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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



 

January 2018 – upcoming London rock and folk gigs – twists and weaves with Prescott, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi (11th January); a carpet of acid-folk/chanson dreams with Alison O’Donnell & Firefay (18th January); a lysergic lattice with a Knifeworld double-set (20th January)

6 Jan

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 11th January 2018

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 11th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Reunited with guitarist Keith Moliné (who had to sit out some of their engagements last year), instrumental avant-rockers Prescott bring their springy barrage of warm, bouncy tune-mozaics back to London at Servant Jazz Quarters. On the evidence of last year’s ‘Thing Or Two’ album, the band (completed by spacey fretless bassist/composer Kev Hopper, keyboard quibbler Rhodri Marsden and swap’n’go drummer Frank Byng) is growing like a tricksy hedgerow. New layers, extensions and scrabbling digressions continue to bud out of their riotous cellular approach; and out of the games of post-minimalist chicken which they use to hold and release each other from their stack of cunning microloops.

It’s still fair to say that Prescott’s relationship with their own instrumental cleverness is an edgy and oblique one. Fine and rebellious players all, they’re too suspicious of straight prog, jazz or lofty experimentalism to have a straight relationship with any of them. Consequently they come across on record as jitterbug countercultural eggheads – ones who play obstinate, transfigured parallels to clavinet jazz-funk (post-Miles, post-Headhunters) or twinkly-marimba’d Zappa passages, but who nail it all down to a precise post-punk, post-virtuoso sensibility. Still, this only sketches part of the Prescott picture while missing the heart of it. Despite the band’s tendencies towards deadpan stage presence (and the eschewment of anything even vaguely wacky), each and every Prescott gig ends up as a generous, audience-delighting puzzle of pulses, traps and tickles on the funny bone.

Maybe if they’ve got anything as corny as a raison d’être (that is, beyond executing Kev’s pieces with deftness, style and pleasure) it might be about evaporating the frequently frustrating and gummed-up relationship between musicality, suffocating ideology and good humour. For all of their self-imposed restrictions, Prescott are in some senses a freer band than almost anyone else in their field: an expansive Lego set of musical options concealed in a deceptively small box.


 
Thanks to both the burgeoning stature of Knifeworld and his helming of the post-Daevid Allen Gong (plus entanglements with Guapo and Cardiacs, and his garrulous showings on radio and in print), Kavus Torabi is rapidly becoming a senior figure at the culty end of psychedelic art-rock. Even his rough-and-ready solo acoustic performances are becoming a draw in their own right, although he’s mostly (and modestly) restraining them to support slots, presenting gravelly-voiced house-party strumalongs rather than electric-genius showcases. Such is the case with his opening slot for Prescott, which also sees him broaden his guitar playing with trips to the harmonium.

On previous form, expect established songs, songs-in-progress and song unveilings from Kavus’ Knifeworld catalogue (plus visits to his old work with The Monsoon Bassoon and possibly a bit of latterday Gong-ing if any of it translates away from the group’s electric Om). If you’re hoping for Guapo stuff, you’d better wait for one of his gigs with them. If you want him to rip into a Cardiac song, you’re best off catching him guesting at one of the growing number of Spratleys Japs shows (increasingly become rolling parties celebrating the Cardiacs spirit, pulling in hit-and-run appearances from the band’s alumni and songbook).


 
Invigorating as a Prescott/Torabi summit might be, the night’s real draw is Lost Crowns: only the third live venture for this carefully-concealed solo project from Richard Larcombe. You might have seen the Crowns step out at either one of a culty pair of Alphabet Business Concern shows in 2013 and 2017: otherwise, you’ve not seen or heard them at all. If you’ve followed Richard’s on/off work singing and guitaring for fraternal duo Stars In Battledress (alongside his brother James), you’ll have some idea of the rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection to expect. Complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.

Reared on English folk and art-rock but steeped in both Chicago math-rock and (via radio, television and film) in sophisticated comic absurdity from the likes of the Marx Brothers, Spike Milligan and Vivian Stanshall, Richard is in fact one of the most aggravatingly unknown, self-effacing, even self-concealing talents of his generation. In the fifteen years since his last, short-lived solo foray Defeat The Young he’s kept his own work closely hidden, apparently preferring the shared burden and brotherly warmth of occasional shows with the similarly-obscure Battledress, or to play supporting roles with William D. Drake or sea-shanty-ers Admirals Hard. Were he not so damn elusive, he’d be regularly cited alongside the likes of Colin Meloy or Neil Hannon as an exemplar of bookish art-pop wit. For the most part, though, Richard seems happiest with his other career (in children’s theatre, an area in which, incidentally, he’s equally talented) although I suspect that the truth is that his perfectionist’s need for control gets a little on top of him, though never enough to ruffle his brow. According to Richard, this particular live surfacing’s going to be a “limited-capacity probably-not-to-be-repeated-often event”, but he clearly means business, having armed himself with the kind of musical crack squad that can do his work justice – London art-rock go-to-guy Charlie Cawood on bass, Drake band regular Nicky Baigent on clarinet, the enigmatic “Keepsie” on drums and a doubled-up keyboard arrangement of Rhodri Marsden (hopping over from Prescott) and Josh Perl (coming in from Knifeworld and The Display Team).

As regards firmer, more specific details on what Lost Crowns will be like, Richard himself will only murmur that the songs are “quite long, with a lot of notes.” Rhodri Marsden (a man more given to gags than gush) has chipped in with a wide-eyed “utterly mindbending and completely beautiful”; rumours abound re ditties about synthesia and/or the quirks of historical figures; and what’s filtered through from attendees at those previous ABC shows is that the Larcombe boy has seriously outdone himself with this project. The rest of us will have to wait and see. Meanwhile, in the absence of any available Lost Crown-ings to link to or embed, here are a couple of live examples of Richard’s artistry with Stars In Battledress.



 
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Alison O’Donnell + Firefay
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 18th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Same time, same place, but one week later – another rare treat in the shape of a London appearance from “fairy queen of acid folk” Alison O’Donnell, allied with Anglo-French folk-noirists Firefay.

Alison O'Donnell & Firefay, 18th January 2018The possessor of a warm declamatory folk voice (one well suited to storytelling), Alison began her musical journey at convent school in 1960s Dublin with childhood friend Clodagh Simonds. Writing and singing folk songs together, the two became the core of mystical folk-rockers Mellow Candle: scoring a faintly lysergic orchestral-pop single before either girl had turned seventeen, Clodagh and Alison then spent five years exploring and finessing the baroque/progressive folk sounds eventually captured on Mellow Candle’s one-and-only album ‘Swaddling Songs’.

Ahead of its time (and mishandled by the record company), it followed the example of other recent genre-stretching folk albums by Trees and Nick Drake and sold poorly. By the time that the disillusioned band disintegrated in 1973, Alison was still only twenty. She spent the next three decades travelling in a slow arc across the world and across music: spending long stretches of time in South Africa, London, and Brussels before returning to Dublin in 2001, she passed – en route – through traditional English, Irish and Flemish folk bands (including Flibbertigibbet, Éishtlinn and Oeda) as well as stints in theatre and satire, and in contemporary jazz band Earthling. As she entered her mid-fifties, though, Alison’s career entered a surprising and fruitful second stage. She finally began releasing material under her own name – initially with multi-instrumentalist Isabel Ní Chuireáin (for the part-trad/part-original ‘Mise Agus Ise’ in 2006), and then alone or with her band Bajik from 2009’s ‘Hey Hey Hippy Witch’ onward.

Meanwhile, the slow transition of ‘Swaddling Songs” from forgotten ’70s flop to early Noughties word-of-mouth lost classic brought Alison into active collaboration with a fresh generation of musicians who’d been captivated by the record. Agitated Radio Pilot’s Dave Colohan came in for on 2007’s ‘World Winding Down’, Steven Collins of The Owl Service for 2008’s ‘The Fabric of Folk’ EP, and Graham Lockett of Head South By Weaving for 2012’s ‘The Execution Of Frederick Baker’. Colohan in particular has become a regular ally and co-writer, playing a big part in Alison’s 2017’s ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’ album and inviting her into his Irish psych-folk collective United Bible Studies. There have also been teamups with metal bands Cathedral and Moonroot, with folktronicists Big Dwarf, and with Michael Tyack of psych-folkers Circulus.

Among the most promising of these latterday collaborations has been her 2012 teaming with Firefay (fronted by the trilingual Carole Bulewski) for the much-admired ‘Anointed Queen’ album. This month’s concert revisits that project and beyond, Alison and Firefay performing in a meticulously interwoven partnership which will dip into songs from ‘Anointed Queen’ in addition to Firefay material and songs from Alison’s own back catalogue, from Mellow Candle through to ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’. Come expecting a world/wyrd-folk wealth of keyboard drones, strings, bells, reeds and ouds, all mingled in a lysergia-flecked folk-rooted song continuum stretching from Ireland to Brittany and Flanders (across the British Isles and London, with look-ins from Gallic chanson, kletzmer, urban baroque, boozy sea songs, tints of Canterbury art-prog and even hints of the Sudan and Middle East.)


 
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Knifeworld, 20th January 2018Guided Missile presents:
Knifeworld (double set)
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 20th January 2018, 7:30pm
– information here , here and here

Just over a week after their leader disports himself (mostly) unplugged and exposed in Dalston, Knifeworld themselves burst back into action in Islington, getting a whole show to themselves at the Lexington. Currently revelling in the flexibility and range of tones available to their eight-piece lineup, they’ll be drawing on their last couple of years of songwriting and performance by playing a full acoustic set followed by a full electric set.

If you’re not yet familiar with Knifeworld’s work, you’re probably new to the blog – ‘Misfit City’ has been saturated with it ever since the band first emerged eight years ago – look back over past posts to acclimatise yourself to their dancing, springy, psychedelic mix of oboes, guitars, saxophones, drums and warm, wood-rough head-next-door vocals. It’s a skewed but precise brew of pointillistic acid-patter pulling in sounds, tones and attitude from five decades of music – you can spot ’50s rockabilly, late ’60s lysergic swirl, full on ’70s prog/soul complexity, ’80s and ’90s art pop noise and suss and beyond – all topped off by Kavus’ particular wide-eyed worldview. Eccentric and garbled on the surface, his songs still couch pungently honest depths of feelings, fears and hope if you’re prepared to push past the distraction of tatters and gags – as with two of his mentors, Tim Smith and Daevid Allen, Kavus treats psychedelia as a tool to explore, question and deepen the subject of human existence rather than trance it away in a blur.

Exceptionally excited by what’s coming up, the band are promising “a gig like no other…. your chance to hear many rarely- or never-played songs before. A whole night of delirious, mindbending and beautifully strange music.” Below is forty-one minutes of slightly shaky, slightly scratchy Knifeworld footage from the Supernormal 2016 festival, in order to light the fuse…


 

January 2018 – assorted English and Scottish gigs – piano, soul, art pop and verbiage with Society of Friends, Blert Ademi, Soul Deep and a host of poets at the SOIF Soiree (London, 5th); cutting an altfolkrock swathe with a Trembling-Bells-flavoured show by Orion’s Belt, Tom Slatter and Marcus Doo (Glasgow, 6th); experimental pop with Snails, Edward Penfold and Eugene Capper/Rhodri Brooks (Bristol, 13th)

1 Jan

Starting off the New Year, there’s a diverse brace of upcoming shows dotted around the country… In London, there’s the Society Of Imaginary Friends’ monthly musicians’n’poets soiree (this month, one that’s particularly heavy on the poets). In Glasgow, there’s a “feast of psych and folk wonderment” linking the folkworlds around Trembling Bells and Alasdair Robert with arch proggy steampunk songwriting. Down in Bristol, there’s “an evening of pop pleasures and wonky wonders.” Read on…

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Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 5th January 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“For Those in Peril on the Sea” Soiree: Society of Imaginary Friends + Blert Ademi + Debra Watson + Stone Deep + Amy Neilson Smith + Ernie Burns + DJ Miracle Rhythm
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 5th January 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here and here

From the Society:

“A still boat in a raging storm, our January Soiree – the month of cataclysmic cyclones battering our little island, foam fills the air, cool seagulls ride the tempest and the Society Of Imaginary Friends gather in their cabin around a crackling fire and tell stories of things past and things to come.

“We are joined by the fabulous young pianist Blert Ademi; brilliant, hard hitting poetess Debra Watson; new intriguing soul music from Stone Deep; charismatic performer, Shakespearian beauty and wonderful poetess Amy Neilson Smith; lusty, revealing super-wordsmith Ernie Burns; on the wheels of steel, the vinyl singles DJ extraordinaire DJ Miracle Rhythm; and the Society Of Imaginary Friends taking you back to a beautiful solstice evening in the Glastonbury Green Field. (More amazing performers to be announced – watch this space!) Cordon bleu vegan delights available to purchase from top chefs Kathy and Roger. Free entry. Dinner from 6pm, live performances start at 8pm.”

I couldn’t find anything on – or by – Stone Deep; but here’s a look at the rest of the lineup so far, beginning with an old SOIF track…






 
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A day later, there’s the Scottish event: a delightful, consensus-bucking meld of the credible, the incredible and the extramural.

Orions Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo, 6th January 2018

Orion’s Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo
Nice’n’Sleazy, 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3LG, Scotland
Saturday 6th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Headliners Orion’s Belt are a “seven-piece behemoth” of latterday Glasgow-via-Canterbury psychedelic folk, sometimes compared to “Kevin Ayers & The Whole World with Judy Collins handling the vocals”. They’re led by singer Lavinia Blackwall, best known as the voice of Trembling Bells but a longstanding mainstay of Glaswegian early music and avant-folk. Prior to their work as Trembling Bells, she and Alex Neilson collaborated as free-improv folkers Directing Hand: outside of the Bells they still sing together (alongside Harry Campbell and Katy Cooper of Muldoon’s Picnic) as four-part a capella voice quartet Crying Lion, who blend madrigal, folk, Gregorian and Sacred Harp elements into original songs.

In comparison, Orion’s Belt sounds like one of Lavinia’s more easy-going projects but ought to be magical nonetheless. Also on board in the band, picked from Glasgow’s gutsier psych, prog and folk underground, are members of “ongoing sloth-themed rock opera” collective Sloth Metropolis, prog-folkers Big Hogg, and “neo-psychedelic ninjas” Helicon (plus perhaps a few more people from Trembling Bells). Sorry – it still seems to be too new to have generated any recordings or Youtubings yet, but as a compensation here’s Lavinia’s five-year-old version of Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood’ performed with Maddy Prior, Thea Gilmore and the late Dave Swarbrick.


 
Originally with mid-noughties post-rockers Ancient Monsters, Highland-born singer-songwriter Marcus Doo has since made the transition to modern-day folk; initially with his own Spanish-based Secret Family, who explored the genre via their “Magpie Returned the Ring” album and scores for a Spanish Royal Theatre version of Ted Hughes’ ‘Gaudete’ and for Chema Rodríguez’s ‘Anochece en la India’. He’s been described by author Graeme Macrae Burnet as “a songwriter with a rare mastery of both melody and lyrics… his songs are satisfying as a rounded pebble in your hand, and he performs them with such passion and intensity that I would defy anyone not to be moved.” Since his 2015 return to Glasgow, Marcus has been working with sympathetic figures including Alasdair Roberts (with whom he’s recently toured), Alex Neilson and Mike Hastings of Trembling Bells, and Tom Davis of Big Hogg.

All of the latter appear on Marcus’ debut solo effort ‘Kid Wonder’, a loosely conceptual folk album about “an older man looking back at his life, towards death and in search of any Golden Apple (an old Norse emblem of eternal youth) of memory that may help him accept what has gone and what is about to come. Through various adventures to an ever-clearer destination he is emboldened by memories of places and people past, and gives thanks to them.” Other contributors to the record include Trembling Bells’ Valinia Black, various other members of the Doo family (including Marcus’ recently deceased grandfather), France-based flamenco-ist Genaro Alonso and Clova fiddler Aoife McGarrigle.

To have a listen to ‘Kid Wonder’ you’ll need to visit Marcus’ own music page, but here’s another substitute in the shape of an old Secret Family track.


 
In the middle of the bill is sardonic London bard-of-the-fantastical Tom Slatter, whose reliably arch and intricate songbook of weird-fiction songstories (steampunk murders, tentacled monstrosities running amok) has built up across a string of theatrical albums and EPs since the early noughties. Hailed for “epic tales of darkness and light (which) fuse the bile of Roy Harper with humour and a sharp musical mind”, he’s previously delivered them live via a single strummed acoustic guitar, but is now generally accompanied by electric guitarist Gareth Cole. Here’s the video for a particular bit of 2015 Slatter tentaculation:


 
In case you think that Tom sounds like an odd, forced fit in the midst of this sincere Scottish folk stew – and it’s fair to admit that a man who calls his own concert album ‘Live, Discomfiting and Overly Whimsical’ might be bringing the hurt down on himself – it’s worth remembering that (in between the Lovecraft/Sterling/GameCon rampages) his catalogue features scattered, glowing moments of unguarded psychedelic beauty such as the ‘Earthbound’ single. On top of that, Tom’s most recent solo album – last year’s ‘Happy People‘ – took an unexpected sideswerve away from the monster galleries, the top hats and the cog-driven toy theatres into a much more nuanced consideration of the human condition. Tom probably wouldn’t thank me for pointing this out, mind; and if you’re solidly unconvinced, come along and heckle him anyway. By many accounts, he loves a good heckle, especially if topped off by a dose of cunning wordplay.

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Snails + Edward Penfold + Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks, 13th January 2018

Pop Or Not Promotions and Undergrowth present:
Pop/Not: Snails, Edward Penfold, Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 13th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

In the Cube Microplex (the squirreled-away Bristol theatre-turned-cinema/venue which recently hosted a rollicking showing of Cardiacs’ ‘Mare’s Nest’ concert film plus The Scaramanga Six), there are some more workings along the pop fringe. Over to the promoters…

“Led by songwriter Dan Weltman and described as “eerie, beautiful, modestly majestic” by Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels, five-piece experimental pop band Snails generate moments of suburban guitar pop reverie for lonely people walking to the shops. Their sound bears the influence of ’60s folk and psychedelia with a peppering of ’90s pop. Mavericks such as Syd Barrett and Nico mingle with the likes of the Gorky’s or even Belle and Sebastian; though, having no desire to recreate the past, Snails sensitively combine a passion for classic sounds with inventive songwritting to create their own heartfelt pop music. For this unique Bristol show they will be playing brand new material from their upcoming second LP.


 
Edward Penfold’s music is a blend of the old and the new, nostalgic but not dated. More than anything it sounds like now. It’s music from the heart – a hazy collection of sounds and moods, sometimes upbeat, sometimes down, but always genuine and always captivating. His lyricism reflects the eloquence and observation of a very English sort of poetry, seeing the depth in the shallows of life, the profundity in the mundane; all accepted with a matter-of-factness that is reflected in the driving impetus in every song, whether slow or fast or groovy. His new album ‘Denny Island Drive’ came out in late November 2017.


 
“After two years of ongoing collaboration and development, Cardiff twosome Eugene Capper and Rhodri Brooks have just released their beautiful debut LP ‘Pontvane’. Individually, both Capper and Brooks have developed back catalogues of diverse musicality and influence, incorporating elements of surf, lo-fi, Americana and psych. Their first release as a duo further emphasises this eclecticism, effortlessly stitching together disparate sonic fragments into a cohesive, compelling whole. Take a listen…”

 

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.

* * * * * * * *

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…




 
* * * * * * * *
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.




 

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

17 Nov

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

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

* * * * * * * *

Jack Cheshire & Robert Chaney, 23rd November 2017

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

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

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


 
* * * * * * * *

Effra + Cynefin, 27th November 2017

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

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

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

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



 

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

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

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

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

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



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

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

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



 

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