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February/April/August 2018 – underground rock flowerings at the Tim Smith fundraiser gigs in Birmingham (21st February), York (27th April) and Preston (11th August)

15 Feb

Following on from the various posts I’ve done on Tim Smith fundraiser gigs, here’s details on the first three to go public this year (in Birmingham, York and Preston). They’ll be shows which are obviously of interest to fans who’ve followed Tim’s work in and out of Cardiacs, but in their lively breadth, they offer plenty for those who’ve never even heard of either Tim or the band.

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Die Das Der & The Catapult Club present:
A Tim Smith Fundraiser: The Courtesy Group + The Nature Centre + Ghosts of Dead Airplanes + The Crooked Hooks
The Cuban Embassy @ The Bulls Head, 23 St Mary’s Row, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8HW, England
Wednesday 21st February 2018, 7.30pm
– pay-what-you-can event – information

Tim Smith Fundraiser, 21st February 2018The Birmingham event takes place at a Moseley joint generally better known for Latin music: hemmed in by rum posters and playing under the Cuban flag are various Brum-area acts with assorted mind-expanding sympathies, from the slightly fey to the outright bolshy.

I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before – light-touch “fololoppy” banjo-and-keyboards Anglopop meeting a Barrett-y/Partridge-y/Smith-y sensibility, while smuggling in strange tales of misogyny and telepathy under the cover of cuteness – but the other bands playing this pay-what-you-like gig are new to me. Shades of Captain Beefheart, The Fall and Ian Dury infest The Courtesy Group, thanks to Al Hutchin’s pop-eyed, pop-jawed declaiming over tunefully abrasive hubcap-guitar rock grooves (which travel from beaten-up armchair argument to deafening industry, and which deploy an extended armoury including baritone guitar and beatboxing).

 
More zig-zagging commentary and tossed-salad narrative come from The Crooked Hooks, who seem to have started from an electric folk groundpoint (with a flick of country fingerpicking) but then rapidly twisted and buggered it up with dirty art rock. They’ve ended up sounding like a collision between Kevin Rowland and Stump: admittedly, a Kevin who’s let the quest for soul slip through his fingers while he was sunk in esoterica about lost continents, nursery rhymes, insults and horses.

 
Finally, the sludgy jangle of self-deprecating trio Ghosts Of Dead Airplanes defines itself, variously, as “post-post-punk” , “paunch-core”, “noise-pap” and “stupid”. Lurching about all over the shop on a sprawling, surprisingly diverse noise-pop chassis, they formerly bit chunks from what sounded like everything from Pop Will Eat Itself, Nirvana and Gary Numan through to The Double; but more recently they’ve been sounding like anxious boys sticking their bewildered heads out of the billowing trailsmoke-ball of My Bloody Valentine.


 
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An Evening of Fadeless Splendour, 27th April 2018

Maeve Pearson, Jock Bray, Ian Hughes and Simon Piper present:
An Evening Of Fadeless Splendour: Kavus Torabi + Redbus Noface + Paul Morricone + Stephen Gilchrist
The Fulford Arms, 121 Fulford Road, York, Yorkshire, YO10 4EX, England
Friday 27th April 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Several actual Cardiacs (and honorary family members) are showing up at the York gig. Kavus Torabi will be including it as part of his upcoming tour of new solo material featuring a more serious change of tone, in which he’ll be applying his offbeat psychedelic imagination to sombre-yet-colourful acoustic guitar wrangles, ghostly harmonium drones and dark airs about preoccupations and mortality… as well as the odd Knifeworld piece. (Note – if you’re in London on 22nd February, he’ll also be previewing this tour set in Kings Cross.)

Stephen Gilchrist (a.k.a “Stuffy” or, more recently, “Stephen eVens”) will be playing some of his guitar/melodica/microsynth songs about wilful disappointments, bloody-mindedness, childhood holidays and other sardonic aspects of the human condition. For a man who’s ostensibly such a downbeat bastard, he’s always proved a very engaging live performer, clearly relishing his own gallows humour and the grin beneath the growl. (Having delivered one of the finest British songwriter albums of 2017 also helps, I suppose…)



 
Stephen also pops up as part of the lineup of Redbus Noface, the ongoing band project by Mark Cawthra (Tim Smith’s primary foil in the early Cardiacs lineups). Helping Mark and Stephen land the Redbus cargo of chunky art-rock and skewed perspective are Bob Leith (another Cardiac) and Mick Russon (sometimes of Cardiacs-inspired Midlands wonk-pop band 7shades, more on whom later). Bar sporadic gigs, Redbus has been pretty quiet since the release of debut album ‘If It Fights The Hammer, It Will Fight The Knife’ nearly seven years ago: perhaps they’ll have something new for us now.


 
Completing the evening’s entertainment is an appearance by main Scaramanga Six songwriter and frontman Paul Morricone, delivering a solo acoustic guitar package of Scaramanga songs and (perhaps) some additional work in progress. His main band, with their Yorkshire-Krays schtick and their tuneful swagger, might be one of the proudest live acts around; but even without them Paul’s presence is undiminished. He’s still got that big, carrying voice, plus two decades of tough, smart tuneful rock songs behind him – many of them mercilessly skewering toxic masculinity from an insider perspective, focussing not just on its frightening cruelties and callousnesses, but also on its footling self-delusions, its stunted fears and resentments, its swaggering nightmares.

With his work given a new uncomfortable resonance in these days of exposed misogyny, Paul frequently offers grim theatre, with clear lessons beneath the tunes and the dark characterisations. Thankfully, the wider wit and elan of his songwriting – its other varied subjects include stagefright, dreams, and the battle for independence of mind and action, often addressed with dark and melodramatic humour – ensure that an audience with him is far from being a brutal drag-down.


 
Further details on the show are yet to be confirmed but the planned visuals by Kandle Voodoo, plus the efforts of assorted DJs, will help grease the brain and ensure that everything should roll on until two in the morning.

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Hyena Inc. presents:
The Whole World Window 2:
The New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 8JP, England
Saturday 11th August 2018, 12:00pm
– information here and here

Whole World Window 2, 11th August 2018By far the biggest of the three events is the Preston one – a twelve-hour all-dayer happily yomping along in the footsteps of a previous attempt back in 2016.

In some respects it’s a rerun, with plenty of the same faces showing up. Promoter Greg Brayford is bringing his own mutant power-pop trio All Hail Hyena (whom I described back then as “Bo Diddley rocking an birthday-cake castle”). Prime Cardiacs acolytes 7Shades are still probably as close to the punchy, cartwheeling late-‘80s Cardiacs sound as you’re going to find without a time machine. Also making return appearances are odd-fit acapella jazz’n’Latin pop singer Asha Hewitt (a.k.a. “Moon Ahsa”, sometimes part of Solana) and the deafening hardcore tinkle of Britney (I’m sorry, but I can’t top my 2016 description of them as “one-and-a-half-minute bursts of earsplitting rock numbers plastered with crumpled ice-cream-van melodies…”)





In other respects, WWW2 is a monstrously ambitious jump-up from the last time around, with Cardiacs-community names coasting in from all over the country and from further afield in Europe. The last of the 2016 returnees is Sterbus, bringing his lovingly boiled-up jam of Smith, Fripp, Zappa and ‘90s rock influences over from Rome (and travelling in cahoots with Dominique d’Avanzo, his usual clarinet-and-voice foil). As with the York gig, Kavus Torabi will play a mostly-acoustic solo set; also in attendance are his fellow Londoners The Display Team with their brass-heavy, complicated-but-catchy avant-rock songbook.



 
Continuing his ongoing journey from the American underground to the hearts of an increasing number of unsuspecting British freaks, former Thinking Plague/5uu’s polyinstrumental wildcard Bob Drake pops across the Channel from his south-of-France home with a cavalcade of lighthearted weird-fiction tales for guitar, voice and funnybone. From Tyneside and Northumberland, the recently reunited Sleepy People (complete with original frontman and ongoing Ultrasound icon Tiny Wood) will be bringing their pumping, spiralling kaleidoscopic psych-pop for strange city corners; while twilight-folk singer Emily Jones, from Cornwall, will be unpacking her own tales of sea-wives, suspect fairies and haunted post-war bungalows.




 
The rest of the bill features some rich north-western and Midland pickings which have caught Greg’s eye. Former Polyphonic Love Orchestra members David Sheridon and Debz Joy are making what I think is their first live appearance in their new post-punk fabulist guise as Army Of Moths; Telford-based punk-pop absurdists A Pig Called Eggs sound like John Otway and Syd Barrett happily sharing a single body, but struggling for control of a jouncing mathcore band. Rounding the bill off are Mancunian loop-pedal-pushing lo-fi noise-pop soloist RoBotAliEn (a moonlighter from frequent Hyena-gig guests Sweet Deals On Surgery) and folk-singer Cassandra Payne, whose 2016 debut EP ‘Sheltering Tree’ blends a Northern English folk heritage with lessons and Americana ideas picked up from journeys through the Appalachians, the wilds of Vermont and the bohemian idyll of Cape Cod’s Provincetown.





 
Greg has also promised a rash of zines, merchandise and commemorative souvenirs, plus a couple of mysteries in the shape of Hannah’s Storey (a top-secret duo being assembled especially for the event) and a similarly secret headliner (which, given the calibre of the people he’s already managed to sign up, ought to be very special indeed…) Meanwhile, for a peek at the previous Whole World Window concert in 2016, see below.


 

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

14 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

February 2018 – upcoming London gigs (folk, jazz, soul, and eclectic acoustica) – Ian Beetlestone & the Drowning Rats (10th February); Matsudisho and Alice Phelps (18th February); plus Tell Tale Tusk (12th February), Alice Zawadski’s cello-heavy Valentine Show (14th February) and Kabantu’s album launch (8th February)

5 Feb

Even more than the Magic Garden (as covered a few posts back), Camden’s Green Note serves as a London folk-boutique par excellence. Most evenings, its small café space wedges in the cream of roots acts, the care they take over choice, presentation and atmosphere often justifying the priceyness of an evening out. You get what you pay for.

Here are a few things on offer there during early February:

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Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats, 10th February 2018

Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats
The Basement Bar @ The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England ·
Saturday 10th February 2018, 8:00pm
– information here, here and here

Plenty of charming elements and conversational topics converge in Ian Beetlestone. He’s a Yorkshireman-turned-Londoner, a pop and chanson connoisseur, a gay man and a cabbie. Several of these come together in his lively, engaging cabbie’s blog; even more of them combine in the fact that for the last couple of years Ian’s driven the capital’s first (and, to date, only) rainbow-coloured taxi (for what it’s worth, it’s becoming a much-loved city ornament both inside and outside of Pride, and he gets more stick from fellow cabbies over the Transport for London logo than he does for the LGBT+ associations).

As for the musicality, that flourishes in his all-singing acoustic trio The Drowning Rats, who offer “(a) unique combination of ratty jazz, drowned pop, magic, mystery, darkness and light to the capricious twin deities of love and song with ever pleading, hopeful eyes.” Having started up in Leeds about a decade and a half ago (and survived a subsequent re-potting in London), they’ve been the players of regular gigs in Soho (until recently, at the Blue Posts) and their home turf of Kings Cross (at the Star of Kings) as well as the Green Note.


 
With Ian’s florid piano backed by Dom Coles’ drumkit and Tom Fry’s double bass (and with occasional visitations from beery horns and assorted vocal foils), they deliver songs bursting with melody, harmony and joie de vivre; nodding to Brel and barrelhouse, Tom Waits and Paul Weller, Nina Simone and the Shangri-Las; suffused with wry reflection, wit and camaraderie. Ian rolls them out in a joyful soul growl – honey, gravel, fur and phlegm, with the hint of a romantic tenor under the wear and tear. It’s a little Tom Waits, but it’s rather more Dr John (if instead of immersing himself in the Big Easy, he’d taken a ship up the Thames estuary to found a bayoux in a London canal basin).

If you’re specifically after queerness, you’ll find it in the subtle and rosy sexual glow which illuminates many of the songs like fireside warmth, and also in the elastic inclusive community etched out in hints and amongst the broader scope of Ian’s songwriting. Inclusivity’s the word, in fact: there’s little details and easter eggs sown throughout the songs if you want to pick them up and decode them, but in general it’s all woven together with subtlety and open-heartedness. You can walk through their door and enjoy epic magic-realist power ballads about the A40, jaunts around the concerns, compromises and evasions of friendships, sly ballads which put the boot into Soho gentrification, and cheerfully apocalyptic accounts of mornings-after… all without worrying that you need to belong to any particular club. Although, in the extremely cosy confines of the Green Note’s basement bar, you’ll soon feel as if you do belong to one.



 
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Matshidiso + Alice Phelps
The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England
Sunday 18th February 2018, 8:30pm
– information here, here and here

Matshidiso, 2017
I’m not sure just how hard you have to work, just how much you have to do, blossom and branch out before you burst the “secret” side of “well-kept secret” wide open. I would have thought that Matshidiso would have reached that point a long time ago.

Music flows through pretty much everything she lives and does, stemming from the cosmopolitan stew of her upbringing (a native Londoner with Jamaican and Sotho heritage, a classical piano trainee with a parallel love of soul, hip-hop and the cream of 1970s singer-songwriters) and blossoming into her realisation of herself as do-it-all artist – on-call pianist and singer, producer/writer/arranger for herself and for others. Sometimes a band leader, always a constant communicator, Matshidiso has led creative workshops; run song sessions across the internet from her own front room and played venues from the Southbank Centre to South Africa. All this and she’s also a qualified and multilingual international human rights barrister (with experience fighting sex trafficking rings in Ethiopia); a spokesperson for activism around positive African and female identity; a visiting music therapist at the Royal Marsden; a rehabilitating coach and encourager for young male offenders at various prisons; and a onetime relief worker in Haiti.

All of which would be gems on anyone’s resume (and which suggests someone who’s already learned and given back more than most of us will in an entire lifetime) but as a musician, the final proof has to be in the songs Matshidiso sings. Traditional they might be, but she’s learnt well from the craft of forebears such as Roberta Flack, Laura Nyro and Lauryn Hill, creating harmonically rich keyboard-driven work drawing from songwriter soul, gospel and pop through which she roams with self-awareness and generous interest in other people’s efforts and struggles.


 
Maybe Matshidiso’s relatively low profile is because of the fact that, despite being the best part of a decade into her career, she’s yet to record a debut album, or even that many releases. There’s been a smattering of very occasional singles; there’s been a 2012 EP of nursery rhymes reconfigured for adults (an idea that fits neatly into of what ‘The Guardian’s called her whimsical yet solicitous approach, and one that’s far more successful than its spec would suggest). In many artists this would seem to be a flaw – a shortage of the hunger, the self-assertion, the pushy pride which is needed to succeed.

I’d suggest the opposite – that Matshidiso’s artistic presence is one that’s absolutely caught up in the moment, too much so to have prioritised lumping her output down into artefacts or commodities. Her work is live, whether it’s in the concerts in which she improvises made-up-on-the-spot stories from the personal accounts of audience members, or the connection she makes with prisoners, the lost, the under-represented as part of work which goes beyond being an entertainer and engages itself with re-weaving music (with all of its connecting and healing qualities) back into the fabric of everyday life.



 

Opening the show is Leeds-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alice Phelps (who, with her full band, was delighting Daylight Music earlier in the weekend). Harpist, guitarist, pianist, violinist and rich grainy singer, Alice spins blues into folk, Irish, Chinese and otherworldly elements to create original songs and a full-bodied chamber pop. On this occasion, she’s on her own; but she’ll be back at the Green Note next month with a full ensemble of strings, harp and choir. For now, enjoy her songs in their simpler format.



 

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A few more familiar faces are showing up at the Green Note at around the same time. On 12th February, contemporary female folk ensemble Tell Tale Tusk, who work “spellbinding (and award-winning) vocal harmonies…around melodious instrumentals to reimagine folktales old and give light to folktales new” bring their harmonies and humour back to Camden Town for an evening of old and new songs. On 14th February, Alice Zawadzki – whose name has been scattered around these pages for her voice and/or violin work alone or with Sefiroth, Jamie Safir and others – presents a Valentine’s Day Special of known and unknown songs, covers and originals (assisted by dual cello improvisers Alice Purton and Shirley Smart). Or – if you fancy a different venue and a different blend of polycultural acoustica – then on 8th February Manchester world quintet Kabantu are launching their debut album down at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. Plentiful…




 

February-March 2018 – music and more from across the European borderlands and migrations, as part of the ‘Marchland’ performance season in London (various dates between 7th February and 3rd March) including KultNett, Sefiroth, Carneval String Trio, Åkervinda, Nikos Baroutsakis, Maiden In The Moor, Shiry Rashkovsky, Fran & Flora and Bardos Band…

1 Feb

Sprawling out over a long month between early February and early March, Théâtre Volière’s Marchland performance season will transform the City of London’s Bridewell Theatre into a recreation of “a secluded European theatre” aiming – via discussion and performance, music and acting, photography, discussion and art – “to explore what it means to be European today… everything that is good and bad about the human response to being pushed up against “otherness”…. (to) come together to share and unpick these European stories in an attempt to answer the question, “how do we live together?”…” Slipping in under the frowning threat of a hard, bruising Brexit and the rising of surly, xenophobic British fences, it’s a welcome and timely thing.

In principle, ‘Marchland’ is theatrical. Threaded through the season are performances of Volière’s own ‘Arnika’ dealing with the corrosive effects of dreadful secrets and guilt, post-Nazi occupation, in an Alsace town (exemplifying “the tragic choices forced on a border community trapped in a cycle of international vengeance” and of its quadralingual companion piece ‘Retour au pays‘, “exploring the multi-lingualism of border regions and its effect on their cultures” via the story of Alsatian poet Andre Weckmann and his journey – as a forced military draftee – through the Wehrmacht, the Russian front and the Free French). Also on offer are two pieces by La Soupe Compagnie: ‘Macao et Cosmage‘ (their headphone-driven children’s tale of colonialism – “part Japanese kamishabaï paper theatre, part pop-up storybook” – performed in a tiny twelve-person booth), and their poetry-and-puppetry-incorporating ‘Evocation’, a transposition of ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ (Albert Giraud’s Symbolist poem-cycle of conscious, candid estrangement and displacement) to a Victorian-era Brighton Beach where it’s fed through the experience and cyclic memories of a traumatised young female refugee (scored by electro-acoustic composer Antoine Arlot). There’ll also be a festival-spanning interactive attempt (featuring the combined efforts of Marchlands artists and audience) to create and represent a borderland country of the imagination.

Yet – point for point and performer for performer – the majority of the festival is musical, bringing together a fascinating sweep of players from across Europe and interspersing them with British musicians exploring transcontinental roots and history (whether these are their own – as in the case of British-based Sephardic ensemble Sefiroth – or where their curiosity, studies and sympathies have led them.

Here’s a breakdown of the musical events, condensed from various bits of the programme text.

Carneval String Trio

Carneval String Trio

Carneval String Trio (made up of violinist Kamila Bydlowska, viola player Shiry Rashkovsky and cellist Timothée Botbol) have created a fascinating programme of twentieth-century music for us. Vanished kingdoms and shifting borders here, in an Eastern Europe where identities and allegiances were torn apart under the most savage circumstances imaginable.

“They’ll be playing pieces by Zoltán Kodály, Ernő Dohnányi and Gideon Klein, works that shock and mesmerize in equal measure. Each of these composers used folkloric themes to express their unique national identities, and yet these identities were rewritten for them many times as borders shifted and ideologies fought over their homelands. This is music that challenges us to ask “what is left of our identity when it is warped and usurped by the forces of nationalism?”

“The cultural and political history of the former Yugoslavia features large in this year’s ‘Marchland’. Greek guitarist Nikos Baroutsakis joins the conversation with a recital of music from the Balkans and the wider region, where Europe meets the Middle East. He’ll be playing pieces inspired by the folk culture of Armenia, the Balkans (including the former Yugoslavia) and Turkey.

“Carlo Domeniconi’s Variations on ‘Uzun İnce Bir Yoldayım (I’m On A Long Narrow Road)’ – a Turkish folk song of pain and suffering – opens the programme. It is followed by four traditional Armenian dances arranged for guitar by Iakovos Kolanian. Finally, a rare performance of Dusan Bogdanovic’s ‘Six Balkan Miniatures’, composed for and dedicated to, world peace during the Yugoslavian Civil War.


 
Fran & Flora are cellist Francesca Ter-Berg and violinist Flora Curzon. BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction described them as fiercely passionate and a string duo bound for glory, and that says it all about their approach to music making and their musical influences. For ‘Marchland’, they will be exploring musical styles from Eastern Europe, and how they are influenced by ongoing exchanges and tensions across borders and migrating communities. Expect soulful laments, exquisite songs, irresistible dance tunes, and tales of their musical adventures as outsiders intent on incorporating traditional music-making into their own, unique style.


 
“In addition, they’ll also perform in a double bill of music and conversation with Nikos Baroutsakis (extending their programme, their distinctive music-making interspersed with anecdotes and insights from their musicological travels in the Balkans) and, in another event, pairing up with Alex Batesmith’s dramatised talk ‘Blackbirds and Blue Helmets’ (about his experiences as a UN war crimes prosecutor in Kosovo and his travels in the former Yugoslavia).

Bardos Band

Bardos Band

“We were keen to programme work for ‘Marchland’ that explores the way culture is transformed as it crosses borders. ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ (from mediaeval music specialists Bardos Band, combining the talents of Sophia Brumfitt, Rebecca Austen-Brown, Corinna Silvester, Arngeir Hauksson and Leah Stuttard) shows us that this is an ancient and ongoing process.

“This is a melting-pot of rare and deeply-affecting music, woven around an ancient folktale. A resourceful harper charms his audience to sleep in order to steal their magical harp – The Oak of Two Greens. The harp belongs to the king of the Tuatha da Dannan; a legendary tribe which, according to legend, brought music to Ireland. Bardos Band follow the route this music might have travelled, using voice, harp, medieval fiddle, gittern, flutes and symphony to create an enchanting wash of sound.”

(Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any embeddable examples of the Bardos’ treatment of ‘The Oak Of Two Greens’, but it’s close enough to Christmas for me to offer you this…)


 
“The Bardos Band’s Sophia Brumfitt and Leah Stuttard also make up the early-music due Maiden In The Moor. For their own ‘Marchlands’ performance they’re reviving the music of Occitania, a vanished kingdom that once straddled Southern France and Northern Spain.

Maiden In The Moor

Maiden In The Moor

“The Occitan Troubadours sang of loyalty, love and longing, and their language and music survived through travelling poets and illuminated songbooks long after their culture was devastated by the Albigensian Crusade. Their work had a profound influence on European music and culture, and echoes of it can be heard in lieder, folk music, and the work of the singer-songwriters of our own time. The programme includes Troubadour and Trouvère songs, songs from the courts of Aquitaine and the Languedoc, and Spanish pilgrim songs.”

(Although there’s not much Maiden In The Moor material online, here’s an example of Occitan songcraft…)


 

“Norway’s KultNett bring together some of the foremost folk musicians and storytellers from beyond the Arctic Circle to examine the history of the peoples of Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Sápmi, the land of the Sámi people. Storytelling, a fast and furious fiddle and the traditional ‘joik’ of the Sámi are interwoven to create a performance that explores and interrogates the dynamics of cultural and ethnic hegemony in the Nordic region of Europe.


 

Ignacio Evangelista: 'After Schengen'

Ignacio Evangelista: ‘After Schengen’

“Adapted especially for Marchland and illustrated by a multi-media presentation, this is a truly immersive experience; a rare insight into a rich and vibrant borderland culture from the Northernmost reaches of Europe. They’ll also play in a separate double bill with Bardos Band, presenting an extended version of their Marchland programme.

“Inspired by Ignacio Evangelista’s photography sequence ‘After Schengen’, we brought together three artists to create an interdisciplinary event, ‘Before and After Schengen’, exploring the politics and the poetry around notions of the vanishing border.

Shiry Rashkovsky

Shiry Rashkovsky

“In front of a screening of his work, Ignacio will be talking about his fascination with Europe’s disused border posts. His talk will be interwoven with poems by Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes, written in response to Ignacio’s images and read by George himself. The whole will be framed by a unique performance of musical fragments and improvisations devised by Carneval String Trio violist Shiry Rashkovsky (also an associate member of the Philharmonia Orchestra).

This is a truly international collaboration that encapsulates perfectly the spirit of ‘Marchland’). Expect to find yourselves pondering the ephemeral and often arbitrary nature of borders. ‘Before and After Schengen’ will also be performed as a separate double bill with another extended performance of Kultnett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’.


 
Sefiroth is an international collective of musicians founded by brothers Nick and Alex Roth to explore traditional Sephardic repertoire. music from the descendants of the Jews who left Spain or Portugal after 1492. Sung in Ladino (a language primarily spoken by Sephardic Jews), these ancient songs weave stories of love, loss and yearning for home, and evoke the lands where the diaspora settled: Iberia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

“The group’s arrangements are as porous and wide-ranging as the history of the Sephardim, combining acoustic and electric instruments, improvisation, modern harmonies and trance-inducing rhythms. They’ll also be performing separately alongside Maiden In The Moor in a double bill; setting the revived music of a vanished culture alongside the living, evolving traditions of a banished people.


 
“Sweden and Denmark’s Åkervinda perform their unique, modern Scandinavian folksongs. Jazz singers at heart, and influenced by artists such as Björk and The Real Group, they share a deep love of folk music. Through improvisation, they breathe new life into traditional songs, singing stories of women through the ages in a programme of haunting harmonies and dazzling improvisations inspired by women’s history and the shifting populations of Europe. Their appearance at Marchland marks the opening of a UK tour and the release of their latest album. They’ll also be performing in a separate double bill with Maiden In The Moor.


 
“What can we say about our show ‘A Vanished Kingdom’? Not much, since it’s actually mostly your show and you’ve yet to devise it! Come and help make a season-long, open-access interdisciplinary event to be presented on the closing day of the season.

“On three consecutive Saturdays we’ll be meeting to create our own Vanished Kingdom – an imaginary borderland with its own culture, geography, history, language… All devised by you. If you’re a visual artist, writer or performer, if you’re someone who wants to share ideas in a supportive and respectful environment, if you’re someone who enjoys playing and make believe, then join us and artists from the Marchland season to help make something truly unique. You are welcome to come and go as you please for the duration of each workshop, and even to just quietly observe the controlled chaos! It’s completely free to participate.

On the 3rd March, we’ll be presenting the audience with a free ‘Vanished Kingdom’ event featuring the stories, songs, dances, artwork, history, geography of a European borderland of our participants’ collective imagination. As an opener to the presentation, there’ll be another chance to hear a performance by Åkervinda (giving us their perspective on women’s history and cross border co-operation) plus a one-off set from three members of Sefiroth (Alex Roth, Alice Zawadzki & Olesya Zdorovetskay).

“Expect, perhaps, robust and lively debate about the tensions between regional identity and cross-cultural fertilisation, absurd flights of fancy and charming anecdotes, and a rich tapestry of differing viewpoints and traditions. Looking forward to meeting you at the crossroads!”

All events are at The Bridewell Theatre, 14 Bride Lane, Blackfriars, London EC4Y 8EQ, England. Dates are as follows.

Single concerts:

  • Carneval String Trio – Wednesday 7th & Wednesday 14th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Nikos Baroutsakis – Thursday 8th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Fran & Flora – Friday 9th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Friday 9th February 2018, 7:30pm; Tuesday 13th February 2018, 1:15pm; 16th February 2018, 1:15pm; 17th February 2018, 9:00pm
  • Bardos Band’s ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ – Monday 12th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Before and After Schengen – Thursday 15th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Sefiroth – Friday 16th February 2018, 7:30pm; Saturday 17th February 2018, 2:00pm; Friday 23rd February 2018, 7:30pm
  • Maiden in The Moor – Wednesday 28th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Åkervinda – Friday 2nd March 2018, 1:15 pm

Double-bill concerts:

  • Nikos Baroutsakis + Fran & Flora – Saturday 10th February 2018, 2:00pm
  • Bardos Band’s ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ + KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Saturday 10th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • ‘Before and After Schengen’ + KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Thursday 15th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Alex Batesmith’s ‘Blackbirds and Blue Helmets’ + Fran & Flora – Tuesday 20th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Maiden in the Moor + Sefiroth – Thursday 22nd February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Åkervinda + Maiden in The Moor – Thursday 1st March 2018, 7:30 pm

‘A Vanished Kingdom’:

  • Free-entry workshops – Saturday 10th February 2018, 9.30am; Saturday 24th Feburary 2018, 2.00pm, Saturday 3rd March 2018, 10.00am
  • Presentation concert (plus pre-concert performances by Åkervinda + Alex Roth/Alice Zawadzki/Olesya Zdorovetskaya) – Saturday 3rd March 2018, 2:00 pm


All further details at the festival website, the Marchland Facebook page and the Bridewell event pages, with blogging here throughout the course of the season.
 

Marchland logo
 

February 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Society Of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Meg Lee Chin, Keiko Kitamura, I Am Her, Kosmic Troubadour, Math Jones (2nd February); Peter Blegvad Trio and Bob Drake (9th February – plus the Club Integral Resonance Benefit Gala on the 8th); Evil Blizzard and Nasty Little Lonely (10th February)

29 Jan

SOIF Soiree, 2nd February 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“Into The Forest” Soiree: Meg Lee Chin + Keiko Kitamura + I Am Her + Kosmic Troubadour + Math Jones
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here

After a few events which were perhaps a little more predictable than we’d’ve hoped, this month’s Society Of Imaginary Friends-hosted concert moves up a gear with the involvement of “two goddesses of Earth and Heaven”. Purple twilight time:

“We take the path that leads down from the fell, over the style, over a stream and into the heart of the forest. At first it seems completely lifeless in the wood, all of its creatures hibernating deep in the ground; but as our eyes become adjusted to the dusky dark and senses atuned to its music..the rustle of a robin in the dried leaves, a squirrel’s staccato, a falling pine cone. Suddenly we are in a clearing of softest moss – a place of refuge and rest, where a clear spring rises and sunlight dances. Welcome to our “Into the Forest” Soiree.”

A mid-‘90s Pigface member (and the former frontwoman for female noise band Crunch), industrial pop/darkwave/hip hop songstress and hands-on producer Meg Lee Chin is a prime example of longstanding female creativity and independence. Having rattled cages and excited commentators with her turn on Pigface’s ‘Nutopia’, she then spearheaded contemporary home-studio recording with her 1999 solo album ‘Piece and Love’ and went on to found pro-audio community Gearslutz. Although released music has been sporadic for the last couple of decades, Meg’s kept her reputation as a fascinating, brilliant performer and composer and as an outspoken, sometimes contrary blogger. SOIF, in turn, have a reputation for coaxing people’s slumbering performance talents out of semi-retirement: if Meg’s risen to the occasion in response, this ought to be pretty exciting.

Also on hand – and in delightful contrast – is Keiko Kitamura: known for activities ranging from replaying Japanese court music to Jah Wobble’s Nippon Dub Ensemble, is a leading international koto player (in particular, the 17-string bass version) as well as a singer and shamisen player. Expect a mixture of tradition and originality.




 
The rest of the appropriately quirky SOIF bill is filled out by eccentric rainbow keyboard warrior The Kosmic Troubadour, poet/dramatist Math Jones (with a sheaf of forest poems) and Soiree regular I Am Her, a.k.a. ex-Rosa Mota singer Julie D. Riley (who also, with fellow Rosacian Sacha Galvagna, makes up transatlantic transcontinental electropop minimalists Crown Estate). As ever, the Society themselves are performing, presenting (presumably) art-pop forest ballads to take in with the Karamel vegan feast that’s part and parcel of a SOIF event. This time, you get an appropriately woody wild forest mushroom soup, a mushroom and root vegetable pizza and some Black Forest gateau…


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Here’s news on one of the several fundraisers for London alt.culture radio station Resonance FM, helping it to keep up its mission of broadcasting the wild and wonderful across the Smoke’s airwaves and around the world online. Even setting aside the calibre of the night’s performers, it’s pretty much worth going along for that reason alone.

Peter Blegvad Trio, 9th February 2018

Resonance FM presents:
Peter Blegvad Trio with Bob Drake
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Friday 9th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Peter Blegvad – not only for the owlish wit of his songs (including his skill as palindromist and wordplayer) and the enviable polymathic breadth of skills which means he’s also a fine experimental cartoonist, audio dramatist and commentator. It’s also because anyone who can get himself sacked from ‘70s avant/oppositional prog gods Henry Cow by outrightly twitting their seriousness at the height of their brow-furrowing Maoist phase (and apparently by writing a lyric about a woman chucking raisins at a skeleton) is a man who knows something about whistling in the face of sternness.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t make too much of this. For one thing, despite (and because of) Henry Cow’s high-flying, generally admirable idealism, spending time there seems to have been argumentative for everyone (in particular during the period in which almost every potential action appeared to have its cripping counter-bourgeois condemnation, during which a man of Peter’s wayward questioning wit and self-declared flippancy would have stuck out like a slammable thumb in the way of a door). Once out of the mothership, though, it was evidently easier to be familial. Showing up most artistic spats and internal rock band feuds for the pique and piffle that they are, all of the ex-Cow-ers grew up (and grew past their arguments) to become a mutually supportive bunch. Threading in and out of each other’s concerts and solo careers, they rapidly learned to welcome and celebrate the diversity of their collective interests and ideas, and they’ve stayed that way.


 
Proving this yet again, whenever the Peter Blegvad Trio comes back together it reunites Peter with two regular Cowfriends: John Greaves (bassist and longtime ally both during and after Cowdays, from the ‘Kew.Rhone.’ project onwards) and Chris Cutler (drummer and owner of the eclectic and honourable post-Cow record label ReR Megacorp which, since 1988, has released four widely-spaced Blegvad albums – ‘Downtime’, ‘Just Woke Up’, ‘Hangman’s Hill’ and last year’s ‘Go Figure’). Thirty-seven years of on/off playing together has resulted in a relaxed, gently telepathic connection: not a mysterious communion, nor an alliance of breakneck musical stuntwork, but an easy, comfortable instinct for what’s required to frame the song and no more. As for Peter himself, if you’re unfamiliar with his work it’s best to think of someone with one foot in the sardonic-wit songworld of Loudon P. Wainwright, Leon Rosselson, Richard Thompson and Kinky Friedman, and the other in the counterflow rock camp which the Cow shared with (among others) Faust and Pere Ubu.


 
And that brings me to the second point – ultimately, it’s really pretty misleading to define Peter by the lineaments of Henry Cow, art-prog or Rock In Opposition. Granted, he’s spent quite a bit of time paddling away in those areas (in addition to ‘Kew.Rhone’ and the Cow work, there’s been Slapp Happy, Faust and The Lodge, as well as swing-by dates with The Golden Palominos and Art Bears). Yet if you put him firmly in the driving seat on his own, what you get isn’t hyperliterate trickery, but intelligent, light-touch, surprisingly roots-rocking songs with a smart economy of tale-telling and reflection.

He’s still got a yen for throwing up a thesis and exploring it (this is, after all, a man who once explored the roots and fears of the European Union via a teasing, erudite and baffling lyrical mirror-maze of classical borrowings), but more often than not he’ll now use a folk or country-folk form to do so, or pick a nuanced idea to polish in a few simple strokes: something a child could pick up on but which an adult might savour. From some angles you could even confuse him (via that nasal, tuneful, breathy bark of a voice) with a more relaxed Mike Scott in acoustic mode, or even with Mark Knopfler in a moment of sardonic humanism. Although neither of them would have written a love ballad as sparse and sorrowful as Shirt And Comb, honed a metaphysical gag like Something Else (Is Working Harder) or tweaked, explored and upended a common cultural assumption the way Peter does on Gold.


 
One of the contributors to ‘Go Figure’ (along with Karen Mantler) was the delightful Bob Drake – the erstwhile Thinking Plague and 5uu’s mainstay turned offbeat producer and solo artist. For more of my rambles on him, take a look over here. The long and the short about him, though, is that he’s a multi-instrumentalist and hedge-bard with broad and rambling ideas about just how far you can stretch and mutate an open-ended thought or song, who now regularly heads out for solo voice-and-guitar gigs (often performing, for reasons both flippant and serious, in a lovely white bear-dog suit). Like Peter Blegvad, Bob’s got a liking for complexity and warm perverse wit; but what you take away from his shows is literal shaggy-doggery: peculiar sung tales both finished and unfinished about strange mammals, haunted houses, odd habits, monster-movie scenarios and twisted eldritch dimensions.

When I originally posted this, I was under the impression that Bob was playing a solo Oto support slot, but it now appears that he’s actually beefing up the Trio to a quartet, with or without the animal suit. If you still want to see Bob in solo mode, however, you could set aside some time the previous evening for another Resonance FM fundraiser: Club Integral‘s annual Resonance tin-shaker, being held south of the river at IKLEKTIK on Thursday 8th.

Offering “thirteen minute sets from thirteen acts”, this features a wealth of music-and/or-noise-makers from the Integral playlists: improv pranksters Glowering Figs, audiovisual sculptress Franziska Lantz, ARCO composer Neil Luck, mixed-ability folk internationalists the No Frills Band, Found Drowned/Four Seasons Television guitar manipulator James O’Sullivan, sound designer/Howlround member Robin The Fog, Bob and Roberta Smith (a.ka. artist/advocate/utopian Patrick Brill) playing with his own “musical intervention” project The Apathy Band, restlessly morphing New Wave survivors Spizz, and whoever St Moritz, Two Horns, Robert Storey, Strayaway Child, Swordfish and King/Cornetto happen to be. Plus Bob – who was hoping to balance his thirteen-minute time limit with the playing of thirteen one-minute songs, but has apparently opted to settle for eleven.


 
(If Bob’s wily, he’ll also strap a few tentacles onto that fur-suit and go up and do a bit of busking by Camden Lock, staking out the London Lovecraft Festival that’s also taking place that week…)

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Evil Blizzard, 10th February 2018

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Evil Blizzard + Nasty Little Lonely
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England
Wednesday 10th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here

Filling in a three-cornered gap between Public Image Ltd, Poisoned Electrick Head and The Residents, hilariously distressing Preston lords of misrule Evil Blizzard are bringing their act south in order to launch their ‘Fast Forward Rewind’ single (from upcoming third album ‘The Worst Show On Earth’). Their gigs are part banging art-punk party and part horror-comedy masked ball, featuring four cranky and disparate bass guitarists; a singing, chanting drummer; and a pair of in-house stage invaders in the shape of a dancing money-chucking pig and a man running wild with a mop.

The assorted masks (hilarious and creepy) and the threatening mannequin/orc lunges may make it all look like an Auton’s cheese-dream or a riot in a Black Lodge dollhouse, but underneath the screaming horse-laughs are a rattling good party band. Over the years, they’ve won over many a psychedelic or underground festival audience and even their own musical heroes (with Killing Joke, Hawkwind and PiL having invited them on for support slots).



 
Also playing are stomping industrial post-punk duo Nasty Little Lonely, who provide a bandsaw-guitar set of “post apocalyptic decadence, discarded trappings of consumerism gone awry, alienation and small furry creatures with very sharp teeth.” They might possibly be tempted to dance afterwards if you encourage them enough.


 

February 2018 – upcoming London folk etc. gigs at the Magic Garden – Emma Lohan and Lánre (4th February); Echo Trails and Alba&Leo’s Elsewhere Quartet (8th February)

27 Jan

Riffling through the music schedules at Battersea’s Magic Garden pub reminds me of my incurable habits and hopes as regards raiding the CD racks in charity shops. Though it’s not the place for tribute bands, per se, there’s a lot of cover and tribute music being played there – straight evocations of New Orleans funk, Latin jazz, folk-blues or Celtic sessions – but picking out something I really personally want, something a little more original or eclectically fused, is more hit-and-miss.

Thankfully, the Magic Garden’s a place I keep checking back on, since a few of those more original gems tend to show up and flourish there.

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Emma Lohan, 4th February 2018

Sunday Folk: Emma Lohan + Lánre
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Sunday 4th February 2018, 9.00pm
– free event – information here and here

February’s first Sunday sees the Magic Garden hosting the lovely bubbling folk-pop of Galway globetrotter Emma Lohan – her debut appearance at the venue, but one of an increasing number of recent wanders across the Irish Sea. Though she’s been billed variously as “Atlantic-folk meets ethno-pop” or “folk fusion that lies somewhere between sean nós and surf pop”, neither description quite does justice to what she creates: beautifully-constructed cloud-tossed songs imbued with the flicker of constant motion, which effortlessly blend together jigs, jazz, acoustic dreampop and palm-patter drawing on a palette of petal-skittering guitar, strings, kalimba, gently glowing hornwork and glockenspiel.

As to where it all comes from… well, there’s Irishness in the curve of her accent (and in some of the sessional lightness and fluidity to how everything fits together on the records), but in its wholeness her music embraces world funk, beach pop, psychedelic Balearic haze and uncoiling rhythms from South America, West Africa and Asia. Emma’s clearly the rolling stone which softly gathers everything.




 

In support is London-Afropean singer-songwriter Lánre, presenting an unplugged take on material from last year’s ‘Human’ EP and from nearly a decade of music making (including the band GK Real and songs which have seen her invited to perform in Paris). In the studio, she layers her simple, direct spiritual songs (many of them touching on the healing of black-girl wounds – beauty and worth, the straining for a sense of home) with rich blankets of ambient, post-gospel and choral-soul arrangement, sometimes stirring in a little country guitar or traditional Yoruba walking song. Live, whether playing solo or working with a band, African-American rootings show more clearly, seeming to touch on similar turf to Odetta or Erykah Badu, but also Toni Morrison and Arthur Lee.





 
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Echo Trails + Alba&Leo Elsewhere Quartet, 8th February 2018
Echo Trails + Alba&Leo’s Elsewhere Quartet
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Thursday 8th February 2018, 9.00pm
– free event – information here and here

Selling Echo Trails as being some kind of hopeful mashup of “epic groove and post-rock” is a massive undersell. Just because they’ve got a little Godspeed string thunder in them on occasion (and know a thing or two about old-school jazz’n’R&B propulsion) doesn’t mean that they’re one of those bands that milk the juice out of other genres and feed it into papery approximations.

A well-honed acoustic band is like a set of unhindered precision muscles, able to flex rhythms on the fly and dance in unexpected curves, and this is just such a band. Fronted by Dimitra Tzanakaki (a ballsy, smouldering Greek blend of Beth Gibbons, Tori Amos and Bette Midler) they’re a supple alliance of guitar, voluble double bass, viola and drumkit, the song undercarriage slipping easily from Mediterranean folk to psychobilly to a salsa set-to or to shedbashing Led Zeppelin thrills. Since their arrival in 2014 they’ve phased out keyboard and phased in pedalwork, enriching texture even as the instrumentation shrank: hence the post-rock tag, but there’s Schönberg, Piaf, Korn, Temper Trap, bebop and Hidden Orchestra tucked into their bag of influences along with Godspeed.




 
Back in their home country of Croatia, Alba Nacinovich and Leo Škec – trading as Alba&Leo – are already reknowned for being one of the best jazz-folk duos in the country. Having relocating to London last year from their hometown of Rijeka, they’re in with a good chance of getting the same reputation over here. Initially and deceptively a childlike presence, Alba turns out to have fiery focus, flexible tone, eclectic tastes and a laser-guided skill at everything from vocalise to pure pop; Leo is a dizzyingly skilled, mostly-acoustic-and-pedals guitarist with a mastery of percussive fingerstyle, quicksilver jazz runs and subtle electronic soundshaping. Tossing around terms like “augmented reality” like magicians’ scarves, they dip with equal verve into cover reinventions and original songs in both Croatian and English; while they’re still finding their feet with the latter, the music and the pattering, driving skills are already there. The quickest, laziest comparison is a junior, Slavic Tuck & Patti, minus the cheesecloth and cuddliness… but Alba&Leo won’t be junior for long.

For this gig, Alba&Leo are appearing in expanded and augmented form as The Elsewhere, a new quartet in which they’re bolstered by broad-based percussionist Sass Hoory (a specialist in Middle Eastern sounds) and polydisciplinary cellist Natalie Rozario (who’s drawing on a skillset that crosses theatre, jazz and opera). The show is part of an explosion of early-2018 Alba&Leo activity which includes a free evening with slow-jamming folk/R&B singer Breantonia and “love child of Sting and Edith Piaf” Miri at Borough’s Gladstone Arms on 3rd February, a duo gig upstairs at Ronnie Scott‘s on 30th January, and the actual debut of The Elsewhere at Harringay’s Jam In A Jar the following day on the 31st. I’ve got no Elsewhere clips, but here are some of Alba&Leo in assorted action…




 

February/March 2018 – Minute Taker mini-tour of England with Runes (2nd, 3rd, 10th, 17th February); Holly Penfield’s rescheduled Fragile Human Monster dates in London (23rd February, 23rd March); Joss Cope and Emily Jones in Worthing (2nd February)

26 Jan


 
Ben McGarvey, better known as ambient-torch-y folktronicist Minute Taker is heading out on a brief February tour taking in a brace of Saturdays, a Friday and four of the country’s more impressive churches. It’s in support of his new mini-album ‘Reconstruction‘ which he claims reflects “the search for new improved ways of rebuilding yourself when your world has been blown apart.”

Ben’s last pair of tours were more directly theatrical multi-media affairs, fleshing out the doppelganger/ghost story of ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ with tie-in animations, strings and extra guitars. This time, it’s just him – piano, looped harmonies, distorted Eastern-influenced percussion parts, glockenspiel and synths. In addition to the slow dream-jazz-styled songs from ‘Reconstruction’, he’ll be playing rearranged songs from ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ and his previous albums ‘Too Busy Framing’ and ‘Last Things’, plus some rethought-out cover versions from his various influences. Expect an atmosphere of drawn-out, deliciously lovelorn confessions and self-realisations set to luscious, trembling tunes, each with a core of silver-wire determination.


 
Also along for the ride is Greek-turned-Mancunian singer-songwriter Harry Selevos, a.ka. Runes, who has two albums of dreamy cherubic pop behind him – 2015’s ‘Orphic’ and the 2017 OP3 collaboration ‘AWSS’, sublimating his classical piano training via Asian-influenced vocals, a near-ambient synth pulse and a blissful energy (ending up somewhere between Jimmy Somerville and Mark Hollis).


 
Dates:

Prior to the tour, Ben will be performing a couple of live-streamed concerts from home via his Facebook page on Sunday 28th January. The first, at 7.30pm, is a general one with a Q&A session; it will be followed by a bonus session for his Secret Facebook Group covering the ‘Secret Songs’ album series in which he explores cover versions and reinventions.

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Live At Zedel/Crazy Coqs presents:
Holly Penfield: ‘Fragile Human Monster’
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Friday 23rd February & Friday 23rd March 2018, 9.15pm
– information here and here

The last Minute Taker tour, in October last year, coincided with Holly Penfield scheduling time out from her ongoing reign as jazz-cabaret queen and camp icon in order to return to the ‘Fragile Human Monster’ show she’d spun into a strange and shamanic synth-pop cult-of-the-broken during the early ‘90s. Back in October – and earlier – I wrote about how the old show had a “compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set” and about how “being a member of Holly’s audience meant being enticed into shedding those cloaks of cynicism and reserve we use to insulate ourselves, and opening your heart up to the rawest kind of sympathy and honesty. The show became a part of us, as much as we were a part of it, the church of the misfits she embraced. We dropped our guard, she sang: a voice for our odd angles and our visceral fears… If you led with your sense of cool, or your cynicism, there was no chance. But at full tilt, it was unmatchable.”

Holly Penfield, 23rd February & 23rd March 2018Both ‘Fragile Human Monster’ and its related ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album had been a second-stage reaction to Holly’s previous career as a blow-dried Los Angeles rock starlet (during which, in classic fashion, she’d been sidelined, ground up and spat out by the dream machine). Both had starred Holly alone but for the saxophone and suss of her partner and husband Ian Ritchie and for the evocative night-time sound of her Kurzweil sampler-keyboard. Over these, she spilled her self-composed, gloriously-sung narratives and metaphorical fantasias of collapse, vulnerability, madness and healing like an obsessive, loving, slightly deranged blurring-together of Laurie Anderson, Jane Siberry and Pat Benatar; framed by a stage set of trinkets and keepsakes which assumed the magical associations of a voodoo shrine – or, as I put it previously, “a travelogue of places been, of people touched and gifts given and received.”

It was the kind of gig into which, whether performer or audience member, you had to throw your whole self… and in turn it eventually flamed out, eventually making way for Holly’s camper (yet straighter) third stage as a knowingly decadent flaunt-it-all singer-performer of jazz and torch standards, commanding top-notch acoustic bands. It’s that latter stage that finally made her name – yet some of the willing therapeutic madness of FHM has always been present in those slinks through Fever and I Wanna Be Evil, the wigs and costume changes, the brassy fragility and the phenomenal voice. (Back in California, Holly had shared a voice coach with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior. It showed.)

It wasn’t clear what was impelling Holly to bring the old show back; nor whether she was resurrecting the synths and sequencers and ditching the jazz quartet and feather boas. In any case, it was promptly derailed by her surprise leather-clad showing on ‘The X-Factor’ in full-on kook mode, teasing Simon Cowell with a riding crop during the auditions phase. She did get a market-friendly Cowell soundbite out of that – “a cross between David Bowie and Liza Minnelli” – to go with her Tim Rice citation (“more than one fine diva – she’s a whole host of them, and they all look wonderful and sound sensational”) but it also meant that the planned Vauxhall Tavern FHM shows got showbizzed, and abruptly morphed into the familiar jazz cabaret albeit with a Halloween tinge. Escape velocity lost and an opportunity missed, even if some of the FHM songs still got stirred into the mix.

Now she’s rescheduled the Monster for a couple of dates at the swish London Zedel eaterie: a luxuriant art-deco cabaret capsule. Again, not much about how she’s going to do it, or how much habit and setting is going to shape instrumentation and presentation, but I’m hoping that after last year’s false alarm this will be the real deal, and that whatever twenty years away have added to the show’s energies will add to the spice. Sadly, there’s nothing directly from the Monster on Youtube – and nothing of ‘Parts of My Privacy’ – so instead I’ll have to whet appetites one of the more Monsterous moments from the cabaret show, an excellent new number Holly posted up the other year (like a Bowie torch song for the American dream), and an FHM ballad in its original glossy LA-pop ’80s garb before Holly pared it back to an art-pop synth shimmer.




 
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Musica Lumini presents:
Joss Cope + Emily Jones
The Cellar Arts Club, (basement of) 70 Marine Parade, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

Joss Cope + Emily Jones, 2nd February 2018It’s always nice to hear about a new venue, pushing back against the swelling tides of blandness and land-banking; and Worthing’s Cellar Arts Club must be a godsend for the more inquisitive characters who live in Brighton’s smaller, sleepier cousin town. I say “new”, but in fact it’s been in existence for nearly a year – a small, sprightly co-op effort providing music, poetry, stand-up, discussion and small-scale theatre and film showings. This February, it celebrates a small coup in pulling in both Joss Cope and Emily Jones for a concert.

Any discussions of Joss inevitably involve invoking (and then quelling) the shadow of his big brother – Julian Cope, the ‘80s psych-pop chart star and holy fool who spent the next three decades evolving into a garage-rock pagan shaman, a looming Archdrude and more recently a heathen-folk Biker of Ragnarok. So here I go… While there are a few shared traits (a sibling similarity in tone, including the Midlands yawp that occasionally cuts through their middle-class diction; their West Coast way with a melody; their tendency to move from proclaimer to informal intimate in a heartbeat by slipping a conversational twist into a driving lyric) they more often sound like two boys who heard the same records but went away having heard and learned different things. For all of his anarchic ways, whenever Cope the Elder yomps off on his Odinist trip, dooms Christianity or tries to brain-bugger you into enlightenment with 12-strings and Mellotrons, he always seems anxious to please, impose and impress; to garner attention from (and for) his assorted upendings and derailments. More outrightly affable, Joss may have come along on some of Julian’s musical trips, but his own are more relaxed and chatty, drawn from the confidence of one who takes more pleasure in the deft shapework of being a craftsman than in being a noisy prophet of the heath.


 
Ever since his emergence thirty-odd years ago (with short-lived bands such as Freight Train Something Pretty Beautiful and United States Of Mind), Joss has brought Cope-ular bounce and chattiness to the acid wistfulness and garage grooves. Since then, apart from a longer stint with counter-pop collective deXter Bentley, it’s been mostly innumerable multi-instrumental pick-up collaborations between Brighton and London (from Sergeant Buzfuz to Crayola Lectern). However, with last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’ (recorded in Joss’ part-time home of Helsinki with a set of amenable Finnish musicians including Veli-Pekka Oinonen of the Leningrad Cowboys) he’s unveiled an album where his own voice comes clear to the surface. A luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron, it also shows that there’s more than enough in Joss’ songwriting to ensure that it’s worth listening to him even if he just rocks up alone with an acoustic guitar. With a delivery not too far off the drowsy cut-glass musings of Guy Chadwick (and travelling through similar musical territories to or the Robyn Hitchcock or The Monochrome Set, although he’s less frivolous than either), he provides deceptive sunny reflections on our currently souring culture with its intolerance, its blame-shifting and the growing poisoning of discourse (“fell voices charm the crowd and there’s a bill for everything / Heard the claim that destiny was waiting in the wings… / Gotta get out of this cauldron before it starts to boil / there’s the frog and the kettle, pour on toxic oil”). At the same time, he’s got a healthy disregard for the idea of singer as preacher – admitting, in Cloudless Skies, that “the truth is understated, there’s no reality to be debated, / but no-one wants to hear that in a song.”

So far, the singer-songwriter work of Truronian hinterland-folkie Emily Jones (daughter of cult sixties folk singer and instrument inventor Al Ashworth-Jones) has rambled across two albums and a collection of Bandcamp oddments. In these pages, she’s mostly shown up in connection with the regular support slots she’s played backing up the Spratleys Japs revival. Opening for Joss should provide a bit more of a window for getting across her own particular songview, which layers ancient drone-lays and Sandy Denny musings with latterday and merges ancient folk tropes with latterday horrorfolk tales and strands of modern rurality, in particular the mystical fraying of reality that comes with too much time alone in a remote cottage. Picking at her songbook reveals the makings of an intriguing psych-folk visionary, with stories of strange transformations, blurrings and exchanges (from her recasting of traditional selkie tales to the peculiar trash-moth creature that flits through Hermegant And Maladine to her musings on the supernatural interplay of housework, psychic memories and ghost-hopes in Pieces Of People).




 

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