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August 2020 – single & track reviews – Jakko M. Jakszyk’s ‘The Trouble with Angels’; Minute Taker’s ‘The Darkest Summer’; Ivan Moult’s ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’

14 Aug

Jakko M. Jakszyk: 'The Trouble with Angels'

Jakko M. Jakszyk: ‘The Trouble with Angels’

He’s a great asset to the current King Crimson, but it does often seem as if some of Jakko Jakszyk‘s talents are neglected there. With the band mostly concentrating on reinventing and reworking a fifty-year back catalogue, there doesn’t seem to be much room for Jakko’s original songs. A shame, since there are few better at shaping and refining plangent ballads which keep both their grand pictorial scale and their sense of shared confidences.

Heralding the release of a new Jakko solo album, ‘The Trouble with Angels’ (released via a Sam Chegini pencil-shades video) demonstrates all of this yet again. Jakko claims that it’s about “the innate urge to reach out to a stranger, following a chance meeting in Monte Carlo… combined with the monochrome memories of Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’, where a moment of crisis is redefined by something magical.” Maybe so, but only half the story is in there. The song’s aching sadness (expressed through caressing arpeggios, a curving arm of bass, a far-off raindusting of piano and cymbal, and above all by the vast pining space which stretches the song out) contains a mingled looping cord of pain and regret, kindness and guilt.


 
It’s about the desire to do better (“a bruised romantic’s futile plan”) while owning the fact that one might still contain harm, deception and shortfall; still not sure whether the need for a coherent story might override proper self-awareness. (“Fate, vows and happy endings / turn to dust and disappear. / Yet the search for clues is never-ending, / to justify our presence here… You search for signs and keep pretending / that all these moments brought you here.”) All at once, it’s a love song to a passing moment, a hint of wrongdoing done, a confession of fallability continued; and, in that, a archetypal Jakko song. The trouble with angels who have longed to be kissed, / and every mortal distraction that they try to resist, / and the trouble with me and all the signals I missed – / the thing about angels is, they don’t really exist.”

MInute Taker: 'The Darkest Summer'

MInute Taker: ‘The Darkest Summer’

Continuing the stream of singles from his audiovisual fictional-historical ‘Wolf Hour’ project (which explores, in dream sequences, the emotional lives and social position of gay men across time), Minute Taker releases ‘The Darkest Summer’. This time, the key year is 1989 – the year of the Vatican AIDS conference, and one in which ignorance and lack of understanding regarding the disease was finally on the turn. That said, AIDS itself is never once referenced in the song: a haunting ultramarine pulse of Germanic synth pop which rhapsodies memories, swimming in ghostly warmth – “all of the years that went away / carried away with the tide… / When I close my eyes, I find you in the half-light / standing on the sand, your hand in mine.”


 
The key is the video element: a dusk-blue recounting of a beachside romance carried out amongst the sand dunes and amusement arcades, which suddenly slips into a nightmare of loss and haunting down at the waterline. Saturated colours give way to video glitches as if beset by repeated blows: a lover’s features become a screen for static and violent effacement; a man writhes in oppressive darkness as if drowning and trying vainly to beat his way free.

There are shades, though not explicit ones, of The Communards’ For a Friend: the song, especially in its video incarnation, is trip-wired by shockwaves of loss. You can draw your own conclusions about what brought it on (the swathing of a huge impersonal pandemic, or the small cruelties of people’s individual failings) since the song itself is not giving anything more away. Instead, it focuses in on the furious, futile attempts to cling to the brilliance of what was lost; to fix it in time and to fix oneself to it. “I’d stay this way forever / as long as you were by my side. / (Oh) we’ve got the summer, baby / (oh) if you wanna waste some time… / don’t talk about the future, we can leave it all behind.”

Ivan Moult: 'What More Could I Say?/Toxic'

Ivan Moult: ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’

Previously known for his own kind of singer-songwriter confessionals (a succession of neo-folk baroque songs in the Nick Drake/David Gray vein), Ivan Moult seems to have been infected with a different enthusiasm during coronavirus lockdown. Already the owner of a dreamy, slightly weightless voice, he’s now bouncing and slurring it around the back of the mix for a decidedly Americanised remodelling.

Behind the reverbing “doo-doo”s of his backing singers and the electric country-telegraph-blues guitar he’s now favouring, ‘What More Could I Say?’ initially seems to meander delightfully within its classic framework, like Glen Campbell coming unstuck at Sun Studios. Once you get past the murmuring slurs, the high flutters and momentary keenings, though, you’re left with a true-to-form evocation of the wobblings of love. Its yearnings and its grumps, its desires and trepidations of settling on what might be unreliable ground. “Is it all in my mind / or are you sending me signs,/ ‘cos I don’t want to be that guy… / The way you turn your shoulders, you’re gonna loose smoulderings in my senses… / Are you staying over? / What I wanna know is / whether this is more than a lie…”

 
Not content with that, Ian dials up the reverb even more for a cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic that’s part slowcore country and part space rock, and therefore pretty much a hundred per cent ‘Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse. Discarding the brassy energy in favour of the high, lonesome sound is a kind of masterstroke, transforming it from a tingling celebration of forbidden fruit and remaking it into a dread-stricken mourning over addiction’s pull. Perhaps it always was, but giving it a touch of the Hank Williamses (or perhaps the Michael J. Sheehys) doesn’t hurt. Well, in a manner of speaking, it doesn’t.

 
Jakko M. Jakszyk: ‘The Trouble with Angels’
Inside Out Music (no barcode or catalogue number)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th July 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon; stream via Apple Music or YouTube
Jakko M. Jakszyk online:
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Minute Taker: ‘The Darkest Summer’
Octagonal Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th August 2020
Get it from: Minute Taker shop
Minute Taker online:
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Ivan Moult: ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’
Bubblewrap Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Released:
14th July 2020
Get it from: download from Apple Music, Google Play or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play, Tidal, Spotify and Amazon Music
Ivan Moult online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

March 2020 – single & track reviews – Jack Hayter’s ‘The Dark End of the Street’; Bijou Noir’s ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’; Holly Penfield’s ‘Diggin’ It’

31 Mar

“This old earworm in my head while I take my lonesome walk in the time of Corona. A very rough and ready recording and, sorry, got some of the words wrong. Stay safe and stay well.” Warm, self-deprecatory sentiments from Jack Hayter; under voluntary lockdown in Gravesend, broadcasting via webcam, and toying with his pedal steel and with this venerable “best cheatin’ song ever”.

As ever, he plays himself down. Certainly he can’t complete with the deep Southern soul tones of James Carr from the original version: so regal that they transformed the Penn/Moman tale of stolen backstreet fumbles into the tragedy of a king felled by love. Jack’s voice, in contrast, sounds as if it’s been on the sticky end of about a hundred too many bar fights, losing a lung along the way. As ever, though, it’s a strength – a magnificent, humanising flaw which lends his originals and his interpretations a battered and compassionate humanity.

Compared to the majesty of Carr’s pair of cheaters, Jack’s pair of illicit lovers may be past their best; possibly ignorable shunt-asides in the game of life, perhaps stuck in wrecks of marriages, but neither age nor circumstances kills off instinctive passions. Jack’s rendition tempers the tragedy with an air of flinching defiance: his lovers are going to feel the weight come down on them eventually, but they’re going to drain these moments for whatever all-to-rare life savourings present themselves. “I know time is gonna take its toll / We have to pay for the love we stole / It’s a sin and we know it’s wrong / Oh but our love keeps coming on strong…”

 
Bijou Noir‘s Eurotrance version of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (originally broadcast as part of the Give|Take label’s COVID-20 Live Streaming Series) really ought to be laughable, but it isn’t. The original Beatles version was a benchmark, their front-and-centre pop suddenly kissed by raga and the avant-garde with none of any of the elements involved being diminished. Four decades of airplay might have dulled its impact, but that’s no reason to deny that impact: the feeling of a song curling up at the corners like a magic carpet, of time running every whichway; and beyond that, the ‘Book of the Dead’-inspired call for the death of ego and the willing surrender to the journey beyond it.

Staying true to his own methods, Bijou Noir’s Augustus Watkins sacrifices much. He ignores the original’s specific psychedelic dislocation; he strips the song back to the melody line; and then he refurbishes it with layer upon layer of blushing skirling synthwork, of the kind mined by Simple Minds back in the start of the ’80s. In many respects, it’s the clean edit, and we know what kind of butchery that can involve.


 
Augustus gets around this by tapping into a different egolessness: that of the communality of the dancefloor, where hundreds of solipsistic experiences can merge into a collective spiritual one. What’s left after all of the 1960s sonic wizardry is removed? Lennon’s instinct for tune and directness; a set of instructions which need no technology and, indeed, next to no culture; added to this, Bijou Noir’s knack for the triggers of clubland and the transcendent post-humanity of electronica.

In contrast to the two songs above, ‘Diggin’ It’ might be original, but perhaps it isn’t the best song that a revitalised Holly Penfield has to offer these days. The chorus is pure, hoary corn and it doesn’t have the tango grace of last year’s ‘La Recoleta’. Still, there’s a winning exuberance to its roadhouse rock swagger and its brassy flourishes. Further evidence of Holly’s ongoing trip into roots rock, it’s happy to be a simple celebration of love and contentment, and it brims over with the fulfilment that was missing from the angsty synthpop of her Fragile Human Monster years.


 
With time having added a little extra whisky grain to her gorgeous, gutsy voice, Holly’s spreading the satisfaction – “Never thought I could get this far, / but if love is all then that’s what you are. / With your secret smile and forgiving eyes / your laughing style makes you Buddha-wise / Drank from cups of tears and trust, / paradigms of pain. / Thirsting for / something more -/ and now my glass is overflowing in the pouring rain.” In the spirit of sharing, this is a free download from here, and you can cop a direct quick listen here

Jack Hayter: ‘The Dark End of the Street’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Video-only track
Released:
28th March 2020
Get it from: view on Vimeo and YouTube
Jack Hayter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Deezer Spotify Amazon Music

Bijou Noir: ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
Give|Take, GT012 (no barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th March 2020
Get it from: free download from Give|Take online store oy pay-what-you-like from Bandcamp
Bijou Noir online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Holly Penfield: ‘Diggin’ It’
Raymond Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only free single
Released:
31st March 2020
Get it from: free download here
Holly Penfield online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music
 

January/February 2020 – showcases in London with Ragga Gröndal in Earls Court (19th January) and Velveteen Orkestra, Ben Eaton, Hattie Erawan and Matt Ryan in Soho (21st January); plus Blair Coron’s ‘On The Nature Of Things’ quiet evening in London and Glasgow (21st January, 7th February) with Zoë Bestel, Anin Rose, Tom Blankenberg, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach

14 Jan

A set of upcoming showcases happening at opposite corners of the country.

 
Ragga Gröndal’s currently a little-known name over here. In Iceland, though, she’s a much bigger deal – hailed as one of the country’s most remarkable singers. Performing in both Icelandic and English, she spans folk, pop and classical elements: less of an upsetter and groundbreaker, perhaps, than most of the Icelandic musicians who make the crossing over to Britain, but as the expounder of a kind of refined pop purity that’s actually a broad umbrella for a rich blend of other musical aspects, she does well. Here’s the blurb:

“The sound of Ragga Gröndal’s music is warm, adventurous and modern, yet accessible for curious music-lovers. (She) has worked with the same musicians for a decade and together they have toured all over Europe and created many beautiful and unforgettable moments. The band consists of musicians who are all independent artists in their own right; Guðmundur Pétursson (guitar), her brother Haukur Gröndal (woodwind player) and Claudio Spieler (percussion)… Each and every concert becomes a unique journey between the musicians, the audience and the performance space.”

For this special one-off show in London on the 19th, Ragga’s just bringing Guðmundur Pétursson: a musician whose work stretches from pop to his own classical guitar concertos, he’s an ideal and flexible foil.



 
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There’s a Success Express quadruple bill at Zebranos in Soho on the 21st, part of a new fortnightly showcase scheme. It’s all free to get in, but you pay Soho prices for your drinks and they suggest you book ahead for a table if you want to get in and sit down.

The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Easton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan, 21st January 2020As leader of The Velveteen Orkestra, Dan Shears dresses his dramatic sky-high vocals and rockabilly guitar in a wagon circle of string trio, piano and drums; sometimes evoking the country pop of Del Shannon or Dion, sometimes a Russian tundra shimmer, sometimes Muse-ian histrionics. Seasoned Aussie guitarist-singer-songwriter Ben Eaton is as smooth and gritty and no-nonsense as a well-maintained backroad: he’s a constantly busy professional with weddings, corporate events and similar cover-fests under his belt along with the gigs stuffed with originals, but don’t let that put you off too much. He’s a witty performance livewire who’s more than capable of transcending any workaday made-to-measure gig as well as pulling off blues-funk shows of his own.



 

Two more singer-songwriters are on the bill. Hattie Erawan – until recently known as Hattie Marsh – is Norfolk-born, has mingled Thai and English heritage and a forbidding expression, and also has about five years of playing London acoustica mainstays like the Bedford and St Pancras Old Church. She’s got Joni Mitchell, Nirvana, and Sheila Chandra down as influences: the outcome is bare, clear modern songs with a hard electric edge, sung with a hint of storms and in a tone like a steel statue. Sessioneer/producer Matt Ryan is embarking, or perhaps reembarking, on a solo career. His lone available track, a demo for The Last Time, is a polished bit of white R’n’B: while it’s a tad conservative and stripped-back in its current state, emotionally it’s a good deal more convincing than much of what reaches the charts. Worth keeping an eye on.

 

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'On The Nature Of Things' - 21st January and 7th February 2020Although it does have a lower-income ticket option, another upcoming showcase – ‘On The Nature Of Things’ – isn’t free; but, to be fair, it’s less likely to cover its expenses with beer money and upmarket bar food. Its aims are to be “quiet… introspective… an intimate evening of music. Immerse yourself as we relish in the more subdued side of music for one night through folk song, piano music, ambience/electronic and some modern classical. It is a space to listen. Expect fairy lights, darkness, and music to make you sit in awe, cry or sleep.

“‘On The Nature Of Things’, which this event is named after, is the debut album by Glasgow based musician and composer Blair Coron, who shall be hosting this event and is currently touring the UK with it. His intention is to create enchanting atmospheres allows for the audience to listen to the performers and to set course for introspection and meditation.”

Blair’s own work blurs around classical and near-ambient ideas for piano, acoustic guitar and string ensemble. He describes the album as “a delicate exploration of the intricacy and fragility of life, nature and the surrounding world. It is love…mortality…the sublime…a personal mantra…every thing.” So far, on spec, typically New Age-y and easily consumable; but he also mixes in poetry, chamber chorale, mandolins, birdsong and folksongs and (somewhere) a Nintendo handheld games console. If you’re worried that his deliberate gentleness places him on the wrong side of tentative, don’t. The results are edgeless and delicate, deliberately softened and frangible; but they have their own dainty logic and an openness which is rare. Streets away from the guarded blandness of much of the post-classical wash.




 
He’s been doing these shows for about a year now (from Edinburgh to Yorkshire to Inverness and Manchester) and I’ve not heard about them before this; but there are currently two OTNOT shows happening soon, both featuring Blair and ukulele-folkster Zoë Bestel. If you read that last phrase and thought cutesy versions of old pop and indie hits, think again. Zoë’s of that small number of people who turn the uke into a kind of perpendicular harp, using it to underpin a gorgeous art-pop folk soprano and a series of bewitching small-place songs. The kind of song and delivery that kills casual chat and has a roomful of people rapt and focussed entirely on what they’re seeing and hearing.

 
The London show – on the same night as Success Express – also features a couple of German musicians. Pianist, composer and sound designer Tom Blankenberg (who runs the Convoi Studios in Düsseldorf) works in a similar post-classical vein to Blair, although a more austere one. In recent years, he became interested in writing for solo piano: the result was his debut album ‘Atermus’, released last year and containing thirteen tracks in which strangely tender romantic melodies are concealed in minimalist sparseness, as if Bill Evans were communing with Arvo Pärt. In contrast, Anin Rose creates gospel-infused piano pop – not at the brassy end of either, but at the silky reverberant intersection of both. On record, a subtle reverb skitters almost imperceptibly around her songs and harmonies chase the main vocal like kissing clouds: live, I’m guessing that she does it all by presence.

 
The Glasgow show – in early February – features a pair of Scottish folk musicians, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach. A fiddler and pianist respectively, they’re rooted in tradition but immersed in present impression, “interested in making music filled with spontaneity, sensitivity and freedom. Inspiration comes from their pasts and surroundings, feeding music that’s rooted in tradition, whilst stretching it’s possibilities through improvisation and imagination.” Their latest release, last summer’s ‘Air Iomall’, was inspired by a trip around the currently uninhabited Shiant Isles off Scotland’s west coast, and their instrumental responses to the history that hangs around the places.


 
I’m hoping that Blair continues with these shows: they have a potential for some serious beauty. Previous evenings have included appearances by fellow Glaswegian post-chamber composer Richard Luke, piano improviser Carla Sayer and harpist Esther Smith; jazz/soul/gospel harmony duo Canter Semper; The Silver Reserve (a.k.a classical guitarist/looper Matthew Sturgess, who “plays delicate, sparse music (and) songs about out-of-body experiences, monogamy, small-town community Facebook pages and much more”; alt.folker Thomas Matthew Bower as Thomas & The Empty Orchestra; Jamie Rob’s post-everything project Poür Me, ambient song trio Luthia and drift band Neuro Trash; plus a further spray of diverse singer-songwriters in the shape of Simon Herron, Leanne Smith, Kate Dempsey, Mathilde Fongen, Hollie “Haes” Arnold, Leanne Body and Megan Dixon Hood. There’s a whole softened and glorious world opening up here.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Sunday Hive Sessions with Buzz Music Group presents:
Ragga Gröndal
The Troubadour, 263-267 Old Brompton Road, Earls Court, London, SW5 9JA, England
Sunday 19th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Success Express Music presents:
The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Eaton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan
Zebrano Bars, 18 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 4DS, England
Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm
– free event – information here and here

‘On The Nature Of Things’:

  • SET (SET Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England – Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Anin Rose + Zoë Bestel + Tom Blankenberg) – information here, here and here
  • Old Trinity College, 35 Lynedoch Street, Glasgow, G3 6AA, Scotland – Friday 7th February 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Zoë Bestel + Charlie Grey & Joseph Peach ) – information here and here

 

October 2019 – upcoming London rock, pop, noise, dancetronic gigs – Hurtling, Stephen Evens and Junodef (17th October); Gum Takes Tooth and Hyperstition Duo (18th October); Bunny Hoova, Gribs, J.B. Glaser and Halfs (18th October)

8 Oct

Hurtling + Stephen Evens + Junodef, 17th October 2019

Alt-rock trio Hurtling (fronted by My Bloody Valentine tour noisemaker Jen Macro) have a debut record to offer you – ‘Future From Here’, on Onomatopeia Records – and are launching it at north London’s The Islington in the middle of October. Their sound’s relatively easy to peg – post-Pixies, post-grunge, post-dreampop – but difficult to dismiss. There’s a full cupboardful of familiar indie rock ingredients to hand, but all reshuffled and re-examined via Jen’s particular perspective and inspired by the disorientations of touring, the displacement of emotions, the waywardness of health: the bumps and setbacks of a bright, questioning human organism pushed into too much motion. Sometimes, despite the noisy ethic, it’s surprisingly gentle; sometimes sludgy guitar parts pile up like rainbow cement ooze; sometimes it’s all about the vocal harmonies.



 
Once upon a time, most of Hurtling were part of cunningly witty indie/artpop sloggers stuffy/the fuses, and their glowering former employer (and current Onomatopeia labelmate) Stephen Evens is also on hand for the evening: ostensibly in a support slot, but probably to keep a dyspeptic jaded eye on them and to crush their remaining youthful dreams beneath his tapping boot. He’s playing solo – probably with guitar, microsynth and anything else portable which he fancies and which comes to hand – and is still working his own 2017 debut album, ‘Bonjour Poulet’. Which is fine, since it was excellent: a mordant larderful of creaky treats which revealed themselves to be gappy armour-plate wrapped around a surprisingly tender heart. He’ll probably give you all that sardonic, seen-it-all expression: actually, he’ll be pleased to see you.



 
London-based Swedish “post-death music” quartet Junodef fill the other support slot. Their debut single, a soft-strummed slice of spectral folk with additional Gothic guitar boom and the bleakness of a death metal song, was called Make You Die. Subsequent work hasn’t travelled too far from those initial emotional roots, although they’ve toyed with spooky progressive rock keyboards, acid rock shadings and lingering dark-country embellishments (the latter suiting both the paired vocals of Tyra Örnberg and Karin Grönkvist and their admiration for Emma Ruth Rundle and Chelsea Wolfe).

More recently Junodef have been feeding in noirish elements from trip-hop and droning electronica, citing inspiration by Portishead and Young Fathers. At the same time, they’ve upped their Bad Seeds clang and their clarity and put greater emphasis on their visual work, resulting in their most vividly fleshed-out songs and atmospheres yet. Don’t expect floppy Goth ragdolls: this band has a tough core, and a storytelling streak that’s just beginning to come into its own.



 

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Gum Takes Tooth + Hyperstition Duo, 18th October 2019In the same week, on the following day, relentless psychedelic noise-fosterers Baba Yaga’s Hut are putting on a Bethnal Green gig for block-party-inspired thunder-twosome Gum Takes Tooth. Singer/electronic bombardier Jussi Brightmore and wired-up drummer Thomas Fuglesang have been at this for a decade now, producing a music that’s
grinding and urgent, slow yet filled with unnerving impetus.

As with plenty of British acts on the weird/occult cusp, Gum Takes Tooth are fascinated by ritual (attempting to initiate it in both their recorded output and, more significantly, in their live performances) and with the jarring subconscious impact on the human animal from the mechanisms of technology, hierarchy and blunt cultural forces which surround us. Their last record, ‘Arrow‘, focussed on London gentrification from the perspective of those squashed under or flicked aside by its well-heeled, well-polished bespoke shoes; and on the savage simultaneous pressures from above to indulge the inner beast in competition, in nationalism, in a fracturing of common responsibility and empathy. While writing ‘Arrow’, Jussi saw all of this as a kind of cultural intoxication with the emphasis on toxic: it gave the duo a musical and moral focus which they’ve pursued ever since.



 
A couple of years ago, open-minded Sheffield Afrobeat/noise/dance-pop combiners Blood Sport called it a day. Two-thirds of them – drummer Sam Parkin and guitarist/Octatracker Alex Keegan – have since resurfaced as Hyperstition Duo, a blistering stew of kit-rattles and synth noise smudging and battering the line between live gig and avant-garde DJ electronica. They’ll be supporting Gum Takes Tooth on this occasion: but where the headliners favour slower pace and a ritual weight, the Hyperstitioneers prefer a break-neck-speed informational barrage.

At the end of this past summer, Hyperstition Duo released their debut EP ‘Virotechnics‘. There’s the usual jargonated hype to go with it – “summoning egregors of the Anthropocene, (they) plunge deep to deliver a maximalist collective immersion into their own lysergic phonosphere. Lurching, polyrhythmic pathways crumble and re-assemble; elastic dynamics snap; propulsion sparks from the nerve-centre of machine and corporeal entanglement… templexing, möbius loops and cybernetic subjectivities abound in an attempt to conjure escape vectors in a world of ubiquitous sound.” For once, the texture of the press release – a plunge into lathering, urgent verbalisation – actually fits the texture of the music.



 
* * * * * * * *

Overlapping the Gum Takes Tooth/Hyperstition Duo concert, Ben Vince’s south-east London clubnight Ellipsis (blending strands and clumps of experimental dance and experimental pop) ventures up north to Dalston on the same night for an evening of seamless switching between stage and DJ deck. I’ve not encountered Ellipsis before, but I’m impressed with what I’m finding out now.

Bunny Hoova + Gribs + J.B. Glaser + Halfs, 18th October 2019

To headline this time, Ben’s enticed the perplexing Dutch-born Mancunian Bunny Hoova down for her full-band London debut. Her work is simultaneously delightful and frustrating. At its simplest, it’s a kind of fall-apart dream pop – intermittent rhythms, addled guitar chording and bass thumbing, a cloudwork of woven-in samples, and a constant tripping over unvoiced questions, obscured conclusions and the track-loops of the thought-train. But while most dream-pop sinks into a narcotized structural conservatism (strumming away in the same key while admiring the whorls of sound coming through the pedalboard), Bunny’s material seems constantly uncomfortable, actively intelligent, and hovering at the midpoint between insight and misdirection. She’s been yoked in with experimental pop deconstructors/faux-idiot savants like Tirzah and Micachu, and I can see why. There’s that classical conservatoire training: coyly hinted at in the PR, for extra credit, but in practise forced off into the distance like a spurned aunt (even as it’s being used as the counterweight to punkish anti-technique). There’s the idea that the usual rules of pop song and riff culture are being scorned in a meticulous matter-of-fact way via an admixture of free play and cerebral manifesto.

Plenty of the songs on Bunny’s debut album, ‘Longing’, have the sensual drag-and-tug rhythm of slow jams; but rather than focussing a mood or a regular pace, they wander off at instinctive mental tangents or hiccup into a different arrangement; the instruments and samples entwining in a scratchy, bewildered, irregular intimacy. At times she seems to be taking up an erratic desert map scrawled by Captain Beefheart and attempting to apply it to close urban living. At other times, she seems to be spontaneously transposing into song experimental short stories about offbeat relationships, jolting encounters or small moments which change the course of a life; rich in detail and significance, short on conclusion. Plot and flavour are stretched out and split into gobbets, like odd-shaped beads necklaced on a guitar string. Her most-talked-about song, Lazy_Easy, is a scrubbing, slurred, pointed dissection-tract covering both the implicit and explicit links between consumerist culture and animal cruelty: more of a wall-collage with blended-in musical notes than an actual song. The world she flits through feels as rickety as a condemned flat; one that she’s too good for and shouldn’t have to live with, but which she has to accommodate and fit her voice to.




 
Also playing are a mixed bag of London and Manchester electronic experimentalists with bedroom studios. Gribs is a creative DJ and electronic musician, a label co-boss (Tobago Tracks) who in her own music weaving connections between straight-up dance music (trap, jungle, bass culture) and lo-fi DIY sound-and-voice experiments. There’s a distinct edge of discomfort to her work: not so much or so often that it repels, but her found vocals and implied song characters seem uneasy, morbidly eccentric or disassociated from the music’s rhythmic propulsion or sensual salve.

More DJ-ing and deckmixing comes from J.B. Glazer, another London-based creator of peculiar counter-intuitive dance music: for him, a kind of relentlessly alienated mirror-image R&B, all of its comfort and slickness rusted away into disassociative ennui. In the work of both Glazer and Gribs, there’s an echo of chopped-and-screwed culture: the slowing, the altered-state disconnections and new connections, the sense that they’re using alienation as a kind of gatekeeper (if you like dance but are prepared to discard much of its qualities of release or of socializing, then perhaps you can squeeze through this door).

Rounding things out (or upsetting any remaining unspilled applecarts) there’s the mysterious and performative Halfs – from what I can work out, a try-anything beat-making romper on Manchester’s queer arts scene. I’ve found a very fruity synthdance EP of his/theirs from 2017, so there are a few slurps of its whooping dayglo industrial tones below. There have also been percussion-favouring mixtapes and albums which have been whipped capriciously on and off Soundcloud, but are gone now: other than that, there seems to be involvement with scratch theatre, video and so on. In order to properly keep up with Halfs, you need to subscribe (both literally, and in terms of consistent loyalty) so just consider this vague, semi-accurate plug of mine to be a jumping-on point and take it from there.


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Onomatopoeia Records presents:
Hurtling + Stephen Evens + Junodef
The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, Islington, London, N1 0XT, England
Thursday 17th October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Gum Takes Tooth + Hyperstition Duo
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Friday 18th October 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Ellipsis presents:
Bunny Hoova + Gribs + J.B. Glaser + Halfs
SET (Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England
Friday 18th October 2019, 9.00pm
– information here and here
 

February/March/April/May 2019 – upcoming English experimental/rock gigs – Markers and Haress on tour with appearances by Tom House, Anji Cheung, Caius Burns and Aby Vulliamy; plus later dates with Jaye Jayle and Motes

23 Feb

One of the connections which particularly intrigues me (for which read “always baffles me and induces me to go over it again”) is the one between folk music and hardcore punk. Apparently it’s a love based on a number of things – the inclination towards keeping to the basics, the austerity which is fostered both by that and by a distrust of commercialism and toys, a sense of political purity and of dodging corruption… It’s perhaps a little one-sided – punk tends to love folk more, although you’ll get some acknowledgement coming back the other way, increasingly so as more young folkies grow up with punk. Regardless of the relative exchange, you’ll see quite a bit of traffic moving around here. An upcoming British tour looks into this particular dynamic and feel, at the stripped-down point where the genres meet: along the way, there are more overlappings and enfoldings.

Markers on tour, February-May 2019Markers’ Jodie Cox always seemed like a gifted guy that strolled into hardcore with a positive attitude, rather than hunching or raging his way into it. Even when he was blitzing and shrieking away at the front of short-lived London seedbedders Ursa during the late ‘90s, he seemed cheerfully unlimited by the constraints of form. Ever since then (via transatlantic journeys through Earth, Narrows, Bullet Union, Sex Swing, Exes and others) he’s always seemed to be where he wanted to be rather than being forced into it: a sunny, enthusiastic character who’s helped humanise and hearten any project he’s been in. Jodie’s bandmate, contemporary and friend Jason Carty began his career in the same time and place. Stubborn, meticulous and sometimes anxious, he twitched and reeled various fluent post-rock/prog/post-metal guitar complexities through Geiger Counter and Foe like a ferocious engraver, then threw all of that aside to play blattering post-hardcore doom bass in Art Of Burning Water before embracing silence for a number of years.

Now reunited and united, Jason and Jodie’s all-instrumental work as Markers sees the two of them eschewing other musicians and hairy-arsed distortion in order to see what they can get out of two (mostly) clean electric guitars. Their debut album ‘Heaven In The Dark Earth’ is a beautifully executed thing. As Jodie’s put it elsewhere, rather than roaring easily through fuzz they’re now aiming for something “tonally heavy” (Even if they have covered Jesus Lizard, they went for one of that gonzo band’s rarer gentle tunes, and it came out sounding like late lamented bass frowners Rothko.)

Markers’ music is immediately atmospheric, recorded at a larger-than-life scale in which the listener feels as if they’re about a foot high, wandering around the duo’s feet and their suddenly gargantuan amplifiers. When processing does turn up it’s mostly in the form of encompassing shivers of reverb, or discreet echo – wider brushstrokes and spongeings to complement delicate penwork. Apart from that it’s wood, wire, pickups and an intuitive, space-filled musical marriage between the two players, pursuing a fluid sparseness and a sombre/passionate flaring of arpeggios and arabesques, flotsam folk figures and fragments rubbed smooth enough for their provenance to stay ambiguous. It’s a kind of post-industrial classical guitar, making the most of sparse resources and close-mouthedness, mysterious conversations through fingers and dusty speaker-cones. These buggers always had a lot more depth than previous circumstances have allowed them to show: or perhaps, more than they allowed themselves to make clear. In Markers, they no longer have either of these problems.


 
Following their recent showing at a mid-February gig in Brighton (hands up, I admit that I missed it) Markers are setting out on tour with kindred spirits Haress. Hailing from arty market town Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire, Haress are fundamentally the guitar duo of David Hand and Elizabeth Still. Mantric, minimalist, low-hanging and close-knit, theirs is a music in which several tight and lowering musical disciplines meets. Art-rock, hardcore edge, meditational post-rock and American electric folk fragments emerge via very loud, mostly clean electric guitars (on the lip of distortion and at the precarious peak of electromagnetic responsiveness) and meet shruti and amp drones plus delicate percussion tingles. Below are a couple of clips of David and Elizabeth meeting inside and outside:



 
Haress sometimes expand for live dates. The current ones see them augmented by a third guitarist (Chris Summerlin of dubby Notts psych/noise-ians Kogumaza, accelerated post-Beefheart screamers Wolves of Greece, and bluescore trio Lord), by a singer (Tom House, best known as the frontman for a pair of Brighton bands, hollering post-hardcore act Charlottefield and its more tender-fleshed followup Sweet Williams) and by drummer David Smyth of Liverpudlian synthcore/space-punks Kling Klang. No clips for that, I’m afraid…

At the London show (also the Markers album launch, with ticket/LP/download bundles available for those who want them), Anji Cheungprovides “audio intermissions”. She was in here earlier this month being previewed at the Matthew Shaw/English Heretic show, sandwiched between rural synth ambience and psychogeographic audio-visual. I can’t immediately improve much on what I said about her back then, so here it is again – “unnerving, frowning amplifier buzzes rolling over the listener like a gigantic clumsy wheel, with dramatically chopped/distorted/otherwise incomprehensible vocals implying pirate-radio-eavesdropping on a covert ritual… car-boot clatter under a lowering sky… beautiful lost female murmur-melodies stalked by drainage-ditch fuzz…. Another aspect of New Weird Britain: ambiguously multicultural and urban, mixing and obscuring London and Chinese references, but sounding mostly as if it stems from a place where jerry-built tower blocks break up old fields around the city’s tired periphery and where unknown syncretic practises are carried out (perhaps only half-understood even by the people involved).”



 
In Nottingham, Kagoule’s frontman Caius Burns will be bolstering the evening: sidestepping the noisy fantastical post-hardcore of his main band to deliver an acoustic voice-and-guitar set of his own songs, all in an old-school folk baroque form complete with slippery Jantschian fingerpicking. (And here he is in transient mode, halfway between folk and electropop…)

 
The Shipley show is the most extensive on the mini-tour: a four-act event with Tom House stepping forward out of the Haress lineup to perform a set of his own queasy, sludgy, draggy-pop slowcore. Hometown girl Aby Vulliamy is also joining the evening. A multi-instrumentalist (piano, viola, flute, musical saw, accordion) and singer/composer across a remarkable range of genres, she was covered in here a few years ago via her part-written/part-improvised Mothercore project, in which she teamed up with established musicians Laura Cole and Maria Jardardottir plus an ever-shifting cast of local musician/mothers who joined in whenever the main trio rolled into their town. Mothercore was inspired by, and triggered by, the ambiguous experience of motherhood, and appears to have led into last year’s long-overdue Aby solo album, ‘Spin Cycle’.

If Mothercore thrived on solidarity, ‘Spin Cycle’ places itself, sometimes unnervingly, on “mother alone yet not alone”: its songs tracing their way across a webwork of maternal experience (broader voicings of political anger at the forcing of roles onto women of childbearing age; the claustrophobic vortex of love, fear and exhaustion surrounding breastfeeding; an awareness of the greater female timespan of girl baby to young woman, watched over by mother all the way). Depending on your gender, your situation and where you are in your own lifespan, it’ll either shed light onto a much generalised-over, much-misunderstood state of being, or simultaneously rue and celebrate what’s one of the greatest and most turbulent tasks, all to a DIY backing of diverse, intimate floating-folk instrumentation.





 
The final tour show, in Liverpool, is just Haress and Markers on their own. I can’t tell you where the Old Brazilian Embassy is, although longstanding Liverpudlians might be able to hazard a guess, while the organisers appear to be a collective who throw concerts at home and overlap with avant-garde rock ensemble Ex-Easter Island Head (so now you know who to chase up and pester if you really want to come). Apparently this isn’t the only show these guys are putting on, although the proximity of neighbours and license issues means that they’ve got to keep the volume down… Merseyside art musicians who operate at the quiet end of things, here’s a new place to beat a pathway to (if you can find it yourself).

Outside the tour, Haress and Tom House will also be plying their trade at a mid-March gig in Bristol, for which they’re joined by obscure Somersetters Motes, who come bearing the priceless label of “drunk-minimal/hypnotist-un-rock based at the ventriloquistic intersection of Barrow Gurney and Old Market”. There’s no way I can better that sentence – it’s its own short film, all by itself – but here they are, playing a couple of their lo-fi guitar-and-drum, barn-under-the-motorway scrambles:



 

San Haress, Markers go on to play a couple of dates in Brighton and Leeds on the cusp of April and May with American “dark-indie” band Jaye Jayle. Formed in Louisville around onetime Young Widows songwriter Evan Patterson and with other personnel sporting a history including The For Carnation, Freakwater, and Phantom Family Halo, Jay Jayle connect American roots music and Southern Gothic musical sensibilities with drone, garage rock, and bits of kosmische analogue-tronic drive (much of it brought by Corey Smith’s “auxiliary instrumentation”). They’re an exciting thrumble of Velvets-y deathmarch, down-home fucked-up country backroads, factory sirens, momentary blackouts and haunted, incoherent confessionals. They sing the songs of drifters on long, dark trips; of people in back-prickling situations; and of people who’ve picked at the scabs of guarded obscure places just enough to show you why you shouldn’t pick at any more of them. Jay Jayle are compelling. I think I’ll be back to give them another listen.



 

Also on hand at the first of those two shows – the one in Brighton – is Nick Hudson’s own home-grown take on the “psychedelic dystopian gnostic-Gothic post-punk” approach, The Academy Of Sun. Some overlap with Jay Jayle’s sound, perhaps, but quite a bit more verbose and self-consciously literary, to be honest. Somewhere between Johnny Cash and dark cabaret, with a dash of biting chanson – but then as Brightoneers they’re not much more than a stone’s throw away from either the sea or Nick Cave (and, judging by the sound of this, from a mouldering salt-stained stack which when pulled apart bursts into a sprawl of old Furniture records and bright West Coast glad-rags).



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Markers & Haress on tour:

  • Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019, 8.00pm(Markers album release gig, also featuring Anji Cheung) – information here, here and here
  • JT Soar, 2 Aberdeen Street, Nottingham, NG3 1JB, England – Friday 15th March 2019, 7.30pm(also featuring Caius Burns) – information here
  • The Triangle, 47 Bradford Road, Shipley, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD18 3DS, England – Saturday 16th March 2019, 7.00pm (also featuring Tom House + Aby Vulliamy) – information here
  • The Old Brazilian Embassy, somewhere in Liverpool, England – Sunday 17th March 2019 – ask around for information

Haress + Tom House + Motes
The Old England, 43 Bath Buildings, Bristol, BS6 5PT, England
Thursday 14th March 2019, 8.00pm
– information here

Jay Jayle and Markers:

 

October 2018 – singer-songwriter album launches in London and Wales – Hazel Iris (25th October), Emma Lohan (25th, 26th October)

21 Oct

Looking for events with singer-songwriting women in London? This coming Thursday, you can go big or go small.

* * * * * * * *

If you’re going for the bigger option, there’s Hazel Iris’ album launch in Smithfield, at St. Bartholomew-the-Great, no less. It’s an event that sprawls across the entire church: its varied acts located in different places within the building, like a cross between a miniature festival and a stations-of-the-cross procession. In one corner, two classical musicians – Katrina Sheppeard and Jayson Gillham (who between them have racked up appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, ENO, Melbourne Symphony and the Sydney Opera House) will provide a piano-and-soprano duet performance of Richard Strauss’s ‘Vier letzte Lieder’ – the composer’s last work, a four-song death-and-transfiguration sealing of his legacy, composed during the dusk of the Romantic era. Next, in another corner, Kate Arnold – usually to be found as frontwoman for dark classical-folk fusioneers Fear Of The Forest – will be playing solo and acoustic with hammer dulcimer, violin and voice, providing a set of songs reflecting her folk, medieval and Middle Eastern influences.




 
And so to the headliner, who’s recently been making a name for herself as a standout performer at the Blind Dog Studio evenings. Hazel Iris is a storyteller with an overwhelming musical streak; her tales drawn from her travels, her own musings and her borrowings from the great stewpot of mythology and folklore. California-born and London-based but world-honed, her songs blend indie-folk habits, vaudeville brassiness, operatic training, lieder romance and a dash of country.




 
Bringing her brand-new ‘Nine Sisters’ album to life at St Barts is a similarly broad-based nine-piece band. The rhythm section – drummer Fred Harper and double-bassist Twm Dylan – come from the London and Leeds jazz scenes, while Winter Quartet violinist Aurora Del Río Pérez and French horn player Jessica Cottis are both established in the classical world (the latter, notably, as a conductor – she’s returning to a childhood instrument for this performance). Harpist Tara Minton straddles both jazz and classical worlds. Rounding out the ensemble is cellist and screen music composer Matt Constantine, classical accordionist Aine McLoughlin (Hazel’s regular collaborator at previous Blind Dog gigs), and up-and-coming guitarist Myles Peters (who plays anything and anywhere he can).

Also integral to the show will be the puppets of Alicia Britt, artistic director for Wondering Hands Puppet Theatre. Her usual gig involves using puppetry of all kinds for the entertainment and nourishment of all ages, with an undercurrent of healing, conversation and a restoration of our human nature: work that ranges from carefully-thought-out fairy tales of bereavement and development for children to bawdily sexual puppet-cabaret for adults. Quite possibly all aspects will be making a showing in her support work for Hazel. I’ve no idea whether huge rod-guided creatures will be leaping through the church or whether the puppetry will be on a smaller, more human scale with creatures the size of lutes or horns, but it should add an extra level of story texture.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of smaller, more human scales – if all of the above sounds too grand, then on the same London night another songwriter – Emma Lohan – is launching her own debut album up in the south end of Hackney. ‘Black Atlantic’ pulls together Emma’s own particular blend of Irish hometown influences (she’s a Galway woman), pop leanings and traveller’s scraps, drawn from her footloose global roamings. Impressions and stories, a kind of global coast-combing or, as I put it last time, “beautifully-constructed cloud-tossed songs imbued with the flicker of constant motion.” The album itself is a small, quiet-reveal treasure imbued with a bouncing, soft-chatting liveliness. There’s jigs and kalimba, there’s age and youth, there’s plenty of story to unspool.

She’s doing it all again the following night in Wales – in an unusual display of synchronicity, at a puppet theatre in Cardigan – in a puppet theatre. Elusive ska band Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty are in support: no more info on them, I’m afraid. (Update, 24th October – sadly the Cardigan show has had to be cancelled, but they’re promising to reschedule it soon…)



 

All dates:

  • Hazel Iris + Kate Arnold + Jayson Gilham & Katrina Sheppeard – St Bartholomew the Great, Cloth Fair, West Smithfield, Clerkenwell, London, EC1A 7JQ, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Emma Lohan – NT’s Bar, 1 Westgate Street #207, London Fields, London, E8 3RL, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Emma Lohan – Small World Theatre, Bath House Road, Cardigan, Ceredigion, SA43 1JY, Wales, Friday 26th October 2018, 8.00pm (with Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty) – information here and here

 

August 2018 – more Woodburner world-acoustica sessions at Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens – Solomon’s Garden, The Hungry Mothers and Miranda Joy (7th August); Sannie Fox, Harvey Causon and Gus Harvey (14th August); Whiskey Moon Face, Meïkhâneh and Tommy Ashby (21st August); Gnawa Blues All Stars, James Riley and Michael Sebastian (28th August)

2 Aug

More outdoor summer Woodburner gigs at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, as the season moves into its third and penultimate month.

Here’s what they say they’re offering…

* * * * * * * *

The 7th August show features neo-soul collective Solomon’s Garden, Brighton-based Americana band The Hungry Mothers, and the singer-songwriter Miranda Joy.

Solomon’s Garden is a collective of three university friends who came together to make music with cleverly worded and thought-provoking lyrics, and soulful, catchy, head-bopping beats. After spontaneously releasing their first song ‘Sand Dunes’ in January 2016, the group had an incredible reaction from the general public and within a short period of time the song hit its first thousand plays. It was then that the group knew they were on to something special. Two years, one hiatus and three EPs later the band continues to thrive as a dynamic four piece. Between landing a slot at Latitude festival ‘17, being chosen for BBC Introducing’s record of the week, and becoming a favourite with Sofar Sounds London; the band are fast becoming a name to be recognised on the emerging music scene, with a distinct and resonant sound that continues to evolve.


 
“Producers of feelgood Americana residing within the south-east of the UK, The Hungry Mothers immediately began winning fans since their birth last year as a four-piece comprised of warming harmonies, laid-back roots and country blues. Their debut single Tiger Song (released on At The Helm Records) is the confident and mature start for a band who are inviting everyone on their journey.


 
Miranda Joy is a twenty-two-year-old singer-songwriter currently based in London. She performs her meaningfully-written songs with a powerful and soulful voice with moving piano accompaniment. She has performed at many venues, festivals and events, including the Vortex Jazz Club, The Village Underground, Rye International Jazz and Blues festival, the Great Escape Festival and Nasty Women UK. Last year one of her original songs, The Fall, was featured on BBC1’s coverage of the NFL Super Bowl highlights. Currently, she is continuing to perform at venues across the UK and working on releasing her first EP.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The 14th August show features South African blues artist Sannie Fox, electronic/jazz from Harvey Causon, and trip hop act Gus Harvey.

Sannie Fox is a singer and guitarist who has released two critically acclaimed albums and will release her third studio album ‘My Soul Got Stranger’ this year. With her voracious voice, and her fingers to her electric guitar, Fox sways across an evolving sonic tapestry of desert blues, soul and psychedelic rock sounds. Last decade, Fox formed the blues-rock 3-piece Machineri and released a self-titled album in 2010; in 2015 she released her debut solo album ‘Serpente Masjien’. She has toured South Africa, the UK and Asia and is currently based between the UK and South Africa.


 

“Calm and understated, Bristol’s Harvey Causon is turning heads with his deft take on contemporary R&B and percussive electronica, and with the powerful, brooding vocal that sounds far more world-wearied than his twenty years. After moving to Bristol last year, Harvey quickly released his ‘Introspect’ EP’, a collection of songs that he had been sitting on for a while. Eclectic but polished, the stand out song from the release, ‘Systems’ was given a remix from rising hip hop duo Cabrakid (earning Harvey an appearance at Cabra’s support slot with Loyle Carner after the rapper heard the track).

“In October, Harvey released his single ‘Frisson’ with local Bristol label Leisure Records: ‘Worn You’, his most recent release with production collaborator Gabriel Gifford, was playlisted by Radio 1 as the BBC Introducing Track of the Week and added to the Burberry and Radio 1 Spotify playlists. With nods to other contemporary artists the ambient piano ballad has a nervous energy but its dub tinged rhythm, clever lyrical content and fragile yet soothing vocal set it apart. Having already played sold-out shows supporting Tokio Myers, Puma Blue and Porches as well as Dot to Dot and 2000 Trees festivals, the summer bookings are shaping up to be just as imposing with The Great Escape, The Downs Festival and All Points East all in the pipeline. His impressive live set features both Gabriel Gifford and drummer Ben Toon.


 
Gus Harvey is a London-born soul singer with roots in hip hop and jazz. This August she releases debut EP ‘? History (1 of 4)’ on her own label. Her first single – Witches – was pure hip hop and received radio acclaim from DJs including Lauren Laverne and Nemone on BBC Radio 6 Music, as well as being Clash Music’s Track of the Day. The new EP exhibits four different styles; acoustic soul, jazz-hip hop, trip hop and bi gbeat (from collaborations with Audiobullys’ Tom Dinsdale). ‘? History’ is Harvey’s self-portrait and DIY protest against an industry squashing emerging artists into one genre. As sole mistress of all her ships, Harvey creates her visuals with close friend and London visionary Netti Hurley. Tonight she performs a unique, stripped acoustic soul set especially for Woodburner.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The 21st August show features transcontinental jazz-folkers Whiskey Moon Face, Persia/Mongolia/Eastern Europe-influenced folk trio Meikhaneh and sessioneer-turned-ancestral-folkie Tommy Ashby.

“The result of a thousand drunken nights, countless dreamy days, and years of musical adventuring, Whiskey Moon Face take you on a voyage into a bohemian underworld which you never knew existed. Born into a puddle of whiskey beneath a stark winter moon and raised by cold winds, schooled in the warming spirits and hungry for more, Whiskey Moon Face manage a natural, graceful sound built from many ports. Always innovating and improvising with stark originality, Louisa Jones’ troupe of underground musicians play with a virtuosity you could never expect. Songs which speak of the unspeakable, with understated humour, captivating storytelling and a transcendent spirituality. ‘Folk Radio UK’ compared them to “having been at one of those wild and joyous youthful parties in somebody else’s parents’ house that you’ll remember for years.”


 
Meïkhâneh’s compositions are fed by imagination, improvisation and traditional music from Europe, Mongolia and Iran. The luminous and captivating voices carry the power of East European singings, the aerial melodies of the great spaces, as well as the depth of the khöömii, Mongolian overtone singing. One can hear traveling cords recalling the steppes of Asia and Andalusia. The chiseled rhythms of percussion draw on the Persian tradition. Meïkhâneh takes us to the heart of a music without borders that caresses the soul. Its name borrowed from Persian poetry means the «House of Intoxication». We let ourselves be carried…


 

Tommy Ashby’s childhood was always going to be musical. Travelling the country playing guitar in his father’s traditional blues band and raised on the Scottish pub singaround culture, his initial musical experiences were immersive and natural. His teens were spent pouring over his parents record collections of American songwriters such as Neil Young, Simon and Garfunkel, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings and Jeff Buckley. The eclectic mix of American roots, blues and country, combined with his Scottish folk roots, all seeped into his music.

“After acquiring a PhD focussed on studying and modelling the human perception of sound, Tommy cut his teeth behind the scenes as a session musician for the likes of Nina Nesbitt and Holly Macve, toured the UK and Europe as support act for Rhodes and Tom Speight as well as playing a number of headline sell-out shows in London this year including events curated by Communion, Never Fade and the Southbank Centre. His debut EP, produced by Chris Bond (Ben Howard) was self-released in late November 2016 and entered at No.5 in the iTunes singer-songwriter chart. His new EP, Restless Love, was recorded and mixed with Grammy award winner Sam Okell in his home studio near the wild North Cornwall coast.”


 
* * * * * * * *
The 28th August show features Moroccan guimbri sensations Gnawa Blues All Stars, Anglo-American guitarist James Riley, and improvisation/loop wizard Michael Sebastian.

“Simo Lagnawi is an ambassador of Gnawa culture in the UK. This charismatic creator is the leader of Gnawa Blues All Stars and has featured on BBC World service, CNN World, BBC 3, Vox Africa, & many more radio shows and magazines around the world. He has performed at a host of festivals including Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party, Latitude and Boom Town. Playing traditional Gnawa music from Morocco, this sacred trance music forms the core of his work with his bands Electric Jalaba, Gnawa Griot, and Gnawa Blues Allstars. Simo continuously pushes new boundaries fusing Gnawa with music from countries such as Gambia, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, India, Japan, Venezuela and the Caribbean. Look out for special guest musicians playing with the band!


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


 
South African-born, Edinburgh-educated, and living in London, Michael Sebastian is a musician and loop-artist who improvises to uplift the capital. Whenever possible, Sebastian is on the streets of London, improvising with a loop-pedal, a mic and a bright pink guitar. He will attest that this has been the most important part of his musical education, and has taught him to speak to people through his instrument. he creates music from a broad range of experience and styles. His affinity for groove and feel allows for conflicting styles to fluidly co-exist, feeling human and natural. His most recent album, ‘Kayanda’ demonstrates him harnessing live, improvised looping onto record. After developing the recording software himself, Sebastian went into a shed in the country for two weeks to improvise an album, and came out with fourteen tracks. The album is written with the sensibilities of modern dance and electronic music, and retains the freedom, rawness and depth of world music and jazz, while still creating melodies that are hard to forget.”


 
* * * * * * * *

All events are at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, 13 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England on Tuesday evenings. Dates below:

  • Solomon’s Garden + The Hungry Mothers + Miranda Joy – Tuesday 7th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Sannie Fox + Harvey Causon + Gus Harvey – Tuesday 14th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Whiskey Moon Face + Meïkhâneh + Tommy Ashby – Tuesday 21st August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Gnawa Blues All Stars + James Riley + Michael Sebastian – Tuesday 28th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

 

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

1 Jul

Ana Silvera, 4th July 2018

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

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

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


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

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

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


 
* * * * * * * *

Holly Penfield, 9th July 2018

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

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


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


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

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


 

July 2018 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Velodrome, Hazel Iris and Mally Harpaz at another Blind Dog Studio evening (4th July); Barringtone, Ham Legion and Stephen Evens do art-pop in Brixton (12th July)

28 Jun

Velodrome + Mally Harpaz + Hazel Iris, 4th July 2018

There’s another of multi-instrumental soundtrack composer/Anna Calvi sidewoman Mally Harpaz’s audio-cinematic Blind Dog Studio live events taking place in Dalston at the beginning of July. As with previous Dog days, Mally’s bringing her own small ensemble to play the original pieces she composed in order to soundtrack video artist Clara Aparicio Yoldi’s expansions of fine art paintings, and which win her those comparisons to Steve Reich, Max Richter, and Nils Frahm. Also on hand is another Blind Dog favourite, operatic Californian indie-folk-popper Hazel Iris, who uses “the traditions of romantic lieder, vaudeville, and contemporary styles (to) celebrate the high art of storytelling” and whose vigorous witty songs are fleshed out with cello, accordion, guitar and Mally’s percussion (but mostly by Hazel’s own powerful voice and personality).


 

The newest guest at Blind Dog Studio’s ongoing party is Katherine Christie Evans (previously the bassist for “feminist punk witches” Dream Nails), who’s bringing along her experimental rock project Velodrome. The project takes its cues from various aspects of Katherine’s life and the challenges within it. Musically, there’s her work as a singer of Early Music and her other multi-instrumental skills on guitar, bass and drums (which inspires the music’s layering of choral baroque against lo-fi indie scrawl), while politically and personally there’s the ways in which her determination and talent intertwine with her queerness (and with the more negative elements of her chronic anxiety and fluctuating mental health). As such, she counts herself as an artist “working at the intersections of feminism, social inequality, mental health and queer visibility”, battling the barriers which come with a lack of diversity in the arts while developing her own voice.


 
All of the above makes Katherine sounds furious, but she seems to be fighting her battles with humour, positivity and a gaming spirit. Viz the awkward but cheerfully determined eroticism of last month’s debut Velodrome single His Physique, which makes lustful hay from the epicene figures in mediaeval art (“lean and slender, / no particular gender,”) and sports a witty, low-budget video blending childlike cosplay and jokey New Weird visuals, as Katherine frolics around ruins, green mazes and antique rooms, invades portraits with her bass guitar to “queer the male images”, and dresses up as everything from playgroup knight to Metallica’s Kirk Hammett to towering pagan carnival-stalker. Totally charming – along with Great Dad, she’s definitely one to watch.

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Hazel Iris + Mally Harpaz + Velodrome
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Wednesday 4th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Barringtone + Stephen Evens + Ham Legion, 12th July 2018Down in south-west London, Brixton lurkers Barringtone – presumably recovered from drummer Boomer’s broken wrist – take over the Windmill again for “an evening of left-field pop” as part of the increasing build towards the release of their debut album: a build which has mostly consisted of them playing semi-secret gigs a stone’s throw from their front room and nerve centre. Talk about conquering the world from your bedsit… Here, again, is their most recently released effort Dream Boys, showcasing their switch from motorik power pop towards a Zappa/Partridgean art-pop embracing some greater breadth and complexity: they’ve always had it in them, it’s just that they’ve now decided to be more blatant about it.


 
In support is scowling singer-songwriter Stephen EvEns, whose faux-surly demeanour disguises one of the most slyly humorous British songwriters since the aforementioned Partridge and the previously mentioned Ray Davies. Stints behind the drums for Graham Coxon, The Damned, Charlotte Hatherley and Cardiacs concealed his sharp talent for a crumpled, rumpled song: the two albums he did leading his own band Stuffy/The Fuses revealed it. Last year’s debut solo album ‘Bonjour Poulet’ (“the songs are beautiful and the words are horrible”) dragged it fully into the light, first squinting and then revealing its hulking, deceptive charm. Eyebrow ever-so-slightly raised; a little fang, a guitar, a desultory voice and a crappy little keyboard; a pincushion heart and a wash of downbeat Brit-indie shrug. With the imminent return of The Kinks, he’s probably got a little more competition than he did last week, but trust me, he’ll walk it.


 
Brighton-via-London rockers (and outlying Cardiacs family sprig) Ham Legion complete the bill with their “lo-fi pop… punctuated with proggy outbursts, psychedelic breakdowns and passages of cod-metal joy.” I can’t put it better than that, at least not today.


 
Windmill Brixton presents:
Barringtone + Ham Legion + Stephen Evens
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England
Thursday 12th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

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.

* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

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…

* * * * * * * *

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.

 
* * * * * * * *

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..

* * * * * * * *

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.”

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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…




 
* * * * * * * *
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 2017 – 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…

* * * * * * * *

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…


 
* * * * * * * *

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).

* * * * * * * *

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.




 

* * * * * * * *

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.


 
* * * * * * * *

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.

 

* * * * * * * *

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.


 

* * * * * * * *

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.

 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – picking through BBC Music Day

29 May

BBC Music Day

The annual BBC Music Day comes up this year and this week on Friday 3rd June. It’s a generally beneficial nation-building exercise in typical BBC style, informed by magazine-style news, middle-range tastes and light entertainment. Much of what’s on is comfortably communal – plenty of light music choirs, familiar regional touches of brass and pipes.

In all fairness, there’s plenty here to like. There’s a scheme organising gentle live shows in hospitals throughout Scotland and England. There’s a focussing on church bell ringings around the country which is free of gimmick and simply lets the art speak for itself (emphasising both its national status and its localism). There’s the ‘Take It To The Bridge‘ programme, during which the nation’s bridges will be briefly overrun by symbolic musical meetings, community choirs, time-travelling orchestras and local songwriters.

Twelfth Doctor with guitar

Sadly not joining in with any time-travelling orchestras…(© BBC 2015)

There’s also a strong sense of that other nation – the one which the BBC still encourages in the face of rumbling political dissatisfaction, manipulation and discomfort. It might be a non-partisan wash of generic English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish decency which doesn’t offer much to scare the horses, doesn’t break a sweat breaking new ground, and doesn’t ultimately provide much event-by-event challenge; but it should still be applauded for at least trying to encourage common ground and (at a time when art is being squeezed out of schools) a culture of engagement with music. For the full programme – and for British readers who want to find out exactly what’s going on in their region – check the links above.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been sifting through the programme with my jaundiced, picky eye and selecting out what I feel are some of the more unusual or rewarding events dotted around the comfy musical quilt (more or less in order of occurrence), starting in the middle of another festival in Hay-on-Wye…

BBC Radio 3 Live/Hay Festival presents:
Hay Festival Guitar Jam with Morgan Szymanski
Friends Café @ Hay Festival Site, Dairy Meadows, Brecon Road, Hay-on-Wye, HR3 5PJ, Wales
Friday 3rd June 2016, 9.30am

BBC Music Day - Get Playing!“Prior to his Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert (a collaboration with the Cremona String Quartet at 1.00pm, and already sold out) classical guitar ace Morgan Szymanski will be inviting amateur guitarists to join him for a morning guitar jam. Help create and perform a brand new piece for a hundred guitarists to be featured in the concert. Morgan will lead you through the process, whatever your level, from beginner to advanced. The event includes a special master class from Nitin Sawhney on playing the guitar.”

Unlike the walk-up nature of most of the other events listed here, a Hay Festival ticket is required for this one.

In Cambridge…

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire presents:
English Pocket Opera vs. Imperial & K.I.N.E.T.I.K
Silver Street Bridge, Silver Street, Cambridge, CB24 5LF, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 11.30am

English Pocket Opera will be performing on a punt through the waterways of Cambridge. As they approach Silver Street bridge the opera will be joined by a local ‘BBC Introducing’ hip-hop duo Imperial & K.I.N.E.T.I.K, on top of the bridge. Hip-hop and opera will merge to create a brand new sound.”

Christ, this one could be a car-crash in multiple senses. I mean, it’s hard enough to handle a Cambridge punt at the best of time – it’s an unhappy marriage of Newton and Zen – let alone try to synchronise it with anything else. Still, given the sunny, positive and playful nature of both sets of musicians involved (don’t expect a collision of ‘Wozzeck’ and Kanye), let’s give them the benefit of the doubt… and just to put it into perspective, I‘m an appalling puntsman and these guys know their music.



 

In Nottingham…

Afro Therapy, 3rd June 2016Can’t Stop Won’t Stop presents:
Afro Therapy: featuring Jourdan Pierre Blair + Ella Knight + Early Bird + Garton + D Dot + others tbc
Rough Trade Nottingham, 5 Broad Street, Nottingham, NG1 3AJ
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.00pm

“Live music and DJs will be putting music of black origin in the spotlight. Unsigned and independent artists Ella Knight, beat maker Early Bird, and MCs Garton, D-Dot and Jourdan Pierre Blair (the last better known as Jah Digga) will represent a range of R’n’B and hip hop styles with a British stamp on global music. This free event is open to people over the age of 14.”

I’ve got to say that – for all of the community ethos being trumpeted elsewhere – this show is probably the most proactively street-level event on a day which needs to be about everyone in the country, not just people who like choirs and crumpets. (I’m not trying to bitch here; I just… noticed.) Here’s a run of video and soundclips for most of those involved.





 

Sheffield also deserves credit for working outside the comfy box…

A Law Unto Ourselves, 3rd June 2016

Yellow Arch Studios present:
A Law Unto Ourselves: The Eccentronic Research Council (featuring Maxine Peake) + The Death Rays of Ardilla + Sieben + The Third Half
Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.30pm
– free event – more information

This is probably the most experimental event of the lot: an opportunistic but rewarding live spotlight on Sheffield’s unique independent music scene. There should have been more events like this dotted up and down the country – not necessarily with an experimental pop thrill, but emphasizing local current indigenous music which could only have happened in particular towns and at this particular time. All respect is due to Sheffield musicians, to the Yellow Arch venue and to curator Sophie Toes for taking the trouble to spot this challenge and rise to it.

Probably the biggest draw for A Law Unto Ourselves are the headliners – The Eccentronic Research Council, barbed and crafty exponents of their own scenic and sample-heavy “library/soundtrack, experimental, folkloric/non-populist pop”. They’ll be accompanied by their own established muse and mouthpiece – Maxine Peake (actress, declaimer, proud overturner of complacent applecarts) – and are the most questioning act across Music Day, bringing a touch of dissent, argument and the British radical tradition into its general cosiness. In support are spaced-out and (literally) brotherly garage-rock duo The Death Rays of Ardilla, Sieben (a.k.a. beater, plucker, tickler and layerer of voice and violin Matt Howden) and The Third Half (a duo who combine and alternate harp, celeste, guitar and voice in “twenty-first century neo-pastoral rare groove”).

ERC


There will also be DJ sets from representatives of some of Sheffield’s other interesting underground or experimental bands – spooky lysergic-child-song folksters Antique Doll, progtronicians I Monster, psychedelic country-and-western band The Cuckoo Clocks – plus one from Sophie Toes herself. There’s limited capacity for this show, so early arrival is recommended to avoid disappointment.

* * * * * * * *

In Bristol…

Charles Hazlewood and the British Paraorchestra
Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 8.00pm

“After the success of last year, the ground-breaking British Paraorchestra, the world’s first professional ensemble of disabled musicians, return to Colston Hall to perform for BBC Music Day. The group is headed up by Charles Hazlewood, a genuine pioneer and innovator in the world of classical music. In a unique show, the Paraorchestra will be joined on-stage by performers from Extraordinary Bodies, the professional integrated circus company and partnership between Cirque Bijou and Diverse City. The combined effect of The British Paraorchestra and Extraordinary Bodies playing ‘In C’ by composer Terry Riley, promises to be cathartic and uplifting. The aural equivalent to climbing inside a giant lava lamp.”

On spec, this may sound like a case of worthiness over content – but while it’s true that (despite the Riley) the Paraorchestra plays its fair share of light-ent pop transcriptions to sugar the pill, albeit in its own way – it’s also worth noting that the ensemble isn’t just about the state of bodies. The Paraorchestra also explodes a lot of ideas about how an orchestra might work, in terms of instrumentation and approach: likewise, Extraordinary Bodies has plenty of challenges and delight to offer. See below:

 

…and finally…

Shaun the Sheep

Aardman Animation/Colston Hall/Bristol Museums present:
Shaun the Sheep’s Vegetable Orchestra
Studio 2, The M Shed, Princes Wharf, Wapping Rd, Bristol BS1 4RN, England / Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR, England
Friday 3rd June 2016
Workshops and rehearsals at Studio 2: 10.15am, 11.15am & 12.15pm (tel: 0117 352 6600 for details)
Veg Orchestra Finale! featuring Shaun the Sheep and his Vegetable Orchestra at Colston Hall: 1.40pm

“In celebration of BBC Music Day and Aardman’s 40th anniversary, children are invited to join Shaun the Sheep and become part of his Vegetable Orchestra for a live performance at Colston Hall. (There will also be an Aardman birthday singalong and cake presentation.) There will also be pre-performance workshops at M Shed to decorate your veg instruments and learn how to play your part, all set to the ‘Shaun The Sheep’ theme tune. Workshops presented by Farmer characters & Shaun himself, it’s ‘flock ‘n’ roll’ for all ages and all set on Mossy Bottom Farm!”

Sorry. For a variety of reasons (parenthood, humour, a taste for experimentalism and a love of everything Aardman-esque) I just couldn’t bloody resist that last one… and it turns out that the foremost practitioners of the vegetable orchestral art are as cheerfully experimental and conceptual as anything else I tend to feature in here…


 

May-into-June 2016 – upcoming gigs – Andrew Howie’s new album/video and shows, plus Refuweegee songwriter/spoken word concert in Glasgow, Carol Laula in Stirling and Yvonne Lyons in Birmingham

26 May

Andrew Howie, 2016

As part of a recent burst of activity, Andrew Howie (who for many years released his beautiful skeletal balladry and scuds of tingling noise as Calamateur before reverting to his own name), has recently released ‘Scars Are Like A Beacon’, a companion album to last year’s ‘The Great Divide’. He describes it as “a completely instrumental re-imagining of (‘The Great Divide’) but it sounds nothing like that record. Instead, it’s full of dark, ambient, textural soundscapes that are sometimes reminiscent of the more left-field music I used to make as Calamateur. The feedback I’ve had from listeners so far has been really encouraging, so if you’re tempted to think this one might be too weird for you then please do give it a listen – you might be surprised! This album is only available to stream and download from my Bandcamp shop (for a tempting mere £3!), where you can also buy it on cassette – my first! So if retro analogue tape is your thing, then just click here. I’ve also made a short series of black & white films to accompany some of the songs. Here’s the first – ‘Tremble’…”


 

An enthusiastic performer of house concerts, Andrew has two British ones coming up in June – one on Saturday 4th June in Westerton, Glasgow and one on Saturday 11th June in London (tickets available from his live page, with further information). In addition, he’s making appearances at three other shows between late May and mid-June, as follows:

* * * * * * * *

Carol Laula + Andrew Howie
The Tolbooth, Jail Wynd, Stirling, FK8 1DE, Scotland
Friday May 27th 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Carol Laula has been dear to Glasgow’s heart ever since her song Standing Proud was picked as the anthem for its year as European City of Culture in 1990. Her eight albums to date have continued to showcase Laula’s vibrant voice and soulful folk-pop songwriting, interwoven with strands of country and blues. 2016 heralds the release of Carol’s latest offering, ‘The Bones of It’ (produced and engineered by her longtime friend and colleague Marco Rea, who plays on the record along with many others including Ken McCluskey and Davie Scott). Her live performances are warm, embracing, intimate and engaging. Stirling based singer-songwriter Andrew Howie will open the evening, with a selection of his most recent songs.”



 

* * * * * * * *

Refuweegee and raukarna present:
A Night of Notes: Ross Clark + Kim Edgar + Dave Frazer + Lucy Cathcart Froden + Andrew Howie + Nicolette Macleod + Jamie Robert Ross + Tiff Griffin + Martin Cathcart Froden + others tbc
Kelvinside Hillhead Parish Church, Observatory Road, Glasgow, G12 9AG, Scotland
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.30 pm
more information

“Refuweegee is a new initiative aiming to welcome refugees and asylum seekers to Glasgow in style, with welcome packs that include ‘letters fae the locals’, and return envelopes so that recipients can respond with their own words and stories. Join us for a night of new songs inspired by these amazing letters. Note that five pounds from the eight pound face value of every ticket sold will be donated to Refuweegee, and that asylum seekers and refugees will be admitted for free.”

Songwriters performing include Ross Clark (of hillbilly rock’n’rollers Three Blind Wolves), Kim Edgar (a provocative solo artist as well as a member of both Scottish/Canadian alt-folk supergroup The Burns Unit and German/Irish trad-folk band Cara), alt.country-tinged Dave Frazer, literary song-siren Lucy Cathcart Froden (of raukarna), Andrew Howie, looping folk vocalist Nicolette Macleod and upside-down-guitarist Jamie Robert Ross. There will also be spoken word contributions from Tiff Griffin and Martin Cathcart Froden, and from some of the brand new Glaswegians who’ve benefited from the project.

Here are some examples of what’s on offer:









 

* * * * * * * *

Finally…

Lobelia’s Lazy Sundays presents:
Yvonne Lyon + Andrew Howie + Lobelia Lawson
Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Road South, Kings Norton, Birmingham B30 3EL, England
Sunday 12th June 2016, 7:30am
more information

“Come one come all to the Tower of Song to see the best touring singer songwriters in the UK and beyond! This month we’ve got Yvonne Lyon, among the best and brightest talent currently emerging from the UK. She has consistently stirred audiences across the UK and beyond with her emotive performances, combining poignant lyrics with creative melodies and demonstrating a voice that can be both fragile and intense. Yvonne was among the winners of the Burnsong International Songwriting Competition and performed her winning song All Is Not Lost at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Support comes from the amazing Andrew Howie, and a few songs to start from host Lobelia Lawson.”


May 2016 – upcoming gigs – two pay-what-you-like shows for May 28th: Bouche/A. Dyjecinski/The Kindling/Gemma Champ at Daylight Music in London; Rokenri’s album launch in New York

25 May

Two shows for the Saturday that’s coming up – both donation-based, both community-minded, both flexibly soft around the edges. And both well worth attending.

* * * * * * * *

Daylight Music 225, 28th May 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 225: Bouche + A. Dyjecinski + The Kindling + Gemma Champ
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 28th May 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (suggested donation: £5.00) – more information

The summer return of London’s Daylight Music sessions continues with this triple-bill-plus-piano-guest afternoon.

Bouche is the deeply emotive and beguilingly timeless music of double bass player and singer Rebekah Bouche, accompanied by trumpet /flugelhorn and electric guitar. The songs are a kind of ‘blue-jazz hymnal’; the honesty and rawness of the blues, with melodic salutes to early jazz and a sense of pathos and drama that nods in the direction of 18th/19th century hymns and British folk. The unusual instrumentation makes for a delicate, tantalisingly sparse sound that winds prettily around the lyrical themes which, though mostly melancholic, are often delivered with a wink and a smile. The debut Bouche album, ‘So Long Solemn’, was released this spring.


 

A. Dyjecinski (if you’re wondering, it’s pronounced “EH-DEE-YEAH-CHIN-SKI”) is a Canuck from the Ontario woods who currently lives in London, making gritty, raw and vulnerable music (usually with his “scuzzy garage rock” band Dracula Legs). This year he released his debut solo album ‘The Valley Of Yessiree’ which saw him compared to Nick Cave, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner (and dis-compared to Sinatra) by ‘Folk Radio‘, who also praised him for “epiglottal drunkenness” and for a “spectacularly assured debut album that, for all its minimal aesthetic, is brimming with ideas.”

 

“Cinematic songs, fireside percussion, ghostly harmonies, and T.V. static dreams: The Kindling make sad, strange and beautiful music, like the crack in the window that makes a rainbow, a dark, dusty corner or the last wave that takes her initials with yours from the sand. Presenting widescreen, blissed-out melancholy London alt.folk (and drawing influence from the guerrilla recording spirit of Sparklehorse, Mount Eerie, and Tom Waits), they were formed in 2011 to breathe life into the acoustic songs of Guy Weir. Their introductory EP ‘From Out Of The Wreckage’ was followed by a second EP, ‘Half Light’, in 2013. Their latest release is the 2015 full album ‘By Morning’.


 

“Weaving through the show on the piano and improvising a mix of funk, jazz and pop will be Daylight regular Gemma Champ.”

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On the evening of the same day, on the other side of the Atlantic…

Rokenri/Hannah Edmunds Gardens/Gowanus Canal Conservancy Group present:
Rokenri
Fort Briscoe Studios, 73 Sackett Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York, NY 11231, USA
Saturday 28th May 2016, 7.00pm
– pay-what-you-like (suggested donation: $10.00) – more information

Rokenri @ Fort Briscoe, 28th May 2016Rokenri – the free-floating, free-associating art-pop team-up of sound artist Ethan Woods (guitar, keyboards, noise, vocals), multi-faceted percussionist Matt Evans (drums, keyboards, vocals, noise) and protean Anawan singer-songwriter Trevor Wilson (bass, keyboards, penny whistle, percussion, vocals, noise) – are launching their ‘Donkey Donkey’ album at their DIY space in Red Hook, prior to Trevor’s imminent departure for North Carolina. Expect “a bit of a hang at first, but only one hour of performance… accompanied by dancers, video, and more.”

There’s a horticultural/preservational feel to the evening, with half of the door proceeds going to the Gowanus Canal Conservancy Group (working on and for the polluted and contested Brooklyn canal which neighbours the venue, with the aim of turning its shores into a public park).

‘Donkey Donkey’ (also featuring contributions from Rokenri’s Bennington College/Brooklyn pals Stephen Markow, J.J. Beck and Michael Chinworth) is available to download now, with the vinyl edition following in mid-June. Here’s the recent single – Sullied Tied – one of my own album favourites (Love Takes Time), and a clip of the band rehearsing another ‘Donkey Donkey’ track (Your Arms Are Real) at Briscoe.




 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – London murk and sarcasm – an industry-baiting evening of 30-second songs by the Pocket Gods and mystery buddies; plus noise rock from Arabrot, Shitwife and Godzilla Black at Corsica Studios

15 Mar

Two London gigs for Thursday…

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Pocket Gods @ Zigfrid von Underbelly, 17th March 2016

The Pocket Gods (’30 Second Song Set’) + tbc
Zigfrid von Underbelly, 11 Hoxton Square, Hoxton, London, N1 6NU, England
Thursday 17th March 2016, 7.00pm
– free event – more information

Here’s the chirp – ”London lo-fi indie popsters The Pocket Gods play a free St Patrick’s Day gig in Hoxton, London to promote their groundbreaking album ‘100×30’ – which features one hundred songs, all of which are thirty seconds long and some of which will be featured. Free entry and some great support bands!“

Sweet, isn’t it?

Here’s the rest of the story.

‘100×30’ was released last December. It’s a sharp, timely yet self-mocking broadside aimed at the music industry as a whole, and also at the amorphous greed’n’gratification culture that’s gulping down what remains of it. Masterminding this collection of half-minute jabs are The Pocket Gods – shabby knowing masters of multiple styles, mix’n’matching shreds of chart pop, punk, synth-blurb, soggy psych and outright pisstakes (including Blur, and Dappy from N-Dubz). Sometimes they sound like a back-bedroom Zappa Band operating on cheapjack equipment from a small-town branch of Argos, and sometimes like a more eclectic Half Man Half Biscuit aiming more of their jokes at the towers of power.

Threaded through the whole album is a sense of indignation at the implosion of music as a workable career (“my royalty statement is a thing of wonder, and keeps me in a state of permanent hunger”) and the dismissal of artists who can no longer be counted as fresh and malleable meat. One lyric points out, with sardonic but righteous indignation, “I can write songs about anything, because I’ve lived a little longer”; and there’s quite a bit of moping about the prospect of a future which involves little more than making unwanted music on a laptop. Across the tracks, the subject matter paints a scathing, resolutely unimpressed picture of vulgarity and short-termisms. Songs attack the rent hikes which force music venue closures; lampoon the encroachment of multinational corporate interests into independent business (the entwinement of Orchard and Sony takes a pounding, which – since Orchard is releasing the album – is a particularly fanged move); and pour sarcasm onto side topics like the sorry parade of boss-pleasing reality-TV contestants, the cluelessness of A&R men and the ludicrous table prices at the Brits (apparent sideshows which point towards the bigger problem). The Gods even slag off laptop music and mount a harpsichord-driven assault on the memory of Steve Jobs. So much for the individual being independently empowered by technology.

With the proven flexibility of the Pocket Gods, it’s tempting to assume that the brace of performers elsewhere on the album are just pseudonyms. Not a bit of it. Some – including oddball pop mutterer Michael Panasuk and fuzz-guitar flourisher Brian Heywood – appear to be rogue film, television and library music composers. Two more are former chart stars (Owen Paul and Mungo Jerry’s Ray Dorset, each damn near unrecognisable).Some veer towards cabaret (the semi-genteel, character-vocalled acoustipop of The Low Countries) or sarky contrarian Scottish dolour (Bill Aitken). Others even sound like glossy successes in waiting, including power-popper Katy Thorn, gobby R&B-er Tricey R, immaculate faux-Californian rockers Dead Crow Road, countrified Elvis-alike Osborne Jones, twinkling white-boy hip hoppers Foxgrease and full-bore electropop drama queens Hands Of Industry. The burnished countrified chart-pop of Heywood Moore even sounds as if it could make a killing in the American Bible Belt (sweeping out of the same CCM radio playlists as the likes of Lexi Elisha – not bad for a band that’s actually from Dunstable). None of this seems to stop any of them from joining in. Some of them may be taking a long-delayed, heartfelt chomp at the hand that feeds so grudgingly, or refuses to feed at all; or which they see starving others, from audience to artist, both fiscally and spiritually.

Despite all of this justifiable resentment, it could all turn precious and self-righteous were it not for the jabs of anti-pomposity which the Gods and their friends turn in on themselves (the musician-skewering of ‘Small Town Musos’ and ‘Mac Book Ho’ made me laugh out loud, as did a song about the natural progression from ambitious Radio 1 listener to experienced Radio 2 couch-fogey). There are also the other moments – the flip side to the flipness – in which the half-minute song limit becomes a lesson in how much can be achieved in a short time. John Rowland’s plunderphonics and piano instrumentals; upROAR’s quick echo-laden harp passage, Orb collaborator Another Fine Day’s gorgeous burst of echo-soused kalimba; or when writer and narrator Michael Hingston (who’s already spent two tracks guesting with the Pocket Gods, bidding goodbye to the swelling ranks of closed-down London music venues in a hardbitten wise-barfly drawl) gently blows thirty seconds of tentative, unaccompanied saxophone.

Finally, there’s the persistent realist-absurdist wit of The Pocket Gods themselves – party hosts, project backbone and the only act formally confirmed as performing at the Hoxton gig on Thursday (yes, I was going to get back to that…) Come along to see who else makes it. Meanwhile, you can play through the whole album below; and even buy it (if you feel that that won’t somehow spoil either the joke or the protest).

 

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Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Arabrot + Shitwife + Godzilla Black
Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, Elephant & Castle, London, SE17 1LB, England
Thursday 17th March 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Arabrot + Shitwife +Godzilla Black @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 17th March 2016Norwegian noise-rockers Arabrot have spent a decade and a half feeding classical, Biblical, existential and surreal tropes through a grand and gothic avant-rock mangle. As you can imagine from this, both their gigs and records have had an immediate raw-lifed, raw-liver feel to them, despite what ‘The Quietus’ describes as the band’s “velveteen grace”. More recently, group leader Kjetil Nernes spent two years recovering from throat cancer, during which he’s fought off and defeated encroaching death not just via hospital treatment and homestay but by hurling himself back into Arabrot recording and touring. Having admitted that the experience was “as close to real physical and psychological hell as you can go”, Kjetil has spun his reactions into Arabrot’s latest album, ‘The Gospel’, which is suffused with spectres of death, illness and his own defiance.

Shitwife have possibly the most discouraging band name in history – an evil grunt of a handle, a surly trucker’s growl of a monicker. We last encountered them in the listings for a Christmas gig, in which they were described as an “astonishingly brutal drums/laptop/electronics juggernaut fusing rave, death metal, noise and post-hardcore.” As far as I know, they’ve had no reason to mess with that formula in the intervening three months. Here’s a clip of them in action at a different gig last September (just a short walk away from ‘Misfit City’ HQ, not that I knew it) plus a more recent video showing laptop/keyscruncher Wayne Adams engaged in a painting session (and looking far sweeter than he ought to, given that his other band’s called Ladyscraper).


As I’ve said before, Godzilla Black seem to have made themselves into London noise-rock favourites while not actually having much to do with noise-rock at all. Most of the latter’s in the brawling muscle which they apply to their John-Barry-writes-for-Ruins-or-King-Crimson tunes; and in the garnish of hiss and fry lying on top of that muscle, adding a pitch and pinch of disintegration to their drums-and-horns pimp-roll. Otherwise what I’m hearing is spy-movie glamour all the way, albeit gone slightly weird: extra panicky descends and clangings, sax stranglebursts and sampler squeals. Brand new single ‘First Class Flesh’ sounds as if its about some kind of disassociative disorder: singer John McKenzie boggling, all glazed and juicy, about body parts but not actually about bodies (ending up neither sexy nor creepy, but away in a skewed and disfocussed branch-off of both).


 

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More March gig previews shortly…
 

December 2015 – some musical Christmas parties, London – Fire Records (with the Jazz Butcher Quartet); The Glass Child’s online Christmas show; Memphis Industries’ Lost Christmas (with Dutch Uncles, The Go! Team, Menace Beach, Outfit, NZCA/Lines & slug); Gare Du Nord’s Arrivée/Départ II (a Viennese whirl with Martin Klein, Bon Bon Beast, Hefner escapees and many others); Arctic Circle’s Santas in Space (with Camden Voices, Left With Pictures, Laish & boy and a balloon); Baba Yaga’s Hut (with Bad Guys, Melting Hand, Wren)

9 Dec

I’ve been posting mostly shout-outs for gigs this year, so I might just as well submit to becoming Santa’s little shill as regards this month’s sprouting of Christmas/Hannukah/seasonal parties. From the flood on my Facebook account to the rumours and snippets I hear, this is a selection of what’s on for the next week or so (just London this time, though I’ve got some gigs elsewhere ready for the follow-up…)

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Fire Records Christmas gig 2015

Fire Records Xmas Party with The Jazz Butcher Quartet + very special guest + Fire Records DJs (Servant Jazz Quarters, 10A Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm) – free – information here and here

The first of several gigs in this post taking place at the Servant Jazz Quarters amongst the bottles, foxes and curios. Fire Records DJs will be playing from their typically wide-ranging hoard of music, and there’ll be two sets of live music. One guest is as-yet unnamed (it’s a surprise) and the other is the latest iteration of the three working decades of absurdist Northampton-based singer-songwriter Pat Fish as The Jazz Butcher.

The Jazz Butcher Quartet sees Pat take a sideways step away from the cunningly meandering rock’n’strum that he’s generally known for, and tease the ever-present jazziness out of his songs and into full focus via a collaboration with three dedicated jazz musicians The Jazz Butcher – drummer Steve Garofalo, trumpeter Simon Taylor and double bass player Steve New. The Steves and Pat were already old buddies from their time in the Northampton music scene, in particular due to their mutual work with the magnificently wise and strange alternative folk singer Tom Hall. The result’s a refreshed acoustic take on Jazz Butcher staples, wrapping itself round the old and new tunes and the playful wandering lyrics with utter flexibility.

The evening is absolutely free, apart from the drinks, but the Servant Jazz Quarters is a small place – so show up early if you want to be able to get in. Some footage of the JBQ is below.

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Swedish singer-songwriter Charlotte Eriksson, a.k.a. The Glass Child is hosting her own Christmas gig online. It sort of fits with her itinerant nature – having left her Gothenburg home at the age of eighteen, she built up both a label and a career while sofa-surfing through London, England and Berlin. You can’t fault the girl for thrift, for ambition and for investigating the art of the possible while living out of a suitcase. Playing a big interactive gig, but from nowhere in particular, certainly suits her style so far.

The Glass Child Christmas StageIt Show (online, Sunday 13th December 2015, 7.00pm CET) – pay-what-you-can – information & tickets

Charlotte’s own message:

Christmas, my children, is not a date. It’s a state of mind. December 13th is the day that Swedes celebrate “Lucia”, which basically means Swedish Christmas songs, gingerbread, tons and tons of candles, mulled wine (Swedish Glögg) and cosiness all around. Basically all of my favourite things!

Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters. The many Lucia songs all have the same theme: “The night treads heavily around yards and dwellings / In places unreached by sun, the shadows brood. / Into our dark house she comes, bearing lighted candles, / Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.” All Swedes know the standard Lucia song by heart, and everyone can sing it, in or out of tune. On the morning of Lucia Day, the radio plays some rather more expert renderings, by school choirs or the like. The Lucia celebrations also include ginger snaps and sweet, saffron-flavoured buns (lussekatter) shaped like curled-up cats and with raisin eyes. You eat them with glögg or coffee. (Do you guys understand why this is my favourite Swedish tradition?)

So I thought, what better way to celebrate this little Swedish Lucia day than with you! A cosy acoustic Christmas show with music, candles and maybe my first ever performance of a Swedish song. Like always: some new songs, some old songs, questions, chat and some insights behind my new album that I’m currently working on. Please join me for this evening show and we’ll create a memory worth remembering.

Some examples of Glass Child work so far are below.

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On the Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week, there’s a pair of simultaneous double-evening multi-band events happening within a mile of each other. The first of these is the Memphis Industries shindig – “two nights of festive fun” from one of the smartest small British pop labels at work today, with six bands and a host of present giveaways including limited edition art prints.

Lost Christmas @ Oslo, 14th & 15th December 2015

Lost Christmas – A Memphis Industries Christmas Special with Dutch Uncles, Outfit and NZCA LINES, The Go! Team, Menace Beach and Slug (Oslo, 1A Amhurst Road, Hackney, London, E8 1LL, England, Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th December 2015, 7.00pm) – £16.50 for each night / £30 for both nights – information & ticketsmore information

Monday night kicks things off with three of the label’s bands “art-rocking till they drop”. The striking prog-pop babble of Dutch Uncles headlines; doom-toned Liverpudlian tech-pop band Outfit play the middle set; and (following a brace of high-concept singles over the course of the year) one-man white-pop/R&B hybrid NZCA/Lines opens the show.




 

Tuesday promises “unparalleled noisy fun, and possibly sailor outfits”. Flipzoid Brighton pop crew The Go! Team headline, their lineup a little different from that of recent years but their magpie polymusical energies still intact. Leeds indie supergroup Menace Beach are in the middle; while reformed noiseniks and north-eastern eclecti-pop upsetters Slug open things up with a live band including Peter and David Brewis of Field Music.




 

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The second of the double-night events is the one run by Gare du Nord Records, a pair of concerts which have an almost familial feel, revolving around certain hub projects (Hefner, Death In Vegas), certain locations (Walthamstow, Canterbury, Vienna), certain other sympathetic labels (Fortuna Pop, Audio Antihero) and a smart, sometimes wordy aesthetic.

Arrivée/Départ II @ Servant Jazz Quarters, 14th & 15th December 2015

Arrivée/Départ II – Gare Du Nord Records 2-Night Revue (Servant Jazz Quarters, 10A Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England, Monday 14th December & Tuesday 15th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.00 each night – information – tickets on the door

Both nights are revues – a long main set from each of the two special Austrian guests, bolstered by short mini-sets from the other bands. There’s a lot of personnel crossover. Expect the same faces to keep popping up, reshuffled.

The Monday gig’s main set comes from Martin Klein, the Viennese singer-songwriter whose piano songs albums of and witty, deadpan performances are making him a rising star in Austria and Germany, and whose questioning, sometimes undercut romanticism should translate across further borders. Among the short sets are appearances by two former Hefner members: their frontman and prime creative force Darren Hayman and their multi-instrumentalist Jack Hayter, both now established as significant and highly individual solo songwriters (and while Darren might be the better known of the two, don’t underestimate Jack – I was enchanted by a battered set he played at Union Chapel last year).


Other players on the Monday bill are Cockney surf-punks Pit Ponies, Allo Darlin’ guitarist Paul Rains (taking a solo step-out from his main band’s classic indie-pop styles) and the “prim and improper” antifolk punksters Lucy’s Diary. There are also two acts who specialise in the soft-and-sharp – Cambridge’s Alex Highton (whose folk-, pop- and jazz-smattered songs conceal quick jabs of wit beneath their light and luscious surfaces) and Vienna-via-Canterbury trio Rotifer (creators of pitch-perfect country-tinged indie pop songs, sallies and snarks, and who also serve as a kind of scattered house band since various members play in six of the acts on offer during the night).





The Tuesday gig’s Viennese treat headliner is Bon Bon Beast – two multi-instrumental singer/producers, one of them Austrian (Ernst Tiefenthaler) and the other Swiss (Eloui), filtering their diverse past experiences into a straightforward acoustic jolly. Among the support acts, former Weather Prophets/Ellis Island Sound man Pete Astor continues his low-key live renaissance, and former Death In Vegas guitarist Ian Button brings along one of the various lineups of his psych-dusted pop project Papernut Cambridge. Since many of the people who play in the band are appearing in (or as) other acts during the evening, it’ll have been an easy roundup: Papernut Cambridge backing singer Helene Bradley, for instance, is performing a solo set as Citizen Helene (showcasing the soulful delivery and wistful irony which places her somewhere between Mama Cass and Kirsty MacColl).




 
Also playing are baroque orchestral pop songwriter Ralegh Long (presumably detached from the small orchestra which tends to follow him around) and Emma Winston’s one-woman Deerful project (miniature synths and brittle stories). Two Kentish acts round out the evening: lo-fi Canterbury pop band Picturebox and Whitstable’s Alex Williams (whose swerving career so far has encompassed indie rock with Fleeting Things, folk music with New Old World and lo-fi outsider clatter-pop with The Psychotic Reaction, as well as the odd ABC cover).




 

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I’ve been covering Daylight Music gigs for several years now, but anyone who spends much time around those will know that parent organisation Arctic Circle spreads its activities a lot wider than those Saturday afternoons at Union Chapel – and in this case, a lot higher. Over to them:

'Santas In Space' 2015

Santas in Space’ featuring Camden Voices + Left With Pictures + Laish + boy and a balloon (Arctic Circle @ ArcelorMittal Orbit, 3 Thornton Street, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, London, E20 2AD, UK, Wednesday 16th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £15.00 – informationtickets

We return to the most spectacular venue in London to bringing our unique brand of Fuzzy Feeling to the 376 feet high platform of the Arcelormittal Orbit. With the sparkling lights of London as a spectacular backdrop, watch as the sculpture becomes an astronomic live music space celebrating the Christmas season! Camden Voices will start the night off with their thirty-strong choir proclaiming yuletide glee followed by a series of the finest fuzziest musicians from our Daylight Music series – from the chamber indie of Left With Pictures to the luscious folk of Laish and the lo-fi pop of Alex Hall’s boy and a balloon. Finish the evening by wrapping your ear around a winter-warming set from DJ Ben Eshmade (Arctic Circle Radio/Chill) with a festive drink or cocktail in hand. Please note this event is for over-18s only.


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If that last one seems to be bordering on the twee for you, another ‘Misfit City’ regular event is offering something typically noisier and rucked-up around the edges:

Bad Guys/Melting Hand/Wren @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 16th December 2015

Baba Yaga’s Hut Xmas Bash with Bad Guys, Melting Hand, Wren (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 5 Elephant Lane, Newington, London, SE17 1LB, England, Wednesday 16th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.00 – informationtickets

Again, over to them:

Come down to the Baba Yaga’s Hut Xmas party. Three very heavy acts for you, mulled wine. Xmas hats. Getting drunk, the usual. London’s best classic metal band Bad Guys headline; plus the first ever London show for new heavy-psych/improvising jam supergroup Melting Hand (featuring Gordon & Russell of Terminal Cheesecake, Mike Vest of Bong/Drunk in Hell etc etc and Tom Fug of Gum Takes Tooth); and a Baba Yaga’s debut for London post-metal/sludge four piece Wren.



 
More Christmas gigs shortly, including some events elsewhere in Britain…

November 2015 – upcoming London gigs – The End Festival in Crouch End, part 2

15 Nov

As promised, here’s the second rundown of people playing Crouch End’s The End Festival here in London this month (in fact, this week). It’s serving as my self-imposed penance for having been stupid enough to have missed the festival’s existence for so many years, especially as it’s been only a fairly short walk from where I live.

In case you’re interested at who’s already played this year, last week’s rundown is here (from math-rock heroes to underground pop hopefuls to assorted folk noises), but here’s who’s performing from tomorrow until the end of next Sunday…

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The Mae Trio + Patch & The Giant + Elephants & Castles (Downstairs @ The Kings Head, 2 Crouch End Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 8AA, UK, Monday 16th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £10.75 – information

Much-garlanded Melbourne chamber-folksters The Mae Trio are a great example of can-do Australian vivacity – three women who juggle multiple instruments (banjo, ukulele, guitar, marimba, violin, cello and bass). While delivering spring-fresh, sparkling three-part harmonies and witty stage banter, they also volley songs at us which merge the whip-smart compassionate edge of Indigo Girls, and the dizzy chatter of The Bush The Tree And Me. Londoners aim plenty of jokes at Aussie visitors, but if they will keep on coming here and showing us up like this… Well, the city’s home-grown alt.folk scene is at least holding its own, since it can produce bands like Patch & The Giant, another gang of multi-instrumentalists (throwing cello, accordion, flugelhorn and violin in with the usual mix) who come up with a ‘Fisherman’s Blues’-era Waterboys mingling of Irish, Balkan and American country influences plus New Orleans funeral-band razz, rolling off heady spirit-in-the-everyday songs for a potential singalong everywhere they go.


The second of the two London bands, Elephants & Castles, might not share the direct folkiness of the rest of the night’s bill (being more of a brash and perky power-pop idea at root, with fat synth and chatty peals of electric guitar) but the band does have an acoustic side (which they might be bringing along on this occasion). Also, a closer look at their songs reveals a strand of outrightly folky protest and character witness, with songs about gentrification, the lot of manufacturing workers and the ordeals and victimhood of Justin Fashanu showing up in their setlist.

 

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Howe Gelb (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Monday 16th & Tuesday 17th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £22.00 – information

Tireless alt.country legend and multi-project workaholic Howe Gelb (the frontman for Giant Sand, Sno Angel and Arizon Amp & Alternator) takes in two dates in Crouch End as part of his ongoing tour. The first of Howe’s dates will be solo, but Nadine Khouri (fresh from her Hornsey Town Hall megagig appearance on the preceding Saturday) will be playing support on the 16th, with an extra surprise guest promised at some point in the proceedings.


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Romeo Stodart & Ren Harvieu (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Thursday 19th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £13.75 – information

Romeo Stodart (half of the frontline for familial, Mercury-nominated, cuddly-bear band The Magic Numbers) has been taking time out from his main group to write and sing with Salford soul-pop singer Ren Harvieu as R N R. This performance gives both singers a chance to show us what they’ve come up with. Expect a full-potential set: reinterpretations of both Ren songs and Magic Numbers numbers, reworkings of standards (as defined and chosen by the duo) and the full song fruits of their new partnership. One or two examples of the latter have sneaked out into the public eye previously, so here’s a taste – via YouTube – of what’s on offer.

 

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Before the Goldrush presents Green Diesel + Tom Hyatt + Horatio James (The Haberdashery, 22 Middle Lane, Crouch End, London, N8 8PL, UK, Friday 20th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £5.00 – information

Kentish folk-rock sextet Green Diesel happily embrace a spiritual descent from an earlier ‘70s wave of English folk-rockers – Fairport Convention, Mr Fox, The Albion Band, Steeleye Span). As those bands did, they conflate dazzling electric guitar, a mass of acoustic folk instrumentation and a sheaf of traditional tunes mixed in with new songs (“old-fashioned, new-fangled”). In the same spirit, they’re enthusiasts and honourers of the old forms, but are never shy of splicing in others (“a reggae twist into an old sea shanty… spicing up a jig with a touch of jazz funk”) in order to communicate the songs to a fresher and perhaps less reverent audience during one of the frenetic and joyous live gigs which they’re becoming increasingly famous for.

If you’re a bunch of Londoners going for that country-flavoured Neil Young lonesomeness, then you’ll need the conviction, you need a certain selflessness and freedom from posing, and you’ll need the songs. Horatio James have all of this, carrying it off without slipping either into pastiche or into a faux-Laurel Canyon slickness, offering “songs of estrangement, heartbreak and malevolence” floating like dust off a pair of snakeskin boots. A cut-down version of the band charmed me at a Smile Acoustic live session in Shoreditch: the full band ought to be even better.


Tom Hyatt tends to work solo, delivering his clarion tenor voice and songs from behind a propulsive, percussive acoustic guitar or from the stool of a fluid, contemplative piano. There are strains of Tim Buckley and John Martyn in what he does, perhaps a little of the young Van Morrison (and, judging by his taste in covers, a dash of ABBA as well) but with their boozy, visionary slurs and blurs replaced by a clear-headed, clear-witted take on matters. Some might reckon that this was missing the point: if you don’t, Tom – heart and mind engaged – is certainly your man:. At this gig, he’ll be playing with a regular collaborator, cellist Maya McCourt (also of Euro-American folk collision Various Guises and bluegrass belle Dana Immanuel’s Stolen Band).


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The Apple Of My Eye + Michael Garrett + The August List(SoftlySoftly @ Kiss The Sky, 18-20 Park Road, Crouch End, London, N8 8TD, UK, Sunday 22nd November 2015, 3.00pm) – £4.40/£5.00 – information

Of course SoftlySoftly – who present regular unplugged folky gigs in Crouch End – fit perfectly into the festival, and present one of their acoustic afternoons (which are adults only, for reasons of booze rather than scabrousness) with barely a blip in their stride Offering “folk music for the drunk, the drowned and the lost at sea”, Bristolian-via-London sextet Apple Of My Eye write thoughtful, contemplative alt.folk songs tinged with country harmonies and displacement (mellow but slightly homesick, in the manner of the itinerant and accepting). Michael Garrett is another rising star on the London acoustic scene, usually performing with a backing band of Chums to back up his voice and guitar with viola, cello and cajon although this occasion looks as if it may well be a solo gig. There’s not much of Michael’s open, unaffected songcraft online, although I did find a video of him taking on Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, as well as a brief homemade clip of one of his own songs. Husband-and-wife duo The August List belt out a take on Carter-classic stripped country with honey-and-bitter-molasses vocals, shading into occasional rock clangour and odd instrumentation stylophones – hardbitten songs of hardbitten ordinary folk, sometimes driven into cruel situations.


 
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The Feast of St Cecilia: The Memory Band + The Lords Of Thyme + Elliott Morris + The Mae Trio + You Are Wolf + Collectress + Spectral Chorus + DJ Jeanette Leech (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Sunday 22nd November 2015, 1.00pm) – £11.00 – information

The second and last of The End’s big gigs is also the festival closer. Apart from The Mae Trio (making a mid-bill return after their Monday performance) it’s a once-only grouping of End talent – “a fitting folk finale, a weird folk all dayer” with a wealth of bands tapping into or springing out of folk forms across the spectrum, plus DJ-ing by Jeanette Leech (scene authority and writer of ‘The Seasons They Change – The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk’).

The Memory Band is a folktronica project with a difference. Rather than clothing old or new folk songs in electronic textures, Stephen Cracknell builds new folk pieces up from scratch, assembling them via computer and a virtual “imaginary band” succession of guest players, Instead of smoothing the gaps, though, he makes the most of the eerie collage effect of digital sampling and patchwork. Some Memory Band pieces are familiar guitar and slap hollers with a folk baroque smoky swirl – hard-drive recordings with a trad air. Others are tapescape instrumentals, like an English-folk translation of Bomb Squad hip hop techniques: old-sounding folk airs carried on acoustic instruments against drones and percussion snippets like jingling reins, while backing tracks are made entirely out of ancient tune snatches and Sussex field recordings (hedgerow birds and bleating sheep, tractors, skyborne seagulls, landscape echoes; the tracery of air, wind and sky over downs). The live arrangements may lean more towards the acoustic and traditional style, but if they capture any of the vivid reimaginings of the recorded efforts they’ll still be well worth seeing.


The Lords Of Thyme are what you get when musicians from the wild psychedelic folk cyclone of Circulus decide that they want to slow down a little but go deeper. Joe Woolley, Tali Trow and Pat Kenneally (three Circulus players, former or current – it’s always hard to tell which) bonded with singer Michelle Griffiths over shared musical loves and have gone on to play and record songs which draw and build on the quartet’s steepings in both psychedelic esoterica and better known touchstones: Wizz Jones and Nick Drake, Sandy Denny’s Fotheringay, Nico, Davy Graham, early ’70s prog (Soft Machine and Yes) and even New York post-punk (Television). The results are a shimmering but solid acid-folk songbook, perfect for recapturing the tail-end of a half-imagined, cider-golden summer in these dank November days.


 

Celtic Connections award-winner Elliott Morris is the kind of young folk musician who makes both his peers and older musicians wince ruefully into their beers. Not only does he play fingerstyle guitar with the dazzling, percussive, ping-pong-match-in-a-belfry attack of Michael Hedges, Antonio Forcione or Jon Gomm, but he simultaneously sings with the controlled passion of a teenaged Martin Furey and writes like a youthful John Martyn. There’s something quite magical here.

Like The Memory Band, Kerry Andrew – who works as You Are Wolf – is a folk reinventor, taking ideas from current technology, leftfield pop, contemporary classical music and spoken word recording and then applying them to folk music. Her current album, ‘Hawk To The Hunting Gone’ is an invigorating cut-up of melodies and Kerry’s extensive vocal and production techniques, sounding like lost ethnology tapes of Anglo-American folk strands from a parallel history.

To call Collectress an alternative string quartet sells them too short – it suggests that the London-Brighton foursome can be summarised as an English take on Kronos. Aside from the fact that that any such position has already been taken (and reinvented, flipped and superseded) by the Smith and Elysian Quartets, Collectress just don’t play the same pattern as regards repertoire or instruments. They’re more of a quartet-plus, with musical saw, keyboards, woodwind, guitar, software, field recordings and singing as much in their armoury as their strings. Citing the Necks, Rachels, Bach and John Adams in their puzzlebox of influences, the group offer four very individual women musicians, a knack for full improvisation, and a sense of narrative that imbues everything from their songs to their suggestive spontaneous pieces.



 

Finally, Merseyside trio Spectral Chorus seem to have emerged from a post-dole background of disintegration, drifting and life lived one long ominous step away from the black. Their tale of sharing one hovel and a single bed as they honed their craft, living off pawn money from putting their instruments in and out of hock, and of nourishing themselves solely with spare hotel breakfasts from one member’s work as a caterer sounds like a grim joke: in these unsparing days, of course, it could well be true. Now homed at Skeleton Key Records (the Liverpool-based label-of-love set up by The Coral), they’re releasing their spooky semi-hymnal urban folk songs – part Shack and part Brendan Perry – to a waiting world, and there’s evidently enough in the kitty for live appearances too.

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And that’s it. More on the End Festival next year, when I’ll know what to expect.

November 2015 – upcoming London gigs – The End Festival 2015 in Crouch End, part 1

11 Nov

The End Festival, 2015

When I was growing up in north London, Crouch End was the “next village over”. It was the place where I went to primary school and first heard song by Neil Young, Steve Winwood and The Kinks (strummed out and sung in assemblies alongside battling hymns from the civil rights movement) and where I began sharpening my hunger for musical knowledge on the rich ranks of vinyl LPs in Hornsey Library. Over the years, I’ve continued to associate the neighbourhood with music – other people’s memories of old art-rock and punk gigs at the Hornsey College of Art; the star traffic through the Church Studio at the bottom of Crouch Hill (owned in turn by Eurythmics and Paul Epsworth), where you might find Erasure or Sisters of Mercy catching a mid-session coffee in the local café; and the Gareth Malone wet-dream of the Crouch End Festival Chorus, a local choir with a national reputation.

That said, Crouch End’s day-to-day music scene has always struck me as lacking. There have been exceptions to the rule – the steady reservoir of blues and roots playing at the Kalamazoo Club; the string of house concerts that Jenni Roditi ran at her loft between 2002 and 2009; more recently, a flowering of rootsy events at the Earl Haig Hall. But generally speaking, Crouch End has always seemed to me to export or traffick in music rather than play it, becoming an increasingly upmarket and bijou neighbourhood where shoppers vastly outnumber giggers; easily eclipsed by the musicality of other London neighbourhoods like Camden Town, Dalston, Shoreditch, even Tooting.

Well, more fool me. It turns out that I’ve regularly been overlooking and missing The End – an annual, musically expansive Crouch End festival that turns all of my gloomy observations about the neighbourhood’s gig shortcomings to dust – at least, for two weeks. As my penance, here’s the first half of an overview of everyone playing at this year’s festival, which starts tomorrow (all ticket details are to be found via the info links or at the festival website).

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Lowpines + Forced Random + Ylja (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Thursday 12th November, 7:30pm) – £8.80 – information

The festival kicks off with a concert navigating the blurry margins of folk and lo-fi alternative rock, with headliners good enough to warrant a post all of their own. The crepuscular but lovely Lowpines have been racking up an unending stream of plaudits for their Anglo-Americana atmospherics, which recall old phonographs playing whispered, heartspilling songs in dusty basements, laced with judicious drums, intricate campfire fingerpicking and stargazing whistles of feedback like psychedelic pedal steel lines. Support comes from Oliver Girdler’s one-man lo-fi project Forced Random (which drifts ghostlike from instrument to instrument and from one slow soft-edged song to another) and from Reykjavík folk-rock trio Ylja (initially based around female harmonies and lap-style slide guitar but expanding into a broader palette that encompasses and recalls not just Fairport Convention, early Clannad and Pentangle but also the glowing starfield details of Sigur Rós and 1972 Pink Floyd).



 

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The Fierce & The Dead + a.P.A.t.T + Markers (Downstairs @ The Kings Head, 2 Crouch End Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 8AA, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £8.80 – information

The first of several events at The Kings Head hosts assorted sprigs from the thornier of British art-rock. Headlining are prog-punk quartet The Fierce & The Dead (no strangers to this blog) who bring the rumbling immediacy of their quick-flaring complicated avant-garage instrumentals to the valley for the evening. In support, hazmat-suited Liverpudlian performance art troupe a.P.A.t.T, play “progressive pop that owes as much to Kurt Schwitters and the Chapman Brothers as it does to ABBA and Zappa”, drawing on a shifting tag-team of ‘Pool talent and bring strong flavours of the absurd, the deceptive and the cunning to whatever they do.


Opening the evening, Markers reunites two old friends from the omnivorous ferment of the 1990s London math rock scene – Jodie Cox (Ursa, Narrows, Exes, Rohame and Earth) and Jason Carty (Geiger Counter, Foe, Art Of Burning Water) as two electric guitarists without a singer, a rhythm section, any other instruments or much in the way of signal processing. Expect carefully poised, bare-branching instrumentals somewhere between Slintian maths, precise Fripp and Summers interplay, and the minimum-lines/maximum-impact approach of a Japanese ink painting or minimalist film.

 

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Kate Jackson & The Wrong Moves + Oh800 + YLJA (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 9.30pm) – £8.50 – information

Kate Jackson (the former Long Blondes singer (and sometime British Electric Foundation/Heaven 17 collaborator) brings her current band The Wrong Moves to The End. She’ll be playing music from the upcoming “mysterious” album she’s been writing and recording with Bernard Butler over the past six years (though from what I’ve heard of it it’s more assured than mysterious – a muscular, classic pop rock mix with Kate’s big vocals and Bernard’s bright, sometimes startling guitar work).

Also on the bill are Oh800, a currently secretive new supergroup featuring Eoin “Oh Ruin” O’Ruainigh plus members of The Duke Spirit and F.U.R.S. The project is still enough under wraps not to have any tracks available to share, so you’ll just have to guess what they sound like, though it’s possible that the old Oh Ruin ingredients of blues, campfire tunes, Irish folk and fingerpicking will get a look-in. In addition, Ylja will be playing their second support slot of the festival, following the previous day’s appearance with Longpines.

 

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Joseph & Maia + Charlotte Carpenter + Annalie Wilson + Storme (Rileys The Ice Cream Café, 32 The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9SU, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £5.50 – information

An intimate gig of classic pop styles in one of Crouch End’s favourite drop-in cafes. New Zealand duo Joseph & Maia headline, playing songs from their debut album ‘Sorrento’ (a record which shows both their indebtedness to American songbook player-writers both old and new – Buckingham and Nicks, Ryan Adams, Paul Simon, Patsy Cline, Noah Gundersen – and their absolute assurance in working the same seams). Armed with a deeper and more ambiguous folk-blues approach, Northamptonshire-born Charlotte Carpenter sings songs of doubt and connection, softly, but with great emotional power held in check (like a surge pushing at a levee).


Rounding out the bill, acoustic festival favourite and all-round performer Annalie Wilson brings straight-ahead conversational, coffee-house songs on piano and guitar: while concert opener Storme (a Swedish singer-songwriter who’s come over to London to develop her songs, reversing the usual trend) is bold and dramatic enough to be a headliner, since her heavy-weather synth-pop aims for the same stadium-friendly altitudes as Florence + The Machine, Chvrches or even the more crowdpleasing moments of Björk .


 

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Becky Arundel + Nora Grefstad + Kloak (Kiss The Sky, 18-20 Park Road, Crouch End, London, N8 8TD, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 3.00pm) – free

The first of the Saturday gigs is a celebration of young female songwriters. Becky Arundel writes and delivers muscled, determined folk-rock in the Melissa Etheridge vein, moving from unplugged strum to bursting electric explosions. Norwegian singer Nora Grefstad , who generally trades as Noraslittleworld, slides her path midway between Elkie Brooks and Beth Gibbons (offering slightly wonky, jazzy trip-hopped pop or full-diva piano balladry – in each case with a hint of smeared-lipstick, morning-after feeling). While there seem to be plenty of people contributing to Kloak, in essence they’re two sassy-wise white girls – Georgia Meek and Gabrielle Mallett – putting together R&B-tinged electropop with a strong flavour of Eartha Kitt (those bent notes and divan stretches; that conversational yawp in the voice).



 

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Cortes + Bea Munro + Orfan (ThisIsWIRED @ Rileys The Ice Cream Café, 32 The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9SU, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £7.70 – information

Showcase night ThisIsWIRED (which, since its initiation in Shoreditch seven years ago has incubated the early budding careers of musicians including Ellie Goulding, Raleigh Ritchie and Michael Kiwanuka) rolls up to a Crouch End ice cream parlour for a north London jaunt. Tonight’s players include crisp power-poppers Cortes and belting 22-year-old ‘60s-rock-siren revivalist Bea Munro; but for my money the likely star in the pack is gig opener Orfan, who uses his multi-instrumental skills to hone captivating yearning songs which touch bases with such odd-bedfellow influences as Nico, Prince and Boo Hewerdine.



 

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Farrago + Ylja + Frida Wallin + YLJA (Before the Gold Rush @ The Haberdashery, 22 Middle Lane, Crouch End, London, N8 8PL, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £5.50 – information

In keeping with The End’s origins, peripatetic roots night Before The Gold Rush curate an outright folk & Americana evening. A truly enchanting set looks likely from Farrago, the psychedelic folk vehicle for the lucid, highly literate work of London songwriter Ian Bennett – vivid short stories couched in rich, longing arrangements and with colourful, falling poetic imagery. There’ll be a third appearance by Ylja, perhaps opening up to their lusher dream-folk tendencies. With flavours of honky-tonk and Grand Ol’ Opry, rising festival favourite Frida Wallin brings us the End’s most straightforward country music set to date. (She’s actually Swedish. Don’t let on or anything…)



 

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The Battles of Winter + Metro Verlaine + MOSES (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.50 – information

While Before The Gold Rush keeps the Americana and folk covered for the evening, the people at the Crypt hold down the indie and punk rock side of things. The Battles Of Winter embrace a driving post-punk indie sound compared to Echo & The Bunnymen, Interpol and The Doors. French “pop sauvage” trio Metro Verlaine are noisy electric romanticists inspired by the rush of Patti Smith/Richard Hell punk and the latterday spark of The Kills, as well as drawing on the original poète maudit fury of their namesake. The evening is opened by guttural punky rock’n’roll noise from M O S E S, who draw a London parallel to Wolf Mother and The Subways.



 

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The Wave Pictures + The Oreilles + Victor Lovlorne + Beverly + Pony & Trap + Nadine Khouri + Kindling + Annie Rew Shaw + Ryder Havdale + Kloak + Aphty Khea + Hudson Scott + Esther Joy Lane + others tbc (Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, The Broadway, N8 9JJ, London, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £16.50 – information

The big one. For this concert, at least thirteen performers will be taking up temporary residence in the battered but still beautiful Art Deco rooms of the former Town Hall, running quick-changeover mini-sets in the Supper Room, Committee Room and Council Chambers. Like a spontaneous party, the actual participants and their playing order seem to be in constant flux – as I quickly put this post together, the following seems to be the current setup.


Two bands are down from Yorkshire – The Wave Pictures (rattling Byrds-and-Motown garage-indie from Wymeswold) and teenaged Halifax trio The Orielles (a surf pop band from a landlocked town, teetering on the balance of their love of Riot Grrrl and the la-la-la). From America, buzz-pop Brooklyneers Beverly can’t quite make up their minds over whether to stick with Slowdive or Lush or to hit the accelerator pedal towards Surfin’ USA; pellmell Massachusetts indie-punks Kindling provide some rocket-powered shoegaze pop of their own. From Canada via Berlin, Ryder Havdale of The Mohawk Lodge might or might not come good on his promise to salt the lonesome indie-country rock of his main band with some Berlin-inspired electronics.



Several performers bring in captivating moods and stories. The blend of murmur, smouldering torch and cool eyed-vision in the work of Lebanese-British songcrafter Nadine Khouri has drawn comparisons with Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Mazzy Star. Athenian-in-London singer Aphty Khea (a.k.a. MantRah) deals in self-produced slow-drag abstract soul and hip hop ideas; Texan gospel choir escapee and human love-wreck Victor Lovlorne in unsettling lo-fi basement ballads in a Will Oldham, Sparklehorse, Beefheart or Redbone vein. Piano singer Annie Rew Shaw mingles Christine McVie melodicism and wit with an eerie ghost-haunted songwriting style.




Of the rest, Kloak make a repeat appearance (this time unplugged) following their slot at Kiss The Sky earlier in the afternoon; Pony & Trap mix crisp girl-about-town rhythm-box funk with buzzy post-punk guitar hooks); and Oxford electropop diva Esther Joy Lane puts in an appearance, as does the elusive and underplugged Hudson Scott (at the moment, just a name on a wobbling list…)


 

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Emma Pollock + Ylja (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Sunday 15th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.50 – information

The last gig of the week features Scottish alternative rock heroine and onetime Delgados songwriter Emma Pollock, now three records into a solo career as well as being branched out into poly-genre supergroups (The Burns Unit) and socially-minded collective projects (The Fruit Tree Foundation), with her varied collaborations stretching well beyond her bright indie-pop beginnings to involve folk music, theatre work and string quartets. If you’re good, she might play you some songs from her upcoming album ‘In Search Of Harperfield’. Ylja, who by now are starting to look like the End’s house band, will play their fourth and final support slot of the festival at this gig.



 

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That’s all for this week, but I’ll try to put together a rundown of next week’s End gigs over the weekend…

 

November 2015 – upcoming gigs – Illuminations London present Holly Herndon, Jam City and Claire Tolan in Bethnal Green and Josh T. Pearson, Richard Dawson, Briana Marela and Let’s Eat Grandma in Hackney; Laura Moody plays solo in Cardiff and Sheffield; Jenny Hval and Briana Marela tour the UK

2 Nov

Some more concert dates for the current week. If you’re thinking that these have a definite female slant to them, you’re right. I’m indulging my latent X as well as stretching my perspective.

Holly Herndon expanded A/V show (featuring Mat Dryhurst and Colin Self) + Jam City + Claire Tolan (Barbican & Rockfeedback present Illuminations  @ Oval Space, 29-32 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DT, UK, Wednesday 4th November 2015, 7:30pm) – £15.00

Having already made a showing at Liverpool and Bristol during October, peripatetic techno-pop/IDM composer Holly Herndon brings her expanded show to London. This is a full multi-media experience including the usual music, visuals and dance elements but with an interactive component that goes far beyond Holly’s onstage collaborations with programmer/life partner Mat Dryhurst and with interpretative dancer/additional singer Colin Self. In particular, Mat’s adaptive and conceptual SAGA software reaches out beyond the stage to work – consensually – with the audience members’ own browser histories and Facebook content; mixing it all into the visuals (and, potentially, the sounds) as a communal mashup, both representational and communicatory.

Intriguing as this factor is, it’s an adjunct to Holly’s music; which remains the core material of the show. Continually glitched, tweaked and deconstructed, her compositions are a cool, complex, thoughtful and exhilarating mixture. They’re informed by post-classical forms, dance techno, and anthemic synth pop; they utilize experimental textures and broad vocal stylings (from standard singing to semi-voluntary sounds) and they bury philosophical queries deep within their tunes. Holly’s soundwork is as immersive as her stagings, full of implied questions and reflections regarding our access to and immersion in technology and how this affects the way in which we think and express ourselves, leaving comet-trails of information, interaction and yearnings.

All of these additional subtexts and pointers are there if you want them, but Holly is first and foremost a communicating musician, and her pieces are as melodious and accessible as they are multi-layered. Drawing on her ongoing music studies (doctorate level at Stanford) , her time as a precocious and enquiring teenager steeped in the heat and fun of the Berlin club scene, and her work with everything from choirs to customised laptop software, they sometimes sound like particularly complicated pop songs, stuttering their way through myriad changes of attention and focus. Sometimes they sound like accelerated dream-state dances; sometimes like madrigals sung during earthquakes (see Unequal, below). At other times, they’re like the chatter of path-switching in a circuit; or like carefully-directed cultural channel-surfings which quick-step deftly back and forth across a breadth of urban art and experience (from grand opera house to downloads in cramped bedsits). Brain food which encourages you to wander.

Also on the bill are Jam City and Claire Tolan, both of whom share Holly’s interest in interactions and in the results of our being embedded within a dense informational culture, although each has their own way of approaching the situation.

Jam City is the alias of dance-electronica producer and deconstructionist Jack Latham. Though Jack’s background in fashion and “corporate espionage” sounds almost too good to be true, as if it’s been dream-tailored for counter-cultural media discussions and for high-end elitist posing, he doesn’t use it that way. As a musician, he’s evolved from collaging various dubstep tropes towards using his work to develop and express questioning, outright political critiques of neoliberal capitalism (such as the Unhappy single, which explores the dulled angst of online porn consumers while juxtaposing it with riot footage). In the process, Jack’s also developed as a performer – backgrounding the laptops and the passive role of the standard electronica performer in order to retake the stage as guitarist and singer, and delivering a new phase of material described as sounding like a Prince record constructed from cold, chunky industrial sounds”.

Claire Tolan is an artist, programmer, sampler, writer and soundscaper specializing in autonomous sensory meridian r – a psychological process in which carefully-arranged sound and speech – usually a blend of themed, targeted whispers and quiet diegetic noises (scratches, scuffs, intimate room sounds) – triggers euphoric physical and mental reactions in the listener. With sharp wit, Claire links all of this to new developments in programming and acoustic surveillance technologies, exploring the question of how it might be applied: from simple mood enhancements and healing systems through to neurolinguistics and perception and to the potential manipulation and control of people. Her recent Holly Herndon collaboration Lonely At The Top (see below) might give some clues as to her concert performance. A cosseting monologue, coffee-pot dribbles and the close-up noises of small rooms are interspersed with the rubs and slaps of massage, fingernails ticking on keyboards and screens, and increasingly intimate sounds of hand and mouth: the language, desires and end results of relaxation tapes, executive relief, socially-reinforced senses of entitlement and prostitution blend and overlap to sardonic, disturbing effect.

Information and tickets for the concert are here  while the Facebook event page is here. At the end of the month, Holly will also be appearing at All Tomorrow’s Parties at Prestatyn.

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There are some similarities between Holly Herndon and Laura Moody  – not least an overlap with classical music and a sense of being on the outcrops of songcraft, delving up malleable truths and questions. Yet whereas Holly’s a post-classical theoretician (reconciling her education with her human instincts, and with life outside the college bubble) and works primarily on computer, Laura comes from older and more familiar traditions, and is almost exclusively an acoustic performer. Possessing outstanding talent both as a singer and as a cellist – and able to cover both fields simultaneously, as well as beatboxing and cello-drumming – she pounces into her own music with the terrifying, exhilarating technical skills of a top-drawer classical soloist.

Laura’s songwriting instinct, meanwhile, seem to come from multiple directions at once. Tense twentieth-century string figures (from her earlier years playing avant-garde pieces with the Meredith Monk Ensemble, and her current work with the Elysian Quartet); ancient, eerie folk airs; expressionist opera; P.J. Harvey’s cleaver intensity; the clever, idiosyncratic and individual art pop of a Kate Bush, a Tom Waits or a Bjork. Everything that she delivers sounds immediate, whether it’s the savagely equivocal hormonal take-down of an older man on Creeping Alopecia, the raindrop attenuations of Call This Time Love, or the stormy dissections of love-gone-wrong and betrayal on Turn Away and We Are Waiting.

The live gigs are enthralling wonders: supple switchings between Laura’s own welcoming personality and the performance persona which handles the songs, blurring the line of physicality which separates woman and cello. She’s out on a brief tour now, playing outside London for a few events. Go see for yourselves.

Laura Moody:

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For many female pop musicians, an increasingly outright or explicit public sexuality is both a marketing point and the prime hook. To an extent, this is also true of Jenny Hval. Many people will have initially heard about her thanks to what seemed to be a head-turningly saucy lyric:“I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris.” Curious (and possibly a little numbed by Rihanna, plus memories of lubricious Prince party-funk), many of us will have followed this expecting a licentious slow jam, only to find something very different – the opening line of a mirror-calm songscape of hovering bells, limpid murmurs and breathed-on acoustic guitars which dealt with the secret worlds of strangers within cities and, in particular, their self-reliance.

A polymath whose methods blur as artfully as her perspectives, Jenny doesn’t write songs so much as drop carefully-charged texts and pointers, and then explore and adorn these recitatives with chantlike melodies and poised minimal instrumental textures, pulling them apart and working in and out of the word-rhythms. Her guitars, keyboards and samplers (as well as her heavy-lashed, light-tongued vocals) work like soft-edged sculpting tools. Her lyrics are the lines of resistance.

For both new listeners and previous converts, sexuality remains a prime Hval hook. It’s what we expect to hear from her, although we’ve quickly learnt to appreciate that she turns the expected approaches on their heads and back-to-front. She revels in the unfixed: in the course of a single song, lovers will pass fluidly from mysterious passion to friendship to absence, and between gender, ages, species or state. Even when singing of cupping her own cunt (while cupping the blunt, unadorned and troublesome word itself, delivered throughout her songbook without a hint of shame, taboo or aggression and with a succinct matter-of-fact poise) she’ll let the action lead her somewhere that doesn’t fit the usual expectations and commodities – appreciating its centrality at her body’s core; being inspired to cup in turn a lover’s “soft dick… accepting restlessness, accepting no direction, accepting this fearful wanting that isn’t desire… can we just lie here being?”; or imagining a world of peaceful masturbators (“a million bedrooms with hands softly lulling… without telling anyone, a million ships come alone out on the calmest seas”) while asking, with a sense of disquiet “are we loving ourselves now? Are we mothering ourselves?”

Also running through Jenny’s work (whether entwined with or separate from the sexual themes), are ambiguous accounts of bodily disintegration. Opening her second album ‘Innocence Is Kinky’ with an account of watching online porn, she moves from commodified enervation into an eerie and exultant dream of escape, relinquishing her own body and its passive needs, and finally symbolically destroying the eyes with which she consumes the images. Yet this song and its sisters aren’t quite nightmares. Sometimes they’re triumphs – disassociative fantasies of freedom in which the wrack and ruin seem to be the natural rites of passage of a cool mind walking free, unconcerned, its passions become processes.

Jenny’s writing casts a wide net – violent upsets echoing classic French surrealism; deep-running strands of myth both classical and original (from the “Oslo Oedipus” of Innocence Is Kinky to the dark, quasi-pagan tree-figure in Amphibious, Androgynous that stands as lover, doppelganger and the next phase of self); and musings on the ambiguous trap of language (“the tongue is upon for the restless /An indecipherable alphabet / Each word an island less… And we speak in tongues from part to parts, broke all to parts / From invisible state, to invisible state…”). Most recently, on her latest album ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ the political subtexts have broken cover to become direct challenges (“You say I’m free now, that battle is over, / and feminism is over and socialism’s over. / Yeah, I say, I can consume what I want now..”). So too have preoccupations with ageing and survival (in the breathless narrative of Heaven, surrounded by loops and fractures of cemeteries and childhood choirs, Jenny wrestles with the pull of memory and the drag of mortality) and a increasingly solid approach to identity. “What is it to take care of yourself? Getting paid? Getting laid? Getting married? Getting pregnant? Fighting for visibility in your market? Realizing your potential? Being healthy, being clean, not making a fool of yourself, not hurting yourself? Shaving in all the right places?”

All of the above – the obliqueness and the rapier hits – makes listening to Jenny’s records akin to haunting her apartment at 2am (or some similar time  when manners and manneredness come unstuck and the shapes of other truths come walking). I’ve not been fortunate enough to see what her music is like live – though I know that past concert showings have seen her play bolstered with  guests or simply alone, surrounded by laptops, devices and ideas. On the five quick dates of her current UK tour, you’ll be able to see for yourselves.

Jenny Hval:

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On the Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol dates, Jenny will be joined by her on-off tourmate Briana Marela, a singer-songwriter from the Pacific North-West who’s currently working a string of European tour dates in support of her second album ‘All Around Us’. As you might expect from something recorded in Iceland and co-produced with Sigur Rós associate Alex Somers, ‘All Around Us’ is ghosted and garnished with touches of Hopelandic enchantment (with beautiful smeared, paper-thin sounds intruding on the edge of the mix, like lost amnesiac ghosts or distant pipes), but it’s very much Briana’s inspiration – a luminous, thoughtful work blending layered melodic sample-patches and banking her petal-delicate vocals into choirs and a capella counterpoint.

Though Briana cites Björk, Laura Veirs, Vashti Bunyan and Meredith Monk as influences (she has something in common with Laura Moody, then), I can also hear the same kind of all-round sound-mastery that’s on display and working away in the songs of Imogen Heap; deep-level sonic exploration and sound curation tied to the urge to tell you a story and sing you a straight earworm. In the album’s lead single Surrender I can even hear something of the pure pop of ABBA, while the midnight lushness of the follow-up, Dani, recalls a Julee Cruise ‘Twin Peaks’ ballad.

Though Briana’s voice is soft, it’s never wispy – never insubstantial. If there’s a hint of girl-next-door to what she does, she’s the quiet, observant girl full of thoughts, going her own way but ready to let you walk alongside.  Like Jenny, though less explicitly, she explores possibilities of intimacy. Her songs hover carefully on the borderline between selfhood and loneliness, a delicate staking out of possible togetherness, subtly resisting the pressures to put out or submit, to be deformed by needs and expectations (“What does love mean in this day and age? /  To me it’s a moment where we resonate at two frequencies close in phase… /  It’s not a competition /  Everyone has music within them.” ). Meanwhile, the perfectly-pitched American-visionary tone of the album (its hallucinatory fairy-tale sonics, leaflike piano falls and misty country swells) suggests that there’s common ground between Briana’s dream pop and the ostensibly cleaner work of breakthrough CCM-pop singers like Lexi Elisha, which in turn suggests that there’ll be a lot of people who’ll end up liking this.

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In between dates with Jenny Hval, Briana Marela will also be joining the bill at another Illuminations concert in London, this one a stew of assorted flavours which also includes the battered Americana of Lift To Experience frontman Josh T. Pearson  and the skewed Tyneside noise-troubadour work of Richard Dawson.

Probably because of the female orientation of this particular post, I’ve got to admit that I’m more intrigued by the youngest act on the bill, and the only other female one. It’s difficult to work out just how tongue-in-cheek the psychedelic rag-doll sludge-pop” duo Let’s Eat Grandma are, assuming that they’re joking at all. Eyes down, singing from beneath and behind tumbling pre-Raphaelite locks, and tucked into stolen Stevie Nicks dresses, Rosa and Jenny rummage with various instruments like toybox-divers and play songs as if it’s only occurred to them to do so. Two Norwich teenagers who’ve known each other since childhood, they’ve sustained, into near adulthood, that mysterious blankness of two little girls who are ignoring your interruptions to their game. The songs themselves are tangled musical fairy stories, or (as with ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms Into Chocolate Sludge Cake’) extended wooden-legged instrumental mantras owing more to Faust or Beefheart: spontaneous-seeming, utterly absorbed in themselves. The band feels like a musical chrysalis twitching what might become an astounding breadth of wing. It’s all to discover.

Josh T. Pearson/Richard Dawson/Briana Marela/Let’s Eat Grandma (Rockfeedback present Illuminations @ St. John Church at Hackney, Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, London, E5 0PD, UK, Saturday 7th November 2015, 6.00pm) – £20.00 –  informationtickets

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More concert previews coming shortly for November…

October 2015 – upcoming London gigs (12th to 18th) – an art rock blitz with Sax Ruins and Richard Pinhas; new classical music with Darragh Morgan & Mary Dullea; William D. Drake, Bill Pritchard and Bill Botting make a trio of songwriting Bills for Daylight Music; Sex Swing, Early Mammal and Casual Sect make a racket; Laura Moody and a host of others play at Match&Fuse

7 Oct

And October rushes on…

Sax Ruins + Richard Pinhas @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 12th October 2015Sax Ruins + Richard Pinhas (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Monday 12th October 2015, 7.30pm) – £11.00

Ruins (in both their original configuration and their various spinoffs) are among the best-known and most influential of Japanese experimental rock bands, with their complex rhythmic ideas and expression stretching across progressive rock, Rock in Opposition, jazz and punk. Founded in 1985, their stretchy, power-flurried drums-and-voice/bass guitar/nothing else approach has been described as “a palace revolt against the established role of the rhythm section” and set the initial format for any number of loud-bastard bass-and-drums duos. Since 1994 they’ve also run assorted noise-rock and improv collaborations including Ronruins (a romping trio alliance with multi-instrumentalist Ron Anderson) and longstanding hook-ups with Derek Bailey, Kazuhisa Uchihashi and Keiji Haino. Post-2004, Ruins has given way to Ruins-alone: a solo project in both practical and actual terms, with Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins’ drummer, jabberer, main composer and only consistent member) opting to tour and record solo as a drums-and-tapes act.

Active since 2006, Sax Ruins is yet another iteration of the Ruins concept – a musical tag team in which Yoshida spars happily with Nagoya-based saxophonist Ryoko Ono of Ryorchestra (an all-round improviser steeped in jazz, rock, funk, rhythm & blues classical and hip hop. Their recordings are “extremely complex with irregular beats, frequent excessive overdubbing, and restructured orchestration. The result sounds like a big band playing progressive jazz hardcore. For live performance of Sax Ruins they make hardcore sound like a huge band by full use of effects, also incorporating improvisation. Their shows unfold as a vehement drama.” For further evidence, see below.

Composer, guitarist and synthesizer player Richard Pinhas has often laboured under the reductive tag of “the French Robert Fripp”. This is unfair to him; he may have begun as an admirer of both Fripp and Brian Eno, but whatever he’s learned from them he took in his own direction. Starting out in the early ‘70s with a Sorbonne philosophy doctorate, a keen interest in speculative science fiction and a brief stint heading the post-Hawkwind psych outfit Schizo, Pinhas went on to lead the second-generation progressive rock band Heldon for four years between 1974 and 1978. Geographically and conceptually, Heldon sat bang in the ‘70s midpoint between the artier end of British prog, the proggier end of British art-pop and the chilly sequenced robo-mantras of German electronics. Initially inspired by King Crimson, Eno and Tangerine Dream, they also shared both musicians and ideas with Magma, and at times squinted over the Atlantic towards Zappa and Utopia: no passive followers, they always brought their own assertive, inquiring spin to the party. (A late ‘90s revival version of the band brought in the psychedelic punk and techno imperatives of the dance movement).

Since Heldon, Pinhas has pursued an ongoing and diverse solo career. It’s taken in collaborations with Scanner, Peter Frohmader, Merzbow, Råd Kjetil Senza Testa, Wolf Eyes and Pascal Fromade, plus assorted words-and music projects involving speculative writers and philosophers such as Maurice Dantec, Philip K. Dick, Gilles Deleuze, Norman Spinrad and Chloe Delaume (these include the cyberpunk-inspired Schizotrope). When performing solo, Pinhas uses a loops-layers-and-textures guitar approach which parallels (and to some ears, surpasses) the densely processed and layered Soundscapes work of his original inspiration Fripp. I guess it’s most likely that he’ll employ this at Corsica Studios on the 12th (although as Tatsuya Yoshida has been another of Pinhas’ collaborators over the years, perhaps you might expect another spontaneous team-up…)

Up-to-date info on the concert is here, with tickets available here.

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During the midweek, there’s a set of new or rare contemporary classical pieces being performed in Camden Town.

Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea, 2015

Picking Up The Pieces: Darragh Morgan & Mary Dullea (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Wednesday 14th October 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00/£12.00

Here’s what the Forge has to say about it:

Described by BBC Music Magazine as ‘agile, incisive and impassioned’ violinist Darragh Morgan and pianist Mary Dullea are renowned soloists of new music as well as members of The Fidelio Trio, one of the UK’s leading chamber ensembles. ‘Picking up the Pieces’ explores new and recent repertoire, much of it written for this duo, by a diverse selection of composers. Among the program items, Richard Causton’s ‘Seven States of Rain’ (dedicated to Mary and Darragh) won the first ever British Composers’ Award; while Gerald Barry’s ‘Midday’ receives its world premiere alongside other London premieres from Camden Reeves and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly.

Programme:

Richard Causton – Seven States of Rain
Gerald Barry – Midday (world premiere)
Benedict Schlepper-Connolly – Ekstase I (UK premiere)
Dobrinka Tabakova – Through the Cold Smoke
Kate Whitley – Three Pieces for violin and piano
Sam Hayden – Picking up the Pieces
Camden Reeves – Gorgon’s Head (London premiere)

Here’s the original premiere recording of Darragh and Mary playing ‘Seven States of Rain’.

Tickets and up-to-date information are here. This concert is being recorded by BBC Radio for future transmission on Hear & Now.

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On the Saturday, it’s a triple bill of Bills at Daylight Music. Now that’s cute, even for them. Here are the words direct from the top…

Daylight Music 203, 17th October 2015

Daylight Music 203: William D. Drake + Bill Pritchard + Bill Botting (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 17th October 2015, 12.00pm-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £5.00

For his fifth solo excursion, former Cardiacs keysmith William D Drake takes us on a serpentine path through the inner regions of ‘Revere Reach’, a part-imagined landscape composed of memory and fantasy. At once heart-felt, hearty and absurd, its heady reveries blend ancient-seeming modal folk melody with an obliquely-slanted rock thrust.

Bill Pritchard is a beloved cult British-born singer/songwriter. You may remember. You may not. He started writing songs for various bands at school but it wasn’t until he spent time in Bordeaux as part of a college degree that his style flourished. He did a weekly show with two friends on the radio station La Vie au Grand Hertz (part of the burgeoning ‘radio libre’ movement) and was introduced to a lot of French artists from Antoine to Taxi Girl. In 2014 Bill released – Trip to the Coast (Tapeste Records). He’s recently resurfaced with a cracking new album, the songs of which are classic Bill Pritchard. Guitar pop, hooky chorus’, melodic ballads and personal everyday lyrics about love, loss, and Stoke-On-Trent.

Our final Bill is Bill Botting – best known as the bass player from Allo Darlin with the encouraging face, or as one half of indie electro wierdos Moustache of Insanity. Bill returned to playing his own music sometime in 2014. What started as a solo act has now grown into a complete band featuring members of Owl and Mouse, Allo Darlin and The Wave Pictures. A 7-inch single out later in the year on the wiaiwya label has a country slant but an indie heart.

Up-to-date info on this particular Daylight Music afternoon is here.

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On the Saturday evening, Baba Yaga’s Hut is running another gig, much of it apparently based around the noise-and-sludge projects which record at south London’s Dropout Studio in Camberwell. I’ve got to admit that I’m quite ambivalent about the hit-and-miss nature of noise-rock – I suspect that it’s too much of a haven for charlatans, and if I can’t drag out anything interesting to say about the noise they produce bar a slew of reference points, then what am I doing if not reviewing my own boredom? – but I like BYH’s omnivorous, ambitious and sharing attitude as promoters, so I’m happy to boost the signal on this one.

Sex Swing + Early Mammal + Casual Sect (Baba Yaga’s HutThe Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, UK, Saturday 17th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £7.00

Sex Swing + Early Mammal + Casual Sect @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 17th October 2015
Sex Swing are “a drone supergroup” featuring South London noisenik Tim Cedar (one of Dropout Studio’s owner/producers, previously a member of both Ligament and Part Chimp), Dethscalator’s Dan Chandler and Stuart Bell, Jason Stoll (bass player with Liverpool kraut-psych band Mugstar) and skronkophonist Colin Webster. On aural evidence, they inhabit a post-Can, post-Suicide hinterland of hell, spring-echoed and tannoy-vocaled – a sinister quotidian landscape of blank anomie and oppression; a Los Alamos penal colony haunted by uranium ghosts, ancient Morse telegraphs, metal fatigue and the zombie husks of Albert Ayler and Ian Curtis. (Well, that’s certainly someone’s perfect birthday present.)

Described variously as raw power, psych-blues, primitive lysergia and threatening backwoods jams, Early Mammal are another Dropout-affiliated Camberwell band. They’re a stoner rock three-piece who’ve drawn further comparisons not just to latterday stoner crews like White Hills or Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, or to predictable perennial touchstones like Captain Beefheart and Hawkwind parallels; but also to broody Harvest Records psych (Edgar Broughton and the ‘Obscured by Clouds’ Pink Floyd), Irmin Schmidt and (a rare and welcome cite, this) the grand dramatics of Aphrodite’s Child (the late-‘60s Greek prog band which skirted the 1966 Paris riots and served as an unlikely launch pad for both Vangelis and Demis Roussos).

Past incarnations have seen Early Mammal stir in some “Turkish-flavoured synth”, but the current lineup is a power trio of ex-Elks guitarist Rob Herian and 85bear’s Ben Tat and Ben Davis, adding baritone guitar and drone box to the usual guitar/bass/drums array.

I’m less sure about the south London/Dropout associations as regards Casual Sect, who seem to be north-of-the-river people; but, armed with their own hardcore noise-punk, they’ll either clatter away like wind-up toys or belly-sprawl on great bluffs of surly noise. They seem to love both citing and mocking conspiracy theory, so I’ll let them yell away on their own behalf – see below…


 
Up-to-date info on this gig is here, and tickets are available from here.

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Laura Moody’s captivating cello-and-voice songcraft (which edges along the boundary lines of avant-garde classical, art pop and heart-on-sleeve folk music, while demonstrating a daunting mastery of both vocal and instrument) has been a favourite of mine for a while. On this particular week, she’s performing as part of the Match&Fuse Festival in London on 17th October, which I’d have made more of a noise about had I cottoned on to it earlier. She’ll be following up her London show with a date on 20th October at Leeds College of Music: unfortunately, this concert (which also features a talk) is only for LCM students/staff, but if you happen to be attending the college, grab the chance to go along.

There’ll be more on Laura shortly, as she’s embarking on a brief British tour next month which dovetails quite neatly with some other brief tours I’d like to tie together in a post. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, I might as well provide a quick rundown of the Match&Fuse events. This will be a short and scrappy cut’n’paste’n’link, since I’m honouring my own last-minute pickup (and, to be honest, because I exhausted myself listing out all the details of the Manchester Jazz Festival events earlier in the year).

By the sound of it, though, the festival deserves more attention than I’m providing. Even just on spec, it’s a delightful bursting suitcase of British and European music; much of which consists of various forms of jazz and improvisation, but which also takes in electronica, math rock, accordion-driven Tyrolean folk-rap, vocalese, glam punk, the aforementioned Ms. Moody and what appears to be a huge scratch ensemble closing the events each night. It’s spread over three days including a wild triple event on the Saturday. Tickets are starting to sell out; so if you want to attend, be quick.

Match&Fuse Festival, London, 2015

Committed to the composers and bands who propel, compel and challenge, Match&Fuse turns it on and ignites the 4th London festival in October. Dissolving barriers between genres and countries, it’s a rare chance to hear a spectrum of sounds from underground European and UK artists. On Saturday 17th October our popular wristband event will give you access to three Dalston venues and about thirteen artists and bands. Strike a match…

The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Thursday 15th October 2015, 7.30pm – £9.90

Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London E1 6LA, UK, Friday 16th October 2015, 7.30pm – £13.20

The Vortex/Café Oto/Oto Project Space/ Servant Jazz Quarters simultaneous event, Saturday 17th October 2015, 8.00pm – £11.00/£16.50

Café Oto/Oto Project Space, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, UK

Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, UK

The Vortex Jazz Club/Vortex Downstairs, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK

Full details of Match&Fuse London 2015 are here and here, with tickets (including wristbands) available here. There’s also a playlist available – see below.

 
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More October gig previews coming up shortly, plus some more for November…