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June 2017 – some of London’s more theatrical upcoming gigs – cartoon critters run amok with ‘Cat & Mouse’ (8th & 9th June); plague, trauma and rhythm with Grand Union Orchestra’s ‘Song of Contagion’ (13th-17th June); Debbie Wiseman and The Locrian Ensemble play music from ‘Wolf Hall’ (June 18th)

26 May

Three theatrical/televisual fusion gigs in London for the coming month…

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'Cat and Mouse', 8th/9th June 2017

1927 Theatre Company and Village Underground present:
‘Cat and Mouse’
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Thursday 8th + Friday 9th June 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“The world premiere of ‘Cat And Mouse’! A theatrical animation experience involving an animated cat and mouse and a band of dogs. Featuring the animations of Paul Bill Barritt (1927) with live music by Officer Pup (composer Laurence Owen and band), introducing Miss Lesley Ewen as The Law.

“You could say we’ve seen it all at VU, but in actual fact there are still plenty of firsts. This’ll be one of them: our debut in-house theatrical production. We’ve been waiting for just the right project to come along for some time, so when Paul said he wanted to do a theatrical animation experience with anthropomorphic animals, we knew we’d waited long enough.


 
“The cultural history of anthropomorphised animals is long and deep, as long and deep as the river of imagination itself. We see ourselves reflected back at ourselves within those furry beings. ‘Cat and Mouse’ is one such development. Taking its germ from the great peddler of anthropomorphised cat and mouse chaos Mr. George Herriman (creator of the ‘Krazy Kat’ stories which in turn inspired ‘Tom & Jerry’), it proceeds in a zigzag line through the gamut of human idiocy from art to war, from technology to industry, from civilisation to love all via the shenanigans of various humanimals mostly of the rodent/feline variety with some notably canine overseers holding court over the proceedings. Sticking within the traditions of artistic purveyance there will be visuals in the form of animations, sets and costume, there will be live music and there will be storytelling. A theatrical animation experience unlike anything seen before, alike to everything seen once upon a time, long ago . . .

“‘Cat and Mouse’ sets up the familiar dichotomy of good and evil, navigating the extremes of human idiocy from art to war, from technology to industry, from civilisation to love all rendered through the shenanigans of a rodent, a feline and the dogs of law. With a band performing the original score live, don’t expect to sit through this – witnessing Cat and Mouse will be like finding yourself inside a television set. “Made of old ‘toons and new tunes, it’s like an arthouse ‘Itchy and Scratchy’ where the action spills out into the audience,” says Paul. “Expect high-octane action, fun and frolics, extreme (cartoon) violence, moments of edification, sadomasochism, a face machine, skeletons, dogs, dancing, and more.”

“As we veer further towards duplicitous times of fake news and alternate facts, the idea that we can define what is purely good or evil becomes a tempting focus. Yet with cartoonish reality TV characters as world leaders, the notion that we’re all made up of these shades of good and evil becomes increasingly obscured. Predator and prey, good and evil, and our instincts to protect those that are vulnerable – ‘Cat and Mouse’ couldn’t be more timely.”


 
Here’s a more in-depth interview with Paul Barritt about the project, from ‘Run Riot‘…

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Grand Union Orchestra, 13th-17th June 2017

Grand Union Orchestra and Wilton’s Music Hall present:
Grand Union Orchestra: ‘Song Of Contagion’
Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London, E1 8JB, England
Tuesday 13th June to Saturday 17th June 2017, 7:30pm (2:30pm – schools matinee on 15th June, family show on 17th June including “meet the musicians” event)
– information here, here, here and here

“Ever wondered what would happen if you teamed up a distinguished scientist with internationally-acclaimed jazz and world musicians? The answer is ‘Song Of Contagion‘, the brainchild of composer Tony Haynes and epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani and featuring Grand Union Orchestra, which explores the mismatch between areas where diseases are suffered and those where the money is spent, bringing cold statistics vividly to life on stage.

“It begins in the East End, round the corner from Wilton’s, where cholera raged in Victorian times; eradicated in London by building the sewers, it continues rampant in Kolkata today. A moving series of songs tells the stories of combatants and civilians affected by shell-shock, for which treatment is still scarce. Exuberant dance rhythms describe how dengue and Zika spread unnoticed across Africa and the Caribbean until Zika hit the headlines, threatening to spoil the Rio Olympics. A big-band piece celebrates the activism that brought HIV/AIDS to public attention and an old music hall song dramatises the danger of heart disease posed by the junk food industry.

“‘Song Of Contagion’ features thirty of Grand Union’s finest musicians and singers from musical traditions worldwide, who add immense impact and authenticity to the performance – Indian musicians evoking Kolkata past and present; brilliant jazz soloists giving voice to the trauma of soldiers and refugees; highlife, merengue, soca and samba beats dramatising the spread of Zika.”



 

Thursday 15th June features a schools matinee and a free pre-evening show at 6.00pm in which Sam Johnson and students from Community Music describe their contribution to the project with audio illustrations. There’s also a free post-show discussion at 9.30pm on Friday 16th June in which Elizabeth Pisani talks about ‘Turning health statistics into music and song’. On Saturday 17th June (at 4:15pm) the extra event is ‘King Cholera and the Great Metropolis Walk‘ a two-hour tour with guide Sophie Campbell exploring cholera in London’s East End.

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Anton Lesser as Thomas More

Live at Zédel presents:
‘Wolf Hall live’
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Sunday 18th June 2017, 7.00pm
information

“Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novel ‘Wolf Hall’ was transformed into a riveting six-part drama by the BBC to huge acclaim in 2015. Accompanying Thomas Cromwell’s machinations and hushed conversations in shadowy palace corners was original music by Debbie Wiseman, performed by members of The Locrian Ensemble of London; the soundtrack CD reached no.1 in the classical charts.

“Debbie has over two hundred film and television soundtracks to her name including ‘Wilde’, ‘Wolf Hall’ and, more recently, ‘Dickensian’. Consisting of some of the country’s finest musicians, the Locrian Ensemble is at the very top of its game, delivering stunning performances which range from the blisteringly dramatic to the heart-rendingly mournful.

“Tonight, Debbie and the Ensemble perform selections from her acclaimed score, alongside extracts from ‘Wolf Hall’ and its first sequel ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ read by Anton Lesser (who played Thomas More in the BBC series). The concert roughly follows the narrative of the television series with Lesser’s intense readings setting the scene for a musical commentary. The most intense part of the concert must surely be the depiction of Anne Boleyn’s execution, as the impassioned readings leave the audience hanging on every word, with music that is gripping and moving in equal parts.”


 

May 2017 – upcoming London gigs – Society of Imaginary Friends’ Shakespearian soiree (May 5th); Stergin’s EP launch (May 7th)

1 May

That rapidly approaching stream of babble heralds an imminent Soif Soiree in north London…

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree: “Are you Shakesperienced?” (featuring Society Of Imaginary Friends + Cian Binchy + Millie George + Amy Neilson Smith + Connor Arnold + others t.b.c.)
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 5th May 2017, 8.00pm – free event
information

Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 5th May 2017“KAPPOW!! We have a happening, happening, “zzzz” leave the zeds behind!! and find a corner of your mind.. BAM!!! you got it Sam, no Flim Flam it’s 100% solid 22 carat trip… From Shakespeare (he’s like an early English Ginsberg) Gloriana Street (viola da gambas, crumb horns (sic)… CRAZY!!) to Boulavard Bad Daddio, music to self expressionist possessionist, “silence” from the Ciccada Quartet we take our Tequila at sunset, don’t fret, get un-straight and ZOOM back in to the room with Lord Buckley lying with the Daisies… what??

“It’s Spring, Brothers and Sisters, let’s frolic… with dynamite nytro… Millie GeorgeAmy Neilson Smith… will blow your mind completely up…a secret special guest… Cian Binchy as far out as a shout and the never-ending reverberation echo across the canyon…yeah… Society Of Imaginary Friends…and a special guest DJ…  WE ARE THE MERRY PRANKSTERS!! Don’t forget it is free entry and there is amazing Vegan food and award winning beverages to purchase…”

OK, apart from that last line it made even less sense than usual. There seems to be poets and Elizabethan trappings; they might have gone mad; it’s free. What have you got to lose?

(Update, May 4th – singer/ songwriter Connor Arnold has been added to the bill – a Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts all-rounder whose musical influences are apparently “Newton Faulkner, Scroobius Pip, The Baseballs, Van Morrison, Maroon 5, The Eagles, Fall Out Boy.” And possibly crumhorns. Who knows?)

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A couple of days later, there’s this…

Stergin, 7th May 2017

Austrian Cultural Forum London presents:
Stergin + Chaos Theory DJs
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Sunday 7th May 2017, 6.30pm
– information here and here

Stergin are celebrating the release of their EP ‘Caramel Tony In Her Pleasuredome’ with this concert at one of London’s coolest little venues, Servant Jazz Quarters (the record is being released via Naim Records). Expect distorted clarinets, synth basses, vocals, guitar, field recordings turned into beats and electronic noises alongside Adam Betts’s wild, creative drumming. To hear them live is to catch onto something special indeed – something that’s evolving every concert. The amazing guys from Chaos Theory will be DJing before and after the concert.”

Further press splurge:

“A record that you just couldn’t have heard five years ago. It’s completely in the now, in the moment, trying to push the boundaries of what’s possible and what can be done.” Tom Robinson, BBC Radio 6 Music.

“Like most of the great modern music, Austrian Vinzenz Stergin‘s compositions defy genre brackets, combining elements of electronics, blues, classical and rock music. Think whimsical pop in the vein of Anna Meredith.” – ‘God Is In The TV’

“Oddly infectious, the sheer alien nature of the sound is allied to a whimsical pop touch that truly gets under the skin.” – Robin Murray, ‘Clash Magazine’

Regardless of all that, here’s the video for EP track Every Now And Then, which sees Stergin commandeering, amongst other things, the Docklands Light Railway and the horse fountain in Piccadilly Circus as venues for a spot of guerilla filmmaking in which he dozes or dances in front of a slew of unwitting British extras who do their best to ignore him. The dancing – and the music, bear quite a lot of resemblance to the quirkily charming, shape-throwing synthpop which Dan Black did both in and out of The Servant about a decade ago. And the face makeup? Marillion circa 1984.


 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – pianos all over the world for Piano Day 2016

27 Mar

Piano Day, 2016

Following the previous post’s coverage of the Daylight Music prelude for Piano Day, here’s all of the information that I could gather up about the main event, which is taking place all around the world on Monday 28th March.

This is the second Piano Day, following its very successful launch in 2015 by Berlin-based pianist and piano specialist Nils Frahm as a day for musical unity. As Nils puts it: “why does the world need a Piano Day? For many reasons, but mostly because it doesn’t hurt to celebrate the piano and everything around it: performers, composers, piano builders, tuners, movers and most important, the listener.” For anyone who plays, or loves, or has wrestled with the wood-strings-felt-and-levers monster, or its digital facsimiles, this is a day for you.

The event kicks off in Germany with a piano marathon…

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Justė Survilaitė presents:
Piano Day | Berlin: ‘24 Hours Piano Non-Stop Session’
Michelberger Hotel, Warschauerstrasse 39/40, 10243 Berlin, Germany
Sunday 27th March 2016, midnight, to Monday 28th March 2016, midnight
more information

Twenty-four pianists play through a full twenty-four hour period, beginning at midnight on Sunday 27th March, and going all the way through into Monday, finishing at midnight on the 28th.

The contributors come from the wide range of creative musicians who make their home in, or are drawn to, the energised art scene of contemporary Berlin; and represent its cultural breadth. There are classical players (Víkingur Ólafsson, Marina Baranova); there are jazz and improv players (Declan Forde, Jo Junghanss, Rieko Okuda, Marco Maria and Amine Mesnaoui, the Moroccan jazz/New Music electric pianist who specialises in playing inside his Fender Rhodes). There are musicians from the dance scene – techno star/DJ/label boss Lucio Aquilina, electronica producer-composer Florestano (whose musical ideas all start on “an old black piano”) and Sonar Kollectiv mainstay Arnold Kasar (whose work is informed by dance music, Arthur Russell and prepared piano).

Extra genre spice is added by English singer-songwriter and crossover multidiscipline musician Tom Adams, Anglo-Czech prodigy Emika (whose work spans from dubstep to classical), , Claudio Donzelli of folk trio Mighty Oaks, Doron Burstein (the composer/player behind the ‘Don’t Shoot the Pianist’ speakeasy event at Berlin’s Fahimi Bar) and Eike Schulz (who as well as being a pianist is one of the three scriptwriters behind recent one-take heist film ‘Victoria’) Other contributors to the day are more difficult for me to track and pin down from five hundred miles away (Kolja Ulbrich, Ellas, Janek Prachta, Christian Badzura, Solaris 4.1, Susann Helm) and even more special guests are promised for the twenty-four hour stint.


 

In addition, there’s a second associated Berlin event:

Raw Classic Podium presents:
Raw Classic Podium #1, featuring Martin Kohlstedt
Art Loft Berlin, Gerichtstrasse 23, 13347 Berlin, Germany
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information

“When is something old actually something new? Does music evolve in the imagination of the composer, in the hands of the musician or the listener’s head? And do these questions have a practical application in the concert hall?

On Piano Day, composer Frieder Nagel and Jochen Küpper (founder of Stattbad) will launch their new discussion series ‘Raw Classic Podium’, which offers the public the opportunity to enjoy art unpolished – together with selected artists from the neoclassical scene. Martin Kohlstedt opens the new series of events with an insight into his creative process. The idea of the finished work is abandoned – a workshop starts. Working on techniques of modular composition, the pianist draws the audience into his activity. One way or another, expect an intense experience.”

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There are three concerts in England (all of which are in London):

Alev Lenz presents:
Piano Day | London: Alev Lenz + Lucy Claire + Yuri Kondo + Marie Schreer
One Good Deed Today, 73 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8AG, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– free event – more information

“Last year, Alev Lenz and Lucy Claire brought us two new Piano Day tunes fresh from Alev’s London studio. This year the two have decided to celebrate Piano Day with a special acoustic piano concert together with Yuri Kono and Marie Schreer. You will not only be able to hear the four women’s collaborative tracks premiered at the celebration (all of which you will be able to find on Lucy Claire’s new EP, ‘Collaborations No. 2’), but also short solo sets from all four artists: and you will have the opportunity to buy their respective works (including the brand-new EP) in a one-day-only special Piano Day pop-up shop.”

Float PR/Drowned in Sound/LateNightTales present:
Piano Day | London: Anna Rose Carter + Ed Harcourt + Lily Hunter Green + Michael Salu + Robert Kaniepien + Felix Faire
De Montfort Suite @ Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green London E2 9NF, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– more information here and here

“Float PR, the Drowned In Sound webzine and the Late Night Tales label team up for an evening of piano, art, film and honey.

Anna Rose Carter (the modern classical/ambient/minimalist pianist who’s one half of Moon Ate The Dark, in which her piano is fed through guitar signal processors and amplifiers by Christopher Brett Bailey) will perform a solo piano set made up of new compositions, existing pieces and works in progress. Chamber pop singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ed Harcourt will premiere some piano version of new material from his forthcoming seventh album, set for release later this year. Artist and musician Lily Hunter Green (accompanied by violinist Tom Moore) will perform on the piano against a backdrop of bee recordings. She will also present to the audience how her project ‘Bee Composed’ (which saw her placing a beehive inside a piano) has helped increase awareness of the declining bee population.

Musician and creative coder Felix Faire (whose work explores embodied and synaesthetic experiences of music, space and image through the media of light, sound and code) will presents a real-time audio-visual performance using the ROLI Seaboard RISE, a radically new musical instrument that reimagines the piano keyboard as a soft, continuous surface and puts expression back at the player’s fingertips. (Felix’s previous work with ROLI technologies has included a Oskar Fischinger-inspired ROLI Seaboard GRAND ‘motion experiment’ designed to audio-visually illustrate the instrument’s delicate sensitivity and continuous expression: every nuanced sound created by contact with the Seaboard was translated into a swirling plume of ink, responding directly to the haptic expression of the performer).

In addition, Michael Salu (an award-winning creative director, writer and visual artist) will present the exclusive first play of ‘Nocturnes’ (a specially commissioned short film created for Piano Day) and artist Robert Kaniepien (a.k.a. R.K. Polak) will create a bespoke piece of art across the evening on a 160cm x 160cm canvas using oil pastels, acrylic, enamel and pencil (a continuation of his ‘Tendencies’ series).”

Erased Tapes Records presents:
Piano Day | London: Peter Broderick + Michael Price & Peter Gregson + Douglas Dare
The Courtyard Theatre, 40 Pitfield Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6EU, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
more information

An intimate evening of piano performances from Erased Tapes artists and associates, with experimental folk musician and multiple collaborator Peter Broderick, film and television composer Michael Price (in duet with cellist Peter Gregson), and piano/glitch singer-songwriter Douglas Dare. All proceeds raised will go towards the donation of a piano for the World Heart Beat Music Academy, an organisation whose mission is to provide music training and mentorship to disadvantaged youth in London.

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Across the Channel, there are two concerts in France…

Souffle Collectif & Les Rendez-vous Contemporains de Saint Merry present:
Piano Day | Paris: Alvise Sinivia & Sabine Rivière + Melaine Dalibert + Frederic Blondy + Marina Voznyuk + J.G. Matthews
Église Saint-Merri, 76 Rue de la Verrerie, 4e, Paris, France
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Église Saint-Merri will host a dance-and-piano performance by Alvise Sinivia and Sabine Rivière (“Le son n’a pas de jambes sur lesquelles se tenir’, or ‘The sound has no legs on which to stand’); a program of American minimalists performed by Melaine Dalibert (which may also include her own ‘Cortège à Véra Molnar’); piano improvisations by Frederic Blondy and Alvise Sinivia (one piano apparently “suspended in the air”, the other “on the ground”) and Marina Voznyuk of Murailles; plus ‘Capricorn’ a poetry-and-piano performance by J.G. Matthews.


 

La Route Du Rock Booking presents:
Piano Day | Nantes: T. Beach + Rasim Biyikli
Le Lieu Unique, 2 quai Ferdinand Favre, Nantes 44000, France
Monday 28th March 2016, 4.00pm
– free event – more information

T.Beach is the Lopez sisters (two voice, four hands) who play a piano music of water and love, inspired by the poetry of beaches and featuring recreational and melancholic French-language songs set to primitive rhythms.

A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, Rasim Biyikli creates free-spirited music in multiple formats for film, art installations, software and so on. He is the founder of the research studio and multi-media resource center Studio d’en Ô, and – as a pianist – has worked and collaborated on many albums. He is best known for his project Man, which sits at the crossroads of pop, jazz, contemporary and electronic music (in the tradition of composers such as Brian Eno, Yann Tiersen, Angelo Badalamenti and Ennio Morricone).

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Canada offers something virtual…

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Piano Day | Montreal: Jean-Michel Blais
Online (details tbc)
Monday 28th March 2016
more information tbc on Facebook

In a special virtual concert (recorded live in Radio Canada/CBC Music’s Studio 211) Montreal-based pianist Jean-Michel Blais will perform compositions from his forthcoming debut album ’II’(out on Arts & Crafts Records on 8th April), a collection of piano pieces and textures influenced by Erik Satie, Lubomyr Melnyk and Philip Glass and incorporating subtle touches of electronics and field recordings.


 

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There’s also an event in Israel…

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Piano Day & The Zone present:
Piano Day | Tel Aviv-Jaffa: Maya Dunietz + Deejay Shuzin + Tomer Bar + Dani Gottfried + Shlomo Gronich + Yonatan Daskal
Haezor/The Zone, Harechev 13, 67771 Tel Aviv, Israel
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information (in Hebrew)

The Israel event for Piano Day features two jazz pianists separated by sixty years but linked by their musical enthusiasm (veteran and Red Sea Jazz Festival founder Dani Gottfried and the up-and-coming Tomer Bar), Yonatan Daskal (keyboard player for Castle In Time Orchestra, Quarter To Africa and many more) and a contribution by Deejay Shuzin.

In addition, there are performances by two of the broadest and most industrious of Israeli musical talents – Shlomo Gronich, a gifted pianist who, for four decades, has composed and delivered pop songs, soundtracks, television and dance music and orchestral/choral work (from a palette of jazz, classical, soul, prog rock and original Israeli songs, and working with a host of collaborators of all ages and backgrounds); and his latterday parallel Maya Dunietz (whose work covers and excels within a remarkably broad range of musical styles and approaches – free jazz, art rock, punk, polka, “circus-core” and classical; plus choral conducting, stints with the bands Eatliz, Habiluim, The Midnight Peacocks and the creation of sound installations).

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There are two very different concerts taking place in Australia…

Piano Day | Brisbane: Alistair Noble + Momo
Private house concert, Brisbane, Australia
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information – direct booking here

“Brisbane-based pianists and composers Alistair Noble and Momo Hamada will host an intimate living-room concert, playing their own pieces as well as some by Nils Frahm. Organic vegan finger food and selected teas will be provided.”

Bennetts Lane Jazz Club presents:
Piano Day | Melbourne: Luke Howard + Nat Bartsch + Timothy Coghill + Timothy Stevens
Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 25 Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, 30000 Australia
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– pay-what-you-like – more information

“A special evening of solo performances by Melbourne-born jazz pianist and composer Luke Howard and his friends: trio leaders and soloists Nat Bartsch and Tim Stevens, plus instrumental scenic-pop composer Timothy Coghill. They’ll be playing their own compositions, including several new works of Nat’s. You will also have an opportunity to hear a few of Luke’s favourite compositions by Nils Frahm, Max Richter and Nico Muhly. Entry is by donation with all proceeds to Entertainment Assist, supporting the mental health of Australian entertainment industry workers.”

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Lithuania and Slovenia are providing one concert each…

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LOFTAS presents:
Piano Day | Vilnius: Hauschka
Vilnius Art Factory & LOFTAS Club, Švitrigailos str. 29, Naujamiestis, Vilnius, Lithuania
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

LOFTAS will host a performance by German pianist Volker Bertlemann, better known as Hauschka, an experimental/pop crossover musician who’s also one of the most recognizable twentiy-first century proponents of prepared piano.

Kino Šiška presents:
Piano Day | Ljubljana: Bowrain + Nace Slak
Kino Šiška, Trg Prekomorskih Brigad 3, Ljubljana
Monday 28th March 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Kino Šiška is hosting an exclusive solo piano perfomance by Bowrain, a.k.a. Tine Grgurevič, whose music usually incorporates jazz piano, modern classical elements, electronic beats and textures, and cunning uses of cultural and philosophical sampling. The evening will be opened by Nace Slak, a 17-year-old student at the Conservatory for Music and Ballet Ljubljana, who will perform piano pieces by Nils Frahm.

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Finally, there’s a show in Japan…

Sonorium/ Kitchen Label presents:
Piano Day | Tokyo: Haruka Nakamura Duo/Trio
Sonorium, 3-53-16, Suginami-ku, 168-0063 Tokyo, Japan
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

The Piano Day celebration in Tokyo will host a show by pianist Haruka Nakamura playing in duo/trio setups with two other members of his regular ensemble (Akira Uchida on saxophone and Isao Saito on percussion).

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If all of this is making you feel a little left out – perhaps your country or city isn’t represented, or perhaps you’re feeling that you might have put something together yourself – then what’s stopping you? This the day when you don’t have to walk past that piano on the street, or in your workplace, or even gathering dust in your home. This is the day when you can strum a stray melody, pick out a single note, or indulge yourself with a full performance of anything at all, and know that you’ll be in touch with all kinds of players (from the remarkable to the casual) across the globe. And – if you missed the day altogether and are reading this too late, head back up and check out some of those links. Pianos everywhere. If I have a bit of time, I’ll flesh them out with a few more.

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Coming up soon… a look at gigs in early April…
 

ORGAN PREVIEW: Gryphon – crumhorn-wielding at the Union Chapel

28 May

I’m really out of the loop – I didn’t even know that Gryphon were playing, let alone touring. If I’d known, I’d have blogged about it earlier (and perhaps saved up for a ticket).

Gryphon are a wonderful band – a serious-minded but no-bullshit bassoon-and-crumhorn-toting electric folk/prog oddity with a perfect and elegant focus. They seemed to come about almost by accident in the early ’70s, as if a group of matter-of-fact mediaeval music scholars had suddenly been caught up on a lolling tongue of rock and taken off for a ride for a few years. I’ve not seen them play since 2009, when after thirty-one years they finally put on a reunion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. In a lone concession to rock theatre, reed player Brian Gulland turned up in a Wild Man of Borneo barnet and matching beard, and had the latter shaved off with a straight razor during the encore. Otherwise it was a straight demonstration that it was Gryphon’s music which had always mattered – inclusive, always choosing the deft path over the clotted, as clear as a bell and never overblown. They promised us a new album, but went quiet about that very quickly: at least they’re still up for playing.

If you’ve not already committed to something else for tomorrow’s London evening (and I know I’ve already pitched you two other options in the past week) do go along, but don’t just take my word for it. Here’s Organ’s typically gonzo-rapturous take on the band and the tour. I couldn’t agree with them more.

THE ORGAN

gryphon_unionchapel_flyeGryphon are on tour, this is a very very good thing, Gryphon are gloriously beautiful, they’re like Bagpuss or strawberry jam on toast, they’re like every good thing from back there when all was good, pipe organs and tank engines and crumhorn-wielding and jousting and as cool as f. And tomorrow is the final night of their rather unexpected current tour – It has been a long time coming and so it is with enormous pleasure that we announce the Gryphon “None the Wiser” tour. – Gryphon bring their unique blend of English prog, refined folk and mediaeval warmth to London’s Union Chappel

Gryphon is the oldest and the newest thing – a legendary British band that’s as exhilarating, energetic, unpredictable and addictive now as it was when the band last toured, in the 1970s. At that time, no-one could pigeonhole Gryphon. The band appeared on BBC Radios 1, 2…

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REVIEW – Various Artists: ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’ album, 2010 (“an unmapped musical crossroads… one of the most diverse tribute albums imaginable”)

12 Sep
Various Artists: 'Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1'

Various Artists: ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’

Listen. They’re singing at his bedside.

In June 2008, en route back from a My Bloody Valentine concert, the world fell in for Tim Smith. A sudden heart attack (and in immediate cruel succession, a pair of devastating strokes) failed to kill him, but only just. Now he’s in long-term recuperation, condemned to that long wait in the margins. With his damaged body now his enemy, his brain’s left to flick over the days until something – anything – gets better and his luck turns. This is a sad story. Even sadder, given that many similar stories must shuffle out of hospitals every month.

There’s an extra layer of pain here in that for over four decades Tim Smith was a dedicated, compulsive fount and facilitator of music. As the singer, composer and main player of some of the most eerily intense, unique and cryptic songs ever recorded, he sat at an unmapped musical crossroads where apparently incompatible musics met. In turn, his songs were hymnal, punky and part-classical; shot through with crashing guitars, keyboard trills and mediaeval reeds; festooned with swings and changes. They were sometimes choral, or full of martial pomp or playground squabble. They were sometimes ghostly. They were a damned ecstatic racket, or a parched and meditative whisper. With what’s now become a brutal irony they also frequently fluttered, quizzically, across the distinctions of life and death; sometimes seeing little separation between the two states, sometimes hovering somewhere in between; sometimes seeing as much meaning in the wingbeat of a stray insect as in the scrambling for human significance.

Tim’s rich and puzzled perspective on life and the weave of the world travelled out to a fervent cult following via a sprouting tree of projects – the quaking mind-mash rock of Cardiacs; the psychedelic folk of Sea Nymphs, the tumbledown explorations of Oceanland World or Spratleys Japs. In addition (and belying the manic, infantile mood-swings of his onstage persona) the man was generous of himself. Via sound production, video art or simple encouragement, his influence and peculiar energy spread from feisty indie rock bands right across to New Music performers and bedroom-studio zealots. It spread far wider than his nominally marginal status would suggest. For all of this, Smith never received adequate reward or overground recognition for these years of effort – another sting in the situation (though, having always been a stubborn goat, he’s probably dismissed it).

Yet if he’s been slender of pocket, he’s proved to be rich in love. His praises may not have been sung by the loudest of voices, but they are sung by a scrappy and vigorous mongrel choir, scattered around the houses. The Smith influence haunts cramped edit suites and backwater studios. It lingers in the scuffed shells of old ballrooms, and in the intimate acoustics of a handful of cramped Wren churches in London: it’s soaked into the battered ash-and-beer-stained sound desks of rock pubs. Most particularly, it lives in the memories of thirty years of backroom gigs where people baffled at, laughed at and finally yelled along with the giddy psychological pantomime of a Cardiacs concert; and where they lost their self-consciousness and finally stumbled away with their armour discarded.

And now, all silenced?

No.

In many cases, these same people who yelled and sang from the audience (or, onstage, from beside Tim) would go on to form bands which demonstrated that three chords and a crude truth was far too blunt a brush with which to paint a picture of the world. All of this outgoing wave of energy comes rolling back with a vengeance on ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’. Put together by Bic Hayes (best known for galactic guitar in Levitation and Dark Star, but in his time a Cardiac) and Jo Spratley (Tim’s former foil in Spratleys Japs), it’s an album of Smith cover versions in which every penny of profit going back to raise money for Tim’s care. In effect, it’s swept up many of those people who sang along with Tim Smith over the years (all grown up now, and numbering characters as diverse as The Magic Numbers, Julianne Regan and Max Tundra) and brought them back for visiting hours.

And they sang outside his window, and they sang in the corridors; and from the ponds and rivers, from the windows of tower blocks and from lonely cottages…

Given Tim Smith’s own eclecticism, it’s hardly surprising that ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’ is one of the most diverse tribute albums imaginable. Despite the familial feel, the musical treatments on here vary enormously. Lost broadcasts, festooned in unsettling noise, rub up against stately electric folk. Psychedelic grunge balances out colourful playschool techno. Unaccompanied Early Music recreations drift one way, while centipedal Rock-in-Opposition shapes charge off in another. None of this would work if Tim’s songs – seemingly so resistant – didn’t readily adapt. Anyone can get around the shape of a Neil Young song, a Paul McCartney song or even a Morrissey song for a tribute: but these rampant compositions with their peculiar twists are of a different, wilder order. However, every contributor has managed to embrace not only the unorthodox Smith way with a Jacob’s Ladder tumble of chords but also his dense lyrical babble, which grafts nonsense onto insight and the ancient onto the baby-raw. Everyone involved has striven to gently (or vigorously) tease the songs out of cult corner and bring them to light.

Take, for instance, what The Magic Numbers have done with A Little Man and a House. This anguished Cardiacs ode to the 9-to-5 misfit has never seemed quite so universal, slowly pulling out from one man’s chafing frustration for a panoramic view of a worldful of human cogs. (“And there’s voices inside me, they’re screaming and telling me ‘that’s the way we all go.’ / There’s thousands of people just like me all over, but that’s the way we all go.”) The original’s pained South London squawk and huffing machinery noises are replaced by Romeo Stodart’s soft American lilt, while massed weeping clouds of piano and drums summon up an exhausted twilight in the Monday suburbs. Likewise, when Steven Wilson (stepping out of Porcupine Tree for a moment) sighs his way through a marvelously intuitive and wounded solo version of Stoneage Dinosaurs, he takes Tim’s hazy memories of childhood fairgrounds and incipient loss and makes them glisten like rain on a car mirror while sounding like the saddest thing in the world. Even with Wilson’s own formidable reputation behind him, this is immediately one of the finest things he’s ever done – an eerie ripple through innocence; a sudden, stricken look of grief flitting for a moment across a child’s face.

Three of the covers have added poignancy from being connected to ends, to new beginnings, or to particular paybacks. When Oceansize abruptly split up at the peak of their powers, their final word as a band turned out to be Fear (this album’s loving cover of an obscure Spratleys Japs track). Rather than their usual muscular and careening psychedelic brain-metal, they render this song as a soft-hued exit, a fuzzed-up tangle of fairy lights which wanders hopefully down pathways as they gently peter out. Conversely, glammy Britpop anti-heroes Ultrasound set an acrimonious decade-old split behind them and reformed especially to record for this project. Their whirling clockwork version of the Cardiacs anthem Big Ship is all boxed-in and wide-eyed. It bobs along like a toy theatre while the band fire off first pain (“the tool, the tool, forever falling down / planes against the grain of the wood / for the box, for my soul / and my aching heart,”) and ultimately burst into the kind of incoherent, hymnal inclusiveness which was always a Cardiacs trademark – “All of the noise / takes me to the outside where there’s all /creations, joining in / celebrating happiness and joy; /all around the world, / on land and in the sea.” It seems to have worked for them – they sound truly renewed.

Some of Tim Smith’s songs have a strangely mediaeval tone or texture to them, and some have a twist of eerie folk music. These attract different interpretations. Foundling was once a particularly bereft and fragile Cardiacs moment: an orphaned, seasick love-song trawled up onto the beach. Accompanied by elegant touches of piano and guitar, the genteel art-rockers Stars in Battledress transform it into a heartfelt, change-ringing English bell-round. North Sea Radio Orchestra travel even further down this particular line – their bright tinkling chamber music sweeps up the hammering rock parade of March and turns it into a sprightly, blossoming cortege. Packing the tune with bells, bassoon and string quartet, they dab it with minimalism and a flourishing Purcell verve: Sharron Fortnam’s frank and childlike soprano clambers over the darker lyrics and spins them round the maypole.

Deeper into folk, Katherine Blake (of Mediaeval Baebes) and Julianne Regan (the shape-shifting frontwoman for All About Eve and Mice) each take an eerie acoustic Sea Nymphs fragment and rework it on their own. Julianne’s version of the children’s dam-building song Shaping the River adds rattling tambourine, drowsy slide guitar and a warm murmur of voice: it’s as if the faded lines of the song had washed up like a dead leaf at her feet, ready to be reconstructed at folk club. (“Pile some sticks and pile some mud and some sand. / Leave the ends wide, / three against the side, / plug the heart of flow.”) Katherine’s narcotic a-cappella version of Up in Annie’s Room might have shown up at the same concert. A world away from the pealing cathedral organ of the original, it slips away into empty space in between its gusts of eerie deadened harmonizing and Tim’s sleepy, suggestive cats-cradle of words (“Fleets catch your hair on fire. / The fleet’s all lit up – flags, flame on fire…”)

Max Tundra, in contrast, sounds very much alive and fizzing. His pranktronica version of the brutal Will Bleed Amen re-invents it as delightfully warm and loopy Zappa-tinted techno. Its abrupt air-pocketed melody opens out like a sped-up clown car: when a convoluted cone of lyrics punches his voice up and sticks it helpless to the ceiling, former Monsooon Bassoon-er Sarah Measures is on hand to provide a cool clear vocal balance, as well as to build a little open cage of woodwind at the heart of the rush. It’s a terrific reinvention, but perhaps not the album’s oddest turnaround. That would be courtesy of Rose Kemp and Rarg – one a striving indie-rock singer and blood-heir to the Steeleye Span legacy, the other the laptop-abusing keyboard player with Smokehand. Rose is a Cardiacs interpreter with previous form: this time she’s fronting a forbidding glitch-electronica version of Wind And Rains Is Cold with all of the cute reggae bounce and innocence pummeled out of it. While Rarg flattens and moves the scenery around in baleful planes, Rose delivers the nursery-rhyme lyric with a mixture of English folk stridency and icy Germanic hauteur, uncorking its elliptical menace as she does – “Now you remember, children, how blessed are the pure in heart – / want me to take ’em up and wash ’em good?… / Hide your hair, it’s waving all lazy and soft, / like meadow grass under the flood.”

While most of the musicians on ‘Leader…’ could cite Tim Smith as an influence, Andy Partridge was a influence on Tim himself, way back in his XTC days. Three-and-a-half decades later he repays the appreciation by guesting on the dusky autumnal spin which The Milk & Honey Band‘s Robert White gives to a Sea Nymphs song, Lilly White’s Party. Redolent with regret (for more innocent times, before a fall), it covers its eyes and turns away from the shadows falling across the hillside. Partridge’s deep backing vocals add an extra thrum of sympathy: “Let’s not reinvent the wheel, let’s not open that can of worms, / Let’s not say what we did, and play by ear. / Back to square one…”

The backbone of ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’ however, comes from the contributions of former Cardiacs players reconnecting with the family songbook. As with any family over time, they’re scattered. One of the earliest members, Pete Tagg, now drums for The Trudy, who take the bucketing psychedelic charge of Day is Gone and offer a more down-to-earth spin on it for the indie disco, keeping that heady chromatic slide of chorus but adding a suspiciously blues-rock guitar solo and Melissa Jo Heathcote’s honeyed vocals. One of the more recent Cardiacs additions, Kavus Torabi, brings his band Knifeworld to the party. He hauls a particularly involved and proggy Cardiacs epic – The Stench of Honey – back through a 1970s Henry Cow filter of humpbacked rhythms, woodwind honks, baby squeaks and rattletrap percussion. Double-strength art rock, it could have been a precious step too far. Instead, it’s triumphant, its skeletal circular chamber music salad-tossed by stomping bursts and twitches of joy.

Onetime Cardiacs keyboard player William D. Drake offers a gentler, kinder tribute, taking the shanty-rhythms of Savour and spinning them out into soft Edwardiana with harmonium, ukulele and a gently bobbing piano finale. Drake’s predecessor Mark Cawthra brings an eerie sense of pain to his own cover version: back in the earliest days, he was Tim Smith’s main foil, playing lively keyboards and drums as well as sharing the bumper-car vocals. Now he sounds like the head mourner, taking on the heavy tread of Let Alone My Plastic Doll and sousing it with Vanilla Fudge-slow organ, doubled guitar solos and sigh-to-wail vocals. The twitchy, baby-logic lyrics are slowly overwhelmed by an undercurrent of grief, but the kind of grief that can only come from a older, wiser man.

Under his Mikrokosmos alias, Bic Hayes takes on Cardiacs’ biggest near-hit (Is This The Life) and subjects it to startling psychedelic noise-storms and industrial drum twirling. In the process, he shakes out and enhances its original pathos. Blown splay-limbed into a corner by a tornado of white noise, plug-in spatters and buzzing malfunctions, Bic’s voice is nasal, lost and forlorn. It sings of split and rootless identity against a wall of forbidding harmonium: “Looking so hard for a cause, and it don’t care what it is; / and never really ever seeing eye to eye / though it doesn’t really mind. / Perhaps that’s why / it never really saw.” Although Jo Spratley coos reassurance under ululations of alto feedback, Bic still ends up cowering like a damaged crane-fly under showers of distorted harpsichords and Gothic synths. Bewitchingly damaged.

The last word goes to The Scaramanga Six, the swaggering Yorkshire theatricalists who were the main beneficiaries of Smith production work before the accident. By their usual meaty standards, the Six’s take on The Alphabet Business Concern (Cardiacs’ tongue-in-cheek corporate anthem, packed to the gunwales with flowery salutes) initially seems cowed, as if flattened by dismay and sympathy at Tim’s misfortune. But it doesn’t end there. Starting tremulous and hushed, with nothing but the embers of faith to keep it up, it builds gradually from tentative acoustic guitars and hiding vocals up through a gradual build of electric instruments, feeding in and gaining strength: “and now the night of weeping shall be / the morn of song…” Over the course of the anthem the Six go from crumpled to straightened to proud cheat-beating life. By the end, the recording can hardly contain their vigorous Peter Hammill bellows, as they sweep out in a grand procession with rolling guitars, pianos and extended Cardiacs choirs. It’s a stirring, defiant finale to an album that’s done everything it could to blow away the ghosts of helplessness and to charge up not just an armful of Smith songs but, in its way, a vivid sense of Smith. He might have taken a bad, bad fall; but the humming and rustling vitality of the music, the way that it’s become a spray of vivid lively tendrils reaching far and wide, is an enormous reassurance.

Listen. He’s alive. He’s alive.

Various Artists: ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’
Believer’s Roast, BR003 (5060243820372)
CD/vinyl/download album
Released: 13th December 2010

Buy it from:
Genepool (CD) or iTunes (download)

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