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October 2018 – singer-songwriter album launches in London and Wales – Hazel Iris (25th October), Emma Lohan (25th, 26th October)

21 Oct

Looking for events with singer-songwriting women in London? This coming Thursday, you can go big or go small.

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If you’re going for the bigger option, there’s Hazel Iris’ album launch in Smithfield, at St. Bartholomew-the-Great, no less. It’s an event that sprawls across the entire church: its varied acts located in different places within the building, like a cross between a miniature festival and a stations-of-the-cross procession. In one corner, two classical musicians – Katrina Sheppeard and Jayson Gillham (who between them have racked up appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, ENO, Melbourne Symphony and the Sydney Opera House) will provide a piano-and-soprano duet performance of Richard Strauss’s ‘Vier letzte Lieder’ – the composer’s last work, a four-song death-and-transfiguration sealing of his legacy, composed during the dusk of the Romantic era. Next, in another corner, Kate Arnold – usually to be found as frontwoman for dark classical-folk fusioneers Fear Of The Forest – will be playing solo and acoustic with hammer dulcimer, violin and voice, providing a set of songs reflecting her folk, medieval and Middle Eastern influences.




 
And so to the headliner, who’s recently been making a name for herself as a standout performer at the Blind Dog Studio evenings. Hazel Iris is a storyteller with an overwhelming musical streak; her tales drawn from her travels, her own musings and her borrowings from the great stewpot of mythology and folklore. California-born and London-based but world-honed, her songs blend indie-folk habits, vaudeville brassiness, operatic training, lieder romance and a dash of country.




 
Bringing her brand-new ‘Nine Sisters’ album to life at St Barts is a similarly broad-based nine-piece band. The rhythm section – drummer Fred Harper and double-bassist Twm Dylan – come from the London and Leeds jazz scenes, while Winter Quartet violinist Aurora Del Río Pérez and French horn player Jessica Cottis are both established in the classical world (the latter, notably, as a conductor – she’s returning to a childhood instrument for this performance). Harpist Tara Minton straddles both jazz and classical worlds. Rounding out the ensemble is cellist and screen music composer Matt Constantine, classical accordionist Aine McLoughlin (Hazel’s regular collaborator at previous Blind Dog gigs), and up-and-coming guitarist Myles Peters (who plays anything and anywhere he can).

Also integral to the show will be the puppets of Alicia Britt, artistic director for Wondering Hands Puppet Theatre. Her usual gig involves using puppetry of all kinds for the entertainment and nourishment of all ages, with an undercurrent of healing, conversation and a restoration of our human nature: work that ranges from carefully-thought-out fairy tales of bereavement and development for children to bawdily sexual puppet-cabaret for adults. Quite possibly all aspects will be making a showing in her support work for Hazel. I’ve no idea whether huge rod-guided creatures will be leaping through the church or whether the puppetry will be on a smaller, more human scale with creatures the size of lutes or horns, but it should add an extra level of story texture.

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Speaking of smaller, more human scales – if all of the above sounds too grand, then on the same London night another songwriter – Emma Lohan – is launching her own debut album up in the south end of Hackney. ‘Black Atlantic’ pulls together Emma’s own particular blend of Irish hometown influences (she’s a Galway woman), pop leanings and traveller’s scraps, drawn from her footloose global roamings. Impressions and stories, a kind of global coast-combing or, as I put it last time, “beautifully-constructed cloud-tossed songs imbued with the flicker of constant motion.” The album itself is a small, quiet-reveal treasure imbued with a bouncing, soft-chatting liveliness. There’s jigs and kalimba, there’s age and youth, there’s plenty of story to unspool.

She’s doing it all again the following night in Wales – in an unusual display of synchronicity, at a puppet theatre in Cardigan – in a puppet theatre. Elusive ska band Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty are in support: no more info on them, I’m afraid. (Update, 24th October – sadly the Cardigan show has had to be cancelled, but they’re promising to reschedule it soon…)



 

All dates:

  • Hazel Iris + Kate Arnold + Jayson Gilham & Katrina Sheppeard – St Bartholomew the Great, Cloth Fair, West Smithfield, Clerkenwell, London, EC1A 7JQ, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Emma Lohan – NT’s Bar, 1 Westgate Street #207, London Fields, London, E8 3RL, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Emma Lohan – Small World Theatre, Bath House Road, Cardigan, Ceredigion, SA43 1JY, Wales, Friday 26th October 2018, 8.00pm (with Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty) – information here and here

 

September 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Merlin Nova, Bell Lungs and Inchindown at the Horse Hospital (21st September)

15 Sep

There’s an interesting show coming up at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury next week. A wilder, more countercultural echo of the ICA, and clinging onto the fringes of the university district and the gentrification around the Brunswick Centre, the place mostly features transgressive films, performance art and sundry esoterica, but it’s always worth keeping an eye on their music schedule. This particular gig is musical fringework: weird and beautiful urban and rural atmospherics, vocal hauntings, transformations of places and times, acoustic folk and electronic noise.

Am hurrying off to do something else right now, but I’ll just give you the press release before I go…

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Merlin Nova + Bell Lungs + Inchindown, 21st September 2018

“The Horse Hospital presents a night of expanded musical performance spanning adventures in sound, pop theatrics and psychedelia with Merlin Nova, Bell Lungs and Inchindown.

Merlin Nova is sound, song and movement. Ecstatic energy blast. Clear-cut. Quick fix. Immediate. Set scene sound. Landscape, temperature and feeling. Here with you, together.

“Her debut EP, ‘Protect Your Flame’, celebrates determination and life, a vast and colourful human emotional landscape that explores sounds ability to excite visualisation. Each track is a scene to exist within. Vocal delivery, stripped back instrumentation and use of sound effects convey a state of being as efficient as possible. This way of making music evolved out of her weekly radio show Nova Waves, which broadcasted from Subcity Radio: on the show Merlin would create music, soundscapes and use sound effects to build imagined worlds. It was not until she was asked to DJ at Subcity’s 20th Birthday Exhibition, ‘pure radio sex’, that she chose to combine her own soundscapes, poetry and song – thus beginning the assemblage of this music.

 
Bell Lungs is a one-woman band from Scotland, where she’s been building an excellent live reputation and carving out her unique post-folk sound using layered vocals, electric violin, guitar, tuned percussion, field recordings and effects pedals since 2016. Her music is atmospheric; a shifting soundscape incorporating snippets of songs with field recordings to create inherently transcendental experiences, musing upon rural idylls, post-industrial heartlands and online culture infused with psychedelic, drone, improvisational, jazz, dream pop and folk elements.



 
Inchindown is a collaboration between Tim Garratt (Moon Zero) & Matthew Heywood (Bruised Skies), whose self-titled debut album Inchindown is released by Blank Editions. Their self-titled debut album portrays a powerfully mournful, but beautifully stark work. The soundtrack to walking through a storm of ash, only to realise that the city is on fire and viewing this incredible spectacle from afar. It is a dark, yet somehow hopeful record and a focussed collaboration that expands upon their ambient solo work. Although named after a small industrial town in Scotland, the record grounds itself to their hometown of Hackney. The three-part ‘Ridley Road’, with its waves of distorted bass, metallic synths and detuned vocals could be heard as a tone poem for the rapid gentrification that threatens to engulf the historic market street, before authentic field recordings remind us of what we stand to lose.”



 
Merlin Nova + Bell Lungs + Inchindown
The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, WC1N1 London, United Kingdom
Friday 21st September 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

September 2018 – women singing (in London, mostly, and Cambridge) – Ana Silvera (15th), Susanna Wallumrød (27th), Hear Her Sounds evening with The Butterfly Wheel, Mary-Grace Dineen and Imogen Bliss (19th)

4 Sep

In Cambridge on, the 15th, there’s a repeat performance for Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ song cycle, following its appearance at the South Bank Centre back in July, where Ana was bolstered by a Kate Church/Alice Williamsondance film, a folk-jazz string trio, piano, percussion and the multi-instrumental/singing skills of Listenpony’s Josephine Stephenson. The Cambridge show’s stripped down (just Ana and Josephine this time, and perhaps the dance film) but should still deliver. Beautifully crafted and sung, it’s an Anglo-Portuguese meditation and discussion of familial bereavement (Ana’s mother and brother) and of the shifting landscapes of migration. Originally conceived to have a choral sound and scape, it draws “on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.”

The last time around, I suggested that it was “a wide-spectrum take on adult pop without a trace of that genre’s unnecessary blandening: an as-it-happens assessment of the dramatic personal shifts in position following the loss of both loved ones and of the relationship one has with them while they’re alive. What I’ve heard of it so far suggests a similar vivacity as her songs elsewhere on album or in her theatrical work – vividly characterized narratives of internal reflection and of landscapes both physical and emotional, mingling detailed, nakedly honest personal verbal imagery and an influx of Portuguese folk feel in a way which makes (Ana) sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.”




 

In London on the 27th, Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød plays her only British show of 2018. Originally – during the mid-Noughties – her ghostly, questioning, sighing vocal originally fronted The Magical Orchestra’s Nordic-jazz/ambient-pop reinventions of assorted pop, country and rock standards. Since then she’s moved on to other collaborations – with holy-meditative jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen; with boundary-running song experimentalist Jenny Hval; and in particular with baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi (who’s contributed to three of her seven solo albums). Along with violinist Sarah-Jane Summers and accordionist Frode Haltli, Giovanna will be performing at this London concert, which showcases Susanna’s newest album ‘Go Dig My Grave’.

Post-Magical Orchestra, Susanna’s kept up her role as re-interpreter. While the majority of her solo albums (up to and including 2016’s consummate ‘Triangle’), have featured her own songs, her ongoing work is littered with cool-toned covers, reworkings, reframings. Songs by Sandy Denny, Thin Lizzy, ABBA, Prince, Nico, Will Oldham and others were cultivated on 2008’s ‘Flower Of Evil’; while her 2011 collaboration with Giovanna and fellow baroque/Early Music musicians Marco Ambrosini and Jane Achtman provided parallel takes on Nick Drake, Henry Purcell and Leonard Cohen.

‘Go Dig My Grave’ builds on this inquisitive, restaging impetus, with Susanna’s original pieces cheek-by-jowl with her takes on “Charles Baudelaire to Joy Division, English folk to American blues, a seventeenth-century lament by Purcell to Lou Reed’s Perfect Day” , all blended with “echoes of traditional music, baroque classics and dark ambient sounds.” It’s a project of timeshifts: or, more accurately, of superimposed time, in which songs and stylings of different eras interpenetrate and merge in spellbinding manner.



 
Dates:

  • Ana Silvera: ‘Oracles’ – The Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge CB1 7GX, England, Saturday 15th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Susanna Wallumrød: ‘Go Dig My Grave’ – Rich Mix, 35- 47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E1 6LA, England, Thursday 27th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

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In between – on 19th September, in London – there’s the second in Hoxton’s ongoing ‘Hear Her Sounds’ evenings; a semi-acoustic live event in a small space, with cocktails, vegan snacks, all-female lineups and organisers/initiators The Butterfly Wheel as regulars, aimed at supporting emerging female musicans. (The first one slipped my attention back in July. That was a shame, featuring as it did Margot Weidemann’s desert-sparse psych-folk project Daisy Oracle and the “twist(ing) song structure(s), striking hallucinatory lyrics, and unexpected radiophonic sounds” of former Joanna And The Wolf frontwoman Johanna Glaza.)

Alongside the Wheel-ers, mandolinist/singer/loop-stationeer Imogen Bliss played support at The Mantis Opera’s August gig last month at Paper Dress. Now, as then, you can expect to hear her weaving together songs from the East and the West: delivering slender, sparkling arrangements of old pop hits from hither and yon, plus original songs and layered one-woman folk chorales with Romani, Armenian and Balkan origins.

A few examples are below, along with a couple from by billmate Mary-Grace Dineen. A south-east Londoner, Goldsmiths graduate and sometimes session multi-instrumentalist, Mary’s output as singer-songwriter seems to vary between zippy, polyrhythmic jazz-coustica reminiscent of Eva Abraham, Roberta Flack (or, more recently, Gabriela Eva) and sour-sweet Lauryn Hill-esque pop-reggae. Her lyrics betray restlessness, compassion and a conversational impatience with the unresponsive and the inert. It seems she’s been quiet for a few years; now she’s coming out to play again.


 

As for The Butterfly Wheel, they’ll be bringing their Gothic romance, their ritual chant and their vocal flair. Previously I’ve sniped a bit about the duo’s showy, overtly flowery mysticism; their self-hype, their claims of originality and experimentalism despite a transparent debt to Early Music-toting Goth-tinged forebears like Dead Can Dance or Miranda Sex Garden. But when the hype is done, and they get down to business, they do bring a new flavour to that ripe old stew.

Reading beneath the lush electrophonic drones and the climbing priestess incantations, you can draw that personal touch out of their songs like long strands of myth-soaked twine – those places where they’ve taken old bronze-age stories, boiled them down to their most archetypal juices and then infused a latterday consciousness, an active female note of resistance, a little #TimesUp and sky-father toppling amidst the bones and sinews. When I hear that peeping through, I’m sorry that I bitched…



 
The Butterfly Wheel and MOVI present:
Hear Her Sounds: An Evening of Live Female-Led Music featuring The Butterfly Wheel + Mary-Grace Dineen + Imogen Bliss
Matters of Vinyl Importance, 163 Hoxton Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6pJ, England
Wednesday 19th September 2018, 6.30pm
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming London folk gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Åkervinda and Night (17th August); Gasper Nali and Ellie Ford (also 17th August); London Contemporary Voices (24th August); Alabaster dePlume and Luna Silva (31st August)

12 Aug

Here’s the second set of August’s Nest Collective Campfire Club open air park/garden/playground shows…

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Another pair of simultaneous Campfire concerts are happening on 17th August, the first of which features Scandinavian vocal quartet Åkervinda and Nepali folk band Night.

“Iris Bergcrantz, Lise Kroner, Linda Bergström and Agnes Åhlund – the four singers of Åkervinda – take pride in their original and modern interpretation of the traditional folksongs of Scandinavia. The group’s name is inspired by a Swedish wildflower whose roots spread far and wide like rivers under the ground. Like the flower, gracefully entwining melodies, rock-solid groove, and ever intriguing harmonies will take root in your mind. Like the flower, they will be impossible to remove.

“Jazz singers at heart, the young women of Åkervinda share a deep love of folk music. Through improvisation, the group gives new life to traditional folk songs and stories of women throughout the ages. In 2014 they released their debut album “Kära Mor” (“Dear Mother”) and has been touring in Sweden, Denmark, the US and Canada since. Åkervinda have performed at Aarhus Vocal Festival, Malmö Arena, Hillerød Folk Festival and various folk festivals in Sweden (as well as museums and venues in Toronto, New York and Chicago) and collaborations include work with the Swedish folk musician Jens Ulvsand, the Canadian fiddle virtuoso Jaron Freeman-Fox and the internationally-renowned Swedish trio Nordic.


 
“Reworking Nepali traditions into “stunning new soundscapes” (‘Making Tracks’), Night is a Kathmandu-based folk band formed in 2006, with members coming together from different musical backgrounds. The band focuses on reviving lost and endangered Nepali instruments, on creating new sounds rooted in collective Nepali heritage and on reintroducing said music and instruments to a world audience.

The people, places and cultures of Nepal have been Night’s greatest inspiration. Most of the songs are composed “in the field” where the band stays with people in villages. After living with a melody, a song or a drum rhythm over a period of time, they slowly start sensing its deeper meaning; and, through developing their own compositions, try to express and share this understanding with others.”


 
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The second of the two 17th August concert features Malawian roots musician Gasper Nali and Brightonian folk harpist/singer-songwriter Ellie Ford.

“Performing “simple but joyous… totally infectious” music (‘Songlines’), Gasper Nali plays a Babatoni – a three-metre one-stringed home-made bass guitar – with an empty bottle and a stick, and makes the most beautiful and catchy original Afro-beats possible. Gasper is a one-man-band, with the Babatoni, cow-skin kick drum and very catchy tunes. He is absolutely unlike anything else. It’s super Malawian roots, it’s very upbeat and incredibly danceable! Or – as a Bandcamp fan nicely put it: “Gasper is a one man party! It’s completely impossible to stop moving – and just as impossible to stop smiling!”


 
Ellie Ford is an alternative folk artist whose expressive vocals are accompanied by her percussive harp playing and eloquent songwriting. Her combination of classical and modern musical styles – of the serene with the guttural – makes for a captivating solo performance. With a debut album release under her belt and a second album to follow in 2018, Ellie Ford is forging her own path as an alternative musician and performer.”


 
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On 24th August, utility choir London Contemporary Voices deliver the second of their two Campfire concerts this year. Suppliers of “session singers, backing vocalists, choristers, beatboxers and a cappella entertainment”, LCV are an in-demand studio-and-live chorus who spend much of their time working with pop and dance artists, providing music for corporate events or singing “choireeoke”; but in between these engagements they host their own events or pursue more unorthodox projects. Beside their previous 2018 Campfire event earlier in the season, the latter have recently included providing a soundbath for Folkestone’s experimental Profound Sound festival and staging a celebration of female songwriters at Union Chapel back in May.


 
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The last of the August concerts comes on 31st August, and features spoken-word/instrumental polymath Alabaster DePlume and trilingual folk/jazz/pop musician Luna Silva.

”From Manchester, now based in London, Gus Fairbairn – better known as Alabaster DePlume – is a performer, writer and musician. A saxophonist with an unusual tone (reminiscent of Ethopian free-jazz legend Getatchew Mekurya), Alabaster collaborates with members of the folk and jazz scenes of London, Bristol and Manchester. He uses music and spoken word to portray sentiments, often contradictory, that together evoke a new feeling. Whether in recording, writing or performance, his work has an emphasis on inclusion, encouragement and sincerity (and was recently described on Radio 3 as being “cheerfully uneasy”).

Since 2011 Alabaster has produced three albums on Manchester label Debt Records, toured Europe as a solo performer, produced short films, and written/performed a play with circus-aerial in Dublin. His latest album, ‘Peach’, was produced by Paddy Steer, and accompanies a short film called ‘I Feel Good’ directed by Melodie Roulaud. He also regularly presents a series of combined arts events celebrating both his and others’ work.


 
“Daughter of an English actress, a Spanish circus performer, and raised in France Luna Silva is a daughter of the world, singing in three languages and influenced by the cultures she has come across in her travels. In a world that is increasingly connecting, communicating and cooperating; Luna Silva’s music is deeply resonant. Her music is a mixture of contemporary music and traditional musics of this world (the arrangements touching on Eastern European folk, English folk, straight pop and Congolese jazz) but above all one feels a love for creativity. Accompanied by her ukulele (or a quartet also including guitar, double bass and percussion) she takes us on a journey of our own – an acoustic set with sass.”


 
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Full dates:

  • Campfire Club: Åkervinda + Night – Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground, 15 Market Road, Lower Holloway, London, N7 9PL, England, Friday 17th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Gasper Nali + Ellie Ford – Phytology, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Middleton Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9RR, England, Friday 17th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: London Contemporary Voices return! – Glengall Wharf Garden, 64 Glengall Road, Peckham, London, SE15 6NF, England,Friday 24th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Alabaster dePlume + Luna Silva – Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 5AR, England, Friday 31st August 2018, 7.00pm – information here

More Campfire Club shows to follow in September…
 

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 – strange folk indeed – Sutari and Dead Rat Orchestra’s joint-headlining English tour through Colchester, Norwich, London, Nottingham, Hull, Leeds and Oxford (10th to 16th July 2018) with The Dyr Sister and Sarsa Awayes

4 Jul

News on an imminent set of alternative folk gigs – eerie, funny, magical and pertinent (aiming as it does at our history of migrations and settlings).

* * * * * * * *

“Two of the world’s most prominent avant-folk ensembles join forces for a joint headline tour of the UK.

“It’s not often that you can say you met someone over a meat cleaver but in the case of Dead Rat Orchestra and Sutari it’s true. Not that anyone who knows the work of the UK’s DRO – or for that matter, Poland’s Sutari – should be surprised. Kindred spirits not only in their approach to free-folk but in their use of unusual objects – including meat cleavers – in their performances, this tour will see them join forces to explore the cultural impact of Polish and European migration in England. Performing in locations across England that have been centres of Polish immigration, and engaging with British, Polish and European communities, the tour will utilise Sutari and DRO’s unique approaches to performing traditional musics to lead audiences in a performative and timely discussion about the cultural impacts of the UK leaving the European Union.

“Formed by Daniel Merrill, Nathaniel Mann and Robin Alderton – and performing internationally for over a decade – Dead Rat Orchestra have gained a reputation as one of the most innovative ensembles on the UK music scene. Raw, elemental and poignant and with a love of adventure, their performances feature flailing axes, salt and sawdust, throbbing harmonium, grinding fiddle and two thousand shards of micro-tuned steel cast to the floor in cascading, shimmering joy. DRO create works that blur boundaries between installation and performance. Activities have included ‘The Cut’ (2014), a site-specific musical tour undertaken by canal boat along two hundred and seventy-three miles of waterway; and ‘Tyburnia’ (2015/17) exploring seventeenth and eighteenth century gallows ballads and their sociopolitical history.

“Dead Rat Orchestra are adventurers adrift in a sea of sound and possibility, plucking textures and melodies to craft their idiosyncratic vision of what music and performance can be. Most often they have steered their ship through the idioms of folk and improv, to shout, sing and glisten at audiences from the UK to mainland Europe, Scandinavia to Canada. They have created music using the architectural surroundings in which they find themselves; coppice woods, abandoned abattoirs, paper mills, churches. Necessity has sometimes dictated duo performances of any permutation, always imbued with a sense of the missing member. Instruments are constantly swapped. Rarely performing in a conventional manner they often step away from the stage, to sing and holler a cappella amongst the audience. Acutely haunting, occasionally brutal and raucously joyous, their music always attempts to enchant and entrance, be it emotionally or physically.

 

“Sutari are Kasia Kapela, Basia Songin and Zosia Zembrzuska – a trio of young singers, instrumentalists and performers, each from different musical and theatrical backgrounds, who come together to continue the tradition of home-made folk music. The Sutari project is a fusion of diverse music experiences and passions: they use a mixture of traditional instruments (violin, basetla and drum), and also make use of everyday objects, exploring their potential as musical devices – for instance, a hand mixer, grater, bottles and a wrench… kitchen avant-garde!

“They explore deep vocal harmony traditions, searching for the essence and hidden character of traditional songs, whilst exploring themes of femininity in folklore. Their compositions are based on Polish and Lithuanian folk songs; and they are particularly inspired by the sound and character of Lithuanian Sutartines, sung only by women in perfect harmony. An affecting and elegant fusion of traditional folk, theatrical flair and contemporary mood music.”



 

There are a couple of support acts along the way. In Nottingham, the support comes from Sarsa Awayes – a Nottingham-based Polish spoken word artist. In Colchester, it’s Sally Currie – a.k.a. The Dyr Sister (where “dyr” is Old Norse for “deer”). A Hull-born “multi-instrumental cervine beat mistress”, she “conjures up surreal tales with the aid of viola, synth, mandolin her voice and an array of DIY samples. Performing her catalogue of haunting, ethereal, modern day folk songs as a one-woman band, she paints a fascinating canvas of sound.”


 
Dates:

  • Colchester Arts Centre, Church Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1NF, England, Tuesday 10th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 4PG, England, Wednesday 11th July 2018, 8.30pm – information here and here
  • (secret location), Bow, London, England, Thursday 12th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Maze, 257 Mansfield Road, Nottingham, NG1 3FT, England, Friday 13th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • The New Adelphi Club, 89 De Grey Street, Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, HU5 2RU, England, Saturday 14th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Leeds Polish Centre, Newton Hill Road, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS7 4JE, England, Sunday 15th July 2018, 4.00pm – information here and here
  • Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street, Oxford, OX1 3SD, England, Monday 16th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 

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