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June 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – gloriously complex experimental rock evenings – The Mantis Opera, Barringtone and New Born Animal (8th June); Lost Crowns with Sharron Fortnam and Kavus Torabi (June 14th)

27 May

Several of London’s more convoluted art-rock genii are emerging from the woodwork to play live in the early part of June, accompanied by assorted fellow travellers and burlesque pop sympathisers. Read on…

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The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal, 8th June 2018

If you’ve wondering what a band might sound like if it fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti, you’re in luck… and, to be honest, probably pretty marginal. Come over here and sit next to me.

Stemming from solo work by guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway, The Mantis Opera now delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.



 
Assuming that recent reports of a broken-wristed drummer haven’t entirely torpedoed their availability, Barringtone should be in support, continuing their live drive towards the release of their debut album on Onamatopoeia this summer. Released songs have been sparse over the past few years; but enjoy this new-ish brainy little post-power-pop conundrum, exhibiting Barry Dobbins’ own ambitions as he moves up from the band’s previous wry, ornamented motorik drive into much more castellated, conversational proggy territories while keeping their knuckly XTC-inspired edge intact.


 
Seven-piece big-pop band New Born Animal complete the lineup at this Friends Serene gig. Headed by singer/songwriter/arranger Thomas Armstrong, they’re a sonorous wall-of-drunken-sound effort who sound like Blur (during their music-hall period) dragging the Walker Brothers into a dressing-room tipple too far. If so, they also sound like the stage before it all turns nasty: slightly discombobulated singalongs where self-consciousness is just rags in the breeze, the emotional valves have been opened up and everyone in the room is temporarily your lifelong friend. If this in turn sounds sloppy, then I’d suggest that there’s a lot of craft going into something which sags and collapses so gloriously and visibly, but which never disintegrates. There’s longing, wonder and helpless laughter all brimming at the back of this.


 

On top of this, the whole evening’s free if you turn up soon enough…

Friends Serene presents:
The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Friday 8th June 2018, 7.30pm
– free entry – information here and here

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Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 14th June 2018

The following week, Richard Larcombe’s Lost Crowns spearhead “an evening of songs with a lot going on in them”. In many respects, it’s a re-run of their triumphant London debut at the same venue back in January. No Prescott this time, sadly (though their instrumental ping-pong twitch would have been welcome), but Kavus Torabi is back with a guitar, a hand-pumped harmonium and more songs from his ongoing solo project. Launched the other month with the ‘Solar Divination’ EP, this might be a holiday from the jewelled and roaring intricacies of his main gig with Knifeworld, but it’s certainly not an escape from the psychedelic shadows which nightwing their way through the band’s apparently celebratory rainbow arcs. For this isolated, darker, more grinding work, Kavus strips the flash-bangs away and leaves us with the droning echoes: the meditative bruises, fears and queries, many of which nonetheless contain their own seeds of determination and a kind of celebratory acceptance.


 
As for the headliners, last time I anticipated Lost Crowns as likely to be (deep breath) “a rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection… complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.”

A tall order (even it was based on what Richard’s delivered in previous projects), but I wasn’t disappointed. With Lost Crowns, Richard’s created the most dynamic and surprising music of his career.

As before, the rest of the band’s lineup is a cross-section of London art-rock luminaries: Charlie Cawood, Nicola Baigent, Rhodri Marsden, Josh Perl, drummer “Keepsie”. Certainly the influence of Richard’s brother and usual collaborator James is missed (his genial, warm, embroidering effect on Richard’s work is underrated) but his absence allows both Richard and the band to stretch out in different directions – fiercer, more crammed, sometimes brutal in their complication.

A vortex of influences funnel around Richard, including Chicago math, witty Daevid Allen psych rampage, contemporary classical music and skipping, tuneful folk singalongs. Shaped by his particular persona and thought processes – as well as his innate Englishness – it all emerges as a kind of prog, but one in which the fat and the posturing has all been burned off by the nerves and the detail, and in which his dry, melodious wit winds around the work playing mirror-tricks, theatrical feints, and the conspiratorial winks of a master boulevardier. As much at home playfully slagging off the precious venerations of synaesthesia as they are with nine-minute epics with titles like Housemaid’s Knee, Lost Crowns are a delightful self-assembling puzzle.

Frustratingly, with Richard still keeping everything close to his chest (outside of Lost Crowns’ welcoming gig environment), I’ve got nothing to show you. No embedded songs, no videos, nothing but those words and these words. Richard’s likely to keep everything culty, so the best way that you can find out whether I’m just lying through garlands here is to go to the gig yourself.

Originally this was to be a double-header with Lost Crowns’ other friends and allies, the revived psychedelic-acoustic band Lake Of Puppies (re-teaming North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Craig and Sharron Fortnam with William D. Drake, in order to build on the bouncing life-pop they cheerfully hawked around London together in the late ‘90s). Sadly, the Puppies have had to pull out of the show following Bill’s collision with pianist’s RSI in early May. Instead, Lost Crowns will play an extended set with Sharron woven into it as a special guest; while Kavus will be stretching out his own set, covering the remaining time that’s not taken up with snooker-ace-turned-avant-rock-uncle Steve Davis on DJ duty.

Lost Crowns (with special guest Sharron Fortnam) + Kavus Torabi + DJ Steve Davis
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and
here
 

June 2018 – upcoming chamber-fusion and Rock In Opposition gigs in London – North Sea Radio Orchestra (2nd June); Lindsey Cooper Songbook with The Watts, John Greaves and Chlöe Herington (16th June)

24 May

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

North Sea Radio Orchestra are bringing their chamber-fusion sound to south London as part of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival. They’re a leafy and lambent confection of strings, reeds, nylon-strong guitar, boutique post-Stereolab keyboards and softened brass, fronted by the heartfelt disparate vocals of husband and wife team Sharron and Craig Fortnam (one a clarion carol, the other a papery whisper-croon).

Given the Festival’s context, they might pull out a few of the pieces with which they initially made their name a decade-and-a-half ago – garlanded, illuminated settings of Thomas Hardy, William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Either way, come for an evening which merges English country-garden airiness with German experimental rock boffinry and Zappa-styled tuned-percussion tinkles. Regular gigmate and sometime NSRO contributor William D. Drake was scheduled for a support slot, but since an injury put him out of action for the summer, he’s had to pull out. There may or may not be a suitable replacement.




 
Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
North Sea Radio Orchestra
Clapham Library, Mary Seacole Centre, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

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Lindsay Cooper Songbook, 16th June 2018

There’s a tenuous but true link between NSRO and Yumi Hara’s Half The Sky project. On top of the existing ties of friendship, they’re both mostly-acoustic chamber music projects with prominent bassoon and an electric experimental rock component; both focus predominantly on a single composer; both lean (implicitly or explicitly) towards the ‘70s Canterbury scene and sound.

However, where NSRO has a core of sweetness Half The Sky is decidedly umami. Set up to curate, recreate and perform the work of the late Lindsay Cooper (and specialising in the repertoire she put out for the groups Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music for Films) theirs is a knottier, more querying sound: a winding road full of debate and pointings, animated but affectionate.

There have been shifts in the band recently. While Yumi continues on keyboards and lever harp alongside co-founder/former Cow drummer Chris Cutler, and singer Dagmar Krause was added as the primary vocalist for last year’s European dates, the band now features John Greaves on bass and keyboards and Tim Hodgkinson on reeds and lap steel, bringing its ex-Cow member count up to four (with Chlöe Herington still on hand to add more assorted reeds). They’ve kept the fifty-fifty male/female player ratio which reflected their original title, but have now taken up the more sober, less whimsical name of Lindsay Cooper Songbook. This will be the debut of the new crew, but here’s video of various previous lineups of the band in action in London and Japan…



 
The evening also features three support sets drawn from the ensemble. Making their British debut, The Watts unites Yumi Hara with Tim Hodgkinson and Chris Cutler in a post-Cow trio. John Greaves adds a solo performance of his own songs on voice and piano, and Chlöe Herington (following the development of her VALVE project into a collective female trio which, in some respects, echoes Lindsay’s work with FIG) will be returning to her own solo roots with music for bassoon and electronics. If there are any gaps left, staunch ‘Organ’-ista Marina Organ will be filling them with her DJ set, drawing on the horde of fringe-rock and experimental records she plays on her Resonance FM show.

Lindsay Cooper Songbook + The Watts + John Greaves + Chlöe Herington + DJ Marina Organ
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 16th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

There’ll be a second chance to catch them this summer – at the Zappanale in Bad Doberan Germany on 21st July. For those who missed my Lindsay summary last time, here’s a trimmed version:

“Long before the knot of current pop-culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, (Lindsay) was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz… Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform.

“In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through. Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation.

“Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild… She was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (of Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’) finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland)…

“In the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG (which) not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve. FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic… Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see…

“Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined Chris Cutler for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel (in which) Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

“(Lindsay Cooper Songbook) provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.”
 

May/June 2018 – three peeks at the future – a WITCiH get-together featuring Hannah Peel (30th May); Yoshiki Ichihara, Sam Hostettler, Przemysław Trzaska at Synth 2.0 (7th June); the mysterious post-internet NowHere event at DIY Space (17th June)

20 May

Some interesting technological, electronic, sociological collisions are coming up in London this month and next month.

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If you’re fascinated by art and technology but find either or both too crowded by aggressive/patronizing male ownership and entitlement, or if you just like the idea of different viewpoints and identities being brought to bear on the world of geektech, you might find the following an interesting opportunity…

WITCiH, 30th May 2018WITCiH (Women In Technology Creative Industries Hub) is hosting a party to celebrate the making of its podcast pilot episode, featuring Irish composer/producer and “latterday Delia Derbyshire” Hannah Peel (whose work includes the Rebox musical box project, collaborations with John Foxx and membership of The Magnetic North, and whose analogue-synth-cum-brass-band project ‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ recently headlined at the newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall). There will also be an interactive audio-visual performance with AV duo Output Arts and WITCiH co-founder Bishi, featuring the former’s immersive installation Storm, which “recreates the thrill and excitement of watching a storm as it moves from dark and foreboding to booming explosions of light as the gale approaches” and which was previously seen at Enchanted Parks in Gateshead.

 
“This is an ideal opportunity to get together with artists and professionals in the creative tech industries. Science, technology, engineering & mathematics (STEM) have always had an intimate relationship with the arts; and WITCiH (Women In Technology Creative Industries Hub) aims to explore & expand our knowledge of women working at that intersection – past, present & future. WITCiH is female-focused but is gender inclusive, welcoming to all people throughout the spectrum of gender and identity.

“WITCiH aims to educate and inspire people through an understanding of women and non-binary people in tech, set in an historical context; and to highlight, celebrate and showcase women currently working in technology with a clear focus on creativity and the arts. Founded by interdisciplinary musician/artists and audio-visual performers Bishi and Matthew Hardern (a.k.a. Glamorre), WITCiH is an online and real world platform for ideas, research, performance, creation & networking.”

Previous WITCiH events in last year’s Winter Salon series have featured Bishi herself, Empress Stah (the aerial artist, cabaret performer, show producer/director and Peaches collaborator) and media artist Aphra Shemz, who “(seeks) to express herself through radical new technologies, abstraction, interactivity and light, (exploring) the way in which we might use these tools to imagine what the role of art could be in the future.” WITCiH are currently “looking for sponsorship to produce an entire series, so any ideas of how we could achieve this are very welcome.” If you’ve got any, get in touch and get stuck in.


 
WITCiH and Bishi present:
WITCiH Podcast Listening Party
The Barge House, 46a De Beauvoir Crescent, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 5RY, England
Wednesday 30th May 2018, 8.00pm
– information here

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Synth 2.0: Yoshiki Ichihara + Sam Hostettler +  Przemysław Trzaska, 7th June 2018

A week later, a group of people led by space designer Tuo Lin are decking out Bloomsbury’s house-of-weird The Horse Hospital for what organiser Rica Zhu is claiming will be “a unique synth/electronic music show with a stunning visual journey. We bet it’s gonna be a magic time of synth electronic music you have never experienced before! Three musicians are ready to refresh your ears by using some special instruments with multiple synthesisers to take you to a neo synth world! The venue is also installed like a light-reflecting crystal especially for the interaction of the synth music and full of interesting experimental elements. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s fly to the electronic galaxy!”

That may sound a little gushy, perhaps even a tad huāpíng, but the music itself suggests otherwise. Handling the noises, textures and tunes are Yoshiki Ichihara (maker of jittery, bubbling cave/chemical tank music), “relaxed bass-focussed dance” specialist Sam Hostettler (who also creates immersive sub-bass rollscapes) and Przemysław Trzaska (who makes wombadelic firework electronica as Crowstep). Given the Horse Hospital’s already trippy architecture – rooms which burst off a set of long ramped floorways, originally built to lead horses to the upstairs section, and sharing space with a collection of archive fashion costumes – plus the promise of crazed crystallinity, you can expect a delightfully disorientating evening.



 
Rica Zhu presents:
Synth 2.0: Yoshiki Ichihara + Sam Hostettler + Przemysław Trzaska
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Thursday 7th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

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In the middle of June, down at the DIY Space, they’re sketching out something broad and absorbing which will investigate and defy interconnectivity and its impact on art and music-making. So far, only the bare bones of the concept have been made public. Here they are:

NowHere, 17th June 2018 “NowHere is an event series focusing on post-internet music and art. We invite emerging artists to collaborate together, creating one-off multimedia performances inspired by the internet but will not be shareable online. To do so, mobile phones won’t be allowed in this event.

“The Internet is a huge simulating machine through which everything is reproducible. Will the content of the performance and our experience still be original and valuable when it can be copied over and over again? We want to raise and discuss this question with our artists and audiences through this event. We want to create a commonplace in the middle of virtual and physical reality, bringing music and arts from nowhere on the internet to now here, a physical space where celebrating improvised performance emerged from the intimate connection between artists and audiences.”

No news on who’s creating and performing here yet – I’ll try to put up an update closer to the time. As with all DIY Space events, this is a members-and-guests only event, so if you’re going be sure to sign up for your two-quid annual membership deal here first.

Sadteabag Ltd. presents:
‘NowHere_0000000000000001’ (lineup t.b.c.)
DIY Space For London, 96-108 Ormside Street, South Bermondsey, London, SE15 1TF, England
Sunday 17th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

May/June 2018 – gigs for Crayola Lectern in London and Brighton with Joss Cope, The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband and others t.b.c. (16th May, 1st June); ‘A Spring Symposium’ fundraiser for Tim Smith near Salisbury with Lake Of Puppies, Arch Garrison, Crayola Lectern, Bob Drake, Kemper Norton and Emily Jones (12th May)

1 May

Crayola Lectern + Joss Cope + The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband, 16th May 2018First things first: the murmuring, brass-dappled Crayola Lectern trio are making their way up for a rare London gig in the middle of May, followed by a Brighton launch show for the new Crayola Lectern album, ‘Happy Endings’, at the start of June. The vehicle for Chris Anderson’s tidal, sometimes melancholic, often softly funny songs – low-key dramas of reflection, resignation and not-quite acceptance – they’re powered by his piano, Al Strachan’s sleepy cornet and percussion and Brighton uberdrummer Damo Waters’ parallel skills on keyboards.

It’s not been confirmed yet who’s joining in at Brighton, though the whispers are that it’ll be someone – or several someones – drawn from Chris’ Brighton psychedelic circles, which includes driving psych-rock ensemble ZOFFF, Kemper Norton (more on whom shortly), CLOWWNS and Spratleys Japs. However, the London bill has its two support acts.

Psych-pop journeyman Joss Cope, armed with his strongest project yet (last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’) will be along for the ride. I recently described the album as “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”. Live, you may get a little less of the texturing, but you’ll still get the songs: chatty, wry commentaries on a world wobbling off the rails. The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband also happens to be Nick Howiantz, who otherwise divides his time between running Brixton Hill Studios and fronting sporadic, noisy Brighton psych-pop rompers Ham Legion. I’ve no idea about what’s behind the genderswapping ecclesiastical mask, but he/she/they are being tagged as a “veritable modern day Syd Barrett”, so come along and see whether that’s a claim worth claiming or whether it falls interestingly wide of the mark.




 
Dates:

  • Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England, Wednesday 16th May 2018, 7:30pm (with Joss Cope + The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband) – information here, here and here
  • The Rose Hill, 70-71 Rosehill Terrace, Brighton, BN1 4JL, England, Friday 1st June 2018, 8.00pm (support t.b.c.) – information here

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A Spring Symposium (for Tim Smith), 12th May 2018
I was talking about Crayola – and William D. Drake – only a few posts ago, as regards their Worthing fundraiser for Tim Smith on 19th May. A week before that, both of them (in various permutations) will be joining another Tim fundraiser – this one an all-dayer in Coombe Bissett, nestled in the Wiltshire chalk downs south-west of Salisbury.

‘A Spring Symposium’ is the brainchild – or heartchild – of onetime Cornish folkie Emily Jones, who’s now joined the cluster of Cardiacs family musicians living around Salisbury. Her own songs of seal-wives, haunted bungalows, witchery and other glimpses beyond the vale will be part of the event, alongside contributions from various other characters well-known to Cardiacs followers or to aficionados of certain weird-folk, Rock in Opposition and hauntological camps.




 
Emily’s near-neighbours, Craig and Sharron Fortnam of North Sea Radio Orchestra, will be taking part in various permutations. Craig will be bringing along his Arch Garrison duo with James Larcombe, singing soft songs (on gut-strung acoustic guitar and buzzing organs and monosynths) about long walks, lost brothers, ancient roads, dogs, death and bereavement and the various gentle tug-of-wars between family and necessary solitude, compromise and truthfulness, art and earning. Craig and Sharron will both be playing in a second reunion of Lake Of Puppies, the rollicking, affectionate acoustic-psychedelic folk-pop band they formed with avuncular ex-Cardiac and alternative keyboard virtuoso William D. Drake over twenty years ago. During the mid-‘90s they’d play regular small gigs around London; bobbing up with their bouncy songs of life, good humour and growing things, like a rosy apple in a tub. Sadly, they went their separate and amiable ways after only a few years and no more than a couple of rough demos. Having reconvened in the summer of 2013 (for a lovingly received appearance at the Alphabet Business Convention), they promptly disappeared again, but have been working out a long-delayed debut album on the quiet. Some of that ought to show up at this concert. See below for a couple of dashes of their particular flavour. Large Life might be billed as Bill’s, but it’s Puppies to the bone, and their 2013 set from Salisbury should give you an idea as to how they are now.




 
I’ve already mentioned the Crayola Lectern set; there’ll also be one from Bob Drake (the onetime 5uus and Thinking Plague guy currently bouncing around the country on a tour of his own). Sit at Uncle Bobby’s feet; listen to his electric guitar jangle, pop and change its mind every other mid-phrase; and take in some loveably bizarre constantly changing one-minute songs about sinister meerkats, experiments gone wrong, and the way in which assorted eldritch beasts from dark dimensions annoyingly disrupt your life, your shopping and your evening’s relaxation. If Ogden Nash, Fred Frith, Roald Dahl and Neil Young had all crept up to H.P. Lovecraft’s house one larky summer’s evening with a pint of moonshine and some tall tales – and really made him laugh – it would have sounded something like this.


 
While there may be a couple of extra guests showing up as a surprise, the Symposium roster is formally rounded off by Kemper Norton and by Libbertine Vale – the former an electro-acoustic folk-culture miner of music and landscapes, (armed with instruments, electronics and field recordings to remap both physical terrain and song terrains), the latter the Omnia Opera/7shades singer who’s revealed herself as a rebel Midlands folkie, digging deep into the more macabre corners of the folk-song catalogue and coming back with “uncomfortable songs about death, a capella sqwarking that will kill or heal your ears, dependent on your disposition.” It’s tough to track Libby down on the web, but here’s a bit of Kemper.



 
There’s only ten days to go ‘til the event, but there’s still time to arrange to get there. There’ll be cakes and ale, there’ll be vegetarian food; Tim Smith himself will probably be in attendance, and Emily’s suggested that you caravan-camp out on the chalk downs. If this English May makes its mind up (and settles for being a good springsummer), it all ought to be lovely.

Emily Jones presents:
A Spring Symposium: Lake of Puppies + Crayola Lectern + Arch Garrison + Bob Drake + Kemper Norton + Libbertine Vale + Emily Jones
Coombe Bissett Village Hall, Shutts Lane, Homington Road, Coombe Bissett, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 4LU, England
Saturday 12th May 2018, 2.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

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.



 
* * * * * * * *

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.



 

* * * * * * * *

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…




 

November 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – Jack Cheshire and Robert Chaney at New Roots (23rd); Effra and Cynefin at Nest Collective (29th); Rif Mountain presents Bare Bones, Robert Sunday, Hold Music and Nancy Wallace at the Old Dentist (30th)

17 Nov

Three diverse types of folk show coming up in London: a selection of straight Americana, folk baroque fusion, Welsh archivism, post-rock-tinged acoustica, Appalachian-inspired imaginings, and hauntological dub/field recording-infused psychedelia. (One of the gigs, in Homerton, will be of particular interest to fans of psych folk ensemble The Owl Service…)

There’s quite enough existing press release verbiage for me to just quote in bulk, slip in a few audio/visual clips and waltz away…

* * * * * * * *

Jack Cheshire & Robert Chaney, 23rd November 2017

New Roots Promotions presents:
New Roots: Jack Cheshire + Robert Chaney
The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England
Thursday 23rd November 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Jack Cheshire brings his four-piece band to New Roots at The Old Queens Head. His contemporary alt-folk sound with a post-rock twist has led him to share bills with luminary peers Songhoy Blues and Josh T. Pearson, and grace the stages of The Green Man Festival and Kings Place. The ghosts of Nick Drake and Syd Barrett skirt the edges of his songs, embellished by what ‘Uncut’ magazine calls an “Ian McCulloch-style croon”, with a “burnished psychedelia (that) takes this music to the skies”. He released his 2017 album ‘Black Light Theatre’ to universal press and radio acclaim, making fans of 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne and Tom Robinson along the way.

 
“A rising star on the London folk scene, American singer-songwriter Robert Chaney counts Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams and Judee Sill as influences. A remarkable songwriter with a voice to send shivers down your spine, sown deep into his songs are threads of the dusty blues of the 20s and 30s, pulp noir tales of the 40s, the cable-knit folk revival of the 50s, and the French celluloid new wave of the 60s. His recently released debut album ‘Cracked Picture Frames’ garnered high praise in the music press, with Folk Radio UK making it their featured album of the month.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Effra + Cynefin, 27th November 2017

The Nest Collective presents:
Effra + Cynefin
The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England
Wednesday 29th November 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

A monthly evening of the finest folk music live at the Old Queens Head in Islington.

“Described as “an immersive, trance-like musical treat” by ‘Songlines’, contemporary contemporary folk trio Effra are guitarist Alex Bishop, fiddle/mandolin player Tom Newell and accordionist Aidan Shepherd (accordion). Heralding from Bath, Shrewsbury and Canterbury respectively, they met in London in 2011. Although coming from rock, classical and jazz backgrounds, a strong connection was quickly formed, and they began meeting regularly to write and develop music that shared a common ground.Early performances were well received, and the band soon grew an identity of its own, fuelled by innovative ideas brought to the table by all three members. In 2012 after only a year since their first meeting, the band won the Bath Folk Festival ʻNew Shoots Competitionʼ on the strength of their compositions and high-energy performance, being hailed as “a trio of the highest order that, despite their young age, sound like they have always sat comfortably among the greatest of the folk scene.” In 2014 they released their debut album, ‘Lose An Hour’ and toured extensively through 2015-16 with performances at BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’, Cambridge Folk Festival, and EFEx/Homegrown festival.

“In Spring 2017 Effra released their highly-anticipated second album, ‘Below Ground’, which captures the unseen subterranean world beneath our feet. The recording process saw the band trek to the source of London’s only fully concealed waterway (and their musical namesake) the Effra river, as well as venturing within ninety-six kilometres worth of tunnels underneath the UK’s largest limestone quarry, Box Freestone Mine. This gig at the Old Queen’s Head is their official album launch.



 

“Cynefin (a Welsh noun with no direct equivalent in English) is somewhat of a linguistic enigma. Originally a farming term used to describe the habitual tracks and trails worn by sheep in hillsides – the word has morphed and deepened over the centuries to conjure a very personal sense of place, belonging and familiarity. The artist Kyffin Williams describes it as ‘that relationship: the place of your birth and of your upbringing, the environment in which you live and to which you are naturally acclimatised.’

This particular ‘Cynefin’ is the musical brainchild of Clettwr valley native Owen Shiers and is a journey to discover the musical landscape and contours of Ceredigion and West Wales. Following a chance discovery of a long forgotten song by a local ballad singer, Owen was inspired to uncover more of the untold stories of the locals who’s voices have been lost over the centuries. A research scholarship from the Finzi Trust has further aided the project, enabling him to delve through unseen archive material, look through rare books as well as source songs from ballad singers and cultural historians.

“From the grumbles of millers past, musings of balladeers to the every day tales of ‘y werin’ (the common folk) – the resulting material is unique both in its originality (some of the songs have not been sung for over hundreds of years) but also in the arrangements which are ambitious and distinct.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Bare Bones + Hold Music + Robert Sunday + Nancy Wallace, 30th November 2017

Rif Mountain and The Old Dentist present
‘When The Night Falls’: Bare Bones + Robert Sunday + Hold Music + Nancy Wallace
The Old Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Thursday 30th November 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Bare Bones are a duo of Jason Steel (solo, Hold Music, The Owl Service) and Dom Cooper (United Bible Studies, Circle/Temple, Unknown Heretic, Zensunni, Unit One, The Straw Bear Band, The Owl Service). Their latest release ‘Moon Phases’ is informed by improvisatory techniques, ethnographic field recordings, and the sonic spaces of dub; a narcoleptic Ennio Morricone soundtrack. The music is carved out of ritualistic drones, creating nuanced textured soundscapes. Tracks inhabit a moonlit world, reminiscent of the hazy pacing of Peter Fonda’s film ‘The Hired Hand’ or the fragmentary/searching writing of Fernando Pessoa’s ‘The Book of Disquiet’. Bare and layered, simple and nuanced, Moon Phases has a somnambulistic grace all its own.



 
Robert Sunday is a solo acoustic singer-songwriter who combines elements of traditional folk, Americana, poetry, and cinematic allusions. He played his first gig at Cecil Sharp House in March 2011 on the release of his debut EP ‘Butterfly Hairslide’ on the Rif Mountain label. Since then he has played regularly in London. ‘Halcyon Bloom’ and ‘Cold Little Roses are his latest EPs. The ever-chipper Mr. Sunday deliver more trademark lyrical gold, set to melodies that would make a hungover Kris Kristofferson blush (in his prime!). Sunday deals with concepts around memory, love and time. For fans of Bill Fay, Palace Music and Lee Hazlewood. Stark and quite wonderful.

 
Hold Music are Jason Steel (guitar, banjo, voice) and Daniel Gardner (percussion).The duo’s eponymous debut outing offers tightly wound compositions that twist & contort in unexpected directions; spare yet expansive, precise yet rambling. Gardner’s percussion is locked into Steel’s deft string work throughout. Consisting of four tracks over thirty minutes, recorded live with John Hannon (James Blackshaw, Chris Corsano). The lyrics touch on Appalachian murder ballads, original sin and poor grammar. At turns pretty – ritualistic – odd. A banger, for sure.

 
Nancy Wallace is a singer and musician from East London, having been born and raised in a folk-singing family in a Suffolk seaside town. She came to notice singing with the Memory Band and later as part of the cult alt-folk collective The Owl Service. A guitarist and concertina player (as were her father and grandfather before her), her approach to both instruments, and her interpretations of both traditional material and her own songs, set her apart on the contemporary folk scene. Her solo releases began with the critically acclaimed Young Hearts EP and her debut full length album, Old Stories, released to glowing reviews, garnering her a cover feature in fRoots magazine and a BBC Folk Awards nomination. She has performed throughout Britain and Europe, including at festivals such as The Green Man, Glastonbury, End Of The Road, Sidmouth Folk Week, The Big Chill and Towersey Folk Festival. She is currently writing and recording material for her next “proper” album.”



 

June 2017 – the month’s Daylight Music gigs in London – Jherek Bischoff, Emma Gatrill & Liam Byrne (June 3rd); Epic45, The Great Albatross, and BJ Cole & Emily Burridge (June 10th); Louis Barabbas, Melissa Parmenter and Ben McManus & Clara Delfina (June 17th); Trans-Siberian March Band, Antony Elvin & His Men and Toby Hay (June 24th)

25 May

The people behind eclectic, free, family-friendly London event (and ‘Misfit City’ favourite) Daylight Music are swirling back into action in June with four weekly gigs to start their summer season (even if two of them aren’t nominally DM events, the Daylight imprint shows clearly). Here’s me simply boosting the existing signal…

* * * * * * * *

Daylight Music 252, 3rd June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 252 – Jherek Bischoff + Emma Gatrill + Liam Byrne
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 3rd June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“Only Jherek Bischoff would record an album in an empty, two-million-gallon underground water tank (with a reverb delay lasting forty-five seconds). A fabulously inventive and playful musician, Jherek is a mostly self-taught composer whose music dazzles, confounds and delights.

 
Liam Byrne divides his time between playing very old and very new music on the viol. ‘The Times’ praised his “nuanced and expressive, stylish virtuosity”. He’s worked with artists including Damon Albarn, Nils Frahm and Matthew Herbert, and the likes of Nico Muhly have written works for him.

 
Emma Gatrill is a multi-instrumentalist based in Brighton. Playing live, she augments her harp and vocal with ambient analogue synths and drums machines, layered with guitar atmospherics from Marcus Hamblett.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Daylight Music 253, 10th June 2017
Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 253 – Epic45 + The Great Albatross + BJ Cole & Emily Burridge
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 10th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“The much-loved epic45 — championed by the much-missed John Peel — have been making music for over twenty years. Their celebrated EPs and albums are inspired by the ever-changing English landscapes.


 
The Great Albatross tug gently on the heartstrings with their sweetly shimmering indie songs. Formed in Glasgow by A. Wesley Chung (formerly of Boris Smile), the group has an expansive, international list of contributors and collaborators.


 
“If you had to combine any two instruments, you might not immediately think of putting cello and steel guitar together, but BJ Cole and Emily Burridge confound expectations with their dynamic, sophisticated music. Hailed as “languorous, sensuous, moving music…amazing!” by ‘Art Nouveau’, these fine musicians weave around each other, mixing their intuitive improvisations with inspired, moving interpretations of classic pieces.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Louis Barabbas, Melissa Parmenter + Ben McManus & Clara Delfina, 17th June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Louis Barabbas + Melissa Parmenter + Ben McManus & Clara Delfina
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 17th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

Louis Barabbas is a Daylight Music favourite, thrilling the audience and tearing up the stage with his caustic love songs and energetic show. A writer, performer and label director, he’s performed all over the world and shared stages with acts including Motörhead, Supergrass and The Blockheads.


 
Melissa Parmenter is a well-respected film producer, who’s collaborated closely with director Michael Winterbottom over the last fifteen years, including producing all three series of ‘The Trip’ trilogy. She’s also an accomplished composer and pianist, having scored a number of films including ‘Genova’, ‘The Killer Inside Me’ and ‘Comes A Bright Day’.


 
“After repeatedly meeting at various festivals last year, Ben McManus & Clara Delfina decided to join forces to sing American old-time and bluegrass music, blending banjo, fiddle and guitar with their beautiful harmonies.”


 

* * * * * * * *

Trans-Siberian March Band, Antony Elvin & His Men and Toby Hay, 24th June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Trans-Siberian March Band + Antony Elvin & His Men (with Nina Miranda) + Toby Hay
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 24th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“Summer Solstice edition…

“It’s always a party when the Trans-Siberian March Band are around! A riotous jumble of cabaret, carnival and overwhelming joy, this 13-piece Balkan brass band have delighted audiences at Glastonbury, Woman and the Royal Albert Hall. The Times called them “hugely entertaining… perfect festival crowd-pleasures.” They’ll be playing their winning mix of traditional Turkish and gypsy tunes, Russian sing-alongs and swinging klezmer.


 
Antony Elvin (“a Noel Coward for the Noel Fielding generation!’, according to Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh!) is a singer/songwriter from London. His songs take the listener out on a ridiculous spree, in ‘Perfect London’ – a London of your dreams, gaslit yet modern,­ pastoral yet subliminally violent. In a strong English accent, he sings about the characters he meets and the romances of the day without the vulgar baggage of angst. Special guest for this concert is Nina Miranda of Smoke City, Shrift and Zeep – she of ‘Underwater Love’ fame.

Toby Hay makes instrumental music inspired by the landscape, people and history of Mid Wales. A guitarist and composer, ‘Folkroom‘ claim that “he’s one of the finest storytellers… and he’s never sung a word.”


 

* * * * * * * *

As ever, there are likely to be interstitial musical acts filling in the gaps between acts (via loops, atmospheres or turns on the venue’s grand piano or massive church organ), plus late in-the-day extra recruitments. These will be announced closer to the time.

Good to see Toby Hay on one of the bills – his debut EP featured in ‘Misfit City’ several years ago, and since then he’s become a mainstay of the Lamplight acoustic nights up at Regather in Sheffield…

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