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August 2020 – single & track reviews – ReMission International’s ‘TOS2020’; Derw’s ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’; The Forever Now’s ‘Reciprocals’

28 Aug

ReMission International: 'TOS2020'

ReMission International: ‘TOS2020’

You can tease The Mission all you like, but you can’t deny that they’ve got heart… not least because Wayne Hussey is usually waving it at you on the end of a long stick. Even during their full booze’n’powders youthful phase, they had an avuncular, endearing air about them, partly due to Wayne’s effusive need to be loved. Over thirty years later, they’re able to settle into the role more comfortably.

Even though ‘TOS2020’ isn’t quite The Mission in itself – it’s performed by Wayne with a small army of friends and allies under the ReMission International banner – it’s pretty much Mish at heart. Tower of Strength was always the key Mission tune, and it stays timeless when it’s building on its key elements: that elegant spidery twelve-string guitar riff (like a slithering slow jig midway-morphed into a belly dance); that knee-patter of a drum pattern; and, finally, Wayne’s voice (showing less of the cavernous keen of old and more of the intimate warmth underneath it). Drawing on mystic Mediterranean drone, its distant kissing-cousin relationship to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, and presumably Wayne’s childhood memories of old Mormon hymns, it’s a spirit-lifter; an admission of weakness, an expression of gratitude, an affirmation of faith.


 
This particular version is a covid/healthcare fundraiser for frontline workers, with its profits to be spread globally across a wealth of charities. The array of contributors include longtime Hussey boon companions Billy Duffy, Miles Hunt and Julianne Regan (the latter slipping smoothly back into her old Queen Eve role), plus assorted characters from Gene Loves Jezebel, including the long-estranged Aston brothers. Other Goth-tinged old-schoolers contributing are Kirk Brandon, Bauhaus’ Kevin Haskins, ex-Banshees/Creatures drummer Budgie, Lol Tolhurst, Martin Gore and Gary Numan. Also on board are Midge Ure, metal/fusioneer Steve Clarke, Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, Guns N’ Roses guitarists Robin Finck and Richard Fortus (the latter reworking the faux-Hindi string parts), Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and (representing the neo-dark side of things) both Evi Vine and James Alexander Graham of noise-folkers The Twilight Sad. Various packages include a tribal-Goth remix by Albie Mischenzingerze and a lullaby- synthwave one by Trentemøller.

Most all-star collaborations lumber along like a tired old tailback, and you’d expect this one to be the same. Instead, it manages to coast like a streamlined train; a persistent smooth swap-over of duties from voice to voice, guitar to guitar, kit to kit. In its middle age, Tower of Strength seems to have evolved from an individual prayer into a communal round, from lighter anthem to campfire hymnal. The Mission always wanted to be luminous in the darkness. Despite the Goth-y star cast, there’s less glitz in the glow this time around, and it’s all the better for it.

Derw: 'Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr'

Derw: ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’

Having opened up with the expansive piano pop of ‘Dau Gam’ during early summer, Welsh-language chamber poppers Derw are rapidly going from strength to strength. There was a dash of Celtic soul and sophisti-pop to ‘Dau Gam’; they’ve kept all of that for ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’, but have incorporated it into an ornate slow-building confection which suggests a Cymrification of various sources including Clannad, Queen and Brian Wilson, with both a contemporary pop dusting and a hook into the past.

Derw’s particular dynamic remains the creative triangle comprising the songwriting partnership between Daffyd Dawson and his mother Anna Georgina, and Daffyd’s overlapping musical and performance partnership with singer Elin Fouladi: two different definitions of family which seem to have combined into a larger one. The Welsh title for the new single translates into English as ‘Where Did You Come Down’; the core concept is apparently Welsh hiraeth, or nostalgic homesickness.

 
Combining with Elin’s own part-Iranian roots, a sense of place pervades the song: more particularly, a sense of place adrift. Elin’s clear, fresh voice zigzags over rolling piano landscapes, a powerful melody skylarking its own way over plenty of places to land but always restless, as if looking for a new locale in which to renew old feelings and to build anew. Stuck in my limited Anglophone world, I’m probably overcompensating, trying to make up for missing out on the Welsh lyric which unfurls alongside the music; but you don’t have to know the Welsh to catch the mood. This is potent stuff; if it’s Celtic soul, it’s of a new, post-insular, hybrid-futured kind, and it’s very welcome.

The Forever Now: 'Reciprocals'

The Forever Now: ‘Reciprocals’

Mutuality is on the mind of The Forever Now, right now. It’s a little unclear as to where and what they are. Known as Winchester up until last year, previously associated with Toronto but now based across the icy seas in Copenhagen, they’re a duo who seem to be a little reluctant to be a duo. If you take The Forever Now as a solo act, then it’s Monty de Luna; Lauren Austin, however, is the “frequent collaborator” who seems to be something of a fixture and stands to the fore on the cover art. Musically speaking, it’s all a bit friends-with-benefits.

This is probably a bit misleading; but these kind of thoughts are provoked when a song like ‘Reciprocals’ surfaces. With a ruminating electric piano ballad at its core, it’s also a duet with no solo spots (Monty and Lauren sing in strict unison and harmony throughout). Contemporary pop choruses come at us in a rush of synthy planetarium twinkle; but the verses drop, line by line, into bitten-off spaces graced by click and patter, tinkles and rattle-rushes. Monty admits, straight out, that it’s “an honest and naked statement about the end of a relationship” as well as “a metaphor for broader statements about the world”. With his group in flux geographically, nominally and practically, it’s difficult not to read the song as a musing on changing terrain of all kinds.

 
If you’re looking for direct answers in the lyrics, there’s enough here to suggest a rationale for an honest break – “If we’re honest, I’ve been here before. / If we’re honest, I can’t see a way forward. / If we’re honest it’s not worth the fuss, / and if we’re being honest, you know I never wanted this much.” But it’s also about wordplay; masking full disclosure with abstractions and constructions, and (as Monty points out elsewhere) blurring the language of love with those of analytical equations. “So if you’ve got the time, then its time we go, / and if you’ve got the lines, then it’s time we draw them. / Because in another life I’d never let you go, / but I’ve been spending mine on reciprocals, on reciprocals.”

You don’t need to know or think about any of this, of course, and you might be more comfortable not knowing.

ReMission International: ‘TOS2020’
SPV, SPV 243541 LP/SPV 243542 CD-EP/SPV 24354D (no barcode)
Vinyl/CD/download single
Released: 28th August 2020

Get it from: buy/download from ReMission International store or Beauty in Chaos store; stream via YouTube
The Mission online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music

Derw: ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’
CEG Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th August 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Derw online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud YouTube Spotify

The Forever Now: ‘Reciprocals’
Symphonic Distribution (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th August 2020
Get it from: download from Bandcamp; stream via Soundcloud, Deezer, Google Play or Spotify. This is also the lead track from the ‘Reciprocals’ EP.
The Forever Now online:
Homepage Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

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

11 May

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

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

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

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


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



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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

January 2020 – single & track reviews – The Powdered Earth’s ‘Hold Your Breath’, Broads & Milly Hurst’s ‘Happisburgh’, Lifeboats’ ‘Hurt’

31 Jan

The Powdered Earth: 'Hold Your Breath'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’

After their gently atmospheric piano overture earlier in the month, it’s proper debut-single time for Gloucester’s The Powdered Earth: time to find out what they’re actually about. Their ethos is apparently one of writing “little fictions… bringing storytelling to the fore” with a backdrop of “minimalist, melodic melancholia”. With a spec like that, and the previous evidence, you’d expect something like a more genteel piano-based Arab Strap.

Well, not quite… or not yet. Initially, ‘Hold Your Breath’ goes for what seems to be a much bigger and non-fictional story – that of the struggle against deforestation in Brazil – but they tell it in an understated way. In Brazil itself, this tale would probably have come through first-hand, via rap consciência or funk carioca, or possibly as some kind of mournful retro-fado. In the United States, it would probably been plunked or punked out over a banjo as a raucous post-Seeger tale of injustice visited on the working man. From their quiet corner of England, The Powdered Earth tell it in their own soft and sober way, trying to stay true to their instinctive sound while letting the story tell itself.

It sounds like a minimalist piano lieder, sung by Shane Young in a small, precise, discreet voice. George Moorey’s bolstering of synths (squashed brass, mechanical choirs) is similarly small and discreet. The lyrics, too, have the simplicity and directness of a pared-down folk song: “there were many of them. / They were gathered near the wood. / We had only handmade tools / and the clothes in which we stood… The ruling party wielded / the means to terrify, / but evil only triumphs / when we good men stand by.”

Listening to this is an odd experience, since it’s both detached and authoritative. You’re pulled into the gaps in the arrangement, into the void where the anger should be raging, as The Powdered Earth clarify that this is an outrage that occurs over and over again. “Miners brought the mercury / that made the river bend,” Shane pronounces. “Bolsonaro’s loggers / will leave nothing to defend.” The title itself is never mentioned; an unspoken warning to be decoded once you move out from the local outrage and start considering it as a small sign of a bigger problem.


 

Broads & Milly Hurst: 'Happinsburgh'

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happinsburgh’

Over on the other side of England, Norwich ambient ramblers Broads have teamed with kindred spirit Milly Hurst for an album of music inspired and partially built from field recordings made throughout the county of Norfolk. Named after a coastal village, ‘Happisburgh’ is a preview of that work; in itself, with its emphasis on widely-spaced reverberant piano, not too different from what The Powdered Earth are doing.

It’s wordless, though – their own sparse Debussian piano part backed up with a little glitch-static and a growing sweet, subliminal agreement of harmonium. The video is a sequence of slow pans across, and sustained shots of Happisburghian scenes: tumbled groyne stones on the sand, the red-banded lighthouse, blue-brown breakers under the wide Norfolk sky; a solitary cliff bench. The second part picks up speed with a rolling piano arpeggio, the sound of feet running through sand and gravel picked up, glitchified and looped. Towards the end, the footstep loop corrupts and stutters, becomes intermittent, vanishes.


 
Probing gently into location and inspiration, like an archaeologist with a fine brush, unlocks some of the messages. Like much of the Norfolk coast, Happisburgh is eroding, dropping fragment by fragment into the sea. It’s shored up by groynes and by its inhabitants’ reluctance to let it go; but has now been abandoned by government, its support withdrawn. It’s a vanishing village which also happens to be the oldest human settlement in Britain, with ancient flint tools in its earth strata, and with the earth’s oldest human footprints outside of Africa once discovered on its beach. Knowing this, the meanings of the sounds come into sombre and beautiful focus – the currents and tides in the shifting piano; the recorded footsteps, once clear as a bell, becoming obscured by time and processing, ultimately disintegrating out of the picture. Our history, even our deep history, vanishes in front of us.

Lifeboats: 'Hurt' (featuring Rena)

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt’ (featuring Rena)

While Lifeboats‘s ‘Hurt’ doesn’t share much musically with either ‘Happisburgh’ or ‘Hold Your Breath’ (being a piece of noisy post-shoegaze guitar pop) it does sort of fit in here by dint of a shared initial and a shared theme of loss, relinquishment and resistance. Lifeboats are a new teaming of Prod Pritchard (main songwriter for Oxfordshire bands Flow and Airstar, as well as being a right-hand man for Owen Paul) and Austrian singer-songwriter Rena (the latter listed as a guest on this single but, so far, very much part of the sound and craft).

‘Hurt’ bustles along on ahead-of-the-beat guitar thrums, not a million miles away from Ride, the Velvets or from Bowie’s “Heroes”. The last, in particular, serves as inspiration, since Rena’s vocal sings out a weathered but hopeful anthem of taking the blows but remaining resilient – “hurt is just a part of living / just like breathing. / We ache before we are – / and fate is beyond all reason; / and then, every season, / above what we control… / This life / we are born to live in, / and the darkness hiding / but the morning’s coming.” She imagines herself propelled, strengthened, along the airwaves, singing “though I’m cracked and shaking, / I will not be broken. / When life is taking its best shot, / say “is that really all you’ve got?” It’s a simple, solipsistic resistance compared to those implied or required in ‘Hold Your Breath’ and ‘Happisburgh’, but it’s there.

 
The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’
The Powdered Earth (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happisburgh’
Humm Recordings, HUMM08 (no barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Bandcamp or Amazon; stream from Deezer or Spotify
Broads online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM Deezer Instagram Spotify
Milly Hurst online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt (featuring Rena)’
Nub Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Qobuz or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Lifeboats online:
Soundcloud Spotify

 

January/February 2020 – showcases in London with Ragga Gröndal in Earls Court (19th January) and Velveteen Orkestra, Ben Eaton, Hattie Erawan and Matt Ryan in Soho (21st January); plus Blair Coron’s ‘On The Nature Of Things’ quiet evening in London and Glasgow (21st January, 7th February) with Zoë Bestel, Anin Rose, Tom Blankenberg, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach

14 Jan

A set of upcoming showcases happening at opposite corners of the country.

 
Ragga Gröndal’s currently a little-known name over here. In Iceland, though, she’s a much bigger deal – hailed as one of the country’s most remarkable singers. Performing in both Icelandic and English, she spans folk, pop and classical elements: less of an upsetter and groundbreaker, perhaps, than most of the Icelandic musicians who make the crossing over to Britain, but as the expounder of a kind of refined pop purity that’s actually a broad umbrella for a rich blend of other musical aspects, she does well. Here’s the blurb:

“The sound of Ragga Gröndal’s music is warm, adventurous and modern, yet accessible for curious music-lovers. (She) has worked with the same musicians for a decade and together they have toured all over Europe and created many beautiful and unforgettable moments. The band consists of musicians who are all independent artists in their own right; Guðmundur Pétursson (guitar), her brother Haukur Gröndal (woodwind player) and Claudio Spieler (percussion)… Each and every concert becomes a unique journey between the musicians, the audience and the performance space.”

For this special one-off show in London on the 19th, Ragga’s just bringing Guðmundur Pétursson: a musician whose work stretches from pop to his own classical guitar concertos, he’s an ideal and flexible foil.



 
* * * * * * * *

There’s a Success Express quadruple bill at Zebranos in Soho on the 21st, part of a new fortnightly showcase scheme. It’s all free to get in, but you pay Soho prices for your drinks and they suggest you book ahead for a table if you want to get in and sit down.

The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Easton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan, 21st January 2020As leader of The Velveteen Orkestra, Dan Shears dresses his dramatic sky-high vocals and rockabilly guitar in a wagon circle of string trio, piano and drums; sometimes evoking the country pop of Del Shannon or Dion, sometimes a Russian tundra shimmer, sometimes Muse-ian histrionics. Seasoned Aussie guitarist-singer-songwriter Ben Eaton is as smooth and gritty and no-nonsense as a well-maintained backroad: he’s a constantly busy professional with weddings, corporate events and similar cover-fests under his belt along with the gigs stuffed with originals, but don’t let that put you off too much. He’s a witty performance livewire who’s more than capable of transcending any workaday made-to-measure gig as well as pulling off blues-funk shows of his own.



 

Two more singer-songwriters are on the bill. Hattie Erawan – until recently known as Hattie Marsh – is Norfolk-born, has mingled Thai and English heritage and a forbidding expression, and also has about five years of playing London acoustica mainstays like the Bedford and St Pancras Old Church. She’s got Joni Mitchell, Nirvana, and Sheila Chandra down as influences: the outcome is bare, clear modern songs with a hard electric edge, sung with a hint of storms and in a tone like a steel statue. Sessioneer/producer Matt Ryan is embarking, or perhaps reembarking, on a solo career. His lone available track, a demo for The Last Time, is a polished bit of white R’n’B: while it’s a tad conservative and stripped-back in its current state, emotionally it’s a good deal more convincing than much of what reaches the charts. Worth keeping an eye on.

 

* * * * * * * *

'On The Nature Of Things' - 21st January and 7th February 2020Although it does have a lower-income ticket option, another upcoming showcase – ‘On The Nature Of Things’ – isn’t free; but, to be fair, it’s less likely to cover its expenses with beer money and upmarket bar food. Its aims are to be “quiet… introspective… an intimate evening of music. Immerse yourself as we relish in the more subdued side of music for one night through folk song, piano music, ambience/electronic and some modern classical. It is a space to listen. Expect fairy lights, darkness, and music to make you sit in awe, cry or sleep.

“‘On The Nature Of Things’, which this event is named after, is the debut album by Glasgow based musician and composer Blair Coron, who shall be hosting this event and is currently touring the UK with it. His intention is to create enchanting atmospheres allows for the audience to listen to the performers and to set course for introspection and meditation.”

Blair’s own work blurs around classical and near-ambient ideas for piano, acoustic guitar and string ensemble. He describes the album as “a delicate exploration of the intricacy and fragility of life, nature and the surrounding world. It is love…mortality…the sublime…a personal mantra…every thing.” So far, on spec, typically New Age-y and easily consumable; but he also mixes in poetry, chamber chorale, mandolins, birdsong and folksongs and (somewhere) a Nintendo handheld games console. If you’re worried that his deliberate gentleness places him on the wrong side of tentative, don’t. The results are edgeless and delicate, deliberately softened and frangible; but they have their own dainty logic and an openness which is rare. Streets away from the guarded blandness of much of the post-classical wash.




 
He’s been doing these shows for about a year now (from Edinburgh to Yorkshire to Inverness and Manchester) and I’ve not heard about them before this; but there are currently two OTNOT shows happening soon, both featuring Blair and ukulele-folkster Zoë Bestel. If you read that last phrase and thought cutesy versions of old pop and indie hits, think again. Zoë’s of that small number of people who turn the uke into a kind of perpendicular harp, using it to underpin a gorgeous art-pop folk soprano and a series of bewitching small-place songs. The kind of song and delivery that kills casual chat and has a roomful of people rapt and focussed entirely on what they’re seeing and hearing.

 
The London show – on the same night as Success Express – also features a couple of German musicians. Pianist, composer and sound designer Tom Blankenberg (who runs the Convoi Studios in Düsseldorf) works in a similar post-classical vein to Blair, although a more austere one. In recent years, he became interested in writing for solo piano: the result was his debut album ‘Atermus’, released last year and containing thirteen tracks in which strangely tender romantic melodies are concealed in minimalist sparseness, as if Bill Evans were communing with Arvo Pärt. In contrast, Anin Rose creates gospel-infused piano pop – not at the brassy end of either, but at the silky reverberant intersection of both. On record, a subtle reverb skitters almost imperceptibly around her songs and harmonies chase the main vocal like kissing clouds: live, I’m guessing that she does it all by presence.

 
The Glasgow show – in early February – features a pair of Scottish folk musicians, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach. A fiddler and pianist respectively, they’re rooted in tradition but immersed in present impression, “interested in making music filled with spontaneity, sensitivity and freedom. Inspiration comes from their pasts and surroundings, feeding music that’s rooted in tradition, whilst stretching it’s possibilities through improvisation and imagination.” Their latest release, last summer’s ‘Air Iomall’, was inspired by a trip around the currently uninhabited Shiant Isles off Scotland’s west coast, and their instrumental responses to the history that hangs around the places.


 
I’m hoping that Blair continues with these shows: they have a potential for some serious beauty. Previous evenings have included appearances by fellow Glaswegian post-chamber composer Richard Luke, piano improviser Carla Sayer and harpist Esther Smith; jazz/soul/gospel harmony duo Canter Semper; The Silver Reserve (a.k.a classical guitarist/looper Matthew Sturgess, who “plays delicate, sparse music (and) songs about out-of-body experiences, monogamy, small-town community Facebook pages and much more”; alt.folker Thomas Matthew Bower as Thomas & The Empty Orchestra; Jamie Rob’s post-everything project Poür Me, ambient song trio Luthia and drift band Neuro Trash; plus a further spray of diverse singer-songwriters in the shape of Simon Herron, Leanne Smith, Kate Dempsey, Mathilde Fongen, Hollie “Haes” Arnold, Leanne Body and Megan Dixon Hood. There’s a whole softened and glorious world opening up here.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Sunday Hive Sessions with Buzz Music Group presents:
Ragga Gröndal
The Troubadour, 263-267 Old Brompton Road, Earls Court, London, SW5 9JA, England
Sunday 19th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Success Express Music presents:
The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Eaton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan
Zebrano Bars, 18 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 4DS, England
Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm
– free event – information here and here

‘On The Nature Of Things’:

  • SET (SET Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England – Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Anin Rose + Zoë Bestel + Tom Blankenberg) – information here, here and here
  • Old Trinity College, 35 Lynedoch Street, Glasgow, G3 6AA, Scotland – Friday 7th February 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Zoë Bestel + Charlie Grey & Joseph Peach ) – information here and here

 

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

29 Aug

My Octopus Mind

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

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

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



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

 
* * * * * * * *

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

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

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



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

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


 

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


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

My Octopus Mind on tour:

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

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

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

4 Jan

Three for next Wednesday…

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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



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



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



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

 
* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



 
* * * * * * * *

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

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



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



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

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

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

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

October 2018 – singer-songwriter album launches in London and Wales – Hazel Iris (25th October), Emma Lohan (25th, 26th October)

21 Oct

Looking for events with singer-songwriting women in London? This coming Thursday, you can go big or go small.

* * * * * * * *

If you’re going for the bigger option, there’s Hazel Iris’ album launch in Smithfield, at St. Bartholomew-the-Great, no less. It’s an event that sprawls across the entire church: its varied acts located in different places within the building, like a cross between a miniature festival and a stations-of-the-cross procession. In one corner, two classical musicians – Katrina Sheppeard and Jayson Gillham (who between them have racked up appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, ENO, Melbourne Symphony and the Sydney Opera House) will provide a piano-and-soprano duet performance of Richard Strauss’s ‘Vier letzte Lieder’ – the composer’s last work, a four-song death-and-transfiguration sealing of his legacy, composed during the dusk of the Romantic era. Next, in another corner, Kate Arnold – usually to be found as frontwoman for dark classical-folk fusioneers Fear Of The Forest – will be playing solo and acoustic with hammer dulcimer, violin and voice, providing a set of songs reflecting her folk, medieval and Middle Eastern influences.




 
And so to the headliner, who’s recently been making a name for herself as a standout performer at the Blind Dog Studio evenings. Hazel Iris is a storyteller with an overwhelming musical streak; her tales drawn from her travels, her own musings and her borrowings from the great stewpot of mythology and folklore. California-born and London-based but world-honed, her songs blend indie-folk habits, vaudeville brassiness, operatic training, lieder romance and a dash of country.




 
Bringing her brand-new ‘Nine Sisters’ album to life at St Barts is a similarly broad-based nine-piece band. The rhythm section – drummer Fred Harper and double-bassist Twm Dylan – come from the London and Leeds jazz scenes, while Winter Quartet violinist Aurora Del Río Pérez and French horn player Jessica Cottis are both established in the classical world (the latter, notably, as a conductor – she’s returning to a childhood instrument for this performance). Harpist Tara Minton straddles both jazz and classical worlds. Rounding out the ensemble is cellist and screen music composer Matt Constantine, classical accordionist Aine McLoughlin (Hazel’s regular collaborator at previous Blind Dog gigs), and up-and-coming guitarist Myles Peters (who plays anything and anywhere he can).

Also integral to the show will be the puppets of Alicia Britt, artistic director for Wondering Hands Puppet Theatre. Her usual gig involves using puppetry of all kinds for the entertainment and nourishment of all ages, with an undercurrent of healing, conversation and a restoration of our human nature: work that ranges from carefully-thought-out fairy tales of bereavement and development for children to bawdily sexual puppet-cabaret for adults. Quite possibly all aspects will be making a showing in her support work for Hazel. I’ve no idea whether huge rod-guided creatures will be leaping through the church or whether the puppetry will be on a smaller, more human scale with creatures the size of lutes or horns, but it should add an extra level of story texture.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of smaller, more human scales – if all of the above sounds too grand, then on the same London night another songwriter – Emma Lohan – is launching her own debut album up in the south end of Hackney. ‘Black Atlantic’ pulls together Emma’s own particular blend of Irish hometown influences (she’s a Galway woman), pop leanings and traveller’s scraps, drawn from her footloose global roamings. Impressions and stories, a kind of global coast-combing or, as I put it last time, “beautifully-constructed cloud-tossed songs imbued with the flicker of constant motion.” The album itself is a small, quiet-reveal treasure imbued with a bouncing, soft-chatting liveliness. There’s jigs and kalimba, there’s age and youth, there’s plenty of story to unspool.

She’s doing it all again the following night in Wales – in an unusual display of synchronicity, at a puppet theatre in Cardigan – in a puppet theatre. Elusive ska band Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty are in support: no more info on them, I’m afraid. (Update, 24th October – sadly the Cardigan show has had to be cancelled, but they’re promising to reschedule it soon…)



 

All dates:

  • Hazel Iris + Kate Arnold + Jayson Gilham & Katrina Sheppeard – St Bartholomew the Great, Cloth Fair, West Smithfield, Clerkenwell, London, EC1A 7JQ, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Emma Lohan – NT’s Bar, 1 Westgate Street #207, London Fields, London, E8 3RL, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Emma Lohan – Small World Theatre, Bath House Road, Cardigan, Ceredigion, SA43 1JY, Wales, Friday 26th October 2018, 8.00pm (with Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty) – information here and here

 

September 2018 – upcoming London acoustic gigs – One Voice, One Cello And A Mad Belgian (14th, 19th, 23rd, 28th September); Alice Zawadzki & Alice Purton (21st September)

10 Sep

Some sparky shows in little London locations…

* * * * * * * *

This month, Rupert Gillett and Jennifer El Gammal relaunch their new collaboration as One Voice, One Cello And A Mad Belgian onto the live stage with a brace of London gigs, following their debut gig in Stoke Newington back in August.

Rupert is the cellist: a sharp-dressed, cheerful and irreverent diversifier who uses the instrument to explore jazz, rock, folk, pop and various other genres… anything as long as it isn’t classical. Projects he’s involved with have included Dai & The Ramblers and the London Klezmer Quartet and his own Many Celli orchestra. As part of all this, he’s an established improviser and occasional radio/television performer: in addition, he’s an offbeat singer-songwriter whose subject matter spans “aliens, robots, space invaders, murderous bogeymen, mathematics, life after death, fairy godfathers, war, peace, love, death, taxation and other serious issues of the day”. Notably for a contemporary solo performer, Rupert eschews loops and effects. When you hear him live, it’s just him, the necessary techniques and a dose of imagination.

Jennifer (the titular Mad Belgian) is many things – her website lists “writer, comedian, sociologist, tour guide and magician”, and she’s a former theatre performer – but as a musician and master improviser she specialises in soprano saxophone and melodeon as well as singing, playing with modern jazz trio Uživati, folk band Virevoltes and solo under the Mad Belgian monicker. She defines the dreamier, more eccentric end of the Fripp-defined “small, mobile, intelligent unit”, travelling with her instruments on a fold-up bicycle to creates “strange and wonderful musical sculptures” and “jazzy and melodic excursions”.

This is what they get up to, separately and together.


 
Dates here, all of them free or pay-what-you-like:

  • Babel ART House, 86 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 7PA, England, Friday 14th September 2018, 8.00pm – free entry – information here
  • Spit and Sawdust, 21 Bartholomew Street, Newington, London, SE1 4AL England, Wednesday 19th September 2018, 8.00pm – pay-what-you-like event – information here
  • The Spice of Life, 6 Moor Street, Soho, London, WC1 5NA, England, Sunday 23rd September 2018, 8.00pm (part of the ‘Secret Rapture’ gig with Daniel Paul Baxter, Henry Grace and Nick Ereaut) – pay-what-you-like event – information here
  • Luna Lounge, 7 Church Lane, Leytonstone, London, E11 1HG, England, Friday 28th September 2018, 8.00pm (with The Islas and The Blue Spiders) – pay-what-you-like event – information here

* * * * * * * *

Also this month – vocal music showcase label La La La Records are starting up the Pindrop Sessions, a series of acoustic/unplugged music shows at the Brixton Pound Cafe. First up in the series is a duo gig by a pair of longstanding collaborators – a tale of two Alices.

An inspiring blend of folk-culture conduit, benevolent diva, teacher, scholar and benefactress, singer and violinist Alice Zawadzki is a tireless musician and a warm, charismatic, enthralling performer. Almost ceaselessly active (which explains why she shows up in here so often), she moves purposefully between jazz songs, Jewish music (among other things, she’s a member of stunning Sephardic fusion ensemble Sefiroth), her own themed concerts, Joni Mitchell interpretations, film scores, string/vocals classical solo spots and much more (including a host of social programmes including teenaged-refugee support scheme Play For Progress). She also manages to be a young British national treasure with a firm international perspective; and never seems to look tired, either. How she packs it all into one life, I’ll never know.



 
Alice Purton, meanwhile, has been making her name as a leading young contemporary music cellist. An active member of diverse-minded ensemble Distractfold, the Plus Minus Ensemble, the Chagall Piano Quartet and Trio Artem, she’s involved in the regular performance and commissioning of new work while dipping deep into existing repertoire. Amongst other collaborations, she and Alice Z have previously worked together on the latter’s ‘Songs About The Moon’ concert and in the Cello Songs trio (which also features fellow cellist/Team Zawadzki member Shirley Smart).

There’s not too much of Alice P on the web at the moment, but here’s her playing in two trios – one performing Charlie Sdraulig’s voice/cello/shakuhachi piece ‘close’ back in 2012 and the second one also featuring Alice Z and guitarist Alex Roth, performing Alex’s trio piece ‘After’ in London last year.



 

Together, the two Alices will “weave together the intimate sonorities of cello and violin to create an unusual bed for their rich voices, in a program of soulful songs ranging from European folk to jazz to re-imagined pop.” This is likely to be a well-attended gig and the Pound Cafe’s a cosy space, so make sure you book a space by email before coming down.

La La La Records present:
Pindrop Sessions – Alice Zawadzki & Alice Purton
The Brixton Pound, 77 Atlantic Road, Brixton, London, SW9 8PU, England
Friday 21st September 2018, 7.30pm
– information here (email to reserve your place)
 

September 2018 – women singing (in London, mostly, and Cambridge) – Ana Silvera (15th), Susanna Wallumrød (27th), Hear Her Sounds evening with The Butterfly Wheel, Mary-Grace Dineen and Imogen Bliss (19th)

4 Sep

In Cambridge on, the 15th, there’s a repeat performance for Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ song cycle, following its appearance at the South Bank Centre back in July, where Ana was bolstered by a Kate Church/Alice Williamsondance film, a folk-jazz string trio, piano, percussion and the multi-instrumental/singing skills of Listenpony’s Josephine Stephenson. The Cambridge show’s stripped down (just Ana and Josephine this time, and perhaps the dance film) but should still deliver. Beautifully crafted and sung, it’s an Anglo-Portuguese meditation and discussion of familial bereavement (Ana’s mother and brother) and of the shifting landscapes of migration. Originally conceived to have a choral sound and scape, it draws “on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.”

The last time around, I suggested that it was “a wide-spectrum take on adult pop without a trace of that genre’s unnecessary blandening: an as-it-happens assessment of the dramatic personal shifts in position following the loss of both loved ones and of the relationship one has with them while they’re alive. What I’ve heard of it so far suggests a similar vivacity as her songs elsewhere on album or in her theatrical work – vividly characterized narratives of internal reflection and of landscapes both physical and emotional, mingling detailed, nakedly honest personal verbal imagery and an influx of Portuguese folk feel in a way which makes (Ana) sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.”




 

In London on the 27th, Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød plays her only British show of 2018. Originally – during the mid-Noughties – her ghostly, questioning, sighing vocal originally fronted The Magical Orchestra’s Nordic-jazz/ambient-pop reinventions of assorted pop, country and rock standards. Since then she’s moved on to other collaborations – with holy-meditative jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen; with boundary-running song experimentalist Jenny Hval; and in particular with baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi (who’s contributed to three of her seven solo albums). Along with violinist Sarah-Jane Summers and accordionist Frode Haltli, Giovanna will be performing at this London concert, which showcases Susanna’s newest album ‘Go Dig My Grave’.

Post-Magical Orchestra, Susanna’s kept up her role as re-interpreter. While the majority of her solo albums (up to and including 2016’s consummate ‘Triangle’), have featured her own songs, her ongoing work is littered with cool-toned covers, reworkings, reframings. Songs by Sandy Denny, Thin Lizzy, ABBA, Prince, Nico, Will Oldham and others were cultivated on 2008’s ‘Flower Of Evil’; while her 2011 collaboration with Giovanna and fellow baroque/Early Music musicians Marco Ambrosini and Jane Achtman provided parallel takes on Nick Drake, Henry Purcell and Leonard Cohen.

‘Go Dig My Grave’ builds on this inquisitive, restaging impetus, with Susanna’s original pieces cheek-by-jowl with her takes on “Charles Baudelaire to Joy Division, English folk to American blues, a seventeenth-century lament by Purcell to Lou Reed’s Perfect Day” , all blended with “echoes of traditional music, baroque classics and dark ambient sounds.” It’s a project of timeshifts: or, more accurately, of superimposed time, in which songs and stylings of different eras interpenetrate and merge in spellbinding manner.



 
Dates:

  • Ana Silvera: ‘Oracles’ – The Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge CB1 7GX, England, Saturday 15th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Susanna Wallumrød: ‘Go Dig My Grave’ – Rich Mix, 35- 47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E1 6LA, England, Thursday 27th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

In between – on 19th September, in London – there’s the second in Hoxton’s ongoing ‘Hear Her Sounds’ evenings; a semi-acoustic live event in a small space, with cocktails, vegan snacks, all-female lineups and organisers/initiators The Butterfly Wheel as regulars, aimed at supporting emerging female musicans. (The first one slipped my attention back in July. That was a shame, featuring as it did Margot Weidemann’s desert-sparse psych-folk project Daisy Oracle and the “twist(ing) song structure(s), striking hallucinatory lyrics, and unexpected radiophonic sounds” of former Joanna And The Wolf frontwoman Johanna Glaza.)

Alongside the Wheel-ers, mandolinist/singer/loop-stationeer Imogen Bliss played support at The Mantis Opera’s August gig last month at Paper Dress. Now, as then, you can expect to hear her weaving together songs from the East and the West: delivering slender, sparkling arrangements of old pop hits from hither and yon, plus original songs and layered one-woman folk chorales with Romani, Armenian and Balkan origins.

A few examples are below, along with a couple from by billmate Mary-Grace Dineen. A south-east Londoner, Goldsmiths graduate and sometimes session multi-instrumentalist, Mary’s output as singer-songwriter seems to vary between zippy, polyrhythmic jazz-coustica reminiscent of Eva Abraham, Roberta Flack (or, more recently, Gabriela Eva) and sour-sweet Lauryn Hill-esque pop-reggae. Her lyrics betray restlessness, compassion and a conversational impatience with the unresponsive and the inert. It seems she’s been quiet for a few years; now she’s coming out to play again.


 

As for The Butterfly Wheel, they’ll be bringing their Gothic romance, their ritual chant and their vocal flair. Previously I’ve sniped a bit about the duo’s showy, overtly flowery mysticism; their self-hype, their claims of originality and experimentalism despite a transparent debt to Early Music-toting Goth-tinged forebears like Dead Can Dance or Miranda Sex Garden. But when the hype is done, and they get down to business, they do bring a new flavour to that ripe old stew.

Reading beneath the lush electrophonic drones and the climbing priestess incantations, you can draw that personal touch out of their songs like long strands of myth-soaked twine – those places where they’ve taken old bronze-age stories, boiled them down to their most archetypal juices and then infused a latterday consciousness, an active female note of resistance, a little #TimesUp and sky-father toppling amidst the bones and sinews. When I hear that peeping through, I’m sorry that I bitched…



 
The Butterfly Wheel and MOVI present:
Hear Her Sounds: An Evening of Live Female-Led Music featuring The Butterfly Wheel + Mary-Grace Dineen + Imogen Bliss
Matters of Vinyl Importance, 163 Hoxton Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6pJ, England
Wednesday 19th September 2018, 6.30pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – some post-Doran thoughts on smaller music festivals; and next week’s EppyFest in Cheltenham (27th & 28th July)

21 Jul

John Doran of ‘The Quietus’ wrote a pithy, on-the-nose article a while back about the ongoing corruption of big music festivals, lambasting them as “unsatisfying money hoovers designed to deplete your bank account for minimal return… a heavily branded and patronisingly over-mediated experience – with little in the way of the rough round the edges, unexpected, challenging or genuinely exciting experience that makes being a music fan worthwhile; just a massive spoonfed dose of the ubiquitous, the hyped and the monolithically popular.”

As a follow-up punch, John slashed a hole in the backdrop in order to expose the ethics behind the festival business: how, even as you’re frolicking in a ludicrously overpriced facsimile of countercultural free-spiritedness, your ticket money wriggles its way into the war chests and “shockingly regressive campaigns” of suspect billionaires intent on crushing any genuine counterculture that’s little more than a cheery mask on a product, funding a host of life-killing causes including anti-LGBTQ, anti-union and anti-immigration initiatives. Unsurprisingly, he concluded “personally I’d sooner go to a smaller, more grass-roots independent festival and have a clutch of genuinely odd, uplifting, joyous and memorable experiences on a smaller, freer scale.” He lists plenty of smaller, more conscientious festivals which might better suit your ethics or your conscience – Supersonic, End of the Road, many more. Modestly, he didn’t mention ‘The Quietus’s own efforts .

I might lack John’s edge, but I’ll still say amen to all that. There’s also always the option of going further off the map, seeking out festivals beyond the tents’n’burgers belch. I’ve covered some such here… Marchlands’ annual musical/theatrical celebration of reaching across borders and understanding history; the composer-driven London New Wind Festival; New York’s wonderfully brainy and diverse Ecstatic Music Festival. On a more domestic level, there’s next month’s Whole World Window 2 in Preston, raising urgent money for psychedelic hero Tim Smith’s health care while also functioning as a focussing lens for assorted rock and pop acts existing in a rowdy, complex continuum outside ot the mainstream. The staunchest supportive and communal ethics, unsurprisingly, still hover around punk events, those pass-around-a-donation-bucket battles for big values in small places (I might often be bored by the music, but I profoundly admire the commitment and the generosity of spirit).

* * * * * * * *

As regards the coming week, Gloucestershire’s EppyFest – just a week away now – is the epitome of a pocket festival. Now heading in its seventh year, it also pretty much defines “boutique”. Its amiably knitted-together selections of psychedelic rock and pop, folk, electric and acoustic chamber music and accomplished instrumentalist is undeniably cosy, but in the right way – unashamed and unaggressive, slightly specialised while toting an inclusive audience ethic. There’s a rosy English glow to it, alright, but not the kind which shoulders out differences while indulging a truculent and moneyed bucolic fantasy. The Eppyfest England is one which is comfortable in itself, but not too smug to look outwards: mostly white, but not bleached and angry. In the best sense and intimation, it’s a liberal parish.

Gong, 2018

The Friday lineup, starting in the evening – is the briefer concert, with just two sets of performers. The headliners are the current and ongoing version of cosmic-rock libertine troupe Gong, still romping along after the death of founding holy prankster Daevid Allen. This isn’t the first time there’s been a post-Allen Gong: percussionist Pierre Moerlen floated a de-hippified mid’-70s jazz-rock version around Europe which had little to do with Allen’s mischievous space rock parables, while the band’s original feminine-mystiquer Gilli Smyth led a sporadic Mother Gong version at points in the ’80s. This, however, is the first Gong that’s been a direct continuation of Allen’s work: thumbing its collective nose at his departure from music and from life, and mourning him by celebrating his ethos.

This Gong iteration is helmed by delightfully wayward, larger-than-life Anglo-Persian prodigy (and ‘Misfit City’ favourite) Kavus Torabi, who established himself as one of the premier, most open-eared British psychedelic talents while with The Monsoon Bassoon and Cardiacs, has continued it with Knifeworld and Guapo, and who has in effect been rehearsing for Gong leadership for the whole of his musical life. Expect the same applecart-overturning riffs, the mingled brass and electric strings, the space-dust party atmospheres. The old firm’s still a family.



 
In support, Liverpudlian guitarist Neil Campbell is arguably one of the most gifted musicians still unknown to the general public. An omnivorous stylistic polymath, he’s mastered contemporary classical, progressive rock, jazz and assorted other styles to the point in which he can pass seamlessly between and through them; and he comes trailing awestruck references from guitar scholars and crossover music master musicians alike. Working off nylon- and steel-strung acoustic guitars (with a chain of echoes, loop pedals and other processors) he creates detailed, fiery electro-acoustic tapestries when playing solo: given the opportunity, he’ll also roll out orchestral concerti, small ensemble pieces, vital building-block contributions to the larger works of other, and site-specific concerts in venues of all kinds.



 
North Sea Radio Orchestra headline Saturday’s seven hours of music – as ever, they draw together Anglo-pastoral classical, a stolen kiss or two of folk melody, crossover chamber music and English art-rock. (They’ve covered Robert Wyatt, as well as old Christmas carols and Vernon Elliot). Sixteen years in, they’re a little smaller and tighter than they used to be – the choir is long gone and the ensemble streamlined, with most of the Victorian poetry settings consigned back to the bookshelf in favour of more personal lyrics of chalkhills and children, lost loved ones and the make-do-and-mend of life.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

They’re still a quietly enchanting proposition, gently webbed together by a deceptive fragility, a village-singer tone and Craig Fortnam’s elegant compositions, and they grow ever more comfortable in themselves as the years pass. From German kosmische, they bring in that cosmic powerplant throb: from Frank Zappa and Canterbury, the somersaults of harmony and tinkle of xylophone (with the lyrical coarseness and silly whimsy gently steered out of the picture); from English chamber music, the gentle green ache. All soft borders, all subtle mind.



 
Second down the bill is Doris Brendel. The Vienna-born multi-instrumentalist daughter of concert-piano legend Alfred Brendel, she originally made her mark in ‘90s neoprog and underground AOR providing vocals, guitar, sax and flageolet to The Violet Hour: when that didn’t last, she applied herself to whatever was going while cultivating her own records in her own time. She’s refined her earlier approach, but what you get now is still pretty much what you got then – a singer who can go from a dream-folk murmur to a gutsy rhythm-and-blues blast, who puts on an assured show of muscular rock and costumed pizazz. An old-school rock chick, but one who’s taken control and honed it to excellence. There might be differences in tone, but latter-day ladyrockers like She Makes War and Ciara Clifford might look to her and immediately see a spiritual older sister.



 
Via a shifting gambler’s hand of interrelated projects – and a proven ability to survive practical and artistic disruption – the persistently thoughtful Oxford prog-rock collective Sanguine Hum have explored music for nearly twenty years now. In many respects, they’re a back-to-first-principles prog-initiative. Rather than constructing vast vanity pieces (as if to impress their aspirational Mellotronic forebears), the Hum are based very much in a lush’n’lambent ’70s pop mode – as least as much Neil Young, Steely Dan or David Bowie as Genesis, Zappa or Canterbury – which they can then wilfully and logically expand to bigger and broader things (engulfing and building upon later influences such as Boards Of Canada along the way).

For this acoustic-slanted EppyFest slot, lead singer/guitarist Joff Winks and keyboard player Matt Baber (the latter fresh from last month’s release of his “ambient prog minimalism” solo album ‘Suite For Piano and Electronics‘) will play as a duo; exploring at least one track from each of the project’s scattered albums and personae, with new material as a bonus.



 
Electric chamber group Firefly Burning were to have held the middle of the bill but had to pull out. To replace them, in comes a harder noise in the shape of the explosive wit, ominous chording and multi-layered songwriting of London’s Thumpermonkey. I described them a while back as “the missing link between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson”: a tag which they really seemed to like, so let’s run with it. A motley crew of brainiacs, meticulators and fast friends with their heads in lofty places and their toes sunk in dirty post-metal, they have the kind of esoteric preoccupations (and the wherewithal to communicate them) which encourage interest rather than eye-rolling and detachment. Unshamedly weird-fictional, the songs have covered Nigerian email fraud, Aztec hauntings, bizarre medical conditions and Victorian explorers amongst many other topics, all via a rich filter of literary and cinematic techniques and dark, sophisticated humour.

As for the music, Thumpermonkey play within that increasingly rare strata of hard rock in which there’s room to breathe, think, listen and explore beauty as well as nail down a predatory riff. Michael Woodman sings like an athletic college don moonlighting as an operatic priest, while his cohorts Ben, Sam and Rael construct a moving fortress, observatory and interdimensional vessel for him to stand on. They’re the kind of band that either make you proud to be curious, or will magnetize your brain into a state of curiosity. In effect, they’re the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage’ of British post-prog and we’re bloody lucky to have them.



 
Bristolian progressive-grunge rockers Lord Of Worms cite Meshuggah, Soundgarden, Tool and Ufomammut as influences, and there’s certainly some roiling springy punktone bass and restless post-hardcore rhythmic shifts in the mix. Their folk lilts and Zoie Green’s burnished-silver vocals simultaneously tie them into a tradition of female-fronted folk-rock acts like Renaissance and The Morrigan. Judge for yourselves…



 
Like Sanguine Hum, Dutch/American crossover prog poppers Fractal Mirror will be playing under reduced circumstances as regards personnel, but probably not in terms of the music. While the band can rely on the assistance of Echolyn polymath Brett Kull, among others, in the studio, this live date will just feature their core duo of singer/guitarist/keyboard and recorder player Leo Koperdraat and lyric-writing drummer Frank Urbaniak. Expect intimate expansions on their recipe of dove-soft Mellotronics and pastoral post-Porcupine Tree moods, with their hidden freight of darker, reflective lyrics.



 
Sonic Bond Promotions & The Epileptic Gibbon Podcast present:
EppyFest 7: North Sea Radio Orchestra + Gong + Neil Campbell + Sanguine Hum + Doris Brendel + Thumpermonkey + Lord Of Worms + Fractal Mirror
St Margaret’s Hall & Annex, Coniston Road, Hatherley, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL51 3NU, England
Friday 27th July 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
Saturday 28th July 2018, 1.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

It would be stupid of me to represent EppyFest as some kind of absolute template for festivals. It’s its own little Gloucestershire gem, it has its context and its taste-palette, and while it’s a fine refresher there’s far more to contemporary music – to a nourishing cultural diet – than even a thoughtful slipped-weekend like this one can provide.

What I am advocating is a spreading of its care-filled cottage ethos; its preference for building a relatively equal, mutually supportive community of performers and audients in a warm and humble space, rather than driving a rush of drainable, soakable human cattle through the money-mill. Events like this are worth the seeking-out, worth the effort that goes into their creation. Go find some. Go make some. Come tell me about them.
 

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