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

10 Feb

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


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

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



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

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




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

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

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


 
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Dates:

My Octopus Mind:

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

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

January 2019 – upcoming London folk gigs – Laboratorium Pieśni (5th January); Sincere Deceivers + Amy May Ellis (18th January); Shirley Collins in the round (31st January)

1 Jan

Premiering last month’s new album ‘Rasti’, heady world-folkers Laboratorium Pieśni make one of their regular returns to London at the start of the month, playing the grand octagonal space of the Union Chapel. Entering their sixth acclaimed year as a band, they’re an all-female seven-piece of polyphonic harmony singers and multi-instrumentalists from the Tri-City district of northern Poland, cooking up a stew of song with traditional material (initially from the Ukraine, but with a songbook now swollen to incorporate music from Poland, Belarus, Bulgaria and Turkey among others).


 
In keeping with the group’s identity as a “song laboratory” – as well as with their connection to instinctive responses and to healing processes – the songs which Laboratorium Pieśni play are festooned with flutes, violins, rebabs, shruti box drones and a web of tuned and untuned percussion (from chimes, gongs and rattles to shamanic drums), adding a mystical cosmic-feminine shimmer to the music’s existing roots. You can listen to an interview with the Laboratorium women (conducted by Canadian television station TVNR) here.



 
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Closer to home and further forward in time, propulsive electro-acoustic folk-pop trio Sincere Deceivers (with roots in Yorkshire but now resident in London) return to action via a new semi-live EP of original songs – their first in half a decade. ‘Hot Handed’ is the lead-off track – a yearning, Martin Furey-esque song of romantic obsession, full of chiming guitar and swirling cello.




 
For their Sebright Arms gig, Sincere Deceivers will be joined by another Yorkshire friend: emergent singer-songwriter Amy May Ellis. She’s touting last autumn’s debut EP ‘Weathered By Waves’: five dreamy ukelele-driven, water-fixated, altered-state song musings on youthful restlessness and the dislocation of emotion (orchestrated with shruti drones, harps and the soft echoing ghosts of guitar strings).




 
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A cornerstone figure of living English folk music is appearing at the Roundhouse at the end of the month, as part of the venue’s extensive In The Round concert season. Back in the mid-’60s Shirley Collins was one of the main exponents of the English folk revival: in her case, a revival drawing on a childhood fascination with the old folk songs which emerged from underneath the blanket of popular culture at times of stress or memory, as well as spells learning and researching alongside voracious American folk curator Alan Lomax and reconstructive British rule-setter Ewan MacColl (both of whom, to put it mildly, didn’t always credit or respect her for her own work, intelligence or contributions).

Shirley Collins, 31st January 2019

Beginning her career at the cusp of the ’50s and ’60s by taking Pete Seeger’s vocal-and-banjo American revival model of old and new work (and transmuting it into a more transatlantic mode), Shirley gradually worked her way deeper back into English forms. Along the way, she recorded the benchmark guitar-and-vocal album ‘Folk Routes, New Routes’ (with folk baroque guitarist Davy Graham) and a number of albums featuring the startling arrangements of her own keyboard-playing sister Dolly, plus foundational ’70s folk rock and Morris revival records with the Albion Country Band, the Morris On project and others.

Over the years she has inspired plenty of other musicians, be they the crop of folk-rockers who sprang up in her wake at the time, or more latterday disciples including alt.folk and alt.country explorers (such as Angel Olson and Josephine Foster), square-peg rock musicians with broad listening habits (such as Blur’s Graham Coxon and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood), off-beat songwriters who delightedly snag themselves onto folk ideas (such as Richard Larcombe of Lost Crowns and Stars In Battledress) or folk-tinged textural experimentalists like Current 93’s David Tibet and eclecti-ambient duo Cyclobe (the former of whom coaxed her back into musical work in 2006, and the latter of whom produced her 2016 comeback album ‘Lodestar’). Most recently, she’s been embraced by various exponents of the New Weird Britain musical movement, drawn to her songs by their archaeological texture and their frequent accounts of dark psychological swells, stark menace and human injustice.


 
Yet Shirley’s spiritual legacy resides most purely in anyone (particularly, any woman) who picks up the thread of folk archetypes, winnows out any temptations towards twee fluffery and glib romantic posturing, and returns to the unadorned human grain of the music. Her own personal commitment and connection to the work, and to living the work honestly, is absolute (for good or ill – assailed by a traumatic late ’70s divorce from the Albion Band’s Ashley Hutchings, the impact of which slipped in under her staunch guard, she was physically unable to sing for the best part of thirty years). Shorn of the halo of veneration, her recordings are sparse and matter-of-fact, her voice that of a neighbourhood teller of tales (many of them harsh) rather than some fluting bel canto feelgood exercise. The natural habitat and venue for her work would seem to be some stone-flagged kitchen or ancient pub space rather than a concert hall: perhaps the focussing-lens effect of the Roundhouse’s setting and seating will meet that need halfway.




 
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Dates as follows:

Laboratorium Pieśni
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 5th January 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

The Folkroom presents:
Sincere Deceivers + Amy May Ellis
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Friday, 18 January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Shirley Collins
The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 8EH, England
Thursday 31st January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – flexi-clectica at Apple Tree: The Live Lounge Vol II with Rudi Douglas, J. Aria, Awkward Ndure, DJ Sonikku, Martell O’Neill, Daryl Fox-Huxley and DJ Kevin Morosky (2nd August)

31 Jul

Apple Tree: The Live Loung Vol. II, 2nd August 2018Since its launch earlier this year, broad-based London music-and-performance event Apple Tree has set itself a bold framework. Curated by tireless promoter and club personality Mark-Ashley Dupé and by cross-disciplinary designer/film-maker Samuel Douek, its Live Lounge event is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQIA musicians and artists from across the city (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual/allies, for those having trouble keeping up with those ever-burgeoning inclusive acronyms). It’s also happily intersectional in both intent and in entertainment. The convergence of queerness and blackness already seems to be a specialty, offsetting the compressive grinding of racism and the bristling aggression of homophobes by providing a stage for some fiery and assertive performers.

If this is starting to sound too specialised, too academic, or too much like a sexual/political cul-de-sac, I should reign things in a bit. In fact, the backbone of the debut Apple Tree evening back in June (which I only caught up and heard about recently, several months after the event) seems to have been electric/eclectic soul, provided by singer-songwriters Miggy Dela Rosa, Albert Gold and Awkward Ndure. Gay electro-acoustic composer Daniel McBride was also on hand, his work bridging that gap between the capital’s young classical scene, its queer-arts scene and the electronic music continuum which unites (in both work and play) pop, dance culture and high-art experimentalism. Bringing the words was topical poet and fervent discursor Black Ops Poetry; bringing the costumes and personae was queer cabaret sensation Rhys Holis (performer of Rhys’ Pieces and founder of Dalston cabaret night Queefy); and bringing damn near everything was operatic/discursive costumed electro-acoustic performance artist Oberon White (who considers himself “part of an eclectic tradition incorporating shamans, clowns, automata, cyborgs and drag artists”).

In other words, Apple Tree’s shaping up to be an event that’s equally comfortable with party pop and far-out high art concepts, unifying them through a flexible, diverse queer lens. There aren’t that many places where you can see a happy, possibly camp singalong immediately followed by a text-spouting man dressed as a mythical Greek bird-god.

The upcoming second Apple Tree Live Lounge show at the beginning of August is perhaps a tad less adventurous than the debut was, but it’s all part of the ebb and flow, and comes packaged with dinner care of Shoreditch’s Hoi Polloi brasserie and a DJ set from photographer/film director Kevin Morosky. As for the performers, Awkward makes a return from the launch event with her Latin-tinged folk-soul – at least I think it’s her, since some of the publicity suggests that it might be Evan Williams from MTV teen comedy ‘Awkward’ (which in turn makes me feel as if I’m slipping down some rabbit hole of an involved in-joke). Assuming that I do have the right Awkward, here’s a clip of her performing with guitarist Sim Chappelle a couple of years ago. I’m on more solid ground with the billing for accomplished soul’n’stage singer Martell O’Neil (whose past and current work includes the travelling Motown revue ‘How Sweet It Is’); and for Daryl Fox-Huxley, the current/former guitarist for house-tinged indie pop act The Hook, now concentrating on solo work with a folk-pop base, “his own East London twist and lyrics to match” and probably at least a few other hints and approaches brought in from his abiding love for reggae, techno and techhouse.



 
Headliner Rudi Douglas is a onetime ‘X Factor’ contestant (he was in the 2006 series when he was nineteen) but don’t hold that against him, or allow it to constrain him. Instead, take a look at and have a listen to this – ‘He Won’t Swim In My Ocean’, a four-year-old but evergreen song which proves that Rudi doesn’t need the Cowell circus to help him make grand heartbursting pop, with a gay theme but a universal touch.


 
For this session, the more experimental kudos is provided by DJ Sonikku (who mashes ‘80s house into chiptune with the aid of the purloined and repurposed guts of Sega Mega Drive consoles) and even more so by Jacob Aria – a.k.a non-binary soundscaper J. Aria. Interested in “tension, desolation, morbidity and eroticism”, J. creates intricate, absorbing musical washes, beats and tapestries via sampler, turntable and voice in which hauntology, psychedelic ambience and hints of house engage in a spectral, full-bodied mysterious dance: a ghostly neighbourhood of percolating histories for “a world of heterotopic ‘otherness’, pushing senses of horror and psychosis within queerdom and the incidental beauty of the fractured”.

 
Apple Tree Live presents:
Apple Tree – The Live Lounge – Vol. 2: Rudi Douglas + Jacob Aria + Awkward Ndure + DJ Sonikku + Martell O’Neill + Daryl Fox-Huxley + DJ Kevin Morosky
Miranda @ Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, 100 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 6JQ, England
Thursday 2nd August 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Léscines, Oscar Mic, Crooked Weather and Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous at Paper Dress Vintage Takeover (26th July); Alexia Chambi, Charlie Draper, Jared Rood, Johnny Crooks, Tom Bright and William. at BOX Live (27th July)

22 Jul

A couple more London gigs in small places…

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Paper Dress Vintage Takeover: Léscines + Oscar Mic + Crooked Weather + Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous, 26th July 2018

A distorted rootsy evening, first, at Paper Dress in east London. Léscines have been stirring up and churning out mongrel reggae-rock, cartoon Americana and scrawny blues licks for about five years now, throwing in a touch of psychobilly noir and webbed folk. Jay Fraser’s joyously unhinged songwriting pulls in a palette of people and extra instrumentation from banjo to brass, Wurlitzer organ to djembe, and songs about wolves, crows, border country, assorted dooms. If Ted Hughes and Nick Cave had run away to be cowboys, shared a bottle of toxic mescal together and then co-written a stark children’s book a couple of days later, it might have ended up a little like this. With a new album in the can and expected soon, they’re headlining with gusto.


 
Expansive rock-tinged folk group Crooked Weather hail from east Yorkshire. Their multi-instrumentalism, and their willingness to take a song idea for an introspective yet expansive run, has seen them compared to The Incredible String Band; but perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch in the wrong direction. For better or for worse, Crooked Weather conspicuously lack several of the ISB’s more outrageous qualities, both good and bad (the saucer-eyed eclectic musical grabbing, the eccentric psychedelic perspective, the baffling sectional song-mozaics… the poisonous family antagonism).

Instead, they’re a soberer breed of folk mystics – content not to burn out their inspirations, and to be diverse while being careful with their craft. It’s difficult to imagine them vanishing down the Scientology manhole, or losing shedloads on money on theatre dance projects. Searchers they may be, but they keep their vision handy and controlled; like a lens tucked away into a pocket, always available to focus in on a subject.Though they’re prepared to pursue a history or a batch of intimations to the horizon, Crooked Weather are less inclined to drop over the edge into another country.


 
Crooked Weather’s fellow east Yorkshire band, “deathblues collective” Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous (at one time “compiled of a villain, a heathen, and a velvet doll” and apparently still “God-fearin’ nectophiles”), are coming down from Hull, bringing their gutter slide, buzzsaw punk bass and preacher warnings of imminent doom. Also racing into place is Seamus Hayes, a.k.a Oscar Mic dubbed “the freakish love-child of The Beastie Boys and Little Richard, birthed at a grunge orgy” and bringing assorted busker-hip-hop ideas to the stage with his verbal flow, his cartoon-spattered guitar, his pedal-board and his beatboxing.


https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtNU4ZhhsiunEN711FHY2ow

 
Roundtable Collective presents:
Paper Dress Vintage Takeover: Léscines + Oscar Mic + Crooked Weather + Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Thursday 26th July 2018, 7.45pm
– information here and here

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BOX Live: Alexia Chambi + Charlie Draper + Jared Rood + Johnny Crooks + Tom Bright + William., 27th July 2018About twenty minutes walk from ‘Misfit City’, Crouch End-based recorders and artist developers BOX Recording Studios are coaxing their clients out into the nearby, freshly-refurbished pub for performances this coming Friday.

London-based Danish-Cypriot singer-songwriter Alexia Chambi is just twenty years old, but has already fitted in six years of round-the-world travel, This in turn inspires her footloose songs, with their tussles between fluid freedom and rooting oneself, and her dark-toned jazz guitar. Following previous collaborations with Ralph Taylor and Hotel Avra, Alexia will be releasing her debut solo EP, ‘Bolivia’ in the autumn. Juice You (below) may well be on it. Meanwhile, Tommy Hill (a.k.a. William.) floats in the space between singer-songwriter guitar rock and contemporary R&B, his beat-slink punctuated by bursts of flammable fretboard. He, too, has an EP due for release later this year.



 

Two members of London urban rockers Tom Bright & The Dynamite – lead singer/songwriter Tom Bright and lead guitarist Jared Rood are also playing. It’s unclear whether they’re going to be working separately or whether this is going to be a two-piece Dynamite: meanwhile here’s the parent band playing a couple of their pieces, demonstrating their upfront protest songs and their growling skimming of the edge of folk punk. A grain of Rory McLeod, a dash of Richard Thompson or Tom Robinson; perhaps a twist of Jason Feddy.



 
A key member of Bruce Wooley and Andy Visser’s “modular space-age pop ensemble” Radio Science Orchestra, Charlie Draper is a British specialist in the gestures and techniques needed to control the antique electronic whoops of theremin and ondes Martenot. He’s played with just about every theremin/ondes-requiring orchestra and ensemble in the country. Come and hear him extract various classical and pop tones from each of the instruments. German-based beatmaker Johnny Crooks is also going to be playing a separate set of his own aural confections.

 
BOX Recording Studios presents
BOX Live: Alexia Chambi + Charlie Draper + Jared Rood + Johnny Crooks + Tom Bright + William.
The Harringay Arms, 153 Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, England,
Friday 27th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – some post-Doran thoughts on smaller music festivals; and next week’s EppyFest in Cheltenham (27th & 28th July)

21 Jul

John Doran of ‘The Quietus’ wrote a pithy, on-the-nose article a while back about the ongoing corruption of big music festivals, lambasting them as “unsatisfying money hoovers designed to deplete your bank account for minimal return… a heavily branded and patronisingly over-mediated experience – with little in the way of the rough round the edges, unexpected, challenging or genuinely exciting experience that makes being a music fan worthwhile; just a massive spoonfed dose of the ubiquitous, the hyped and the monolithically popular.”

As a follow-up punch, John slashed a hole in the backdrop in order to expose the ethics behind the festival business: how, even as you’re frolicking in a ludicrously overpriced facsimile of countercultural free-spiritedness, your ticket money wriggles its way into the war chests and “shockingly regressive campaigns” of suspect billionaires intent on crushing any genuine counterculture that’s little more than a cheery mask on a product, funding a host of life-killing causes including anti-LGBTQ, anti-union and anti-immigration initiatives. Unsurprisingly, he concluded “personally I’d sooner go to a smaller, more grass-roots independent festival and have a clutch of genuinely odd, uplifting, joyous and memorable experiences on a smaller, freer scale.” He lists plenty of smaller, more conscientious festivals which might better suit your ethics or your conscience – Supersonic, End of the Road, many more. Modestly, he didn’t mention ‘The Quietus’s own efforts .

I might lack John’s edge, but I’ll still say amen to all that. There’s also always the option of going further off the map, seeking out festivals beyond the tents’n’burgers belch. I’ve covered some such here… Marchlands’ annual musical/theatrical celebration of reaching across borders and understanding history; the composer-driven London New Wind Festival; New York’s wonderfully brainy and diverse Ecstatic Music Festival. On a more domestic level, there’s next month’s Whole World Window 2 in Preston, raising urgent money for psychedelic hero Tim Smith’s health care while also functioning as a focussing lens for assorted rock and pop acts existing in a rowdy, complex continuum outside ot the mainstream. The staunchest supportive and communal ethics, unsurprisingly, still hover around punk events, those pass-around-a-donation-bucket battles for big values in small places (I might often be bored by the music, but I profoundly admire the commitment and the generosity of spirit).

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As regards the coming week, Gloucestershire’s EppyFest – just a week away now – is the epitome of a pocket festival. Now heading in its seventh year, it also pretty much defines “boutique”. Its amiably knitted-together selections of psychedelic rock and pop, folk, electric and acoustic chamber music and accomplished instrumentalist is undeniably cosy, but in the right way – unashamed and unaggressive, slightly specialised while toting an inclusive audience ethic. There’s a rosy English glow to it, alright, but not the kind which shoulders out differences while indulging a truculent and moneyed bucolic fantasy. The Eppyfest England is one which is comfortable in itself, but not too smug to look outwards: mostly white, but not bleached and angry. In the best sense and intimation, it’s a liberal parish.

Gong, 2018

The Friday lineup, starting in the evening – is the briefer concert, with just two sets of performers. The headliners are the current and ongoing version of cosmic-rock libertine troupe Gong, still romping along after the death of founding holy prankster Daevid Allen. This isn’t the first time there’s been a post-Allen Gong: percussionist Pierre Moerlen floated a de-hippified mid’-70s jazz-rock version around Europe which had little to do with Allen’s mischievous space rock parables, while the band’s original feminine-mystiquer Gilli Smyth led a sporadic Mother Gong version at points in the ’80s. This, however, is the first Gong that’s been a direct continuation of Allen’s work: thumbing its collective nose at his departure from music and from life, and mourning him by celebrating his ethos.

This Gong iteration is helmed by delightfully wayward, larger-than-life Anglo-Persian prodigy (and ‘Misfit City’ favourite) Kavus Torabi, who established himself as one of the premier, most open-eared British psychedelic talents while with The Monsoon Bassoon and Cardiacs, has continued it with Knifeworld and Guapo, and who has in effect been rehearsing for Gong leadership for the whole of his musical life. Expect the same applecart-overturning riffs, the mingled brass and electric strings, the space-dust party atmospheres. The old firm’s still a family.



 
In support, Liverpudlian guitarist Neil Campbell is arguably one of the most gifted musicians still unknown to the general public. An omnivorous stylistic polymath, he’s mastered contemporary classical, progressive rock, jazz and assorted other styles to the point in which he can pass seamlessly between and through them; and he comes trailing awestruck references from guitar scholars and crossover music master musicians alike. Working off nylon- and steel-strung acoustic guitars (with a chain of echoes, loop pedals and other processors) he creates detailed, fiery electro-acoustic tapestries when playing solo: given the opportunity, he’ll also roll out orchestral concerti, small ensemble pieces, vital building-block contributions to the larger works of other, and site-specific concerts in venues of all kinds.



 
North Sea Radio Orchestra headline Saturday’s seven hours of music – as ever, they draw together Anglo-pastoral classical, a stolen kiss or two of folk melody, crossover chamber music and English art-rock. (They’ve covered Robert Wyatt, as well as old Christmas carols and Vernon Elliot). Sixteen years in, they’re a little smaller and tighter than they used to be – the choir is long gone and the ensemble streamlined, with most of the Victorian poetry settings consigned back to the bookshelf in favour of more personal lyrics of chalkhills and children, lost loved ones and the make-do-and-mend of life.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

They’re still a quietly enchanting proposition, gently webbed together by a deceptive fragility, a village-singer tone and Craig Fortnam’s elegant compositions, and they grow ever more comfortable in themselves as the years pass. From German kosmische, they bring in that cosmic powerplant throb: from Frank Zappa and Canterbury, the somersaults of harmony and tinkle of xylophone (with the lyrical coarseness and silly whimsy gently steered out of the picture); from English chamber music, the gentle green ache. All soft borders, all subtle mind.



 
Second down the bill is Doris Brendel. The Vienna-born multi-instrumentalist daughter of concert-piano legend Alfred Brendel, she originally made her mark in ‘90s neoprog and underground AOR providing vocals, guitar, sax and flageolet to The Violet Hour: when that didn’t last, she applied herself to whatever was going while cultivating her own records in her own time. She’s refined her earlier approach, but what you get now is still pretty much what you got then – a singer who can go from a dream-folk murmur to a gutsy rhythm-and-blues blast, who puts on an assured show of muscular rock and costumed pizazz. An old-school rock chick, but one who’s taken control and honed it to excellence. There might be differences in tone, but latter-day ladyrockers like She Makes War and Ciara Clifford might look to her and immediately see a spiritual older sister.



 
Via a shifting gambler’s hand of interrelated projects – and a proven ability to survive practical and artistic disruption – the persistently thoughtful Oxford prog-rock collective Sanguine Hum have explored music for nearly twenty years now. In many respects, they’re a back-to-first-principles prog-initiative. Rather than constructing vast vanity pieces (as if to impress their aspirational Mellotronic forebears), the Hum are based very much in a lush’n’lambent ’70s pop mode – as least as much Neil Young, Steely Dan or David Bowie as Genesis, Zappa or Canterbury – which they can then wilfully and logically expand to bigger and broader things (engulfing and building upon later influences such as Boards Of Canada along the way).

For this acoustic-slanted EppyFest slot, lead singer/guitarist Joff Winks and keyboard player Matt Baber (the latter fresh from last month’s release of his “ambient prog minimalism” solo album ‘Suite For Piano and Electronics‘) will play as a duo; exploring at least one track from each of the project’s scattered albums and personae, with new material as a bonus.



 
Electric chamber group Firefly Burning were to have held the middle of the bill but had to pull out. To replace them, in comes a harder noise in the shape of the explosive wit, ominous chording and multi-layered songwriting of London’s Thumpermonkey. I described them a while back as “the missing link between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson”: a tag which they really seemed to like, so let’s run with it. A motley crew of brainiacs, meticulators and fast friends with their heads in lofty places and their toes sunk in dirty post-metal, they have the kind of esoteric preoccupations (and the wherewithal to communicate them) which encourage interest rather than eye-rolling and detachment. Unshamedly weird-fictional, the songs have covered Nigerian email fraud, Aztec hauntings, bizarre medical conditions and Victorian explorers amongst many other topics, all via a rich filter of literary and cinematic techniques and dark, sophisticated humour.

As for the music, Thumpermonkey play within that increasingly rare strata of hard rock in which there’s room to breathe, think, listen and explore beauty as well as nail down a predatory riff. Michael Woodman sings like an athletic college don moonlighting as an operatic priest, while his cohorts Ben, Sam and Rael construct a moving fortress, observatory and interdimensional vessel for him to stand on. They’re the kind of band that either make you proud to be curious, or will magnetize your brain into a state of curiosity. In effect, they’re the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage’ of British post-prog and we’re bloody lucky to have them.



 
Bristolian progressive-grunge rockers Lord Of Worms cite Meshuggah, Soundgarden, Tool and Ufomammut as influences, and there’s certainly some roiling springy punktone bass and restless post-hardcore rhythmic shifts in the mix. Their folk lilts and Zoie Green’s burnished-silver vocals simultaneously tie them into a tradition of female-fronted folk-rock acts like Renaissance and The Morrigan. Judge for yourselves…



 
Like Sanguine Hum, Dutch/American crossover prog poppers Fractal Mirror will be playing under reduced circumstances as regards personnel, but probably not in terms of the music. While the band can rely on the assistance of Echolyn polymath Brett Kull, among others, in the studio, this live date will just feature their core duo of singer/guitarist/keyboard and recorder player Leo Koperdraat and lyric-writing drummer Frank Urbaniak. Expect intimate expansions on their recipe of dove-soft Mellotronics and pastoral post-Porcupine Tree moods, with their hidden freight of darker, reflective lyrics.



 
Sonic Bond Promotions & The Epileptic Gibbon Podcast present:
EppyFest 7: North Sea Radio Orchestra + Gong + Neil Campbell + Sanguine Hum + Doris Brendel + Thumpermonkey + Lord Of Worms + Fractal Mirror
St Margaret’s Hall & Annex, Coniston Road, Hatherley, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL51 3NU, England
Friday 27th July 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
Saturday 28th July 2018, 1.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

It would be stupid of me to represent EppyFest as some kind of absolute template for festivals. It’s its own little Gloucestershire gem, it has its context and its taste-palette, and while it’s a fine refresher there’s far more to contemporary music – to a nourishing cultural diet – than even a thoughtful slipped-weekend like this one can provide.

What I am advocating is a spreading of its care-filled cottage ethos; its preference for building a relatively equal, mutually supportive community of performers and audients in a warm and humble space, rather than driving a rush of drainable, soakable human cattle through the money-mill. Events like this are worth the seeking-out, worth the effort that goes into their creation. Go find some. Go make some. Come tell me about them.
 

July 2018 – upcoming London folk and world gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Chris Wood (6th July); Fire Choir’s ‘Sing The Change’ (9th July); Ewan McLennan and Twelve Dead In Everett (13th July); London Bulgarian Choir and Harbottle & Jonas (20th July)

1 Jul

Following the previous two months of successful unamplified outdoor folk gigs in May and June, here’s a rundown of Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows for July. (Well, the first four, anyway, to avoid making the post too long).

What’s on offer for the first half of July involves Bulgarian and civil rights chorale, contemporary English folk, seditious workers’ songs and Devonian stomp. As ever, it’s taking place in London’s playgrounds, garden projects and small artist studios (as well as the odd secret location…)

* * * * * * * *

The first concert, on 6th July, features Chris Wood.

“A self-taught musician, composer and songwriter, Chris Wood is a lifelong autodidact whose independent streak shines through everything he does. Always direct and unafraid to speak his mind, his song writing has been praised for its surgical clarity. An uncompromising writer (who cites his major influence as “Anon”), his music reveals his love for the un-official history of the English speaking people: with gentle intelligence, he weaves the tradition with his own contemporary parables.

“Hollow Point, Chris’ chilling ballad of the shooting of Jean Charles Menezez, won a BBC Folk Award (he’s won six). This year’s eagerly awaited new album ‘So Much To Defend’ was previewed at Cambridge Folk Festival last summer and includes reflections on minor league football, empty nest syndrome, learning to swim, Cook-in Sauce and, not least, the gecko as a metaphor for contemporary society.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The second concert – ‘Sing the Change’, on 9th July, is a particularly personal endeavour for folk singer/songwriter/curator (and Nest Collective/Campfire Club promoter) Sam Lee. It’s the inaugural concert of the Fire Choir which he runs in partnership with The Foundling Museum“(a) new, “open to all” community choir… dedicated to revitalising communal singing with political empowerment and a sonorous means to protest at its heart. If you want to channel your love for this world or discontent with it through singing, or just discover your voice with like-minded (or unlike-minded) others, then Fire Choir is for you.

“Highlighting social and environmental injustice, Fire Choir builds on the Museum’s centuries-old legacy of social change, campaigning and creativity. Singers tap into the enormous and ancient international repertoire of songs rooted in social change, justice and emancipation. Material includes folk songs, modern songs, anti-war songs, songs of resistance and struggle, the natural world, songs of love and lost worlds.

“A generous aspect of the Fire Choir repertoire has been specially commissioned from the perspective of contemporary communities struggling for a louder voice in society, written by some of the UK’s best songwriters and composers. Plus to keep the spirits high there is of course lots of good old rabble-rousing, soul-lifting chants and hollers! The choir is a vehicle to take these songs to the streets, the auditoria, the recording studio and many other as yet unknown places.

“‘Sing the Change’ will feature protest songs highlighting social injustice and calling for change, and including the world premiere of a special commission by Dizraeli, and Ayanna Witter Johnson‘s ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ (a setting of a speech by Sojourner Truth). It will also contain contributions from special guests and choir leaders Blythe Pepino (Vaults, Mesadorm), Ben See, Alex Etchart, and Sam Lee.”

If you want to sing with the Fire Choir yourself, they usually rehearse at the Museum on a Monday evening and welcome “absolute beginners” – here’s the link again.

Campfire Club: Fire Choir, 9th July 2018

* * * * * * * *

The third concert, on 13th July, features Ewan McLennan and Twelve Dead In Everett.

Ewan McLennan has come to be known as a guitarist at the very forefront of his generation; a troubadour, balladeer and storyteller cut in the old style; a singer that can move audiences with his passion and pathos; and a songwriter for whom social justice is still a burning issue. From a BBC Horizon Award for his debut album to his performances on the iconic Transatlantic Sessions, recent years have been marked by numerous awards and accolades for his music.


 
“The reception offered to Ewan’s latest solo album, ‘Stories Still Untold’, continued this tradition, while his most recent project – ‘Breaking The Spell Of Loneliness’, a collaboration with renowned author and journalist George Monbiot – seeks to use music and word to open up the issue of loneliness (their UK tour and concept album have received wide acclaim and been featured widely, including live appearances on BBC Two’s Newsnight, BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and BBC Radio 3’s In Tune.)


 
“All of them being members of the Industrial Workers Of The World (a.k.a. the Wobblies), Twelve Dead In Everett are a low-down, seditious trio unearthing contemporary political resonances in the traditional music of England, Ireland, Scotland and the United States. Sweet harmonies of reason in a world deaf to exploitation. Songs to fan the flames of discontent and tell your boss to go to hell.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The fourth concert, on 20th July, features London Bulgarian Choir and Harbottle & Jonas.

“The award-winning London Bulgarian Choir is a vibrant, sociable and open-hearted group of singers embracing all nationalities, ages and abilities. The choir was founded in 2000 by Dessi Stefanova, a former singer with the legendary Philip Koutev Bulgarian National Folk Ensemble in Sofia. Thanks to her patience and dedication this group of largely non-Bulgarian singers has become a performing tour de force, winning hearts and minds from the Welsh valleys to Bulgaria’s mountain villages. From its early days as a handful of singers, the choir has grown into an extended ensemble bringing its repertoire of traditional Bulgarian songs to concert halls, churches, nightclubs, galleries, festivals, embassies, village squares and even a barge on the River Thames.


 
“The songs performed by the London Bulgarian Choir are arrangements of traditional and ancient Bulgarian songs. Some tell powerful tales of love and loss, fighting and celebration, while others are inspired by the daily fabric of life. Sung in a complex and unique vocal style, these folk songs have survived five hundred years of Ottoman rule and fifty years of communist indoctrination to emerge with their extraordinary dissonant harmonies, exotic scales, compelling rhythms and exuberant trills and hiccups virtually intact. The choir’s spine-tingling performance of the songs transcends language barriers, and often moves audiences to tears.

Harbottle & Jonas are a stunning young folk duo based in Totnes, Devon. Their music is eclectic and is always accompanied with a great story. Together the husband-and-wife duo combine the rich traditions of folk music with original and contemporary interpretations, through a blend of closely intertwined vocal harmonies. Their music is performed with integrity and on instruments that include the concertina, harmonium, banjo, stompbox, acoustic and resonator guitars. They can sometimes be found playing alongside their full band – eight members in total (cello, fiddle, mandolin, trumpet, drums, bass). Well-travelled across the UK and playing up to 200 gigs each year, Harbottle & Jonas have managed to establish themselves as one of the most exciting prospects on the folk circuit.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates and links:

  • Campfire Club: Chris Wood – Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground, 15 Market Road, Lower Holloway, London, N7 9PL, England, Friday 6th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Fire Choir – The Calthorpe Project, 258-274 Gray’s Inn Road, St Pancras, London, WC1X 8LH, England, Monday 9th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Campfire Club: Ewan McLennan + Twelve Dead In Everett – (secret location t.b.c.), Friday 13th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: London Bulgarian Choir + Harbottle & Jonas – Phytology, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Middleton Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9RR, England, Friday 20th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

More on the last two July concerts later….
 

June 2018 – upcoming London folk, world and storytelling gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Seckou Keita (1st June); Gwyneth Herbert and Noemie Ducimetiere (15th June); The Embers Collective and Dizraeli/James Riley double event (21st June); London Contemporary Voices (22nd June); Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith with Sophie Janna (29th June)

23 May

Last month, I said that June would see “a couple more” of Nest Collective’s unamplified outdoor folk gigs. Instead, there’s going to be a cavalcade – six in the space of four weeks, including one double event on the 21st, itself part of a cluster of three later in the month.

See below for a quick roundup of their early summer recipe – including Senegalese griot, storytelling, chamber jazz (well, presumably not “chamber” anymore), folk-rap, country, Gothic blues and pop chorale in addition to folk flavours from the British Isles, continental Europe and the United States. They’re taking place in London’s children’s playgrounds, open spaces and artist’s studio yards: as with many of the Nest Collective gigs, some of the locations are hidden and secret with the locations only given to ticketholders, so plan ahead.

* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: Seckou Keita
(secret location), Bow, London, England
Friday 1st June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

“How to describe Seckou Keita? Griot, praise singer, composer, djembe master, virtuoso, Kora player, pioneer? The answer is ‘yes’ to all of those. Seckou Keita is a true master of his instrument, a childhood prodigy, born of a line of griots and kings (Keita is the royal lineage, and not traditionally a griot name). Cissokho, his mother’s family name, gave life to his talent. His family includes Solo Cissokho, Seckou’s uncle, who introduced him to the International stage in 1996.

“The intense rhythm of Seckou’s working life has been driven by the desirability of his musical talents and his ability to get along with all kinds of different people. He toured with the Sierra Leonean musician, Francis Fuster, one time sidekick to Paul Simon, Miriam Makeba and Manu Dibango, and with Baka Beyond, whose founders Martin Cradick and Su Hart had befriended Seckou in Ziguinchor a few years before. The pair helped to produce his first solo kora album, ‘Baiyo’ (Orphan), which was released in 2000 (and subsequently renamed ‘Mali’ by the record label Arc Music).”


 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: Gwyneth Herbert + Noemie Ducimetiere
Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 5AR, England
Friday 15th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Gwyneth Herbert is a strikingly original performer, award-winning composer and lyricist and versatile musical adventurer who continues to redefine and challenge expectations. Drawing on influences from the worlds of jazz, folk, contemporary classical music and storytelling, she has worked in collaboration with writers, musicians, directors, choreographers, visual artists, academics, clowns and young people to create a huge canon of genre- defying interdisciplinary work, as well as touring nationally and internationally with her band and releasing six critically albums to date on major, independent and self-owned labels.

“2018 sees the launch of Gwyneth’s ambitious and hugely anticipated seventh album and live show, ‘Letters I Haven’t Written’, songs from which she recently previewed in session for BBC Radio 2 and live from the Edinburgh Festival on BBC Radio 3. Gwyneth describes the project as “a musical, narrative and visual journey exploring the lost art of letter writing. Through blots of heartbreak, strokes of curiosity and scribbles of whimsy, ‘Letters…’ unearths the emotional complexities of putting pen to paper, and, in a climate of status updates and limited characters, seeks to find a more meaningful dialogue with the world”.

“A singer, composer and instrumentalist currently based in London UK, Noemie Ducimetiere is best known for her wide range of musical styles and her work with nine-piece band Gentle Mystics. With the Mystics currently on a recording hiatus, she is taking to the stage with her solo explorations of folk, rock and what some have called gothic blues. Noemie is a self-taught musician with an experimental approach, who found her mentors in her diverse influences: mid-century French cabaret, American blues, traditional Eastern folk and desert rock… today her live set-up comprises of an electric guitar and an expanse of blinking effects pedals.”



 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: The Embers Collective
(secret location), Brockley, London, SE4, England
Thursday 21st June 2018, 7:00pm
– information here, here and here

The Embers Collective is a London based storytelling and live music collective formed by three friends; a writer, an actor and a musician who wanted to put on events with a focus on community, and driven by a passion for the art of sharing stories. Their events bring audiences together through the exploration of myths and folklore from all over the world. Each of their stories is accompanied by a live, professional multi-instrumentalist whose soundscapes take listeners on a journey. They welcome you to their warm embrace.”



 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: Dizraeli + James Riley
Kindred Studios, 18 Saltram Crescent, West Kilburn, London, W9 3HW, England
Thursday 21st June 2018, 7:00pm
– information here, here and here

Dizraeli is a rapper, multi-instrumentalist and sometime singer taking hiphop to new terrains. His exploration has taken him to unexpected places: he composed the soundtrack for a new parallel-worlds comedy on E4 (Tripped); he toured France with producer and turntablist DJ DownLow; he spent a week in the refugee camp at Calais, giving workshops and listening to the migrants there. At the start of 2016, he travelled to Senegal to study West African music with an albino master, and in a remote fishing village covered in dust and music, he finished six new songs. Carrying these pieces home to London in his head, he decided to record them in a completely new way. Instead of shutting himself in a vibeless, carpeted studio where the impulse of the songs would be lost, he would invite an audience of close friends to the basement of a cafe, play live for those friends and record what he played – no editing; no studio tricks: in the words of one of the tracks: “Through the lens to the substance”.

“Born of a transatlantic relationship, James Riley grew up in South East London listening to the folk and soul sound of 70s America and wrote his first melody at the age of four. His first guitar, acquired at the age of nine, became the tool for surviving the tumult of a nowhere place, and helped James find somewhere he felt he belonged. In his early twenties, he took off, alone once again, hitchhiking and busking through Europe from Amsterdam to Istanbul, writing songs along the way. Back in the UK, these songs became a band, but eventually James had to shed another skin, and disembarked in Nashville, Tennessee. Here he found his producer and they set about making the album which had travelled with him to his maternal homeland, where it could finally get free.”



 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: London Contemporary Voices
Glengall Wharf Garden, 64 Glengall Road, Peckham, London, SE15 6NF, England
Friday 22nd June 2018, 7:00pm
– information here, here and here

London Contemporary Voices specialises in work with established bands, including gigs, recordings and festivals. We also perform at private and corporate events, and host our own largescale concerts. They have worked with over fifty artists, including Sam Smith, James Bay, Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), Joss Stone, Elbow, Alt-J, Basement Jaxx, Imogen Heap, Laura Mvula, Charlotte Church, Kate Nash, Alison Moyet, Kim Wilde, Nitin Sawhney, Ella Eyre, Little Mix, The Vamps, Public Service Broadcasting, Andreya Triana, Nicole Scherzinger, Andy Burrows and many more!”


 
* * * * * * * *

Campfire Club: Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith + Sophie Janna
Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 5AR, England
Friday 29th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith are one of the finest duos to have emerged onto the British folk and acoustic scene in recent years. Their combination of outstanding vocal work, sensitive instrumentation, and a powerful social conscience has brought them widespread critical acclaim. The songs themselves are always given centre stage but they are brought to life with stunning musical arrangements and vocals. There is an integrity that shines through their performances and a common thread of political struggle, resistance, and justice. Their critically acclaimed second album ‘Night Hours’ was released in December 2016 on Fellside Recordings. Described as “exhilaratingly diverse and full of impeccably crafted songs”, it has cemented the duo’s reputation as two of the most exciting musicians and social commentators on the scene.

Sophie Janna sings dark songs from eras past as if they were written yesterday. The person who guesses the correct number of deaths and broken hearts at the end of a gig will get a reward. Sophie accompanies herself on guitar, thumb piano, bodhrán or on nothing at all.”



 

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