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July 2018 – upcoming avant-pop gigs – Liam Singer in New York and Catskill with Sontag Shogun, Alexander Turnquist and Tim Mislock (12th, 13th July)

6 Jul

Liam Singer, 2018Bar his efforts in assembling a performance of Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ under the Brooklyn Bridge last year, not enough has been heard from Liam Singer since he released his gorgeously limpid ‘Arc Iris’ album in 2013. In fact, he’s quit New York City and moved upstate to Catskill, where he’s now co-running HiLo – a combined cafe, bar, art gallery, and performance space. New responsibilities, however, haven’t stemmed his musical flow. Two imminent shows (one at HiLo and one in his old Brooklyn stomping grounds) mark this month’s release of his fifth album, ‘Finish Him‘, on Birdwatcher Records.

Centred on his piano and the sweet murmur of his voice, Liam’s previous records brought in strings, glass harmonicas and spectral studio reverb; the clink and clatter of gamelan and prepared instruments, Morton Feldman namedrops, and women’s voices shading into birdsong. They sketched out a sharply etched dreamworld which seemed to take place in and on the towns, roads and headlands of a permeable New England coastline – one in which ancient mythology and personal headspace interpenetrated, and danced their way up and down from the seabed to the constellations. Either that, or they evoked loft life in an idealised, slightly antiquated boho New York or upscale university town – Art Deco bannisters, rumpled stockings discarded by elusive free-spirited lovers; mannered speech, books on the Harlem Renaissance.

It was pop, but pop over which Steve Reich and the aforementioned Feldman presided as occasional guardian angels (as did Henry Cowell and Shaker music), amidst a papery flutter of old books and wallpaper witnessings, and of dust being blown off enthralling junk-shop discoveries. Longtime co-producer Scott Solter likes to link it to “Edward Gorey and the Brothers Quay“. The descriptions may sound precious, but the songs aren’t. No showboater, Liam is nonetheless one of those singers whose tones gently, subtly shift and refract between wonder, melancholy, wry self-deprecation and ecstacy: a caster of light upon things, rather than a hoarder or showcaser. The folding of literary and mythical references into his songs – and their subtly eclectic instrumentation – may bring him comparisons to Elliott Smith (especially in terms of the intimate delivery) and to Sufjan Stevens; but to me he’s a far more gentler character, bringing a human fragility and self-awareness to his steps in and out of a numinous music realm. A bit like an American William D. Drake, perhaps; though minus the occasional overt music-hall flourishes.


 
That said, ‘Finish Him’ (described as “a coming-out party”) sees Liam changing tack. Now he’s fully, publically embracing influences he’s previously only hinted at – predominantly colourful 1980s art pop “from a time when traces of the Baroque and avant-garde began to seep into the margins of the mainstream alongside the iconic synths, gated reverbs and big hair.” The science-fiction bacofoil-meets-CGI video, drum machine and layered synths of pilot single Test Tone determinedly sets out this new stall – like Wes Anderson simultaneously taking on ‘Tron’ or one of those Saturday afternoon space operas – and while new tracks like The Devil and I Want To See Sparks are less immediately brash, they’ve set aside some of the diaphanous sound of previously-on-Liam in favour of grander, brighter colourings, scrim-sweeps of noise, and bolder narratives about the struggle between selfishness and connection, the booting over of applecarts.



 
If there’s a new parallel, it’s the latterday work of Paddy McAloon – the revealing of extra bite and sharp points behind the musical meringue, the emergence of perspective and bone-deep feeling that comes with age and gravity taking more of a hold. The magic and mists are still there, just with a little more lightning.

Main support at both shows comes from Liam’s friends in the “lullanoise” project Sontag Shogun, who travel the world and bring back armfuls of noise and aural capturings of different places and times, only to re-knit them into ambiguous/meaningful post-minimalist mood pieces of piano and soundscape. Evoking or manufacturing memories filled with beauty and displacement, they produce music which is part hypnagogic tape, part four-dimensional postcard or souvenir.

For the Brooklyn show, the core Shogun trio (pianist Ian Temple, laptop/field recordings manipulator Jesse Perlstein and tapesman/oscillator operator/microphonist Jeremy Young) are “reformatting and outfitting” the band with a string quartet (thus forming the Sontag String Ensemble) and are playing “all new music, marrying improvisational and experimental sound with composed string arrangements by Ian.” For the Catskill show, they’re reverting to the trio format.



 
Each of the two shows will be bolstered by another instrumental set, each by a different guitarist/composer. In Brooklyn, it’s Alexander Turnquist, whose instrumental reflections on nature and philosophy blend virtuosic twelve-string acoustic fingerstyle with studio-based electronic noise aesthetics, producing a melodious state-shifting thunder of folk baroque/New Acoustic stringwork and reverberant processing which perhaps makes him the heart of an imaginary triangle between Michael Hedges, John Fahey and Jim O’Rourke.

Alexander’s counterpart at the Catskill show is Tim Mislock, whose use of simple electric figures and slow, ebbing ambient-country pulses… renders him more similar to Britain’s Rob Jackson or to a Nashville-saturated Robert Fripp, while also dipping into the lonesome romantic post-rock minimalism of Explosions In The Sky. His current album ‘Now Is The Last Best Time’ is “a heartfelt ode to (his) mother, who over the course of the past decade, has been the primary caregiver to her husband and Mislock’s stepfather; as he slowly fades into the ever-present silence of Alzheimer’s disease.” It’s a project encompassing love, regret, compassion and drift, and you can feel all of them in every note.


Dates:

  • Liam Singer + Sontag String Ensemble + Alexander Turnquist – Wonders Of Nature, 131 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, New York 11249, USA, Thursday 12th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Liam Singer + Sontag Shogun + Tim Mislock – HiLo Catskill, 365 Main Street, Catskill, New York 12414, USA, Friday 13th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here

 

July 2018 – upcoming London singer-songwriter gigs – Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ at the South Bank (4th July) and Holly Penfield’s ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in Piccadilly (9th July)

1 Jul

Ana Silvera, 4th July 2018

‘Oracles’ – the BASCA-nominated song-cycle by Anglo-Portuguese singer-songwriterAna Silvera – already has a seven-year history. Created more or less in parallel with her debut album ‘The Aviary’ (and originally a choral piece for the NEC choir at the Roundhouse), it’s now returning this month, freshly re-arranged for Ana and small vocal/instrumental ensemble, for a full album release and the first of two 2018 live shows.

A response to the pain of intimate family bereavement, ‘Oracles’ “draws on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.” In some senses it’s a wide-spectrum take on adult pop without a trace of that genre’s unnecessary blandening: an as-it-happens assessment of the dramatic personal shifts in position following the loss of both loved ones and of the relationship one has with them while they’re alive.

What I’ve heard of it so far suggests a similar vivacity as her songs elsewhere on album or in her theatrical work – vividly characterised narratives of internal reflection and of landscapes both physical and emotional, mingling detailed, nakedly honest personal verbal imagery and an influx of Portuguese folk feel in a way which makes her sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.


 
For the live performance, Ana’s six-piece band features her co-arranger – Listenpony curator and singing multi-instrumentalist Josephine Stephenson – plus a wealth of folk-jazz talent in the shape of the string trio of Jasper Høiby on double bass, Alice Zawadzki on vocals and violin, and Alice Purton on vocals and cello, plus Will Barry on piano and percussion.

The concert will feature “specially arranged new songs” for the first half and a full run through ‘Oracles’ for the second: the latter including a specially commissioned dance film by Royal Ballet/’Random Acts‘ director/dancer Kate Church and art director Alice Williamson.

Ana Silvera – ‘Oracles’
Purcell Room @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Wednesday 4th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here


 
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Holly Penfield, 9th July 2018

From where she’s standing in her life right now, Holly Penfield can reach out in both directions to touch the passionate, large-lunged ingenue singer of her youth and the salty life-loving veteran she’s transforming into. Of course, she’s got a longer, bolder reach than most. Once tagged as “David Bowie meets Liza Minelli” by a surprised and wrongfooted Simon Cowell, she’s a classic torch-pop singer with a stunning voice who’s also both blessed and cursed with an upsetter’s drive. These days, as she rebounds from twenty years as a leading international cabarettier in order to return to her own songs, it’s more of a blessing.

Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).


 
It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).


 
What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).

Holly Penfield’s Fragile Human Monster Show
Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Monday 9th July 2018, 9.15pm
– information here


 

July 2018 – upcoming London folk and world gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Chris Wood (6th July); Fire Choir’s ‘Sing The Change’ (9th July); Ewan McLennan and Twelve Dead In Everett (13th July); London Bulgarian Choir and Harbottle & Jonas (20th July)

1 Jul

Following the previous two months of successful unamplified outdoor folk gigs in May and June, here’s a rundown of Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows for July. (Well, the first four, anyway, to avoid making the post too long).

What’s on offer for the first half of July involves Bulgarian and civil rights chorale, contemporary English folk, seditious workers’ songs and Devonian stomp. As ever, it’s taking place in London’s playgrounds, garden projects and small artist studios (as well as the odd secret location…)

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The first concert, on 6th July, features Chris Wood.

“A self-taught musician, composer and songwriter, Chris Wood is a lifelong autodidact whose independent streak shines through everything he does. Always direct and unafraid to speak his mind, his song writing has been praised for its surgical clarity. An uncompromising writer (who cites his major influence as “Anon”), his music reveals his love for the un-official history of the English speaking people: with gentle intelligence, he weaves the tradition with his own contemporary parables.

“Hollow Point, Chris’ chilling ballad of the shooting of Jean Charles Menezez, won a BBC Folk Award (he’s won six). This year’s eagerly awaited new album ‘So Much To Defend’ was previewed at Cambridge Folk Festival last summer and includes reflections on minor league football, empty nest syndrome, learning to swim, Cook-in Sauce and, not least, the gecko as a metaphor for contemporary society.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The second concert – ‘Sing the Change’, on 9th July, is a particularly personal endeavour for folk singer/songwriter/curator (and Nest Collective/Campfire Club promoter) Sam Lee. It’s the inaugural concert of the Fire Choir which he runs in partnership with The Foundling Museum“(a) new, “open to all” community choir… dedicated to revitalising communal singing with political empowerment and a sonorous means to protest at its heart. If you want to channel your love for this world or discontent with it through singing, or just discover your voice with like-minded (or unlike-minded) others, then Fire Choir is for you.

“Highlighting social and environmental injustice, Fire Choir builds on the Museum’s centuries-old legacy of social change, campaigning and creativity. Singers tap into the enormous and ancient international repertoire of songs rooted in social change, justice and emancipation. Material includes folk songs, modern songs, anti-war songs, songs of resistance and struggle, the natural world, songs of love and lost worlds.

“A generous aspect of the Fire Choir repertoire has been specially commissioned from the perspective of contemporary communities struggling for a louder voice in society, written by some of the UK’s best songwriters and composers. Plus to keep the spirits high there is of course lots of good old rabble-rousing, soul-lifting chants and hollers! The choir is a vehicle to take these songs to the streets, the auditoria, the recording studio and many other as yet unknown places.

“‘Sing the Change’ will feature protest songs highlighting social injustice and calling for change, and including the world premiere of a special commission by Dizraeli, and Ayanna Witter Johnson‘s ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ (a setting of a speech by Sojourner Truth). It will also contain contributions from special guests and choir leaders Blythe Pepino (Vaults, Mesadorm), Ben See, Alex Etchart, and Sam Lee.”

If you want to sing with the Fire Choir yourself, they usually rehearse at the Museum on a Monday evening and welcome “absolute beginners” – here’s the link again.

Campfire Club: Fire Choir, 9th July 2018

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The third concert, on 13th July, features Ewan McLennan and Twelve Dead In Everett.

Ewan McLennan has come to be known as a guitarist at the very forefront of his generation; a troubadour, balladeer and storyteller cut in the old style; a singer that can move audiences with his passion and pathos; and a songwriter for whom social justice is still a burning issue. From a BBC Horizon Award for his debut album to his performances on the iconic Transatlantic Sessions, recent years have been marked by numerous awards and accolades for his music.


 
“The reception offered to Ewan’s latest solo album, ‘Stories Still Untold’, continued this tradition, while his most recent project – ‘Breaking The Spell Of Loneliness’, a collaboration with renowned author and journalist George Monbiot – seeks to use music and word to open up the issue of loneliness (their UK tour and concept album have received wide acclaim and been featured widely, including live appearances on BBC Two’s Newsnight, BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and BBC Radio 3’s In Tune.)


 
“All of them being members of the Industrial Workers Of The World (a.k.a. the Wobblies), Twelve Dead In Everett are a low-down, seditious trio unearthing contemporary political resonances in the traditional music of England, Ireland, Scotland and the United States. Sweet harmonies of reason in a world deaf to exploitation. Songs to fan the flames of discontent and tell your boss to go to hell.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The fourth concert, on 20th July, features London Bulgarian Choir and Harbottle & Jonas.

“The award-winning London Bulgarian Choir is a vibrant, sociable and open-hearted group of singers embracing all nationalities, ages and abilities. The choir was founded in 2000 by Dessi Stefanova, a former singer with the legendary Philip Koutev Bulgarian National Folk Ensemble in Sofia. Thanks to her patience and dedication this group of largely non-Bulgarian singers has become a performing tour de force, winning hearts and minds from the Welsh valleys to Bulgaria’s mountain villages. From its early days as a handful of singers, the choir has grown into an extended ensemble bringing its repertoire of traditional Bulgarian songs to concert halls, churches, nightclubs, galleries, festivals, embassies, village squares and even a barge on the River Thames.


 
“The songs performed by the London Bulgarian Choir are arrangements of traditional and ancient Bulgarian songs. Some tell powerful tales of love and loss, fighting and celebration, while others are inspired by the daily fabric of life. Sung in a complex and unique vocal style, these folk songs have survived five hundred years of Ottoman rule and fifty years of communist indoctrination to emerge with their extraordinary dissonant harmonies, exotic scales, compelling rhythms and exuberant trills and hiccups virtually intact. The choir’s spine-tingling performance of the songs transcends language barriers, and often moves audiences to tears.

Harbottle & Jonas are a stunning young folk duo based in Totnes, Devon. Their music is eclectic and is always accompanied with a great story. Together the husband-and-wife duo combine the rich traditions of folk music with original and contemporary interpretations, through a blend of closely intertwined vocal harmonies. Their music is performed with integrity and on instruments that include the concertina, harmonium, banjo, stompbox, acoustic and resonator guitars. They can sometimes be found playing alongside their full band – eight members in total (cello, fiddle, mandolin, trumpet, drums, bass). Well-travelled across the UK and playing up to 200 gigs each year, Harbottle & Jonas have managed to establish themselves as one of the most exciting prospects on the folk circuit.”


 
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Full dates and links:

  • Campfire Club: Chris Wood – Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground, 15 Market Road, Lower Holloway, London, N7 9PL, England, Friday 6th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Fire Choir – The Calthorpe Project, 258-274 Gray’s Inn Road, St Pancras, London, WC1X 8LH, England, Monday 9th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Campfire Club: Ewan McLennan + Twelve Dead In Everett – (secret location t.b.c.), Friday 13th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: London Bulgarian Choir + Harbottle & Jonas – Phytology, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Middleton Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9RR, England, Friday 20th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

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More on the last two July concerts later….
 

June 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – H0nkies, TomZack, Aeddan and Stal Kingsley (14th June)

11 Jun

H0nkies + Tomzack + Aeddan + Stal Kingsley, 14th June 2018
If you’re in London on 14th June (and not already heading for the Lost Crowns show in Dalston), you might consider this free event.

Friends Serene presents:
H0nkies + TomZack + Aeddan + Stal Kingsley
The Lock Tavern, 35 Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 8AJ, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 7.30pm
– free entry – information here and here

As you might have noticed in previous posts, I’ve got an ambivalent relationship with Americana: but while H0nkies dabble in it (the official line is that their work is “Americana, bluesy, post-punk country cuts”) they don’t pay it much undue respect. They pick it up, drop it on the floor, and then drunkenly gum it back together with added noise and clatter and hooty keyboards.

Here’s ‘Pagans’, their half of a recent split single. It’s a punky-tonk, a little as if The Libertines, Tom Waits, Jim White and Madness had collaborated in a round of happy mutual arse-kicking. Their singer keeps peering out of the racket (and out from beneath his own looning bawl) as if to wink at us, as if we were in on the gag. I think I like him.

 
In the space of a year, Tottenham art-rock/post-punk quintet TomZack have travelled from the industrial dance feelers of their debut single Too Much To Love to the theatrical flair of their current incarnation, delivering peculiar badlands singalongs and rumblesongs on record. A band with at least one parallel life, they’re also working on a live soundtrack to the upcoming theatre version of ‘The Forbidden Zone’ (Oingo Boingo’s cult 1980 film showcasing the early work of Danny Elfman amid a riot of transgressive cartoonish imagery, as if John Waters had transformed ‘Alice In Wonderland’ into American burlesque). Expect the latter, plus the debut TomZack album, in the autumn.

Meanwhile, here’s current single Caroline (Still In Love With You): a mordantly downbeat piece of grinding melancholy (again with that Waitsian tone) unmoored to fly on a strange junk/space-opera background narrative of starship troopers, gender wars and time-travelling bereavements. Either they’re writing their own bit of long-form twisted steampunk, or they just like bamboozling people with their press releases.


 

Wrapping up the bill are a couple of solo songwriters. Aeddan Williams (or just “Aeddan”) fits firmly into that line of singing multi-instrumental play-and-record-everything craftsmen: the one which includes Roy Wood, Karl Wallinger and other blokes who’ve either shaped, or paid glorious expansive tribute to, British pop. His debut album has shades of The Move, World Party, Kinks, Small Faces and the usual jaunty suspects. The album and EP he’s popped out so far have been filled with songs of kooky chicks and small adventures, indie protest songs about racists, and (just under the bonnet) subtle little twists which reveal that craft doesn’t blind him to ironies and changes in perspective.


 
Stal Kingsley, on the other hand, is already well embedded into that skewed-perspective zone. A lo-fi pop aficionado with an ear for the grand gesture, he enjoys but can’t quite stay slouched in his tape rumble; and chooses instead to bring his eccentricities out into the light of the mainstream. Comparisons to Ariel Pink and Cleaners From Venus abound; his live gigs apparently stretch out into performance art (with “live drawing countdowns”, filmed ad breaks and the backing band on an old tape cassette); but I think that what he really wants is to bring his music into your sitting room, even if it’s not quite the right size to fit through the door, or keeps sliding off your sofa.


 

June 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party with WorstWorldProblems, Augustus, Tony Njoku, Elsa Hewitt, The Mantis Opera and Socket; experimental choralists Haha Sounds Collective sing David Axelrod, with Blueprint Blue and Lætitia Sadier (both 9th June)

6 Jun

A couple of posts ago I was grumbling vaguely about ‘Misfit City’ getting too rarefied, cubbyholed and white. If I’m absolutely honest, that’s probably my default setting – the subcultural narrowness, that is, not the complaining. Part of the point of the blog is to expand my own musical education: it’s a process of broadening my outlook and involvement as a listener. Still, I’m well aware that I frequently travel and listen more like a toy fisherman in a novelty clock – rotating in a small circle around an established axis while flicking out a line for what must often seem more like show than anything else.

Gratifyingly, a new gig’s hoving into view at the end of the coming week involving two of the acts I’ve previously covered – one outright punk, the other convoluted RIO techprog – rubbing up against hip-hop, textured ‘tronica and avant-soul-pop. On the same day, an indie-slanted choral group duck the spell of Britpop-grunge covers by investigating David Axelrod alongside an Americana band and a showing by Gallo-Anglo lounge-pop queen Lætitia Sadier. Sometimes you don’t have to force or hanker after cross-pollination: sometimes it comes to you, unprompted.

* * * * * * * *

From promoters Multi-Storey:

“We’ve actually made it to our first birthday and it’s all down to the amazing people who have played, danced, and generally been friendly and encouraging at our shows! We’ve had an absolute pleasure meeting and listening to some of the most thrilling new bands both from London and further afield over the past 365 and a bit days, so we thought that a big monstrous party/gig/exhibition with some of our favourites would be the perfect way to round off a wonderful year. We want to say thanks to those who have been so helpful, say hi to some new friends, and toss ourselves around like a sentient salad. We’ll be joined at one of our favourite venues by an eclectic and spectacular line-up of our favourite and most exciting new acts, which we will be announcing over the next few weeks. Get yourself a ticket for a late night with unexpected levels to it, and some fantastic music that you never knew existed – stay tuned for announcements!”

Multi-Storey's First Birthday Party, 9th June 2018

Multi-Storey presents:
‘Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party’ featuring Worst World Problems + Augustus + Tony Njoku + Elsa Hewitt + The Mantis Opera + Socket
Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 42-46 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, E2 6NB, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 9.00pm
– information here and here

Announcements have duly arrived. Up in the headliner slot, Worst World Problems are a new hip-hop collective. On the evidence of their mini-album ‘Tape One’ their sound’s a blend of chilly ‘80s synthpop nightscapes, data-bus drift and exhausted, hooded, sore-heeled rapping. Inevitable ‘Mezzanine’ and Drake comparisons ensue: there’s that same draggled, overcast feel in the sad ambient production billows and the flow, but WWP take it even further. Their raps feel like echoes around corners, anti-brags, collarbone murmurs from introspective three-quarters-broken boys feeling reamed out and deadened by romantic disintegrations. You feel that at some point they’re going to blow themselves out with a sigh.


 
Augustus is producer/drummer/keyboard player Gus Lobban, who for the past four years has mixed and dispensed cheery ice-cream-flavoured Anglo-J-pop with Kero Kero Bonito, more recently upping the fuzz-rock/stage-school urchin content. I’m not sure what he intends for this solo appearance, but here’s KKB’s recent Only Acting single: pick out his contributions if you can. Here, the breakdown sounds like a literal breakdown: he might still be surfing the shockwave.

 
Anglo/Nigerian/cosmic artiste Tony Njoku writes and sings eccentric, thread-fine, vulnerable electro/sort-of-soul, reflecting a young life spent mostly in “grey areas”. Beneath his papery falsetto, slide-clicking trap beats and silly-putty analogue synthwork align with lyrics about origami swans, seraphim and care-powered balloons. African tin-can beats are sideswiped by colossal dance drones and billowing symphonic modular-synth stackings. Pick-out piano fragments leans against rice-paper inserts of gospel tones. It’s psychedelic, but it’s a long way from the muscularity of P-Funk or The Temptations: Afrodelic in hue, it’s also untrammelled by cultural confines.

Imagine a set of constellatory echoes of David McAlmont and Arca; of Wayne Coyne and Frank Ocean; of Jackie Shane and Ahnoni; even bits of Jon Anderson and Arthur Russell. Gossamer and guts. As for Tony himself, his music comes with the feeling that he’s unhitching from as many enforced identities and narratives as he’s clambering onto: as if he’s escaping in plain sight.

 
“Electronic – lo-fi – avant garde – experimental – singer-songwriter – ambient – if there is one thing I am not, I know that it is pop… catchy nonetheless.” The releaser of a series of cassette albums (rising to a prolific swell in 2017), Elsa Hewitt creates assorted soft and mesmeric musical shapes on samplers, loopers, guitars or pianos; or on captured, folded sounds; or with banked and buried voices. It’s electronica of a kind, but without the matter-of-fact construction – this stuff sounds genuinely collaged and soft-sculptural, its cycles and processes and dream-pop sibilances ready for flexion or redeployment at any time. Some of her work is like chiming cartoon birdsongs, some of it like knitted cirrus or a cove-caught sea of whispering mouths. There are plenty of loopers and glitchers about, but few who can make their work sound so organic and subtly potent.



If you missed my original summary of The Mantis Opera late last month, I suggested that they “fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti…. Guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway… delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

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


 
As regards emergent punkers Socket, I’ve previously summed them up as “female-fronted firecrackers (who) don’t worry about anything like (angry, disenfranchised boredom and frustration), specialising in a hell-for-leather guitar pelt with capacious Lust For Life drumming and barely controlled chant-yelling.” That’s probably a bit reductive. For a start, they’re female-founded and female-focused as well as female-fronted (with unassuming, supportive drummer Morgan the only bloke in the lineup).

Read the ‘Beautiful Freaks’ interview here for more insight into the intertwining (or lack of it) of their band work with their assorted Fine Art and game music studies and the happy melding of schooled and unschooled musicality within the band. I suspect that you’ll get more out of that than you will out of this Bandcamp posting.


 
Adding to the texture, there’s offstage artwork, writings and chat from grassroots rock zines/nascent promoters ‘See You Mate – Yeah, See You Mate‘, and ‘Some Might Say‘, and from activist/theatre person Maya Harrison, with more to filter in in due course.

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Incredible Society For The Exploration Of Popular Song presents:
Haha Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Laetitia Sadier
The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, New Cross, London, SE14 6TY, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

HAHA Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Lætitia Sadier, 9th June 2018Part of the broader HAHA musical empire operating out of central Hackney (also including a studio and an independent record label, HAHA Sounds Collective are a new, experimental choral project and supergroup of art-pop-moonlighters exploring avant-garde arrangements. Led by Victoria Hamblett (singer for NO CEREMONY///), and Cathy Lucas (singer for Vanishing Twin, Fanfarlo and Innerspace Orchestra) with input from Syd Kemp, the choir and fully integrated band also includes Lætitia Sadier (more on her later), Clémentine March, Iko Chérie and various unnamed “past and present” members of Ulrika Spacek, Pollyanna Valentine, Broadcast, Blue House, Viewfinder, and Younghusband.

Their first project is a songbook version of David Axelrod’s 1970 jazz-funk cantata ‘Earth Rot’… and when I say jazz-funk, I’m not talking slap-grooves and plastic synth burbles, but the close-harmony vocalising in swagged cadenzas, twang-pocketed funk basslines, a pushing saxophone backed by a battery of brass. Strangely overlooked at the time of its original release on record (apparently down to it being too much of a leap out of Axelrod’s existing groove), it’s a vaulting, stained-glass show of an album: an early venture into pop-culture ecology drawing on Old Testament text and Navajo legend, celebrating the planet and chiding humans for the mess they’re making of it. The music’s now been transcribed for voice, by ear, by Arthur Sajas of Gabelt, ÉPÉE and Syd Kemp (who also serves as HAHA’s conductor).

This will be the work’s second performance, following its debut outing at Servant Jazz Quarters in February – yes, that slipped my notice too. This one doesn’t have to slip yours. Here’s a brief clip of HAHA Sounds Collective warming up, plus a taste of the original album.


 
Ostensibly an Americana band, Blueprint Blue actually use Americana’s moods, tones and characteristics to add coloration to what are otherwise very British songs about weather, walking and mild disappointments – the kind which might appear on the mimsier kind of folk-pop album, or which would have been half-smothered in noise or feedback on first-generation shoegazer records a quarter-century ago. Like a mixed bag of British players before them (including Gomez and Mark Knopfler, but more recently Acadian Driftwood and Horatio James) they’ve certainly mastered the sonic signifiers of American roads and roadhouses; but that’s not enough to fully inhabit the form.

The trouble with Americana is that the further you are from the situations which shaped its tones and subjects (and an ocean’s breadth doesn’t help with this), the more it starts sounding like a tinkle in a hollowed-out theatre. If you’ve got to pay tribute you’ve also got to pay dues, or fake it more convincingly. Songwise, at least, Blueprint Blue need some more grease on their axles; some more heartache and heartstring damage; some more blown-away shacks and more chances to sit dripping angry tears into their johnnycakes. Otherwise, it’s going to be a life of striving to be just a bit more like Mojave 3.


 
There may come a time when Lætitia Sadier isn’t associated, first and foremost, with Stereolab. I hope so. It’s not that there wasn’t, or isn’t, plenty to admire about her former band – just to pick out a few things, there was their unabashed musicality and willingness to draw on broad varieties of tone or reference; their matter-of-fact bilinguality and ready play of ideas; and the fact that they actually managed to revisit their varied roots and to somehow advance and transmute them (something of a holy grail achievement for many musical projects, but rarely achieved). But I, for one, am glad that her post-‘Lab work (with Source Ensemble and others) has unshackled her from that post-Velvets/post-motorik/brainiac-garage pulse: the rhythm cliche that blights so many otherwise promising acts; presses them out into two unforgiving dimensions; makes those who should be innovators and developers into enmired followers.

Lætitia’s set is either an evening opener or a middle-of-the-bill event, so I don’t know whether she’s brought along the Source Ensemble for accompaniment (for all I know, many of them may be in HAHA), or whether this is going to be a chance to hear her alone and independent/unencumbered. Either way, I hope it offers us the chance to hear her as she truly is now – a belatedly great French folk singer, although one neither bonded to the obligations of traditions or the past, nor restricted from broader conceptual and textual pallettes. In effect, an embodiment of a folk impulse reborn into the current age – with all of its opportunities for research and reflection and fresher global instincts – and let loose to create.


 

June 2018 – upcoming London folk, world and storytelling gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Seckou Keita (1st June); Gwyneth Herbert and Noemie Ducimetiere (15th June); The Embers Collective and Dizraeli/James Riley double event (21st June); London Contemporary Voices (22nd June); Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith with Sophie Janna (29th June)

23 May

Last month, I said that June would see “a couple more” of Nest Collective’s unamplified outdoor folk gigs. Instead, there’s going to be a cavalcade – six in the space of four weeks, including one double event on the 21st, itself part of a cluster of three later in the month.

See below for a quick roundup of their early summer recipe – including Senegalese griot, storytelling, chamber jazz (well, presumably not “chamber” anymore), folk-rap, country, Gothic blues and pop chorale in addition to folk flavours from the British Isles, continental Europe and the United States. They’re taking place in London’s children’s playgrounds, open spaces and artist’s studio yards: as with many of the Nest Collective gigs, some of the locations are hidden and secret with the locations only given to ticketholders, so plan ahead.

* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: Seckou Keita
(secret location), Bow, London, England
Friday 1st June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

“How to describe Seckou Keita? Griot, praise singer, composer, djembe master, virtuoso, Kora player, pioneer? The answer is ‘yes’ to all of those. Seckou Keita is a true master of his instrument, a childhood prodigy, born of a line of griots and kings (Keita is the royal lineage, and not traditionally a griot name). Cissokho, his mother’s family name, gave life to his talent. His family includes Solo Cissokho, Seckou’s uncle, who introduced him to the International stage in 1996.

“The intense rhythm of Seckou’s working life has been driven by the desirability of his musical talents and his ability to get along with all kinds of different people. He toured with the Sierra Leonean musician, Francis Fuster, one time sidekick to Paul Simon, Miriam Makeba and Manu Dibango, and with Baka Beyond, whose founders Martin Cradick and Su Hart had befriended Seckou in Ziguinchor a few years before. The pair helped to produce his first solo kora album, ‘Baiyo’ (Orphan), which was released in 2000 (and subsequently renamed ‘Mali’ by the record label Arc Music).”


 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: Gwyneth Herbert + Noemie Ducimetiere
Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 5AR, England
Friday 15th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Gwyneth Herbert is a strikingly original performer, award-winning composer and lyricist and versatile musical adventurer who continues to redefine and challenge expectations. Drawing on influences from the worlds of jazz, folk, contemporary classical music and storytelling, she has worked in collaboration with writers, musicians, directors, choreographers, visual artists, academics, clowns and young people to create a huge canon of genre- defying interdisciplinary work, as well as touring nationally and internationally with her band and releasing six critically albums to date on major, independent and self-owned labels.

“2018 sees the launch of Gwyneth’s ambitious and hugely anticipated seventh album and live show, ‘Letters I Haven’t Written’, songs from which she recently previewed in session for BBC Radio 2 and live from the Edinburgh Festival on BBC Radio 3. Gwyneth describes the project as “a musical, narrative and visual journey exploring the lost art of letter writing. Through blots of heartbreak, strokes of curiosity and scribbles of whimsy, ‘Letters…’ unearths the emotional complexities of putting pen to paper, and, in a climate of status updates and limited characters, seeks to find a more meaningful dialogue with the world”.

“A singer, composer and instrumentalist currently based in London UK, Noemie Ducimetiere is best known for her wide range of musical styles and her work with nine-piece band Gentle Mystics. With the Mystics currently on a recording hiatus, she is taking to the stage with her solo explorations of folk, rock and what some have called gothic blues. Noemie is a self-taught musician with an experimental approach, who found her mentors in her diverse influences: mid-century French cabaret, American blues, traditional Eastern folk and desert rock… today her live set-up comprises of an electric guitar and an expanse of blinking effects pedals.”



 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: The Embers Collective
(secret location), Brockley, London, SE4, England
Thursday 21st June 2018, 7:00pm
– information here, here and here

The Embers Collective is a London based storytelling and live music collective formed by three friends; a writer, an actor and a musician who wanted to put on events with a focus on community, and driven by a passion for the art of sharing stories. Their events bring audiences together through the exploration of myths and folklore from all over the world. Each of their stories is accompanied by a live, professional multi-instrumentalist whose soundscapes take listeners on a journey. They welcome you to their warm embrace.”



 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: Dizraeli + James Riley
Kindred Studios, 18 Saltram Crescent, West Kilburn, London, W9 3HW, England
Thursday 21st June 2018, 7:00pm
– information here, here and here

Dizraeli is a rapper, multi-instrumentalist and sometime singer taking hiphop to new terrains. His exploration has taken him to unexpected places: he composed the soundtrack for a new parallel-worlds comedy on E4 (Tripped); he toured France with producer and turntablist DJ DownLow; he spent a week in the refugee camp at Calais, giving workshops and listening to the migrants there. At the start of 2016, he travelled to Senegal to study West African music with an albino master, and in a remote fishing village covered in dust and music, he finished six new songs. Carrying these pieces home to London in his head, he decided to record them in a completely new way. Instead of shutting himself in a vibeless, carpeted studio where the impulse of the songs would be lost, he would invite an audience of close friends to the basement of a cafe, play live for those friends and record what he played – no editing; no studio tricks: in the words of one of the tracks: “Through the lens to the substance”.

“Born of a transatlantic relationship, James Riley grew up in South East London listening to the folk and soul sound of 70s America and wrote his first melody at the age of four. His first guitar, acquired at the age of nine, became the tool for surviving the tumult of a nowhere place, and helped James find somewhere he felt he belonged. In his early twenties, he took off, alone once again, hitchhiking and busking through Europe from Amsterdam to Istanbul, writing songs along the way. Back in the UK, these songs became a band, but eventually James had to shed another skin, and disembarked in Nashville, Tennessee. Here he found his producer and they set about making the album which had travelled with him to his maternal homeland, where it could finally get free.”



 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: London Contemporary Voices
Glengall Wharf Garden, 64 Glengall Road, Peckham, London, SE15 6NF, England
Friday 22nd June 2018, 7:00pm
– information here, here and here

London Contemporary Voices specialises in work with established bands, including gigs, recordings and festivals. We also perform at private and corporate events, and host our own largescale concerts. They have worked with overfifty artists, including Sam Smith, James Bay, Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), Joss Stone, Elbow, Alt-J, Basement Jaxx, Imogen Heap, Laura Mvula, Charlotte Church, Kate Nash, Alison Moyet, Kim Wilde, Nitin Sawhney, Ella Eyre, Little Mix, The Vamps, Public Service Broadcasting, Andreya Triana, Nicole Scherzinger, Andy Burrows and many more!”


 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith + Sophie Janna
Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 5AR, England
Friday 29th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith are one of the finest duos to have emerged onto the British folk and acoustic scene in recent years. Their combination of outstanding vocal work, sensitive instrumentation, and a powerful social conscience has brought them widespread critical acclaim. The songs themselves are always given centre stage but they are brought to life with stunning musical arrangements and vocals. There is an integrity that shines through their performances and a common thread of political struggle, resistance, and justice. Their critically acclaimed second album ‘Night Hours’ was released in December 2016 on Fellside Recordings. Described as “exhilaratingly diverse and full of impeccably crafted songs”, it has cemented the duo’s reputation as two of the most exciting musicians and social commentators on the scene.

Sophie Janna sings dark songs from eras past as if they were written yesterday. The person who guesses the correct number of deaths and broken hearts at the end of a gig will get a reward. Sophie accompanies herself on guitar, thumb piano, bodhrán or on nothing at all.”



 

May 2018 – upcoming London folk gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Eli West and Josh Savage (11th May); Piers Faccini and Jim Ghedi (18th May)

4 May

Two outdoor folk gigs coming up from Nest Collective, part of a fourth summer for their Campfire Club events – “filling London’s green spaces with music. A concert like no other: unamplified, outdoors, around a fire. Gather together and listen.” There’ll be a couple more next month.

* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: Eli West + Josh Savage, 11th May 2018

The Nest Collective presents:
Campfire Club: Eli West + Josh Savage
Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground, 15 Market Road, Lower Holloway, London, N7 9PL, England
Friday 11th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

“Well-known for his work with Cahalen Morrison, Tim O’Brien, Jayme Stone and more, the Seattle-based singer and multi-instrumentalist Eli West oozes understated talent. We recently witnessed both Martin Simpson and Richard Hawley utterly floored by his skill. Truly a sublime musician!

“Eli’s recent debut solo album, ‘The Both’, sees him taking the lead, on electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, and pedal steel, whilst remaining a thoughtful collaborator – here with some of his close friends and personal heroes, like jazz great Bill Frisell, new Americana discovery Dori Freeman, and Anna & Elizabeth. The album focuses on the story of his two grandfathers; one a decorated WWII prisoner of war, the other a Brethren preacher and peace advocate. They couldn’t have differed more, but together they shared a family. In this spirit, the theme of the album is duality: the first half showcases carefully built arrangements of six American folk songs, the second revisits these as instrumental passages, revealing new sides to the other.



 
“With no management, publishing or record support to speak of, singer/songwriter Josh Savage has blazed a bright trail through the music industry, which should serve as a beacon to any musician looking to make a name for themselves in the unrecognisable 21st Century landscape. “The most promising new young artist to emerge in Winchester in years” has built a loyal fanbase one living room at a time, and his sprawling career has seen him supporting acts as diverse as Razorlight, Rizzle Kicks, Reverend and the Makers, Roll Deep, and even some acts with names that don’t begin with ‘R’ such as Benjamin Francis Leftwich, John Hiatt, Catfish & The Bottlemen, and Ward Thomas.

“His self-released recordings have been played on BBC Radio 2, BBC Introducing and BBC 6 music and accumulated over 1.5 million plays on Spotify without PR representation. In 2015, Josh played 79 shows in 5 months with Sofar Sounds and in people’s homes across America and Europe (including the famous SXSW festival), resulting in the ‘Living Room Tour’ documentary.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: Piers Faccini + Jim Ghedi, 18th May 2018

The Nest Collective presents:
Campfire Club: Piers Faccini + Jim Ghedi
Glengall Wharf Garden, 64 Glengall Road, Peckham, London, SE15 6NF, England
Friday 18th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

“Crossing and blurring musical boundaries is an art form for Piers Faccini. Treading the frontiers which delineate one country from another, Faccini finds his inspiration in the cultural ambiguity of borderlands. If his songs were maps, they’d stretch from the English moors to the Saharan dunes via the plains of the Mediterranean.

“Over seven acclaimed albums, ‘Leave No Trace’ (2004),’Tearing Sky’ (2006), ‘Two Grains Of Sand’ (2009), ‘My Wilderness’ (2011), ‘Between Dogs & Wolves’ (2013), ‘Songs Of Time Lost’ (2014) and ‘I Dreamed An Island’ (2016), Faccini has toured his music worldwide, recording and collaborating with numerous musicians and singers including Ballake Sissoko, Vincent Segal, Ben Harper, Rokia Traore, Patrick Watson and Ibrahim Maalouf amongst others. As well as producing his own albums, Faccini has also produced several albums for other artists, most notably ‘Ela’ by Brazilian cellist and singer Dom La Nena, ‘Northern Folk’ by Jenny Lysander and ‘Terre de Mon Poeme’ by Yelli Yelli. In 2013 he started up his own label Beating Drum, specializing in the production of bespoke and hybrid physical objects that bridge music, art and writing such as the 2013 book/CD ‘Songs I Love’ or the 2016 book/CD ‘No One’s Here’. He is currently touring the new album ‘I Dreamed An Island’ worldwide.



 
“Born in Sheffield before moving around various parts of Derbyshire, Shropshire and Scotland and then settling in Moss Valley – an abandoned and forgotten area on the edgelands of South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire – it makes perfect sense that twenty-six-year-old Jim Ghedi’s music feels both fluidly transient yet also deeply rooted to a sense of place.

“In 2015 he released his debut album, ‘Home Is Where I Exist, Now To Live and Die’, which was an extension of the folk-tinged six and twelve-string acoustic guitars instrumentals he had been forging for some time around Sheffield’s pubs and then whilst travelling across Europe. On his second album, ‘A Hymn For Ancient Land’, his elemental style of playing has expanded into a fuller band set-up, complete with glorious orchestration and dazzling composition that makes it a truly innovative contemporary record whilst still being rooted in great tradition.

“Through the inclusion of double bass (played by Neal Heppleston, who hand crafts them for a living), violin, cello, harp, trumpet, piano, accordion and numerous other instruments, Ghedi has elevated his unique blend of folk music to a level far beyond that of that of his earlier work. Perhaps most remarkable still is how seamless their inclusions feel, rather than wrestling for space, the wealth of instruments float in and out of one another, interlocking absorbing guitars, gently whirring strings and drums that beat like the faint sounds of thunder on the horizon.”

 

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