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February 2018 – upcoming London gigs (folk, jazz, soul, and eclectic acoustica) – Ian Beetlestone & the Drowning Rats (10th February); Matsudisho and Alice Phelps (18th February); plus Tell Tale Tusk (12th February), Alice Zawadski’s cello-heavy Valentine Show (14th February) and Kabantu’s album launch (8th February)

5 Feb

Even more than the Magic Garden (as covered a few posts back), Camden’s Green Note serves as a London folk-boutique par excellence. Most evenings, its small café space wedges in the cream of roots acts, the care they take over choice, presentation and atmosphere often justifying the priceyness of an evening out. You get what you pay for.

Here are a few things on offer there during early February:

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Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats, 10th February 2018

Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats
The Basement Bar @ The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England ·
Saturday 10th February 2018, 8:00pm
– information here, here and here

Plenty of charming elements and conversational topics converge in Ian Beetlestone. He’s a Yorkshireman-turned-Londoner, a pop and chanson connoisseur, a gay man and a cabbie. Several of these come together in his lively, engaging cabbie’s blog; even more of them combine in the fact that for the last couple of years Ian’s driven the capital’s first (and, to date, only) rainbow-coloured taxi (for what it’s worth, it’s becoming a much-loved city ornament both inside and outside of Pride, and he gets more stick from fellow cabbies over the Transport for London logo than he does for the LGBT+ associations).

As for the musicality, that flourishes in his all-singing acoustic trio The Drowning Rats, who offer “(a) unique combination of ratty jazz, drowned pop, magic, mystery, darkness and light to the capricious twin deities of love and song with ever pleading, hopeful eyes.” Having started up in Leeds about a decade and a half ago (and survived a subsequent re-potting in London), they’ve been the players of regular gigs in Soho (until recently, at the Blue Posts) and their home turf of Kings Cross (at the Star of Kings) as well as the Green Note.


 
With Ian’s florid piano backed by Dom Coles’ drumkit and Tom Fry’s double bass (and with occasional visitations from beery horns and assorted vocal foils), they deliver songs bursting with melody, harmony and joie de vivre; nodding to Brel and barrelhouse, Tom Waits and Paul Weller, Nina Simone and the Shangri-Las; suffused with wry reflection, wit and camaraderie. Ian rolls them out in a joyful soul growl – honey, gravel, fur and phlegm, with the hint of a romantic tenor under the wear and tear. It’s a little Tom Waits, but it’s rather more Dr John (if instead of immersing himself in the Big Easy, he’d taken a ship up the Thames estuary to found a bayoux in a London canal basin).

If you’re specifically after queerness, you’ll find it in the subtle and rosy sexual glow which illuminates many of the songs like fireside warmth, and also in the elastic inclusive community etched out in hints and amongst the broader scope of Ian’s songwriting. Inclusivity’s the word, in fact: there’s little details and easter eggs sown throughout the songs if you want to pick them up and decode them, but in general it’s all woven together with subtlety and open-heartedness. You can walk through their door and enjoy epic magic-realist power ballads about the A40, jaunts around the concerns, compromises and evasions of friendships, sly ballads which put the boot into Soho gentrification, and cheerfully apocalyptic accounts of mornings-after… all without worrying that you need to belong to any particular club. Although, in the extremely cosy confines of the Green Note’s basement bar, you’ll soon feel as if you do belong to one.



 
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Matshidiso + Alice Phelps
The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England
Sunday 18th February 2018, 8:30pm
– information here, here and here

Matshidiso, 2017
I’m not sure just how hard you have to work, just how much you have to do, blossom and branch out before you burst the “secret” side of “well-kept secret” wide open. I would have thought that Matshidiso would have reached that point a long time ago.

Music flows through pretty much everything she lives and does, stemming from the cosmopolitan stew of her upbringing (a native Londoner with Jamaican and Sotho heritage, a classical piano trainee with a parallel love of soul, hip-hop and the cream of 1970s singer-songwriters) and blossoming into her realisation of herself as do-it-all artist – on-call pianist and singer, producer/writer/arranger for herself and for others. Sometimes a band leader, always a constant communicator, Matshidiso has led creative workshops; run song sessions across the internet from her own front room and played venues from the Southbank Centre to South Africa. All this and she’s also a qualified and multilingual international human rights barrister (with experience fighting sex trafficking rings in Ethiopia); a spokesperson for activism around positive African and female identity; a visiting music therapist at the Royal Marsden; a rehabilitating coach and encourager for young male offenders at various prisons; and a onetime relief worker in Haiti.

All of which would be gems on anyone’s resume (and which suggests someone who’s already learned and given back more than most of us will in an entire lifetime) but as a musician, the final proof has to be in the songs Matshidiso sings. Traditional they might be, but she’s learnt well from the craft of forebears such as Roberta Flack, Laura Nyro and Lauryn Hill, creating harmonically rich keyboard-driven work drawing from songwriter soul, gospel and pop through which she roams with self-awareness and generous interest in other people’s efforts and struggles.


 
Maybe Matshidiso’s relatively low profile is because of the fact that, despite being the best part of a decade into her career, she’s yet to record a debut album, or even that many releases. There’s been a smattering of very occasional singles; there’s been a 2012 EP of nursery rhymes reconfigured for adults (an idea that fits neatly into of what ‘The Guardian’s called her whimsical yet solicitous approach, and one that’s far more successful than its spec would suggest). In many artists this would seem to be a flaw – a shortage of the hunger, the self-assertion, the pushy pride which is needed to succeed.

I’d suggest the opposite – that Matshidiso’s artistic presence is one that’s absolutely caught up in the moment, too much so to have prioritised lumping her output down into artefacts or commodities. Her work is live, whether it’s in the concerts in which she improvises made-up-on-the-spot stories from the personal accounts of audience members, or the connection she makes with prisoners, the lost, the under-represented as part of work which goes beyond being an entertainer and engages itself with re-weaving music (with all of its connecting and healing qualities) back into the fabric of everyday life.



 

Opening the show is Leeds-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alice Phelps (who, with her full band, was delighting Daylight Music earlier in the weekend). Harpist, guitarist, pianist, violinist and rich grainy singer, Alice spins blues into folk, Irish, Chinese and otherworldly elements to create original songs and a full-bodied chamber pop. On this occasion, she’s on her own; but she’ll be back at the Green Note next month with a full ensemble of strings, harp and choir. For now, enjoy her songs in their simpler format.



 

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A few more familiar faces are showing up at the Green Note at around the same time. On 12th February, contemporary female folk ensemble Tell Tale Tusk, who work “spellbinding (and award-winning) vocal harmonies…around melodious instrumentals to reimagine folktales old and give light to folktales new” bring their harmonies and humour back to Camden Town for an evening of old and new songs. On 14th February, Alice Zawadzki – whose name has been scattered around these pages for her voice and/or violin work alone or with Sefiroth, Jamie Safir and others – presents a Valentine’s Day Special of known and unknown songs, covers and originals (assisted by dual cello improvisers Alice Purton and Shirley Smart). Or – if you fancy a different venue and a different blend of polycultural acoustica – then on 8th February Manchester world quintet Kabantu are launching their debut album down at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. Plentiful…




 

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

28 Jan

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

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Christine Tobin, 2014

Christine Tobin, 2014

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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


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


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

April 2017 – upcoming London gigs – three songwriters – Momus (10th); BC Camplight (20th); David Vaughan (29th)

4 Apr

This month, there’s the chance to catch the work of three distinctive and different songwriters who are making individual appearances in London.

In reverse date order – there’s the warm and witty cabaret folk of David Vaughan, who ruminates on subjects from cheerful lust to the downfall of Andrew Mitchell, to the resolve of bereaved children. There’s the wrecked, wracked, shaggy-falsetto alternative pop of Philly refugee-turned-Manchester revenant BC Camplight. Finally – or firstly – there’s whatever a reflective, career-compiling Momus currently cares to pick out from his twenty-six years of contentious adventure (whether it’s the sampler pop performance art palimpsests of his recent work, the Pet-Shop-Boys-do-transgressive-Gainsbourg synth pop of his middle period, or the dazzlingly literate acoustic folk of the early years when he lined up alongside Cave, Cohen and Brel as a speculative, lethally witty chronicler/observer of the possible, the askew and the perverse).

* * * * * * * *

Momus
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Monday 10th April 2017, 7.30pm
information

Momus, 2017“Nick Currie, more popularly known under the artist name Momus (after the Greek god of mockery), is a Scottish songwriter who lives in Japan. He also writes fiction and reviews contemporary art.

“A veteran of British indie labels, Momus is currently in the midst of a re-release program which will see all his early material reissued by Cherry Red. His latest LP of new compositions is ‘Scobberlotchers’ — a response to Brexit and Trump — and his latest novel is ‘Popppappp’, the tale of two graphic designers captured by fanatical followers of Mark E. Smith.”




 
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Parallel Lines presents:
BC Camplight
St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 1UL, England
Thursday 20th April 2017, 7.30pm
information

“Lost treasure needn’t be found in the distant past; the 21st century hides many artists who disappeared into the great wide yonder. BC Camplight (the alter-ego of American songwriter Brian Christinzio) is one such example.

BC Lamplight, 20th April 2017“Originally from New Jersey, Christinzio started playing piano aged just four, inspired by his mum’s Jerry Lee Lewis and Nilsson records and his Dad’s classical collection. Depression and crippling hypochondria clashed with captaining the football team and a penchant for boxing. Post-school, he fell in with people, “willing to go through shit to be a musician,” which saw him relocate to Philadelphia where he occasionally played live with Philly faves The War On Drugs and guested on Sharon Van Etten’s album ‘Epic’. He went on to release his own albums in 2005 and 2007, both gems of a certain psych-pop vintage, combining eloquent songwriting with a self-destructive bent. Christinzio certainly knew it – he’s described himself as “the guy who blew it.”

“But this sublime talent with the keening vocal and fearless approach to lyrical introspection has another chance. His new album ‘How To Die In The North’, recorded in his newly adopted home of Manchester, England, is a fantastically rich, stylistically diverse trip. From dramatic, layered pop to a haunted take on Sixties sunshine-pop, from blue-eyed soul to speedy surf-pop, from sparser piano balladry to psychedelic showstoppers and a grand finale that’s part Nilsson and part Broadway showtune.”

There’s a further twist to the tale in that BC has recently fallen foul of Britain’s ludicrous visa laws and is now having to split his living time between Paris and Philadelphia (the very place he had to leave in order to achieve this artistic and personal rebirth). Come along to this solo piano-and-voice gig on the 20th to at least express a little sympathy.


 

 

(UPDATE, 7th April 2017 – Another sorry twist. This gig has been moved to St Pancras Old Church following the sad, sudden closing of The Forge. Another great venue goes down… At least this means that the show doesn’t get pulled and that more tickets are available.)

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MAP Studio Café presents:
David Vaughan
MAP Studio Café, 46 Grafton Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3DU, England
Saturday 29th April 2017, 7.30pm
information

David Vaughan“Singer-songwriter David Vaughan’s highly original mix of chanson, latin jazz and classical music comes to MAP for the very first time. Playing two forty-five minute sets of original songs arranged especially for voice, piano/classical guitar, accordion and clarinet, David calls on a number of influences including French chanson of the mid 20th century, modern and traditional Latin jazz, and classical music. They are melodic in nature with intricately arranged accompaniments highlighting David’s talents as both a performer, composer and arranger.

“With a varied career that spans work as a big band jazz trumpeter, jazz fusion keyboard-player (with Matt Borgmann’s 1990s band Meander), rock singer, commercial music composer and music teacher, David leads the show in his own relaxed, friendly style putting his audience at ease for what is an intimate, often heart-felt, sometimes dramatic, sometimes virtuosic show. Few contemporary British songwriters propose such an original blend both of instrumentation and of musical styles. The sound of top UK cabaret/jazz accordionist Romano Viazzani, combined with the mellow tone of upcoming classical clarinetist Jordi Juan Pérez, provides an inimitable backdrop to Vaughan’s songs. And yet this is neither folk nor traditional song, but something entirely original.”


 


 

April 2017 – upcoming gigs – Billy Bottle & The Multiple bring ‘The Other Place’ to Exeter (2nd)

26 Mar

Pastoral jazzers and questioning songmakers Billy Bottle & The Multiple are bringing their show ‘The Other Place’ (a kind of Brexit-themed pilgrimage-cum-road movie, dealing with questions of connection, national moods and democracy) to Exeter at the beginning of April.

I wrote something extensive about the show’s roots and methods back in mid-2016, so you can read more about that here.

In other news, the band have launched a Pledgemusic crowdfunding campaign to fund the recording and release of the album version of the show – more on that here.

Billy Bottle & The Multiple: 'The Other Place'

‘The Other Place’ by Billy Bottle & The Multiple
The Barnfield Theatre, Barnfield Road, Exeter, Devon, EX1 1SN, England
Sunday 2nd April 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 


 

 

October/November 2016 – upcoming gigs – Pierre Bensusan’s autumn tour of Britain and Ireland (30th October to 20th November)

26 Oct

Pretty much a year to the day since his last appearance in London, French-Algerian acoustic guitar master Pierre Bensusan is returning to town this Sunday for the start of a British and Irish tour. The tour will be taking in a delightfully broad sweep of venues both grand and humble, rowdy and formal, from pubs and multi-utility community rooms to concert halls. Most of them will have little in common at the start of the show. By the end, they’ll all be sharing the particular warmth which Pierre brings to his expansively intimate music and performances.

World music’s an often-abused term, especially when you can see crude joins within it. Yesterday’s exotic-record discovery shopped and slopped onto whichever beats selling; or the sound of one particular city’s overbearing acquisitiveness, engulfing and pickling the music of its immigrants rather than fostering it. Pierre’s music is an example of how you can revitalise and justify the term. I’ve spoken before about the French-Algerian-Sephardic background which gave him a head start as regards polycultural vision, but perhaps what he actually embodies is the mixed grain of musical acceptance: the travelling tunes and the more intangible freight of cultures soaking and blending into his playing without strain. Neither jazz nor folk nor Spanish classical, neither rai nor chaabi, nor flamenco (old or new), it nonetheless contains all of these – a translucent, fully-realised and seamless chamber-acoustic melange, played softly and without affectation.


 

Full tour dates below:


 

July 2016 – upcoming and ongoing gigs – some pickings from the Frome Festival, west of England (1st-10th)

2 Jul

While I missed the chance to plug the Sin Eater Festival a few weeks ago, I’m just about in time for the modest fireworks which herald the Frome Festival in Wiltshire.

I’m too late to plug the opening party (in which Frome’s own electro-poppers Sweet Machine shared a bill with psychedelic synth-cabarettier, rock biographer and all-round performance character Alan Clayson); I don’t have much to say about the festival’s big-draw act Reef (currently enjoying a new revival of their original ‘90s revival of 70s blues-rock); and I feel sorry that the free gig by “ukular fusion” band The Mother Ukers doesn’t involve furious Mahavishnukulele jazz shredding (instead of being a variation on banjo-happy rockgrass covers). But there’s plenty more on offer, so here are a few other things picked out from the billing.

It’s by no means everything on offer (the festival’s full of visual art, talks and theatre; there’s plenty more jazz and classical; and there’s a show by Billy Bragg which will probably take care of itself) but these represent the bits-between-the-bits which are closest to ‘Misfit City’s natural constituency (if such a thing exists).

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The Magical Folk Garden @ The Archangel, 1 King Street, Frome, BA11 1BH, England
Tuesday 5th-Friday 8th July 2016, 7.30pm each night
– information: Tuesday 5th / Wednesday 6th / Thursday 7th / Friday 8th

At the upstairs room at the Archangel pub, The Magical Folk Garden continues to turn itself into an annual institution with a series of cushion-strewn/standing-room-only unplugged gigs, creating a “euphonious forest of folk and contemporary acoustic music from some of the UK’s finest talents.” It’s all pretty well-scrubbed and tasteful – there’s nothing to scare the horses here. That said, a few of the performers might own horses, and some might whisper them; while a few might go all ‘Poldark’ and ride off on one, bareback and bare-chested, a honey-coloured guitar bouncing up and down on the withers (it all probably depends on the state of the booze and the pollen count).

The Tuesday show features two Bath acts – lit-pop cello-and-guitar duo The Bookshop Band and romantic solo-balladeer Tom Corneill – plus the sunny pure-pop/psychedelic fizz of Trowbridge’s The Pigeons.


The Wednesday show has a band-backed performance from Frome’s Al O’Kane (a gravel-and-honey country-blues-folker who, with his mix of rolling American roots guitar and British mysticism, can come across as a one-man ‘Led Zeppelin III’). Also playing are Alex Taylor (bouncy, jazz-and-funk-tinged, broadening his sound and filling out his pockets with pedals and loops) and young songwriter Emma Shoosmith, whose output has ranged from thoughtful folkified Taylor Swift covers to the lilting ska-tinted song shown below.




 

The Thursday show has a chamber-folk air. Bookshop Band multi-instrumentalist Beth Porter returns with her own augmented-string quartet band The Availables and her own clutch of intricate literary songs. Also on board are the strings, percussion rustles and detailed guitar of Rivers Of England (fronted by Rob Spaulding) who, although they take on some pretty familiar modern folk tropes, land them in an interesting marginal territory in which the early-’70s John Martyn and the early-’80s Julian Cope sit down to exchange lines and tips. The bill’s completed by the lost-boy charm of Avebury singer-songwriter (and Nick Harper protégé) George Wilding with his warm, abstracted songs of distraction and heartbreak (simultaneously soothing and haunting).




 

The Friday folk-final involves wayward Bristol-and-Bath folk septet The Cedar. Beth Porter makes her third Magical Folk Garden appearance of the week as the band’s cellist, alongside five other musicians. Playing a variety of instruments and implements (from guitar, glockenspiel, viola, organ and ukulele to calculator, screwdriver, musical and tri-square) they weave Neil Gay’s slightly distracted songs into a musical fabric that’s sometimes Belle-&-Sebastian communal, sometimes music-school precise, and sometimes as frayed as a scrap-basket oddment.

The rest of the evening gently mixes Western with Western. Accompanying herself on guitar, baritone ukulele, harmonium or shruti box, Bradford-on-Avon’s Jess Vincent delivers a set of original country-folk songs with a sound and demeanour that’s seen her compared to both Iris DeMent and Kate Bush. Evening openers Ali George and Ruby Brown do their own take on Gram-and-Emmylou duets, filtered through Ali’s trunkful of original English folk/clawhammer guitar songs.




 

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The town’s Rook Lane Chapel arts centre is hosting plenty of events. These two in particular caught my ear:

Snowapple
Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN, England
Thursday 7th July 2016, 7:30pm
information

Snowapple is an outstanding female harmony trio from Amsterdam who draw on folk, classical and chanson influences, in unique, charming and beautiful arrangements of original songs. Having sold out the Granary for the last two years, Snowapple have earned a reputation all over Europe and the US, and this year appear in the perfect setting of Rook Lane Arts.”

Praying For The Rain
Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN, England
Friday 8th July 2016, 8.00pm
information

From the blurb: “Known for their dynamic and compelling live performances, Praying For The Rain blend contemporary folk, Celtic and world music with irresistible rhythms, memorable melodies, beautifully crafted vocals and inspired musicianship. Their music brings to mind a modern blend of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Robert Plant, to Fleet Foxes and the Dave Matthews Band, creating a truly uplifting experience. Following last year’s sell out concert, Praying for the Rain return to Rook Lane for Frome Festival 2016. Expect an exhilarating night of high energy, movement and wonderfully engaging songs.“

I’m sure I remember Praying For The Rain from when I was a regular at Martyn Swain’s wonderful Dreamhouse acoustic nights, a refuge of warm bohemian chic and unplugged music alongside the Splash Club in scuzzy mid-’90s Kings Cross. These were the same shows at which I was delighted by up-close performances from Marcy Detroit, Simons Warner and Whitaker and many more… there’s a little bit about Dreamhouse here, since someone’s been writing a crowdfunded book about the Splash years (and you can still pitch in to help it). Dreamhouse was the kind of night where you could expect table candles and belly dancing interludes most weeks; but during their own slot, Praying For The Rain completely overflowed the little Water Rats stage with finger-cymbals, accordions, cellos, cirrus-band harmonies and what seemed like about ten people on whispering percussion, temporarily transforming the place to a full-on New Age folk temple.

Although they seem rather more bluesy and straightforward-rootsy than I remember through the gauzes of memory, it’s good to see that they’ve lasted the twenty-year distance and garnered themselves a new up-to-date list of comparisons.


 
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Over at the Granary, there’s a semi-unplugged triple bill and a visit from a ‘Misfit City’ favourite.

Three Is The Magic Number presents:
Three Corners + Molly Ross + Gum Girl
The Granary @ The George Hotel, 4 Market Place, Frome, BA11 1AF, England
Friday 8th July 2016, 8.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like

Regular Frome-and-Wiltshire unplugged night Acoustic Plus takes on a new identity for this three-act bill of “original songs, haunting vocals, mesmeric music” celebrating a diversity of approach via three different acts. Molly Ross offers fledgling piano pop touches on folk and R&B; Three Corners (with their roots in 1980s new-wavers The Impossible Dreamers, and featuring ex-Dreamers Nick Waterhouse and Caroline Radcliffe) play sparse, questing songs around more of a loose blues-and-jazz-informed tip; but the one I find most interesting is the dreamy beat’n’texture pop of Gum Girl.




 
Arch Garrison
The Granary @ The George Hotel, 4 Market Place, Frome, BA11 1AF, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.00pm
– information http://cheeseandgrain.ticketsolve.com/shows/873554307

As Arch Garrison, North Sea Radio Orchestra mastermind Craig Fortnam and Stars In Battledress‘ James Larcombe explore gentle, intricate psychedelic folk: partly gentle clean chapel tones, partly kosmische textures, partly chalk-ridge geomancy. A duo of Craig’s nylon-strung acoustic guitar and James’ assorted keyboards (organ, monosynth, harmonium and piano), their two albums’ worth of songs have enabled Craig to bring the smaller and more personal songs he writes to life, when they don’t fit the grander feel of NSRO. Their ‘Will Be A Pilgrim‘ album was one of my favourites of 2014 – an unexpected gem of small voice and thinking space. Support comes from local favourites Dexter’s Extra Breakfast, playing Dave Clark’s soft-petalled and “Weltschmerzian” songs of middle-aged reflection.

 

* * * * * * * *

John D Revelator
The Griffin, 25 Milk Street, Frome, BA11 3DB, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.00pm
– free event

At the Griffin, John D Revelator will be bringing along their dark-tinged acoustic swamp-pop for a free show. Even if there’s not actually such a thing as the “Somerset Levels delta”, they’ll lie to their last tooth and their last busted guitar string trying to persuade you that it does exist.


 

* * * * * * * *

Towards the end of the festival, the second of Frome’s two substantial concert halls is offering two very different performances on the same day. One is a post-lunchtime concert of vividly Catalonian Spanish classical music from the twentieth century; the other is an evening show of polymusical fusion from an all-star collective trio.

Elena Riu & Clara Sanabras: ’A Taste Of Spain’
Cooper Hall @ Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome, BA11 3NL, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 1.00pm
information

Pianist Elena Riu and singing multi-instrumentalist Clara Sanabras (the latter on voice, harp, oud, charango and guitar) perform selections from the ‘Songs & Dances’ of Catalan impressionist/miniaturist composer Federico Mompou and the ‘Spanish Dances’ of his compatriot Enrique Granados, interspersed with Clara’s performances of the original Catalan folk songs on which Mompou drew.

Birdworld
Cooper Hall @ Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome, BA11 3NL, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.30pm
– information http://cheeseandgrain.ticketsolve.com/shows/873554308

“Birdworld is made up of musicians Adam Teixeira (drums/percussion), Gregor Riddell (cello/electronics); and Alex Stuart (guitar). The project came about when Gregor and Adam met during self-directed Banff Creative Residencies where they discovered a shared interest in blending electronic and acoustic sounds. Since Adam moved to the UK in 2014 they have continued to develop BirdWorld, adding Alex along the way. Combining their artistic voices as both instrumentalists and composers, the trio will showcase each members original compositions arranged specifically for this unique musical exchange. Creating a unified sound that blends the inspirations of modern jazz, world music, contemporary classical, rock and electronic music in a rare concert setting.”

Here’s a video of the original two-piece in action, to give you two-thirds of an idea of what might be on offer.

 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra play London and Salisbury (12th, 26th) with Daisy Chute and William D. Drake (and maybe some other people…)

30 May

After a four-year hiatus (punctuated only by a brief 2014 showing at a Robert Wyatt tribute evening in France) North Sea Radio Orchestra – the pocket alt.chamber ensemble formed by husband-and-wife art-rock refugees Craig and Sharron Fortnam – are returning to action with a couple of warm, low-key English shows in London and Salisbury during June.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

Based around Craig’s aerial compositions (propelled by a fine lattice of nylon-string guitar or gestural piano) and fronted by Sharron’s grand, pealing mezzo-soprano, NSRO emerged fifteen years ago via a series of church concerts in the City of London. A familial, twenty-strong English-gala-on-legs, sporting a rugged/ragged choral section, they blended the feel of a market-town classical festival with the more omnivorous preoccupations of world-city musicians flitting between concert halls, experimental rock clubs and eclectic podcasts.

Notoriously, Craig’s tune-sense drew on a romantic-futurist melding of Britten, Zappa, Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock, traditional and psychedelic folk, Victorian poetry and the bassoon-laden locomotional soundtracks of Smallfilms’ Vernon Elliott: while the musician-and-singer pool drew not only on moonlighting classical and film-score people, but also on London art-rockers with broad skills and wide-open ears. In retrospect, there are some superficial similarities not just between the NSRO and one of their clearest equivalents – the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, who enjoyed a comparable tidy balance between cosmopolitan genres and methods – but also between the NSRO and that ongoing wave of enjoyable pop-up community choirs who roll around with Beach Boys, Bjork and Pulp songs stuffed in their pockets. Certainly both of the latter share a “get-up-and-do-it” communal warmth which endear them to audience, plus a pleasing lack of collegiate polish (the NSRO’s choral parts managed to be disciplined and soaring and loveably rough’n’baggy, while Sharon’s lead singing has muscled in on uncolonized areas between classical diva, ’60s coffee-house folk and Yorkshire punk).

Having said that, the NSRO have always been a more serious endeavour, treating their inspirations and ongoing creative paths with a discreet and earnest gravity; something typified by their third album’s pre-hiatus digression into a more compacted style, in which minimalist and Krautrock influences subsumed their initial romanticism (and in which self-penned lyrics of connection, loss and retreat replaced their earlier settings of Tennyson and Blake).

Today’s NSRO are a more streamlined affair than they once were: a compact mostly-instrumental nonet with Sharron’s voice still to the fore. Many members may have gently fallen away (if not too far away), but most of the original players remain in place alongside the Fortnams. Percussionist Hugh Wilkinson, organist/monosynther James Larcombe, string players Harry Escott and Brian Wright, and Luke Crooks and Nicola Baigent on reeds are still all on board, Despite being absent for these shows (he’ll be back in the autumn) the ensemble’s newest recruit, percussionist and viola player Stephen Gilchrist, fulfils the usual NSRO criteria of strolling or scrambling across genre lines: as “Stuffy” Gilchrist, he’s best known for thrashing the drums behind Graham Coxon or Art Brut, or for doling out his pop-eyed alt.rock as Stuffy/the fuses or Stephen Evens.)

These new shows should contain material from the NSRO’s upcoming fourth album ‘Dronne’, due out in early September. The first signs of the album came from a minute-and-a-half of dreamy domestic phase music uploaded to their Facebook page back in January (see above). Various other hints which have seeped out suggest a further change of course, perhaps influenced by the inspired psychedelic folk course which Craig and James Larcombe have been following with their parallel project Arch Garrison . In James’ words: “the new NSRO album’s amazing – in my opinion rather further down the psychedelic avenue, particularly the long instrumental title track. The song we’ve recently done a video for (‘Vishnu Schist’) is without a doubt my new favourite NSRO song… I’ve been listening to it loads. There’s a Robert Wyatt cover on it too, which is lovely.”

Regarding the gigs…

Tigmus presents
North Sea Radio Orchestra + Daisy Chute
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Sunday 12th June 2016, 1.30pm
– more information here and here

In support at the Forge is Daisy Chute. Though she’s undoubtedly best known as one-quarter of glossy-teen pop/classical fusion queens All Angels, Daisy vigorously and actively pursues a broad sweep of additional music including theatre, education and modern folk. In addition to her frontline work as a singer, she’s an accomplished composer, arranger, orchestrator and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, ukelele, banjo and pixiphone), and a member of varied other bands including Camberwell folk-pop quartet threeandme. On this occasion she’s going out under her own name, singing a set of self-penned folk-and-jazz inspired songs and fronting a quartet of Tristan Horne (cello), Will Collier (double bass) and Zara Tobias (harmonium and backing vocals).


 

* * * * * * * *

Salisbury Arts Centre presents:
Transplant Music Night: North Sea Radio Orchestra + William D. Drake + special guests
Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, SP1 3UT, England
Sunday 26th Jun 2016, 8.00pm
more information

This one’s billed as “a special night of music to accompany Salisbury Arts Centre’s ‘Transplant’ exhibition” (more on that in a moment…) For this show, the support act is onetime Cardiacs member William D. Drake, who forged his own belated solo career alongside NSRO’s (simultaneously putting in time in the latter as both choir singer and occasional composer/pianist). Building on from his interest in Early Music, his stint as the classically-inspired keyboard wildcard amongst Cardiacs’ polystylistic punk tumult and his subsequent immersion in rootsier work, Bill has developed his own idiosyncratic approach to songwriting: baroque, playful and soulful. It’s culminated in his latest – and greatest – album, ‘Revere Reach’, which lovingly threads folk, rock, classical and mythic elements together in a compelling and timeless act of musical bridging.

 

There are also additional “special guests” mentioned on the bill. This could mean anything; but it’s worth speculating on location, on confirmed attendees and on similar associations including the ‘Transplant’ exhibition itself:

promo-mattcuttssculpture2016“Celebrating the interconnectedness between art forms emerging from the festival scene and the joy of being outdoors in nature, ‘Transplant’ brings together sculpture, image, music, poetry and living plants. Forming the heart of the exhibition, Matt Cutts’ wooden sculptures sit in ‘fields’ of wild flowers and trees. Accompanying them are huge batik paintings by Sarah Jones reflecting the beauty of trees. A soundtrack for the exhibition has been created from new music and field recordings by Sarah Jones and William D. Drake. The exhibition opens on Midsummers Eve (Tuesday 21st June) for a 6-8pm viewing, prior to the exhibition proper running from the 22nd to the 25th.”

Citing the fond connections between the world of Cardiacs and that of Salisbury is a pretty easy game. Not only have many former Cardiacs members and affiliates (the Fortnams included) ended up living around Salisbury, but the band recorded their reknowned ‘All That Glitters Is A Mare’s Nest’ concert film in the Arts Centre itself seventeen years ago. Bill Drake’s contributions to both Transplant concert and exhibition further binds the worlds together, but a closer look reveals yet more links. A long time ago (before the batiks), Sarah Jones was Sarah Smith, blowing a puckish saxophone and frail silvery backing vocals in Cardiacs. Before that, she was Sarah Cutts; born into an artistic Forest of Dean family and sister to Matthew Cutts, who himself put in a long stint as a Cardiacs roadie before returning to his sculpting work.

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones

Whatever the main intentions, it’s clear that a nodding, benevolent Cardiacs spectre looms over the whole event, sealed by the nature-saturated green-fuse inspirations which collectively permeate the artworks of Transplant, North Sea Radio Orchestra’s pastoral heart, and the undergrowth of Cardiacs songs (with their fascination with life and damp and greenery). It could, in fact, be part of one of the ever-more regular waves of Cardiacs-related activity which ripple through English crannies and corners each year in the band’s absence, keeping alive their loving and cheerfully prickly approach to music, friendship and existence (see also the upcoming ‘Whole World Window’ benefit gig in Preston next month, which I’ll flag up again later in the summer). It may give some clues as to who else might turn up; or it might not.

However, I’ll leave any speculation there. Moving back to certainties, here are a few video clips of NSRO in the past – from their choral triumphs to their airborne or churchbound meditations – to pave the way for whatever they’ve got ready for us now.





 

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