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April/May 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs – a massive Barbican celebration of London jazz from the Total Refreshment Centre (13th April); the Steam Down collective hit Shoreditch (24th April); Warmer Than Blood in London and Cardiff (22nd April, 21st May)

10 Apr

When landlords and developers mark a city building for extra, blander profit – and when they put the squeeze on an existing tenant – they don’t only change and narrow the future, they can also asphyxiate the past. I don’t mean that they somehow delete what’s come before, it’s more that they pinch it off and remove its potential for continuance. The meaning that’s associated with a building and what goes on inside it, its history, becomes obscured to people who’ve not had the chance to discover it yet; or to people who might, in the future, grow up nearby never knowing what used to take place there.

For myself, I feel pretty damn ignorant for not having known about Hackney music space Total Refreshment Centre until, ooh, last year. It seems that, in various forms, it harboured and encouraged music for at least half of my lifetime, curating the historical while encouraging the current and never losing touch of the ethos that music should be inherent to and conversant with its community rather than being a little rarified enclave. The fact that sometime, quietly, last summer, the TRC was forced to shut down (presumably to make way for luxury flats or something which can generate a greater ground rent) makes me angry. Fortunately, the place is resilient enough as an idea – effectively, as a movement – not to rely entirely on bricks and mortar. Scheduled gigs have continued (still run by the existing team but moved to other venues), the programs still run; the concept of the place still has legs.

In some respects the people involved with the TRC are making a virtue of their new and more itinerant existence, using it to spread the word a little wider; extending their ongoing work in what ‘Clash Music’ has called “a means of pursing social engineering, a way to build communities up at a time when the political establishment seem content to break communities apart… Music can be used to re-imagine your surroundings, to transform concrete, glass, and brick into something magical.” Still, it must make life a little tougher, a little more challenging, that much more of a forced hack at a time when it’s already pretty exhausting.

With that in mind, it’s good to see that the TRC gets its own jazz tribute – more accurately, its own self-propelled celebratory showcase – this coming weekend at one of London’s more inviolable culture fortresses, the Barbican. There’s an opportunity here to carp about centralization, or about how certain establishments are protected while others are not (and for distasteful reasons – race and class also have a role to play here), but let’s just sound the obvious note here and move on. Better to bounce back and roll on as the TRC are doing; better to celebrate the recognition and cooperation which such a show also represents.

There are still a few tickets available for what’s promising to be one of the events of the London jazz year. Blurb follows:

“Total Refreshment Centre is part and parcel of east London’s recent music history. The building’s musical journey started as a Caribbean social club and studio and evolved into the musical hub that it is today. On April 13th, the Barbican Centre will host Dreaming The City, celebrating a previously untold story in east London’s music history. To mark nearly thirty years of influential music in the building, TRC has teamed up with Boiler Room – the revered global music broadcasting platform – who will broadcast the gig live.

“The concept of the show is a live mixtape exploring three decades of musical excellence that took place inside an Edwardian warehouse in Hackney. The building began life as a confectionary factory and by the 1990s had become Mellow Mix, a Caribbean social club and rehearsal space. In 2012 it began running as Total Refreshment Centre, an influential studio and venue that has played an integral role in the upsurge of new London jazz, which is now gathering worldwide attention. The narrative of ‘Dreaming The City’ is inspired by the history of this building, made special by the communities that inhabited it over the years. This story, researched by writer Emma Warren, is explored fully in her new book, ‘Make Some Space: Tuning Into Total Refreshment Centre (And All Places Like It)‘.

“Over thirty musicians from the thriving jazz scene (including Cassie Kinoshi and her Seed Ensemble, drummer-producer Kwake Bass, Jazz Warrior Orphy Robinson, Tom Skinner’s Wildflower, folk-crossover artists Rozi Plain, Alabaster DePlume and Joshua Idehen) will team up to perform. Also on the bill – Chelsea Carmichael, Cherise Adams-Burnett, Crispin Spry Robinson, Deschanel Gordon, Donna Thompson, Dylema Amadie, Emma-Jean Thackray, Idris Rahman, James Howard, Joe Bristow, Leon Brichard, Maria Osuchowska, Miguel Gorodi, Mutale Chashi, Noriko Okaku, Oscar Jerome, Patrick Boyle, Rai Wong, Rio Kai, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Shirley Tetteh, Tyrone Isaac-Stuart, Yael Camara Onono, Yohan Kebede and more special secret guests to come. This milestone event will unfold over five chapters, blurring the lines of what jazz is and creating new, exclusive and unexpected collaborations.

“There’s a strong link between club culture and live music in today’s vibrant music scene – what some have called ‘jazz-rave’ – and Dreaming The City will offer an energetic journey through time, space and London’s rich culture. The evening will start with a celebration of Caribbean sounds, recognising the community that first established the space as a musical hub. Following this, we trace the contemporary lineage of jazz music between inner-city London, West Africa, the Caribbean and continental Europe. Expect a session showcasing household names premiering new outfits, dropping old classics and brand new tunes. The music will reflect the diversity of sounds that have been danced to at TRC, from reggae and dub, to Krautrock via jazz and West African grooves.”

Some glimpses…

 
…and here’s a short film about the state of London jazz (with plenty of TRC-ing) which was released into the wild a few months ago in January…


 
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Back in January I did some praise singing for Steam Down, the south London jazz collective who bring regular African-inspired but London-cooked communal music events to Deptford. For the benefit of those north and east Londoners who for some reason never cross the river, they’re playing Shoreditch’s Village Underground towards the end of the month.

Steam Down, 24th April 2019“Join Steam Down as they take over Village Underground, with members on the decks and some very special guests joining them on stage. Jumping off from the sonic springboard of Afrofuturism, grime and future soul, all fused together with the fearless spontaneity of jazz, Steam Down is an arts collective comprised of Ahnanse, Alex Rita, Brother Portrait, Sawa-Manga, Theon Cross, Nadeem Din-Gabisi, Benjamin Appiah, Dominic Canning and “Nache. The collective congregates mid-weekly for a live performance where healing vibes and compulsive dancing are just as important as the music. Previous sessions have included guest appearances from Kamasi Washington, Sampa The Great, Nubya Garcia, members of Ezra Collective, SEED Ensemble and Sons of Kemet. Every week proves to be a co-creative piece of magic where everyone’s participation matters.”


 
There’s a new Village Underground interview with Steam Down here, but below is part of what I wrote about them three months ago:

“(An) African-inspired collective ethos… a diverse, voluntary hive mind, their individualities fused and encouraged by common purpose… a simmering pot of phuture soul, West African rhythms and cheerful Afrofuturism, the rapid offset breakbeat-splash and electrophonic edge of grime and broken-beat, and (in particular) spiritual jazz. That said, they’re well aware that they should steer clear of romantic oversimplifications about roots. As Ahnanse remarked in an interview with ‘The Vinyl Factory’ last year, “the roots of what we are creating starts outside of that context, jazz is not the only source of improvised music in the world. It happens in many forms and many cultures, we all come from different spaces and cultures, and it isn’t black American culture, none of us were born there, so actually we are bringing all of those other experiences into this… In a society that is so hegemonic and monotonous it’s nice to surprise yourself and be surprised, by people that you know well.” More than anything else, Steam Down work is inspired by the interlocking of Afro-diasporan culture with week-by-week London life – the information-rich bustle and challenges of a world city made up of people from everywhere, many of them sometimes pushing (or knocking heads) against half-invisible restrictions and oppressions as well as providing broad-mindedness and opportunity.”


 
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Also this spring, guitarist/composer Chris Montague revs up his jazz trio Warmer Than Blood (with bass guitarist Ruth Goller and pianist Kit Downes) for a couple of month-apart gigs in London and Cardiff. As I noted when I wrote about them in February, between them they can draw on a massive range of potential influences (including Sephardic music, manouche, punk jazz, Latin folk and Maghrebian sounds, the bouncing imagined world-jazz of the F-IRE Collective, Chris’ six-string avant-mapping in Future Currents) but in practise tend to go somewhere else – somewhere more uprooted and peril-flecked. Compared to the broad communality of Steam Down or the TRC community, they’re coming from a different place – tenser, more abstract and (if we’re being honest) whiter – but it’s still a collective communal effort, just shrunk down to a smaller chamber and a slender triangular format.

Warmer Than Blood, 22nd April/21st May 2019

As I wrote last time, “all three are longtime friends and collaborators, seeking yet another new approach. They seem to have found it with Chris’ newest batch of compositions and improvisation-seeding situations, which he suggests consist of “intricate textures, dark pools of harmony, layered melodies, kinetic group improvisation and percussive prepared piano… fractious composed passages can inhabit the same sonic space as spare, ambient melodies, often described as melancholic and uplifting at the same time…” Introverted and ominous, their name-track’s a quiet etiolated piano exploration over a minimal pulsing guitar-chord cycle and locked-in bass rumble. The excerpt from a longer piece, FTM, is a gradual evolver in which Chris hovers in menacing sustain/volume-swell textural clouds and momentary dust-devils over ghost-Latin clicks and bass piano thuds (Kit muting the piano at both ends) before the trio expand into what’s partly a kind of haunted country music (like a Bill Frisell ensemble scoured to the bone by plains wind), and partly like a salsa band coming to terminal grief in a badlands dustbowl.”

Here’s a rare recent live recording and an album taster for their imminent debut…

 
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Dates:

Boiler Room and Total Refreshment Centre present:
BR x Total Refreshment Centre: ‘Dreaming The City’
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, City of London, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Saturday 13th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Warmer Than Blood:

Steam Down
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Wednesday 24th April 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

April/May 2019 – upcoming English gigs – soul, folk, hip hop, poetry, glimmer pop and more on Lilith Ai’s Bare Radical tour through Cambridge, Bradford, Nottingham, Bristol, Reading and London (9th/14th/19th April, 1st/3rd/9th May) with her assorted support club of singer-songwriters, performance poets, folksters and dream/garage rockers

8 Apr

If you just took Lilith Ai at her word as being the possessor of a “pretty mouth and a dirty tongue”, and you’d also heard that she rapped, you’d be expecting a London version of Nikki Minaj.


 
Not the case. A more accurate parallel would be a latterday Joan Armatrading, or perhaps a lower-key Lauryn Hill; Lilith’s an accomplished and intimate singer-songwriter drawing subtly on folk, soul, hip-hop and R&B and pulling them onwards. Comparisons will only get you so far, though, since Lilith bypasses Armatrading’s discreet ’70s reticence and instead owns a lippier and punkier streak; and although she shares Hill’s love of a street beat, a bent note and a woke stance, she lacks the latter’s self-righteous, self-sabotaging chippiness. Dirty tongue claims notwithstanding, she’s also less of an out’n’out cusser than she might suggest. The occasion f-bomb strike is part of the no-nonsense, “you-can-stop-right-there-boy” feminism which provides the steely core to what she does: offset by the engaging warmth of an artist who is as much interested in people as in stances.

The British music biz isn’t always kind to talented black girls with guitars – Joan might have done OK, but whatever happened to Peppercorn? – but Lilith isn’t the sort to be eaten alive. Untangling her past provides some interesting complexities and clashes. There’s some fine material for legend-building here – her mingled Afro, Chinese and Indian ancestry, and the fact that she spent part of her early twenties sleeping rough and near-penniless in both Tottenham and Queens (at one point in a wrecked car, later towed away in a scenario that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Tom Waits song). Set against that is her additional background as a music school grad who can hang with and work alongside a surprising breadth of allies, from fearsome bluespunknoise grrlforce Skinny Girl Diet to rising fashion aristocracy in the shape of Georgia May Jagger.



 
The key to understanding how this all fits together is in how Lilith structures her approach to art and community. With artistic roots in comic-writing geekery, she’s always had a strong sense of mood and detail. Later along the line, as a developing songwriter, she’s allied it to a fervent desire to create a mostly female (and queer-friendly) movement which rejects counterproductive competitive bitchery in favour of an ethic of sympathy and mutual support, stepping up to political solidarity. All of this also needs to be seen through the arty barrier-trashing lens of punk spirit, which explains her Fight Like A Girl crew. A loosely-defined friendship-in-art arrangement, F.L.A.G. is a feminist/LGBT+ art/music collective inspired equally by late ’70s summers of Britpunk, by the political ferment of ’90s Olympia and by latterday movements like #TimesUp. It involves zinework, recording and enthusiastic intimate gigs in makeshift scratch locations, all within a fearless female atmosphere allied to a sense that rigid genre (and rigid gender) boundaries are less important than constructive intent and political engagement.

While Lilith’s upcoming Bare Radical mini-tour isn’t explicitly a Fight Like A Girl event, it bears all of the hallmarks. It’s packed with other female artists (plus assorted sympathetic male players and a hefty proportion of non-binary artists) and takes place in a dissimilar scatter of formal venues and found spaces in bookshops, community centres, cafes and co-operatives up and down England. Lilith will also be laying off on her beats and concentrating on the acoustic/unplugged side of things as she performs and promotes her new ‘Bare Radical’ EP. She’s still budding, still climbing, poised on the lip of the excellence her early work promised. Now is a perfect time to join the event, while she’s still in venues close enough to share breath.



 
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Along for most of the dates is the delightfully energised craft-popper Myles McCabe (generally best known as guitarist for London pop punkers Fresh), who’s playing at Cambridge, Bradford and Nottingham with his Me Rex project. On the surface Myles has got a pretty high tweeness count. All of his Rex albums and EPs are named after prehistoric creatures from mammoths to stegosauri, most of his pet sounds are cheap ones (synth parps, guitar clunks, snatches of bedroom rave, a little piano), and his voice is sweetly vulnerable, bending under a little rhotacistic twist and folding like paper on the high notes.

On the other hand, there’s a blazing articulate passion to what he does, his songs volcanoing out of an initial small hotspot and expanding into broadening emotional tapestries in which simple ideas link inexorably to others like agitated mercury blobs, layering into a gorgeous pop outburst. He describes himself as “kind of like a cross between Art Brut and Kraftwerk. That started off as a pun about arts & crafts but then I really liked the way it sounded.” It’s a good gag, but self-deflating indie jokes aren’t really what he’s about.


 
At Cambridge, a couple of singer-songwriters are hoppping on board. There’s local girl Helen Robertson, an enthusiastic music homecrafter and constant collaborator who (although she seems to have been a bit quiet recently) released a twelve-month sprint of EPs across 2014. Hers is an unfussy, chameleonic, DIY hobby-table approach which embraces strummy-or-noisy kitchen-sink indie, blobby instrumental synth pop, pub gig comedy, and various overdubbed a cappella work from solo folk-pop chorales to patter songs. There’s also Sophie Foster, the self-professed teenaged “lever harp megababe” who usually lurks behind the name of The Sunday School. To be honest, I’m baffled about her: this brief appearance on YouTube and the couple of Soundcloud demos below suggests that rather than harping she blip-pongs away on a little keyboard and murmurs reflections on uncertainties and diary notes; while other Soundcloudings suggest a lo-fi guitar trudger, and there’s something else on Spotify which I don’t know about thanks to my still holding out on the platform. Her Twitter presence suggests someone fierce and grrly behind the whispering.

I’m guessing that Sophie’s someone whom you have to discover and to follow live for quite a while, picking up scraplings before you get the full story. As for Helen, attempting to pick a key track seems to be a waste of time, so I’m just throwing three together at random here.

 
It’s the same at Bradford, where self-propelled onetime busker-for-a-bet Liam Jarvis joins the bill, alongside gently punk-oustic Leeds folkie Sarah Carey (whose music is divided between disaffected urban acoustica and committed folk baroque instrumentals, groping between them for a doorway to somewhere better). I’ve got nothing for Liam, but here’s Sarah:


 
In Nottingham, Lilith’s supported by both Jemma Freeman & The Cosmic Something and Matt Abbott. Once the guitarist for heavy dream-rockers Landshapes, Jenna now offers up sardonic psychedelic glam-rocking with a band featuring Furniture/Transglobal Underground drummer Hamilton Lee, moonlighting producer/bassist Mark Estall, and Krupa on synth and backing vocals. Wakefield wordsmith Matt runs the spoken word label Nymphs & Thugs and both writes and performs poetry for kids and adults replete with “socio-political commentary, human struggle and kitchen sink realism” (plus, for the kids “playful rebellion (and the) challenging (of) societal stereotypes”).




 
Matt and Me Rex both resurface for the London date, which also features a pair of junior traditioneers in the shape of “teenage lo-fi soul singer” Charlie Mburaki (who sang with Lilith on the latter’s recent Warrior Queen) and drawling junior-Dylan-esque folk rocker Oliver Rodzianko

 
There are more fierce, plangent words at the Bristol gig. It’s a free event in a bookshop in which punk and slam poetry have an equal presence to musicin the shape of Bridget Hart (teller of tough, gritty tales and compiler of a poetic “love-letter to women and female solidarity”) and in the sliding, pulsing genderqueer cadences of Aiysha’s accounts and explorations of “mental illness, love, trauma and gender identity”.

Also on hand is the slow, sad, beautiful “shimmer pop” and voiceloops of Georgie Biggins, a.k.a. GINS, who from one angle sounds like a lo-fi gender-swapped bedsit Blue Nile passed through an a capella dream-pop filter and from another like f.k.a. Twigs morphing into ’90s goth-wispers Cranes. Don’t be entirely misled by the soft and introverted textures, though. Underneath Georgie’s apparent mournfulness, the gossamer delicacy and the blurred, haunting visuals there’s both resistance and outright challenge, just framed in a different way; the secret thought that’s a couple of steps away from a marching flag.



 
GINS is also onboard for the Reading show, where Lilith is joined by the fluttering acoustic pop-soul singing of Amya-Ray; by the sometimes-psychedelic, sometimes-instrumental acoustic-indie-folk of Colours & Fires (who’ve placed themselves firmly on the gender-equality frontlines); and by the mysterious, frankly undocumented RIYA (who could be punk or poet, first-person singular or group, for all the info they’ve provided… but the open-ended mystery’s at least in keeping with the rest of the Bare Radical openness).

 

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Full Lilith Ai ‘Bare Radical’ tour dates:

  • The Blue Moon, 2 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, CB1 2LF, Cambridgeshire, England – Tuesday 9th April 2019, 9.00pm (with Me Rex + Sophie Foster + Helen Robertson) – information here and here
  • The 1 in 12 Club, 21-23 Albion Street, Bradford, BD1 2LY, England – Sunday 14th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Me Rex + Sarah Carey + Liam Jarvis) – information here and here
  • City Arts, 11-13 Hockley, Nottingham, NG1 1FH, England – Friday 19th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Me Rex + Jemma Freeman & the Cosmic Something + Matt Abbott) – information here and here
  • Hydra Books, 34 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EZ, England – Wednesday 1st May 2019, 7.00pm (with GINS + Bridget Hart + Aiysha) – free event – information here and here
  • Reading University Students Union, Whiteknights Campus, Reading, Berkshire, RG6 6AZ, England – Friday 3rd May 2019, 7.30pm (with GINS + RIYA + Amya-Ray + Colours & Fires) – information here and here
  • VFD, 66 Stoke Newington Road, Shacklewell, London, N16 7XB, England – Thursday 9th May 2019, 8.00pm (with Me Rex + Matt Abbott + Charlie Mburaki + Oliver Rodzianko) – information here, here and here

 

February 2019 – upcoming experimental gigs – Kammer Klang: Taylor Le Melle’s Afrodiasporic spectrum with Venus Ex Machina, Morgan Craft and Shenece Oretha (5th February)

31 Jan

Bah. I’ve got a swelling head cold and am consequently as thick as a cement omelette. Not the best time to try to preview a complicated experimental evening. Sorry for the vagueness in this post… even more than usual, this is hidden music to be sought out and learned from.

Kammer Klang: Venus Ex Machina + Morgan Craft + Shenece Oretha, 5th February 2019

The first Kammer Klang of the year unites various sonic experimentalists from the African diaspora under the curatorship of Taylor Le Melle. That’s probably the best way of putting it: the lack of a portentous event title means it’s not pinned down to any more specific narrative. Though predominantly a writer, Taylor spends a lot of time as a creative enabler (co-running independent publisher PSS and artist/workers’ audio-visual cooperative not/nowhere, and facilitating debate), and this isn’t her first Oto event. I’m assuming that it’s going to throw up ideas from across a broad spectrum of ideas and identities, some of which are outlined here.

Venus Ex Machina (a.k.a. Zimbabwean emigre Nontokozo F. Sihwa) is one of an ever-more visible number of interdisciplinary artists and computer coders eliding non-binary gender ideas into the worlds of music, games and visuals. Interested in “mythical and borderless” radio communication, she’ll be performing her own ‘Anno Lucis’ piece from 2018.

I’ve no idea whether this other Venus piece, ‘Paraquat’, is any reflection of what’s to be performed on the night; but here it is for illumination (with its mixture of Geiger counter industrial twists, ringing friction noise apparently siphoned from the bearings holding up the music of the spheres, and arrestingly vocal synth parts summoning up both heavenly European chapel choirs and complex African alarm whoops).

 
Attempting to place solo electric guitarist and sonic mystic/realist Morgan Craft involves multiple questions about geography, roots and discovery. A Minnesota-born African-American, he’s an escapee from the New York experimental scene of twenty years ago; but rather than questing directly into Africa he sought refreshment and new paths in the Tuscan mountains of Italy for over a decade (before settling in Amsterdam, where he works with Giulia “Mutamassik” Loli on the Circle of Light label and the Rough Americana project. Now he’s an “Afro-American Viking futurist”, whatever that means. Drawing on the classical legends and contemporary politics of African, European and American cultures alike, his essays sift and fold his multi-positional overview: an expatriate American black man querying his background, a critiquer of capitalist and street culture, a person with one eye on a new dawn due to rise over the muck.

Morgan’s textural guitar pieces are expansive and questioning personal monologues, abstracting manifold concerns into detailed shades. He will be performing his 2018 piece ‘Godel’: here are several earlier pieces from a big releasing burst in 2016.




 
Montserrat-born Shenece Oretha mostly concerns herself with polyvocality and immediate listening – as she puts it, “choreograph(ing) layers of music, voice, recordings and noise to shape moments of communion and ceremony.” Land-tilling metaphors of potential and nurturing pervade her definition of herself – “hypothetical gardener, future farmer, speculative horticulturalist.” Her sound work, or at least, that of it which I’ve heard so far, is much less pastoral; simultaneously dicing up and unifying strands of black experience from the wounded and fierce to the ecstatic and congregational, from the lone voice ululating to the whumphing in-your-face assertions of co-opted technology.

 
In addition to Oretha’s Fresh Klang performance – a piece called ‘to plot together, to breathe together’ – Testing Grounds (her “installation with multiple openings”) makes a temporary home at Oto for three days in advance of the show. With spaces for invited guests available (to “accompany the sound and participate in the sounding out”), it’s a live-performed sonic stew “present(ing) and incorporate(ing) her ongoing research project, black whole…, orchestrat(ing) a series of interruptions/interventions ‘in the breaks’.”

 
Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Venus Ex Machina + Morgan Craft + Shenece Oretha
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 5th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
(‘Testing Grounds’ – Saturday 2nd to Monday 4th February 2019, 5-9pm)
 

January 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs – Alex Roth/Wacław Zimpel/Hubert Zemler in Kraków and London (19th and 26th January); Ruby Rushton and Emma-Jean Thackray at the Supreme Standards launch in London (31st January)

15 Jan

Since relocating to his ancestral Warsaw last summer, in search of greater connection with his Polish-Jewish roots, English jazz-plus guitarist Alex Roth has been busying himself with musical conceptual work around the concepts of “migration, identity and connection”. As you’d expect, it’s implicitly connected with his own personal mindset, as he lays out in his latest news update. “My great-great-grandfather Herschel Roth came to the UK around 1890 from Kalisz, an ancient town now in central Poland but then under Russian rule. Fleeing the pogroms against Jews that were sweeping across the region, Herschel ended up in London’s East End, adopting the Anglicised name Harris. Over a century later, I’m retracing a migratory path that he and many other Jewish families took; the difference (other than the direction of travel) is that they made the journey out of desperation and fear, whereas I came to Poland filled with curiosity and hope.”

Back home (if “home” really is England anymore) Alex is known for multiple projects. Perhaps the primary one is Blue-Eyed Hawk (the latterday Mancunian jazz quartet in which he rubs shoulders with Corrie Dick, Lauren Kinsella and Dinosaur leader Laura Jurd), but there’s also been his Future Currents avant-electric guitar trio (with Chris-es Montague and Sharkey) and the twenty-piece Chaos Orchestra supergroup (a kiln-and-delivery method for large-ensemble compositions from rising young British jazz composers). As a guitarist, he leans a little towards the methodology of Bill Frisell or David Torn, with a hint of John Scofield: he might be a master of general jazz technique and knowledge, but his personal musical voice pushes determinedly and painterly towards an urgent, individual electric sound (telling sustain-bolstered swellchime phrases, tearing minimal interjections or focussings on the single note or note-cluster considered, stretched and transformed by non-Western/non-Gentile perceptions of pitch and of meaning).

Roth/Zimpel/Zemler, 19th & 26th January 2019Having been steeping himself in Polish-Jewish life – both remembered and current – via personal research and a residency at Kraków’s Żydowskie Muzeum Galicja, Alex is about to reveal the fruits of his first efforts via imminent Kraków and London gigs for his new trio with two Polish avant-garde/experimental jazzers – clarinettist Wacław Zimpel and percussionist Hubert Zemler (both of whom have previously worked together in Wacław’s long-form improvising trio LAM, which covers broad terrain between drifting, ever-so-slightly apprehensive cloudwork to triumphal, pumping, upbeat locomotion).

In terms of musical breadth, Alex is more than matched by Wacław, a musician of lambent yet sturdily angelic tone who’s recently made a debut splash or two on the London experimental scene (via visits for gigs at the Rocket Recordings Twenty concert and at Café Oto) as half of Zimpel/Ziołek, in which he and singing guitarist Kuba Ziołek explore electronically-augmented folk-jazz and psychedelia. Folding American minimalism, jazz, contemporary classical and Indian music plus loop-pedal playing into his sheaf of influences, Wacław also has a Hildegard of Bingen project running, has worked as a fifth of Euro-Carnatic quintet Saagara, and has mastered a cross-continental array of reed instruments drawn from Laos and Latvia to Turkey and northern India. As for Hubert, beside the delicacy of his LAM work he’s drummed for prankish Polish alt/jazz/country rockers Mitch & Mitch (and their merry psychedelic/country/Krautrock spinoff Slalom). He’s established himself as one of Poland’s finest improvising percussionists, coming up with anything from precise avant-rock kit-hitting to shifting, galactic free playing with vibraphonists, harpsichordists and more.

Going on past work, this new trio should bundle together a promising mixture of ideas. It’s impossible to predict exactly what they’ll be doing, but it’s tempting to try anyway; evanescence and strength, diasporan motifs, attenuated notes and incidental discoveries along the way, a pick-up-and-make-work method reflecting the wanderings and resilence of Europe’s Jews. It’s not the first time Alex has worked with Jewish themes – they’ve always permeated his work, from the magical Sephardic folk-jazz ensemble Sefiroth (one of multiple Roth collaborations with Alice Zawadzski) to the Otriad project, which is in some ways a direct precursor to Alex’s current work (inspired, as it is, by three Jewish partisan brothers in World War 2 Poland). This is, however, perhaps the first time he’s gone so evidently to geographical source; to places of vivid historical memory.

There’s a scatter of previous, separate work’s below to provide pointers, or perhaps mistaken clues. Also attached is one of Alex’s “słucham” field recordings of Warsaw sounds: not in itself Jewish, but an indication of other possible shapers of the project.



 
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Slicker and groovier – though no less impressive – music is to be heard in London the following week at the Supreme Standards debut evening at Ghost Notes in Peckham (the first in a monthly small-venue extension of the Love Supreme concert initiative).

Ruby Rushton + Emma-Jean Thackray, 31st January 2019

Led by saxophonist and flautist Edward “Tenderlonious” Cawthorne (the king in an already-winning pack containing keyboard player Aidan Shepherd, trumpeter Nick Walters, slinky bassist Fergus Ireland and the percussion duo of Eddie Hick and Joseph Deenmamode), Ruby Rushton are quiet-storming exemplars of taut but low-key jazz-funk grooves and spacious wind playing. Underneath the flowing, airy melodies, the sextet flick and phase between rhythms and style as if jumping between cousins. You’ll be looking for the gaps and joins, and finding none – Tenderlonious and co. not only make it sound natural, they make their grand plans simultaneously obvious and invisible.


 
As a group leader and composer, trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Emma-Jean Thackray has specialised in cheeky, rollicking, lightly disruptive band-writing which doesn’t interfere with her knack for grooves, which seem mostly to be inspired by galumphing aquatic mammals. Her music’s wonky club-music feel – that shimmying, slightly drunken marching-band wobble – disguises the sly precision of the mapping mind behind it. She couldn’t cover it up forever, though. More recently she’s been working solo, with last year’s ‘Ley Lines’ EP revealed as a full solo effort – every composition or bit of production, every instrument, every vocal track, indeed every note handled by Emma herself. (It helps when you’re literally ambidextrous, although possessing huge strategic talent is clearly another bonus).

For her next trick, she’s going to deliver the thing live and alone: presumably a high-wire loop and tape act supplemented by her own remarkable skills. Hints below:


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

  • Alex Roth/Wacław Zimpel/Hubert Zemler – Żydowskie Muzeum Galicja, ul. Dajwór 18, 31-052 Kraków, Poland, Saturday 19th January 2019, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Alex Roth/Wacław Zimpel/Hubert Zemler – Jazz Café POSK, 238-246 King Street, Hammersmith, London, W6 0RF, England, Saturday 26th January 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Supreme Standards: Ruby Rushton + Emma-Jean Thackray – Ghost Notes, 95a Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST, England, Thursday 31st January 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

January 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – the Sound of 2019 with Chelsea Carmichael, Nihilism and Vertaal (9th January); Alexandra Ridout in the first part of the next installment of Jazz Herstory (17th January); Steam Down invite you to be on their debut album (26th January)

6 Jan

Jazz Refreshed: Chelsea Carmichael + Vertaal + Nihilism, 9th January 2019

On 9th January, tenor saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael (from SEED Ensemble/NYJO Jazz Messengers) jumps into a bigger spotlight at the Jazz Cafe, as part of Tastemakers Jazz’s ‘Sound of 2019’ evening. At twenty-five, the time’s right for her to step out; with recent apprenticeships with Terence Blanchard, Courtney Pine, and Etienne Charles (as well as work with Indo-jazz fusioneer Arun Ghosh and as right-hand reedswoman for SEED’s Cassie Kinoshi) helping to shape whatever she does now. This will apparently be the debut of her first project under her own name: so new that I don’t know who else is in it yet, nor anything bar the fact that it’ll be influenced by Chelsea’s “love of groove and intricate rhythms”, and probably isn’t the Mingus-flavoured quintet she brought to the City Beerfest last summer.

Meanwhile, here’s Chelsea blowing tenor with SEED…


 
In the middle of the bill is electro-acoustic quintet Nihilism – a tuneful cluster of post-bop hip hop, Grapelli hot jazz, funk, grime and Mahavishnu fusion flickering around a median age of twenty. At the core of it (but not restricting it) is a classic acoustic sound revitalised by latterday British dance music, bedrocked by soprano saxophonist Shango Ijishakin, Berklee-trained pianist Lorenz Okello-Osengor and drummer Benjamin Appiah. Lorenz also dabbles in synths, while bassist Christopher Luu juggles his time between acoustic upright and a batch of electronic devices. Their debut EP ‘Exposition’ surfaced in November 2018, a couple of years after they’d formed and honed themselves with frequent gigging.

Despite Lorenz’ Berklee crown, Nihilism’s true secret weapon appears to be their electric violinist and occasional singer/rapper Saskia Horton, a twenty-one-year-old ball of energy and onetime fiddler for FKA Twigs. With an extra double life in theatre and dance, she choreographs and performs in a variety of street and dance-club styles (including krumping and waacking), and brings an assertive physicality to the band’s music every time she bows a string.


 
Toting a “spiritual jazz-funk” tag, Vertaal are an open-socketed duo (keyboard player Theo Howarth and drummer Ajit Gill) perpetually plugging in a rich turnover of guest players. Here’s a taste of them, with the core duo augmented on that occasion by bassist Warren Woodcraft, saxophonist Loren Hignell and percussionist Simon Todd. Who knows who’ll be joining Ajit and Theo on the night?


 
* * * * * * * *

On 17th January, Jazz Herstory resume their staging of female-led jazz concerts over at Poplar Union. It kicks off this year with a performance by trumpeter and bandleader Alexandra Ridout – still only nineteen, but already packing awards for BBC Young Musician of the Year (in 2016) and as 2017 runner-up rising star in the Jazz Awards, as well as hirings by Clarke Tracy and Dave Holland and time spent with her two-generation family jazz band The Ridouts.

Jazz Herstory presents: Alexandra Ridout, 17th January 2019

She’s bringing along a quintet of fellow teenagers. Pianist Noah Stoneman and guitarist Miles Mindlin are each a fresh-faced seventeen, while bassist Freddie Jensen and drummer Luca Caruso are both nineteen: fresh-faced they may be, but they have equal facility in classic swing, contemporary post-bop, funk and balladry. (Expect an audience with its fair share of middle-aged jazzers with mingled expressions of inspiration, chagrin and vague – or in some case, actual – parental pride.)

Here’s the quintet at work – admittedly with a Stoneman original rather than the sheaf of Ridout tunes which will be played on the night. Also attached is Alexandra’s Young Musician performance from three years ago.



 
Jazz HerStory continues over the next couple of months with performances by Rosie Turton and Ms. Maurice, but more on that nearer to February…

* * * * * * * *

On the 26th, interactively-minded Deptford crew Steam Down have invited everyone down to the Albany to help them record their first album. It’s going to be a live one, caught in full audio-visual with attendees and responders on an equal footing to the band. “There is no audience, we are all the music, everyone’s participation matters. The collective’s sessions are a co-creative experience between the audience and musicians. A mutual exchange of energy and vibes between the groovers and movers, the band and the crowd.”

Steam Down, 26th January 2019All of this is in keeping with Steam Down’s African-inspired collective ethos. One-and-a-half years old now, the project was founded by saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Ahnanse and they’ve already reached out beyond their south London base to light up gigs in Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp and Oslo. They’re a simmering pot of phuture soul, West African rhythms and cheerful Afrofuturism, the rapid offset breakbeat-splash and electrophonic edge of grime and broken-beat, and (in particular) spiritual jazz.

That said, they’re well aware that they should steer clear of romantic oversimplifications about roots. As Ahnanse remarked in an interview with ‘The Vinyl Factory’ last year, “the roots of what we are creating starts outside of that context, jazz is not the only source of improvised music in the world. It happens in many forms and many cultures, we all come from different spaces and cultures, and it isn’t black American culture, none of us were born there, so actually we are bringing all of those other experiences into this… In a society that is so hegemonic and monotonous it’s nice to surprise yourself and be surprised, by people that you know well.” More than anything else, Steam Down work is inspired by the interlocking of Afro-diasporan culture with week-by-week London life – the information-rich bustle and challenges of a world city made up of people from everywhere, many of them sometimes pushing (or knocking heads) against half-invisible restrictions and oppressions as well as providing broad-mindedness and opportunity. Occasionally the words “church” and “spiritual warfare” are used.

Steam Down’s shifting but family-loyal cloud of membership has included tuba boss Theon Cross, Maisha/Nérija saxophonist Nubya Garcia and keyboard player Dominic Canning (the latter also contributing at ‘Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant-Garde‘ on the 7th). In the rhythmatist corner are Sons Of Kemet/Nok Cultural Ensemble’s young drum-sage Edward Wakili “Nache” Hick and beatmaker Tilé “D’Vo” Gichigi-Lipere. There’s also a bevy of integral singer-poet-rappers in the shape of CarLi Adams, Norwegian-Philipino And Is Phi, Brother Portrait, sometime DJ/illustrator/maker Alex Rita, and the Afro-liminally-minded polymath Nadeem Din-Gabisi (DJ, artist, poet and broadcaster). Multiple talents are at play, with many members teaching and plenty of them producing. They’re a diverse, voluntary hive mind, their individualities fused and encouraged by common purpose, and there are sub-groups, independent familial endeavours and more (for instance, And Is Phi and D’vo work together as Sawa-Manga in a lineup including Saskia Horton from Nihilism).

This particular gig features a Steam Down line-up of Ahnanse, Alex, Dominic, Portrait, Theon, Nadeem, Nache and Sawa Manga plus Nihilism drummer Benjamin Appiah, singer Naima Adams and crunktronic Leeds beatmaker Wonky Logic. Also in the frame are a ton of integrated name guests from up and down the UK jazz scene – no details yet on who they’ll be, but rest assured they’ll be committed to their seat at the table..


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Jazz re:freshed & Jazz Cafe present:
The Sounds of 2019 featuring Chelsea Carmichael + Nihilism + Vertaal
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Wednesday 9th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Jazz Herstory presents:
Alexandra Ridout
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Thursday 17th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here


Steam Down: ‘The Live Album’
The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford, London, SE8 4AG, England
Saturday 26th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

December 2018 – upcoming London classical gigs – Shiva Feshareki’s turntablist ‘Firebird’ (6th December); a celebration of female choral composers for Christmas in Muswell Hill (8th December); Keith Burstein’s chamber music (14th December); Plus Minus play Armstrong, Franzson, Miller and Rodgers (18th December)

1 Dec

Some December classical manifestations of various kinds…

* * * * * * * *

'Shiva Feshareki: Late-Night Firebird', 6th December 2018

As part of the ongoing Spitalfields Music Festival, composer and turntablist Shiva Feshareki will be performing her own vinyl-manipulation rebuild of Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ in Bethnal Green on the 6th December- as “a live turntable composition that she forms in the moment. Using her trademark turntabling techniques, she deconstructs Stravinsky into new forms and perspectives, using nothing other than the original composition on vinyl. Expect sonic manipulations that bend time and play with space and perspective, transforming The Firebird into new shapes that reveal its sculptural depths.”

Here’s the woman at work on various projects over the last two years: there’s a clip from her saxophones, ensemble and turntables concerto about four minutes in…


 
* * * * * * * *

Fortismere Community Choir: 'Composed By Women & Christmas Carols', 8th December 2018

Fortismere Community Choir: ‘Composed By Women & Christmas Carols’, 8th December 2018

On the same night, in north London, Fortismere Community Choir will be performing a concert mingling standard Christmas carols with music composed by assorted female composers. Alongside the tunes about mangers and heralding angels, you can expect to hear a programme of music stretching (in varied leaps) across a thousand years, from the mediaeval carnal/spiritual chant of Hildegard von Bingen‘s ‘O quam mirabilis est’, the Romantic grace of Clara Schumann‘s ‘Abendfeier in Venedig’ and Ethel Smyth’s 1920s suffrage anthem ‘March of the Women’.

There are also latterday works – the reinvented English chorale influences of Cecilia McDowall‘s ‘Ave Maris Stella’; the fusion of African-American spirituals, American art songs and German/Italian choral music tradition in Rosephanye Powell‘s ‘Glory Hallelujah’; and the world premiere of ‘Women’s Rights’, a new composition by an emergent young British contemporary composer, Phoebe McFarlane.

Examples of most of the programme below:






 
* * * * * * * *

'Keith Burstein. Chamber Music. The Beauty Power.' Friday 14th December 2018On the 14th, composer Keith Burstein returns to Waterloo’s 1901 Club for another lunchtime concert featuring an hour’s worth of Burstein piano and chamber music.

Some new pieces will be making their debut, with the trio lineup of cellist Corinne Morris, clarinettist Peter Cigleris and Keith himself on piano joined by mezzo-soprano Sarah Denbee on the sarcastically-titled Northern Irish Backstop March, and Keith also presenting the live premieres of his piano preludes ‘The Beauty Power’, ‘Sonata’ and ‘Moto Perpetuo’. In addition, there’ll be the piano/clarinet/cello trio ‘Memories of Lithuania’, the ‘Wiosna’ cello sonata and a fourth piano prelude (‘The Ferryman’) while the concert will open with Keith and Sarah performing four songs for mezzo soprano and piano (‘Longing’ and ‘Heaven Riven’, both originally from the ‘Songs of Love and Solitude’ cycle, plus ‘Futility’ and ‘Atonement’).

This summer’s performances of Keith’s latest opera ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ seems to be contributing to pulling him out of the relative critical cold he’s often labored under. He’s now being hailed for the “sheer fertility” of his melodic instinct by ‘Planet Hugill’, and received approving notes from venerable critic Meiron Bowen regarding his revitalization of “the virtues of pre-twelve-tone music and all the techniques that have been explored since.” You can choose whether or not you buy into his vigorous philosophy of “super-tonalism” (within which Keith reasserts the tonal idiom which he considers to have been steamrollered out of credibility by the more cultish aspects of serialism and atonalism, while also aiming to blend in other musical lessons learned throughout the twentieth century). What isn’t in question is his connection to direct expression, and to creating music with an accessible human connection, as is evident from the pieces below. (You can read a longer summary of Burstein music in my preview of last year’s 1901 December chamber concert here.)




 
* * * * * * * *

Plus Minus: 'Armstrong, Franzson, Miller, Rodgers', 18th December 2018

On the 18th, the Plus Minus ensemble returns to its regular concert berth at City University for an evening of instrumental music with electronics by “four of the most refined and distinctive voices in contemporary music”, in a more straightforward form than their recent, more performative tour. Ensemble member Newton Armstrong provides two pieces (‘thread—surface’ and ‘the way to go out’), while his former student Georgia Rodgers provides one (‘St. Andrew’s Lyddington’). The remaining two pieces are ‘Traveller Song‘ by Cassandra Miller (whose compositional sense was described by ‘Musicworks’ as “the wryness of Samuel Beckett in combination with the whimsy of Italo Calvino”) and a new, as-yet-unrevealed work by New York-based Icelandic composer Davíð Brynjar Franzson (whose compositions are characterised by “an installation character, transporting the listener into some sort of temporal limbo, where a sense of the static is layered with delicate inner quickening…. exquisite tangible tension.”).

According to the programme notes, “each of these composers is concerned, albeit in different ways, with the fundaments of the compositional act and the manner in which sonic materials can be contextualised, processed, layered and transcribed. Plus Minus aims to present an evening of music that is strikingly contemporary without recourse to outside references, current technologies or multimedia. it is a focussed program that seeks to sonically take stock of where we are in new music today by stripping back the layers so that only the sound remains.” This is a free event with limited capacity, so book for it soon.

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates, times, places and links:

  • Shiva Feshareki: ‘Late-Night Firebird’ – St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA, England, Thursday 6th December 2018, 9.30pm – information here
  • Fortismere Community Choir: ‘Composed By Women & Christmas Carols’ – St Andrews Church, Church Crescent, Muswell Hill, London, N10 2DD, England, Saturday 8th December 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Keith Burstein/Corinne Morris/Peter Cigleris: ‘Keith Burstein. Chamber Music. The Beauty Power.’ – 1901 Club, 7 Exton Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 8UE, England, Friday 14th December 2018, 12.00pm – information here and here
  • Plus Minus: ‘Armstrong, Franzson, Miller, Rodgers’ – Performance Space, College Building @ City, University of London, St John Street, London, EC1V 4PB, England, Tuesday 18th December 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

October/November 2018 – upcoming English rock’n’rap gigs – Collapsed Lung, The Scaramanga Six and Sleepy People (variously 12th, 13th and 19th October; 2nd, 3rd, 16th, 17th and 30th November)

9 Oct

I wasn’t sure whether to title this post “’90s survivors” – partially since it’s such a cliché (bringing up images of my era’s university bands entertaining my greying classmates at nostalgia festivals around the country) but also because it suggests musicians who’ve grimly plugged away for ages trying to tongue up the last scraps of glitter from a twenty-five-year-old hit. A survivor doesn’t have to be someone who never left their band; nor does it have to mean a band which just never went away. In many respects, a survivor is someone – or some group – that simply didn’t let their experiences burn them beyond all recognition and all enthusiasm.

Essex rap-rockers Collapsed Lung fit the latter definition nicely. Formed in 1992, they had a busy four-year lifespan, but chose to wind down in 1996 barely six months after cracking the Top 20 with ‘Eat My Goal’ (record label skulduggery having painted them into a corner). In their case, the derailment seems to have been more of a choice to get back control over their own lives and satisfaction rather than allow themselves to have become a novelty act at the mercy of scamsters. Artistically, it’s done them a world of good. Having first tested the reunion waters in 2010, they made a fuller comeback in 2014 and have been resurfacing periodically ever since, playing alongside contemporaries and sympathetic spirits like Senser and Jesus Jones.


 
This year, however, they’ve finally put together a new Bandcamp-hosted album, ‘Zero Hours Band‘, full of “rhymes about what’s “real” to us. These days – middle aged ennui, social mores, feeling utterly out of touch.” They might be selling themselves as a grizzled old joke, but the record is anything but: it’s a clangorous and argumentative pub lock-in of a record, full of waspish English sarcasm, hilarious bellyaching and bang-on-the-nose caricature. By opting out, they stayed themselves: they’re a band devoid of posturing, and a far more honest representation of their wave of British hip hop than they would be had they either allowed themselves to be imprisoned by their hit or ricocheted back off it into faux-American rap swagger.



 
Their upcoming scatter of British dates from Huddersfield and London to Brighton and Minehead should see Collapsed Lung at their vinegary, middle-aged best: old dogs that can still raise a bark. They’ll probably play the hit, but why not – the brassy ring of newer songs like New Song Old Band and Golf People demonstrate that they’ve earned the right to do what they want. For what it;’s worth, the Minehead performance is part of the Shiiine Weekender, with dozens of other ‘90s or ‘90s-friendly acts: hopefully some of their attitude will rub off on their billmates.

* * * * * * * *
Crossing paths with Collapsed Lung for their Huddersfield date are The Scaramanga Six. It’s tempting to call them ‘90s survivors too; but it wouldn’t be accurate since (a) the Scaramangas only just scraped into the tail end of the ‘90s with their live-in-a-room debut ‘The Liar, The Bitch And Her Wardrobe’ and (b) they’ve never really gone away since, since they’re not so much survivor/revivers as cottage-industry thrivers. Plugging away across nine vibrant self-propelled, self-released studio albums, they’ve been a model of wilful yet canny independence over the course of two decades, with nary a sniff of major-label involvement.

The beefy panache of the Scaramangas’ records belies their cottage-industry model. There’s nothing lo-fi about their arresting, dramatic rock songs which take an American Gothic template and apply it to the simmering discontent of small town England, in the tones of West Country hoodlums with an armoury of loud guitar, snorting brass, Wasp synthesizers and orchestral percussion (and plenty of self-aggrandising, self-aware melodrama on the part of the band).

It’s easy to see the band’s current release – the double album ‘Chronica’ – as a Brexit metaphor. Billed as “an abstract story roughly hewn from a concept of a dystopian island society”, it takes their existing preoccupation with glowering, violent, self-destructive buffoonery and expands it out into a map of “a place where everything has fallen into ruin, yet people still seem to have the same preoccupation with the trivial crap they had before. The population trudge through a chaotic existence on top of each other with absolutely no hope of a better life. Society is reduced to its base behaviour yet people still crave superficial fixes. The human condition carries on regardless. There is no outcome, no lessons to be learned. Familiar?” Yet there’s also a hefty dose of the band’s manic theatre involved; digressions into sinister homebound nightmares (like David Lynch hitting the Yorkshire rentals circuit) suggesting that – no matter what the direct politics – the Scaramangas will always be most interested in the monstrosities which we bud by ourselves, within ourselves.


 
* * * * * * * *

The Scaramangas are playing three more dates during November, including a couple of one-band-only gigs in Bristol and London. Joining them for a second Huddersfield appearance in mid-November, however, are Northumbrian oddballs Sleepy People. They’re another band that you might judiciously paste into that ‘90s survivors category, were it not for the fact that they’re more like some kind of Wacky Races jalopy; one of the ones fuelled by wayward stubbornness and which keeps full-tilt crashing in flames, makes surprisingly effective repairs from unlikely bolt-ons, disappears from the race for ages and then comes roaring back onto the course from an unexpected angle while acting as if it had never left.

The full Sleepies history’s a frustratingly complicated revolving door of a story, with plenty of caught feet and snagged umbrellas. Suffice it to say that, after a lengthy time-out, they returned last year complete with original frontman Tiny Wood: he who also sings righteous freak-flaggery with Ultrasound. Here, he intones songwriter Paul Hope’s tales of sinister orphanages, malls and retirement homes, of wild bestial metamorphoses or hatching turtles, of tumbling sympathetic oddballs caught between their own peculiar daydreams and the unforgiving summary of newspaper pages. As a band Sleepy People are a conscious continuation of a particular kind of serious English whimsy – the kind that simmers and zigzags through Cardiacs, Syd Barrett, Gong, early Genesis.

In the Sleepies’ case, though, the flutes, arcane keyboard twinkles and glissando guitars are beefed up by proletarian disco drive, bullish Jam post-punk and a pumping sugar-rush art-punk ferocity more akin to Bis than any psych or prog act. Sometime frustratingly slow on promotion, there’s not enough of them on the internet, but here’s a slightly scrappy look at them rehearsing one of their off-the-wall epics last year (plus a mix-and-match rehearsal/performance shot at another one from their appearance at WWW2 in Preston earlier this year).



 
The latest tag they’re toting for themselves is “psychedelic elevator music made by hyperintelligent pre-schoolers”, which captures some of their wide-eyed enthusiasm but not so much of their oblique serious intent. There’s a diffuse swirl of rebellion running through their music – often touching on people’s freedom to think and express in their own way, and on the misunderstandings, deliberate dismissal and persecutions they’re met with. Another common theme is that of rippling the skin of reality to apprehend the mysterious processes running underneath. For those of us who’ve been following them since the ’90s, it would be good to see them recording a new album which somehow pulled all of their wandering strands together, magicalising their North-Eastern home in all of its history and its metaphysical implications. Til then, though, it’s certainly nice to have them back.

As well as the show with The Scaramanga Six, Sleepy People have their own show in their Newcastle hometown at the end of November. Next February, they’ll also be playing support in Sheffield with another of their hero bands and influences, The Monochrome Set, but more on that nearer to the time.

All dates for everyone:

  • Collapsed Lung + The Scaramanga Six + tbc – The Parish, 28 Kirkgate, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, HD1 1QQ, England, Friday 12th October 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • Collapsed Lung – The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England, Saturday 13th Oct 2018, 7.30pm – information here
  • Collapsed Lung – The Prince Albert, 48 Trafalgar Street, Brighton, BN1 4ED, England, Friday 19th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • The Scaramanga Six – Rough Trade, Nelson Street, Bristol, BS1 2QD, England, Friday 2nd November 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Scaramanga Six – Wonderbar, 877 High Road, Leytonstone, London, E11 1HR, England, Saturday 3rd November 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Collapsed Lung – Shiiine On Weekender @ Butlin’s – Minehead, Warren Road, Minehead, Somerset, TA24 5SH, England, Friday 16th November 2018 (with too many others to list) – information here
  • The Scaramanga Six + Sleepy People – Small Seeds, 120 New Street, Castlegate, Huddersfield, HD1 2UD, West Yorkshire, England, Saturday 17th November 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Sleepy People – The Cumberland Arms, James Place Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE6 1LD , England, Friday 30th November 2018, 7.00pm – information here

 

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