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April/May 2018 – solo tours in Britain/Europe for Kavus Torabi and Cosmo Sheldrake (4th April to 24th May various, with guest appearances from I See Rivers, Paul Morricone, Bunty, V Ä L V E, Peaks, Arch Garrison, Madilan, Stephen Evens, Bovril, Redbus Noface and May The Night Bless You With Heavenly Dreams)

25 Mar

It’s not exactly surprising that Kavus Torabi has finally gone solo. There’s too much hopeful, demanding inventiveness in him ever to submit entirely to the dynamics of a group, despite the fact that he’s currently got at least three on the go, most of them with him at the helm – the brassy lysergically-illuminated avant-pop of Knifeworld; the ritual instrumentalism of Guapo, and the cantering countercultural circus of Gong (transferred onto his lanky shoulders, history and all, following the 2015 death of Daevid Allen).

What’s more surprising is the direction he’s chosen for the first records under his own name (the new ‘Solar Divination’ EP and a full upcoming album for later in the year). 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. 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 never mopey or lachrymose, thank goodness (even in Knifeworld or The Monsoon Bassoon, Kavus knew how to undercut joyous tootling with passing shadows without souring the milk) but these new songs are overcast with sombre vulnerability: the gravel-grain in Kavus’ voice welling up from deeper, ghostlier territories than before.



 
Despite being a couple of decades younger than Kavus, Cosmo Sheldrake has been out on his own for a bit longer. It’s been four-and-a-half years since Cosmo put out anything as part of super-eclectic mongrel troupe Gentle Mystics, but during that time he’s been gently dabbing the release schedules with occasional singles, videos and EPs of his own. Earlier work brought some of the Mystics weird and charming vibe along with it: a homemade-toy, party-in-the-fairy-forest feeling, Cosmo lilting skewed nursery-rhyme verses over softly bouncing weaves of melody. In the videos, he came across as a generous digital troubadour on a set of meandering visitations, playing his lashed-up keyboards-and-tech assemblages for performances in model villages, truck beds, pigsties and fishing boats.

Byronic-looking but Branestawm-minded, Cosmo’s a shed-pop tinkerer and a baffling multi-instrumentalist with a mixed mystical/academic background. Part kid’s entertainer and part hippy-boffin, he has a shamanical nose for the margin between nonsense and connection. More recent efforts (trailing the imminent release of his debut album ‘The Much Much How How and I’) have seen chewier, pacier and poppier songs. The videos, meanwhile, have become an ingenious riot of increasingly theatrical, fantastical and sometimes macabre fabling in which foil monsters swim in canvas seas and giant fluffy headlice run amok. There’s a communal, childlike warmth to what he does: not perhaps a guileless wonder, but a sense of celebration, where fables and singalongs and misadventures become part of the accepted, useful junk with which we build our nests.



 
Kavus’ upcoming tour is a brief series of simmering April dots around England and Wales; Cosmo’s is a more leisurely, lengthy two-month loop, garlanding the British Isles and western Europe. They’re not sharing any shows, or even any venues. The only time they overlap in any respect is on the 25th of April, when they’re playing different but simultaneous one-man shows a stone’s throw apart in Bristol. It would be nice to think of them looking up midset on that one evening, peering across that city-central loop of the Avon, and nodding to each other. Not necessarily natural comrades but, in their way, parallel leywalkers. Each with a bit of Barrett in the back pocket, each with a peculiar charm of innocence, each with fingertips in the otherworldly and the mythic. The uncontainables…

Kavus’ tour also happens to be a chance to catch an intriguing spread of fellow musicians, reflecting the wide body of musical ideas and affinities he touches upon. While in Margate (squeezed into a former Victorian coach house transformed into the Japanese/Alpine cheese dream of a minature theatre), he lines up with two left-field folk acts: the organ-draped, ridge-walking green-chapel psychedelia of Arch Garrison and the mysterious brand-new “wonk-folk” of Bovril (featuring Tuung’s Mike Lindsay). In Birmingham, the bill sharer is Scaramanga Six songwriter Paul Morricone, providing gutsy acoustic songs of fear and brutality with lashing of dark Yorkshire humour. Paul and Kavus also reunite in York for the Tim Smith fundraiser Evening of Fadeless Splendour, alongside the off-kilter art rock of Redbus Noface and the sarcastic-bastard English songcraft of Stephen Gilchrist (a.k.a. Stephen Evens).




 
On his Manchester date, Kavus will be supported by Peaks (Ben Forrester, formerly of shouty slacker-punk duo Bad Grammar and Manc math-rock supertrio Gug, now performing “loop-driven emo pop”). In London, it’ll be V Ä L V E – once an avant-garde solo project (full of belches and found sounds, situational scoring and sound-art jokes) for Kavus’ Knifeworld bandmate Chloe Herington, now an increasingly ubiquitous three-woman live trio (evolved and evolving into a warm-hearted feminist/Fluxus/Rock In Opposition massing of harps, bassoon, punk bass and singalong bunker-folk). In Leeds, Kavus plays the quiet support act in a free gig for tintinnabulating Sheffield post-metallers May The Night Bless You With Heavenly Dreams (whose echoing tremstrumental pinings add a little magical shimmy to the usual doleful post-rock astronomy) and Bristolian experimental rockers Madilan (whose songs recall both the angst-shredded psychedelic night-journeys of Oceansize and also, in their spindly electronics and Autotuned vocal musing, post-Oceansize rocktronicists British Theatre).




 
In contrast, most of Cosmo’s dates are solo – possibly because once he’s unshipped his assorted instruments and gizmos (from euphoniums and banjos to loop pedals and pennywhistles), there’s not much room for anyone else in the dressing room. Nonetheless, support for eight of the European April dates comes from Liverpool-based Norwegian girl trio I See Rivers, who wed their outstanding and eerily resonant Scandinavian vocal harmonies, sunny dispositions and scanty guitar to their own balloon-light, touching folk-pop songs and to heart-thawing covers of Daughter (Medicine), George Ezra (Budapest), and Whitney Houston (‘80s wedding fave I Wanna Dance With Somebody).



 
For the London album launch for ‘The Much Much How How and I’, Cosmo and I See Rivers are joined by Bunty“multi-dimensional beat merchant and vocal juggler” Kassia Zermon. Also to be found fronting jazz/junk/folk trio Le Juki, co-fronting dub act Resonators, and co-running Brightonian experimental label Beatabet, Kassia’s run Bunty for years as a loopstation-based “one woman electro-orchestra” bolstered by her multi-instrumentalism and vivid imagination. Parallels with Cosmo are clear (the looping and beatboxing, a life blossoming with social art initiatives and therapeutic work beyond the entertainments) and she guests on one of the ‘Much Much’ tracks (very much an equal passing through, with a cheeky hug and a bit of upstaging), but her own vision is distinct. Giddier, jazzier, less directly English in its whimsy, with input from her Moroccan heritage and from her taste for Andy Kaufman; a slightly more cosmic playbox; imaginary languages; an undiluted Brightonian fabulosity.

Kassia’s last Bunty album, ‘Multimos’, was a pocket-sized multimedia event spanning apps, interactive AV, dream machines, audience choirs and gaming cues. Time and occasion will probably only allow a smidgin of that, this time around, but it’ll be a window onto her explosively colourful world.



 

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Kavus’ full tour dates:

 

Cosmo’s full tour dates:

  • More Human Than Human @ The Haunt, 10 Pool Valley, Brighton, BN1 1NJ, England, 4th April 2018, 7.00pm (+ I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England, Thursday 5th April 2018, 7.30pm (album launch, with Bunty + I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England, Friday 6th April 2018, 7.00pm (+ tbc) – information here and here
  • Headrow House, 19 The Headrow, LS1 6PU Leeds, Saturday 7th April 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Fluc + Fluc Wanne, Praterstern 5, 1020 Vienna, Austria, Austria, Monday 9th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Feierwerk, Hansastr. 39-41, 81373 Munich, Germany, Tuesday 10th April 2018, 7.30pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Artheater, Ehrenfeldgürtel 127, 50823 Cologne, Germany, Wednesday 11th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information
  • Molotow, Nobistor 14, 22767 Hamburg, Germany, Thursday 12th April 2018, 7.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Lido, Cuvrystrasse 7, 10997 Berlin, Germany, Friday 13th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Paradiso, Weteringschans 6-8, 1017SG Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday 17th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Wednesday 25th April 2018, 7.30pm (+ tbc) – information here and here
  • Ancienne Belgique, Anspachlaan 110, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, Friday 27th April 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Ninkasi Gerland Kafé, 267 Rue Marcel Mérieux, 69007 Lyon, France, Wednesday 2nd May 2018, 8.30pm – information here
  • Point Éphémère, 200 Quai de Valmy, 75010 Paris, France, Thursday 3rd May 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Unplugged in Monti @ Black Market Art Gallery, Via Panisperna 101, Rione Monti, 00184 Rome, Italy, Wednesday 9th May 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Serraglio, Via Gualdo Priorato 5, 20134 Milan, Italy, Thursday 10th May 2018, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Freakout Club, Via Emilio Zago, 7c, 40128 Bologna, Italy, Friday 11th May 2018, 9.00pm – information here
  • The Hug and Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Tuesday 22nd May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Globe, 125 Albany Road, Cardiff, CF24 3PE, Wales, Wednesday 23rd May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Plug, Sheffield, Thursday 24th May 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

March 2018 – upcoming London folk-plus gigs – MacGillivray, The Doomed Bird of Providence and Harpoon Group (20th March); India Electric Company (23rd March)

17 Mar

MacGillivray + The Doomed Bird of Providence + Harpoon Group, 20th March 2018

MacGillivray + The Doomed Bird of Providence + Harpoon Group
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 8:00pm
– information here and here

For anyone who missed MacGillivray‘s performance at the Antigen evening in Ipswich last night, she’s headlining again in London on March 20th, formally launching ‘Watermarked in Flame’ (her latest mini-album of scarily reworked traditional folk songs via “sea-wrecked electrics and salt-luck vocals”). For anyone who missed my summary prior to the Antigen show, here it is again.

“When she’s out and about playing music, writing or committing performance art, Kirsten Norrie goes by her ancestral Scottish name MacGillivray, pulling her matrilineal Highland heritage over her head like a mask. With many wannabe artists, this kind of method ends up as no more than an affectation: people short on colour, scraping at the bottom of the pot of history in a vain attempt to garner the last scraps of savour. With Kirsten, it’s different: if it’s a mask, it’s the kind that renders everyday matters and habits transparent, allowing her to express deeper and stranger ideas and fancies fervently. What emerges is startling. MacGillivray it is, then.

“Discovering her is a little like being startled by a slow-motion jack-in-the-box: she’s already got eight albums behind her, a couple of soundtracks and poetry collections, and a collaborator roster which bags a list of left-field folk musicians of all strands and odd definitions, including The Fall (yes, folk, really), The Pogues’ Jem Finer, Dead Rat Orchestra, Trembling Bells and Current 93. Her performance art involves powerful weird rituals – furiously smoking cigars in Sigmund Freud’s garden; conflating mediaeval stocks and death metal; eating chandelier glass in an abandoned shopping centre; carrying a dead sheep on a pilgrimage. As a musician (both recorder and performer), she’s similarly unnerving: experimenting with loudness and quietness via folk drones, piano, savagely distorted electric autoharp and vocal wails, but refusing to hide behind them. Slender, still and intense, she rules a stage, dragging up distressed ghosts and the aftermath of harsh laws and bare beliefs. On this occasion, she’ll be performing tracks from her forthcoming mini-album, ‘Watermarked in Flame’.”

Since I wrote that, ‘Watermarked in Flame’ has surfaced on Bandcamp and revealed itself as a superb live document (akin in certain respects – technological approach, transformative preoccupations and feminist undercurrents – to Kerry Andrew’s similar reinventions as You Are Wolf), in a variety of voicings from softly accessible to eldritch croons and stifled screeches, all filigreed by sparse and singular piano, lap steel guitar, harmonium or electric autoharp (plus some electric guitar apparitions from Primal Scream’s Henry Olsen).



 
Support comes from The Doomed Bird Of Providence (replacing Mark O’Pilkington & Michael J. York’s Strange Attractor/Coil spinoff, Teleplasmiste) and from Dead Rat Orchestra’s Robin Alderton ( under his Harpoon Group alias.

The Doomed Bird Of Providence was initially the vehicle for the dark songs of Australian émigré Mark Kluzek, who lurched from memories of baked red soil and the bleakest of Aussie colonial Gothic in 2011 with ‘Will Ever Pray’: comically grim and overwrought, it was enough to make Nick Cave sound as cuddly as Burl Ives, and was a furrowed coffin-moan too far, even for me. A second album, ‘Blind Mouths Eat’, arrived in 2013, in which Mark honed and solidified his compulsion to tell stark, painful accounts of cruelties and injustices at the ruthless edge of Victorian Empire.

Following a relocation from London to Manchester, ‘Burrowed Into The Soft Sky’ arrived in September 2017, displaying a shift from songs into twenty-minutes instrumental narratives. Rather than using words, Mark currently bears harsh witness to Australian history via the sifting, blaring reeds of his accordion and a shifting band including percussionist Ian Hothersall, Current 93 violinist Joolie Wood, Extreme Noise Terror bassist Stafford Glover and SOUP/Croft’s Drew Barker; its folk-drone rattle and far-adrift traditional melodies creating a subtly nightmarish, primeval, post-Godspeed depiction of hot sun, hard deeds and fraying roots.


 
As Harpoon Group, Robin Alderton performs in an arc of creaky audio technology – “Dansettes spinning dubplates, reel-to-reel recorders flailing, dictaphones dying, overdubbed cassettes and bust samplers”. Drawing on found sounds and fragmented antique recordings filtered through or played on these contraptions (and processing them his fine arts background), he endeavours to craft new collaged compositions in a spirit of benevolent, sympathetic audio necromancy, via “ideas of sound recording technology, nostalgia, memory and place – the processes of deterioration, and of the failure of (or grasp for) memory.” There’s not much on him so far, but I did dig up these two brief phone-filmed fragments from gigs in recent years.



 
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India Electric Company, 23rd March 2018

Nest Collective presents:
India Electric Company
The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, St Pancras, London, WC1N 1AZ, England
Friday 23rd March 2018, 6.30pm
– information here, here and here

Coming from an altogether less murky zone, singing multi-instrumental duo India Electric Company (Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe) perform at the Foundling Museum as part of their promotional jaunt for their ‘Seven Sisters’ album. Expect explosively emotive folk-pop, weaving in Irish and Eastern European content to spin out and enrich their songs.




 

March 2018 – upcoming London gigs of various kinds – folk-jazz and loop-tinted songcraft from Gabriela Eva and Yasmyn Hendrix (20th March); post-blues and wakeful dream-pop from Cavey and Moon Panda (26th March)

16 Mar

Woodburner presents:
Gabriela Eva + Yasmyn Hendrix
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here


 
On video, Gabriela Eva is a colourful explosion of appropriated and deftly spun images. In many respects she’s a tourist, but the kind who pulls off her acquisitive magpie business to perfection – a keen eye for the fabric she can repurpose, the hairstyle she can adapt, the body-paint or tattoo that can be repositioned. A globetrotter and a photographer’s darling even before she dropped her debut EP last month, she’s a natural at the subtly chameleonic star act; the dance of other people’s veils illuminated, assimilated and penetrated by her own charisma.

Gabriela Eva + Yazmyn Hendrix, 20th March 2018I’m hoping that this translates well to the stage once Gabriela’s tucked under the stairs at Servant Jazz Quarters – belatedly launching that selfsame EP, trapped behind her guitar without access to the self-edit suite, the quick-change boudoir screen and the magical boxes for makeup and jewels. That’s when it’ll either all fall apart or show its core roots. She doesn’t lack courage: previously part of Colchester duo Passive Passengers, she’s busked alone, braved the stage at Ronnie Scott’s and she’s certainly thrown her meme-anchors down (while “future organic” could mean bloody anything from cottage-industry world-changers to rich hippies with busy self-aggrandising Snapchat accounts, “driven, dyslexic, dreadlocked” is as good a packed’n’loaded personal tag as I’ve heard recently).

As for the music, there’s skipping rhythmic and harmonic footwork from jazz, some rhythmic echoes from hip hop, some party looseness from the breezier end of soul and R&B. You can trace your fingers through Gabriela’s songs and tease out strands from clear forebears – Erykah Badu, Astrid Gilberto, Van Morrison, Minnie Riperton (for her part, she claims Nina Simone, Little Dragon, Alanis Morrisette and Incubus) – yet her prime musical descent (probably through accidental parallels) seems to be Eva Abraham, the acoustic London jazzfolksoul luminary who, despite having boiled up cauldron after cauldron of superb transfigured rootsiness for twenty years now, seems doomed to remain a perpetual (though beloved) secret.

Setting aside the quick visual fix of a memorable video, though, that’s not a bad place to be, musically. Close your eyes and you’re still left with Gabriela’s rolling carpet of songcraft: just picking three, there’s her conversational, hip-hop storytelling cover of Estelle and Kanye’s American Boy, the airborne soul-jazz of Sailing Over The City and the twinkling Rise Up (heading that first EP – a light-touch groove salute to advance-and-reclaim, flickering through a clutch of delicate psychedelic changes and nodding to the short-lived but renewable hopes of the Arab spring).




 
In support is Yazmyn Hendrix, whom I last saw four-and-a-half years ago providing guest-vocal accompaniment to What?! (a long-dispersed jazz-rock trio). Nowaday’s she’s still most visible for further collaborations (with Euro-soul act Retrospective For Love and with jazz-rapper Mrisi) plus a smattering of Soundcloud cover versions (including Laura Mvula’s Green Gardens, John Legend’s All Of Me, Adele’s Chasing Pavements and Massive Attack’s Teardrop). By herself – armed with a microphone, a loop station, and assorted live percussion and beatboxing – she creates layered a capella choirs and vocal ensembles out of herself: either simple classic sounding pop songs, the cover versions mentioned above, or assorted vocalese experiments.


 
So far there’s not much direct evidence of the harnessed synaesthesia which Yazmyn claims shapes her music-making (and which means that she “associates each song, each word and each instrument with colours and textures”). Let’s assume that the full breakthrough in that direction is still working its way through development and caution, and that one day she’ll be giving us her own ear-boggling parallel to ‘Medúlla’ or ‘Starsailor’ or Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Capella’. Given her tunes-over-weirdness tastes, I’m guessing that we can rule out a head-to-head with Mike Patton in more tangled territory. For now, she stands as a capable one-woman Manhattan Transfer (or a sleepier, slowed-paced Grace McLean) for contemporary pop songs; and that’ll do in the short run.



 
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Cavey + Moon Panda, 26th March 2018

Decave Discovers presents:
Cavey + Moon Panda
The Waiting Room, 175 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoek Newington, London, N16 0LH, England
Monday 26th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Young post-blues singer-guitarist Luke Cave – a.k.a. Cavey – is already known as half of stoner-fuzz rock duo Rad Frü. He’s already engaging in some solo wing-stretching, parking the Zep-happy Rad in favour of collaborating with Blaenavon bassist/producer Frank Wright, laying down songs with junior Wrecking Crews full of heavy-duty young session dudes. Not far out of his teens, it’s as if he’s trying to echo Robert Plant’s career development, while simultaneously crushing it down from fifty years to a mere decade.

Perhaps that’s a bit glib of me, as well as overstating the classic rock thing. Similarly, I’m not sure if he’s the same Luke Cave as the one who sprang (literally) from Nick Cave’s loins back in 1991, but even if he is, there’s not much trace of Cave the Elder here. Cavey himself cites Jim O’Rourke, T-Bone Walker, Hamilton Leithauser and Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen as influences; and in his light-touch songs I can also hear a dash of Gomez. Here’s a live performance of his recent Living Room Parade single, plus the studio take of its predecessor Day And Night.



 
Born in Boston but currently London-based (and sporting members coming in from Denmark, Sweden and Scotland), dream pop band Moon Panda will inevitably always ring Californian, not least because of the sheer sun-kissed San Diegan beauty of frontwoman Maddy Myers. A blonde, delicately-freckled photographer’s dream on honeyslide vocals and soft dots of bass guitar, she probably finds this kind of objectivifying attention a damn nuisance. For one thing, it distracts from the thoughtful, intricate details of the songs she writes: just as there was always more to Stevie Nicks than posturing and chiffon, there’s more to Maddy than blank-canvas prettiness or swoony lashes.

Let’s be honest – most dream pop bands think it’s enough to deliver blank blocks of navel-gazing noise and dirty snowplough billows: retrodden, remasticated sub-Lushness. Moon Panda don’t. Their songs are constantly, carefully changing beasts: encapsulated within their yearning melodies and taffy-stretched hooks, they have finely honed choral a capella parts, strange and revelatory key changes, sudden pauses and unorthodox shifts of time and dynamic. As with Gustav Moltke’s carefully-placed, only-there-when-you-need-them tidal smooshes of guitar, Maddy’s keen awareness of structure – of spectral drama, of just how softly and subtly you can make a jump-cut work – has a tendency to shatter the mood from within with a hard-hook shift in rhythm and intensity.



 
The lyrics too, eschew the cough-syrup blankness and drunken, dissolved sensual dazes of the genre; in effect, avoiding its copouts. Instead, Moon Panda are dream pop on the verge of waking up, or of piecing together the dreamwork. Shades of vulnerability, disquiet and suspicion run through these words: I’m still processing them, in the way that one works over the puzzling gristle of a dream, but I’m suspecting that these are songs for the gaslit, the fearful, the unwittingly immured: that they’re the etchings of the beginnings of an escape kit. Their videos, too, have an awareness to them – the disassociative motion, fall and sleep-roll of severed doll parts, ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Todd Haynes’ ‘Superstar’ and its Barbie-puppet retelling of the Karen Carpenter story; the road trip photography with its trapped, continuous-loop feel; Maddy’s own blank-faced ballet moves in which limbs stretch or a back twitches into restless determination.

It’s a shame that ‘Twin Peaks’ appears to be over and done now, and that Moon Panda are a year or two behind its production curve. In some respects they’d have made an ideal Roadhouse band. On the other hand, perhaps I’ve missed the point. Perhaps they wouldn’t have fitted the bill: not quite suited to the seamless and ominous cool, nor enigmatic enough for us to project our hungers, our apprehensions and confusions onto. From here, Moon Panda seem more like a measured curious hand rippling the waters or testing the surface of the mirror, fingertips uncovering and assessing what would otherwise been smoothed away. A band and a songwriter to keep a woken eye on, I think.
 

February 2018 – upcoming London gigs (folk, jazz, soul, and eclectic acoustica) – Ian Beetlestone & the Drowning Rats (10th February); Matsudisho and Alice Phelps (18th February); plus Tell Tale Tusk (12th February), Alice Zawadski’s cello-heavy Valentine Show (14th February) and Kabantu’s album launch (8th February)

5 Feb

Even more than the Magic Garden (as covered a few posts back), Camden’s Green Note serves as a London folk-boutique par excellence. Most evenings, its small café space wedges in the cream of roots acts, the care they take over choice, presentation and atmosphere often justifying the priceyness of an evening out. You get what you pay for.

Here are a few things on offer there during early February:

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Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats, 10th February 2018

Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats
The Basement Bar @ The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England ·
Saturday 10th February 2018, 8:00pm
– information here, here and here

Plenty of charming elements and conversational topics converge in Ian Beetlestone. He’s a Yorkshireman-turned-Londoner, a pop and chanson connoisseur, a gay man and a cabbie. Several of these come together in his lively, engaging cabbie’s blog; even more of them combine in the fact that for the last couple of years Ian’s driven the capital’s first (and, to date, only) rainbow-coloured taxi (for what it’s worth, it’s becoming a much-loved city ornament both inside and outside of Pride, and he gets more stick from fellow cabbies over the Transport for London logo than he does for the LGBT+ associations).

As for the musicality, that flourishes in his all-singing acoustic trio The Drowning Rats, who offer “(a) unique combination of ratty jazz, drowned pop, magic, mystery, darkness and light to the capricious twin deities of love and song with ever pleading, hopeful eyes.” Having started up in Leeds about a decade and a half ago (and survived a subsequent re-potting in London), they’ve been the players of regular gigs in Soho (until recently, at the Blue Posts) and their home turf of Kings Cross (at the Star of Kings) as well as the Green Note.


 
With Ian’s florid piano backed by Dom Coles’ drumkit and Tom Fry’s double bass (and with occasional visitations from beery horns and assorted vocal foils), they deliver songs bursting with melody, harmony and joie de vivre; nodding to Brel and barrelhouse, Tom Waits and Paul Weller, Nina Simone and the Shangri-Las; suffused with wry reflection, wit and camaraderie. Ian rolls them out in a joyful soul growl – honey, gravel, fur and phlegm, with the hint of a romantic tenor under the wear and tear. It’s a little Tom Waits, but it’s rather more Dr John (if instead of immersing himself in the Big Easy, he’d taken a ship up the Thames estuary to found a bayoux in a London canal basin).

If you’re specifically after queerness, you’ll find it in the subtle and rosy sexual glow which illuminates many of the songs like fireside warmth, and also in the elastic inclusive community etched out in hints and amongst the broader scope of Ian’s songwriting. Inclusivity’s the word, in fact: there’s little details and easter eggs sown throughout the songs if you want to pick them up and decode them, but in general it’s all woven together with subtlety and open-heartedness. You can walk through their door and enjoy epic magic-realist power ballads about the A40, jaunts around the concerns, compromises and evasions of friendships, sly ballads which put the boot into Soho gentrification, and cheerfully apocalyptic accounts of mornings-after… all without worrying that you need to belong to any particular club. Although, in the extremely cosy confines of the Green Note’s basement bar, you’ll soon feel as if you do belong to one.



 
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Matshidiso + Alice Phelps
The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England
Sunday 18th February 2018, 8:30pm
– information here, here and here

Matshidiso, 2017
I’m not sure just how hard you have to work, just how much you have to do, blossom and branch out before you burst the “secret” side of “well-kept secret” wide open. I would have thought that Matshidiso would have reached that point a long time ago.

Music flows through pretty much everything she lives and does, stemming from the cosmopolitan stew of her upbringing (a native Londoner with Jamaican and Sotho heritage, a classical piano trainee with a parallel love of soul, hip-hop and the cream of 1970s singer-songwriters) and blossoming into her realisation of herself as do-it-all artist – on-call pianist and singer, producer/writer/arranger for herself and for others. Sometimes a band leader, always a constant communicator, Matshidiso has led creative workshops; run song sessions across the internet from her own front room and played venues from the Southbank Centre to South Africa. All this and she’s also a qualified and multilingual international human rights barrister (with experience fighting sex trafficking rings in Ethiopia); a spokesperson for activism around positive African and female identity; a visiting music therapist at the Royal Marsden; a rehabilitating coach and encourager for young male offenders at various prisons; and a onetime relief worker in Haiti.

All of which would be gems on anyone’s resume (and which suggests someone who’s already learned and given back more than most of us will in an entire lifetime) but as a musician, the final proof has to be in the songs Matshidiso sings. Traditional they might be, but she’s learnt well from the craft of forebears such as Roberta Flack, Laura Nyro and Lauryn Hill, creating harmonically rich keyboard-driven work drawing from songwriter soul, gospel and pop through which she roams with self-awareness and generous interest in other people’s efforts and struggles.


 
Maybe Matshidiso’s relatively low profile is because of the fact that, despite being the best part of a decade into her career, she’s yet to record a debut album, or even that many releases. There’s been a smattering of very occasional singles; there’s been a 2012 EP of nursery rhymes reconfigured for adults (an idea that fits neatly into of what ‘The Guardian’s called her whimsical yet solicitous approach, and one that’s far more successful than its spec would suggest). In many artists this would seem to be a flaw – a shortage of the hunger, the self-assertion, the pushy pride which is needed to succeed.

I’d suggest the opposite – that Matshidiso’s artistic presence is one that’s absolutely caught up in the moment, too much so to have prioritised lumping her output down into artefacts or commodities. Her work is live, whether it’s in the concerts in which she improvises made-up-on-the-spot stories from the personal accounts of audience members, or the connection she makes with prisoners, the lost, the under-represented as part of work which goes beyond being an entertainer and engages itself with re-weaving music (with all of its connecting and healing qualities) back into the fabric of everyday life.



 

Opening the show is Leeds-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alice Phelps (who, with her full band, was delighting Daylight Music earlier in the weekend). Harpist, guitarist, pianist, violinist and rich grainy singer, Alice spins blues into folk, Irish, Chinese and otherworldly elements to create original songs and a full-bodied chamber pop. On this occasion, she’s on her own; but she’ll be back at the Green Note next month with a full ensemble of strings, harp and choir. For now, enjoy her songs in their simpler format.



 

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A few more familiar faces are showing up at the Green Note at around the same time. On 12th February, contemporary female folk ensemble Tell Tale Tusk, who work “spellbinding (and award-winning) vocal harmonies…around melodious instrumentals to reimagine folktales old and give light to folktales new” bring their harmonies and humour back to Camden Town for an evening of old and new songs. On 14th February, Alice Zawadzki – whose name has been scattered around these pages for her voice and/or violin work alone or with Sefiroth, Jamie Safir and others – presents a Valentine’s Day Special of known and unknown songs, covers and originals (assisted by dual cello improvisers Alice Purton and Shirley Smart). Or – if you fancy a different venue and a different blend of polycultural acoustica – then on 8th February Manchester world quintet Kabantu are launching their debut album down at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. Plentiful…




 

February 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Society Of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Meg Lee Chin, Keiko Kitamura, I Am Her, Kosmic Troubadour, Math Jones (2nd February); Peter Blegvad Trio and Bob Drake (9th February – plus the Club Integral Resonance Benefit Gala on the 8th); Evil Blizzard and Nasty Little Lonely (10th February)

29 Jan

SOIF Soiree, 2nd February 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“Into The Forest” Soiree: Meg Lee Chin + Keiko Kitamura + I Am Her + Kosmic Troubadour + Math Jones
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here

After a few events which were perhaps a little more predictable than we’d’ve hoped, this month’s Society Of Imaginary Friends-hosted concert moves up a gear with the involvement of “two goddesses of Earth and Heaven”. Purple twilight time:

“We take the path that leads down from the fell, over the style, over a stream and into the heart of the forest. At first it seems completely lifeless in the wood, all of its creatures hibernating deep in the ground; but as our eyes become adjusted to the dusky dark and senses atuned to its music..the rustle of a robin in the dried leaves, a squirrel’s staccato, a falling pine cone. Suddenly we are in a clearing of softest moss – a place of refuge and rest, where a clear spring rises and sunlight dances. Welcome to our “Into the Forest” Soiree.”

A mid-‘90s Pigface member (and the former frontwoman for female noise band Crunch), industrial pop/darkwave/hip hop songstress and hands-on producer Meg Lee Chin is a prime example of longstanding female creativity and independence. Having rattled cages and excited commentators with her turn on Pigface’s ‘Nutopia’, she then spearheaded contemporary home-studio recording with her 1999 solo album ‘Piece and Love’ and went on to found pro-audio community Gearslutz. Although released music has been sporadic for the last couple of decades, Meg’s kept her reputation as a fascinating, brilliant performer and composer and as an outspoken, sometimes contrary blogger. SOIF, in turn, have a reputation for coaxing people’s slumbering performance talents out of semi-retirement: if Meg’s risen to the occasion in response, this ought to be pretty exciting.

Also on hand – and in delightful contrast – is Keiko Kitamura: known for activities ranging from replaying Japanese court music to Jah Wobble’s Nippon Dub Ensemble, is a leading international koto player (in particular, the 17-string bass version) as well as a singer and shamisen player. Expect a mixture of tradition and originality.




 
The rest of the appropriately quirky SOIF bill is filled out by eccentric rainbow keyboard warrior The Kosmic Troubadour, poet/dramatist Math Jones (with a sheaf of forest poems) and Soiree regular I Am Her, a.k.a. ex-Rosa Mota singer Julie D. Riley (who also, with fellow Rosacian Sacha Galvagna, makes up transatlantic transcontinental electropop minimalists Crown Estate). As ever, the Society themselves are performing, presenting (presumably) art-pop forest ballads to take in with the Karamel vegan feast that’s part and parcel of a SOIF event. This time, you get an appropriately woody wild forest mushroom soup, a mushroom and root vegetable pizza and some Black Forest gateau…


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Here’s news on one of the several fundraisers for London alt.culture radio station Resonance FM, helping it to keep up its mission of broadcasting the wild and wonderful across the Smoke’s airwaves and around the world online. Even setting aside the calibre of the night’s performers, it’s pretty much worth going along for that reason alone.

Peter Blegvad Trio, 9th February 2018

Resonance FM presents:
Peter Blegvad Trio with Bob Drake
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Friday 9th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Peter Blegvad – not only for the owlish wit of his songs (including his skill as palindromist and wordplayer) and the enviable polymathic breadth of skills which means he’s also a fine experimental cartoonist, audio dramatist and commentator. It’s also because anyone who can get himself sacked from ‘70s avant/oppositional prog gods Henry Cow by outrightly twitting their seriousness at the height of their brow-furrowing Maoist phase (and apparently by writing a lyric about a woman chucking raisins at a skeleton) is a man who knows something about whistling in the face of sternness.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t make too much of this. For one thing, despite (and because of) Henry Cow’s high-flying, generally admirable idealism, spending time there seems to have been argumentative for everyone (in particular during the period in which almost every potential action appeared to have its cripping counter-bourgeois condemnation, during which a man of Peter’s wayward questioning wit and self-declared flippancy would have stuck out like a slammable thumb in the way of a door). Once out of the mothership, though, it was evidently easier to be familial. Showing up most artistic spats and internal rock band feuds for the pique and piffle that they are, all of the ex-Cow-ers grew up (and grew past their arguments) to become a mutually supportive bunch. Threading in and out of each other’s concerts and solo careers, they rapidly learned to welcome and celebrate the diversity of their collective interests and ideas, and they’ve stayed that way.


 
Proving this yet again, whenever the Peter Blegvad Trio comes back together it reunites Peter with two regular Cowfriends: John Greaves (bassist and longtime ally both during and after Cowdays, from the ‘Kew.Rhone.’ project onwards) and Chris Cutler (drummer and owner of the eclectic and honourable post-Cow record label ReR Megacorp which, since 1988, has released four widely-spaced Blegvad albums – ‘Downtime’, ‘Just Woke Up’, ‘Hangman’s Hill’ and last year’s ‘Go Figure’). Thirty-seven years of on/off playing together has resulted in a relaxed, gently telepathic connection: not a mysterious communion, nor an alliance of breakneck musical stuntwork, but an easy, comfortable instinct for what’s required to frame the song and no more. As for Peter himself, if you’re unfamiliar with his work it’s best to think of someone with one foot in the sardonic-wit songworld of Loudon P. Wainwright, Leon Rosselson, Richard Thompson and Kinky Friedman, and the other in the counterflow rock camp which the Cow shared with (among others) Faust and Pere Ubu.


 
And that brings me to the second point – ultimately, it’s really pretty misleading to define Peter by the lineaments of Henry Cow, art-prog or Rock In Opposition. Granted, he’s spent quite a bit of time paddling away in those areas (in addition to ‘Kew.Rhone’ and the Cow work, there’s been Slapp Happy, Faust and The Lodge, as well as swing-by dates with The Golden Palominos and Art Bears). Yet if you put him firmly in the driving seat on his own, what you get isn’t hyperliterate trickery, but intelligent, light-touch, surprisingly roots-rocking songs with a smart economy of tale-telling and reflection.

He’s still got a yen for throwing up a thesis and exploring it (this is, after all, a man who once explored the roots and fears of the European Union via a teasing, erudite and baffling lyrical mirror-maze of classical borrowings), but more often than not he’ll now use a folk or country-folk form to do so, or pick a nuanced idea to polish in a few simple strokes: something a child could pick up on but which an adult might savour. From some angles you could even confuse him (via that nasal, tuneful, breathy bark of a voice) with a more relaxed Mike Scott in acoustic mode, or even with Mark Knopfler in a moment of sardonic humanism. Although neither of them would have written a love ballad as sparse and sorrowful as Shirt And Comb, honed a metaphysical gag like Something Else (Is Working Harder) or tweaked, explored and upended a common cultural assumption the way Peter does on Gold.


 
One of the contributors to ‘Go Figure’ (along with Karen Mantler) was the delightful Bob Drake – the erstwhile Thinking Plague and 5uu’s mainstay turned offbeat producer and solo artist. For more of my rambles on him, take a look over here. The long and the short about him, though, is that he’s a multi-instrumentalist and hedge-bard with broad and rambling ideas about just how far you can stretch and mutate an open-ended thought or song, who now regularly heads out for solo voice-and-guitar gigs (often performing, for reasons both flippant and serious, in a lovely white bear-dog suit). Like Peter Blegvad, Bob’s got a liking for complexity and warm perverse wit; but what you take away from his shows is literal shaggy-doggery: peculiar sung tales both finished and unfinished about strange mammals, haunted houses, odd habits, monster-movie scenarios and twisted eldritch dimensions.

When I originally posted this, I was under the impression that Bob was playing a solo Oto support slot, but it now appears that he’s actually beefing up the Trio to a quartet, with or without the animal suit. If you still want to see Bob in solo mode, however, you could set aside some time the previous evening for another Resonance FM fundraiser: Club Integral‘s annual Resonance tin-shaker, being held south of the river at IKLEKTIK on Thursday 8th.

Offering “thirteen minute sets from thirteen acts”, this features a wealth of music-and/or-noise-makers from the Integral playlists: improv pranksters Glowering Figs, audiovisual sculptress Franziska Lantz, ARCO composer Neil Luck, mixed-ability folk internationalists the No Frills Band, Found Drowned/Four Seasons Television guitar manipulator James O’Sullivan, sound designer/Howlround member Robin The Fog, Bob and Roberta Smith (a.ka. artist/advocate/utopian Patrick Brill) playing with his own “musical intervention” project The Apathy Band, restlessly morphing New Wave survivors Spizz, and whoever St Moritz, Two Horns, Robert Storey, Strayaway Child, Swordfish and King/Cornetto happen to be. Plus Bob – who was hoping to balance his thirteen-minute time limit with the playing of thirteen one-minute songs, but has apparently opted to settle for eleven.


 
(If Bob’s wily, he’ll also strap a few tentacles onto that fur-suit and go up and do a bit of busking by Camden Lock, staking out the London Lovecraft Festival that’s also taking place that week…)

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Evil Blizzard, 10th February 2018

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Evil Blizzard + Nasty Little Lonely
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England
Wednesday 10th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here

Filling in a three-cornered gap between Public Image Ltd, Poisoned Electrick Head and The Residents, hilariously distressing Preston lords of misrule Evil Blizzard are bringing their act south in order to launch their ‘Fast Forward Rewind’ single (from upcoming third album ‘The Worst Show On Earth’). Their gigs are part banging art-punk party and part horror-comedy masked ball, featuring four cranky and disparate bass guitarists; a singing, chanting drummer; and a pair of in-house stage invaders in the shape of a dancing money-chucking pig and a man running wild with a mop.

The assorted masks (hilarious and creepy) and the threatening mannequin/orc lunges may make it all look like an Auton’s cheese-dream or a riot in a Black Lodge dollhouse, but underneath the screaming horse-laughs are a rattling good party band. Over the years, they’ve won over many a psychedelic or underground festival audience and even their own musical heroes (with Killing Joke, Hawkwind and PiL having invited them on for support slots).



 
Also playing are stomping industrial post-punk duo Nasty Little Lonely, who provide a bandsaw-guitar set of “post apocalyptic decadence, discarded trappings of consumerism gone awry, alienation and small furry creatures with very sharp teeth.” They might possibly be tempted to dance afterwards if you encourage them enough.


 

February 2018 – upcoming London folk etc. gigs at the Magic Garden – Emma Lohan and Lánre (4th February); Echo Trails and Alba&Leo’s Elsewhere Quartet (8th February)

27 Jan

Riffling through the music schedules at Battersea’s Magic Garden pub reminds me of my incurable habits and hopes as regards raiding the CD racks in charity shops. Though it’s not the place for tribute bands, per se, there’s a lot of cover and tribute music being played there – straight evocations of New Orleans funk, Latin jazz, folk-blues or Celtic sessions – but picking out something I really personally want, something a little more original or eclectically fused, is more hit-and-miss.

Thankfully, the Magic Garden’s a place I keep checking back on, since a few of those more original gems tend to show up and flourish there.

* * * * * * * *

Emma Lohan, 4th February 2018

Sunday Folk: Emma Lohan + Lánre
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Sunday 4th February 2018, 9.00pm
– free event – information here and here

February’s first Sunday sees the Magic Garden hosting the lovely bubbling folk-pop of Galway globetrotter Emma Lohan – her debut appearance at the venue, but one of an increasing number of recent wanders across the Irish Sea. Though she’s been billed variously as “Atlantic-folk meets ethno-pop” or “folk fusion that lies somewhere between sean nós and surf pop”, neither description quite does justice to what she creates: beautifully-constructed cloud-tossed songs imbued with the flicker of constant motion, which effortlessly blend together jigs, jazz, acoustic dreampop and palm-patter drawing on a palette of petal-skittering guitar, strings, kalimba, gently glowing hornwork and glockenspiel.

As to where it all comes from… well, there’s Irishness in the curve of her accent (and in some of the sessional lightness and fluidity to how everything fits together on the records), but in its wholeness her music embraces world funk, beach pop, psychedelic Balearic haze and uncoiling rhythms from South America, West Africa and Asia. Emma’s clearly the rolling stone which softly gathers everything.




 

In support is London-Afropean singer-songwriter Lánre, presenting an unplugged take on material from last year’s ‘Human’ EP and from nearly a decade of music making (including the band GK Real and songs which have seen her invited to perform in Paris). In the studio, she layers her simple, direct spiritual songs (many of them touching on the healing of black-girl wounds – beauty and worth, the straining for a sense of home) with rich blankets of ambient, post-gospel and choral-soul arrangement, sometimes stirring in a little country guitar or traditional Yoruba walking song. Live, whether playing solo or working with a band, African-American rootings show more clearly, seeming to touch on similar turf to Odetta or Erykah Badu, but also Toni Morrison and Arthur Lee.





 
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Echo Trails + Alba&Leo Elsewhere Quartet, 8th February 2018
Echo Trails + Alba&Leo’s Elsewhere Quartet
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Thursday 8th February 2018, 9.00pm
– free event – information here and here

Selling Echo Trails as being some kind of hopeful mashup of “epic groove and post-rock” is a massive undersell. Just because they’ve got a little Godspeed string thunder in them on occasion (and know a thing or two about old-school jazz’n’R&B propulsion) doesn’t mean that they’re one of those bands that milk the juice out of other genres and feed it into papery approximations.

A well-honed acoustic band is like a set of unhindered precision muscles, able to flex rhythms on the fly and dance in unexpected curves, and this is just such a band. Fronted by Dimitra Tzanakaki (a ballsy, smouldering Greek blend of Beth Gibbons, Tori Amos and Bette Midler) they’re a supple alliance of guitar, voluble double bass, viola and drumkit, the song undercarriage slipping easily from Mediterranean folk to psychobilly to a salsa set-to or to shedbashing Led Zeppelin thrills. Since their arrival in 2014 they’ve phased out keyboard and phased in pedalwork, enriching texture even as the instrumentation shrank: hence the post-rock tag, but there’s Schönberg, Piaf, Korn, Temper Trap, bebop and Hidden Orchestra tucked into their bag of influences along with Godspeed.




 
Back in their home country of Croatia, Alba Nacinovich and Leo Škec – trading as Alba&Leo – are already reknowned for being one of the best jazz-folk duos in the country. Having relocating to London last year from their hometown of Rijeka, they’re in with a good chance of getting the same reputation over here. Initially and deceptively a childlike presence, Alba turns out to have fiery focus, flexible tone, eclectic tastes and a laser-guided skill at everything from vocalise to pure pop; Leo is a dizzyingly skilled, mostly-acoustic-and-pedals guitarist with a mastery of percussive fingerstyle, quicksilver jazz runs and subtle electronic soundshaping. Tossing around terms like “augmented reality” like magicians’ scarves, they dip with equal verve into cover reinventions and original songs in both Croatian and English; while they’re still finding their feet with the latter, the music and the pattering, driving skills are already there. The quickest, laziest comparison is a junior, Slavic Tuck & Patti, minus the cheesecloth and cuddliness… but Alba&Leo won’t be junior for long.

For this gig, Alba&Leo are appearing in expanded and augmented form as The Elsewhere, a new quartet in which they’re bolstered by broad-based percussionist Sass Hoory (a specialist in Middle Eastern sounds) and polydisciplinary cellist Natalie Rozario (who’s drawing on a skillset that crosses theatre, jazz and opera). The show is part of an explosion of early-2018 Alba&Leo activity which includes a free evening with slow-jamming folk/R&B singer Breantonia and “love child of Sting and Edith Piaf” Miri at Borough’s Gladstone Arms on 3rd February, a duo gig upstairs at Ronnie Scott‘s on 30th January, and the actual debut of The Elsewhere at Harringay’s Jam In A Jar the following day on the 31st. I’ve got no Elsewhere clips, but here are some of Alba&Leo in assorted action…




 

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

26 Jan


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

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


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


 
Dates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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


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

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




 

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