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

4 Apr

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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


 

 

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

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

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

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


 


 

November/December 2016 – upcoming music theatre – sounds from Billy Bottle & The Multiple’s ‘The Other Place’ and a rundown of the other shows in the All The Right Notes multi-media music theatre festival (15th November to 3rd December)

15 Nov

This just in – Lee Fletcher, touring soundwizard for Billy Bottle & The Multiple, just tipped me off about this Bandcamp montage he’s just made of their currently touring show ‘The Other Place’.

There should be a YouTube version shortly, which I’ll paste in when it’s available. Meanwhile, there’s more on the show in general here, and more on its current dates here.

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One of the ‘Other Place’ dates is in London this weekend – taking place at Camden People’s Theatre, as part of their ‘All The Right Notes’ “gig-theatre” festival exploring the interaction, interweaving and intersectionality of theatre and music on the fringes. While on the subject, I should post up a little more about the festival, since it’s starting today.

So here’s a rapid rundown of what’s on offer in ‘All The Right Notes’ between 15th November and 3rd December. Most of the text is stripped and compressed from the homepage (where there’s full dates, times and details if you want to pursue the shows in depth). I’ve added or rearranged a few things where necessary, including some personal impressions. Because performance artists aren’t the only people who can mash up texts… oh yeah… (postures)

Some of the shows are pretty much straight musical gigs, with the theatre inherent in the performance rather than explicitly mounted as part of the staging. Digifolk musicians and quixotic archivists The Memory Band (who, in their own words, “navigate a dream landscape of fading identity, dredging up forgotten histories from old maps” and “the ghost-lit back-roads of British traditional music where digital machinery and acoustic musicians congregate to make old music from the future”) offer a performance previewing their upcoming fifth album ‘A Fair Field’, which spans a world of folk word and song from the fourteenth-century narrative epic ‘Piers Plowman’ to the generation of unaccompanied English folk singers who passed in the mid-twentieth century to Northumbrian modernist poet Basil Bunting. It’s best to let them map out their own album description too – “the music was fed by stories of magical hares and the recollections of ballad sellers bearing placards at the great fairs of times past, the fields of which now lie buried beneath leisure centres, electricity substations and retail parks. It traces the connection between the headstone of a man killed in Norfolk by the sails of a windmill, the first observations of solar flares, incendiarism, council estates and an old man’s recollection of ploughing the land by starlight in another time.” Later in the season, Daniel Marcus Clark‘s ‘Between’ looks for “the story in every song and the song in every story” in a solo set delivered by beat-up old voice and a pair of guitars via a mood and method compared variously to Marc Ribot, Mississipi John Hurt and Vincent Price.



 
As you’d expect from a theatre space preoccupied with fringe activity and political art, there’s a strong representation of standalone and intersectional aspects within the broad church of contemporary dance music and the cultures which make it up, taking in hot and fluid topics of race, feminism, class, communality and chosen ways of self-expression. Accompanied by beatboxer/vocalists Kate & Nate (from Battersea Arts Centre’s Beatbox Academy), actor-writer Lauren Gauge will present her raw feminist comedy-with-music ‘The Unmarried’, a drama of raucous, brassy, party-friendly resistance to patriarchy, rhythmically underscored by a live mix of beat-boxing, ‘90s dance hits and old-school UK garage tunes – “gig theatre… theatre you can rave to.” Earlier in the season, reknowned London grime MC Flowdan will present a special performance of his lyrics (stripped from their soundsystem context and performed with voice alone under a spotlight), while the festival will close with musician-performer Will Dickie’s live-art DJ set ‘The Rave Space’ (a staged rave which explores the ideals and situation of unity through dance culture, and which overlaps the boundaries of dance party communion and theatre-space performance, although Will’s keeping schtum about precisely how this occurs…)


 
Several pieces operate within the publically settled, privately fragile area of contemporary early adulthood and its codes of faith,behaviour and expectations which end up being kicked around by our own doubts and insecurities and by the challenges and occasional perversities of our individual drives and experiences. Songwriter, actress and theatre maker Isobel Rogers performs her open-mic drama ‘Elsa’, about a woman working in a coffee shop while pursuing her dreams on the side. As she drifts in and out of the characters who come into the cafe, Elsa is confronted with different characters from both literature and reality and begins to lead the lives of Nina, Miranda, Lillian and Grace in her own head. Keeping a part of herself elsewhere through song, Elsa plays a trick on a world that keeps telling her how to “be”.

Heavier notes are provided by Rachel Mars and Alicia Jane Turner. The former (with musical support from singer-songwriter Louise Mothersole of Sh!t Theatre) performs her proudly spiky, witty work ‘Our Carnal Hearts’, “a gleeful, thrilling and murky celebration of envy, competitive spirits and all the times we fuck each other over… performed with a live surround-sound choral score, it is born from the suspect parentage of an ideological rally, a drunken sing-song and a seductive dream.” The latter uses her skills as composer, performance artist and multi-instrumentalist to present ‘Breathe (Everything Is Going To Be Okay)’ – “a full-body immersion of soaring strings and spiralling sound in a daringly vulnerable solo performance exploring the relationship between our bodies and minds… blending visceral live music with intimate confessions, Breathe is an unflinchingly honest dissection of our daily anxieties and fears.”

 
As you’ll guess from the above in particular, not everything in the festival is kid- or family-friendly, but there are some exceptions. Moths (performer/musician Joe White and theatre maker Tanya Stephenson, both of whom also work with perennial percussion-fest STOMP) present ‘Pale Phoebe’ – a performance mingling storytelling, clever lighting and projection effects and percussive, androgynous contemporary synth pop to tell the dreamlike story of an imagined journey to the moon. In ‘The Castle Builder’, punky, childlike, lo-fi electropopper Kid Carpet and actor-storyteller Vic Llewellyn join forces for a playful, uplifting show based around true tales of unlikely people who created extraordinary outsider art just for the pleasure of it. In the process, they ask questions about art, who it’s for and what mark it leaves on the world. In addition, each performance will feature a different maker, who at the end of the show will present the audience with something they build or create using the debris from the show and anything else they find scattered around the stage.



 
If you’re after more esoterically cerebral (or potentially baffling) performances, a couple of those are waiting in the wings. Perhaps coincidentally, both are two-handers featuring frenetically active male text’n’context shredders and reknowned female experimental violinists who blur the boundaries between being muses, partners and upsetters. In ‘Within The Context Of No Context’ Tim Parkinson and Angharad Davies explore the crossover between theatre-as-sound and sound-as-theatre via prepared-violin music drama interpretations of avant-garde compositions by Louis D’Heudieres, Stefan Thut, Alison Knowles, John Cage and others (with a title inspired by George S Trow’s influential essay about the decline of society in the new age). In ‘Seeping Through (CPT)’, regular collaborators Aisha Orazbayeva and Tim Etchells perform an intense, rolling two-hour improvisation in spontaneous fragments, with text and music treated as fluid forces in the same space, fading in and out of each other, breathing together, cutting and cancelling each other, creating a dynamic and always unstable landscape. Tim collages and constructs the show’s verbal content from diverse fragments of notebook scribbles, past performance text and works in progress, creating collisions, loops, and unexpected connections between different spoken materials; while Aisha plays vigorously deconstructed classical violin using extended technique, strange sounds, and “radically remixed and quoted” elements from the classical repertoire. (As an example, below is an earlier Etchells/Orazbayeva work: nearly six excruciating yet compelling minutes of the duo wringing as many disrupted nuances as possible from brief sentences and clauses recited over grinding string noise.)

 

Also on the festival bill are a pair of straight (well, relatively straight) musicals. “Misguided and aspirational” performance art group mingbeast present their “uplifting musical” ‘Awful Things Can Happen At Any Time’ (in which two barely-prepared pop wannabes struggle to get their act and songs together on a shared and battered iPad, jostling the business of dreaming about being in a band and actually becoming one).There’s a work-in-progress showing of Duckie star Boogaloo Stu’s ‘The Regeneration Game’, a comedy musical taking well-deserved sideswipes at the property racket currently turning scores of community pubs into community-detached luxury flats. See landlord and landlady Kev and Babs, from closure-threatened pub The Dog & Dumplings, plan to take on the big boys in a tale of “a boozer in decline, dodgy developers and dogging…”

A couple of pieces embark on voyages into the family and the circumstantial shocks and resolutions to be found within it. Armed with voice and electronic drumkit, poet-musician Antosh Wojcik performs his innovative, touching ‘Building A Voice-Percussion Gun To Kill Glitches In Memory’, in which he explores “the effects of dementia on speech, memory and motor skills. Assigning rhythms to family members, Antosh attempts to build a ‘voice-percussion gun’ to destroy inherited Alzheimer’s. Poems become beats become glitches in time in this poignant and mesmeric display of live drumming and spoken word.” Ziad Nagy’s ‘Too Human’ is “an interdisciplinary exploration into the chasms of family constellations, the fragmentary structures that make us who we are, and the insatiable desire to make things better. Through the disjointedness of live collage making, experimental music production, and confessional storytelling, Ziad lays bare what at first seems idiosyncratic and slowly transforms into the poetically ubiquitous.” (As you can see, I didn’t much feel like paraphrasing all that.)

Other events include a panel session discussing why live music and theatre are converging (featuring contemporary music theatre driver Patrick Eakin Young, journalist/editor Andrzej Lukowski of ‘Time Out‘ and ‘Drowned In Sound‘, and punk singer/theatre maker Racheal Clerke); and ‘Controlled Madness’, in which DJ, party promoter and acid house philosopher-celebrity Andy Blake engages in a late-night quasi-symposium (lit and soundtracked to conjure up a backstreet backroom atmosphere) with cultural commentators Ben Bashford and Joe Muggs, dealing on party culture and its role (questioned or otherwise) in contemporary society.

The ‘Big Bang’ evening features four work-in-progress shorts and excerpts – a love monologue from poet Ross Sutherland (compiled from actual outbursts he’s shouted at drum and bass DJs mid-set); ‘High Rise Estate Of Mind?’ (a tower-block, housing-crisis, class-and-character study in beatbox, rap and spoken word by Paul Cree and Conrad Murray of Beats & Elements); a scratch performance of sleepwalking, sleeptalking husband-and-wife dream drama by Lillian Henley and Tom Adams; and Nima Séne’s ‘I Belong’, in which Nima and her alter ego Beige Bitch explore the concept of belonging (nostalgia, deluding, seductive and political) via a melange of theatrical tricks, electronic sound, pop culture and autobiography.

 
Probably a good place to start (assuming that you can clear your evening) is tomorrow’s special night-after-opening night show ‘Note Form’. This features music-heavy excerpts from ‘Awful Things Can Happen At Any Time’, ‘High Rise Estate Of Mind?’ and She Goat’s ‘DoppelDänger’ (a “theatrical live-music gig of original music and unlikely cover songs with synth-pop, electronic textures and baroque harpsichord”); plus a standalone piece – ‘The Beginning Of The End Of The Heroic Child’, a “secular ecstatic ritual” by Nwando Ebizie‘s Afro-Anglo-Caribbean goddess persona Lady Vendredi which “transform(s) pain into beauty via the medium of discarded remnants of empty trash signifiers. Moving from the sea beneath the waters of the past through the fourth dimension and passing to a glimpse of a forgotten future. A rite for all of those who wish to take part in an inter-dimensional breakdown. A wild ride down a rabbit hole of splintering realities. Dogmas challenged, desires and dreams unravelled.” I think that pretty much covers everything – and so does this.
 

November 2016 – upcoming Bristol gigs – Iyabe’s EP launch with Run Logan Run, LICE and Sugar Horse (4th); the Lone Wolves experimental evening kicks off with Silver Waves, theskyisthinaspaperhere and Louise Brady (5th)

1 Nov

Whether or not you caught any or all of the art and fringe music at Bristol’s splendid-sounding Wakizashi festival last month, you’ve got an imminent chance to catch up with more from two of the acts that played there. On Friday, Iyabe hold a launch concert for their debut EP, accompanied by three other Bristolian bands who skim from layered jazz experimentation to sarcastic surf bounce. On Saturday, Christelle Atenstaedt (who performed a solo Wakizashi set of looped avant-folk and brambly dream pop noise under the name of Twin) launches her Lone Wolves experimental music evening.

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Iyabe, 4th November 2016Iyabe present:
Iyabe + Run Logan Run + LICE + Sugar Horse + DJs DJs Dan Johnson & Annie Gardiner
Cube Microplex, 4 Princess Row, Bristol, BS2 8DJ, England
Friday 4th November, 8.00pm
information

Fronted by the voice and words of Sophie-Louise Dawes, (her murmured messages always hovering on the verge of being delivered, always withdrawn after the first few dotted clues), “minimally loud” art-pop five-piece Iyabe explore “found sound and unconventional songwriting techniques” as well as taking notes from R&B, neo-soul, punk and noise. Last time around, I described them as “skeletal… soft pings, drum clicks, bass shadows… a pencil-sketch ghost of Seefeel’s dub-rock dreaminess.” I could add that what emerges from their various influences is a kind of oblique and embryonic post-rock Portishead – their soft touches and minimal fragments played loud, tied together in a web of song with enough space for the various ingredients to make themselves known and to run loose alongside each other.

The debut Iyabe EP, ‘Biology. Biography. Culture.’ (assembled from “four years of collecting, collage and collapse”) is finally ready for release, and the band are celebrating with a launch show accompanied by visual and performance artists, and by other Bristolian bandfriends.


 

I’ve no information on the visual and performance turns (perhaps they’re as mysterious and flitting as Sophie-Louise’s lyrics), but I do have some on the other bands. Second from the top slot, Run Logan Run are the gnarly jazz-punk sax-and-drums duo of Andrew Neil Hayes and Dan Johnson. Mingling physical techniques (circular breathing) and technology (rackfuls of electronic effects), they navigate by the brassy light of Colin Stetson (to whom they’ve played support), Pharoah Sanders, Can, Sons of Kemet and Lightning Bolt; and are amassing acclaim not only for their instrumental skills but for the strong, coherent compositions which they use as improvisation launchpads.


 

The other two bands take self-deprecation to deafening levels. “Awful-sounding post-punk band” LICE love The Country Teasers, The Birthday Party and The Fall, lay claim to “that feeling you get when you accidentally tread on a snail in the dark”, and apparently boast a membership of one piece of drumming eye candy, one indeterminate shouter and flailer, and two makers of horrible noises. Soundcloud evidence actually reveals a tight, nimble art-garage outfit happily switching between drum machine atmospherics, scuffed-up Ventures surf zip and sheets of noise, with Alistair’s beady-eyed chant on top (in some ways, he’s not too far off being a Bristolian Charlie Finke).


 

Evening openers Sugar Horse bill themselves as “decidedly average” and claim that their entire three-man membership is made up of Steve Harris from Iron Maiden. On the evidence of their lone Bandcamp track, they’re guitar-frost shoegazers with a touch of lonely overwrought drama (think Cure or Oceansize), digressing into monstrous sludge once the singing is over.


 

Once all of the singing’s over, DJs Dan Johnson and Annie Gardiner will pick up the slack until the small hours; after which you can get ready for…

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Lone Wolves, 5th November 2016
Christelle Atenstaedt presents:
Lone Wolves: Silver Waves + theskyisthinaspaperhere + Louise Brady
The Old England, 43 Bath Buildings, Montpelier, Bristol, BS6 5PT, England
Saturday 5th November 2016, 8.30pm
– free entry – information

Although Christabelle doesn’t seem to be playing at her own brand-new event (either as Twin, or as any other possible persona) the stubborn, inquisitive stamp of her work is all over it. She intends Lone Wolves to be “a night for those who carve a solitary path through the musical wilderness, those who are doing it for themselves and don’t need nobody else. (You get the idea.) I’m aiming to make it a regular thing, and it will be great to put many of you on as I realized I know a lot of people of who are the musical equivalent of loners: also, so many solo people I admire and hope to lure to Bristol.” There’s a promise of visuals, projections and “smoke and mirrors” – it could be a classic séance, and even if they are a good few days behind schedule the dark-ambient tone of this first edition has a definite Halloween hint to it.

As Silver Waves, Dylan Mallett creates turbulent electronic chop’n’change music in which the upfront, feet-first noise menace is offset by dizzying theatrical panache. Tagged by ‘The Quietus ‘ as “industrial music to soundtrack Satan’s own space travels”, a typical track will leap and convulse through jackhammer factory drumming, radio whine, and sweeps of drum & bass (plus diced-in subbass drops) via scything foil-tearing noise, haunted-house bangings and creepy organ. At its most unhinged peaks, Silver Waves sounds like several simultaneous aircraft accidents hitting a chopped-and-screwed beat factory dead on. Even the quieter moments feature random hauntings of tortured sound, with distorted, wrecked and out-of-control noises barging through – a wrenched bell foundry; a careering Friday night train with the brakes off; the sudden scream of a driver skidding off a black-iced road.



 
An expert in mobile app programming and generative music, sound designer Marcus Dyer helped hone an early Silver Waves EP and played similar roles on both ‘The Spectacular Nowhere’ (Manyfingers chambertronic Moondog tribute in 2015) and Third Eye Foundation’s Matt Elliott’s forays into experiment folk music. As theskyisthinaspaperhere, he steps out into music of his own, creating a meticulous but grandly gestural music founded on live-coded generative and procedural composition techniques, post-rock and ambient electronica.

On debut album ‘Falling to an Ocean’s Floor (Gasping Evermore’, the outcome is music balanced gracefully between nature documentary and Bristolian club culture. Grand folding orchestral passages offer suffocating, morbidly romantic Góreckian deathscapes in sinking bathyspheres, while other tracks take glum, glinting post-Labradford/Morricone guitar melodies and dizzy them up with great swoons of reverberant arrangement (synth vapours and space plummets, sometimes the brisk, no-nonsense rattle of a club drum line or a woody jazz bass slide).



 
Over a year or so of Soundcloud activity, semi-ambient soundscaper Louise Brady has evolved from dark field drones, hushed Cluster lambency and warm, humming folk ghostings towards more complicated work into which she injects covert, surreptitious nightmare humour. M456 89led Lit V.BASS is a swirling, intermittent bottle-storm; a crowded sinister ambience full of horror movie spook-music tropes and whiffling white noise. On the other hand, tracks like The Beautiful Sounds Of The Microbrute! or Korg Noise see Louise openly, geekily enthused by the sounds that specific bits of her gear collection can make. (Since the former sounds like meditation music invaded by sardonic, sinister Black Lodge spirits, don’t expect this approach to get too cute).



 

October 2016 – upcoming London gigs (Independent Country, She Makes War and Zoot Lynam at Daylight Music on the 1st; the debut London shows for Flock Of Dimes on the 4th) – plus Simon Reynolds’ glam tome launch events in Sheffield, London and Manchester (4th to 6th)

24 Sep

At the start of October, the Daylight Music autumn season continues with a splash of country, a clash of cymbal, and just a dash of kohl…

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Daylight Music 234

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 234: Independent Country + She Makes War + Zoot Lynam
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 1st October 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

Blurbs by Daylight Music, with interjections by me…

Independent Country are a six-piece band who play country versions of classic indie hits from the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s. Hear your favourite shoegazing tunes reimagined with pedal steel, lush three-part harmonies and fiddle.” Sounds as if someone’s taking the Mojave 3 idea and yanking it to the logical ludicrous extreme. Their debut album’s called ‘TrailerParkLife’… Well, at least it’s not another sodding rockgrass band; and Independent Country’s version of an old Jesus and Mary Chain tune (originally from the latter’s oft-slated, synth-pop-slanted ‘Automatic’), pulls off the neat trick of sounding as if it’s the original, rather than the cover. Either they’ve genuinely discovered Jim Reid’s inner roadhouse man, or they’re just really good at putting new blue-denim flesh on pallid British songbones.


 
She Makes War is the gloom-pop solo project of multi-instrumentalist, visual artist and all-round polymath Laura Kidd…” whom ‘Misfit City’s covered before, back at the start of August when she did a runaround British tour with Carina Round. Back then I made a few appreciative noises about Laura’s one-woman cottage-industry explorations: dark, brooding song topics sheathed in driven, melodic alt-(but-not-too-alt).rock, and self-directed videos which make the most of her Goth-next-door/folkie looks and still presence. Here’s one of the latter – a semi-animated video for her song Paper Thin, shot in New York and Boston with a comradely guest appearance from Belly’s Tanya Donnelly.


 
Zoot Lynam doesn’t just march to the beat of a different drum; he plays a different drum altogether: Zoot’s instrument of choice is the handpan (or “hang”), which is essentially a sci-fi spaceship of a percussion instrument. This is the first time a handpan’s been played at Daylight Music, so come and see it in action!” Web information on Zoot is a little thin on the ground – frankly, there’s not much more to that homepage than a bold stare and a waxed moustache – but it seems that he started to make his name back in the 1990s as an actor via work in various British theatres and voiceover performances in cartoons (I must have heard him thousands of times while my son watched ‘The Willows in Winter’).

I’m guessing that his move into music ties in with his theatre work, since I’ve tracked down odds and ends about live scoring and workshops, and because he comes to his gigs with a reputation as a raconteur. All of the evidence suggests that he’s one of those perpetually youthful, puckish characters existing on the dividing line between theatre and other arts: a stage polymath with a little bit of the mystic or magician to him. It’s a little early in the season, but here he is with something Christmassy on the handpans (to be honest, it’s all that I could find…)

 
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promo-2016-flockofdimes

Only a few posts ago, I was writing about Jane Siberry and was musing on other, next-generation musicians who seem to be following the trail Jane beat for a female art pop perspective back in the 1980s (some of whom, apparently guided by a mutual sense of community and affinity, are playing support slots on her ongoing British tour). It seems that I missed another one out.

Tickets are still available for the debut London shows for Flock Of Dimes (the solo project from Wye Oak frontwoman and guitarist Jenn Wasner) in early October. She’ll be playing a lunchtime instore show at Rough Trade East, followed by a full evening show up the road at the Hackney in Victoria. Flock Of Dimes has been developing for the last four years alongside Jenn’s decade-long body of work with Wye Oak (and her occasional ventures into dance pop as half of Dungeonesse. It’s taken until now, however, for Jenn to release a full Dimes album (something which perhaps coincides with her departure last year from her longtime Baltimore home to resettle in Durham, North Carolina). That album, ‘If You See Me, Say Yes’, was released yesterday on Partisan Records, and has been trailed in recent months by a pair of singles, Semaphore and Everything Is Happening Today.

Jenn has described her vision for the former single as the “struggle to communicate with each other, over distances literal and figurative, great and small,” and worked with film directors Michael Patrick O’Leary and Ashley North Compton to create a striking animated video for the song. According to Ashley and Patrick, all involved “wanted to present the tension of reaching out and not being able to touch. Fleeting communication with an outside world, felt but not seen, and Jenn’s interaction with her own double, create a hallucinatory sense of limbo. It creates a solitary confinement, wherein no matter how partnered or joined we find ourselves, those selves, our own best and worst companions, are all we have.”



 

Fantasies of isolation aside, the current form of Flock Of Dimes sounds liberating and upbeat, with less of the noisy indie mumble of Wye Oak. The project brings her pop melancholy into focus. Wye Oak might have become a poppier proposition in the last few years – 2011’s Spiral single definitely had a touch of the funk – but even Spiral left Jenn echoing in the distance like a mermaid dream, while the same year’s Civilian had more of an indie mumble. In contrast (and maybe on account of Jenn’s earlier dry runs at R&B with Dungeonesse), Semaphore is percolating electronic commercial art-pop in a 1986 Jane Siberry/Peter Gabriel vein, with a dash of country and bursts of beefy funk-roll bassline: qualities shared by Everything Is Happening Today, even if the latter has a more contemporary-sounding, speaker-busting alt.rock distortion halo wrapped around the chorus.

As you’ll gather from the names I’m dropping here, Dimes also has 1980s art pop written all over it – the stadium-scale reverb in which the guitars float and jostle like belfry runaways; the slick electronic technology which sounds as if it’s on the verge of cracking and hatching into a giant ungainly chick; and most of all the sense of an empowered, expressive perspective using all of this sonic trickery to blow open the windows and release the songs. I hate to sound as if I’m trying to ring a band’s death-knell (and I suspect that Jenn’s personal loyalties inform, inspire and justify her musical work as much as anything else) but on record, at least, Flock Of Dimes suggests ways forward for Jenn which Wye Oak simply doesn’t.

  • Rough Trade East, Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, Spitalfields, London, E1 6QL, England, Tuesday 4th October 2016, 12:45pminformation
  • The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England, Tuesday 4th October 2016, 7.30pminformation

Flock Of Dimes: 'If You See Me' (promotional flyer)

* * * * * * * *

Simon Reynolds: 'Shock And Awe'

Simon Reynolds: ‘Shock And Awe’

Finally, legendary music writer Simon Reynolds – the man who defined post-rock and re-canonised post-punk, and has striven to contextualise and illuminate every ingredient in contemporary pop (from the most challenging Afro-American sub-bass growl’n’gurgle to the flossiest bit of floating white vanity-froth) has most recently been focussing on glam rock.

He’ll be launching his new book ‘Shock And Awe: Glam Rock & Its Legacy‘ via a short English book tour in early October. Dates and summary below:

“In ‘Shock And Awe…’, Simon Reynolds explores this most decadent of genres on both sides of the Atlantic. Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, The Sweet, Gary Glitter, New York Dolls, Sparks, Slade, Suzi Quatro, Cockney Rebel, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Mott The Hoople — all are represented here. Reynolds charts the retro-future sounds, outrageous styles and gender-fluid sexual politics that came to define the first half of the seventies and brings it right up to date with a final chapter on glam in hip hop, Lady Gaga, and the aftershocks of David Bowie’s death.”

All events will also feature a glam rock film screening: there’s no information on what’s playing at Sheffield, but for Manchester it’ll be Ringo Starr’s 1972 T-Rex rockumentary ‘Born To Boogie’ and for London it’ll be a “special curated series” of glam rock videos.

Again, there’s no mention of a sparring partner at Sheffield: but in Manchester Simon will be talking with a fellow ‘Melody Maker’ polymath (journalist, curator, pop historian, film director and St Etienne member Bob Stanley) and in London with ‘Guardian’ pop music critic Alexis Petridis from ‘The Guardian’. Simon Price (a Reynolds friend and contemporary who knows more than a little about the glamour chase and how to spin a polemic on it) will be joining in at London with a guest DJ set.
 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – Merz’s English tour with Julian Sartorius (12th-19th) plus The Sound Book Project, Hayley Ross, Megan Carlile and Christopher Anderson

9 Jun

In 1999 Merz popped up, apparently out of nowhere, with the Many Weathers Apart single. It was delightfully bizarre – there were deck scratches, a warbling rubber-guitar lick, a screaming soul sample. Merz himself was a crowy, androgynous pop squawk riding on a reverbed conga boom as big as the circling horizon. A hippy priest with a boombox, plugged into the metaphysical mainline, he sang in fluttering scraps about separation, connection and rainstorms and somehow tied them all together. The equally out-there follow-up, Lovely Daughter, was a sideswipe at subjugation and exploitation – ostensibly about young brides, but perhaps also about outflanked cultures. It sounded like Anthony Newley trapped in a tropical aviary, sprinkled with reggae-dust while tussling with Prince and Beck. Refreshingly, both songs were modest hits.

A bold debut album followed, on a Sony subsidiary. Merz surrounded the darting, hummingbird heart of his songcraft with paper-chain folk guitar, string orchestras and rain-dewed colliery brass bands, as well as what sounded like tips of the hat to Public Enemy, Sinatra and Van Morrison. He also added psychedelic flourishes, looted with elan, from a range of sources (be they worldbeat, Eurodance, the buccaneering edges of late-‘90s club culture, or acid-fuzzed corners of the Incredible String Band’s cottage). Unfortunately, 1999 wasn’t the best year for innovative eclectic-pop. However unfairly, Merz seemed to be at the tail end of a wave of experimentalists riding in Björk’s cooling wake. In the face of a much bigger wave of Latin disco and lighter entertainment, the hoped-for bigger hits didn’t happen for him. The album sold indifferently, the record deal foundered, and Merz walked. In music business terms that should have been the end of a familiar and often-repeated story. A&R takes a punt on something unusual; it rapidly runs out of steam; and the pet eccentric promptly drops back into obscurity, a footnote for geeks.

Merz (photo by Tabea Hubeli)

For Merz, in fact, all of this was simply one chapter of work; and it hadn’t even been the first chapter. Under his real name, Conrad Lambert, he’d been recording and releasing songs for over a decade before Many Weathers Apart broke cover. Even though that stage monicker turns out to have been a chance appropriation (rather than a nod to Kurt Schwitters), Merz had, from an early age, followed the connective prompts of a Bahá’í upbringing and a personal artistic bent (which had had him picking up the bagpipes as a first instrument at the age of six). His own restless nature spurred him on to early travelling, and would later drive the adult Conrad to make homes from town to town and from country to country. Ultimately, parting company with Sony and with an audience of turn-of-the-millennium hipsters just seems to have been another thing to shrug off. Merz had different things to do. Even if he didn’t quite know what they were yet. Then, as now, open possibilities beckoned… and security was a straitjacket.

As for the obscurity, that’s a matter of perspective. Merz seems to been quietly and steadily embraced by continental Europe (perhaps one of the reasons why he now makes his home in the Swiss Alps). His albums – including last year’s ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’ – are persistently and publically hailed across magazines and online review sites as the welcome surfacings of an inventive, tuneful and touching mind. If, in spite of this, he still remains cult it’s partly because it seems to suit him. Musically, he’s mellowed without slackening. As with Geddy Lee, what was once a strident corvine vocal has matured into a warmer, more human sound without losing its fundamental chirp. Across time he’s delivered songs which might only rarely touch the earth but which flutter and roost in stray corners of the mind for years; from the Northern-brass love-call of Lotus to the offset rhythms and flamenco fairing of Goodbye My Chimera, the melding of baroque harpsichord waltz and bubbling phuture-pop on Dangerous Heady Love Scheme, and the melding of Buckleylalia with blootering, breakneck industrial techno in the recent Ten Gorgeous Blocks.


At the core, today’s Merz is a roaming twenty-first century folk troubadour – centred around voice, a keyboard or laptop and a single fingerpicked guitar, making the most of both local ingredients and things intercepted en route. He’s based around instinctive heart rather than roots, and around spontaneous initiative rather than the solidity of tradition; spurred on by intuitive choices of collaborators, such as British electro-concrète producer Matthew Herbert. His current musical foil, wingman and licensed disruptor is Swiss drummer and sound artist Julian Sartorius, whom Merz met while recording his ‘No Compass Will Find Home’ album, and whom he subsequently allowed to strip out and repurpose his songs to form a further album’s-worth of startling drum-and-vocal renditions

As for his tours, they manage to be both quietly exhilarating and easy to miss. Ducking around and under the radar, they mount a clear challenge to the business of tired pop promotion. He seeks to make concerts – like live art works – unique and permanently memorable to the attendees, taking care over matters like time, place and involvement. In addition to fairly familiar arty venue types (picture galleries, music churches and house concerts), last year’s ‘In Intimate’ tour took in a village chapel, a working-men’s club and an Air Force Legion hall: even a cow barn, a Scottish castle, a yurt, a forest clearing, a railway arch, and a snooker club. This season’s tour isn’t quite as unusual, although it returns to a couple of In Intimate venues (in Middlesbrough and Oswestry). Elsewhere, Merz seems to have gone where he was invited… and made sure that it was either somewhere interesting or somewhere that strives (sprouting rock clubs in transient locations, or the sites of hopeful songwriter nights).

For many of the shows Merz will be playing as a duo alongside Julian Sartorius, who’ll also be playing a solo drumkit set to open the concert. On some evenings, support acts will be drawn from more straightforward singer-songwriter turf – in Hinckley, sixteen-year-old local open-mic promoter Megan Carlile; in Newcastle, local acoustic bard-of-observations Christopher Anderson; in Brighton, Hayley Ross (who leans towards a classic ‘70s style and expression but with a darker, cruel-hinting edge and occasional bursts of garage rock).


 
To counterbalance, at Oswestry support comes from the altogether stranger Sound Book Project, a sextet of multimedia artists and musicians (including a pair of Pram members) who use books as noisemakers and instruments – “wound, sprung, strummed, slapped and thrown” as well as being modified or miked-up – in an experimental, slightly fetishistic celebration of the sensuality of bound text as opposed to digital media, and the way in which sounds trigger memories and associations.

Similarly, the opening show at Middlesbrough’s MIMA is somewhat different from the others: it marks the closure of ‘When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades’, MIMA’s exhibition of the work of British abstract/gestural painter and printmaker Basil Beattie. Over two hours spread across the ground floor galleries, Merz will play songs from his repertoire which “allude to Beattie’s paintings both from a visual and spiritual point of view” and promises “a roving and impressionistic solo set.”
 

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…


 

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