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October 2018 – upcoming London pop gigs – Bellatrix and Amy León; Clémentine March, Garden Party and Svetlana Smith (both 2nd October)

29 Sep

Bellatrix + Amy León, 2nd October 2018Polydisciplinary pop-charmer Belle Ehresman – better known as Bellatrix – pops up at Elektrowerx at the start of October. She’s been on the up for a couple of years now: the former leader of The Boxettes and a onetime UK beatboxing champion (as well as someone who’s chalked up a parallel musical life as a jazz double bassist), she’s recently subsumed all of these skills into a freeform pop approach.

I caught her a couple of years ago at Rich Mix, just her on her own. Citing influences from Bjork, Ravel, Nina Simone and Sun Ra, to Mingus, Fleetwood Mac and The Pharcyde, she was nothing if not eclectic. For half an hour the venue was her sketchpad as she flung out work-in-progress – a set of unclenched, openhanded musicality in which she finger-painted in assured fashion on mini-synth, loop station and double bass; unfurling songs, meditations and mouth-driven beatscapes in jazz, experimental pop and the loosest of hip hop tones; floating dreamily a little way above the earth.

Since then, Belle’s put together a band, spat out a couple of quirky EPs and stormed the big streaming services, bypassing Bandcamp and Soundcloud to go straight with the Tidals, the Deezers and the Spotifys. For all the boho trappings and the whimsicality (her first EP was called ‘Real Stuffed Owls’), there’s clearly quite a bit of faith and funding behind her. While her former freeformery has settled into more accessible attention-gripping songcraft, I’m hoping that her wholesome world will mesh enough with the demands of that level of glaring attention sharky commercial demands: dropping into one of her sessions should feel like visiting an enchanted workshop, not like chasing a YouTuber.



 
In support is New York singer, songwriter and slam-poet Amy León. Once part of the Nuyorican Slam Team, she now rolls solo: a powerful, joyous, positive-political performer with her work rooted in specific experiences (blackness, womanhood, social inequality) and fusing them all into a compulsive stew of hip-hop spoken-word and sung R&B. Amy’s subject matter’s stirred by rage and outrage, the surviving of brutality and broad sweeps of oppression. Her ethic is to overcome it (in time-honoured civil-rights-movement manner), via a celebration of love, bursting through shame and tears with defiance.

She can sing like battered, determined grass, giving with the gale; she can speak soft; she can wail with rage. Her hard-hitting grit will anchor Belle’s dextrous free-floating thistledown. It would be fascinating to see what they came up with together.

 
Bellatrix + Amy Leon
Electrowerkz, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

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Clémentine March + Garden Party + Svetlana Smith, 2nd October 2018 On the same night, Friends Serene are putting on a show of their own. Headlining is former Water Babies member and current Snapped Ankles-er Clémentine March – French-born, Brazil-schooled, London-cradled. Solo, she mixes the pressing, noisy dynamic of ‘90s indie rock with the airy, summery liberation of French and Latin pop melodies. Clanging, precisely-tooled guitar parts (like little iron chandeliers) mesh gently with her sleepy Gallic coo, which in turn rises to indie-siren clarions as she rambles across three languages at will. She’s a sleepy intermittent whirlwind, variously flicking up the debris and festival decorations in Mediterranean towns, and sometimes swirling them into intent little vortices as the mood takes her.


 
In support, Garden Party are the duo of singer Yujin Jo and instrumentalist George Edmondson. They bring along bedsit-glamour trip hop sounds in a Portishead/Moloko tradition, reaching towards a skinny R&B feel. It sounds thin as tissue paper or thrift-shop bedsheets at points, and Yujin’s voice is a tiny Eartha-kitten laze. Still, Garden Party revel in the worn, recovered texture of their soundworld and – on recent track Real Tapes – sometimes reach out for something a little more ambitious; rattling their collection of instruments, oddments and samples to reach out through the radio towards a bigger world.

 
Russian-inspired “neurotic synthpop duo” Svetlana Smith complete the bill: they’ve had a debut EP out since July, which you can find on Spotify if you like. As with Bellatrix, they seem to have vaulted a promotional stage: and since I object to streaming services which rip their clients off, I avoid Spotify like the plague and have stayed pretty ignorant as to what SS sound like. However, both ‘Bittersweet Symphonies‘ and ‘From the Streets‘ caught them just under a year ago: the latter highlighted “innocent but empowering love songs, preaching about love for yourself not another, all bought together in an elegant package taped together by sickly sweet and catchy melodies” while the former reported back on something “cynical and sexy, sweet but deadly… synth-pop with bitter lyrics of heartbreak and disdain.”

That’s the way of it, I suppose: a person can show completely different faces to different people on the same occasion, and one man’s light ear candy is another’s compelling poison. At least they agreed on the initial sweet taste; while I’m left wondering whether Svetlana Smith is deliberately Janus-faced, a kind of emotional double agent or just some kind of cannily blank song-canvas. You’ll have to find out for yourself.

This is a free event, but the usual “book-your-slot-first-and-turn-up-early” business applies.

Friends Serene presents:
Clémentine March + Garden Party + Svetlana Smith
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here, here and here
 

September 2018 – more Woodburner world/acoustica/pop sessions at Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens – Rum Buffalo Trio, Joe Corbin and Lorkin O’Reilly (4th September); M w S, Boe Huntress and Equal Echo (11th September); The Age Of Luna, Marine and Desert Rain (18th September); Choro Alvorada, Max Baillie and Li Alba (25th September)

27 Aug

More outdoor summer Woodburner gigs at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, as the season moves into its final month: holding autumn at bay while it can.

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The 4th September show features festival legends Rum Buffalo, bluesman Joe Corbin, and touring NYC artist Lorkin O’Reilly.

Rum Buffalo fornicate with forgotten songs. They mingle in many genres but feed off the rich antique roots of swing and moody blues infiltrated with hip hop beats and filthy synth lines. It’s a surreal, vaudevillian show with outrageous costumes, twisted vocal harmonies, powerful beats and outrageous horn sounds. On the night expect a stripped-off trio show, revealing the core of their beastly natures.


 
Joe Corbin is a blues and soul musician from South London. An accomplished guitarist, powerful singer, and true performer, watching Joe play is bound to blow you away.


 
“Since arriving in Hudson, NY from his native Scotland, Lorkin O’Reilly has been making a name for himself on the New York folk scene with his delicate guitar technique and deft lyricism. This year has seen him share stages with the likes of Charlie Parr, Nadia Reid, Willy Mason, Mick Flannery and Ciaran Lavery. His debut album ‘Heaven Depends’ was released on 24th August on Team Love Records.”


 

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The 11th September gig features R&B/soul collective M w S, North London songstress Boe Huntress, and new electronic collaboration Equal Echo.

M w S is a London-based duo formed in Italy in 2013. Their musical influences are artists from soul, R&B and nu-soul (such as Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill) mixed with contemporary neo-jazz artists like Tom Misch and Masego and electro-influenced artists like Vallis Alps and Louis Matters. Their first EP ‘Swim’ is a mix of pop, contemporary R&B and nu-soul with lyrics that sometimes recall their home country; their latest release, Island, produced by Grammy-award winning London producer Aamir Yaqub (Rihanna, Ne-yo) is a soulful chilled track full of tropical and summery vibes. M w S are currently working on their next EP, due out in 2019.


 

Boe Huntress grew up in Kent, playing and writing music from an early age. Her first job was writing songs for an online magazine, reviewing video games in song-form: a crash course in the art of songwriting, recording and producing, as well as in receiving immediate response to her work online. Studying Literature at university, Boe was inspired by both myth and feminism: beginning to play live, she was soon chosen by the IC Music Network as one of twelve up-and-coming artists to tour across Europe.

“Boe’s debut EP, ‘A Female Power’, is an earthy, epic debut reminiscent of both Kate Bush and Bjork. The EP is inspired by four female mythological figures (“we’ve been deprived of certain ways of seeing woman – this EP is an exploration of the darker, more unexplored aspects…”) and Boe’s taken it one step further by creating an immersive audio-visual show alongside the record. The EP is brought to life onstage by Aletta Dina on drums and Melanie Powell on synths and electronics, while Boe fronts the band with her raw, ethereal vocal and electric guitar.


 
Equal Echo is a new collaboration from Londoners Hector Plimmer (DJ and producer/creator of last year’s acclaimed ‘Sunshine’ album of broken beat, trip hop, instrumental soul and field recordings) and Alexa Harley (fellow producer, songwriter and collaborating singer for Hybrid Minds, Tom Misch and Mt. Wolf). The pair initially started working together with a one-off collaboration in mind: however, once they started, it soon became clear this would be more than just a feature project. For the last year-and-a-half Harley and Hector have been meeting two days a week, almost every week, creating music that shares an equal input of musical ideas from one another.

The amalgamation of styles and musical backgrounds blend together to make a sound unlike either Harley or Hector produce alone, whilst still retaining the best attributes from both. Not only are they musical partners, they are also best friends. Over the last two years the dynamic live show has been previewed at Archspace and Ghost Notes, with their premier festival appearances at Brainchild and Glastonbury Festivals.”

 
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The last show, on 18th September, features London-based hip hop/R&B trio The Age Of Luna, sensual pop mythologists Marine and atmospheric Finnish world-folkers Desert Rain.

The Age of Luna – “average joes with powerful minds” – number Butch Arkas, his schoolmate Kyote Noir and singer/saxophonist Daniella Wizard. Each brings their own influences and sensibilities to the table, and the end results reflect not just the four different musical personalities but the blend of tradition and technology that saw them get together in the first place. Despite their relative youth, the band has played over a hundred shows with festival plays at the likes of Glastonbury, Wireless, Secret Garden party and Live At Leeds. Their debut, self-titled album was released earlier this year to great acclaim and the band are busy working on new music due for release later this year.

 
“London-based Marine – formed in 2014 by Cara Sebastian (vocals and guitar), Beth Dariti (bass) and Kaja Magsam (drums), and described by ‘The Line Of Best Fit’ as “the musical equivalent of a creamy post-coital blush” – have just released their debut album ‘Fable Electric’, via The Vinyl Factory (following the beguiling singles Mount Olympus and Sirens).

“Produced by Rob Ellis (Anna Calvi, PJ Harvey, Cold Specks), ‘Fable Electric’ is an album that brims with exploratory wonder and bridges the gaps between spectral pop, dreamy grunge and ambient folk. Both wild and elegant, it is framed by intuitive beats, bass hypnosis that playfully counters melody, and a deep love of contrast. The vocal lines braid together over hooky guitar lines in a complex plait of old and new, understated and operatic, light and dark. The songs of Marine crystallized from mythology and fables, mingling with personal words and emotions to form tales of the ordinary and extraordinary. Their songs reference the underworld, seal demons, mighty Kraken, werewolves, witches and Gods, and even question the very nature of storytelling itself.


 
“Jyväskylä quintet Desert Rain are songwriter Ville Lähdepolku on guitar and vocals, Alex Lee on drums, Farshad Sanati on santour and vocals, Petri Pentikäinen on tabla and darbouka, and Ville Määttä on bass, keyboards, voice and a cluster of international wind instruments including Armenian duduk. They play hypnotic world-folk music that tends towards the mystic. From Finland to Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, just for you.”

 

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The last show, on 25th September, features choro band Choro Alvorada, international violin virtuoso Max Baillie, and the Latin-inspired songwriter Li Alba.

Choro Alvorada is a London-based group who play Brazilian choro music of all styles, including lesser-known works and original compositions. Choro emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the late nineteenth century as a mixture of European harmony with African rhythm and improvisation, in a similar way to jazz and ragtime. The name comes from the Portuguese verb “chorar”, which means “to cry”, and indeed choro music certainly has its fair share of tear-inducing laments. But choro is mostly known for its lively, playful and syncopated melodies in the traditional setting of a “roda”; that is, with musicians playing informally around the table (drinking plenty of beer – provided by the loving fans, of course!).

“Choro Alvorada have the traditional instrumentation of the ‘regional’ choro ensemble: clarinet (played by Andrew Woolf), flute (played by Rachel Hayter), 7-string guitar (played by Luiz Morais), cavaquinho (played by Jeremy Shaverin) and pandeiro (played by Alua Nascimento). They play a wide variety of styles of choro, exploring influences from all over Brazil (and London). They play with the irresistable swing of samba from the south and baião from the north-east, and even in the style of frevo, a carnival dance from the north-east! Many of the choros they play are their own compositions, so you may find a Cockney twist to them. They famously continued to play through a thunderstorm at the Curve Garden in Summer 2017, bringing a portion of the audience onto the stage with them in the style of the traditional roda.


 
“Maverick violinist and violist Max Baillie is truly one-in-a-million. Born to the sound of his twin sisters practising scales and argeggios, raised by his concert-cellist father and violin-teacher mother, before travelling the world and gaining a first-class degree from Cambridge University in… Politics. Apart from that short sabbatical, Max’s whole life has been music. Yet when you watch and listen, there is a spontaneity in his playing that makes you realise that in spite of all the history, education, and practise, a Max Baillie has to be born rather than made. Max-in-a-million is an international artist, having performed in Switzerland, Italy, South Africa, France, Australia and many other corners in the last twelve months, both as a concert soloist and with other projects including ZRI, who fuse sounds of Brahms with gypsy and Hungarian folk. Witness.


 
“Singer. Linguist. Lover of Latin, jazz and folk traditions. Voice of velvet and force of nature. Li Alba grew up in London, listening to traditional Spanish and Greek music whilst training as a classical singer. Graduating from Guildhall juniors in music and RADA in acting, she fell away from opera and into wild Easter European theatre arts, as a professional member of the Gardzienice Theatre Company. Partaking in independent arts projects around the world she has worked through music and staged mediums with global practitioners including Katie Mitchell, Mark Ravenhill, James Brennan and Julian Maynard Smith.

“Li has contributed to London’s night life scene by supporting in the launches of two venues, Kansas Smitty’s and Juju’s Bar & Stage, and is now embarking on her solo career with a plethora of musicians with global flavours and feels. She is accompanied by guitarist Telmo Souza who has played for Rhythms Of The City and Ines Loubet (amongst many others), and who leads the astonishing Afro-samba ensemble Caravela.”


 
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All events are at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, 13 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England on Tuesday evenings. Dates below:

  • Rum Buffalo Trio + Joe Corbin + Lorkin O’Reilly – Tuesday 4th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • M w S + Boe Huntress + Equal Echo – Tuesday 11th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • The Age of Luna + Marine + Desert Rain – Dalston Curve Garden – Tuesday 18th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Choro Alvorada + Max Baillie + Li Alba – Dalston Curve Garden – Tuesday 25th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

 

August 2018 – upcoming London pop & rock gigs – Loop Pedal Lunacy with Steve Strong, Fetherstone, Alex Taylor, Sam Martin and She, Robot (8th August); plus a rare free Silvery acoustic show (10th August)

3 Aug

An evening of pop-looping at Paper Dress; and the return of some London art-pop rascals…

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First, the loopfest…

Loop Pedal Lunacy, 8th August 2018

Steve Strong is a one man arsenal of beats, tapped guitar and lush textural melodies. His music is as witheld as it is grandiose, as skeletal as it is layered, equal parts shimmering and pulsing. It glimmers, swings and explodes in all the right places, sliding gracefully from one section to another, played as tightly as it is loose and free. Steve’s ability to bridge the gap between technical ability and captivation is completely instinctual, tattoed onto his musical consciousness like the art on his body. His music seems to encompass many different styles without feeling contrived or forced; every strand of inspiration in Steve’s music is carefully placed and melted. This music will not be held down!


 
“As She, Robot, award winning loop artist Suzy Condrad is a seasoned performer and authentic underground artist who has written and self-produced three albums and established herself as a leader in her field, winning the title of Boss Looping UK Champion in 2011. She effortlessly juggles instruments and genres with a dynamic and arresting one-woman show which has amazed and delighted audiences from Shambala to Boomtown Fair, Bearded Theory to Beautiful Days. Dancehall, ska, doo-wop, folk and electro collide with blistering beats and haunting, sublime vocal gymnastics to take you on an ever-looping journey which balances real-time loop juggling against timeless songwriting. Edgy, raw, beatbox and bass driven sensual sounds, layered to perfection, create a mesmerising performance which is powerful yet ethereal. Woman meets machine in a musical maelstrom that will make your head spin, your spirit lift and your feet move.

 
“Already compared by reviewers to the likes of Bill Withers, John Martyn and Jeff Buckley, Bristol-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumental loop pedal artist Alex Taylor is one of the shining lights of the acoustic scene and a troubadour of world-class standing. Drawing on varied influences from a wide musical spectrum, Alex’s style splices elements of soul, nu-folk and electronica to place his shape-shifting voice and dextrous, original acoustic guitar playing firmly in the spotlight. Touring extensively, Alex has notched up hundreds of gigs, sharing stages with such luminaries as Jack Savoretti, Roachford and Michael Kiwanuka: a festival favourite, he recently headlined the BBC stage at Bristol’s Harbour Festival, and has played many other stages including Cambridge Folk Festival and Cheltenham Jazz Festival. His critically acclaimed debut album features performances from members of The Invisible, Newton Faulkner’s band, Portishead and Massive Attack.


 
“Heavily influenced by her ninety-four-year-old artistic grandmother, Aussie-born Fetherstone brings together the quirky sounds of electronic pop and the swooping melodies of folk, and combines them with her emotive reflective story-telling. Based in London since 2015, 2017’s ‘Debut’ EP was produced and engineered by London native Harry Tarlton (Kobalt, Union J, Stooshe, WarnerUK), with the last single Two Hands On Deck hand-picked by Newton Faulker to feature on the Richer Unsigned record store day Vinyl compilation, April 2018. Fetherstone’s live shows captivate audiences using a loop/effects pedal, percussion and electronic drums. Recent performances include The Camden Assembly (supporting for Frida Sundemo), Richer Unsigned Live at Melomania, TV Nights Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s, The Servant Jazz Quarters (supporting Ella Janes), Live at The Bedford and The Troubadour (supporting The Modern Strangers).

 
“Since an early age, Sam Martin has written and performed his own music around the UK, both supporting and headlining on nation wide tours. In 2010 he recorded his first independent solo EP and has since recorded three studio EPs which have gained a mass following in the UK and Europe as well as Australia and North America. With a vocal/guitar/loop-pedal musical style incorporating blues, jazz and alternative soul, Sam’s vocal and instrumental ability is testament to both his inspirations and musical evolution.”


 
Loop Pedal Lunacy – A Night of Live Looping (featuring Steve Strong, Fetherstone, Alex Taylor, Sam Martin and She, Robot)
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Wednesday 8th August 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

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Meanwhile, the coming week also sees the first gig in a year for London art/glam/pile-on rockers Silvery. Snatching an early night slot before the late-night jazz funk at Jazz After Dark, they’re going for a repeat performance (of sorts) of last year’s free Soho acoustic gig: this time, in order to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their debut album ‘Thunderer & Excelsior’.

Simultaneously effete and rowdy, Silvery are a wonky London pop sense made flesh, sounding as if they’ve sprung from the same zigzagging suburban allotments-of-weird which also brought up The Kinks, The Monochrome Set, Cardiacs and The Stranglers. They’re more urchin-esque than Franz Ferdinand, but less leery than Blur. They’re an erudite and wayward Carnaby Roxy; the Dodgers to Bowie’s Fagin; and as rocking goes, they’re only “garage” if said garage had started life as a spooky Victorian stable block.

In their live heyday, Silvery would dress up as Bow Street Runners and fill the capital’s little venues with sweat and joy; these days, their gigs are few and far between, so make the most of this one. If it’s anything like the last time, it’ll be just the two Silveries – Simon Harris and front guy James Orman – thwacking out the old stuff on 12-string acoustic guitar and piano. Below, to get you in the mood, there’s a couple of full-bore electric ‘Thunderer…’ excerpts plus a teaser for a forthcoming film they’ve been making.




 
Silvery: Live Acoustic
Jazz After Dark, 9 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 4DQ, England
Friday 10th August 2018, 8.00pm
– free event – information here
 

August 2018 – more Woodburner world-acoustica sessions at Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens – Solomon’s Garden, The Hungry Mothers and Miranda Joy (7th August); Sannie Fox, Harvey Causon and Gus Harvey (14th August); Whiskey Moon Face, Meïkhâneh and Tommy Ashby (21st August); Gnawa Blues All Stars, James Riley and Michael Sebastian (28th August)

2 Aug

More outdoor summer Woodburner gigs at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, as the season moves into its third and penultimate month.

Here’s what they say they’re offering…

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The 7th August show features neo-soul collective Solomon’s Garden, Brighton-based Americana band The Hungry Mothers, and the singer-songwriter Miranda Joy.

Solomon’s Garden is a collective of three university friends who came together to make music with cleverly worded and thought-provoking lyrics, and soulful, catchy, head-bopping beats. After spontaneously releasing their first song ‘Sand Dunes’ in January 2016, the group had an incredible reaction from the general public and within a short period of time the song hit its first thousand plays. It was then that the group knew they were on to something special. Two years, one hiatus and three EPs later the band continues to thrive as a dynamic four piece. Between landing a slot at Latitude festival ‘17, being chosen for BBC Introducing’s record of the week, and becoming a favourite with Sofar Sounds London; the band are fast becoming a name to be recognised on the emerging music scene, with a distinct and resonant sound that continues to evolve.


 
“Producers of feelgood Americana residing within the south-east of the UK, The Hungry Mothers immediately began winning fans since their birth last year as a four-piece comprised of warming harmonies, laid-back roots and country blues. Their debut single Tiger Song (released on At The Helm Records) is the confident and mature start for a band who are inviting everyone on their journey.


 
Miranda Joy is a twenty-two-year-old singer-songwriter currently based in London. She performs her meaningfully-written songs with a powerful and soulful voice with moving piano accompaniment. She has performed at many venues, festivals and events, including the Vortex Jazz Club, The Village Underground, Rye International Jazz and Blues festival, the Great Escape Festival and Nasty Women UK. Last year one of her original songs, The Fall, was featured on BBC1’s coverage of the NFL Super Bowl highlights. Currently, she is continuing to perform at venues across the UK and working on releasing her first EP.”


 
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The 14th August show features South African blues artist Sannie Fox, electronic/jazz from Harvey Causon, and trip hop act Gus Harvey.

Sannie Fox is a singer and guitarist who has released two critically acclaimed albums and will release her third studio album ‘My Soul Got Stranger’ this year. With her voracious voice, and her fingers to her electric guitar, Fox sways across an evolving sonic tapestry of desert blues, soul and psychedelic rock sounds. Last decade, Fox formed the blues-rock 3-piece Machineri and released a self-titled album in 2010; in 2015 she released her debut solo album ‘Serpente Masjien’. She has toured South Africa, the UK and Asia and is currently based between the UK and South Africa.


 

“Calm and understated, Bristol’s Harvey Causon is turning heads with his deft take on contemporary R&B and percussive electronica, and with the powerful, brooding vocal that sounds far more world-wearied than his twenty years. After moving to Bristol last year, Harvey quickly released his ‘Introspect’ EP’, a collection of songs that he had been sitting on for a while. Eclectic but polished, the stand out song from the release, ‘Systems’ was given a remix from rising hip hop duo Cabrakid (earning Harvey an appearance at Cabra’s support slot with Loyle Carner after the rapper heard the track).

“In October, Harvey released his single ‘Frisson’ with local Bristol label Leisure Records: ‘Worn You’, his most recent release with production collaborator Gabriel Gifford, was playlisted by Radio 1 as the BBC Introducing Track of the Week and added to the Burberry and Radio 1 Spotify playlists. With nods to other contemporary artists the ambient piano ballad has a nervous energy but its dub tinged rhythm, clever lyrical content and fragile yet soothing vocal set it apart. Having already played sold-out shows supporting Tokio Myers, Puma Blue and Porches as well as Dot to Dot and 2000 Trees festivals, the summer bookings are shaping up to be just as imposing with The Great Escape, The Downs Festival and All Points East all in the pipeline. His impressive live set features both Gabriel Gifford and drummer Ben Toon.


 
Gus Harvey is a London-born soul singer with roots in hip hop and jazz. This August she releases debut EP ‘? History (1 of 4)’ on her own label. Her first single – Witches – was pure hip hop and received radio acclaim from DJs including Lauren Laverne and Nemone on BBC Radio 6 Music, as well as being Clash Music’s Track of the Day. The new EP exhibits four different styles; acoustic soul, jazz-hip hop, trip hop and bi gbeat (from collaborations with Audiobullys’ Tom Dinsdale). ‘? History’ is Harvey’s self-portrait and DIY protest against an industry squashing emerging artists into one genre. As sole mistress of all her ships, Harvey creates her visuals with close friend and London visionary Netti Hurley. Tonight she performs a unique, stripped acoustic soul set especially for Woodburner.”


 
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The 21st August show features transcontinental jazz-folkers Whiskey Moon Face, Persia/Mongolia/Eastern Europe-influenced folk trio Meikhaneh and sessioneer-turned-ancestral-folkie Tommy Ashby.

“The result of a thousand drunken nights, countless dreamy days, and years of musical adventuring, Whiskey Moon Face take you on a voyage into a bohemian underworld which you never knew existed. Born into a puddle of whiskey beneath a stark winter moon and raised by cold winds, schooled in the warming spirits and hungry for more, Whiskey Moon Face manage a natural, graceful sound built from many ports. Always innovating and improvising with stark originality, Louisa Jones’ troupe of underground musicians play with a virtuosity you could never expect. Songs which speak of the unspeakable, with understated humour, captivating storytelling and a transcendent spirituality. ‘Folk Radio UK’ compared them to “having been at one of those wild and joyous youthful parties in somebody else’s parents’ house that you’ll remember for years.”


 
Meïkhâneh’s compositions are fed by imagination, improvisation and traditional music from Europe, Mongolia and Iran. The luminous and captivating voices carry the power of East European singings, the aerial melodies of the great spaces, as well as the depth of the khöömii, Mongolian overtone singing. One can hear traveling cords recalling the steppes of Asia and Andalusia. The chiseled rhythms of percussion draw on the Persian tradition. Meïkhâneh takes us to the heart of a music without borders that caresses the soul. Its name borrowed from Persian poetry means the «House of Intoxication». We let ourselves be carried…


 

Tommy Ashby’s childhood was always going to be musical. Travelling the country playing guitar in his father’s traditional blues band and raised on the Scottish pub singaround culture, his initial musical experiences were immersive and natural. His teens were spent pouring over his parents record collections of American songwriters such as Neil Young, Simon and Garfunkel, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings and Jeff Buckley. The eclectic mix of American roots, blues and country, combined with his Scottish folk roots, all seeped into his music.

“After acquiring a PhD focussed on studying and modelling the human perception of sound, Tommy cut his teeth behind the scenes as a session musician for the likes of Nina Nesbitt and Holly Macve, toured the UK and Europe as support act for Rhodes and Tom Speight as well as playing a number of headline sell-out shows in London this year including events curated by Communion, Never Fade and the Southbank Centre. His debut EP, produced by Chris Bond (Ben Howard) was self-released in late November 2016 and entered at No.5 in the iTunes singer-songwriter chart. His new EP, Restless Love, was recorded and mixed with Grammy award winner Sam Okell in his home studio near the wild North Cornwall coast.”


 
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The 28th August show features Moroccan guimbri sensations Gnawa Blues All Stars, Anglo-American guitarist James Riley, and improvisation/loop wizard Michael Sebastian.

“Simo Lagnawi is an ambassador of Gnawa culture in the UK. This charismatic creator is the leader of Gnawa Blues All Stars and has featured on BBC World service, CNN World, BBC 3, Vox Africa, & many more radio shows and magazines around the world. He has performed at a host of festivals including Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party, Latitude and Boom Town. Playing traditional Gnawa music from Morocco, this sacred trance music forms the core of his work with his bands Electric Jalaba, Gnawa Griot, and Gnawa Blues Allstars. Simo continuously pushes new boundaries fusing Gnawa with music from countries such as Gambia, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, India, Japan, Venezuela and the Caribbean. Look out for special guest musicians playing with the band!


 
Born of a transatlantic relationship, James Riley grew up in south-east London listening to the folk and soul sound of ‘70s America and wrote his first melody at the age of four. His first guitar, acquired at the age of nine, became the tool for surviving the tumult of a nowhere place, and helped James find somewhere he felt he belonged. In his early twenties, he took off, alone once again, hitchhiking and busking through Europe from Amsterdam to Istanbul, writing songs along the way. Back in the UK, these songs became a band, but eventually James had to shed another skin, and disembarked in Nashville, Tennessee. Here he found his producer and they set about making the album which had travelled with him to his maternal homeland, where it could finally get free.


 
South African-born, Edinburgh-educated, and living in London, Michael Sebastian is a musician and loop-artist who improvises to uplift the capital. Whenever possible, Sebastian is on the streets of London, improvising with a loop-pedal, a mic and a bright pink guitar. He will attest that this has been the most important part of his musical education, and has taught him to speak to people through his instrument. he creates music from a broad range of experience and styles. His affinity for groove and feel allows for conflicting styles to fluidly co-exist, feeling human and natural. His most recent album, ‘Kayanda’ demonstrates him harnessing live, improvised looping onto record. After developing the recording software himself, Sebastian went into a shed in the country for two weeks to improvise an album, and came out with fourteen tracks. The album is written with the sensibilities of modern dance and electronic music, and retains the freedom, rawness and depth of world music and jazz, while still creating melodies that are hard to forget.”


 
* * * * * * * *

All events are at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, 13 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England on Tuesday evenings. Dates below:

  • Solomon’s Garden + The Hungry Mothers + Miranda Joy – Tuesday 7th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Sannie Fox + Harvey Causon + Gus Harvey – Tuesday 14th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Whiskey Moon Face + Meïkhâneh + Tommy Ashby – Tuesday 21st August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Gnawa Blues All Stars + James Riley + Michael Sebastian – Tuesday 28th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

 

July 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s cabinet of pop disorientations featuring Famous, The Guest, Wharfwhit, Bianca Scout and Great Dad (24th July)

18 Jul

Sometimes it’s particularly rewarding to see a new band emerge. I’m feeling that way about Great Dad. Springing from the chrysalis of genderqueer punk-poppers Worm Hears (who, however interesting their component people, pronouns and propositions may be, maintain an unsurprising musical approach), they are currently breaking out – humming, carolling, blurring – into something far more promising. They’re making journeys into avant-pop, approaching it with a thin-skinned sense of wonder and detournement via a multiplicity of FX-sculpted vocals and the implication of an identity whose fluidity moves even beyond gender, and by soundbuilding which flitters between different pop forms, different cultural tones.

I’ve previously tagged them as “electronic bricolage”, but they’re also like some kind of tiny relentless broadcast drone, flying precariously between much bigger, looming shapes ideas and experiences; crashing into them and rebounding, reporting back in half-processed bursts. Some day they’re going to land and clarify, even if it’s only for a moment. Until then, I’m enjoying the buffeting ride and what I also tagged as “free-associating mashups of love, political paranoia, consumer anomie, salty language and an ever-strange out-of-step physicality half-trapped between distress and wonder.”




 

Great Dad are appearing next week on the bill for a Multi-Storey show which makes a lot of noise about being one to attend “if you unashamedly love indie” or “if you want reckless, guitar-led, drum-heavy aural delight”. Unless there’s been some new shift in language and I’m too dull to pick up on it, Multi-Storey are wantonly taking the piss. This is an unabashed weird pop evening, collaged together out of DIY electronica and from increasingly pixellated and fluid performance identities. The guitars (when they’re present at all) are struggling their way through Ballardian refractions or assorted studio fuckery. If you’re out for mediocre-white-hope guitar rock, look elsewhere.

Famous + The Guest + Wharfwit + Bianca Scout + Great Dad, 24th July 2018

Headlining are post-disco/art pop/glam crooner sextet Famous fronted by blazer-sporting singer Jack Merrett. They’ve been gigging for at least a year and a half, but I don’t know much about them. Like the enigmatic Black MIDI (and like Sistertalk, Multi-Storey headliners from earlier in the week) they’re a band who save their promotional energies for their live shows, percolating a word-of-mouth campaign that pretty much relies on your ears being around the right mouths (which mine often aren’t).

Famous’ web presence is matter-of-fact, minimal – almost disdainful. Single videos pop up on Youtube and are whisked away; the Soundcloud page just features a ‘Fitter Happier’-esque four minutes of spoken-word manifesto delivered by the Fred speech synth. Odd bits of gig promo blurb have pegged Famous as “combining pop craftsmanship with a penchant for the theatrical”; and back in April, ‘Not Another Music Blog’ sketched them out as “stylistically look(ing) like six strangers that wouldn’t even talk at a bus stop” and as delivering a set of “Joy Division, disco, and punk-influenced indie-pop bangers”. So we’ve got a shape, we’ve got faces and we’ve got a peg… the rest you’ll need to discover for yourself.

One thing’s for certain: Famous are the straightest band on the bill by far – the cement that holds the other acts in place and provides a link to standard underground pop.

A while ago, Gus Lobban (one-third of up-and-coming bitpop/dancehall act Kero Kero Bonito) played a solo gig as Augustus. Now it’s the turn of his bandmate Jamie Bulled, who – for a while now – has also been writing and performing as Wharfwhit. Under this fresh alias, he gobs out waywardly explosive, dynamically physical digital pop stunts involving a variety of collaborators. A typical Wharfwit piece might features sampled body noises – motions, grunts, wheezes – plus a deliberately inconclusive/confused hank of rapping from some emergent South London MC, or a shrill cutesy barrage of Mandarin from an Asian underground pop act.



 
There’s something a little lightweight about Jamie’s post-vaporwave/post-chop-and-screw stunts, but that’s part of the point. They’re divorced from any concept of gravity. They’re meticulously giddy, apparently still in love with a coalescing teenaged mindset of consumer-tech connection and sensual disarray (Skype hook-ups, the fading narcotic contrail of purple-drank culture) while still being able to comment on it… inasmuch as there’s any comment apart from arranging these chunks of experience, connection and distraction together into one pumping track: the components of a spread of options too busy happening to invite analysis. Log on and go.

No less fractured are the works of spectral deconstructer Bianca Scout – loose, yawing things clinging onto the edge of pop by a casual fingertip. Beats struggle like cocooned insects; synthesizers billow slo-mo smoke-clouds and kitchen metals scrape like a knife-drawer ballet… it’s a kind of timeslip electronica, in which the listener always seems to be nodding out into split-second blackouts. Bianca’s own voice winds intermittently and erratically through the mix, sometimes sounding like a Raudive voice – an incomprehensible ghost on the wire or muttering in between radio stations, now slipping to the foreground. At other times, her narcotic girlsing piles up like sediment; her voice pillow-muffled, her message prolonged and complicated by fuzzy detailand disintegrating enunciation, sliding from her murmuring lips. Other tracks are swaying, tide-tossed arrays of new age atmospherics mingling with urban air currents and sounds drawn around tower blocks. Unpicking all of this will be a long job, like teasing out a knotted tangle you’ve found in the back of a forgotten drawer.




 
Also back from a couple of other earlier Windmill gigs is enigmatic cheapsynth narrator and electronicist The Guest, unspooling low-budget electro/techno and odd little faux-stream-of-consciousness stories and commentaries. A touch of blank, owlish humour to season the mysteries.

 

Multi-Storey presents:
Famous + The Guest + Wharfwhit + Bianca Scout + Great Dad
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England
Tuesday 24th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London gigs – another delightfully eclectic pop evening with Multi-Storey’s HighRise 2.0: Sistertalk, A House In The Trees, Thidius, The Mantis Opera, Chartreuse, LL Burns and Sunken (21st July)

14 Jul

Having recently celebrated a year of gig-staging, as well as a growing reputation for broad thinking and clever band picking, Multi-Storey are back next week with seven hours worth of Saturday night music, reasoning “we don’t know about you, but having only a few short hours for a gig never sits quite right with us. So we took a lineup of bands that have blown us away, and blew it up to tremendous proportions. Turbulent corridors of endless interlocking rooms full of inventive sounds await you – picture that one corridor from the intro to Scooby Doo, except each door is a band, I guess.”

Get to it, meddling kids…

Multi-Storey High Rise 2.0, 21st July 2018

Spivvish, Horrors-compared pop dramatists Sistertalk headline: one of those bands so young (and possibly so strategic) that they’ve not slapped any tunes online yet. Still, rumours emerge from the live gigs – talk of saxophones and backing singers, a “serene and sensual” stage presence. I’m hearing hints about “ghoulish keyboards”, “deliciously confident” and “melodramatic stories with a menacing undercurrent” from DIY Magazine, along with rumours of “suave ‘60s suits” and “genre bending at its most excellent (from) psychedelic, post-punk and the experimental” from ‘Clash Music’. On spec, they sound like a post-punk Cockney Rebel with a twist of goth and Roxy glam: in practice, they’re probably something else. I’m particularly interested in the storytelling: the feeling of greater substance emerging through the stylistic signifiers.

New Cross-ers Thidius (led by sister-and-brother Izzy and George Risk) may offer a tingling dream-dub pop, but rather than the usual post-Banshees/post-Lush trudge they instead choose to sneak and skip across a songscape infused by Latin pop and yé-yé, while blowing some of the sleep-dirt off it. It’s the gaps which are crucial – the warm spaces within the rhythms, the little games of silence and hopscotched accents, the shifting play of beats underneath the songs (and the slightly rubbery lyrics) which light them up. Meanwhile, Thidius continue to play with instrumental ingredients which, within pop, have always travelled under a shifting light of cool and uncool – Fender Rhodes, echoed jazz chords on guitar, the discreet touches of post-‘80s drum pads. Their debut EP ‘Rush You’ is four years old: this evening’s performance might show us what the band have learned since then.



 
The evening has a definite air of classic pop recipes undergoing various remixes. Certainly it seems as if recent re-evaluations of yacht-rock has left its mark, with Fleetwood Mac and George Benson showing up in the mix of influences under the glossy, part-ambient surface of Birmingham indie-pop quartet Chartreuse (alongside that of the cruise-ier elements of mid-‘70s Pink Floyd and the bluesy folk-soul of John Martyn).

Meanwhile, Sunken initially recall the retrofitted trip-hop of Portishead (and not a little of the delicacy of the latter’s underrated peers Mandalay). They’ve got a nice line in shifting accents and little swoops of rhythmic spacing; in dreamy soul and jazz memories filtering from turntable to ear to brain and to re-emergence. Seventeen-year-old singer Poppy Billingham delivers watchful, slightly detached little-black-dress murmurs in a perfectly pitched and angled voice. Backed by the band’s swathes of after-hours melody, she’s already full of finesse, singing ambiguous statements of will (or of love) which aren’t quite pleas and aren’t quite demands; they’re more statements of what’s necessary, or what’s happening regardless of intent. Wise before their time, Sunken still refuse to preach musically or lyrically: preferring instead to embody a contradictory mix of lethargy and sharp lucidity with Poppy keeping a poised distance, as if she’s looking down a long spiral staircase at the machinations and desires being played out in the ballroom below.

 
More detached ambiguity comes from London “collective of angels” A House In The Trees, who produce contemporary electronic pop with a strong visual streak; not just in the motion-study video they’ve produced for recent song Summertime, but in their increasingly fluid, subtly dysfunctional arrangements. From tentative, stiffer beginnings four years ago, they’ve turned into a smooth channel for hypnagogic studio/headphone simmers. Lazy-toned songs slide unconsciously or imperceptibly into haunted ones. Duality and disassociation are accented by setting sped-up backing vocals against protracted drawn-out beats and slowed-down guitar arpeggios; or by the way in which the alternating male and female voices offer not even the hint of a duet, but stay encapsulated in their own cool, heavy-lidded solipsism.

The aforementioned Summertime evokes the gravity-drag of heat against the bliss of sun, the sensuous delight of season warmth against the sudden shock of a murderous gunshot. Don’t Fall Asleep takes hold of the sonic fabric of a slow jam and pulls it out of shape… like fingers through oil paint, like a willing slither into narcosis or the slow loll into a Dutch angle. How this works live is anyone’s guess. Somehow they’ll have to draw us into their sound while refusing to touch us: an impersonal, unsettling seduction at a mask party.

 
The evening isn’t all strolls through pop. A completely different experience is offered by The Mantis Opera, synth-and-guitar-rock purveyors of Allister Kellaway’s wide-awake brain music. I’ve previously described them as “avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil” with Allister’s lyrics wrangling their way through “themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.” Their complex but clearly-delineated thinking tunes (with the bustle of a busy engine room underneath, and a superstructure bristling with antennae) should go hissing through the pop atmospherics like a particle beam through silk. Also on the bill are LL Burns, another underbubbler band from the Brixton scene. Led by the Morrissey brothers, they provide “brooding atmospheric electric soul noir”: a romantic Big Easy feel from south London, their whiskey-and-heat Americana balladeering like a less vicious Michael J. Sheehy.

 

DJ-ing is provided by “the mysterious collective who, just this once, go by the name “4/4 Grilled“… out of hiding for one night only, but until then their identity remains a secret”. There’ll also be a slew of in-venue artwork and ‘zine business from ‘Delinquent Magazine‘, ‘Cool Brother‘, ‘Spit Tease‘, ‘Saxon Zine‘ and ‘This Must Be For You‘.

Multi-Storey presents:
HighRise 2.0: Sistertalk + A House In The Trees + Thidius + The Mantis Opera + Chartreuse + LL Burns + Sunken
The Moth Club, Old Trades Hall, Valette Street, Hackney, London, E9 6NU, England
Saturday 21st June 2018, 5.00pm
– information here and here

More news shortly on another imminent Multi-Storey event…
 

July 2018 – upcoming London pop gigs – Pram at the Lexington (22nd July)

12 Jun

Expect a happy gathering of the original British post-rock tribes next month when this little gift to them starts up and starts whirring…

Pram, 22nd July 2018

Dictionary Pudding Promotions presents:
Pram
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Sunday 22nd July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

“Dictionary Pudding are hugely proud to welcome the long-awaited return of Kings Heath legends Pram. With a new album out shortly on Domino Recording Company – these are very exciting times for Pram, one of the most uniquely enthralling underground artists of the last 30 years – their return in these troubling times is extremely welcome!

“Birmingham’s Pram craft fairytales from concrete reality. The second city’s spin cycle of perpetual renovation, from the slum clearances to its current cosmetic upgrade, is etched in Pram’s restless groove, an endearing and gently refusenik mix encircling early Rough Trade innovators The Raincoats, astro jazz, sci-fi soundtracks, creepy Victoriana, tropical analogue and tumbledown funk.

“To say Pram have always ploughed their own furrow is to underestimate the breadth and scale of their music. To listen to this record is to hear a group who have learned to play together whilst teaching each other a new language. The Moving Frontier is Pram at their most widescreen, they’ve created a mysterious and wonderful landscape that’s sky-wide open.”

Pram: 'Under The Blossom That Hangs On The Bough', 3rd June 2017

And here’s a slightly trimmed version of what I wrote for when they resurfaced quietly for their British comeback almost exactly a year ago, back in Birmingham with the park installation ‘Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough’…

“This isn’t quite the same Pram that charmed us and subverted pop for a surprisingly long stint in the ’90s and noughties across a string of albums which included ‘Dark Island’ and ‘Sargasso Sea’ and a sound that seemed to be part child’s murmur, part clinking post-kosmische stroll and part friendly haunted house. Most obviously, singer and lyricist Rosie Cuckston (she who used to mount her keyboard on an ironing board at concerts) is absent, having moved on into academia and a more direct form of the social activism which the band’s eclectic inclusiveness and tendency to take philosophical side roads only hinted. That said, the rest of the band’s original creative core (multi-instrumentalists Matt Eaton, Sam Owen and Max Simpson) are all present, having spent the interim years of Pram downtime working with wonky loops as Two Dogs, creating film and theatre sound and making sonic art out of books with the Sound Book Project.

“This also isn’t the first time that the post-Rosie Pram’s reappeared. Earlier in May they made an appearance at Imaginary Musics in Switzerland, playing a “music for Kopfkino” audio-visual set in a festival dedicated to “cinematic, recomposed and fictional musics”, and it seems as if losing Rosie’s quiet reflective voice and cocooned lyrics has shifted them further over into the areas suggested by Matt’s sound design and by Sam and Max’s live sound art. On-spec, it seems as if they’ve succeeded in becoming a kind of “post-band”, with a foot in their old live work, song-structures and performance coherence, but leaning towards something far more abstract and ego-free. ‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’ sounds as if it will be something fascinating to be immersed in – an urban psychedelic afternoon stroll with the family, an aural refraction of Birmingham through leaves, greenery and company.”

Here’s a minute or so of the ‘…Blossom…’ project:


 
And here are some more moments of Pram past: rattle-pop, glows and musings…





 
Pram, 2012
 

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.



 
* * * * * * * *

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 gigs – Society Of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Meg Lee Chin, Keiko Kitamura, I Am Her, Kosmic Troubadour, Math Jones (2nd February); Peter Blegvad Trio and Bob Drake (9th February – plus the Club Integral Resonance Benefit Gala on the 8th); Evil Blizzard and Nasty Little Lonely (10th February)

29 Jan

SOIF Soiree, 2nd February 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“Into The Forest” Soiree: Meg Lee Chin + Keiko Kitamura + I Am Her + Kosmic Troubadour + Math Jones
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here

After a few events which were perhaps a little more predictable than we’d’ve hoped, this month’s Society Of Imaginary Friends-hosted concert moves up a gear with the involvement of “two goddesses of Earth and Heaven”. Purple twilight time:

“We take the path that leads down from the fell, over the style, over a stream and into the heart of the forest. At first it seems completely lifeless in the wood, all of its creatures hibernating deep in the ground; but as our eyes become adjusted to the dusky dark and senses atuned to its music..the rustle of a robin in the dried leaves, a squirrel’s staccato, a falling pine cone. Suddenly we are in a clearing of softest moss – a place of refuge and rest, where a clear spring rises and sunlight dances. Welcome to our “Into the Forest” Soiree.”

A mid-‘90s Pigface member (and the former frontwoman for female noise band Crunch), industrial pop/darkwave/hip hop songstress and hands-on producer Meg Lee Chin is a prime example of longstanding female creativity and independence. Having rattled cages and excited commentators with her turn on Pigface’s ‘Nutopia’, she then spearheaded contemporary home-studio recording with her 1999 solo album ‘Piece and Love’ and went on to found pro-audio community Gearslutz. Although released music has been sporadic for the last couple of decades, Meg’s kept her reputation as a fascinating, brilliant performer and composer and as an outspoken, sometimes contrary blogger. SOIF, in turn, have a reputation for coaxing people’s slumbering performance talents out of semi-retirement: if Meg’s risen to the occasion in response, this ought to be pretty exciting.

Also on hand – and in delightful contrast – is Keiko Kitamura: known for activities ranging from replaying Japanese court music to Jah Wobble’s Nippon Dub Ensemble, is a leading international koto player (in particular, the 17-string bass version) as well as a singer and shamisen player. Expect a mixture of tradition and originality.




 
The rest of the appropriately quirky SOIF bill is filled out by eccentric rainbow keyboard warrior The Kosmic Troubadour, poet/dramatist Math Jones (with a sheaf of forest poems) and Soiree regular I Am Her, a.k.a. ex-Rosa Mota singer Julie D. Riley (who also, with fellow Rosacian Sacha Galvagna, makes up transatlantic transcontinental electropop minimalists Crown Estate). As ever, the Society themselves are performing, presenting (presumably) art-pop forest ballads to take in with the Karamel vegan feast that’s part and parcel of a SOIF event. This time, you get an appropriately woody wild forest mushroom soup, a mushroom and root vegetable pizza and some Black Forest gateau…


* * * * * * * *

Here’s news on one of the several fundraisers for London alt.culture radio station Resonance FM, helping it to keep up its mission of broadcasting the wild and wonderful across the Smoke’s airwaves and around the world online. Even setting aside the calibre of the night’s performers, it’s pretty much worth going along for that reason alone.

Peter Blegvad Trio, 9th February 2018

Resonance FM presents:
Peter Blegvad Trio with Bob Drake
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Friday 9th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Peter Blegvad – not only for the owlish wit of his songs (including his skill as palindromist and wordplayer) and the enviable polymathic breadth of skills which means he’s also a fine experimental cartoonist, audio dramatist and commentator. It’s also because anyone who can get himself sacked from ‘70s avant/oppositional prog gods Henry Cow by outrightly twitting their seriousness at the height of their brow-furrowing Maoist phase (and apparently by writing a lyric about a woman chucking raisins at a skeleton) is a man who knows something about whistling in the face of sternness.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t make too much of this. For one thing, despite (and because of) Henry Cow’s high-flying, generally admirable idealism, spending time there seems to have been argumentative for everyone (in particular during the period in which almost every potential action appeared to have its cripping counter-bourgeois condemnation, during which a man of Peter’s wayward questioning wit and self-declared flippancy would have stuck out like a slammable thumb in the way of a door). Once out of the mothership, though, it was evidently easier to be familial. Showing up most artistic spats and internal rock band feuds for the pique and piffle that they are, all of the ex-Cow-ers grew up (and grew past their arguments) to become a mutually supportive bunch. Threading in and out of each other’s concerts and solo careers, they rapidly learned to welcome and celebrate the diversity of their collective interests and ideas, and they’ve stayed that way.


 
Proving this yet again, whenever the Peter Blegvad Trio comes back together it reunites Peter with two regular Cowfriends: John Greaves (bassist and longtime ally both during and after Cowdays, from the ‘Kew.Rhone.’ project onwards) and Chris Cutler (drummer and owner of the eclectic and honourable post-Cow record label ReR Megacorp which, since 1988, has released four widely-spaced Blegvad albums – ‘Downtime’, ‘Just Woke Up’, ‘Hangman’s Hill’ and last year’s ‘Go Figure’). Thirty-seven years of on/off playing together has resulted in a relaxed, gently telepathic connection: not a mysterious communion, nor an alliance of breakneck musical stuntwork, but an easy, comfortable instinct for what’s required to frame the song and no more. As for Peter himself, if you’re unfamiliar with his work it’s best to think of someone with one foot in the sardonic-wit songworld of Loudon P. Wainwright, Leon Rosselson, Richard Thompson and Kinky Friedman, and the other in the counterflow rock camp which the Cow shared with (among others) Faust and Pere Ubu.


 
And that brings me to the second point – ultimately, it’s really pretty misleading to define Peter by the lineaments of Henry Cow, art-prog or Rock In Opposition. Granted, he’s spent quite a bit of time paddling away in those areas (in addition to ‘Kew.Rhone’ and the Cow work, there’s been Slapp Happy, Faust and The Lodge, as well as swing-by dates with The Golden Palominos and Art Bears). Yet if you put him firmly in the driving seat on his own, what you get isn’t hyperliterate trickery, but intelligent, light-touch, surprisingly roots-rocking songs with a smart economy of tale-telling and reflection.

He’s still got a yen for throwing up a thesis and exploring it (this is, after all, a man who once explored the roots and fears of the European Union via a teasing, erudite and baffling lyrical mirror-maze of classical borrowings), but more often than not he’ll now use a folk or country-folk form to do so, or pick a nuanced idea to polish in a few simple strokes: something a child could pick up on but which an adult might savour. From some angles you could even confuse him (via that nasal, tuneful, breathy bark of a voice) with a more relaxed Mike Scott in acoustic mode, or even with Mark Knopfler in a moment of sardonic humanism. Although neither of them would have written a love ballad as sparse and sorrowful as Shirt And Comb, honed a metaphysical gag like Something Else (Is Working Harder) or tweaked, explored and upended a common cultural assumption the way Peter does on Gold.


 
One of the contributors to ‘Go Figure’ (along with Karen Mantler) was the delightful Bob Drake – the erstwhile Thinking Plague and 5uu’s mainstay turned offbeat producer and solo artist. For more of my rambles on him, take a look over here. The long and the short about him, though, is that he’s a multi-instrumentalist and hedge-bard with broad and rambling ideas about just how far you can stretch and mutate an open-ended thought or song, who now regularly heads out for solo voice-and-guitar gigs (often performing, for reasons both flippant and serious, in a lovely white bear-dog suit). Like Peter Blegvad, Bob’s got a liking for complexity and warm perverse wit; but what you take away from his shows is literal shaggy-doggery: peculiar sung tales both finished and unfinished about strange mammals, haunted houses, odd habits, monster-movie scenarios and twisted eldritch dimensions.

When I originally posted this, I was under the impression that Bob was playing a solo Oto support slot, but it now appears that he’s actually beefing up the Trio to a quartet, with or without the animal suit. If you still want to see Bob in solo mode, however, you could set aside some time the previous evening for another Resonance FM fundraiser: Club Integral‘s annual Resonance tin-shaker, being held south of the river at IKLEKTIK on Thursday 8th.

Offering “thirteen minute sets from thirteen acts”, this features a wealth of music-and/or-noise-makers from the Integral playlists: improv pranksters Glowering Figs, audiovisual sculptress Franziska Lantz, ARCO composer Neil Luck, mixed-ability folk internationalists the No Frills Band, Found Drowned/Four Seasons Television guitar manipulator James O’Sullivan, sound designer/Howlround member Robin The Fog, Bob and Roberta Smith (a.ka. artist/advocate/utopian Patrick Brill) playing with his own “musical intervention” project The Apathy Band, restlessly morphing New Wave survivors Spizz, and whoever St Moritz, Two Horns, Robert Storey, Strayaway Child, Swordfish and King/Cornetto happen to be. Plus Bob – who was hoping to balance his thirteen-minute time limit with the playing of thirteen one-minute songs, but has apparently opted to settle for eleven.


 
(If Bob’s wily, he’ll also strap a few tentacles onto that fur-suit and go up and do a bit of busking by Camden Lock, staking out the London Lovecraft Festival that’s also taking place that week…)

* * * * * * * *

Evil Blizzard, 10th February 2018

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Evil Blizzard + Nasty Little Lonely
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England
Wednesday 10th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here

Filling in a three-cornered gap between Public Image Ltd, Poisoned Electrick Head and The Residents, hilariously distressing Preston lords of misrule Evil Blizzard are bringing their act south in order to launch their ‘Fast Forward Rewind’ single (from upcoming third album ‘The Worst Show On Earth’). Their gigs are part banging art-punk party and part horror-comedy masked ball, featuring four cranky and disparate bass guitarists; a singing, chanting drummer; and a pair of in-house stage invaders in the shape of a dancing money-chucking pig and a man running wild with a mop.

The assorted masks (hilarious and creepy) and the threatening mannequin/orc lunges may make it all look like an Auton’s cheese-dream or a riot in a Black Lodge dollhouse, but underneath the screaming horse-laughs are a rattling good party band. Over the years, they’ve won over many a psychedelic or underground festival audience and even their own musical heroes (with Killing Joke, Hawkwind and PiL having invited them on for support slots).



 
Also playing are stomping industrial post-punk duo Nasty Little Lonely, who provide a bandsaw-guitar set of “post apocalyptic decadence, discarded trappings of consumerism gone awry, alienation and small furry creatures with very sharp teeth.” They might possibly be tempted to dance afterwards if you encourage them enough.


 

December 2017 – various upcoming gigs in Bristol and London – Seitz, Tom O.C Wilson and Northwest (17th December); Colonial Sun, Mally Harpaz and V Ä L V E (19th December); The Secret Crowd and The Many Few (15th December)

7 Dec

Here are three more upcoming December shows across the coming fortnight which caught my interest. There’s a three-helping dose of sophisticated underground pop on a decommissioned barge in Bristol; another triple-decker in London covering moody post-colonial balladry, electro-acoustic film music and experimental collage-composing; and finally an easy-going London indie rattlethrough…

As I’m still rushed, what follows is the usual textgrab from press releases and gig guides, although I’ve leaned in to dab in extra information where needed…

* * * * * * * *

Seitz + Tom O.C Wilson + Northwest, 17th December 2017

Seitz + Tom O.C Wilson + Northwest
Grain Barge, Mardyke Wharf, Hotwell Road, Bristol, BS8 4RU, England
Sunday 17th December 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

“A Sunday night triple-bill of advanced accessible music. Here’s what to expect:

“Hailing from Germany via California and incubated in Bristol, singer and pianist Carolin Seitz formed Seitz in 2015 – a glacial chamber trio bringing you some vast and microcosmic torch hop. Think Lotte Lenya on Pukka tea!


 
Tom O.C Wilson is an Anglo-American pop composer with an insatiable appetite for musical discovery. His music straddles the line between the classic English pop songwriting tradition (Ray Davies, Andy Partridge, Damon Albarn) and the sophistication of current US acts such as Dirty Projectors and Deerhoof. Yet his musical canvas also draws upon wider influences, from the exuberance of contemporary jazz (Denys Baptiste, John Hollenbeck), to the irresistible rhythmic pull of Sardinian guitarists such as Paolo Angeli and Marino De Rosas.

“Tonight he is joined by the dynamic and musically sensitive trio of James Ashdown (drums), Steve Haynes (bass) and Steve Troughton (keyboard), to perform songs from his recently released album “Tell A Friend” (Pickled Egg Records).


 
Northwest are an experimental pop duo based in London, formed by the Spanish-born singer and composer Mariuca García-Lomas and producer and multi-instrumentalist Ignacio Simón. Their music explores different genres (from contemporary classical music and avant-garde electronica to experimental pop, psychedelia and trip-hop) and has drawn comparisons to artists such as Julia Holter, Portishead or Grouper. Their euphoric performances have quickly become recognized as one of the most captivating and mesmerizing live shows around.”

 
* * * * * * * *

Colonial Sun + Mally Harpaz + V Ä L V E, 19th December 2017

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Colonial Sun + Mally Harpaz + V Ä L V E
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Tuesday 19th December 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Colonial Sun is the brand-new musical moniker of James Marples, an Australian singer-songwriter who sings dark ballads set amongst minimal cello and percussion arrangements, and whose work has drawn comparisons with Howe Gelb, Sun Kil Moon and Mark Lanegan. Emotionally lucid and at times surreal, these songs explore history, nostalgia and a sense of place and draw on imagery ranging from the Australian landscape to the decaying monuments of empire. This is only the second Colonial Sun gig, for which James will be joined onstage by a new and very special guest…

“James has previously released music (including 2006’s ‘Heads Are Down, Collars Are Up’ EP) on two independent record labels and performed his own compositions at the Glastonbury Festival and at theatres and venues in Europe and Australia. He worked with Second Hand Dance on the music for the shows ‘Creepy House’ and ‘Grass’, and (during 2017) has been the songwriter-in-residence at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King’s College, London.

“Drummer, pianist and multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz (who’s played with Lunatic Crash, Anna Calvi, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford and Jessica Lauren) will be performing her original compositions joined by a small number of phenomenal musicians and special guests. These distinct pieces were mainly written as part of a collaboration with award-winning video artist Clara Aparicio Yoldi for several short films including ‘Iconosfera’, ‘Zoom Out’, and ‘Zoom In’: the original recordings feature (among others) Anna Calvi, Mark Neary and Mally’s old Lunatic Crash bandmate Eran Karniel.

“Mally’s reverence for the profound creates mysterious melodic lines and shares a luscious ambience with other contemporary pioneers such as Steve Reich, Max Richter, and Nils Frahm.

 
V Ä L V E is the outlet for the compositional work of composer/performer Chlöe Herington (also a member of Chrome Hoof, Knifeworld and Half The Sky), using text and image as the starting point for scores. Chlöe collects sounds and diagrams – such as score fragments found in skips, or electrocardiograph printouts – composing predominantly for bassoon, saxes, electronics and found sounds to explore synaesthetic memory and collective experience.

“Live (joined by Emma Sullivan on bass, Microkorg and vocals and by Elen Evans on harp), the music traverses the realms of noise and improv into songs, punctuated with found sounds and eases into spacy soundscapes.”



 
* * * * * * * *

The Secret Crowd + The Many Few, 15th December 2017

If you fancy something a little more straightforwardly poppy, then there’s this show a little earlier in the week. The Secret Crowd headline with their sunny semi-acoustic pop-punk (with added ukulele and trumpet), supported by endearing ‘Misfit City’ faves The Many Few playing material from their brand new album ‘Sharkenfreude’, (plus Fleetwood Macs – I don’t know, covers band or ironic indie?). All of it preceding the usual ’60s Mod, Motown and soul disco at the Crawdaddy! clubnight.

The Secret Crowd + The Many Few (Christmas Special) + Fleetwood Macs + Crawdaddy Club Night
The Fiddler’s Elbow, 1 Malden Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3HS, England
Friday 15th December 2017, 6.00pm
– information here, here and here

Here’s The Many Few sounding like a delightfully rickety collision of Deacon Blue and XTC with West African highlife; and (due to newness of band and shortage of online material) some muffled recent-gig phone footage of The Secret Crowd…

 

December 2016 – upcoming gigs – ‘Staggerlee Wonders’ with Robert Mitchell, Debbie Sanders, Corey Mwamba, John Edwards, Elaine Michener, Mark Sanders and others (London, 8th); Trio Generations with Maggie Nichols/Lisa Ullén/Matilda Rolfsson (Cheltenham and London, 9th & 11th)

5 Dec

StaggerLee Wonders
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 8th December 2016, 8.00pm
– information here and here

'Staggerlee Wonders', 8th December 2016Billed as “an evening of radical poetry and prose fused with free improvised music”, this event’s title is taken from James Baldwin’s blazingly scornful, almost conversational poem – itself named for the black outlaw/hoodlum who flits and thunders through a set of conflicting American tales and songs, taking on the roles of murderer, proud badass, pimp and more.

In all cases, Stagger Lee’s become a byword and signifier for transgressive black resistance to cultural pressure and norms. A lengthy lope in a thickly jazzy, declamatory style, Baldwin’s version takes up the final, revolutionary Stagger Lee position, setting aside the thuggery, choosing instead to weigh up the protests, delusions and not-so-secret wickednesses of white hegemony in one Afro-American palm (seamed with exile, scepticism and righteous ire) before firing up his sardonic, acidic tongue to flay and spit the flesh right off their bones. It’s not clear whether Baldwin’s take will be performed as the evening’s centrepiece, or whether it simply serves as an inspiration; but it certainly sets the bar high, both artistically and politically.

Various performers, both black and white, are confirmed to attend. Hopefully, they’ll all rise to the explicit challenge. Reknowned for his weighty slowhand approach, jazz pianist Robert Mitchell has worked with Epiphany3, F-ire Collective and Panacea. Jazz/folktronicist Corey Mwamba plays small instruments, dulcimer and electronics across assorted projects but is best known for his highly dynamic, hammers-to-humming vibraphone playing and for the ongoing questioning spirit which he explores in both live music and academia (and any intersections he can make between the two). Voices come from restless, movement performer and polygenre singer Elaine Michener (recently seen at the Cockpit Theatre in a quartet with Alexander Hawkins) and from storytelling singer/composer Debbie Sanders (currently heading up Mina Minou Productions, previously embedded in proto-acid-jazz, trip-hop and British R&B via work with Skylab and Chapter & The Verse).

Bass and drums are provided by two stunning soloists who also happen to make up one of London music’s most formidable rhythm partnerships. Both double bass player John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders are capable of a breadth of sound and attack on their respective instruments, running across an orchestral breadth from whisper to hailstone attack (via conversation or monologue, from growling belligerence to kidding conversation or querying patter).

More people may be showing up to play, but that’s already a pretty thrilling loose sextet to work with and to choose from.

* * * * * *

Trio Generations is an intermittent name for a convocation of three top European improvisers, Maggie Nichols, Lisa Ullén and Matilda Rolfsson. Formed last year, they’re playing a couple of English shows to bookend the upcoming weekend. Outlines below, mostly from the Café Oto pages:

Trio Generations, 2016

Trio Generations, 2016

Maggie Nicols joined London’s legendary Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1968 as a free improvisation vocalist. She then became active running voice workshops with an involvement in local experimental theatre. She later joined the group Centipede, led by Keith and Julie Tippets and in 1977, with musician/composer Lindsay Cooper, formed the remarkable Feminist Improvising Group. She lives in Wales and continues performing and recording challenging and beautiful work, in music and theatre, either in collaborations with a range of artists (Irene Schweitzer, Joelle Leandre, Ken Hyder, Caroline Kraabel) as well as solo.

Matilda Rolfsson is a Swedish percussionist and free improviser, based in Trondheim, Norway. During the spring of 2015 she was temporarily based in London where she finished her masters in free improvisation and the relationship between improvised music and dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. During her London stay Matilda got the chance to meet and play with some of Londons most efficient improvisers: Phil Minton, Sylvia Hallett and London Improvisers Orchestra with Maggie Nichols. With her 20” vintage Gretsch bass drum, Tibetan bowls, gongs, bells and plastic isolations, sticks, fingers and brushes, Matilda explores the free improvisation and the instant compositions shaped in the moment: dynamics, orchestrations – structure and chaos. To make rules and break rules, always with the question: where’s the music going, and where’s the freedom?

“Pianist Lisa Ullén grew up in the northern part of Sweden, and is based in Stockholm. A versatile player with a singular musical vision, Lisa has repeatedly proven her ability to imprint her absolute sense for tonal texture on whatever musical context she appears in. Besides working as a soloist and leader of her own groups, Lisa has collaborated extensively with many well-known Swedish artists and dancers, and has also scored several dramatic productions. She’s also performed and recorded music by contemporary composers.”
 
To provide a sense of what might be coming, here’s the full half-hour set from their debut performance at IKLECTIK in 2015: a fractured, prolonged collective improvisation which swaps mood, pace and suggestions like a game of speed poker, with passing shreds of blues. Although Lisa and Matilda match her with lethally-aimed flinders of explosive, challenging percussion and piano, Maggie remains the centre of attention via a performance that’s as much stand-up comedy or theatre piece as it is free jazz. She produces not only the clucks, hisses, pants and operatics of free-voice improv but a bewildering spiky cavalcade of female voices and archetypes (hopeful chitterer, wise sly crone, mother in labour, put-upon wailer, deft gossiper) while including fleeting lyrics from jazz, blues or music hall and assorted Dada twists (including a phase which sounds like a demonic toothbrushing session).


 

This month’s Trio Generations dates:

  • Xposed Club @ Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, England, Friday 9th December 2016, 8.00pm (with Chris Cundy) – information
  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Monday 11th December 2016, 8.00pminformation

At the Café Oto show, John Edwards will be joining in to make the group a quartet. While there’s no support act at Oto, at the Xposed Club Cheltenham reedsman/multi-instrumentalist Chris Cundy will be providing a solo slot on bass clarinet and saxophone. A tactile extended-technique player, Chris began as a self-taught Medway busker coming into his own under the combined influence of Eric Dolphy (on record) and Billy Childish (in the flesh and in the kitchen). Following a relocation to Cheltenham to pursue fine art, Chris has broadened his scope into a world of other collaborations in film, electronica, free improvisation and pop. He’s worked extensively with Fyfe Dangerfield (as part of the Guillemots horn section and as an integral member of Gannets), with Canadian freak-folkers Timbre Timbre and a succession of left-field singer-songwriters. His extended techniques (including multi-phonics, circular breathing and microtonality) have also led him into exploring the works of Cage and Cardew and those of contemporary avant-garde composers such as Thanos Chrysakis and Pete M Wyer, as well as producing a growing number of albums of his own work.


 

November 2016 – upcoming London gigs – electro-poetryscapes with Jeremy Reed & The Ginger Light at the Horse Hospital (5th)

3 Nov

They might be performing in Bloomsbury , but their heart’s in Soho. You can’t get away from it.

Jeremy Reed & The Ginger Light, 5th November 2016I once started writing a set of time-travelling stories about Soho, and one day I may go back to them. If so, it might be difficult not to write Jeremy Reed into them. Poet locum and unruly novelist, with fifty-odd books behind him, both his work and his person is soused in the atmosphere, possibilities and ramifications of this particularly disobedient district of London. For my lifetime and his, it’s been the haunt of artists, drunks, liars, king-queens, agreeable rascality and disagreeable visionaries. Even in its current state of snarling retreat, slowly losing a civil war against the clammy, sterilizing encroachment of central London gentrification, chain shops and absentee renting, it’s still the part of town where you’re most likely to see an inexplicable marching band or dishevelled unicorn.

A Firewords Display presents:
Jeremy Reed & The Ginger Light
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Saturday 5th November 2016, 7.30pm
information

Dating back to 2012, The Ginger Light is a collaboration between Jeremy and Itchy Ear, a.k.a. Covent Garden loftbird Gerald McGee: an electronic music producer, film buff and keen, self-starting soundtracker who adds spectrally-energised EDM and electronica backings to footage from the likes of brutal nightmare-noir ‘Kiss Me Deadly’, Jean Genet’s steamy men’s-prison reverie ‘Un Chant d’Amour’ and the differently-dreamy 1903 film of ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Working live from a laptop, Gerald complements Jeremy’s word salvos with sound layers too detailed and active to be described as simple backdrops.

Like the poems they lift and wreathe, Gerald’s soundscapes are multilayered time-travel textures: archaeological digs pulling up mongrel music memories from London’s strata of music and broadcast history. Ladbroke grove dub-echoes, Carnaby pop and basement jazz; psychedelic acid-rock distortions from the UFO or Portobello Road. Ominous Throbbing Gristle reverberation and corrosive washes from the old Hackney squats. Floating ghostly sound effects, like snippets of radio drama caught on a forty-year rebound.

As for Jeremy, he plays his own role to the hilt. Blurring confessor and transgressor, impressionist chronicler and flagrant charlatan, he’s a figure of arch and wasted glamour, as if Quentin Crisp had woken up one morning transformed into Jim Morrison. A Soho fixture since the mid-’80s, he’s a onetime protege of Francis Bacon; hailed as the real poetic deal by past literary titans (Seamus Heaney, J.G. Ballard and Edmund White – two of whom compared him to Rimbaud and one to Bowie’s Thomas Newton, the Man Who Fell to Earth) and by living pop-poetry shapers (Bjork, Richard Hell, Pete Docherty).

He delivers his own poems in a voice like London sleet – a heavy-lidded, lead-cadenced drone; lisping and compellingly monotonous, burnished by rich and antiquated RADA tones and by a seething incantatory Peter Hammill flair. In the psychic autopsy of talent’s fragility in ‘Soho Johnny’; you can detect echoes of the Beats and of the exploding perspective of the ‘60s; in his calling-up and collaging of spirits including Derek Jarman and Jack the Ripper, those of cut-up broadsheets and psychogeography; in his accounts of shoplifters and dissidents adrift in the changing junk-raddled backwash of city trade, commerce and exploitation, there are looming narcotic Blakean myths.

A career-long celebrator of the transgressive, ignored and cast-aside, Jeremy’s becoming not only a poet locum for Soho, but something of a genius loci: declaiming the neighbourhood’s crumpled, contemplative, spontaneous amorality like the last pub-bard standing. In consequence, he himself seems to be succumbing to being fixed in time, representing qualities being swept away as Crossrail opportunities and predatory investment force them out. Like the Wood Green soiree happening the previous night, he’s edging towards becoming one of those fragile something to enjoy while you still can. Here he is, rouged and alert, alongside Gerald and delivering a Ginger Light performance earlier this year: keeping the vision breathing.


 

October 2016 – upcoming gigs – this weekend’s Wakizashi music festival in Bristol – two days of underground allsorts (22nd, 23rd)

19 Oct

Wakizashi Festival, Bristol, 22nd & 23rd October 2016There may still be tickets left for the “glut of experimental and cross-genre artists” descending on Bristol this weekend for the two-day, twenty-band Wakizashi music festival.

The shared brainchild of two Bristolian gig engines – PROBO Titans (who incubate and deliver bi-monthly rock, pop and experimental gigs) and Harry “Iceman” Furniss (restless jazz cornetter and leading fringeman within the Avon jazz underground), Wakizashi offers an exciting, intimate and intelligent spill of psychedelia, noise, post-punk, math rock, jazz strains, electronica and much more.

PROBO Titans & Harry Iceman Furniss present:
Wakizashi Festival:
– Get The Blessing + Hysterical Injury + Twin + Iyabe + Iceman Furniss Quartet + Human Bones + Charivari + Luui + Saltings (Saturday)
– Knifeworld + Edward Penfold + Evil Usses + Milon + Halftone + Drone Soul + Rafael Dornelles Trio + Uther Modes + Perverts (Sunday)
The Old Malt House, Little Ann Street, Bristol, BS2 9EB, England
Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd October 2016 – starts 1.00pm, Saturday
– information here and here

Harry Furniss makes the most of his own involvement by appearing with his Iceman Furniss Quartet. His flowing cornet leads punk-art jazz moves over dogged springy bass rhythms and shuddering No Wave electric-curtain guitar (care of Danny Le Guilcher from Dynamite Pussy Club, whose other career as a printmaker seems to have literally rubbed off on his playing).


 
Further jazz directions are provided by Saturday’s headliners Get The Blessing (founded sixteen years ago over a mutual appreciation of Ornette Coleman,) provide rumbling, doomy trip-hop-tinged jazz-rock. They boast a rhythm section of art-rock/trip-hop/drum & bass go-to-men Clive Deamer and Jim Barr (who between them have kept the pulse going for Portishead, Radiohead, Hawkwind, Peter Gabriel and Roni Size) plus saxophonist Jake McMurchie (of Michelson Morley) and trumpeter Pete Judge (Eyebrow and Three Cane Whale), with another Portisheader, Adrian Utley, sometimes guesting on guitar. Their music brings along some of the flash and flair of jazz pioneers, but also the sense of being trapped in a small room with a lumbering, powerful inscrutable beast – with an equal chance of being either impressed or squashed.


 
Post-punk bass/drums/voice duo Hysterical Injury have a toe in the improv scene and a touch of folk. Their recent press tagging as some kind of “better version of Savages” belies the hovering thoughtfulness and the gentle dignity in their music beyond the softly roiling industrial bass textures. Singing bassist Annie Gardiner has a way with the writing and delivery of a surreal, conceptually suggestive lyric which baffles and entrances.


 
There’s something similarly compelling about the voice of Sophie Dawes, who sings for Iyabe further down the bill. As it was with missing-in-action Delicate AWOL singer Caroline Ross, Annie and Sophie’s voices and words are clear, weightless and elusive – keeping you listening while you try to figure out the messages and hidden narratives floating past in slow streams of isolated moment and fleeting detail.

Regarding Iyabe – considering that they’re a five-piece, they sound remarkably skeletal. Soft pings, drum clicks, bass shadows. At their most expansive, they’re a pencil-sketch ghost of Seefeel’s dub-rock dreaminess: other tracks are a hypnotic rain-drip of slowly growing consciousness. Recent moves towards alliances with remixers, further fleshing out the band’s sound, may point the way forward: but, as with Hysterical Injury, there’s already plenty in place.


 
Two more of Saturday’s bands provide further dispatches from rock’s dissolving, dreamier side. The mystery brainchild of Christelle Atenstaedt, Twin’s drawn-out one-woman Gothpop offers a wealth of detail in its hypnotic overlaid folk drones and its reverberant, tangled-roots guitar chug, which seems to reference both Cranes and Sandy Denny. With electric cello adding occasional extra texture to a droning, crashing armoury of blood-stained guitar fuzz, Bath-based post-rockers Charivari have a sombre lysergic depth; plus a repertoire of zurna-like Mediterranean melodies to add to their gloaming-murmurs, their evenstar twinkles and their post-Mogwai cascades of noise.



 
Begun as a solo project by Andrew Cooke (inspired by ancient ghost stories and the concept of the English eerie), Saltings has evolved into a three-piece drone collective. Andrew (plus string players Liz Muir and Caitlin Callahan) gradually unveil an occult soundtrack full of marine and maritime references, maybe as much inspired by Andrew’s origins in the port of Dublin as by the current trio’s Bristol harbouring. Sampler-moulded sounds (noise-grates, hull-knocks, whistles, water-throbs and motors) are enfolded with double bass and cello parts – whispered, minimal elegies for the undetermined; or baleful shadings; or queasy, discombobulated, John Adams-styled loops both shaken and slurred.



 
The sole hip hop representative on the bill, Luui, rolls out complex, constantly unfolding raps over seductively silky, time-flexed instrumental samples: slurred, narcotic Rhodes piano doodles, bits of glowing solo jazz guitar smeared into something blunted and sinister. Arced out in short, enveloping doses – most of his tracks are over and done in a couple of minutes – it’s both intimate and claustrophobic: a growing autumnal darkness, a slowly moiling confusion.


 
As Luui harmonises with himself (in subtle dischords), his flow folds over and over onto itself like piling lava, journeying from memories of childhood cheeriness into an increasing broody adult disaffection, shot with regrets, spiked with quick vicious jabs of obscenities and flashes of temper. As with the best, most unsettling confessional rap, you get a crooked window onto Luui’s unresolved world, see him wrestle with his conscience and his instincts and, though you see a little too much of him for comfort, for a while you’re matching breath with him too.


 
Initially known for upbeat Lou Reed drawls larded with guitar fuzz, Human Bones now seem to be moving towards a languorous cardboard-box take on Americana. Multi-instrumental looper Steve Strong, meanwhile, has set himself up as a one-man trip hop/math rock band, in which much of the emphasis seeming to be on the drum rhythm. See below for his Godspeedian live take on a grim, violent found story of road anarchy, in which his hopeful, orderly and dreamy guitar introduction gives way (under the growing brutality of the tale on tape) to the controlled heat of a drum beat through which he seems to be trying to slough off the increasing horror.




 

* * * * * * * *

It’s an odd festival indeed in which Knifeworld (Sunday’s headliners) are virtually the straightest act on the bill. That this is the case says plenty about Wakizashi, but it also says something about where Knifeworld are at the moment. Currently cruising on self-created, sunny psychedelic uplands, the London octet are enjoying a period of relative bliss and (for now) a more familial creative approach, as Kavus Torabi starts to share more of the writing with the crew of expert instrumental heads who make up his band. But if Knifeworld are the closest that the festival comes to pop, it’s still a zestfully spiked pop – brazen and crenellated, filled with monkey panache, their tunes still running exuberantly out of the ears with loopy spirals of melody and unexpected double-backs. If Henry Cow had woken up one morning and decided to steal a march on The Flaming Lips, they couldn’t have done much better than this.


 
More lysergic hints string through the day via the sleepy, lo-fi acidic pop of Edward Penfold, whose songs and instrumentals halo the everyday with a softly vibrating warmth. Sometimes they hint at a might-have-been Syd Barrett; one who ducked the madness and fled away to a healing West Coast hideaway, sending missives back to Cambridge in a rested, sprawling hand; faint blue ink on pale blue paper. On the other side of the coin are The Evil Usses – a deconstructive, fiercely humorous No Wave jazz-rock quartet, who share some of Knifeworld’s brassy exuberance but take it over the escarpment and down into a stomping, seven-league-booted Beefheart country.


As with Saturday, two fringe full-jazz groups will be taking the stage. Led by saxophonist Dino Christodoulou, Milon are a mostly acoustic quartet, edging into something more speaker-warping via Neil Smith’s electric guitar and Pasquale Votino’s judiciously over-amplified double bass: Eager Legs sounds like Charles Mingus being pursued down a stuck groove by a bounding ball of Sharrock/McLaughlin electric guitar grit, with Dino keeping one hand on the wheel by some riffling, ruffling Coltrane-ish sax lines. While the Rafael Dornelles Trio might have Brazilian roots, don’t expect samba or even Tropicália: electric guitar, bass and drums are aiming for somewhere far more heatedly lyrical and direct. Tunes like Slave’s Escape and Indigenous Mass grab you straight from the title and power off in muscular, quick-sprung directions, with a fierce and formidable vigour (plus a buccaneering hint of the knife).



 
Saltings’ double bass player Caitlin Callahan returns as one-quarter of part-improvising, part-compositional, female quartet Halftone, alongside two similarly-inclined Bristolians (violinist Yvonna Magda, flautist Tina Hitchens) and a London ally (cellist Hannah Marshall). Formed earlier this year, the foursome play an unsettling, absently beautiful post-classical music evoking wind in the trees, unresolved conversations and difficulties around corners.


 
Drone Soul boast about their “sheer bleak nihilism” and stake a claim to the abrasive post-punk heritage of The Pop Group. At least part of that’s true – the post-punk bit, anyway – but I’d bat away the nihilistic posturings. This music might be on the dark and cavernous side, but it’s illuminated with a vivid energy which belies the band’s collective grizzliness. If they’re bringing you news of falling buildings or collapsing people, they’re doing it with an exuberant dark snarl. Think of Iggy Pop in-yer-face, think Suicide’s assault-by-sine-wave; and also give a little credit to a lost Bristol band, Lupine Howl, whose gonzo millenial motorik finds a fresh echo here.


 
Rhodri Karim – the Welsh-Arabian heart of Uther Modes – used to be a mournful pop scientist, making his name with sepulchural computer-pop songs which bobbed gently at the juncture of philosophy, physics and bedsit soul. More recently he’s swapped this for a new kind of songcraft, strapping up a bass guitar and pulling in other musicians. Now he reels out shifting part-sombre part-jazzy mutters, winding slate-grey but sensual vocals around echoing guitar curlicues; like a fresh breed of post-rock which refuses to stagnate and instead flexes its muscles and goes haring around the park.


 
While he can sometimes be found paddling around in the warm, shallow pools of downtempo electronica, Traces will shake the drips off his feet once he’s warmed up enough. His studio recordings are fine, but it’s his live improvisations that show him at full strength. They’re heart-warmingly intimate and cheery stretches of pick-you-up synthery – like an enthusiastic half-drunken 2am conversation between Max Tundra and Guy Sigsworth, following which they track down Jean-Michel Jarre, drag him away from his pyramids and lasers and force him back into a kitchen full of analogue keyboards. From tabletop synth noodles to Pong blip and cheekily squirting techno, a cunning wonkiness prevails without diminishing the music’s straightforward ambition. Traces sometimes labels it “devotional”, and I’m not entirely sure that he’s joking.


 
Finally, there’s the fall-apart electronic gagpunk of Perverts, with their squalling songs about angry muppets and guilty onanists; their one-finger clickstab of synth drums; their beady-eyed sampler-shreddings of lachrymose film music. I guess that they’re there to remind musicians and punters alike not to take it all too seriously. It’s just that they’re staring me out a little too intently. On record, at least, Perverts deliver their spoofs and squibs with a crazed and chilly eye: a brattier Residents with a crappier laptop; a young digital Punch waiting to knock everything down.


 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – Merz’s English tour with Julian Sartorius (12th-19th) plus The Sound Book Project, Hayley Ross, Megan Carlile and Christopher Anderson

9 Jun

In 1999 Merz popped up, apparently out of nowhere, with the Many Weathers Apart single. It was delightfully bizarre – there were deck scratches, a warbling rubber-guitar lick, a screaming soul sample. Merz himself was a crowy, androgynous pop squawk riding on a reverbed conga boom as big as the circling horizon. A hippy priest with a boombox, plugged into the metaphysical mainline, he sang in fluttering scraps about separation, connection and rainstorms and somehow tied them all together. The equally out-there follow-up, Lovely Daughter, was a sideswipe at subjugation and exploitation – ostensibly about young brides, but perhaps also about outflanked cultures. It sounded like Anthony Newley trapped in a tropical aviary, sprinkled with reggae-dust while tussling with Prince and Beck. Refreshingly, both songs were modest hits.

A bold debut album followed, on a Sony subsidiary. Merz surrounded the darting, hummingbird heart of his songcraft with paper-chain folk guitar, string orchestras and rain-dewed colliery brass bands, as well as what sounded like tips of the hat to Public Enemy, Sinatra and Van Morrison. He also added psychedelic flourishes, looted with elan, from a range of sources (be they worldbeat, Eurodance, the buccaneering edges of late-‘90s club culture, or acid-fuzzed corners of the Incredible String Band’s cottage). Unfortunately, 1999 wasn’t the best year for innovative eclectic-pop. However unfairly, Merz seemed to be at the tail end of a wave of experimentalists riding in Björk’s cooling wake. In the face of a much bigger wave of Latin disco and lighter entertainment, the hoped-for bigger hits didn’t happen for him. The album sold indifferently, the record deal foundered, and Merz walked. In music business terms that should have been the end of a familiar and often-repeated story. A&R takes a punt on something unusual; it rapidly runs out of steam; and the pet eccentric promptly drops back into obscurity, a footnote for geeks.

Merz (photo by Tabea Hubeli)

For Merz, in fact, all of this was simply one chapter of work; and it hadn’t even been the first chapter. Under his real name, Conrad Lambert, he’d been recording and releasing songs for over a decade before Many Weathers Apart broke cover. Even though that stage monicker turns out to have been a chance appropriation (rather than a nod to Kurt Schwitters), Merz had, from an early age, followed the connective prompts of a Bahá’í upbringing and a personal artistic bent (which had had him picking up the bagpipes as a first instrument at the age of six). His own restless nature spurred him on to early travelling, and would later drive the adult Conrad to make homes from town to town and from country to country. Ultimately, parting company with Sony and with an audience of turn-of-the-millennium hipsters just seems to have been another thing to shrug off. Merz had different things to do. Even if he didn’t quite know what they were yet. Then, as now, open possibilities beckoned… and security was a straitjacket.

As for the obscurity, that’s a matter of perspective. Merz seems to been quietly and steadily embraced by continental Europe (perhaps one of the reasons why he now makes his home in the Swiss Alps). His albums – including last year’s ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’ – are persistently and publically hailed across magazines and online review sites as the welcome surfacings of an inventive, tuneful and touching mind. If, in spite of this, he still remains cult it’s partly because it seems to suit him. Musically, he’s mellowed without slackening. As with Geddy Lee, what was once a strident corvine vocal has matured into a warmer, more human sound without losing its fundamental chirp. Across time he’s delivered songs which might only rarely touch the earth but which flutter and roost in stray corners of the mind for years; from the Northern-brass love-call of Lotus to the offset rhythms and flamenco fairing of Goodbye My Chimera, the melding of baroque harpsichord waltz and bubbling phuture-pop on Dangerous Heady Love Scheme, and the melding of Buckleylalia with blootering, breakneck industrial techno in the recent Ten Gorgeous Blocks.


At the core, today’s Merz is a roaming twenty-first century folk troubadour – centred around voice, a keyboard or laptop and a single fingerpicked guitar, making the most of both local ingredients and things intercepted en route. He’s based around instinctive heart rather than roots, and around spontaneous initiative rather than the solidity of tradition; spurred on by intuitive choices of collaborators, such as British electro-concrète producer Matthew Herbert. His current musical foil, wingman and licensed disruptor is Swiss drummer and sound artist Julian Sartorius, whom Merz met while recording his ‘No Compass Will Find Home’ album, and whom he subsequently allowed to strip out and repurpose his songs to form a further album’s-worth of startling drum-and-vocal renditions

As for his tours, they manage to be both quietly exhilarating and easy to miss. Ducking around and under the radar, they mount a clear challenge to the business of tired pop promotion. He seeks to make concerts – like live art works – unique and permanently memorable to the attendees, taking care over matters like time, place and involvement. In addition to fairly familiar arty venue types (picture galleries, music churches and house concerts), last year’s ‘In Intimate’ tour took in a village chapel, a working-men’s club and an Air Force Legion hall: even a cow barn, a Scottish castle, a yurt, a forest clearing, a railway arch, and a snooker club. This season’s tour isn’t quite as unusual, although it returns to a couple of In Intimate venues (in Middlesbrough and Oswestry). Elsewhere, Merz seems to have gone where he was invited… and made sure that it was either somewhere interesting or somewhere that strives (sprouting rock clubs in transient locations, or the sites of hopeful songwriter nights).

For many of the shows Merz will be playing as a duo alongside Julian Sartorius, who’ll also be playing a solo drumkit set to open the concert. On some evenings, support acts will be drawn from more straightforward singer-songwriter turf – in Hinckley, sixteen-year-old local open-mic promoter Megan Carlile; in Newcastle, local acoustic bard-of-observations Christopher Anderson; in Brighton, Hayley Ross (who leans towards a classic ‘70s style and expression but with a darker, cruel-hinting edge and occasional bursts of garage rock).


 
To counterbalance, at Oswestry support comes from the altogether stranger Sound Book Project, a sextet of multimedia artists and musicians (including a pair of Pram members) who use books as noisemakers and instruments – “wound, sprung, strummed, slapped and thrown” as well as being modified or miked-up – in an experimental, slightly fetishistic celebration of the sensuality of bound text as opposed to digital media, and the way in which sounds trigger memories and associations.

Similarly, the opening show at Middlesbrough’s MIMA is somewhat different from the others: it marks the closure of ‘When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades’, MIMA’s exhibition of the work of British abstract/gestural painter and printmaker Basil Beattie. Over two hours spread across the ground floor galleries, Merz will play songs from his repertoire which “allude to Beattie’s paintings both from a visual and spiritual point of view” and promises “a roving and impressionistic solo set.”
 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – picking through BBC Music Day

29 May

BBC Music Day

The annual BBC Music Day comes up this year and this week on Friday 3rd June. It’s a generally beneficial nation-building exercise in typical BBC style, informed by magazine-style news, middle-range tastes and light entertainment. Much of what’s on is comfortably communal – plenty of light music choirs, familiar regional touches of brass and pipes.

In all fairness, there’s plenty here to like. There’s a scheme organising gentle live shows in hospitals throughout Scotland and England. There’s a focussing on church bell ringings around the country which is free of gimmick and simply lets the art speak for itself (emphasising both its national status and its localism). There’s the ‘Take It To The Bridge‘ programme, during which the nation’s bridges will be briefly overrun by symbolic musical meetings, community choirs, time-travelling orchestras and local songwriters.

Twelfth Doctor with guitar

Sadly not joining in with any time-travelling orchestras…(© BBC 2015)

There’s also a strong sense of that other nation – the one which the BBC still encourages in the face of rumbling political dissatisfaction, manipulation and discomfort. It might be a non-partisan wash of generic English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish decency which doesn’t offer much to scare the horses, doesn’t break a sweat breaking new ground, and doesn’t ultimately provide much event-by-event challenge; but it should still be applauded for at least trying to encourage common ground and (at a time when art is being squeezed out of schools) a culture of engagement with music. For the full programme – and for British readers who want to find out exactly what’s going on in their region – check the links above.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been sifting through the programme with my jaundiced, picky eye and selecting out what I feel are some of the more unusual or rewarding events dotted around the comfy musical quilt (more or less in order of occurrence), starting in the middle of another festival in Hay-on-Wye…

BBC Radio 3 Live/Hay Festival presents:
Hay Festival Guitar Jam with Morgan Szymanski
Friends Café @ Hay Festival Site, Dairy Meadows, Brecon Road, Hay-on-Wye, HR3 5PJ, Wales
Friday 3rd June 2016, 9.30am

BBC Music Day - Get Playing!“Prior to his Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert (a collaboration with the Cremona String Quartet at 1.00pm, and already sold out) classical guitar ace Morgan Szymanski will be inviting amateur guitarists to join him for a morning guitar jam. Help create and perform a brand new piece for a hundred guitarists to be featured in the concert. Morgan will lead you through the process, whatever your level, from beginner to advanced. The event includes a special master class from Nitin Sawhney on playing the guitar.”

Unlike the walk-up nature of most of the other events listed here, a Hay Festival ticket is required for this one.

In Cambridge…

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire presents:
English Pocket Opera vs. Imperial & K.I.N.E.T.I.K
Silver Street Bridge, Silver Street, Cambridge, CB24 5LF, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 11.30am

English Pocket Opera will be performing on a punt through the waterways of Cambridge. As they approach Silver Street bridge the opera will be joined by a local ‘BBC Introducing’ hip-hop duo Imperial & K.I.N.E.T.I.K, on top of the bridge. Hip-hop and opera will merge to create a brand new sound.”

Christ, this one could be a car-crash in multiple senses. I mean, it’s hard enough to handle a Cambridge punt at the best of time – it’s an unhappy marriage of Newton and Zen – let alone try to synchronise it with anything else. Still, given the sunny, positive and playful nature of both sets of musicians involved (don’t expect a collision of ‘Wozzeck’ and Kanye), let’s give them the benefit of the doubt… and just to put it into perspective, I‘m an appalling puntsman and these guys know their music.



 

In Nottingham…

Afro Therapy, 3rd June 2016Can’t Stop Won’t Stop presents:
Afro Therapy: featuring Jourdan Pierre Blair + Ella Knight + Early Bird + Garton + D Dot + others tbc
Rough Trade Nottingham, 5 Broad Street, Nottingham, NG1 3AJ
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.00pm

“Live music and DJs will be putting music of black origin in the spotlight. Unsigned and independent artists Ella Knight, beat maker Early Bird, and MCs Garton, D-Dot and Jourdan Pierre Blair (the last better known as Jah Digga) will represent a range of R’n’B and hip hop styles with a British stamp on global music. This free event is open to people over the age of 14.”

I’ve got to say that – for all of the community ethos being trumpeted elsewhere – this show is probably the most proactively street-level event on a day which needs to be about everyone in the country, not just people who like choirs and crumpets. (I’m not trying to bitch here; I just… noticed.) Here’s a run of video and soundclips for most of those involved.





 

Sheffield also deserves credit for working outside the comfy box…

A Law Unto Ourselves, 3rd June 2016

Yellow Arch Studios present:
A Law Unto Ourselves: The Eccentronic Research Council (featuring Maxine Peake) + The Death Rays of Ardilla + Sieben + The Third Half
Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.30pm
– free event – more information

This is probably the most experimental event of the lot: an opportunistic but rewarding live spotlight on Sheffield’s unique independent music scene. There should have been more events like this dotted up and down the country – not necessarily with an experimental pop thrill, but emphasizing local current indigenous music which could only have happened in particular towns and at this particular time. All respect is due to Sheffield musicians, to the Yellow Arch venue and to curator Sophie Toes for taking the trouble to spot this challenge and rise to it.

Probably the biggest draw for A Law Unto Ourselves are the headliners – The Eccentronic Research Council, barbed and crafty exponents of their own scenic and sample-heavy “library/soundtrack, experimental, folkloric/non-populist pop”. They’ll be accompanied by their own established muse and mouthpiece – Maxine Peake (actress, declaimer, proud overturner of complacent applecarts) – and are the most questioning act across Music Day, bringing a touch of dissent, argument and the British radical tradition into its general cosiness. In support are spaced-out and (literally) brotherly garage-rock duo The Death Rays of Ardilla, Sieben (a.k.a. beater, plucker, tickler and layerer of voice and violin Matt Howden) and The Third Half (a duo who combine and alternate harp, celeste, guitar and voice in “twenty-first century neo-pastoral rare groove”).

ERC


There will also be DJ sets from representatives of some of Sheffield’s other interesting underground or experimental bands – spooky lysergic-child-song folksters Antique Doll, progtronicians I Monster, psychedelic country-and-western band The Cuckoo Clocks – plus one from Sophie Toes herself. There’s limited capacity for this show, so early arrival is recommended to avoid disappointment.

* * * * * * * *

In Bristol…

Charles Hazlewood and the British Paraorchestra
Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 8.00pm

“After the success of last year, the ground-breaking British Paraorchestra, the world’s first professional ensemble of disabled musicians, return to Colston Hall to perform for BBC Music Day. The group is headed up by Charles Hazlewood, a genuine pioneer and innovator in the world of classical music. In a unique show, the Paraorchestra will be joined on-stage by performers from Extraordinary Bodies, the professional integrated circus company and partnership between Cirque Bijou and Diverse City. The combined effect of The British Paraorchestra and Extraordinary Bodies playing ‘In C’ by composer Terry Riley, promises to be cathartic and uplifting. The aural equivalent to climbing inside a giant lava lamp.”

On spec, this may sound like a case of worthiness over content – but while it’s true that (despite the Riley) the Paraorchestra plays its fair share of light-ent pop transcriptions to sugar the pill, albeit in its own way – it’s also worth noting that the ensemble isn’t just about the state of bodies. The Paraorchestra also explodes a lot of ideas about how an orchestra might work, in terms of instrumentation and approach: likewise, Extraordinary Bodies has plenty of challenges and delight to offer. See below:

 

…and finally…

Shaun the Sheep

Aardman Animation/Colston Hall/Bristol Museums present:
Shaun the Sheep’s Vegetable Orchestra
Studio 2, The M Shed, Princes Wharf, Wapping Rd, Bristol BS1 4RN, England / Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR, England
Friday 3rd June 2016
Workshops and rehearsals at Studio 2: 10.15am, 11.15am & 12.15pm (tel: 0117 352 6600 for details)
Veg Orchestra Finale! featuring Shaun the Sheep and his Vegetable Orchestra at Colston Hall: 1.40pm

“In celebration of BBC Music Day and Aardman’s 40th anniversary, children are invited to join Shaun the Sheep and become part of his Vegetable Orchestra for a live performance at Colston Hall. (There will also be an Aardman birthday singalong and cake presentation.) There will also be pre-performance workshops at M Shed to decorate your veg instruments and learn how to play your part, all set to the ‘Shaun The Sheep’ theme tune. Workshops presented by Farmer characters & Shaun himself, it’s ‘flock ‘n’ roll’ for all ages and all set on Mossy Bottom Farm!”

Sorry. For a variety of reasons (parenthood, humour, a taste for experimentalism and a love of everything Aardman-esque) I just couldn’t bloody resist that last one… and it turns out that the foremost practitioners of the vegetable orchestral art are as cheerfully experimental and conceptual as anything else I tend to feature in here…


 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – Kiran Leonard tours Britain again (March into April) and reveals new single; London gigs from Whispers & Hurricanes (with Madam, Kat May and RobinPlaysChords) and a guitar double from Dean McPhee and Seabuckthorn

23 Mar

Details on two London shows from a packed upcoming weekend: but first, an extended British tour from a major talent…

* * * * * * * *

Tomorrow, explosively gifted singer-songwriter Kiran Leonard charges off on another British tour with his all-star quartet of Manchester art rock luminaries (completed by Dan Bridgwood Hill, Dave Rowe, and Andrew Cheetham – see the note on his previous tour for their credentials). Support on most of the tour comes from dark-glam Manchester pop act Irma Vep, although some dates feature folk musicians Richard Dawson and Salvation Bill (in Newcastle and Oxford respectively) and Bristolian “jazz/rock/post-op pop” quartet The Evil Usses (who fill the bill in Bath), with other acts to be confirmed (though they might have been added to the individual gig pages by now…)





Meanwhile, here’s Kiran’s brand-new nine-and-a-half-minute single – a terrific and spontaneous-sounding interweaving of otherworldly folk baroque, chamber prog, post-hardcore racket and kitchen-warrior percussion. The parent album, ‘Grapefruit’, is out on Moshi Moshi on Friday.


 

* * * * * * * *
In London, at the weekend, there’s a third-outing triple bill for Whispers & Hurricanes (the quieter wing of Chaos Theory Promotions, for when they fancy putting on an act that doesn’t sound like a giant metallic jazz centipede in manga boots)…

Whispers & Hurricanes, 26th March 2016

Chaos Theory presents:
Whispers & Hurricanes: Madam + Kat May + RobinPlaysChords
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Saturday 26th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

“A five-piece London based band, fronted by charismatic singer-songwriter and composer Sukie Smith, Madam create nocturnal, intricate-yet-cinematic soundscapes showcasing songs that are at once confessional and a call to arms, and have been compared to both Mazzy Star and Cat Power. The band has amassed a loyal legion of fans at home and abroad, showcasing their smoky sound at intimate gigs and packed venues across Europe. Tonight they will launch their haunting single When I Met You, taken from their upcoming album ‘Back To The Sea’.” (Meanwhile, here’s an earlier track from their previous album, ‘Gone Before Morning’; plus their darned slinky cover of Oscar Brown’s tale of treachery, ‘The Snake’ – a welcome antidote to the song’s recent co-opting by Donald Trump.)



 

Whispers & Hurricanes, 26th March 2016“After many years we are reunited with the extraordinary singer-songwriter Kat May, who is inspired by the melancholy of Scandinavia, the urban textures of her base in London and the literary song-writing of her native France. Her atmospheric indie folk-pop has been hailed by France’s biggest music magazine, ‘Les InRocks’, as “cathartic and elegant”, and by ‘Lomography’ as “visually dreamy, melancholic and emotionally arresting all at the same time.” We caught the launch of her debut album ‘Beyond The North Wind’ at St Pancras Old Church back in 2014, and it’s still a regular feature on our playlists. Tonight she will perform her music on piano and voice, with violin and cello accompaniments.


 

Robin Jax’s exploits as RobinPlaysChords have been built on a slow but steady sonic development. Hailing from his remote country abode near Leamington Spa, the solitary songwriter uses his guitar and loopstation to create percussion, shimmering ambience and distorted hooks for him to place his honest lyrics over. Garnering comparisons to David Bowie and Patrick Wolf, RobinPlaysChords has previously won over audiences when opening for The Irrepressibles, Larsen, Thomas Truax and others, as well as undertaking his first shows in continental Europe in 2015.”


 

* * * * * * * *

Finally for now, a doubled gig of textured, looped and echoed guitar, but with a pastoral edge…

Dean McPhee + Seabuckthorn
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Saturday 26th March 2016, 8.30pm
more information

“West Yorkshire based solo electric guitarist Dean McPhee plays a Fender Telecaster through a valve amp and effects pedals, combining clean, chiming melodic lines with deep layers of decaying delay and cavernous echo. Over years of improvisation and experimentation he has developed a unique style of playing which draws together influences from British folk, dub, kosmische, post-rock, Mali blues and modal jazz. His releases on the Blast First Petite, Hood Faire and World in Winter labels have been critically acclaimed by ‘The Wire’, ‘Uncut’, ‘Record Collector’, ‘Music OMH’, ‘Dusted’, ‘Brainwashed’, ‘The Out Door’, ‘Drowned in Sound’ and ‘The Quietus’ amongst others. He has supported artists/bands including Thurston Moore (as UK tour support), Acid Mothers Temple, Wolf People, James Blackshaw, Emeralds, Josh T Pearson, The Magic Band, Sharon Van Etten, Michael Hurley, Josephine Foster, Meg Baird, Bohren and der Club of Gore and Charalambides. Dean is currently working on a new album which uses a kick drum pedal to introduce a pulsing, percussive undercurrent to his most recent compositions,


 

Seabuckthorn is the solo project of UK acoustic guitarist Andy Cartwright. Releasing 6 albums since 2008 he explores alternative terrains on six to twelve strings, often with minimal layered accompaniments to form musical landscapes. Cartwright uses the techniques of finger picking & bowing combined with various open tunings to create a well curated mixture of approaches. Falling into the cinematic and soundtrack genres, his music is evident of influences ranging from the traditional styles of Robbie Basho and Jack Rose, to more modern players like Ben Chasny, Zak Riles, and Gustavo Santaolalla with whom Cartwright shares an emphasis on atmospheric and multi-instrumental compositions. Sometimes quietly ambient, often powerfully expressive. As well as live performances around the UK, Cartwright has performed in numerous shows & festivals all over France & the southern deserts of Tunisia.


 

Dean McPhee and Seabuckthorn are recording a split 7″ single to be released later this year.”

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News on more London weekend shows are coming up next time…
 

November 2015 – upcoming London gigs – Baba Yaga’s Hut brings Josefin Öhrn & The Liberation, The Wharves and Mr Silla to the Shacklewell Arms; The Magic Band play Captain Beefheart at Under The Bridge; Annette Peacock plays Café Oto; Raf & O, Arhai and Lucy Claire at Whispers & Hurricanes; Guitar Journey Duet at Songs From The Cellar in Highgate; Lo Recordings bring Grasscut, Astronauts and Lilith Ai to Daylight Music

16 Nov

I’ve not got quite as many gigs to cover this time, but bear in mind that The End Festival is still happily raging in Crouch End this week (if it were a standalone concert, The End’s Feast of St Cecilia weird-folk afternoon would be taking pride of place here), as is the London Jazz Festival. As I’m also a little more squeezed for time than usual this week, there’ll be less personal reflection and much more press-release in the coverage of the gigs in this post. Sorry about that. I’ll opinionate a little more next time.

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First up, a Baba Yaga mid-week gig: the debut British show for Josefin Öhrn, who’s rapidly becoming a darling of the urban psychedelic crowd. With her band The Liberation, she creates a beautifully spacious, light touch sound: some Krautrock motorik, enough rock’n’roll minimalism to slip smoothly into the sweet spot between hypnotic and monotonous, a strident skullbone rattle-and-drone where it’s needed, and a repertoire of subtle sonic finessing (shimmer, backwards reverb, rises, rainbow tone curves, all of the ingredients precisely and skilfully placed). To cap it, there’s Josefin’s voice – as perfectly-judged as the rest of the instrumentation and as cool as a drink of iced milk on a parched day, floating in the ever-present thought-space between the band’s chassis and roof.

event-20151118-josefineohrn

Josefin Öhrn & The Liberation (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, UK, 8.00pm) – £7.00 – informationtickets

In an era in which “psychedelia” can often mean merely a grab-bag of influences from which wah-wah pedals and two-note riffs are dispensed as signifiers and signposts into a realm of easy accessibility as opposed to gateways to another dimension, it can be a rarity to come across a band who are genuinely fixated on creating alternate realities for the listener. Yet this is exactly how Stockholm’s Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation view their incandescent art, and it’s this sensibility that’s led to the kaleidoscopic splendour of their debut full-length for Rocket Recordings, ‘Horse Dance’. “It’s a continuum that flows beyond here and now, and psychedelic music seems to be a really powerful way to unveil those deeper oceans of being that are our true home,” reflects Josefin, who forms half the core of the band with Fredrik Joelson. The last twelve months have seem a dramatic rise to prominence for The Liberation (who take their band name from the Tibetan Book Of The Dead) with their EP ‘Diamond Waves’ leading to shows in their homeland with Goat and Les Big Byrd, a nomination for a Swedish Grammy as best newcomer, and rapturously received appearances at festivals like Roskilde.

These adventures have set the stage for a spectacular movement into the unknown from their earlier work. ‘Horse Dance’ is a razor-sharp collection of ditties that marry dreamlike radiance with hypnotic rhythmic drive, set alight by a prismatic experimental glow. It inhabits a realm in which a propulsive ’60s-tinged pop song like ‘Sunny Afternoon’ can be elevated skyward with krautrock-tinged repetition, dub echo and analogue curlicues alike, and one in which a Broadcast-style mantra like You Have Arrived can tap into a psychic lineage that stretches all the way from The United States Of America to Portishead’s ‘Third’. Yet whilst ghosts of the like of Laika, Cat’s Eyes and The Creatures may lurk in the darker recesses of these songs, this is a band paying no homage to bygone glories.

The Liberation cite a myriad influences in both their philosophical stance and their aesthetic, from 12th century iconoclasts like Milarepa to 20th century sonic voyagers like Catherine Ribeiro, and from Kandinsky’s abstract expressions of synaesthesia to the avant-jazz of Moondog. Yet at all times their transcendental extrapolations are married to icy and enticing melodic flourishes, making for a revitalising clash between the chic and the transcendental, and a sound as biting as it is beatific. “I definitely think that the human need for altered states – to see oneself from a bigger perspective – is a deep fundamental need,” Josefin elaborates. “We’ve been deprived of access to our full nature by a restrictive system where altered states may be the ultimate taboo.” With ‘Horse Dance’, Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation step into a world where all such restrictions and taboos are null and void, and this journey is already proving quite the spectacle to behold.

Dunes

Support comes from all-female rock trio The Wharves (whose resonant clear-voiced indie sound, with a stack of folk-pop harmony and a sheen of blurred fluidity, sometimes sounds like a raindrop on the verge of collapsing) and from Mr. Silla (the solo project from former múm member Sigurlaug Gísladóttir, who’s joined live by guitarist Tyler Ludwick of Princess Music). There will also be DJ-ing from Daun of Swedish space-rockers Flowers Must Die.

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To be honest, I’m expecting half of the committed freaks in town to be at this next gig; and to have bought their tickets months ago…

The Magic Band @ Under The Bridge, London, 20th November 2015

The Magic Band (Under the Bridge, Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, Fulham, London, SW6 1HS, UK, Friday 20th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £20.70 – information here and heretickets

After a sold out Under The Bridge gig in 2013, The Magic Band are back! Sharing the vision of celebrating the music of the late Don Van Vliet – aka Captain Beefheart – the band re-visits the classic Beefheart tunes with renewed fervour.Fans of the Captain won’t, wouldn’t and couldn’t miss this! Avant-garde blues at its finest and most rambunctious!

Speaking for myself, the enjoyment of Beefheart’s particular, perverse genius is always marred by the appalling stories of how he maltreated his colleagues. In many respects the man’s life was in tune with mischievous American folk-hero mythology. Those stories of microphone-busting vocals and of teaching his musicians all of their skills from scratch fit happily into the grand tradition of the American liar, the itinerant teller of tall tales and outright whoppers. Still, as the years have gone by, and as the other stories have bled through (about Beefheart’s take-the-money-and-lie attitude, his theft of credit for all of his players’ skills and work, and especially the brutally entitled sadism and psychological warfare meted out to his musical serfs as the band wrung out the tunes) the shine and mystique has well and truly worn off the man. What’s left, as ever, is the music: that tangle of bloodshot rolling blare and skew-whiff insight, the stubborn blues limp and the wrong-angle harmony attacks, the unorthodox barbed hooks that have kept generations of musicians and listeners transfixed.

With the Captain himself dead and gone for five years, reduced to a baleful honk of memory in a speaker, it’s been down to those who played alongside him in the various Magic Bands – and who, in the long run, finally survived him – to regularly blow on the embers and revive the noise. Since the Magic Band’s first reformation in 2006, some of the original members have, for various reasons passed out of the lineup again (first Robert Williams and Gary Lucas; most recently, Denny Walley) but the group still features singer and multi-instrumentalist John “Drumbo” French and bass player Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston. For this gig they’re joined by their current roster of sympatico recruits: guitarist Eric Klerks, drummer Andrew Niven and the newest recruit, Walley’s replacement Max Kutner (a multi-instrumentalist known for his work with Mike Keneally and Oingo Boingo and with Zappa tributeers Grandmothers of Invention, as well as his own projects such as Evil Genius and The Royal US).

By all accounts, in spite of time and circumstance whittling away at the roster of original players, the band retains their magic (judge for yourselves from the clip below). For me what clinches it is that at least some of the right guys are finally being paid, both in cash on the nail and in the credit they’ve damn well earned.

(All right – I did find time and room for some opinionating…)

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On Friday (and on the following Monday), Annette Peacock – a great undersung pioneer of various strains of songwriting, jazz experiments and electronics, as well as being an anticipator of many of the intriguing trends in female-led art music of today – is playing a couple of shows at Café Oto.

Annette Peacock @ Café Oto, 20th & 23rd November 2015

Annette Peacock (Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL,UK, Friday November 20th & Monday November 23rd 2015, 8:00 PM) – £22.00-£30.00informationtickets for Fridaytickets for Monday

“We’re very excited to host the first OTO appearance – and first show in London for quite some time – from visionary composer and songwriter, Annette Peacock. Always ahead of her time, Peacock has influenced a huge array or genres whilst never letting herself be pinned down by one, resulting in a music that is as captivating as it is unique. This should be very special indeed.” – Café Oto press release

“Annette Peacock’s wondrous, immersive trailblaze across recorded music’s rich history has marveled the likes of David Bowie, Brian Eno and one-time collaborator Salvador Dalí. Peacock once jokingly told The Quietus she has been fighting her way back to reality ever since taking LSD at Timothy Leary’s Millbrook estate in the early 1960s. Her plunge into otherworldly sonic wellsprings made her one of the first artists to synthesize her own vocals, pioneering the realms of minimalism, free jazz, rap, classical music and psychedelic funk along the way. After Robert Moog gifted Peacock one of his elusive prototype-synthesizers, she started implementing the makeshift device into her already individualistic, free-form lingo of songwriting and composing. To hear music skip so radically across exotic new touchstones, who needs reality, right?” – ‘Le Guess Who’

“Annette Peacock is a stone cold original – an innovator, an outlier, authentically sui generis.” – John Doran, ‘The Quietus’

“Nothing prepares you for the howl of her searingly high notes spiralling up out of spooky organ chords and soul-brass riffs.” – John Fordham, ‘The Guardian’

“A pioneer of rap, live electronic music and synth-pop, Annette Peacock’s achievements are monumental.” – ‘Scarufi’

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A few months ago, I briefly covered folk/classical/pop fusion night Whispers & Hurricanes (the latest arm of the Chaos Theory Promotions mini-empire) and they’re back this week.

Whispers & Hurricanes @ The Sebright Arms, 20th November 2015

Raf & O + ArHai + Lucy Claire + guests (Whispers & Hurricanes @ The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green London, E2 9AG, UK, Friday November 20th 2015, 7:30pm) – £6.00 – informationtickets

After a wonderful launch in September, our newest night is back with inspired musicians who fuse traditional sounds with groundbreaking techniques in an evening of mesmeric triphop, folktronica, avant pop and contemporary classical electronics. Fans of Portishead, Bowie, Lamb, Bjork and Eric Satie will enjoy.

Raf & O are a duo from south-east London who are garnering widespread acclaim in the UK and Europe, creating a buzz via exciting performances of their uniquely detailed avant-pop and its vortex of live electronics, acoustic instruments and fragile, magnetic, strange lullabies. After supporting artists such as Faust and Little Annie Bandez, they were special guests in Richard Strange’s production for William S. Burroughs’ centenary at Queen Elizabeth Hall, and recently composed for the theatre play ‘That Woman’s Voice’ (a tribute to Jean Cocteau). Raf and O’s second album ‘Time Machine’ was named as one of ‘FACT Magazine’s Top 10 albums of 2014, with their “avant-bizarre” interpretation of David Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul pricking the ear of Bowie’s pianist, Mike Garson (who praised their minimalist approach) and leading to appearances at two Memory Of A Free Festival concerts (re-stagings of the legendary Beckenham Free Festival organised by David Bowie and The Beckenham Arts Lab back in 1969). Tonight we’ll hear them perform music from their first two albums, as well as unheard music from their upcoming third album.

ArHai is an electronic Balkan folk duo, consisting of Serbian-born composer and singer Jovana Backovic and British multi-instrumentalist Adrian Lever. Their music is a fusion of electronic music and folk with medieval influences from both the Gaelic and Balkan traditions. Underlined with breathtaking visuals, Arhai breathes new life into the sounds of the Bulgarian 8-string tambura lute and hammered dulcimer (played by Adrian), blending them with Jovana’s ethereal vocals and electronic production. Their previous album ‘Eastern Roads’ is a must have. Tonight’s show celebrates the launch of their new website and the upcoming release of their single.

We also welcome back the brilliant composer Lucy Claire, who launched her beautiful ‘Collaborations’ EP with us last year. A soundscape artist and a contemporary classical composer with influences from the likes of Satie, Peter Broderick and Björk, Lucy composes music with a very organic heart to it and in a style so unique and diverse that it has resulted in her performing to classical, electronic, acoustic and post-rock audiences, as well as live performances on BBC London’s breakfast show and BBC6 Music. Her sound initially seems soft and ambient, but reveals a defiant spirit and gentle force breaking its way through. This evening we will see her perform new collaborative works with some special guests, some of whom you may know already.

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It’s always nice to hail a new music night, especially one that’s only a short stroll from your own front door. In the Archway cutting, just up the road from the current Misfit City HQ, Songs From The Cellar have begun to fill a café basement with sound: next week it’s an investigation of antique popular songs, but this week it’s guitar instrumentals…

Guitar Journey Duet (Songs From The Cellar @ Zelas Cafe, 216 Archway Road, London, N6 5AX, UK, Friday 20th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00 – information – tickets on the door

Songs From The Cellar, 20th November 2015Guitar Journey Duet is a team-up between two leading London cross-disciplinary guitarists – British player Jonny Phillips (a member of Oriole and F-ire Collective) and Sardinian-born Giorgio Serci (whose twenty years of recordings, collaborations and performance has included work with Antonio Forcione, Eduardo Niebla, Denys Baptiste and Shirley Bassey).

Between them Jonny and Giorgio cover jazz, classical, flamenco, samba, art rock, British folk and African jazz. They might be off to play Verdi at the Albert Hall barely a week after this concert, but what they get up to in this small Highgate basement might well be something completely different. The only clue as to what they’re playing is that they’re favouring Spanish guitars tonight, as they are in the video below.

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The last gig I’m listing for the week is another Daylight Music effort, bridging the acoustic and the electronic, the pastoral and the urban.

Daylight Music 207, 21st November 2015
Daylight Music 207 – 20 Years Of Lo Recordings: Grasscut + Astronauts + Lilith Ai (Union Chapel, Saturday 21st November 2015, 12.00pm–2.00pm) – free (£3.50 donation suggested) – information

Renowned for quality esoteric music, Shoreditch’s Lo Recordings has released music by Thurston Moore, Four Tet, Aphex Twin and others. Now the label is celebrating its 20th birthday with a special showcase at Daylight Music featuring label artists Grasscut, Astronauts and Lilith Ai.

Many accolades have been heaped on Grasscut, the teaming of Andrew Phillips (voice, keyboards, guitar) and Marcus O’Dair (keyboards, double bass) in a wide-thinking Brighton-based duo which encompasses electronica, classical minimalism and multi-media, and which draws inspiration from landscapes and history. Andrew, who writes and produces all Grasscut music, is also known for his soundtrack work for HBO, BBC Films and Channel 4: he has been nominated for an Emmy and shortlisted for an Ivor Novello. Marcus (who manages the band in addition to his instrumental contributions) also occupies himself with journalism for the Guardian and Financial, lecturing in Popular Music at Middlesex University and work as a broadcaster in particular on Stuart Maconie’s ‘Freakzone’: he is also the author of ‘Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography Of Robert Wyatt’. At this concert Grasscut will be playing music from their new album (and first for Lo Recordings), ‘Everyone Was A Bird’.

Astronauts is the solo project from Dan Carney (formerly of Dark Captain). Described by Sputnik Music as “often bleak and highly contemplative indie-folk”, according to Facebook, the project is mainly in the business of creating “ham-fisted bleep-folk neoliberal takedowns”. As with Grasscut, Dan’s interests and influences extend beyond making music: he is a qualified developmental psychologist with an interest in short-term memory development and in Williams and Down’s syndromes.

Lilith Ai is a new signing to Lo Recordings. A member of the Fight Like A Girl collective, she performs poignant tales of modern city living. Drawing from blues, folk and acoustic R’n’B, and dusted by subtle electronic shades and beats, Lilith’s songs show urban life through a clear lens which does not hesitate to reveal her own dark life experience.

 

November 2015 – upcoming London gigs – The End Festival 2015 in Crouch End, part 1

11 Nov

The End Festival, 2015

When I was growing up in north London, Crouch End was the “next village over”. It was the place where I went to primary school and first heard song by Neil Young, Steve Winwood and The Kinks (strummed out and sung in assemblies alongside battling hymns from the civil rights movement) and where I began sharpening my hunger for musical knowledge on the rich ranks of vinyl LPs in Hornsey Library. Over the years, I’ve continued to associate the neighbourhood with music – other people’s memories of old art-rock and punk gigs at the Hornsey College of Art; the star traffic through the Church Studio at the bottom of Crouch Hill (owned in turn by Eurythmics and Paul Epsworth), where you might find Erasure or Sisters of Mercy catching a mid-session coffee in the local café; and the Gareth Malone wet-dream of the Crouch End Festival Chorus, a local choir with a national reputation.

That said, Crouch End’s day-to-day music scene has always struck me as lacking. There have been exceptions to the rule – the steady reservoir of blues and roots playing at the Kalamazoo Club; the string of house concerts that Jenni Roditi ran at her loft between 2002 and 2009; more recently, a flowering of rootsy events at the Earl Haig Hall. But generally speaking, Crouch End has always seemed to me to export or traffick in music rather than play it, becoming an increasingly upmarket and bijou neighbourhood where shoppers vastly outnumber giggers; easily eclipsed by the musicality of other London neighbourhoods like Camden Town, Dalston, Shoreditch, even Tooting.

Well, more fool me. It turns out that I’ve regularly been overlooking and missing The End – an annual, musically expansive Crouch End festival that turns all of my gloomy observations about the neighbourhood’s gig shortcomings to dust – at least, for two weeks. As my penance, here’s the first half of an overview of everyone playing at this year’s festival, which starts tomorrow (all ticket details are to be found via the info links or at the festival website).

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Lowpines + Forced Random + Ylja (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Thursday 12th November, 7:30pm) – £8.80 – information

The festival kicks off with a concert navigating the blurry margins of folk and lo-fi alternative rock, with headliners good enough to warrant a post all of their own. The crepuscular but lovely Lowpines have been racking up an unending stream of plaudits for their Anglo-Americana atmospherics, which recall old phonographs playing whispered, heartspilling songs in dusty basements, laced with judicious drums, intricate campfire fingerpicking and stargazing whistles of feedback like psychedelic pedal steel lines. Support comes from Oliver Girdler’s one-man lo-fi project Forced Random (which drifts ghostlike from instrument to instrument and from one slow soft-edged song to another) and from Reykjavík folk-rock trio Ylja (initially based around female harmonies and lap-style slide guitar but expanding into a broader palette that encompasses and recalls not just Fairport Convention, early Clannad and Pentangle but also the glowing starfield details of Sigur Rós and 1972 Pink Floyd).



 

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The Fierce & The Dead + a.P.A.t.T + Markers (Downstairs @ The Kings Head, 2 Crouch End Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 8AA, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £8.80 – information

The first of several events at The Kings Head hosts assorted sprigs from the thornier of British art-rock. Headlining are prog-punk quartet The Fierce & The Dead (no strangers to this blog) who bring the rumbling immediacy of their quick-flaring complicated avant-garage instrumentals to the valley for the evening. In support, hazmat-suited Liverpudlian performance art troupe a.P.A.t.T, play “progressive pop that owes as much to Kurt Schwitters and the Chapman Brothers as it does to ABBA and Zappa”, drawing on a shifting tag-team of ‘Pool talent and bring strong flavours of the absurd, the deceptive and the cunning to whatever they do.


Opening the evening, Markers reunites two old friends from the omnivorous ferment of the 1990s London math rock scene – Jodie Cox (Ursa, Narrows, Exes, Rohame and Earth) and Jason Carty (Geiger Counter, Foe, Art Of Burning Water) as two electric guitarists without a singer, a rhythm section, any other instruments or much in the way of signal processing. Expect carefully poised, bare-branching instrumentals somewhere between Slintian maths, precise Fripp and Summers interplay, and the minimum-lines/maximum-impact approach of a Japanese ink painting or minimalist film.

 

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Kate Jackson & The Wrong Moves + Oh800 + YLJA (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 9.30pm) – £8.50 – information

Kate Jackson (the former Long Blondes singer (and sometime British Electric Foundation/Heaven 17 collaborator) brings her current band The Wrong Moves to The End. She’ll be playing music from the upcoming “mysterious” album she’s been writing and recording with Bernard Butler over the past six years (though from what I’ve heard of it it’s more assured than mysterious – a muscular, classic pop rock mix with Kate’s big vocals and Bernard’s bright, sometimes startling guitar work).

Also on the bill are Oh800, a currently secretive new supergroup featuring Eoin “Oh Ruin” O’Ruainigh plus members of The Duke Spirit and F.U.R.S. The project is still enough under wraps not to have any tracks available to share, so you’ll just have to guess what they sound like, though it’s possible that the old Oh Ruin ingredients of blues, campfire tunes, Irish folk and fingerpicking will get a look-in. In addition, Ylja will be playing their second support slot of the festival, following the previous day’s appearance with Longpines.

 

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Joseph & Maia + Charlotte Carpenter + Annalie Wilson + Storme (Rileys The Ice Cream Café, 32 The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9SU, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £5.50 – information

An intimate gig of classic pop styles in one of Crouch End’s favourite drop-in cafes. New Zealand duo Joseph & Maia headline, playing songs from their debut album ‘Sorrento’ (a record which shows both their indebtedness to American songbook player-writers both old and new – Buckingham and Nicks, Ryan Adams, Paul Simon, Patsy Cline, Noah Gundersen – and their absolute assurance in working the same seams). Armed with a deeper and more ambiguous folk-blues approach, Northamptonshire-born Charlotte Carpenter sings songs of doubt and connection, softly, but with great emotional power held in check (like a surge pushing at a levee).


Rounding out the bill, acoustic festival favourite and all-round performer Annalie Wilson brings straight-ahead conversational, coffee-house songs on piano and guitar: while concert opener Storme (a Swedish singer-songwriter who’s come over to London to develop her songs, reversing the usual trend) is bold and dramatic enough to be a headliner, since her heavy-weather synth-pop aims for the same stadium-friendly altitudes as Florence + The Machine, Chvrches or even the more crowdpleasing moments of Björk .


 

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Becky Arundel + Nora Grefstad + Kloak (Kiss The Sky, 18-20 Park Road, Crouch End, London, N8 8TD, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 3.00pm) – free

The first of the Saturday gigs is a celebration of young female songwriters. Becky Arundel writes and delivers muscled, determined folk-rock in the Melissa Etheridge vein, moving from unplugged strum to bursting electric explosions. Norwegian singer Nora Grefstad , who generally trades as Noraslittleworld, slides her path midway between Elkie Brooks and Beth Gibbons (offering slightly wonky, jazzy trip-hopped pop or full-diva piano balladry – in each case with a hint of smeared-lipstick, morning-after feeling). While there seem to be plenty of people contributing to Kloak, in essence they’re two sassy-wise white girls – Georgia Meek and Gabrielle Mallett – putting together R&B-tinged electropop with a strong flavour of Eartha Kitt (those bent notes and divan stretches; that conversational yawp in the voice).



 

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Cortes + Bea Munro + Orfan (ThisIsWIRED @ Rileys The Ice Cream Café, 32 The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9SU, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £7.70 – information

Showcase night ThisIsWIRED (which, since its initiation in Shoreditch seven years ago has incubated the early budding careers of musicians including Ellie Goulding, Raleigh Ritchie and Michael Kiwanuka) rolls up to a Crouch End ice cream parlour for a north London jaunt. Tonight’s players include crisp power-poppers Cortes and belting 22-year-old ‘60s-rock-siren revivalist Bea Munro; but for my money the likely star in the pack is gig opener Orfan, who uses his multi-instrumental skills to hone captivating yearning songs which touch bases with such odd-bedfellow influences as Nico, Prince and Boo Hewerdine.



 

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Farrago + Ylja + Frida Wallin + YLJA (Before the Gold Rush @ The Haberdashery, 22 Middle Lane, Crouch End, London, N8 8PL, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £5.50 – information

In keeping with The End’s origins, peripatetic roots night Before The Gold Rush curate an outright folk & Americana evening. A truly enchanting set looks likely from Farrago, the psychedelic folk vehicle for the lucid, highly literate work of London songwriter Ian Bennett – vivid short stories couched in rich, longing arrangements and with colourful, falling poetic imagery. There’ll be a third appearance by Ylja, perhaps opening up to their lusher dream-folk tendencies. With flavours of honky-tonk and Grand Ol’ Opry, rising festival favourite Frida Wallin brings us the End’s most straightforward country music set to date. (She’s actually Swedish. Don’t let on or anything…)



 

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The Battles of Winter + Metro Verlaine + MOSES (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.50 – information

While Before The Gold Rush keeps the Americana and folk covered for the evening, the people at the Crypt hold down the indie and punk rock side of things. The Battles Of Winter embrace a driving post-punk indie sound compared to Echo & The Bunnymen, Interpol and The Doors. French “pop sauvage” trio Metro Verlaine are noisy electric romanticists inspired by the rush of Patti Smith/Richard Hell punk and the latterday spark of The Kills, as well as drawing on the original poète maudit fury of their namesake. The evening is opened by guttural punky rock’n’roll noise from M O S E S, who draw a London parallel to Wolf Mother and The Subways.



 

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The Wave Pictures + The Oreilles + Victor Lovlorne + Beverly + Pony & Trap + Nadine Khouri + Kindling + Annie Rew Shaw + Ryder Havdale + Kloak + Aphty Khea + Hudson Scott + Esther Joy Lane + others tbc (Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, The Broadway, N8 9JJ, London, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £16.50 – information

The big one. For this concert, at least thirteen performers will be taking up temporary residence in the battered but still beautiful Art Deco rooms of the former Town Hall, running quick-changeover mini-sets in the Supper Room, Committee Room and Council Chambers. Like a spontaneous party, the actual participants and their playing order seem to be in constant flux – as I quickly put this post together, the following seems to be the current setup.


Two bands are down from Yorkshire – The Wave Pictures (rattling Byrds-and-Motown garage-indie from Wymeswold) and teenaged Halifax trio The Orielles (a surf pop band from a landlocked town, teetering on the balance of their love of Riot Grrrl and the la-la-la). From America, buzz-pop Brooklyneers Beverly can’t quite make up their minds over whether to stick with Slowdive or Lush or to hit the accelerator pedal towards Surfin’ USA; pellmell Massachusetts indie-punks Kindling provide some rocket-powered shoegaze pop of their own. From Canada via Berlin, Ryder Havdale of The Mohawk Lodge might or might not come good on his promise to salt the lonesome indie-country rock of his main band with some Berlin-inspired electronics.



Several performers bring in captivating moods and stories. The blend of murmur, smouldering torch and cool eyed-vision in the work of Lebanese-British songcrafter Nadine Khouri has drawn comparisons with Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Mazzy Star. Athenian-in-London singer Aphty Khea (a.k.a. MantRah) deals in self-produced slow-drag abstract soul and hip hop ideas; Texan gospel choir escapee and human love-wreck Victor Lovlorne in unsettling lo-fi basement ballads in a Will Oldham, Sparklehorse, Beefheart or Redbone vein. Piano singer Annie Rew Shaw mingles Christine McVie melodicism and wit with an eerie ghost-haunted songwriting style.




Of the rest, Kloak make a repeat appearance (this time unplugged) following their slot at Kiss The Sky earlier in the afternoon; Pony & Trap mix crisp girl-about-town rhythm-box funk with buzzy post-punk guitar hooks); and Oxford electropop diva Esther Joy Lane puts in an appearance, as does the elusive and underplugged Hudson Scott (at the moment, just a name on a wobbling list…)


 

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Emma Pollock + Ylja (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Sunday 15th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.50 – information

The last gig of the week features Scottish alternative rock heroine and onetime Delgados songwriter Emma Pollock, now three records into a solo career as well as being branched out into poly-genre supergroups (The Burns Unit) and socially-minded collective projects (The Fruit Tree Foundation), with her varied collaborations stretching well beyond her bright indie-pop beginnings to involve folk music, theatre work and string quartets. If you’re good, she might play you some songs from her upcoming album ‘In Search Of Harperfield’. Ylja, who by now are starting to look like the End’s house band, will play their fourth and final support slot of the festival at this gig.



 

* * * * * * * *

That’s all for this week, but I’ll try to put together a rundown of next week’s End gigs over the weekend…

 

June 2004 – live reviews – The Cox Cruise @ MV King Arthur, floating along the River Severn, Gloucestershire, early summer 2004 (featuring Earnest Cox, Ghosting, Charlie Says, Michael J. Sheehy & Paddy McCarthy of St Silas Intercession, Datapuddle) (“a self-propelled music bash”)

30 Jun

All we can see outside in the dark are moving, ghostly fronds – foliage bleached by the passing light spilling from our boat, nodding in the gusting winds above the lap of water. We’re on the river at night. We can’t see where we’re going, and we’ve entrusted our safety to a group of people with the seedy, ingratiating collective name of Earnest Cox. Things look bleak.

“It’s ‘Nam, man!” some joker screams suddenly. “Charlie’s out there, and he don’t surf! We’re all gonna die, man!”

He’s greeted by laughter. It’s all far, far too English for any of that: those nodding leaves we’re passing are in quiet Gloucestershire, and the River Severn isn’t winding us towards the heart of darkness… not unless Bristol’s having a really bad Saturday night. The double-decker boat we’re riding – the MV King Arthur – has been hired from the National Waterways Museum, and in under four hours we’ll have looped back to its safe berth in Gloucester. On the way, we’ll be enjoying a self-propelled music bash featuring the aforementioned Coxers and a little circle of related bands from Gloucester and London. There’s even a raffle. Cosy.

Had we set out a little earlier in the summer, and during the day, it would have been picnics and beer all round by now. As the red and gold lights of a jolly riverside pub bob past like a luminous Johnny Walker bottle, it’s clear that any actual weirdness will need to be handled by the bands. Crammed onto chairs on the makeshift band stage wedged into the top deck, Datapuddle do what they can. Alex Vald (who once played filthy guitar for Dream City Film Club) cradles an electric mandolin across his chest like a sulking cat. When not distractedly plucking and strumming at it as if he were plucking a chicken, his hands dart restlessly towards a litter of electronic gizmos on a table: a virtual theremin, a cheap sequencer, a plastic voice-changer and other bits of toy-box guts. Stephen Huddle plays sketchy acoustic guitar and pushes broken murmurs and mumbles of song up into Alex’s cobwebs of sound.

Datapuddle at The Cox Cruise

Datapuddle at The Cox Cruise

What ultimately emerges is a lo-fi cat’s-cradle of strung-together and slightly strung-out elements. Tidal dub; debris and dusty notes swept out of an Irish-American bar; bits of memory and reaction scattered like dandruff – all glued by static electricity and misfiring synapse energy to the guitar strings of a long-fried singer-songwriter. “Here’s a little sea shanty,” says Stephen brightly. A water-blip of electronics merges with a Lloyd Cole chug of guitar, rocking it on its rhythmic base. Alex buzzes a harmonica into an overlapping backwards loop, transforming it into a reversed melodica.

On the next song, trip-hop snare-drum smoke merges with psychedelic space whisper like the first skunked-out collision between Portishead and Hawkwind. Alex’s mandolin maintains a relentless, disappearing clang like a freight train bell, while Stephen mutters like Tom Waits ruffled from deep sleep. Peril – another shaggy-dog shanty written especially for tonight – namechecks the Severn amidst its steam-train chunter of knocks, old-school electro breaks, and harmonica rasps. “Don’t buy the brown acid,” Stephen sings, channelling up the confusion of a different party as ours sways cheerfully along the river.

Datapuddle come to a purring end with lashings of electric theremin wibble and a lengthy musical chew on a genuine melodica which has surfaced from their box of battered goodies. Watching them was like watching someone scrabble a shack together out of estuary trash and flotsam. In its way, it was just as raw and triumphant.

Paddy McCarthy & Michael J. Sheehy at The Cox Cruise.

Paddy McCarthy & Michael J. Sheehy at The Cox Cruise.

While the upstairs audience return to conversation and shore-spotting, Michael J. Sheehy and Paddy McCarthy are down below decks mopping up the leftovers (along with any beer that’s available). Cuddling a pair of honey-blonde acoustic guitars, the brothers from St Silas Intercession (and, previously, Dream City Film Club) have wedged themselves into a corner to hammer out rough’n’ready London-Irish punk blues as brutal as paving stones and hard-luck sneers. Eventually they’re joined by a wandering harmonica player and by a growing crowd of boozy party stragglers. Before too long, the corner turns into an enthusiastic trash-music shebeen (staggered over the changeover times between the acts upstairs) during which everyone’s treated to rattling, spat-out’n’spattered takes of the songs from the debut St Silas EP, starting with the vicious roar of You Don’t Live Here Anymore.

St Silas Intercession’s music is a London echo of the brutally direct and bluesy garage noise still spilling out of Detroit (and all of the little Detroits that have sprung up in the wake of Jack White or The Dirtbombs). Venomous as a dirty flick-knife and as blunt as masonry nails, it’s some way down the evolutionary tree from the corrupted sophistication of Sheehy’s recent songwriter albums, or even from the trawling sleaze of his old work with Dream City Film Club. Obviously the man himself couldn’t give a shit about all that: judging by the twinkle in his eyes and in Paddy’s, as they face each other off over sprawling riffs and hollers, they’ve rarely been happier with their music than now.

Paddy McCarthy at The Cox Cruise.

Paddy McCarthy at The Cox Cruise.

The brute-blues meanness of Get My Share has a good hard whiskey sting to it; as does the defiance of Caravan Rock (“me and my kids and their mum, / living in a caravan, moving on, moving on…”). A lacerating spurt through All About The Money sets people bobbing, scrambling and bouncing as well as a seven-and-a-half foot deck ceiling will allow. But as Paddy’s permanent goofy cartoon grin indicates, the St Silas brothers never take themselves too seriously. “It’s always about the money!” Michael protests, through a cheap megaphone. His voice suddenly jumps tracks from Louisiana bawl back through his London grit to an ‘EastEnders’ stage-Cockney. “You sla-a-a-g!”

Back upstairs, a dirty blonde in a cute plush cap is hammering a comradely nail into Mr Sheehy’s coffin. “Michael slags me off in his songs, and I slag him off in my songs,” explains Charlie Beddoes. Then she bowls us the rapaciously scornful putdowns of Vitriolic Alcoholic which kerb-kicks a snarling addict with a series of offhanded verbal wallops, culminating in “do I look like I give a toss? / It’s not my problem, not my loss.” It’s good to have friends.

The determined, diminutive Charlie is both the figurehead and the core of the shifting cult-of-personality that calls itself Charlie Says. Tonight, they’re three boot-babes and a moll-boy. Backed up by sidekick Ben Fisher’s car-crash guitar and by Lian and Kim Warmington’s ice-diva backing vocals and cool basilisk stares, Charlie plucks a remarkably articulate bass, sings like a breezeblock with lipstick and thuds out middle-weight girlpunk. Not short of charisma, Charlie holds the audience in the palm of her hand. The trouble is, she then rolls them around as if she doesn’t quite know what to do with them.

There’s a big difference between true punk and mere punk-ertainment, and Charlie Says wander a bit too close to the latter end of the scale. While Charlie’s former background in hip-hop art-rockers Rub Ultra is promising, discovering that both she and Ben are recent refugees from the touring band of tech-rocker Martin Grech pokes some suspicious holes in their lo-fi rebel stance. It just makes their music seem a little contrived. Not that the songs always help: It’s All About The Music is just another me-and-my guitar anthem, and Hey Leadfinger, Why You Gotta Keep Putting Me Down? is a foray into garage-blues which is far less interesting than its title is.

What pulls the band up out of fun-punk poseur-world are Charlie’s bright flickers of blunt humour and determination. The girlpower swagger of Venus Envy suddenly flings out “if the balls are in our court, then at least we have some,” while This Is Not My Story claims “whichever way it lands, my heart will keep on beating.” Little gems of lead-pipe wit and guts like this are what will make Charlie Says special; not desperate attempts to hitch onto whichever punk or garage soul flits past next. For the rest of the evening, I see Charlie perched here and there around the boat – beaming with life, always as if on the verge of delivering another breezy wisecrack. Let’s have more of that.

For all their efforts, Charlie Says don’t make me want to riot. Ghosting do… but I’d be rioting on their behalf. Five more minutes of hearing boozy party blabber drown out their beautiful, beautiful songs and I’d be flinging bottles around myself. Ghosting are heartbreakingly soft – as vulnerable and resilient as fresh grass bending underfoot. Unlike any other band this evening, they create little pockets of pure songcraft which you need to crane your head into to find out what’s going on.

Upfront, Dan Pierce picks out gentle acoustic guitar arpeggios which ride up into the atmosphere like thermals, and lets his voice follow suit. In the corner, wedged into a little cage of half-drumkit, laptop and miniature keyboard, George Moorey handles the rest. Intent and anxious-looking, he peers at his screen like a nervy microbiologist watching a virus proliferate. In fact, he’s just making sure that the sounds arrive on time – making tiny triggering adjustments to a mouse, reaching out one hand to roll off a gentle peal of Blue Nile piano, or swivelling to make precise soft taps on cymbal and snare with the single drumstick he holds in his other hand. It’s like watching someone play a one-man-band suit and conduct an orchestra at the same time. Yet even more impressive than this deft and diffident juggling act are the way Ghosting’s songs pool in the atmosphere – gradually, quietly filling up the space.

Dan’s big genial frame contains a songwriter’s spirit of rare and seductive delicacy. Faced with a chattering crowd, he simply shifts his guitar in his hands and sings soft, warm and open… and slowly the chatter drains away as the spell begins to work. Gently, Ghosting explore topics spanning all the way from frayed love songs (Your Love Don’t Make Sense) through thoughtful disillusion all the way to ending up being fingered as a murder suspect (Someone At The Door). Hopefully not as a natural progression – but if it was, you’d suspect that they’d’ve illustrated even that story with colossal and convincing sensitivity.

By the time Ghosting are midway through the exquisite, naked plea of I Want You To See Me, the crowd is hushed and half of them are hooked. Dan’s flexible and heartfelt singing – mostly a feather on tremulous breath, but rising to a swoony peak of intensity – sometimes recalls Mike Scott or Robert Forster at their very softest. In a fey, English, breathy way, he even has flashes of the fluttering abandonment of a Van Morrison or an Aaron Neville. Like them, he’s singing songs of real people grasping out at the intangible – unsure of what to believe on Anything That Might Be True, or “waiting for the one thing which really might have been some help,” on Good Year, only to wait in vain. Intangible desires, tangible heartaches. They’ll probably rise like damp rather than rockets, but I suspect that within a few years Ghosting will be very important to a lot of people.

Having put the whole cruise together in the first place, Earnest Cox get a well-deserved heroes’ welcome once they arrive onstage. They respond with perhaps their most energetic and assured set to date. It’s the third or fourth time I’ve caught the Cox, over a time when I’ve watched their sturdy intelligence getting to grips with lacing together their multiple influences. It’s taken a while for their mixture of old Memphis R’n’B, ’60s lad-rock, ’80s indie textures and prowling street poetry to gel.

Tonight it does with a vengeance. Hello Stranger sweeps out of the gate with a swagger of rogue testosterone coupled with a smart and beady eye, as Cox singer La Windo immediately takes on the audience with his particular blend of strut and twice-burned wariness. Perhaps it’s recent honeymoon rejuvenations or perhaps it’s the side effects of squabbling over their current recordings, but Earnest Cox are smouldering tonight. Still looking like a disparate houseful of mature students (the band’s a bewildering range of types from motherly to mysterious, from rogue to stockbroker) they continue to draw on what’s in them already rather than trying to squeeze themselves into an image.

The rhythm section used to be little more than agreeably white’n’slightly-funky: now it’s moving towards a lubricious slippery groove, with bass player/occasional MC Simon abandoning cheese and cheeriness to join drummer Shane in seriously flexing the pocket. Nicola parachutes in flights of piano, springs of Booker T. Hammond organ or splurges of synth when she needs to, while Marc buries himself in the middle of the band, cooking up lightly-textured mats of funky guitar texture to fly blurs across the gaps.

Up front, where you’d expect to find a preening Rod Stewart lookalike, La continues to prowl like a Gloucester merging of Shaun Ryder and Lou Reed, delivering his narratives of edgy small-town life like the most restless man in the pub and shaking his percussion as if testing the heft of a throwing knife. He looks pretty handy: yet the Cox don’t exactly trade on casual violence, even when La hurls out scathing fighting talk on You’re Not Fit To Lick (The Shit From My Shoes).

Rather, they seize on restlessness in general, whether it’s randiness, boredom, the unease as your parents age towards death, or the bumps in love’s road. There’s swagger, vengeance and one-upmanship aplenty in songs like Two Can Play At That Game, Baby and Scratching The Same Old Itch: yet in spite of this Earnest Cox’s songs are about survival if they’re about anything. No More Happy Endings treads the ashes of hopes and securities with the dogged, battered trudge of someone who’s had the knocks, has sagged, but won’t go down yet.

The Cox’s musical cockiness almost makes them part of that line of lad’s bands dipping in and out of pubs, taverns and speakeasys (and finally Royal Command performances). Yet the way the bruises on the songs never entirely fade (and the way that La quietly retreats into himself, gaze distracted, mid-song) hints at a band who’ve accepted, even embraced, the dragging baggage of personal history rather than saturating themselves in adolescent posing. Marc’s refusal to play the role of the strutting guitar stud (keeping his back almost entirely turned to La and the audience as he brews up his noises) confirms it and heightens the internal dignity beyond the Cox’s miscellaneous looks.

Perhaps it’s this mixture of getting by, getting on and getting on with it even within limited horizons that makes Earnest Cox local heroes on the Gloucester scene. The familiar tastes of that stew of pop ingredients they serve it up with, plus their band’s anti-glorious English universality and their bumpy everyman charisma should win them friends around the country, whether or not they bring their boat with them.

As the Cox set hits its climax, we look up and find ourselves back in the Gloucester lock. Hometime, Charlie.

Datapuddle online:
Homepage TwitterMySpace Bandcamp LastFM

Michael J. Sheehy online:
Facebook MySpace LastFM

Miraculous Mule (what Sheehy/McCarthy/St Silas Intercession did next) online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud LastFM

Charlie Says online:
Homepage

Ghosting online:
Homepage MySpace Bandcamp

Earnest Cox online:
MySpace

MV King Arthur online:
Homepage

REVIEW – Laughtrack: ‘Amusements’ single, 2001 (“counting the change and failing to come up with comforting answers”)

12 Aug

Laughtrack: 'Amusements'

Laughtrack: ‘Amusements’

Amusements is a majestic but famished slink across rain-dirty pavements in the gaudy heart of town: redolent of grime and darkness, and with disturbed puddles wavering neon reflections at you. A techno dub-groove catwalks its way from start to finish, toying with all the time in the world: whether the wire-wool guitars are beating themselves against it or whether the sound is being gulped away to reveal the skeletal machinery of bass and beat prowling onwards. A thin but insistent vocal hangs at the heart of it: “I can’t tell you no lies / We’re moving into a new kind of life – / a strange new world, a comfort zone / where nobody has to be alone.”

It’s a lyric which almost sounds as if it ought to be bobbling along on top of a corporate anthem: but which, in this context, sounds as if it’s shadowing the giant corporate hands which can pat you on the head in one pass and scoop away your world with the next. “Why have you sold the future, why have you sold the past?” questions the chorus. “Is it for our amusements, ‘cos nothing is meant to last?” Someone’s standing on the edge of the kerb, swaying on their heels, counting the change they’ve been returned and failing to come up with comforting answers.

If the original Amusements resembles a rocked-up ‘Mezzanine’, the Severance mix (done with “avant-hardist” MEME) flings the drums into echoing relief and carves the groove into a zombie stomp, Garbage-style. Grating peaks of sub-bass and further sandstorms of psychedelic guitar crackle somewhere between Chapterhouse, Suicide and Levitation – sleekness savaged into life by noise and interference. No words, but an implacable, forceful indifference. The deal’s done – it’s time to bring out the heavy lorries.

Slide round the corner, and things are different. The torch song atmosphere of Left Standing implies Goth-cum-trip-hop, but also a take on Billy Mackenzie at his most open. It’s the brittle piano chording, that cavernous sway of arrangement around the lamp-post glow of a solitary microphone; the hints of theatrics and sincerity interlocking fingers and squeezing for luck… or in desperation. That said, it doesn’t follow the Mackenzie trail entirely. There’s an absence of helium operatics and peacock posturing. Instead, the almost-buried voice of Joe (Laughtrack’s mastermind) catches at the same blend of clenched unfunky indignation as Roland Orzabal at his most vulnerable; and even breaks at the same preacherly point.

This time Joe’s not mourning a way of life, but a person: and although the burden of grief is shared, the empty space that’s been punched into his life is obvious. Joe sounds exhausted and angry as he confesses “I really don’t care for very much these days, / but the living is easy in a pointless way. / You left us standing, and now everything is hard to say…” Thankfully there are compensations, new reconcilations, new solidarities to be found in the face of it: “I tell my friends ‘don’t be so scared’… / You left us standing, and that’s something we’ll always share.”

It’s Laughtrack’s unease – their sense of huge forces and emotions moving behind the immediate business of life – that draws you back to them. This is dark, luxuriant pop to tease apart with the fingertips and pry into; something that suggests stories in the same way as the more oblique moments of no-man or Smog. And Laughtrack’s simple but oddly unsettling name (raising questions every time you consider it) suggests a writer intelligent enough to be aware of the frame surrounding whatever he does.

As Laughtrack roll away off into the night, they’re being quietly trailed by gumshoes who are after some more answers.

Laughtrack: “Amusements”
Contrary Public, CONTPUB001 (no barcode)
CD-only single
Released: 2001

Buy it from:
Best looked for second-hand.

Laughtrack online:
MySpace

August 2000 – album reviews – Rudy Simone’s ‘To Put the Sun Back in the Sky’ (“shot through with aftershocks of abandonment, dispossession, self-doubt and the battle to stay afloat”)

19 Aug

record-rudysimone-putthesun

Shot through with aftershocks of abandonment, dispossession, self-doubt and the battle to stay afloat, Rudy Simone’s debut album doesn’t resolve the questions she’s raised before. It doesn’t round off those battleworn displays of uneasy heart from the previous year’s ‘Personal Cloud‘ EP, nor does it offer clear clues about where she’ll be travelling in the future.

Fresh as she sounds, Rudy already has plenty of past. Originally from Buffalo, New York State (where, as Rita Seitz, she sang in various obscure bands during the early 1980s) she turned emotional refugee later in life and crossed the Atlantic to Liverpool, where her own songs emerged amid a landscape of acoustic sessions and nightclub rushes. Most debut albums are a statement, however crude. This one’s a scrambling steeplechase across Rudy’s emotions and her spiritual restlessness. It stays true to the disruptive collisions between the life singing in the head and the life that lurks outside. What ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’ resembles most is an attempt to wrap up Rudy’s fraught baggage in a big, unwieldy brown paper package; to tie it together with guitar strings and beats, to spray it with disco glitter and then set it free somewhere down the Mersey. Drifting seawards, it comes unstuck and reveals itself.

Attempting to cram in all her gushes of inspiration, Rudy ends up with a confusing whole. Seemingly at random, songs appear in alternate acoustic and instrumental alternate versions; there are two takes on the eerie Kill The Cult Of Cool single, and a trancier reworking of Personal Cloud. ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’ ends up as an anxious, fractured goodie-bag, unsure about whether floaty beats are better than strumming, and telling repeated stories in different tones. Don’t expect track-by-track coherence – but do expect plenty of understated feeling, a maverick DIY pop sense in full effect, and some determined songcraft. This album is a necklace-worth of interesting, often touching episodes.

In some respects, Rudy fits in with that rough wave of confessional women emerging in the 1990s via trip-hop and indie rock, including the two Beths (Gibbons and Orton) and Juliana Hatfield. There are some similarities to Jane Siberry; though Rudy is more loosely strung, she shares elliptical, Siberryesque feminine perspectives, blown about by impressions and finding solid little truths in the midst of abstraction. But for my money the artist whom she’s closest to is Lida Husik. Both Rudy and Lida resist committing themselves to any one musical approach or way of looking; both seem suspicious of tradition or sturdy craftsmanship. As with Husik, Rudy’s wispily sweet vocal belies her determination to discover and envision things her own way, learning from time and from chance. Both, too, are peripatetic and intuitive to a fault: they’re both quite prepared to walk into mires of embarrassing self-conscious fluff if that’s where an idea takes them (in Rudy’s case, a misplaced James Brown tribute called Bony Little, giddy and apologetic, in which she bangs on forever about her skinny white ass).

For this album, the club dance elements have triumphed in Rudy’s big bag of sounds – as they did on Husik’s ‘Green Blue Fire’ album four years previously. Techno producer Sheldon Southworth, a.k.a Diffusion, is a vital collaborator for half the album. He’s the Beaumont Hannant to Rudy’s Husik, adding his own club-friendly trance sparkle to hers and replacing guitars with the zing of electronics. For The Secret Sayings Of Jesus, Rudy whispers god-inside Gnostic philosophy, floating it like evangelical thistledown over Diffusion’s bright trance beats and aquatic keyboard textures. Despite her trippy tones, hypnotically soft, the chant is a desperate prayer rather than navel-gazing. It’s a counterpoint to the other songs, which make up a travelogue of delusions to be overcome in oneself or endured from others.

Vanity’s Car perks its way through cheerful Euro-trance and Soft Cell gurgles, but Rudy’s lyrics dwell on how the wrong kind of excitement can lessen a person’s grasp on reality – “amazing how far you’ll go when you lose control – / I’ve got to get out on my feet / and be the things I always wanted to be.” The fallout is clear: “I might be sitting in your living room / but I might as well be in another country,” Rudy protests on Can’t Go There. “You can drive if you wanna, but I prefer to stay on my feet… / ‘cos you’re so blind, you can’t see that it’s right across the street.” Warm swelling synths, glinting funk-wah guitar, and house piano echo that communal gospel glory which Primal Scream tapped on Come Together. Rudy’s own hopes of connection, though, are dissolving.

While Diffusion’s contributions are valuable, there’s no question that Rudy remains convincing on her own. The brief pure-dance diversion of Mentallium hurls rapid drum’n’bass kitfire headlong into chilly trance electronica: to wild things up a little, Rudy mixes twitchy diva calls, jazzy double bass and kettle drums into the instrumental. Out on the other edge of her music, she abandons beats and boxes. A blues-y acoustic guitar version of Vanity’s Car brings its warnings closer to the surface, no longer masked by shiny bodywork. Part pop-plaint, but mostly blues rant, the all-acoustic Water’s Edge sees the banalities of love (“Sometimes I’d like to kill him, / but I always gotta thrill him”) splinter in a glare of rage. Wailing like a cross between PJ Harvey and Etta James, Rudy walks the shoreline, grappling with a moment of agonising choice. Violence is poised within her, ready to strike inwards or outwards, and only the lone conscious voice of the song cries out against it. “Don’t go, you’ll only make your mama cry / Don’t go, you’ll only fuck your baby’s mind.”

As a single, Kill The Cult Of Cool got lost in the no-budget wilds which sank so many others; yet its emotional hop-skip-and-jump was a remarkable coming-together of ideas and instinct. It still is. Broody horror synths, laceworks of folk guitar and a patchwork of voice snippets quilt together into something haunted, defiant and transformative. In keeping with the rest of the album’s repetitions and revisitings, the song gets a double outing (the Derision Mix transforms it into radiophonic electro-funk replete with glitchy scratching and whooshing, frothing Vangelis synth splurge) but it’s the original that really matters. Something of a signature song for Rudy ever since it first showed up on ‘Personal Cloud‘, its cohesive spirit remains clear as its splintered voices ask for compassion, pray for guidance, plant down stubborn feet. “I was the quiet one in school, never made any trouble,” stammers a sampled man; “I don’t care what you say, I’m not crazy,” Rudy adds quietly. It’s full of struggle, though never precisely clear what that struggle is – the claw back to sanity out of the creeping horrors? a defense of alternative thinkers and scapegoats? – yet it’s also affecting in a way in which few things that I hear are.

The spine of the album, though, is the title track and Personal Cloud. The former’s a grieving white-girl rap about a marriage snapped violently in half: here, Rudy sounds as soft-spoken but as wide-awake’n’dreaming as Margaret Fiedler does while puzzling out dreams in Laika. Almost cushioned by the pain, she lets moments of heartbreaking reproach crest over it and into the words: when she murmurs “you say you’re following your heart / I say fear has played a much bigger part”, real agony glints. In a new take on Personal Cloud (remixed by M@2K into radar blips, ambient funk and blue-light electronics) more displaced degrees of mourning are added to Rudy’s grapple with addictions, love and loneliness (“I wrap my lips around a cigarette instead of you…”). Her voice flutters, weightless and bereft: a hydrogen balloon un-anchored by faithless hands.

Maybe ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’ is not the album Rudy Simone’s capable of. It’s more like several different shots at an album: all crowded into the kitchen together, taking anxious and uncomfortable refuge. No clear clues; a spinning signpost; but indications of an effective, if scattered, talent – one worth investing some love in.

Rudy Simone: ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’
Phat Lady Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-R-only album
Released: 2000

Buy it from:
Extremely rare – best found second-hand.

Rudy Simone online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube

November 1999 – album reviews – Sneaker Pimps’ ‘Splinter’ album, 1999 (“half in love with the idea of beautiful corpses and wanton failures”)

5 Nov

Sneaker Pimps: 'Splinter'

Sneaker Pimps: ‘Splinter’

Smack.

Its presence ghosts off this record like chill off the sea. The more you listen, the more obvious it gets; the more appropriate it seems. Twelve songs about different levels of letdown – alienation and betrayal; shortfall and disgust, “high fives and corporate anthems” – but always, always possessing an ability to be lifted above it; to float in a strange and tragic euphoria in which pain and torment are overwhelmed. A rush of transcendent languorous bliss while the mind hovers above, intact and unmarked.

Even if Sneaker Pimps weren’t so candid about backstage recreation (or didn’t drop lyrical hints like “my aim’s so weak that I’d fail to get into my arm”), you can’t escape the fact that their second album is a heroin album par excellence. Admittedly, a smarter and more professional brand of smack music – no William Burroughs squalor, no Needle Park lowlife. The spike goes in beside a penthouse window, lying on a sleek leather couch; no dust on the floor. But then, as a pop group, Sneaker Pimps always seemed far too smart for the daytime shows and MTV gladhandings.

Well, some of them did. I saw an Sneaker Pimps interview in which Kelli Dayton – their original Goth pixie-ette singer – sat flirting and babbling on a sofa, flanked by Chris Corner and Liam Howe. When not answering their own questions, with a cool intelligence, they observed her with the bored and slightly amazed looks of gentleman experts faced with a posturing child. The hapless Kelli isn’t part of Sneaker Pimps any more. She’s been dropped out – as if via hidden trapdoor – or simply excised.

For ‘Splinter’, Chris Corner glides forward like Dracula to take over the mic. His slackly sensual looks (young Johnny Thunders and Ronnie Wood, with a wild crow’s nest of dyed-black hair) lounge all over the artwork of ‘Splinter’, much as his lisping, artfully-forlorn whisper floats ahead of the music’s tide. Perhaps it’s just extra clarity – with Kelli no longer an oblivious mouthpiece – but ‘Splinter’ feels like cresting a roller-coaster. A swelling build of dawning clarity, darker- toned, which sets you up for the plunge.


 
‘Splinter’ is also the most seductive pop record I’ve heard in a long time. Not coy winks or overblown soul-boy mating calls, not even on the acid-coated, Suede-stinging-Cameo-to-death stamp of Ten To Twenty. This is a more abstract seduction, the lure of rich fabric, sweet smoke or smouldering looks. It’s born not just from the unveiling of secrets but from Liam Howe’s shockingly opulent backdrop. Creamy, orchestrated synths and samplers traced with beautifully disturbing sound. Pianos echo, fretful in the cavernous dark. ‘Omen’ choirs or wailing-wall chants lunge out at Chris, trying to lassoo him. Small slivers of Oriental melody glitter in the fabric, and beyond the luscious trip-hop grooves eerie Bernard Hermann strings are trembling, bursting, warning. Female singers, disturbingly blank, shadow Chris’ pinched tones.

The whole album’s in a state of sensual motion, like restless waters or billowing tapestries. As for mood and motif, it’s always ominous – always half in love with the idea of beautiful corpses and wanton failures; with sultry sicknesses and the bloody romance of despair. Kelli or no Kelli, there’s always been a Goth undercurrent to Sneaker Pimps (and not just because the industrial-tinged, reverberant rock of Superbug also has a distinct tang of The Mission). When Chris sings “strike me down, give me everything you’ve got. / Strike me down, I’ll be everything I’m not,” on Lightning Field, he sounds bright-eyed, waiting for the lash.


 
For Half Life’s liquid, trembling swirl of pianos and ghost orchestras, Chris muses at the syringe or at the lover he’s failing with – “half life wastes before it goes – / it’s funny how your bee-sting touch never leaves me whole. / It’s not enough to stay here, almost trying. / You kept your last laugh, watch this dying.” On the magnificently disdainful, disgusted ‘Low Five’ he delicately spits back corporate language and schmooze-talk with savage grace – “Kite-marked for true low standards / where more wants all and no less. / Just change with no real progress… / I’m a low five downsize no-one else. / Do you love yourself?”

Bad relationships. With the biz, with the needle or with girlfriends – all three bleed together in Sneaker Pimps’ crafted disaffection. Only on Cute Sushi Lunches does this seem brattish, as Chris sneers “nineteen steps out from under your feet. / Can’t eat, won’t eat… / Hate like a child hates his hair cut,” and the instruments obstruct each other, stubbornly refusing to gel… but not quite enough to derail the song.


 
It’s a suspect confessional, a cunning blind to absorb attack while Sneaker Pimps slip the rest of the album past your resistance. The worm-turning cruelty of Curl, popping with funk under its lustrous ballad verses, stung by zithers and pulsating psychedelic grind – “I curl to break consent… / and I curl now to help me find you out.” And the little thrusts and revelations like “never compromise – you’re just always weak”; “it takes too much to please me – / attached but no real feeling,”; and (most killingly) “failure was on me, / but your ideals bore me.” All of it wrapped in that dark and dreamy music.

Beyond the sensual overkill – that luxuriant death-by-soundtrack – the rich nightlife sounds are sometimes folded away in favour of small rooms dominated by Chris’ spider-legged acoustic guitar. Flowers And Silence is the most explicit trip to the shooting gallery. Skeletal slow jazz waltzing among the radar blips somewhere between Scott Walker and John Lydon, moth-wing vibrations of synth, and a dry-mouthed Chris murmuring “she’s nowhere, she mainlines, / helps me out – now I can speak… / So nothing’s free. / Ghost-drunk, out of reach.”


 
Behind the dogged strum and distant alarms of Destroying Angel, strings slither down – blood trickling across a window – while Chris turns in the most sinister performance on the record. “The stones beneath the water that you walk on to be taller, / the hands you stuck together ‘cos you prayed you’d wait forever,”, he whispers, picking apart a dying affair full of desperate power games and scams, and ruthlessly stripping it away from himself, right down to the tattoos (“the words beneath my skin / the ink that you put in, / destroying all the things you left around.”). There’s torch music on Empathy Low – as well as a rich sleazy purr of double bass – but if so it’s torch reduced to clammy ashes, as Chris stares into the recesses of his soul and finds them disturbingly bare. “Proves herself to be closer, / but not me forever, not me… / My memory’s so / Empathy low.”


 
And there’s Splinter itself, the guitar zinging and slapping while things prowl in the shadows – growling, creaking double bass, moaning and scraping; boiling, ghostly noises from Liam Howe’s black boxes. Then there’s Chris, flint-eyed and flint- voiced – “Does it take the fireworks to make you look in wonder? / Would you give reaction to the cause I’m under? / So coloured by you, but your monkey messed it up – / surrounded by you, your monkey’s long-while had enough.” If David Sylvian had stayed in London, corrupted by the smoke and cynicism, he might have ended up this sleekly poisonous: enveloped in beautiful, cultured ambient sound and existential melancholy, but honing a small silvery sleeve-dagger for the right moment.

The final song – Wife By Two Thousand – could be a subway busk, with one of Chris’ faceless women singing back at him from further down the tunnel. A draught sucks at it, pulling Liam’s subliminal buzzes and celesta clinks away into the oblivious sounds of a crowd. While Chris strings phrases from I Can Sing A Rainbow into the chorus (as if trying to get back to childhood assurance), the song’s an attempted seduction, in spite of everything that’s gone before. Chris is playing the vulnerable card this time, with a cynical, pleading desperation. “Never so complete, just failing on its feet… / I think that I need working on, so work on me / I feel that nothing’s getting though, so get to me.”


 
But the last we hear of him is a nonchalant nothing-can- hurt-me whistle. He’s disappearing into the city with his bag of secrets closed up again, leaving you to make your guesses. The kind of doomed, fascinating bastard whom your eyes still follow, and whom your hands reach out to in spite of yourself. Damn.

Trust a junkie? Never. But they can be as compelling as their habits.

Sneaker Pimps: ‘Splinter’
Clean Up Records Ltd., CUP 040CD (5029271004024)
CD/download album
Released: 25th October 1999

Buy it from:
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May 1999 – mini-album reviews – Rudy Simone’s ‘Personal Cloud’ (“contradictory shards and half-formed knots of feeling”)

14 May

Rudy Simone: 'Personal Cloud'

Rudy Simone: ‘Personal Cloud’

“I wrap my lips around a cigarette / instead of you,” mourns Rudy Simone on the title track of ‘Personal Cloud’. Her voice pipes and teeters on a precipice of reproach. It’s gently, perpetually, pulled back by beautiful harp-like guitars and throaty bass synth. Here’s a lullaby for the betrayed, somewhere between the sweet hyper-conscious dissolve of a Jane Siberry ballad and a Rose Royce disco symphony. Clasping heartbreak to itself, like an addict in recovery, and gently rocking to soothe; while allowing all of the contradictory shards and half-formed knots of feeling to swim free for a moment, a float of voices and words knocking against each other.

“I thought I was drowning, it was only rain./ Thought I felt fire, it was only smoke. / Never leave me… / Oh, will this world take you from me? / I tried, I tried to leave it alone…”

‘Personal Cloud’ is all about this kind of mixed, eddying feeling. Intensities and unravellings. Throwing vitriol and clinging to loyalty. The need to stab the same person you might be begging to pick you up off the floor two hours later. And if it wavers dramatically – both in its musicality and in its consistency – that’s only in keeping with what it’s about, as Rudy explores her emotional devastation using various forms of music. Club elements invade baggily-hanging acoustic confessionals. Wobbly jazz singing gatecrashes trance-dance. Free association yanks a tune bloodily from its roots. Throughout, moods swing like road-signs in a gale, confusing direction.

 “I swear sometimes I wish an alien will take you from this planet / then I turn around, y’know, / I never meant it,” frets Rudy on Velvet, an all-over-the place straggle of guitar, cello and drums where jealousy, need and pride disrupt each other. At one moment, she’s showing the lover her boot and the door  (“Go on out / take your place and find the one who does it all for you,”). At the next, she’s turned the full blowtorch of greedy sexuality onto him to melt him back down again (“It don’t fit into your plans to be so selfish / when all that velvet is waiting for your kiss…”).

Puppet strings yank themselves; kissing lips bruise on gritted teeth. A foot slides, caressing, up a lover’s calf. The same foot turns and hammers a heel, hard, into his instep.

This kind of tense no-man’s land is a stressful place to be. Sometimes there’s a wordless protest, as expressed in Galactica – cosmic trance-techno, where the lonely cry of a star-burned keening synth is cheered up by a flamboyant crash of bells and bucked up by a roguish, tarry bubble of club bassline. Alternatively, Stronger Than You Know meanders along on its skinny guitar and string synths, changing its shape, like a girl dancing drunkenly across treacherous ground, knowing where to put her feet but lurching dangerously close to disaster. It seems fey, but only because it’s discovered a different kind of resistance, dissolving again to escape damage – “Oh, you’re kicking light, / you’re punching air.”

The militaristic Bjork-ish beat of Glimmer Of Hope, the tension of guitar and listing punchdrunk voice, belies its positivity – “I see a glimmer of hope in the clouds / and it’s all I need to see my way out of this.”  On Feel Like I Belong, the club electronics bang and bubble under one of Rudy’s sweetest bluesiest sighs, and bloody experience is weighed up – “memories can drown if you let them – / just because you can it doesn’t mean that you should.” Only the drunken brooding of surly fuzz-guitar suggests there’s something wrong behind this particular attempt at finding peace.

record-rudysimone-ktcocFar more satisfying (in terms of comfort, anyway) is the spooky guitar and spiralling trip-hop of the haunted single Kill The Cult Of Cool – remarkable in any context, particularly moving here, it sounds like a night’s spiritual battle committed to tape. On the single cover Rudy, visibly haunted, stared down fear out of a circle of tall, slender flames, and the song’s occult, speaking-in-tongues feel is still immediate. Over Gothic movie keyboards, Rudy delivers a Buffy-esque putdown in a cool, girl-with-a-mission voice – “I’ve got nothing but derision for your apocalyptic vision. / Anti-amorous, not glamorous. / Time to kill the cult of cool,” – before rolling off into a weird, syncopated mixture of American indie, sampledelia and trip-hop in which everything seems to slide gracefully in and out of time. Ruminative, sandpapery hip-hop beats do the slippery shuffle-and-collapse in the basement. Frail raga-trance vocal melodies drape themselves in irregular folds over the roof. White noise, static radio fizz and heart-monitor bleeps struggle in and out of the mix: a dreamy staircase of guitars (including a spaghetti-Western dobro) twangs at the heart of the chorus.

The rest is a weave of lost-girl chant and coos, a multiplicity of voices flipping backwards and forwards, a narcotic nuzzle towards solace. “Help up, I shall bless,” keens one line. “Ooh yes, honour – there’s no-one there…” murmurs another. Rudy duels weightlessly with other wounded voices (“I was the quiet one in school, never made any trouble…”) and absentee gods before declaring with quiet assurance, “I don’t care what you say, I’m not crazy.” The fact that this happens at the beginning of ‘Personal Cloud’ – and not as a tidy resolution at the end – suggests that this isn’t the first time she’s had to take up arms against her own crowded inner sea of troubles.

Uneven, unsettling, and mixing awkward un-coordination with gliding grace, ‘Personal Cloud’ reveals the wayward talent of a potential cult heroine – unafraid to grasp at the chaos and trash of the battered heart.

Rudy Simone: ‘Personal Cloud’
Phat Lady Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-R-only mini-album
Released: 1999

Buy it from:
Extremely rare – best found second-hand.

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July 1998 – EP reviews – Darkroom’s ‘Carpetworld’ (“swathed in contradiction… one long, haunting slab of sonic terrorism”)

15 Jul

Darkroom: 'Carpetworld' EP

Darkroom: ‘Carpetworld’ EP

Darkroom come swathed in contradiction: daytime shoppers on the sleeve, savage nightlife in the music. And no credits, though apparently it’s another one of those confounded No-Man offshoots ‑ don’t these bloody people ever sleep or anything? Evidently not, if the tracks on this single serve as an example of the sounds pulsating through their brains.

Carpetworld itself breaks all the rules ‑ the rules that say you can’t put vocals and lyrics recalling Soft Cell‑era Marc Almond over churning, vicious Frippish guitar ambience and hard‑as‑nails mechanoid beats falling somewhere between jungle and hardcore techno. A knife in the side of the rave generation’s blissout, it’s elegant in its brutality (“taking a twirl with your best friend’s girl, while the rest of the gang torch Carpetworld”), hovering in tatty clubs and observing the rituals of nihilism unfold as the backwash of bad E and the not-so-gentle ’90s poison the clubbers’ dreams.

Dance darkhorse it might be (it doesn’t run with any obvious scene, and fuck knows which playlist it’ll fit on in the increasingly segregated world of dance radio) but this is still cutting‑edge contemporary, with absolutely no fluffiness and Tim Bowness spitting out lyrics the likes of which we’ve never heard fall from his previously poetic mouth ‑ “Have useless sex with your ugly ex… / You velvet‑sneakered chancer, you broken-fist romancer…” as the beats flutter like a death’s head moth trapped in the throat. I’ll stay well out of the disturbing urban nightmare Darkroom are living in, but I’ll happily live it vicariously through their warped imaginings. Dante’s disco inferno.

After that, the Carpetwarehouse reworking does lacks a certain spontaneity. The original sounds like it’s literally fallen together in a paranoid improv session after a thoroughly unpleasant experience: This – apart from simply not being different enough – simply sounds like Darkroom have tried too hard at the atmospherics. OK, the beats are even more frenetic and Bowness achieves something he’s previously never managed in previous recordings: i.e., sounding fucking terrifying as his distorted voice rasps out the repeated mantra “I’m coming after you!” If you ever thought, from listening to No-Man’s work, that you could have that Bowness chap in a fight ‑ think again… Nonetheless, one does yearn for a battering, bloody remix from the diseased mind of Jim ‘Foetus’ Thirlwell, or Aphex Twin.

But, hell, Darkroom’s maverick genius still encompasses enough space for much more roaming, ambient trips. Daylight, in particular. Tim Bowness (like Martyn Bates) has always had one of those voices that are perfect to use as an instrument integral to a piece such as this, weaving magical wordless nothings in and around underwater tones and splashes of electronica. Anchoring this thoughtful pause from drifting off into inconsequentiality, a beautifully melodic bass riff and eerily clattering percussion ‑ like the echoing sound of camera shutters ‑ keep proceedings somewhere near planet Earth.

Ardri, though (nonsensical title ‑ always a bad sign), reeks too much of late ’70s/early ’80s ambient ‑ the kind of stuff the BBC would choose to soundtrack beautiful nature footage. Look, it’s a personal thing ‑ until someone out there finds even a slightly new direction with ambient (and I would certainly not rule Darkroom out of this), then the only sounds that interest me are the ones that either completely chill me out, or those that make the hairs on the back of my neck rise. This final track (like too much else in the field) gets my mind wandering after the first minute and thinking “So? What’s next?”

So, a downbeat end to a marvellous debut from Darkroom. Buy it for the title track and (whatever my gripes) for the remix, and just treat them as one long, haunting slab of sonic terrorism. Brilliant.

(review by Col Ainsley)

Darkroom: ‘Carpetworld’
3rd Stone Ltd./The Halloween Society, HAL 8001CD (5023693800158)
CD-only EP
Released: 6th July 1998

Buy it from:
(2018 update) This is now one of the rarest Darkroom releases – best obtained second-hand or from iTunes.

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March 1998 – maxi-single reviews – Lo Fidelity Allstars’ ‘Vision Incision’ (“promises to blow our minds wide open, but falls well short of the promise”)

26 Mar

Lo Fidelity Allstars: 'Vision Incision' maxi-single

Lo Fidelity Allstars: ‘Vision Incision’ maxi-single

I had this lot down all wrong at first, I admit it. From the bragging “we’re the greatest” interviews, and the “dance music with real instruments” tag, even the look of the group, I had them down as (god forbid) the new baggy. I was fully prepared to go out and shoot them so I didn’t have to live through the horror that was baggy yet again. But a couple of odd tracks here and there have persuaded me to save my bullets… for now.

Sure, there’s a “real band” sound at the heart of the Lo Fidelity Allstars, but they can manage to make their take on turn‑of‑the‑millennium genre‑defying dance culture a gloriously uplifting thing. Their baggy forerunners (Happy Mondays, Stone Roses) always sounded like they were prevented from gliding to a higher musical plane by having their feet firmly stuck in the field of mud labelled “indie”. The Lo Fi’s, firmly centred on the sampler and decks, don’t have the same problem as they reel off ribbons and streams of sound, rather than chug doggedly away like an old pro dealing with a new fad. But…


 
Oh, the senseless waste. Vision Incision promises to blow our minds wide open, but falls well short of the promise. Good start, mind. Smooth beats, hedonistic keyboard riff, an infectious soul-diva backing hook, and the matter of the live band sound becomes irrelevant as the track lifts and soars smoothly like the most uplifting house or techno, boasting “As we travel at magnificent speeds around the universe…” At which point the Lo-Fi-s prime weak spot is revealed: Dave The Wrekked Train’s bland Speak’n’Spell vocals. Mashing up randomised texts, as he does on other Lo-Fi-s sonic collisions, they work fine. Faced with actual poetry, they creak like a ground axle. Please, if this is the way he carries on all the time, sack him. He has delusions of being a more hip Mark E. Smith, but ends up just sounding like a London cabbie – a monotone mumble grating over the divine music and pointing up the dreadful rhymes in some of his lyrics.

Perhaps he reckons he’s aiming at the street-level psychedelic lyricism of hip-hoppers like the Wu-Tang Clan: the thing is, those guys sound like they believe the weed-fuelled surreal-o-vision they’re raving about. Dave just sounds embarrassed, as if he’d rather have stayed in his siding and chatted to Thomas The Tank Engine this time around. Consequently, I can’t decide whether this is a successor to Orbital’s Chime for the genre‑busting, cross‑pollinating late ’90s dance scene, or just OMD meeting The Orb in a spot of megalomaniac galactic synthpop. Or, alternatively, the KLF doing Spinal Tap.


 
The remix is referred to as a “12” mix” ‑ how bloody Eighties. I suspect that, in homage to their record label, this is the Lo‑Fi-s’ attempt at the Big Beat remix. The Late Train has mutated (oh god!) into the slower‑talking brother of The Shamen’s Mr C. for the first part of this extended work‑out. Wisely, they quickly dispense of his services and crank up the heavy beats to provide a real tour de force instrumental for the band. Proving that if you like your beats big and bouncy, then this dissipated bunch can turn their devious minds to that too. The Midfield General Shorter mix is the sparse techno‑electronica version. A mechanistic, simple beat, overlaid by electronic squelches and interferences, as the original track is ripped to shreds and rebuilt, as elements and sequences of the original drift in and out of the mix. Oh, and Train-In-Vain is just a distant, distorted presence, way back in the ether. Wise move, guys.


 
By this stage, frankly, it’s difficult to tell whether Gringo’s Return To Punk Paste is, in fact, a new track, or yet another radical remix of the original. What it does prove, yet again, is that the Lo‑Fi-s can also turn their hands (deep breath) to a ’90s version of the sounds of early ’80s rap and electro. Skeletal beats and distorted, squelching basslines set the parameters for that unmistakeable sound, aided by some nifty no‑nonsense American speech samples.


 
Cunning remixes or no, even if feted as the best new band in Britain by ‘Melody Maker’ and handed The Future on a giant silver platter to play with, the Lo Fi’s are still going to bellyflop if they keep expecting that stuff like Vision Incision’s going to justify that reputation. It’s not that they’re talentless rip-off merchants. On the contrary, their sampledelic experimentation – when they’ve taken all the sounds of the world, scrunched them up and run with them – is at least as heart-jumpingly astounding as any other visionary pop cut-ups around, if not more so. Hype or no hype, they can bring the noise with a vengeance. This is a real Quality Street of a band – whatever your favourite tribe in the current cross‑cultural collision, there’s music for you here. And if this is the sort of open‑minded group that all the mess of sounds in the ’90s can produce, then the future is wearing some very cool shades.

But compared to their own mighty One Man’s Fear (the world being slowly and gloriously wrenched to sticky bits by Jim Morrison’s psychotic baby grandchild), this ain’t so much a vision incision as a mere blink. Someone had their eye on nothing more noble than a chart placing when they knocked this lot together. Just cut it out, OK? Show me stars, not hot gas.

(review by Col Ainsley)

Lo Fidelity Allstars: ‘Vision Incision’
Skint Records, SKINT 33CD (5025425503320)
CD/cassette/7- & 12-inch maxi single
Released: 23rd March 1998

Get it from:
(2018 update) best obtained second-hand.

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