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March 2019 – music and theatre as ‘The Marchlands Arms’ takes over London’s transmigrational pub Ye Olde Mitre for a couple of evenings of border culture (23rd & 24th March)

19 Mar

A little way into the western edge of the City of London, between the jewellers’ quarter of Hatton Gardens and the gated enclave of Ely Place, there’s an inviting little alleyway – a tuckaway court still marked by Victorian streetlights, a little like an urban Narnia portal. As you wend your way up it, negotiating the gentle kink in the middle, a pub appears – a pub which gives the damnedest impression of having materialised from elsewhere and wedged itself into the cut-through.

Ye Olde Mitre (photographer unknown)

Ye Olde Mitre (photographer unknown)

This pub, Ye Olde Mitre, has actually been around in some shape or form since the middle of the sixteenth century – and for a long time it was perhaps London’s only example of a place which was in another place. Specifically, it was legally a part of Cambridgeshire. The beneficiary of a legal agreement regarding land jurisdiction set up around the London estate of the Bishop of Ely, it was the drinking establishment for his London servants. There are tall tales about people on the run from the City of London coppers claiming sanctuary in there, and arguing that the City police had no jurisdiction within the pub walls; no more than the Met did either.

Obviously this is a quirk of law, power and accommodation – mostly a long-standing in-joke for pint-supping conveyancers dropping in from the Inns of Court. Nonetheless, visiting Ye Olde Mitre always feels like taking a step into another kingdom, one which disregards standard unities of time and place in favour of fashioning its own. There’s the mythic touch added by the resident cherry tree, of course (which dates back to Elizabethan times and comes complete with its own Queen Elizabeth legend); but even when you’re not looking for magical signifiers – and long before you’ve become swimmy-headed on beer – the pub has the relaxed, self-contained air of somewhere entirely separate from the London bustle. Many pubs strive to become places in their own right; friendly drop-in nations. Content as its own little capsule of peace, Ye Olde Mitre manages it much better than almost anywhere else I know.

The Marchland Arms, 23rd & 24th March 2019

It’s unsurprisingly that such a place – one that flaunts and celebrates its quirky liminality – has drawn the attention of Marchland, the music-and-theatre production alliance which fixes and thrives on ideas of history and borderlines (as evidenced in their previous festival at the Bridewell a year ago.). This coming weekend, they’ll be taking over the pub, recasting it as “The Marchland Arms” and filling it with nine performances in three separate sections, turning the different spaces within the pub into murmuring, discursive rooms within which performance, music and song will gently ricochet.

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Marchland Arms - 'Once & Future Europe'

Marchland Arms – ‘Once & Future Europe’

Three pieces make up the ‘Once And Future Europe’ section, triggered by Marchland’s “fascinat(ion with) the cultural history of the legendary states that once straddled Europe’s borders. For the three shows that make up this session we asked the artists involved to, in the words of Rimbaud, remember Europe and her ancient ramparts. This is work that explores the influence of those half-imaginary places on the European psyche, and how their legacy continues to influence our notions of identity and belonging.”

The first of these pieces, ‘Lyonesse’, appears to be (at root) a conceptual celebration and exploration of the mythical drowned kingdom between Cornwall and Brittany – in other words, the sunken link in the geographical continuity of the broader Celtic nation. On spec, that sounds like a dusty old disinterral of Edwardian romanticism; but judging by the participants and their preoccupations, it won’t be. Poet-ecologist Dom Bury will, I guess, be mingling Lyonessean legend from his own West Country roots with contemporary concerns about flooding and dissolution, bolstered interjections and engagements from Katharina Engel, a German academic and theatre director whose preoccupation with hills and climbing may also feed into the work. The two will be accompanied by music from singer Sophia Brumfitt and veteran percussionist/hammer dulcimer player Dhevdhas Nair in a rich blend of European Early Music, Indian subcontinental music, jazz and African elements: Euromyth interfolding with full-world diaspora.

 
The pub snug will house ‘The Capital of Europe’ in which Charles Webber – whose two-decade-plus career as a sound artist has seen him write multimedia sound/light-and-music operas (he’s the artistic director of operaNCV), plus work with Crass’ Eve Libertine and innumerable experimental musicians and theatre companies – and Strasbourgian poet/Théâtre Volière co-director Mick Wood collaborate on “an installation of treated sound, found objects, and cut up poetry”, providing “an unguided tour through the abandoned corners, quiet squares and restless banlieues of an ideal, unreal city on the Rhine.” Sounds delightfully like an old pub story, but one which unfolds into multiple additional dimensions and textures; like that European flaneur’s collaboration between Johnny Morris and China Miéville which never actually happened.

Transforming the lounge, the last of the three ‘Once And Future Europe’ pieces – ‘Ionic’ – asks us to reimagine the space as“a café in fin de siècle Alexandria” in which a new dance theatre piece will play out. Rambert School graduate Janacek Wood choreographs an episode of interweaving texts and movements based around the work of Cairo-based, Alexandria-born Egyptian-Greek poet Constantin Cavafy, whose early life saw his family relocate between France, England and Constantinople in their own mournful, economically-driven private diaspora.

Cavafy himself ended up writing a body of work that’s a Hellenistic re-examination of what Wiki summarises as “uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character and psychology of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia.” The best-known of these poems is the sardonic Waiting For The Barbarians, in which an external exotic threat serves as both spice and hollowing-out of a moribund politics: I can’t think what that reminds me of now. Music comes from two Greek musicians – singer Savina Yannatou and classical guitarist Nikos Baroutsakis – and from electric guitarist/composer/personal ethnologist Alex Roth, who’s recently been pursuing his own Jewish diasporan heritage on a three-cornered journey that’s taken in Manchester, London and his current dwelling place of Warsaw.

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Marchland Arms - 'Customs & Duty'

Marchland Arms – ‘Customs & Duty’

Three more pieces make up ‘Customs & Duty’, “a session of shows exploring the interaction between folk culture and high art, and how identities shift when the lines between arbitrarily imagined communities are blurred… Must we declare our customs at the customs post? Is it our duty to pay duty on them? To whom do they belong? Who decides what they’re worth? What will they cost us when they’re taken away, dissected, repackaged, and sold back to us?”

For this, there’ll be a variation on the ‘Before and After Schengen’ piece which was one of last year’s Marchland centrepieces: Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes responses to Spanish photographer Ignacio Evangelista’s photos of border facilities, with guests and actors from the Marchland Arms Company contributing to a staging of the outcome, making the room “the Kafka-esque border post of a once or future East-European regime.”

Last time around at Marchland, Carneval String Trio’s viola player Shiry Rashkovsky contributed the ‘Shengen’ music. This year, she’s reviving a nineteenth-century middle-European tale with storyteller James Peacock in the shape of ‘Fritz and the Bohemian’ a tale of kindness, cyclic events and wanderings (“each year, on the first day of Spring, an itinerant musician comes to play beneath Fritz Kobus’ window…”).

Rounding off this section is a new Théâtre Volière play, ‘Goethe in Alsace’ – a one-act historical tale of cultural enrichment, “careless play-acting (and) casual cruelty” set around the border region of France and Germany, and questioning the assumptions and entitlements surrounding nascent male artists and the women whom they select as muses.

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Marchland Arms - 'The Northern Marches'

Marchland Arms – ‘The Northern Marches’

The three final Marchland Arms pieces comprise ‘The Northern Marches’ and focus specifically on the Scottish and English border country “(a) region, rich with the history of the Border Reivers of the debatable lands, the Roman garrisons of Hadrian’s Wall, and dramatic elopements to Gretna Green, has other, fresher stories to tell. How does its often romanticised past inform the Scottish borders’ present, and to whom do its stories old and new actually belong?” For this section, there’s a play (of sorts), a talk and a musical session.

Théâtre Volière return – teamed with poet Katie Hale and singing, fiddle-playing Scottish music specialist Lori Watson – to deliver a preview of ‘Gretna’: an actors/reciter/musician performance and ongoing project “exploring the culture of the region from the perspective of the women so often written out of its history.”

On the trail of linguistics and naming, University of Glasgow professor Eila Williamson provides ‘The Meaningful Merse’; throwing a little light on her REELS project work (Recovering the Earliest English Language in Scotland) in “a fascinating look at how history’s great, long term shifts in ethnic and cultural identity are often written in to the localised place-names, folk memory and dialects of Europe’s border regions.”

Finally, Lori Watson returns with her own set, performing in duo and bringing Scottish coastal and border folk music to close out the section in “a haunting collision between traditional music and found, ambient sound, in a performance ranging from the intimate to the epic.”

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There’s a general preview here:

 
Dates and times:

Marchland presents:
‘The Marchland Arms’
Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Court, off Ely Place/Hatton Garden, Holborn, London, EC1N 6SJ, England

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

23 Feb

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

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

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

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


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



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

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



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

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

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





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

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



 

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



 

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



 
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Dates:

Markers & Haress on tour:

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

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

Jay Jayle and Markers:

 

February/March 2019 – upcoming British folk/experimental gigs – Bell Lungs on tour with Raiments (20th February to 2nd March, various) with appearances by Despicable Zee, Michael Clark, The Nature Centre, Halcyon Jane, Tara Clerkin Trio and various DJs. Plus sundry other Bell Lungs shows in March including a København evening with Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen, a show with David Toop and Rashad Becker, a date with Gaze Is Ghost.

16 Feb

Working with a multi-instrumental, device-heavy palette which includes guitar, harmonium, Omnichord, electric violin, lyre, bouzouki, saz, voice and a host of effects pedals, avant-folk singer/writer/sometime promoter Ceylan Hay (a.k.a. Bell Lungs) sits at the middle of a host of possible routes. Her sound incorporates post-folk and drone, dream pop, noise and free improv, psychedelia and site-specific realisations, while her psychohistorian subject matter takes in the ancient, the near-ancient and the presently numinous: probing prehistoric spaces, the ghosts of the industrial age, day-to-day feelings and the slide into a new virtual existence space via online culture.

Reflecting these overlaid levels (and what might be, at different perspective points, either shockingly near or completely occluded), her vocal delivery steps between ornamental trad-folk crenellations, feathery ambient warbles and horrific screams. You can never quite tell whether she’s going to lull you or scare you, but you know she cares about what she’s ferrying across to you.

With a new EP, the wintry ‘Wolves Behind Us‘, to promote (apparently it’s a return to folk and landscapes after recent science fiction/site-specific digressions, and is “Joan Aiken’s ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’, Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’, caravan living in the Highlands and the ancient cosmology idea of dividing the year into two halves; the opening and closing of the wolf’s mouth”), Bell’s embarking on five weeks of touring (primarily alongside Raiments) through Scotland, England, Wales, followed up by other Raiments-less shows in Scotland, England and Denmark. (She’ll also be playing in Wales next month, but more on that later…)




 
Before taking a look at the tour, let’s take a look at her tourmates. Formed on the Berlin avant-garde scene, Raiments are fronted by sing-murmurer/left-field guitarist Mano Camatsos, and they sound like a soft-stepping muttering blend of Lou Reed and Momus fronting a band that mixes lurking dark-jazz styling (hardwood clarinet burr and groove-pattering trashdrums) with the DIY rattle of Pram and the dark throb of Morphine. Mano’s wildcard guitar is a clinking noisemaker and pulse generator taking note of hip hop, of avant-garde classical extended techniques and of mysterious instruments and methods gleaned from ethnological recordings. His songwriting voice is a oddball surreal instinct leading inexorably towards songs about ants or baffling seductions.



 
Tracing their upcoming footsteps on the tour is a joy, like following a plough which turns up small treasures as it reveals what’s in the earth. It’s partly the succession of intriguing off-the-beaten-path venues – squatty art-pubs, recovered eighteenth-century coal basins, pocket cinemas and art centres, diehard folk rooms and out-of-the-way sipperys – but also the revealing of similarly off-the-wall musical talents and enthusiasts they join up with en route.

In Edinburgh, Bell and Raiments are playing with Claquer – previously three-piece improvisers Claque until they spun off their American drummer an unspecified time ago. Now it’s just the Edinburgh contingent: free/experimental guitarist Jer Reid and viola player/speaker Lisa Fannen. They deal in lo-fi clangs, loopings and scrapes and spoken word: momentary moment-music.


 
In Newcastle, the main support comes from the soft melody murmurs and drowsy, cushioned keens of ambient/improv folk duo Halcyon Jane, a Tyneside/Humberside teamup. Upfront with the voice, guitar and devices is Newcastle performance art polymath Jayne Dent, better known via her own electronic/noisy folk project Me Lost Me, in which she buffers and buffets her singing with concertinas and samplers: when she played Hull back in December, support came from local ambient electronic beatsman Halcyon Neumann, who’s worked with The Body Farmers and with Sarah Shiels and who carries out sonic explorations of “the technological vs. the archaic/the spiritual vs. the scientific/the supernatural vs. the psychological.” Together they tease out a semi-improvised border music, part weird electro-folk and part post-shoegaze wisp.

Also playing is Michael Clark, providing slurred, wise, trepidatious and crepuscular folk music with fogrolls of noise behind an acoustic guitar. Despite being a Londoner, he sounds more like a moor-dweller; or like someone who lives in the kind of port city London used to be, one in which strange tales and intimation billow up the streets with the dock mist: this time out, his strange tales are backed up by a full band.

 
I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before. Headlining the Club Integral-hosted Birmingham show above Bell Lung and Raiments, they’re an affable rural/suburban pop quartet like a four-person one-man band, sprouting banjos and clarinets and found percussion alongside their drum kit and guitars. Drawn to playing at weirder gigs, they’ve shared bills with people like Bob Drake and have their own batchful of three-minute pop songs avidly reflecting the off-kilter visions of previous English songwriter eccentrics (the Syd Barretts, Robyn Hitchcocks and Tim Smiths). Handling the in-between-bands slot is someone new to me but not new to Brum’s vinyl-istas: Moseley Folk Festival’s house DJ and Moseley Record Fair co-organiser DJ Rome, promising his own selection of crate-dug oddities and inspirations.


 
In Bristol, the DJ backup comes from “bleary-eyed staggerer” Siegfried Translator of the Grey Area radio show (another haven for intriguingly weird music from all over the globe), but the gig predominantly features the Tara Clerkin Trio: the DIY musical brainchild of a ceramicist who also seems to have a yen for gamelan/minimalist-sounding pattern tinkling sprinkled with voiceloops, friendly saxophonic intrusions and other pitch-ins from whichever musical friends she can rope in for the occasion. (At other times, she creates her own slumberous take on experimental countrified pop.)

 
The Oxford show (promoted by Divine Schism) is primarily a launch event for the second EP by Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani, a.k.a. Despicable Zee – a live-looper, improviser and conscious patterner of fifteen years standing, mixed Anglo/Irish/Iranian heritage, and a history of drumming in Oxford bands since her teens. Now the drums (plus loopstations and recordings) are used to create live solo tracks in which Zee employs a lo-fi, lo-technique approach to overlapping rhythm garlands and triggered conversations. As an artist (as well as an educator and mother), Zee’s increasingly conscious of the female lines she carries within her: the patched-in samples which wobble her current project along feature the voices of her mother and grandmother, mingling with Zee’s own sing-speak-raps as if they’ve dropped by for some kind of experimental music cross-cultural kaffee klatsch.


 
The London show (at Paper Dress Vintage) is an evening of music and spoken word put together by promoters Spilt Milk in order to raise money and awareness for North London Action for the Homeless. Shapeshifter experimental pop poet Alabaster dePlume comperes: also in the corner is Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, who showed up in ‘Misfit City’ a little over a year ago.

Jenny’s another artist whose field extends from the visual and situational into action and music: the Mystic Business involves pulling together friends and strangers into a collective performance event that’s part communal clapalong choir, part percussion workshop and good-natured culture-jamming protest (with food). Guileless and charming, but nonetheless political and détournementational, it’s an attempt to get collective conscience back into the body, containing and encouraging a cheerful but insistent protest.



 
The Conventry and Brighton gigs appear to feature just Bell Lungs and Raiments on their own, but news just coming in re. the Liverpool date (at dockside art-pub Drop the Dumbulls) says that support there comes from Merseyside “synthwhisperer” and outsider synthpopper Claire Welles. She’s been rolling out her contrary songs for over a decade now, singing increasingly unsettling lyrics in a deep deadpan tone with a sarcastic medicated edge, while the backings deliquesce from elegant ageless Europop into something a little misshapen. It all becomes something like those conversations during which you wake up a third of the way in, not quite sure how you got into them, not quite believing that you’re stuck in there and will just have to ride it out.



 
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Following the Raiments tour, Bell heads off separately for other shows. A mid-March showing at Manchester’s Peer Hat is a solo gig, but there’s also an Argyll event (in the enchanting recording-studio-as-art-nook surroundings of St Marys Space) at which she’s supporting baroque poptronic project Gaze Is Ghost: itinerant Northern Irish singer/songwriter/post-classical composer Laura McGarrigle, noted for “spectral vocals and impressionist piano playing” as well as drifts into harmonium and ambient atmospherics. In recent years Laura’s let Zed Penguin drummer/artist Casey Miller into the project and (following a number of pre-Casey singles), Gaze Is Ghost are finally readying a debut album as a duo.

 
A return to Glasgow on 28th March sees Bell performing on a talk’n’play bill with musicologist and audio culturer David Toop and Berlin sonicist Rashad Becker (who, having polished over a thousand records by other people spanning noise to techno, has begun stepping out into music creation of his own with the resonant faux-ethnological synthwork of ‘Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. I’).

On the 30th she’s back in Edinburgh to support another experimental folker, looper and performance artist: David Thomas Broughton, whose brilliantly wayward path has included looping his own heckles, blurring the line between song performance and experimental theatre. Along the way he’s released eight albums of accessible, tremulous, oddly haunting alt.folk delivered in an arresting genderless vocal tone a little reminiscent of Anthony/Anohni, and won the respect and collaborative contributions of (among others) Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, and Aidan Moffat. David will be in the early stages of his own tour, which I really should cover on its own.





 
Before any of these, though, she’s crossing the North Sea to perform at an experimental folk event in København. Part of the city’s Fanø Free Folk Festival, it’s hosted by local label Dendron Records, specializers in “small runs of abstract electronics, ghostly folk songs and surprisingly hummable tunes.” The concert will also feature two København-based British emigres Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen. Hugh’s been operating for years under various names including The Weave And The Weft and Taiga Taiga, creating shadowy understated mostly-acoustic songs with a literary bent, and he regularly helps out with David Folkmann Drost’s homemade folk project Moongazing Hare. Previously known as a radical electric guitarist in Vinyl Dog Joy, Amstrong and Distortion Girls, Tanja recently struck out on her own with a solo debut, ‘Feeling Love’ in which she embraces and deconstructs pop songs, writing them acoustically before bringing assorted damaged amplification and effects-pedal interference to bear on them, resulting in songscapes covering a field from heavy-lidded noise-folk to cataclysmic “drone-metal disco”.




 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Bell Lungs & Raiments tour:

  • Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16A Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8BJ – Wednesday 20th February 2019, 7.00pm (with Claquer) – information here
  • Cobalt Studios, 10-16 Boyd Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1AP, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.00pm(with Michael Clark + Halcyon Jane) – information here
  • The Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0QH, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 8.00pm (with The Nature Centre + DJ Rome) – information here and here
  • Cube Cinema, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 24th February 2019, 8.00pm(with Tara Clerkin Trio + The Grey Area DJs) – information here and here
  • Fusion Arts, 44b Princes Street, Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1DD, England – Monday 25th February 2019, 7.30pm(with Despicable Zee) – information here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019. 7.30pm (with Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business + Alabaster dePlume) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill Tavern, 70-71 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 4JL, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Tin @ The Coal Vaults, Unit 1-4 Coventry Canal Basin, St. Nicholas Street, Coventry, CV1 4LY, England – Friday 1st March 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Drop the Dumbulls @ The Bull, 2 Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England – Saturday 2nd March 2019, 7.00pm (with Claire Welles) – information here

Bell Lungs standalone dates with various others (tbc):

  • Fanø Free Folk Festival @ Alice, Norre Alle 7, DK-2200 København N, Norway – Monday 4th March 2019, 7.00pm(with Hugh Tweedie + Tanja Vesterbye Jessen) – information here
  • St Marys Space, Fasnacloich, Argyll, Scotland, PA38 4BJ – Saturday 9th March 2019, 7.00pm(supporting Gaze Is Ghost) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester M1 1BE – Thursday 14th March 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Stereo/The Old Hairdressers, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 5AR, Scotland – Thursday 28th March 2019, 7.00pm (with David Toop + Rashad Becker) – information here and here
  • The Waverley, 3-5 St. Mary’s Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TA, Scotland – Saturday 30th March 2019, 9.00pm (supporting David Thomas Broughton) – information here

February 2019 – upcoming London eclectic/multicultural gigs at Poplar Union – Grand Union Orchestra (22nd February); Mishti Dance (23rd February) with Conspirators of Pleasure, The Tuts, Kapil Seshasayee and Soundar Ananda

15 Feb

I don’t go down to Poplar that often, but despite its more confusing aspects – the hurtling convergence of the eastern motorway routes out of London; that strange dislocated/disassociated/dispossessed neighbour’s relationship which it has with the glittering towers of Docklands to the south – the place has always felt welcoming; from the wry hardiness of its shopkeepers to the gentle courtesy of the djellaba-clad pair of Muslim brothers (one twentysomething lad, one eight-year-old kid) who spotted me wandering (a lost, bald, bearded middle-aged white bloke) all nonplussed by the Limehouse Cut, and were kind enough to redirect me to Poplar Union.

PU still feels like a beacon for the area’s future – enthusiastically aspirational in its bright, clean, modern bookishness but also happily embedded in the area’s colourful swirl of cultures; decidedly unshabby but also entirely inclusive. Here are another couple of gigs coming up there this coming week.

* * * * * * * *

Grand Union Orchestra, 22nd February 2019

Sporting a thirty-plus roster of musicians from all across the world, Grand Union Orchestra have spent two decades playing and personifying an ethic of joyous multicultural cooperation onstage. With a tradition of creative diasporan work, and with an additional set of roots in left-wing community theatre, they’re a living rebuttal to British insularity. Usually there’s about eighteen of them on stage, drawn from a flexible roster of around thirty top-flight musicians from a variety of cultures and generations. You’ll see Bangladeshi, Chinese, English, Turkish, Caribbean, Roma, Bulgarian, Mozambiquian people and more, from striplings to grandmothers, all playing together, long accustomed to assembling rolling caravans of sound into which assorted musics – Carnatic and Bangladeshi classical, salsa, jazz – can be folded.



 
You can pick out the various components (even a quick dip will turn up players like Jazz Warriors trumpet veteran Claude Deppa, Carnatic violin virtuoso Claude Deppa, Roma accordionist Ionel Mandache, guzheng star Zhu Xiao Meng and a poly-hued battery of singers with backgrounds including fado, jazz, opera and Bengali classical) but you’re better off just enjoying the sweeping palette. Just looking at their gig flyers reminds me of the happy, souped-up neighbourly multiculture festivals in and around my primary school. It makes me want to bare my teeth against the chilly white monocultural wind that’s blowing from the future, from Brexit and from the surly side of Englishness; or – if I can’t do anything else – to at least turn up my collar, turn my angry back against the freeze and head for the lights, the warmth and the rhythms.

GUO’s current, workshop-driven project – ‘Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues’ – is helmed by tabla ace Yousuf Ali Khan: it leans back towards the music of the Asian sub-continent with classical ragas, Bengali songs and the aforementioned bhangra at the heart of it. Various young participants, having already enjoyed the previous week’s free instrumental youth workshops incorporated into the project programme, will be joining the main band for the concert.

* * * * * * * *

Mishti Dance featuring Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda, 23rd February 2019

I know Grand Union Orchestra, but I’m less familiar with PU’s Mishti Dance evenings and their Asian club/dance initiative. The idea strikes a fond chord of memories stemming from the Talvin Singh Anokha nights I’d occasionally attend in the mid-‘90s, in which all of the sounds I’d been vaguely aware of during an upbringing in multicultural Haringey suddenly seemed to grow up and stream together. Anokha, though, had its road laid down for it by the bhangra grooves and post-rave dance culture of the times, and while you could skulk up to the chillout room to listen to Shakti if you wanted to, it was predominantly about immersing yourself in sub-bass, remix chops and tabla frenzy.

Mishi, however, looks like a much looser bag: admittedly hung on the same British Asian peg but more tenuously, with room for just about anything and anyone with a Asian connection and in particular those who are following their own path out of the immediate cultural confines and bringing their innate cultural qualities to question, alter and enrich other spaces. The closest Anokha-type dance exemplar in this month’s gig looks as if it’s DJ Soundar Ananda of Indigenous Resistance, a French-Asian “conscious beats” deliverer, promoter and compilation curator working with “cutting-edge, futuristic, nu-skool, Eastern electronic music influenced by dub, dubstep, d’n’b, breakbeat, jungle, reggae.”

 
The Tuts, on the other hand, are a long way from Anohka beat culture, although I think Talvin and co would have appreciated their ethic. A fiesty, witty, self-propelled female throw-forward from the all-too-brief days of ’70s post-punk inclusivity, they’re a young DIY pop-punk trio of “proud Caribbean, English and Indian/Pakistani origin” and an immediate, salty working-class attitude of immediate self-assertion and street wit. Full of chop-and-change musical sharpness and girl-group zest (they’ve happily covered Wannabe, though there’s as much Fuzzbox or Slits to their vigour as there is Spice Girlhood), they’ll be inspiring girl moshers and wallflowers alike from Wolverhampton to Leicester, with little for old white gits like me to do but gently get out of the way, smiling as we do so. Bluntly inspirational.



 
The remaining two acts take us into delightfully eclectic and weird experimental pop and noise terrain. Bringing the majority of the weird noises are headliners Conspirators Of Pleasure: multi-media artists Poulomi Desai (who’s been in here before a few times over the year, toting her polydisciplinary stage shows and their festoonings of gizmos and collated contradictory content) and onetime Pop Group/Pigbag post-punk/funk/dub bassist Simon Underwood (once compared by Dennis Bovell to a white Robbie Shakespeare). Their adventures together have included helping to set Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ to music, and touring with Stewart Lee and other restless upsetters in the ‘Usurp Chance Tour’. Using repurposed tools of the cultural trade (Poulumi’s context-yanked sitar played with everything from an axe to a massage vibrator, Simon’s prepared bass guitar) plus assorted noisemakers, drone-sources, toys, stylophones and radios and a battery of makeshift audio-visual, they’ll spend their time onstage forking over textures and flotsam, touching on the industrial, on dance culture, on noisy improvised chaos and on the voices and ideas which emerge from this conflation.


 
Glaswegian-Asian singer-songwriter Kapil Seshasayee has parked himself on a junction where a variety of different ideas and approaches are coerced into meeting. He takes his beats from hardcore machine punk and Arca-ian experimental electropop; his guitar choices from a superimposition of Carnatic traditions and skinny-wire Hendrixian note-bending, crashes and hammer-on blues; his song structures from the kind of improvisational bardic rock which itself is drawing from griots or the ecstatic traditions which bubble away in various cultures despite having been vainly tarmac-ed over by Western rationalism.

His voice… well, I’m not entirely sure where that comes from. A beautiful Western/Indian rock clarion with hints of boy angel, Quwalli pronouncer and open-ended Beefheartian abstractioneer, it barrels up out of a position of assured strength only to lyrically splatter itself across parts of the landscape you’d not even noticed before. I could wave in Tim Buckley, Thom Yorke, Nick Harper and Van Morrison as whiter comparisons; I could point to some of the fiery ecstastic pitches and timbres of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, or toward youthful bluesmen with an axe to sharpen; but I still wouldn’t get it across to you or do it the right kind of justice.

Bald and impressively bearded (beating me on both counts, in fact), Kalil additionally decorates his wrenched-cable music with electronic fizz and spookings plus the eldritch acoustic wails he can scratch out of a waterphone. As for his songs, whether they’re upended experimental blues or club-leaning avant-pop abstractions (and often they’re both), they sound like distracted revelations in train marshalling yards, Kapil as a spasming, pointing Blakean figure continually spotting and sweeping the hidden numinous into his narratives and fracturing them into cracked landscapes. Somewhere inside Kalil there’s a bloke who wants to sing straightforward young-man songs about love gone wrong. Fortunately, his own brain continually waylays him in between impulse and expression.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Grand Union Orchestra: Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Mishti Dance presents:
Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Saturday 23rd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming English folk-rock-but-not-just-folk-rock gigs – My Octopus Mind on tour (13th, 16th, 21st, 22nd February) with Jakabol, The Display Team, Lapis Lazuli and Malika Collective; Hexvessel and Arktau Eos in London (22nd February)

10 Feb

Flexible Bristol almost-acoustic trio My Octopus Mind occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them. There’s a jazzy rattle, predominantly via the gloriously noisy effected double bass of Izy Ellis (a growling, punchy, conversational art-box; upfront timber and raw electronic treatments). The whole band’s informed by post-Radiohead/Mars Volta art rock and by the mating of contrasts implicit in assorted culture collisions (such the Hindustani-classical meets New-York-loft-music teaming achieved in one particular favourite, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s ‘Passages’). Frontman singer and guitarist Liam O’Connell cites the sonic and psychological crescendos of Jeff Buckley and Josh Homme’s mix of heaviness and irony, but also the restraint of Jose Gonzales. Ex-Lambhorneer Oliver Cocup adds refreshed drum bounce, and racing through the whole thing is a rivulet – or, more accurately, an unstoppable jet – of skittish Balkan folk.


 
With a debut album, ‘Maladyne Cave’, nearing release, My Octopus Mind are out on a brief English tour wriggle this month, taking in Manchester, Canterbury, London and their hometown. In part, it’s to celebrate the recent release of their debut single Elska, with its increasingly disturbing Coppelian dance video (in which a man wheels an impassive doll-woman around in a suitcase, engaging in secret and increasingly frustrated trysts with her).

While Manchester is an evening for the band on their own, various temporary tourmates slot in elsewhere – in London, it’ll be the accomplished Afro-Latin groove band Malika Collective. The Canterbury show sports an eclectic psychedelic edge with local jam band and “maximalist psych-prog heroes” Lapis Lazuli plus the convoluted Zappa-brass meets London-urchin-pop of The Display Team (see passim) and psych/prog/punk funk/soul/dub/afro combination DJ interludes from Professor Appleblossom. The Bristol tour launch show, meanwhile, also features Jakabol, a warm Bristolian instrumental band in which violin, harp, guitar and drums leap and lurch tunefully around a set pitched midway between post-rock gutter and country hoedown (perhaps a further extension of the rural post-rocking I’ve been hearing from Rumour Cubes and Apricot Rail).



 
* * * * * * * *

Linkings between folk music and heavy rock go back pretty much all of the way to the start of the latter, especially in Europe. In plain sight, Led Zeppelin regularly immersed themselves in Welsh border hillsides and Janschian jangle; a little later, Jethro Tull brought in the jigs, liltings and mandolins while allying them to Ian Anderson’s witty, sardonic absolutely-in-the-moment songwriting voice (which swept in the eclectic interests and erudition of a restless, randy, contemporary urban boulevardier who could’ve make the idea of a leprechaun in your sitting room sound like something contemporary, adult and immediate rather than twee). In the ‘90s a swell of Celtic/Nordic folk metal and Gothic paganism via bands such as Skyclad led to a revival of mythic musical drama; in the Noughties, there was the feeling that the likes of Opeth were peering over their successive ramparts of black metal and prog in search of something offering more air and antiquity. Nowadays, you can hardly move for this sort of thing sprouting up from Ireland to Israel: driving a guitar through a hefty amp seems like one of the most effective ways to kick off an interest in your own folk history.

In many respects, latterday Anglo-Irish-Finnish heavy-folk-rockers Hexvessel hanker back to Tull – some of the lilts and jangles are there, as are the banging barn-door blurts of chunky electric guitar work – but they also trade in some of the dramatic minor keys and broody, nonconforming, subculture-meets-antiquity feel of Skyclad. Of course, this is probably incidental: it would be more constructive to reconsidering the swirling body of interests and philosophy surrounding singer and prime mover Mat McNerney. Despite Mat’s former black metal links (as “Kvohst”, he cavorted across stages with bands like Dødheimsgard and Code), Hexvessel avoid certain predictable pitfalls – no ludicrous demonic posturing; no arid hating; no polluted white-is-right old-Europe nationalism. This is primarily because under the corpse paint Kvohst always seems to have been a thoughtful and sensible chap with a well-calibrated bullshit detector, sorting the nourishing myths from the toxic ones.




 
Instead, Hexvessel explore a range of thinking stimuli – post-/pre-Catholic pagan magick; the connecting threads connecting contemporary Finnish woodland psych with the brooding kosmische stews of Amon Duul and the chatty verbal maximalism of early ‘70s British psych folk; comic book legendariums; and respectful pro-feminist reintegrations of women back into musical forms that have often wandered too far down macho paths. Later this month, they’re setting up camp at St Johns Bethnal Green; playing a London show as part of the European tour in support of brand new album ‘All Tree’, in which they’ve endeavoured to blend Mat’s memories of old ghost stories and other transmissions of folk culture with their own dramatic Samhain vibes and symbolic forest-folk musical experiments (including playing tree boughs with violin bows). Mat sees it as a way of connecting to Samhain’s liminal side; a time when ancestors, as spirits and memories, are that much closer.

Hexvessel’s tree-bowing was captured out by the band’s resident field recording/sound conjuring wizard Antti Haapapuro. In another incarnation – as half of sacking-masked ritual ambient/oneiric duo Arktau Eos – he and fellow Eosian Antti Litmanen open the show, rubbing the psychic gateways open with their primeval sounding drones, swells and invocation of significant spaces – simultaneously post-industrial and prehistoric, thrumming out of a green church, resonating nook or ancient gravehole like a stone-tape playback of ancient, dignified rites.

Steeped in hermetic philosophy and Apophatic theology, Arktau Eos come across as thoughtful ceremonial scholars in interviews such as this one in the ‘This Is Darkness’ ezine. Eloquent and courteous if you care to track them down for a respectful conversation, but unswayed by distractions from their business of the mining of the “ur-currents” of religious faith; the pull of site-specific mysteries, apprehending experience without attempting to stare it in the face or pin it down with sentences. In a similar spirit, I think I should just leave the descriptions there, as they stand. Essentially, it’s all in the sound and the placement, and the ceremonial use of the available moment. Understand them that way.


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

My Octopus Mind:

  • The Crofters Rights, 117-119 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RW, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 7.30pm (with Jakabol) – information here and here
  • The Old Abbey Taphouse, Guildhall Close, Manchester, M15 6SY, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here
  • UCA Bar Canterbury, New Dover Road, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 3AN, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.30pm (with The Display Team + Lapis Lazuli) – information here
  • The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm (with Malika Collective) – information here and here

Old Empire proudly presents:
Hexvessel + Arktau Eos
St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming gigs in London and Sunderland (folk, country, etc.) – Mally Harpaz and Valeria Pozzo in London (12th); a resurgent Bill Jones in London and Sunderland (16th & 20th February); Sarah Jane Scouten in London (18th February)

4 Feb

Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo, 12th February 2019

On Tuesday next week, there’s yet another chance to see sometime Anna Calvi drummer/harmoniumist Mally Harpaz present her solo composer side, via live performances of her soundtracks for Clara Aparicio Yoldi’s video-art extrapolations from classic paintings. Debuted a little over a year ago (and revisited a couple of times since then, they’re post-classical piano-centric mood pieces. Various guests will be joining Mally as part of her ensemble – in the past, these have included Mark Neary, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford, Jessica Lauren, Eran Karniel and, indeed, Anna Calvi (a close friend rather than an employer, and one who repays loyalty).

 
As for the future, Mally is still incubating her intended debut album, with two brooding instrumentals having broken cover on Soundcloud two years ago – glowering Gothic impressionism for piano, drum and ghost guitar, dabbed with synth strings and wordless soprano wails. You can hear the imprint of mediaeval-toned cinema epics, Dead Can Dance, some of the foggier Braonáin-isms… but someone really needs to let this woman loose on a New Weird Britain film about a haunted pantry somewhere in the New Forest. Something nasty, with a scary cutlery drawer.


 
As she usually does, Mally is presenting this as part of one of her “off-the-beaten-track” Blind Dog Studio evenings, which also showcase other performers. In the past these events have often favoured under-the-radar female singer-songwriters with impressive multi-instrumental abilities. This month’s show is no exception, featuring Valeria Pozzo.

Originally from Italy, Valeria currently floats in that strangely nationless zone of acoustic jazz pop, where it’d be difficult to tell where she was from unless you asked. She’s the possessor of handy guitar and violin skills as well as being the owner of a supple voice; and from what I’ve heard of her so far she’s hovering on a cusp where she could either carve out a comfortable career supplying smooth, edgeless jazz-folk entertainment at upscale pizza restaurants or take a couple of small, delicate gambles and persistently deliver songs which could turn heads and stop jaws champing.

I much prefer it when she does the latter: easing subtly strange chordings and tunings into her work, adding an extra dimension. Not necessarily unsettling, let alone perverse, but providing a deepening, an extra quality of storytelling undercurrent. What would be, if she dealt in written stories, the story beyond the words: the bit that crept up on you.


 
Valeria’s also making another appearance later in the month, this time at Rami Radi’s Laid Bare At the Ritzy acoustic night in Brixton; where she’ll be appearing with assorted other south London singer-songwriters including post-Damien Rice caroller Archie Langley, Berlin-born acoustic soulster Adwoa Hackman and her white-soul-boy-next-door counterpart Josh Collins. As a bill it’s got its moments, but it’s a little too generic for me to say much here, to be honest; although George Pelham’s buttery lite-soul voice and apparently effortless shuffling of McCartney, Prince and Elton John songwriting sounds pretty good. I’m also going to go back sometime and have a closer listen to the coastal autoharp folk of Olive Haigh – the deliverer of a cute, winsome sound with a garnish of eerie weirdness which becomes more apparent the more you listen (slightly magical/slightly sinister fairytale undertones, and a subtle use of sound embellishments from fiddle slides to pebble rattles).

* * * * * * * *

Bill Jones, 16th February 2019

There was a time in the early 200s when Bill Jones looked set to be a British folk star with the profile of someone like Kate Rusby – upfront, nicely turned out, fairly straightforward and with her folk scholarship gently on display. (These days it seems to matter less whether you gained it at lockins or at university, though plenty seem to study at both of these schools. Bill was one of those who did both.)

My own initial memories of Bill are wilder, woollier and from a bit further back: from when she was singing loud, pure backing vocals from behind an accordion as an anchoring part of The Wise Wound, who have generally been snootily dismissed as “an indie band” in accounts of Bill’s prehistory but whose absorbing, sometimes frustrating work was more like a remarkable psychedelic quilt being disgorged through a chamber folk-funnel. Back then (still going through formative years) she was something of a band secret weapon: a dark horse who stood apart from the friendly-frictional mental wrestling and gag-cracking that made up much of the Wise Wound’s offstage behaviour, while secretly fostering a great deal of the charm that served her well when she eventually found her own voice and went solo.

It was interesting seeing Bill afterwards, since she was still something of a dark horse: managing to pull off (possibly unwittingly) the trick of being entirely open while remaining entirely enigmatic. Even when revealing something personal in song (such as her family’s Anglo-Indian Darjeeling heritage, as laid out a capella in the title track of 2001’s ‘Panchpuran’) she sometimes seemed less of a conversationalist in what she sang than a conduit, like the flute she also plays. Her sleekly-groomed picture-book folk sometimes made use of the varnished production of pop, but without any concessions or vulgarities; and there was certainly always a sense that while Bill was friendly and loved her craft, she was also keeping a careful reign on the interplay of life and music.

Bill Jones, 20th February 2019At any rate, after three increasingly well-received albums (plus a live record, an odds-and-sods collection and a trinational collaborative project and tour with Anne Hills and Aoife Clancy), Bill turned away from the road and the spotlight; taking the option of stepping back, while still in her twenties, in favour of home-life in Sunderland, teaching and raising a family. She hasn’t been completely absent from the stage since. Folk-music teaching has less differentiation between instruction and performance; plus there were a couple of 2016 support slots in Tokyo for Flook and a number of low-key charity gigs for Antenatal Results & Choices (a cause close to Bill’s heart).

Now, however, she’s mounting a more substantial comeback, with a new album – ‘Wonderful Fairytale’ – finally arriving this coming May and various folk festival appearances scheduled for England and the United States later in the year. The first sightings are a new song, My Elfin Knight, and a pair of February dates accompanied by violinist/viola player and album buddy Jean-Pierre Garde. Between them, incidentally, the gigs indicate the affable but borderline incompatible polarities of British folk music. The London show in the churchy environs of The Gresham Centre can’t help but come with a bit of lofty gloss (canonicity, scholarliness, high-culture), while the Sunderland hometown gig is much more down-to-earth (a Whitburn Village Heritage Society do at a cricket club which also features floor spots from local singers).

I don’t know whether Bill makes much of these differentiations, or whether the contrast makes her laugh. As far as I can see, she’s just getting on with the music. Here’s the video for My Elfin Knight, which shows that she’s lost nothing in the intervening time: musically, still as sleek as a seal and cool as an early autumn evening. If anything’s changed, it’s the emotional freighting: the passing years seem to have laid an extra presence on her, with the sense of unspoken things lurking closer behind the song.


 
* * * * * * * *

Among the Nest Collective events popping up for early 2019 is a show by Canadian country folker Sarah Jane Scouten – another artist with firm groundings in tradition plus the willpower to bring it to a fresh new audience. As with the spill of characters around the Laid Bare evening, I can’t say much for Sarah in terms of originality, or in terms of her bringing much that’s new to the table, but with her neither of these things need to matter.

Sarah Jane Souten, 18th February 2019

What does matter is how she takes her chosen song-form back into her corner (a genre that’s still too young to be ossified but is still too easy to render cheesy) and how she refreshes it. Rather than a young revolutionary, Sarah’s a restorer and a reconfigurer: someone who can already turn out classic-sounding songs to fit the canon, and who can personify its ongoing traditions in a way that looks forced and creaky on a rock performer but sits surprisingly well on a country figure. Maybe it’s the storytelling side of things – as with traditional folk, stories get picked up, dusted off and recast in country, rolling on like a wheel. At any rate, Sarah’s consistently impressive, whether she’s turning out honky-tonk or delivering typically countryesque tales of rural life, bereavement and memory with songs such as the recent single Show Pony. She might not be showing you where country is going, but she’ll certainly show you where it will always be coming from.

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo + guests
Hundred Years Gallery, 13 Pearson Street, Hoxton, London, E2 8JD, England
Tuesday 12th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

The Nest Collective presents:
Sarah Jane Scouten
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Monday 18th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Bill Jones:

  • Gresham Centre, St Anne And St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Whitburn Cricket Club, The Village Ground, Sunderland, South Tyneside, SR6 7BZ, England – Wednesday 20th February 2019 – information here and here

Laid Bare At the Ritzy presents:
George Pelham + Adwoa Hackman + Olive Haigh + Josh Collins + Valeria Pozzo Trio + Archie Langley
Upstairs at The Ritzy, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 1JG, England
Wednesday 27th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Lost Crowns, Ham Legion and Wryneck (8th February)

1 Feb

Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck, 8th February 2019

I guess it’s a thorn in Richard Larcombe’s side that whenever he launches one of his complex poly-referential music projects some reductive oaf like myself strolls up, latches onto those polished, extremely upper-middle-class English vocals, and then starts comparing him to the cuddly Canterbury end of Anglo-prog – Hatfield & The North, Caravan and so on.

This is what you get, I suppose, when you’re musically versed in everything from the Copper Family to English bell-ringing patterns to mid-period Zappa to ‘90s American math rock – and when you can prove it – but when you’re also compelled to ice your lyrical cake with such floating, whimsical humorous concoctions. Almost from the start (when he was banging out strangely Donne-ian Britpop with Magnilda twenty-odd years ago) Richard has sounded as if he’s quipping and musing from an Oxbridge punt floating down ever more complicated river systems. It’s too easy to visualize him eating strawberries dipped in lysergic cream, keeping the witty punchlines coming while the landscape around him gets ever more mozaic-ed and fractalized.

It’s a little unfair to say things like that. Richard’s raised-eyebrow/bell-clear diction might make him sound smug to some ears in these resentful times, but his humour and the content of his songs are far richer, more intricate and upfront than what’s suggested by those Cantabrian comparisons. Lyrically, he’s a driven, glittering absurdist – more interested in extrapolation and unravelling substance than he is in reducing everything to fluff. Rather than offering lazy-lidded Kevin Ayers dreams (or, indeed, weightless Hatfield-ish souffles and toilet jokes), he takes snipes about synaesthesia and develops them until they collapse. He reframes and bricolages ancient bits of mythology as knockabout British arthouse films; or serenade his wife with borderline-ludicrous, self-aware stack-ups of flowery tributes. All of which gives us an anchoring point for listening: if he is icing his work with gags, it’s partially because something so musically demanding needs a little judicious sugaring.

The freshly-released debut album by Richard’s Lost Crowns project is being hailed as his best work yet. It’s certainly his most unrestrained: a barrage of word-dense songs overflowing with full-on prismatic structures and outright rock drive, as if Lewis Carroll and Flann O’Brien had called on the massed forces of Henry Cow to help them hijack Battles. While Lost Crowns sound like few bands in mainstream British rock history, current or past, they take a longer more meandering path along which you can imagine them laying some loving snags on various left-field rockers as they travel. XTC, Field Music and The Monochrome Set to These New Puritans; Gentle Giant, Knifeworld and the Art Bears. Comparisons generally water bands down, but for this one they work more as a health warning. Imagine a cocktail which didn’t dilute as you built it up, but instead made all of its ingredients stronger, brighter and brasher…



 
You can see Lost Crowns in action again – with Richard backed by a dream team of underground music crack-shots from Gong, Scritti Politti, Knifeworld and NSRO – next week at the Slaughtered Lamb. Having made their debut at an Alphabet Business Convention several years ago, they’re proud members of the sprawling and joyous musical family that runs in barking loops around the feet of Cardiacs. Consequently, you can expect to see a batch of the usual Cardiacs-ish faces in the audience. You’ll also get to see some on stage, since Ham Legion are playing support.

Longtime Cardiacs disciples, the Legion started out years ago as the perma-bubbling Little Trophy but following a drawn-out process of shedding fripperies and members, they’re now down to a power trio. All too often, they’re the extra filling in someone else’s gig sandwich. For the first time in a long while, though, they’re coming out armed with an imminent new single, Georgie Porgie. Time, perhaps to reassess them and their grunged-up take on complicated post-Cardiacs songs. A cavalcade of mood-switches and charges in and out of the unknown; a puckish delving into the traditions of English pop eccentricity, but one that’s smeared by tarry black coffee-sludge and amp crunch.


 
A surprise addition to the bill is Wryneck. To find out about them, you’d need to dig even deeper: back to the 1980s when a band with the gonkish name of Zag & The Coloured Beads romped intermittently around London’s free festival scene, playing “complicated tunes in a ragged/bluesy style” fed through the same scene’s omnivorous, hyperactive-hippy mindset. Taking a British post-punk filter, they used it to strain Zappa/Beefheart weird-juice, with memories of trad jazz and kid’s television also cavalcading through. They usually sounded like a drunken race between a squad of seven-legged camels: there was a bit of math to it, for sure (they enjoyed their shabby Brit-squat takes on the New York minimalist pulse, and their five- and seven-time signatures) but it was probably best not to take that too seriously either. After all, the songs had utterly clownish sketchpad titles like Sweaty Thing and Bernard Crapshit, which usually fitted perfectly.

(Gives the critics hives, y’know. Whether you’re aiming for analytical authority or ineffable cool, embracing a certain level of outright and intentional silliness is a bit like cuddling a hand grenade; and Dada just don’t do-do…)

Anyhow… Wryneck was what was left when various Beads dropped off the string in 1989, once keystoner Paul Howard ran dry and ran out of interest and keyboard person Robert White headed on to better-known, less squirrely things with Levitation and The Milk and Honey Band. The remainder (led by guitarist/singer/songfitter Steve Arthur), tried to get serious and to get taken seriously. Duly recast, they dumped the comedy and pulled in and lashed down the ramblings: they took fresh notes from the flourishing noise-pop of My Bloody Valentine and the ringing drive of Levitation and The Belltower, and they acted upon them. Over time, they also factored in a post-James Brown/Zeppelin sense of dirty groove. They produced a few cassettes (and those in the know remember the band as “master tunesmiths”) but, like the Beads, they never rose beyond a backroom cult. After four years – and despite no-one actually turning into a casualty – Wryneck too was missing in action. Musically, everyone kept busy with something or other, but it was only when Steve, Paul and guitar/bass mainstay Mik Tubb resurrected the Beads for more intermittent shows about a decade ago that the old chemistry came back.

These days, it seems as if Beadery and the staggered musical family around it (everyone was always overcommitted to multiple bands) is somewhat like Cardiacs culture – a big attic trunk full of oddments and puzzles which people regularly pull out and reconfigure at while. Joining Steve and Mik (and whoever else they’ve managed to persuade into this micro-revival) is Paul, who might never have been a Wrynecker before, but who seems to be one now.

Sadly the shortage of Wryneck sonic memorabilia online means that there’s nothing I can post up as an illustration of the noise they’re going to make. Lost Crowns are describing them (with tongue in cheek) as “like Mud, but fancier’. Alternatively, you could draw a few clues from the clutch of Beads tangles I’ve crammed in below. If unconvinced, you could consider Wryneck’s presence as a pop-up indulgence and reward for those grizzled old ‘80s festi-veterans in Cardiacs fandom who stayed their course and kept the faith. If you’re any less cynical, you could try saluting them as (even with the post-Beads musical streamlinings) part of a strand of English musical playfulness that’s gone uncredited for too long.




 
Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Friday 8th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

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