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March 2018 – upcoming London gigs of various kinds – folk-jazz and loop-tinted songcraft from Gabriela Eva and Yasmyn Hendrix (20th March); post-blues and wakeful dream-pop from Cavey and Moon Panda (26th March)

16 Mar

Woodburner presents:
Gabriela Eva + Yasmyn Hendrix
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

On video, Gabriela Eva is a colourful explosion of appropriated and deftly spun images. In many respects she’s a tourist, but the kind who pulls off her acquisitive magpie business to perfection – a keen eye for the fabric she can repurpose, the hairstyle she can adapt, the body-paint or tattoo that can be repositioned. A globetrotter and a photographer’s darling even before she dropped her debut EP last month, she’s a natural at the subtly chameleonic star act; the dance of other people’s veils illuminated, assimilated and penetrated by her own charisma.

Gabriela Eva + Yazmyn Hendrix, 20th March 2018I’m hoping that this translates well to the stage once Gabriela’s tucked under the stairs at Servant Jazz Quarters – belatedly launching that selfsame EP, trapped behind her guitar without access to the self-edit suite, the quick-change boudoir screen and the magical boxes for makeup and jewels. That’s when it’ll either all fall apart or show its core roots. She doesn’t lack courage: previously part of Colchester duo Passive Passengers, she’s busked alone, braved the stage at Ronnie Scott’s and she’s certainly thrown her meme-anchors down (while “future organic” could mean bloody anything from cottage-industry world-changers to rich hippies with busy self-aggrandising Snapchat accounts, “driven, dyslexic, dreadlocked” is as good a packed’n’loaded personal tag as I’ve heard recently).

As for the music, there’s skipping rhythmic and harmonic footwork from jazz, some rhythmic echoes from hip hop, some party looseness from the breezier end of soul and R&B. You can trace your fingers through Gabriela’s songs and tease out strands from clear forebears – Erykah Badu, Astrid Gilberto, Van Morrison, Minnie Riperton (for her part, she claims Nina Simone, Little Dragon, Alanis Morrisette and Incubus) – yet her prime musical descent (probably through accidental parallels) seems to be Eva Abraham, the acoustic London jazzfolksoul luminary who, despite having boiled up cauldron after cauldron of superb transfigured rootsiness for twenty years now, seems doomed to remain a perpetual (though beloved) secret.

Setting aside the quick visual fix of a memorable video, though, that’s not a bad place to be, musically. Close your eyes and you’re still left with Gabriela’s rolling carpet of songcraft: just picking three, there’s her conversational, hip-hop storytelling cover of Estelle and Kanye’s American Boy, the airborne soul-jazz of Sailing Over The City and the twinkling Rise Up (heading that first EP – a light-touch groove salute to advance-and-reclaim, flickering through a clutch of delicate psychedelic changes and nodding to the short-lived but renewable hopes of the Arab spring).

In support is Yazmyn Hendrix, whom I last saw four-and-a-half years ago providing guest-vocal accompaniment to What?! (a long-dispersed jazz-rock trio). Nowaday’s she’s still most visible for further collaborations (with Euro-soul act Retrospective For Love and with jazz-rapper Mrisi) plus a smattering of Soundcloud cover versions (including Laura Mvula’s Green Gardens, John Legend’s All Of Me, Adele’s Chasing Pavements and Massive Attack’s Teardrop). By herself – armed with a microphone, a loop station, and assorted live percussion and beatboxing – she creates layered a capella choirs and vocal ensembles out of herself: either simple classic sounding pop songs, the cover versions mentioned above, or assorted vocalese experiments.

So far there’s not much direct evidence of the harnessed synaesthesia which Yazmyn claims shapes her music-making (and which means that she “associates each song, each word and each instrument with colours and textures”). Let’s assume that the full breakthrough in that direction is still working its way through development and caution, and that one day she’ll be giving us her own ear-boggling parallel to ‘Medúlla’ or ‘Starsailor’ or Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Capella’. Given her tunes-over-weirdness tastes, I’m guessing that we can rule out a head-to-head with Mike Patton in more tangled territory. For now, she stands as a capable one-woman Manhattan Transfer (or a sleepier, slowed-paced Grace McLean) for contemporary pop songs; and that’ll do in the short run.

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Cavey + Moon Panda, 26th March 2018

Decave Discovers presents:
Cavey + Moon Panda
The Waiting Room, 175 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoek Newington, London, N16 0LH, England
Monday 26th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Young post-blues singer-guitarist Luke Cave – a.k.a. Cavey – is already known as half of stoner-fuzz rock duo Rad Frü. He’s already engaging in some solo wing-stretching, parking the Zep-happy Rad in favour of collaborating with Blaenavon bassist/producer Frank Wright, laying down songs with junior Wrecking Crews full of heavy-duty young session dudes. Not far out of his teens, it’s as if he’s trying to echo Robert Plant’s career development, while simultaneously crushing it down from fifty years to a mere decade.

Perhaps that’s a bit glib of me, as well as overstating the classic rock thing. Similarly, I’m not sure if he’s the same Luke Cave as the one who sprang (literally) from Nick Cave’s loins back in 1991, but even if he is, there’s not much trace of Cave the Elder here. Cavey himself cites Jim O’Rourke, T-Bone Walker, Hamilton Leithauser and Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen as influences; and in his light-touch songs I can also hear a dash of Gomez. Here’s a live performance of his recent Living Room Parade single, plus the studio take of its predecessor Day And Night.

Born in Boston but currently London-based (and sporting members coming in from Denmark, Sweden and Scotland), dream pop band Moon Panda will inevitably always ring Californian, not least because of the sheer sun-kissed San Diegan beauty of frontwoman Maddy Myers. A blonde, delicately-freckled photographer’s dream on honeyslide vocals and soft dots of bass guitar, she probably finds this kind of objectivifying attention a damn nuisance. For one thing, it distracts from the thoughtful, intricate details of the songs she writes: just as there was always more to Stevie Nicks than posturing and chiffon, there’s more to Maddy than blank-canvas prettiness or swoony lashes.

Let’s be honest – most dream pop bands think it’s enough to deliver blank blocks of navel-gazing noise and dirty snowplough billows: retrodden, remasticated sub-Lushness. Moon Panda don’t. Their songs are constantly, carefully changing beasts: encapsulated within their yearning melodies and taffy-stretched hooks, they have finely honed choral a capella parts, strange and revelatory key changes, sudden pauses and unorthodox shifts of time and dynamic. As with Gustav Moltke’s carefully-placed, only-there-when-you-need-them tidal smooshes of guitar, Maddy’s keen awareness of structure – of spectral drama, of just how softly and subtly you can make a jump-cut work – has a tendency to shatter the mood from within with a hard-hook shift in rhythm and intensity.

The lyrics too, eschew the cough-syrup blankness and drunken, dissolved sensual dazes of the genre; in effect, avoiding its copouts. Instead, Moon Panda are dream pop on the verge of waking up, or of piecing together the dreamwork. Shades of vulnerability, disquiet and suspicion run through these words: I’m still processing them, in the way that one works over the puzzling gristle of a dream, but I’m suspecting that these are songs for the gaslit, the fearful, the unwittingly immured: that they’re the etchings of the beginnings of an escape kit. Their videos, too, have an awareness to them – the disassociative motion, fall and sleep-roll of severed doll parts, ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Todd Haynes’ ‘Superstar’ and its Barbie-puppet retelling of the Karen Carpenter story; the road trip photography with its trapped, continuous-loop feel; Maddy’s own blank-faced ballet moves in which limbs stretch or a back twitches into restless determination.

It’s a shame that ‘Twin Peaks’ appears to be over and done now, and that Moon Panda are a year or two behind its production curve. In some respects they’d have made an ideal Roadhouse band. On the other hand, perhaps I’ve missed the point. Perhaps they wouldn’t have fitted the bill: not quite suited to the seamless and ominous cool, nor enigmatic enough for us to project our hungers, our apprehensions and confusions onto. From here, Moon Panda seem more like a measured curious hand rippling the waters or testing the surface of the mirror, fingertips uncovering and assessing what would otherwise been smoothed away. A band and a songwriter to keep a woken eye on, I think.

February 2018 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Christine Tobin’s PELT (3rd February); Jason Yarde’s TRiO !Wah! plus JAE (11th February); Adam Ben Ezra plus the Dan Casimir Quintet (16th February)

28 Jan

A quick whistle-stop, cut’n’paste rush through some of early February’s interesting jazz gigs… not much from me this time, so you’ll just have to trust the press releases…

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Christine Tobin, 2014

Christine Tobin, 2014

Christine Tobin: ‘PELT’
Hall Two @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Saturday 3rd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Having been an integral part of the UK music scene for many years, Christine Tobin is now based between NYC and London. The Irish-born vocalist and composer is renowned for her unique rich voice and original compositional style. With eleven highly acclaimed albums under her own name and four major awards under her belt, Christine is treasured in the UK and far beyond as one of the leading lights on the contemporary scene. MOJO described her as an artist who “really transcends glib genre-fication. Her expressive range acknowledges finely acquired folk, jazz and 20th-century classical influences, which already sets her apart. And everything is shot through with an unmistakable refinement, free-spirited earthiness and giddy romanticism… this singer-songwriter is in a field of one.”

“Christine’s most recent album – 2016’s ‘PELT’ – is her settings of poems and lyrics by contemporary Pulitzer Prize winning poet Paul Muldoon. Although a continuation of her alchemy with fine words and music and her exploration of the chemistry between the two, ‘PELT’ marks a new direction and a new musical soundscape… both daring and dreamlike, passionate and playful. Tobin leads her musicians across a kaleidoscopic panorama, sometimes as junkyard blues philosopher, or snappy beat seductress, sometimes as a conduit for exquisite zen-like harmonies, or reflective Americana.

“The seed of the idea for setting Paul Muldoon’s poems came when the pair were invited to collaborate and perform a piece at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2011. Christine had long admired Muldoon’s work and he was greatly impressed by her British Composer Award-winning settings of W.B. Yeats. When they discussed setting his poems, Paul gave Christine a copy of his collection ‘Paul Muldoon Poems 1968 – 1998’ and gave her carte blanche to choose the poems she wished to work with. He also sent her new lyrics and as the project unfolded, the texts chosen ended up a being mix of poems and lyrics. The result is a rich and engaging collection with Tobin’s trademark originality.”

(Meanwhile, I’ve been slack enough to miss the fact that this is just part of an ongoing British tour which, by the time it hits London, will already have been through Bridport, Calstock, Torrington, Exeter, Southampton and Derby and is going on to Gateshead, Cardiff, Bristol and Nottingham before winding up at Birmingham on 10th February. For the full dates and details, check here: more on the personnel below.

“For this tour, Tobin has assembled a stellar band which includes seminal figures on the jazz scene Gareth Lockrane (flutes), Phil Robson (guitar/electronics), Steve Hamilton (piano/keyboard/laptop), Kate Shortt (cello/vocals/deaf signing), Richard Jones (violin), Dave Whitford (upright/electric bass) and Simon Lea (drums). In ‘Jazzwise’ magazine, Peter Quinn described them as “a cast of players who are all perfectly attuned to Tobin’s vision and artistry.” The London concert will feature a guest reading by the acclaimed multi-award winning Brooklyn poet Eva Salzman, who has also collaborated with Christine on past projects.”

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Jason Yarde's TRiO !WAH! + JAE, 11th February 2018

Tom Skinner presents
Jason Yarde’s TRiO !Wah! + JAE
The Pickle Factory, 13-14 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DU, England
Sunday 11th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here, here and here

“On 11th February, revered jazz drummer Tom Skinner returns for a Sunday evening residency at The Pickle Factory, curating a forward-thinking evening of jazz music every other month. Over the past year Tom has hosted some true jazz greats – Ezra Collective, Shabaka Hutchings – and has some special evenings planned for 2018.

“This time, Tom Skinner invites monster ex-Jazz Warrior multi-reedist Jason Yarde – famed for his work as an arranger with the sadly departed Hugh Masekela – who presents his lauded jazz ensemble TRiO !WAH!, featuring Yarde on saxes, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Mike Pickering. In contrast to playing in the big bands of Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, Hermeto Pascoal, Roy Ayers, Manu Dibango and his own Acoutastic Bombastic, Trio WAH! is a chance to hear Yarde’s playing and compositions in an intimate and stripped-down setting. Jason and Larry (Courtney Pine, Byron Wallen, etc) forged their musical relationship through playing in the original Jazz Warriors; and Mike (Billy Jenkins, Christine Tobin, etc) and Jason through the London based twelve-piece Rare Mix. Over the fifteen-plus years since, they have developed a fluid trio connection covering greatly varied musical terrain.

“From tight and constantly shifting rhythmic patterns to free flowing rhapsodic episodes, Trio !WAH! can cover the calm and the storm within a few bars, never losing the important elements of rhythm, melody and even harmony in this exposed format. ‘Jazzwise’ noted that the group “modulates easily from spacious post-bop to dirty grooves via Ornette-ish noise, showing a creative approach to form”, while ‘The Guardian’ said “it’s fascinating to witness how seamlessly Yarde’s writing and improvising intertwine… Swing, hip-hop, improv, you name it, he can make it all sound as if it was meant to live together, and he’s getting better at it all the time…”

“They’re joined by JAE, a mysterious keyboard and drums duo playing music influenced by King Tubby, Madlib and Larry Levan…”

(I found a little more on JAE, to render them less annoyingly anonymous. It turns out that it’s a team-up of longterm south London jazz buddies Joe Armon Jones (keyboard player with Ezra Collective, Sumo Chief, Nubya Garcia band and others) and drummer Jake Long (drummer with Maisha, SE Dub Collective and Where Pathways Meet).

Also, here’s eighty easygoing seconds of JAE doodle…


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Adam Ben Ezra + Dan Casimir Quintet, 16th February 2018

Adam Ben Ezra + Dan Casimir Quintet
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Friday 16th February 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“Double bass phenomenon, multi-instrumentalist and online sensation Adam Ben Ezra; a man seemingly on a mission to bring his instrument from its status as a background note to the dominant front-presence it deserves. For the past few years Adam has been pushing his craft in new, exciting directions and carving out a unique spot for himself in today’s international musical landscape, with both his virtuosity and musicianship earning him great success along the way.

“With more than ten million hits on YouTube and a strong following on all social media platforms, it is clear Adam is a bonafide star in the internet world. However, his success is certainly not limited to the web, having performed around the globe in major international music festivals and shared stages with some of the world’s fusion giants – including Pat Metheny, Victor Wooten and Richard Bona – over the last few years.

“Support comes from award winning bassist and composer Dan Casimir. Having made a name for himself with his EP ‘Escapee’, released on Jazz re:freshed in 2016, Dan has also lent his bass skills to the likes of Julian Joseph, Jason Rebello, Lonnie Liston Smith, Ashley Henry, Camilla George and Nubya Garcia to name a few.”

(As far as I know, the Dan Casimir Quintet is Dan plus pianist Sarah Tandy, guitarist Shirley Tetteh, singer Tess Hirst and drummer Olly Sarkar…)

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…


November 2017 – upcoming free rock gigs – Tonochrome back in action in London (25th November); All Hail Hyena host a quadruple-headed evening in Preston with Dirty Bare Feet and Soldato plus the return of Sleepy People for their first gig in sixteen years (11th November)

2 Nov

Tonochrome, 25th November 2017

The Spice of Life, 6 Moor Street, Soho, London, W1D 5NA, England
Saturday 25th November 2017, 7.30pm
– free entry – information

London progressive pop band Tonochrome have been away for a while – they were last onstage towards the end of 2013. This new gig towards the end of the month is something of a return and reshuffle – it’s their first with the newest in a run of bass players (Andres Castellanos), and an opportunity for singer Andres Razzini and his other cohorts (keyboard player Steve Holmes, drummer Jack Painting and, on guitar, transdisciplinary musical wanderer Charlie Cawood) to show us the latest developments for a promising band. Over an increasingly interesting pair of EPs, Tonochrome have explored glam pop, aspirational indie and a touch of expansive prog, building towards a definitive, textured statement. I don’t know if they’ve got there yet, but this show is free, so get in and see what they have to offer.

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Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato, 11th November 2017Hyena Inc. presents:
Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato
Ships And Giggles, 3 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England
Saturday 11th November 2017, 7.00pm
– free entry – information here and here

Meanwhile, up in Preston, herky-jerky odd-rock band All Hail Hyena (who’ve made an initial name for themselves by storming and/or organising assorted Tim Smith benefit gigs) continue their work as promoters Hyena Inc. via a free DIY gig celebrating “one night of pop-punk-rap-reggae-soul-psychedelic space ska nursery-rhymes rock lo-fi metal bossa-nova prog tri-fi music from four diverse and very different brilliant northern bands”. As well as putting on the night and providing the lollipops, they’re performing themselves, bringing new songs of “neon lipstick, the thrill of a stolen kiss, and powerful pop ballads infused with filthy guitars and hot sex”. The gig will be closed by another growing Preston institution, Dirty Bare Feet, playing an audience pleasing “myriad of rap, soul, reggae, dance, pop, disco and jazz”; and opened by Chorley hard rockers Soldato (“four hairy northerners making noise with wood and wire”).

Of most interest to me, however, is that this gig marks a long-overdue return to live action by Tyneside underground heroes Sleepy People. Teasers and tinkerers at the coalface of psychedelic pop, they’ve always been a wilfully eccentric bunch; mingling the countercultural clowning and cosmic glissandi of Gong with bursts of twinkling synth melody, pulses of ska and post-punk guitar chug, set off by moonstruck flute and held together by Paul Hope’s odd yet jaunty songs (which chunter along like sugar-frosted tank engines). The last time they trod the boards was back in 2001: reunited with original singer Tiny Wood (better known as the frontman for ongoing cult-glamsters Ultrasound) they’re seeing what the contemporary world offers them, and vice versa.

Sleepy People, 11th November 2017Despite a strong work ethic Sleepy People never got as far as they should have done during their first lease of life; partly thanks to a constant stop-start of personnel turnover (with Paul and Rachel Hope the only consistent members) but also due to their continual goofiness and repeated nose-thumbing at any conception of cool. Daevid Allen might well have applauded, but the insouciant clowning tended to obscure surprisingly thoughtful songwriting which – while it happily dipped into a soup of esoterica from Gurdjieff to Freemasonry – frequently raised an arch, quizzical eyebrow at contemporary concerns. Among the tales of the frieze of myth and of men turning themselves into birds, the Sleepies also sang about the encroachment of shopping malls, about futile attempts at freezing yourself into immortality, or about modern-day nightmares in orphanages and retirement homes. At other times they’d cast numinous halos of wonder around everyday occurrences (a winter walk home which slowly becomes freighted with significance; the joy of a child running across a beach; or, perhaps on the same beach, the uncomprehending travails of a newly-hatched turtle perilously navigating by the moon).

Things can only be improved by the ongoing reunion with Tiny (who actually rejoined for part of the band’s final stint as Blue Apple Boy around 2002 before they called it a day). Striving to be Wakefield’s own David Bowie and its David Thomas; possessed of a hulking, dramatic stage presence; singing in foreboding and flinty tones like a pop crooner reincarnated as a battlefield crow… he’s always been the best, and the edgiest, foil for Paul’s songwriting. The tail end of the Blue Apple Boy period saw them writing together, Tiny’s more personalised art-punk anguish proving the perfect sour complement to Paul’s sweet, playful tunefulness: let’s hope that they’ve kept that up for the revival.

As for Sleepy People on the web, they’ve still got much to improve on their Facebook page (you’re better off checking them out on Wikipedia) and embeddable delights are few and scattered. Here’s what I could come up with, though – a twirl through Halfway World (with Tiny’s original replacement Phil Sears); recent rough’n’ready rehearsal footage of Every Wave Is Higher On The Beach and Nicky’s Little Army; and half an hour of grainy, raucous footage of a Tiny-fronted band lineup in 1993 (complete with three-fifths of the original Ultrasound).


November 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – alleged folk/electro-folk clash with Rivers Of England, Boe Huntress and The 150 Friends Club at Collage Nights; a world-swirl with Firefay, The Scorpios and Bread And Circus (both 8th November)

31 Oct

I’m late to the party as regards Wood Green’s regular Collage Nights (which play in the same lively vegan restaurant that also houses the Society of Imaginary Friends soirees and some of outer London’s most vigorous jazz sessions). Just as I discover it, the current every-second-Wednesday-of-the-month season is rolling to a close; but a couple more gigs will see out the autumn. Though November’s gig is billed as a clash (or at least a head-on nuzzle) between straight folk and electrofolk, I’m not sure that it’s as simple as that.

Collage Nights, 8th November 2017
Collage Nights presents:
Electrofolk meets Folk: Rivers Of England + Boe Huntress + The 150 Friends Club
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Wednesday 8th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

In the “straight folk” corner, Bristolian quintet Rivers Of England (fronted by songwriter Rob Spalding) are a fine example of how latterday Anglo folk attempts to hone and counterbalance its nostalgic tendencies, keeping a foot in tradition while steering away from twee fustiness and trying to stir in a contemporary consciousness. Much of their sound has a clear ’70s electric folk lineage (the Fairports or the Albion Band, the stirring in of jazz and blues elements a la John Martyn) but there’s also a conscious effort to get away from that wipe-down synthetic sound that’s plagued many such acts as they hit the studio or deal with increasingly digitised technology.

While there’s plenty in their music to link them to folk roots, their current album ‘Astrophysics Saved My Life’ displays the band’s eclectic instrumental flexibility and takes pains to explore the broadened scope of the present-day educated rural/urban person attempting to make sense of life across a much broader conceptual canvas, with “themes ranging from the inner self to the outer cosmos – the emotional to the scientific… a nautical theme present with a blend of rivers and the sea, alongside the more common personal themes of failed relationships, mental illness, memories of family holidays, childhood bicycle adventures, jobs woes, loneliness and universal love.”

If Boe Huntress really is occupying the electro-folk corner, it’ll be yet another alteration in a career built on transformations. Once known as Rebecca Maze (under which name she came to attention via a set of songs critiquing the misogyny around Gamergate), she changed her name circa 2013 in order to dive deeper into her troubadour impulses, mystical femininism and social protest.

Her first album as Boe saw her exploring her own fluid identity via journeys into deep mythology and archetypes from wild women to transformative green dragons to self-examining witches. Inspired (among others) by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Bikini Kill and Eve Ensler, Victor Jara, Fela Kuti and The Clash, her follow-up EP (2015’s ‘And I Became A Student Of Love’) saw her moving into more clearly defined spiritual protest songs, turning her evolving feminist voice outwards towards the world to advocate awareness while still keeping a toehold in mythology (as in the Inuit-inspired fable of Untangling The Bones, in which compassion overcomes fear). I’ve no idea whether there’s been a billing goof and whether Boe really has set aside the acoustic guitar and solo voice in favour of keyboards, loops or whatnot; but if she has it will be in keeping with her spirit of adventure and motion.

As special guests, there’s collapsable party guys The 150 Friends Club (led by “money-crazed, delusional, imbecile” David Goo, who describes the band as his “evil twin sister”). Based around the theory that “society is best managed at a hundred and fifty people”, they’re a band built for small, intimate, cheerful gigs. The music’s a messy-haired lo-fi folk-pop-rock with attention deficit disorder, which sometimes throws on a skuzzy electric overcoat and reels around the room pulling reggae, rap, post-rock and various other stylistic swerves out of its manky pockets.

David, meanwhile, plays it all up to the hilt – sometimes a chirpier, skiffling Lou Reed continually pricking any romantic balloons in sight, sometimes a Tom Petty who shucked the dedication and dived headfirst into cabaret, sometimes a skinny London echo of David Lee Roth cribbing and cherishing his old-time R&B. Apparently, this performance is some kind of comeback. I’m not sure that they’d care about having something to prove, but expect them to warm things right up.

* * * * * * * *

On the same night, over in east London, there’s the option of “a musical journey that will take you across the world in just over three hours”

Firefay + The Scorpios + Bread And Circus, 8th November 2017Firefay + The Scorpios + Bread and Circus
Cafe 1001, 91 Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London, E1 6QL, England
Wednesday 8th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Formed from “storytelling, wyrd folk, Middle Eastern flavours, things that can only be defined as otherworldly, and still a bit of France somewhere in there… urban baroque, world folk noir, jazz and chanson music… whisky and sailors’ songs” as well as influences from John Dowland and Gabriel Fauré to kletzmer and the Canterbury Scene, Firefay blend keyboards, guitars, ouds, violins, brass and cello underneath Carole Bulewski’s trilingual vocals in a polycultural blend of colourings.

Compared to Art Bears, Françoise Hardy and Broadcast as much as to the Fairports and Pentangle (see the rave review of their 2015 album ‘The King Is Dead’ over at the ‘Active Listener‘ blog), they’ve also recorded with Mellow Candle’s Alison O’Donnell and have spent the last five years becoming one of the London folk world’s most joyous rising secrets. They’re planning “a full set of entirely reworked old songs, some from the ‘The King Must Die’ and some older even, some that took years to complete, and some brand new ones from the album we are currently recording”.

Firefay themselves are playing in the middle of the bill. Their cellist Fraser Parry will be opening the show with his own project Bread And Circus, a “musical vanity project (of) songs about anxiety, enjoying oneself, the passage of time and solipsism” with added piano, accordion, brass, and allsorts (depending on which other musicians he can plug in on the night).

Closing the show, Firefay’s sibling band The Scorpios will be playing a set of their own material: a Sudanese-based world funk in which “Arabic rhythms and guitar chops (and a kind of swooning cyclical ecstasy) with a raw Eastern funk feel (and) heavy bass, synths, horns and percussions drive through traditional Sudanese forms to create a sound owing to both Detroit and Khartoum.” Expect plenty of crossover, both in terms of musical traditions and in terms of how many members of Firefay also show up in this band.


October 2017 – upcoming London gigs – heavy art rock with Thumpermonkey, The Fierce & The Dead and Ham Legion; another Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Beth Jones, WondRwomN and others (both 6th October)

1 Oct

A couple of London choices for this Friday…

* * * * * * * *

Thumpermonkey + The Fierce & The Dead + Ham Legion, 6th October 2017

Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: Thumpermonkey + The Fierce & The Dead + Ham Legion
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 6th October 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

There’s still a few grab-’em-while-you-can tickets for this friendly clash between these three varied exemplars of British art rock. I keep posting odds and ends about them and always fear running out of something new to say, but here goes…

Described, this time out, as a “merry band of loony pronk heroes”, Thumpermonkey are better pegged as arch New Weird rockers, or as geeks-made-good. Bright, sharp, literate tale-tellers and brain-twisting scenarists, they roll out blistering tales and portraits of strange perspectives and stranger goings on festooned in kinked, scree-slipping riffs and grand declamatory vocals with an ever-present tinge of dark laughter. Unpicking the puzzlebox machinery of a typical Thumpermonkey song is a route to mingled glee and frustration, since singer, lyricist and concept director Michael Woodman packs in tight multi-dimensional digressions and inferences with the skill of a master.

This gig is a launch party for Thumpermonkey’s new EP ‘Electricity‘, inspired by “the luminous magnificence of human foolishness” and the story of “Victorian MP and visionary Lord James Badger… atomized by technology he hoped would transform the canals of the Euphrates, all because he followed the instructions of an angelic visitation.” The particular genius of Thumpermonkey is that they can unroll these kind of parodic slipstream plots without ever toppling into cute whimsy. If you’re looking for the missing link between Mastodon, Zappa, China Miéville, Van der Graaf Generator, Alejandro Jodorowsky and the harder end of the Mighty Boosh (and God knows that if you’re looking for something like that, you’re pretty specific), you’ll find it here. Clever bastards.


Currently riding along on the scaly back of their recent live album ‘Field Recordings’, The Fierce & The Dead are heading towards their seventh year as an imposing, boundary-squatting instrumental rock band, forcibly blending post-hardcore, instrumental prog, post-punk immediacy and experimental noise. Despite their music being sweetened by the inclusion of tuneful loop-guitar honeybear Matt Stevens in the lineup, they sport a brutal, angular, drawer-popping rifftastic sound which variously resembles Led Zeppelin and Black Flag simultaneously shaking down a post-rock band, a hotel kitchen getting a forcible mid-meal remodelling by Archaos, or a carhenge attempting to twerk along to highlife. Have a listen to Dancing Robots below for a dose of their live crunch and down-to-earth banter – or, if you prefer, there’s a free Bandcamp download sampler available.

Intermittently active Brightonian trio Ham Legion will open the show with a set of their cramped, restless heavy art-pop, matching the other two bands blurt-for-blurt and switch-for-switch.

* * * * * * * *

If all of the above is not for you – or if your Friday funds only stretch to a Tube journey and a drink – cabaret art-poppers Society of Imaginary Friends are putting on another free soiree in Wood Green (see passim). As ever, there’s a theme and a new bit of performance art jiggery-pokery from the Society themselves.

Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 6th October 2017

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree: “It’s Our Home County Amateur Dramatic Class Soiree” (featuring Society Of Imaginary Friends + Beth Jones + WondRwomN + Martin Wakefield + Cian Binchy + Lord Buckley + Ted Sawyer/Frank Frenzy DJ sets)
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 6th October 2017, 8.00pm – free event

“From Tring to Crawley, Amersham to Reigate, the dusky Downs resound to the sound of dramatis personae… for this is the time of preparation… the drawing-in of the nights can mean only one thing to these outcasts… Panto season is approaching.

“Our October Soiree is dedicated to London’s cultural refugees who dwell beyond the M25 where things are quite different… in a quiet cul-de-sac of the mind they float… there is no music other than ’80s power-synth ballads or Gary Numan… the Am Dram village hall is at the centre of the Home Counties mock-Tudor universe… As a mark of deep respect for this tradition, Society of Imaginary Friends will be performing the premiere of their ‘Home Counties’ song cycle featuring their cosy pub classic Please Put That Hammer Away and It’s My Home Counties Amateur Dramatic Class.”

Also on the bill is the usual swirl of other words and music – bluesy singer-songwriter Beth Jones ; poet/raconteurs Martin Wakefield and Cian Binchy, emerging Tottenham groove goddess WondRwomN with a cocktail of psychedelic soul, funk, rap and “grit pop”; and the “deranged and strange” Lord Buckley (presumably a tribute act to the hipsemantic beat standup from the 1950s, unless SOIF have mastered necromancy this year and brought us back the real thing). There’s also a double DJ helping from Ted Sawyer (Northern Soul) and Frank Frenzy (that 1980s power disco sound mentioned earlier) plus Karamel’s usual prizewinning vegan food (this time “reimagining the ’70s classics like prawn cocktail and Boeuf Bourguignon as a death free feast”).

See below for the Society’s poperatic tribute to social media, a harmonica-laden song about infidelity from Beth, and a couple of drum-and-‘bone-assisted joints from WondRwomN…



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