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May/June 2019 – upcoming pop/rock gigs – VLMV and Thomas Stone (30th May); Daniel O’Sullivan and Tega Mendes (4th June); The Cesarians and The Silver Field (6th June), Thumpermonkey, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi (31st May)

27 May

VLMV + Thomas Stone, 30th May 2019

Purveyors of a limpid and extroverted dream pop, Pete Lambrou and Ciaran Morahan previously operated as ALMA. Now, since the advent of a certain “BBC-Sound-of-2018-nominated green-haired Finnish pop star, they’re known as VLMV. Apparently it’s pronounced much the same way, but murmured through hushed lips, presumably to sneak it past the lawyers (just because your lips are compressed, it doesn’t mean that you can’t thumb your nose at the same time).

At the tail-end of a European tour, VLMV are playing a London show at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. A former music hall (currently slanted towards hosting comedy and improv), within its recent history it’s frequently been the home of passionate gay drama, or of chansons – so, loosely speaking, there’s some kindred resonance with VLMV’s epicene falsetto romances; the kind of resonance you might not get at the Water Rats or the Underworld.

To be fair, you need theatres for this kind of music. No matter how many slo-mo/light-show pianos, loops and strings they pile under Pete’s voice, this is blushing drama-pop at root. If you’re taking in one of the Tim Bowness gigs this coming fortnight but suspect it still might not entirely slake your appetite for stricken empathetic romance, maybe you should give these guys a try too.



 

In support, Thomas Stone also serves as a signifier and reminder of VLMV’s experimentalist sympathies. An increasing presence on the London avant-instrumental scene (in which he won NonClassical Records’ Battle Of The Bands in 2015), he creates strong but delicate slow-reveal improvisations for contrabassoon, loop pedals, backup samples and (occasionally) bass guitar; tapping into the grace of classical chamber music and threnodic jazz, and stirring in noise, incidental distortion and other dysfidelities.



 
* * * * * * * *

Westking Music & Performing Arts, who are putting on next Wednesday’s ‘Overlaps‘ concert, are bookending it with a couple of other gigs as part of their Summer Series (which also includes performance showcases for various graduates).

On 4th June, it’s Daniel O’Sullivan supported by Westking alumna Tega Mendes.

Daniel O'Sullivan + Tega Mendes, 4th June 2019

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



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

There’s some tie-in between Daniel’s work and Tega’s; they currently share a taste for a dreamy sheathing of instrumentation, but rather than chamber folk Tega follows on from the quiet storm soul-pop currently exemplified (in Britain, at least) by Lianne La Havas and Laura Mvula, and previously in the States by Roberta Flack and Minnie Riperton. On record, she displays a knack for deepening re-harmonisations of established songs; live, she works on a nourishing and playful full-band exploration of the assorted moods and genres that she touches on. It’s still early days for her, with not much more than a handful of Soundcloud songs to show yet, but even with her musicality still on a slow stir there’s a lot of promise here.

 
On 6th of June, The Cesarians are supported by The Silver Field.

The Cesarians + The Silver Field, 6th June 2019The musical love-child of onetime trash-rocker Charlie Finke (who sang sleaze with Penthouse in the mid-90s) and Justine Armatage (formerly pianist, composer and violinist with ill-fated ’90s theatrical indie types Gretchen Hofner), The Cesarians are virtually ambassadors for the hope of “older, wiser, sexier and funnier”. A loose troupe centred around houseboat life on the River Lea, they encompass showband horns, cabaret, puckish and sometimes self-deprecating wit, via enormous pop hooks which sweep glam, art-punk, chanson and singalong onto the table. They somehow manage to be down-to-earth while still being splendidly glamorous, by dint of turning their lives into theatre: following their songwriting inquisitiveness wherever it leads them and inviting you along.

For today’s crop of twentysomething band players, The Cesarians could (and should) be like anarchically cool uncles and aunts – the kind that zoom in and out of the family on their own orbits, winking as they swing past; cheerfully using inappropriate language and carrying handfuls of intrigue. They’re people whom you feel you could learn from: learn how to be naughty and to be wise; how to smoke and to make mistakes, but also how to become yourself. For us older dogs closer to their age, they’re more about an irrepressible spark persistently pushing up; there’s something luminous about them, as if they’d thrived on misspent youths and come through it all broader and happier as people. For what it’s worth, I get bored by musicians who embrace or act out too much debauchery, but occasionally I meet some whose mental vividness transcends the partying, and when I do I can’t stop talking to them; and generally, they turn out to be a lot like The Cesarians.

The songs? Well, the songs sound a bit like this…



 
The rural post-folk compositions for The Silver Field start off in Coral Rose’s bedroom. A digital delay inherited from her musician father serves as the cauldron for her own multi-instrumental inventiveness on a cupboardful of instruments, within which guitar, harmonica, mandolin, small drums and harmonium make room for cello, double bass, bagpipe chanter and electronics, plus loops captured on a rackety antique reel-to-reel tape recorder bought for a quid at a car boot sale. Assisted on occasion by Vanishing Twin’s Cathy Lucas and by Kiran Bhatt of Red River Dialect, It’s a kind of rough-edged chamber-folk shunting yard, in which plangent instrumental melodies are nudged by noise interference and spatial effects woven in from smartphone field recordings.

Live, Coral calls in more instrumentalist friends (Kiran again, plus Rachel Horwood from Bamboo and Trash Kit, Rachel Margetts from Yr Lovely Dead Moon) to help her recreate and reconsider her work: not absolute reproductions of what’s on record, but pickings-up and hand-ons, the instrumentation and looping shuffled under the requirements of necessity and community and of keeping the music as a living thing. Her debut album ‘Rooms’, meanwhile, comes complete with its own sonic metaphor of growing up, moving on and moving out; of both dispensing of childhood homes and coming to terms with departing from them.



 
* * * * * * * *

Closing off May, there’s a triple-threat art-rock show from Thumpermonkeyc, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi – all of whom I’ve already written about so frequently in here that I’m constantly, increasingly in danger of repeating myself. So I’m going to pre-empt myself by collaging some of the things I’ve already said into a new mashup, for the benefit of any of you who might be new readers or just new to any of these people…

Thumpermonkey + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 31st May 2019Thumpermonkey – “mordant, tricksy brilliance… the missing link between Mastodon and China Miéville (or perhaps between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson)… One of Britain’s most ambitious rock bands, deftly striding and shifting between different musical kernels from prog, dark pop or experimental metal to a kind of science-fiction cabaret, languidly licking up and stirring in any intriguing nugget or story fragment they birth or encounter… A latterday Thumpermonkey song’s more like a contemporary classical song: protracted, a lyric-driven musical wandering from thought to thought, but always with that solid rock foundation, that return to purpose… Michael Woodman’s voice (is) pure theatrical cordon bleu hambone, from the bottom of its ominous deep-tenor declamations to the top of its horror-struck falsetto…

“The music, meanwhile, is an ever-flexing full-spectrum crunch and hush, full of stalking shapes and hovering convoluted melodies… Unpacking their decade-plus back catalogue of recordings is like getting trapped in one of those clever-dick contemporary polymath novels written about everything and anything, stitched together with a little magic and mystique – they’ve sung about computer games, Nigerian fraudsters, Mexican acid westerns and strange diseases and made it sound as if it were all part of the same complex semi-submerged story… Game-playing geeks for sure, and clearly ones who are proud of their astonishingly broad armoury of sly references, veiled jokes and fantastical imagery; but also geeks who revel in their absolute mastery of those most un-geeky of rock qualities – muscle and poise… The particular genius of Thumpermonkey is that they can unroll these kind of parodic slipstream plots without ever toppling into cute whimsy.”


 
Lost Crowns – “a barrage of word-dense songs overflowing with full-on prismatic structures and outright rock drive, as if Lewis Carroll and Flann O’Brien had called on the massed forces of Henry Cow to help them hijack Battles… A vortex of influences funnel around (Lost Crowns leader) Richard Larcombe, including Chicago math, witty Daevid Allen psych rampage, contemporary classical music and skipping, tuneful folk singalongs. Shaped by his particular persona and thought processes – as well as his innate Englishness – it all emerges as a kind of prog, but one in which the fat and the posturing has all been burned off by the nerves and the detail, and in which his dry, melodious wit winds around the work playing mirror-tricks, theatrical feints, and the conspiratorial winks of a master boulevardier…

“If he is icing his work with gags, it’s partially because something so musically demanding needs a little judicious sugaring… Imagine a cocktail which didn’t dilute as you built it up, but instead made all of its ingredients stronger, brighter and brasher… A rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection… 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.”


 
Kavus Torabi – ” (His) dusky psych-folk EP ‘Solar Divination’…. perhaps draw(s) some influence from (his) 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… A darker, more agrarian take on his psychedelic homeground, this time it’s drumless, bassless, hornless – rinsed clear of the capering squirrel energy he’s shown for twenty-odd years, in order to reveal muted, angsty bones… (It’s) a holiday from the jewelled and roaring intricacies of his main gig with Knifeworld, but it’s certainly not an escape from the psychedelic shadows which nightwing their way through the band’s apparently celebratory rainbow arcs.

“For this isolated, darker, more grinding work, Kavus strips the flash-bangs away and leaves us with the droning echoes: the meditative bruises, fears and queries, many of which nonetheless contain their own seeds of determination and a kind of celebratory acceptance…. Mostly based around slow, smoky-lunged harmonium stretches and sparse flotsam drags of guitar chording, this is a more foreboding turn of song, haunted by deaths, loss and disintegrations… (It’s a) sullen, trepidatious, post-nova ember-glow… trawling through shimmering webs of harmonium, effected drones and knell-clangs of acoustic guitar, exploring a forbidding hinterland of vulnerability and permeable spirit-space… the gravel-grain in Kavus’ voice welling up from deeper, ghostlier territories than before.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

VLMV & Nice Weather For Airstrikes present:
VLMV + Thomas Stone
The Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 3DT, England
Thursday 30th May 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Thumpermonkey + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi
The Victoria, 186 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London, E17 4QH, England
Friday 31st May 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Daniel O’Sullivan (& special guests) + Tega Mendes
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Tuesday 4th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here

The Cesarians + The Silver Field
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Thursday 6th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here
 

May/June 2019 – upcoming experimental gigs – ‘Towards A Progressive Magic” at the Horse Hospital with Amy Hale and Hawthonn (30th May); ‘Overlaps’ #2 with Kay Grant, Keith Moliné, Jasmine Pender, Tim Hodgkinson, Frank Byng and Chlöe Herington (5th June); the Sonic Electronics Festival at IKLECTIK (30th May to 2nd June)

26 May

At a time when our politics are tangibly darkening with currents of bigotry and nationalism and vicious, exclusionary stories, you might consider that looking at fascism within magic is a frivolous exercise.

Anthropologist Dr. Amy Hale (Atlanta, US) would disagree with you. She’s delivering the spoken-word part of an upcoming “night of magical resistance” at the Horse Hospital (London’s home of esoterica, underground cinema, public magick and wild frocks) for which the musical aspect’s being provided by Leeds-based Hawthonn, made up of “dual star daemons” Layla and Phil Legard, who specialise in “twenty-first century moon musick… underground spectralism meets edgeland herbalism…”

'Towards A Progressive Magic': Amy Hale + Hawthonn, 30th May 2019

This isn’t necessarily a new thing. Plenty of the frowning white-nativist movements in Europe and the States force parasitic roots into ideas about submerged culture, or ideas of a purity predating Christianity, liberalism and rationalism, into which disappointed or indignant people drift in the hope of finding and defining themselves. If you’ve dabbled in Nordic revivalism, for example, you may well have brushed up against it: racism smudging the runes. Similarly, some sonic pagans have always pushed back (having always associated their own musical explorations with a live-and-let-live freedom or a rejection of the controlling homegenisations of fascism), and even more of them are pushing back now.

Amy’s lecture, ‘Is A Progressive Magick Even Possible?’, examines what happens when “as the world takes an awkward lurch towards right wing authoritarianism, underground and fringe cultures, organisations and scenes are becoming increasingly attuned to the attempts by radical right wing groups to infiltrate and coerce their members… Modern occult practice, for many, relies on structures, ideas, values, and aesthetics that are inherently linked to conservative and reactionary thought. Examples of this are the valorisation of tradition, the idea of an initiated spiritual elite and the notion of a highly-ordered Neoplatonic universe, where everything is in its right place – including people and cultures.

“These conservative traits create opportunities for activists to use the social mechanisms of occult subcultures – for example festivals and conferences, book publishing, the music and fashion industries – to promote radical political and cultural agendas without people even noticing that it has happened. Tonight’s presentations discuss how, and why, contemporary magical cultures have become attractive territories for recruitment and expansion by far right organisations… I will discuss how ideas of tradition and “nature” are exploited, and how the discourses of “free speech” are deployed to create and justify platforms for radical, intolerant politics in an occult milieu… We will also learn to recognise such entryism in action, and how to stop it.”

As for Hawthonn, this is their first London appearance; their first live musical ritual within the M25; and their first chance to present their particular stance to the capital. Delving (in the tradition of Coil) into post-industrial esoteric drones and vocalisations, their work has so far embraced edgeland/feminist associations on ‘Red Goddess’ and implied erotic ritualisations on ‘The Well Head’, with more associations and purposes evolving. I don’t know what they’ll be coming up with on this occasion; but I’m assuming that it’s going to pull on their increasing conviction that ritual needs to engage (if not necessarily with materialism) with the fabric of daily practical necessities and practical history.




 
To quote them – “as esotericists we often believe that we have stepped beyond ‘mere politics’ – that our minds are turned to a higher world, which has little relation to the mundane – despite, paradoxically, believing that our magical actions influence the phenomenal world. Yet many contemporary scholars of esotericism and religion analyse the currents of occultism, paganism and the New Age as socially constructed phenomena: elaborate mythic structures enforcing certain norms, beliefs and practices, while justifying themselves through appeals to authority, lineage and experience, even science and rationality. Such historiographic or sociological approaches have been accused by many practitioners of base reductionism, undermining the authority of their particular traditions.

“Yet, what if practitioners of esotericism were to accept – or at least entertain for a moment – a constructivist, rather than transcendentalist, paradigm? We posit that such an acceptance can lead to another form of practice, which acknowledges the way in which esotericism is inseparable from the historical, social and economic fabric of our lives and which – rather than denying the viscerality of ritual and experience – uses them as tools to question the traditions and assumptions of the esoteric worldview, leading to a fluid and reflexive ‘critical magick’.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Drifting through Kings Cross – away from the cosy confines of the Harrison and back to its spiritual home at Westminster Kingsway College – and still driven by joint organisers Chlöe Herington (V A L V E, Knifeworld, Lindsay Cooper Songbook, Hirvikolari) and Keith Moliné (Pere Ubu, Prescott), the Overlaps “six musicians on the spot” concert series continues to burnish its particular niche. Improvising, but outside of the usual free-jazz grammar; perhaps owing something to art rock, but tearing one end wide open. Assimilating injections of the wilder shaggier side of experimental pop. Tag-teaming, but with a little friendly risk; part-prepared, but mostly of the moment.

'Overlaps 2', 5th June 2019

In addition to Chlöe’s avant-rock reeds and home-made noiseboxes and Keith’s startling bricolage guitarwork, the debut Overlaps evening back in January also featured jazz/art-rock-toned drum-and-bass artist Farz and fringe-pop experimenter/spoken-word persona shifter Merlin Nova; plus another British art rock guitar mainstay in Chloe’s Knifeworld bandmate Kavus Torabi and creative sideslip drumming from Keith’s Prescott bandmate Frank Byng (also of Snorkel and This Is Not This Heat). Chlöe, Keith and Frank are all back for round two, with the remaining three players coming in from other assorted corners of noisework, avant-garde and New Classical – often simultaneously.

While performing her dramatic, noisy electric cello soundscapes, Jasmine Pender usually goes under the alias of Rotten Bliss, sousing her sound in effects and singing along with a terrifying gorgeousness: storm-strings and surreal marine tales. For Overlaps, though, she’s performing under her own name. Perhaps it’s in solidarity with the other, unmasked performers not hiding behind their project names or band tags; or perhaps it means she’s going to be trying something a little different. You’ll need to turn up and see.


 
Originally coming up through the New York downtown arts, in her time Kay Grant has sung pop, jazz, rock, choral classical and opera (and built the ranges for each). She still touches on several of them today – most notably the jazz, with her own vocalise-based Kay Grant All-four and song duo Living Standards, and via guestings with the more standards-slanted Cyril Bass Quartet and Big Swing Big Band. But when she gives herself full improvisatory range her voice is an untethered exploratory device – coasting, feinting and arcing with the full subliminal structural knowledge of her training, but completely free to embrace a scattering palate of noise, tones and intimations.


 
Tim Hodgkinson, of course, is best known for his 1970s work as a founder and consistent member of Henry Cow: foundational art-rock radicalism within which he and his bandmates pursued a continuous course of questioning, dissonance, learning and overturning. Since then (usually armed with reed instruments, tapes, lap steel guitar and keyboards), he’s maintained a core Cow method: exploring, playing and composing via a cerebral and committed musicality which initially challenges and overwhelms his own technical skills but constantly forces him to advance. He’s equally likely to be found at work in art-house shows worldwide or in ferociously experimental British pub gigs, stretching his skills between improvised blowings, committed collaging or the conduction of post-classical chamber music which sounds like the skitterings of unruly ghost feet pursuing an unfinished argument.

Again, I’ve little idea of what he’ll be doing – it could be solo clarinet, it could be something with tapes and counterpoint, it could be something which bridges his interest in shamanic music and cultural anthropology.




 
* * * * * * * *

Sonic Electronic Festival, 30th May to 2nd June 2019There’s also time to mention (in brief) the concerts and chat around the sprawling Sonic Electronics Festival coming up at IKLECTIK and straddling late May and early June. Fascinated by coding and by digital evolution, the event’s as much academic as it is instinctive and will contain far too many ideas, implications and theory to be easily abridged and listed here. So this is a quick sketch of what’s lined up rather than a definitive description.

On 31st May, the evening concert is a London live AV performance incorporating toys/scrabbles/tapeloops collective Morphogenesis (bolstered by audio sculptor John Wall and electro-acoustic/noise performer Mark Durgan), the electronic-junk-assisted dronescapes of raxil4, woodwinder-turned-synth minimalist Bernhard Living and masked audio-visual circuit-building ritualists Isn’tses (the last of whom will also be running a Fort processor building workshop on the morning of Saturday 1st June). The Saturday evening is a pass-it-on event of international live audiovisual performance with VJ and visual/sonics encoder Chris Speed, videomapping performance artists Blanca Regina, extended vocal/multimedia performer Alessandra Eramo and feminine-industrial explorers Slow Slow Loris

The show on the evening of 2nd June involves the 4.1 Soundsystem. Here you can hear and watch a teaming of sound foleyist Rebecca Glover and the squelchy Fritha Jenkins (who’s inspired by shorelines of sand and mud);
spacial-stereo sound artist Bioni Samp (whose work and subject matter is informed by his own beekeeping and by concerns about bee extinction); the “theogynous” industrial/classical polyphonic vocals of Vera Bremerton; “grainyl”-ist Tony James Morton (who takes the cut’n’plunder techniques of hip hop DJs and feeds them through the alterations of granular synthesis); and the deep-listening drones of Johannes de Silentio (a.k.a. Lucius Works Here, a.k.a. Barcelonan sound art DJ Shak Benavides).

If you want to immerse yourself in theory, debate and other verbals, you’ll be wanting to go along to the event launch on the evening of 30th May. Here, there will be talks from Lucia Farinati, Nina Power and Giles Greenaway (about the intersections, overlaps and interferences of audiovisual technology with philosophy and live culture, and about process patterns taken from living creatures). There’ll also be a live AV performance of experimental electromagnetic power noise from Laura Netz, using hand-built technology.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Strange Attractor presents:
‘Towards a Progressive Magic’ (featuring Dr. Amy Hale + Hawthonn)
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Thursday 30th May 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Sonic Electronics Festival: Digital Arts & Analogue Devices
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 30th May 2019 to Sunday 2nd June 2019, various times
– information here, here, here, here, here and here

Westking Music and Performing Arts presents:
‘Overlaps’ #2: Kay Grant + Keith Moliné + Jasmine Pender + Tim Hodgkinson + Frank Byng + Chlöe Herington
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Wednesday 5th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here
 

May/June/July 2019 – upcoming pop/rock gigs – Tim Bowness out and about in England, Netherlands, Poland and Germany (26th & 31st May, 2nd to 4th June, 7th June, 20th July) – also featuring Anneke van Giersbergen, Hey Jester, Bernhard Wöstheinrich, Imogen Bebb, IQ’s Andy Edwards, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets and others…

23 May


  
Working off the back of his recent ‘Flowers At The Scene’ album, Tim Bowness will shortly set out on a live lope around Europe for the summer months.

During the decade-long lull in his No-Man activity, Tim’s bloom of solo albums have all been half-hidden treasures. They belong to a current, mysterious class of brilliantly-crafted labour-of-love pop records – the ones which make decent chart performances (in a chart which no longer obeys the simple rules of earlier generations) but which remain strangely invisible, apparently known only to cult audiences. They’re part of a kind of parallel-universe pop culture, only distinguished from our own by luck and chance.

When he was singing sweetly over dance beats for mid-’90s No-Man (a mixture of blush and bleak, stark and swoon), I was creating stubborn little write-ups dragging their art pop over into the prog rock court, armed with some of my suspicions and certainties regarding their eclectic musical appetites, their taste for a bit of well-spoken Anglo grandeur, their cinematic sensibilities. Gradually, over a couple of decades, I was proved right. Tim (like his No-Man partner Steven Wilson) now commands considerably proggy audiences; in Tim’s case, he also generously stewards art-rock megaboutique Burning Shed (something which gives him the additional blending of goodwill and cachet that helps attract silvering art-rock aristocrats like Peter Hammill, Kevin Godley or Ian Anderson into guesting on his records). All of this culminated in the epic kitchen-sink-Ziggy multitrack saga of ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’, in which Tim revisited the imprints of his ‘70s heroes and spikily reinvented them as an embittered, failing dreamshadow self.

Still, call me wayward or a backtracker, but for a while I’ve been wishing that there was less outright prog in the picture. Coincidentally, Tim seems to agree, as ‘Flowers At The Scene’ tempers and bounces away from the progginess of recent years, possessing a delicacy of musical touch to match his lyrical subtlety. At times it’s a missing link between several of his old touchstones (The Smiths, Kate Bush) while at others it flirts with the fan-dance flutters and delay guitars of ’80s art pop, indulges the odd florid arena-rock burst, or touches on glacial latterday synthpop. It’s also a possible curtain-raiser to more No-Man activity. Steven Wilson, always a friendly presence or passing mix wizard on previous Tim albums, quietly shared the full production chair and an open No-Man credit on this one. The songs, too – while recognisably Bownessian in their portraits of make-do-and-mend, subtly cultivated angst and discreet English agonies – have a lapping No-Man urgency to them, the exquisite solipsistic portraits and summaries refitted with a pulsing pop drive.



 
In keeping with the spotty, sporadic live patterns of cult artisty and cottage-industry songsmith, Tim’s tour is less of a tour than a series of temporary outbreaks – a couple of one-off shows at odd-matched English venues, two more in Poland, a festival appearance in the Netherlands, a raid on Berlin. His band continues to exemplify that stylistic spread I mentioned earlier. They’re a collection of friends with sympathies dotted across various British movements – current bassman John Jowitt represents a strand of classy neoprog veterans; regular drummer Andrew Booker flies the flag for the clean-cut clever bastards; a pair of multidisciplinarians (guitarist Michael Bearpark and violinist Steve Bingham) pull the ensemble towards the flexible art rock yearnings which are Tim’s genuine home, and to refresh things, Brian Hulse (Tim and Michael’s companion in recently revived ‘80s Manchester art-pop trio Plenty, and a major co-writer on ‘Flowers…’) is now covering keyboards, laptop and second guitar.

OK, I’m a malcontent. It still feels as if it would be be good, at this stage, to see Tim elsewhere, in a different less cosy, less ‘Prog’ magazine context – wrangling over stage space with spikier arty acts like Rufus Wainwright or St Vincent; Eyeless In Gaza or John Greaves; even Momus. He’d fit in – different moves and intimations might flex within the live show; the tart angst and great-battles-in-small-spaces tone underlying his songs could be seen better for what they are. But we have what we have. He’s appreciated. He has, at least, this home; and he’s making generous use of it in both senses, with several of the upcoming shows (bar the Bowness-only Poland gigs) providing support acts interesting to proggies and non-proggies alike.


 
For the London gig at Dingwalls, there are slots for Ms Amy Birks and Nick Beggs. A ‘Prog Magazine’ chart-topper last year in the female vocalist stakes (and having already made an upcoming name for herself as frontwoman for chamber-prog/classical projects Beatrix Players and Birks&Kroon), Amy is now fitting in space for a solo career, some of which will get an early preview at this show. Refreshingly free of diva blather and of irksome vocal histrionics (both on and offstage), she’s shaping up as a prime exponent for that thoughtful breed of songs pulled up immaculately from source; cool, clear material polished to a classical drawing-room sheen which only increases its impact.

Nick, meanwhile, was initially infamous as the hair-beaded beanpole bassist for Kajagoogoo during the early 1980s. He’s long since been unmasked as a serious and dedicated muso with a vibrant musicality and the requisite interesting arty quirks to put the right kind of distance between himself and the workaday session cat. Having spent his post-Kaja time travelling through Iona and Ellis Beggs & Howard (scoring a hit with the latter via slo-funk effervescer Big Bubbles No Troubles‘) he’s more recently been playing backup in the live bands for John Paul Jones and Steven Wilson, and fronting mildly dystopian prog-poppers Mute Gods. For this concert, he’ll be playing a solo set on Chapman Stick – an instrument on which he’s one of the prime British performers.



 
With John Jowitt in the Bowness band lineup, the Worcester show marks a fleeting IQ rhythm section reunion: IQ’s onetime drummer Andy Edwards is joining in for a couple of songs and is, in addition, the mentor behind the two support acts. The assured young Brummie power trio Hey Jester offer contorting, slightly grunge-y but always theatrical prog-pop something in the vein of Muse – or, to pick another budding band, Tonochrome. Imogen Bebb (better known as one of the British synthpop community’s superfan commentators via her Sound Of The Crowd blog plus her writing for ‘The Electricity Club‘ and various Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark sites) finally unleashes a musical project of her own. I can’t scrape up many details on this, but you might expect something rooted in her love for OMD. Alternatively, it might well be a live outing for her singer-songwriter project Music For Your Tape Recorder, which slipped a few tracks out onto Bandcamp last year: promising, shapeshifting piano or guitar ballads, like a nascent Tori Amos or Rickie Lee Jones coming up through British indie-folk.



  
The Netherlands gig is a double-headliner, shared with Anneke van Giersbergen. Another assured no-fuss singer (with a clean, bell-clear voice that can soar across grand pop, arena rock and experimental metal with equal facility), Anneke came up via Dutch doom metal act turned alt-rockers The Gathering (whom she fronted for twelve years between 1995 and 2007). She’s since forged a solo path, as well as being a frequent performer in ongoing rock opera project Ayreon and an equally frequent collaborator with Devin Townsend as guest vocalist, as well as fronting her own prog-metal project VUUR. It’s a little like getting Peter Hammill or David Sylvian to split a show with Nancy Wilson; but Tim’s already got form for gracious stage-sharing with female singers whom you might have thought didn’t fit his precise, rail-thin aesthetic, having already done so with iamthemorning’s Marjana Semkina a few years ago.


  
If you were hoping for something a little less prog’n’hearty – and a lot less rock – as a support act, you’d be better off getting yourself over to Germany for the Berlin gig, where the opening performer is Bernhard Wöstheinrich. Formerly a collaborator with Tim in ongoing avant-electric trio centrozoon, Bernhard’s primarily a visual artist. However, he’s been transposing that way of thinking onto keyboard and programming styles which (over more than twenty years) have been fearlessly and frankly swaying and transmuting between instrumental synthpop, a kind of foregrounded ambient method, faux-tribal rattlings, fierce dance barrages and what’s best described as a kind of pushy shape-building (like a restlessly, rapidly built pop-up city sprouting out of electronic pilings). Here’s a selection…




  
In late July, Tim and co. are back in Germany for the Night of the Prog festival in Loreley. In this case they don’t get to call the shots on who they play with, or how, being fourth on the bill for a day of Europrog (headlined by Nick Mason’s revival of psych-era Pink Floyd via Saucerful of Secrets, and also featuring Overhead, the interesting world/electro-tinged Lazuli, Czech instrumental sphere rock band Fors, Afro/classical-touched Canadians Karcius and the live debut of Thomas Thielen’s “T” project). That said, it does give them option of wheedling away some new fans from the more restless strands of a more traditionally proggy audience…








  
* * * * * * * * *

Tim Bowness dates:

  • Worcester Arts Workshop, 21 Sansome Street, Worcester, WR1 1UH, England – Sunday 26th May 2019, 7.00pm (with Hey Jester + Imogen Bebb + Andy Edwards) – information here and here
  • CreativeColors Stage @ Cultuurpodium Boerdiij, Amerikaweg 145, 2717 AV Zoetermeer, The Netherlands – Friday 31st May 2019, 7.30pm (co-headline show with Anneke van Giersbergen) – information here, here and here
  • Klub Firlej, ulica Grabiszyńska 56, 53-504 Wrocław, Woj. Dolnośląskie, Poland – Sunday 2nd June 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Club Progresja, Fort Wola 22, 01-258 Warsawa, Poland – Monday 3rd June 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Prachtwerk, Ganghoferstrasse 2, Neukoln, 12043 Berlin, Germany – Tuesday 4th June 2019, 7.30pm (with Bernhard Wöstheinrich) – information here, here and here
  • Dingwalls, 11 Middle Yard, Camden Lock, London, NW1 8AB, England – Friday 7th June 2019, 7.00pm (with Ms Amy Birks + Nick Beggs) – information here and here
  • Night Of The Prog Festival @ Freilichtbühne Loreley, St. Goarshausen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany – Saturday 20th July 2019, show begins 12.00pm (with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets + Lazuli + Karcius + T + Overhead + Fors) – information here and here

  

May/June 2019 – wayward experimental rock wunderkind Kiran Leonard on tour in England, bumping into Du Blonde, Kermes, Caroline, Humint, Mora Telsnake, Peacetime Romances, Squid, Ichabod Wolf, Don Du Sang and Margate Social Singing Choir en route (5th-10th May); plus a support slot with Soccer Mommy in Berlin (23rd May)

3 May


 
When he first emerged, as a dazzling teenager, out of a Saddlesworth bedroom (singing, drawing on an entire library of exploratory pop and playing every instrument he could get his hands on, as well as drafting in any object that made a useable noise), Kiran Leonard looked set to turn into a latterday Todd Rundgren, or a man hot on the eclectic heels of Fyfe Dangerfield… or, given his self-releasing teething period within homemade experimental electronica, perhaps a second-generation Steven Wilson. His formal debut release, ‘Bowler Hat Soup’ confirmed this: a bursting jumble-sale of home-orchestrated pop treasures, it framed a talent ready for anything from sweaty pub gigs to festival mainstages, and a singer, songwriter, bandleader capable of thrilling anyone from a freshly-hatched indie enthusiast to a committed psychedelic tripper to a long-in-the-tooth Van Morrison fan. It’s not often that someone so universal emerges, still less from such homely beginnings.

As it turned out, Kiran’s instinct for steering means that he’s no less active, no weaker in potential, but less likely to climb the straightforward rungs. Now based in the revived creative ferment of south London (after a spell in Portugal), in many respects, he’s become like the present-day Thurston Moore or the ever-shifting Mike Scott, with his career path now resembling a looping spirograph pattern as he spins from inspiration to inspiration and format to format and back again – ever refreshed, never burned. That melodiousness is still there, but it’s subordinate to (and subverted by) an ecstatically heterogenous enthusiasm for digging into whatever musical shape or form takes his fancy. On record, he’ll turn out simultaneously tight-and-sprawling rock songs packed with loose-limbed cultural critique; looping lo-fi Buckley-esque folk carolling recorded on the hoof between Manchester, Oxford and Portugal; assorted experimental voicings as Advol, Pend Oreille or Akrotiri Poacher; solo acoustic guitar improvisations; themed literary adventures for voice, piano and string trio.

Live, he tends to work as part of a rough-edged four-piece waltzing on the lip of art-rock but playing within the moment, with slick precision utterly sidelined in favour of immediate inspiration or a fringe of incantatory noisepop. Tricky to pigeonhole, at the still-tender age of twenty-three Kiran remains one of our most promising talents while continuing to embrace his own cottage industry rather than sit in the lap of big labels. He’s still working his way around small venues (as he is this month) on a circuit which you’d think was too little to hold him; but which, in many ways, is an ideal continuous crucible for his art, bringing him up close to an audience which fires him up and catches his thrown sparks.



 
In Margate, Kiran and band are part of the third day entertainments of the Caring Is Creepy festival, a new venture between two Margate musical fixtures (promoters Art’s Cool and erstwhile hip London label Moshi Moshi Records, who’ve had an outpost in the town for a while). They’re playing in a bill topped by Beth Jeans Houghton’s Du Blonde, in all of its scuzzy bedsit-punk-blues reflectiveness and its shades of self-aware dysfunction. Also featured are Margate Vocal Studio’s Social Singing Choir, and Brighton/London “underwater boy band” Squid (who add synths, cornet and cello to the usual indie art-rock guitars, drums, bass and sighmurmur vocals to create something stretched-out and oceanic for Margate sunsets); it’s all topped off with DJ work from Rock Solid (Laura Barton and Teri Olins)




 
In Sheffield, they’re on a bill with Midlands singer-songwriter Kieran Smith – a.k.a. Ichabod Wolf – who sings displaced, deracinated Americoustica like Leon Redbone oscillating on the end of an elastic rope. Also on hand are Humint; a brand-new offshoot from jazzy Manchester art-punkers DUDS playing “post-post-robowave” (which translates as choppy noisepop sounding like the young Sonic Youth and the young Devo pecking each other around during an argument over flatpack furniture).



 
In Bristol, they’ll be playing alongside the gently simmering, downbeat-minimal, violin-and-guitar humstrums of London post-rock septet Caroline (through which ghostly inconclusive threads of pemmican-country balladry seep, like a distant campfire duet heard down a winding canyon). There’ll also be dobro-folk from transplanted Frenchwoman Mora Telsnake, who (drawing on ‘60s-to-‘70s solo folk and “80s cheese” and singing in both French and English) delivers an alternating melange of Gallic-accented American Plains music and spindly, blues-infused chansonnerie.

 
In a Berlin date later in the month, the band will be supporting American singer-songwriter Sophie Allison, better known as Soccer Mommy and for the string of Bandcamp releases which eventually led to last year’s full-blown debut album ‘Clean’ with its tales of assorted yearnings and emotional jumbles amongst the young and stoned. Her work’s a peculiar but affecting mixture of detached musicality with feelings spiralling and jagging inside it; thoughts too active and too pointed – too much in need of saying out loud – to submit to the dull rumble of low expectations.


 
The London and Manchester shows are Kieran-and-band only; and the Nottingham one’s a lone Kieran solo appearance, sans band. I’m not sure whether this is due to logistics or to personal choice: I rather hope that it’s the latter, the fervour of the other bands on the bill inspiring him to a more naked and liberated statement than he might have otherwise delivered. Local wonk-poppers Don Du Sang provide murmuring cut-up dance songs with a pleasing wobble, part-sourced from stolen snatches of vinyl, but are rather overshadowed by the political and personal fervour of the two bands providing the rest of the evening’s music.

Outright queerpunk man/woman duo Peacetime Romances actually offer up a kind of broiling, rediscovered underground folk music; toasted with drum clatter and electric guitar wire-rattle, and drawing on twenty years of “every kind of close”, their relationship and perspective has resulted in a batch of songs about “bad men” of all kinds, emotional threshings tinged with nightmare and redolent of resistance. Leicester power/punk-poppers Kermes are even more ferocious, a muscular roil of a band broadcasting a storm of noisy, melodious flechettes showcasing the belligerent, angry stubbornness of trans singer Emily Rose Teece as she wrestles with the weight of heteronormativity, of other people’s boorishness, of struggling to establish her own space while being crushed and bumped by the crude blocks of expectation and restriction.

With Sleater-Kinney and Spook School already floating in the pool of musical comparisons, Kermes’ debut album ‘We Choose Pretty Names’ is also striking in its literary articulacy (inspired by immersion in writers such as Maggie Nelson and Imogen Binnie). In a recent interview with ‘The Four-Oh-Five’, Emily’s described the prime drivers of the album’s songs as “feeling ugly, feeling like a freak, and peacefully existing in a way that make people viscerally hate you.” That’s as may be, but the music Kermes creates is far from lachrymose, whiny or martyrish. It’s constantly buzzing and blurring between dysfunction and self-assurance, with Emily increasingly emerging as someone to follow rather than pity; a tough, tattered-banner leader with dried tear-tracks and a set jaw.




 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

  • Caring is Creepy Festival 2019 @ Elsewhere, 21-22 The Centre, Margate, Kent, CT9 1JG, England – Sunday 5th May 2019, 6.30pm (with Du Blonde + Squid + Margate Social Singing Choir + Rock Solid DJs) – information here and here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Monday 6th May 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • The Old England, 43 Bath Buildings, Bristol, BS6 5PT, England – Tuesday 7th May 2019, 8.30pm (with Caroline + Mora Telsnake) – information here and here
  • Gullivers NQ, 109 Oldham Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1LW, England – Wednesday 8th May 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • Delicious Clam Records, 12 Exchange Street, Sheffield, S2 5TS, England – Thursday 9th May 2019, 7.00pm (with Humint + Ichabod Wolf) – information here and here
  • JT Soar, 2 Aberdeen Street, Nottingham, NG3 1JB, England – Friday 10th May 2019, 8.00pm (solo, with Kermes + Peacetime Romances + Don Du Sang) – information here and here
  • Musick & Freiden, Falkensteinstrasse 48, 10997 Berlin, Germany – Thursday 23rd May 2019 2019, 7.30pm (supporting Soccer Mommy) – information here, here and here

 

February/March 2019 – upcoming British folk/experimental gigs – Bell Lungs on tour with Raiments (20th February to 2nd March, various) with appearances by Despicable Zee, Michael Clark, The Nature Centre, Halcyon Jane, Tara Clerkin Trio and various DJs. Plus sundry other Bell Lungs shows in March including a København evening with Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen, a show with David Toop and Rashad Becker, a date with Gaze Is Ghost.

16 Feb

Working with a multi-instrumental, device-heavy palette which includes guitar, harmonium, Omnichord, electric violin, lyre, bouzouki, saz, voice and a host of effects pedals, avant-folk singer/writer/sometime promoter Ceylan Hay (a.k.a. Bell Lungs) sits at the middle of a host of possible routes. Her sound incorporates post-folk and drone, dream pop, noise and free improv, psychedelia and site-specific realisations, while her psychohistorian subject matter takes in the ancient, the near-ancient and the presently numinous: probing prehistoric spaces, the ghosts of the industrial age, day-to-day feelings and the slide into a new virtual existence space via online culture.

Reflecting these overlaid levels (and what might be, at different perspective points, either shockingly near or completely occluded), her vocal delivery steps between ornamental trad-folk crenellations, feathery ambient warbles and horrific screams. You can never quite tell whether she’s going to lull you or scare you, but you know she cares about what she’s ferrying across to you.

With a new EP, the wintry ‘Wolves Behind Us‘, to promote (apparently it’s a return to folk and landscapes after recent science fiction/site-specific digressions, and is “Joan Aiken’s ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’, Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’, caravan living in the Highlands and the ancient cosmology idea of dividing the year into two halves; the opening and closing of the wolf’s mouth”), Bell’s embarking on five weeks of touring (primarily alongside Raiments) through Scotland, England, Wales, followed up by other Raiments-less shows in Scotland, England and Denmark. (She’ll also be playing in Wales next month, but more on that later…)




 
Before taking a look at the tour, let’s take a look at her tourmates. Formed on the Berlin avant-garde scene, Raiments are fronted by sing-murmurer/left-field guitarist Mano Camatsos, and they sound like a soft-stepping muttering blend of Lou Reed and Momus fronting a band that mixes lurking dark-jazz styling (hardwood clarinet burr and groove-pattering trashdrums) with the DIY rattle of Pram and the dark throb of Morphine. Mano’s wildcard guitar is a clinking noisemaker and pulse generator taking note of hip hop, of avant-garde classical extended techniques and of mysterious instruments and methods gleaned from ethnological recordings. His songwriting voice is a oddball surreal instinct leading inexorably towards songs about ants or baffling seductions.



 
Tracing their upcoming footsteps on the tour is a joy, like following a plough which turns up small treasures as it reveals what’s in the earth. It’s partly the succession of intriguing off-the-beaten-path venues – squatty art-pubs, recovered eighteenth-century coal basins, pocket cinemas and art centres, diehard folk rooms and out-of-the-way sipperys – but also the revealing of similarly off-the-wall musical talents and enthusiasts they join up with en route.

In Edinburgh, Bell and Raiments are playing with Claquer – previously three-piece improvisers Claque until they spun off their American drummer an unspecified time ago. Now it’s just the Edinburgh contingent: free/experimental guitarist Jer Reid and viola player/speaker Lisa Fannen. They deal in lo-fi clangs, loopings and scrapes and spoken word: momentary moment-music.


 
In Newcastle, the main support comes from the soft melody murmurs and drowsy, cushioned keens of ambient/improv folk duo Halcyon Jane, a Tyneside/Humberside teamup. Upfront with the voice, guitar and devices is Newcastle performance art polymath Jayne Dent, better known via her own electronic/noisy folk project Me Lost Me, in which she buffers and buffets her singing with concertinas and samplers: when she played Hull back in December, support came from local ambient electronic beatsman Halcyon Neumann, who’s worked with The Body Farmers and with Sarah Shiels and who carries out sonic explorations of “the technological vs. the archaic/the spiritual vs. the scientific/the supernatural vs. the psychological.” Together they tease out a semi-improvised border music, part weird electro-folk and part post-shoegaze wisp.

Also playing is Michael Clark, providing slurred, wise, trepidatious and crepuscular folk music with fogrolls of noise behind an acoustic guitar. Despite being a Londoner, he sounds more like a moor-dweller; or like someone who lives in the kind of port city London used to be, one in which strange tales and intimation billow up the streets with the dock mist: this time out, his strange tales are backed up by a full band.

 
I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before. Headlining the Club Integral-hosted Birmingham show above Bell Lung and Raiments, they’re an affable rural/suburban pop quartet like a four-person one-man band, sprouting banjos and clarinets and found percussion alongside their drum kit and guitars. Drawn to playing at weirder gigs, they’ve shared bills with people like Bob Drake and have their own batchful of three-minute pop songs avidly reflecting the off-kilter visions of previous English songwriter eccentrics (the Syd Barretts, Robyn Hitchcocks and Tim Smiths). Handling the in-between-bands slot is someone new to me but not new to Brum’s vinyl-istas: Moseley Folk Festival’s house DJ and Moseley Record Fair co-organiser DJ Rome, promising his own selection of crate-dug oddities and inspirations.


 
In Bristol, the DJ backup comes from “bleary-eyed staggerer” Siegfried Translator of the Grey Area radio show (another haven for intriguingly weird music from all over the globe), but the gig predominantly features the Tara Clerkin Trio: the DIY musical brainchild of a ceramicist who also seems to have a yen for gamelan/minimalist-sounding pattern tinkling sprinkled with voiceloops, friendly saxophonic intrusions and other pitch-ins from whichever musical friends she can rope in for the occasion. (At other times, she creates her own slumberous take on experimental countrified pop.)

 
The Oxford show (promoted by Divine Schism) is primarily a launch event for the second EP by Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani, a.k.a. Despicable Zee – a live-looper, improviser and conscious patterner of fifteen years standing, mixed Anglo/Irish/Iranian heritage, and a history of drumming in Oxford bands since her teens. Now the drums (plus loopstations and recordings) are used to create live solo tracks in which Zee employs a lo-fi, lo-technique approach to overlapping rhythm garlands and triggered conversations. As an artist (as well as an educator and mother), Zee’s increasingly conscious of the female lines she carries within her: the patched-in samples which wobble her current project along feature the voices of her mother and grandmother, mingling with Zee’s own sing-speak-raps as if they’ve dropped by for some kind of experimental music cross-cultural kaffee klatsch.


 
The London show (at Paper Dress Vintage) is an evening of music and spoken word put together by promoters Spilt Milk in order to raise money and awareness for North London Action for the Homeless. Shapeshifter experimental pop poet Alabaster dePlume comperes: also in the corner is Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, who showed up in ‘Misfit City’ a little over a year ago.

Jenny’s another artist whose field extends from the visual and situational into action and music: the Mystic Business involves pulling together friends and strangers into a collective performance event that’s part communal clapalong choir, part percussion workshop and good-natured culture-jamming protest (with food). Guileless and charming, but nonetheless political and détournementational, it’s an attempt to get collective conscience back into the body, containing and encouraging a cheerful but insistent protest.



 
The Conventry and Brighton gigs appear to feature just Bell Lungs and Raiments on their own, but news just coming in re. the Liverpool date (at dockside art-pub Drop the Dumbulls) says that support there comes from Merseyside “synthwhisperer” and outsider synthpopper Claire Welles. She’s been rolling out her contrary songs for over a decade now, singing increasingly unsettling lyrics in a deep deadpan tone with a sarcastic medicated edge, while the backings deliquesce from elegant ageless Europop into something a little misshapen. It all becomes something like those conversations during which you wake up a third of the way in, not quite sure how you got into them, not quite believing that you’re stuck in there and will just have to ride it out.



 
* * * * * * * *

Following the Raiments tour, Bell heads off separately for other shows. A mid-March showing at Manchester’s Peer Hat is a solo gig, but there’s also an Argyll event (in the enchanting recording-studio-as-art-nook surroundings of St Marys Space) at which she’s supporting baroque poptronic project Gaze Is Ghost: itinerant Northern Irish singer/songwriter/post-classical composer Laura McGarrigle, noted for “spectral vocals and impressionist piano playing” as well as drifts into harmonium and ambient atmospherics. In recent years Laura’s let Zed Penguin drummer/artist Casey Miller into the project and (following a number of pre-Casey singles), Gaze Is Ghost are finally readying a debut album as a duo.

 
A return to Glasgow on 28th March sees Bell performing on a talk’n’play bill with musicologist and audio culturer David Toop and Berlin sonicist Rashad Becker (who, having polished over a thousand records by other people spanning noise to techno, has begun stepping out into music creation of his own with the resonant faux-ethnological synthwork of ‘Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. I’).

On the 30th she’s back in Edinburgh to support another experimental folker, looper and performance artist: David Thomas Broughton, whose brilliantly wayward path has included looping his own heckles, blurring the line between song performance and experimental theatre. Along the way he’s released eight albums of accessible, tremulous, oddly haunting alt.folk delivered in an arresting genderless vocal tone a little reminiscent of Anthony/Anohni, and won the respect and collaborative contributions of (among others) Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, and Aidan Moffat. David will be in the early stages of his own tour, which I really should cover on its own.





 
Before any of these, though, she’s crossing the North Sea to perform at an experimental folk event in København. Part of the city’s Fanø Free Folk Festival, it’s hosted by local label Dendron Records, specializers in “small runs of abstract electronics, ghostly folk songs and surprisingly hummable tunes.” The concert will also feature two København-based British emigres Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen. Hugh’s been operating for years under various names including The Weave And The Weft and Taiga Taiga, creating shadowy understated mostly-acoustic songs with a literary bent, and he regularly helps out with David Folkmann Drost’s homemade folk project Moongazing Hare. Previously known as a radical electric guitarist in Vinyl Dog Joy, Amstrong and Distortion Girls, Tanja recently struck out on her own with a solo debut, ‘Feeling Love’ in which she embraces and deconstructs pop songs, writing them acoustically before bringing assorted damaged amplification and effects-pedal interference to bear on them, resulting in songscapes covering a field from heavy-lidded noise-folk to cataclysmic “drone-metal disco”.




 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Bell Lungs & Raiments tour:

  • Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16A Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8BJ – Wednesday 20th February 2019, 7.00pm (with Claquer) – information here
  • Cobalt Studios, 10-16 Boyd Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1AP, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.00pm(with Michael Clark + Halcyon Jane) – information here
  • The Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0QH, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 8.00pm (with The Nature Centre + DJ Rome) – information here and here
  • Cube Cinema, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 24th February 2019, 8.00pm(with Tara Clerkin Trio + The Grey Area DJs) – information here and here
  • Fusion Arts, 44b Princes Street, Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1DD, England – Monday 25th February 2019, 7.30pm(with Despicable Zee) – information here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019. 7.30pm (with Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business + Alabaster dePlume) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill Tavern, 70-71 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 4JL, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Tin @ The Coal Vaults, Unit 1-4 Coventry Canal Basin, St. Nicholas Street, Coventry, CV1 4LY, England – Friday 1st March 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Drop the Dumbulls @ The Bull, 2 Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England – Saturday 2nd March 2019, 7.00pm (with Claire Welles) – information here

Bell Lungs standalone dates with various others (tbc):

  • Fanø Free Folk Festival @ Alice, Norre Alle 7, DK-2200 København N, Norway – Monday 4th March 2019, 7.00pm(with Hugh Tweedie + Tanja Vesterbye Jessen) – information here
  • St Marys Space, Fasnacloich, Argyll, Scotland, PA38 4BJ – Saturday 9th March 2019, 7.00pm(supporting Gaze Is Ghost) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester M1 1BE – Thursday 14th March 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Stereo/The Old Hairdressers, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 5AR, Scotland – Thursday 28th March 2019, 7.00pm (with David Toop + Rashad Becker) – information here and here
  • The Waverley, 3-5 St. Mary’s Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TA, Scotland – Saturday 30th March 2019, 9.00pm (supporting David Thomas Broughton) – information here

February 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Lost Crowns, Ham Legion and Wryneck (8th February)

1 Feb

Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck, 8th February 2019

I guess it’s a thorn in Richard Larcombe’s side that whenever he launches one of his complex poly-referential music projects some reductive oaf like myself strolls up, latches onto those polished, extremely upper-middle-class English vocals, and then starts comparing him to the cuddly Canterbury end of Anglo-prog – Hatfield & The North, Caravan and so on.

This is what you get, I suppose, when you’re musically versed in everything from the Copper Family to English bell-ringing patterns to mid-period Zappa to ‘90s American math rock – and when you can prove it – but when you’re also compelled to ice your lyrical cake with such floating, whimsical humorous concoctions. Almost from the start (when he was banging out strangely Donne-ian Britpop with Magnilda twenty-odd years ago) Richard has sounded as if he’s quipping and musing from an Oxbridge punt floating down ever more complicated river systems. It’s too easy to visualize him eating strawberries dipped in lysergic cream, keeping the witty punchlines coming while the landscape around him gets ever more mozaic-ed and fractalized.

It’s a little unfair to say things like that. Richard’s raised-eyebrow/bell-clear diction might make him sound smug to some ears in these resentful times, but his humour and the content of his songs are far richer, more intricate and upfront than what’s suggested by those Cantabrian comparisons. Lyrically, he’s a driven, glittering absurdist – more interested in extrapolation and unravelling substance than he is in reducing everything to fluff. Rather than offering lazy-lidded Kevin Ayers dreams (or, indeed, weightless Hatfield-ish souffles and toilet jokes), he takes snipes about synaesthesia and develops them until they collapse. He reframes and bricolages ancient bits of mythology as knockabout British arthouse films; or serenade his wife with borderline-ludicrous, self-aware stack-ups of flowery tributes. All of which gives us an anchoring point for listening: if he is icing his work with gags, it’s partially because something so musically demanding needs a little judicious sugaring.

The freshly-released debut album by Richard’s Lost Crowns project is being hailed as his best work yet. It’s certainly his most unrestrained: a barrage of word-dense songs overflowing with full-on prismatic structures and outright rock drive, as if Lewis Carroll and Flann O’Brien had called on the massed forces of Henry Cow to help them hijack Battles. While Lost Crowns sound like few bands in mainstream British rock history, current or past, they take a longer more meandering path along which you can imagine them laying some loving snags on various left-field rockers as they travel. XTC, Field Music and The Monochrome Set to These New Puritans; Gentle Giant, Knifeworld and the Art Bears. Comparisons generally water bands down, but for this one they work more as a health warning. Imagine a cocktail which didn’t dilute as you built it up, but instead made all of its ingredients stronger, brighter and brasher…



 
You can see Lost Crowns in action again – with Richard backed by a dream team of underground music crack-shots from Gong, Scritti Politti, Knifeworld and NSRO – next week at the Slaughtered Lamb. Having made their debut at an Alphabet Business Convention several years ago, they’re proud members of the sprawling and joyous musical family that runs in barking loops around the feet of Cardiacs. Consequently, you can expect to see a batch of the usual Cardiacs-ish faces in the audience. You’ll also get to see some on stage, since Ham Legion are playing support.

Longtime Cardiacs disciples, the Legion started out years ago as the perma-bubbling Little Trophy but following a drawn-out process of shedding fripperies and members, they’re now down to a power trio. All too often, they’re the extra filling in someone else’s gig sandwich. For the first time in a long while, though, they’re coming out armed with an imminent new single, Georgie Porgie. Time, perhaps to reassess them and their grunged-up take on complicated post-Cardiacs songs. A cavalcade of mood-switches and charges in and out of the unknown; a puckish delving into the traditions of English pop eccentricity, but one that’s smeared by tarry black coffee-sludge and amp crunch.


 
A surprise addition to the bill is Wryneck. To find out about them, you’d need to dig even deeper: back to the 1980s when a band with the gonkish name of Zag & The Coloured Beads romped intermittently around London’s free festival scene, playing “complicated tunes in a ragged/bluesy style” fed through the same scene’s omnivorous, hyperactive-hippy mindset. Taking a British post-punk filter, they used it to strain Zappa/Beefheart weird-juice, with memories of trad jazz and kid’s television also cavalcading through. They usually sounded like a drunken race between a squad of seven-legged camels: there was a bit of math to it, for sure (they enjoyed their shabby Brit-squat takes on the New York minimalist pulse, and their five- and seven-time signatures) but it was probably best not to take that too seriously either. After all, the songs had utterly clownish sketchpad titles like Sweaty Thing and Bernard Crapshit, which usually fitted perfectly.

(Gives the critics hives, y’know. Whether you’re aiming for analytical authority or ineffable cool, embracing a certain level of outright and intentional silliness is a bit like cuddling a hand grenade; and Dada just don’t do-do…)

Anyhow… Wryneck was what was left when various Beads dropped off the string in 1989, once keystoner Paul Howard ran dry and ran out of interest and keyboard person Robert White headed on to better-known, less squirrely things with Levitation and The Milk and Honey Band. The remainder (led by guitarist/singer/songfitter Steve Arthur), tried to get serious and to get taken seriously. Duly recast, they dumped the comedy and pulled in and lashed down the ramblings: they took fresh notes from the flourishing noise-pop of My Bloody Valentine and the ringing drive of Levitation and The Belltower, and they acted upon them. Over time, they also factored in a post-James Brown/Zeppelin sense of dirty groove. They produced a few cassettes (and those in the know remember the band as “master tunesmiths”) but, like the Beads, they never rose beyond a backroom cult. After four years – and despite no-one actually turning into a casualty – Wryneck too was missing in action. Musically, everyone kept busy with something or other, but it was only when Steve, Paul and guitar/bass mainstay Mik Tubb resurrected the Beads for more intermittent shows about a decade ago that the old chemistry came back.

These days, it seems as if Beadery and the staggered musical family around it (everyone was always overcommitted to multiple bands) is somewhat like Cardiacs culture – a big attic trunk full of oddments and puzzles which people regularly pull out and reconfigure at while. Joining Steve and Mik (and whoever else they’ve managed to persuade into this micro-revival) is Paul, who might never have been a Wrynecker before, but who seems to be one now.

Sadly the shortage of Wryneck sonic memorabilia online means that there’s nothing I can post up as an illustration of the noise they’re going to make. Lost Crowns are describing them (with tongue in cheek) as “like Mud, but fancier’. Alternatively, you could draw a few clues from the clutch of Beads tangles I’ve crammed in below. If unconvinced, you could consider Wryneck’s presence as a pop-up indulgence and reward for those grizzled old ‘80s festi-veterans in Cardiacs fandom who stayed their course and kept the faith. If you’re any less cynical, you could try saluting them as (even with the post-Beads musical streamlinings) part of a strand of English musical playfulness that’s gone uncredited for too long.




 
Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Friday 8th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – The Yacht Club, Deafpony and Wild Tales (26th January)

23 Jan

The Yacht Club + Deafpony + Wild Tales, 26th January 2019The Yacht Club – playing a free show in east London this week – have been accused of sullying their math-rock beginnings. If so, that’s all for the better, especially since math-rock has only been one component in their racing musical engine. Listening back to their early recordings from 2013, it’s clear that the core has always been Marcus Gooda’s desire to express himself in tumbling, outrightly emotional pop songs: but ones which are often better suited to cascades of notes, harmonic busyness and pushbacks against rhythm.

Other people’s ideas of stylistic restriction don’t really suite The Yacht Club – their music might thrive on additional dimensions and complexity, but it doesn’t thrive on being tethered to anything in particular. Across their five year career, they’ve pushed against the grain. For a while – while transient guitarist Dale Robinson was still in the ranks – they even sounded like the early Prefab Sprout, back before Paddy McAloon’s hedge-literateur songwriting had been buffed to a glossy sheen by Thomas Dolby and he was still rolling along like a tumbleweed of Irish arguments on the way to a fine art degree, snagging against James Joyce and Captain Beefheart on the way.

Having said that, although Yacht Club arrangements have tingled and tangled – guitars following their own cunning little patterns, popping their heads out in unexpected places – Marcus has always been a more direct, less whimsical songwriter than Paddy. Rip away most of that sparkling guitar bricolage and you’re left with soft cries from the heart, a prolonged sweet-ache adolescence with uncertainties and tremulous reach-outs, but no particular questionings of self or stance. Perhaps that’s why people also sometimes slap the emo tag on them, though they’ve got little in common with bawling, punky heart-on-sleeve confessionals. Recent songs see the band very much secondary to the interplay of Marcus’ voice and acoustic guitar, with the project now sounding like a meeting point between Aztec Camera, Boo Hewerdine and Michael Hedges with a touch of latterday pop polish, occasionally crashing into melodious electric thunder.




 
In a number of respects, Deafpony resemble the headliners. Their bedrock is a crystalline-clean guitar pop sound in which even when the distortion comes sailing in for assorted breaks it sounds impeccably buffed. Theirs is a rebuilt classic guitar-pop model with a brushup, based around a studied clear melancholy and boy-gang harmonising.

This vein of songwriting tends to be full of Big Star copyists, but in Deafpony’s case they’re more like science-fiction movie clones – beautifully turned out and improved on the surface, with a slightly unsettling mannequin perfection that sets them apart from the original; several strides up the other slope of the uncanny valley. Even their hints of emo roots feel lab-tinkering, obscured by reconstruction. Similarly, their music sometimes feels like flying through an architectural model of feeling. Not phony, don’t get me wrong; but somehow they’re turning the idea of perfect pop into a kind of mysterious hinterland. If they burp onstage it’ll destroy everything.


 
Self-described as a “brand-spanking-new poppy rocky twiddly band”, Wild Tales are actually relative veterans who’ve given themselves what I can best describe as a “method facelift”. Stemming from two previous gangs of Guildford indie rockers (predominantly Trails, with some in Atiptoe) but now reshuffled and renamed, they take the rampant cavorting meanders of guitarist Iain Kerr’s original math-prog guitar lines, march them promptly into a song-forge, and hammer them briskly into slick chord-clambering new work (abundant with pop hooks, grab-riffs and frontman Adam Rains’ join-in lyrics).

As such, they’re a cheering and uplifting opening act in what looks set to be an evening of cleverness and cleanliness. You can vote amongst yourselves as to whether you’re annoyed at the cleanliness. Personally, I’m happy to take the cleverness.


 
Beth Shalom Records presents:
The Yacht Club + Deafpony + Wild Tales
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Saturday 26th January 2019, 7.30pm
– free event – information here
 

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