note that the Monday and Thursday dates are already sold out, so you’ll need to get a move on if you want to get a chance at attending one of the remaining two…

TC&I + support t.b.c.
Swindon Arts Centre, Swindon, Devizes Road, Old Town, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN1 4BJ, England
Monday 29th October to Thursday 1st November 2018, 7.45pm
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming London folk gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Kaia Kater and John McGrath (3rd August); Cath & Phil Tyler and Marisa Jack & Davy (3rd August); Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. and Felix MB (9th August); Fellow Pynins and Jack & The Arrows (10th August)

28 Jul

More in the ongoing string of unamplified outdoor folk gigs in London parks and gardens, courtesy of Nest Collective’s Campfire Club.

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There are two simultaneous concerts on 3rd August, the first of which features “African-Canadian roots phenom” Kaia Kater and experimental folk guitarist John McGrath.

Kaia Kater couldn’t have come on the scene at a better time. As a new generation takes the reins, American roots music is needed more than ever to remind us of the troubled pathways of our own history. Born of African-Caribbean descent in Québec, Kaia Kater grew up between two worlds: one her family’s deep ties to Canadian folk music in her Toronto home; the other the years she spent learning and studying Appalachian music in West Virginia. Her acclaimed debut album ‘Sorrow Bound’ (May 2015) touched on this divide, but her sophomore album ‘Nine Pin’ (May 2016) delved even further, and casting an unflinching eye at the realities faced by people of colour in North America every day. Her songs on Nine Pin are fueled by her rich low tenor vocals, jazz-influenced instrumentation, and beautifully understated banjo. They earned her a Canadian Folk Music Award in 2016, and they’ve got as much in common with Kendrick Lamar right now as they do with Pete Seeger.

“As a concept album, ‘Nine Pin’ weaves between hard-hitting songs that touch on modern issues like the Black Lives Matter movement (Rising Down, Paradise Fell) and more personal narratives speaking to life and love in the digital age (Saint Elizabeth). And while these larger stories are deftly crafted, this is really an album of moments. Kater’s a cappella voice speaking to the loneliness of a city in Harlem’s Little Blackbird while solo dance steps echo in the background, the muted hesitancy of Caleb Hamilton’s trumpet breaking the trance of Little Pink, the smoke of electric guitar that cuts through Saint Elizabeth, the wave-like ebb and flow of piano behind the plaintive love poem Viper’s Nest… All of these moments point to an artist wise beyond her years.


 
John McGrath is an Irish guitarist, composer and author based in London. His music explores the boundaries of the ancient and modern as traditional elements meet improvisation and experimental tendencies. Rich harmonics, intricate finger-picking, static drones and glitches combine to glorious effect.”


 
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The second of the two 3rd August concerts features some neo-traditionalist groupings in the form of Cath & Phil Tyler and Marisa Jack & Davy.

Cath & Phil Tyler play Anglo-American folk music using guitar, banjo, voice and fiddle. Cath was a member of the band Cordelia’s Dad in the 1990s when she lived in Massachusetts, USA. Phil (from Newcastle-upon-Tyne) has played in various folk, rock and ceilidh bands for many years. Coming together musically through a shared love of traditional narrative song, full voiced sacred harp singing and sparse mountain banjo, they have performed on stages as diverse as the Royal Opera House in London and a dank tower in the old city walls of Newcastle. Taking a more minimal approach to their material than some, they have been described as “one of the most compelling musical partnerships on the scene”, their music being “a highly concentrated and intimate musical experience that penetrates to the very rawest essence of folk tradition.”


 
“Bedford-based folk trio Marisa Jack & Davy formed in 2015 in order to play at the DIY shows and house concerts they were organising. A floor spot for Stick in the Wheel’s folk night on The Golden Hinde encouraged them to further explore British folk music and they were soon seduced by the music of Shirley Collins, The Young Tradition and Nic Jones. Their unconventional interpretation of the tradition is shaped by the harmonic blend of their three unique voices, acoustic guitar styles and their music backgrounds. Marisa Straccia is an illustrator and plaintive finger picking guitarist, Davy Willis a singer and artist from Tonbridge via L.A. and Jack Sharp is best known as the singer for psych rock band Wolf People. They also run a nomadic Bedford acoustic folk night called Mill Race Folk in various locations including an 18th century watermill, a museum, a community boat and a 15th century timber-framed market hall.”


 
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The 9th August concert features acousti-pop star Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. and rising folk-pop sensation Felix MB.

“A veteran at thirty-two, Sam Duckworth has been releasing music under the moniker Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. for 12 years. His catalogue includes collaborations ranging from Baba Maal, to Shy Fx, Kate Nash to Jehst. It includes four top 40 singles, tow top 40 albums, a German Club Number 1 and a gold-certified plaque for the seminal ‘Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager’.

Having spent three recent years working under his own name, Duckworth returned to Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. work in January 2018 with a new album, ‘Young Adult’, which includes the Shy Fx collaboration “always.” Mastered by T Power, this is Duckworth back as a folk artist, but still keeping parts of the electronic experimentation of his “solo” work. Sam debuted a new band at his recent Village Underground show, hearalded by the Independent as a “triumphant return.”


 
“Growing up in Derbyshire amongst actors and musicians in his parents’ touring theatre company, Felix M-B began gigging in Derby, Nottingham and then across the UK; playing shows with the likes of Lorkin O’Reilly, Alasdair Roberts, Lucy Ward, Josh Wheatley, Daudi Matsiko, Joel Baker, The Slow Show, Monica Heldal, and Georgie. His latest EP ‘The Pipes’ (released on 10th March at a sold-out concert in London) saw Felix co-producing, recording the five-track record with Ben Walker in Brighton in December 2017. It is a particularly raw and intimate record, featuring elements of self-recording and the use of reel-to-reel tape.”

(I’ve had plenty to say about Felix previously…)


 
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The 10th August gig features Oregonian folk duoFellow Pynins and Oxford harmony-folk trio Jack & The Arrows.

Fellow Pynins is a tender folk duo birthed out of years of traveling, farming, child-rearing, and touring as part of six-piece folk orchestra Patchy Sanders. Their songs tell of stories old, dreams of death, frolicking through pastures of sheep, and entering the chasms of the human experience. Their repertoire consists of original songs and traditional European ballads collected during their travels. Wielding clawhammer banjo, bouzouki, mandolin and guitar, Ian Van Ornum and Dani Aubert pour their hearts into the sounds of their whimsically-woven folk tales. These two will lift you up with their ridiculous stories and then transcend you into their emotive songs.

 
Jack & The Arrows are a London-and-Oxford based trio with dashes of folk, Americana and blues and strong close-harmonies. Jack Durtnall, Joe Hasell and Edmund Jones met through a capella singing and the band crystallised around their shared musical passions and longstanding friendships. ‘The Oxford Student’ dubbed them “an enthralling blend of impressive vocal harmonies complimented with rich instrumentation”…”

 
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Full dates:

  • Campfire Club: Kaia Kater + John McGrath – Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 5AR, England, Friday 3rd August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Cath & Phil Tyler + Marisa Jack & Davy – (secret location t.b.c.), London, Friday 3rd August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Get Cape Wear Cape Fly (solo unplugged) + Felix M-B – The Calthorpe Project, 258-274 Gray’s Inn Road, St Pancras, London, WC1X 8LH, England, Thursday 9th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Fellow Pynins + Jack & The Arrows – Oasis Nature Garden, Larkhall Lane, Stockwell, London, SW4 6RJ, England, Friday 10th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

More August Campfire Club concerts shortly….
 

July 2018 – upcoming gigs – V Ä L V Ē, Stef Ketteringham and Lily Buchanan (of The Graphites) in Margate (29th July)

24 Jul

V A L V E + Stef Kettering + Lily of The Graphites, 29th July 2018Details on a show this coming Sunday in one of the smallest, most enchanting venues in Kent (Margate’s Tom Thumb Theatre), featuring an mostly-female bill with three different projects (all adventurous; all, in their way, visionary).

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I feel as if I’ve covered V Ä L V E what seems like innumerable times this year. Reedswoman/composer Chlöe Herington’s synaesthesia-slanted experimental music project has spent a year or so evolving into a live collective trio of herself, harpist Elen Evans and bass/synth player Emma Sullivan. Previously known for her bassoon, clarinet and saxophone contributions to Chrome Hoof and Knifeworld (and more recently to The Lindsay Cooper Songbook and Hirvikolari), Chlöe’s solo work has involved shed-tinkering as she builds unlikely instruments from scratch and scrap; and the pulling in of compositional ideas from medical charts, found patterns and (literal) rubbish.

On record, the results have percolated around the realms of electric art-rock experimentalism (post-Zappa, post-Henry Cow), parping chamber wind music intimacy, playfully baffling bouts of improv and bewildering schematics. Live, V Ä L V E has mutated further, drawn on by Chloe’s interest in finding out how to trigger her audience’s minds with an evolving toolkit of sensory input, and by the different dynamic of three women involved in discovery together (happy bouts of lateral thinking, plus moments when they combine in obliquely touching bouts of harmonizing song). It’s a winning combination that’s taken the band all the way to airplay on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Late Junction’ – care of ‘The Quietus’s John Doran – and to the Barn stage at the Supernormal festival.



 
Formerly with abstract noise-blues trio Shield Your Eyes, guitarist/bass-drum booter/occasional vocalist Stef Ketteringham now works alone. His improvised solo music is a guttering, chattering, restlessly emotive take on exploded electro-acoustic blues, integral to which is his brawling, brutal and fearless guitar technique.

Elastic and vocal, with a gutting-knife timbre, its passing similarities to the pitch-bend avant-howls and tremolo-purrs of Henry Kaiser and David Torn is probably pure coincidence. Stef’s wildly gestural guitar-playing sounds like an instinctive discovery: more punk than professorial, bursting from his gut via his heart to tell its shattered, hollered, mostly wordless stories and personal bulletins without the constraint of manners or moderation. For all that, it’s still got the skeleton of blues rules – the existential moan, the bent pitches and percussive protest that demand attention and serve notice of presence.


 
Guitar in hand, Scottish singer-songwriter Lily Buchanan usually fronts and voices interesting south London pop-punkers The Graphites (who in turn were formerly her solo project The Graphite Set). The Graphites’ lilting jig rhythms, their echoes of girl groups and Lily’s subtly unorthodox song-structures (recalling both Chrissie Hynde and Nico, but with an understated elliptical focus that’s all Lily’s own) put them several cuts above the competition.

This is hardly surprising: Lily’s work springs out of both folk music and a life spent painting. But while many art-school music spinoffs are happy to lose themselves in arrogant vagueness, vacuity and sonic scurf, Lily’s half-spoken songs make much of their clarity of line; their deceptive ability to digress and orbit while never truly losing sight of the core matter, casting new light on it with each pass.

All by herself this evening, Lily will be performing something new – “a series of folk songs inspired by her recent intrigue into collecting sea fauna.” She’s being billed here as “Lily Of The Graphites”. Such a shame that’s not the actual project name. There’s not enough courtly allotropic geology in the world.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of Graphites songs…



 
NFA presents:
V Ä L V Ē + Stef Ketteringham + Lily of The Graphites
Tom Thumb Theatre, 2 Eastern Esplanade, Cliftonville, Margate, Kent, CT9 2LB, England
Sunday 29th July 2018, 7:00 pm
– information here, here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Léscines, Oscar Mic, Crooked Weather and Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous at Paper Dress Vintage Takeover (26th July); Alexia Chambi, Charlie Draper, Jared Rood, Johnny Crooks, Tom Bright and William. at BOX Live (27th July)

22 Jul

A couple more London gigs in small places…

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Paper Dress Vintage Takeover: Léscines + Oscar Mic + Crooked Weather + Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous, 26th July 2018

A distorted rootsy evening, first, at Paper Dress in east London. Léscines have been stirring up and churning out mongrel reggae-rock, cartoon Americana and scrawny blues licks for about five years now, throwing in a touch of psychobilly noir and webbed folk. Jay Fraser’s joyously unhinged songwriting pulls in a palette of people and extra instrumentation from banjo to brass, Wurlitzer organ to djembe, and songs about wolves, crows, border country, assorted dooms. If Ted Hughes and Nick Cave had run away to be cowboys, shared a bottle of toxic mescal together and then co-written a stark children’s book a couple of days later, it might have ended up a little like this. With a new album in the can and expected soon, they’re headlining with gusto.


 
Expansive rock-tinged folk group Crooked Weather hail from east Yorkshire. Their multi-instrumentalism, and their willingness to take a song idea for an introspective yet expansive run, has seen them compared to The Incredible String Band; but perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch in the wrong direction. For better or for worse, Crooked Weather conspicuously lack several of the ISB’s more outrageous qualities, both good and bad (the saucer-eyed eclectic musical grabbing, the eccentric psychedelic perspective, the baffling sectional song-mozaics… the poisonous family antagonism).

Instead, they’re a soberer breed of folk mystics – content not to burn out their inspirations, and to be diverse while being careful with their craft. It’s difficult to imagine them vanishing down the Scientology manhole, or losing shedloads on money on theatre dance projects. Searchers they may be, but they keep their vision handy and controlled; like a lens tucked away into a pocket, always available to focus in on a subject.Though they’re prepared to pursue a history or a batch of intimations to the horizon, Crooked Weather are less inclined to drop over the edge into another country.


 
Crooked Weather’s fellow east Yorkshire band, “deathblues collective” Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous (at one time “compiled of a villain, a heathen, and a velvet doll” and apparently still “God-fearin’ nectophiles”), are coming down from Hull, bringing their gutter slide, buzzsaw punk bass and preacher warnings of imminent doom. Also racing into place is Seamus Hayes, a.k.a Oscar Mic dubbed “the freakish love-child of The Beastie Boys and Little Richard, birthed at a grunge orgy” and bringing assorted busker-hip-hop ideas to the stage with his verbal flow, his cartoon-spattered guitar, his pedal-board and his beatboxing.


https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtNU4ZhhsiunEN711FHY2ow

 
Roundtable Collective presents:
Paper Dress Vintage Takeover: Léscines + Oscar Mic + Crooked Weather + Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Thursday 26th July 2018, 7.45pm
– information here and here

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BOX Live: Alexia Chambi + Charlie Draper + Jared Rood + Johnny Crooks + Tom Bright + William., 27th July 2018About twenty minutes walk from ‘Misfit City’, Crouch End-based recorders and artist developers BOX Recording Studios are coaxing their clients out into the nearby, freshly-refurbished pub for performances this coming Friday.

London-based Danish-Cypriot singer-songwriter Alexia Chambi is just twenty years old, but has already fitted in six years of round-the-world travel, This in turn inspires her footloose songs, with their tussles between fluid freedom and rooting oneself, and her dark-toned jazz guitar. Following previous collaborations with Ralph Taylor and Hotel Avra, Alexia will be releasing her debut solo EP, ‘Bolivia’ in the autumn. Juice You (below) may well be on it. Meanwhile, Tommy Hill (a.k.a. William.) floats in the space between singer-songwriter guitar rock and contemporary R&B, his beat-slink punctuated by bursts of flammable fretboard. He, too, has an EP due for release later this year.



 

Two members of London urban rockers Tom Bright & The Dynamite – lead singer/songwriter Tom Bright and lead guitarist Jared Rood are also playing. It’s unclear whether they’re going to be working separately or whether this is going to be a two-piece Dynamite: meanwhile here’s the parent band playing a couple of their pieces, demonstrating their upfront protest songs and their growling skimming of the edge of folk punk. A grain of Rory McLeod, a dash of Richard Thompson or Tom Robinson; perhaps a twist of Jason Feddy.



 
A key member of Bruce Wooley and Andy Visser’s “modular space-age pop ensemble” Radio Science Orchestra, Charlie Draper is a British specialist in the gestures and techniques needed to control the antique electronic whoops of theremin and ondes Martenot. He’s played with just about every theremin/ondes-requiring orchestra and ensemble in the country. Come and hear him extract various classical and pop tones from each of the instruments. German-based beatmaker Johnny Crooks is also going to be playing a separate set of his own aural confections.

 
BOX Recording Studios presents
BOX Live: Alexia Chambi + Charlie Draper + Jared Rood + Johnny Crooks + Tom Bright + William.
The Harringay Arms, 153 Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, England,
Friday 27th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – some post-Doran thoughts on smaller music festivals; and next week’s EppyFest in Cheltenham (27th & 28th July)

21 Jul

John Doran of ‘The Quietus’ wrote a pithy, on-the-nose article a while back about the ongoing corruption of big music festivals, lambasting them as “unsatisfying money hoovers designed to deplete your bank account for minimal return… a heavily branded and patronisingly over-mediated experience – with little in the way of the rough round the edges, unexpected, challenging or genuinely exciting experience that makes being a music fan worthwhile; just a massive spoonfed dose of the ubiquitous, the hyped and the monolithically popular.”

As a follow-up punch, John slashed a hole in the backdrop in order to expose the ethics behind the festival business: how, even as you’re frolicking in a ludicrously overpriced facsimile of countercultural free-spiritedness, your ticket money wriggles its way into the war chests and “shockingly regressive campaigns” of suspect billionaires intent on crushing any genuine counterculture that’s little more than a cheery mask on a product, funding a host of life-killing causes including anti-LGBTQ, anti-union and anti-immigration initiatives. Unsurprisingly, he concluded “personally I’d sooner go to a smaller, more grass-roots independent festival and have a clutch of genuinely odd, uplifting, joyous and memorable experiences on a smaller, freer scale.” He lists plenty of smaller, more conscientious festivals which might better suit your ethics or your conscience – Supersonic, End of the Road, many more. Modestly, he didn’t mention ‘The Quietus’s own efforts .

I might lack John’s edge, but I’ll still say amen to all that. There’s also always the option of going further off the map, seeking out festivals beyond the tents’n’burgers belch. I’ve covered some such here… Marchlands’ annual musical/theatrical celebration of reaching across borders and understanding history; the composer-driven London New Wind Festival; New York’s wonderfully brainy and diverse Ecstatic Music Festival. On a more domestic level, there’s next month’s Whole World Window 2 in Preston, raising urgent money for psychedelic hero Tim Smith’s health care while also functioning as a focussing lens for assorted rock and pop acts existing in a rowdy, complex continuum outside ot the mainstream. The staunchest supportive and communal ethics, unsurprisingly, still hover around punk events, those pass-around-a-donation-bucket battles for big values in small places (I might often be bored by the music, but I profoundly admire the commitment and the generosity of spirit).

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As regards the coming week, Gloucestershire’s EppyFest – just a week away now – is the epitome of a pocket festival. Now heading in its seventh year, it also pretty much defines “boutique”. Its amiably knitted-together selections of psychedelic rock and pop, folk, electric and acoustic chamber music and accomplished instrumentalist is undeniably cosy, but in the right way – unashamed and unaggressive, slightly specialised while toting an inclusive audience ethic. There’s a rosy English glow to it, alright, but not the kind which shoulders out differences while indulging a truculent and moneyed bucolic fantasy. The Eppyfest England is one which is comfortable in itself, but not too smug to look outwards: mostly white, but not bleached and angry. In the best sense and intimation, it’s a liberal parish.

Gong, 2018

The Friday lineup, starting in the evening – is the briefer concert, with just two sets of performers. The headliners are the current and ongoing version of cosmic-rock libertine troupe Gong, still romping along after the death of founding holy prankster Daevid Allen. This isn’t the first time there’s been a post-Allen Gong: percussionist Pierre Moerlen floated a de-hippified mid’-70s jazz-rock version around Europe which had little to do with Allen’s mischievous space rock parables, while the band’s original feminine-mystiquer Gilli Smyth led a sporadic Mother Gong version at points in the ’80s. This, however, is the first Gong that’s been a direct continuation of Allen’s work: thumbing its collective nose at his departure from music and from life, and mourning him by celebrating his ethos.

This Gong iteration is helmed by delightfully wayward, larger-than-life Anglo-Persian prodigy (and ‘Misfit City’ favourite) Kavus Torabi, who established himself as one of the premier, most open-eared British psychedelic talents while with The Monsoon Bassoon and Cardiacs, has continued it with Knifeworld and Guapo, and who has in effect been rehearsing for Gong leadership for the whole of his musical life. Expect the same applecart-overturning riffs, the mingled brass and electric strings, the space-dust party atmospheres. The old firm’s still a family.



 
In support, Liverpudlian guitarist Neil Campbell is arguably one of the most gifted musicians still unknown to the general public. An omnivorous stylistic polymath, he’s mastered contemporary classical, progressive rock, jazz and assorted other styles to the point in which he can pass seamlessly between and through them; and he comes trailing awestruck references from guitar scholars and crossover music master musicians alike. Working off nylon- and steel-strung acoustic guitars (with a chain of echoes, loop pedals and other processors) he creates detailed, fiery electro-acoustic tapestries when playing solo: given the opportunity, he’ll also roll out orchestral concerti, small ensemble pieces, vital building-block contributions to the larger works of other, and site-specific concerts in venues of all kinds.



 
North Sea Radio Orchestra headline Saturday’s seven hours of music – as ever, they draw together Anglo-pastoral classical, a stolen kiss or two of folk melody, crossover chamber music and English art-rock. (They’ve covered Robert Wyatt, as well as old Christmas carols and Vernon Elliot). Sixteen years in, they’re a little smaller and tighter than they used to be – the choir is long gone and the ensemble streamlined, with most of the Victorian poetry settings consigned back to the bookshelf in favour of more personal lyrics of chalkhills and children, lost loved ones and the make-do-and-mend of life.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

They’re still a quietly enchanting proposition, gently webbed together by a deceptive fragility, a village-singer tone and Craig Fortnam’s elegant compositions, and they grow ever more comfortable in themselves as the years pass. From German kosmische, they bring in that cosmic powerplant throb: from Frank Zappa and Canterbury, the somersaults of harmony and tinkle of xylophone (with the lyrical coarseness and silly whimsy gently steered out of the picture); from English chamber music, the gentle green ache. All soft borders, all subtle mind.



 
Second down the bill is Doris Brendel. The Vienna-born multi-instrumentalist daughter of concert-piano legend Alfred Brendel, she originally made her mark in ‘90s neoprog and underground AOR providing vocals, guitar, sax and flageolet to The Violet Hour: when that didn’t last, she applied herself to whatever was going while cultivating her own records in her own time. She’s refined her earlier approach, but what you get now is still pretty much what you got then – a singer who can go from a dream-folk murmur to a gutsy rhythm-and-blues blast, who puts on an assured show of muscular rock and costumed pizazz. An old-school rock chick, but one who’s taken control and honed it to excellence. There might be differences in tone, but latter-day ladyrockers like She Makes War and Ciara Clifford might look to her and immediately see a spiritual older sister.



 
Via a shifting gambler’s hand of interrelated projects – and a proven ability to survive practical and artistic disruption – the persistently thoughtful Oxford prog-rock collective Sanguine Hum have explored music for nearly twenty years now. In many respects, they’re a back-to-first-principles prog-initiative. Rather than constructing vast vanity pieces (as if to impress their aspirational Mellotronic forebears), the Hum are based very much in a lush’n’lambent ’70s pop mode – as least as much Neil Young, Steely Dan or David Bowie as Genesis, Zappa or Canterbury – which they can then wilfully and logically expand to bigger and broader things (engulfing and building upon later influences such as Boards Of Canada along the way).

For this acoustic-slanted EppyFest slot, lead singer/guitarist Joff Winks and keyboard player Matt Baber (the latter fresh from last month’s release of his “ambient prog minimalism” solo album ‘Suite For Piano and Electronics‘) will play as a duo; exploring at least one track from each of the project’s scattered albums and personae, with new material as a bonus.



 
Electric chamber group Firefly Burning were to have held the middle of the bill but had to pull out. To replace them, in comes a harder noise in the shape of the explosive wit, ominous chording and multi-layered songwriting of London’s Thumpermonkey. I described them a while back as “the missing link between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson”: a tag which they really seemed to like, so let’s run with it. A motley crew of brainiacs, meticulators and fast friends with their heads in lofty places and their toes sunk in dirty post-metal, they have the kind of esoteric preoccupations (and the wherewithal to communicate them) which encourage interest rather than eye-rolling and detachment. Unshamedly weird-fictional, the songs have covered Nigerian email fraud, Aztec hauntings, bizarre medical conditions and Victorian explorers amongst many other topics, all via a rich filter of literary and cinematic techniques and dark, sophisticated humour.

As for the music, Thumpermonkey play within that increasingly rare strata of hard rock in which there’s room to breathe, think, listen and explore beauty as well as nail down a predatory riff. Michael Woodman sings like an athletic college don moonlighting as an operatic priest, while his cohorts Ben, Sam and Rael construct a moving fortress, observatory and interdimensional vessel for him to stand on. They’re the kind of band that either make you proud to be curious, or will magnetize your brain into a state of curiosity. In effect, they’re the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage’ of British post-prog and we’re bloody lucky to have them.



 
Bristolian progressive-grunge rockers Lord Of Worms cite Meshuggah, Soundgarden, Tool and Ufomammut as influences, and there’s certainly some roiling springy punktone bass and restless post-hardcore rhythmic shifts in the mix. Their folk lilts and Zoie Green’s burnished-silver vocals simultaneously tie them into a tradition of female-fronted folk-rock acts like Renaissance and The Morrigan. Judge for yourselves…



 
Like Sanguine Hum, Dutch/American crossover prog poppers Fractal Mirror will be playing under reduced circumstances as regards personnel, but probably not in terms of the music. While the band can rely on the assistance of Echolyn polymath Brett Kull, among others, in the studio, this live date will just feature their core duo of singer/guitarist/keyboard and recorder player Leo Koperdraat and lyric-writing drummer Frank Urbaniak. Expect intimate expansions on their recipe of dove-soft Mellotronics and pastoral post-Porcupine Tree moods, with their hidden freight of darker, reflective lyrics.



 
Sonic Bond Promotions & The Epileptic Gibbon Podcast present:
EppyFest 7: North Sea Radio Orchestra + Gong + Neil Campbell + Sanguine Hum + Doris Brendel + Thumpermonkey + Lord Of Worms + Fractal Mirror
St Margaret’s Hall & Annex, Coniston Road, Hatherley, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL51 3NU, England
Friday 27th July 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
Saturday 28th July 2018, 1.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

It would be stupid of me to represent EppyFest as some kind of absolute template for festivals. It’s its own little Gloucestershire gem, it has its context and its taste-palette, and while it’s a fine refresher there’s far more to contemporary music – to a nourishing cultural diet – than even a thoughtful slipped-weekend like this one can provide.

What I am advocating is a spreading of its care-filled cottage ethos; its preference for building a relatively equal, mutually supportive community of performers and audients in a warm and humble space, rather than driving a rush of drainable, soakable human cattle through the money-mill. Events like this are worth the seeking-out, worth the effort that goes into their creation. Go find some. Go make some. Come tell me about them.
 

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