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January 2018 – upcoming London rock and folk gigs – twists and weaves with Prescott, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi (11th January); a carpet of acid-folk/chanson dreams with Alison O’Donnell & Firefay (18th January); a lysergic lattice with a Knifeworld double-set (20th January)

6 Jan

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 11th January 2018

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 11th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Reunited with guitarist Keith Moliné (who had to sit out some of their engagements last year), instrumental avant-rockers Prescott bring their springy barrage of warm, bouncy tune-mozaics back to London at Servant Jazz Quarters. On the evidence of last year’s ‘Thing Or Two’ album, the band (completed by spacey fretless bassist/composer Kev Hopper, keyboard quibbler Rhodri Marsden and swap’n’go drummer Frank Byng) is growing like a tricksy hedgerow. New layers, extensions and scrabbling digressions continue to bud out of their riotous cellular approach; and out of the games of post-minimalist chicken which they use to hold and release each other from their stack of cunning microloops.

It’s still fair to say that Prescott’s relationship with their own instrumental cleverness is an edgy and oblique one. Fine and rebellious players all, they’re too suspicious of straight prog, jazz or lofty experimentalism to have a straight relationship with any of them. Consequently they come across on record as jitterbug countercultural eggheads – ones who play obstinate, transfigured parallels to clavinet jazz-funk (post-Miles, post-Headhunters) or twinkly-marimba’d Zappa passages, but who nail it all down to a precise post-punk, post-virtuoso sensibility. Still, this only sketches part of the Prescott picture while missing the heart of it. Despite the band’s tendencies towards deadpan stage presence (and the eschewment of anything even vaguely wacky), each and every Prescott gig ends up as a generous, audience-delighting puzzle of pulses, traps and tickles on the funny bone.

Maybe if they’ve got anything as corny as a raison d’être (that is, beyond executing Kev’s pieces with deftness, style and pleasure) it might be about evaporating the frequently frustrating and gummed-up relationship between musicality, suffocating ideology and good humour. For all of their self-imposed restrictions, Prescott are in some senses a freer band than almost anyone else in their field: an expansive Lego set of musical options concealed in a deceptively small box.


 
Thanks to both the burgeoning stature of Knifeworld and his helming of the post-Daevid Allen Gong (plus entanglements with Guapo and Cardiacs, and his garrulous showings on radio and in print), Kavus Torabi is rapidly becoming a senior figure at the culty end of psychedelic art-rock. Even his rough-and-ready solo acoustic performances are becoming a draw in their own right, although he’s mostly (and modestly) restraining them to support slots, presenting gravelly-voiced house-party strumalongs rather than electric-genius showcases. Such is the case with his opening slot for Prescott, which also sees him broaden his guitar playing with trips to the harmonium.

On previous form, expect established songs, songs-in-progress and song unveilings from Kavus’ Knifeworld catalogue (plus visits to his old work with The Monsoon Bassoon and possibly a bit of latterday Gong-ing if any of it translates away from the group’s electric Om). If you’re hoping for Guapo stuff, you’d better wait for one of his gigs with them. If you want him to rip into a Cardiac song, you’re best off catching him guesting at one of the growing number of Spratleys Japs shows (increasingly become rolling parties celebrating the Cardiacs spirit, pulling in hit-and-run appearances from the band’s alumni and songbook).


 
Invigorating as a Prescott/Torabi summit might be, the night’s real draw is Lost Crowns: only the third live venture for this carefully-concealed solo project from Richard Larcombe. You might have seen the Crowns step out at either one of a culty pair of Alphabet Business Concern shows in 2013 and 2017: otherwise, you’ve not seen or heard them at all. If you’ve followed Richard’s on/off work singing and guitaring for fraternal duo Stars In Battledress (alongside his brother James), you’ll have some idea of the rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection to expect. Complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.

Reared on English folk and art-rock but steeped in both Chicago math-rock and (via radio, television and film) in sophisticated comic absurdity from the likes of the Marx Brothers, Spike Milligan and Vivian Stanshall, Richard is in fact one of the most aggravatingly unknown, self-effacing, even self-concealing talents of his generation. In the fifteen years since his last, short-lived solo foray Defeat The Young he’s kept his own work closely hidden, apparently preferring the shared burden and brotherly warmth of occasional shows with the similarly-obscure Battledress, or to play supporting roles with William D. Drake or sea-shanty-ers Admirals Hard. Were he not so damn elusive, he’d be regularly cited alongside the likes of Colin Meloy or Neil Hannon as an exemplar of bookish art-pop wit. For the most part, though, Richard seems happiest with his other career (in children’s theatre, an area in which, incidentally, he’s equally talented) although I suspect that the truth is that his perfectionist’s need for control gets a little on top of him, though never enough to ruffle his brow. According to Richard, this particular live surfacing’s going to be a “limited-capacity probably-not-to-be-repeated-often event”, but he clearly means business, having armed himself with the kind of musical crack squad that can do his work justice – London art-rock go-to-guy Charlie Cawood on bass, Drake band regular Nicky Baigent on clarinet, the enigmatic “Keepsie” on drums and a doubled-up keyboard arrangement of Rhodri Marsden (hopping over from Prescott) and Josh Perl (coming in from Knifeworld and The Display Team).

As regards firmer, more specific details on what Lost Crowns will be like, Richard himself will only murmur that the songs are “quite long, with a lot of notes.” Rhodri Marsden (a man more given to gags than gush) has chipped in with a wide-eyed “utterly mindbending and completely beautiful”; rumours abound re ditties about synthesia and/or the quirks of historical figures; and what’s filtered through from attendees at those previous ABC shows is that the Larcombe boy has seriously outdone himself with this project. The rest of us will have to wait and see. Meanwhile, in the absence of any available Lost Crown-ings to link to or embed, here are a couple of live examples of Richard’s artistry with Stars In Battledress.



 
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Alison O’Donnell + Firefay
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 18th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Same time, same place, but one week later – another rare treat in the shape of a London appearance from “fairy queen of acid folk” Alison O’Donnell, allied with Anglo-French folk-noirists Firefay.

Alison O'Donnell & Firefay, 18th January 2018The possessor of a warm declamatory folk voice (one well suited to storytelling), Alison began her musical journey at convent school in 1960s Dublin with childhood friend Clodagh Simonds. Writing and singing folk songs together, the two became the core of mystical folk-rockers Mellow Candle: scoring a faintly lysergic orchestral-pop single before either girl had turned seventeen, Clodagh and Alison then spent five years exploring and finessing the baroque/progressive folk sounds eventually captured on Mellow Candle’s one-and-only album ‘Swaddling Songs’.

Ahead of its time (and mishandled by the record company), it followed the example of other recent genre-stretching folk albums by Trees and Nick Drake and sold poorly. By the time that the disillusioned band disintegrated in 1973, Alison was still only twenty. She spent the next three decades travelling in a slow arc across the world and across music: spending long stretches of time in South Africa, London, and Brussels before returning to Dublin in 2001, she passed – en route – through traditional English, Irish and Flemish folk bands (including Flibbertigibbet, Éishtlinn and Oeda) as well as stints in theatre and satire, and in contemporary jazz band Earthling. As she entered her mid-fifties, though, Alison’s career entered a surprising and fruitful second stage. She finally began releasing material under her own name – initially with multi-instrumentalist Isabel Ní Chuireáin (for the part-trad/part-original ‘Mise Agus Ise’ in 2006), and then alone or with her band Bajik from 2009’s ‘Hey Hey Hippy Witch’ onward.

Meanwhile, the slow transition of ‘Swaddling Songs” from forgotten ’70s flop to early Noughties word-of-mouth lost classic brought Alison into active collaboration with a fresh generation of musicians who’d been captivated by the record. Agitated Radio Pilot’s Dave Colohan came in for on 2007’s ‘World Winding Down’, Steven Collins of The Owl Service for 2008’s ‘The Fabric of Folk’ EP, and Graham Lockett of Head South By Weaving for 2012’s ‘The Execution Of Frederick Baker’. Colohan in particular has become a regular ally and co-writer, playing a big part in Alison’s 2017’s ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’ album and inviting her into his Irish psych-folk collective United Bible Studies. There have also been teamups with metal bands Cathedral and Moonroot, with folktronicists Big Dwarf, and with Michael Tyack of psych-folkers Circulus.

Among the most promising of these latterday collaborations has been her 2012 teaming with Firefay (fronted by the trilingual Carole Bulewski) for the much-admired ‘Anointed Queen’ album. This month’s concert revisits that project and beyond, Alison and Firefay performing in a meticulously interwoven partnership which will dip into songs from ‘Anointed Queen’ in addition to Firefay material and songs from Alison’s own back catalogue, from Mellow Candle through to ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’. Come expecting a world/wyrd-folk wealth of keyboard drones, strings, bells, reeds and ouds, all mingled in a lysergia-flecked folk-rooted song continuum stretching from Ireland to Brittany and Flanders (across the British Isles and London, with look-ins from Gallic chanson, kletzmer, urban baroque, boozy sea songs, tints of Canterbury art-prog and even hints of the Sudan and Middle East.)


 
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Knifeworld, 20th January 2018Guided Missile presents:
Knifeworld (double set)
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 20th January 2018, 7:30pm
– information here , here and here

Just over a week after their leader disports himself (mostly) unplugged and exposed in Dalston, Knifeworld themselves burst back into action in Islington, getting a whole show to themselves at the Lexington. Currently revelling in the flexibility and range of tones available to their eight-piece lineup, they’ll be drawing on their last couple of years of songwriting and performance by playing a full acoustic set followed by a full electric set.

If you’re not yet familiar with Knifeworld’s work, you’re probably new to the blog – ‘Misfit City’ has been saturated with it ever since the band first emerged eight years ago – look back over past posts to acclimatise yourself to their dancing, springy, psychedelic mix of oboes, guitars, saxophones, drums and warm, wood-rough head-next-door vocals. It’s a skewed but precise brew of pointillistic acid-patter pulling in sounds, tones and attitude from five decades of music – you can spot ’50s rockabilly, late ’60s lysergic swirl, full on ’70s prog/soul complexity, ’80s and ’90s art pop noise and suss and beyond – all topped off by Kavus’ particular wide-eyed worldview. Eccentric and garbled on the surface, his songs still couch pungently honest depths of feelings, fears and hope if you’re prepared to push past the distraction of tatters and gags – as with two of his mentors, Tim Smith and Daevid Allen, Kavus treats psychedelia as a tool to explore, question and deepen the subject of human existence rather than trance it away in a blur.

Exceptionally excited by what’s coming up, the band are promising “a gig like no other…. your chance to hear many rarely- or never-played songs before. A whole night of delirious, mindbending and beautifully strange music.” Below is forty-one minutes of slightly shaky, slightly scratchy Knifeworld footage from the Supernormal 2016 festival, in order to light the fuse…


 

January 2018 – assorted English and Scottish gigs – piano, soul, art pop and verbiage with Society of Friends, Blert Ademi, Soul Deep and a host of poets at the SOIF Soiree (London, 5th); cutting an altfolkrock swathe with a Trembling-Bells-flavoured show by Orion’s Belt, Tom Slatter and Marcus Doo (Glasgow, 6th); experimental pop with Snails, Edward Penfold and Eugene Capper/Rhodri Brooks (Bristol, 13th)

1 Jan

Starting off the New Year, there’s a diverse brace of upcoming shows dotted around the country… In London, there’s the Society Of Imaginary Friends’ monthly musicians’n’poets soiree (this month, one that’s particularly heavy on the poets). In Glasgow, there’s a “feast of psych and folk wonderment” linking the folkworlds around Trembling Bells and Alasdair Robert with arch proggy steampunk songwriting. Down in Bristol, there’s “an evening of pop pleasures and wonky wonders.” Read on…

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Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 5th January 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“For Those in Peril on the Sea” Soiree: Society of Imaginary Friends + Blert Ademi + Debra Watson + Stone Deep + Amy Neilson Smith + Ernie Burns + DJ Miracle Rhythm
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 5th January 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here and here

From the Society:

“A still boat in a raging storm, our January Soiree – the month of cataclysmic cyclones battering our little island, foam fills the air, cool seagulls ride the tempest and the Society Of Imaginary Friends gather in their cabin around a crackling fire and tell stories of things past and things to come.

“We are joined by the fabulous young pianist Blert Ademi; brilliant, hard hitting poetess Debra Watson; new intriguing soul music from Stone Deep; charismatic performer, Shakespearian beauty and wonderful poetess Amy Neilson Smith; lusty, revealing super-wordsmith Ernie Burns; on the wheels of steel, the vinyl singles DJ extraordinaire DJ Miracle Rhythm; and the Society Of Imaginary Friends taking you back to a beautiful solstice evening in the Glastonbury Green Field. (More amazing performers to be announced – watch this space!) Cordon bleu vegan delights available to purchase from top chefs Kathy and Roger. Free entry. Dinner from 6pm, live performances start at 8pm.”

I couldn’t find anything on – or by – Stone Deep; but here’s a look at the rest of the lineup so far, beginning with an old SOIF track…






 
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A day later, there’s the Scottish event: a delightful, consensus-bucking meld of the credible, the incredible and the extramural.

Orions Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo, 6th January 2018

Orion’s Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo
Nice’n’Sleazy, 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3LG, Scotland
Saturday 6th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Headliners Orion’s Belt are a “seven-piece behemoth” of latterday Glasgow-via-Canterbury psychedelic folk, sometimes compared to “Kevin Ayers & The Whole World with Judy Collins handling the vocals”. They’re led by singer Lavinia Blackwall, best known as the voice of Trembling Bells but a longstanding mainstay of Glaswegian early music and avant-folk. Prior to their work as Trembling Bells, she and Alex Neilson collaborated as free-improv folkers Directing Hand: outside of the Bells they still sing together (alongside Harry Campbell and Katy Cooper of Muldoon’s Picnic) as four-part a capella voice quartet Crying Lion, who blend madrigal, folk, Gregorian and Sacred Harp elements into original songs.

In comparison, Orion’s Belt sounds like one of Lavinia’s more easy-going projects but ought to be magical nonetheless. Also on board in the band, picked from Glasgow’s gutsier psych, prog and folk underground, are members of “ongoing sloth-themed rock opera” collective Sloth Metropolis, prog-folkers Big Hogg, and “neo-psychedelic ninjas” Helicon (plus perhaps a few more people from Trembling Bells). Sorry – it still seems to be too new to have generated any recordings or Youtubings yet, but as a compensation here’s Lavinia’s five-year-old version of Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood’ performed with Maddy Prior, Thea Gilmore and the late Dave Swarbrick.


 
Originally with mid-noughties post-rockers Ancient Monsters, Highland-born singer-songwriter Marcus Doo has since made the transition to modern-day folk; initially with his own Spanish-based Secret Family, who explored the genre via their “Magpie Returned the Ring” album and scores for a Spanish Royal Theatre version of Ted Hughes’ ‘Gaudete’ and for Chema Rodríguez’s ‘Anochece en la India’. He’s been described by author Graeme Macrae Burnet as “a songwriter with a rare mastery of both melody and lyrics… his songs are satisfying as a rounded pebble in your hand, and he performs them with such passion and intensity that I would defy anyone not to be moved.” Since his 2015 return to Glasgow, Marcus has been working with sympathetic figures including Alasdair Roberts (with whom he’s recently toured), Alex Neilson and Mike Hastings of Trembling Bells, and Tom Davis of Big Hogg.

All of the latter appear on Marcus’ debut solo effort ‘Kid Wonder’, a loosely conceptual folk album about “an older man looking back at his life, towards death and in search of any Golden Apple (an old Norse emblem of eternal youth) of memory that may help him accept what has gone and what is about to come. Through various adventures to an ever-clearer destination he is emboldened by memories of places and people past, and gives thanks to them.” Other contributors to the record include Trembling Bells’ Valinia Black, various other members of the Doo family (including Marcus’ recently deceased grandfather), France-based flamenco-ist Genaro Alonso and Clova fiddler Aoife McGarrigle.

To have a listen to ‘Kid Wonder’ you’ll need to visit Marcus’ own music page, but here’s another substitute in the shape of an old Secret Family track.


 
In the middle of the bill is sardonic London bard-of-the-fantastical Tom Slatter, whose reliably arch and intricate songbook of weird-fiction songstories (steampunk murders, tentacled monstrosities running amok) has built up across a string of theatrical albums and EPs since the early noughties. Hailed for “epic tales of darkness and light (which) fuse the bile of Roy Harper with humour and a sharp musical mind”, he’s previously delivered them live via a single strummed acoustic guitar, but is now generally accompanied by electric guitarist Gareth Cole. Here’s the video for a particular bit of 2015 Slatter tentaculation:


 
In case you think that Tom sounds like an odd, forced fit in the midst of this sincere Scottish folk stew – and it’s fair to admit that a man who calls his own concert album ‘Live, Discomfiting and Overly Whimsical’ might be bringing the hurt down on himself – it’s worth remembering that (in between the Lovecraft/Sterling/GameCon rampages) his catalogue features scattered, glowing moments of unguarded psychedelic beauty such as the ‘Earthbound’ single. On top of that, Tom’s most recent solo album – last year’s ‘Happy People‘ – took an unexpected sideswerve away from the monster galleries, the top hats and the cog-driven toy theatres into a much more nuanced consideration of the human condition. Tom probably wouldn’t thank me for pointing this out, mind; and if you’re solidly unconvinced, come along and heckle him anyway. By many accounts, he loves a good heckle, especially if topped off by a dose of cunning wordplay.

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Snails + Edward Penfold + Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks, 13th January 2018

Pop Or Not Promotions and Undergrowth present:
Pop/Not: Snails, Edward Penfold, Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 13th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

In the Cube Microplex (the squirreled-away Bristol theatre-turned-cinema/venue which recently hosted a rollicking showing of Cardiacs’ ‘Mare’s Nest’ concert film plus The Scaramanga Six), there are some more workings along the pop fringe. Over to the promoters…

“Led by songwriter Dan Weltman and described as “eerie, beautiful, modestly majestic” by Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels, five-piece experimental pop band Snails generate moments of suburban guitar pop reverie for lonely people walking to the shops. Their sound bears the influence of ’60s folk and psychedelia with a peppering of ’90s pop. Mavericks such as Syd Barrett and Nico mingle with the likes of the Gorky’s or even Belle and Sebastian; though, having no desire to recreate the past, Snails sensitively combine a passion for classic sounds with inventive songwritting to create their own heartfelt pop music. For this unique Bristol show they will be playing brand new material from their upcoming second LP.


 
Edward Penfold’s music is a blend of the old and the new, nostalgic but not dated. More than anything it sounds like now. It’s music from the heart – a hazy collection of sounds and moods, sometimes upbeat, sometimes down, but always genuine and always captivating. His lyricism reflects the eloquence and observation of a very English sort of poetry, seeing the depth in the shallows of life, the profundity in the mundane; all accepted with a matter-of-factness that is reflected in the driving impetus in every song, whether slow or fast or groovy. His new album ‘Denny Island Drive’ came out in late November 2017.


 
“After two years of ongoing collaboration and development, Cardiff twosome Eugene Capper and Rhodri Brooks have just released their beautiful debut LP ‘Pontvane’. Individually, both Capper and Brooks have developed back catalogues of diverse musicality and influence, incorporating elements of surf, lo-fi, Americana and psych. Their first release as a duo further emphasises this eclecticism, effortlessly stitching together disparate sonic fragments into a cohesive, compelling whole. Take a listen…”

 

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

7 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

 

November 2017 – Cosmo Sheldrake’s new album news and European mini-tour (17th-30th November) including an appearance by Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business

11 Nov

Cosmo Sheldrake, 2017

Fresh off a September tour with ex-Bombay Bicycle Club frontman Mr Jukes (and an October one with actor-folkie Johnny Flynn and Holly Holden Y Su Banda), one-man experimental pop orchestra Cosmo Sheldrake is finally gearing up to release his debut album. He’s celebrating with an entirely premature string of headlining dates in England, Germany, France and Switzerland during the second half of November.

They’re only premature in that the album’s still at least a season away, but why stop when you’re on a roll? “Am soooooo happy to announce my debut album ‘The Much Much How How And I’ is finished… it has been a very long time coming. Three years in the making! I’m very excited and can’t wait to have it out in the world.” Though this isn’t happening until 6th April 2018 (on the Transgressive label), pre-orders are here if you’re already intrigued – and meanwhile, you can take a peek at the hilarious, macabre Josh Allott-directed video for one of the tracks, Come Along, which “explores the experience of both having head lice and being a head louse. Microscopic worlds expand and consume the world of the large. Human heads become continents, scalps become landscapes, salons become solar systems. Come along now.”


 

With its skewed but loosely unified focus on nature, myth, science and intuition, both song and video are typical of Cosmo’s work – an generous and omnivorous corpus enveloping traditional folk and glitch mashups; hipster chic and novelty records; Bjork, Bobby McFerrin and the Fariñas; process music, Partch and prog; rhymes, reels and street parties; old Lomax recordings, beatboxing and Edward Lear. Cosmo himself is an extraordinary collagist and multi-instrumentalist whose roster includes thirty or so instruments (from guitar and piano to samplers, euphonium and duduk topped off with the distinct, lilting and mustardy twang of his vocals) and who’s spurred by a restless urge to reinvent anything he touches and any place that he plays. He’s been rumoured to pursue extinct animal recordings in order to get the noises and voices he wants, so not even death is an obstacle to curiosity. Of course, as one of the children of therapist and vocal shaman Jill Purce and of rebel biologist/parapsychologist Rupert Sheldrake, he’s long been growing in interesting soil. In many respects, it’s hardly surprising that he’s turned out the way he has.

As the further video clips below show, Cosmo is not someone whose talents and ideas are best contained by a support slot. It’s best to see him when he’s more in command of the evening, even if he’s just up on a little stage somewhere rather than out there subverting a swimming pool or model village, capering in front of a brass band or preparing to keelhaul an accordion.






 
Here are the live dates:

Fresh news in for the London gig – as well as a DJ set from Gentle Mystics (like Cosmo, unpeggable underground everything-ists whose own records yaw wickedly and knowingly between Balkan folk, Brit-hop, 2 Tone, Eartha Kitt and occasional world/prog/folk re-arrangements of Stravinsky), there’ll be support via a performance of Jenny Moore‘s ‘Mystic Business’, emphasing just how far Cosmoworld stretches from the average pop show. A member of drum-heavy art/femme/punk/party trio Charismatic Megafauna, Jenny works across a variety of performance art fields from radio show to performance installations, turning up live investigations of artistic responsibility, sexual “humanifestos“, proposals for rock operas and more.

‘Mystic Business’ is one such project: originally a set of communal workshopped songs for percussion and voices which explore and shows off a range of expressio. These range from single-voice-and-slapped-thigh rap to involved group-drumming chorales and minimalist loft-music singalongs (like post-Riot grrrl echoes of Philip Glass and Arthur Russell). Topics explored include body politics, doubts/immediacy/questioning, ripples of revolt, premature ejaculation and marimba-assisted paeans to feminist science fiction hentai. See below for a five-minute excerpt (a kind of post-structuralist spiritual/canon) and for the full forty-two minute version. I’ve no idea how this might work in the more structured context of a formal gig, but I’m sure that Jenny will come up with a new twist.

 

November 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – alleged folk/electro-folk clash with Rivers Of England, Boe Huntress and The 150 Friends Club at Collage Nights; a world-swirl with Firefay, The Scorpios and Bread And Circus (both 8th November)

31 Oct

I’m late to the party as regards Wood Green’s regular Collage Nights (which play in the same lively vegan restaurant that also houses the Society of Imaginary Friends soirees and some of outer London’s most vigorous jazz sessions). Just as I discover it, the current every-second-Wednesday-of-the-month season is rolling to a close; but a couple more gigs will see out the autumn. Though November’s gig is billed as a clash (or at least a head-on nuzzle) between straight folk and electrofolk, I’m not sure that it’s as simple as that.

Collage Nights, 8th November 2017
Collage Nights presents:
Electrofolk meets Folk: Rivers Of England + Boe Huntress + The 150 Friends Club
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Wednesday 8th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

In the “straight folk” corner, Bristolian quintet Rivers Of England (fronted by songwriter Rob Spalding) are a fine example of how latterday Anglo folk attempts to hone and counterbalance its nostalgic tendencies, keeping a foot in tradition while steering away from twee fustiness and trying to stir in a contemporary consciousness. Much of their sound has a clear ’70s electric folk lineage (the Fairports or the Albion Band, the stirring in of jazz and blues elements a la John Martyn) but there’s also a conscious effort to get away from that wipe-down synthetic sound that’s plagued many such acts as they hit the studio or deal with increasingly digitised technology.

While there’s plenty in their music to link them to folk roots, their current album ‘Astrophysics Saved My Life’ displays the band’s eclectic instrumental flexibility and takes pains to explore the broadened scope of the present-day educated rural/urban person attempting to make sense of life across a much broader conceptual canvas, with “themes ranging from the inner self to the outer cosmos – the emotional to the scientific… a nautical theme present with a blend of rivers and the sea, alongside the more common personal themes of failed relationships, mental illness, memories of family holidays, childhood bicycle adventures, jobs woes, loneliness and universal love.”



 
If Boe Huntress really is occupying the electro-folk corner, it’ll be yet another alteration in a career built on transformations. Once known as Rebecca Maze (under which name she came to attention via a set of songs critiquing the misogyny around Gamergate), she changed her name circa 2013 in order to dive deeper into her troubadour impulses, mystical femininism and social protest.

Her first album as Boe saw her exploring her own fluid identity via journeys into deep mythology and archetypes from wild women to transformative green dragons to self-examining witches. Inspired (among others) by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Bikini Kill and Eve Ensler, Victor Jara, Fela Kuti and The Clash, her follow-up EP (2015’s ‘And I Became A Student Of Love’) saw her moving into more clearly defined spiritual protest songs, turning her evolving feminist voice outwards towards the world to advocate awareness while still keeping a toehold in mythology (as in the Inuit-inspired fable of Untangling The Bones, in which compassion overcomes fear). I’ve no idea whether there’s been a billing goof and whether Boe really has set aside the acoustic guitar and solo voice in favour of keyboards, loops or whatnot; but if she has it will be in keeping with her spirit of adventure and motion.

 
As special guests, there’s collapsable party guys The 150 Friends Club (led by “money-crazed, delusional, imbecile” David Goo, who describes the band as his “evil twin sister”). Based around the theory that “society is best managed at a hundred and fifty people”, they’re a band built for small, intimate, cheerful gigs. The music’s a messy-haired lo-fi folk-pop-rock with attention deficit disorder, which sometimes throws on a skuzzy electric overcoat and reels around the room pulling reggae, rap, post-rock and various other stylistic swerves out of its manky pockets.

David, meanwhile, plays it all up to the hilt – sometimes a chirpier, skiffling Lou Reed continually pricking any romantic balloons in sight, sometimes a Tom Petty who shucked the dedication and dived headfirst into cabaret, sometimes a skinny London echo of David Lee Roth cribbing and cherishing his old-time R&B. Apparently, this performance is some kind of comeback. I’m not sure that they’d care about having something to prove, but expect them to warm things right up.




 
* * * * * * * *

On the same night, over in east London, there’s the option of “a musical journey that will take you across the world in just over three hours”

Firefay + The Scorpios + Bread And Circus, 8th November 2017Firefay + The Scorpios + Bread and Circus
Cafe 1001, 91 Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London, E1 6QL, England
Wednesday 8th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Formed from “storytelling, wyrd folk, Middle Eastern flavours, things that can only be defined as otherworldly, and still a bit of France somewhere in there… urban baroque, world folk noir, jazz and chanson music… whisky and sailors’ songs” as well as influences from John Dowland and Gabriel Fauré to kletzmer and the Canterbury Scene, Firefay blend keyboards, guitars, ouds, violins, brass and cello underneath Carole Bulewski’s trilingual vocals in a polycultural blend of colourings.

Compared to Art Bears, Françoise Hardy and Broadcast as much as to the Fairports and Pentangle (see the rave review of their 2015 album ‘The King Is Dead’ over at the ‘Active Listener‘ blog), they’ve also recorded with Mellow Candle’s Alison O’Donnell and have spent the last five years becoming one of the London folk world’s most joyous rising secrets. They’re planning “a full set of entirely reworked old songs, some from the ‘The King Must Die’ and some older even, some that took years to complete, and some brand new ones from the album we are currently recording”.



 
Firefay themselves are playing in the middle of the bill. Their cellist Fraser Parry will be opening the show with his own project Bread And Circus, a “musical vanity project (of) songs about anxiety, enjoying oneself, the passage of time and solipsism” with added piano, accordion, brass, and allsorts (depending on which other musicians he can plug in on the night).




 
Closing the show, Firefay’s sibling band The Scorpios will be playing a set of their own material: a Sudanese-based world funk in which “Arabic rhythms and guitar chops (and a kind of swooning cyclical ecstasy) with a raw Eastern funk feel (and) heavy bass, synths, horns and percussions drive through traditional Sudanese forms to create a sound owing to both Detroit and Khartoum.” Expect plenty of crossover, both in terms of musical traditions and in terms of how many members of Firefay also show up in this band.


 

October 2017 – upcoming London gigs – art pop and stories from Tom O.C Wilson, Eley Williams and Kept Cairns (22nd October); holy electro-noise folk and beats from Jarboe, Father Murphy and Metalogue (23rd October)

17 Oct

Tom O.C. Wilson, 22nd October 2017

Pickled Egg Records presents:
Tom O.C Wilson + Eley Williams + Beetles
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Sunday 22nd October 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Until recently operating as Freeze Puppy, Tom O.C. Wilson is now venturing out under his own name with ever-more-intricate and compositionally complex conversational songs, venturing into hitherto unexplored territory between (to pick a few loose examples) Stephen Sondheim, Frank Zappa, Neil Hannon, Django Bates and The Carpenters.

‘Tell A Friend’ – his debut album as himself – is “lovingly crafted, infectiously playful arthouse pop… a frothy, colourful twelve-song collection that pushes the raw materials of pop into dazzlingly surprising shapes, from the polyrhythmic fervour of Give Yourself Some Credit to the Steve Reich-meets-Motown stomp of The Ones. Yet as with similarly cerebrally-minded pop acts such as Field Music, Max Tundra and Dutch Uncles, the intricacy of the music is coupled with an unusually high hooks per-minute quotient — these are songs to sing along to as much as ponder.” While previous records have revelled in a certain literary playfulness, each song on this one is based on Tom’s own life and friendships. It’s in keeping with Tom’s decision not to hide behind kooky project names any longer: he’s never likely to create a standard-issue confessional album, but this is explicitly “a celebration of human interaction” in all its richness. Judging by the tone of start-up single The Ones, it’s predominantly positive.

Tom was originally providing his own support as half of his other band Beetles, but they’ve had to pull out. Fortunately, a more-than-worthy replacement’s been found in the shape of singer-songwriter Kept Cairns, a mysterious pseudonymous friend and fellow traveller from Tom’s Bristol days. His songs (which he himself describes as “gradually accret(ing)” rather than being written) “sketch and explore the unseen world of interiority: mental health, transcendence, relationship breakdown, the limits of communication, ambiguity, time and love.” Generally that’s a recipe for broken-handed strumming and murky lo-fi mumbles; so it’s surprising to find percussive, intricate acoustic guitarwork (recalling Michael Hedges and John Martyn) and carefully-drawn lyrics and vocal lines as crisp as new book pages (detailing complicated and frequently unresolved situations but describing them with an immaculate grace and economy). To see what I mean, you’ll need to take a trip over to his music page: bar a quiet presence on Spotify, he’s so far underground that gigs like these are the only other chance to get the measure of him.

Appropriately for an evening of literary pop, the middle act on the bill is a writer. Eley Williams is an acclaimed prose-poet of confusions, mental transformations and fairytales whose stories sweep across their settings like an investigating light passed over text. Here she is in action:

* * * * * * * *

The following day, Chaos Theory will be vibrating the rafters as they take over St Pancras Old Church and shake out its more shadowy corners for a particularly ambitious gig. Expect an evening of dark drones and noises, Euro-American cloister-folk and cinematic/industrial music textures, filled with dark-refracted Catholicism and a decidedly ecclesiastical tone.

Jarboe + Father Murphy + Metalogue, 23rd October 2017Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
Jarboe + Father Murphy + Metalogue
St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 1UL, England
Monday 23rd October 2017, 8.00pm
-information here and here

From the Chaos Theory blurb:

“Original Swans member Jarboe joins forces with Italian occult propagators of insight-through-terror Father Murphy, as they perform a single set in three parts. Father Murphy will open with their avant-garde dark creations, to be joined by Jarboe to perform their new collaborative EP (which came out on Consouling Sounds on 22nd September). Jarboe will then perform her own material, with Father Murphy providing their own twist to her sounds as her backing band.

“Ambient darkness will be provided before and after the performance by producer Metalogue, who will create a whole new set for the evening and release it as a new album. This will be an experience like no other.”




 

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