Archive | poetry RSS feed for this section

July 2020 – single & track reviews – Samuel Travis’ ‘Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep’

18 Jul

Though still only sixteen, Samuel Travis is already showing signs of being a thoughtful, gifted choral composer. While he’s got family roots in strong, flexible musicality (his father is jazz saxophonist Theo Travis, whose creative, interpretative and collaborative talents also stretch across fusion, progressive rock and loop music, and his mother Madelyn is an accomplished amateur classical pianist who immersed her son in classical music from birth), Samuel seems to be pretty much his own man, exploring sophisticated polyphony and the sound of assorted small classical groupings in a way that reveals a sober, constructive talent and the ability to bring out the best of talent in others.

He’s used current lockdown time to reach out and record a choral piece, in order to reflect current concerns and also to fundraise. The text he’s set – Mary Elizabeth Frye’s ‘Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep’ – runs a delicate track between being a perennial and a contemporary chestnut: eminently familiar from radio readings and funerals, it’s also been set in recent by a variety of classical and pop composers from Eleanor Daley, Kevin Siegfried, David Bedford and Howard Goodall to Peter Chilvers, Geoff Stephens, Seanchai & The Unity Squad and Lizzie West. At this point, if you’re working with it, you have to make it sing afresh.

Working with his own Virtual Lockdown Choir (a rapidly-assembled decet of similarly musical classmates from both the Latymer School and the Junior Department of the Royal Academy of Music) Samuel does just that; refracting the text through ten voices, taking it away from its encroaching corral of greetings cards and earnest solo voices, and remaking it as something universal again. Along the way, he explores, incorporates and fuses a variety of traditions and influences. The Anglican a capella choral tradition is there, for certain, as is ancient plainsong; although any lingering pale-male monasticism is minimised by the mixed genders and cultural backgrounds of the VLC decet.


 
While there aren’t many tricks of texture here – no abrasive trills, vocalese, extended techniques, vocal percussion or sound effects – at least some of the more contemporary approaches to choral music also leave something of a mark here. There are echoes of Eric Whitacre’s mixture of absolute melodic accessibility with dextrous, depthful musical touches, and (in the gorgeous drifts and shifting slurs of harmony) something of James Macmillan’s glorious ‘Gallant Weaver’. Given Samuel’s youth, though, it hardly sounds derivative at all: as if he’s drawing from the same sources alongside his predecessors, in command of the language and, crucially, the emotional meaning.

Over to Samuel for some more information on context and fundraising:

“The recent lockdown due to COVID-19, and the murder of George Floyd and other members of the black community, have left many people suffering, either from mental health issues or the injustice to a huge community of people.

“I composed this song shortly before lockdown and have spent over one hundred hours putting this virtual choir together over the past three months. I feel that the words resonate with the current global situation and I would like to use the video to raise £1,000.00 for the mental health charity The Samaritans and Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which helps young people from diverse backgrounds to overcome disadvantage and discrimination.

“Please help me reach this goal by sharing and donating if you feel able! Thank you.”

Samuel Travis online:
YouTube
 

May 2020 – single & track reviews – Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts’ ‘CONFINEMENT-release4’; Jack Hayter’s ‘Let’s Go Shopping’ (Sultans of Ping F.C cover); Billie Bottle sings ‘Ted Hughes – Wind: Upheaval Imminent’

11 May

Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb: 'CONFINEMENT​/​release4'

Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb: ‘CONFINEMENT​/​release4’

The fourth helping of Brighton psychedelia from the Confinement Tapes series is more Heavy Lamb, and more Jesse Cutts. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. As was the case last time, while Jesse isn’t the only Lamb player the line between what’s him and what’s Lamb is blurring into the inconsequential. Certainly ‘All Dust’ is an actual Heavy Lamb piece at least: revisited, re-arranged and re-seasoned by Jesse and the other remaining Lambkin (John Gee), with Jesse’s mum, frequent collaborator and core Confinementeer Jo Spratley back on lead vocals, as she was for last month’s take on Cardiacs’ ‘Odd Even’.

It’s tempting to suggest that they should make it a permanent arrangement: Jo sounds happier doing Lambwork than she does in any other project, and the song itself is a delightful complication, unpacking plentiful musical material from inside a sleek indie-pop/rock shell. Threes against fours, sudden teases of hot spaces; voice keeping inside the chords but finding any conceivable space to hop around inside there; Propelled by Jesse’s cunning, slippery bass the chords themselves obligingly fold over and flip into new spaces so as to give the melody more space to roam and loop back. The Cardiacs influence is strong, but so’s the love for any batch of raucous goodtime English sunshine-pop. The lyric’s as complicated, digressive and warm as the music; something about fragile hearts surviving on the tide, something about continual replenishment. So far, it’s peak Lamb: not just an ideal bridge between rock disco and broader music, but great fun in its own right.


 
As with ‘All Dust’, the two instrumental pieces also contained in the package are new recordings, all played in their entirety by Jesse; in contrast to some of the more archival odds and sods on Confinement Tapes releases, these were only put together this month. In ‘Gutter Pigeon’, wobbled piano encountered during a downpour switching into orchestrated chord clambering, a lazy little pavement circus. After a shimmery start, ‘Small Things’ compresses and unpacks an album’s worth of development in a single six-minute tune. Lovely. If there’s a prog tone to all of this, it’s in keeping with those leisurely Kent’n’Sussex prog tones from Canterbury, Herne Bay and all of the other Mellow-on-Seas these kind of sunny benevolent English meanders come from.



 
From up the Thames estuary (and following his life-blasted, gutter-country cover of ‘The Dark End of the Street’ at the end of last month), Jack Hayter continues his lockdown broadcasts with a visit to 1990s Irish indie. As he recounts, “in 2004 an American band provided the British with a national anthem… ‘Mr Brightside’. Back in 1992 an Irish band did the same thing with ‘Where’s Me Jumper’. In the time of Corona we’re not dancing in the disco bumper-to-bumper. Neither are we going out shopping much… so this is all a bit pants, really. Dunno why I did this.. and I played bum notes too.”


 
Yes, the bum notes are obvious (not least because Jack lampshades each one of them with a quirk and a chuckle), but his warmth, humour and charm – even via webcam – are so engaging that it’s all forgivable. More importantly, it’s what he brings to the song that matters more than a finger-slip or two. The original Sultans of Ping version of ‘Let’s Go Shopping’ – the product of young men imagining a contented, domestic afterlife for a reformed raver and pillhead – almost vanishes under the sweet conscious hokiness of its string arrangements and its honky-tonk drum click. Jack’s version (basic voice and guitar) gently trims off the hints of irony and any tongue-in-cheek trappings.

As I mentioned last time, few people have such a skill at uncovering the tender core of a song. Watching Jack’s treatment is like watching a great little bit of subtle pub theatre story unfold. In his hands, it’s no longer something simple and jolly, but something grown touching and tender. Love for one’s wife, a nostalgia for wilder times but no regrets of any kind; embracing grown-up responsibilities (and burdens) with a sunny chuckle – “you can push the trolley – and I’ll push the pram.” And then, after this cheerful jaunt, lazy and affectionate, the cloud comes: lockdown bleakness casting a shadow over Jack’s face for a moment as the world shrinks and chills, and even dull everyday pleasures become fraught with peril. “Let’s go shopping, / we can wish away our fears. / Let’s go shopping, / the shops are really… near.” Jack plays this cover down as some kind of throwaway. Nothing he ever does is really a throwaway.

Billie Bottle‘s life has been in flux for a while – the transition from “he” to “they” to “she”, the rearrangement of day-to-day living and bands and dressing and sundry ways of doing things. Still, Billie’s an unfailingly positive and proactive character (as shown in her series of songs with non-binary musician/activist Kimwei – the most recently-aired one being here) and most of the unsettledness had eased down just before the plague blew in this spring.

From indoors, she’s just revealed some multi-layered new work taking on and reflecting both her innate calm and musicality, and the impact of an unsettled world. For now, though it’s just a lyrics video, with Billie announcing “well me lovelies, it feels like the right time to share one of the projects that have been on the go here in Bottledom over seven weeks of UK lockdown. My auntie read me the Ted Hughes poem, ‘Wind’, down the phone and I was struck by its power and pertinence. It blew itself into a kind of song, ‘Wind: Upheaval Imminent’. May you also be filled with its gustiness!”

As a member of Mike Westbrook’s band, Billie’s an heiress to his chamber-jazz poetics as well as to the playful jazzy lilt of the Canterbury sound. Both were well in evidence on last year’s ‘Grazie Miller’ EP, and they’re just as clear on ‘Wind: Upheaval Imminent’, a Hughesian account of a storm which “wielded / blade-light, luminous black and emerald, / flexing like the lens of a mad eye.”). Initially it’s an interplay between Billie’s high androgynous tenor and a sketching, dabbing piano; with drums, subtle blocks of organ, a near-subliminal bass, and a few judiciously-placed sound effects and concrete-instrumental coloration making their way into the mix.


 
Mostly, though, it’s the words and the voice. Billie responds to a setting in much the same way that Robert Wyatt handles a cover, and her carefully-timed leaps from note to note (all with an underlying, broken-up sense of swing) recapture the poem’s sense of awe; its trepidation and exultation, its illustration of the way that fragility shades strength. (“The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace, / At any second to bang and vanish with a flap: / The wind flung a magpie away and a black- / back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house / rang like some fine green goblet in the note / that any second would shatter it.” ) She uses the sprung challenges of jazz – the rhythm eddies, the intrusion of unexpected harmonic currents – to dig into the hinted upheaval in Hughes’ words.

As with the poem, the music ends unresolved – “now deep / in chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip / our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought, / or each other. We watch the fire blazing, / and feel the roots of the house move, but sit on, / seeing the window tremble to come in, / hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.” Structurally brilliant, captivatingly emotive, and an excellent marriage of text and music, it’s one of the best things Billie has ever done in a persistently ripening career.

Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts: ‘CONFINEMENT-release4’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT_release4
Download/streaming single
Released: 4th May 2020
Get it from:
free/pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp
Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts online:
Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM

Jack Hayter: ‘Let’s Go Shopping’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Video-only single
Released: 10th May 2020
Get it from:
currently view-only on YouTube
Jack Hayter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Deezer Spotify Amazon Music

Billie Bottle: ‘Ted Hughes – Wind: Upheaval Imminent’
self-released, no catalogue number or barcode
Video-only single
Released: 11th May 2020
Get it from:
currently view-only on YouTube
Billie Bottle online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

May 2020 – EP reviews – Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY’s ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’ (“mysteries which slip into shadowed corners”)

7 May

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: 'CONFINEMENT-release3' EP

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’ EP

Following their pair of releases last month, Brighton’s Confinement Tapes project is back for a second round – this time with Confinementeers Jo Spratley and Bic Hayes joined by honorary family member Chris Anderson (of Worthing’s Crayola Lectern), who’s also worked with Bic in Brighton kosmische juggernaut ZOFFF alongside what seems like a good half of Brighton’s psychedelic contingent (and, occasionally, The House of Love’s Terry Bickers).

(The third original Confinementeer, Jesse Cutts, has his own follow-up single too, but more on that later…)

Unlike the archived cover versions refurbished for the previous EP, ‘Bright Fivers’ is an all-new, all-original April recording in which Chris contributes as the anagrammatic Cola Ray, collaborating with Bic and Jo’s MUMMY. Initially, it’s his arpeggiating pianos (distanced and tinny, as if pulled from a dusty old 78) which dominates ‘Bright Fivers’; a solemn setting for Jo’s singing, which is loaded with both trepidity and authority. That’s only the prelude, though, and it’s severed from the rest of the piece by a jump-cut edit as loud and merciless as a sucker punch or an axe blow. You even hear the clunk as the mood shifts; Jo switching abruptly into deadpan recitation against a Bic backdrop of guitar static and wind texture, as impassive as the prophetess taken over by the voice of the prophecy.

Whether sung or spoken, the sentences are broken off; dark, punching surrealist gobbets of foreseeing and ruin. “Silence in the air. / Things endure, things evolve. / Between the slopes fivers fly up onto the dream floor. / Fire spreads her text of flame as serious as food / Our towers of graph paper fold up into the silence, / delicate as the girl who leaves the stone and the water – / and the bright moan of the green, / the collapse of a black age. / In the end we never know what we know.” It sounds like something buried deep in peat in order to time-travel; transmitting a warning, or possibly a testament.


 
‘The United Kingdom’ is (mostly) another eleven-year-old recovering from Jo Spratley’s Babyskullz solo project: one which just happens to fit in with ‘Bright Fivers’. It’s another recitation, delivered by Jo to pattering drumbox and orchestrated in minimal, thrifty make-do fashion. Two-finger melodica. Guttural just-picked-it up guitar lines and milk-bottle vibraphone. Cobwebby analogue synth gurgles, dub distancings and dirty blats of fireworks.

Something about the rhythm and chant suggests the cheesy old white-rap anti-classic ‘Ice Ice Baby’. Everything about the words doesn’t, as Jo narrates (in newsprint monotone) a set of disappearances. “A man who hears bells who loves cars” misses his train only to drop out of routine and out of existence; a corporate lawyer vanishes during her solo boat trip; fifty years ago, a cancer specialist who “wraps her dolls in graph-paper by the light of the moon” is last seen in car headlights by the edge of a cliff. All three are obliquely connected by hearts: their rhythms or their interruption, their presence as eviscerated occult trophies or as enigmatic markers; presumably also by the locked-up desires, secrets and clues they contain. All cases are left open; mysteries which slip into shadowed corners of modern folklore or Lynchian dreams. There’s a stress on the regular and on the irregular, but no conclusion on either.


 
As haunting as this can be (and it does build on regular repetition, an inconclusion which nags to be solved), it’s still Bic’s dark-psychedelia project Mikrokosmos which dominates this particular set, providing three tracks out of the five. Two are brief snapshot instrumentals, deliberately left incomplete or brought to dismissive halts. Recorded in 1993 during Mikrokosmos’ cramped early sessions in west London, ‘In the Machine Room’ is an jarring but strangely satisfying hybrid of claustrophobic paranoia and sweet naivety. An uncomfortable electronic hum and weirdly organic rattling (like mice beginning to panic inside a generator housing) passes into a bright nursery march played on assorted guitars, drums and bombastic little synths. For forty-eight seconds, post-industrial grot tussles with twinkly daydream.


 
I assume that Bic escaped from whatever it was that was polluting him: ‘Frag. Familiar’, from 2014, was completed nearly two decades later (long after Bic had quit London), but it missed the boat for Mikrocosmos’ ‘Terra Familiar’ abum. It’s as confusing as its predecessor. A sustained cosmic slam: a huge guitar downchord which is allowed to trail away, while delicate waltzing keyboards come forward to shine over the top. They dance with another brutally distorted guitar line – butterflies courting Bigfoot – before everything hits the wall, topples over and cuts off. There’s a farcical humour to this music. It shows you the stars but then suddenly pulls away the rug, or drops the time-clock on the telescope viewing: almost deliberately crass in the way it brings you back down to earth with a bump. I suspect that there’s a touch of reverse psychology here. To move forward properly, you have to overcome the bumps, denials and trip-ups.


 
Another ‘Terra Familiar’ outtake, ‘Cell by Cell’, is more substantial and developed: a six-and-a-half minute song rather than a peculiar fragment. It’s also a dubbier return to Bic’s Dark Star days: almost a Massive Attack take on that band’s life-scarred fin-de-siècle urban psychedelia, taking in similar elements of Hawkwind space rock and Killing Joke post-punk grimness to offset Bic’s sighing, waify sweetness. There’s a Dark Star-ish sense of resignation too, a voice-of-the-casualty effect as Bic reflects on exhaustion and disassociation, on being swallowed by routine and self-absorption. ‘Just swim, / float to the surface – / as if it’s so easy, you show me again. / But time weighs me down so gently / and all our ideas just drift away, / sinking, / lost in the moment. / Ennui is so easy / and to the end we divide. / Cell by cell to solitary worlds – / undesigned, undesired. / Islands in an ocean of thought / turning inwards defied / to meet with the gaze of impermanence eyes…’


 
The formal Confinement message for this EP is one of “a constellation of songs brought together by this rarefied time. Pulled through the thickness of life and her knowing machine. Mixed and mastered in April 2020 and flung into the dark of these ends of days. Here we are. All alone, together, as one.” As a message of solidarity, it’s an ambiguous comfort: but, as they say, here we are. Questions unanswered. Brutal breaks in expectations. People disappearing, grips gradually lost. Name it, share the names, and perhaps fight it.

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT-release3
Download/streaming EP
Released: 7th May 2020
Get it from:
free or pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp (As with all Confinement Tapes releases, any money earned goes support care funds for Tim Smith, Tim Quy or Jon Poole of Cardiacs – see previous posts.)

Mikrokosmos online:
Bandcamp Last FM

Babyskullz (Jo Spratley) online:
Facebook Twitter

Crayola Lectern (Cola Ray) online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Amazon Music

MUMMY online:
Facebook Bandcamp
 

February 2020 – single & track reviews – Gallery 47’s ‘I Wish I Was’; Wugo’s ‘Océan’; The Powdered Earth’s ‘Blossom’

28 Feb

Gallery 47: 'I Wish I Was'

Gallery 47: ‘I Wish I Was’

From the land of drifting day-jobs and lo-fi song nights, Nottingham’s Jack Peachey, a.k.a. Gallery 47, moves into his second decade of music. As ever, he sounds like a slacker Jon Anderson; one who never left the shared flats and scruffy bedrooms, nor left the airy space of ’60s pop: there’s the high birdy voice, the elevated melodies, the melancholia that only faintly tinges the carefree tunes (cloud shadow on a fine afternoon). His drowsy electric folk-pop is fragile without being brittle or vulnerable: he’s a blade of grass in the breeze, capable of bending in the unwelcome currents.

 
Look a bit deeper, though, and there’s existential horror, treated with a feather-light touch, belying the Andersonian falsetto with a touch of Elliott Smith. Even more, perhaps, a shade of Love’s ‘Forever Changes’, in which everything under the sun also has an ominous shadow. Launching from a tabla zing but immediately settling for drums which flap and billow like a pair of antique flares, ‘I Wish I Was’ shows Jack gently adrift in a world of options, finding in each of them a nearing ghost of entrapment. “Did you know you can search for conditions online? / Read a graph of relative norms and real lives? / How close or far you are from the day you’re gonna die?” The gentle disappointments mass, almost imperceptibly, into a pall, neither family nor travel a solution, with escape into a spliff the only temporary remedy. “See, the jail we’re going to has no get-out card at all…” Throughout, though, the shrug is a gentle-spirited one. Jack doesn’t rail or sulk about things, just gently regrets them and lets them slip over him.

Wugo: ‘Océan’

Wugo: ‘Océan’

‘I Wish I Was’ is about helplessness settling around you like the flapping wings of a friendly pterodactyl. ‘Océan’, the latest song from French bedroom-popster Wugo, is apparently about “a sea change in people, a hope of a collective conscience to set things right.” It’s in his native French, so I can’t quote him directly. Translated, though, it’s a sighed state-of-the-world lament for a literal and figurative sea that’s been polluted by human short-sightedness and greed.

Wugo’s not slow to lay the blame, but he’s not quick to stagnate in despair either, travelling backwards in memory to honour how things once were, hoping that things will be in a better state in future decades, gently dropping a simple ultimatum. To catch the feeling for how it is, bask in the music: powder-blue puffs of synth and wriggly electronic lines like a kite-tail in the sky. Chillout minus the complacency.


 

The Powdered Earth: 'Blossom'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Blossom’

With their third single (after the curtain-raising instrumental of ‘The Atlantic‘ and the illustrative folk testimony of ‘Hold Your Breath‘), The Powdered Earth feel as if they’ve found their centre with ‘Blossom’. Neither of them men in the first flush of youth, they’re well aware that not all lives end in crashes or operatics: that some longer lives will fade delicately instead, like old watercolours.

While instrumental half George Moorey provides misty piano, gently lagging guitar and a touch of synth cello, vocalist Shane Young comes to the fore with a gently narrated observation of an ageing widower’s rituals as he gathers tree and hedge flowers for his empty house; male and meticulous, understated but kindly. If you’re looking for it, there are parallels with Wugo’s chillout in the overlaying of memory with the present (“he chuckles into space / at her disapproving face / as he takes the crystal glassware from its ornamental case. / Along the window sills, / beside dispenser packs of pills, / are the fragrance bottles salvaged from the sale. / She would joke his perfume was brown ale…” ), plus the overlapping of times and promises altered. What’s different is the matter-of-factness about the protracted aftermath of someone’s death, its quietus and continuance: “he ties each sandwich bag / with a disused Christmas tag / and documents the scent with studious care. / Then he shuffles round the house / that he once shared with his spouse / and he fills up every piece of crystalware.”).


 
The spoken poetry is deliberately workmanlike, relying on its sober intimations rather than on over-flowering, and it’s all the more effective for that. Last time around, I mentioned Arab Strap as an unlikely comparison; if Moffat and Middleton stood as witnesses and recounters to dirty realism and damn well made you care about it, Moorey and Young could be said to be doing the same thing for a more genteel and understated strand of realism. You could picture the lyric being spelled out on a bereavement card, or a silver-surfer web meme, but that doesn’t take anything away from its understated compassion. “So precious quick the petals start to brown – / once more into the fields in dressing gown…” Logging the quiet and unspectacular dignity of carrying on. Someone needs to do it.

Gallery 47: ‘I Wish I Was’
Bad Production Records/AWAL (Kobalt)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th February 2020
Get it from: download via Bandcamp or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, Deezer, Apple Music, YouTube, Google Play or Spotify
Gallery 47 online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Wugo: ‘Océan’
Echo Orange (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
24th February 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon Music; stream via Deezer, YouTube, Spotify
Wugo online:
Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Amazon Music

The Powdered Earth: ‘Blossom’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th February 2020
Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

January/February 2020 – upcoming London folk/singer-songwriter/experimental gigs – Aga Ujma, Yoni Silver, Yael Roberts, Merlin Nova and Sophie Le Roux at Mortal Oil 2 (24th January) plus Aga Ujma and Nina Harries at PinDrop Session (28th February) and Aga Ujma and The Sages at SOAS (21st February)

22 Jan

Mortal Oil 2, 24th January 2020

More new-ish performance territories; this time down in south London by Nunhead Green, where a somewhat battered but much-loved and independent-spirited shopping local parade currently hosts the Strange Parade venue. The latter is hosting “a night of low-voltage experimental acoustic performance and visual art” at the end of the week, co-curated by Merlin Nova along with filmmaker and photographer Sophie le Roux. This is the second night in the series, which aims to “use no electronic machines (apart from a kettle) and aim to curate acts which have used as little electricity as possible during the processes of their practices.” Tea, whiskey and pom bears are provided as an extra audience incentive; and the last event, back in November, featured (in addition to Merlin) performances by avant-garde double bassist Otto Willberg, all-forms free dancer Sofia Filippou and visual artist Flora Hunt.

Merlin’s been in here several times before as a boundary-hopping singer-instrumentalist, sound artist, poet and monologuist who plunges her imagination and thirst for performance into any opportunity and shapes her art and the situation to fit. Initially a radio broadcaster and soundscaper, she’s the possessor of an unsettling vocal range and a ravenous perspective which she uses for everything from imaginary dronefolk music and the weirdest of weird pop to solo audio dramas…. here’s a selection of what she gets up to.


https://soundcloud.com/user-615512661/to-the-sun

 
Of the two other musicians featured this week, ‘Misfit City’ has previously crossed paths with bass clarinettist/saxophonist Yoni Silver while he was backing Charles Hayward in twisty groove ensemble Timestretch Alarmsong during October last year, and as part of the Ashley Paul Ensemble back in 2017, although he’s also noted for his work with the Hyperion Ensemble. He also sings and plays violin, piano and computer, sometimes simultaneously, so his options for noisemaking are pretty varied. Here’s the A-side of his recent ‘Nethertongue’ cassette, one of his Denis D’Or trio tracks and a solo…



 
As for Aga Ujma, I’ve been hearing about her for a while: a young Polish singer-songwriter and composer also enthralled by English and Indonesian music forms and the connections she makes between them. Though she can quite happily make her way as a singing guitarist with a nice line in Joanna Newson covers (an artist she sometimes resembles, not least in the reedy glory of her vocals) she’s a committed ethnologist who creates art in accordance with her extensive studies, and is as much likely to accompany herself on a quiverful of rarer instruments – the Javanese gamelan-related gender barung xylophone and plucked siter; or the Indonesian sasando, “a gorgeous thirty-two-string, butterfly-winged zither”.




 
The remainder of the evening’s visual art component comes from Yael Roberts, who “hand-prints from found wood to create large scale installations (exploring themes of death, mortality, repetition, and presence.” While she’s got a parallel line in performance art (much of which is captured on video and stills here), her contributions to this particular evening appear to be static art: a set of ceramics made in collaboration with Goldtapped Gallery’s Juliet Fleming.

* * * * * * * *

Aga Ujma + Nina Harries, 28th February 2020I should also mention that Aga Ujma is also playing a couple of other London gigs in February. One is a LaLa Records’ Pin Drop Sessions in Peckham where she’s in a double bill with double bass player singer-songwriter Nina Harries.

As a player, Nina follows in a family tradition (her father Tim Harries has double-bassed prominently for Steeleye Span, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and Brian Eno, amongst others). That said, her musical development and appetites are very much her own; formed not just by parental example and extensive classical training but by immersion in dance theatre and in work with “story telling star gazing ukulele agit-pop” band The Burning Glass, gonzo bluesman John Fairhurst, folk-punkers Barbarella’s Bang Bang, electro-classicalists the London Electronic Orchestra and Symphonica. Her technique’s impeccable and her songwriter voice wide and unfettered, as happy with the whimsical as the mesmeric.




 
The other concert, a week earlier, is a SOAS music showcase in the centre of town which also features world fusion band The Sages (previously The Seven Sages), featuring Yijia Tu, Peadar Connolly-Davey and Gregor Bauer, and blending music strands from East Asian folk music and Chinese Sizhu with those of western forms of folk and indie rock.

The Sages + Aga Ujma, 21st February 2020

More about them here – “as a diverse cosmopolitan generation growing up under an age of globalization and other social changes, the band aims to explore to break through concepts such as “East” and “West,” cultural identity, and musical “genres” through both original composition and adaption of traditional folk music. Indeed the “The Sages 竹林七贤” is a reference to a group of seven literati, artists and scholars in ancient China who chose to escape mundane and hypocritical secular life and status to live in the remote natural countryside with the companionship of music, poetry, art (and wine) in search of a higher spiritual fulfilment.”

Some examples of what The Sages play are here:

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Mortal Oil 2: Aga Ujma + Yoni Silver + Yael Roberts + Merlin Nova + Sophie Le Roux
Strange Parade, 123 Evelina Road, Nunhead, London, SE15 3HB, England
Friday 24th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

SOAS Concert Series presents:
The Sages + Aga Ujma
Brunei Gallery @ SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1H 0XG, England
Friday 21st February 2020, 8.00pm
– information here and here

LaLa Records presents
PinDrop Session: Aga Ujma & Nina Harries
One & All Cafe, 28 Peckham Rye, Peckham, London, SE15 4JR, England
Friday 28th February 2020, 7.30pm
– £10 or pay-what-you-can event – information here and here
 

November 2019 – Daylight Music 2019 autumn season continues – Bex Burch with Beanie Bhebhe and Tom Herbert, Çiğdem Aslan & Tahir Palalı, Maria Chiara Argirò & Jamie Leeming (2nd); New Music from Wales with Gareth Bonello, Toby Hay, Georgia Ruth, Accü and Richard James (9th); jazz strands with Nils Økland, Kaidi Akinnibi & Lorenz Okello-Osengor, Helena Kay & Sam Watts (16th) and with Jherek Bischoff, Robert Stillman & Anders Holst and Rosie Frater-Taylor (23rd); Matthew Bourne’s vocal showcase with Seaming To, Keeley Forsyth,Polly Gone Wrong, Andrew Plummer and Dorothy Lehane (30th)

27 Oct

Daylight Music 10, 2019

Moving into its final half, the Daylight Music autumn 2019 season reaches November with a selection of duo/trio encounters (both longstanding and spontaneous), October Daylight’s piano star Matthew Bourne returning to curate and direct his own positional/vocal-orientated event, and an afternoon of current Welsh music.

* * * * * * * *

Daylight Music 320, 2nd November 2019The first of the gigs, on 2nd November, involves a number of collaborations. The headlining ensemble is a trio put together by percussionist Bex Burch, a specialist in the gyil (or Ghanaian/Dagaare xylophone) and the bandleader for the Ghanaian minimalist/jazz/post-punk group Vula Viel. She’s picked “soulgaze” drummer Beanie Bhebhe (whose roster of colleagues and employers across dance, funk, indie and dream pop includes Rudimental, Bastille, Paloma Faith and Action Beat) and former Polar Bear bassist Tom Herbert.

Bex says “I wanted to curate a band to play together for the first time. Tom is a bassist I’ve known since watching Polar Bear as a teenager, and we will both be meeting Beanie for the first time on stage. I’m excited to play with two incredible voices in the U.K. scene. This will be a one-time performance: the music that comes through never to be heard again.”



 
Three Strings & Two Breaths is the duo of Çiğdem Aslan (voice and frame drums) and Tahir Palalı (Turkish kopuz and bağlama lutes). They focus on Alevi songs from Anatolia – mostly songs of love and mysticism from the fourteenth to the twentieth century.

“As a belief system, the Alevi path is based on love and respect for all people, attitudes, knowledge, sharing and science. Oral tradition is directly relevant… an important source of Alevi beliefs and thoughts are the mystical poems and musical ballads (deyisler, nefesler) that have been passed down from generation to generation, many of which have not been recorded in writing. Alevis believe that one must respect and have knowledge of nature, and the principles of love, tolerance and humanism are significant to Alevi philosophy.


 
“A meeting of kindred spirits, the music of pianist Maria Chiara Argirò and guitarist Jamie Leeming is a dialogue between two unique artists inspired by jazz, Latin, classical and folk music. At the heart of the duo is a vibrant sense of spontaneity, which embraces the myriad of colours, textures and sounds they create between them. Combined with free improvisation and an intuitive level of interplay, each performance is a one-off experience. They will be presenting music from the upcoming duo album entitled ‘Flow,’ which will be out in 2020.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The 9th November concert provides “a rare opportunity to hear new music inspired by the landscape and culture of Wales. Expect an afternoon of carefully crafted pieces that blur the boundaries between contemporary Wales and the otherworldly delights of Annwn.

“Based in Cardiff, Gareth Bonello is and has performed for over a decade under the stage name The Gentle Good. Known for his intricate guitar playing and captivating acoustic arrangements, Gareth was awarded the Welsh Music Prize in 2017 for his fourth album ‘Ruins/Adfeilion’. This concert sees him working in a new trio project with fingerstyle guitarist Toby Hay and singer/harpist Georgia Ruth.



 
“Toby writes beautifully evocative instrumentals that instantly transport the listener to the mountains and rivers of mid Wales. Twice nominated for the Welsh Music Prize, Toby has toured the UK and Ireland extensively over the last few years and has built a reputation as a captivating live performer. Georgia is a songwriter and musician from Aberystwyth in West Wales. A skilful harpist with a voice of silver, Georgia collaborated with the Manic Street Preachers on their ‘Futurology’ album and was awarded the Welsh Music Prize for her debut album ‘Week Of Pines’ in 2013.”



 

Also performing is “half-Dutch, half-Welsh singer-songwriter Angharad Van Rijswijk, a.k.a. Accü (who) has been involved in production since her teens and collaborated with writer and comedian Stewart Lee, Cornershop, and Richard James, as well as producing a collage radio series for the BBC. In her music, she brings together a love of production and a turbulent approach to song-writing – which earned her debut album ‘Echo The Red’ the title of ‘Welsh Album of The Year’ by Wales Arts Review. She will be joined at Union Chapel by long-time collaborator and exceptional Welsh songwriter Richard James (formerly of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci).”


 
* * * * * * * *

The next two Daylights are being done in collaboration with the EFG London Jazz Festival and present various Daylight-friendly spins on jazz and improvisation.

Daylight Music 322, 16th November 2019On the first of these two shows, Norwegian Hardanger fiddle player Nils Økland will be playing “instrumental melodies (which) will react and resonate with the chapel’s nineteenth-century space, taking us on a hushed, deep journey far beyond our resting place in the pews.” From Tomorrow’s Warriors, improvisers Kaidi Akinnibi (saxophone) and Lorenz Okello-Osengor (piano, keyboards) “constantly search for new inspiration, as can be seen in their recent collaboration with the Urdang dance company. They will for the first time incorporate the chapel’s Henry Willis Organ.”




 
Opening the show, saxophonist Helena Kay and pianist Sam Watts “marry their wildly eclectic backgrounds and influences and give us an opportunity to eavesdrop on a conversation between their two instruments.”



 
On the second show, Jherek Bischoff will be headlining: “a Los Angeles-based composer, arranger, producer, and multi-instrumental performer whose numerous collaborators include the likes of Kronos Quartet, David Byrne, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Wilson. Bischoff is currently composing music for two new theatre productions and scoring for film and television. His most recent album Cistern, released on the Leaf Label, contains a suite of string-drenched instrumentals.”

Daylight Music 323, 23rd November 2019

One of the latter, from a previous Daylight Music visit, is showcased below.


 
Also on the bill, the performance of saxophonist Robert Stillman and 12-string guitarist Anders Holst “will draw upon the chapel’s resonant acoustics as a platform for their own works alongside those of Ornette Coleman, John Fahey, and Moondog”. Rosie Frater-Taylor (singer-songwiter, jazz guitarist and ukuleleist) will provide lapping, warm, skilful songcraft to warm everyone up.




 
* * * * * * * *

Daylight Music 324, 30th November 2019Much is made of the Union Chapel’s terrific acoustics: pianist and improviser Matthew Bourne (relatively fresh from his recent Daylight collaboration with Keith Tippett) is intending to make full use of them on the 30th November when he presents his “voix outré” project of handpicked collaborators, stationing them at different points throughout the building (to present a concert that’s as much about sound spacing as the notes produced) while acting as both audience guide and artist accompanist.


 
Seaming To is a composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who has performed and recorded with Robert Wyatt, Jean Claude Vannier, Punchdrunk, Leila, Leon Michener, Larry Goves, Snack Family and Matthew Bourne. She has studied opera at the Royal Northern College of Music and began her career as part of Manchester supergroup Homelife and Graham Massey’s Toolshed.


 
Keeley Forsyth is a composer, singer and actor from Oldham. Built upon sparse arrangements, her music is centred around a singular, emotionally raw and magnetic vocal delivery, by turns devastating and uplifting. The characters who populate her songs tell stories of the high and low tides; of freedom and entrapment, of hard won triumphs and the darker corners of domestic life.

 
Polly Gone Wrong is an all-female vocal trio singing original songs baked with folk, blues, elements of playful obscurity, and close harmonies. Sometimes they are accompanied by a saw, a bass, a drum, or even beatboxing; sometimes they’re just three female voices in harmony and unison.


 
Andrew Plummer is a vocalist, guitarist and composer-producer from Exeter, Devon. Plummer has been the creative force – composing, performing and touring nationally, producing nine albums under his own name, with his musical leviathan World Sanguine Report and with Snack Family (the avant-rock trio co-founded in 2011). He draws on a wealth of influences and pens music that reinterprets musical genre, loaded with visceral tales from the dark side of life, love and death.



 
“Poet Dorothy Lehane (the author of three poetry publications and a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Kent) will read selected sonnets from her latest publication, ‘Bettbehandlung’.”

 
* * * * * * * *

All gigs are at Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England, with a suggested donation of five pounds. Dates below:

  • Daylight Music 320: Bex Burch/Beanie Bhebhe/Tom Herbert Trio + Three Strings & Two Breaths + Jamie Leeming & Maria Chiara Argirò – Saturday 2nd November 2019, 12.00pm – information here and here
  • Daylight Music 321: Atsain Priddin: New Music from Wales (featuring Toby Hay + Georgia Ruth + Gareth Bonello + Accü) – Saturday 9th November 2019, 12.00pm – information here and here
  • Daylight Music 322: EFG London Jazz Festival (featuring Nils Økland + Kaidi Akinnibi & Lorenz Okello-Osengor + Helena Kay & Sam Watts) – Saturday 16th November 2019, 12.00pm – information here and here
  • Daylight Music 323: EFG London Jazz Festival (featuring Jherek Bischoff + Robert Stillman & Anders Holst + Rosie Frater-Taylor) – Saturday 23rd November 2019, 12.00pm – information here and here
  • Daylight Music 324: Matthew Bourne presents ‘voix outré’ (featuring Dorothy Lehane + Seaming To + Keeley Forsyth + Polly Gone Wrong + Andrew Plummer) – Saturday 30th November 2019, 12.00pm – information here and here

More on the last two DM gigs of the year will be posted up closer to December…
 

October/November 2019 – Moor Mother’s ‘The Great Bailout’ with the London Contemporary Orchestra in Kraków, Gateshead, Ghent and London (6th, 12th, 16th, 23rd October), with Galya Bisengalieva and Klein joining in London. Plus further Moor Mother dates in Utrecht, Helsinki and Madrid with Zonal, Eartheater and Cruhda (7th, 11th, 15th November)

1 Oct

The unnerving, brilliant Afrofuturist beat-poet and sonic manipulator Camae Ayewa – a.k.a. Moor Mother – swings back to Europe for a brace of concerts during October and November, during which she’ll showcase her latest project, ‘The Great Bailout’. This is a collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra (arguably the capital’s most committed ensemble to both new classical concert music and its intersection with other musical forms and disciplines). It follows Moor Mother’s earlier work this year as part of liberation-jazz group Irreversible Entanglements and her recent contributions to the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s fiftieth anniversary album ‘We Are All On The Edge’ (in which she layered her poetry over the exuberant live improvisations of the surviving members of the original resistance jazz band.) For a more in-depth summary of her explosive protest-griot work, click here.

Moor Mother v London Contemporary Orchestra: 'The Great Bailout' tour, October 2019

There’s not much advance publicity regarding ‘The Great Bailout’. What there is lays the ground for performances of “a free-verse poem that acts as a non-linear word map about colonialism, slavery and commerce in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.” Given that Moor Mother’s previous work has consistently exploded conceptual/emotional bombs underneath the economic, social and psychic legacy of slavery and racism in America, you can expect her to have come up with something ferociously critical of the cherished white-British myths and veilings around the history and repercussions of Empire. As the organisers put it, “we can’t help but expect the first few rows… to leave this performance with singed eyebrows and melted glasses at the very least.”

I’m guessing that the project title refers to one of the most miserable semi-secrets of the eventual abolition of British slavery – this being the handsome payoffs eventually delivered (post-emancipation) not to the freed slaves themselves as backpay, apology or recompense, but to their indignant and haughtily entitled British former owners as property compensation. This kind of withering, righteous black interrogation invading white concert halls (in fact, being invited in) is in keeping with the necessary re-examinations of the roots of modern Western culture. I’m reminded of Doris Salcedo’s colossal ‘Shibboleth’ installation at the Tate Modern, in which she slashed the gallery floor with an ever-widening crack standing for the original Tate sugar money, its dirty roots in plantation slavery, and the consequent ethical undermining of the gallery and its history – a microcosm of white Western culture and wealth and the exploitation underneath.

It’s also in keeping with the ongoing rumblings and debate regarding the slave-trading roots of Bristol, the strategic heartland of the Middle Passage’s triangular trade – with the slave trader imprints on the names of its great buildings and statuary (some of which were recently and pointedly encircled with diagrammatics of slave ships and their suffering human cargo). You can’t help thinking that the organisers of ‘The Great Bailout’ really missed a trick by not scheduling a Bristol date, and perhaps a Liverpool one, alongside the London one. Gateshead – which does get a ‘Bailout’ date – has less of a stained history in this matter, along with its sister city Newcastle: distanced from the heart of the trade, and with the Tyneside anti-slavery movement being an early starter. London, though, grew fat on the profits, with its own triangular trade bigger than anywhere else in Britain.

There may be different resonances associated with the two continental European venues on the tour. Kraków is a little detached from diasporan agony, its own kind of historic slavery having been in the form of homegrown serfdom (Poland’s class savagery was traditionally applied to its own peasants, and its colonialist oppressions visited on the nearby Ukraine rather than on Africa). Ghent, on the other hand, hosted and shaped the 1814 treaty in which, in part, Britain and Belgium applied themselves to ending African slavery and the Middle Passage trade (albeit on their own terms, part of the strategic power-plays of the age as much as it was through any humane impulses).

It’ll be interesting to see if Moor Mother will have taken note of these things, dredged up these uncomfortable stains and compromised atonements and woven them in too. Whether each city on the tour route is given its own case to answer – hidden bones coming to light after two-and-a-half centuries of obscuring and snowjobbing.


 
There will be extras at the London show. Experimental violinist and London Contemporary Orchestra member Galya Bisengalieva will be performing an opening set of her own electroacoustic chamber music, duetting live violin with cunningly sculpted electronic sound-shaping. What I’ve heard so far is elegant and highly dramatic: sonic booms, string drones, eerie hard-eyed processional melodies against harshly majestic electronic architecture and steppe-scapes reflecting Galya’s own Kazakh background.

 
A second opening set is being provided by British-Nigerian south London glitch artiste Klein. An abstractioneer for three years, she started out being hailed as a kind of reinventor of gospel. Certainly her early recordings dipped into the form and she’s admitted that for many years it was her only reference point. It didn’t take her long, however, to move far beyond it. Other early tracks came across as a collagist log of the sounds of her community: not straightforward field recordings, but crafted patchworks of impressions and implicit meaning, finding vocal and musical fragments as important, in themselves, as actual complete sentences and phrases. Her ‘Tommy’ album, in 2017, was a kind of vaporously dissolved Afro-London laptop opera.

These days, memories of black church music continue to drift and prowl through Klein’s increasingly adventurous recordings, but they’re only part of her palette. While she keeps a toehold on more mainstream black musical ideas (a track like Changes sidles up to drill music, a shuffling slide of plate over plate, of violent masculine monologue recounted), most latterday Kleinwork is miasmic re-sortings of black vocal fragments over dark ambient dreamquakes and feathertwig beats: sometimes sobs or dramatic breaths, or slivers of story (somehow bigger than they appear, the way that individual black stories so often seem to trail implication entire cultural histories). Either that or they’re ribbons of dirty noise, swirls of demonstration with strange vocal glitches playing across them – gasps, lip noises, inchoate expressiveness.





 
* * * * * * * *

Moor Mother’s own roots are in gospel too, although she’s previously qualified that “my family used to listen to scary gospel—Mahalia Jackson, people who were not just waiting for Jesus to come, but being like, “This is what we’re living with, we’re going to push through. I’m climbing up the rough side of the mountain, and we’re going to get into this chariot and go to a better place”…” There’ll be more evidence of “negro spirituals flipped, remixed, and recaptured” on the second full Moor Mother album, ‘Analog Fluids Of Sonic Black Holes’, which is emerging on 8th November. In keeping with her work so far, the record will cover the themes of “myth, black mothers, vodun, quantum futurism and post-colonial street narratives.”


 
I’m guessing that this material, or spins on it, will be in strong evidence in the three further European dates Moor Mother will be playing in November following the ‘Great Bailout’ events. The first of these will be in Utrecht, as part of the Le Guess Who? Festival. Here, she’ll be rejoining Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick‘s “smacked-out hip hop” project Zonal (as one of two featured vocalists, alongside “fire-and-brimstone dub poet” Nazamba).



 
The second event is her headlining show in Helsinki. There, she’ll be supported by Alex Drewchin – a.k.a. non-binary multi-media art’n’music hopper Eartheater: who, over a five-year span in New York, has graduated from straightforward, deliquescing dreampop covers of Kate Bush songs to flittering unorthodox trance pop and sprawling, deconstructed anti-manifestos of collaged noise and brain-jumps. Beyond the electronics, current Eartheater work reflects the idea of body as instrument, psyche as testbed, ears and memory as record-and-playback devices.

The most recent Eartheater album, ‘IRISIRI‘, is a simultaneous explosion and dismantling of sonic and conceptual ideas across the spectrum. Plunderphonic chamber music samples, scraping noise effects, dance beats and thoroughly masticated chunks of ruined pop spat out and left on New York lamp posts, in apartment stairwells and practise spaces, leaving a scattering of recombinable fragments for other people to get stuck on and to mull over; flitting word associations and deconstructions of gender, of memories, of momentary definitions. There’s even the occasional joke (“I have no metaphor for you today – I’m off work…”). It’s both impersonal and entirely personal in its blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em running of personal insights and questions through a mill of big city information overload. Yes, it raises more questions than it provides coherent answers, but at least it’s intent on chopping out a space of possibilities in the first place.




 
Moor Mother’s other headliner is in Madrid, where she’ll be supported by emerging Spanish eclectician Cruhda. The latter’s work is softer and in some ways more accessible than that of most of the other people covered in this post, but that’s selling it short. It’s disruptive, just in a subtler way.

Crudha’s debut EP ‘Íbera Morte‘ is founded on selections and deliberate echoes of Spanish folk music, refracted through any number of home-studio cut-up-and-stick-in methods and stylings – musical box clinkings, Dead Can Dance Gothicity; Autotune and didgeridoo buzzes; structural interruptions and glitchtronics. Sylvan organ-drone folk gets carved into by straying intrusive beats like a prowling beast on a campside sortie; by warping bass synth growls; and by vocal cut-ups and lead lines from raw railing roars to dovelike sighs and monastic harmonies. It’d be crass simply to call Crudha a Spanish Björk, but there’s a similar breadth of imagination and reconstructive willpower here, as well as a similar reluctance to abandon melody.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Moor Mother v London Contemporary Orchestra: ‘The Great Bailout’

Zonal feat. Moor Mother & Nazamba;
Le Guess Who? 2019 @ TivoliVredenburg, Vredenburgkade 11, 3511 WC, Utrecht, Netherlands – Thursday 7th November 2019, time t.b.c.
– information here, here and here

Moor Mother + Eartheater
Tavastia Klubi, Urho Kekkosen katu, 6 Helsinki, Finland – Monday 11th November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Moor Mother + Cruhda
Siroco, Calle de San Dimas 3, 28015 Madrid, Spain – Friday 15th November 2019, 9.30pm
– information here and here
 

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

10 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some glimpses…

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

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


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

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

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

Warmer Than Blood:

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

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

8 Apr

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


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

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



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

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



 
* * * * * * * *

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

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


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

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

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


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




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

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

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



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

 

* * * * * * * *

Full Lilith Ai ‘Bare Radical’ tour dates:

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

 

March 2019 – music and theatre as ‘The Marchlands Arms’ takes over London’s transmigrational pub Ye Olde Mitre for a couple of evenings of border culture (23rd & 24th March)

19 Mar

A little way into the western edge of the City of London, between the jewellers’ quarter of Hatton Gardens and the gated enclave of Ely Place, there’s an inviting little alleyway – a tuckaway court still marked by Victorian streetlights, a little like an urban Narnia portal. As you wend your way up it, negotiating the gentle kink in the middle, a pub appears – a pub which gives the damnedest impression of having materialised from elsewhere and wedged itself into the cut-through.

Ye Olde Mitre (photographer unknown)

Ye Olde Mitre (photographer unknown)

This pub, Ye Olde Mitre, has actually been around in some shape or form since the middle of the sixteenth century – and for a long time it was perhaps London’s only example of a place which was in another place. Specifically, it was legally a part of Cambridgeshire. The beneficiary of a legal agreement regarding land jurisdiction set up around the London estate of the Bishop of Ely, it was the drinking establishment for his London servants. There are tall tales about people on the run from the City of London coppers claiming sanctuary in there, and arguing that the City police had no jurisdiction within the pub walls; no more than the Met did either.

Obviously this is a quirk of law, power and accommodation – mostly a long-standing in-joke for pint-supping conveyancers dropping in from the Inns of Court. Nonetheless, visiting Ye Olde Mitre always feels like taking a step into another kingdom, one which disregards standard unities of time and place in favour of fashioning its own. There’s the mythic touch added by the resident cherry tree, of course (which dates back to Elizabethan times and comes complete with its own Queen Elizabeth legend); but even when you’re not looking for magical signifiers – and long before you’ve become swimmy-headed on beer – the pub has the relaxed, self-contained air of somewhere entirely separate from the London bustle. Many pubs strive to become places in their own right; friendly drop-in nations. Content as its own little capsule of peace, Ye Olde Mitre manages it much better than almost anywhere else I know.

The Marchland Arms, 23rd & 24th March 2019

It’s unsurprisingly that such a place – one that flaunts and celebrates its quirky liminality – has drawn the attention of Marchland, the music-and-theatre production alliance which fixes and thrives on ideas of history and borderlines (as evidenced in their previous festival at the Bridewell a year ago.). This coming weekend, they’ll be taking over the pub, recasting it as “The Marchland Arms” and filling it with nine performances in three separate sections, turning the different spaces within the pub into murmuring, discursive rooms within which performance, music and song will gently ricochet.

* * * * * * * *

Marchland Arms - 'Once & Future Europe'

Marchland Arms – ‘Once & Future Europe’

Three pieces make up the ‘Once And Future Europe’ section, triggered by Marchland’s “fascinat(ion with) the cultural history of the legendary states that once straddled Europe’s borders. For the three shows that make up this session we asked the artists involved to, in the words of Rimbaud, remember Europe and her ancient ramparts. This is work that explores the influence of those half-imaginary places on the European psyche, and how their legacy continues to influence our notions of identity and belonging.”

The first of these pieces, ‘Lyonesse’, appears to be (at root) a conceptual celebration and exploration of the mythical drowned kingdom between Cornwall and Brittany – in other words, the sunken link in the geographical continuity of the broader Celtic nation. On spec, that sounds like a dusty old disinterral of Edwardian romanticism; but judging by the participants and their preoccupations, it won’t be. Poet-ecologist Dom Bury will, I guess, be mingling Lyonessean legend from his own West Country roots with contemporary concerns about flooding and dissolution, bolstered interjections and engagements from Katharina Engel, a German academic and theatre director whose preoccupation with hills and climbing may also feed into the work. The two will be accompanied by music from singer Sophia Brumfitt and veteran percussionist/hammer dulcimer player Dhevdhas Nair in a rich blend of European Early Music, Indian subcontinental music, jazz and African elements: Euromyth interfolding with full-world diaspora.

 
The pub snug will house ‘The Capital of Europe’ in which Charles Webber – whose two-decade-plus career as a sound artist has seen him write multimedia sound/light-and-music operas (he’s the artistic director of operaNCV), plus work with Crass’ Eve Libertine and innumerable experimental musicians and theatre companies – and Strasbourgian poet/Théâtre Volière co-director Mick Wood collaborate on “an installation of treated sound, found objects, and cut up poetry”, providing “an unguided tour through the abandoned corners, quiet squares and restless banlieues of an ideal, unreal city on the Rhine.” Sounds delightfully like an old pub story, but one which unfolds into multiple additional dimensions and textures; like that European flaneur’s collaboration between Johnny Morris and China Miéville which never actually happened.

Transforming the lounge, the last of the three ‘Once And Future Europe’ pieces – ‘Ionic’ – asks us to reimagine the space as“a café in fin de siècle Alexandria” in which a new dance theatre piece will play out. Rambert School graduate Janacek Wood choreographs an episode of interweaving texts and movements based around the work of Cairo-based, Alexandria-born Egyptian-Greek poet Constantin Cavafy, whose early life saw his family relocate between France, England and Constantinople in their own mournful, economically-driven private diaspora.

Cavafy himself ended up writing a body of work that’s a Hellenistic re-examination of what Wiki summarises as “uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character and psychology of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia.” The best-known of these poems is the sardonic Waiting For The Barbarians, in which an external exotic threat serves as both spice and hollowing-out of a moribund politics: I can’t think what that reminds me of now. Music comes from two Greek musicians – singer Savina Yannatou and classical guitarist Nikos Baroutsakis – and from electric guitarist/composer/personal ethnologist Alex Roth, who’s recently been pursuing his own Jewish diasporan heritage on a three-cornered journey that’s taken in Manchester, London and his current dwelling place of Warsaw.

* * * * * * * *

Marchland Arms - 'Customs & Duty'

Marchland Arms – ‘Customs & Duty’

Three more pieces make up ‘Customs & Duty’, “a session of shows exploring the interaction between folk culture and high art, and how identities shift when the lines between arbitrarily imagined communities are blurred… Must we declare our customs at the customs post? Is it our duty to pay duty on them? To whom do they belong? Who decides what they’re worth? What will they cost us when they’re taken away, dissected, repackaged, and sold back to us?”

For this, there’ll be a variation on the ‘Before and After Schengen’ piece which was one of last year’s Marchland centrepieces: Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes responses to Spanish photographer Ignacio Evangelista’s photos of border facilities, with guests and actors from the Marchland Arms Company contributing to a staging of the outcome, making the room “the Kafka-esque border post of a once or future East-European regime.”

Last time around at Marchland, Carneval String Trio’s viola player Shiry Rashkovsky contributed the ‘Shengen’ music. This year, she’s reviving a nineteenth-century middle-European tale with storyteller James Peacock in the shape of ‘Fritz and the Bohemian’ a tale of kindness, cyclic events and wanderings (“each year, on the first day of Spring, an itinerant musician comes to play beneath Fritz Kobus’ window…”).

Rounding off this section is a new Théâtre Volière play, ‘Goethe in Alsace’ – a one-act historical tale of cultural enrichment, “careless play-acting (and) casual cruelty” set around the border region of France and Germany, and questioning the assumptions and entitlements surrounding nascent male artists and the women whom they select as muses.

* * * * * * * *

Marchland Arms - 'The Northern Marches'

Marchland Arms – ‘The Northern Marches’

The three final Marchland Arms pieces comprise ‘The Northern Marches’ and focus specifically on the Scottish and English border country “(a) region, rich with the history of the Border Reivers of the debatable lands, the Roman garrisons of Hadrian’s Wall, and dramatic elopements to Gretna Green, has other, fresher stories to tell. How does its often romanticised past inform the Scottish borders’ present, and to whom do its stories old and new actually belong?” For this section, there’s a play (of sorts), a talk and a musical session.

Théâtre Volière return – teamed with poet Katie Hale and singing, fiddle-playing Scottish music specialist Lori Watson – to deliver a preview of ‘Gretna’: an actors/reciter/musician performance and ongoing project “exploring the culture of the region from the perspective of the women so often written out of its history.”

On the trail of linguistics and naming, University of Glasgow professor Eila Williamson provides ‘The Meaningful Merse’; throwing a little light on her REELS project work (Recovering the Earliest English Language in Scotland) in “a fascinating look at how history’s great, long term shifts in ethnic and cultural identity are often written in to the localised place-names, folk memory and dialects of Europe’s border regions.”

Finally, Lori Watson returns with her own set, performing in duo and bringing Scottish coastal and border folk music to close out the section in “a haunting collision between traditional music and found, ambient sound, in a performance ranging from the intimate to the epic.”

* * * * * * * *

There’s a general preview here:

 
Dates and times:

Marchland presents:
‘The Marchland Arms’
Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Court, off Ely Place/Hatton Garden, Holborn, London, EC1N 6SJ, England

February 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs in London and Cambridge – Seed Ensemble (1st February); Warmer Than Blood (2nd February); Irreversible Entanglements and Matana Roberts (2nd February)

28 Jan

Cassie Kinoshi & SEED Ensemble, 1st February 2019

Perhaps there’s not a great deal that I need to say about Cassie Kinoshi. The most visible of the current generation of jazzwomen from the Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Collective, she’s clearly on the ascendant, working extensively across the jazz, classical, dance and drama worlds, and with her two-year-old SEED Ensemble now getting high-profile gigs. One of these is at Kings Place this Friday, in which SEED unveil their debut album ‘Driftglass’, showing off the end product of the multicultural London influences which inspire them: groove-based British jazz with strong flavour of West African and Caribbean diasporan music.

If that sounds a bit cuddly, then check out the title – and the combative, sarcastic thump – of the second of the two clips below. It’s a parodic, pointed Mingus-worthy musical representation of white people’s fear-driven misconceptions about black people, drawing on the wildness, grief and defiance of New Orleans funeral music and underpinned by the double-low-end honk-n’razz attack of Theon Cross’ tuba and Rio Kai’s double bass.



 
* * * * * * * *

Up in Cambridge the following day, guitarist/composer Chris Montague (previously seen in here via his work with Alex Roth and Chris Sharkey in Future Currents) reveals his new project Warmer Than Blood. It’s a trio in which he combines with pianist Kit Downes (Troyka, F-IRE Collective) and bass guitarist Ruth Goller, whose pedigree takes in a host of projects from Acoustic Ladyland to Sephardim ballad revivers Sephiroth plus (amongst others) the manouche of Kamao Quintet, the punk jazz of Let Spin and rough-edged North African-influenced Melt Yourself Down, the Latin folk of Oriole and the up-in-the-air experimental indie-rock of Bug Prentice.

Warmer Than Blood, 2nd February 2019

All three are longtime friends and collaborators, seeking yet another new approach. They seem to have found it with Chris’ newest batch of compositions and improvisation-seeding situations, which he suggests consist of “intricate textures, dark pools of harmony, layered melodies, kinetic group improvisation and percussive prepared piano… fractious composed passages can inhabit the same sonic space as spare, ambient melodies, often described as melancholic and uplifting at the same time.”

Warmer Than Blood are a couple of months away from properly recording a debut album, but two live tracks on their homepage point the way in which they’re going. Introverted and ominous, their name-track’s a quiet etiolated piano exploration over a minimal pulsing guitar-chord cycle and locked-in bass rumble. The excerpt from a longer piece, FTM, is a gradual evolver in which Chris hovers in menacing sustain/volume-swell textural clouds and momentary dust-devils over ghost-Latin clicks and bass piano thuds (Kit muting the piano at both ends) before the trio expand into what’s partly a kind of haunted country music (like a Bill Frisell ensemble scoured to the bone by plains wind), and partly like a salsa band coming to terminal grief in a badlands dustbowl.

* * * * * * * *

Back in London, and also on the Saturday, the Barbican’s Milton Court hosts Brooklyn-based “liberation-minded free jazz collective” Irreversible Entanglements. If you’re after a jazz band to represent and reflect these increasingly ugly, stormy, oppressive times from the bottom up, you couldn’t find a better one – but be careful what you wish for. They aren’t an easy listen, and they’ve got no intention of being so.

Irreversible Entanglements, 2nd February 2019

Free jazz (especially, though not always, when it becomes a hand-me-down in the hands of white musicians) can often be a fussy, elitist abstraction. Irreversible Entanglements uncompromisingly return it to its roots in black radicalism and to an absolute connection to the injustices of society. In doing that, they’re stepping into the first-generation protest-jazz shoes of Archie Shepp, Joseph Jarman, Max Roach, Albert Ayler.

If you’ve been reading ‘Misfit City’ over the last couple of months, you may remember Elaine Mitchener reviving this tradition with her Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde project last month. While operating in a similar field, Irreversible Entanglements have no interest in curating those impetus and protests as museum pieces. Instead, they create their own protest. It should go without saying that they’re tied deeply into the #BlackLivesMatter initiative. Originally forming the band four years ago to play at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event, saxophonist Keir Neuringer, bassist Luke Stewart and poet/proclaimer Camae Ayewa subsequently added trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes for more rhythm and flammability.

The resulting quintet sounds far bigger, far angrier and far more righteous than seems possible, jetting out sheets of rattling, scouring brass over gargantuan shifting rhythms like wrenched building piles. Key to it all is the fierce female voice at the core. Camae’s better known for her Moor Mother solo project, in which she declaims jarring, terrifying accounts of personal and cultural pain over a barrage of hip-hop/slamtronic sound. I’ve written previously about the way in which her deep drilling of psychic scar-tissue within the African-American experience turns her into time-traveller, authorative witness-bearer and angry documentarian. With Irreversible Entanglements, she taps into another heady well of black American cultural memory, this one passed down via saxophones, bop and overblown sheets of sound. It’s not the first time that a jazz band has been centred on a woman’s voice, but you’ll rarely, if ever, have heard it done this way, in which the texts and the delivery not only match the hurricane of music, but simultaneously drive and ride them. This is serious schooling.



 

In support at Milton Court is Chicago-born, New York-based saxophonist and sound experimentalist Matana Roberts. While it’s not unusual for a jazz player to appear on a record on post-rock spearhead label Constellation, it is unusual for one to be signed to the label. Matana, however, is not a standard jazzer (she prefers the term “sound adventurer”, considering herself to be a hybrid connected to multiple sonic approaches), and she was probably signed more because of her general experimental tendencies than because of her past collaborations with Silver Mt. Zion and with Tortoise members.

An orchestral clarinettist with a politicized background, Matana journeyed through punk, Riot Grrl and avant-garde music to where she is now. Though she seems quite capable of punching out Chicago post-bop/free sax on the stand, she doesn’t restrict herself to standard (though demanding) jazz forms. Instead, she treats music as a prime artistic unifier crossing over into dance, theatre, poetry…. not in itself unusual, but rather than just strapping standard music tropes onto other forms she allows those forms to wash in, dissolving and reforming her approach to her music.

Matana’s best known for her ongoing ‘Coin, Coin’ series, a projected twelve-album project started in 2005 and still in its relatively early stages (it’s about a third done). In this, whether working on her own or with others, she utilises a technique she originally dubbed “panoramic sound quilting”, joining together blocks of noise and scoring from a variety of sources but with an assemblage idea borrowed from rag-bag folk art. In particular when she’s recording alone, her pieces feature multiple Matanas – some rolling out saxophone lines, but many engaged in vocal chants or drones, or layered swatches of conversation. Some sing or scream, or hurtle along the arresting bloodied ribbon that separates the two: like Moor Mother, Matana takes pride in black history and resistance while establishing that it has to be represented via a certain sound of historical pain. The rawness there goes beyond filters of culture and into filters of humanness.”

Unsurprisingly, her performances have a reputation for being immersive experiences. Sounds like she’ll make the perfect gigmate for Irreversible Entanglements.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Jazz re:freshed present:
SEED Ensemble
Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Friday 1st February 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Listen! presents
Warmer Than Blood
Unitarian Church, 5 Emmanuel Road, Cambridge, CB1 1JW, England
Saturday 2nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Irreversible Entanglements + Matana Roberts
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DT, England
Saturday 2nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

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

6 Jan

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

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

Meanwhile, here’s Chelsea blowing tenor with SEED…


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

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


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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

Jazz Herstory presents: Alexandra Ridout, 17th January 2019

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

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



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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

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

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


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

January 2019 – upcoming London gigs – Monelise, Laura Victoria, Paul Reynolds and Paul Go free in Peckham; Amy Balog at the Poetry Café; The Osiris Club, Kavus Torabi and ANTA in Camden (all 9th January)

4 Jan

Three for next Wednesday…

* * * * * * * *

Monelise + Laura Victoria + Paul Reynolds + Paul Go, 9th January 2019

A free gig down in Peckham showcases four independent songwriters, with recent Goldsmiths graduate Monelise at the head of the bill. Positioning herself in the dreamy, arty end of pop, she tosses leading comparisons and tells around like chiffon scarves – David Lynch, Kate Bush, her own synaesthesia – and the talk-up seems to be working so far, with her videos being played in Topshop and a Pledgemusic campaign working hard at getting her debut EP completed (and her live shows up and running across a Mediterranean living-room tour and an Edinburgh Fringe fixture). She’s clearly as much a visual artist as a musical one, with her final degree show at the Deptford Albany last December already featuring screens, visuals and drifting snatches of 1920s opera shellac as well as a four-piece band.

I admire the ambition and industry, even if I’m not yet sold on the output. The influences Monelise is citing have the ability to reach down into your deep dreams and jar you. In comparison, she herself still seems content to drift along on the surface of a dusk dream, sounding pretty and basking in moonlight. I can only go by what I’m seeing. It’s possible that Monelise’s keeping her cards close to her chest as regards what she’s put out so far, and perhaps the live show’s the only current way of appreciating her in full. Available evidence shows two versions of her – the managed one (who releases slick spiritual-couture videos and tracks which blend contemporary pop and trip hop into seamless, depthless musings), and the far more interesting and unpolished live Monelise (who strives and juggles simultaneous singing, keyboards and theremin, and who might be shakier and more erratic at the moment but who also offers possibilities of growing, learning and interacting which her hermetically-sealed recorded persona currently doesn’t).



 
There are no such abstractions or evasions in the music of Laura Victoria. A onetime scion of Tyneside youth folk ensemble FolkESTRA North, she belts out punchy songs of life and love drawing from English folk, acoustic pop and Americana, accompanying herself on cello and leading a three-piece band featuring drummer Josh Wolfsohn and fiddler/banjoist Jo Cooper. Now up to her third album, and having been a regular presence on folk scene gigs up and down the country for twelve years, she’s confident and fully formed: what you see is what you get. I see sunniness, vigour and empathy in equal measure. In addition, she runs folk singing classes at Morley College and IKLECTIK, and has done at least one sprightly, ramshackle Joan Jett cover, if anyone’s interested…



 
Paul Go is another transplanted Northumbrian folkie, although of a very different order and style to Laura. His only available song so far is soft, shy and sweet – a gentle, momentary folk-pop sketch with brush drums, donkey-ride fingerpicking and fiddle contrasting awkward human reclusiveness with the unconscious confident grace of animals. Of the other two tracks he’s released, one’s a skittish, part-broken guitar improvisation designed to make use of the acoustic space of Ealing’s Vestry Hall. The other shows an unexpected interest in Chinese music, featuring the slithering sigh of an erhu fiddle, chimes and a guest narrative in Mandarin. Hopefully some of these other sides of Paul will bleed through in the concert: soft suburban musing and amiability are fine, but extra dimensions are better.



 
That’s something which already holds true for Paul Reynolds. Sometimes part of triple-threat modern folk trio Vespers, he plays bass for his own projects and for various other people, but graduates to piano for his own solo songs and for spacious, introverted instrumental improvisations (sometimes artfully jarred by odd tunings and by interspersed sound effects and electronics). I’m guessing that the songs will take preeminence this time around. Evidence so far suggests that they’re in the classic vein of chamber-folk touched with elements of classical and chanson, and thrumming behind a patina of English reserve: a mixture of craft and of carefully harboured emotion. Paul’s also got a sideline in little sonic experimental dramas such as The Brading Experience, suggesting a quietly uncontainable musician and aural imagination behind the meticulous skill.

 
* * * * * * * *

All right – in advance of her spoken word/musical set at the Poetry Cafe, here’s Amy Balog‘s opening statement:

“The hungry vulture of feminism is circling in the grey sky above the dying Femme Fatale. She’s being tortured to death by girls who don’t understand her power, thinking it somehow makes them weaker. Her admirers are collecting her sweet, priceless blood in vintage crystal flasks, trying to preserve at least this one colour still left in a humourless and passionless world. But she’s still breathing, and it’s not too late to save her from a cruel demise…”

Amy Balog: 'The Dying Femme Fatale', 9th January 2019

I’m not sure quite what to make of Amy yet. She’s a Hungarian Londoner infused with Gothic prose and horror erotica; a refugee from science journalism who carried out a moonlight flit into the world of speculative fiction and dream psychology. Having reinvented herself as a novelist and poet, she’s now (at the age of twenty-seven) standing up in front of audiences to deliver a performance-poetry manifesto exploring “the nature of femininity and feminine power from a perspective critical of contemporary feminism… other themes include political correctness, identity politics, religion and mental illness.” As part of the process, she’s struck up an alliance with jazz-psych guitarist Carlos Ferrao, who brings a splintery musical soundscape to her recitations – hollowbody chugs, echoes and grumbles, deliquescing now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t riffs.


 
Heh. I’ve never much trusted anyone who scorns and decries “political correctness” and uses that ire as a rallying call. Having watched or suffered losses and setbacks related to mental illness, I’m suspicious of anything which politicises or potentially celebrates madness; and the fact remains that if you’re a woman arguing against feminism, you’re basically aiming an axe at your own ankles. That said, there’s more to Amy than flashy reactionary advertising or self-indulgent apologism. By her own admission, there’s plenty of Camille Paglia in her work, plenty of Jung, Nietzsche, Poe and the Comte du Lautréamont – the bloodwork of surrealism, expressionism, contrarian thought, like a kind of Goth take on Lydia Lunch.

Don’t expect measured, objective consideration here. Amy’s interested in transformative apocalypses, irrational dream quests and night journeys, the truth implicit in the fluid and contradictory power balance between artist and muse, or about the flip side of objectification. Her female narrators may be thwarted or humiliated or imperilled, but they’re also resistant and strangely bulletproof, with a core of self-will: heroic archetypes determined to establish their own concept of femaleness. Core to this is Amy’s own perception of beauty as a force in its own right – it threads through her words, and her Gothic redhead looks and sensual witchy Tori Amos presence are an integral part of her work; the vessel for the wine.

Perhaps it’s best to allow for the fact that feminism, by its very nature, is a broad church with room for multiple perspectives and considerations; that there are many pathways to female assertion and that none of them should be readily shouted down; and that Amy’s still in the early stages of her night journey. Despite her determined stance, at the moment there are more questions and challenges in place than answers. It may be interesting to see where she goes.



 
* * * * * * * *

The Osiris Club + Kavus Torabi + ANTA, 9th January 2019A heavier, more masculine psychedelia gets an airing up at the Black Heart, where record label Old Empire are putting on a night of darker and/or harder sounds, headed up by occult post-punk/progressive metal metallers The Osiris Club.

Originally formed with the intent of fusing horror film soundtracks with instrumental avant-metal, the OC has now swollen to a full-on song septet. The changes seem to be resulting in accessible, gloomily elegant tritone epics of tingling guitar and droning indie vocal; as if The House of Love had thrown their hands up in the air and confessed to having been fantasy comics fans all along (while various members of Fantômas grinned and egg them on in the background). That said, for epics such as A Winter’s Night On Sentinel Hill the Club pull out all of the Hawkwind oscillators and Van Der Graaf/Iron Maiden declamations, unveiling a Lovecraft-prog grandeur in full glorious/ghastly melodrama.



 
No such code-switching games for ANTA – described by Chaos Theory as the purveyors of “velvetine cosmic textures delivered as a hammer blow to the soul”, they open the show with their own enthusiastically convoluted, heavy-prog brain-tangling rock swing. Sandwiched in the middle is Kavus Torabi. Having recently exploded the Garage at the helm of his psychedelic prog octet Knifeworld, he returns to the sullen, trepidatious, post-nova ember-glow of his solo work; trawling through shimmering webs of harmonium, effected drones and knell-clangs of acoustic guitar, exploring a forbidding hinterland of vulnerability and permeable spirit-space.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Monelise + Laura Victoria + Paul Reynolds + Paul Go
Rye Wax, 133 Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST, England
Wednesday, 9 January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

The Poetry Society presents:
Amy Balog: ‘The Dying Femme Fatale – An Evening of Poetry and Music’
The Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9BX, England
Wednesday 9th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Old Empire presents:
The Osiris Club + Kavus Torabi + Anta
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Wednesday 9th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – memories of black resistance and striving in Elaine Mitchener’s ‘Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde’ (7th January) and Rufus Reid’s ‘Quiet Pride’ (29th January)

3 Jan

This month, there are two very different opportunities to immerse yourself in historical music stemming from black resistance and the American civil rights struggle; the conflation of brutual oppression, storms, suffering and self-assertion which inform today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement.

One of these events is an edgy art-scream of vintage fighting classics, happening inside a rough-walled underground music stronghold. The other features music that’s barely seven years old, takes place in a lofty varnished orchestral concert hall at the heart of the British classical music world, comes varnished by a couple of Grammy nominations and represents the other end of the struggle: more well-spoken, staunchly dignified, talking back at the oppressor in something closer to his own language on his own terrain.

Would each of these efforts give the other house room? I’d like to think that they would.

* * * * * * * *

'Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde', 7th January 2019

Tireless vocal/physical-movement improviser and conceptual explorer Elaine Mitchener returns to Café Oto with a revival of her ‘Vocal Classics of the Black Avant Garde’ project (originally compiled and performed for the London Festival of Contemporary Music at the end of 2017). Re-examining 1960s and 1970s works composed by Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Joseph Jarman and Jeanne Lee, it studies and recreates “the overflow of experiment that occurred within improvised music, often springing directly from lived experiences of racial injustice… combin(ing) vocals and text with experimental jazz forms.”

Musical direction for the evening will come from reknowned saxophonist Jason Yarde – an improviser-composer who steps confidently between jazz and conservatoire culture. He’ll be at the head of a band consisting of pianist Dominic Canning, Elaine’s regular bassist Neil Charles, trumpeter and flautist Byron Wallen and the consistently staggering drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders. It’s a little unclear as to whether Elaine’s regular sparring partner Alexander Hawkins will be joining in on keyboards this time, but expat American poet Dante Micheaux is down to join Elaine on spoken/sung word.

Joseph Jarman

Joseph Jarman

It’s safe to say that while this music’s around fifty years old now, the content’s not going to be cosy. Expect some old wounds, some revolutionaries’ pride and some old fire to be raked over and rekindled. As Elaine writes, “these works illuminate an occluded moment in American cultural history, when the avant-garde aesthetics of new jazz doubled as a metaphor for the imminent politics of civil rights.

“Composed in very specific response to the perilous condition of black people in America, the works’ synthesis of experimental sensibilities, radical political sentiment, and gutbucket expression cuts across boundaries of time and space to resonate universally in the here and now. In the era of #BlackLivesMatter, these works speak powerfully of the need for resistance and resilience, sound stark and original, their hypermodernism firmly rooted in vernacular tradition.”

It doesn’t seem that anything of the previous show’s been recorded (or if it has been, it’s not been released), so here’s a little from one of Elaine’s previous projects as an indicator; plus a little Shepp, Lee and Jarman.





 
* * * * * * * *

Reminding us that the politics of dignity and survival (and the business of conveying an urgent message) comes in many different forms and tones, African-American double bassist Rufus Reid is reviving his 2012 jazz orchestra suite ‘Quiet Pride’ in London later in January. A limber, elegant musician and composer with profound roots in classical trumpet and bass, Rufus (like Jason Yarde) also straddles the worlds of jazz and music education with equal enthusiasm, grace and fervour. He has been playing in both small and sizeable jazz groups since the late ‘60s and composing for about the same length of time, moving into the world of large-scale compositions in 2011 with his symphonic orchestral work ‘Mass Transit’.

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

‘Quiet Pride’ was written to honour and illustrate the work of late African–American sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, and Rufus has taken it around the universities and culture halls of the USA whenever possible. This particular performance of the suite will be rendered by the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra under the direction of London jazz composer and educator Scott Stroman (with, I think, Rufus as conductor). While Rufus prefers to play alongside or surrounded by actual Catlett prints and sculptures for honour, reflection and continuity, there aren’t any to hand at the Guildhall and so the performance will be accompanied by projected Catlett images.


 
Set against the Oto show, it could be tempting to decry this as bourgeois slickness, a birch-and-beech art gallery indulgence co-opting jazz into the spaces of white power structures or celebrating some kind of house-Negro ethic. That would be unfair, shallow and revolting. To dispel that kind of wretched political preciousness, consider Elizabeth Catlett’s actual life; the source of her art and the ultimate inspiration for Rufus’ humming, quick-footed, assertive music in which (according to ‘All About Jazz’s Dan Bilawsky) “chamber-esque civility can give way to a feeling of uncertainty which, in turn, can morph into swing. Focus shifts from the textural to the rhythmic, the background to the foreground, and the subtle to the obvious. The music is mutable and multifaceted but that’s not really surprising; sculptures can take on different meaning when viewed from different angles so the music should certainly do the same.”

A pioneering presence as both a black and a female sculptor in America (at a time when few of either were to be found – or, more pertinently, allowed) Elizabeth perpetually fused art and activism, mostly through effort and moral choices. Flat-out rejected as a scholar by the Carnegie Institute of Technology due to her skin colour; struggling against direct, demoralising racist university policies while studying for a Masters in Iowa (and, later on, being stripped of her American citizenship as a result of her Communist associations and her gestures of solidarity with striking Mexican railway workers), hers is a story of personal industry, profound ethical responsibility, and effort against the odds.

Her time in Mexico (where she settled for much of her life, first learning and subsequently teaching) was also the catalyst for the crystallizing of her artistic vision, uniting her early influences of Henry Moore, Diego Rivera and pre-Columbian American sculpture with a commitment to combining aspirational concepts of strength and fierce dignity with representative figure forms. “I learned how you use your art for the service of people, struggling people, to whom only realism is meaningful” she’d assert, later. “I have always wanted my art to service my people — to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential.”



 

Elizabeth’s figures and prints survive her and bear witness to her particular vision. Emblematic of black dignity, of powerful maternal femininity, of a refusal to be chained down by prejudices and programmes, they cradle their children; staunchly assert their curves; stand straight-backed, defiant and admirable; reveal the hidden or overlooked complexities of the black mind and sense of self; or punch the air as a simple, stark and meaningful mark of resistance. They’re already, in their way, as direct and as intricate as jazz: something which Rufus clearly understood from the start and has strived himself to bring across in music.


 
Dates:

Elaine Mitchener Projects presents:
Vocal Classics of the Black Avant Garde: Jason Yarde + Elaine Mitchener + Mark Sanders + Neil Charles + Dante Micheaux + Byron Wallen + Alexander Hawkins
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Monday 7th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Guildhall Jazz Orchestra/Rufus Reid/Scott Stroman: ‘Quiet Pride – The Elizabeth Catlett Project’
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DT, England
Tuesday 29th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

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

29 Sep

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

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

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



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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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


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

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

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

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

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

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Phaze Theory blends occult Blake-and-Yeats visions with brooding jazz rock (28th August)

25 Aug

Phaze Theory, 28th August 2018

When I think of musicians citing the mystical, revolutionary poetry of Yeats or Blake, I’m likely to think of assorted classic rock fops; or young white literate/ dissolute pretenders fitting the pair in between their Rimbaud and Verlaine namedrops. The Libertines loved Blake; as have a swathe of musicans ranging from stadium botherers Robert Plant, Richard Ashcroft and U2 to dedicated underground upsetters like The Fugs, Duglen and Coil. Further delving turns up quotings and reverent steals by Pet Shop Boys and Bloc Party, plus the fact that Blake himself was a songwriter. As for Yeats, Joni Mitchell has set him to music, as has Van Morrison: the Hold Steady met him at a party in Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night, Bright Eyes quotes him in Four Winds; and from her debut album, Sinead O’Connor’s devastating Troy reshapes and reclaims his ‘No Second Troy’.

As for those who take on both, there’s North Sea Radio Orchestra with their sweet folk-toned chamber music settings. More prominently, there’s Patti Smith, who shook Blake-and-Yeats vision out into her early punk poetry and has kept it up ever since. Then there’s Patti’s ardent acolyte, Mike Scott of The Waterboys, who’s kept both by him on his travels: snarling about Blakean tigers and savage earth hearts on his debut album, capping ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ by fusing Yeats fairy tales with New York minimalism and Irish chamber-folk, and devoting a whole album to Yeats-isms twenty-three years after that.


 
What I’m getting at is that Blake-and-Yeats setters and expressers, in music, tend to be storm-tossed white romantics… with the music to match. Bar guesting singers here and there (including some formidable soul wailers), Phaze Theory are certainly white, are probably romantics, and may well be storm-tossed, but it’s initially a surprise to encounter their own take on this particular poetry; working it as a collective muse for a band that, while it calls its music art rock, has more in common with reggae, dub and the glowering Dark Magus electric wrack of Miles Davis in the early ‘70s.

Around in various forms since 2014, they’re led by a questing mystic of a tuba player, Christopher Barrett. Their conservatoire backgrounds and well-schooled chops belie their strange geological ferocity, stemming from an interest in Britain’s occult traditions and how these break through into sounds and words. Dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos” they lay claim to “roots in the deep grooves of the earth and the city and our branches reaching to the stars… we seek to free your feet, open your heart and liberate your spirit.”

In tone and intent, and at full heat, they’re an unexpected outpost of New Weird Britain, set in a jazzier wilderness in which Marco Quarantotto’s echoed drums, Tal Janes’ gnarled heavy guitar and in particular Barrett’s rumbling, adroit, effects-burnished electric tuba (which shifts seamlessly from bass to horn parts, sometimes with no immediate break) probe and scald across a foreboding, eerie terrain of post-industrial brambles, Tannoy vocals and perhaps a little Hendrix crunch. Compare and contrast their troubling, hallucinatory take on The Song of Wandering Aengus (recorded with Manchester singer Rae Jones) with the polished, melodious elegance of the Waterboys version above.



 
Currently collaborating with London rhythm-&-blues/Southern soul singer Arthur Lea, this imminent end-of-the-month gig at the Vortex is part of their ongoing process of bringing their music back to London and England after a brief Californian shift. Back to the grime but also back to the original fertility, I guess.

Phaze Theory
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Tuesday 28th August 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – husk, rime and lanterns – a double dose of Jack Hayter in a Gravesend lightship (18th August)

14 Aug

I like the idea of a mobile arts venue. A seabound one is even better. LV21, a forty-metre decommissioned former lightship, once kept other ships from foundering on the rocks along the Kentish coast. Now it’s a floating art space and performance facility, moving intermittently between Thames estuary towns. Although it’s been resting at a long-term Gravesend mooring since summer 2016, LV21 still fits the measure for art-on-the-move (while its sister vessel, LV18, performs a similar function at a similar mooring up the coast at Harwich).

International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend @ LV21, 18th August 2018

Wherever it happens to be at the time, LV21 opens up in full each summer for the overlapping International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend and International Lighthouse Heritage Weekend, allowing visitors to explore the vessel and immerse themselves in lightship and lighthouse history from around the world. Also on offer at the event this year – this weekend – are lessons in tying sailor’s knots, a soldering and radio workshop (build your own pocket amplifier and speaker) and Nicola Pollard of stripped-down drama company Up The Road Theatre inviting discussion for the next UTR production, ‘Peril At Sea’ (set to explore “stories, memories, myths and songs of smuggling, shipwrecks and survival” and to tour around English coastal towns including Lowestoft, Portsmouth and Wells-next-the-Sea).

Jack Hayter @ ILLW 2018, Gravesend, 18th August 2018Of course, it’s music rather than knots that’s attracting my interest. Also on hand is Jack Hayter – wandering multi-instrumentalist, onetime Hefner member, ex-Dollboy-er, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge collaborator; the writer and performer of memorable contemporary folk songs and a relatively recent new Gravesend resident. He has two interesting – and very different – nautical music productions going on in the bowels of the ship.

The first of these is ‘Flashes & Occultations’, a sonic installation in the generator room comprising “a seventy-seven-minute-long sonic improvisation on lighthouse life.” It was originally released by London indie label Where It’s At Is Where You Are in 2017 as part of their ‘Seven@77‘ compilation, on which it loomed massively over the thirteen other pieces (each of them clocking in at a measly seventy-seven seconds). In typically dry and witty fashion, Jack describes it as a salvage job on a foolhardy, ambitious effort to sidestep the requested seventy-seven-minute pedal steel improvisation in favour of an attempt to make “a transient sound sculpture from the identification patterns of distant lighthouses, buoys and light vessels; to convert their flashes and occultations into small voltages using telescopes, light-sensitive resistors and photodiodes, then to use those derived signals to trigger samples and control analogue synths. I was overambitious and my experiments were largely a technical failure. I also got cold and muddy while recording foghorns. Worse still, those supposedly unique and exciting light patterns often turned out to be “one flash every twenty seconds” or “red occulting thrice every minute on a Tuesday. Then I ran out of time.”

Salvaging the project wreckage, Jack returned to the original brief – improvising on pedal steel around field recordings, stirring in documentary dialogue, eight-bit synth pads and calling in a few friends and favours to obtain further ingredients: poetry, wordless harmony singing, harmonium drones and electronic oscillator. Despite his disclaimers, he came up with an effective, charming piece – at different points lulling, humorous and lyrically haunting – which absolutely deserves its second life amongst the Gravesend solenoids and gauges, where Jack claims he might play along with it “from time to time” on live fiddle. Here’s a short excerpt with accompanying video (filmed up at the Firth of Forth) – also, if you’re curious but can’t make it down to LV21 this Saturday, here’s the whole piece in audio.



 
Jack’s second musical contribution of the day is the one-off free live gig he’s performing in the ship (on deck? in the hold?) during the evening, in which he’s going to be performing “a set of my songs and stories which will loosely follow the river from Deptford down to Gravesend finishing up at Margate, with diversions.” Here’s where you get to see Jack in the raw – a rangy, weatherbeaten feller with a voice as chewed-up and resilient as an ancient poster still clinging onto a seafront fence. His recent album, ‘Abbey Wood‘, is one of 2018’s under-the-radar triumphs, a compelling song collection recorded in defiantly threadbare folk fashion but with infusions of avant-garde turn-up-and-play instrumentation. Its ace in the hole, however, is Jack’s songwriter vision. As ever, he writes with a documentarian’s timing and eye for sparse, telling detail; with a poet’s knack for sifting detritus and forgotten trash to find significance; and with a determination to tell stories from those broad, deliberately ignored margins of society which actually make up its overlooked majority.

Jack’s songbook includes tales of post-war slump and of the rural working class swept into conflict; the hopes and dreams of sewage workers; the luckless POWs sunk with the SS Andora Star; the fumblings of early love under the shadow of the Cold War. Crucially – and despite his sharp, assured literacy – he always writes these from the inside and on the level, rather than as booky preachings from above. These are stories about people on lean means, living within strung-together moments: a compassionate, sometimes subtly angry cinema of life’s grain outside the slick and aspirational. They vouch and voice for the itinerate, the sidelined; the workers who just get on with it; the kids with foggy futures stirred and impelled by vast indifferent forces.

Jack’s delivery of these tales, meanwhile, is battered, warm, inclusive, strangely dignified, and mesmeric. Check out an earlier review I did of one of Jack’s previous live performances; or have a dip into the selection of tracks below.





 
Jack Hayter @ International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend 2018
Light Vessel 21, (currently moored at) St Andrews Quay, Royal Pier Road, Gravesend, Kent DA12 2BD, England
Saturday 18 August 2018
• ILLW full event duration: 12.00pm-11.00pm
• Flashes & Occultations installation: 12.00pm-4.00pm
• Jack Hayter free live set: 7.00pm-11.00pm

– free event – information here, here, here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming London folk gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Åkervinda and Night (17th August); Gasper Nali and Ellie Ford (also 17th August); London Contemporary Voices (24th August); Alabaster dePlume and Luna Silva (31st August)

12 Aug

Here’s the second set of August’s Nest Collective Campfire Club open air park/garden/playground shows…

* * * * * * * *

Another pair of simultaneous Campfire concerts are happening on 17th August, the first of which features Scandinavian vocal quartet Åkervinda and Nepali folk band Night.

“Iris Bergcrantz, Lise Kroner, Linda Bergström and Agnes Åhlund – the four singers of Åkervinda – take pride in their original and modern interpretation of the traditional folksongs of Scandinavia. The group’s name is inspired by a Swedish wildflower whose roots spread far and wide like rivers under the ground. Like the flower, gracefully entwining melodies, rock-solid groove, and ever intriguing harmonies will take root in your mind. Like the flower, they will be impossible to remove.

“Jazz singers at heart, the young women of Åkervinda share a deep love of folk music. Through improvisation, the group gives new life to traditional folk songs and stories of women throughout the ages. In 2014 they released their debut album “Kära Mor” (“Dear Mother”) and has been touring in Sweden, Denmark, the US and Canada since. Åkervinda have performed at Aarhus Vocal Festival, Malmö Arena, Hillerød Folk Festival and various folk festivals in Sweden (as well as museums and venues in Toronto, New York and Chicago) and collaborations include work with the Swedish folk musician Jens Ulvsand, the Canadian fiddle virtuoso Jaron Freeman-Fox and the internationally-renowned Swedish trio Nordic.


 
“Reworking Nepali traditions into “stunning new soundscapes” (‘Making Tracks’), Night is a Kathmandu-based folk band formed in 2006, with members coming together from different musical backgrounds. The band focuses on reviving lost and endangered Nepali instruments, on creating new sounds rooted in collective Nepali heritage and on reintroducing said music and instruments to a world audience.

The people, places and cultures of Nepal have been Night’s greatest inspiration. Most of the songs are composed “in the field” where the band stays with people in villages. After living with a melody, a song or a drum rhythm over a period of time, they slowly start sensing its deeper meaning; and, through developing their own compositions, try to express and share this understanding with others.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The second of the two 17th August concert features Malawian roots musician Gasper Nali and Brightonian folk harpist/singer-songwriter Ellie Ford.

“Performing “simple but joyous… totally infectious” music (‘Songlines’), Gasper Nali plays a Babatoni – a three-metre one-stringed home-made bass guitar – with an empty bottle and a stick, and makes the most beautiful and catchy original Afro-beats possible. Gasper is a one-man-band, with the Babatoni, cow-skin kick drum and very catchy tunes. He is absolutely unlike anything else. It’s super Malawian roots, it’s very upbeat and incredibly danceable! Or – as a Bandcamp fan nicely put it: “Gasper is a one man party! It’s completely impossible to stop moving – and just as impossible to stop smiling!”


 
Ellie Ford is an alternative folk artist whose expressive vocals are accompanied by her percussive harp playing and eloquent songwriting. Her combination of classical and modern musical styles – of the serene with the guttural – makes for a captivating solo performance. With a debut album release under her belt and a second album to follow in 2018, Ellie Ford is forging her own path as an alternative musician and performer.”


 
* * * * * * * *

On 24th August, utility choir London Contemporary Voices deliver the second of their two Campfire concerts this year. Suppliers of “session singers, backing vocalists, choristers, beatboxers and a cappella entertainment”, LCV are an in-demand studio-and-live chorus who spend much of their time working with pop and dance artists, providing music for corporate events or singing “choireeoke”; but in between these engagements they host their own events or pursue more unorthodox projects. Beside their previous 2018 Campfire event earlier in the season, the latter have recently included providing a soundbath for Folkestone’s experimental Profound Sound festival and staging a celebration of female songwriters at Union Chapel back in May.


 
* * * * * * * *

The last of the August concerts comes on 31st August, and features spoken-word/instrumental polymath Alabaster DePlume and trilingual folk/jazz/pop musician Luna Silva.

”From Manchester, now based in London, Gus Fairbairn – better known as Alabaster DePlume – is a performer, writer and musician. A saxophonist with an unusual tone (reminiscent of Ethopian free-jazz legend Getatchew Mekurya), Alabaster collaborates with members of the folk and jazz scenes of London, Bristol and Manchester. He uses music and spoken word to portray sentiments, often contradictory, that together evoke a new feeling. Whether in recording, writing or performance, his work has an emphasis on inclusion, encouragement and sincerity (and was recently described on Radio 3 as being “cheerfully uneasy”).

Since 2011 Alabaster has produced three albums on Manchester label Debt Records, toured Europe as a solo performer, produced short films, and written/performed a play with circus-aerial in Dublin. His latest album, ‘Peach’, was produced by Paddy Steer, and accompanies a short film called ‘I Feel Good’ directed by Melodie Roulaud. He also regularly presents a series of combined arts events celebrating both his and others’ work.


 
“Daughter of an English actress, a Spanish circus performer, and raised in France Luna Silva is a daughter of the world, singing in three languages and influenced by the cultures she has come across in her travels. In a world that is increasingly connecting, communicating and cooperating; Luna Silva’s music is deeply resonant. Her music is a mixture of contemporary music and traditional musics of this world (the arrangements touching on Eastern European folk, English folk, straight pop and Congolese jazz) but above all one feels a love for creativity. Accompanied by her ukulele (or a quartet also including guitar, double bass and percussion) she takes us on a journey of our own – an acoustic set with sass.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • Campfire Club: Åkervinda + Night – Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground, 15 Market Road, Lower Holloway, London, N7 9PL, England, Friday 17th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Gasper Nali + Ellie Ford – Phytology, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Middleton Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9RR, England, Friday 17th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: London Contemporary Voices return! – Glengall Wharf Garden, 64 Glengall Road, Peckham, London, SE15 6NF, England,Friday 24th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Alabaster dePlume + Luna Silva – Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 5AR, England, Friday 31st August 2018, 7.00pm – information here

More Campfire Club shows to follow in September…
 

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – flexi-clectica at Apple Tree: The Live Lounge Vol II with Rudi Douglas, J. Aria, Awkward Ndure, DJ Sonikku, Martell O’Neill, Daryl Fox-Huxley and DJ Kevin Morosky (2nd August)

31 Jul

Apple Tree: The Live Loung Vol. II, 2nd August 2018Since its launch earlier this year, broad-based London music-and-performance event Apple Tree has set itself a bold framework. Curated by tireless promoter and club personality Mark-Ashley Dupé and by cross-disciplinary designer/film-maker Samuel Douek, its Live Lounge event is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQIA musicians and artists from across the city (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual/allies, for those having trouble keeping up with those ever-burgeoning inclusive acronyms). It’s also happily intersectional in both intent and in entertainment. The convergence of queerness and blackness already seems to be a specialty, offsetting the compressive grinding of racism and the bristling aggression of homophobes by providing a stage for some fiery and assertive performers.

If this is starting to sound too specialised, too academic, or too much like a sexual/political cul-de-sac, I should reign things in a bit. In fact, the backbone of the debut Apple Tree evening back in June (which I only caught up and heard about recently, several months after the event) seems to have been electric/eclectic soul, provided by singer-songwriters Miggy Dela Rosa, Albert Gold and Awkward Ndure. Gay electro-acoustic composer Daniel McBride was also on hand, his work bridging that gap between the capital’s young classical scene, its queer-arts scene and the electronic music continuum which unites (in both work and play) pop, dance culture and high-art experimentalism. Bringing the words was topical poet and fervent discursor Black Ops Poetry; bringing the costumes and personae was queer cabaret sensation Rhys Holis (performer of Rhys’ Pieces and founder of Dalston cabaret night Queefy); and bringing damn near everything was operatic/discursive costumed electro-acoustic performance artist Oberon White (who considers himself “part of an eclectic tradition incorporating shamans, clowns, automata, cyborgs and drag artists”).

In other words, Apple Tree’s shaping up to be an event that’s equally comfortable with party pop and far-out high art concepts, unifying them through a flexible, diverse queer lens. There aren’t that many places where you can see a happy, possibly camp singalong immediately followed by a text-spouting man dressed as a mythical Greek bird-god.

The upcoming second Apple Tree Live Lounge show at the beginning of August is perhaps a tad less adventurous than the debut was, but it’s all part of the ebb and flow, and comes packaged with dinner care of Shoreditch’s Hoi Polloi brasserie and a DJ set from photographer/film director Kevin Morosky. As for the performers, Awkward makes a return from the launch event with her Latin-tinged folk-soul – at least I think it’s her, since some of the publicity suggests that it might be Evan Williams from MTV teen comedy ‘Awkward’ (which in turn makes me feel as if I’m slipping down some rabbit hole of an involved in-joke). Assuming that I do have the right Awkward, here’s a clip of her performing with guitarist Sim Chappelle a couple of years ago. I’m on more solid ground with the billing for accomplished soul’n’stage singer Martell O’Neil (whose past and current work includes the travelling Motown revue ‘How Sweet It Is’); and for Daryl Fox-Huxley, the current/former guitarist for house-tinged indie pop act The Hook, now concentrating on solo work with a folk-pop base, “his own East London twist and lyrics to match” and probably at least a few other hints and approaches brought in from his abiding love for reggae, techno and techhouse.



 
Headliner Rudi Douglas is a onetime ‘X Factor’ contestant (he was in the 2006 series when he was nineteen) but don’t hold that against him, or allow it to constrain him. Instead, take a look at and have a listen to this – ‘He Won’t Swim In My Ocean’, a four-year-old but evergreen song which proves that Rudi doesn’t need the Cowell circus to help him make grand heartbursting pop, with a gay theme but a universal touch.


 
For this session, the more experimental kudos is provided by DJ Sonikku (who mashes ‘80s house into chiptune with the aid of the purloined and repurposed guts of Sega Mega Drive consoles) and even more so by Jacob Aria – a.k.a non-binary soundscaper J. Aria. Interested in “tension, desolation, morbidity and eroticism”, J. creates intricate, absorbing musical washes, beats and tapestries via sampler, turntable and voice in which hauntology, psychedelic ambience and hints of house engage in a spectral, full-bodied mysterious dance: a ghostly neighbourhood of percolating histories for “a world of heterotopic ‘otherness’, pushing senses of horror and psychosis within queerdom and the incidental beauty of the fractured”.

 
Apple Tree Live presents:
Apple Tree – The Live Lounge – Vol. 2: Rudi Douglas + Jacob Aria + Awkward Ndure + DJ Sonikku + Martell O’Neill + Daryl Fox-Huxley + DJ Kevin Morosky
Miranda @ Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, 100 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 6JQ, England
Thursday 2nd August 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – strange folk indeed – Sutari and Dead Rat Orchestra’s joint-headlining English tour through Colchester, Norwich, London, Nottingham, Hull, Leeds and Oxford (10th to 16th July 2018) with The Dyr Sister and Sarsa Awayes

4 Jul

News on an imminent set of alternative folk gigs – eerie, funny, magical and pertinent (aiming as it does at our history of migrations and settlings).

* * * * * * * *

“Two of the world’s most prominent avant-folk ensembles join forces for a joint headline tour of the UK.

“It’s not often that you can say you met someone over a meat cleaver but in the case of Dead Rat Orchestra and Sutari it’s true. Not that anyone who knows the work of the UK’s DRO – or for that matter, Poland’s Sutari – should be surprised. Kindred spirits not only in their approach to free-folk but in their use of unusual objects – including meat cleavers – in their performances, this tour will see them join forces to explore the cultural impact of Polish and European migration in England. Performing in locations across England that have been centres of Polish immigration, and engaging with British, Polish and European communities, the tour will utilise Sutari and DRO’s unique approaches to performing traditional musics to lead audiences in a performative and timely discussion about the cultural impacts of the UK leaving the European Union.

“Formed by Daniel Merrill, Nathaniel Mann and Robin Alderton – and performing internationally for over a decade – Dead Rat Orchestra have gained a reputation as one of the most innovative ensembles on the UK music scene. Raw, elemental and poignant and with a love of adventure, their performances feature flailing axes, salt and sawdust, throbbing harmonium, grinding fiddle and two thousand shards of micro-tuned steel cast to the floor in cascading, shimmering joy. DRO create works that blur boundaries between installation and performance. Activities have included ‘The Cut’ (2014), a site-specific musical tour undertaken by canal boat along two hundred and seventy-three miles of waterway; and ‘Tyburnia’ (2015/17) exploring seventeenth and eighteenth century gallows ballads and their sociopolitical history.

“Dead Rat Orchestra are adventurers adrift in a sea of sound and possibility, plucking textures and melodies to craft their idiosyncratic vision of what music and performance can be. Most often they have steered their ship through the idioms of folk and improv, to shout, sing and glisten at audiences from the UK to mainland Europe, Scandinavia to Canada. They have created music using the architectural surroundings in which they find themselves; coppice woods, abandoned abattoirs, paper mills, churches. Necessity has sometimes dictated duo performances of any permutation, always imbued with a sense of the missing member. Instruments are constantly swapped. Rarely performing in a conventional manner they often step away from the stage, to sing and holler a cappella amongst the audience. Acutely haunting, occasionally brutal and raucously joyous, their music always attempts to enchant and entrance, be it emotionally or physically.

 

“Sutari are Kasia Kapela, Basia Songin and Zosia Zembrzuska – a trio of young singers, instrumentalists and performers, each from different musical and theatrical backgrounds, who come together to continue the tradition of home-made folk music. The Sutari project is a fusion of diverse music experiences and passions: they use a mixture of traditional instruments (violin, basetla and drum), and also make use of everyday objects, exploring their potential as musical devices – for instance, a hand mixer, grater, bottles and a wrench… kitchen avant-garde!

“They explore deep vocal harmony traditions, searching for the essence and hidden character of traditional songs, whilst exploring themes of femininity in folklore. Their compositions are based on Polish and Lithuanian folk songs; and they are particularly inspired by the sound and character of Lithuanian Sutartines, sung only by women in perfect harmony. An affecting and elegant fusion of traditional folk, theatrical flair and contemporary mood music.”



 

There are a couple of support acts along the way. In Nottingham, the support comes from Sarsa Awayes – a Nottingham-based Polish spoken word artist. In Colchester, it’s Sally Currie – a.k.a. The Dyr Sister (where “dyr” is Old Norse for “deer”). A Hull-born “multi-instrumental cervine beat mistress”, she “conjures up surreal tales with the aid of viola, synth, mandolin her voice and an array of DIY samples. Performing her catalogue of haunting, ethereal, modern day folk songs as a one-woman band, she paints a fascinating canvas of sound.”


 
Dates:

  • Colchester Arts Centre, Church Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1NF, England, Tuesday 10th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 4PG, England, Wednesday 11th July 2018, 8.30pm – information here and here
  • (secret location), Bow, London, England, Thursday 12th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Maze, 257 Mansfield Road, Nottingham, NG1 3FT, England, Friday 13th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • The New Adelphi Club, 89 De Grey Street, Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, HU5 2RU, England, Saturday 14th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Leeds Polish Centre, Newton Hill Road, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS7 4JE, England, Sunday 15th July 2018, 4.00pm – information here and here
  • Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street, Oxford, OX1 3SD, England, Monday 16th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 

July 2018 – upcoming London folk and world gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Chris Wood (6th July); Fire Choir’s ‘Sing The Change’ (9th July); Ewan McLennan and Twelve Dead In Everett (13th July); London Bulgarian Choir and Harbottle & Jonas (20th July)

1 Jul

Following the previous two months of successful unamplified outdoor folk gigs in May and June, here’s a rundown of Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows for July. (Well, the first four, anyway, to avoid making the post too long).

What’s on offer for the first half of July involves Bulgarian and civil rights chorale, contemporary English folk, seditious workers’ songs and Devonian stomp. As ever, it’s taking place in London’s playgrounds, garden projects and small artist studios (as well as the odd secret location…)

* * * * * * * *

The first concert, on 6th July, features Chris Wood.

“A self-taught musician, composer and songwriter, Chris Wood is a lifelong autodidact whose independent streak shines through everything he does. Always direct and unafraid to speak his mind, his song writing has been praised for its surgical clarity. An uncompromising writer (who cites his major influence as “Anon”), his music reveals his love for the un-official history of the English speaking people: with gentle intelligence, he weaves the tradition with his own contemporary parables.

“Hollow Point, Chris’ chilling ballad of the shooting of Jean Charles Menezez, won a BBC Folk Award (he’s won six). This year’s eagerly awaited new album ‘So Much To Defend’ was previewed at Cambridge Folk Festival last summer and includes reflections on minor league football, empty nest syndrome, learning to swim, Cook-in Sauce and, not least, the gecko as a metaphor for contemporary society.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The second concert – ‘Sing the Change’, on 9th July, is a particularly personal endeavour for folk singer/songwriter/curator (and Nest Collective/Campfire Club promoter) Sam Lee. It’s the inaugural concert of the Fire Choir which he runs in partnership with The Foundling Museum“(a) new, “open to all” community choir… dedicated to revitalising communal singing with political empowerment and a sonorous means to protest at its heart. If you want to channel your love for this world or discontent with it through singing, or just discover your voice with like-minded (or unlike-minded) others, then Fire Choir is for you.

“Highlighting social and environmental injustice, Fire Choir builds on the Museum’s centuries-old legacy of social change, campaigning and creativity. Singers tap into the enormous and ancient international repertoire of songs rooted in social change, justice and emancipation. Material includes folk songs, modern songs, anti-war songs, songs of resistance and struggle, the natural world, songs of love and lost worlds.

“A generous aspect of the Fire Choir repertoire has been specially commissioned from the perspective of contemporary communities struggling for a louder voice in society, written by some of the UK’s best songwriters and composers. Plus to keep the spirits high there is of course lots of good old rabble-rousing, soul-lifting chants and hollers! The choir is a vehicle to take these songs to the streets, the auditoria, the recording studio and many other as yet unknown places.

“‘Sing the Change’ will feature protest songs highlighting social injustice and calling for change, and including the world premiere of a special commission by Dizraeli, and Ayanna Witter Johnson‘s ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ (a setting of a speech by Sojourner Truth). It will also contain contributions from special guests and choir leaders Blythe Pepino (Vaults, Mesadorm), Ben See, Alex Etchart, and Sam Lee.”

If you want to sing with the Fire Choir yourself, they usually rehearse at the Museum on a Monday evening and welcome “absolute beginners” – here’s the link again.

Campfire Club: Fire Choir, 9th July 2018

* * * * * * * *

The third concert, on 13th July, features Ewan McLennan and Twelve Dead In Everett.

Ewan McLennan has come to be known as a guitarist at the very forefront of his generation; a troubadour, balladeer and storyteller cut in the old style; a singer that can move audiences with his passion and pathos; and a songwriter for whom social justice is still a burning issue. From a BBC Horizon Award for his debut album to his performances on the iconic Transatlantic Sessions, recent years have been marked by numerous awards and accolades for his music.


 
“The reception offered to Ewan’s latest solo album, ‘Stories Still Untold’, continued this tradition, while his most recent project – ‘Breaking The Spell Of Loneliness’, a collaboration with renowned author and journalist George Monbiot – seeks to use music and word to open up the issue of loneliness (their UK tour and concept album have received wide acclaim and been featured widely, including live appearances on BBC Two’s Newsnight, BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and BBC Radio 3’s In Tune.)


 
“All of them being members of the Industrial Workers Of The World (a.k.a. the Wobblies), Twelve Dead In Everett are a low-down, seditious trio unearthing contemporary political resonances in the traditional music of England, Ireland, Scotland and the United States. Sweet harmonies of reason in a world deaf to exploitation. Songs to fan the flames of discontent and tell your boss to go to hell.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The fourth concert, on 20th July, features London Bulgarian Choir and Harbottle & Jonas.

“The award-winning London Bulgarian Choir is a vibrant, sociable and open-hearted group of singers embracing all nationalities, ages and abilities. The choir was founded in 2000 by Dessi Stefanova, a former singer with the legendary Philip Koutev Bulgarian National Folk Ensemble in Sofia. Thanks to her patience and dedication this group of largely non-Bulgarian singers has become a performing tour de force, winning hearts and minds from the Welsh valleys to Bulgaria’s mountain villages. From its early days as a handful of singers, the choir has grown into an extended ensemble bringing its repertoire of traditional Bulgarian songs to concert halls, churches, nightclubs, galleries, festivals, embassies, village squares and even a barge on the River Thames.


 
“The songs performed by the London Bulgarian Choir are arrangements of traditional and ancient Bulgarian songs. Some tell powerful tales of love and loss, fighting and celebration, while others are inspired by the daily fabric of life. Sung in a complex and unique vocal style, these folk songs have survived five hundred years of Ottoman rule and fifty years of communist indoctrination to emerge with their extraordinary dissonant harmonies, exotic scales, compelling rhythms and exuberant trills and hiccups virtually intact. The choir’s spine-tingling performance of the songs transcends language barriers, and often moves audiences to tears.

Harbottle & Jonas are a stunning young folk duo based in Totnes, Devon. Their music is eclectic and is always accompanied with a great story. Together the husband-and-wife duo combine the rich traditions of folk music with original and contemporary interpretations, through a blend of closely intertwined vocal harmonies. Their music is performed with integrity and on instruments that include the concertina, harmonium, banjo, stompbox, acoustic and resonator guitars. They can sometimes be found playing alongside their full band – eight members in total (cello, fiddle, mandolin, trumpet, drums, bass). Well-travelled across the UK and playing up to 200 gigs each year, Harbottle & Jonas have managed to establish themselves as one of the most exciting prospects on the folk circuit.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates and links:

  • Campfire Club: Chris Wood – Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground, 15 Market Road, Lower Holloway, London, N7 9PL, England, Friday 6th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Fire Choir – The Calthorpe Project, 258-274 Gray’s Inn Road, St Pancras, London, WC1X 8LH, England, Monday 9th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Campfire Club: Ewan McLennan + Twelve Dead In Everett – (secret location t.b.c.), Friday 13th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: London Bulgarian Choir + Harbottle & Jonas – Phytology, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Middleton Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9RR, England, Friday 20th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

More on the last two July concerts later….
 

June/October/November 2018 – upcoming gigs in Bristol, Brecon and Nottingham for The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments (15th June, 21st October, 8th November)

13 Jun

Since 2010, performance ensemble The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments – led by Clare Salaman – have “explore(d) a repertoire that ranges from folk songs and earthy dances to high art music from the eighteenth century and before, as well as newly composed pieces.”

Initially a violinist, Clare’s also mastered diverse related instruments including nyckelharpa, hardanger fiddle, medieval vielle and hurdy gurdy, and has also attracted other multi-instrumentalists into the group – mediaeval winds player Ian Harrison (on pipe and cornett, whistle, pipes, shawm, tabor and tambourine as well as singing), Jon Banks on harp, gittern, Baroque guitar and percussion (shading eastwards into santur, qanun and santouri) and Arngeir Hauksson (theorbo, cittern and gittern, Renaissance guitar, lute, saz, hurdy gurdy, percussion). Also on board are Liz Kenny (lutes and guitars), Alison McGillivray and Liam Byrne (viols and lirone); and the ostensibly more narrowly specialised players in the ensemble (harpist Jean Kelly, guitarist Clara Sanabras, harpsichordist Terence Charlston, singing citternist Jeremy Avis and bassist Peter McCarthy) all have extended interests, be they “unusual large string bass instruments”, electric harps, ouds, neglected antique keyboards or just raising a tambourine or voice. Even the ensemble’s dancer Steven Player is an occasional lutenist.

Acting in part as a meeting point for people interested in these out-of-the-mainstream instruments, the Society also puts on themed shows in which to showcase them: revivals of three of the latter have been recently announced.

Conceived by Clare, ‘Sound House’ is “inspired by Francis Bacon’s investigations into the magical properties of sound,” and “presents music of the seventeenth century played on extraordinary instruments within an intriguing modern context. Although Francis Bacon, 17th century philosopher, statesman and visionary, is widely regarded as the father of modern science, his investigations into the nature of sound are little known. He was intrigued by seemingly magical effects like echoes and sympathetic vibration and sought to explain them through a series of experiments in, and observations of, sound.

“Combining modern sound technology with ancient instruments, The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments explore the aural illusions that so intrigued Francis Bacon and our 17th century forbears with fresh interpretations of 17th century music linked to each other by newly composed pieces.”

A five piece lineup of Clare, both Jons, Alison and Jean (bolstered by narrator Terence Wilton) play unusual and historically appropriate instruments including Jon on Gothic harp, Jean on “the jangling bray harp”, Alison on “the mysterious violone and the little known viola bastarda”, and Clare on a strange conical cello/wooden-horn hybrid, the tromba marina or “nun’s trumpet” (common between the 1500s and 1800s but fallen since then into the memory hole of outmoded instruments).

The Society has this to say about their other current show, ‘The Ministry Of Angels’ – “Angels have played a part in human consciousness for as long as we can remember. Their roles in the life of mankind are various; they appear as guardians, counsellors, guides, judges, and interpreters and cross barriers of culture, language, religion and geography. Many are a force for good but there are also fallen angels, angels of death and others who are spirits of wrath, destruction, confusion and vengeance.

“In this programme we explore music associated with angels, the maverick and fallen as well as the divine and perfect. Playing some of the instruments that appear in descriptions and depictions of angels through the ages, as well as other strange and ethereal sounding instruments, we present traditional tunes, dances, songs and carols in a celebration of these heavenly and occasionally diabolical beings.”

It sounds like a mixture of the occult, the New Age crystal shop and the Hallmark card: although probably much more rewarding than any of them.

 
Dates:

 

May/June 2018 – Long Fin Killie man Luke Sutherland’s new band Rev Magnetic on tour in Scotland and England (25th May to 1st June) with (variously) Superchunk, Erin Friel, Foolish Atoms, Helen Mort, Stonethrower, Salome Benidze, Nova Scotia The Truth, ILK, Caitlin Buchanan, The Honeyfarm, Jack Cheshire and winterThieves

22 May

Rev Magnetic on tour, 25th May to 1st June 2018

I’m rushing this one into post, since I’ve only just heard about it. No apologies for the excessive cut-and-paste here, nor for the absence of much personal insight (although I will say that when a shortage of information meant that I had to dig deeper, I found more).

“While touring the world as guest multi-instrumentalist with Mogwai, Luke Sutherland (Long Fin Killie, Bows, Music A.M.) used the downtime to sketch a bunch of songs. Once he got home, he wrote a handful more and recorded them with the help of a few friends at his cottage on the edge of the Scottish Highlands. The result was an album’s worth of material with references ranging from My Bloody Valentine to Teebs, Lemmy-era Hawkwind to ABBA, Vaughan Williams to Boulez.

“Keen to translate the radiant chaos of the recordings into a live setting, Luke put together Rev Magnetic, featuring Audrey Bizouerne (Gift Horse), Sam Leighton (Live w/ Prides, St MARTiiNS) and Gregor Emond who played with Luke in a band called Hynd, way back before the birth of the internet. Combining elements of dream pop, shoegaze, R&B, and post rock, their first single, Like No Girl That Ever Was/Don’t Let Joy Destroy You is the sound of summer at full pelt.”


 
Imminent Scottish and English tour dates are below:

  • Neu! Reekie @ St Andrew’s Church, 410-412 Easter Road, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 8HT, Scotland, Friday 25th May 2018, 7.15pm (with Salome Benidze + Helen Mort + Erin Friel + The Honey Farm) – information here and here
  • Stereo, 22-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland, Sunday 27th May 2018, 7.30pm (supporting Superchunk) – information here and here
  • The Hug & Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Tuesday 29th May 2018, 7.30pm (with Nova Scotia The Truth + Caitlin Buchanan) – information here and here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England, Wednesday 30th May 2018, 7.30pm (with ILK + Jack Cheshire) – information here, here and here
  • The New Adelphi Club, 89 De Grey Street, Kingston-upon-Hull, East Yorkshire, HU5 2RU, England, Thursday 31st May 2018, 8.00pm (with Foolish Atoms + others t.b.c.) – information here, here and here
  • Conroy’s Basement, 51-53 Meadowside, Dundee, DD1 1EQ, Scotland, Friday 1st June 2018, 8.00pm (with Stonethrower + winterThieves) – information here

It’s probably accidental, but when you take a look at the finer details of the tour, it’s almost like an exploded reflection of Luke’s influences and sympathies; the cultural and artistic breadth he’s shown throughout a career voyaging through books and music. Indie rock and dance chemistry, hip hop and poetry; filtered and transformed Scottish folk; literacy and blasting noise. The balancing of multiple cultures in one evening, or just in one person.


 
Regarding the Glasgow shows… if you’ve been hitting on indie-punk playlists and festival lineups for the past twenty years, you’ll need little introduction to Superchunk. Headlining over Luke and co. at Stereo, they’re early ‘90s favourites who helped define a Carolina DIY punk sound. They were all over the inkies back in the day more or less during the same time that Luke first was; they founded Merge Records, and have kept their place in indie rock affections ever since. On the other hand, the two support acts at the Hug & Pint show are still thrumming – just – under the radar.

Originally from Aberdeen, Caitlin Buchanan is an emerging acoustic singer-songwriter working towards her first EP and taking Angel Olsen, Laura Marling and Kate Bush as influences. Perhaps Angel’s the most obvious one – the slowcore tempos, the collapsing drapes of melody – but Caitlin has little of Angel’s narcotic slur. She also isn’t as propulsive or as easy-to-follow as Laura, and (despite her own musical theatre background) isn’t as brilliantly hammy as Kate.

That’s not actually a string of negatives. Rather, it’s a suggestion that, even at this early stage, Caitlin’s already sloughed off her initial inspirations and found a voice of her own: a folded, cleverly elusive literary one which makes you sit up and take notice, full of double-take lyrical moments. Nestled in strong hammocks of folk guitar, and in gorgeous transplanted curves of Scottish melody, her songcraft is often a series of strange elisions and non-sequiturs somehow coalescing into stories, delivered in a velvety softness which makes it all the more jolting when she drops a perfectly-enunciated precision F-bomb into the crook of a tune – “I fucked up your favourite song, and this is why I don’t do imitations. / Betrayed by the idea of God, we are her most hated creations / Dressed for the office but underqualified, / express my gratitude between her slender thighs…”


 
I suspected that Nova Scotia The Truth might have picked her name as a ScotNat political assertion. It seems that I was half right. A “queen of sample-based electronic music”, active in the Scottish hip hop scene since her teenage years (and now stretching out as a producer-performer), Nova might well be representing a rising strand of modern Scotland, but not necessarily one which will cradle comfortably in the old-school saltire. Her preoccupations are with feminism and of people of colour: a pavement-and-club engagement with embedded and intersectional inequalities, mapped out in whip-crack sonic edits and shifts.

Nova’s recent ‘Al-Haqq’ EP is a determined but bewildering mash of pointers and unrest. Cyber-mimetic R&B, corbies and round-chamberings; blasts of rap and dancehall chat; industrial-grime sound collage; all mixed in with found speech from black culture and protest and faith (some of it tweaked and repurposed, but much of it left free to run). The follow-up, Zoom, is a half-hour of rapid sonic cross-cuts in a similar vein: it’s intended as a backing track for a live rap story of love and talk gone wrong, ultimately, broadening out to a wider exploration about power imbalances in relationships, silencings and language. As with a lot of underground hip hop, there’s plenty packed in there: I’m guessing that onstage, this flies.


 
The Dundee show could have been created as a vast-contrast tribute to Luke’s own willingness to be broad in listening. Rev Magnetic aside, it’s a truly strange, rather brave pairing of opposites. “East coast ecossemo” band Stonethrower bring “monolithic slabs of lead-heavy riffage, angular rage-filled spiky melodies and frantic jazz-core arrangements to blast our faces off”; while Edinburgh/Dundee duo winterThieves are a sacramental ambient act “pool(ing) their varied musical backgrounds to craft a sound that is in equal measures melancholic and euphoric, featuring vast ambient swells, lush guitar and piano melodies, and crashing drums,”, playing wordless slow-reveal post-rock hymnals to an empty sky. The angry hammer and the lonely quilt.



 
South of the border, the London show features Ilk, whose “colourful and dreamy songs unravel against a collision of psych pop influences and scruffy, found sound warmth… the band’s songs and sketches are somehow both grandiose and playful, upbeat and melancholic” plus the “psychedelic jazz-infused” songwriting of rising folk-rock favourite Jack Cheshire in solo mode.

Supporting at Hull, Chris Norrison – a.k.a. Foolish Atoms – is a solo performer who “dreams up droning acoustic swamps in his sleep… creating music so delusional and pain numbing, audiences peacefully drown in the sweet rustic guitar tones and his strained vocals.” Other acts will be added at Hull over the course of the next few days: let’s see what the city’s recent pop-cultural renaissance has produced…

 
However, it’s the Edinburgh show which looks like the pick of the crop. It’s a packed-to-the-gills mass of words, music and beats put together by “Scotland’s favourite avant-garde noisemakers” and high/low art boundary-smashers Neu! Reekie, as a partial benefit for the Save Leith Walk community crowdfunder.

As well as Rev Magnetic, on hand for performance are poets Salome Benidze and Helen Mort and a couple of Scottish hip hop acts. Onetime Deadlife Crew member Erin Friel (part of a wave of Scottish hip hoppers who stick, refreshingly, to their own accents and cadences) recently opened for rapper/activist Loki at his sell out King Tuts event for Poverty Safari. The Honey Farm – Scotland’s only all-female rap crew – are self-confessed East Lothian rap bumpkins who “simultaneously skewer and celebrate rap stereotypes with their unapologetic, take no shit attitude” and whose recent debut release L.A.D.S. is “a dragged-up pussy-grabs-back takedown of laddish, bullshit behaviour.”

It’s not quite the fierce textured outrospection of Nova, and perhaps the Farm sometimes let their drama school backgrounds show a little, but it’s all fine. Wit over pose; and plenty of rap’s supposed to be accessible, youthful and funny, including the bit of cross-cast fun with which the Farm kick off the roll of verbiage below…

 

May 2018 – a London alt/art/psych/theatrical/poetic cabaret at Slapper’s Club, with Katharine Blake, Clifford Slapper, Kavus Torabi, Charlie Cawood, The Cesarians duo, My Name Is Swan, Danielle Imara, Jo Below, possibly Suri Sumatra and definitely Piers Atkinson’s hat parade (24th May)

17 May

Slapper's Club, 24th May 2018

Regardless of gentrification, Stoke Newington remains one of the best London places to look if you’re up for hippy-punk cabaret weirdness. This is not just due to the regular string of evening goings-on and shenanigans at The Others, but also because of the recent revival of Slapper’s Club at the Mascara Bar heading up to Stamford Hill. Curated as a joint effort between multi-skilled classical rebel-turned-sultry/scholarly Mediaeval Baebe/Miranda Sex Garden singer Katherine Blake and glam-socialist piano player/Speaker’s Corner veteran Clifford Slapper (possibly best known, despite a whirl of activity, for his work on Bowie songs), it’s a loose-bag celebration of artistic diversity… and it’s free.

For this end-of-May show, Clifford himself will be performing in two separate, sung duo sets performing “the classics”: one with Katherine, and the other with singing theatre/art/novel-writing polymath Danielle Imara (the former Nina Silvert). No-one involved has said what “the classics” are – could be anything from Purcell to Prince, Bolan to music-hall, Bowie to Wiemar, Flesh For Lulu. Could be some of Danielle and Katherine’s own songs. Here are three possibilities…



 
Mediaeval Baebes multi-instrumentalist Charlie Cawood will take a little time out from being London’s beloved jack-of-all-fingerboards, and will celebrate the success of his recent debut album ‘The Divine Element’ (a glorious fresh-fusion magic-carpet ride across half a globe’s worth of music) by pulling together various other heavy playing friends for a set of Indian sitar music. Not sure whether he’s playing the classic ragas, but in case he isn’t, here’s something suitably sitar-ful from ‘The Divine Element’. Alongside is something from Charlie’s Knifeworld bandmate Kavus Torabi, who’s adding this particular Mascara Bar evening as another stop on the meandering solo tour supporting his own recent solo debut (April’s dusky psych-folk EP ‘Solar Divination’, which perhaps drawing some influence from Kavus’ other lives in Gong, Cardiacs, Guapo and others, but not nearly as much as it draws from ominous imagined dusk rituals and mysterious old ghosts on the darker hippy trails).



 
Also on hand are a stripped-down acoustic version of the ferally witty Cesarians – just singer Charlie Finke and pianist Justine Armatage, treating us to a more intimate take on the band’s ambitious, expansive knife-dancing pop. Rounding off the main musical acts, Jo Below (probably accompanied by Claudette the concertina) will sit down, tell you stories, recite her poems and sing songs, and along the way “regale you sweetly with surprising lewdness”. There’ll probably be “tales of captains and nomads and loves of her not-so-sure life” and perhaps some traditional stuff, as well as accounts of winking etiquette for the Tube.

 
Hopefully able to make it on the night will be dancer and all-round burlesque-rian Suri Sumatra; while definitely on the performance roll is celebrity milliner Piers Atkinson with his alternative catwalk routine (“Salon Show: A Masc-Querade where our in-house superstars will treat you to an extraordinary hat parade accompanied by a live musical atrocity.”).



 
Capping the night’s gambit is poet Jan Noble performing ‘My Name Is Swan’, a poetic monologue that’s already done the rounds of various Swan pubs in London and elsewhere. “Drawing on Jan’s fifteen years experience teaching poetry and creative writing in prisons and on psychiatric wards, ‘My Name Is Swan’ describes a twenty-four hour journey across London. An odyssey of loss and belonging, lies and loyalty, ownership and neglect, Brexit and heartbreak, drugs and the suburbs, boredom, football violence, vandalism, happiness, isolation, addiction, rivers, shopping trolleys, love, hope and the metropolitan malaise… addressing the growing social and economic disparity of the modern city, it is most of all a beautifully evocative portrait of London, the struggles it presents and the solutions it offers.” The work’s also been filmed by Adam Carr with additional musical contributions by Samuel Kilcoyne and Takatsuna Mukai: I’m not sure whether we’re just getting Jan on his own, or whether we get bits of the film or music too, or whether we get all three.

 
Katharine Blake and Clifford Slapper present:
‘Slappers’ Club’
Mascara Bar, 72 Stamford Hill, Stoke Newington, London, N16 6XS, England
Thursday 24th May 2018, 7.30pm
– free entry – information here
 

May 2018 – upcoming gigs – world folk through various filters with Brona McVittie, Marcus Corbett and Sebastian Reynolds in Oxford (16th May); Jack Miguel and Sam Mumford’s rap-folk exploration of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath with ‘A Murder Of Crows’ in London (18th May)

11 May

Marcus Corbett + Brona McVittie + Sebastian Reynolds, 16th May 2018Here’s another prompt for me to pay more regular attention to what’s going on at the Daylight Music shows in London – British folk guitarist Marcus Corbett is playing there this month, and next Wednesday (alongside Brona McVittie, whose own Daylight performance I missed back in March due to looking elsewhere), they’re both playing at a separate event in Oxford.

It’s easy to miss or forget the pointers at concerts which might lead you somewhere interesting – and I only picked up information on this Oxford event – billed as “a night of Thai electronica, Indian classical meets British folk and pastoral Celtic folk through a kosmiche filter” – by accident. Meanwhile, here’s a bit more on Marcus and Brona…

Marcus Corbett is an Anglo-Indian singer and guitarist spending his time between the English West Country and Pune in India: likewise, his guitar playing draws on Western-shaped ideas of folk and blues, but also on the world and tones of Indian classical music. His most recent recording is 2013’s ‘Strung Deep’, which also calls upon the talents of bansuri flute player Milind Date, violinist Sanjay Upadhye and tabla players Ntin Gaikwad and Sharanappa Guttaragi. It’s this record, amongst others, that he’ll be playing from for this concert, for which he’s rejoined by Ntin Gaikwad. (Both Marcus and Ntin are currently on a wider tour together, which you can find out more about here.)



 
Brona McVittie is an Irish harpist, singer and electronic musician from County Down, perhaps best known for fronting/plucking for acclaimed London-Irish trad outfit The London Lasses and for adding the Early Music influences to the Orla Wren-affiliated neo-impressionist project littlebow. During the noughties, she played in folk duos Footnote and The Balance and Footnote duos, followed by a spell leading experimental folktronica band Forestbrook. More recently, her occasional experimental folk-pop work as Queen Of Corkbots has displayed a sprightly humour in electro-acoustic arrangements as well as a love of reviving and gently reinventing old folk songs, carols and not-so-innocent children’s ditties in a web of electronic blips, Mellotronic flutes, pattering synth percussion and other delicate ornamentation.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this comes the new work under her own name which she’s gathered up into her formal solo debut album, ‘We Are The Wildlife’. Voice, harp, flute and strings combine with careful well-honed electronic arrangements for what’s described as “a psycho-geographic journey through a collection of traditional folk ballads and original compositions inspired as much by the geometries of London’s urban fringes as by the sonic phenomena within the great rural landscapes of Mourne.”

For this performance, Brona will be accompanied by friend, collaborator and American émigré Myles Cochran on slide guitar; himself an established solo artist in the more psychedelic, atmospheric end of UK Americana. Here’s the title track from ‘We Are The Wildlife’, plus the album’s version of Irish traditional song Molly Brannigan.



 
The third act at the concert is Oxford musician and PinDrop promoter Sebastian Reynolds. Possibly solo, or possibly accompanied by his Solo Ensemble (also featuring keyboard player Jody Prewett, cellist Anne Müller and violinist Alex Stolze), he’ll be performing excerpts from his Mahajanaka Dance Drama project score (released on a Bandcamp EP last month). The music itself is founded on sampled loops taken from recordings of a piphat (high Thai classical) session undertaken by Thai pop ensemble the Krajidrid Band, which Sebastian has continued to build on.

The Mahajanaka story tells a tale from Buddhist mythology concerning a shipwrecked prince who survives alone at sea until the goddess of the ocean comes to his rescue. Here’s both Sebastian’s original version and a shimmering, urgent live treatment from the Solo Collective; plus a video documentary about the research into, and making of, the source music.


 
TMD Media and PinDrop present:
Marcus Corbett + Brona McVittie + Sebastian Reynolds
Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX1 1BP, England
Wednesday 16th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 
* * * * * * * *

A Murder Of Crows, 18th May 2018Back in London, at Poplar Union, there’s a coming together of spoken word, poetry, rap and experimental folk for Mental Health Awareness Week, as poet/rapper Jack Miguel collaborates with exploratory post-folk musician Sam Mumford in ‘A Murder Of Crows’, a multimedia response to ‘Crow‘, Ted Hughes’ collection of poems dealing with his own “demons” following the suicide of his wife and fellow poet Sylvia Plath. All proceeds will go towards supporting the Campaign Against Living Miserably, an award-winning charity dedicated to preventing male suicide (the single biggest killer of men under the age of forty-five in Britain) with additional donations encouraged on the door. This is a work-in-progress, so expect – even savour – a few rough edges, which might be part of the point.

Well established as a guitarist, singer, composer and sound artist, Sam makes a kind of deconstructed and rebuilt electro-acoustic folk music which draws equal comparisons to Bob Dylan, Joan Armatrading, Aphex Twin and Venetian Snares. While electronic sound techniques and collagery (taken from Sam’s love of dub, techno, drum and bass and electronica) lean in to both the mix and the toolbox, shaping and impling, Sam’s work is rooted in fingerpicking and voice, resulting in an unmoored new folk music which carries its roots with it as sleepwalking instinct, leaving him free to explore the here and now, whether addressing personal concerns or broader contemporary matters.

In this he’s well matched by Jack, whose own previous work has encompassed sound design, sculpture and moving image. The first poet and rapper to attend the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, he’s gone on (as “Jakaboski”) to become a writer and performer with psychedelic hip hop group Strangelove (and release his own solo debut, the ‘Mount Strive’ EP, in 2014). He also also exibits his own art installations, and works as a diverse arts educator with a particular specialisation in damaged but nurturable psyches (working in hospitals, pupil referral units and secure psychiatric units).

The latter, in particular, has led to work like Jack’s collaborative installation and performance study ‘The Turning of the Leaves’, a meditation on the First World War, masculinity and intergenerational trauma (drawing on the aforementioned Hughes, Carl Jung and Kendrick Lamar, and dealing directly with “the challenges facing men today amidst inherited narratives of power, violence and invulnerability.”) It will be interesting – and important – to see how this interest in toxic and tortured masculinity feeds into Jack and Sam’s examination of Hughes: well known, even beyond his poetry, as a man’s man and an alpha male; and whose treatment of Plath (including his co-opting of her posthumous legacy) has come under increasing challenge and outright attack in recent years (a further darkening of the story).
 



 
Also engaged with the project are two special guests – performance poet and theatre maker Cecilia Knapp and cellist-composer Natasha Zielanzinski (who specialises in contemporary repertoire, early music, free improvisation and folk music and whose performance history spans Sadlers Wells, Kanye West, the Royal Court Theatre and Kate Tempest). More special guests may be announced closer to concert time, although there’s only a week to go…

Jack Miguel & Sam Mumford present:
‘A Murder of Crows’
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Friday 18th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here