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

6 Jan

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


 
Invigorating as a Prescott/Torabi summit might be, the night’s real draw is Lost Crowns: only the third live venture for this carefully-concealed solo project from Richard Larcombe. You might have seen the Crowns step out at either one of a culty pair of Alphabet Business Concern shows in 2013 and 2017: otherwise, you’ve not seen or heard them at all. If you’ve followed Richard’s on/off work singing and guitaring for fraternal duo Stars In Battledress (alongside his brother James), you’ll have some idea of the rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection to expect. Complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


 

November 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – alleged folk/electro-folk clash with Rivers Of England, Boe Huntress and The 150 Friends Club at Collage Nights; a world-swirl with Firefay, The Scorpios and Bread And Circus (both 8th November)

31 Oct

I’m late to the party as regards Wood Green’s regular Collage Nights (which play in the same lively vegan restaurant that also houses the Society of Imaginary Friends soirees and some of outer London’s most vigorous jazz sessions). Just as I discover it, the current every-second-Wednesday-of-the-month season is rolling to a close; but a couple more gigs will see out the autumn. Though November’s gig is billed as a clash (or at least a head-on nuzzle) between straight folk and electrofolk, I’m not sure that it’s as simple as that.

Collage Nights, 8th November 2017
Collage Nights presents:
Electrofolk meets Folk: Rivers Of England + Boe Huntress + The 150 Friends Club
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Wednesday 8th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

In the “straight folk” corner, Bristolian quintet Rivers Of England (fronted by songwriter Rob Spalding) are a fine example of how latterday Anglo folk attempts to hone and counterbalance its nostalgic tendencies, keeping a foot in tradition while steering away from twee fustiness and trying to stir in a contemporary consciousness. Much of their sound has a clear ’70s electric folk lineage (the Fairports or the Albion Band, the stirring in of jazz and blues elements a la John Martyn) but there’s also a conscious effort to get away from that wipe-down synthetic sound that’s plagued many such acts as they hit the studio or deal with increasingly digitised technology.

While there’s plenty in their music to link them to folk roots, their current album ‘Astrophysics Saved My Life’ displays the band’s eclectic instrumental flexibility and takes pains to explore the broadened scope of the present-day educated rural/urban person attempting to make sense of life across a much broader conceptual canvas, with “themes ranging from the inner self to the outer cosmos – the emotional to the scientific… a nautical theme present with a blend of rivers and the sea, alongside the more common personal themes of failed relationships, mental illness, memories of family holidays, childhood bicycle adventures, jobs woes, loneliness and universal love.”



 
If Boe Huntress really is occupying the electro-folk corner, it’ll be yet another alteration in a career built on transformations. Once known as Rebecca Maze (under which name she came to attention via a set of songs critiquing the misogyny around Gamergate), she changed her name circa 2013 in order to dive deeper into her troubadour impulses, mystical femininism and social protest.

Her first album as Boe saw her exploring her own fluid identity via journeys into deep mythology and archetypes from wild women to transformative green dragons to self-examining witches. Inspired (among others) by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Bikini Kill and Eve Ensler, Victor Jara, Fela Kuti and The Clash, her follow-up EP (2015’s ‘And I Became A Student Of Love’) saw her moving into more clearly defined spiritual protest songs, turning her evolving feminist voice outwards towards the world to advocate awareness while still keeping a toehold in mythology (as in the Inuit-inspired fable of Untangling The Bones, in which compassion overcomes fear). I’ve no idea whether there’s been a billing goof and whether Boe really has set aside the acoustic guitar and solo voice in favour of keyboards, loops or whatnot; but if she has it will be in keeping with her spirit of adventure and motion.

 
As special guests, there’s collapsable party guys The 150 Friends Club (led by “money-crazed, delusional, imbecile” David Goo, who describes the band as his “evil twin sister”). Based around the theory that “society is best managed at a hundred and fifty people”, they’re a band built for small, intimate, cheerful gigs. The music’s a messy-haired lo-fi folk-pop-rock with attention deficit disorder, which sometimes throws on a skuzzy electric overcoat and reels around the room pulling reggae, rap, post-rock and various other stylistic swerves out of its manky pockets.

David, meanwhile, plays it all up to the hilt – sometimes a chirpier, skiffling Lou Reed continually pricking any romantic balloons in sight, sometimes a Tom Petty who shucked the dedication and dived headfirst into cabaret, sometimes a skinny London echo of David Lee Roth cribbing and cherishing his old-time R&B. Apparently, this performance is some kind of comeback. I’m not sure that they’d care about having something to prove, but expect them to warm things right up.




 
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On the same night, over in east London, there’s the option of “a musical journey that will take you across the world in just over three hours”

Firefay + The Scorpios + Bread And Circus, 8th November 2017Firefay + The Scorpios + Bread and Circus
Cafe 1001, 91 Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London, E1 6QL, England
Wednesday 8th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Formed from “storytelling, wyrd folk, Middle Eastern flavours, things that can only be defined as otherworldly, and still a bit of France somewhere in there… urban baroque, world folk noir, jazz and chanson music… whisky and sailors’ songs” as well as influences from John Dowland and Gabriel Fauré to kletzmer and the Canterbury Scene, Firefay blend keyboards, guitars, ouds, violins, brass and cello underneath Carole Bulewski’s trilingual vocals in a polycultural blend of colourings.

Compared to Art Bears, Françoise Hardy and Broadcast as much as to the Fairports and Pentangle (see the rave review of their 2015 album ‘The King Is Dead’ over at the ‘Active Listener‘ blog), they’ve also recorded with Mellow Candle’s Alison O’Donnell and have spent the last five years becoming one of the London folk world’s most joyous rising secrets. They’re planning “a full set of entirely reworked old songs, some from the ‘The King Must Die’ and some older even, some that took years to complete, and some brand new ones from the album we are currently recording”.



 
Firefay themselves are playing in the middle of the bill. Their cellist Fraser Parry will be opening the show with his own project Bread And Circus, a “musical vanity project (of) songs about anxiety, enjoying oneself, the passage of time and solipsism” with added piano, accordion, brass, and allsorts (depending on which other musicians he can plug in on the night).




 
Closing the show, Firefay’s sibling band The Scorpios will be playing a set of their own material: a Sudanese-based world funk in which “Arabic rhythms and guitar chops (and a kind of swooning cyclical ecstasy) with a raw Eastern funk feel (and) heavy bass, synths, horns and percussions drive through traditional Sudanese forms to create a sound owing to both Detroit and Khartoum.” Expect plenty of crossover, both in terms of musical traditions and in terms of how many members of Firefay also show up in this band.


 

April 2017 – upcoming London gigs – three songwriters – Momus (10th); BC Camplight (20th); David Vaughan (29th)

4 Apr

This month, there’s the chance to catch the work of three distinctive and different songwriters who are making individual appearances in London.

In reverse date order – there’s the warm and witty cabaret folk of David Vaughan, who ruminates on subjects from cheerful lust to the downfall of Andrew Mitchell, to the resolve of bereaved children. There’s the wrecked, wracked, shaggy-falsetto alternative pop of Philly refugee-turned-Manchester revenant BC Camplight. Finally – or firstly – there’s whatever a reflective, career-compiling Momus currently cares to pick out from his twenty-six years of contentious adventure (whether it’s the sampler pop performance art palimpsests of his recent work, the Pet-Shop-Boys-do-transgressive-Gainsbourg synth pop of his middle period, or the dazzlingly literate acoustic folk of the early years when he lined up alongside Cave, Cohen and Brel as a speculative, lethally witty chronicler/observer of the possible, the askew and the perverse).

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Momus
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Monday 10th April 2017, 7.30pm
information

Momus, 2017“Nick Currie, more popularly known under the artist name Momus (after the Greek god of mockery), is a Scottish songwriter who lives in Japan. He also writes fiction and reviews contemporary art.

“A veteran of British indie labels, Momus is currently in the midst of a re-release program which will see all his early material reissued by Cherry Red. His latest LP of new compositions is ‘Scobberlotchers’ — a response to Brexit and Trump — and his latest novel is ‘Popppappp’, the tale of two graphic designers captured by fanatical followers of Mark E. Smith.”




 
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Parallel Lines presents:
BC Camplight
St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 1UL, England
Thursday 20th April 2017, 7.30pm
information

“Lost treasure needn’t be found in the distant past; the 21st century hides many artists who disappeared into the great wide yonder. BC Camplight (the alter-ego of American songwriter Brian Christinzio) is one such example.

BC Lamplight, 20th April 2017“Originally from New Jersey, Christinzio started playing piano aged just four, inspired by his mum’s Jerry Lee Lewis and Nilsson records and his Dad’s classical collection. Depression and crippling hypochondria clashed with captaining the football team and a penchant for boxing. Post-school, he fell in with people, “willing to go through shit to be a musician,” which saw him relocate to Philadelphia where he occasionally played live with Philly faves The War On Drugs and guested on Sharon Van Etten’s album ‘Epic’. He went on to release his own albums in 2005 and 2007, both gems of a certain psych-pop vintage, combining eloquent songwriting with a self-destructive bent. Christinzio certainly knew it – he’s described himself as “the guy who blew it.”

“But this sublime talent with the keening vocal and fearless approach to lyrical introspection has another chance. His new album ‘How To Die In The North’, recorded in his newly adopted home of Manchester, England, is a fantastically rich, stylistically diverse trip. From dramatic, layered pop to a haunted take on Sixties sunshine-pop, from blue-eyed soul to speedy surf-pop, from sparser piano balladry to psychedelic showstoppers and a grand finale that’s part Nilsson and part Broadway showtune.”

There’s a further twist to the tale in that BC has recently fallen foul of Britain’s ludicrous visa laws and is now having to split his living time between Paris and Philadelphia (the very place he had to leave in order to achieve this artistic and personal rebirth). Come along to this solo piano-and-voice gig on the 20th to at least express a little sympathy.


 

 

(UPDATE, 7th April 2017 – Another sorry twist. This gig has been moved to St Pancras Old Church following the sad, sudden closing of The Forge. Another great venue goes down… At least this means that the show doesn’t get pulled and that more tickets are available.)

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MAP Studio Café presents:
David Vaughan
MAP Studio Café, 46 Grafton Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3DU, England
Saturday 29th April 2017, 7.30pm
information

David Vaughan“Singer-songwriter David Vaughan’s highly original mix of chanson, latin jazz and classical music comes to MAP for the very first time. Playing two forty-five minute sets of original songs arranged especially for voice, piano/classical guitar, accordion and clarinet, David calls on a number of influences including French chanson of the mid 20th century, modern and traditional Latin jazz, and classical music. They are melodic in nature with intricately arranged accompaniments highlighting David’s talents as both a performer, composer and arranger.

“With a varied career that spans work as a big band jazz trumpeter, jazz fusion keyboard-player (with Matt Borgmann’s 1990s band Meander), rock singer, commercial music composer and music teacher, David leads the show in his own relaxed, friendly style putting his audience at ease for what is an intimate, often heart-felt, sometimes dramatic, sometimes virtuosic show. Few contemporary British songwriters propose such an original blend both of instrumentation and of musical styles. The sound of top UK cabaret/jazz accordionist Romano Viazzani, combined with the mellow tone of upcoming classical clarinetist Jordi Juan Pérez, provides an inimitable backdrop to Vaughan’s songs. And yet this is neither folk nor traditional song, but something entirely original.”


 


 

Upcoming London gigs in early June – A Formal Horse & Ham Legion; Olga Stezhko; The Spiders of Destiny play Frank Zappa; a Bowie Night in Soho

29 May

Here’s some quick info on upcoming gigs in early June which I’ve heard about – all of them in London.

Over the last couple of years, Westminster Kingsway College has established itself as one of the capital’s finest homes for quirky art-rock – by which I don’t mean student hobby bands thrown together for campness or for ironic prankery, but a rich, complex, committed electric music spanning the range between gutter-punk and flouncing prog via metal, jazz, folk, avant-gardening and anything else which gets melted down into the stew. Here’s one of those gigs that proves the point.

A Formal Horse, 2015

A Formal Horse + Ham Legion (Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8RA, Tuesday 2nd June, 6.30pm)

A Formal Horse is a new progressive rock quartet based in Southampton. Although the band’s sound is difficult to pinpoint, their dense instrumental passages are reminiscent of King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra, whilst Francesca Lewis’ lead vocals evoke the whimsical surrealism of the 1970s’ Canterbury scene. Wonky melodies and serene vocals over a brutal sound – their music keeps you on your toes. However, A Formal Horse go beyond simply regurgitating the music of their predecessors. With influences as diverse as Bartók and Bon Iver, the band prove that there is still much territory to be explored in the field of British progressive rock.

In June 2014, the band released their debut EP, which was recorded by Rob Aubrey (IQ, Transatlantic). They went on to perform at London’s Resonance Weekend alongside Bigelf and Änglagård, and were described by Prog Magazine as a “festival highpoint”. Since, they have shared stages with Knifeworld and Lifesigns, cementing their position at the forefront of the British progressive scene.

Ham Legion spent 2014 honing their sound and developing a storming live show. You can expect a collision of beaming up beat power pop, grinding metal outbursts, dramatic changes of mood, sudden passages of twistingly epic prog then moments of restrained delivery and somber reflection. They are striking out in 2015 with the release of their debut album towards the end of the year.

Tickets available here – £6.00/£5.00

Olga Stezkho: 'Eta Carinae'

Olga Stezkho: ‘Eta Carinae’

Olga Stezhko (the far-thinking Belarusian classical pianist whose ‘Eta Carina’ album impressed me so much last year) has two London concerts coming up in the first fortnight of the month. The second’s likely to be an all-access crowd-pleaser. Given its charity fundraiser status, I’m not sure whether the first is likely to feature or indulge any of Olga’s intriguing conceptual preoccupations with Scriabin, Busoni, cosmology and early twentieth century consciousness, but even if it isn’t it’s a great opportunity to see a fine musician at work in a grand location.

Olga Stezhko charity piano recital in aid of Friends of the Belarusian Children’s Hospice (St Pancras Parish Church, Euston, London NW1 2BA, Thursday 4th June, 1:15pm – 2:00pm)

Programme not revealed – free admission, donations requested.

EC4 Music in aid of The Prince’s Trust (Barbican Hall, Tuesday 9th June, 7:30pm – 9:30pm)

The choir and orchestra of London-based EC4 Music return for their seventh fundraising concert in aid of The Prince’s Trust with a stirring selection of music from both sides of the Atlantic.

Programme:

Leonard Bernstein – Overture from ‘Candide’
Aaron Copland – Appalachian Spring
George Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue
Vaughan Williams – Serenade to Music
Leonard Bernstein – Chichester Psalms
Eric Whitacre – Water Night
Hubert Parry – Blest Pair of Sirens

Performers:

EC4 Music Choir and Orchestra
Tim Crosley – conductor
Olga Stezhko – piano
Claire Seaton – soprano
Roderick Morris – countertenor
Thomas Herford – tenor
Adam Green – baritone

Tickets available here – prices from £10.00 – £35.00 plus booking fee.

Some of London’s most active art-rockers are brewing up a free Zappa homage in Croydon at around the same time. Details below:

event-20150606spidersplayza
The Spiders of Destiny play Frank Zappa (The Oval Tavern, 131 Oval Road, Croydon, CR0 6BR, Saturday 6th June, 8:30pm)

Great googly moogly! On June 6th, nine-piece tribute band Spiders Of Destiny come to The Oval Tavern to play a marathon set of music by the late, great Frank Zappa. Featuring world class performers with a sense of humour from notable prog/alternative bands such as: Knifeworld, Perhaps Contraption, Pigshackle, Medieval Baebes, The Display Team, Hot Head Show, Poino, Spiritwo, First, A Sweet Niche and more. So polish up your zircon-encrusted tweezers, trim your poodle, learn the mudshark dance and join us as we propagate the conceptual continuity instigated by one of the masters of modern music.

More info here – this gig is FREE ENTRY but there will be a donations jug doing the rounds during the intermission.

book-bowiespianomanAnyone with an interest in David Bowie, rock history, cabaret, electropop and all of the other things that get swept up into Bowie’s art should head to Soho on Thursday 11th June for A Bowie Night at Gerry’s Club, at which pianist and writer Clifford Slapper launches his book ‘Bowie’s Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson‘ (which also has its own Facebook page).

As well as readings and signings there will be performances of Bowie songs from avowed fans Danie Cox (from “flock-rockers” The Featherz), Ray Burmiston (of ’80s heroes Passion Puppets), club siren Katherine Ellis (Freemasons, Ruff Driverz, Bimbo Jones etc.) and acoustic singer Jorge Vadio. There’ll also be a performance from a longtime ‘Misfit City’ favourite – London balladeer, Brel translator and onetime ‘Pirate Jenny’s’ host Des de Moor, who’ll presumably be singing his Bowie-gone-chanson interpretations from his ‘Darkness and Disgrace’ show. (I’m particularly pleased to see that Des is back onstage. It’s been a long time.)

More on the book below, and more on Gerry’s Club here.

“It is pointless to talk about his ability as a pianist. He is exceptional. However, there are very, very few musicians, let alone pianists, who naturally understand the movement and free thinking necessary to hurl themselves into experimental or traditional areas of music, sometimes, ironically, at the same time. Mike does this with such enthusiasm that it makes my heart glad just to be in the same room with him.” – David Bowie

Mike Garson has played piano on sixteen David Bowie albums, including Aladdin Sane, with his celebrated piano solo on its title track, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, 1. Outside and Reality. He has also played live with Bowie on countless tours and shows, and remains his most long-standing and frequent band member.

For some time Clifford Slapper has been working very closely with Garson to write a book which explores the life of this extraordinary and eccentric modern musician. It documents in detail how as a pianist he was catapulted overnight from the obscure world of New York’s avant-garde jazz scene to a close and long connection with Bowie. In addition, Garson is recognised as a classical virtuoso, a jazz master and one of the world’s greatest exponents of improvisation. He has also recorded and performed live with other rock legends such as the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails. All of this is covered by this first ever biography of Mike Garson.

Its starting point was several days of in-depth and frank conversation with Garson himself, and covers a wide range of themes which will be of interest to all Bowie fans, but also to anyone with a passion for music, social history or the process of creative inspiration. Input has also come from many interviews with those who have worked with him over the years, including Earl Slick, Trent Reznor, Sterling Campbell, Reeves Gabrels, Dave Liebman and many others.

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Des de Moor: ‘Water Of Europe’ album (“a cherubic smart bomb of chanson”)

1 Oct
Des de Moor: 'Water Of Europe'

Des de Moor: ‘Water Of Europe’

Like a cherubic smart bomb, Des de Moor has popped up whenever London needs a sniff of wicked European song. In his time, he’s helmed the Pirate Jenny’s cabaret club, fought for chanson and acidic cabaret old and new, or made a public case for tying together songwriters as diverse as Boris Vian, Georges Brassens, Martin Jacques of The Tigerlillies, David Bowie and The Magnetic Fields maestro of puckish gloom, Stephen Merritt.

When Des can fit in an album of his own, it’s recorded in bursts of enthusiasm in between all these other burst of enthusiasm. As with everything else he does, it bears the stamp of that sweep of songcraft and resistance he’s devoted himself to, as he elbows his way into his own niche and into the history of chanson. When “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” has become our most famous protest lyric, and our concept of resistance-in-song is measured by the PC-baiting and broody solipsism of Eminem, Marilyn Manson or Wu-Tang Clan, it’s good to hear a dash of genuinely sharp social writing – even if it comes couched in a musical language nearly a century old (which in turn suggests that we might have been missing a lot since we cut those particular stylings out of the popular consciousness).

‘Water Of Europe’ must’ve been recorded for tuppence, and sometimes sounds as if it was lashed together with parcel string. No Dagmar Krause big-budget political cabaret job this, all respectably outrageous and state-concert-hall friendly. It’s sealed and sold on the vigorous punky pocket-orchestra enthusiasm of the players – bumped guitars, cellos, pianos, snapping percussion, Daniel “Boum!” Teper’s accordion.

Des’ voice is the common key – a florid, unusual mixture of madrigal tenor and soapbox preacher; or a grown-up, apostate choirboy in the political thick of a pub argument. It sits at the heart of the de Moor way of working, and is as pugnacious and theatrical as his barbed lyrics. Each word is bitten into shape and flung out with flair. Although most of his music could’ve easily have strolled straight out of the 1930s (Des might have drawn on punk’s assertive spirit of questioning, but he clearly finds more verve and expressiveness in a mix of jazz, folk and cafe singalong), his lyrics are less time-locked. They dig into the dirt and humanity of yesterday, today and tomorrow, exploring themes of exploitation and injustice, politics and deception, war and its wounds, gay life and its hauntings.

Des de Moor: ‘Dirty Pictures’ (preview)

Skidding and acerbic, the punchy accordion tango of Dirty Pictures tears into public figures embroiled in the noisy scams of censorship and social decency, taking forthright aim at their implicit hypocrisy, their encroaching voyeurism and their lust for personal exhibition (“You’ve seen the camera, it’s seen you… / you’ve wanked in front of mirrors too.”) With a sarcastic zest, Des savages the double standard of class and education – “Let middle classes get their kicks: / subtitled sex in foreign flicks / can’t cause infection. / The masses, couch potatoes all, / whose dishes sprout from every wall: / they need protection.” He also spotlights broader horrors for which there’s less willpower for banning (“Pot-bellied children / rooting in rubbish / as food mountains rot; / The obscene, often-seen, / ultimate snuff scene / between have and have-not.”)

Des de Moor: ‘Heart Of A Heartless World’ (preview)

On a more mythological scale, Heart Of A Heartless World (which sounds something like a state-of-the-world take on Fairytale Of New York) takes on the compromised cultures of colonialism, famine relief and the points where they intertwine. Retelling a sweep of human history as a journey from a lost African paradise into a famine filled by suspicious prophets and priests (“vultures that pick at the corpse of the poor”), Des suggests that the journey has bequeathed us a present-day of false hearts, superstition and moralistic humbug where “priests and prime ministers pray for our sins / and mystics on telly guess lottery wins.”

Des de Moor: ‘Margins’ (preview)

Des’ words spit and crackle even when – Germanically – they cluster, fight and split the envelope of the tune. The magnificent Margins (just waspish accordion, Des in marvellously stroppy voice and the bitter backdrop of the Bosnian conflict) jumps out at you, laying waste to the complicity of media and state interests in the parceling-up and selective suppressions of a world in conflict. “Believe what you hear and believe what you’re willing: / a severed head here, and there a mass killing. / We’ll print it provided / it’s clearly one-sided / and something is left to the margins, / at the bottom of the page in the margins.” In this song, little escapes the de Moor tonguelashing – not the journalists who “roam far and wide collecting tales of atrocities / from regular soldiers and mercenaries” and not the conferences that re-order things, ratifying the mess the way the biggest powers want it. Certainly not the scapegoating stories that thrive “so long as they’re hearsay, undated, / uncorroborated / and blame the right side… / We’ve forgot the Ustashe and found the new Nazis / in Belgrade this time.”

A debt to the history of chanson and folk is paid via a handful of gutsy covers and interpretations. Terry Callier’s Ordinary Joe is one, boasting gloriously hooded trombone from Dave Keech and a guarded, evasive street philosophy – “Down here on the ground, / when you find folks are giving you the runaround, / keep your game uptight / – and if you must, just take your secrets underground.” A rough’n’ready, guitar’n’free-verse declamation of Brecht and Eisler’s To Those Born After (An Die Nachtboren) is another, exploring the crummier details of toiling in the revolution. “I ate my dinners between the battles, / I lay down to sleep among the murderers, / I didn’t care for much for love / and for nature’s beauties I had little patience… / Oh we, who wished to lay for the foundations for peace and friendliness, / could never be friendly ourselves… / In the future, when no longer / do human beings still treat themselves as animals, / look back on us with indulgence.”

Des de Moor: ‘To Those Born After’ (preview)

Most impressively, a new translation of Jacques Brel’s My Father Said polishes Des’ claim to be the best English-speaking Brel interpreter – in either sense of the word. The song explicitly links Britain and Europe: a legend of kinship, of severance by high North winds and high water (both brought to musical life by Kev Hopper’s magnificent solo on musical saw), and of humanity blown before the rough and beautiful forces of nature. “The earth was rent / between Zeebrugge and the cliffs of Kent: / and London’s left cut loose and free, / with the Bruges headland taunting the sea. / And London’s left to forever be / a suburb of Bruges, lost in the sea.”

Des de Moor: ‘My Father Said’ (preview)

My Father Said stands as a counterweight to Des’ own Water Of Europe itself – another exploration of kinship. Here, Des places himself on a fantastical odyssey of his own, sending his thoughts out from Britain and around Europe. He finds first an island, and then a continent, locked in a common defensiveness and an ugly sense of purity. Each exploits “the Other” but denies them harbourage – “If they desire a water of Europe / it is the cold grey sea that divides. / Or the deep and inviolable water / taking and making sides.” Against this he calls on the forces and floods of history, hoping for the day when “truth decontaminates water supplies”, and “the fracturing chains of the workers of Europe / have strangled the boy with his thumb in the dijk.” Whips snap, castanets rattle, accordions and guitars throw punches. There’s going to be a party out there when the storm breaks.

Des de Moor: ‘Water Of Europe’ (preview)

Some of Des’ gestures aren’t carried nearly so well. However musical he is, he’s a man of words first and foremost, and this can mean that in his forthright sincerity the songs scramble across an imbalance of text and melody, like a flapping banner dragged by the wind. In the squabbling, tricky surveillance satire of Big Sister, for instance, his voice drowns in his densely-packed lyric: “More cameras than Hollywood, more tape than Scotch, / more logs than Canada, much more to watch… /I am your friend in the fight against crime. / Won’t you be safe when I’m there all the time – / minding your kitchen and minding your bed, / and, for extra security, / minding your head?”

Des de Moor: ‘Big Sister’

The Fairground Attraction swing of Grandmother Was A Hero, with its perceptive picture of human flaws, also should have been better as a standalone song. Over-pressured by words, it lacks smoothness and poise. Yet if you can accept that Des’ prime aim is to get his tales across, it has a lot to offer. Weighing up his monstrous grandmother’s peacetime behaviour, Des offsets it against her tireless protection and concealment of refugee Jews during wartime. “She didn’t have much wit or grace, / nor brains in large amounts. / But Grandmother was a human / and being human counts.” In telling her story, in a voice and lyric that build, ebb and resurge through a complex knot of anger, admiration and pity, Des finally arrives at solidarity, and presents his memorial:

“Just think how it must have been / as a hausfrau in poor Holland when the Wehrmacht goose-stepped in / With a husband that you hate, but there is nothing you can do: / It’s an emergency situation, and your man’s your comrade too. / In that fearful hunger winter when all your two kids have to eat / is potato peelings, pea pods and the snow from off the street – / and they’re handing out the yellow stars that one by one blink out, / and you know you have to help them, and there is no time for doubt. / Until the Gestapo knock on your door, and you find yourself alone / and in the settled dust you’re just a German widow / far from home.”

Des de Moor: ‘Grandmother Was A Hero’

Elsewhere, a loose trilogy about workers in London merges a realist’s acceptance with the strong protest of an angry survivor. In Avocado, Des examines the gritty detail of the kitchen worker’s desperate struggle between hopes and exhaustion – memories crumpled in the heat and hubbub, but not yet devoid of the sting of style. In doing so, he etches a picture of life of triumphs and traps. “Choose a plump, ripe avocado, just like on your first exam / at a college back in Glasgow. Stop the memories if you can. / Take that plump, ripe avocado, slice it with the sharpest knife, / Smile and summon your bravado: it’s a cold, raw kind of life.”

Des de Moor: ‘Avocado’

In Joey’s Dreams, Des delivers a rock song turned back into seething left-wing folk ballad, the story of a gentle working bloke who’s gradually ground into resentment by hard times and defeat – “a beast that’s pacing in a pen / at the edge of a feast for rather richer men.” He goes on to trace how resentment leads to poison, and frustration to an ugly fall, shading it into a larger picture of a caste crushed down from honour into malevolence. “Joey’s cramped contractor’s terms, / that force his crawl among the worms, / create a breeding ground for germs: / opinions that the world confirms… The clots of rot clog up each bend, / the queues for casualty don’t end. / You can’t believe in your MP – now Joey’s voting BNP.”

Des de Moor: ‘Joey’s Dreams’ (preview)

Beyond these small fierce sketches, there’s the fractured battlement of Sleaze City. Des takes an uneasy stroll through his beloved south-east London, past strangled docks and thriving bailiffs, sniffing and frowning at the muggy wind of corruption shrouding Westminster even as homeless beggars huddle in sleeping bags, a stone’s throw away over in the Strand. Throughout, a sweep of history – compromise, an age-old London scrabble and a sense of loss – provides depth. “At Surrey Quays, saluting the seas / sets flags bobbing. Along the shores ex-stevedores / watch gulls mobbing… /The last leaking hulks have long furled their sheets / at Woodpecker, Evelyn, Crossfields and Pepys…. / There’s whole careers / in chasing arrears, still shivers / though shirts are soaking. / Sleaze City’s choking / in the ozone.”

Des de Moor: ‘Sleaze City’ (preview)

For more personal struggles, there’s Sharp Contradictions and Last Orders Please. On the former, Julia Doyle’s double bass and David Harrod’s needling piano pick out itchy broken harmonies like the stab of toothache. Des anatomises the terrifying wonder of a fall into love, like an attacking scalpel or virus winding to the very centre of a person. “Alive and kicking, awake, aware / with a billion lights that sparkle and flare / in the brain above. / But put in the knife and start to twist – / the lizard hisses and lashes a fist. / The world goes runny when you get pissed. / And then there’s love.” Surreal spiraling rhymes paint the upheaval, with a dark coda of sombre feeling – “And it is the time I spend sinking / that sharpens and tempers my thinking. / And it is this feeling you give / that reminds me just how much I live.”

Des de Moor:’Sharp Contradictions’ (preview)

In contrast, Last Orders Please is a death song of the kind you get only in cabaret, filled with defiance and fear. It’s also the only outright gay song which Des has allowed himself for the record; overshadowed by the horrific harvest of AIDS, the hollowing, slithering sense of time passing too fast and too hard, and of youth becoming a strange, sinister and heartless territory. “Now I’m older, Death is a young man, not the skull-faced spook from ‘The Seventh Seal’ / but a bronze Adonis with eyes as blank / as a half-filled diary’s empty pages.”

Des de Moor: ‘Last Orders Please’

Yet although the song starts in a rumble of melodrama, it bursts into a fiery salsa – “At close of day, there’s burning rages / for a hundred loose ends, / for the lovers and friends, / for the wind into which we were pissing / when we never knew what we were missing, / for the might-have-been, could-have-been, never-was life we’ve been living.” Des has the energy – and more – to spit out a last rallying call for the scared and threatened: “We’ve nothing to lose in the trying. / If life is a bitch unless you’re fucking rich, / no wonder we’re frightened of dying.”

The bloodstream of folk music also harbours germs of resistance. Des de Moor’s very much part of that particular flow, provocatively pumping heart and all.

Des de Moor: ‘Water Of Europe’
Irregular Records, IRR038 (5036265000078)
CD-only album
Released: 22nd September 1999

Buy it from:
Irregular Records (or Amazon).

Des de Moor online:
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