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June 2017 – upcoming London/German gigs – Lindsay Cooper remembered by Half The Sky (22nd June – plus Avantgarde Festival appearance on 25th June)

15 Jun
Half The Sky, 22nd June 2017

Half The Sky (photo © Jean-Hervé Péron)

Long before the knot of current pop culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, the late Lindsay Cooper was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz. Later this month, the Half The Sky ensemble (led by vigorous curator/arranger /multi-instrumentalist Yumi Hara) will be bringing their showcase of her music both to London and to a small town outside Hamburg, re-animating the work she created for Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music For Films between the late ’70s and the mid-’80s.

Originally formed in 2015 for festival appearances in Japan and France, Half The Sky derive their name from the Maoist/feminist maxim, “women hold up half the sky”, as used by Lindsay as a composition title on Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’ album, back in 1978) and feature an impressive alliance of British and Japanese art-rock musicians. As well as Yumi on keyboards, lever harp and vocals, the ensemble features two members of Cicala-Mvta (Miwazow on koto, ching-dong percussion and voice; Wataru Okhuma on alto saxophone and clarinet), the Korekyojinn/Altered States bass guitarist Nasuno Mitsuru; Chlöe Herington (the reeds and melodica player from Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof and V Ä L V Ē) and finally two of Lindsay’s former Henry Cow/News From Babel colleagues (singer Dagmar Krause and drummer Chris Cutler). As Yumi points out, “the gender split follows Lindsay’s general practice and the example of the original bands – Henry Cow (50% female) and News from Babel (75% female).”

Yumi’s comments on the music:

“In 2013, soon after Lindsay passed away, Matthew Watkins made a call for arrangements of her mini-composition ‘Slice’ for a special edition of his podcast ‘Canterbury Sans Frontières‘. I made a transcription of the piece and recorded it for solo clavichord. Chris Cutler and I also played it in Japan and New York. A little later, inspired by the three memorial concerts Chris Cutler organised in 2014 with the original bands, I put Half The Sky together to play Lindsay’s music in Japan.

“With the exception of ‘Slice’, it was only after – and because of – the 2014 concerts that any working scores for the Henry Cow pieces became available, having been painstakingly assembled from Lindsay’s notebooks, original band-members’ surviving parts and careful analysis of the recordings. A handful of the News from Babel songs – none of which had ever been performed live – had already been reconstructed for the memorial concert by Zeena Parkins; the rest I had to work out from scratch – as well as rearranging everything for a mixture of occidental and oriental instruments.

“This programme is approached very much as a music of the present – and not as an academic reconstruction.”

In addition to Half The Sky’s performance, the London show will feature DJ sets from two of London’s more interesting musical personalities. Marina Organ’s known both for three decades of staunch work as writer/co-driving force of ‘Organ’ magazine and for her indefatigable DJ/interviewing work on ‘The Other Rock Show’. James Larcombe is the keyboard player and sometime composer with Stars In Battledress, Arch Garrison, North Sea Radio Orchestra, Zag & The Coloured Beads and the William D. Drake band; now he seems to be extending his talents (or at least his brassy neck), to disc-spinning.

Half the Sky: Music of Lindsay Cooper

  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Thursday 22nd June 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Avantgarde Festival, Steinhorster Weg 2, 23847 Schiphorst, Deutschland, Sunday 25th June 2017, 2.15pm – information here and here


 
* * * * * * * *

Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform. In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through.

Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation. Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild.

Although she also put in stints with both the cheery Canterbury fusioneering of National Health and the terrifying dark-folk band Comus during the 1970s, Lindsay was probably best known for her work with the powerful political chamber-prog of proto-Rock In Opposition ensemble Henry Cow (a creative ferment which she joined and left twice and, like most Cow-ers, never entirely left behind). Having initially brought in her toolkit of reeds, woodwind and piano skills to play on the band’s second album ‘Unrest’, she subsequently made small inroads into the writing, contributing to a number of group compositions on ‘In Praise of Learning’ and the ‘Concerts’ set. As a composer, though, she finally came into her own on the band’s final, all-instrumental statement ‘Western Culture’, on which she was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland).

Lindsay Cooper

Lindsay Cooper

Perhaps more significantly, by this point in the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG; a project which she co-ran with vocalist Maggie Nichols in parallel with her Cow work. Generally considered to be the preoccupation and property of educated, intense, white men, the British and European free improvising of the time tended to be a little short on jokes (bar occasional pranking along the lines of the Free Art Research Trio). FIG allied Lindsay and Maggie with various other musical and performance talents – “feminist rock” trumpeter Corine Liensol (who’d played in Jam Today with a young Deirdre Cartwright), pianist Cathy Williams (who’d worked with another Cow-er, Geoff Leigh, in the Rag Doll duo), future filmmaker Sally Potter, latterday Cow cellist Georgie Born and Swiss free-jazz pianist Irène Schweizer (the last being allegedly the only European female improviser on the ‘60s and ‘70s scene). In classic feminist tradition, FIG not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve.

In comparison to the demanding and abstruse Maoist politics of Henry Cow (which, in private, sometimes resembled a brutally masculine university debating society preoccupied with games of political high-grounding), FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic. In addition to the music, their shows featured parodic stagings and examinations of domestic work (such as kitchenwork and cleaning) and of consumer preoccupations. Vegetables were peeled onstage; household tools such as dustpans and brooms pressed into service as props and noisemakers; oppressive or manipulative memes transformed into call-and-response singing.

Reading accounts of FIG work reveals a tale of tough gigs, audience misunderstandings and frequent frustration. Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see. It’s a shame that much improv and theatrical work is always of the moment and tends to vanish like dew in the morn. Without recorded evidence or restaging, it fades into hearsay, and in this case an important chapter in Lindsay’s work has to dwell in a kind of word-of-mouth samizdat.

Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined another former Cow colleague ((the now-mellowed Chris Cutler) for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel: here, Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

Half The Sky provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.


 

April 2017 – upcoming London gigs – “wonk rock” with The Display Team + A Sweet Niche + Ham Legion (3rd); Patricia Hammond & Matt Redman’s Edwardian pop (3rd); SOIF Soiree with Society Of Imaginary Friends, David Skinner, The Support Stockings, Cian Binchy, Millie George, I Am Her, Martin Wakefield, Jed Demochowski, Anne Corrigan etc. (7th)

27 Mar

I was moved to jam these three early April gigs together for a preview. On the Wednesday, it’s up to you whether you go for the tangled electric loom of wonky pop/jazz/punk noise or for the hundred-year-old pop hits with the Keep Calm And Carry On teatowels. Either way, you still get to attend the latest mixed-music-and-poetry SOIF cabaret on the following Friday…

* * * * * * * *

The Display Team + A Sweet Niche + Ham Legion, 3rd April 2017Bad Hedge presents:
The Display Team + A Sweet Niche + Ham Legion
The Birds Nest, 32 Deptford Church Street, Deptford, London, SE8 4RZ, England
Monday 3rd April 2017, 7.00pm
information

“A repulsive onstage three-way shocker! For one night in April, three heavyweights of the widely ignored wonk rock scene will spill off the stage in one of London’s best (and cheapest) small venues. And all for free! The Display Team: nob-bothering high-octave brutalitarians; like a small orchestra with big balls. A Sweet Niche: skronky honkies that bring an ominous twistin’ y’all can’t be resistin’. Ham Legion: kaleidoscopic power-pop rompers with more dinner ideas than you’ve had hot.”

For a little more on these people from back in the ‘Misfit City’ archives, have a peek here, here and here. Meanwhile, here’s the obligatory fistful of tunes.




 
* * * * * * * *

Patricia Hammond & Matt Redman - 3rd April 2017Wiltons Music Hall presents:
Monday Night Music: Patricia Hammond with Matt Redman
The Mahogany Bar @ Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London, E1 8JB, England
Monday 3rd April 2017, 8.00pm – free event
– information here and here

“An evening of rousing Edwardian pop! Patricia Hammond and Matt Redman, world-renowned specialists in authentic historical performance, will play an assortment of pop songs from the Edwardian era, including some of the first songs ever written about motorised transport: Willie Had A Motor-Boat, In My Merry Oldsmobile, My Rickenbacker Car, Wait Till You Get Them Up In The Air, Boys, and many, many more delights. If you’re very nice to them, Patricia and Matt also promise some rousing singalongs to gems such as If You Were The Only Girl In The World and, for the WW1 Centenary’s sake, Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit-Bag.

 
Matt will be performing on piano, guitar, banjo and accordion, and will treat people to instrumentals of some of the new dance crazes of the 1900s and 1910s, such as tango, chorinho, ragtime, Hawaiian and blues. Of course, this being Wilton’s, songs of the great music hall era will also feature. All together now!”

* * * * * * * *

SOIF Soiree, 7th April 2017

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree: “For Absent Friends” (featuring Society Of Imaginary Friends + David Skinner + The Support Stockings + Cian Binchy + Millie George + I Am Her + Martin Wakefield + Evie + Jed Demochowski + Anne Corrigan + Dj Onjdrew + others t.b.c.)
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 7th April 2017, 8.00pm – free event
information

The latest in Society of Imaginary Friends’ ongoing series of grab-bag gigs, featuring a number of faces which ought to be familiar from recent performances:

“A sunny spring park comes to life crowded with absent friends, friends turned imaginary, walking with the sun, singing and humming, playing rounders, turning summersaults, laughing with the children,climbing trees, smiling into the breeze and as the sun sets we gather round a bandstand at the centre of a green. Vegan ma-nah is brought out by sensual peace-loving Daleks… a gorgeous offering of sound and light a celebration of friendship.

“Performing on 7th is the virtuosic guitarist and velvety voiced singer David Skinner; harmonious vocal stylings from our choir The Support Stockings; fresh from his sold-out national tour, Cian Binchy; the fabulous young poet and star of the Round House and Young Vic Millie George; urban punk from the mighty Julie Riley‘s I Am Her; Martin Wakefield and Evie with inspiring poetry, music and verse; Jed Demochowski (of the VIPs) and his new band; Anne Corrigan delighting us with her poems; DJ Onjdrew, and a couple of super amazing surprise star guests. Plus us, theSociety Of Imaginary Friends.

“Please come and bring a memory, a line or two about your absent friend to say on the night. Looking forward to seeing you there. Don’t forget it is free entry and there is amazing vegan food and award-winning beverages to purchase.”





 

April 2017 – upcoming gigs – Billy Bottle & The Multiple bring ‘The Other Place’ to Exeter (2nd)

26 Mar

Pastoral jazzers and questioning songmakers Billy Bottle & The Multiple are bringing their show ‘The Other Place’ (a kind of Brexit-themed pilgrimage-cum-road movie, dealing with questions of connection, national moods and democracy) to Exeter at the beginning of April.

I wrote something extensive about the show’s roots and methods back in mid-2016, so you can read more about that here.

In other news, the band have launched a Pledgemusic crowdfunding campaign to fund the recording and release of the album version of the show – more on that here.

Billy Bottle & The Multiple: 'The Other Place'

‘The Other Place’ by Billy Bottle & The Multiple
The Barnfield Theatre, Barnfield Road, Exeter, Devon, EX1 1SN, England
Sunday 2nd April 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 


 

 

March 2017 – upcoming gigs – kletzmer in New York, Southampton, Liverpool and London, from Geoff Berner/Luisa Muhr and She’Koyokh (7th, 9th, 10th, 17th)

27 Feb

Some news on some upcoming kletzmer-related gigs in New York and across England during the first couple of weeks in March.

Geoff Berner & Lisa Muhr, 7th & 9th March 2017

In New York, as part of the Jalopy Theatre’s ongoing NY Klezmer Series in Brooklyn, there’s a newly created, first-collaboration show from two Vancouver-based musicians – singer-songwriter-accordionist Geoff Berner and singer Luisa Muhr (both of whom can collectively muster up talents across novel-writing, theatre directing, community activism and movement art, but that’s several other stories…)

“Being part of the Klezmer and Yiddish music and performance scene in the US, Canada and Europe, Geoff and Luisa first met at the renowned KlezKanada music camp where they spent many hours singing together. ‘Songs of People Other People Don’t Like So Much’ has been created out of the necessity of producing political work in times that need it. Geoff and Luisa will sing you stories of the underdogs (and unpopular overdogs) of our society: some in Yiddish, some with quite some Klezmer, some in their own words, some in someone else’s. Join us, listen, engage, and enjoy!”

The project’s too new for soundclips or videos: but here’s Geoff performing a solo song from 2013 (tearing with righteous venom into Vancouver’s rotten civic developments), and Luisa fronting a Yidishe Lider concert about a year ago.



 
In addition to the Jalopy show, Geoff and Luisa are presenting another Brooklyn performance, in the shape of a preview version a couple of days earlier at Freddy’s Bar & Backroom. This is a pay-what-you-like event (though they suggest a ten bucks minimum and you’re also tied to a minimum-of-two-drinks rule). This particular evening is for twenty-one year olds or over: not because of any added salty adult content, but purely because of licencing laws for the bar.

Dates:

* * * * * * * *

She'Koyokh, 2017

Meanwhile, back here in England, She’Koyokh – who have been hailed as “one of London’s musical treasures” (‘Evening Standard’) and “one of the finest kletzmer ensembles on the planet” (‘The Australian’) – are out on the road launching their fourth studio album, ‘First Dance On Second Avenue’.

“With a name roughly translated from the original Yiddish as “nice one”, She’Koyokh have spent over a decade absorbing the rich folk music traditions of Jewish Eastern Europe, Turkey and the Balkans. Their evolution spans the origins of busking at East London’s Columbia Road flower market to performing in the famous concert halls of Europe including Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the Gasteig in Munich and London’s Southbank Centre. She’koyokh’s members hail from the UK, USA, Serbia, Sweden and Turkey, forging a unique sound that is traditional yet original.

“Their live shows are an expertly crafted, multi-lingual exploration from the Baltic to the Black Sea virtuosic, toe-tapping klezmer instrumentals, Gypsy music, soulful songs and the best Balkan dance tunes from Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia. They’ll take you on a journey sampling polyphonic singing from Bulgaria, a Serbian song about a pigeon on the raspberries, a steamy quarrel between mother-in-laws in a Turkish sauna, a duet between a father and daughter about who she’s going to marry – in the end she chooses the drunken one! – and a love song for a Gypsy girl with penetrating green eyes.”


 
Dates:

 

March 2017 – upcoming gigs – Coven ’17 English tour, 2nd-13th March (fightin’ women’s folk from O’Hooley & Tidow, Lady Maisery and Grace Petrie)

17 Feb
Coven, 2017

Coven, 2017

Last month’s astonishing Women’s March laid bare a fairly fundamental truth – that the backbone and much of the driving force of protest movements (certainly the successful ones) are made up of women.

Historically, one of the binding factors of this has been folk music – women singing, women playing, women writing or interpreting, and women inspiring from the stage. Though this kind of music’s often had a rough ride from the fashion police who drag it in and out of style, generally the performers have treated this as little more than an incidental matter – noted, grunted at, and set aside while the serious matter of talk’n’listen is gotten on with. Similarly, there’s nothing saying that folk performers whose public image might mostly be that of making pretty sounds on the radio won’t also retain, sustain or develop deep commitments to social politics, and thereby draw in anyone who’s prepared to think of them as more than an aural accessory to go with the wallpaper. At any time there are plenty of tours and shows taking place and reinforcing this, although I, for one don’t get to hear enough about them. Here’s one which I did get to hear about – six outspoken women on tour in March with a brace of songs and collective commitment, stirring up discussion and solidarity. Past craft; present engagement.

Woven from the usual brace of press releases:

“Coven are a collective of three of the British folk scene’s finest, most formidable and forthright female acts, taking to the stage to celebrate International Women’s Day in a week of unforgettable concerts. The exquisitely harmonic songwriting duo and BBC 6 Music favourites O’Hooley & Tidow (described as “defiant, robust, political, Northern, poetical folk music for the times we live in” by the ‘Independent’) will be joined by the enchanting BBC Radio 2 Folk Award Finalists Lady Maisery (“women with ideas, purpose and urgency… powerful, enthralling work” – ‘Songlines’) and the irrepressible Leicester songwriter, activist and performer Grace Petrie (“a powerful new songwriting voice” – ‘The Guardian’).

“Three years ago, they all got together to celebrate International Women’s Day in March with a series of three concerts. Since then, the tour has extended year on year… Experience these thought-provoking, entertaining and enthralling women debuting the music from their first collective EP, ‘Unholy Choir’ (recorded at Frome’s Cooper Hall in the early part of 2017), and performing both individually and collectively on one stage.”

Here are examples of work by each of the three Coven components; followed by a clip of all of them together, performing an extended harmony-folk take on Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work. A version of the latter is on ‘Unholy Choir’ along with the Maisery’s Rowan Rheingans’ resetting of female labour anthem Bread & Roses, a cover of the late Maggie Roche’s Quitting Time, an a capella version of Pat Humphries ’ Never Turning Back, a new version of Grace’s If There’s A Fire In Your Heart and a full sextet version of Coil & Spring (O’Hooley and Tidow’s Pussy Riot tribute, co-written with former Chumbawamba mainstay Boff Whalley). So far, the plan is for the EP to only be available at the gigs. Early on, at least, you’ll need to attend one to get one.





 

Full tour dates:

Coven, 2017
 

January 2017 – upcoming London gigs – Society of Imaginary Friends soiree with Swifty Lazarre, Millie George, I Am Her, Cian Binchy & Nighmar Ascouski (6th); Tom O.C Wilson and Beetles play Café Oto (11th)

3 Jan

Another year comes around, and it’s back to the small rooms and the hidden wonders…

Soif Soiree , 6th January 2016

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
‘New Year Soif Soiree’: Society of Imaginary Friends + The Right Reverend Swifty Lazarre + Millie George + I Am Her + Cian Binchey + Nighmar Askouski
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London N22 6UJ, England
Friday 6th December 2017, 8:00pm
– free entry – information

Kicking off a new year, Society Of Imaginary Friends have another of their left-field, mixed-art, performance’n’protest soirees rolling up in Wood Green this Friday.

As hosts, the Society have previously offered grand Kate Bush-styled prog-pop, transfigured folk, and even miniature rock operas about the speaking clock. This time, they’re unveiling “a sad blues for this ecstatic blue jewel that we ride across the Universe.” There’ll also be soiree regulars performing – two actor-performers (autism-positive Cian Binchy and sometime dark poet Nighmar Ascouski) offer a kind of cross-set dialogue, the one providing “a glimpse of a better world, a Utopian vision of every one stopping messing about and just kind of sorting it out” and the other “a glimpse of what to expect if we don’t.” Julie D. Riley is also returning with her singer-songwriter project I Am Her in order to “fill our hearts with punk fury at the crass stupidity of it all.”


 
In keeping with their taste for statements of resistance and community voicing (and, fresh for 2017, that sense of impending dread), the Society have announced that “the theme for our January Soiree is ‘lets stop climate disaster in 2017’. Sir David Hempleman-Adams has just completed a circumnavigation of the Arctic Polar region in a sailing boat. A journey that would have in the past taken three years because of the ice and pack-ice has just taken him four months. He saw very little ice. The infamous North West Passage was virtually ice-free…

“What are we going to do to meet the challenge we all face? Please give it some thought over the next few days and bring your ideas to the Soiree to be aired. We are hoping to have a video link-up with a genuine climate activist speaking from a secret location… briefing us on the current state of affairs so that we can all work towards a solution to avoid this global catastrophe as the evening progresses.”

Also on hand to entertain and provoke are slide guitar blues preacher and alleged Devil’s poker buddy The Right Reverend Swifty Le Zarre – here to represent “an extremely disconcerted deity” while dipping into a stack of pre- and post-war blues classics – and activist performance-poet Millie George, who’s been compared to both Angela Davis and Sylvia Plath and is representing “the very unhappy youth who are watching us fiddle as the world burns…”


 
Other than that, the usual SOIF circumstances applies – the free entry, the communal atmosphere, the top-notch vegan food; the general likelihood of them pulling some unknown/obscure/future star onstage for you.

* * * * * * * *

Tom O.C. Wilson (photo by James Birtwistle)

Tom O.C Wilson + Beetles
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Wednesday 11 January 2017, 8.00pminformation

A few days later, Tom O.C. Wilson gets to take over the art shack at Café Oto for an evening. Tom was last seen in December, supporting Bob Drake on the latter’s joyful, loose cannon art-rock swings through London. On that occasion he brought along Beetles, his alt.pop duo with Laila Woozeer which he’ll be bringing to this gig too (as well as headlining with his own four-piece band featuring drummer James Ashdown, bass player Steve Haynes and keyboard player Steve Troughton).

Leaner and less cutely baroque than his earlier work as Freeze Puppy, Tom’s more recent solo work on Soundcloud shows how he’s pushing his idiosyncratic and elliptical songwriting voice forwards. Though the half-spoken, half-conversationally-sung vocals are familiar from Puppy Time (as are the clambering, almost-jazzy melodies) the dusty synth trumpets replacing the cute keyboard tones suggest a growing interest in natural timbres. More significantly, he’s shedding some of his previous, precocious preciousness and becoming more literary while at the same time managing to become more compelling a listen: a neat trick to pull off.


 
Itchy and unnerving, swaying between a surprising number of key shifts across its three-and-a-half minutes, The Wagon is a self-proclaimed “song of struggle”, ostensibly about quitting cigarettes; but as the lines and distractions unfold, it could as much be about quitting a person, or jabbing around the edges of artistic compulsion in search of the route to an aim. If you were to pick a comparison, it would have to be a narrative wrangled between Stephen Malkmus at his most effusive and the looping literary embroideries of Stars In Battledress – a delightfully skewed and verbose transatlantic mixture which mirrors Tom’s own mixed English and American roots.

Beetles (photo by Paul @ bitoclass)

Beetles (photo by Paul @ bitoclass)


Beetles – lo-fi unwinders of “intricate, skeletal pop songs” – have a scrappier and almost-unplugged approach, with their instrumentation limited to Tom’s slippery, feathery electric guitar and to the deceptively loose twining of Tom and Laila’s voices. The sparse pair of tracks they put up on Soundcloud this past autumn tease through ideas as if working on stubborn, resistant knots in the hair. Tom and Laila offer thoughtful pop song perspectives from the losing sides of open relationships, from in and around deceptions; stories-in-process from (or about) unreliable people, or people who might have bitten off more than they can chew. They cite Regina Spektor, Nirvana and the other Beatles (the one with the “a”) as inspiration: for me, though, I keep imagining an alternate Sonny and Cher, immured in a thin-walled apartment for months on end, toning down the carolling and coming up with increasingly fractured songs as they start to forget which of them is whom.



 

December 2016 – upcoming gigs – ‘Staggerlee Wonders’ with Robert Mitchell, Debbie Sanders, Corey Mwamba, John Edwards, Elaine Michener, Mark Sanders and others (London, 8th); Trio Generations with Maggie Nichols/Lisa Ullén/Matilda Rolfsson (Cheltenham and London, 9th & 11th)

5 Dec

StaggerLee Wonders
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 8th December 2016, 8.00pm
– information here and here

'Staggerlee Wonders', 8th December 2016Billed as “an evening of radical poetry and prose fused with free improvised music”, this event’s title is taken from James Baldwin’s blazingly scornful, almost conversational poem – itself named for the black outlaw/hoodlum who flits and thunders through a set of conflicting American tales and songs, taking on the roles of murderer, proud badass, pimp and more.

In all cases, Stagger Lee’s become a byword and signifier for transgressive black resistance to cultural pressure and norms. A lengthy lope in a thickly jazzy, declamatory style, Baldwin’s version takes up the final, revolutionary Stagger Lee position, setting aside the thuggery, choosing instead to weigh up the protests, delusions and not-so-secret wickednesses of white hegemony in one Afro-American palm (seamed with exile, scepticism and righteous ire) before firing up his sardonic, acidic tongue to flay and spit the flesh right off their bones. It’s not clear whether Baldwin’s take will be performed as the evening’s centrepiece, or whether it simply serves as an inspiration; but it certainly sets the bar high, both artistically and politically.

Various performers, both black and white, are confirmed to attend. Hopefully, they’ll all rise to the explicit challenge. Reknowned for his weighty slowhand approach, jazz pianist Robert Mitchell has worked with Epiphany3, F-ire Collective and Panacea. Jazz/folktronicist Corey Mwamba plays small instruments, dulcimer and electronics across assorted projects but is best known for his highly dynamic, hammers-to-humming vibraphone playing and for the ongoing questioning spirit which he explores in both live music and academia (and any intersections he can make between the two). Voices come from restless, movement performer and polygenre singer Elaine Michener (recently seen at the Cockpit Theatre in a quartet with Alexander Hawkins) and from storytelling singer/composer Debbie Sanders (currently heading up Mina Minou Productions, previously embedded in proto-acid-jazz, trip-hop and British R&B via work with Skylab and Chapter & The Verse).

Bass and drums are provided by two stunning soloists who also happen to make up one of London music’s most formidable rhythm partnerships. Both double bass player John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders are capable of a breadth of sound and attack on their respective instruments, running across an orchestral breadth from whisper to hailstone attack (via conversation or monologue, from growling belligerence to kidding conversation or querying patter).

More people may be showing up to play, but that’s already a pretty thrilling loose sextet to work with and to choose from.

* * * * * *

Trio Generations is an intermittent name for a convocation of three top European improvisers, Maggie Nichols, Lisa Ullén and Matilda Rolfsson. Formed last year, they’re playing a couple of English shows to bookend the upcoming weekend. Outlines below, mostly from the Café Oto pages:

Trio Generations, 2016

Trio Generations, 2016

Maggie Nicols joined London’s legendary Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1968 as a free improvisation vocalist. She then became active running voice workshops with an involvement in local experimental theatre. She later joined the group Centipede, led by Keith and Julie Tippets and in 1977, with musician/composer Lindsay Cooper, formed the remarkable Feminist Improvising Group. She lives in Wales and continues performing and recording challenging and beautiful work, in music and theatre, either in collaborations with a range of artists (Irene Schweitzer, Joelle Leandre, Ken Hyder, Caroline Kraabel) as well as solo.

Matilda Rolfsson is a Swedish percussionist and free improviser, based in Trondheim, Norway. During the spring of 2015 she was temporarily based in London where she finished her masters in free improvisation and the relationship between improvised music and dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. During her London stay Matilda got the chance to meet and play with some of Londons most efficient improvisers: Phil Minton, Sylvia Hallett and London Improvisers Orchestra with Maggie Nichols. With her 20” vintage Gretsch bass drum, Tibetan bowls, gongs, bells and plastic isolations, sticks, fingers and brushes, Matilda explores the free improvisation and the instant compositions shaped in the moment: dynamics, orchestrations – structure and chaos. To make rules and break rules, always with the question: where’s the music going, and where’s the freedom?

“Pianist Lisa Ullén grew up in the northern part of Sweden, and is based in Stockholm. A versatile player with a singular musical vision, Lisa has repeatedly proven her ability to imprint her absolute sense for tonal texture on whatever musical context she appears in. Besides working as a soloist and leader of her own groups, Lisa has collaborated extensively with many well-known Swedish artists and dancers, and has also scored several dramatic productions. She’s also performed and recorded music by contemporary composers.”
 
To provide a sense of what might be coming, here’s the full half-hour set from their debut performance at IKLECTIK in 2015: a fractured, prolonged collective improvisation which swaps mood, pace and suggestions like a game of speed poker, with passing shreds of blues. Although Lisa and Matilda match her with lethally-aimed flinders of explosive, challenging percussion and piano, Maggie remains the centre of attention via a performance that’s as much stand-up comedy or theatre piece as it is free jazz. She produces not only the clucks, hisses, pants and operatics of free-voice improv but a bewildering spiky cavalcade of female voices and archetypes (hopeful chitterer, wise sly crone, mother in labour, put-upon wailer, deft gossiper) while including fleeting lyrics from jazz, blues or music hall and assorted Dada twists (including a phase which sounds like a demonic toothbrushing session).


 

This month’s Trio Generations dates:

  • Xposed Club @ Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, England, Friday 9th December 2016, 8.00pm (with Chris Cundy) – information
  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Monday 11th December 2016, 8.00pminformation

At the Café Oto show, John Edwards will be joining in to make the group a quartet. While there’s no support act at Oto, at the Xposed Club Cheltenham reedsman/multi-instrumentalist Chris Cundy will be providing a solo slot on bass clarinet and saxophone. A tactile extended-technique player, Chris began as a self-taught Medway busker coming into his own under the combined influence of Eric Dolphy (on record) and Billy Childish (in the flesh and in the kitchen). Following a relocation to Cheltenham to pursue fine art, Chris has broadened his scope into a world of other collaborations in film, electronica, free improvisation and pop. He’s worked extensively with Fyfe Dangerfield (as part of the Guillemots horn section and as an integral member of Gannets), with Canadian freak-folkers Timbre Timbre and a succession of left-field singer-songwriters. His extended techniques (including multi-phonics, circular breathing and microtonality) have also led him into exploring the works of Cage and Cardew and those of contemporary avant-garde composers such as Thanos Chrysakis and Pete M Wyer, as well as producing a growing number of albums of his own work.


 

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