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April 2018 – upcoming little London gigs (21st April) – folk & country with Horatio James, The Beare Sisters and English Weather at St. Moritz Club; assortments with Ben Duff, Tapemonkey and Margate Book Club at The Harrison

15 Apr

More quick signal boosting on a couple of out-of-the-way London gigs, both on the 21st – a contemporary folk evening in Soho from the Wheel Tappers promoters, and a small sprawl of a Tigmus bill up in Kings Cross.

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Horatio James + Beare Sisters + English Weather, 21st April 2018

I don’t usually bother with British Americana. Too many wannabes, too much music which slides off the stage like a pile of knockoff jeans; too many association with people wandering around Hackney with “I Love New York” sweatshirts on. I make a definite exception for Horatio James, who don’t ostentatiously grub for American roots but slip smoothly into the lineaments of bare-bones country folk – its work clothes, its dust layers, the anthropomorphic antagonism of its landscapes – like a collective tool which knows its trade.

Bolstered and muscled by mandolin, fiddle and grindstone harmonica, they have an uncanny ability to inhabit dirt legends and narratives without turning them into gaunt theatrics or Southern Gothic kitsch. Here are two of their songs: a rambling Dylanesque hoedown and a softly tragic hickory reminiscence which, strictly speaking, they seem too young to be have had.



 
Sororal acoustic folk/R&B duo The Beare Sisters (a.k.a. Char and Abi) were born in Luton, but have been honing themselves in Brighton. It’s early days for them yet, without much out in the public area bar assorted live videos and personal memories from whoever’s been fortunate enough to catch them onstage. Still all of the initial pieces are there – a fine song sense (with the innate sophistication of born arguers), peas-in-a-pod harmonising, an innate toughness and a bubbling raucous sense of humour. Check out their YouTube channel: in addition to their musical connection, they’re a finely-tuned comic double act: a two-girl gang of naturally funny deadpan snarkers playing off each other with deft rudeness, mutual affectionate baiting and a welling mischief which could set them up as internet personalities regardless of how their music goes.

As regards the latter, here are two doses of Beare-ery: a ravishing free-spirited sapphic love song, and a dash of dreamy acoustic soul with a hook and a slap in it.



 
Gig openers English Weather are a London voice, fiddle and guitar folk trio in their very early twenties. They’ve started as they mean to go on, acknowledging their lack of life experience and their vulnerability to predation and to con tricks, without giving any ground as regards how they reflect on it. They bear witness to errors and hoodwinkings and to bad treatment without self-pity or rage; listening to their songs of development and perspective, you get the feeling that they’ll collectively make a mistake once, and then never again, and that they won’t let others fall into the same mistake or (with a hint of stern, steely witness) let others make use of that ignorance.

They might be green, but green is for growing. If they stick together, they’ll end up formidably wise.



 
Info below:

Wheel Tappers present:
Horatio James + Beare Sisters + English Weather
St Moritz Club, (basement of) 159 Wardour Street, Soho, London, W1F 8WH, England
Saturday 21st April 2018, 8.00pm
– information here

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Ben Duff + Tapemonkey + Margate Book Club, 21st April 2018

Tigmus have a bit more to say about their own gig, so I’ll turn the text over to them:

Ben Duff has estimated he has 1000+ short video clips of song ideas. He writes all the time. The best bits of these have ended up as a set of songs influenced by Low, The Beatles, Bela Fleck, Robert Schumann, Rush, The Beach Boys, Slayer, Boards of Canada, Bach, Metallica, Zakir Hussain, Neil Young, Kraftwerk, The Strokes, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares and pop. Ben has played loads of gigs, huge and tiny. He prefers tiny. 2018 sees Ben’s return to the stage after years of procrastination.


 
Tapemonkey is the name given to the solo output of Daniel Woods who has been writing music under this name on and off for 13 years. Alongside this project Daniel has been involved in several bands; Bringoutgrandad, Vague Arrows and currently The Yellow Kings, playing lots of gigs and writing loads of songs. Tapemonkey’s music is approached from a Lo-Fi perspective and is influenced by a wide range of artists and bands from many genres, like 60’s pop, psychedelia, grunge and indie. The overall effect hopefully being an intense, idiosyncratic, immersive wall of sound.

 
Margate Book Club started when a human being from Glasgow met another of his species from Buenos Aires in a bar in Madrid, Spain. It’s a long story. But it’s easy to become a member… To join you need at least one of the following – an interest in books (fiction most helpful); a love of music (stuff that hits you in the solar plexus); an ability to stand upright on a raised platform in front of an assembled audience (no drinking before the show). Margate Book Club is based in Margate, Kent but has regular meetings in London and Madrid too. The meetings usually take place in a music studio or a pub. MBC have just finished writing, recording and mastering their first ever collection of songs. Some of this was done at Abbey Road Studios in London – which is nice!”

 
Info below:

Tigmus presents:
Ben Duff + Tapemonkey + Margate Book Club
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Saturday 21st April 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

March 2018 – upcoming London pop/rock/etc gigs – Demons of Ruby Mae, Tonochrome and Daniels Goldseal (7th March); Blind Dog Studio show with Colonial Sun, Mally Harpaz and Naomi McLean/Hazel Iris/Aine Mcloughlin (7th March)

1 Mar

A couple of interesting gigs on March 7th…

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Demons of Ruby Mae + Tonochrome + Daniels Goldseal, 7th March 2018

Scruff of the Neck presents:
Demons of Ruby Mae + Tonochrome + Daniels Goldseal
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Wednesday 7th March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Leicester-via-Manchester multi-instrumentalists Jonny Gavin and Adam Rowley – a.k.a. Demons Of Ruby Mae – produce a broad, flowing and assured grand pop, the kind that sounds tailor-made for cinema trailers and box set TV. The mixture of luxuriant instrumental illustration and echoing space – plus Jonny’s impassioned vibrato vocal – results in something like the homeless marine-folk piano ballads of Olafur Arnalds with perhaps a little more contemporary pop underpinning. In existence for six years now, they’ve been on the up since releasing the ‘Someday’ single last year.



 
I’m not sure which Tonochrome you’re going to get on the night – the brasher, shape throwing pop-rock band which puts out singles like ‘Not Gonna End Well’ while grabbing for burnished hooks and straightforward messages; or the altogether more fluid entity which they present on their debut album which blooms through shades of art-rock and scintillating prog (weaving a graceful dance with vibraphones, string sections, moving jazz chordage and pillowing horns, while staying closer to the inquiring pop-shaded spirit of Field Music, Talk Talk and Dutch Uncles than to the likes of Spock’s Beard). Both versions are current; both are contained within the Tonochrome scope; both currently seem to cohabit without stress.

One thing that’s certain is that, following several promising years of finding their feet, Tonochrome are now stepping with great assurance. How they’re going to carry off these subtler shadings live when cut back to their basic five-piece rock lineup I’m not sure, but there’s enough savvy in them to find a way.



 
Emerging from roots as a somewhat introverted solo project for songwriter Ian Daniels, Daniels Goldseal has evolved into a canny, effective cinematic song-lens through which Ian can both observe and cast fresh light. With Johnny Cash, Lou Reed, Mark Lanegan and Lambchop as likely inspirations and/or comparisons, Ian operate an absorptive, drifting frame of reference, orbiting the truth in a haze of tequila tones and commenting in a voice sometimes full of sardonic barfly foreboding, sometimes a dreamy Celtic burr.

So far Ian’s got only four publically-released songs behind him, each with a different soundscape – the muttering dusty guitar of Nectarines, the flatlands gospel pining of Out Of the Woods, the barebones electronic R&B, harmonium scratch and Leon Redbone slurs which come together in June, and the hooded country/barstool-folk of A Woman Is, complete with growling electric piano and distant swerves of pedal steel. I’ve no idea what he’ll try to do live: probably he’ll be bringing these and other songs along in fresh sets of clothes.

 
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Colonial Sun + Mally Harpaz + others, 7th March 2018Blind Dog Studio Presents
Colonial Sun + Mally Harpaz + Naomi McLean/Hazel Iris/Aine Mcloughlin
St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 1UL, England
Wednesday 7th March 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

While still best known for backing up Anna Calvi, multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz has been very active with her own music recently. Her multimedia art collective Blind Dog Studio has been going from strength to strength: their biggest show yet, continuing their aims of proving “a musically cinematic experience”, now comes to St Pancras Old Church.

As before, Mally’s bringing her soundtrack compositions – instrumental chamber pop – to sync with the Clara Aparicio Yoldi video animations which inspired them and which expand on classic paintings. Also as before, Colonial Sun (a.k.a. James Marples, will be performing his dark post-imperial Australian ballads with cello and percussion.

 
In addition, recent Guildhall graduate and budding composer Naomi McLean, renegade opera singer-turned-experimental folk-popper Hazel Iris (whose melliflous EP ‘Misfortunate Tales’ is out now) and accordionist Aine Mcloughlin are teaming up to perform classical compositions – possibly newly written and possibly not. Blind Dog aren’t giving away much beyond expansive murmurs of “candles and viola, mesmerising arias, exceptional guests before the altar”, so while you’re waiting to be swept away by the churchy glamour, here’s a bit of Hazel plus a Mally song from last autumn…



 

February 2018 – different senses – in Birmingham, Steve Lawson & Poppy Porter’s Illuminated Loops (25th February); in London, Nest Collective’s Queer As Folk with Sam Gleaves and Landless (28th February)

14 Feb

A couple of quick dips into wider worlds, with minimal blather from me..

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This isn’t the first time I’ve featured the audio-visual collaborations of jeweller and live artist Poppy Porter and multilayering bass guitar maestro Steve Lawson, but if you haven’t heard of/seen either of them before, nor encountered their unusual duo approach, here’s an opportunity to go and immerse yourself at a new show in Steve’s current home town of Birmingham…

Steve Lawson & Poppy Porter - 'Illuminated Loop', 25th February 2018

Steve Lawson/Poppy Porter: Illuminated Loops
Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Road South, Kings Norton, Birmingham B30 3EL, England
Sunday 25th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

“Steve Lawson and Poppy Porter bring their amazing music and live art show to Birmingham. Steve plays his textured bass guitar loops, Poppy draws what she sees. Poppy is synaesthetic – she “sees” sound, and as the images appear on the paper, Steve treats the emerging art as a graphic score, folding it back into the music in way that creates a glorious feedback loop of art influencing art. It’s an immersive experience, to watch the art take shape before your eyes, to hear the music morph and twist as it is improvised in response to the art.”

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Back in London, the Nest Collective (in collaboration with internationally-minded arts inspirers Dash Arts) have been broadening their commitment to presenting and celebrating the breadth and ongoing relevance of folk music by staging Queer As Folk, “an ongoing series of events celebrating the work of LGBTQ+ artists working in folk, world, and roots music”.

I don’t feel well-equipped to dig into this topic in depth yet. Most straight blokes such as myself who start digging – even with the best intentions – into LGBTQ+ history and culture tend to find it rapidly and explosively unfolding into our faces like a long-compressed jack-in-the-box… or, more accurately, as if someone’s abruptly whisked our blinkers away and we find ourselves in the heart of a bustling, previously invisible party (with its own long-running stories of love and loss, inspiration and pain, quarrels and solidarity, bullying and resistance). It’s quite jolting – although often inspiring – to be confronted with one’s own ignorance.

During my own lifetime, while lesbian women have had an long-established presence in the singer-songwriter field (the redoubtable Holly Near and Joan Armatrading in the ’70s, Melissa Etheridge and Judy Small in the ’80s, the Indigo Girls in the ’90s, to name just the obvious few), it’s been more difficult to identify other aspects of the queer spectrum within folk unless you were already deep in the scene or privileged with word-of-mouth knowledge. Still, all of that is there – as, indeed, it’s everywhere – and this gig, while first and foremost an occasion for good music, should help any fresh attendees to open up a new perspective (and perhaps offer some new interpretations of folk traditions with their shifting tales of love, lust, disguise and transformations).

Enough of me and my vagueness. Here’s Nest Collective’s matter-of-fact briefing for the evening: the rest can just be learned in time…

Queer As Folk: Sam Gleaves + Landless, 28th February 2018

The Nest Collective & Dash Arts present:
Queer as Folk: Sam Gleaves + Landless
The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England
Wednesday 28th February 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

“Born and raised in southwest Virginia, Sam Gleaves performs innovative mountain music with a sense of history. Sam carries on the ballads, dance music and storytelling he learned from numerous mentors in the Appalachian tradition including multi-instrumentalist Jim Lloyd and ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams. He tours extensively in the U.S. and, in 2016, toured the UK supporting Peggy Seeger.

In 2015, Sam collaborated with producer Cathy Fink and released a debut record of original songs, titled Ain’t We Brothers. In 2017, he appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival and brought forth a new eponymous record with his singing partner Tyler Hughes, a fellow southwest Virginian steeped in the region’s musical traditions, which has received glowing reviews… Appalachian novelist Lee Smith has heralded Sam as “the best young songwriter around… courageous as hell and country to the bone.”


 
Landless are Ruth Clinton, Meabh Meir, Sinead Lynch and Lily Power. They sing unaccompanied traditional songs from Irish, Scottish, English and American traditions in close four-part harmony. Their repertoire features songs of love, death and lamentation, as well as work songs, shape-note hymns and more recently penned folk songs. They’ve performed in a variety of settings, both in Ireland and abroad, and are closely involved with traditional singing sessions in Dublin and Belfast.”


 

December 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – Gaelynn Lea at The Old Church (6th December); Tartine de Clous, Alasdair Roberts & Neil McDermott with guests Ivor Kallin & Sholto Dobie and The London Hardingfelelag (11th, 12th December); Gitta de Ridder and The Balkanoes at Collage Nights (13th December)

2 Dec

I keep missing Gaelynn Lea’s shows… and missing the opportunity to post about them. With her return to London for another gig this season, I’ve got a chance to catch up.

Blow the Fuse presents:
Gaelynn Lea
The Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9ES, England
Wednesday 6th December, 2017, 8.30pm
– information here and here

Gaelynn Lea, 6th December 2017A classically-trained twenty-year veteran of violin playing whose limbs have been shortened from birth by osteogenesis imperfecta, Gaelynn plays her fiddle like a cello and sings original songs drawing from the well of traditional American, Irish, Scottish and English folk sources and blending them with her own ideas and experience. Her wistful honey-gravelled singing, her songwriting artistry and her textured playing (supplemented by improvisation and loop-pedal) is powerful and universal enough to have won NPR Music’s 2016 Tiny Desk Contest, seeing off competition from around six thousand other American songwriters and performers.


 
Meanwhile, her performance presence and physical courage have moved audiences to tears and applause in her native Minnesota and across American and Europe (and have won her both admiration and a shared stage from Low’s Alan Sparhawk, country bluesman Charlie Parr, and New Acoustic touchstyle guitar star Billy McLaughlin). In addition to her musicality, Gaelynn is a powerful disability community advocate – speaking and blogging forthrightly and fearlessly about iniquities and the need for social change to accommodate and support disabled people, and covering subjects from everyday practical challenges to the expression and enjoyment of sexuality. Come for the music, stay for the strength; maybe leave with the encouragement to help make things better.

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Over in Homerton, the brilliantly ramshackle Old Dentist venue continues its rewarding partnership with Muckle Mouth, hosting yet another enthralling fringe-folk gig (although this one’s of a more traditional bent)…

Muckle Mouth, 11th December 2017

Muckle Mouth and The Old Dentist present:
Tartine de Clous, Alasdair Roberts & Neil McDermott, plus Ivor Kallin & Sholto Dobie (11th)/The London Hardingfelelag (12th)
The Old Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Monday 11th December 2017, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
Tuesday 12th December 2017, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

“We are honoured to host a very special collaboration between French harmony-singing trio Tartine de Clous, legendary Scottish guitarist and folk singer Alasdair Roberts and fellow Glasgwegian fiddler Neil McDermott over two nights at The Old Dentist following their residency at Cube Microplex in Bristol.

“Tartine de Clous (Geoffroy Dudouit, Thomas Georget and Guillaume Maupin) are a singing trio originally from the department of Charente in western France. Following in the footsteps of some of the great French groups of the late twentieth century folk revival (such as Mélusine and La Bamboche), they sing largely unaccompanied three-part harmony arrangements of the traditional songs of their native land.


 
“In an echo of The Auld Alliance, Tartine de Clous will perform in collaboration with the Scottish songwriter, guitarist and folk singer Alasdair Roberts and his fellow Glaswegian, fiddler Neil McDermott over two nights at The Old Dentist. Alasdair has worked with Drag City Records for some twenty years, releasing records featuring both interpretations of traditional songs and those featuring his own songwriting. In addition to being a fine fiddler in the Scottish traditional style, Neil McDermott is currently researching the musical and political engagement of the 1960s Scottish folk scene with the anti-nuclear movement.

 
“They are joined on the 11th by veteran improviser Ivor Kallin (onetime co-curator of the 2:13 improvisation club, once rather unpleasantly described by The Times as “a bearded Scotsman given to stream-of-consciousness spew”) and Muckle Mouth curator Sholto Dobie (on viola and diatonic symphony hurdy gurdy respectively), and on the 12th by The London Hardingfelelag playing Norwegian tunes for Hardanger fiddle.”

There’s not much out there on the London Hardingfelelag (though I did find out that their ranks include Sylvia Hallett, Catherine Martin of the Gabrieli Players, Clare Salaman, Tania Simon, Clifford Rowe and until a few years ago, the late Wilf Gibson of ELO/’Spirit of Eden’ fame), but I did turn up a couple of videos of Ivor and Sholto, supplemented by one of the Hardanger fiddle in action…




 
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I caught up with the Collage Nights shows in Wood Green last month, just in time to learn about the final two gigs in their season. The last one rolls around mid-month, featuring Dutch-English singer-songwriter Gitta de Ridder and Balkan-styled party band The Balkanoes.

Collage Nights, 13th December 2017

Collage Nights presents:
Gitta de Ridder + The Balkanoes
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Wednesday 13th December 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Gitta’s debut album ‘Feathers’ came out last year. With its songs of family, friends and lovers (as opposed to hill gods, surreal landscapes or twisted urban short stories) it has a conventional tinge for the current time, but the delight is in the detail and the musicality. She’s a Joni Mitchell disciple less in the sense of pursuing the confessional or the coffee-table mope, more in the delightful flowering of orchestral chords and cats-cradle harmonies (as well as in her domestic wit).

As for the Balkanoes, they provide the standard pellmell Eastern European spaghetti-junction of Greek, Ottoman, Slavic and Romani musical threads, but have been known to career off into ‘Star Wars’ covers as well.

There’s also a special guest, but they’re keeping quiet about who that might be.




 

May 2016 – upcoming London gigs – Naïm Amor and Keith John Adams up close in Fitzrovia (May 12th); Howe Gelb’s Piano Trio and Naïm Amor at Café Oto (May 13th)

6 May

Quick news of a snug gig piggybacked onto a larger tour…

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Shaun Hendry, Naïm Amor & Cyril Moya present:
“From Paris, Tucson”: Naïm Amor + Keith John Adams
The King & Queen, 1 Foley Street, Fitzrovia, London, W1W 6DL, England
Friday 12th May 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Naïm Amor + Keith John Adams, 12th May 2017“Ahead of his performance the following night at Cafe Oto with Howe Gelb, Naïm Amor plays his first London show in nine years; and we’re delighted that he’s joined by a rejuvenated Keith John Adams.

“Naïm first started out on the Parisian underground punk scene before his (recently revived) Amor Belhom Duo act found their way out to Tucson, Arizona. Collaborations with Calexico followed, resulting in the ‘A.B.B.C. ‘ album and a Shane Meadows soundtrack appearance before Naïm went solo, working with John Parish (and pretty much the full Tucson A-Z of musicians) across a number of song based albums and his series of ‘Soundtracks’ collections.

“Last year’s collaboration with Calexico drummer John Convertino on the album ‘The Western Suite And Siesta Songs’ further enhanced his reputation; and 2017 finds him on tour both supporting and playing alongside Howe Gelb and his Piano Trio (with whom Naim guested on the album ‘Future Standards’, adding his delicate Django-esque guitar motifs).


 

“Keith is in that great tradition of artists (think Robyn Hitchcock) adept at coupling pop nous with sometimes seemingly off-centre lyrics that do not belie their astute insight on the human condition. Adored in the suburbs of Paris, where his music is the preferred soundtrack to a Sunday night session of anarcho-bingo; cherished by the good people of London and its radio station de choix… BBC 6Music, finding favour with the likes of Gideon Coe, Steve Lamacq and Stuart Maconie; and supported label-wise in the USA from Athens to Washington by way of Tucson, we are delighted to welcome him back for his first show on home turf in many a moon.”


 

Not that it was mentioned above, but some of you may remember Keith as the frontman and principal songwriter from art pop/prog/skiffle band Zuno Men, who had a delightful run of near-notoriety during the late 1990s…


 
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Meanwhile there are still tickets available for that aforementioned Howe Gelb show at Oto – so for anyone interested but still unbriefed, here’s the info…

Howe Gelb Piano Trio, 13th May 2017

Bird on the Wire presents:
Howe Gelb Piano Trio + Naïm Amor
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 13 May 2017, 7.30pm
– information here

“Let me set the scene – irresponsible lovers are canoodling in semi-lit booths, the jukebox is playing some old tunes by Frank and there’s some people over there who never want to fall in love again. It’s the last bar still open and the piano player mooches over to the battered grand. This guy, we know, is great. He expertly and succinctly slides in words like “iconoclast”, “apropos”, “tumult” and “ludicrous”, he even name checks Constantinople – that’s proper old school.

“For those celebrated guys who hit on the standards – Monk, Cohen, Bacharach, even Merle Haggard – Howe Gelb is creating new tunes with cathartic one-liners and malleable melodies that suggest any singer could interpret these dozen American piano ballads and take his offbeat worldview and make it their own. Who wouldn’t want to begin the beguine with the line “World peace declared, no problem spared…”?

“These are ‘Future Standards’ by The Howe Gelb Piano Trio, taking an outsider view of early gospel and rhythm-and-blues: both part of the American musical socialization that he touched on with 2006’s ‘Sno Angel’. Now he’s on a jazz-tinged trip, bending the genre, taking it back to his shack, giving an innovative fine tune in the lean-to garage.”


 

September/October 2016 – upcoming London events (Carla Bozulich, 15th & 16th September; Destroy All Monsters exhibition, 16th September-15th October) – plus some ponderings on where ‘Misfit City’ goes next.

13 Sep

I’ve just come back from a brief one-week holiday on the South Coast – life lived at a slower pace, much of it spent waiting for bus connections under the startling deep blue sky of a summer which hadn’t realised that by September its time was up. Returning both to town and city, I’m sifting through notes and thoughts.

Usually at this point I’d be jumping straight back into live gig exhortations – and as it happens, I’m still suggesting that any readers in or around London should consider getting over to Carla Bozulich‘s two-evening Café Oto residency tomorrow and Thursday; or to Friday’s Cary Loren talk (opening the Destroy All Monsters exhibition at the Horse Hospital). But on this occasion I’m going to let the artists and events – and the existing promo pages at the venue sites) speak for themselves.

There’ll be some more news posts along in a while, and other things happening behind the scenes. A few changes are underway already, and there will be some more to come. Every solo blog (unless its self-indulgence is in itself a justification for existence), needs some kind of raison d’être, and I’m not sure that ‘Misfit City’ has been justifying its own for a while now.

As regards the Carla and Cary shows, head over via the links above if you’re interested; and check out a couple of the clips below if doubtful or nonplussed; meanwhile, I’m rethinking what this blog does, how it does it and whether it should be doing it in the first place.


 


 


 

July 2016 – upcoming and ongoing gigs – some pickings from the Frome Festival, west of England (1st-10th)

2 Jul

While I missed the chance to plug the Sin Eater Festival a few weeks ago, I’m just about in time for the modest fireworks which herald the Frome Festival in Wiltshire.

I’m too late to plug the opening party (in which Frome’s own electro-poppers Sweet Machine shared a bill with psychedelic synth-cabarettier, rock biographer and all-round performance character Alan Clayson); I don’t have much to say about the festival’s big-draw act Reef (currently enjoying a new revival of their original ‘90s revival of 70s blues-rock); and I feel sorry that the free gig by “ukular fusion” band The Mother Ukers doesn’t involve furious Mahavishnukulele jazz shredding (instead of being a variation on banjo-happy rockgrass covers). But there’s plenty more on offer, so here are a few other things picked out from the billing.

It’s by no means everything on offer (the festival’s full of visual art, talks and theatre; there’s plenty more jazz and classical; and there’s a show by Billy Bragg which will probably take care of itself) but these represent the bits-between-the-bits which are closest to ‘Misfit City’s natural constituency (if such a thing exists).

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The Magical Folk Garden @ The Archangel, 1 King Street, Frome, BA11 1BH, England
Tuesday 5th-Friday 8th July 2016, 7.30pm each night
– information: Tuesday 5th / Wednesday 6th / Thursday 7th / Friday 8th

At the upstairs room at the Archangel pub, The Magical Folk Garden continues to turn itself into an annual institution with a series of cushion-strewn/standing-room-only unplugged gigs, creating a “euphonious forest of folk and contemporary acoustic music from some of the UK’s finest talents.” It’s all pretty well-scrubbed and tasteful – there’s nothing to scare the horses here. That said, a few of the performers might own horses, and some might whisper them; while a few might go all ‘Poldark’ and ride off on one, bareback and bare-chested, a honey-coloured guitar bouncing up and down on the withers (it all probably depends on the state of the booze and the pollen count).

The Tuesday show features two Bath acts – lit-pop cello-and-guitar duo The Bookshop Band and romantic solo-balladeer Tom Corneill – plus the sunny pure-pop/psychedelic fizz of Trowbridge’s The Pigeons.


The Wednesday show has a band-backed performance from Frome’s Al O’Kane (a gravel-and-honey country-blues-folker who, with his mix of rolling American roots guitar and British mysticism, can come across as a one-man ‘Led Zeppelin III’). Also playing are Alex Taylor (bouncy, jazz-and-funk-tinged, broadening his sound and filling out his pockets with pedals and loops) and young songwriter Emma Shoosmith, whose output has ranged from thoughtful folkified Taylor Swift covers to the lilting ska-tinted song shown below.




 

The Thursday show has a chamber-folk air. Bookshop Band multi-instrumentalist Beth Porter returns with her own augmented-string quartet band The Availables and her own clutch of intricate literary songs. Also on board are the strings, percussion rustles and detailed guitar of Rivers Of England (fronted by Rob Spaulding) who, although they take on some pretty familiar modern folk tropes, land them in an interesting marginal territory in which the early-’70s John Martyn and the early-’80s Julian Cope sit down to exchange lines and tips. The bill’s completed by the lost-boy charm of Avebury singer-songwriter (and Nick Harper protégé) George Wilding with his warm, abstracted songs of distraction and heartbreak (simultaneously soothing and haunting).




 

The Friday folk-final involves wayward Bristol-and-Bath folk septet The Cedar. Beth Porter makes her third Magical Folk Garden appearance of the week as the band’s cellist, alongside five other musicians. Playing a variety of instruments and implements (from guitar, glockenspiel, viola, organ and ukulele to calculator, screwdriver, musical and tri-square) they weave Neil Gay’s slightly distracted songs into a musical fabric that’s sometimes Belle-&-Sebastian communal, sometimes music-school precise, and sometimes as frayed as a scrap-basket oddment.

The rest of the evening gently mixes Western with Western. Accompanying herself on guitar, baritone ukulele, harmonium or shruti box, Bradford-on-Avon’s Jess Vincent delivers a set of original country-folk songs with a sound and demeanour that’s seen her compared to both Iris DeMent and Kate Bush. Evening openers Ali George and Ruby Brown do their own take on Gram-and-Emmylou duets, filtered through Ali’s trunkful of original English folk/clawhammer guitar songs.




 

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The town’s Rook Lane Chapel arts centre is hosting plenty of events. These two in particular caught my ear:

Snowapple
Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN, England
Thursday 7th July 2016, 7:30pm
information

Snowapple is an outstanding female harmony trio from Amsterdam who draw on folk, classical and chanson influences, in unique, charming and beautiful arrangements of original songs. Having sold out the Granary for the last two years, Snowapple have earned a reputation all over Europe and the US, and this year appear in the perfect setting of Rook Lane Arts.”

Praying For The Rain
Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN, England
Friday 8th July 2016, 8.00pm
information

From the blurb: “Known for their dynamic and compelling live performances, Praying For The Rain blend contemporary folk, Celtic and world music with irresistible rhythms, memorable melodies, beautifully crafted vocals and inspired musicianship. Their music brings to mind a modern blend of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Robert Plant, to Fleet Foxes and the Dave Matthews Band, creating a truly uplifting experience. Following last year’s sell out concert, Praying for the Rain return to Rook Lane for Frome Festival 2016. Expect an exhilarating night of high energy, movement and wonderfully engaging songs.“

I’m sure I remember Praying For The Rain from when I was a regular at Martyn Swain’s wonderful Dreamhouse acoustic nights, a refuge of warm bohemian chic and unplugged music alongside the Splash Club in scuzzy mid-’90s Kings Cross. These were the same shows at which I was delighted by up-close performances from Marcy Detroit, Simons Warner and Whitaker and many more… there’s a little bit about Dreamhouse here, since someone’s been writing a crowdfunded book about the Splash years (and you can still pitch in to help it). Dreamhouse was the kind of night where you could expect table candles and belly dancing interludes most weeks; but during their own slot, Praying For The Rain completely overflowed the little Water Rats stage with finger-cymbals, accordions, cellos, cirrus-band harmonies and what seemed like about ten people on whispering percussion, temporarily transforming the place to a full-on New Age folk temple.

Although they seem rather more bluesy and straightforward-rootsy than I remember through the gauzes of memory, it’s good to see that they’ve lasted the twenty-year distance and garnered themselves a new up-to-date list of comparisons.


 
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Over at the Granary, there’s a semi-unplugged triple bill and a visit from a ‘Misfit City’ favourite.

Three Is The Magic Number presents:
Three Corners + Molly Ross + Gum Girl
The Granary @ The George Hotel, 4 Market Place, Frome, BA11 1AF, England
Friday 8th July 2016, 8.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like

Regular Frome-and-Wiltshire unplugged night Acoustic Plus takes on a new identity for this three-act bill of “original songs, haunting vocals, mesmeric music” celebrating a diversity of approach via three different acts. Molly Ross offers fledgling piano pop touches on folk and R&B; Three Corners (with their roots in 1980s new-wavers The Impossible Dreamers, and featuring ex-Dreamers Nick Waterhouse and Caroline Radcliffe) play sparse, questing songs around more of a loose blues-and-jazz-informed tip; but the one I find most interesting is the dreamy beat’n’texture pop of Gum Girl.




 
Arch Garrison
The Granary @ The George Hotel, 4 Market Place, Frome, BA11 1AF, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.00pm
– information http://cheeseandgrain.ticketsolve.com/shows/873554307

As Arch Garrison, North Sea Radio Orchestra mastermind Craig Fortnam and Stars In Battledress‘ James Larcombe explore gentle, intricate psychedelic folk: partly gentle clean chapel tones, partly kosmische textures, partly chalk-ridge geomancy. A duo of Craig’s nylon-strung acoustic guitar and James’ assorted keyboards (organ, monosynth, harmonium and piano), their two albums’ worth of songs have enabled Craig to bring the smaller and more personal songs he writes to life, when they don’t fit the grander feel of NSRO. Their ‘Will Be A Pilgrim‘ album was one of my favourites of 2014 – an unexpected gem of small voice and thinking space. Support comes from local favourites Dexter’s Extra Breakfast, playing Dave Clark’s soft-petalled and “Weltschmerzian” songs of middle-aged reflection.

 

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John D Revelator
The Griffin, 25 Milk Street, Frome, BA11 3DB, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.00pm
– free event

At the Griffin, John D Revelator will be bringing along their dark-tinged acoustic swamp-pop for a free show. Even if there’s not actually such a thing as the “Somerset Levels delta”, they’ll lie to their last tooth and their last busted guitar string trying to persuade you that it does exist.


 

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Towards the end of the festival, the second of Frome’s two substantial concert halls is offering two very different performances on the same day. One is a post-lunchtime concert of vividly Catalonian Spanish classical music from the twentieth century; the other is an evening show of polymusical fusion from an all-star collective trio.

Elena Riu & Clara Sanabras: ’A Taste Of Spain’
Cooper Hall @ Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome, BA11 3NL, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 1.00pm
information

Pianist Elena Riu and singing multi-instrumentalist Clara Sanabras (the latter on voice, harp, oud, charango and guitar) perform selections from the ‘Songs & Dances’ of Catalan impressionist/miniaturist composer Federico Mompou and the ‘Spanish Dances’ of his compatriot Enrique Granados, interspersed with Clara’s performances of the original Catalan folk songs on which Mompou drew.

Birdworld
Cooper Hall @ Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome, BA11 3NL, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.30pm
– information http://cheeseandgrain.ticketsolve.com/shows/873554308

“Birdworld is made up of musicians Adam Teixeira (drums/percussion), Gregor Riddell (cello/electronics); and Alex Stuart (guitar). The project came about when Gregor and Adam met during self-directed Banff Creative Residencies where they discovered a shared interest in blending electronic and acoustic sounds. Since Adam moved to the UK in 2014 they have continued to develop BirdWorld, adding Alex along the way. Combining their artistic voices as both instrumentalists and composers, the trio will showcase each members original compositions arranged specifically for this unique musical exchange. Creating a unified sound that blends the inspirations of modern jazz, world music, contemporary classical, rock and electronic music in a rare concert setting.”

Here’s a video of the original two-piece in action, to give you two-thirds of an idea of what might be on offer.

 

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