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February 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Society Of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Meg Lee Chin, Keiko Kitamura, I Am Her, Kosmic Troubadour, Math Jones (2nd February); Peter Blegvad Trio and Bob Drake (9th February – plus the Club Integral Resonance Benefit Gala on the 8th); Evil Blizzard and Nasty Little Lonely (10th February)

29 Jan

SOIF Soiree, 2nd February 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“Into The Forest” Soiree: Meg Lee Chin + Keiko Kitamura + I Am Her + Kosmic Troubadour + Math Jones
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here

After a few events which were perhaps a little more predictable than we’d’ve hoped, this month’s Society Of Imaginary Friends-hosted concert moves up a gear with the involvement of “two goddesses of Earth and Heaven”. Purple twilight time:

“We take the path that leads down from the fell, over the style, over a stream and into the heart of the forest. At first it seems completely lifeless in the wood, all of its creatures hibernating deep in the ground; but as our eyes become adjusted to the dusky dark and senses atuned to its music..the rustle of a robin in the dried leaves, a squirrel’s staccato, a falling pine cone. Suddenly we are in a clearing of softest moss – a place of refuge and rest, where a clear spring rises and sunlight dances. Welcome to our “Into the Forest” Soiree.”

A mid-‘90s Pigface member (and the former frontwoman for female noise band Crunch), industrial pop/darkwave/hip hop songstress and hands-on producer Meg Lee Chin is a prime example of longstanding female creativity and independence. Having rattled cages and excited commentators with her turn on Pigface’s ‘Nutopia’, she then spearheaded contemporary home-studio recording with her 1999 solo album ‘Piece and Love’ and went on to found pro-audio community Gearslutz. Although released music has been sporadic for the last couple of decades, Meg’s kept her reputation as a fascinating, brilliant performer and composer and as an outspoken, sometimes contrary blogger. SOIF, in turn, have a reputation for coaxing people’s slumbering performance talents out of semi-retirement: if Meg’s risen to the occasion in response, this ought to be pretty exciting.

Also on hand – and in delightful contrast – is Keiko Kitamura: known for activities ranging from replaying Japanese court music to Jah Wobble’s Nippon Dub Ensemble, is a leading international koto player (in particular, the 17-string bass version) as well as a singer and shamisen player. Expect a mixture of tradition and originality.




 
The rest of the appropriately quirky SOIF bill is filled out by eccentric rainbow keyboard warrior The Kosmic Troubadour, poet/dramatist Math Jones (with a sheaf of forest poems) and Soiree regular I Am Her, a.k.a. ex-Rosa Mota singer Julie D. Riley (who also, with fellow Rosacian Sacha Galvagna, makes up transatlantic transcontinental electropop minimalists Crown Estate). As ever, the Society themselves are performing, presenting (presumably) art-pop forest ballads to take in with the Karamel vegan feast that’s part and parcel of a SOIF event. This time, you get an appropriately woody wild forest mushroom soup, a mushroom and root vegetable pizza and some Black Forest gateau…


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Here’s news on one of the several fundraisers for London alt.culture radio station Resonance FM, helping it to keep up its mission of broadcasting the wild and wonderful across the Smoke’s airwaves and around the world online. Even setting aside the calibre of the night’s performers, it’s pretty much worth going along for that reason alone.

Peter Blegvad Trio, 9th February 2018

Resonance FM presents:
Peter Blegvad Trio with Bob Drake
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Friday 9th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Peter Blegvad – not only for the owlish wit of his songs (including his skill as palindromist and wordplayer) and the enviable polymathic breadth of skills which means he’s also a fine experimental cartoonist, audio dramatist and commentator. It’s also because anyone who can get himself sacked from ‘70s avant/oppositional prog gods Henry Cow by outrightly twitting their seriousness at the height of their brow-furrowing Maoist phase (and apparently by writing a lyric about a woman chucking raisins at a skeleton) is a man who knows something about whistling in the face of sternness.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t make too much of this. For one thing, despite (and because of) Henry Cow’s high-flying, generally admirable idealism, spending time there seems to have been argumentative for everyone (in particular during the period in which almost every potential action appeared to have its cripping counter-bourgeois condemnation, during which a man of Peter’s wayward questioning wit and self-declared flippancy would have stuck out like a slammable thumb in the way of a door). Once out of the mothership, though, it was evidently easier to be familial. Showing up most artistic spats and internal rock band feuds for the pique and piffle that they are, all of the ex-Cow-ers grew up (and grew past their arguments) to become a mutually supportive bunch. Threading in and out of each other’s concerts and solo careers, they rapidly learned to welcome and celebrate the diversity of their collective interests and ideas, and they’ve stayed that way.


 
Proving this yet again, whenever the Peter Blegvad Trio comes back together it reunites Peter with two regular Cowfriends: John Greaves (bassist and longtime ally both during and after Cowdays, from the ‘Kew.Rhone.’ project onwards) and Chris Cutler (drummer and owner of the eclectic and honourable post-Cow record label ReR Megacorp which, since 1988, has released four widely-spaced Blegvad albums – ‘Downtime’, ‘Just Woke Up’, ‘Hangman’s Hill’ and last year’s ‘Go Figure’). Thirty-seven years of on/off playing together has resulted in a relaxed, gently telepathic connection: not a mysterious communion, nor an alliance of breakneck musical stuntwork, but an easy, comfortable instinct for what’s required to frame the song and no more. As for Peter himself, if you’re unfamiliar with his work it’s best to think of someone with one foot in the sardonic-wit songworld of Loudon P. Wainwright, Leon Rosselson, Richard Thompson and Kinky Friedman, and the other in the counterflow rock camp which the Cow shared with (among others) Faust and Pere Ubu.


 
And that brings me to the second point – ultimately, it’s really pretty misleading to define Peter by the lineaments of Henry Cow, art-prog or Rock In Opposition. Granted, he’s spent quite a bit of time paddling away in those areas (in addition to ‘Kew.Rhone’ and the Cow work, there’s been Slapp Happy, Faust and The Lodge, as well as swing-by dates with The Golden Palominos and Art Bears). Yet if you put him firmly in the driving seat on his own, what you get isn’t hyperliterate trickery, but intelligent, light-touch, surprisingly roots-rocking songs with a smart economy of tale-telling and reflection.

He’s still got a yen for throwing up a thesis and exploring it (this is, after all, a man who once explored the roots and fears of the European Union via a teasing, erudite and baffling lyrical mirror-maze of classical borrowings), but more often than not he’ll now use a folk or country-folk form to do so, or pick a nuanced idea to polish in a few simple strokes: something a child could pick up on but which an adult might savour. From some angles you could even confuse him (via that nasal, tuneful, breathy bark of a voice) with a more relaxed Mike Scott in acoustic mode, or even with Mark Knopfler in a moment of sardonic humanism. Although neither of them would have written a love ballad as sparse and sorrowful as Shirt And Comb, honed a metaphysical gag like Something Else (Is Working Harder) or tweaked, explored and upended a common cultural assumption the way Peter does on Gold.


 
One of the contributors to ‘Go Figure’ (along with Karen Mantler) was the delightful Bob Drake – the erstwhile Thinking Plague and 5uu’s mainstay turned offbeat producer and solo artist. For more of my rambles on him, take a look over here. The long and the short about him, though, is that he’s a multi-instrumentalist and hedge-bard with broad and rambling ideas about just how far you can stretch and mutate an open-ended thought or song, who now regularly heads out for solo voice-and-guitar gigs (often performing, for reasons both flippant and serious, in a lovely white bear-dog suit). Like Peter Blegvad, Bob’s got a liking for complexity and warm perverse wit; but what you take away from his shows is literal shaggy-doggery: peculiar sung tales both finished and unfinished about strange mammals, haunted houses, odd habits, monster-movie scenarios and twisted eldritch dimensions.

When I originally posted this, I was under the impression that Bob was playing a solo Oto support slot, but it now appears that he’s actually beefing up the Trio to a quartet, with or without the animal suit. If you still want to see Bob in solo mode, however, you could set aside some time the previous evening for another Resonance FM fundraiser: Club Integral‘s annual Resonance tin-shaker, being held south of the river at IKLEKTIK on Thursday 8th.

Offering “thirteen minute sets from thirteen acts”, this features a wealth of music-and/or-noise-makers from the Integral playlists: improv pranksters Glowering Figs, audiovisual sculptress Franziska Lantz, ARCO composer Neil Luck, mixed-ability folk internationalists the No Frills Band, Found Drowned/Four Seasons Television guitar manipulator James O’Sullivan, sound designer/Howlround member Robin The Fog, Bob and Roberta Smith (a.ka. artist/advocate/utopian Patrick Brill) playing with his own “musical intervention” project The Apathy Band, restlessly morphing New Wave survivors Spizz, and whoever St Moritz, Two Horns, Robert Storey, Strayaway Child, Swordfish and King/Cornetto happen to be. Plus Bob – who was hoping to balance his thirteen-minute time limit with the playing of thirteen one-minute songs, but has apparently opted to settle for eleven.


 
(If Bob’s wily, he’ll also strap a few tentacles onto that fur-suit and go up and do a bit of busking by Camden Lock, staking out the London Lovecraft Festival that’s also taking place that week…)

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Evil Blizzard, 10th February 2018

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Evil Blizzard + Nasty Little Lonely
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England
Wednesday 10th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here

Filling in a three-cornered gap between Public Image Ltd, Poisoned Electrick Head and The Residents, hilariously distressing Preston lords of misrule Evil Blizzard are bringing their act south in order to launch their ‘Fast Forward Rewind’ single (from upcoming third album ‘The Worst Show On Earth’). Their gigs are part banging art-punk party and part horror-comedy masked ball, featuring four cranky and disparate bass guitarists; a singing, chanting drummer; and a pair of in-house stage invaders in the shape of a dancing money-chucking pig and a man running wild with a mop.

The assorted masks (hilarious and creepy) and the threatening mannequin/orc lunges may make it all look like an Auton’s cheese-dream or a riot in a Black Lodge dollhouse, but underneath the screaming horse-laughs are a rattling good party band. Over the years, they’ve won over many a psychedelic or underground festival audience and even their own musical heroes (with Killing Joke, Hawkwind and PiL having invited them on for support slots).



 
Also playing are stomping industrial post-punk duo Nasty Little Lonely, who provide a bandsaw-guitar set of “post apocalyptic decadence, discarded trappings of consumerism gone awry, alienation and small furry creatures with very sharp teeth.” They might possibly be tempted to dance afterwards if you encourage them enough.


 

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.



 

October-December 2017 – performance art in London – Erin Markey’s ‘Boner Killer’ show (3rd-14th October) and ‘Inside Pussy Riot’ (14th November-24th December)

29 Sep

Quick notes on two fiery female-driven events coming up. I’ll let them speak for themselves, since those involved are far more voluble than I could be…

* * * * * * * *

'Erin Markey, Boner Killer', autumn 2017

Fierce vs The Yard Theatre presents:
“Erin Markey, Boner Killer”
The Yard Theatre, Queen’s Yard, White Post Lane, Hackney Wick, London, E9 5EN, England
Wednesday 3rd to Saturday 14th October 2017, 8.00pm
information

“We’re teaming up with the brilliant minds behind Fierce Festival to bring you an evening of performance that’s gonna heat up those dark autumn evenings.

“New York City’s hottest cabaret-cum-comedy queen Erin Markey is crossing the Atlantic to bring you ‘Boner Killer’ landing at The Yard next week. It’s going to be weird, wild and wickedly funny. Join us for an evening of outrageous songs and explosive performance. Erin has “laser-beam eyes, a hair-raising singing voice, and an intense, almost predatory sexuality” (‘The New Yorker’). She’s a “magnetic diva” (‘New York Times’). She’s one of Brooklyn’s 50 Funniest People (‘Brooklyn Magazine’). And she wants to tell you some stories.

“‘Boner Killer’ fuses Erin’s signature autobiographical stand-up with her sensual home-made pop. It’s an intimate musical conversation between what she thinks she can’t have and how she’d have it if she could. See her sacrifice her life to the mike and transform personal humiliations into naked feminist hope.”


 

* * * * * * *

'Inside Pussy Riot'

Les Enfants Terribles & The Tsukanov Family Foundation present:
‘Inside Pussy Riot’
Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, Chelsea, London, SW3 4RY, England
Tuesday 14th November to Sunday 24th December 2017
information

“From Les Enfants Terribles theatre company, the creators of Olivier nominated immersive smash hit ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground‘, comes ‘Inside Pussy Riot’ – a story that needs to be experienced to be understood. Coinciding with the Saatchi Gallery‘s ‘Art Riot: Post Soviet Actionism‘ exhibition and presented in association with the Tsukanov Family Foundation, Inside Pussy Riot is an immersive experience, about Nadya Tolokonnikova‘s tribulations as the founder of Pussy Riot, the post punk, feminist art collective who stuck two fingers up at the Russian system and suffered the consequences.

“On 17th August 2012, Nadya was prosecuted for performing thirty-five seconds of a song called Virgin Mary Put Putin Away – a direct attack on the Russian Orthodox Church’s unequivocal support for Vladimir Putin – inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. She was convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and was sentenced to two years of imprisonment, where she was faced with solitary confinement and humiliation, including regular forced gynaecological examinations.

“To mark the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, audiences are encouraged to pull on the balaclava and stand up for what they believe in. Stand in the dock as Pussy Riot and live the realities of incarceration through this exhilarating theatre experience. Would you sacrifice everything for the sake of a punk prayer for a freer world?

“The immersive world of ‘Inside Pussy Riot’ seeks to remind audiences what actually happened and how one’s basic human rights and freedom of expression can be taken away at any point. With heightened theatricality, the production exposes the horrors of Pussy Riot’s experience, and shows that what happened to them can happen to anyone. We are all Pussy Riot.”

Here’s their original Kickstarter trailer for the project…


 

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


 
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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.




 
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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!”

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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
 


 

 

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