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March 2018 – pop/folk/etc gigs in London – Roshi Featuring Pars Radio (plus KES, Ivan Bushbye and Euan Sutherland – 6th March); Bella Spinks, Laura Frances and Gillie Ione (1st March); SOIF Soiree including Society Of Imaginary Friends, Hungry Dog Brand, Gisela Meyer, Tamara Canada, Blert Ademi, Global Warming Records and others (2nd March)

23 Feb

Roshi Featuring Pars Radio + Kes + Euan Sutherland + Ivan Bushbye, 6th March 2018Westking Music presents:
Roshi Featuring Pars Radio + KES + Ivan Bushbye + Euan Sutherland
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Tuesday 6th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Multiple influences come into play in the music of Roshi Nasehi – her Iranian heritage (embodied in her parents, their memories and their old cassettes), the folk songs and choirs in the Welsh milieu of her upbringing, the bleeding-in of tunes from 1980s British pop radio; piano and violin lessons and the jazz she studied at college in Cardiff; her early stint singing with Keith Tippett. All of these have settled somewhere in her current work, but none of them in a fixed and permanent location: they’re loose factors, like an office full of papers which can be picked up and whirled about by a fresh gust of wind from an open window.

Roshi Featuring Pars RadioDuring eighteen years in London Roshi has made a name for herself as performer, collaborator, workshopper, academic, installationeer and recorder of musical events. Her main song outlet is Roshi Featuring Pars Radio, a collaboration with Graham “Gagarin” Dowdall (prolific percussionist, producer, Pere Ubu-ist and John Cale/Nico collaborator). They describe it as “Welsh-Iranian folk pop”, with an electronic, experimentalist edge to it; a shuffleable span of folktronica strata which somehow captures the thinning links, the stubborn clingings and the disjunctive adaptations of the immigrant experience (whether circumstances have blown you into town from Alavicheh or from Gorseinon).

Some of Roshi’s ‘80s pop heritage manifests in its echos of Kate Bush – I don’t mean in Bronte-pop twirls or vocal lushnesses, but in beautiful cramped murmurs which recall the subvocal/sublingual keenings and chamberings of ‘The Dreaming’. The soundworld is deliberately intimate but obscure; Gagarin’s signature “sound-leakage” palette of finely-milled noises interpenetrating field recordings, Roshi’s keyboard parts questioning and unanchored; her language shifting between English and Pharsi, with versions of Iranian songs cut and rising up through the deck.

Also playing are the usual Westking gig-gaggle of emerging students, undergoing their solo live performance assessment by being hurled into support slots. This time round it’s lo-fi electronic pop/soul musician KES, “understated folk” performer Euan Sutherland and contemporary pianist Ivan Bushbye. All of them are too fresh on the scene to have much online to follow up on (Euan also shares his name with a Scottish clothing magnate who got tangled up with the Co-op a few years ago, and this doesn’t help either). However, I did find this video of Ivan playing Ryiuchi Sakamoto’s ‘Forbidden Colours’, so that will have to do for now.

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Back at the very start of May, there’s a summit of young female songwriters tucked away into the basement of Servant Jazz Quarters.

Sublime Music presents:
Bella Spinks + Laura Frances + Gillie Ione
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 1st March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Bella Spinks + Laura Frances + Gillie Ione, 1st March 2018Brightonian Bella Spinks has been performing in public since she was twelve: not annoying R&B impressions on the top deck of the bus to Worthing, but a full-blown debut at the Concorde 2 round about 2006. Since then, she’s had plenty of time to broaden and hone her ideas, and has filled the interim years well, preparing her developing work and playing teenaged support slots to a range of performers from Martha Wainwright to Sea of Bees, Ellie Goulding to Ron Sexsmith, The Staves to Viv Albertine. As for herself, she’s already a mistress of the verbally and musically articulate solo piano ballad, a songwriter who can build a hooky and accessible pop single around Platonic philosophy, and a woman with a knack for sonorities (be it undulating basslines, hot-space gaps in the vocal lines or the woody rhythms of a struck’n’knocked piano frame).

The debut album isn’t due for another few months, but come along to celebrate the recent, aforementioned Platonic single ‘Noble Lie’, in which Bella muses and storytells across various forms of implied alchemy. Right now, she’s on a cusp – some idiot could talk her into smoothing everything down into mainstream kitchen-radio ballads, or she could hang onto her inquisitive nature and keep driving down the path of her subtle, slightly bookish originality. I really hope that she sticks with the latter.

She’s tagged as “a dark, baritone Joni Mitchell baring herself in her songs with a refreshing depth and brevity”, but rather than carrying out yet another sub-Joni confessional shtick Laura Frances wraps herself in the robes of yearning, classic dark-folk: the kind which I first heard on my mother’s Cynthia Gooding records from the 1950s folk revival – rich-voiced, majestic and ancient. It’s unsurprising to hear that her songwriting springs first and foremost from poetry, her stark modernity constantly slipping back towards mediaeval mystique. It’s also unsurprising to hear Mazzy Star and Leonard Cohen also mentioned in her train of influences. There’s a touch (just a touch, mind) of the urban-playing/rural-dreaming Gothic to her tunes: solemnly waltzing guitar, lonesome woodsaw string parts, and the abiding melancholy in her tone.

With a mini-album (2016’s ‘Misapprehension’) and a couple of standalone download singles behind her, Welshwoman-turned-Londoner Gillie Ione makes quick darts through self-produced restless talky songs, like well-made Tracy Chapman /Melissa Etheridge pieces with an experimental pop bent and bonus scurries of motormouthing. On record, she floats about between introspective guitar lines, spacious drum patter and strange ambients knocks and wanders; the scenery shifting behind her fluttery chatting, her glinting disparate observations being molded into a larger, broader picture of meaning.

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Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
SOIF Soiree: HARE !!! (the Musical) – Society Of Imaginary Friends + Hungry Dog Brand + Gisela Meyer & John Human + Outre Dan Steele (Darren & Isobel Hirst) + Tamara Canada + Blert Ademi + Global Warming Records + Cian Binchy
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 2nd March 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here

SOIF Soiree, 2nd March 2018Greeting the alleged arrival of the English spring (I’ll believe it when I see it), Society Of Imaginary Friends are bringing another of their art-pop mini-musicals to the March event in their monthly Wood Green soirees. This time, it’s ‘HARE!’ about which they’re saying nothing yet, though you can pick up a few clues from the evening’s lead-in text – (“…we climb out of our warm dark burrows into the golden slanting sunlight, our hearts swell with joy, and we dance a manic tarantella – chase each other in crazy circles, play-box under the serene blue sky and, as the moon rises, the static electrical frenzy of fizzical freedom – it’s mating time!”)

All right – stand by for sex, violence and gratuitous crocuses. Meanwhile, here’s something they did earlier…

Making Soiree returns are pianist/composer Blert Ademi and regular-of-regulars Cian Binchy (actor, standup, spoken-worder and autism activist, just back from his Mexican tour). Fresh to the Soiree stage are emerging R&B singer Tamara Canada, post-apocalyptic ecologically-obsessed techno burster Global Warming Records (a.k.a. ‘Driftshift’ presenter Franziska Lantz from Resonance FM) and author/reviewer/punk-poet Martin Dowsing’s Hungry Dog Brand (providing “very English sounding fictional narrative-based songs in a new wave / garage rock style with a touch of seaside gothic” plus a touch of the abrasive wit of their “No Wankers Aloud” club nights from the much-missed original 12 Bar Club).

In typically diverse Soiree fashion, the evening’s rounded off (or thrown engagingly off course) by a turn from internationally acclaimed cellist and concert pianist Gisela Meyer (who, surprisingly, is dropping bow and abandoning keyboard in order to sing three Debussy love songs accompanied by Anglo-Indian classical/improv pianist John Human) and by what looks like a partially-exploded performance by the Outre Dan Steele duo, a.k.a. Darren and Isobel Hirst. Darren (who’s squeezed writing for the NME, working as a vicar, reviewing theatre and being a “professor of baseball” into his life so far), will be interrupting, or moonlighting from, the duo in order to deliver Shakespearean soliloquys. I’m presuming he means actual Shakespeare rather than anguished cod-Tudor monologues about the pains of being a twenty-first century Renaissance man…

The usual Soiree terms and conditions apply – free entry, but you pay for the fine vegan grub. As regards some advance listening, with music and sound for several of the acts wilfully obscure, stuck in the MySpace graveyard or mysteriously pulled from circulation, here’s what I could throw together. Apologies for the occasional bedroom/phone footage look…


January 2018 – upcoming London gigs – rock and ranging experimentalism with Ciara Clifford + V Ä L V Ē (26th January); pointillist folk-rock and music for digital paintings from Jack Cheshire and Mally Harpaz (30th January); avant-folk and literature with Kelly Andrews’ combined You Are Wolf concert and book launch (31st January)

11 Jan

Here are three end-of-the-month concerts: two odd couplings, and one odd doubling. Collectively, they incorporate muscular indie-rock, transformative avant-folk, short film scores, quirky experimental music shuffles and psychedelia-tinted folk rock. Much, though not all, of it is female-led or female-driven.

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Ciara Clifford, 26th January 2018

Ladies Of The Canyon Records presents
Ciara Clifford + V Ä L V Ē
Aces & Eights Saloon Bar, 156-158 Fortess Road, Tufnell Park, London, NW5 2HP, England
Friday 26th January 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Ciara Clifford is inspired in part by distinctive major-signed female rock and pop acts like tUnE-yArDs, St. Vincent and Anna Calvi (as well by her taste for jazz-bass virtuosi Tal Wilkenfeld and Jaco Pastorius and the unfettered rock roar of System Of A Down or Linkin Park). That said, she’s perhaps closer to the parallel-mainstream world of She Makes War’s Laura Kidd or Candythief’s Diana de Cabarrus: hard-grafting, self-propelled British indie women carving out their own cottage-industry efforts.

With a self-funded eponymous debut album behind her (released last year on her own Lady Of The Canyon Records) Ciara took her first steps last year in promoting it via assorted shows at venues like the Betsey Trotwood, The Strongroom and Paper Dress Vintage. Now she’s trying on the slick rock’n-roll roadhouse environment of Tufnell Park’s Aces and Eights, accompanied by fellow Calvi bandmember Mally Harpaz on drums and by jazzy London bassist Pablo Rodriguez.

For support this time, Ciara’s taken the unusual step of booking V Ä L V Ē, Chlöe Herington’s triple-woman avantronic reeds/harp/electronics ensemble. As well as being experimental, Chlöe’s work is determinedly playful and, at points, comical. A bold tinkerer with graphic scores and representational notation, she’s also got form for picking up junk or an unlikely, tasty sound and then repurposing it for a quick, quirky composition. This has included sampling her own Pepsi-slurping and belching, rescoring and recording musical fragments found in skips, writing for a chorus of antique doorbells or (rather more touchingly) using her late mother’s ECG printouts as the basis for notation.

There’s a serious point to all this, as the pieces are intended to “explore synaesthetic memory and collective experience”. This aim is amplified by V Ä L V Ē’s live work, in which Chlöe augments her bassoon, saxophones, samples and gizmos with Emma Sullivan’s bass and Microkorg synth, and with Elen Evans’ harp. With all three women singing and vocalising too, the music diverges from individual gags and solipsisms and heads towards more of a common experience, from a shared cackle to a kitchen chorale.

With Ciara’s relatively straightforward songcraft and Chlöe’s envelope-popping peculiarities, this is certainly an odd billing, especially considering the honky-tonk theme of the venue. It’s almost like a gigshare between Jack Peñate and John Cage – or, to pull in an X-chromosome equivalent, one between Carina Round and the late Lindsay Cooper (whose music Chlöe plays as a member of Half The Sky) – playing at Bob’s Country Bunker.

Then again, sometimes musical affinities go beyond the obvious. It’s probably worth turning up just to see what kind of atmosphere and chemistry this particular juxtaposition will create.

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Jack Cheshire + Molly Harpaz, 30th January 2018Both Chlöe Herington and Mally Harpaz resurface for a gig a few days later. Although the former’s vanishing behind the scenes to be an organiser, the latter’s stepping out from behind the drumkit to showcase some of her own music for short animations.

Westking Music & Performing Arts presents:
Jack Cheshire + Mally Harpaz
WKC Theatre @ Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Tuesday 30th January 2018, 6.30pm
– information here and here

In part, this concert is a re-run of the set Mally played as support to Colonial Sun last month: keyboard-led small ensemble tunes written for a set of short animations. This time, Mally’s ensemble is playing support to another full-band performance by Jack Cheshire, whose music has been hailed as “spooky, pointillist, strings-driven pastoralia” by the Sunday Times and by ‘Clash Magazine’ as “curious, idiosyncratic (…) artful pop… psychedelic in a very English way… imbued with remarkable depth.” This, too, is something of a re-run, following up Jack’s gig at Nest Collective last November.

Jack Cheshire + Mally Harpaz, 30th January 2018Another odd and slightly disparate pairing, then, but one which reflects Westking’s refreshingly flexible approach under Chlöe’s booking regime. Here’s a repeat of the press releases I cited last time around:

Jack Cheshire(‘s) 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.

Mally Harpaz (photo © Barbara Muller)

Mally Harpaz (photo © Barbara Muller)

“Drummer, pianist and multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz (who’s played with Lunatic Crash, Anna Calvi, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford and Jessica Lauren) will be performing her original compositions joined by a small number of phenomenal musicians and special guests.

“These distinct pieces were mainly written as part of a collaboration with award-winning video artist Clara Aparicio Yoldi for several short films including ‘Iconosfera’, ‘Zoom Out’, and ‘Zoom In’: the original recordings feature (among others) Anna Calvi, Mark Neary and Mally’s old Lunatic Crash bandmate Eran Karniel. Mally’s reverence for the profound creates mysterious melodic lines and shares a luscious ambience with other contemporary pioneers such as Steve Reich, Max Richter, and Nils Frahm.”


(UPDATE, 17th January 2018: Incidentally – Mally and Colonial Sun are literally repeating their December concert a few days earlier at Hundred Years Gallery on the 27th – more on that here.)
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As I mentioned, Jack’s last London show was with Nest Collective, who’ve been bringing a full-range flush of folk-related music to London for several years now, from the rootsiest Americana and puirt a beul to thrillingly peculiar and innovative latter-day spins on the old formulae.

Kerry Andrews (You Are Wolf), 31st January 2018

One such new spin comes from Kerry Andrew who, as You Are Wolf, has spent the last seven years reinventing folk standards as sparse laptop tapestries: a capella vocals (sometimes layered, more often solo or in fragmentary chorus or conversation) swung in eerie but inclusive cradles of cupping bass guitar, neophyte textural daubs of bark-rough ukelele and riffling recorder, and stately string quartets. She’s been compared to Björk – and rightly so – but don’t imagine a callow imitator reeling off spurts of calculated experimental pop clonery. Instead, think more of the ‘Medúlla’ project and of someone unafraid to recast ideas in intriguing yet accessible new forms from the ground up, centring on the human voice (whether naked or cunningly garlanded) and calling fresh, spontaneous sounds up from apparently familiar sources in order to have them sing along with it.

Kerry Andrew: 'Swansong'Having already broadened her profile beyond folkery via her chatty ‘University Challenge’ blog, Kerry’s currently venturing into more serious terrain with the arrival of her “charged, hallucinatory… powerful(ly) metaphoric” debut novel ‘Swansong’. Drawing on the ancient Irish ballad of ‘Molly Bawn’ (or ‘Polly Vaughan’, in which a young man shoots his lover while mistaking her for a swan), Kerry takes a myth that’s travelled across Scandinavia, Ireland and England, altering as it goes (an extant Scottish version throws in a jealous mother, a pair of death-and-resurrection transformations and a guilty suicide).

Taking her own turn at it, Kerry provides a further upending and reworking of the tale. Her new prose version is a post-‘Morvern Callar’ take with an empowered, self-willed, boisterous heroine. This particular Polly (fleeing to the Scottish Highlands to escape the aftermath of an unpleasant incident at home in London) entertains herself with drink, drugs and sex before finding the landscape drawing her into visions and strange encounters, including one with a mysterious man mutilating a bird… It’s not the first time that Kerry has approached this particular song and myth. There’s a version on her 2014 debut album ‘Hawk To The Hunting Gone’ in which she intersperses melodies or text from several versions with her own surreal alternative story. Seen from Molly’s point of view, it seems that neither petrification, death nor ghosthood appear to encumber her, seeming to be merely transformative steps between states of existence. Empowerment of a different kind.

Kerry is formally launching ‘Swansong’ in London at a Nest Collective evening featuring a performance by You Are Wolf. On this occasion, the project’s presenting as a trio, possibly with bass-playing sidekick Andrew Furlow and ‘Hawk…’ co-producer MaJiKer. I’m not sure of the details (just as I’m unsure of the balance there’ll be between readings and music), but I’m already convinced that it’s going to be one of January’s most magical evenings.

The Nest Collective presents:
Kerry Andrew: ‘Swansong’ book launch featuring You Are Wolf
The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England
Wednesday 31 January 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here


December 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – Gaelynn Lea at The Old Church (6th December); Tartine de Clous, Alasdair Roberts & Neil McDermott with guests Ivor Kallin & Sholto Dobie and The London Hardingfelelag (11th, 12th December); Gitta de Ridder and The Balkanoes at Collage Nights (13th December)

2 Dec

I keep missing Gaelynn Lea’s shows… and missing the opportunity to post about them. With her return to London for another gig this season, I’ve got a chance to catch up.

Blow the Fuse presents:
Gaelynn Lea
The Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9ES, England
Wednesday 6th December, 2017, 8.30pm
– information here and here

Gaelynn Lea, 6th December 2017A classically-trained twenty-year veteran of violin playing whose limbs have been shortened from birth by osteogenesis imperfecta, Gaelynn plays her fiddle like a cello and sings original songs drawing from the well of traditional American, Irish, Scottish and English folk sources and blending them with her own ideas and experience. Her wistful honey-gravelled singing, her songwriting artistry and her textured playing (supplemented by improvisation and loop-pedal) is powerful and universal enough to have won NPR Music’s 2016 Tiny Desk Contest, seeing off competition from around six thousand other American songwriters and performers.

Meanwhile, her performance presence and physical courage have moved audiences to tears and applause in her native Minnesota and across American and Europe (and have won her both admiration and a shared stage from Low’s Alan Sparhawk, country bluesman Charlie Parr, and New Acoustic touchstyle guitar star Billy McLaughlin). In addition to her musicality, Gaelynn is a powerful disability community advocate – speaking and blogging forthrightly and fearlessly about iniquities and the need for social change to accommodate and support disabled people, and covering subjects from everyday practical challenges to the expression and enjoyment of sexuality. Come for the music, stay for the strength; maybe leave with the encouragement to help make things better.

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Over in Homerton, the brilliantly ramshackle Old Dentist venue continues its rewarding partnership with Muckle Mouth, hosting yet another enthralling fringe-folk gig (although this one’s of a more traditional bent)…

Muckle Mouth, 11th December 2017

Muckle Mouth and The Old Dentist present:
Tartine de Clous, Alasdair Roberts & Neil McDermott, plus Ivor Kallin & Sholto Dobie (11th)/The London Hardingfelelag (12th)
The Old Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Monday 11th December 2017, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
Tuesday 12th December 2017, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

“We are honoured to host a very special collaboration between French harmony-singing trio Tartine de Clous, legendary Scottish guitarist and folk singer Alasdair Roberts and fellow Glasgwegian fiddler Neil McDermott over two nights at The Old Dentist following their residency at Cube Microplex in Bristol.

“Tartine de Clous (Geoffroy Dudouit, Thomas Georget and Guillaume Maupin) are a singing trio originally from the department of Charente in western France. Following in the footsteps of some of the great French groups of the late twentieth century folk revival (such as Mélusine and La Bamboche), they sing largely unaccompanied three-part harmony arrangements of the traditional songs of their native land.

“In an echo of The Auld Alliance, Tartine de Clous will perform in collaboration with the Scottish songwriter, guitarist and folk singer Alasdair Roberts and his fellow Glaswegian, fiddler Neil McDermott over two nights at The Old Dentist. Alasdair has worked with Drag City Records for some twenty years, releasing records featuring both interpretations of traditional songs and those featuring his own songwriting. In addition to being a fine fiddler in the Scottish traditional style, Neil McDermott is currently researching the musical and political engagement of the 1960s Scottish folk scene with the anti-nuclear movement.

“They are joined on the 11th by veteran improviser Ivor Kallin (onetime co-curator of the 2:13 improvisation club, once rather unpleasantly described by The Times as “a bearded Scotsman given to stream-of-consciousness spew”) and Muckle Mouth curator Sholto Dobie (on viola and diatonic symphony hurdy gurdy respectively), and on the 12th by The London Hardingfelelag playing Norwegian tunes for Hardanger fiddle.”

There’s not much out there on the London Hardingfelelag (though I did find out that their ranks include Sylvia Hallett, Catherine Martin of the Gabrieli Players, Clare Salaman, Tania Simon, Clifford Rowe and until a few years ago, the late Wilf Gibson of ELO/’Spirit of Eden’ fame), but I did turn up a couple of videos of Ivor and Sholto, supplemented by one of the Hardanger fiddle in action…

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I caught up with the Collage Nights shows in Wood Green last month, just in time to learn about the final two gigs in their season. The last one rolls around mid-month, featuring Dutch-English singer-songwriter Gitta de Ridder and Balkan-styled party band The Balkanoes.

Collage Nights, 13th December 2017

Collage Nights presents:
Gitta de Ridder + The Balkanoes
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Wednesday 13th December 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Gitta’s debut album ‘Feathers’ came out last year. With its songs of family, friends and lovers (as opposed to hill gods, surreal landscapes or twisted urban short stories) it has a conventional tinge for the current time, but the delight is in the detail and the musicality. She’s a Joni Mitchell disciple less in the sense of pursuing the confessional or the coffee-table mope, more in the delightful flowering of orchestral chords and cats-cradle harmonies (as well as in her domestic wit).

As for the Balkanoes, they provide the standard pellmell Eastern European spaghetti-junction of Greek, Ottoman, Slavic and Romani musical threads, but have been known to career off into ‘Star Wars’ covers as well.

There’s also a special guest, but they’re keeping quiet about who that might be.


October 2017 – upcoming English gigs – Holly Penfield chops and changes in London (18th October); Minute Taker’s multimedia love-and-ghosts story ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ in Glasgow, London & Brighton (15th, 21st, 22nd October); Cardiacs’ ‘Marenest’ fundraiser showing in Bristol with The Scaramanga Six (21st October); and something on Paul Diello

7 Oct

Holly Penfield presents:
‘Holly Penfield – Spooky Little Girl’
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HY, England
Wednesday 18th October 2017, 8.00pm
– information here

Holly Penfield: 'Fragile Human Monster', 18th October 2017For a while, there, I was spun back. Twentysomething years ago, I was a regular at Holly Penfield‘s ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ (having first caught her performance on a random Edinburgh night back in 1992). Ostensibly based around sleek ’80s synth’n’sequencer pop, her shows had a number of twists. More like ’70s songwriter confessionals, they stirred yearning jazz and blues strands back into a genre which had mostly eschewed them. Based around Holly, her Kurzweil keyboard and a saxophonist (usually her husband Ian Ritchie, who’s had a hand in everything from Scouse artniks Deaf School to the Roger Waters band and the ‘Lonely Planet’ theme), they also had a compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set.

If you can dig up Holly’s long-lost debut album ‘Full Grown Child‘ – a brash early ‘80s Chinnichap production – you’ll hear an Innuendo-strewn, pop-belting cross between Suzi Quatro, a bleach-blond Rizzo, ABBA and full-on coke-blizzard-era Stevie Nicks. ‘Fragile Human Monster’ was the fallout from all that: an onstage realisation of Holly’s independent followup ‘Parts Of My Privacy’, in which she and Ian went back to her bluesier and torchier San Francisco roots, merged it with Ian’s techno-pop skills and teased out a series of passionate, cracked paeans (plus jarring digressions into performance art) about fear, instability and how the lost rebuild their lives and make their way. Tremendously tuneful but at odds to the music biz, the ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ was that rare thing: outsider music with genuine craft and skill. It was also pretty queer and culty, drawing a diverse squadron of waifs and strays of all stripes (including me) to Holly’s home venue on the Kilburn High Road. Eventually it wore Holly out: putting it to rest, but still hanging onto her stubborn kookiness, she applied her remarkable voice and stage presence to a new career as a jazz cabaret diva. She’s made, I think, just one revisitation to Monster territory since (which you can read about here).

Holly Penfield: 'Spooky Little Girl', 18th October 2017Late this summer, though, Holly announced that she was bringing the old show back for an evening in October, though she wasn’t clear about how she’d be doing it: perhaps reworked for the acoustic jazz band she’s used for the last couple of decades, or perhaps with her going it alone (with the Kurzweil and sequencers brought out of mothballs and will go it alone). At any rate, I thought I’d be going along – possibly in search of my own confused, similarly theatrical mid-twenties self, perhaps to see if I got along with him a little better.

However, everything was upended in early September following Holly’s jolting appearance in the auditions for ‘The X-Factor’. Ubercamp, leather-clad and singing Meredith Brooks’ Bitch, she went full-on nightclub and came on to Simon Cowell like a kinky Weimar nightmare with a riding crop. Inspired by the experience (and not a little miffed at the mocking edit that made it to TV) Holly’s now claiming that “the evil jazz cabaret performer in (me) has clawed its way to the surface”, and has morphed the October show into an upbeat Halloween “Spooky Little Girl” special (billed as “cabaret classics, spooktacular rocking favourites and self-penned songs as only our Diva can deliver them”).

I can’t help thinking that an opportunity’s been lost (or steamrollered) but I might show up anyway. She’s still promising to pepper all of the knowing cornballery with old FHM songs; several existing set standbys (such as Stay With Me, seen below in a torch-jazz arrangement from 2009) originated in the old show, and a new-ish piano/vocal song Confessions (posted up online a year ago) suggests a creative leaning back towards the old days of torch and bearing witness. Regardless of any of that, there’s still the voice; there’s still the onstage magnetism. Should be some sort of a blast.

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Minute Taker: 'To Love Somebody Melancholy' (live show)Also during the midmonth, acclaimed LBTQ folktronicist Minute Taker (aka Ben McGarvey) takes his multimedia show ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ out on tour in England and Scotland. I missed the news about his summer tour (which spiralled out from his homebase of Manchester, taking in Oldham, Chorlton and the Didsbury Art Festival plus a trans-Pennine appearance at Hebden Bridge) but managed to catch the news about his autumn followups in Glasgow, Brighton and London (including an appearance at the seventeenth century “actor’s church”, St Pauls in Covent Garden). Here’s the story:

“Singer-songwriter Minute Taker and BFI award-winning animation artist Ana Stefaniak have created a haunting, modern fable told through projected film and an epic live band performance of Minute Taker’s upcoming album… Expect to be immersed in a dark and magical world of strange animated characters and piano songs brimming with ethereal harmonies, fizzing synthesisers and orchestral twists.

“In ancient Greek philosophy Aristotle first popularised the notion that artists, poets and writers were of a melancholic disposition. In the middle ages melancholics were thought to be possessed by demons if they could not be “cured” of their depressive tendencies. Set on a desolate seashore, ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ explores the notion of the archetypal artist as he journeys through the euphoric highs and the self-destructive lows of his creative cycles. A new romantic relationship brings the artist the contentment he craves but it soon becomes apparent that there’s something else lurking in the shadows; a ghostly, shapeshifting third entity whose form is entirely dependent upon the artist’s current mindset. Sometimes a saviour, a source of inspiration and hope, sometimes a savage, ruthlessly determined on driving his lover away.”

Ben comments “one of my biggest influences when creating ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ was Kate Bush’s masterpiece ‘The Ninth Wave’. Such a wonderfully magical, otherworldly and at times frightening journey into the unknown. I never tire of going on this adventure with her. Come join our own dark adventure, inspired by Kate’s.”


  • Websters Theatre, 416 Great Western Road, Woodlands, Glasgow, G4 9HZ, Scotland, Sunday 15th October 2017, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • St Paul’s Church, 29 Bedford St, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9ED, London, England, Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Latest Music Bar, 14-17 Manchester Street, Brighton, BN2 1TF, England, Sunday 22nd October 2017, 7.30pm (with Paul Diello) – information here

Additional support comes in Brighton comes from the award-winning “pop/folk/fabulous” singer-songwriter Paul Diello, who recently wowed the Brighton Fringe Festival with a sold out run of five-star-review shows and who promises “a special set of songs” for the occasion. Citing Madonna, Bowie, Kate Bush and Anohni as inspirations, Paul is an increasingly powerful artistic presence in the LGBT underground, operating in the febrile interface between cabaret, chart pop, queerness and visual staging (in particular, via video). Provocative and insidious, with an ear for the brazen tunes of ‘80s synthpop, Paul reminds me of a tougher Marc Almond – albeit with the sturdy physique of a dockside bouncer – while his songs are sharp confections of fists, flowers and standing your ground.

* * * * * * * *

Kate Bush seems to have become a recurring presence in this thread. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I’ve always drawn a vague connecting line between ‘The Ninth Wave’ and Cardiacs’ 1989 album ‘On Land And In The Sea’.

Despite their common south London roots and the bare three years between them, there doesn’t initially seem to be much linking Bush’s silky-petalled Fairlight-driven art pop with the shrill, switchbacking, horns-and-artpunk firepower of Cardiacs, let alone their urchin squawks versus her sensual coo (though I’d have loved to have heard them cover each other). Dipping beneath the surface, however, reveals plenty to unite the two work. There’s the common and commonly transmogrified debt to English prog (in the structural ambition, the little flourishes of grandeur, and the enthusiastic mining of everything from twinkling tunes to violent psychedelic riffs, looming synth orchestration to jigs and jittering dreamscapes). There’s the common immersive marine motif – even when the sea’s banished from the foreground, it’s always present to embrace, propel, threaten or dissolve the bobbing characters within the songs. And although ‘The Ninth Wave’ centres pretty clearly on the near-death experience and night journey of a single castaway, while ‘On Land…’ zig-zags crazily over suburbs, shorelines, skies and inlets while weaving through multiple blurred perspectives (from the individual to that of a kind of profoundly skewed post-war national consciousness) in both works a half-sleeping, half-waking British mythology gets forked up and worked over anew, with a relentless filmic curiosity.


‘On Land And In The Sea’ provided most of the songs played in Cardiacs’ 1990 concert film ‘Marenest’, which brings its own chaotic theatrics to a fundraiser showing in Bristol. Live support comes from brutally grand, macabre Yorkshire rockers The Scaramanga Six, bringing a punchy live set based in part on their new crowdfunded ‘Chaotica’ album.

If ‘On Land…’ really was intended as some kind of concept album, it hid the fact under a typically Cardiacs welter of invention and disinformation. In contrast, ‘Chaotica’ wears its conceptual heart on a stained sleeve – the Scaramangas have been pretty open about its roots in “an abstract story roughly hewn from a concept of a dystopian island society. A place where everything has fallen into ruin, yet people still seem to have the same preoccupation with the trivial crap they had before. The population trudge through a chaotic existence on top of each other with absolutely no hope of a better life. Society is reduced to its base behaviour yet people still crave superficial fixes. The human condition carries on regardless. There is no outcome, no lessons to be learned. Familiar?” ‘Chaotica’ might not quite be a Brexit ‘Quadrophenia’, but it’s clearly leaning that way.

As is generally the rule with Cardiacs-related events these days, all profits on the day (including bonus donations by bucket or booking-stage gifting) are going to fund the care of Cardiacs’ driving force Tim Smith as he continues to battle against the aftermath of heart attacks and stroke. Note that the venue is quite hard to find, hidden as it is away behind the rubbish bins in a nondescript Bristol car park. Some Cardiacs fans would claim that this is only appropriate.

‘Maresnest’: Tim Smith Benefit with The Scaramanga Six
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.00pm

June 2017 – upcoming English gigs – the return of Pram with the immersive ‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’ event in Birmingham (June 3rd); Zarjaz Baby and Jon Slade/Night of the Comet in London (June 3rd); Arthur Russell’s ‘Calling Out Of Context’ revisited in London (June 7th)

23 May

Some shows and events to start June off. In Birmingham, experimental dream pop/post rock band Pram (one of the most original and charming groups ever to work in either genre) have resurfaced and are taking over an Edgbaston park for a very different kind of performance. Back in London there are opportunities to catch up with Zarjaz Baby (one of the wilder characters from the original wave of British post-punk) an acoustic set from Jon Slade (who’s navigated his way through a heap of scenes from art-punk to Riot Grrl to a thousand indie DJ nights); and a recreation of the cello/pop songs of Arthur Russell, one of the darlings of the 1980s New York loft music scene.

* * * * * * * *

Pram: 'Under The Blossom That Hangs On The Bough', 3rd June 2017

for-Wards, MAC Birmingham and Pram present:
Pram: ‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’
Martineau Gardens, 27 Priory Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B5 7UG, England
Saturday 3rd June 2017, 4:30pm
– free event – information here, here and here

“Composers and sonic artists Pram have been exploring south Birmingham with the help of local community groups to uncover the sounds of the locality. The results are both familiar and surprising.

“Let Pram take you on a journey through the city, a sound trail through the four wards of Birmingham’s Edgbaston district. Hear the world from the perspective of a bee as it flutters and forages. The snuffles of a tiny baby become the snores of a lion, the gurgle of a stream a mighty cataract. Come along and follow the woodland trail, bring a picnic and settle down for a performance inspired by the sound of the city as you’ve never heard it before.

“Set in the magical surroundings of Martineau Gardens, ‘Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough’ is an installation and performance by Pram, celebrating the sounds of Edgbaston. It will take place at Martineau Gardens on the afternoon of Saturday 3rd June, concluding at 6.30pm with a Pram performance inspired by sound recordings made in the wards of Quinton, Harborne, Edgbaston and Bartley Green. Free admission if you register at Eventbrite…”

This isn’t quite the same Pram that charmed us and subverted pop for a surprisingly long stint in the ’90s and noughties across a string of albums which included ‘Dark Island’ and ‘Sargasso Sea’ and a sound that seemed to be part child’s murmur, part clinking post-kosmische stroll and part friendly haunted house. Most obviously, singer and lyricist Rosie Cuckston (she who used to mount her keyboard on an ironing board at concerts) is absent, having moved on into academia and a more direct form of the social activism which the band’s eclectic inclusiveness and tendency to take philosophical side roads only hinted. That said, the rest of the band’s original creative core (multi-instrumentalists Matt Eaton, Sam Owen and Max Simpson) are all present, having spent the interim years of Pram downtime working with wonky loops as Two Dogs, creating film and theatre sound and making sonic art out of books with the Sound Book Project.

This also isn’t the first time that the post-Rosie Pram’s reappeared. Earlier in May they made an appearance at Imaginary Musics in Switzerland, playing a “music for Kopfkino” audio-visual set in a festival dedicated to “cinematic, recomposed and fictional musics”, and it seems as if losing Rosie’s quiet reflective voice and cocooned lyrics has shifted them further over into the areas suggested by Matt’s sound design and by Sam and Max’s live sound art. On-spec, it seems as if they’ve succeeded in becoming a kind of “post-band”, with a foot in their old live work, song-structures and performance coherence, but leaning towards something far more abstract and ego-free. ‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’ sounds as if it will be something fascinating to be immersed in – an urban psychedelic afternoon stroll with the family, an aural refraction of Birmingham through leaves, greenery and company.

* * * * * * * *

Zarjaz Baby + Jon Slade, 3rd June 2017

Zarjaz Baby + Jon Slade
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Saturday 3rd June 2017, 7.00pm

“An existentialist extravaganza featuring a solo acoustic set from Zarjaz Baby (Freakapuss and former Tronics). Zarjaz will be performing dark atmospheric songs, full of imagery, with jazz, blues, early ’60s beat and pop influences, with live performance artists, in a style not seen since the basement and candles days of Beatniks.

“Also featured on the night is a solo acoustic Love-Rock revival set from Jon Slade/Knight Of The Comet, incorporating songs from his former bands Huggy Bear and Comet Gain, plus a Fire Department number, some Electric Bull re-workings, as well as songs he wrote with Wolfy Jones.

“’60s European pop music in between sets, Francoise Hardy, Brigitte Bardot, Gillian Hills. Expect sombre girls dressed in black and boys in Breton shirts.”

For more information contact

For more on Zarjaz’s chequered life and career, have a read of this interview he did with ‘The Quietus’ three years ago, featuring accounts of brushes with mental illness, of releasing surreal post-punk songs with titles like Shark Fucks, of arguing with ‘2000AD’ over his stage name, and of having his image ripped off by Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

* * * * * * * *

Arthur Russell: 'Calling Out Of Context', 7th June 2017

XOYO Live and Milestones present:
‘Arthur Russell – A Classic Reinterpreted’
XOYO, 32-37 Cowper Street, St Lukes, London, EC2A 4AP, England
Wednesday 7th June 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“It’s been said that “Arthur’s songs were so personal that it seems as though he simply vanished into his music.”

“Twenty-five years after Arthur Russell‘s death, some of the most exciting, forward-thinking faces in music are set to present a unique rendition of Arthur Russell’s timeless album ‘Calling Out Of Context’. A posthumous album that brought together twelve incredible tracks from across two previously unreleased LPs, ‘Calling Out Of Context’ represents Arthur in his prime. Two decades later and the music sounds as contemporary as ever – a huge inspiration for those performing on the night. We’re very excited to hear this new rendition.”

Bringing together elements of electropop, classical minimalism, post-disco, hip hop and singer-songwriter work, the ‘Calling Out Of Context’ songs span twenty years of Arthur’s composing and creative history while he was battling to fuse the parallel New York worlds of dance culture and art music between the late ’70s and the early ’90s – a pioneer of the freewheeling musical eclectism which today we pretty much take for granted. Take a look at this salvaged 1987 interview feature from the ‘Melody Maker’ for more on the topic, featuring reflections from Arthur and others on Indian music, the pulse shared by formal minimalism and New York dance clubs, and the social and cultural challenges of the time regarding blending “high” and “low” cultures.

The band for this London performance consists of Ashley Henry (keyboards), Midori Jaeger (cello), Alica Higgins (vocals), Sam Gardner (drums) and Joe Downard (bass).


May 2017 – upcoming London gigs – Muckle Mouth bring us Le Ton Mité plus Chris Cundy (May 25th), and The Family Élan plus Plague Dogs (May 27th); Papernut Cambridge’s Beehive Yourself gig-hosting series continues with The Great Electric, Deerful and Mat Flint (May 27th)

20 May

More on that second set of May gigs at the Dentist in Homerton, plus a continuing set of gigs over in Bow…

* * * * * * * *
Le Ton Mité, 26th May 2017

Muckle Mouth and The Dentist present:
Le Ton Mité + Chris Cundy
33 Chatsworth Road/The Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Thursday 25th May 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“This is the first ever London show of Le Ton Mité, a Belgian musical cooperative that revolves around the compositions of itinerant musician, instrument maker and fine artist McCloud Zicmuse, an American expatriate in permanent residence in Brussels.

“Having left the United States in the mid-noughties on a European sojourn that never ended, McCloud wound up in the Belgian capital in the fall of 2008. Half a decade on, a time in which he has embedded himself in European life via puppet shows, archery guilds, folkloric events, theatre projects and a catalogue of idiosyncratic solo and group works (perhaps most recognisably the 2011 Hoquets album on Crammed Discs called ‘Belgotronics’), McCloud returned to the States, to revisit places he had not seen, in some cases, for fifteen years. This informs his current musical set – an idiosyncratic blend of pop, folk, childrens music and jazz performed by a baroque-style quartet.

“To open the evening, there’s be a solo set by Chris Cundy performing his own works for bass clarinet. Chris is a musician, composer, and visual artist working on the fringes of experimental and popular music. He has long been interested with the material properties of acoustics and his music explores self-developed playing techniques such as multiphonics, circular breathing, micro-tonality and (generally speaking) a more tactile approach to the instrument.

“Chris performed with Mercury Award nominated indie-pop band Guillemots and continues to work with the bands frontman Fyfe Dangerfield. He has also collaborated with a variety of alt-pop artists both in Canada and the UK including Little Annie, Baby Dee, Timber Timbre, and Cold Specks.”

* * * * * * * *

The Family Élan + Chris Cundy, 27th May 2017

Muckle Mouth and The Dentist present:
The Family Élan & Plague Dogs
33 Chatsworth Road/The Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Saturday 27th May 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Muckle Mouth and The Dentist welcome Bradford psych-folk rockers The Family Élan (and their heady blend of party hits, Hindi film song and Turkish folk dances) back for a fling.

“The Family Élan generally performs as a trio, featuring Krzysztof Hładowski (of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, The One Ensemble, Nalle, Scatter fame) on Greek bouzouki, elektrosaz and vocals, Harry Wheeler on fancy bass, and Shakeeb Abu Hamdan (of Please, Ygrec, Cleckhuddersfax, The Wub) on Western drum kit. The scope of The Family Elan’s output ranges from self penned meditations in the key of Z minor and the odd party hit, to irreverent interpretations of everything from Hindi film songs to Turkish folk dances, delivered with the countenances of psychedelic rockers. Perhaps the unifying strand in all this is a deep interest in traditional music forms and their reinvention through group rock-outs.”

As with the Alex Rex gig earlier in the month, Plague Dogs will be in support… but now I know who they are. They’re an alliance of Trembling Bells/Alex Rex kingpin Alex Neilson with writer/curator/artist/cultural geographer Amy Cutler (at least, I’m assuming that it’s that Amy Cutler)… In which case, expect something textural, folk-tinged and audio-visual, probably provoking more questions than it answers..

(UPDATE, 26th May 2017 – this show’s been cancelled, with the hope that it can be rescheduled later in the summer…)

* * * * * * * *

I’ve been slow on picking up on renewed gig activity at the Dentist. Likewise with this set of shows over at the Beehive in Bow (the latest of which clashes with the Family Élan show, but there you go…)

Beehive Yourself 2 (Papernut Cambridge + The Great Electric + Deerful), 27th May 2017

Sound Event Solutions & Papernut Cambridge present:
Beehive Yourself #2: Papernut Cambridge + The Great Electric + Deerful + Mat Flint DJ set
The Beehive, 104-106 Empson Street, Bromley-by-Bow, London, E3 3LT, England
Saturday 27th May 2017, 7.00pm

“The second of three Saturday night shows for spring and early summer featuring Papernut Cambridge and a hand-picked selection of friends’ bands and DJs.

Papernut Cambridge is led by former Death In Vegas and Thrashing Doves guitarist (and now prolific underground producer/engineer) Ian Button, who has a list of current projects and collaborations that include Go Kart Mozart, David Cronenberg’s Wife, Deep Cut, Darren Hayman, Pete Astor, Rotifer, Paul Hawkins etc. The band is based on an imaginary band from a dream Ian had in 1990 and brought to life in 2013 by assembling a group of friends and collaborators. Papernut Cambridge have now released two albums (‘Cambridge Nutflake’ in 2013, ‘There’s No Underground’ in 2014) and a covers album (2015’s ‘Nutlets 1967-80’), all on Gare Du Nord Records. The next album release is ‘Love The Things Your Lover Loves’ in May 2016.

“As ever with this gig series, Papernut Cambridge will be playing the opening set. The very special guests to follow on May 27th are:

The Great Electric – electronic/motorik supergroup featuring Malcolm Doherty (guitars, effects), Rob Hyde (drums), Darren Hayman (synth), Duncan Hemphill (tones, drones and effects) and Pete Gofton (bass). With a band members’ past pedigree that includes Hefner, Kenickie, Go-Kart Mozart and Mum & Dad, expect a determined, nuanced yet mind-melting set inspired by German electronic and prog via Stereolab, music made in space, and radical hypnosis techniques.

“Following on from her past work backing or contributing to the work of Darren Hayman, Pete Astor, Owl & Mouse and Enderby’s Room, Emma Winston’s solo electronic project Deerful takes bright melodic indie pop and fuses it with crisp chiptune and electro shimmers, Gameboy beats, and emotive thought-provoking lyrics. Her live shows using an array of TFL-portable synths and devices are always a delight. Deerful’s first full length album ‘Peach’ is released this year on June 2nd.

“Former Revolver frontman, Death In Vegas bassist, and now leader of bravado dreampop project Deep Cut, Mat Flint is also a frequent record spinner at The Social, playing sets that range from Northern Soul and hip hop to dub and garage rock. We’re chuffed he’s coming along to pilot the wheel of steel for this show!”



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