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January to March 2020 – assorted London gigs – Holly Penfield at 100 Club (8th March) and with Ian Ritchie at the Fiddler’s Elbow (10th January); skewed surf, pop and acoustica with Kenny Process Team, Keith John Adams and The Happy Couple (13th January); Balkan/Gaelic folktronics with Arhai (18th January); plus Minute Taker’s ‘Wolf Hours’ in Manchester (24th January)

7 Jan

Holly PenfieldIf you missed Holly Penfield’s London launch gig for her ‘Tree Woman’ album back at Halloween last year – or if you attended and wanted to see it again – then she’s looping back on herself and staging another one at the 100 Club on 8th March. For those unfamiliar with her, here’s what I wrote (indeed, here’s what I recycled) last time.

“Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).

“It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).

“What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).”



 
Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie, 10th January 2019If you can’t wait until March, Holly and her multi-instrumentalist husband Ian Ritchie (the latter an ex-Deaf School member recently fresh off playing sax on the Roger Waters tour) will be playing another London gig this coming Friday, up at the Fiddler’s Elbow. This one will be an “experimental thirty-minute duo gig of originals with vintage ‘80s drum machine… interesting, quirky,and challenging!”

Although Holly and Ian are going out under their Cricklewood Cats moniker (under which they’ve previously released a few synth-jazz swing songs), theirs has been a long and varied partnership also encompassing cabaret, out-and-out jazz balladry, noisy rock diva songs and the bewitching sequencer-torch-pop of the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album. So you could expect takes on all of the above and more, including some of Holly’s newer songs. At the moment she’s on a serious creative upswing, and there’s rarely been a better time to see her than now.


 

* * * * * * * *

Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple, 13th January 2020On the following Monday, the reunited and reinvigorated Kenny Process Team launch their own new album, ‘Travlin’ Light With… Kenny Process Team’. Actually, it’s an old one, recorded as a live session over twenty years ago with the band’s 1998 lineup but lost in the abstracted shuffle of the band’s history, which has seen members swap out, disappear, impale themselves on fences and even join Oasis.

Part avant-surf, part Afro-prog and compared in their time to both The Ventures and Captain Beefheart (while proggies will also find parallels with Television and The League of Gentlemen), there’s more on the Kenny Process back story here. In the present, with the addition of Rhodri Marsden as new guitarist (replacing the late Simon King) and thanks to his existing connections with Lost Crowns and Prescott, they’re further cementing their links with London’s current crop of art/prog/psych/cellularists.



 
Also playing is KPT labelmate Keith John Adams. Once Rhodri’s bandmate in zestful 1990s avant-skifflers Zuno Men, for twenty years now Keith has been a solo act coming at acoustic pop from a gently skewed angle, buffeting around friendly lyrical ideas like a sozzled housefly bumping against a lampshade and turning out understated little song-gems as he does so. His accidental forebears might include Robyn Hitchcock, Kevin Ayers; you might also pretend that he’d been dreamed up from some lazy Walthamstow afternoon when Leon Redbone shared a sofa with the young Bill Oddie.



 

Opening the evening is The Happy Couple, the languid instrumental duo formed by Kenny Process drummer Dave Ross and his life partner Judith Goodman, born out of two decades of inseparable love mingling with the inspiration of the Epping Forest woodscapes where they live. Judith plays a variety of open-tuned guitars, predominantly a Weissenborn acoustic slide guitar but also a 4-string tenor and a 3-string cigar box model (plus a mysterious “early English” example which suggests a rewriting of instrumental history). Leaving his drumkit behind, Dave plays a variety of mouth-held lamellophones: a classic American jaw harp, Indian morchangs in both brass and iron, a Norwegian Munnharpe and a mouth bow harp created in Devon. As for the music, it’s a relaxed evocation of companionship, glissando and boing and intersecting rhythms: or, as Judith comments, “it’s about the sounds that happen when we put our sounds together. We just create a world we want to be in.”



 
* * * * * * * *

Arhai, 18th January 2020

The following Saturday, British/Serbian electronic folk project Arhai slip into the little cellar at the Harrison to deliver their own electro-acoustic atmospheres. A two-decade-long project led by singer/composer Jovana Backovic, they were a traditional Serbian acoustic octet for their first ten years, gradually shifting into electric terrain before dissolving and allowing Jovana to form the current duo with British multi-instrumental specialist Adrian Lever (mediaeval dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, guitar, tambura, Bulgarian lute etc). Now they’re Balkan-cum-Gaelic, intertwining ancient and technological: or, as they put it “rethinking the archetypal modes of music performance in the context of modernity”. Which sometimes means they’re ultra-accessible and synth-quilty in the familiar Clannad model, and sometimes means that they’re off and racing like a cross between izvorna and a hyperspatial hip hop track.




 
* * * * * * * *

All of the above events will be in London: for the next one, you’ll need to head up to Manchester, where singer, songwriter and electronic pop creator Ben McGarvey, a.k.a. Minute Taker, is unveiling his multi-media performance ‘Wolf Hours’. Ben is no stranger to mixing theatre and music, having already presented a love-and-ghosts story on tour with ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ featuring animations from Ana Stefaniak. ‘Wolf Hours’ is an even more ambitious undertaking – “a unique performance combining mesmerising film with a dynamic live soundtrack. From forbidden love in the First World War, to the pain and rage of AIDS, to contemporary hedonism and heartbreak, ‘Wolf Hours’ explores the stories of gay men at different points in time through their dreams. This series of stunning new short films (directed by John Lochland, Joe Stringer, Kirk Sylvester, Raphaël Neal and Ben McGarvey) are accompanied throughout by Minute Taker performing an intimate musical and vocal score that both builds the atmosphere and pulls on the heartstrings. Visually explosive and emotionally thrilling, ‘Wolf Hours’ transports the audience through pleasure, grief, lust, joy and our collective historical imagination.”



 
In this interview with ‘Superbia’, Ben expounds on the approach he took when putting together ‘Wolf Hours’, which he describes as “jumbled-up memories, fears and fantasies.. It’s presented a bit like late night TV from back in the ’80s and ’90s (when anything queer was relegated to an after-midnight slot!) with different programmes and images emerging out of the static as you drift in and out of sleep… I also decided to include lots of archive footage in the show, which explores the way homosexuality has been portrayed in the media over the years… all of the stuff that finds its way into the subconscious minds of the characters as they lie awake at night, having an effect on how they view themselves and the gay community.” He’s hoping to take the show out on a broader tour much later this year, but for now this is all that you’re getting…

* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie: The Cricklewood Cats
The Fiddler’s Elbow, 1 Malden Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3HS, England
Friday 10th January, 2020, 8.20pm
– no information links, just turn up…

Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Monday 13th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Folk and Roots presents:
Arhai
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Saturday 18th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Minute Taker presents ‘Wolf Hours’
Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard Street, Beswick, Manchester, M4 7JA, England
Friday 24th January 2020, 8:00pm
– information here and here

Holly Penfield
The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London, W1D 1LL, England
Sunday 8th March 2020, time t.b.c.
– no information links yet
 

September/November 2019 – upcoming rock/folk/psychedelic gigs – My Octopus Mind on tour in Bristol, London and Lille (5th & 6th September, 27th November), Daniel O’Sullivan and Brigid Mae Power in London (13th September)

29 Aug

My Octopus Mind

Now with a debut album behind them (‘Maladyne Cave‘, which popped out last month), propulsive, eclectic, electro-acoustic Bristolians My Octopus Mind are revving up for another handful of dates in England and France for early and mid-autumn.

As I’ve mentioned before, the band “occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them.” ‘Maladyne Cave’ reveals how they’ve worked through those inspirations to the full and springboarded to something more urgent and stirring in its own right– strings, twitches and harmonic jumps from Balkan folk and Indian raga; influxes of shifting-terrain jazz rhythms from the interplay of double bass and drumkit, a post-minimalist precision, and surges of distorted amplifier-frying art rock allied to prog atmospherics and dynamics (from acoustic shoegazery to Zeppelin electric-folk drone). Overall, though, it’s about the way all of this is enabled by the mushrooming complexity of Liam O’Connell’s songwriting, a set of shifting organic moods and associations which package up personal restlessness, jokes, retributive snarls (about exploitation and bad politics), Patton-esque character vocals and more.

Other close cousins to what My Octopus Mind currently do would be the psychedelic garlandings of Knifeworld or the more out-there voyagings of The Verve, the protracted lilting commentaries of Damien Rice, and whatever Fyfe Dangerfield’s up to these days; while MOM themselves cite Radiohead, Josh Homme, the Buckleys, Jose Gonzalez and raga/Tagore song specialist Rajeswar Bhattacharya (there’s a version of the latter’s Anundena on ‘Maladyne Cave’). Ultimately, though, the band are already establishing their own identity: a strong debut firming out what should be a lively career. Hopefully they’ll bring out their string section on tour this time. If not, the sinewy acoustic power trio at the heart of the band (with Isaac Ellis taking a bow to his resonantly booming, textured double bass when needs must) has already proved itself well capable of holding an audience rapt.



 
While there doesn’t seem to be anyone else playing at Bristol, the London gig features a set from past-pop masher-upper-in-chief/swing & bass pioneer DJ Fizzy Gillespie. Playing both host and support at Lille are local latterday heavy/alt.rock trio Paranoid, fronted by émigré Matthew Bush, billed as grunge and citing an undying loyalty to Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana (as well as to Radiohead and newer Biffy Clyro, to whom their driving, punchy, quick-raid songs arguably have the most similarities).

 
* * * * * * * *

Although his Westminster Kingsway College gig in in June was cancelled at the last minute, Daniel O’Sullivan is back playing live in London mid-September. Since it seems a shame for what I wrote last time round to get buried, here it is again:

Daniel O-Sullivan + Brigid Mae Power, 13th September 2019

“It’s easy enough to own a varied music collection; to shuffle quickly and smoothly between folk music, noise, synthtronica, experimental psychedelia, arthouse sound design, prog, proto-punk, pseudo-Zeuhl and the rest. It’s quite another to work, as a creative musician, across all of these: inevitably some purist will call you out as a fraud or a daytripper. Daniel, however, has made a name for himself as one of the few people who can apparently flit and slide between the scenes without being stalled by suspicion or rejection. Formidable multi-instrumental skills help, as does his apparent willingness to be a utility man as often as a leader. Over two decades, he’s piled up a pyramid of projects – his own Mothlife and Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses; duo work with Miracle or Grumbling Fur; a stint effectively directing Guapo; contributions to live and studio work with Ulver, Sunn O))) and This Is Not This Heat; plus sound installations and soundtracks in the fine art and cinema worlds. During the course of this, no-one’s fingered him as an interloper; no-one seems to have frozen him out. It’s a rare talent to be so ubiquitous, so flexible – or so insidious.



 
“Daniel’s most recent album, ‘Folly’, is the second one he’s released under his own name, pursuing something more intimate and personal. Written around the death of a friend and the birth of a son, it sees him continuing to tack away from the experimental rock he made his reputation with in favour of hushed, rich-textured chamber folk, burnished like a picture window by the warm depth of Thighpaulsandra’s production. Still ,a psychedelic perspective follows in its wake, like a contrail of blossom; easily found in the swirl of instrumentation and in the way that Daniel dips in and (more often) out of straightforwardness like a flying fish, offering transient reveals and kaleidoscopic digressions. Live, he’ll be performing solo and won’t be able to dodge behind the arrangements, but will be inviting up a couple of special guests to play along.”

In contrast to the solo gig that was planned for Westminster Kingsway, the Lexington gig will feature Daniel’s full electro-acoustic Dream Lyon Ensemble octet, featuring frequent collaborators Peter Broderick, Thighpaulsandra and Knut Sellevold (of Elektrofant, King Knut), Astrud Steehouder of Paper Dollhouse, dronester Christos Fanaras, Frank Byng on drums and Chlöe Herington on reeds.


 

Supporting Daniel (and probably with Peter Broderick helping out) is Irish singer-songwriter Brigid Mae Power, whose multi-instrumental, multi-layered contemporary folk songs have been causing a stir since the release of her debut album in 2016. Her second album, ‘The Two Worlds’ brings more of them into the world: dark-toned, literate, dreamy, deceptively calm but gradually revealing undercurrents of hope, strength and survival set against sinister depths of intimation.


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

My Octopus Mind on tour:

  • The Canteen, 80 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3QY, England – Thursday 5th September 2019, 9.00pm – information here
  • The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England – Friday 6th September 2019, 9.00pm (with DJ Fizzy Gillespie)– information here
  • La Rumeur, 57 rue de Valenciennes, 59000 Lille, France – Wednesday 27th November 2019, 8.00pm (with Paranoid + guest) – information here

Upset the Rhythm presents:
Daniel O’Sullivan (octet) + Brigid Mae Power
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Friday 13 September 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

July 2001 – EP reviews – A Girl Called Eddy’s ‘Tears All Over Town’ (“torch songs set to low glow, fanned into sudden flares by a crack in control”)

31 Jul

A Girl Called Eddy: 'Tears All Over Town' EP

A Girl Called Eddy: ‘Tears All Over Town’ EP

One of my small daydreams of alternate pop history involves Clare Torry. Having raised the hairs on the back of my neck with her ecstatic singing on Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky, she wouldn’t have slipped away anonymously. She’d’ve gone into the studio with songs for herself and produced at least one album with that voice, that understanding set free. When (on Francis Dunnery‘s Close My Door) I first heard Eddy Moran’s arresting wordless vocal soaring skywards – twisting, keening, cracking and surging – I felt that same hair-raising chill. Flashed straight back to the same daydream.

I’m luckier in my dreaming sometimes. Although, for her debut EP as A Girl Called Eddy, she’s not repeating the magnificent Torry-esque splendour that turned my head the first time, Eddy has found other ways to chill me. Her songs could’ve waltzed out of the ’30s, or the ’60s: torch songs set to low glow, fanned into sudden flares by a crack in control. Cool heartbreak in her voice, she’s like a more ambiguous Tracey Thorn. Not someone who’ll glut her despair centre stage: she’s more like someone who you might catch staring at you piercingly from beside the bar, quiet, wise and intent.


 
Fading does its bit to draw back the curtains of sorrow. A fragment of Blue Nile lushness, slurs and fake orchestra, it revolves like a ferris wheel trailed by a puff of New Orleans trumpet. Cinematic, but less so than Soundtrack of Your Life; which – set on capturing the swinging ’60s side of Eddy’s imagination with its bossa lilt and breezy “bah-bah” chorus – doesn’t follow the torch course so closely. But beyond its cigarettes, its memories from film and old photos, its gushes of grand Mellotron and sitars, it has its centre of bereftness. “If ignorance is bliss, then seal it with a kiss, / but it was never supposed to end like this.”


 
Heartache – eased along with upright bass, a mascara-slur of brush drums and soft dips of weary piano – brings out the real phantoms of loss. “You’ve seen his face somewhere before. / Now you know for sure / that you can call him heartache – yeah, you can call him that,” Eddy breathes. “Yeah, you can call him heartache – you’ll never get it back.” Ragged memories and the force of erotic imagination are where these particular ghosts live, and Eddy’s well aware of it.


 
A ghost of another kind haunts Girls Can Really Tear You Up Inside – the spectre of a vanished, never-known father. Like the bewildered girl in the song, Eddy simply pieces together scraps. Yet the result is a reverie carrying its own kind of romantic longing – “she’s heard you sing / and that your eyes are very, very, very blue…” In this web of connections and betrayal, there’s as much lurking passion, fear and anticipation as there is in any straight love song. Eddy reveals this, trace by trace, as she rides an elliptical path to its frightened heart, addressing the vanished man as she does so. “Why do you run, / why do you hide / from all you are?” Eddy muses, a dreamy voice of conscience and excitement amongst the traffic noise and the strums of an almost blues-y harpsichord. “You’re just a man, but she could tear you up inside.”


 
The greatest crack in the cool comes with her take on Stephen Bishop’s The Same Old Tears, recorded in her Greenwich Village kitchen in a flash of inspiration, with just an acoustic guitar and a divine echo. “Seeing you as an old photograph, it hurts too much to laugh,” Eddy sings, midway between croon, tears and laughter, before soaring off into a beautiful blue plate-cracking keen – “But I’m all right, I’m all right…”


 
Just for a flash, you see to the knot of the problem, and need know no more. Wanting more is different, of course. Eddy knows this – and, listening to this EP, so do I, now.

A Girl Called Eddy: ‘Tears All Over Town’
Le Grand Magistery, HRH-021 (6 16656 00212 3)
CD-only EP
Released:
31st July 2001
Get it from: (2020 update) Le Grand Magistery; or stream via Deezer, Apple Music or Spotify. Different versions of Heartache and Girls Can Really Tear You Up Inside appear on the eponymous debut album by A Girl Called Eddy.
A Girl Called Eddy online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music
 

April 1995 – EP reviews – Bluefood’s ‘Cheese’ (“n elegantly tired, worn, damask’n’dust croon as loose as a blanket thrown over a sagging sofa… mordant, sparkling hooky pop”

30 Apr

Bluefood: 'Cheese'

Bluefood: ‘Cheese’

“Given half the chance you would take the time / to have all the things you ever wanted to find / and, maybe, make sure that everything was always fine. / Just clear your head, look through the window, see the world knocking at your door. / There’s a cure – just close the curtains, / that’s what they’re there for…”

Bluefood are brilliant. No two ways about it. Think Tindersticks gone sampleadelic but with better tunes; think of the much-missed white-knuckle Bohemianism of Furniture; think Morrissey’s wit unencumbered by the petulant tantrums and waving sleeves. Think a down-at-heel, seedier young Scott Walker slumped in a corner after losing five too many bar brawls; but still carrying a ironic smirk across that smart mouth, behind the bruises. Think of the way that London can pull you down into a swamp of despondency during the days, sucking the energy out of your nerves in a succession of crummy jobs and rented rooms: then think of the way you decide to make the same tatty old city yours at night.

You don’t need to think any more: Bluefood have nailed it. It’s all here. In Duncan Morris’ voice, there’s the memory of a whole world of opportunities missed by a whisker – an elegantly tired, worn, damask’n’dust croon as loose as a blanket thrown over a sagging sofa. And while he plucks at the faded fruits of a haphazard existence, Paul Gilbert, Alun Lane and onetime Pigbag drummer Chip Carpenter wrap them up in a raffish, rumpled package of manically swinging pianos, swirling sardonic jazz-horn samples and sweeping Cocteau-ed dream-pop guitar like a swathe of tattered velvet curtain: all stitched together in mordant, sparkling hooky pop that, timeless as it is, could only pop up out of the ’90s.

It’s Burt Bacharach and Randy Newman playing poker with Moonshake and Portishead in The Smiths’ old bedsits, perhaps; but it’s all “wall-to-wall hardcorn melodrama” to Bluefood. As glimpsed through the oscillating spaces between the loops, their world is one where hapless boys lose their girlfriends to other women; where you can know precisely how cheap you are while still enjoying your ability to place hairstyles; where you’re no more than your last wisecrack or trophy date (like the dumped lover on Who’s Who?, knocked out of his place and freefalling through the gaps of casual engagements and social cyphers); but where the world still lurches on in a spirit of optimism that’s half cunning, and half plastered.

Duncan and co. take you on a tour of this world and its shifty corners, armed with the sort of impeccable wit, comic timing, and sense of self-awareness (“Boy meets girl, / girl finds herself, / boy loses mind and takes to getting drunk and writing morbid songs”) which the hopelessly pompous likes of Jack will never touch. “I found perfection, didn’t know what to do with perfection. / I caught a falling star – it burnt a hole in my pocket.” They might be boho to the core; but they’re not so langorously in love with the lifestyle’s tatty glamour that they’re oblivious to its ridiculous side.

Send In the Clowns sketches the ups-and-downs of the wastrel’s life, swaying between complacent despondency (“when you sleep and dream away the truth, nature’s on the roof / stealing all the lead”) and the wild clutchings of helpless inspiration “when your head’s confused, like you’ve blown a fuse, / when you just don’t know what you’re supposed to do, / when the circus runs away with you…” Down in the depths, on Girlfriend, the marshmallow bloat of the loungecore string loops which cushion and smother Duncan’s teary love-lorn drunkenness are suddenly invaded by a wandering mariachi band… right at the point when he’s sure that things can’t get any worse.

Merry-Go-Round (She Said) is a Drive My Car for the hopeful: “‘Hello, do you want a boyfriend?’ / She laughed, ‘I’ve already got one’. / ‘Well, anyway, a girl like you should have two, / In case one gets broken.’ / So that was how they met.” It captures the rapid swirl and the first thrill of the heat coming on, while simultaneously puncturing the pretentions of born-again lovers. “‘Life’s a merry go round’, he said. / ‘Oh, how bloody profound,’she said. ‘Lah-de-da-de-dah – just drive…” On the tale of a quarrelsome, burnt-out affair on Eyes of Bethnal Green, love kicks hard even as it’s going downhill: “She was the kind of girl if she broke your heart / it would ruin her life for the whole weekend… / ‘Tell me you’re not just another boy-man with two big eyes in his sockets, / Got the world in his hands, when his hands are in his pockets.'”

If the course of true love ain’t running exactly smoothly here, it’s not lost altogether. Funny Face sounds exactly like an older, wiser, more guarded Blue Nile – an after-hours torch ambience half-inched from Sinatra; smoky ripples of synth; sparse, sharp, romantic piano. All topped off with finger-snaps, jazz bass, a soulful Tony Bennett sample returning in a snatch of song, and Duncan’s meditation on the girl who’s reawakened his lazy, world-weary interest. It’s romance of a sort, as he extricates himself from the swamp of insincerity: “I love your politics, / I admire your hair, I like your style / and the clothes you wear: but you can change your views, / you can change your taste…/ Well, I’ll always like you.”

Somewhere out in the city tonight, Bluefood are sprawled gracefully in the corner of a bar, leaning on a pile of chipped hearts in the failing crimson light, and trying to trace the erratic currents of life in the swirl of a martini. Battered, smudged stars-in-waiting. Toast the cheese.

Bluefood: ‘Cheese’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Cassette EP
Released:
April 1995
Get it from: (2020 update) Very rare and never reissued; best obtained second-hand. There were soundfiles from the EP on the internet at some point, but I can’t find them anymore.
Bluefood online:
(no websites available)
 

Video

March 1995 – album reviews – Eskimo’s ‘The Further Adventures of Der Shrimpkin’ (“a sort of comedic musical lucky dip”)

24 Mar

Eskimo; 'The Further Adventures of Der Shrimpkin'

Eskimo; ‘The Further Adventures of Der Shrimpkin’

San Francisco’s Bay Area still seems to be a hotbed for particularly off-the-wall musical artistry. The headquarters of hippydom in the ’60s is now the place where players’ players (Joe Satriani, Fred Frith, Michael Manring) make their homes, and bands like Primus and Faith No More forged their scrambled mongrel funk/punk/metal in the same neighbourhoods. And it’s also the place from which a secrecy-shrouded band called The Residents sent out a series of sharply clever and mischievous recordings during the ’70s, analysing, deconstructing and parodying popular music in all of its manifestations. One of these was a concept album called ‘Eskimo’, a fanciful reconstruction of Inuit life and lifestyles. Even now, no-one’s absolutely sure whether it was a joke or not.

You’d guess that a band taking their name from that Residents album is gonna be just as difficult to pin down. Apparently Eskimo started off as a joke band, set up by a collection of shaggy undergraduates from UC Berkeley with a penchant for party dresses. They’d hang out on campus corners busking frenetic, eccentric acoustic sets – stabs at TV theme tunes, Springsteen parodies, Who medleys. To an extent, you could say that they’ve never really grown out of those days of unbridled silliness. Eskimo still have wacky and zany written all over them in giant red fifty-foot letters, and anyone who finds the absurdist lunacy of the current Californian freak-muso scene unbearable would be advised to steer well clear.


 
Those not put off by that rubbery sense of humour will probably have a field day. Adding Tom Yoder’s trombone and David Cooper’s marimba and vibraphone to the standard guitar, bass and drums, Eskimo have a lounge-jazz element to their sound that’s got a lot in common with that other late, great, wise Californian eccentric Frank Zappa. A lot of ‘…Der Shrimpkin’ could have come from the same barn as Montana and One Size Fits All. That said, there’s at least as much of Primus slap-bass Muppet silliness in Eskimo as there is of the Mother of Freaks.


 
But like both Zappa and Les Claypool, the band have a love of American popular culture with all of its attendant and hugely enjoyable junk music. Their masterful playing (switching styles, moods, and tempos at the drop of a dime, and as happy with modal jazz charts as with playtime funk) is offset by their complete lack of concern about serious subject matter or, indeed, sense. With most of the twenty-four tracks on ‘…Der Shrimpkin’ clocking in at under two minutes, the album’s a tossed salad of circus music, playground chants, nursery rhymes, gibberish gospel, scuzz-metal and drunken jazz trombone exuberance, all mixed up in a freak-rock pudding. A sort of comedic musical lucky dip.


 
It could all be unbridled silliness but for the fact that ‘…Der Shrimpkin’ never quite loses the aura of anarchic menace that hangs around each of its ingredients. One of the few remaining covers on here – a faithful version of Snakefinger’s Residents collaboration Kill the Great Raven – is (despite its kiddie vocals and campy haunted-house bellowing) a bloody ceremony of ritual murder and resurrection. Babykins flavours a police siege with infantile fears. The You’re So Slender is a Disney cartoon from Dali-Hell, while the jolly slap-funking Bughead (sung in musing tones by guitarist John Shiurba) babbles about the sadistic rituals kids develop for the playground. Oops (once you can decipher it) seems to be about the divine right of extermination; and Ribbit sounds like Mark Twain taking on the princess-and-frog legends, complete with yelling hick farmer and squirming vocals.



 
What with many of the other tracks being short snippets of surreally twisty, dark-toned vibe-jazz (the sort that accompanies swaying cameras creeping around the Bates Motel) Eskimo may initially come across as a comedy band, but they re definitely no joke. A child’s nightmare with a big red pasted-on grin, perhaps. Coco the Clown fingering a cleaver. A set of practical jokes for the damned.


 
Eskimo seem intent on nailing jokey voices and songs onto the menacing shadows of the subconscious, as they do in the exuberant nonsense words of Dado Peru’s hop-skip-and-jumping Dada/Beefheart-jazz, or in Electric Acid Pancake House’s restaurant full of freaks, all happily hallucinating about Elvis’ return as a serial killer. What with that, plus a cheerful stab at Duke Ellington’s Blue Pepper and the odd spiritual song about tacos, they re probably perfect for the enjoyably warped. Give Eskimo a try next time you re having one of those gratuitously loony, twisted days… but watch out for the backwards messages.


 
Eskimo: ‘The Further Adventures of Der Shrimpkin’
Mammoth Records/Prawn Song Records, MR0102-2 (0 35498-0102-2 4)
CD/download album)
Released:
21st March 1995
Get it from: (2020 update) Original CD best obtained second-hand; or download album from Bandcamp.
Eskimo online:
Homepage MySpace Bandcamp Last FM Pandora
 

August 1993 – live reviews – Martin Taylor @ Ferens Live Art Space, Kingston-upon-Hull, England, 5th August (“like hearing crystallised music”)

8 Aug

It’s nice, for a change, not to have to do anything except sit back and listen.

Listening to Martin Taylor is like a breath of fresh air after a particularly sticky storm. He stands alone on a little white block of a stage with only his guitar and gently tapping foot, and gently unravels a long flowing river of melody to soothe the heart and to excite the brain. Pure and simple music. After a surfeit of analysis, a slew of post-modern criticism, a stew of eclecticism and image, it’s nice to get back to that once in a while.

Listening to Martin Taylor allows you to rediscover a love of the old tunes. He’s not a composer; his strength lies in the re-interpretation of classic standards, but rather than murdering them by pouring on strings and pallid flutes to make them ripe for serving up in the air conditioning, he offers you the chance to hear him dust down an oldie, hold it up to the light and then skilfully polish it, smiling as he shows it to you again and points out a hundred little details which you never saw before, a source of fresh wonder.

Because listening to Martin Taylor is like hearing crystallised music. You can distinguish the original tune somewhere in the glittering web of notes which his fingers are drawing out of the guitar – maybe it’s a ballad from ‘West Side Story’, maybe Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me or a Hoagy Carmichael piece – but it’s been reflected and amplified through so many harmonies, echoes and byways along the way that what finally emerges bears as much resemblance to the original as a cut diamond does to glass. Old tunes turned corny and worn down by their own familiarity re-emerge as multi-faceted gems, cut and refined by a master’s technique, multi-layered and ornate.

If you stop listening to Martin Taylor for a moment, you might be able to hear the sharp clicks as the jaws of the guitarists in the audience drop smartly onto the floor. This crystalline music – richly syncopated melody and harmony played together, simultaneously with swooping basslines – is, after all, being played by one man without even the whiff of an effects pedal. During the interval, people are overheard wondering if there are four other guitarists concealed under the stage or behind the curtains. But there’s no denying that this music is being played by a human being; no pristine technician, Taylor’s impeccable skill is shaped as much by punchy string snaps and fretboard noise as it is by his carefully considered polyphony and his vertical, dense approach to arrangement. He’s as likely to use a violent slide up the bass strings as he is to tease out a gentle classic jazz chord in the treble; and, as the most exciting musicians do, he lets you hear him stretching towards his objective rather than simply delivering it ready-packed and icily perfect.

Listening to Martin Taylor when he stops playing and talks for a while is, in its way, no less of a joyful experience. Here we have one of the world’s greatest and most underrated jazz guitarists and he turns out to be a warm, humble and self-effacing guy with a nice line in gentle humour and a shy manner, as if tonight was his first gig. Taylor is possibly also one of the world’s first motherable jazzmen. No guitar god here: even when he speaks of his sessions with the legendary likes of Joe Pass and Chet Atkins, he makes it sound like a comfy jam session after an evening at the pub. Very British. I’m not sure if these isles can produce a legend of their own these days – we’re just no good at mystical PR…

No matter. Who needs a legend or the cartoon padding of a star, anyway? Taylor’s music is possessed of enough to soothe, stun, stimulate, delight and relax without recourse to tortured artistry, space-cadet communion or outlaw chic. And if he prefers to continue playing gorgeously low-key and intimate gigs, just one man and a warm-toned guitar, then I for one will continue to turn up to listen to Martin Taylor.

Because listening to Martin Taylor makes you remember just how wonderful listening can be.

Martin Taylor online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Last FM YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Amazon Music
 

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