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January/February 2018 – The Ecstatic Music Festival in New York (part 1) with Kronos Quartet, Xenia Rubinos, Face The Music, Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering and Bang On A Can (27th January, 5th February, 15th February)

15 Jan

Looking over to America, the Saturday after next sees the first date in New York City’s snappy, broad-based Ecstatic Music Festival.

Ecstatic Music Festival, 2018

“Starting on 27th January and running through 26th April 2018, the festival, hailed as “the alt-classical world’s main showcase” (‘The New York Times’), will feature collaborations from more than seventy-five composers and performers from different musical genres across the sonic spectrum, including Kronos Quartet, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, Margaret Leng Tan, Glasser, Xenia Rubinos, Mantra Percussion, Mahogany L. Browne, Carla Kihlstedt, Patrick Zimmerli, Ethan Iverson, Buke & Gase’s Arone Dyer, and many more. A collaboration between New Amsterdam Presents and Kaufman Music Center, the festival has nine collaborative one-night-only performances featuring world premieres, new arrangements and the exclusive opportunity to hear artists discuss their work.”

Here are some details for the first three shows (taken from the programme and tweaked/expanded where necessary), spread out from the end of January to the middle of February:

Xenia Rubinos & Adam Schatz's Civil Engineering, 27th January 2018

Xenia Rubinos can make social consciousness sensual,” says the ‘New York Times’. Her catchy yet exuberantly visceral songs meld weighty social issues with intimately personal ones and draw from a broad palette of influences ranging from Caribbean and jazz to indie rock, hip-hop and punk.


 
“Xenia will team up with Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering, a high-energy, ten-member multi-dimensional big band led by the protean multi-instrumentalist Adam Schatz, “New York’s indie-rock Zelig” (‘New York Observer’) and Landlady frontman, to perform new arrangements of her songs, his songs, and composers they love, and to premiere new works written for the Ecstatic Music Festival.


 
“Regarding the project, Adam claims to be “chasing the spirits of Duke Ellington and Gene Wilder. I am trying to operate at a large scale that hits at the heart and can go anywhere at any time. Songs, improvisations, and adventures with a big band of impossibly talented people. This is Civil Engineering.” The band has included Alec Spiegelman, Ross Edwards, Brandon Seabrook (Seabrook Power Plant, Needle Driver), Ross Gallagher, Noah Garabedian (Big Butter And The Egg Men, Ravi Coltrane), Stephanie Richards, Curtis Hasselbring (The New Mellow Edwards, Decoupage, The Curha-chestra) and Patrick Breiner.

Kronos Quartet & Face The Music, 5th February 2018

“The adventurous, Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet – one of the most celebrated and influential ensembles of our time – joins NYC’s acclaimed youth new music ensemble (and Kaufman in-house orchestra) Face the Music to perform new works written for Kronos’ “Fifty for the Future”, a commissioning, education and legacy project showcasing contemporary approaches to the string quartet that features new works by some of today’s foremost composers.



 
The two ensembles will perform separately and together: there’s no details on the Kronos setlist yet, or on the combined programme, but Face the Music will be performing Yotam Haber‘s ‘From The Book’ and Kala Ramnath‘s ‘Amrit’.

Bang On A Can People's Commissioning Fund Concert, 15th February 2018

“Co-founded in 1987 by composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, Bang On A Can has grown from a one-off concert band to a ceaselessly active, multi-bodied and internationally famous New Music ensemble, building a world in which powerful new musical ideas flow freely across all genres and borders. Set up in 1997, long before crowd-funding became the norm through Kickstarter and the like, Bang On A Can’s People’s Commissioning Fund has pooled contributions of all sizes from hundreds of friends and fans. Since its inception as a radical partnership between artists and audiences to commission works from adventurous composers, it has commissioned over fifty works of music for New York’s electric Bang on a Can All-Stars.

“This concert, compiling new commissions for 2018 and a few old favourites, is a New Sounds Live co-presentation: it will be hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer and streamed live. There will be world premieres of pieces by George Lewis and Angélica Negrón, plus a new look at “historic” PCF-commissioned pieces by Pamela Z, Annea Lockwood, Lukas Ligeti and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.”


 
All concerts are performed at Merkin Concert Hall @ Kaufman Music Center, 129 W 67th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, NY 10023, USA. Dates and times below:

  • Xenia Rubinos & Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering – Saturday 27th January 2018, 7:30pm – information here and here
  • Kronos Quartet & Face The Music – Monday 5th February 2018, 7:30pm – information here and here
  • Bang on a Can People’s Commissioning Fund Concert – Thursday 15th February 2018, 7:30pmhere and here

For those who might not have already followed up on the remaining six dates between March and April, I’ll stick up reminders closer to the time…
 

April 2017 – upcoming gigs – Billy Bottle & The Multiple bring ‘The Other Place’ to Exeter (2nd)

26 Mar

Pastoral jazzers and questioning songmakers Billy Bottle & The Multiple are bringing their show ‘The Other Place’ (a kind of Brexit-themed pilgrimage-cum-road movie, dealing with questions of connection, national moods and democracy) to Exeter at the beginning of April.

I wrote something extensive about the show’s roots and methods back in mid-2016, so you can read more about that here.

In other news, the band have launched a Pledgemusic crowdfunding campaign to fund the recording and release of the album version of the show – more on that here.

Billy Bottle & The Multiple: 'The Other Place'

‘The Other Place’ by Billy Bottle & The Multiple
The Barnfield Theatre, Barnfield Road, Exeter, Devon, EX1 1SN, England
Sunday 2nd April 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 


 

 

July 2016 – upcoming gigs – London jazz with Dave Storey Trio and Rob Barron Trio (28th); Laura Moody plays not-jazz at the Manchester Jazz Festival (28th); plus a plea to help save the flooded Arch1 venue in east London

26 Jul

Jazz Nursery, 28th July 2016At short notice, here’s some quick news of a London jazz gig:

Jazz Nursery presents:
Dave Storey Trio + Rob Barron Trio
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 28th July 2016, 7.30pm
– information

Pianist Rob Barron specializes in piano-led hard bop in the Wynton Kelly, Cedar Walton and George Shearing tradition. On this occasion, his trio is completed by double bass player Calum Gourlay and drummer Joshua Morrison: while I’ve not got anything by the trio which I can play you, here’s the showreel for Rob’s quartet (featuring himself and Joshua).


 

The other trio on the bill is headed by dynamic, constantly occupied London drummer Dave Storey, whose busy CV includes work with Ivo Neame, Chris Batchelor, Hannes Riepler and Mike Outram (plus, oddly enough, a stint with symphonic proggers The Enid). He leads the psychedelic-leaning woodwind player James Allsopp (Fraud, Golden Age of Steam) and the nimble young bass guitarist Conor Chaplin through a wide repertoire of jazz from ballads to driven up-tempo pieces, with an emphasis on “interaction, intensity and playfulness”. Here’s a clip of them running their way through Giant Steps.


 

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Last year I did a fairly exhaustive (and exhausting rundown) of the Manchester Jazz Festival. This year I didn’t (there wasn’t enough time available, and not enough people read the last post to make it worthwhile – this blog seems to work better if I’m writing about smaller events with less existing promotional push behind them). However, I thought I’d mention that a particular ‘Misfit City’ favourite is playing the festival early on Thursday afternoon.

Despite her deft improvising skills, Laura Moody‘s dynamic voice-and-cello songs don’t exactly count as jazz – they’re more of a bridge between folk music, 20th century classical technique and the complex, experimental baroque pop exemplified by other hugely talented women such as Joanna Newsom or Kate Bush. However, her inventiveness, musical excellence and sense of adventure make her a prime fit for the fringes of the festival: a sometimes vigorous, sometimes agonizingly soulful performer. Her MJF appearance is an hour-long set in the open air in the middle of town, which will at least give her the opportunity to shake the chamber out of her chamber pop. (For what it’s worth, Laura’s also playing at Wilderness Festival on Saturday 5th August, but unless you’ve already bought the package deal for that one, you’ll not get to see her, so pull a sickie and head into Manchester this week instead…)

Manchester Jazz Festival presents:
Laura Moody
Hobgoblin Festival Pavilion, Albert Square, Manchester, M2 5DB
Thursday 28th July 2016, 2.30pm
information



 

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Lastly, here’s me taking a moment to sidestep away from plugging gigs so that I can forward a plea on behalf of the kind of place that puts them on. A great venue, or even just a good one, isn’t necessarily the making of a town or a neighbourhood, but they make profound contributions to the fabric of a place: the sense that there’s life there instead of just grind and torpor (or, in “nicer” neighbourhoods, just a vacuous gentility). There are plenty of potential threats to places like this, many of them stemming from the fact that many of them don’t fit developers’ idea of an economic footprint (and gentrification/profiteering doesn’t only crush arts venues – see the recent righteous ‘Organ’ blast about the predatory-rent-rise-backed eviction of repair shops from the London Fields railway arches) but sometimes it’s just damn bad luck and unfriendly weather.

promo-arch1flooddamage

Arch1, a beacon of arts endeavour and local involvement in the unloved and sidelined London district of Canning Town, fell victim to the latter last month. Thankfully the venue is down rather than out – and here’s someone running a crowdfunder to help it get back up:

“Arch1 is one of the few small independent arts venues left in London and for eight years it has been nurturing new talent in music, comedy, film and theatre. We were saddened to hear that on the 22nd June this year the club was decimated by the floods, forcing this cherished venue to close its doors and depriving London of this champion of independence.

A crowdfunder campaign has been set up to raise the £20,000 needed to completely refurbish and refit Arch1. Please support new talent in the arts by contributing to this appeal, and help save one of London’s most unique and irreplaceable venues. For more information and how to donate, please click here.”

(Update, later in the day)

Ah. Um.

The bad news…

I’m late in picking up on and posting this. The crowdfunder closed on Friday last week. Embarrassing for me, but…

The good news…

They made the funding target. The venue’s been saved. Well, that’s a sparkle in the darkness.
 

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

2 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




 

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




 

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

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




 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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




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

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

 

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

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


 

* * * * * * * *

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 London gigs – four for Saturday 18th (Glass, Matthew Bourne, Darren Morris, and The Leaf Library at Daylight Music; Tanya Tagaq soundtracks ‘Nanook of the North’ at the Forge; Rock Candy Girlz & Malcolm Bruce at MAP Studio Café; the Pussywarmers at Wilton’s)

16 Jun

An interesting London Saturday is coming up, with music ranging from shattering electronic jazz to faintly worrying lounge music and psychedelic pop; pipe organ explorations to Inuit vocalese; transfigured electropop to sing-alongs and drone-strumentals… with the odd dancing gorilla and shocking pink hairpiece showing up too.

More below…

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Daylight Music 228, 18th June 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 228 (‘Electric Dreams’): Glass + Matthew Bourne + Darren Morris + The Leaf Library
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 18th June 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation – £5.00) – information

“Daylight Music goes electronic this week with three superb acts.

“Rising pop duo Glass are set for big things in 2016. Their spectacularly roaring body of work and captivating live shows have seen them hotly tipped as ‘ones to watch’ by The Maccabees, Huw Stephens and Tom Robinson. Jessica Winter’s haunting, enunciated vocals and Scott Rimington’s other-worldly guitar break-outs meet to create a language all of its own, underpinned with pummeling grooves, meticulous synth lines and addictive ear-worm hooks. Today they’ll be playing an acoustic set.

“With a reputation as a fearlessly unpredictable pianist and composer, multi-award-winning musician Matthew Bourne is a passionate explorer of sound, possessed of a burning desire to make music on anything old, broken or infirm. Renowned for his intensely personal and sometimes confrontational solo work, his uncanny ability to balance delicacy and virtuosity – while establishing a close affinity with his audience – have become hallmarks of his concert performances. He has his fingerprints on a huge number of projects, having worked with artists as diverse as John Zorn, Annette Peacock, Nils Frahm, Nostalgia 77, Broadway Project, and Amon Tobin.

In the last year, Matthew set up a studio in his rural West Yorkshire home in order to capture the spontaneous moments of inspiration his concerts have become famed for. With a nod to the pioneering work of Annette Peacock and Paul Bley, he has turned his considerable talents to the world of analogue synthesisers; arming himself with an arsenal of vintage electronics, tape delays and a creaky harmonium alongside his trusty piano and cello, and preparing for a period of intense and varied activity in his own name after many years of collaboration. Growing from improvised live performances, new compositions have taken shape in the studio as Bourne explored and moulded the vast sonic possibilities of voltage-controlled oscillators.

“The seed for this project was planted when Matthew acquired an uncooperative 1982 Memorymoog, having it painstakingly modified and upgraded by Rudi Linhard in Germany. Created without the use of computers or sequencers, ‘moogmemory’ is the first album to be recorded using only the Lintronics Advanced Memorymoog. This process also served as a pathway to another of his current projects, ‘Radioland: Radio-Activity Revisited’, a visceral live audio/visual experience created to mark the 40th anniversary of Kraftwerk’s seminal Radio-Activity album. In collaboration with electronic composer Franck Vigroux and installation artist Antoine Schmitt, ‘Radioland…’ sees him pushing his work with synthesisers into uncompromising new territory, as earth-shattering bass frequencies are contrasted with moments of eerie near-silence.

“The intriguing Darren Morris worked as a producer and musician for twenty years (with the likes of David Holmes, Tim Goldsworthy, Ashley Beedle) and he’s currently touring with former Beta Band-er Steve Mason. He’s been performing live as a professional musician for over fifteen years, playing keyboards, synths, and bass with a variety of artists including Gabrielle, Sugardaddy (side project of Groove Armada’s Tom Findlay), and Robin Hitchcock. He has a background in improvisation, working alongside many well-respected and influential players on the London improv scene such as Veryan Weston, Hugh Metcalfe, Sibyl Madrigal, Lol Coxhill, Gail Brand, Jon Edwards and Mark Sanders. Today, Darren will be playing the Chapel’s glorious 125-year old Henry Willis organ.”

Just noting that Darren isn’t a stranger to this particular instrument… Here’s the outcome of one of his previous encounters, plus an explanation:


 

“(This) started out as a ninety-minute improvisation, performed on the amazing organ that lives in the Union Chapel Islington. I was just zoning into the instrument and the building it breathes in, traveling through various pockets of 20th century western concert music, modal ’50s jazz, glimpses of Sun Ra, Terry Riley, daydreaming of space and psychedelic films here and there. The recording wasn’t anything special but it was easy to get sucked back in on listening back. I haven’t been able to leave it alone. For a few weeks I’ve been chipping away at it, adding a sort of electronic orchestra of synthesizers and string machines. I hope this album can make you believe it was all there at that moment, being recorded and witnessed. Maybe I’ll get this space orchestra together one day and return to the Union Chapel for a rather extraordinary gig. Hope you can be there!”

Back to the press release:

“There’ll also be improvised electronics from The Leaf Library, whose drone-pop love songs are particular Daylight favourites. If that wasn’t enough watch out for a special appearance by The Action Men who will bring their EU-topian roboto dance vision to our stage.”



 

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Tanya Tagaq @ The Forge, 18th June 2016

Tigmus and The Nest Collective present:
Tanya Tagaq in concert with ‘Nanook of the North’
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Saturday 18th June 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Award-winning Inuit vocalist Tanya Tagaq, known for her intense, evocative style based on traditional throat singing, performs a live accompaniment to Robert Flaherty’s controversial 1922 silent film Nanook of the North. Joined by percussionist Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot, Tagaq reclaims the film’s images of life in an early twentieth-century Inuit community in Northern Quebec. This is not an experimental performance to be missed.

“Commissioned by the Toronto Film Festival, Tagaq’s work with Nanook began with a sonic exploration of the film’s imagery. With her own sense of the sounds of places shown in the film, she transforms its images, adding feeling and depth to what is a complex mix of poignant representations and racially charged clichés. The film, one of the world’s first major works of non-fiction filmmaking, is rife with contradictions. Flaherty lived and worked with Inuit communities for many years, and yet he included staged scenes of buffoonery and feigned Inuit ignorance of modern technology and accoutrements.”

Tanya’s own comments on the project:

“Everyone will take what they want from it. I have no intention of spoon feeding people what they need to know. Yet, hopefully, via coaxing and innuendo and emotion, I can elevate people’s consciousness of Inuit culture, and of culture in general. I can take a small bite out of the underground racism against Inuit and Aboriginal people. I have faith that if people are educated about what’s actually happening, and if people believe, it can be fixed. But you have to acknowledge the bad to sprout the good.”

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MAP Live Lounge, 18th June 2016Rock Candy Management present:
MAP Live Lounge: Rock Candy Girlz + Malcolm Bruce
MAP Studio Café, 46 Grafton Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3DU, England
Saturday 18th June 2016, 7.30pm

Saturday Live Lounge at MAP Café is a regular night of eclectic live music. It’s hosted by Rock Candy Girlz, a three-piece West London band featuring members of ‘90s charting band Amazulu who do “quirky interpretations of classic songs” in a lively glammed-up fashion. I’m usually left cold by this kind of Scissor Sisters thing – the crowd-pleasing cover versions, the high-camp glow, the pink wigs etc (although I’m a secret slut for dressing up) – but the Girlz’ wit and roguery win me over. Here they are doing a Kylie Minogue cover. Underneath that is a trailer for the first Live Lounge, sans glad rags, which shows that some people aren’t remotely slowed, subdued or suppressed by middle age. Good on them. If I could muster half of this kind of charisma, people would be falling over themselves to read the blog.


Their special guest this week is multi-instrumentalist and classic rock scion Malcolm Bruce, son of Cream’s Jack Bruce and grafter in a number of different musical zones (rock, jazz-rock, folk) since his mid-teens. It’s hard not to talk about Malcolm without reference to his dad, since Malcolm’s musicality reveals some of the genetic and cultural debt he owes to Jack. They share a similar singing voice (a forceful high-rise tenor which ranges from pugnacious to yearning), and Malcolm paid some of his dues as the guitarist in Jack’s band. Also, he can – and sometimes does – work some of the same musical seams that his father did.

However, Malcolm’s Soundcloud page reveals him as a softer, more intimate songwriter and interpreter than Jack was – touched by a more lucent strand of Celtic romanticism (as with Brian Kennedy, Van Morrison, Paul Buchanan), annealed by a touch of the sensibilities of another great ’60s white rhythm-and-blues star (Steve Winwood) and counterbalanced with judicious dashes of technical smarts and abilities (an accomplished acoustic folk guitarist, he’s also a lyrical, Satriani-esque electric hard rock player with arena sensibilities). Here are a couple of tracks from an EP he’s putting together for a Pledge Music crowdfunder goodie, as an enticement to help record his forthcoming album. One’s a straight folk lovesong, another’s a version of Purcell’s ‘Dido’s Lament’.



 

Regarding the latter, it’s tough to go up against some of the existing pop versions which this beautiful tune has spawned over the years (including grand, soaring counter-tenor renditions from Klaus Nomi and Jeff Buckley, and the heart-melting voice-and-piano folk version Barbara Dickson and Troy Donockley performed on ‘Full Circle’) but Malcolm approaches his own arrangement with pluck and honesty. It’s also a tricky task to switch between baroque lute elegance and full-blooded pomp rock – let alone fold a brand new anti-war song into the second half – without resulting in a hamfisted mess. Yet somehow Malcolm manages to pull it off and cover all of the necessary bases.

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Babel Festival of Literature & Translation presents:
The Pussywarmers
Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London, E1 8JB, England
Saturday 18th June 2016, 9.00pm
information

This in from Wilton’s:

The Pussywarmers bring you a lively mixture of music from the dope’n’glory jazz era of the mid-1920s. With horns, upright bass banjo and many more acoustic instruments, they have a wild and dusty character… plus trumpets. Cosmically bound to their Hungarian ladyfriend Réka, spasmodically accompanied on their travels by unpredictable trumpeters, The Pussywarmers – originally from the Mediterranean district of Switzerland – have spread their credo all over the continent. Indeed, audiences of all ages have fallen under their spell – a charming and obscure concoction of melodies that stubbornly eludes all attempts at a definition but which is leaving ever more gig-goers indefinably warmhearted.”

This doesn’t actually cover the half of it. What it doesn’t mention is this band’s teasing, wayward unknowability; their honey-sliding psychedelic atmospheres (like a half-cut Mamas & The Papas if they’d been woozily rebounding from the Haight); their playful lack of embarrassment and their apparent attachment to the Dada of their hometown. All of this can be seen in the video for their song ‘Young Men Living’, which blends Freud, Godard and Melanie Klein into three minutes and forty-three second of messy-play picnic.

If you’d prefer something less psychosexual, the video for Sunrise sees the band dancing blankly across Swiss hilltops in colour-bleached film stock; which, to a Brit, is going to look like a teasing ’70s memory from childhood forays onto BBC2. (Then again, if you’re not wanting something psychosexual, perhaps you shouldn’t be checking out a group called The Pussywarmers…)

The band is appearing as part of the tenth Babel Festival of Literature & Translation, described as “(a) unique border-crossing event (with) its own special brand of linguistic hospitality… a celebration of voices, rhythms, linguistic diversity, creolisation and hybridisation.” Usually based in Switzerland, it’s celebrating its decennial in London and at Wilton’s instead, bringing a day of “readings from writers and translators spanning China, Mexico, Poland, Bosnia, Switzerland and the USA.” . Full info on the whole event is here if you fancy making a fuller day of it.
 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – new British classical premieres – Keith Burstein’s cello sonata in London (with added Dvořàk and Schubert); and chamber works by Luke Bedford, Zoë Martlew, Richard Baker, John Woolrich in Birmingham (plus Judith Weir and Howard Skempton revivals)

28 May

Here’s a preview of the debuts of some new current-classical British pieces, all surfacing in June.

In the middle of the month, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group will be presenting the most recent fruits of their crowdfunded Sound Investment scheme (aimed to encourage enthusiasts to “get closer to the creation of new music… and support some of the world’s leading living composers,” – if you’re interested in joining in, check out the investment page here). Previously – at the start of the month – outlier composer and onetime new-classical rebel Keith Burstein will present his new cello concerto in one of London’s excellent but out-of-the-way music churches (situated as it is up near the Hoover Building, on the city’s north-west escape route and one which, as it happens, points the way to Birmingham).

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Music at St Mary’s Perivale presents:
The Lipatti Piano Quartet + Corinne Morris/Keith Burstein/Viv McLean
St Mary’s Perivale, Perivale Lane, Perivale, London, UB6 8SS, England
Wednesday 1st June 2016, 7.30 pm
– free event (with retiring collection) – more information

Programme:

Keith Burstein : ‘Wiosna’ (sonata for cello & piano) (world premiere)
Franz Schubert : Sonata in A minor D821 ‘Arpeggione’ (for cello & piano)
Franz Schubert – Adagio and Rondo Concertante D487 (for piano, violin, viola & cello)
Antonín Dvořàk – Piano Quartet in E flat Op. 87 (for piano, violin, viola & cello)

Performers:

The Lipatti Piano Quartet
Corinne Morris (cello)
Keith Burstein (piano)
Viv McLean (piano)

During his 1990s emergence as a composer, Keith Burstein warred publically, bitterly and theatrically with a stern post-serial/post-Boulez British classical music establishment over his own fervent, frequently-politicized championing of “the rehabilitation of melody to the heart of music, and of tonal harmony, which enables the expressive power of dissonance.“ At the time, he was sidelined and ostracised. Now, with a multitude of British composers happily handling melodic expressiveness in parallel with modernist complexities, those battles seem to belong to a harsher, more rigid era: one concerned more with conflicts of manners, of theory and of hierarchy than with actual musicality. Perhaps in consequence, the image of Burstein-the-heretic may gradually be giving way to that of Burstein-the-unfortunate-herald, but in the meantime Keith has continued to work his own continuing tonalist seam (regardless of scorn or praise) through oratorios and political/metaphysical opera, choral and chamber pieces, and song cycles.

Corinne Morris, 2013 (photographer unknown)

Corinne Morris, 2013 (photographer unknown)

In recent years Keith has applied his limpid, deceptively intricate compositional approach to works and situations relating to his own Eastern European and Baltic Jewish heritage (an Ashkenazy-approved symphony premiered by the Kaunas City Symphony; a string trio inspired by a Lithuanian odyssey). His latest work, the cello sonata ‘Wiosna’ , is named for the Polish word for “spring” – which he finds “much more beautiful than our stark monosyllable” – and its three movements are named after the three months of that season, Marzac (March), Kwiecien (April) and Maj (May). ‘Wiosna’ was written for Corinne Morris (the ex-Opera National de Paris cellist turned acclaimed soloist, who’s currently following up her 2013 debut album ‘Macedonian Sessions’ with a new one with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, due in 2017). She’ll be performing the piece with Keith himself as piano accompanist.

Filling out the bill will be three familiar Romantic staples. Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata (originally written for a pairing of piano and the bowed, long-since fallen-from-favour arpeggione guitar) will be performed in its more usual cello-and-piano arrangement, with Corrine Morris accompanied this time by award-winning young pianist and frequent St Mary’s performer Viv McLean. The Lipatti Piano Quartet – Gamal Khamis (piano), Amy Tress (violin), Felicity Matthews (viola) and Auriol Evans (cello) – will be completing the evening, performing two further key Romantic chamber works: Schubert’s ‘Adagio and Rondo Concertante’ and Dvořàk’s ‘Piano Quartet in E flat’.

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BCMG - Remembering the Future

CBSO presents:
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group: ‘Remembering the Future’
CBSO Centre, Berkley Street, Birmingham, B1 2LF, England
Sunday 12th June 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Programme:

Judith Weir: Blue-Green Hill
Luke Bedford: In Black Bright Ink (world premiere)
Richard Baker: new work (world premiere)
Howard Skempton: Field Notes
John Woolrich: Swan Song (world premiere)
Zoë Martlew: Broad St. Burlesque (world premiere)

For this one, I’ll just quote BCMG’s press release, as follows:

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group has increasingly explored the contemporary chamber repertoire in recent seasons, and we extend that journey with no less than four new works from composers with strong BCMG connections. It was our Artist-in-Association John Woolrich who originally encouraged BCMG to commission smaller-scale pieces, and as a composer of such deft chamber works as In the Mirrors of Asleep, which we have performed many times, asking John to write one of these was an obvious choice (BCMG’s, not his!).

Zoë Martlew is primarily known as a performer, playing cello with BCMG on a number of occasions. She is also a talented emerging composer, and this seems the ideal time for her first BCMG commission. Luke Bedford returned to the UK last year from a period in Berlin – an experience that has influenced his music in subtly interesting ways. Richard Baker’s output includes a string of miniature works, finely crafted and always a delight for the ear. His new commission will be a more extended chamber piece featuring oboist/fellow composer Melinda Maxwell.

“Completing the programme are Judith Weir’s ‘Blue-Green Hill’ (an elaboration of a folk-inspired miniature first written for BCMG’s tour of India in 2002), and a revival of Howard Skempton’s ‘Field Notes’ (a hit of our 2014/15 season).

“There will be a free pre-concert talk open to all ticket holders from 6.30-7pm with Stephen Newbould (Artistic Director of BCMG), Richard Baker, Zoë Martlew, Luke Bedford and John Woolrich.“
 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – London jazz (imminent gigs for Bright Moments Trio with Graham Clark and for Madwort Sax Quartet; plus a crowdfunder for a LUME festival in June).

14 Apr

Two imminent London jazz gigs which might be of interest…

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Bright Moments Trio with Graham Clark, 15th April 2016

Jazz at The Richmond presents:
Bright Moments Trio with Graham Clark
The Richmond Arms, 1 Orchardson Street, Lisson Grove, London, NW8 8NG, England
Friday 15th April 2016, 8.00pm
more information

A low-key concert of “originals and standards” from the Bright Moments Trio (who are Jonathan Cohen on keyboards and vocals, Dave Fowler on drums and Francois Moreau on double bass. At this gig, they’re augmented by Graham Clark on violin.

All of which sounds bland – just another earnest listing at another jazz pub – unless you’re looking into the pedigree of the people involved. With Dave’s involvement with assorted Flimflam acts (such as free-yak London improv favourites Ya Basta!), a near-thirty-year journey for Francois across the New Wave of British Heavy Metal en route to blues and jazz, and Jonathan’s own tireless and enthrallingly broad body of work across multiple genres and instrumentation, theatre and conceptual songwriting (including, for the jazz purists, work with Alec Dankworth and Christine Tobin.) As for Graham – while he mostly presents as an obliging Buxton-based jazz violinist these days, his history takes in a stint with Gong and a long history of hook-ups with fervid Manchester improvisers and London players. Come along to this one: I think that you’ll be surprised.

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Madwort Sax Quartet, 2016

LUME presents:
Madwort Saxophone Quartet
Hundred Years Gallery, 13 Pearson Street, Hoxton, London, E2 8JD, England
Saturday 16th April 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Blurb compiled from various sources:

“We’re very happy to welcome the Madwort Sax Quartet – Tom Ward (alto saxophone/compositions); Chris Williams (alto/soprano saxophone); Andy Woolf (tenor sax); Cath Roberts (baritone saxophone) – to Hundred Years Gallery for an exciting event in the group’s life: the recording of their debut album. Yes indeed, this gig will be expertly captured by the technical wizardry of Alex Bonney for a future release. Having played a sold-out gig at Manchester Jazz Festival in the summer – ably assisted at the last minute by LUME’s own Dee Byrne – the quartet are now back on home turf for this special performance.

The band explores irregular grooves and unusual harmonies inspired by mathematics and numerology, framed by the intuitive expressionism of free improvisation. This is a challenging line-up that allows for beautifully blended harmonies, intricate polyrhythms and abrasive dissonances. Inspirations include the movement of the planet earth through space, Steve Coleman, pioneering saxophone quartet Rova, Tim Berne, and transcriptions of bird song. The group also explores contemporary techniques such as complex time signatures and metric modulations without the presence of a dedicated drummer or percussionist, and harmony without a chordal instrument. All of the members bring their own individual, contrasting voices to the saxophone: Andy’s warm-toned, mellifluous tenor; Chris’s assertive, energetic alto (familiar to fans of Led Bib); Tom’s lyrical, passionate but more reserved alto; and Cath’s fluid, assured baritone. When required, though, the ensemble manages to blend beautifully into a homogenous whole that belies these contrasts.”

Here’s a gig recording for you:


 

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While on the subject of LUME gigs, they’ve just put out a call for crowdfunding for their planned end-of-June London festival:

LUME Festival, 26th June 2016

“We’re rounding off our 2015/16 season of gigs with the first ever LUME Festival. On Sunday 26th June we’re taking over IKLECTIK Art Lab near Waterloo for a one-day celebration of all things LUME: original and improvised music from the UK and beyond, friendly vibes and good times. To make it happen we’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign – and we need your support.

After three days of intensive listening and discussion, we’ve put together a day of fresh, cutting-edge new music that your ears won’t be able to get enough of. We had a tough time narrowing it down, but the final lineup is as follows:

  • Ant Traditions (Manchester)
  • Musson/Kjær/Marshall (London)
  • Little Church (Birmingham)
  • Hot Beef Three (Leeds)
  • Blueblut (Austria)
  • Anton Hunter‘s Article XI (Manchester)

Our core programme of LUME gigs this year is supported by Arts Council England, and there will be part of this funding left for the festival. There’s enough to put on about three bands and have a nice evening. But after all the amazing music we’ve listened to, that’s not quite enough for us. We want to do more – and this is where you come in. With your help, we can put on everyone in the list above and pack the day full of music. We’ve also invited Gina Southgate to come and capture the day on canvas, and Alex Fiennes to record the performances!

To make this happen we need to hit a Kickstarter target of £3500, all of which will go towards artist fees and travel expenses. Help us get there by treating yourself to a plethora of exciting rewards including early bird festival tickets and exclusive LUME Festival merchandise: posters, stickers and even limited edition LUME Festival t-shirts. Make sure you’ve got your fix of new original/improvised music sorted for the next twelve months by becoming a LUME member for 2016/17. Join LUME founders Cath and Dee on a special trip to the London Aquarium as an homage to our power animal, the anglerfish. Or for those of you who seek a more exclusive, one-off experience: commission leading avant-jazz quartet and LUME house band Word Of Moth to compose a tune in your honour, perform it at the festival and record it for inclusion on their forthcoming debut album. Yes, that’s a thing that could actually happen. Join us. Let’s do this!”

If you’re interested, here’s the link, and I’ve tracked down a couple of soundclips here.



 

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.

May 2015 – through the feed – free single/upcoming crowdfunder from The Duke Of Norfolk; Cardiacs and Knifeworld reissues; a new Tim Bowness album; disinterring lost Levitation

21 May

I can tell I’ve not kept my eye on the ball – nothing makes a person feel less alert than suddenly finding that three of his favourite musical projects (plus one new recent favourite and one older interest) are suddenly pouncing out new releases and. I step out for a moment, for another writing project, and someone moves all of the furniture around.

The Duke Of Norfolk: 'A Revolutionary Waltz'

The Duke Of Norfolk: ‘A Revolutionary Waltz’

So… let’s start with news of fresh work from The Duke of Norfolk, a.k.a transplanted Oklahoman folkie Adam Howard, now resident in Edinburgh. He’s currently offering a free single – A Revolutionary Waltz – in part-promotion, commenting “I am launching a Kickstarter project in two weeks to fund the making of a live video EP, and would like to give you this recording in the meantime. It’s just a wee sonic experiment, but I hope you enjoy it!”

If you’re wondering whether there’s a Scottish Nationalist tie-in here, given recent political events in Britain, Adam’s adopted hometown, and that beautifully sympathetic and country-tinged setting of Robbie Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss on which he duets with Neighbour, think otherwise. In fact, this song is a darker cousin to An Evening Waltz (from his 2013 album ‘Le Monde Tourne Toujours’): a foreboding meditation on the inexorable turn of fate’s wheel, tying together three histories of power, betrayal and fall. Despite its timeless trad-folk lyric, Adam’s busking roots (and the lusciously acoustic sound of much of his other material) it’s also a rough-and-ready take on digital folk, either demo-rough or intended to display Adam’s other roots in sound design. A clipped electrophonic waltz picks its way across a murky psychedelic smudge and a droning feedback pibroch: its characters sea-waltz to the grim, dry beat of a hand drum and a scattering of cowrie-shell percussion. It’s well worth a listen. As for progress on the Duke Of Norfolk video Kickstarter campaign, it’s probably best to keep tabs on his Facebook page.

Cardiacs: 'Guns'

Cardiacs: ‘Guns’

Following the success of their double vinyl LP reissue of 1995’s ‘Sing To God‘ album, Cardiacs are doing the same with its 1999 follow-up, ‘Guns’. While it’s not the magnificent sprawler that ‘Sing To God’ is, ‘Guns’ offers a more concise take on the pepper-sharp 1990s Cardiacs quartet that featured Bob Leith and gonzo guitarist Jon Poole alongside the band-brothers core of Tim and Jim Smith. As Cardiacs albums go it’s an even brasher beast than usual, hiding its gnarly depths under brass-balled upfront confidence and strong seasonings of glam-bang, pell-mell punk, whirring Krautrock, and jags of heavy metal looning.

‘Guns’ is also one of the most obscure Cardiacs works. Drummer Bob joined Tim on lyric duties, helping to turn the album’s words into a dense hedge-witch thicket of allusion and play, in which typically naked Cardiacs preoccupations (dirt, wartime, suspicion, indeterminate life and death) are tied up into an almost impenetrable web, driven along by the music’s eight-legged gallop. The fact that Tim and Bob were slipping in random borrowings from ‘English As She Is Spoke‘,  a notoriously bungled Victorian phrasebook with its own wonky and unintentional poetry, only added to the tangle.

You can pre-order the ‘Guns’ reissue here for end-of-June shipping. It’s a single vinyl record, with no extra thrills or treats, but does come with the promise of beautiful packaging and pressing. You can expect to hear news on more Cardiacs reissues over the next few years. The current plan is to reissue the band’s whole back catalogue on vinyl after years of exile (predominantly spent huddled exclusively on iTunes).

Meanwhile, see below for a taste of ‘Guns’ magnificent oddness. Here’s the grinding drive of Spell With A Shell (which encompasses the lives of pets, the terror and wonder of transformation, and the cruelty, loneliness and confused loyalties of childhood). Here’s a collision of outsider folk and reggae in Wind And Rains Is Cold (via a fan video of clips from ‘Night Of The Hunter’, from which Cardiacs frequently filch scraps of lyric). Finally, here’s the scavenged, scratchy prog of Junior Is A Jitterbug with its prolonged and celebrated unravelling coda.

Cardiacs: 'Day Is Gone'

Cardiacs: ‘Day Is Gone’

For those without turntables, there’s been a relatively recent CD reissue of Cardiacs’ 1991 EP ‘Day Is Gone’ – which I somehow managed to miss when it was first announced – and which includes the original three B-sides (No Bright Side, Ideal and concert favourite Joining The Plankton). This is from the pre-‘Sing To God’ lineup: another quartet but with Dominic Luckman on drums and, ostensibly, Bic Hayes on second guitar (prior to his explosive stints in Levitation and Dark Star, and to his current position etching dark psychedelic guitar shadings in ZOFFF).

Actually, since this was a time of shuffle and change in the band it’s unclear as to whether Bic or Jon Poole is providing the extra galactic bangs and shimmerings on the EP. However, for Day Is Gone itself the attention should be on Tim Smith’s grand bottle-rocket of a solo, capping what’s both one of Cardiacs’ most autumnal songs and one of their most headrushing cosmic efforts – a bout of November skygazing gone bright and vivid. See below for the original video in all of its low-budget saucer-eyed glory, and pick up the CD here.

Cardiacs: 'Heaven Born And Ever Bright'

Cardiacs: ‘Heaven Born And Ever Bright’

Note also that a couple of other early-‘90s Cardiacs recordings have made it back on CD in the past six months. ‘Heaven Born And Ever Bright’ (the parent album for Day Is Gone) shows Cardiacs at their brightest and bashing-est, but hiding a wounded heart. ‘All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest’ – the recording of a raucous 1990 septet concert at the Salisbury Arts Centre – was both the last hurrah of the 1980s lineup (with carousel keyboards, saxophone and half-a-scrapyard’s-worth of percussion rig) and, for my money, is also one of the greatest live rock recordings ever made. See if you agree.

Cardiacs: 'All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest' (2014 reissue)

Cardiacs: ‘All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest’ (2014 reissue)


‘Mares Nest’ also made a welcome resurfacing on DVD a couple of years ago – see below for a typically quaking example of the band in action. It’s also worth repeating that all of the profits from the recording sales continue to go towards palliative care and physical therapy for Tim Smith, who’s still engaged in the slow painful recovery from his crippling stroke of 2008.

Knifeworld: ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’

Knifeworld: ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’

Meanwhile, Knifeworld – who feature an ex-Cardiac and, while being very much their own eclectic and tuneful proposition, carry a certain continuation of the Cardiacs spirit along with them – have collated early, interim and now-unavailable tracks onto a full-length album, ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’. The seven tracks (dating from between 2009 and 2012) bridge the space between their ‘Buried Alone: Tales of Crushing Defeat’ debut and last year’s tour-de-force ‘The Unravelling’.

If you want to read my thoughts on the original releases, visit the original ‘Misfit City’ reviews of the ‘Dear Lord, No Deal’ and ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’ EPs from which six of the tracks are taken. (I’ve just had a look back myself and discovered that I’ve previously described them as a band who could drag up exultation with their very fingernails, as starchildren weighed down by dark matter, as possessing “a knack of dissecting difficult feelings via swirling psychedelic sleight-of-hand” and as “an almighty and skilful art-rock mashup, with horns and bassoons poking out of it every which-way and strangely kinking, spiraling spines of rhythm and harmony locking it all together.” I must have been pretty excitable, on each occasion.)

Alternatively, have a look at the videos below. Also, if you’re in England during the end of May, the band (in full eight-person glory) are out on a short tour featuring the debut of new music.

Tim Bowness: 'Stupid Things That Mean The World'

Tim Bowness: ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’

With his erstwhile/ongoing no-man bandmate Steven Wilson going from strength to strength as a solo act, Tim Bowness also continues to concentrate on work under his own name – sleek, melancholy art-pop with a very English restraint, fired with a desperate passion and shaded with subtleties and regrets. His third album, ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’, is due for release on July 17th; barely a year after his last effort ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ (one of my own favourite records of 2014).

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’ features the ‘Abandoned…’ core band of Tim plus his usual cohorts Michael Bearpark, Stephen Bennett, and Andrew Booker, and on spec sounds as if it’ll be a smooth progression and development from the previous album. It also features guest showings from three generations of art rock (Phil Manzanera and Peter Hammill; David Rhodes and Pat Mastelotto; Colin Edwin, Bruce Soord, Anna Phoebe and Rhys Marsh) and string arrangements by art-rock-friendly composer Andrew Keeling.

Expect a typically Burning Shed-ish range of format options: the double CD mediabook edition (with companion disc of alternate mixes and demos including an unreleased no-man demo from 1994), and LP versions in either black vinyl or transparent vinyl (CDs included with each). Pre-ordering gets you a downloadable FLAC version of the 5.1 mix, plus the usual cute postcard. Sorry – I have no early tasters for ‘Stupid Things…’, but here’s a taste of one of the slower, lusher tracks from ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ for the benefit of anyone who missed it last year.

Earlier on, while discussing Cardiacs, I briefly mentioned Bic Hayes and his time in Levitation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them – or who weren’t around in early ’90s Britain to witness their brief, Roman candle of a run – they were a band who eagerly fused together an enormous sound, leashing and running with a frenzied and energized take on psychedelic rock, driving post-punk noise and earnest, distressed chanting from their singer, the former House of Love guitar star Terry Bickers. Sadly, they’ve become best known as the springboard by which Terry catapulted himself first into frontmanhood, then into the uncharted and finally (via some tortured decisions and unfortunate outbursts) into the obscure.

In truth, Levitation were an equal conspiracy of five. As well as Terry and Bic, there was Robert White (a baby-faced free-festival veteran and secret-weapon multi-instrumentalist, who’d later lead The Milk & Honey Band), an undersung alt.rock bass hero called Laurence O’Keefe and David Francolini, an astounding and slightly demonic drummer who could run the gamut from pattering rain to pneumatic drill in a single roll round his kit (and who, within Levitation, had the perfect opportunity to do so). Fuelled equally by inspiration, drugs and sheer hard work, they strived for three intense years while living on the outside of their skins, and briefly came close to making some very unfashionable sounds current again.

While they were certainly a “head” band – hippy punks who joined floating threads of British counter-culture, spontaneity and resistance together – it’s vital to remember that Levitation were never your average festival band. They were never complacent, never entitled. More Yippie than trustafarian, they seemed (Bickers, in particular) to be desperately chasing revelations just over the rim of the horizon. Their ethos and experience was best summed up – or, more accurately, caught in a passing flare – in a lyric from their song Against Nature ), with Terry choking out “there is an answer, but I’ve yet to find out where” over a raging foam of guitars. Fingers (and not a few minds) got scorched along the way. In May 1993, it culminated in Terry’s wracked, brutal self-ejection from the band – in a spurt of slogans and despair – during a concert at the Tufnell Park Dome, just a short walk from Misfit City’s current home.

There have been some reconcilations since then (not least Bic, David and Laurence reuniting in the wonderful but equally short-lived Dark Star five years afterwards) but there have been no reunion, and no-one has ever seemed to want to go back. However, on Monday this week – Record Store Day 2015 – the Flashback label released the first Levitation music for twenty years – ‘Never Odd Or Even’, a vinyl-only EP containing three tracks from the band’s lost 1992 album ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ (these being Never Odd Or Even, Greymouth and Life Going Faster). More information is here, although if you want to pick up one of the five hundred copies you’d better find your nearest participating British record store here: they might have some left. (There’s an earlier version of the title track below, in perhaps a rawer form.)

I’ve described ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ as a lost album, which isn’t strictly true. Although the record was recorded prior to Terry’s explosive departure, there was life after Bickers, For just over a year, singer Steve Ludwin took on the frontman role; during this time the band took it upon themselves to partially re-work the album with Ludwin’s vocals rolled out firmly over Terry’s. The resulting version of ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ was only released briefly in Australia. Following the split of the Ludwin lineup and the final end of the band, it’s always been regarded (rightly or wrongly) as something of a bastard appendix to the Bickers-era albums.

The happier news is that, following up ‘Never Odd Or Even’, Flashback are about to give ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ its own new lease of life with the active collaboration of the original lineup (including Terry Bickers). The album’s original vocals have been restored, the songs polished to satisfaction and a final tracklisting agreed upon. Although former album tracks Graymouth and Life Going Faster have been ceded to the ‘Never Odd…’ EP, the 2015 version of ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ keeps four of the tracks familiar from the Ludwin version (Food For Powder, Gardens Overflowing, Even When Your Eyes Are Open and the vaulting soar of King of Mice) and adds five songs previously only available via bootlegs (Bodiless, Imagine The Sharks, Evergreen, I Believe, Burrows and Sacred Lover). Apparently, it’ll be out sometime in “summer 2015” as a single CD and limited-edition double LP, each coming with gatefold sleeve and new artwork by original Levitation cover artist Cally.

It’s probably best to keep track of progress on the ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ release here; but meanwhile here’s the Bickers version of Even When Your Eyes Are Open (the last single the band released before he quit) and a bootleg-sourced version of the startling post-psychedelic stretchout Burrows – just to whet the appetite.

The Duke Of Norfolk online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp

Cardiacs online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace LastFM

Knifeworld online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp

Tim Bowness online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Vimeo

Levitation online:
Homepage Facebook

April 2014 – through the feed – another crowdfunding campaign (Laura Moody’s debut album)

15 Apr

Another crowdfunding request arrived in one of my inboxes yesterday (I have multiple identities and secret lives, but there’s no escape from news). This one was from Laura Moody, whom regular and assiduous ‘Misfit City’ readers might remember from her low-key guest appearance at the Liam Singer/Foxout!!! gig which I reviewed in summer 2013.

As well as being a superb cellist (with fistfuls of classical and extended techniques) Laura’s also an extremely good singer-songwriter responsible for a self-titled three-track EP released back in 2009 and which I really ought to review sometime. It showed her sweeping her multi-textured cello playing and her stunt-kite vocals into the service of some extraordinary songs. Complicated, tuneful and wood-noisy, they quivered with a thoroughly female complexity dealing mostly with the passage through womanhood (brains tussling with sexuality, daughterly angst, the farcical behaviour of older men) and brimming with an exuberant, theatrical wit. Here’s what ‘The Irish Times‘ said about Laura some time ago:

“…for enjoyable astonishment, nothing quite beats the singer-cellist Laura Moody. She plays lyrically; then as if it was a box for sound effects. She sings her own almost-pop songs, gurgles, hoots, wails, taps her throat with the bow. Yet it’s all seamless, as if she, the cello and the music are a single organism.”

I can second that, and here’s some more evidence.

While I’m dragging my feet about reviewing that EP properly, you can listen to it here. Meanwhile, there’s a follow-up coming soon, and here is Laura’s crowdfunding request:

“Dear Friends,

Well, it seems spring has sprung in more ways than one for me and I have really exciting developments to report! My debut album is very very nearly finished and I have a launch date for your diaries – 26th June this year at Wiltons Music Hall! I can’t wait to welcome you all there for what I think is going to be a magical evening at the most beautiful venue in London. But before I can do any of that I’m afraid I need to ask for your help…

I have launched a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo to help me raise the money I need for the final stages of production and release. I really hope you’ll take a look at the video, the rewards on offer and consider getting involved. I am going to be releasing on my own label – the newly christened Surbiton Lagoon Records – but what this campaign really means is that you wonderful people will essentially be becoming my record label, the force that makes getting my music out into the world possible.

Some of you might have noticed on Facebook or Twitter that I rather nervously launched the campaign late on Friday afternoon. I figured that not much would happen until this week when I would have a chance to contact all of you properly about it. However… things kind of went a bit bananas with people pitching in to get me to 10% of my target by the end of the day and 30% by the end of the weekend. I am completely stunned and deeply moved by the enthusiasm and generosity everyone has shown. If you have already contributed to the campaign I really must thank you so, so much.

Thank you again for your time, support, encouragement and patience with getting this album out. It’s so close now and I’ll be keeping you updated as to how this all goes.

More soon

Laura xx

PS I will be supporting my friends Dollyman at the Hackney Attic in London this Friday. If you’re free please do come along for some songs and a drink to celebrate a great first week for my campaign!”

While I know Laura, I don’t know Dollyman, but for what it’s worth ‘Time Out’ described them as “fractious Mingus-informed punky jazz quartet offers broken themes full of menace and mischief. Possibly what Tom Waits’ band might sound like after he’s popped out for a smoke,” – all of which sounds promising.

Laura Moody online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace

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