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January 2018 – upcoming London gigs – rock and ranging experimentalism with Ciara Clifford + V Ä L V Ē (26th January); pointillist folk-rock and music for digital paintings from Jack Cheshire and Mally Harpaz (30th January); avant-folk and literature with Kelly Andrews’ combined You Are Wolf concert and book launch (31st January)

11 Jan

Here are three end-of-the-month concerts: two odd couplings, and one odd doubling. Collectively, they incorporate muscular indie-rock, transformative avant-folk, short film scores, quirky experimental music shuffles and psychedelia-tinted folk rock. Much, though not all, of it is female-led or female-driven.

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Ciara Clifford, 26th January 2018

Ladies Of The Canyon Records presents
Ciara Clifford + V Ä L V Ē
Aces & Eights Saloon Bar, 156-158 Fortess Road, Tufnell Park, London, NW5 2HP, England
Friday 26th January 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Ciara Clifford is inspired in part by distinctive major-signed female rock and pop acts like tUnE-yArDs, St. Vincent and Anna Calvi (as well by her taste for jazz-bass virtuosi Tal Wilkenfeld and Jaco Pastorius and the unfettered rock roar of System Of A Down or Linkin Park). That said, she’s perhaps closer to the parallel-mainstream world of She Makes War’s Laura Kidd or Candythief’s Diana de Cabarrus: hard-grafting, self-propelled British indie women carving out their own cottage-industry efforts.

With a self-funded eponymous debut album behind her (released last year on her own Lady Of The Canyon Records) Ciara took her first steps last year in promoting it via assorted shows at venues like the Betsey Trotwood, The Strongroom and Paper Dress Vintage. Now she’s trying on the slick rock’n-roll roadhouse environment of Tufnell Park’s Aces and Eights, accompanied by fellow Calvi bandmember Mally Harpaz on drums and by jazzy London bassist Pablo Rodriguez.


 
For support this time, Ciara’s taken the unusual step of booking V Ä L V Ē, Chlöe Herington’s triple-woman avantronic reeds/harp/electronics ensemble. As well as being experimental, Chlöe’s work is determinedly playful and, at points, comical. A bold tinkerer with graphic scores and representational notation, she’s also got form for picking up junk or an unlikely, tasty sound and then repurposing it for a quick, quirky composition. This has included sampling her own Pepsi-slurping and belching, rescoring and recording musical fragments found in skips, writing for a chorus of antique doorbells or (rather more touchingly) using her late mother’s ECG printouts as the basis for notation.

There’s a serious point to all this, as the pieces are intended to “explore synaesthetic memory and collective experience”. This aim is amplified by V Ä L V Ē’s live work, in which Chlöe augments her bassoon, saxophones, samples and gizmos with Emma Sullivan’s bass and Microkorg synth, and with Elen Evans’ harp. With all three women singing and vocalising too, the music diverges from individual gags and solipsisms and heads towards more of a common experience, from a shared cackle to a kitchen chorale.




 
With Ciara’s relatively straightforward songcraft and Chlöe’s envelope-popping peculiarities, this is certainly an odd billing, especially considering the honky-tonk theme of the venue. It’s almost like a gigshare between Jack Peñate and John Cage – or, to pull in an X-chromosome equivalent, one between Carina Round and the late Lindsay Cooper (whose music Chlöe plays as a member of Half The Sky) – playing at Bob’s Country Bunker.

Then again, sometimes musical affinities go beyond the obvious. It’s probably worth turning up just to see what kind of atmosphere and chemistry this particular juxtaposition will create.

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Jack Cheshire + Molly Harpaz, 30th January 2018Both Chlöe Herington and Mally Harpaz resurface for a gig a few days later. Although the former’s vanishing behind the scenes to be an organiser, the latter’s stepping out from behind the drumkit to showcase some of her own music for short animations.

Westking Music & Performing Arts presents:
Jack Cheshire + Mally Harpaz
WKC Theatre @ Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Tuesday 30th January 2018, 6.30pm
– information here and here

In part, this concert is a re-run of the set Mally played as support to Colonial Sun last month: keyboard-led small ensemble tunes written for a set of short animations. This time, Mally’s ensemble is playing support to another full-band performance by Jack Cheshire, whose music has been hailed as “spooky, pointillist, strings-driven pastoralia” by the Sunday Times and by ‘Clash Magazine’ as “curious, idiosyncratic (…) artful pop… psychedelic in a very English way… imbued with remarkable depth.” This, too, is something of a re-run, following up Jack’s gig at Nest Collective last November.

Jack Cheshire + Mally Harpaz, 30th January 2018Another odd and slightly disparate pairing, then, but one which reflects Westking’s refreshingly flexible approach under Chlöe’s booking regime. Here’s a repeat of the press releases I cited last time around:

Jack Cheshire(‘s) contemporary alt-folk sound with a post-rock twist has led him to share bills with luminary peers Songhoy Blues and Josh T. Pearson, and grace the stages of The Green Man Festival and Kings Place. The ghosts of Nick Drake and Syd Barrett skirt the edges of his songs, embellished by what ‘Uncut’ magazine calls an “Ian McCulloch-style croon”, with a “burnished psychedelia (that) takes this music to the skies”. He released his 2017 album ‘Black Light Theatre’ to universal press and radio acclaim, making fans of 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne and Tom Robinson along the way.

Mally Harpaz (photo © Barbara Muller)

Mally Harpaz (photo © Barbara Muller)

“Drummer, pianist and multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz (who’s played with Lunatic Crash, Anna Calvi, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford and Jessica Lauren) will be performing her original compositions joined by a small number of phenomenal musicians and special guests.

“These distinct pieces were mainly written as part of a collaboration with award-winning video artist Clara Aparicio Yoldi for several short films including ‘Iconosfera’, ‘Zoom Out’, and ‘Zoom In’: the original recordings feature (among others) Anna Calvi, Mark Neary and Mally’s old Lunatic Crash bandmate Eran Karniel. Mally’s reverence for the profound creates mysterious melodic lines and shares a luscious ambience with other contemporary pioneers such as Steve Reich, Max Richter, and Nils Frahm.”

 

(UPDATE, 17th January 2018: Incidentally – Mally and Colonial Sun are literally repeating their December concert a few days earlier at Hundred Years Gallery on the 27th – more on that here.)
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As I mentioned, Jack’s last London show was with Nest Collective, who’ve been bringing a full-range flush of folk-related music to London for several years now, from the rootsiest Americana and puirt a beul to thrillingly peculiar and innovative latter-day spins on the old formulae.

Kerry Andrews (You Are Wolf), 31st January 2018

One such new spin comes from Kerry Andrew who, as You Are Wolf, has spent the last seven years reinventing folk standards as sparse laptop tapestries: a capella vocals (sometimes layered, more often solo or in fragmentary chorus or conversation) swung in eerie but inclusive cradles of cupping bass guitar, neophyte textural daubs of bark-rough ukelele and riffling recorder, and stately string quartets. She’s been compared to Björk – and rightly so – but don’t imagine a callow imitator reeling off spurts of calculated experimental pop clonery. Instead, think more of the ‘Medúlla’ project and of someone unafraid to recast ideas in intriguing yet accessible new forms from the ground up, centring on the human voice (whether naked or cunningly garlanded) and calling fresh, spontaneous sounds up from apparently familiar sources in order to have them sing along with it.

Kerry Andrew: 'Swansong'Having already broadened her profile beyond folkery via her chatty ‘University Challenge’ blog, Kerry’s currently venturing into more serious terrain with the arrival of her “charged, hallucinatory… powerful(ly) metaphoric” debut novel ‘Swansong’. Drawing on the ancient Irish ballad of ‘Molly Bawn’ (or ‘Polly Vaughan’, in which a young man shoots his lover while mistaking her for a swan), Kerry takes a myth that’s travelled across Scandinavia, Ireland and England, altering as it goes (an extant Scottish version throws in a jealous mother, a pair of death-and-resurrection transformations and a guilty suicide).

Taking her own turn at it, Kerry provides a further upending and reworking of the tale. Her new prose version is a post-‘Morvern Callar’ take with an empowered, self-willed, boisterous heroine. This particular Polly (fleeing to the Scottish Highlands to escape the aftermath of an unpleasant incident at home in London) entertains herself with drink, drugs and sex before finding the landscape drawing her into visions and strange encounters, including one with a mysterious man mutilating a bird… It’s not the first time that Kerry has approached this particular song and myth. There’s a version on her 2014 debut album ‘Hawk To The Hunting Gone’ in which she intersperses melodies or text from several versions with her own surreal alternative story. Seen from Molly’s point of view, it seems that neither petrification, death nor ghosthood appear to encumber her, seeming to be merely transformative steps between states of existence. Empowerment of a different kind.


 
Kerry is formally launching ‘Swansong’ in London at a Nest Collective evening featuring a performance by You Are Wolf. On this occasion, the project’s presenting as a trio, possibly with bass-playing sidekick Andrew Furlow and ‘Hawk…’ co-producer MaJiKer. I’m not sure of the details (just as I’m unsure of the balance there’ll be between readings and music), but I’m already convinced that it’s going to be one of January’s most magical evenings.

The Nest Collective presents:
Kerry Andrew: ‘Swansong’ book launch featuring You Are Wolf
The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England
Wednesday 31 January 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here



 

January 2018 – upcoming London experimental rock gigs – Nøught & Dead Days Beyond Hope (17th January), Data Quack + Alex Ward (31st January)

10 Jan

Another quickie – Oxford-rooted avant-rock guitarists James Sedwards and Alex Ward (who’ve been in cahoots for at least twenty years) take their respective bands to the stage at Café Oto this month.

Nøught + Dead Days Beyond Help
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Wednesday 17th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Nøught + Dead Days Beyond Help, 17th January 2018

“All-out, high-voltage line-up with James Sedwards’ avant-punk/jazz-prog/noise-rock group Nøught, and Alex Ward and Jem Doulton’s Dead Days Beyond Help project.

“Nøught is a synthesis of the experimental, avant-punk, jazz-prog and noise-rock credos, distilled into the paradoxical confines of a musically volatile, instrumental power-quartet. Originally formed in Oxford in the late ’90s by eminent guitarist James Sedwards (Thurston Moore Group/Guapo/The Devil), the current line-up has been based in London since 2002.

“Their music is profoundly exhilarating when encountered and often provokes an hypnotic sensation from an audience, as their incendiary live performances can easily entice and captivate a listener due to the highly artful, polished and demanding compositions. Pieces span the extremes of short, catchy, three minute eruptions to long, dense and evolving half-hour incantations. Nøught’s music provides an uncommonly refreshing, non-derivative sensibility and approach, and they continually astound as they develop, invoke and deliver their singularly potent blend of sonic diabolism.


 

“Dead Days Beyond Help have honed a compositional approach heard to its fullest extent on their 2014 Believers Roast release ‘Severance Pay’ described by ‘The Wire’ as “a reminder that there are still thrills aplenty to be gained from the pursuit of complexity… as playful as it is heavy, as atmospheric as it is cerebral”.

“In their live performances, these variously intricate, sweeping and violent compositions sit side by side with free-wheeling improvisational excursions (reflecting the members’ work with the likes of Steve Noble, Alan Wilkinson and Thurston Moore) and the whims of the moment, which could involve a leap into either a wall of flattening noise or the most emotionally direct country song. In negotiating this dizzying range of materials, DDBH bypass the pitfalls of irony and the obstacle course of genre by the simple guiding principle: intensity-at-all-costs.”



 
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And Alex is back again at the end of the month, supporting bubbling-under experimental group Data Quack in one of the increasingly interesting gigs being put on at Westminster Kingsway.

Data Quack + Alex Ward, 31st January 2018

Westking Music and Performing Arts presents:
Data Quack + Alex Ward
WKC Theatre @ Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
31st January 2018, 6.30pm
– information here and here

Data Quack is a relatively new group: hanging in the air like a sunny cloud, a silver nitrate window of manly oomph, pronoun prim, joey pouch casually askew. They are likely to blow your mind. Data Quack’s music moves through an array of abstract textures, car chase sequences and violent grooves. Trigger warning: you will be triggered, that’s what music does.

“They are saxophonist and electronics player Ben Vince (who’s been making waves with a series of solo releases and collaborations with Housewives and Mica Levi, threading his way through the London underground like a goods train); drummer Charles Hayward (follower of a 45 year music journey from This Heat to This Is Not This Heat and beyond); keyboard player Merlin Nova (who works in a variety of media, everything changes everything else, no borders, radio, film, song, movement, spoken word, and drawing, and works solo as well as currently gigging with This Is Not This Heat); and guitar/radio/cassette-tape operater Pascal Colman (lifts heavy objects, installations, minimalist funk agogo; a witty, charming, illegible bachelor).


 
Alex Ward will be supporting in his solo guise, blowing your mind with guitar, clarinet and voice sonic magic.”


 

January/February 2018 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Where Pathways Meet (17th January); Laura Jurd, KIM Trio and Têtes de Pois at a celebration of women in jazz (4th February)

9 Jan

Quick news on a couple more London jazz shows – a free-entry cosmic jazz performance in Peckham, and a woman-centric triple bill in Soho.

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Where Pathways Meet, 17th January 2018

Peckham Levels and Ghost Notes present:
Where Pathways Meet
Ghost Notes, 95a Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST, England
Wednesday 17th January 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here and here

“Ostensibly, a Where Pathways Meet performance serves as a latter-day tribute to the outergalactic sounds of Sun Ra. In actuality, the collective are as just as forward-facing as the great cosmonaut himself and, rather than revisiting the sounds of decades gone by, epitomise everything that’s exciting about the community of young South London musicians they call friends. As with immediate peers like Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd and Ezra Collective, Where Pathways Meet draw as much from the contemporary sounds that surround them as they do from the art form’s traditional conventions; amid all the intricate arrangements and the cosmic interplay there are as many nods to West London’s Broken Beat scene and as anything attributable to the Arkestra.

“Headed up by trumpet player and bandleader Axel Kaner-Lidstrom, the double-drumming ensemble features an extensive cast of musicians who are each involved in their own South East London based projects. As such, Where Pathways Meet serves as what the band themselves describe as an open conduit to the area’s underground scene. Having recently smashed the stage at their Jazz Re:Freshed debut we’re delighted to welcome WPM for something of a homecoming show in Peckham this January.”

For the curious – the strongest of Where Pathways Meet’s links seem to be with Tomorrow’s Warriors and SE Dub Collective, with the group members apparently a nucleus of tenor saxophonist James Mollison (SEDC, Ezra Collective, Akua Naru), drummer Jake Long (another SEDC member and leader of Afro-spiritualists Maisha), trombonist Rosie Turton (SEDC, the TW-affiliated Nérija and her own quintet) and guitarist Mark Mollison, augmented by second drummer Sam Jones (Binker Golding Quartet) plus a shifting talent pool including bass players Mutale Chashi (Kokoroko, Idiom), Michael Shrimpling and Mick T Shirt and keyboard players Amané Suganami (Maisha, etc), Sara Tandy (Watertight Group etc) and Dominic Stephen Canning (Steam Down).


 
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Celebrating Women In Jazz (Laura Jurd + KIM Trio + Têtes de Pois), 4th February 2018

Independent Venue Week and Help Musicians UK present:
Celebrating Women in Jazz: IVW18 – Laura Jurd + KIM Trio + Têtes de Pois
The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London, W1D 1LL, England
Sunday 4th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Independent Venue Week in partnership with Help Musicians UK, present a special event celebrating women in jazz at the 100 Club London, featuring some of the UK Jazz scene’s most dazzling artists.

“Internationally-acclaimed Mercury-Prize-nominated trumpeter Laura Jurd headlines with a formidable new quartet. This is an unmissable opportunity to witness a stellar group of players improvising together.” (NOTE – the quartet is probably Laura, regular drummer Corrie Dick, bassist Tom Herbert (Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, The Invisible) and her fellow trumpeter and Trinity Laban mentor Chris Batchelor of Loose Tubes, Big Air and many more. Laura will also playing a longer evening set at Poplar Union’s Jazz Herstory season on 15th February, leading a trio completed by Corrie and Tom.)


 
KIM Trio is led by tenor saxophonist and Peter Whittingham Jazz Award 2017 winner Helena Kay, and features Misha Mullov-Abbado on double bass and David Ingamells on drums. Inspired by greats such as Sonny Rollins and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and by contemporary names like Melissa Aldana and Larry Goldings, the trio enjoy performing a varied mixture of Helena’s originals and tunes from the jazz canon.


 
Têtes de Pois (a tight genre-bending seven-piece ensemble fresh out of Leeds College of Music) fuse jazz, hip-hop and neo-soul. Featuring alto/baritone saxophonist Jasmine Whalley, tenor saxophonist/singer Harry Fowler, , guitarist Ben Haskins, keyboard player George McDonald, bass guitarist Owen Burns, drummer George Hall and percussionist Josh Ketch (plus, until recently, Eloise Oates Lidar on trumpet), they’ve recently been awarded an additional development fund as part of the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award.”


 

January 2018 – upcoming London post-classical/gamelan gigs – Lubomyr Melnyk and James Heather (17th January), Aloysius Suwardi’s Planet Harmonik (18th January)

7 Jan

A quick, press-release only nod to a couple of upcoming higher-profile concerts – one for post-classical piano, the other for experimental gamelan…

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Lubomyr Melnyk + James Heather, 17th January 2018

Erased Tapes presents:
Lubomyr Melnyk + James Heather
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Wednesday 17th January 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Lubomyr Melnyk is a Ukrainian composer and pianist who has pioneered “continuous piano music”. Classically trained and influenced by the minimalist movement in the early 1970s, he has developed his own unique language for the piano, named after the principle of maintaining a continuous, unbroken stream of sound. A true innovator, his mission is to explore new directions for contemporary music. Not only is he regarded as one of the world’s fastest concert pianists, his compositions also truly carry the listener to new realms. To witness one of his rare live performances is nothing short of a mind-opening experience.


 
Joining him on the bill will be Ninja Tune’s post-classical pianist James Heather, one of the new school set of ‘post classical’ artists flourishing in the wake of the long, steady but recently accelerated success of figureheads like Max Richter, Ben Lukas Boyson and Jóhann Johannsson, and the wider public’s overdue but now burgeoning relationship with this varied genre. His debut album – ‘Stories From Far Away On Piano’ – was released in August 2017 via Coldcut’s Ahead Of Our Time label.

“The album concept and artwork (layers of Indian ink repeatedly bled into newspaper print representing the recirculation of information) centres on Heather’s musical interpretations of real world stories; Isis jihadists hijacking the Facebook account of an executed female activist in Syria (Ruqia), the British Empire’s imprisonment of Boers in South Africa (Empire Sounds), a missing Malaysia Airlines jet in the Indian Ocean (MHope), the Paris terror suspect who reportedly had a Last Minute Change Of Heart and the Los Angeles man freed after 16 years in prison after being wrongly identified by a Teardrop Tattoo.”


 
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Aloysius Suwardi - Planet Harmonik, 18th January 2018


The Barbican, Kazum! and Europalia present:
Aloysius Suwardi: “Planet Harmonik”
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 9BH, England
Thursday 18th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Composer, instrument-maker and gamelan expert Aloysius Suwardi presents his ‘Planet Harmonik’ project for the first time outside of his native Indonesia. Bringing together a host of self-made instruments – from giant gambang xylophones, to hydraulic bamboo flutes – Suwardi’s ‘Planet Harmonik’ takes its inspiration from the Pythagorean theory of “music of the spheres”. It’s the idea that the proportional relationship between planets is equivalent to the relationship between musical notes – that the sun, the moon and Earth all emit their own tone.

The instruments of Aloysius Suwardi (photo © Witjak Widhi Cahya)

The instruments of Aloysius Suwardi (photo © Witjak Widhi Cahya)

As Aloysius comments on the Barbican blog, “when I first read about the Pythagorean theory… my imagination was ignited. He suggested the cosmos consisted of separate spheres, one each for the planets, moon, and sun, which moved around the earth at different velocities, producing different sounds. The concept inspired me to make instruments capable of producing strong harmonics or overtones, to represent the music of the spheres.

“When I’m making musical instruments I have two starting points: firstly, I aim to make an instrument based on my mental picture of its shape, without considering the resulting sound. Secondly, I aim to make an instrument to obtain a specific sound that is derived from a sound imagined in my head. I decided to make a new ensemble to explore the possibilities of obtaining a series of harmonics produced by the instruments. The clearest and loudest harmonics are used for the pitch to be arranged as either slendro or pelog gamelan tuning scales.”

“Like the planets, ‘Planet Harmonik’ is a piece that moves with grace despite its complexity, rooted in the rich history of gamelan while also looking to the future.”


 

January 2018 – upcoming London rock and folk gigs – twists and weaves with Prescott, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi (11th January); a carpet of acid-folk/chanson dreams with Alison O’Donnell & Firefay (18th January); a lysergic lattice with a Knifeworld double-set (20th January)

6 Jan

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 11th January 2018

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 11th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Reunited with guitarist Keith Moliné (who had to sit out some of their engagements last year), instrumental avant-rockers Prescott bring their springy barrage of warm, bouncy tune-mozaics back to London at Servant Jazz Quarters. On the evidence of last year’s ‘Thing Or Two’ album, the band (completed by spacey fretless bassist/composer Kev Hopper, keyboard quibbler Rhodri Marsden and swap’n’go drummer Frank Byng) is growing like a tricksy hedgerow. New layers, extensions and scrabbling digressions continue to bud out of their riotous cellular approach; and out of the games of post-minimalist chicken which they use to hold and release each other from their stack of cunning microloops.

It’s still fair to say that Prescott’s relationship with their own instrumental cleverness is an edgy and oblique one. Fine and rebellious players all, they’re too suspicious of straight prog, jazz or lofty experimentalism to have a straight relationship with any of them. Consequently they come across on record as jitterbug countercultural eggheads – ones who play obstinate, transfigured parallels to clavinet jazz-funk (post-Miles, post-Headhunters) or twinkly-marimba’d Zappa passages, but who nail it all down to a precise post-punk, post-virtuoso sensibility. Still, this only sketches part of the Prescott picture while missing the heart of it. Despite the band’s tendencies towards deadpan stage presence (and the eschewment of anything even vaguely wacky), each and every Prescott gig ends up as a generous, audience-delighting puzzle of pulses, traps and tickles on the funny bone.

Maybe if they’ve got anything as corny as a raison d’être (that is, beyond executing Kev’s pieces with deftness, style and pleasure) it might be about evaporating the frequently frustrating and gummed-up relationship between musicality, suffocating ideology and good humour. For all of their self-imposed restrictions, Prescott are in some senses a freer band than almost anyone else in their field: an expansive Lego set of musical options concealed in a deceptively small box.


 
Thanks to both the burgeoning stature of Knifeworld and his helming of the post-Daevid Allen Gong (plus entanglements with Guapo and Cardiacs, and his garrulous showings on radio and in print), Kavus Torabi is rapidly becoming a senior figure at the culty end of psychedelic art-rock. Even his rough-and-ready solo acoustic performances are becoming a draw in their own right, although he’s mostly (and modestly) restraining them to support slots, presenting gravelly-voiced house-party strumalongs rather than electric-genius showcases. Such is the case with his opening slot for Prescott, which also sees him broaden his guitar playing with trips to the harmonium.

On previous form, expect established songs, songs-in-progress and song unveilings from Kavus’ Knifeworld catalogue (plus visits to his old work with The Monsoon Bassoon and possibly a bit of latterday Gong-ing if any of it translates away from the group’s electric Om). If you’re hoping for Guapo stuff, you’d better wait for one of his gigs with them. If you want him to rip into a Cardiac song, you’re best off catching him guesting at one of the growing number of Spratleys Japs shows (increasingly become rolling parties celebrating the Cardiacs spirit, pulling in hit-and-run appearances from the band’s alumni and songbook).


 
Invigorating as a Prescott/Torabi summit might be, the night’s real draw is Lost Crowns: only the third live venture for this carefully-concealed solo project from Richard Larcombe. You might have seen the Crowns step out at either one of a culty pair of Alphabet Business Concern shows in 2013 and 2017: otherwise, you’ve not seen or heard them at all. If you’ve followed Richard’s on/off work singing and guitaring for fraternal duo Stars In Battledress (alongside his brother James), you’ll have some idea of the rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection to expect. 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.

Reared on English folk and art-rock but steeped in both Chicago math-rock and (via radio, television and film) in sophisticated comic absurdity from the likes of the Marx Brothers, Spike Milligan and Vivian Stanshall, Richard is in fact one of the most aggravatingly unknown, self-effacing, even self-concealing talents of his generation. In the fifteen years since his last, short-lived solo foray Defeat The Young he’s kept his own work closely hidden, apparently preferring the shared burden and brotherly warmth of occasional shows with the similarly-obscure Battledress, or to play supporting roles with William D. Drake or sea-shanty-ers Admirals Hard. Were he not so damn elusive, he’d be regularly cited alongside the likes of Colin Meloy or Neil Hannon as an exemplar of bookish art-pop wit. For the most part, though, Richard seems happiest with his other career (in children’s theatre, an area in which, incidentally, he’s equally talented) although I suspect that the truth is that his perfectionist’s need for control gets a little on top of him, though never enough to ruffle his brow. According to Richard, this particular live surfacing’s going to be a “limited-capacity probably-not-to-be-repeated-often event”, but he clearly means business, having armed himself with the kind of musical crack squad that can do his work justice – London art-rock go-to-guy Charlie Cawood on bass, Drake band regular Nicky Baigent on clarinet, the enigmatic “Keepsie” on drums and a doubled-up keyboard arrangement of Rhodri Marsden (hopping over from Prescott) and Josh Perl (coming in from Knifeworld and The Display Team).

As regards firmer, more specific details on what Lost Crowns will be like, Richard himself will only murmur that the songs are “quite long, with a lot of notes.” Rhodri Marsden (a man more given to gags than gush) has chipped in with a wide-eyed “utterly mindbending and completely beautiful”; rumours abound re ditties about synthesia and/or the quirks of historical figures; and what’s filtered through from attendees at those previous ABC shows is that the Larcombe boy has seriously outdone himself with this project. The rest of us will have to wait and see. Meanwhile, in the absence of any available Lost Crown-ings to link to or embed, here are a couple of live examples of Richard’s artistry with Stars In Battledress.



 
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Alison O’Donnell + Firefay
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 18th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Same time, same place, but one week later – another rare treat in the shape of a London appearance from “fairy queen of acid folk” Alison O’Donnell, allied with Anglo-French folk-noirists Firefay.

Alison O'Donnell & Firefay, 18th January 2018The possessor of a warm declamatory folk voice (one well suited to storytelling), Alison began her musical journey at convent school in 1960s Dublin with childhood friend Clodagh Simonds. Writing and singing folk songs together, the two became the core of mystical folk-rockers Mellow Candle: scoring a faintly lysergic orchestral-pop single before either girl had turned seventeen, Clodagh and Alison then spent five years exploring and finessing the baroque/progressive folk sounds eventually captured on Mellow Candle’s one-and-only album ‘Swaddling Songs’.

Ahead of its time (and mishandled by the record company), it followed the example of other recent genre-stretching folk albums by Trees and Nick Drake and sold poorly. By the time that the disillusioned band disintegrated in 1973, Alison was still only twenty. She spent the next three decades travelling in a slow arc across the world and across music: spending long stretches of time in South Africa, London, and Brussels before returning to Dublin in 2001, she passed – en route – through traditional English, Irish and Flemish folk bands (including Flibbertigibbet, Éishtlinn and Oeda) as well as stints in theatre and satire, and in contemporary jazz band Earthling. As she entered her mid-fifties, though, Alison’s career entered a surprising and fruitful second stage. She finally began releasing material under her own name – initially with multi-instrumentalist Isabel Ní Chuireáin (for the part-trad/part-original ‘Mise Agus Ise’ in 2006), and then alone or with her band Bajik from 2009’s ‘Hey Hey Hippy Witch’ onward.

Meanwhile, the slow transition of ‘Swaddling Songs” from forgotten ’70s flop to early Noughties word-of-mouth lost classic brought Alison into active collaboration with a fresh generation of musicians who’d been captivated by the record. Agitated Radio Pilot’s Dave Colohan came in for on 2007’s ‘World Winding Down’, Steven Collins of The Owl Service for 2008’s ‘The Fabric of Folk’ EP, and Graham Lockett of Head South By Weaving for 2012’s ‘The Execution Of Frederick Baker’. Colohan in particular has become a regular ally and co-writer, playing a big part in Alison’s 2017’s ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’ album and inviting her into his Irish psych-folk collective United Bible Studies. There have also been teamups with metal bands Cathedral and Moonroot, with folktronicists Big Dwarf, and with Michael Tyack of psych-folkers Circulus.

Among the most promising of these latterday collaborations has been her 2012 teaming with Firefay (fronted by the trilingual Carole Bulewski) for the much-admired ‘Anointed Queen’ album. This month’s concert revisits that project and beyond, Alison and Firefay performing in a meticulously interwoven partnership which will dip into songs from ‘Anointed Queen’ in addition to Firefay material and songs from Alison’s own back catalogue, from Mellow Candle through to ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’. Come expecting a world/wyrd-folk wealth of keyboard drones, strings, bells, reeds and ouds, all mingled in a lysergia-flecked folk-rooted song continuum stretching from Ireland to Brittany and Flanders (across the British Isles and London, with look-ins from Gallic chanson, kletzmer, urban baroque, boozy sea songs, tints of Canterbury art-prog and even hints of the Sudan and Middle East.)


 
* * * * * * * *

Knifeworld, 20th January 2018Guided Missile presents:
Knifeworld (double set)
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 20th January 2018, 7:30pm
– information here , here and here

Just over a week after their leader disports himself (mostly) unplugged and exposed in Dalston, Knifeworld themselves burst back into action in Islington, getting a whole show to themselves at the Lexington. Currently revelling in the flexibility and range of tones available to their eight-piece lineup, they’ll be drawing on their last couple of years of songwriting and performance by playing a full acoustic set followed by a full electric set.

If you’re not yet familiar with Knifeworld’s work, you’re probably new to the blog – ‘Misfit City’ has been saturated with it ever since the band first emerged eight years ago – look back over past posts to acclimatise yourself to their dancing, springy, psychedelic mix of oboes, guitars, saxophones, drums and warm, wood-rough head-next-door vocals. It’s a skewed but precise brew of pointillistic acid-patter pulling in sounds, tones and attitude from five decades of music – you can spot ’50s rockabilly, late ’60s lysergic swirl, full on ’70s prog/soul complexity, ’80s and ’90s art pop noise and suss and beyond – all topped off by Kavus’ particular wide-eyed worldview. Eccentric and garbled on the surface, his songs still couch pungently honest depths of feelings, fears and hope if you’re prepared to push past the distraction of tatters and gags – as with two of his mentors, Tim Smith and Daevid Allen, Kavus treats psychedelia as a tool to explore, question and deepen the subject of human existence rather than trance it away in a blur.

Exceptionally excited by what’s coming up, the band are promising “a gig like no other…. your chance to hear many rarely- or never-played songs before. A whole night of delirious, mindbending and beautifully strange music.” Below is forty-one minutes of slightly shaky, slightly scratchy Knifeworld footage from the Supernormal 2016 festival, in order to light the fuse…


 

January 2018 – upcoming gigs – Moor Mother in London and Leeds (10th and 12th January), with No Home, AlgernonCornelius and Basic Switches

5 Jan

Moor Mother, 10th & 12th January 2018

Over five dense and rapidly-evolving years of releasing and expressing, exploring and pushing, the unification of music and words by Moor Mother (a.k.a. Philly sound art/witness-bearing hip hop interdisciplinarian Camae Ayewa) has become something terrifyingly vital, cathartic and challenging. From the smooth and simple, app-driven, almost homely patchworks of her first EPs, her soundscaping and beat conjuring has developed into a jolting, stirring, often terrifying sonic canvas. Her lightning-raddled masterpiece, 2016’s ‘Fetish Bones’ (hailed at the time as a record of the year by a sweep of critics, from the furious pseudonymous screeders on the most obscure specialised blogs right up to the ponderous proclaimers of ‘Rolling Stone’), could just as equally be record of the year now. Nothing about it has dated, from the explosive Afro-futurist industrial gumbo of its construction to the horrendously untreated, uncorrected misdeeds it chronicles and the righteous rage it swings back with.

Moor Mother, 2017A furious free-electronic beat investigation into the very fabric of American history from its battered black underbelly, the timbre and horror of ‘Fetish Bones’ reveals Camae as a burst but ever-renewing griot – willingly overwhelmed but still fighting the fight that needs to be fought. Her spit of ideas and incriminations are the symptom of an ongoing wound that won’t stop being burst open: “still had enough blood in my throat to gargle up nine words – “I resist to being both the survivor and the victim” – but I know the reality…” A stern, fearless presence, she rides a broken levee’s worth of dirty-historical floodwater and swirling cyclonic indictments, holding American crimes to account – male violence; systematic and institutionalised white brutality against black bodies and souls, or against the nation’s own tormented psyche. Around her voice (sharp beads of slam poetry chorused and gravelled by a flicker of concrete distortion) there’s a massed, jump-cutting collage of industrial-strength beats, chain gang and plantation songs, subway trains rattling into darkness, layered speeches of resistance, samplings of gospel ecstasy crossing into screams of operatic rage. What initially seems like a crazed searchlight, swinging pitilessly and furiously from atrocity to atrocity, rapidly reveals itself as being driven by a diamond-hard intelligence as Camae time-travels back and forth across two American centuries of wrongness, relentlessly weaving her case from aural snapshots of black culture suffering and resisting under the heel that hammers it, and never sugarcoating the price and courage of struggle (“like how mama made biscuits outa nothing, all while having a dope needle in her arm…”)



 
Camae’s in England next week for a couple of shows in London and in Leeds. These should be unmissable. Dates below (tickets are now down to the last fifty or so in London, though I’m not so sure about Leeds).

  • The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, Angel, London, N1 0XT, England, Wednesday 10th January 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here, here and here
  • Headrow House, Bramley’s Yard, 19 The Headrow, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS1 6PU, England, Friday 12th January 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here

In London, Camae’s supported by No Home, a.k.a. emergent blackgirl punk Charlie Joseph, who blends wounded lo-fi murmurs and nightmare dream-folk blues wails with suffocating doses of peat-bog guitar noise plus brooding sub-bassy post-punk atmospheres: all of which is a sleight-of-hand cover for the vulnerabilities and contradictions of her songwriting (as if a teenaged, slightly more fucked-up Tracy Chapman had hired in Gnod as producers). Charlie’s own cited touchstones include Mitzi’s building-a-girl narratives and the floating, questioning experimental R’n’B identities of Frank Ocean, plus the shifting roots-tronic approach of Bon Iver and the populist indie of The Strokes. Her interesting, elusive lyrics touch on current soul-aches like toxic masculinity, besieged defensiveness and post-capitalist malaise (though they’re a little too slippery to stick there).

Still a little crude and understated (in comparison to the expansive, whip-smart Moor Mother barrage she’s got to warm up for), Charlie’s only just scraped the surface of what she’s got to say. Give her time – and a few more turns in carefully-chosen, blazing-kiln support slots like this one – and I think we’ll be looking at something quite special. Right now, she’s the whispering ghost of her own future.



 
In Leeds, the local supports are AlgernonCornelius and Basic Switches – the former a trans-Pennine beatsmaker, the latter a one-woman/circuit-bending/voice-and-effects-pedal show by Hilary Knott (from longstanding Leeds punk-pop “idiosyncrats” Cowtown).

Taking tips from Rza, A Tribe Called Quest and J. Dilla, AlgernonCornelius has spent the last couple of years blending and waxing across a range of hip hop/IDM ideas (from his glitch-soul mangling of Minnie Riperton on 2015’s ‘Blind’ to the shimmying RSJ dub of last year’s ‘Blood Claat’). Basic Switches looks like an extension of Hilary’s other circuit-bending project, Skellingtons, in which she aims for “the harshest possible sound” from twee little Yahama and Casio keyboards plus toys, loop pedals and “broken, cheap drum machines that have previously been rejected by all self respecting electronic music makers.” Wilfully tricky to pin down outside of catching her at a live gig, this unguarded live-at-home Christmas mash-take on George Michael should at least give you some idea of how she works.



 

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