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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/March 2018 – Minute Taker mini-tour of England with Runes (2nd, 3rd, 10th, 17th February); Holly Penfield’s rescheduled Fragile Human Monster dates in London (23rd February, 23rd March); Joss Cope and Emily Jones in Worthing (2nd February)

26 Jan


 
Ben McGarvey, better known as ambient-torch-y folktronicist Minute Taker is heading out on a brief February tour taking in a brace of Saturdays, a Friday and four of the country’s more impressive churches. It’s in support of his new mini-album ‘Reconstruction‘ which he claims reflects “the search for new improved ways of rebuilding yourself when your world has been blown apart.”

Ben’s last pair of tours were more directly theatrical multi-media affairs, fleshing out the doppelganger/ghost story of ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ with tie-in animations, strings and extra guitars. This time, it’s just him – piano, looped harmonies, distorted Eastern-influenced percussion parts, glockenspiel and synths. In addition to the slow dream-jazz-styled songs from ‘Reconstruction’, he’ll be playing rearranged songs from ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ and his previous albums ‘Too Busy Framing’ and ‘Last Things’, plus some rethought-out cover versions from his various influences. Expect an atmosphere of drawn-out, deliciously lovelorn confessions and self-realisations set to luscious, trembling tunes, each with a core of silver-wire determination.


 
Also along for the ride is Greek-turned-Mancunian singer-songwriter Harry Selevos, a.ka. Runes, who has two albums of dreamy cherubic pop behind him – 2015’s ‘Orphic’ and the 2017 OP3 collaboration ‘AWSS’, sublimating his classical piano training via Asian-influenced vocals, a near-ambient synth pulse and a blissful energy (ending up somewhere between Jimmy Somerville and Mark Hollis).


 
Dates:

Prior to the tour, Ben will be performing a couple of live-streamed concerts from home via his Facebook page on Sunday 28th January. The first, at 7.30pm, is a general one with a Q&A session; it will be followed by a bonus session for his Secret Facebook Group covering the ‘Secret Songs’ album series in which he explores cover versions and reinventions.

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Live At Zedel/Crazy Coqs presents:
Holly Penfield: ‘Fragile Human Monster’
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Friday 23rd February & Friday 23rd March 2018, 9.15pm
– information here and here

The last Minute Taker tour, in October last year, coincided with Holly Penfield scheduling time out from her ongoing reign as jazz-cabaret queen and camp icon in order to return to the ‘Fragile Human Monster’ show she’d spun into a strange and shamanic synth-pop cult-of-the-broken during the early ‘90s. Back in October – and earlier – I wrote about how the old show had a “compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set” and about how “being a member of Holly’s audience meant being enticed into shedding those cloaks of cynicism and reserve we use to insulate ourselves, and opening your heart up to the rawest kind of sympathy and honesty. The show became a part of us, as much as we were a part of it, the church of the misfits she embraced. We dropped our guard, she sang: a voice for our odd angles and our visceral fears… If you led with your sense of cool, or your cynicism, there was no chance. But at full tilt, it was unmatchable.”

Holly Penfield, 23rd February & 23rd March 2018Both ‘Fragile Human Monster’ and its related ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album had been a second-stage reaction to Holly’s previous career as a blow-dried Los Angeles rock starlet (during which, in classic fashion, she’d been sidelined, ground up and spat out by the dream machine). Both had starred Holly alone but for the saxophone and suss of her partner and husband Ian Ritchie and for the evocative night-time sound of her Kurzweil sampler-keyboard. Over these, she spilled her self-composed, gloriously-sung narratives and metaphorical fantasias of collapse, vulnerability, madness and healing like an obsessive, loving, slightly deranged blurring-together of Laurie Anderson, Jane Siberry and Pat Benatar; framed by a stage set of trinkets and keepsakes which assumed the magical associations of a voodoo shrine – or, as I put it previously, “a travelogue of places been, of people touched and gifts given and received.”

It was the kind of gig into which, whether performer or audience member, you had to throw your whole self… and in turn it eventually flamed out, eventually making way for Holly’s camper (yet straighter) third stage as a knowingly decadent flaunt-it-all singer-performer of jazz and torch standards, commanding top-notch acoustic bands. It’s that latter stage that finally made her name – yet some of the willing therapeutic madness of FHM has always been present in those slinks through Fever and I Wanna Be Evil, the wigs and costume changes, the brassy fragility and the phenomenal voice. (Back in California, Holly had shared a voice coach with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior. It showed.)

It wasn’t clear what was impelling Holly to bring the old show back; nor whether she was resurrecting the synths and sequencers and ditching the jazz quartet and feather boas. In any case, it was promptly derailed by her surprise leather-clad showing on ‘The X-Factor’ in full-on kook mode, teasing Simon Cowell with a riding crop during the auditions phase. She did get a market-friendly Cowell soundbite out of that – “a cross between David Bowie and Liza Minnelli” – to go with her Tim Rice citation (“more than one fine diva – she’s a whole host of them, and they all look wonderful and sound sensational”) but it also meant that the planned Vauxhall Tavern FHM shows got showbizzed, and abruptly morphed into the familiar jazz cabaret albeit with a Halloween tinge. Escape velocity lost and an opportunity missed, even if some of the FHM songs still got stirred into the mix.

Now she’s rescheduled the Monster for a couple of dates at the swish London Zedel eaterie: a luxuriant art-deco cabaret capsule. Again, not much about how she’s going to do it, or how much habit and setting is going to shape instrumentation and presentation, but I’m hoping that after last year’s false alarm this will be the real deal, and that whatever twenty years away have added to the show’s energies will add to the spice. Sadly, there’s nothing directly from the Monster on Youtube – and nothing of ‘Parts of My Privacy’ – so instead I’ll have to whet appetites one of the more Monsterous moments from the cabaret show, an excellent new number Holly posted up the other year (like a Bowie torch song for the American dream), and an FHM ballad in its original glossy LA-pop ’80s garb before Holly pared it back to an art-pop synth shimmer.




 
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Musica Lumini presents:
Joss Cope + Emily Jones
The Cellar Arts Club, (basement of) 70 Marine Parade, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

Joss Cope + Emily Jones, 2nd February 2018It’s always nice to hear about a new venue, pushing back against the swelling tides of blandness and land-banking; and Worthing’s Cellar Arts Club must be a godsend for the more inquisitive characters who live in Brighton’s smaller, sleepier cousin town. I say “new”, but in fact it’s been in existence for nearly a year – a small, sprightly co-op effort providing music, poetry, stand-up, discussion and small-scale theatre and film showings. This February, it celebrates a small coup in pulling in both Joss Cope and Emily Jones for a concert.

Any discussions of Joss inevitably involve invoking (and then quelling) the shadow of his big brother – Julian Cope, the ‘80s psych-pop chart star and holy fool who spent the next three decades evolving into a garage-rock pagan shaman, a looming Archdrude and more recently a heathen-folk Biker of Ragnarok. So here I go… While there are a few shared traits (a sibling similarity in tone, including the Midlands yawp that occasionally cuts through their middle-class diction; their West Coast way with a melody; their tendency to move from proclaimer to informal intimate in a heartbeat by slipping a conversational twist into a driving lyric) they more often sound like two boys who heard the same records but went away having heard and learned different things. For all of his anarchic ways, whenever Cope the Elder yomps off on his Odinist trip, dooms Christianity or tries to brain-bugger you into enlightenment with 12-strings and Mellotrons, he always seems anxious to please, impose and impress; to garner attention from (and for) his assorted upendings and derailments. More outrightly affable, Joss may have come along on some of Julian’s musical trips, but his own are more relaxed and chatty, drawn from the confidence of one who takes more pleasure in the deft shapework of being a craftsman than in being a noisy prophet of the heath.


 
Ever since his emergence thirty-odd years ago (with short-lived bands such as Freight Train Something Pretty Beautiful and United States Of Mind), Joss has brought Cope-ular bounce and chattiness to the acid wistfulness and garage grooves. Since then, apart from a longer stint with counter-pop collective deXter Bentley, it’s been mostly innumerable multi-instrumental pick-up collaborations between Brighton and London (from Sergeant Buzfuz to Crayola Lectern). However, with last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’ (recorded in Joss’ part-time home of Helsinki with a set of amenable Finnish musicians including Veli-Pekka Oinonen of the Leningrad Cowboys) he’s unveiled an album where his own voice comes clear to the surface. A luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron, it also shows that there’s more than enough in Joss’ songwriting to ensure that it’s worth listening to him even if he just rocks up alone with an acoustic guitar. With a delivery not too far off the drowsy cut-glass musings of Guy Chadwick (and travelling through similar musical territories to or the Robyn Hitchcock or The Monochrome Set, although he’s less frivolous than either), he provides deceptive sunny reflections on our currently souring culture with its intolerance, its blame-shifting and the growing poisoning of discourse (“fell voices charm the crowd and there’s a bill for everything / Heard the claim that destiny was waiting in the wings… / Gotta get out of this cauldron before it starts to boil / there’s the frog and the kettle, pour on toxic oil”). At the same time, he’s got a healthy disregard for the idea of singer as preacher – admitting, in Cloudless Skies, that “the truth is understated, there’s no reality to be debated, / but no-one wants to hear that in a song.”

So far, the singer-songwriter work of Truronian hinterland-folkie Emily Jones (daughter of cult sixties folk singer and instrument inventor Al Ashworth-Jones) has rambled across two albums and a collection of Bandcamp oddments. In these pages, she’s mostly shown up in connection with the regular support slots she’s played backing up the Spratleys Japs revival. Opening for Joss should provide a bit more of a window for getting across her own particular songview, which layers ancient drone-lays and Sandy Denny musings with latterday and merges ancient folk tropes with latterday horrorfolk tales and strands of modern rurality, in particular the mystical fraying of reality that comes with too much time alone in a remote cottage. Picking at her songbook reveals the makings of an intriguing psych-folk visionary, with stories of strange transformations, blurrings and exchanges (from her recasting of traditional selkie tales to the peculiar trash-moth creature that flits through Hermegant And Maladine to her musings on the supernatural interplay of housework, psychic memories and ghost-hopes in Pieces Of People).




 

October 2017 – upcoming English gigs – Holly Penfield chops and changes in London (18th October); Minute Taker’s multimedia love-and-ghosts story ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ in Glasgow, London & Brighton (15th, 21st, 22nd October); Cardiacs’ ‘Marenest’ fundraiser showing in Bristol with The Scaramanga Six (21st October); and something on Paul Diello

7 Oct

Holly Penfield presents:
‘Holly Penfield – Spooky Little Girl’
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HY, England
Wednesday 18th October 2017, 8.00pm
– information here

Holly Penfield: 'Fragile Human Monster', 18th October 2017For a while, there, I was spun back. Twentysomething years ago, I was a regular at Holly Penfield‘s ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ (having first caught her performance on a random Edinburgh night back in 1992). Ostensibly based around sleek ’80s synth’n’sequencer pop, her shows had a number of twists. More like ’70s songwriter confessionals, they stirred yearning jazz and blues strands back into a genre which had mostly eschewed them. Based around Holly, her Kurzweil keyboard and a saxophonist (usually her husband Ian Ritchie, who’s had a hand in everything from Scouse artniks Deaf School to the Roger Waters band and the ‘Lonely Planet’ theme), they also had a compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set.

If you can dig up Holly’s long-lost debut album ‘Full Grown Child‘ – a brash early ‘80s Chinnichap production – you’ll hear an Innuendo-strewn, pop-belting cross between Suzi Quatro, a bleach-blond Rizzo, ABBA and full-on coke-blizzard-era Stevie Nicks. ‘Fragile Human Monster’ was the fallout from all that: an onstage realisation of Holly’s independent followup ‘Parts Of My Privacy’, in which she and Ian went back to her bluesier and torchier San Francisco roots, merged it with Ian’s techno-pop skills and teased out a series of passionate, cracked paeans (plus jarring digressions into performance art) about fear, instability and how the lost rebuild their lives and make their way. Tremendously tuneful but at odds to the music biz, the ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ was that rare thing: outsider music with genuine craft and skill. It was also pretty queer and culty, drawing a diverse squadron of waifs and strays of all stripes (including me) to Holly’s home venue on the Kilburn High Road. Eventually it wore Holly out: putting it to rest, but still hanging onto her stubborn kookiness, she applied her remarkable voice and stage presence to a new career as a jazz cabaret diva. She’s made, I think, just one revisitation to Monster territory since (which you can read about here).

Holly Penfield: 'Spooky Little Girl', 18th October 2017Late this summer, though, Holly announced that she was bringing the old show back for an evening in October, though she wasn’t clear about how she’d be doing it: perhaps reworked for the acoustic jazz band she’s used for the last couple of decades, or perhaps with her going it alone (with the Kurzweil and sequencers brought out of mothballs and will go it alone). At any rate, I thought I’d be going along – possibly in search of my own confused, similarly theatrical mid-twenties self, perhaps to see if I got along with him a little better.

However, everything was upended in early September following Holly’s jolting appearance in the auditions for ‘The X-Factor’. Ubercamp, leather-clad and singing Meredith Brooks’ Bitch, she went full-on nightclub and came on to Simon Cowell like a kinky Weimar nightmare with a riding crop. Inspired by the experience (and not a little miffed at the mocking edit that made it to TV) Holly’s now claiming that “the evil jazz cabaret performer in (me) has clawed its way to the surface”, and has morphed the October show into an upbeat Halloween “Spooky Little Girl” special (billed as “cabaret classics, spooktacular rocking favourites and self-penned songs as only our Diva can deliver them”).

I can’t help thinking that an opportunity’s been lost (or steamrollered) but I might show up anyway. She’s still promising to pepper all of the knowing cornballery with old FHM songs; several existing set standbys (such as Stay With Me, seen below in a torch-jazz arrangement from 2009) originated in the old show, and a new-ish piano/vocal song Confessions (posted up online a year ago) suggests a creative leaning back towards the old days of torch and bearing witness. Regardless of any of that, there’s still the voice; there’s still the onstage magnetism. Should be some sort of a blast.



 
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Minute Taker: 'To Love Somebody Melancholy' (live show)Also during the midmonth, acclaimed LBTQ folktronicist Minute Taker (aka Ben McGarvey) takes his multimedia show ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ out on tour in England and Scotland. I missed the news about his summer tour (which spiralled out from his homebase of Manchester, taking in Oldham, Chorlton and the Didsbury Art Festival plus a trans-Pennine appearance at Hebden Bridge) but managed to catch the news about his autumn followups in Glasgow, Brighton and London (including an appearance at the seventeenth century “actor’s church”, St Pauls in Covent Garden). Here’s the story:

“Singer-songwriter Minute Taker and BFI award-winning animation artist Ana Stefaniak have created a haunting, modern fable told through projected film and an epic live band performance of Minute Taker’s upcoming album… Expect to be immersed in a dark and magical world of strange animated characters and piano songs brimming with ethereal harmonies, fizzing synthesisers and orchestral twists.

“In ancient Greek philosophy Aristotle first popularised the notion that artists, poets and writers were of a melancholic disposition. In the middle ages melancholics were thought to be possessed by demons if they could not be “cured” of their depressive tendencies. Set on a desolate seashore, ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ explores the notion of the archetypal artist as he journeys through the euphoric highs and the self-destructive lows of his creative cycles. A new romantic relationship brings the artist the contentment he craves but it soon becomes apparent that there’s something else lurking in the shadows; a ghostly, shapeshifting third entity whose form is entirely dependent upon the artist’s current mindset. Sometimes a saviour, a source of inspiration and hope, sometimes a savage, ruthlessly determined on driving his lover away.”


 
Ben comments “one of my biggest influences when creating ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ was Kate Bush’s masterpiece ‘The Ninth Wave’. Such a wonderfully magical, otherworldly and at times frightening journey into the unknown. I never tire of going on this adventure with her. Come join our own dark adventure, inspired by Kate’s.”

Dates:

  • Websters Theatre, 416 Great Western Road, Woodlands, Glasgow, G4 9HZ, Scotland, Sunday 15th October 2017, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • St Paul’s Church, 29 Bedford St, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9ED, London, England, Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Latest Music Bar, 14-17 Manchester Street, Brighton, BN2 1TF, England, Sunday 22nd October 2017, 7.30pm (with Paul Diello) – information here

Additional support comes in Brighton comes from the award-winning “pop/folk/fabulous” singer-songwriter Paul Diello, who recently wowed the Brighton Fringe Festival with a sold out run of five-star-review shows and who promises “a special set of songs” for the occasion. Citing Madonna, Bowie, Kate Bush and Anohni as inspirations, Paul is an increasingly powerful artistic presence in the LGBT underground, operating in the febrile interface between cabaret, chart pop, queerness and visual staging (in particular, via video). Provocative and insidious, with an ear for the brazen tunes of ‘80s synthpop, Paul reminds me of a tougher Marc Almond – albeit with the sturdy physique of a dockside bouncer – while his songs are sharp confections of fists, flowers and standing your ground.


 
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Kate Bush seems to have become a recurring presence in this thread. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I’ve always drawn a vague connecting line between ‘The Ninth Wave’ and Cardiacs’ 1989 album ‘On Land And In The Sea’.

Despite their common south London roots and the bare three years between them, there doesn’t initially seem to be much linking Bush’s silky-petalled Fairlight-driven art pop with the shrill, switchbacking, horns-and-artpunk firepower of Cardiacs, let alone their urchin squawks versus her sensual coo (though I’d have loved to have heard them cover each other). Dipping beneath the surface, however, reveals plenty to unite the two work. There’s the common and commonly transmogrified debt to English prog (in the structural ambition, the little flourishes of grandeur, and the enthusiastic mining of everything from twinkling tunes to violent psychedelic riffs, looming synth orchestration to jigs and jittering dreamscapes). There’s the common immersive marine motif – even when the sea’s banished from the foreground, it’s always present to embrace, propel, threaten or dissolve the bobbing characters within the songs. And although ‘The Ninth Wave’ centres pretty clearly on the near-death experience and night journey of a single castaway, while ‘On Land…’ zig-zags crazily over suburbs, shorelines, skies and inlets while weaving through multiple blurred perspectives (from the individual to that of a kind of profoundly skewed post-war national consciousness) in both works a half-sleeping, half-waking British mythology gets forked up and worked over anew, with a relentless filmic curiosity.


 

‘On Land And In The Sea’ provided most of the songs played in Cardiacs’ 1990 concert film ‘Marenest’, which brings its own chaotic theatrics to a fundraiser showing in Bristol. Live support comes from brutally grand, macabre Yorkshire rockers The Scaramanga Six, bringing a punchy live set based in part on their new crowdfunded ‘Chaotica’ album.

If ‘On Land…’ really was intended as some kind of concept album, it hid the fact under a typically Cardiacs welter of invention and disinformation. In contrast, ‘Chaotica’ wears its conceptual heart on a stained sleeve – the Scaramangas have been pretty open about its roots in “an abstract story roughly hewn from a concept of a dystopian island society. A place where everything has fallen into ruin, yet people still seem to have the same preoccupation with the trivial crap they had before. The population trudge through a chaotic existence on top of each other with absolutely no hope of a better life. Society is reduced to its base behaviour yet people still crave superficial fixes. The human condition carries on regardless. There is no outcome, no lessons to be learned. Familiar?” ‘Chaotica’ might not quite be a Brexit ‘Quadrophenia’, but it’s clearly leaning that way.


 
As is generally the rule with Cardiacs-related events these days, all profits on the day (including bonus donations by bucket or booking-stage gifting) are going to fund the care of Cardiacs’ driving force Tim Smith as he continues to battle against the aftermath of heart attacks and stroke. Note that the venue is quite hard to find, hidden as it is away behind the rubbish bins in a nondescript Bristol car park. Some Cardiacs fans would claim that this is only appropriate.

‘Maresnest’: Tim Smith Benefit with The Scaramanga Six
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.00pm
information
 

June 2017 – upcoming English gigs – the return of Pram with the immersive ‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’ event in Birmingham (June 3rd); Zarjaz Baby and Jon Slade/Night of the Comet in London (June 3rd); Arthur Russell’s ‘Calling Out Of Context’ revisited in London (June 7th)

23 May

Some shows and events to start June off. In Birmingham, experimental dream pop/post rock band Pram (one of the most original and charming groups ever to work in either genre) have resurfaced and are taking over an Edgbaston park for a very different kind of performance. Back in London there are opportunities to catch up with Zarjaz Baby (one of the wilder characters from the original wave of British post-punk) an acoustic set from Jon Slade (who’s navigated his way through a heap of scenes from art-punk to Riot Grrl to a thousand indie DJ nights); and a recreation of the cello/pop songs of Arthur Russell, one of the darlings of the 1980s New York loft music scene.

* * * * * * * *

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

for-Wards, MAC Birmingham and Pram present:
Pram: ‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’
Martineau Gardens, 27 Priory Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B5 7UG, England
Saturday 3rd June 2017, 4:30pm
– free event – information here, here and here

“Composers and sonic artists Pram have been exploring south Birmingham with the help of local community groups to uncover the sounds of the locality. The results are both familiar and surprising.

“Let Pram take you on a journey through the city, a sound trail through the four wards of Birmingham’s Edgbaston district. Hear the world from the perspective of a bee as it flutters and forages. The snuffles of a tiny baby become the snores of a lion, the gurgle of a stream a mighty cataract. Come along and follow the woodland trail, bring a picnic and settle down for a performance inspired by the sound of the city as you’ve never heard it before.

“Set in the magical surroundings of Martineau Gardens, ‘Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough’ is an installation and performance by Pram, celebrating the sounds of Edgbaston. It will take place at Martineau Gardens on the afternoon of Saturday 3rd June, concluding at 6.30pm with a Pram performance inspired by sound recordings made in the wards of Quinton, Harborne, Edgbaston and Bartley Green. Free admission if you register at Eventbrite…”

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.

* * * * * * * *

Zarjaz Baby + Jon Slade, 3rd June 2017

Zarjaz Baby + Jon Slade
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Saturday 3rd June 2017, 7.00pm
information

“An existentialist extravaganza featuring a solo acoustic set from Zarjaz Baby (Freakapuss and former Tronics). Zarjaz will be performing dark atmospheric songs, full of imagery, with jazz, blues, early ’60s beat and pop influences, with live performance artists, in a style not seen since the basement and candles days of Beatniks.

“Also featured on the night is a solo acoustic Love-Rock revival set from Jon Slade/Knight Of The Comet, incorporating songs from his former bands Huggy Bear and Comet Gain, plus a Fire Department number, some Electric Bull re-workings, as well as songs he wrote with Wolfy Jones.


 
“’60s European pop music in between sets, Francoise Hardy, Brigitte Bardot, Gillian Hills. Expect sombre girls dressed in black and boys in Breton shirts.”

For more information contact incoming@freakapuss.com

For more on Zarjaz’s chequered life and career, have a read of this interview he did with ‘The Quietus’ three years ago, featuring accounts of brushes with mental illness, of releasing surreal post-punk songs with titles like Shark Fucks, of arguing with ‘2000AD’ over his stage name, and of having his image ripped off by Sigue Sigue Sputnik.


 
* * * * * * * *

Arthur Russell: 'Calling Out Of Context', 7th June 2017

XOYO Live and Milestones present:
‘Arthur Russell – A Classic Reinterpreted’
XOYO, 32-37 Cowper Street, St Lukes, London, EC2A 4AP, England
Wednesday 7th June 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“It’s been said that “Arthur’s songs were so personal that it seems as though he simply vanished into his music.”

“Twenty-five years after Arthur Russell‘s death, some of the most exciting, forward-thinking faces in music are set to present a unique rendition of Arthur Russell’s timeless album ‘Calling Out Of Context’. A posthumous album that brought together twelve incredible tracks from across two previously unreleased LPs, ‘Calling Out Of Context’ represents Arthur in his prime. Two decades later and the music sounds as contemporary as ever – a huge inspiration for those performing on the night. We’re very excited to hear this new rendition.”

Bringing together elements of electropop, classical minimalism, post-disco, hip hop and singer-songwriter work, the ‘Calling Out Of Context’ songs span twenty years of Arthur’s composing and creative history while he was battling to fuse the parallel New York worlds of dance culture and art music between the late ’70s and the early ’90s – a pioneer of the freewheeling musical eclectism which today we pretty much take for granted. Take a look at this salvaged 1987 interview feature from the ‘Melody Maker’ for more on the topic, featuring reflections from Arthur and others on Indian music, the pulse shared by formal minimalism and New York dance clubs, and the social and cultural challenges of the time regarding blending “high” and “low” cultures.

The band for this London performance consists of Ashley Henry (keyboards), Midori Jaeger (cello), Alica Higgins (vocals), Sam Gardner (drums) and Joe Downard (bass).


 

May 2017 – upcoming London classical gigs – polygender opera with ‘Binary Optional’ at CPT (May 25th & 26th)

21 May

One of the month’s more interesting London opera events…

'Binary Optional', 25th & 26th May 2017

Oedipa & Lucia Lucas present:
‘Binary Optional’
Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, Euston, London, NW1 2PY, England
Thurday 25th & Friday 26th May 2017, 9.00pm
information

From the press release, spliced with a little more research:

Oedipa collaborates with the extraordinary female baritone Lucia Lucas (Wuppertaler Bühnen, Deutsche Oper, Chicago Opera Theatre) on an evening of song in transition: from masc to femme, classical to queer and oppression to freedom.

“A freelance opera singer based in Germany (who has previously held full-time contracts with the Badisches Staatstheater, Kalsruhe, Theater und Orchester Heidelberg and the Deutsche Oper, Berlin), Lucia Lucas is a strong dramatic baritone specializing in Verdi roles, and has sung roles including Ford in ‘Falstaff’, Iago in ‘Otello’, Escamillo in ‘Carmen’, Le Grand-Prêtre in ‘Samson et Dalilah’, Jochanaan in ‘Salome’, Alberich in ‘Das Rheingold’, Thoas in ‘Iphigenie en Tauride’, Figaro in ‘Le nozze di Figaro’, Leporello and Giovanni in ‘Don Giovanni’, Mephistopheles in ‘Faust’, Don Pizzaro in ‘Fidelio’ and Nick Shadow in ‘The Rake’s Progress’.

“Beyond this, Lucia is one of the small but growing number of transgender woman performing significant operatic roles (a list of singers which includes Breanna Sinclairé and Emily De Salvo, whose own unusual range covers baritone to soprano). As Lucia commented in an interview in ‘Slipped Disc’ a couple of years ago, “I am performing all of the same things. Still singing angry old men on stage, but fringe projects have also started appearing as possibilities”. ‘Binary Optional’ is one such project – singing Bizet, Britten, Wagner, Purcell and Adams, flirting with Sarah Vaughan and ‘Rocky Horror’, Lucia draws on her experience singing classical repertoire across the world to tell her incredible story and celebrate the fluidity and plurality of gender in opera.


 
“Oedipa is the alter ego of writer/director Finn Beames (who’s dedicated himself to working “against the male perspective”) and a diverse range of varying collaborators. As Oedipa, groups of artists create and produce live performances in theatre, opera and related forms, often with an emphasis on music.

“Based in London and working internationally, Finn won the 2015 Genesis Future Directors Award at the Young Vic for his production of Man: 3 Plays by Tennessee Williams in the Clare theatre. He also holds the 2015 Lina Bo Bardi Fellowship, granted by the British Council for research into the eponymous Brazilian architect and the creation of a piece of theatre. For his own company, bodycorps, he recently directed a sold-out run of a new opera about depression, funded by The Wellcome Trust and ACE. Finn has commissioned further new work for bodycorps, including a musical based on The Sorrows of Young Werther. In 2014 Finn wrote, directed and designed a new music theatre work for the London Sinfonietta with composer Gavin Higgins, which they are currently expanding into a triptych. Finn is a director/librettist on the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme at Aldeburgh Music, and a member of the Young Vic Directors Network and Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab in New York.”
 

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.


 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – three peeks into Durham’s Empty Shop – As Ondas,Year Of Birds and mystery guests (14th); Heir and Rebekah Fitch (15th); Captain Chaos, Chrissy Barnacle and Mama Lips (20th)

12 Jun

Being a Londoner might well give a person readier access to a wider day-to-day world than someone in a smaller British town (and you can read the same for anyone in a world city anywhere), but it also allows that person to become ignorant in the finer closer details, closed off from the simple knowledge that people in quieter places still come up with, or strive towards, interesting things. Part of what I’m doing with myself this year is actively trying to shed some of those blinkers, looking around outside the slew of London gigs I post about to find out what’s going on elsewhere.

Despite hearing about a longstanding enmity between “town” and “gown” in the city, I hadn’t made the necessary connections between Durham, economic poverty, commercial collapse and underground culture; probably because I’ve only previously swept through the town on the East Coast Main Line en route to Newcastle or Edinburgh, admiring the cathedral and the university castle from the insulation of the viaduct. (Like I told you. Londoner. Just plain ignorant.) If at some point I’d got my complacent arse down to street level and asked around, I might have found out more. Behind the mediaeval heritage prettiness and pleasant prospects there are indeed the same kind of economic problems which worm through the country as a whole and gnaw the north-east in particular. There are businesses failing and boarding up, and people becoming reduced to relying on food banks; there’s a sense of community which might dissolve under hunger and the decay of opportunity and moribundity; there are people whose lives might just peter out into a broke greyness; and none of this can be solved simply by proximity to a couple of World Heritage sites.

This is where the Empty Shop organization have come in during the last decade, making a local attempt to address the problems. They’re non-profit, aiming to make enough money to sustain a lively local arts culture and provide the platform for it to thrive. They also aim to make a thrifty, practical use of existing facilities instead of splurging on showcase showoff developments: their concerts, theatre and film shows, exhibitions and other events are housed in buildings which have fallen silent or empty, thereby ensuring that those places don’t fall into decay or become a town centre like a strip of dead teeth. Their gig calendar, too, is littered with events which raise collections for food banks: benefit shows which don’t sell themselves as such, since benefits don’t have to be special events but can be living, breathing regular exchanges of community resources, part of the fabric of being connected.

I’ve got three of this week’s upcoming Empty House gigs listed below – a punky sandwich with a surprisingly plush pop middle. I’m sure they’ll be the first of many which I’ll be flagging up in the future. For what it’s worth, both of the Equestrian Collective shows (the punkier ones, with perhaps a broader DIY communitarian ethic to suit) are food-bank all-age events.

* * * * * * * *

Equestrian Collective presents:
As Ondas + Year Of Birds + t.b.c.
Empty Shop HQ, 35c Framwellgate Bridge, Durham, DH1 4SJ, England
Tuesday 14th June 2016, 7:30 pm
– more information here and here

As Ondas/Year Of Birds, 14th June 2016As Ondas‘ press release is essentially just a mass of pop-culture fibs, which tells me that they don’t take a complicated reputation seriously and that they’ve got one eye on the possibility of jamming themselves into evenings of campery and frills. Buried in the waffle is the phrase “no-wave-surf, trilingual indie band”, which will do, although it doesn’t convey their touch of fun. They’ve got a little lava-lamp shimmy as well as clean punky lines and a surfboard twang; they’re bouncy and lounge-y in the same way that Os Mutantes were, with an elusive, mercurial intelligence in their approach.


 

Middlesbrough punks Year Of Birds make a few fibbing pop claims of their own (they wrote a third of the songs on Gabrielle’s ‘Rise’… yeah, hmmm…), Instead I can hear bits of West Coast pop, German motorik and a broader psychedelia in their short-order songs. There’s the cyclic two-chord pulse of early Teardrop Explodes for instance (albeit a Teardrops who gave their work a couple of extra spins in a dirty cement mixer) and there’s Syd Barrett – or Robyn Hitchcock – in their precise English diction behind their frontman’s faraway, heavy-lidded baritone and its megaphone distortions. On top of that, they sometimes slip into a discoloured version of that chromium early-Neu! chug and have fluctuating taste for cosmic synth twitters. While none of that makes them Gong-family caperers or dedicated autobahnauts there’s no way that they could hold a bored English punk anomie for more than a few seconds without cracking an eye-twinkle. Their cover of Donna Summers’ I Feel Love (delivered in what’s best described as an ecstatic tannoy monotone) is a small piece of smogged-up Yorkshire wit and Space Dusted joy.


 

There’s another band on, apparently. There’s no word on who they are. There are rumblings about them having invented fuzzy-felt. If that’s a clue, it belongs to a story or a joke which I’m not in on. Sorry. Show up and see for yourselves.

* * * * * * * *

Heir/Rebecca Fitch, @ Empty Shop, Durham. 15th June 2016

Empty Shop presents:
Heir + Rebekah Fitch
Empty Shop HQ, 35c Framwellgate Bridge, Durham, DH1 4SJ, England
Wednesday 15th June 2016, 7.30 pm
information

How long have Heir been hiding in Leeds, and where did they find a place to hide and do their growing up so secretly? Their debut EP’s only been out since March, their debut single’s barely a year old; but it seems as if they’ve arrived fully matured.

Heir are one of those enviable pure pop bands that covers virtually all bases. Accomplished sophisti-pop recombiners, they’re universal enough to hit Radio 2 playlists, to soundtrack summer picnics and sell bucketloads of records in supermarkets, but they’re still tuneful and dynamic enough to disarm and win over sharper tastes. There’s plenty of quiet-storm emotiveness in those finely-crafted, deceptively simple songs; clever feather-soft steals of space and atmosphere from trip-hop; and there are lessons well-learned from upper-drawer pop-soul, with hints of both Smokey Robinson or Commodores. Best of all are the gorgeous fraternal bursts of bell-like man-harmonies which back up and refract Tom Hammond’s sweet-and-sore lead vocal, right when they’re needed. (Think the Finn Brothers, or Francis Dunnery; but always bring it back to that soul source, of men stretching and basking in the sweet spot between church and itch.)


 

Sure, enough, the support slots and the BBC Radio plays are already coming their way. Of course, it could all go horribly wrong. Heir might follow a substantial path along the past lines of Elbow (the band whom they most resemble in their gusty Northern blueness) or Deacon Blue. On the other hand we could be seeing them at an early peak before rapid success and co-opting buffs or Barlowises that clear edge and talent; drives it down into frictionless sleekness, into something transient to lube the gaps between acts on ‘The X-Factor’. They might end up putting out no more than a couple of albums before going their separate ways, following many a fine performer in slipping invisibly behind the scenes to write toplines for anonymous r&b stars.

Right now, though, Heir are honed and treasurable. This will be an intimate acoustic show (fine with me, as long as they cheat and keep the Rhodes switched on) and at this point you can still get close enough and persuasive enough to reassure them that they should never swap the joy of singing to people for the staleness of singing to a demographic. Or, if you’re aiming to be a bitter old git, you could go in order to stockpile memories of that time you saw Heir when they still really had it.


 

Taking the support slot, Rebekah Finch (originally established in Belfast, but developing in Durham) offers her own pop songs. Though she cites Lana Del Rey and Florence + The Machine as influences, both her Hosanna single and various demos suggest a talent that’s both more slippery and more direct, pitched as it is between airy flights of positivity and the quick jabs of doubts and home truths. Well, that often worked pretty well for Stevie Nicks, whose mixture of tenderness and steely force Rebekah seems to be leaning towards; and whose gravel-and-honey tones she sometimes echoes amidst the dabs of soul and gospel. Promising.



 

* * * * * * * *

Equestrian Collective presents:
Captain Chaos + Chrissy Barnacle + Mama Lips
Empty Shop HQ, 35c Framwellgate Bridge, Durham, DH1 4SJ, England
Monday 20th June 2016, 7:30 pm
– more information here and here

Captain Chaos/Chrissy Barnacle/Mama Lips, 20th June 2016On the second of the two Equestrian nights, Captain Chaos –a.k.a Plan It X records boss Chris Clavin – headlines. A folk-punk legend, he’s played in more bands than it’s fruitful to list and his particular talent has outlasted all of them.

As he always does, he’s hauled a battered acoustic guitar, a hatful of gawk and a bag of witty, off-kilter songs all the way from his Indiana home and over state lines and seas, to touch down somewhere where he knows he’ll have an audience to share and play with. His songs are shaggy dog tales, or carefully honed stand-up routines in melody and verse with little zingers at the end, or comically gonzoid rearrangements of personal quirks. You’ll laugh at him and with him; you’ll want to buy him bar snacks; you’ll want him to come back.


 

Glasgow “song weaver” Chrissy Barnacle is still young enough to be showing plenty of influences – in particular Bob Dylan in the propulsive clawhammer fingerpicking and the densely worded lyrical shambles, and early Joanna Newsom in both the efflorescent femininity of her tumbling trains of thought and that yawp in her voice. But give her some more time – starting with some of your own. From what I can hear, she’s still a talent in development; taking a little longer to shake off her first roots, a bud who’s pushing hard to emerge in full.

What’s emerged already, though, already impressive. I just think that there’s going to be a moment in which all of those influences finally come into alignment, something clicks into place and they become integrated rather than transparent. That moment might even be this coming Monday. I guess that I’ll have to keep checking in.



 

Durham’s own Mama Lips sometimes went under the name of Andrew and mostly writes comics; but she also pens and performs upfront, supportive anti-folk songs for the queer of all kinds and especially the transgendered (as well as for those who empathise with them). Her brand new “Fairy Godmother’ EP is about “surviving in our identities, and our fairy godmothers who take care of us,” and she clearly doesn’t give a fuck about anyone who might sneer at her failure to prioritise bitchiness, snark and irony, since there are more urgent things to concentrate on first. Apparently she has other, raunchier songs in the bag, and if we’re good she’ll teach us about the hanky code. (I was impatient, so I cheated…)



 

* * * * * * * *

As I said, I’m sure that I’m going to be looking up more Empty House Durham gigs in the future, but there’s enough here already to make me wish that I’d gotten off that train earlier.
 

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