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May 2019 – upcoming gigs – theatrical rock and weirdtronica from Major Parkinson, Alwanzatar and Army Of Moths in London (2nd, 3rd); simmering avant-rock angles from Thumpermonkey and A Formal Horse in Southampton (2nd); eclectic music From My Octopus Mind and Daniel Inzani in Bristol plus a dance video premiere by Bethany Stenning (2nd)

23 Apr

Major Parkinson + Alwantazar + Army Of Moths, 2nd & 3rd May 2019The last time that Bergen rock dramatists Major Parkinson came to England, they amazed and were amazed – bringing an evening of dark-tinged theatrical music, and leaving grateful and a little thunderstruck at the attention they’d received and the energy and loyalty they’d stirred up. It had something to do with the fact that they’d unexpectedly tapped into the interests of Cardiacs fans, known for their family loyalty and their generally un-English zest for manic expressiveness and musical complexity. A perfect match, really. Fronted by Jon Ivar Kollbotn and massing up an armoury of violins, guitars and keyboards, Major Parkinson are a Jägerbomb of a band. Rich, heady, a little reminiscent of Cardiacs’ turbulent complexity, but with plenty of other things in the brew – a dash of Nick Cave’s Gothic cabaret, the huge dark orchestral-pop airs of Cousteau, the shipwreck timbers of black metal, the ambitions that come from staring at a shelfload of out-there music while still pawing over your childhood copy of ‘Sgt. Pepper’.

They’re back in England at the beginning of next month to play a London double – an official show at Tufnell Park’s Dome, plus (for Dome ticket holders) a pre-Dome warm-up at a secret location. No idea where the latter is. They’re selling it as some kind of thieves’ kitchen or secret cupboard, in which you’ll come as an audience member but helplessly spill onto the stage, presumably becoming one of the characters in a Parkinson tale. It’s all a mystery. Pick up a Dome ticket and be prepared to make an early weekend of it.



 
At the Dome show, there’s support from Alwanzatar, a solo “extraterrestrial world music” project from Krizla (who plays with Norwegian prog-psych-folkers Tusmørke). Founded around electronics, flute, synth gloop and incantations, it sounds a little like a reanimated Popul Vuh, raised up by dark rites and dragged into the world of bedroom electronica. Also on hand are Army Of Moths: usually a similarly theatre’lectrical racket to Major Parkinson themselves, playing an unhinged kind of power pop (great brick arches of song with a definite Cardiacs-y clamberosity involved, plus vocals scurrying around them like woozy wayward ivy or clamouring like a young Bowie). This time they’re playing in acoustic format.




 
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It’s going to be a busy Thursday for this kind of tuneful, extravagant fringe rock. Also on the 2nd – balefully powerful London avant-prog band Thumpermonkey up sticks for an evening and roll their dark laughter, their constantly shapeshifting compositions and their baffling, brainiac-surreal perspective out of London, taking the road down to Southampton to play for the determined diehards at Solent Area Prog.

Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse, 2nd May 2019Like Major Parkinson, Thumpermonkey are a heady brew of ideas and drama. In their way, they’re one of Britain’s most ambitious rock bands, deftly striding and shifting between different musical kernels from prog, dark pop or experimental metal to a kind of science-fiction cabaret, languidly licking up and stirring in any intriguing nugget or story fragment they birth or encounter. Unpacking their decade-plus back catalogue of recordings is like getting trapped in one of those clever-dick contemporary polymath novels written about everything and anything, stitched together with a little magic and mystique – they’ve sung about computer games, Nigerian fraudsters, Mexican acid westerns and strange diseases and made it sound as if it were all part of the same complex semi-submerged story. Their most recent album, ‘Make Me Young, etc.’ is a surprisingly sober banking-down of the usual playful creative fires: a crepuscular meditation on the end of the world as observed through dreams, portents, reality and intimations.



 
Once a concoction of pointy elbows and sudden shifts, Southampton avant-rockers A Formal Horse (playing in support) are growing up, out and a little away from their post-prog beginnings, powered by Hayley McDonnell’s strong carolling tones. More recent songs (like 2018’s Bird) yearn toward a kind of florid dream-folk, even as the drumming nails mozaics into the floor and the guitar describes steely math-rock machinery forms. A couple of years ago, I described them as “a bounding conceptual glitterball”. In some respects, they’ve calmed down a little since then, but only in order to apply more considered forms of straining at their genre. At the moment, they’re like a muscle developing – over-straining, gently tearing, but with the intention and ability to rebuild and go further.



 
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In contrast to the journeys being carried out by Major Parkinson and Thumpermonkey next week, My Octopus Mind are staying happily at home in Bristol for their own 2nd May gig. Following their jaunt around the country back in February (and a brief vigorous five-date sizzle through France and Belgium earlier this month) this time they’re choosing to draw the wider world over to themselves.

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

While going out on tour, My Octopus Mind are a trio. On home turf, they’re a sextet. They’ve had an extra pair of plug-in string players for a while, but the sixth member remains a mystery for the moment. The other thing they’ll be unveiling at this gig is their second video release: a “magical” piece of stop-motion animation by Roos Mattaar, part of Bristol’s crop of world-class animators, and the woman previously responsible for most of the video for Father John Misty’s Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution.


 
More music visuals come from Bethany Stenning, whose “tender genderless, measureless, dimensionless” Stanlæy project has migrated between Paris, Ireland and Bristol in various shapes and forms since 2016 (with Bethany constantly at the core of the catherine wheel, throwing off strands of violin, piano, guitar, voice, synth and found sound). As musician and multi-instrumentalist, Bethany starts from a perspective of “ethereal gypsy punk-pop” and moves outwards from there into the kind of neverland/neverwas experimental folk music that we used to hear from Joanna Newsom; with her fey, unusual, offbeat-beautiful voice and lyrics exploring “human life in the modern world…our ancient relationships to nature… contemplations about consciousness and free will” while nestling in sparse yet evocative post-classical, free-sounding arrangements.

Stanlæy’s current incarnation (a spacious acoustic quartet) would fit right into the night’s gig lineup; but instead we’re getting a look at Bethany’s broader artistic concerns and abilities. Her involvement tonight has more to do with her visual art side and her passion for painting, illustrating, observing and questioning the human body via story and dance. In collaboration with cinematographer Rob Ellis, she scripts and directs video art, something which first came substantially together in 2017’s ‘The Human Project’ (“seven elements embodied within seven sonic visuals… seven hues, revealing the body as a canvas to represent natural elements as a metaphor for cognitive states of mind, and the evolution of the body. The human body transforms itself into a real life canvas.”) On this occasion, she’s presenting ‘Wear The Line’, a twenty -minute short film that’s “a thought-provoking and uncannily realised representation of the current climate of gender roles and their ambiguity. Set in a universe much like our own where one word or concept can have as many meanings as there are people, the film explores the formula of femininity. It features lead performances by Flora Whitmarsh, Taylor Young and Phoebe Hopwood.” Bethany also provided the music for the film – from what I’ve heard, a hypnotic and open-ended chamber-classical ambience.



 
Also on board for the evening is Daniel Inzani, playing a mid-bill set of piano pieces. Though he’s perhaps best known at the moment for the classical/jazz/folk chamber fusion music (simultaneously luxuriant, ghostly and sprightly) which he composes for his Spindle Ensemble quartet, Daniel’s work has also embraced vigorously visual Ethopian jazz fusion with his Tezeta octet; the performance of ska, rocksteady and Mahavishnu Orchestra music; and support work in a pair of Bristolian psychedelic assemblages (Graeme Smith’s blues-reggae-meets-lounge project Dubi Dolczek and Conrad Singh’s buzz/drone Americana folk-pop array Cloudshoes). His piano solos catch up and rework bits of his own compositions, rearrangements for different spaces.


 
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Dates:

Major Parkinson:

  • (secret location, London) – Thursday 2nd May 2019, time t.b.c. – special warm-up gig available to ticketholders for the Dome show
  • The Dome, 2a Dartmouth Park Hill, Tufnell Park, London, NW5 1HL, England – Friday 3rd May 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here

Solent Area Prog presents:
Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse
The Joiners, 141 St Mary Street, Southampton, SO14 1NS, England
Thursday 2nd May 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

My Octopus Mind + Daniel Inzani + Bethany Stenning’s ‘Wear The Line’ (video premiere)
Cube Microplex, 4 Princess Row, Bristol, BS2 8NQ, England
Thursday 2nd May 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

April 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Sonic Imperfections at Telegraph Hill Festival with Darkroom, Handäoline, Jo Thomas and Minus Pilots (5th) and your chance to jump into some more of their Festival work yourself (13th)

1 Apr

Having inveigled their way into a second home in a hilltop church a stone’s throw from New Cross (and half a klick away from their usual home at the Montague Arms), south London experimental evening Sonic Imperfections are presenting an early April sound’n’space gig at the end of the coming week, continuing their ongoing work with the Telegraph Hill festival. It features various contributions from Darkroom, Handäoline, Jo Thomas and Minus Pilots, all endeavouring to fill up the nave and the arch with reverberance of one kind or another.

Sonic Imperfections, 5th April 2019

Despite now being geographically split between Hertfordshire (where guitarist Michael Bearpark lives) and Edinburgh (where synthesist and reedsman Andrew Ostler is making solo inroads into the Scottish improvisation scene), the Darkroom duo remain tightly loyal to each other even as they stay conceptually loose, artistically inscrutable and absolutely in command of their vivid, grand scale abstractions after twenty years of making them. The boiling, heavy-ambience starstuff of the early years (with its post-prog wails, stepped pyramids of piled-up textures and the pulses which snaked alongside club music while never being shackled to it) has long since given way to something different: Darkroom now sound woody, or deep-carved and ancient, even as their music takes place behind winking lights and modular plug-ins.

Still underrated as one of Britain’s top guitarists in that rarified field where commanding emotion meets marvellous texturology, Michael’s playing exudes both confidence and a broadminded framework; sometimes stirring up a broody hauntological fog, sometimes exuding a cobweb of ominous data, sometimes licking at the music with the fiery tongue of a melodic soloist on a tight leash. Os (increasingly drawn to his bass clarinet booms and voicings) brings the wind through the bracings and the horns to the shoreline even as he runs Darkroom’s complex instinctive sonic architecture through his custom preamps and plugins. Any Darkroom performance is an ear-opener, and this should be no exception.



 
Handäoline is a new-ish familial teaming of Death In Vegas founder-turned-experimental sonics journeyman Steve Hellier, ‘Late Junction’-eer Freya Hellier and (in a sense) Steve’s late great-uncle Wally, a soldier killed in action during the World War II offensive in Italy. The inspiration is Wally’s old melodeon (rescued from his possessions after his death and kept in the family) and his handwritten notes for a piece of 1940s pop called ‘The Chocolate Soldier’s Daughter’. On accordion, Freya recreates and acknowledges some of this history while Steve passes her playing through sound processors and adds his own contributions via laptop and mixing: laced with further sound samples from the Hellier family archives, it’s a different kind of album project, surrealizing and loosening familial memory and once-or-twice-removed community history.

It’s all new enough to stop me from being able to bring you a soundclip or two, so you’ll just have to imagine your own way into this one. As compensation, here’s the original version of Wally’s old favourite…


 
Freeforming with “raw and sensitive sonic matter” (and working mostly from her own processed voice, tabletop electronics, found sounds and a Chapman Stick), electronic instrumentalist Jo Thomas explores the world around herself in a matter-of-fact manner which emerges as suggestive, obliquely sensual abstractions. By this I don’t mean erotic-sensual (although that shouldn’t be entirely ruled out). I mean that she records her impressions of atmospherics, situational weight and association, weighs them and returns them to us transformed or blanketed in evocative, unearthly, sometimes confrontational noise.

By some distance the most experimental act on the bill, Jo’s an abstract expressionist of sound. Her music takes varied shapes – the slow-evolve fluting-organ drones of 2017’s ‘Random Feathers’ (electrophonically realising her reflections on Emily Dickinson); the conglomerations of large-scale equipment hiss and rumble from a particle accelerator, as recorded and reworked on 2011’s Crystal Sounds Synchrotron; the recent Radiophonic inspirations of Natures Numbers (in which Jo follows in the blip-and-ghost-ridden footsteps of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, and adds a few of her own, a fellow traveller). At the input stage, her inspirations are clues: by the output stage, they’ve become mysteries.


 
Minus Pilots are bassist Adam Barringer and percussionist Matt Pittori: post-rockers who’ve drifted far from rock. Their sounds are gentle, post-industrial, even a little reverent. They’re the kind of holy minimalism you might get from an allegedly reformed psych-rocker sitting quietly and shaggily among the congregation towards the back of the church, secretly tonguing a decal of blotter acid as he eyes the rose window and daydreams of the ruins of an old chocolate factory. Expect hum and crackle, expect frayed fences and distant boom; expect the sound of a parched-out spiritual rinse; expect, too, the shatter of free jazz as Matt cuts a little loose.



 

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Sonic Imperfections, 13th April 2019

Continuing their Telegraph Hill Festival work this month, Sonic Imperfections are also running a sign-up and turn-up immersive event for improvisers in Telegraph Hill Park on 13th April, as part of the Festival’s 25th Anniversary Spectacular. This involves a shifting, spontaneous play-along to a silent film or two as well as providing the sonic backdrop to an audience being led around the park. If you’re interested in playing, you can put your name down here on the Facebook page.

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Dates:

Sonic Imperfections presents:
Darkroom + Handäoline + Jo Thomas + Minus Pilots
St Catherine’s Church, 102a Pepys Road, Telegraph Hill, London, SE14 5SG, England
Friday 5th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here

Sonic Imperfections presents:
Sonic Imperfections @ Telegraph Hill Festival 2019 – 25th Anniversary Spectacular
Telegraph Hill Park (Lower Park), Pepys Road, Telegraph Hill, London, SE14 5TJ, England
Saturday 13th April 2019, 8.30pm
– information here
 

February/March 2019 – upcoming British folk/experimental gigs – Bell Lungs on tour with Raiments (20th February to 2nd March, various) with appearances by Despicable Zee, Michael Clark, The Nature Centre, Halcyon Jane, Tara Clerkin Trio and various DJs. Plus sundry other Bell Lungs shows in March including a København evening with Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen, a show with David Toop and Rashad Becker, a date with Gaze Is Ghost.

16 Feb

Working with a multi-instrumental, device-heavy palette which includes guitar, harmonium, Omnichord, electric violin, lyre, bouzouki, saz, voice and a host of effects pedals, avant-folk singer/writer/sometime promoter Ceylan Hay (a.k.a. Bell Lungs) sits at the middle of a host of possible routes. Her sound incorporates post-folk and drone, dream pop, noise and free improv, psychedelia and site-specific realisations, while her psychohistorian subject matter takes in the ancient, the near-ancient and the presently numinous: probing prehistoric spaces, the ghosts of the industrial age, day-to-day feelings and the slide into a new virtual existence space via online culture.

Reflecting these overlaid levels (and what might be, at different perspective points, either shockingly near or completely occluded), her vocal delivery steps between ornamental trad-folk crenellations, feathery ambient warbles and horrific screams. You can never quite tell whether she’s going to lull you or scare you, but you know she cares about what she’s ferrying across to you.

With a new EP, the wintry ‘Wolves Behind Us‘, to promote (apparently it’s a return to folk and landscapes after recent science fiction/site-specific digressions, and is “Joan Aiken’s ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’, Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’, caravan living in the Highlands and the ancient cosmology idea of dividing the year into two halves; the opening and closing of the wolf’s mouth”), Bell’s embarking on five weeks of touring (primarily alongside Raiments) through Scotland, England, Wales, followed up by other Raiments-less shows in Scotland, England and Denmark. (She’ll also be playing in Wales next month, but more on that later…)




 
Before taking a look at the tour, let’s take a look at her tourmates. Formed on the Berlin avant-garde scene, Raiments are fronted by sing-murmurer/left-field guitarist Mano Camatsos, and they sound like a soft-stepping muttering blend of Lou Reed and Momus fronting a band that mixes lurking dark-jazz styling (hardwood clarinet burr and groove-pattering trashdrums) with the DIY rattle of Pram and the dark throb of Morphine. Mano’s wildcard guitar is a clinking noisemaker and pulse generator taking note of hip hop, of avant-garde classical extended techniques and of mysterious instruments and methods gleaned from ethnological recordings. His songwriting voice is a oddball surreal instinct leading inexorably towards songs about ants or baffling seductions.



 
Tracing their upcoming footsteps on the tour is a joy, like following a plough which turns up small treasures as it reveals what’s in the earth. It’s partly the succession of intriguing off-the-beaten-path venues – squatty art-pubs, recovered eighteenth-century coal basins, pocket cinemas and art centres, diehard folk rooms and out-of-the-way sipperys – but also the revealing of similarly off-the-wall musical talents and enthusiasts they join up with en route.

In Edinburgh, Bell and Raiments are playing with Claquer – previously three-piece improvisers Claque until they spun off their American drummer an unspecified time ago. Now it’s just the Edinburgh contingent: free/experimental guitarist Jer Reid and viola player/speaker Lisa Fannen. They deal in lo-fi clangs, loopings and scrapes and spoken word: momentary moment-music.


 
In Newcastle, the main support comes from the soft melody murmurs and drowsy, cushioned keens of ambient/improv folk duo Halcyon Jane, a Tyneside/Humberside teamup. Upfront with the voice, guitar and devices is Newcastle performance art polymath Jayne Dent, better known via her own electronic/noisy folk project Me Lost Me, in which she buffers and buffets her singing with concertinas and samplers: when she played Hull back in December, support came from local ambient electronic beatsman Halcyon Neumann, who’s worked with The Body Farmers and with Sarah Shiels and who carries out sonic explorations of “the technological vs. the archaic/the spiritual vs. the scientific/the supernatural vs. the psychological.” Together they tease out a semi-improvised border music, part weird electro-folk and part post-shoegaze wisp.

Also playing is Michael Clark, providing slurred, wise, trepidatious and crepuscular folk music with fogrolls of noise behind an acoustic guitar. Despite being a Londoner, he sounds more like a moor-dweller; or like someone who lives in the kind of port city London used to be, one in which strange tales and intimation billow up the streets with the dock mist: this time out, his strange tales are backed up by a full band.

 
I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before. Headlining the Club Integral-hosted Birmingham show above Bell Lung and Raiments, they’re an affable rural/suburban pop quartet like a four-person one-man band, sprouting banjos and clarinets and found percussion alongside their drum kit and guitars. Drawn to playing at weirder gigs, they’ve shared bills with people like Bob Drake and have their own batchful of three-minute pop songs avidly reflecting the off-kilter visions of previous English songwriter eccentrics (the Syd Barretts, Robyn Hitchcocks and Tim Smiths). Handling the in-between-bands slot is someone new to me but not new to Brum’s vinyl-istas: Moseley Folk Festival’s house DJ and Moseley Record Fair co-organiser DJ Rome, promising his own selection of crate-dug oddities and inspirations.


 
In Bristol, the DJ backup comes from “bleary-eyed staggerer” Siegfried Translator of the Grey Area radio show (another haven for intriguingly weird music from all over the globe), but the gig predominantly features the Tara Clerkin Trio: the DIY musical brainchild of a ceramicist who also seems to have a yen for gamelan/minimalist-sounding pattern tinkling sprinkled with voiceloops, friendly saxophonic intrusions and other pitch-ins from whichever musical friends she can rope in for the occasion. (At other times, she creates her own slumberous take on experimental countrified pop.)

 
The Oxford show (promoted by Divine Schism) is primarily a launch event for the second EP by Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani, a.k.a. Despicable Zee – a live-looper, improviser and conscious patterner of fifteen years standing, mixed Anglo/Irish/Iranian heritage, and a history of drumming in Oxford bands since her teens. Now the drums (plus loopstations and recordings) are used to create live solo tracks in which Zee employs a lo-fi, lo-technique approach to overlapping rhythm garlands and triggered conversations. As an artist (as well as an educator and mother), Zee’s increasingly conscious of the female lines she carries within her: the patched-in samples which wobble her current project along feature the voices of her mother and grandmother, mingling with Zee’s own sing-speak-raps as if they’ve dropped by for some kind of experimental music cross-cultural kaffee klatsch.


 
The London show (at Paper Dress Vintage) is an evening of music and spoken word put together by promoters Spilt Milk in order to raise money and awareness for North London Action for the Homeless. Shapeshifter experimental pop poet Alabaster dePlume comperes: also in the corner is Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, who showed up in ‘Misfit City’ a little over a year ago.

Jenny’s another artist whose field extends from the visual and situational into action and music: the Mystic Business involves pulling together friends and strangers into a collective performance event that’s part communal clapalong choir, part percussion workshop and good-natured culture-jamming protest (with food). Guileless and charming, but nonetheless political and détournementational, it’s an attempt to get collective conscience back into the body, containing and encouraging a cheerful but insistent protest.



 
The Conventry and Brighton gigs appear to feature just Bell Lungs and Raiments on their own, but news just coming in re. the Liverpool date (at dockside art-pub Drop the Dumbulls) says that support there comes from Merseyside “synthwhisperer” and outsider synthpopper Claire Welles. She’s been rolling out her contrary songs for over a decade now, singing increasingly unsettling lyrics in a deep deadpan tone with a sarcastic medicated edge, while the backings deliquesce from elegant ageless Europop into something a little misshapen. It all becomes something like those conversations during which you wake up a third of the way in, not quite sure how you got into them, not quite believing that you’re stuck in there and will just have to ride it out.



 
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Following the Raiments tour, Bell heads off separately for other shows. A mid-March showing at Manchester’s Peer Hat is a solo gig, but there’s also an Argyll event (in the enchanting recording-studio-as-art-nook surroundings of St Marys Space) at which she’s supporting baroque poptronic project Gaze Is Ghost: itinerant Northern Irish singer/songwriter/post-classical composer Laura McGarrigle, noted for “spectral vocals and impressionist piano playing” as well as drifts into harmonium and ambient atmospherics. In recent years Laura’s let Zed Penguin drummer/artist Casey Miller into the project and (following a number of pre-Casey singles), Gaze Is Ghost are finally readying a debut album as a duo.

 
A return to Glasgow on 28th March sees Bell performing on a talk’n’play bill with musicologist and audio culturer David Toop and Berlin sonicist Rashad Becker (who, having polished over a thousand records by other people spanning noise to techno, has begun stepping out into music creation of his own with the resonant faux-ethnological synthwork of ‘Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. I’).

On the 30th she’s back in Edinburgh to support another experimental folker, looper and performance artist: David Thomas Broughton, whose brilliantly wayward path has included looping his own heckles, blurring the line between song performance and experimental theatre. Along the way he’s released eight albums of accessible, tremulous, oddly haunting alt.folk delivered in an arresting genderless vocal tone a little reminiscent of Anthony/Anohni, and won the respect and collaborative contributions of (among others) Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, and Aidan Moffat. David will be in the early stages of his own tour, which I really should cover on its own.





 
Before any of these, though, she’s crossing the North Sea to perform at an experimental folk event in København. Part of the city’s Fanø Free Folk Festival, it’s hosted by local label Dendron Records, specializers in “small runs of abstract electronics, ghostly folk songs and surprisingly hummable tunes.” The concert will also feature two København-based British emigres Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen. Hugh’s been operating for years under various names including The Weave And The Weft and Taiga Taiga, creating shadowy understated mostly-acoustic songs with a literary bent, and he regularly helps out with David Folkmann Drost’s homemade folk project Moongazing Hare. Previously known as a radical electric guitarist in Vinyl Dog Joy, Amstrong and Distortion Girls, Tanja recently struck out on her own with a solo debut, ‘Feeling Love’ in which she embraces and deconstructs pop songs, writing them acoustically before bringing assorted damaged amplification and effects-pedal interference to bear on them, resulting in songscapes covering a field from heavy-lidded noise-folk to cataclysmic “drone-metal disco”.




 
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Dates:

Bell Lungs & Raiments tour:

  • Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16A Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8BJ – Wednesday 20th February 2019, 7.00pm (with Claquer) – information here
  • Cobalt Studios, 10-16 Boyd Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1AP, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.00pm(with Michael Clark + Halcyon Jane) – information here
  • The Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0QH, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 8.00pm (with The Nature Centre + DJ Rome) – information here and here
  • Cube Cinema, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 24th February 2019, 8.00pm(with Tara Clerkin Trio + The Grey Area DJs) – information here and here
  • Fusion Arts, 44b Princes Street, Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1DD, England – Monday 25th February 2019, 7.30pm(with Despicable Zee) – information here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019. 7.30pm (with Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business + Alabaster dePlume) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill Tavern, 70-71 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 4JL, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Tin @ The Coal Vaults, Unit 1-4 Coventry Canal Basin, St. Nicholas Street, Coventry, CV1 4LY, England – Friday 1st March 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Drop the Dumbulls @ The Bull, 2 Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England – Saturday 2nd March 2019, 7.00pm (with Claire Welles) – information here

Bell Lungs standalone dates with various others (tbc):

  • Fanø Free Folk Festival @ Alice, Norre Alle 7, DK-2200 København N, Norway – Monday 4th March 2019, 7.00pm(with Hugh Tweedie + Tanja Vesterbye Jessen) – information here
  • St Marys Space, Fasnacloich, Argyll, Scotland, PA38 4BJ – Saturday 9th March 2019, 7.00pm(supporting Gaze Is Ghost) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester M1 1BE – Thursday 14th March 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Stereo/The Old Hairdressers, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 5AR, Scotland – Thursday 28th March 2019, 7.00pm (with David Toop + Rashad Becker) – information here and here
  • The Waverley, 3-5 St. Mary’s Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TA, Scotland – Saturday 30th March 2019, 9.00pm (supporting David Thomas Broughton) – information here

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

10 Feb

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


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

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



 
* * * * * * * *

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

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




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

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

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


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

My Octopus Mind:

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

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

February 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Lost Crowns, Ham Legion and Wryneck (8th February)

1 Feb

Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck, 8th February 2019

I guess it’s a thorn in Richard Larcombe’s side that whenever he launches one of his complex poly-referential music projects some reductive oaf like myself strolls up, latches onto those polished, extremely upper-middle-class English vocals, and then starts comparing him to the cuddly Canterbury end of Anglo-prog – Hatfield & The North, Caravan and so on.

This is what you get, I suppose, when you’re musically versed in everything from the Copper Family to English bell-ringing patterns to mid-period Zappa to ‘90s American math rock – and when you can prove it – but when you’re also compelled to ice your lyrical cake with such floating, whimsical humorous concoctions. Almost from the start (when he was banging out strangely Donne-ian Britpop with Magnilda twenty-odd years ago) Richard has sounded as if he’s quipping and musing from an Oxbridge punt floating down ever more complicated river systems. It’s too easy to visualize him eating strawberries dipped in lysergic cream, keeping the witty punchlines coming while the landscape around him gets ever more mozaic-ed and fractalized.

It’s a little unfair to say things like that. Richard’s raised-eyebrow/bell-clear diction might make him sound smug to some ears in these resentful times, but his humour and the content of his songs are far richer, more intricate and upfront than what’s suggested by those Cantabrian comparisons. Lyrically, he’s a driven, glittering absurdist – more interested in extrapolation and unravelling substance than he is in reducing everything to fluff. Rather than offering lazy-lidded Kevin Ayers dreams (or, indeed, weightless Hatfield-ish souffles and toilet jokes), he takes snipes about synaesthesia and develops them until they collapse. He reframes and bricolages ancient bits of mythology as knockabout British arthouse films; or serenade his wife with borderline-ludicrous, self-aware stack-ups of flowery tributes. All of which gives us an anchoring point for listening: if he is icing his work with gags, it’s partially because something so musically demanding needs a little judicious sugaring.

The freshly-released debut album by Richard’s Lost Crowns project is being hailed as his best work yet. It’s certainly his most unrestrained: a barrage of word-dense songs overflowing with full-on prismatic structures and outright rock drive, as if Lewis Carroll and Flann O’Brien had called on the massed forces of Henry Cow to help them hijack Battles. While Lost Crowns sound like few bands in mainstream British rock history, current or past, they take a longer more meandering path along which you can imagine them laying some loving snags on various left-field rockers as they travel. XTC, Field Music and The Monochrome Set to These New Puritans; Gentle Giant, Knifeworld and the Art Bears. Comparisons generally water bands down, but for this one they work more as a health warning. Imagine a cocktail which didn’t dilute as you built it up, but instead made all of its ingredients stronger, brighter and brasher…



 
You can see Lost Crowns in action again – with Richard backed by a dream team of underground music crack-shots from Gong, Scritti Politti, Knifeworld and NSRO – next week at the Slaughtered Lamb. Having made their debut at an Alphabet Business Convention several years ago, they’re proud members of the sprawling and joyous musical family that runs in barking loops around the feet of Cardiacs. Consequently, you can expect to see a batch of the usual Cardiacs-ish faces in the audience. You’ll also get to see some on stage, since Ham Legion are playing support.

Longtime Cardiacs disciples, the Legion started out years ago as the perma-bubbling Little Trophy but following a drawn-out process of shedding fripperies and members, they’re now down to a power trio. All too often, they’re the extra filling in someone else’s gig sandwich. For the first time in a long while, though, they’re coming out armed with an imminent new single, Georgie Porgie. Time, perhaps to reassess them and their grunged-up take on complicated post-Cardiacs songs. A cavalcade of mood-switches and charges in and out of the unknown; a puckish delving into the traditions of English pop eccentricity, but one that’s smeared by tarry black coffee-sludge and amp crunch.


 
A surprise addition to the bill is Wryneck. To find out about them, you’d need to dig even deeper: back to the 1980s when a band with the gonkish name of Zag & The Coloured Beads romped intermittently around London’s free festival scene, playing “complicated tunes in a ragged/bluesy style” fed through the same scene’s omnivorous, hyperactive-hippy mindset. Taking a British post-punk filter, they used it to strain Zappa/Beefheart weird-juice, with memories of trad jazz and kid’s television also cavalcading through. They usually sounded like a drunken race between a squad of seven-legged camels: there was a bit of math to it, for sure (they enjoyed their shabby Brit-squat takes on the New York minimalist pulse, and their five- and seven-time signatures) but it was probably best not to take that too seriously either. After all, the songs had utterly clownish sketchpad titles like Sweaty Thing and Bernard Crapshit, which usually fitted perfectly.

(Gives the critics hives, y’know. Whether you’re aiming for analytical authority or ineffable cool, embracing a certain level of outright and intentional silliness is a bit like cuddling a hand grenade; and Dada just don’t do-do…)

Anyhow… Wryneck was what was left when various Beads dropped off the string in 1989, once keystoner Paul Howard ran dry and ran out of interest and keyboard person Robert White headed on to better-known, less squirrely things with Levitation and The Milk and Honey Band. The remainder (led by guitarist/singer/songfitter Steve Arthur), tried to get serious and to get taken seriously. Duly recast, they dumped the comedy and pulled in and lashed down the ramblings: they took fresh notes from the flourishing noise-pop of My Bloody Valentine and the ringing drive of Levitation and The Belltower, and they acted upon them. Over time, they also factored in a post-James Brown/Zeppelin sense of dirty groove. They produced a few cassettes (and those in the know remember the band as “master tunesmiths”) but, like the Beads, they never rose beyond a backroom cult. After four years – and despite no-one actually turning into a casualty – Wryneck too was missing in action. Musically, everyone kept busy with something or other, but it was only when Steve, Paul and guitar/bass mainstay Mik Tubb resurrected the Beads for more intermittent shows about a decade ago that the old chemistry came back.

These days, it seems as if Beadery and the staggered musical family around it (everyone was always overcommitted to multiple bands) is somewhat like Cardiacs culture – a big attic trunk full of oddments and puzzles which people regularly pull out and reconfigure at while. Joining Steve and Mik (and whoever else they’ve managed to persuade into this micro-revival) is Paul, who might never have been a Wrynecker before, but who seems to be one now.

Sadly the shortage of Wryneck sonic memorabilia online means that there’s nothing I can post up as an illustration of the noise they’re going to make. Lost Crowns are describing them (with tongue in cheek) as “like Mud, but fancier’. Alternatively, you could draw a few clues from the clutch of Beads tangles I’ve crammed in below. If unconvinced, you could consider Wryneck’s presence as a pop-up indulgence and reward for those grizzled old ‘80s festi-veterans in Cardiacs fandom who stayed their course and kept the faith. If you’re any less cynical, you could try saluting them as (even with the post-Beads musical streamlinings) part of a strand of English musical playfulness that’s gone uncredited for too long.




 
Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Friday 8th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Rumour Cubes, Brudini and Silent Cities (24th January)

22 Jan

Not too long ago I was bitching about post-rock (probably not for the first time) and how it had been corralled – especially in its math rock iteration – by reductionists who turned it into something dour and clunking.

Rumour Cubes + Brudini + Silent Cities, 24th January 2019

At the time, one of the bands I excluded from the griping was Rumour Cubes – a conglomeration of classical refugees and of malcontents from post-rock’s straighter/blander end, aiming to revitalise the genre via honesty regarding all influences. They attempted to engage audiences (rather than passively endure them), and continually shifted their expanded lineup around by agglutinizing with poets and visual artists. Back then I hymned the Cubes’ “slow-building pastoral ecstasy”, their seeking of “a sweet spot that’s more country and roots than graphs and laboratory”, their “delightful merge-point between the rustic and the highly technological”.

Looking back, I realise that this could have backfired in that I might be making Rumour Cubes sound like a self-regarding Anglo-Americana take on the form: musical humblebraggers with fake straws in their teeth. Certainly, if you’re coming from a Godspeed You Black Emperor! perspective of stern, black-flagged resistance to death-spiral capitalism and its dirty ops, there’s enough in their arts-and-crafts wholesomeness to annoy you.

Time, then, to acknowledge the fact that the Cubes are a political band too. They’ve persistently touched on hip hop with their inviting of guest rappers into the mix, and recently explicitly identified themselves with anti-right-wing resistance via two themed singles last autumn. While they might not be growling about black helicopters, horrible winds of death and dying governments pulling us all into the chasm, they’re currently trying to push back against “the hollow nationalism that has infected our politics and allowed far-right narratives to become normalised” and aim to highlight “the true face of Brexit and Trump: racist and fascist projects that threaten our values of tolerance, diversity and freedom of expression.”

A Flicker Of Empty Flags and ¡No Pasarán! – both of which you’ll hear at their London gig this coming Thursday – sound like the first gusts of a dirty, heralding wind blowing through a cosy latterday folk session: a bit of Godspeed-ing minus the concrete dankness and the permanent frowning dusk. Still a little cosy, perhaps, but this is an honest attempt to re-engage and to grasp the nettle.



 
In support, there’s a couple of singer-songwriters. Norwegian/Thai-rooted Londoner Brudini offers melodic noir-pop in the same darkened-crooner vein of Michael J. Sheehy or David Hurn, although he’s more conspicuously glam-dazzled than either: another loper down the boulevards of Baudelaire and Jim Morrison. Rolling funk/rare-groove rhythms, watchful piano and occasional brass frame his weary, distracted lover’s voice. Last year’s Reflections encapsulates his hooded Soho-boho obsessions and the dark romantic tropes he re-imbues with meaning (“out in the night, my beautiful machine, /in the depths of your eyes, an animal on its knees”). His earlier collaborations with Californian storyteller Chip Martin – wounded, picked-out soundtracks to doomed, unsettling romantic encounters which are as surreal as they’re anonymous – seal the deal.

 
Opening the evening, Silent Cities (Durham singer-songwriter Simon Maddison) creates spooky modern-day urban dream-folk in breathy whispers and heady falsetto, wreathing it with smoke-rings of gently but insistently effected guitar and gusting ambience as his songs manoeuvre themselves in and out of magical realms.



 
Lost In The Manor presents:
Rumour Cubes + Brudini + Silent Cities
The Finsbury, 336 Green Lanes, Finsbury Park,London, N4 1BY, England
Thursday 24th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

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