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

27 Oct

Daylight Music 10, 2019

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

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

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



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

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


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


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

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



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



 

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


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

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




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



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

Daylight Music 323, 23rd November 2019

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


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




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


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


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

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


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



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

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

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

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

September/October 2019 – upcoming singer-songwriter gigs – Holly Penfield unleashes ‘Tree Woman’ in California and London (22nd September, 31st October)

15 Sep

Visibly enjoying her second wind as a singer-songwriter (and still wielding the exuberance that she brought both to her initial shot as such and to her subsequent role as cabaret supernova), Holly Penfield is finally launching ‘Tree Woman’, her long-delayed fourth album of original songs. There are a couple of launch date shows – one in her birthplace of Berkeley, California and the other in her longstanding hometown, London. On both dates she’s backed by a full band.

Holly Penfield - 22nd September & 31st October 2019

What I wrote about her return to full singer-songwriter action last year still holds true, so here it is (and you can read all about about her over the years by clicking here)…

“From where she’s standing in her life right now, Holly Penfield can reach out in both directions to touch the passionate, large-lunged ingenue singer of her youth and the salty life-loving veteran she’s transforming into. Of course, she’s got a longer, bolder reach than most. Once tagged as “David Bowie meets Liza Minelli” by a surprised and wrongfooted Simon Cowell, she’s a classic torch-pop singer with a stunning voice who’s also both blessed and cursed with an upsetter’s drive. These days, as she rebounds from twenty years as a leading international cabarettier in order to return to her own songs, it’s more of a blessing.

 
“Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).


 
“It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).


 
“What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).”


 

Dates:

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).

 
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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.


 
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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
 

June 2019 – more Woodburner soul, jazz, folk, hip hop, acoustica sessions at Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens – The Dylema Collective, Alxndr London, Boadi and Lex Amor (4th June); Dizraeli, Intaya and Charlotte Algar (11th June); PYJÆN, Brothers Testament, Jelly Cleaver and DJ Stephen Vitkovitch (18th June); The Breath, Alice Zawadzki and Lunatraktors (25th June)

1 Jun

Outdoor summer gigs from Woodburner are resuming at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden – as usual, I’m passing on the message…

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The 4th June launch event features Dylema Amadi’s Dylema Collective, Alxndr London, Boadi and Lex Amor.

The Dylema Collective is a poetry-music project with sounds combining neo-soul, contemporary jazz and floaty R&B carefully blended with a cross-over of funk, latin and poly-rhythmic grooves and spoken-word poetry. Thematically, Dylema’s feminist poetry addresses head on matters of race, gender and individuality, values reiterated by the hidden message within their lead vocalist’s name’s acronym: “Do You. Let Every Man Adapt”. In short, they love sharing music and poetry that shakes the mind, soul and body.


 

“Effortlessly blending lyrical soul, R&B and electronic music whilst subverting it into something completely his own, the enigmatic and intriguing “Afro-Ronin” Alxndr London has returned with his new EP ‘2023’. Inspired by the sounds of UK Funky, London’s Garage sound, Yoruba spirituals and electronic soul, it’s an experimental project rooted in a genre-less space that balances spiritual conflict and Afrocentric themes, with unconstrained fantasy and spectacular science-fiction.


 

Boadi is a twenty-three-year old soul/R&B singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist originating from South London, with a jazz-influenced sound combined with a dash of hip-hop for authenticity. Growing up his musical influences were legendary artists such as Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Marvin Gaye. His mother migrated from Ghana and he spent a year living there when he was a child: when he was younger, he listened to a lot of traditional Ghanaian music which taught him about different rhythms and harmonies. Coming from a family of instrumentalists and singers, Boadi was instantly surrounded by music and developed his musical talents further when attending church, and perhaps this is where his heavy use of gospel-inspired backing vocals and harmonies stemmed from.


 

“London-based lyricist Lex Amor’s monthly dip into musical spices for Reprezent Radio’s addictive Mellowdic Show champions vibes upon vibes, from artists near and far. Consistently a treat for the soul; and the same can be said for the blissed-out hip hop of Lex’s own musical output. Such is the ease and natural cadence of her delivery, you find yourself hanging off her every word. Lex has the effortless ability to translate her full self in her music, with beats and rhymes you won’t be able to keep off repeat.”

 

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The 11th June gig features resurgent rapper Dizraeli, Latin psychedelic group Intaya and jazz-soul singer Charlotte Algar.

“Poet, producer, MC and multi-instrumentalist Dizraeli is a genre all of his own, building himself a cult following around Europe and playing to audiences of thousands around the world. Now, after three years studying percussion in Senegal, immersing himself in the world of London grime and bass music, working with refugees in Calais and finally, living through a mental breakdown, he’s back with ‘The Unmaster’, his first self-produced album and an electrifying new sound. ‘The Unmaster’ speaks of madness and collapse, struggle and redemption with searing honesty, surreal humour and a soundtrack unlike anything you’ve heard. A dark, fierce hybrid of hip hop, grime and West African percussion, it is music to make sense of an insane world.


 
Intaya‘s sound is a combination of electronic music, jazz, hip-hop, future soul, Afro-Latin influences and psychedelic elements – electronic ethereal groove music. Formed by singer/producer Pao Pestana and multi-instrumentalist/producer Dom Martin, the band is half Venezuelan (singer and drummer) and half Londoner (guitarist and keyboardist) and the music reflects this combination. Expect Latin roots, electronic groove and space-age sonic lushness.

 
Charlotte Algar is a twenty-three-year-old singer-songwriter from north-east London (and the assistant editor of ‘Songlines’). Charlotte draws on her classical training to create undulating, delicate guitar accompaniments. Paired with soulful vocals and pensive, poetic lyrics, this makes for a unique and compelling style.”


 
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The 18th June event mines the fervent south London jazz scene with sets from PYJÆN, Brothers Testament and Jelly Cleaver, and DJ work from Stephen Vitkovitch.

“Described by ‘Jazz Wise Review’ as having “a groove propelled with dynamism and formidable technique”, the PYJÆN quintet seamlessly melds funk, afro-beat and contemporary sounds with nods to hip-hop and disco, whilst acknowledging the traditional era of 1920s jazz and dance music. Having met at Trinity Laban, they aspire to create a culture that others can relate to and feel represented, and to help other young musicians carve out their own space. Self- motivated and driven by a DIY ethos and interdisciplinary approach, PYJÆN believe in building connections, supporting and collaborating with other artists to build communities and create culture in which everyone feels represented. Coming from diverse backgrounds, but united over a shared aim to connect with each other and their audiences, PYJÆN are burgeoning onto the London jazz scene.

 
Brother’s Testament are a groove-based jazz fusion band from London. Consisting of Munashe-Caleb Manyumbu, Mark Mollison, Hugo Piper and Jack Robson, their sound amalgamates powerful grooves and stirring melodies whilst also rooted in the jazz tradition. Brother’s Testament perform from the heart and emphasise and embrace improvisation so that the set manifests organically on stage, differently each time. Last year saw the release of ‘Ascent’, their debut EP, which slowly gained traction and garnered acclaim from the wider jazz community in London.


 
Jelly Cleaver is a guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer based in South London. With an eclectic taste in music, Jelly is heavily involved in both the jazz and DIY scenes in London. She’s also an activist, and a strain of political dissent runs through her music.

 
Byrd Out label head Stephen Vitkovitch (who’s supervised releases from Andrew Weatherall, Evan Parker, Philou Louzolo and more, and is the brains behind the Walthamstow Jazz Festival) will play some tracks between the acts. Check one of his Netil shows here:”


 
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The final June show, on the 25th, takes a folkier turn with The Breath, Alice Zawadzki and Lunatraktors.

The Breath is guitarist Stuart McCallum and singer Ríoghnach Connolly. Based in Manchester, their unique take on alt-folk journeys from lush, beguiling storytelling to uplifting punch-the-air anthems. For The Breath, it’s all about the song. Connolly writes the only way she knows how; a stream of poetic consciousness giving rise to honest, personal, heartfelt songs as likely to touch on childhood summers and first love as cultural dislocation, post-colonial injustices and grief. But it’s her deeply soulful, utterly engaging, stop-you-in-your-tracks voice – whether delicate and hushed or powerful and gutsy – coupled with Stuart’s understated brilliance and their exquisitely crafted, personal songs, that give The Breath such emotional depth. The duo share a remarkable connection on stage which make The Breath’s live performances utterly compelling.


 
“Vocalist, violinist, and composer Alice Zawadzki is a distinctive presence on the European creative scene. Her rich musical background and “whimsical hyper-creativity” (‘MOJO’) draw upon her early exposure to New Orleans jazz and gospel after years on the road as a teenager with the legendary Lillian Boutte, an extensive classical training as a violinist, and a continuous exploration of improvisation, poetry, and folk music from diverse traditions, “all propelled in a voice of velvet suppleness and gutsy emotional power” (‘The Arts Desk’). As an interpreter of new and unusual works, she has premiered several large-scale works both in the UK and abroad. Alice brings a stripped back and intimate performance to Woodburner, weaving ancient, modern, and invented folklore into a set of delicious pieces to share.


 
“What’s left when everything is taken away from us – our tools, technology and libraries, even our homes, communities and citizenship? What’s left is what we have learned by heart and we can do with our bodies: our voices, hands and feet. Using techniques from body percussion, tap dance, overtone singing and physical theatre, performance duo Lunatraktors explore a set of British, Irish and Australian ballads to rediscover folk music as a queer space of personal and political transformation. Weaving the tragedy and comedy of these traditional tales with hypnotic acoustic percussion and harmonies, Lunatraktors create a genre-defying, “spellbinding” performance on the borders of music, theatre and live art.

“Combining the percussive and choreographic talents of ex-Stomp member Carli Jefferson with the four-octave range and haunting overtones of trans folk singer Clair Le Couteur, Lunatraktors use the basic ingredients of body and voice to conjure up expansive, unexpected spaces. The duo are equally at home improvising with hands, feet and voices on a station platform, or electrifying a festival stage with custom drum kit, live loops and analogue synth. Lunatraktors strip folk down and rebuild it with influences from clowning, cabaret, art punk, flamenco and trip-hop. The tales they unearth of bravery in the face of forced migration, political unrest, and abuse of authority find particular resonances today.”


 

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All events are at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, 13 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England on Tuesday evenings. Dates below:

  • The Dylema Collective + Alxndr London + Boadi + Lex Amor – Tuesday 4th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • Dizraeli + Intaya + Charlotte Algar – Tuesday 11th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • PYJÆN + Brothers Testament + Jelly Cleaver + Stephen Vitkovitch – Tuesday 18th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • The Breath + Alice Zawadzki + Lunatraktors – Tuesday 25th June 2019, 7.00pm -information here and here

 

February 2019 – upcoming gigs in London and Sunderland (folk, country, etc.) – Mally Harpaz and Valeria Pozzo in London (12th); a resurgent Bill Jones in London and Sunderland (16th & 20th February); Sarah Jane Scouten in London (18th February)

4 Feb

Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo, 12th February 2019

On Tuesday next week, there’s yet another chance to see sometime Anna Calvi drummer/harmoniumist Mally Harpaz present her solo composer side, via live performances of her soundtracks for Clara Aparicio Yoldi’s video-art extrapolations from classic paintings. Debuted a little over a year ago (and revisited a couple of times since then, they’re post-classical piano-centric mood pieces. Various guests will be joining Mally as part of her ensemble – in the past, these have included Mark Neary, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford, Jessica Lauren, Eran Karniel and, indeed, Anna Calvi (a close friend rather than an employer, and one who repays loyalty).

 
As for the future, Mally is still incubating her intended debut album, with two brooding instrumentals having broken cover on Soundcloud two years ago – glowering Gothic impressionism for piano, drum and ghost guitar, dabbed with synth strings and wordless soprano wails. You can hear the imprint of mediaeval-toned cinema epics, Dead Can Dance, some of the foggier Braonáin-isms… but someone really needs to let this woman loose on a New Weird Britain film about a haunted pantry somewhere in the New Forest. Something nasty, with a scary cutlery drawer.


 
As she usually does, Mally is presenting this as part of one of her “off-the-beaten-track” Blind Dog Studio evenings, which also showcase other performers. In the past these events have often favoured under-the-radar female singer-songwriters with impressive multi-instrumental abilities. This month’s show is no exception, featuring Valeria Pozzo.

Originally from Italy, Valeria currently floats in that strangely nationless zone of acoustic jazz pop, where it’d be difficult to tell where she was from unless you asked. She’s the possessor of handy guitar and violin skills as well as being the owner of a supple voice; and from what I’ve heard of her so far she’s hovering on a cusp where she could either carve out a comfortable career supplying smooth, edgeless jazz-folk entertainment at upscale pizza restaurants or take a couple of small, delicate gambles and persistently deliver songs which could turn heads and stop jaws champing.

I much prefer it when she does the latter: easing subtly strange chordings and tunings into her work, adding an extra dimension. Not necessarily unsettling, let alone perverse, but providing a deepening, an extra quality of storytelling undercurrent. What would be, if she dealt in written stories, the story beyond the words: the bit that crept up on you.


 
Valeria’s also making another appearance later in the month, this time at Rami Radi’s Laid Bare At the Ritzy acoustic night in Brixton; where she’ll be appearing with assorted other south London singer-songwriters including post-Damien Rice caroller Archie Langley, Berlin-born acoustic soulster Adwoa Hackman and her white-soul-boy-next-door counterpart Josh Collins. As a bill it’s got its moments, but it’s a little too generic for me to say much here, to be honest; although George Pelham’s buttery lite-soul voice and apparently effortless shuffling of McCartney, Prince and Elton John songwriting sounds pretty good. I’m also going to go back sometime and have a closer listen to the coastal autoharp folk of Olive Haigh – the deliverer of a cute, winsome sound with a garnish of eerie weirdness which becomes more apparent the more you listen (slightly magical/slightly sinister fairytale undertones, and a subtle use of sound embellishments from fiddle slides to pebble rattles).

* * * * * * * *

Bill Jones, 16th February 2019

There was a time in the early 200s when Bill Jones looked set to be a British folk star with the profile of someone like Kate Rusby – upfront, nicely turned out, fairly straightforward and with her folk scholarship gently on display. (These days it seems to matter less whether you gained it at lockins or at university, though plenty seem to study at both of these schools. Bill was one of those who did both.)

My own initial memories of Bill are wilder, woollier and from a bit further back: from when she was singing loud, pure backing vocals from behind an accordion as an anchoring part of The Wise Wound, who have generally been snootily dismissed as “an indie band” in accounts of Bill’s prehistory but whose absorbing, sometimes frustrating work was more like a remarkable psychedelic quilt being disgorged through a chamber folk-funnel. Back then (still going through formative years) she was something of a band secret weapon: a dark horse who stood apart from the friendly-frictional mental wrestling and gag-cracking that made up much of the Wise Wound’s offstage behaviour, while secretly fostering a great deal of the charm that served her well when she eventually found her own voice and went solo.

It was interesting seeing Bill afterwards, since she was still something of a dark horse: managing to pull off (possibly unwittingly) the trick of being entirely open while remaining entirely enigmatic. Even when revealing something personal in song (such as her family’s Anglo-Indian Darjeeling heritage, as laid out a capella in the title track of 2001’s ‘Panchpuran’) she sometimes seemed less of a conversationalist in what she sang than a conduit, like the flute she also plays. Her sleekly-groomed picture-book folk sometimes made use of the varnished production of pop, but without any concessions or vulgarities; and there was certainly always a sense that while Bill was friendly and loved her craft, she was also keeping a careful reign on the interplay of life and music.

Bill Jones, 20th February 2019At any rate, after three increasingly well-received albums (plus a live record, an odds-and-sods collection and a trinational collaborative project and tour with Anne Hills and Aoife Clancy), Bill turned away from the road and the spotlight; taking the option of stepping back, while still in her twenties, in favour of home-life in Sunderland, teaching and raising a family. She hasn’t been completely absent from the stage since. Folk-music teaching has less differentiation between instruction and performance; plus there were a couple of 2016 support slots in Tokyo for Flook and a number of low-key charity gigs for Antenatal Results & Choices (a cause close to Bill’s heart).

Now, however, she’s mounting a more substantial comeback, with a new album – ‘Wonderful Fairytale’ – finally arriving this coming May and various folk festival appearances scheduled for England and the United States later in the year. The first sightings are a new song, My Elfin Knight, and a pair of February dates accompanied by violinist/viola player and album buddy Jean-Pierre Garde. Between them, incidentally, the gigs indicate the affable but borderline incompatible polarities of British folk music. The London show in the churchy environs of The Gresham Centre can’t help but come with a bit of lofty gloss (canonicity, scholarliness, high-culture), while the Sunderland hometown gig is much more down-to-earth (a Whitburn Village Heritage Society do at a cricket club which also features floor spots from local singers).

I don’t know whether Bill makes much of these differentiations, or whether the contrast makes her laugh. As far as I can see, she’s just getting on with the music. Here’s the video for My Elfin Knight, which shows that she’s lost nothing in the intervening time: musically, still as sleek as a seal and cool as an early autumn evening. If anything’s changed, it’s the emotional freighting: the passing years seem to have laid an extra presence on her, with the sense of unspoken things lurking closer behind the song.


 
* * * * * * * *

Among the Nest Collective events popping up for early 2019 is a show by Canadian country folker Sarah Jane Scouten – another artist with firm groundings in tradition plus the willpower to bring it to a fresh new audience. As with the spill of characters around the Laid Bare evening, I can’t say much for Sarah in terms of originality, or in terms of her bringing much that’s new to the table, but with her neither of these things need to matter.

Sarah Jane Souten, 18th February 2019

What does matter is how she takes her chosen song-form back into her corner (a genre that’s still too young to be ossified but is still too easy to render cheesy) and how she refreshes it. Rather than a young revolutionary, Sarah’s a restorer and a reconfigurer: someone who can already turn out classic-sounding songs to fit the canon, and who can personify its ongoing traditions in a way that looks forced and creaky on a rock performer but sits surprisingly well on a country figure. Maybe it’s the storytelling side of things – as with traditional folk, stories get picked up, dusted off and recast in country, rolling on like a wheel. At any rate, Sarah’s consistently impressive, whether she’s turning out honky-tonk or delivering typically countryesque tales of rural life, bereavement and memory with songs such as the recent single Show Pony. She might not be showing you where country is going, but she’ll certainly show you where it will always be coming from.

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo + guests
Hundred Years Gallery, 13 Pearson Street, Hoxton, London, E2 8JD, England
Tuesday 12th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

The Nest Collective presents:
Sarah Jane Scouten
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Monday 18th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Bill Jones:

  • Gresham Centre, St Anne And St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Whitburn Cricket Club, The Village Ground, Sunderland, South Tyneside, SR6 7BZ, England – Wednesday 20th February 2019 – information here and here

Laid Bare At the Ritzy presents:
George Pelham + Adwoa Hackman + Olive Haigh + Josh Collins + Valeria Pozzo Trio + Archie Langley
Upstairs at The Ritzy, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 1JG, England
Wednesday 27th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information 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

 

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

29 Sep

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

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

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



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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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


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

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

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

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

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

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
 

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

12 Aug

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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


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

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

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


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


 
* * * * * * * *

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

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

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


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


 
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Full dates:

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

More Campfire Club shows to follow in September…
 

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 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.
 

March 2018 – upcoming gigs – Echo Trails and Djanan Turan in London (10th March); Echo Trails, Ingrid Plum, Kyriakides and Polbrone soundtrack old Russian animations for Colliding LDN in London (8th March); Antigen night in Ipswich with MacGillivray, Sealionwoman and Polly Preacher (16th March)

6 Mar

Echo Trails + Djanan Turan, 8th March 2018

Echo Trails + Djanan Turan
The Betsey Trotwood, 56 Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell, London, EC1R 3BL, England
Saturday 10th March 2018, 7.30pm
information

This month, the roiling, thrilling, mostly-acoustic post-folk band Echo Trails resurface for a Clerkenwell gig in the vaults of the Betsey Trotwood. If you missed them a month ago (at the Magic Garden), here’s what I said about them back then:

“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.”




 
In support is Turkish singer turned Egg collaborator and London bandleader Djanan Turan, who specializes in light, chatty near-acoustic party pop with a timeless perpetually-youthful feel. Into the pot – along with her own warm and garrulous vocal – go Turkish beats, cabaret pop, mellow synth riffs, raga, woody spiralling clarinet lines and slithering Romani/Med-jazz guitar (the latter courtesy of Funkshy’s Fatih Ebrem).

Djanan’s also known for organising one of London’s female artist platforms (the Anatolian/Middle-Eastern-flavoured Hura Nights). In keeping with this, her own songs always sound and feel as if she’s invited you back into her kitchen to keep you abreast of developments and to talk a friendly blue streak about whatever’s crossing her mind – world peace, personal disagreements and reconciliations, the position of women, youth recalled and put into deeper perspective. Despite the hints at New Age positivity (I suspect that that kitchen has a couple of crystals hanging in the window), underneath that loquacious flow is an accomplished songwriter with her dancing feet firmly in touch with the ground. There may be gush involved, but it’s never flippant.



 
* * * * * * * *

A few days earlier, Echo Trails are making another London appearance at New River Studios as part of a film evening. As well as closing the show with a full set of their own songs, they’re one of four artists/bands performing live soundtracks to existing silent films. More below…

Colliding LDN, 10th March 2018Colliding Lines present:
‘Colliding LDN: Reanimation’
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Thursday 8th March 2018, 8.30pm
– information here and here

Live cross-disciplinary art promoters Colliding Lines begin “a new, bi-monthly night of live art, sound and vision, presenting experimental collaborations and post-label projects from select performers. ‘Reanimation’ (is) a live re-scoring of mostly Soviet-era cartoons and surrealist animations by four different artists).”

The programme features two shorts by veteran Russian animator Andrei Khrjanovsky (1968’s anti-bureaucratic musical fable ‘The Glass Harmonica‘ and 1972’s ‘The Butterfly‘), as well as alternative 1968 tellings of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (‘Rusalochka‘ by Ivan Aksenchuk) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (the National Institute of Mental Health’s polemical ‘Curious Alice‘, which took a somewhat counter-productive slap at the early ‘70s drug culture by making it look even more fascinating to children).

 
In addition to Echo Trails, live soundtracking will be performed by extended-voice improviser and soundshaper Ingrid Plum (who blends and savages her own glorious clear vocals with sound processing and field recordings, and stirs in influences from neo-classical and from Scottish and Nordic folk music) and by two different sets of electro-acoustic music-making brothers. In-demand collaborators for film, dance and installation work, Kyriakides (Reuben and Jacob, to their mother) build “expansive, enveloping soundworlds” from live instruments, field recordings and found objects across a wide spectrum of musical and stylistic options. Electro-acoustic fraternal drone duo Polbrone are an alternate workframe for Andrea and Simone Salvatici of Glasgow avant-folk minimalists Clorinde, who in this project loop and gradually destroy their own sonic textures (and on this occasion will be aided by improvising cellist Derek Yau).


 
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A little later on, inspired East Anglian “marginal musician” label Antigen are running a concert over in Ipswich…

MacGillivray + Sealionwoman + Polly Preacher, 16th March 2018

Antigen Records present:
MacGillivray + Sealionwoman + Polly Preacher
The Smokehouse, South Street Studios, 6 South Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3NU, England
Friday 16th March 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

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’.




 
Like Kirsten, Colchester’s Ashleagh Claire Hurren immerses herself in a performance persona, although Polly Preacher‘s “wonky folk troubadour” act is a good deal more comfortable than MacGillivray’s harsher hauntology. That said, the original tag makes her sound a lot kookier than she is. You don’t get cute acoustic numbers about spice racks, paintings and milky heartbreaks. Instead you get a crepuscular, witty electric folk with a homemade feel and a few echoes of lo-fi indie rock. There are a few shades of Kristen Hersh, perhaps even a little Lupen Crook, but for the most part a Polly Preacher song follows its own pattern: cryptic feints into storytelling where the supernatural rubs shoulders with grit, and in which haunted cutlery drawers and fairy tales cross imperceptibly over into stories of how to navigate a female life… or at least how to begin the journey and begin mapping the hazards.

 
Sealionwoman slightly buck this gig’s tonal trend of “folk meets New Weird Britain”, being much more of a dark-dusk monochromed blues-and-jazz basement affair, albeit filtered through loops, noise and the canny restrictions of being an unorthodox duo. The bare bones and wizard’s brew of Tye McGivern’s effects-laden double bass steps in and out of the shadows with subtle changes of raiment, sometimes clean-limbed and sometimes masked; Kitty Whitelaw ‘s vocals stretch from distracted torch singer to ghostly and mischievous jazz acrobat, running deft arabesques around the shape of the song.

Bar occasional gig notifications, I’ve not encountered Sealionwoman much since getting very absorbed in a live performance of theirs in a Hackney shopwindow back in 2013. My negligence, not theirs. Go back and have a look at that review: I’ve just done so myself, and it captures the compelling sinewy distractions of their live presence, the transformative implications of their name and their thousand-shades-of-black-white-and-grey better than anything I could come up with right now.



 

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:

* * * * * * * *

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.



 
* * * * * * * *

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.



 

* * * * * * * *

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 jazz gigs – Christine Tobin’s PELT (3rd February); Jason Yarde’s TRiO !Wah! plus JAE (11th February); Adam Ben Ezra plus the Dan Casimir Quintet (16th February)

28 Jan

A quick whistle-stop, cut’n’paste rush through some of early February’s interesting jazz gigs… not much from me this time, so you’ll just have to trust the press releases…

* * * * * * * *

Christine Tobin, 2014

Christine Tobin, 2014

Christine Tobin: ‘PELT’
Hall Two @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Saturday 3rd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Having been an integral part of the UK music scene for many years, Christine Tobin is now based between NYC and London. The Irish-born vocalist and composer is renowned for her unique rich voice and original compositional style. With eleven highly acclaimed albums under her own name and four major awards under her belt, Christine is treasured in the UK and far beyond as one of the leading lights on the contemporary scene. MOJO described her as an artist who “really transcends glib genre-fication. Her expressive range acknowledges finely acquired folk, jazz and 20th-century classical influences, which already sets her apart. And everything is shot through with an unmistakable refinement, free-spirited earthiness and giddy romanticism… this singer-songwriter is in a field of one.”

“Christine’s most recent album – 2016’s ‘PELT’ – is her settings of poems and lyrics by contemporary Pulitzer Prize winning poet Paul Muldoon. Although a continuation of her alchemy with fine words and music and her exploration of the chemistry between the two, ‘PELT’ marks a new direction and a new musical soundscape… both daring and dreamlike, passionate and playful. Tobin leads her musicians across a kaleidoscopic panorama, sometimes as junkyard blues philosopher, or snappy beat seductress, sometimes as a conduit for exquisite zen-like harmonies, or reflective Americana.


 
“The seed of the idea for setting Paul Muldoon’s poems came when the pair were invited to collaborate and perform a piece at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2011. Christine had long admired Muldoon’s work and he was greatly impressed by her British Composer Award-winning settings of W.B. Yeats. When they discussed setting his poems, Paul gave Christine a copy of his collection ‘Paul Muldoon Poems 1968 – 1998’ and gave her carte blanche to choose the poems she wished to work with. He also sent her new lyrics and as the project unfolded, the texts chosen ended up a being mix of poems and lyrics. The result is a rich and engaging collection with Tobin’s trademark originality.”

(Meanwhile, I’ve been slack enough to miss the fact that this is just part of an ongoing British tour which, by the time it hits London, will already have been through Bridport, Calstock, Torrington, Exeter, Southampton and Derby and is going on to Gateshead, Cardiff, Bristol and Nottingham before winding up at Birmingham on 10th February. For the full dates and details, check here: more on the personnel below.

“For this tour, Tobin has assembled a stellar band which includes seminal figures on the jazz scene Gareth Lockrane (flutes), Phil Robson (guitar/electronics), Steve Hamilton (piano/keyboard/laptop), Kate Shortt (cello/vocals/deaf signing), Richard Jones (violin), Dave Whitford (upright/electric bass) and Simon Lea (drums). In ‘Jazzwise’ magazine, Peter Quinn described them as “a cast of players who are all perfectly attuned to Tobin’s vision and artistry.” The London concert will feature a guest reading by the acclaimed multi-award winning Brooklyn poet Eva Salzman, who has also collaborated with Christine on past projects.”

* * * * * * * *

Jason Yarde's TRiO !WAH! + JAE, 11th February 2018

Tom Skinner presents
Jason Yarde’s TRiO !Wah! + JAE
The Pickle Factory, 13-14 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DU, England
Sunday 11th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here, here and here

“On 11th February, revered jazz drummer Tom Skinner returns for a Sunday evening residency at The Pickle Factory, curating a forward-thinking evening of jazz music every other month. Over the past year Tom has hosted some true jazz greats – Ezra Collective, Shabaka Hutchings – and has some special evenings planned for 2018.

“This time, Tom Skinner invites monster ex-Jazz Warrior multi-reedist Jason Yarde – famed for his work as an arranger with the sadly departed Hugh Masekela – who presents his lauded jazz ensemble TRiO !WAH!, featuring Yarde on saxes, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Mike Pickering. In contrast to playing in the big bands of Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, Hermeto Pascoal, Roy Ayers, Manu Dibango and his own Acoutastic Bombastic, Trio WAH! is a chance to hear Yarde’s playing and compositions in an intimate and stripped-down setting. Jason and Larry (Courtney Pine, Byron Wallen, etc) forged their musical relationship through playing in the original Jazz Warriors; and Mike (Billy Jenkins, Christine Tobin, etc) and Jason through the London based twelve-piece Rare Mix. Over the fifteen-plus years since, they have developed a fluid trio connection covering greatly varied musical terrain.

“From tight and constantly shifting rhythmic patterns to free flowing rhapsodic episodes, Trio !WAH! can cover the calm and the storm within a few bars, never losing the important elements of rhythm, melody and even harmony in this exposed format. ‘Jazzwise’ noted that the group “modulates easily from spacious post-bop to dirty grooves via Ornette-ish noise, showing a creative approach to form”, while ‘The Guardian’ said “it’s fascinating to witness how seamlessly Yarde’s writing and improvising intertwine… Swing, hip-hop, improv, you name it, he can make it all sound as if it was meant to live together, and he’s getting better at it all the time…”


 
“They’re joined by JAE, a mysterious keyboard and drums duo playing music influenced by King Tubby, Madlib and Larry Levan…”

(I found a little more on JAE, to render them less annoyingly anonymous. It turns out that it’s a team-up of longterm south London jazz buddies Joe Armon Jones (keyboard player with Ezra Collective, Sumo Chief, Nubya Garcia band and others) and drummer Jake Long (drummer with Maisha, SE Dub Collective and Where Pathways Meet).

Also, here’s eighty easygoing seconds of JAE doodle…

 

* * * * * * * *

Adam Ben Ezra + Dan Casimir Quintet, 16th February 2018

Adam Ben Ezra + Dan Casimir Quintet
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Friday 16th February 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“Double bass phenomenon, multi-instrumentalist and online sensation Adam Ben Ezra; a man seemingly on a mission to bring his instrument from its status as a background note to the dominant front-presence it deserves. For the past few years Adam has been pushing his craft in new, exciting directions and carving out a unique spot for himself in today’s international musical landscape, with both his virtuosity and musicianship earning him great success along the way.

“With more than ten million hits on YouTube and a strong following on all social media platforms, it is clear Adam is a bonafide star in the internet world. However, his success is certainly not limited to the web, having performed around the globe in major international music festivals and shared stages with some of the world’s fusion giants – including Pat Metheny, Victor Wooten and Richard Bona – over the last few years.


 
“Support comes from award winning bassist and composer Dan Casimir. Having made a name for himself with his EP ‘Escapee’, released on Jazz re:freshed in 2016, Dan has also lent his bass skills to the likes of Julian Joseph, Jason Rebello, Lonnie Liston Smith, Ashley Henry, Camilla George and Nubya Garcia to name a few.”


 
(As far as I know, the Dan Casimir Quintet is Dan plus pianist Sarah Tandy, guitarist Shirley Tetteh, singer Tess Hirst and drummer Olly Sarkar…)
 

June 2017 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Alice Zawadzki & Jamie Safir (24th June); the LUME Festival 2017 (24th & 25th June)

17 Jun

A quick London jazz update, in two contrasting flavours (jazz-pop in a plush Soho brasserie; wild improv and thick sound in a Lambeth art space).

Alice Zawadzki & Jamie Safir, 24th June 2017

Live At Zédel presents:
Alice Zawadzki & Jamie Safir
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Saturday 24th December 2016, 7.00pm
information

“Following a sold-out show in January, Alice Zawadzki and Jamie Safir return to their favourite venue for an evening of power-ballads and pop-songs: rearrangements of ’70s, ’80s and ’90s classics stripped bare and drastically re-imagined in this intimate jazz setting. Described by ‘The Guardian’ as “a genuine original” and by ‘MOJO’ magazine as “something of a phenomenon”, Alice truly possesses a unique musical gift on both voice and violin. Tonight she will be ably accompanied by accomplished, young pianist and arranger Jamie Safir, a regular at Zedel, and a creative and virtuosic improviser whose sensitivity and skill when accompanying vocalists has led to him work recently with Will Young, Ian Shaw, Olly Murs and Barb Jungr amongst others.”

I couldn’t find any clips of Alice and Jamie working together (they’ve done this show before at Zédel, but no-one seems to have thought to film it). Still, to give you an idea, here’s Alice’s separate guitar/violin/bass trio cover of Nobody’s Fault But Mine, brought down to a thrumming pitch of apprehension. Not that the original’s a power ballad, but it fits the mould if you stretch the latter beyond belief (and carefully ignore the fact that the original’s actually a Blind Willie Johnson blues moan rather than a crushing Led Zeppelin behemoth), though I’m not sure whether she’ll be applying similar techniques to Hold The Line, Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now or other ‘School Disco‘/’Guilty Pleasures’ stalwarts.


 
* * * * * * * *

LUME Festival, 24th & 25th June 2017

LUME presents
LUME Festival 2017
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 24th June 2017 & Sunday 25th June 2017 (3.00pm to 10.30pm, both days)
– information http://iklectikartlab.com/lume-festival-2017/ here, https://luminouslabel.bandcamp.com/merch here and here https://www.facebook.com/events/539918599729636/

At the same time, London experimental jazz organisation LUME will be throwing a two-day performance party in the shape of their own yearly LUME Festival. Drawing on the success of last year’s event, it brings a selection of old and new faces to town.

Both of the LUME organisers are bringing along their own quintets: Cath Roberts’ growling, exploded free-blues explorers Sloth Racket (with tenorist Sam Andreae, guitarist Anton Hunter, bass player Seth Bennett and drummer Johnny Hunter) and Dee Byrne’s flowing, cosmological, space-jazzing Entropi (with trumpeter Andre Canniere, keyboardist Rebecca Nash, drummer Matt Fisher and bassist Olie Brice). So too is Derby vibraphone theorist Corey Mwamba, playing his extended piece ‘as_the_tex(t): body’ in a band featuring Robert Mitchell, Rachel Musson, Liran Donin, and Richard Olatunde.

Newer to LUME are multi-layered Newcastle trio Archipelago (Christian Alderson, John Pope and Faye MacCalman, who throw piano, tapes, mbiras and handheld Monotron synths into the jazz-meets-garage-rock fusion of their bass/reeds/drums lineup) and the stormy murmuring chants of Laura Cole’s jazz-folk sextet Metamorphic, in which she’s joined by saxophonists John Martin and Chris Williams (the latter also of Led Bib), drummer Tom Greenhalgh, loop vocalist Kerry Andrew (of Juice Vocal Ensemble) and a bass chair that’s filled either by Paul Sandy of The Rude Mechanicals or by Sloth Racket’s Seth Bennett. Also in the mix are solo sets by visually-minded trumpeter and laptop wizard Alex Bonney (of Splice, Loop Collective, Leverton Fox and many others) and by electric trombonist and field recorder Tullis Rennie.

On top of this, there are some new entanglements. There’s the “brutally physical” Manchester/London teamup of David Birchall, Andrew Cheetham, Otto Willberg and Colin Webster; the Ma/ti/om percussion/bass/woodwind teaming of Matilda Rolfsson, Tim Fairhall and Tom Ward; plus whatever the random ensemble shuffle of The Hat Speaks throws up. To round off, there’s the mass blowing of the LUMEkestra as it debuts new work by Sam Andreae, Adam Fairhall, Dee Byrne and others.

Time details and daily lineups below, plus the usual wobbly stack of tunes, snippets and aural collisions to warm you up for the event.

LUME Festival, 24th & 25th June 2017


 

April 2017 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Emma-Jean Thackray + Pie Eye Collective + Sky Coloured (14th); Taeko Kunishima’s Iridescent Clouds (23rd); Jonny Gee Trio with Alex Garnett (24th)

7 Apr

Another London jazz and jazz-ish update for April. Minglings of jazz, pop, turntablism and glitchtronica in New Cross; Taeko Kunishima’s Anglo-Indo-Mediterranean-Japanese mixed-media ensemble taking flight in Lambeth; and Jonny Gee’s latest warm-toned jazz-and-curry evening in Archway.

* * * * * * * *

Rain Today presents:
Emma-Jean Thackray + Pie Eye Collective + Sky Coloured
The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, New Cross, London, SE14 6TY, England
Friday 14th April 2017, 7.00pm
information

Emma Jean Thackray, 2016

Emma-Jean Thackray, 2016

“London live music series Rain Today returns with a dazzling bill of some of south London’s most original groove-based artists.

Emma-Jean Thackray is an award winning composer, arranger, producer and instrumentalist, and a recent Red Bull Music Academy alumni. She has been described by RBMA as “one of the UK’s most exciting new jazz artists” and Rhythm Section has said that her recent ‘Walrus’ EP is “one of the most exciting and unique jazz records of 2016”. ‘Walrus’ now sits in the collections of some of the world’s best selectors: Bradley Zero, Sean P, Mr Scruff, Theo Parrish, Jeff Chairman Mao and more…



 
“Often seen manipulating the unseen sounds within Emma-Jean Thackray’s Walrus quintet and the London SoundPainting Orchestra founded by Diego Ghymers, composer-producer Pie Eye Collective presents a brand new solo live show of abstract improvisation, electronic dimensions, hypnotic textures and entrancing rhythms (in anticipation of the soon-to-come Pie Eye Collective debut EP, due to be released late 2017).


 
“New south-east London nine-piece Sky Coloured return to the Amersham (where they launched their debut LP ‘Starting Time’) to present a set of ‘symphonic alt-pop’. Described by AmericanaUK as ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning scored by Miles Davis’, they are a collective of brilliant musicians playing songs of outstanding craft and originality.”



 
* * * * * * * *

IKLECTIK Art Lab presents:
Taeko Kunishima: ‘Iridescent Clouds’
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Sunday 23rd April 2017, 8:00 pm
information

“Previously a long-term resident in London, pianist Taeko Kunishima is now moving between the UK and Japan, performing in both countries. With a background in both classical and jazz, she has toured the UK (with support from Jazz Services), and has four albums on the 33 Jazz label.

Taeko Kunishima - Iridescent Clouds, 23rd April 2016“Her trademark lyricism is all over the most recent of these; ‘Iridescent Clouds’, on which she has newly composed eight beautiful pieces in a mellow, melodic vein with occasional atmospheric twists, as her music shifts elegantly from melody to improvisation and back again. Her core group again features the ethereal, Zen-like tones of the Japanese shakuhachi flute, warm double bass, the zinging rhythms of the three-stringed Tsugaru shamisen and percussion from tablas, cahon and gongs.

“The album also conveys the listener to surprising locations thanks to Jeremy Hawkins’s subtle use of field recordings made in both Japan and the UK, from the spring call of the uguisu bird (a type of Japanese bush warbler) to the rustling of oak leaves in autumn. For instance, the track Iridescent Seashell provides a stunning duet between piano and uguisu, with additional splashes of colour from khene and Cretan double pipes.  

“Evan Parker has hailed the album’s “good clear concept… well interpreted by the musicians” and it was put forward by James Nadal of ‘ All About Jazz‘ as one of the best albums released in 2016. (“Acknowledged for her trademark lyricism, (she) reflects upon the wonders of nature on ‘Iridescent Clouds’, offering elegant improvised passages encased in a meditative concept.”)

For this concert, Taeko will be playing with the other contributors to the ‘Iridescent Clouds’ project: shakuhachi/flute player Clive Bell, double bass player Paul Moylan (She’Koyokh, Michael Garrick, Johns Dankworth and Etheridge), Indo-classical/reggae/electro-acoustic tabla player Camilo Tirado (Nitin Sawhney, James Holden, Lemn Sissay), and Hibiki Ichikawa (one of the world’s top-rank shamisen players and a prime representative of Japanese musical culture in London).

The video clip below was recorded at the Iridescent Clouds performance at Aberjazz 2016; the subsequent one’s been added from a previous project as an example of the films projected at some of Taeko’s concerts.



 
* * * * * * * *

Jazz @ The Sitara, 24th April 2017

Jonny Gee presents:
Jazz & Curry!: Alex Garnett + Jonny Gee Trio
The Sitara, 784 Holloway Road, Archway, London, N19 3JH, England
Monday 24th April 2017, 7.00pm
information

Lastly, here’s one of the low-profile, high-powered jazz gigs in north London led by Archway-based double bass whiz Jonny Gee. No frills, no gimmicks, no particularly grand concepts – just superbly-played music by several of the capital’s most skilled and flexible musicians, in one of the best of London’s Indian eateries (itself a longstanding jazz haunt).

If you’ve been following previous posts on Jonny you’ll know that he plays everything from baroque to bebop and then some, having worked with King Salsa, Antonio Forcione, Ravi Shankar and Cleo Laine as well as a host of orchestras and dance bands. You might also know that his drummer Andrea Trillo has played with both Herbie Hancock and Jerry Dammers (as well as with Don Weller, Dave O’Higgins, Jon Toussaint, Simon Purcell and Tim Richards). The trio’s pianist Dave Oliver plays with Mamas Gun, Sugar Kings and Marta Acosta as well as MD-ing for Lisa Stansfield.

On this particular occasion, Jonny’s also conjured up a guest slot from Alex Garnett, one of our best & wittiest saxophonists, (who) joins my trio for the evening… before running off to Ronnie Scott’s at 10:30pm sharp, where he runs the house band.” This gig only seats thirty people, and tickets are running out fast…
 

July 2001 – EP reviews – A Girl Called Eddy’s ‘Tears All Over Town’ (“torch songs set to low glow, fanned into sudden flares by a crack in control”)

31 Jul

A Girl Called Eddy: 'Tears All Over Town' EP

A Girl Called Eddy: ‘Tears All Over Town’ EP

One of my small daydreams of alternate pop history involves Clare Torry. Having raised the hairs on the back of my neck with her ecstatic singing on Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky, she wouldn’t have slipped away anonymously. She’d’ve gone into the studio with songs for herself and produced at least one album with that voice, that understanding set free. When (on Francis Dunnery‘s Close My Door) I first heard Eddy Moran’s arresting wordless vocal soaring skywards – twisting, keening, cracking and surging – I felt that same hair-raising chill. Flashed straight back to the same daydream.

I’m luckier in my dreaming sometimes. Although, for her debut EP as A Girl Called Eddy, she’s not repeating the magnificent Torry-esque splendour that turned my head the first time, Eddy has found other ways to chill me. Her songs could’ve waltzed out of the ’30s, or the ’60s: torch songs set to low glow, fanned into sudden flares by a crack in control. Cool heartbreak in her voice, she’s like a more ambiguous Tracey Thorn. Not someone who’ll glut her despair centre stage: she’s more like someone who you might catch staring at you piercingly from beside the bar, quiet, wise and intent.


 
Fading does its bit to draw back the curtains of sorrow. A fragment of Blue Nile lushness, slurs and fake orchestra, it revolves like a ferris wheel trailed by a puff of New Orleans trumpet. Cinematic, but less so than Soundtrack of Your Life; which – set on capturing the swinging ’60s side of Eddy’s imagination with its bossa lilt and breezy “bah-bah” chorus – doesn’t follow the torch course so closely. But beyond its cigarettes, its memories from film and old photos, its gushes of grand Mellotron and sitars, it has its centre of bereftness. “If ignorance is bliss, then seal it with a kiss, / but it was never supposed to end like this.”


 
Heartache – eased along with upright bass, a mascara-slur of brush drums and soft dips of weary piano – brings out the real phantoms of loss. “You’ve seen his face somewhere before. / Now you know for sure / that you can call him heartache – yeah, you can call him that,” Eddy breathes. “Yeah, you can call him heartache – you’ll never get it back.” Ragged memories and the force of erotic imagination are where these particular ghosts live, and Eddy’s well aware of it.


 
A ghost of another kind haunts Girls Can Really Tear You Up Inside – the spectre of a vanished, never-known father. Like the bewildered girl in the song, Eddy simply pieces together scraps. Yet the result is a reverie carrying its own kind of romantic longing – “she’s heard you sing / and that your eyes are very, very, very blue…” In this web of connections and betrayal, there’s as much lurking passion, fear and anticipation as there is in any straight love song. Eddy reveals this, trace by trace, as she rides an elliptical path to its frightened heart, addressing the vanished man as she does so. “Why do you run, / why do you hide / from all you are?” Eddy muses, a dreamy voice of conscience and excitement amongst the traffic noise and the strums of an almost blues-y harpsichord. “You’re just a man, but she could tear you up inside.”


 
The greatest crack in the cool comes with her take on Stephen Bishop’s The Same Old Tears, recorded in her Greenwich Village kitchen in a flash of inspiration, with just an acoustic guitar and a divine echo. “Seeing you as an old photograph, it hurts too much to laugh,” Eddy sings, midway between croon, tears and laughter, before soaring off into a beautiful blue plate-cracking keen – “But I’m all right, I’m all right…”


 
Just for a flash, you see to the knot of the problem, and need know no more. Wanting more is different, of course. Eddy knows this – and, listening to this EP, so do I, now.

A Girl Called Eddy: ‘Tears All Over Town’
Le Grand Magistery, HRH-021 (6 16656 00212 3)
CD-only EP
Released:
31st July 2001
Get it from: (2020 update) Le Grand Magistery; or stream via Deezer, Apple Music or Spotify. Different versions of Heartache and Girls Can Really Tear You Up Inside appear on the eponymous debut album by A Girl Called Eddy.
A Girl Called Eddy online:
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October 2000 – album reissue reviews – King Crimson’s ‘Lizard’ & ‘Islands’ 30th anniversary reissues (“some of their most surprising – yet most neglected – music”)

7 Oct

From 1970 to 1972, King Crimson existed as a kind of invalid’s cats-cradle between its two ideas men (guitarist/composer Robert Fripp and lyricist/lights man/presentation polymath Peter Sinfield), with one faithful and exceptionally talented sax’n’flute player (Mel Collins) hanging on philosophically to the bouncing threads.

Perhaps it was a comedown for the band who, only a couple of years previously, had single-handedly redefined British rock music and almost stolen Hyde Park from the Rolling Stones in concert. However, this was still a time when they produced prolifically. Matters weren’t helped by internal conflict and a regular turnover of personnel (lead singers in particular). But despite having already lost key members to ELP (magisterial manchild singer Greg Lake), the sessions world (dazzling but personally wayward drummer Michael Giles) and Foreigner (composer and jack-of-all-instruments Ian McDonald, though strictly speaking he wouldn’t help form the AOR collossi for another few years yet), Crimson soldiered on. And, in the process, came up with some of their most surprising – yet most neglected – music.

King Crimson: 'Lizard'

King Crimson: ‘Lizard’

Psychologically, ‘Lizard’ has always felt like the oddest King Crimson album. Hurtling out at the tail-end of 1970 (less than a year after ‘In the Wake of Poseidon‘) and with a shroud of silence surrounding its making, it’s like a black hole in King Crimson’s history. No-one involved in the making of ‘Lizard’ seems to talk about it much. The fact that the band started recordings with a brand new vocal/rhythm section (singing bassist Gordon Haskell from Fleur De Lys and ex-Manfred Mann drummer Andy McCulloch), and ended the sessions with both men shot out of the saddle and vanishing before even playing a note onstage, has given the album’s reputation more than a tinge of sulphur and daggers drawn. Haskell still doesn’t talk to Fripp, and his contributions have been ostentatiously removed from Crimson compilations ever since. Silent prickles. Ooh, nasty.

The new remaster provides few clues to the musical politics behind ‘Lizard’, but does throw its obsessive ambition into sharp relief. It’s a remarkable record – the most panoramic thing Robert Fripp ever attempted until he blew up ambient music with his Soundscapes twenty years later. And it’s also the most anti-rock record he’s released to this day; as far from being a “band” album as this particular Crimson were from being a live band.

The music comes in floods of cryptic decoration, riding on the back of Fripp’s dark and abrasive chordal imagination. Both leaders are on intriguingly different form: Fripp mostly leaving his Les Paul untouched and playing devilishly tricky acoustic guitar, Sinfield throwing away most of his clotted Gothic lyric totems in favour of shifting psychedelic parlour tricks. But pride of place goes to semi-detached piano player Keith Tippett, a jazz guerilla who constantly refused Fripp’s offers of joint musical leadership of King Crimson but (for ‘Lizard’, anyhow) seems to have taken it on anyway.


 
Fripp had produced and played with Tippett’s band Centipede; and the jazzer returns the favour in full measure here, bringing along oboe player Robin Millar, trombonist Nick Evans and cornet player Mark Charig (all reknowned for Soft Machine contributions) to join Mel Collins and himself in expanding King Crimson’s musical voicings. Consequently ‘Lizard’ jangles and loons with a bright, big-band free-jazz sound as the horn section and Tippett’s fulsomely unpredictable pianos joust with Fripp’s gargantuan Mellotron sounds and the blooping cartoon synthesizers. Certain songs – Happy Family in particular, seem to abandon the rigorous Crimson discipline altogether and worry themselves to bits, with Tippett keeping a relaxed but steady grip on the anarchic play.


 
Peter Sinfield, for his part, stays in an almost domestic realm for the first half of the album. His lyric for the perky Indoor Games is a bizarre Bunuel-meets-Doctor-Seuss poke at the pretentions of bourgeois bohemians, his protagonist barely keeping himself afloat in the showy menagerie of his household. The Cirkus which opens the album is reached in a dream-voyage, a gaudy cruel entertainment which immediately succumbs to stampede and peril. Happy Family is one of the acts which could’ve been performed there – an impossibly tortuous metaphorical tribute to the sorry end of The Beatles. Throughout, Tippett tops every surreal word-twist with another kink in his piano playing.


 
Tippett, in fact, is far more at home than half of the official Crimsons. Gordon Haskell’s a great bluesy singer; but while sunk in this whirling confection of oboes and exploding pianos, drowning in Sinfield’s crossword puzzle wordplay, he struggles even to be heard (let alone draw meaning out of the songs). Andy McCulloch copes better with music that requires him to jump between drum approaches from jazz hiss to orchestral percussion and military rattle. Still, you can almost hear him furrowing his brow and wondering what the hell all this has got to do with headlining the Marquee Club.


 
Poor old Haskell – a good guy in a bad position – gets some respite on Lady of the Dancing Waters where they give him a wistful tune with a trombone and a little English clearing to serenade in… only for him to be upstaged by the beautifully husky choirboy vocals of Yes singer Jon Anderson for the next song. At the conclusion of Indoor Games he unleashes one of the most fascinating laughs in rock history – a demented, yelping hiccup of crazed, fearful mirth which the engineer picks up and slaps back and forth across the speakers. It’s all in keeping with the chamber-jazz-on-laughing-gas feel of ‘Lizard’. But it also sounds like a helplessly honest reaction to the horribly sinister undercurrent beneath the playfulness – the oily black saw of Mellotron, the thousand little knives in Fripp’s clean cross-picking and Tippett’s electric piano jabs.

The second half – the Lizard suite itself – is King Crimson’s most ambitious conception up until that point, in which chamber symphonics and iconic mediaeval imagery return to the band’s music again. Prince Rupert Awakes opens the suite with a tragic cryptic ballad: a heraldic Anderson singing over Tippett’s rippling piano, tension intruding from the wind-chimes which ripple the surface of the beauty and from the deliberately discordant Mellotron which flicks ghastly shadows across the daylight.

Although Sinfield’s overcooked poetry is almost impenetrable, there’s substance here. Near-suffocated beneath rococo imagery of temple wax, peacocks and “tarnished devil’s spoons” is a small saga of civilisations clashing in a profitless war. Rather than a tale of heroism, it represents the fear, frenzied mood swings and devastation that war visits on human beings. Bolero (anchored on McCulloch’s half-march/half-dance drumming) starts with a long, lyrically sad oboe line bidding farewell to peace, but soon moves into a jagged desperate revelry, the partying before the fight. Slurring, drunken trombone and sax grab the oboe theme and o roaring off with it as Tippett’s piano becomes steadily more impressionistic and jumpy and Fripp’s Mellotron infuses an uneasy, compromised warmth.


 
Dawn Song is the morning after: Haskell sings softly and haltingly, to sparse piano and oboe, of broken ploughs and spokeless wheels, and of soldiers “burnt with dream and taut with fear” waiting for the inevitable reckoning of spears and armour. Which duly arrives in Last Skirmish with brutally knotted jazz snare and more typically Frippish minor key riffs, stately and dark – initially on Mellotron, then taken up by harsh baritone sax with a petrified overblown flute dipping and waving above. As battle commences in earnest, bluesier saxes and an enraged elephantine trombone wail alongside a resurgent Fripp guitar and Tippett’s increasingly shattered piano attack.

In the background, Fripp jacks up an initially sweet and civilised Mellotron string part until the pitch is tortured beyond endurance. Then there’s a brief respite (glimmering lucid guitar and distant rills of piano) before the sound of a hue and cry, galloping brass and hunting horn clamour in the most frantic moment yet. Finally, Prince Rupert’s Lament, the wreckage of bodies and hopes on the battlefield afterwards. A tolling bass ostinato, exhausted kettle drum rolls and a distant bagpipe shriek of Fripp guitar, utterly bereft and angry. ‘Lizard’ is over.

Abstract, absurdist and oblique it may be, but if you avoid involving yourself too literally in Sinfield’s wordplay and just allow the music to speak into you, ‘Lizard’ is an album which has plenty to offer. The game-playing cast of its music only adds to its power, puncturing prog pomposity and adding new dimensions of conceptual menace which the band had never previously achieved. At times, it’s like observing a particularly venomous orgy.

As the last part of ‘Lizard’ fades away, Big Top careens out of the silence – a quease-inducing carousel of circus music in which the pitch spirals further up and out of control than ever before, snagging the ensemble players like a Kansas tornado and dragging them off into the unknown skies, still squiggling out treacherous silvery worms of music.

King Crimson: 'Islands'

King Crimson: ‘Islands’

Although the ever-underrated ‘Lizard’ now jumps out of the speakers with renewed animation and significance, the real rediscovery from King Crimson’s current reissue phase is 1971’s ‘Islands’.
Long-unavailable on CD, this album was recorded by those Crimsoneers who’d survived the latest falling out (Sinfield, Collins and Fripp) with two new full-time recruits – Boz Burrell and Ian Wallace.

The new boys were grounded in rootsy jazz and rhythm’n’blues. Boz, in particular, seems antithetical to the perceived Way Of Crimson – a brash and commanding singer with scatting tendencies, and perhaps suspicious of Crimson’s grand designs as hatched on prog touchstone ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ and further honed on ‘In the Wake of Poseidon’ and the formal dementia of ‘Lizard’.

In spite of this, ‘Islands’ is the King Crimson album that’s furthest from the roots heartlands. There is one exception – Ladies of the Road, in which Sinfield turns in a salacious lyric of international groupie action that allows the band to engage in their dirtiest and most gleeful playing ever. Collins roars boozily on dick-grabbing tenor sax; Fripp plays as if his guitar’s strung with Mississippi baling wire and slams down some gloriously sloppy, sleazy little solos; and Boz revels in the rampant bluesy shouting. Even the flute and the fragrant Paul McCartney harmonies in the chorus can’t shake the sweat off this one.

 
It’s certainly a sharp contrast to The Letters. This is the album’s main sticking point, with aggressively stilted music rescued from Crimson’s early days and a lyric of pure antiquated Jacobean melodrama (poison pens, adultery, madness and suicide) in which sex is the engine of betrayal and degradation.

However, neither of these pieces fairly represent the unprecedented warmth and clarity of intent on ‘Islands’. If the preceding ‘Lizard’ was perhaps Tippett and Sinfield’s album – liberally dusted with the excitement and lawlessness of free jazz and untrammeled purple poetry – ‘Islands’ is most definitely Fripp’s, its scope narrowed down with superb clarity. It’s King Crimson’s simplest album by far, one in which the tunes and the placing of changes and instruments are far more important than complexity or the thrill of clash.

Several ‘Lizard’ buddies – jazz pianist Keith Tippett, Marc Charig on cornet and Robin Millar on oboe – are all along for the album sessions, and ‘Islands’ is also suffused with the warmth, light and mesmeric relaxing qualities of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, inspired by Sinfield’s travelling. After the demented rush of ‘Lizard’ it’s a much more contemplative work, with Tippett returning to a reflective supporting role and with that Crimson intensity redirected towards knowledge and timing instead of flamboyant theatre. Formentera Lady (introduced by fluttering flute, romantic swirls of piano and the deep bowed chording of Harry Miller’s double bass) sees Sinfield “shadowed by a dragon fig tree’s fan, /rRinged by ants and musing over man”, and that’s to be the central flavour of the album.


 
Ian Wallace was the perfect drummer for this music – well aware of the jazz and rock heat needed for the Crimson repertoire, but equally capable of the delicate timekeeping needed for the gentler pace of the new material. Formentera Lady ticks along on his hushed bass drum and cymbals, his trickles of wind chime and seed-pod percussion, and Boz’s gentle two-note bass riff. And whatever Boz’s feelings for the material might have been (he’s the prime suspect for having described much of ‘Islands’ as “airy-fairy shit”) he sings Sinfield’s contented landlocked reveries in a nostalgic, light tenor with a surprisingly humble and innocent charm. The gentle pulse of Fripp’s supportive acoustic guitar arrives four-and-a-half minutes in. Greek strings hum in trapezoidal shapes, and when King Crimson’s first familiar slip into the texture of legend arrives it happens seamlessly, cued by “here Odysseus charmed for dark Circe fell”, when guest soprano Paulina Lucas opens her throat for prolonged eerie siren singing, merging with Collins’s explorations on tenor sax.

Equally seamlessly, it gives way – on the rising heat of Wallace’s ride cymbal – to Sailor’s Tale, Fripp’s musical portrait of Odysseus’ doomed navigation between the parallel forces of destruction, Scylla and Charybdis. If Formentera Lady is King Crimson entranced in siesta time, Sailor’s Tale is a slow awakening to peril. Not the Gothic nightmares that the band used to specialise in. This time, what’s central to the piece’s power is the sheer excitement it generates.

Fripp and Collins (the former back on his rich drone of overdriven guitar) play prolonged horn notes off each other above Wallace’s rapid triple-time jazz pulse, reaching a peak at which they split off and howl their own paths – Collins squalling like Ayler or Coltrane, while Fripp prepares to deliver the most colossally dirty solo of his career. Played on a shattering echo like a deranged banjo, it passes through a maelstrom crescendo of hellish Mellotron and frantic cymballing out into free space, disintegrates spectacularly and falls into nothingness. Only the dark primeval bass of Sinfield’s prolonged oceanic synthesizer chords to witness its passing. The hairs don’t settle on the back of the neck for a good few minutes.


 
The rest of the album returns to the sun- and sea-warmed peace of Formentera Lady. The Song of the Gulls prelude is a small Fripp-written study for Robin Millar’s oboe and polite strings: no more than a serene intro to the album’s title-track finale, bridging the huge stylistic gap between Ladies of the Road and the final resolution of Sinfield’s escape. Islands itself is a subtle compositional triumph: King Crimson’s own miniature ‘Sketches of Spain’, finally proving that they can sustain a gentle and nourishing rhapsody without tweeness or needing to pounce back into violence. Wallace is almost invisible but for a few lightly brushed cymbals, letting Collins’s miraculously tender bass flute and Tippett’s delicately shaded Bill Evans-ish piano set the atmosphere. Fripp abandons guitar altogether to quietly pump a small harmonium (you can hear his feet patiently working the pedals).

Boz sings alone and unaffected, again displaying a surprising empathy for Sinfield’s lyric of separateness yielding to inclusion over time – “grain after grain love erodes / the high weathered walls which fend off the tide… / Equal in love, bound in circles. / Earth stream and tree return to the sea. / Waves sweep the sand from my island, / from me.” Mark Charig’s jazzy, sleepy cornet plays a crucial part, taking up the melody and soaking it in acceptance and the weary joy of homecoming, before a softly swelling finale where sedate and harmonious Mellotron strings lift the ensemble to resolution. “Beneath the wind turned wave, / infinite peace. / Islands join hands / ‘neath heaven’s sea.”


 
But for a brief hidden track (in which we hear a burst of studio tune-ups and Fripp’s soft Dorset burr patiently instructing the oboe and string players) that’s the end. Incidentally, it was also the end of King Crimson’s “grand design” phase. The core five-piece would briefly tour and squabble (with Peter Sinfield’s departure forever closing the early Crimson songbook) and the rootsy bar-band which lurked in the ‘Islands’ line-up would then honk its way across the States, jettisoning all the Debussy and fragrance of the album as it went.

It would all end in tooth-sucking enmity and anger, with everyone but Fripp abandoning King Crimson in favour of rhythm’n’blues. Boz would even end up thumping bass for Bad Company, which evidently pleased him musically and financially but seems a sorry waste of talent after his showing on ‘Islands’. The next time that Fripp surfaced, he’d be leading a far louder, far more cryptic improvisatory band, which would immediately overshadow his work here. This period of King Crimson’s existence is always outshone by the horns and flurries of the band’s debut years, by the bold and bitter brute minimalism of ‘Red’, by the stalking menace of the European improv years or the poppy art-rock of their New Wave era.

But both ‘Islands’ and its companion ‘Lizard’ – two of the most unusual to emerge from the body of rock – contain some of King Crimson’s best-planned, best executed and most intricately beautiful work, with a unified conceptual scope the bands would never really match again. These reissues bring that buried treasure back to light, revealing an exciting early ’70s meeting point between musical forms that’s been poorly served by an increasing suspect official history. It’s time to put it back on the chart. If more of today’s bands had the same open-minded determination – stumbles and all – that King Crimson exhibit here, we’d be better served ourselves.

King Crimson: ‘Lizard’
Virgin Records Ltd., CDVKCX3 (7243 8 48947 2 6)
King Crimson: ‘Islands’
Virgin Records Ltd., CDVKCX4 (7243 8 48949 2 4 )
CD-only reissue albums
Released:
4th October 2000
Get them from: (2020 update) Both records have now been superseded by 40th Anniversary Editions with new remastering and additional tracks. Current or former versions can be obtained from the King Crimson stores at Burning Shed and the Schizoid Shop.
King Crimson online:
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September 1999 – album reissue reviews – King Crimson’s ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ & ‘In the Wake of Poseidon’ 30th anniversary reissues (“an indisputable classic, but one which sits uncomfortably in the role: forever pulling at the seamless stylistic joins that hold it together, as if to test them to destruction”)

17 Sep

What can one say about a legendary record? Well, just have a look at the magazine racks in any record store and you’ll find that everyone’s got something to say about ‘Astral Weeks’, ‘Sergeant Pepper’, ‘Marquee Moon’, ‘Innervisions’… Dealing with the legend of King Crimson‘s debut is different, though. Partly because its impact is perpetually obscured by the revisionism of punk and current Americana; and partly because overtly literary qualities of legend are already there, squatting in the barbs of the flamboyant lyrics and present in every razz of saxophone.

King Crimson: 'In the Court of the Crimson King'

King Crimson: ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’

There are various legends about the making of ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’. Collapsing producers. Good fairies with a taste for evil-sounding music, marching out of the astral plane to guide the compositions and performances. Even painter Barry Godber’s sudden death shortly after creating the distorted face that yells, horrified, from the cover. But then, few albums have engaged so flagrantly with the mythic straight from the first moment.

For better or for worse, ‘…Court…’ is the prog wellspring, responsible for all the dark castles, capering grotesques and mediaeval garments that’ve festooned its followers ever since. Whatever your expectations, you’ll find that it still sounds amazing. Remastering gives more savour to the feast, of course, but ‘…Court…’ has always been a record that jumps out and grabs you by the scruff of the ears.

No surprise here: that feverish pitch of attention has just been made a few inches larger all round, a bigger take on a picture that was big to begin with. It took, as its frame, a strongly European perspective – mediaeval-to-modern cities rubbed in the blood, flags and dirt of history and repeating cruelties, in which all that Tennysonian mooning around sundials and gardens is an integral, complementary part of that world. Later proggies fell in love with the idyll alone. Few besides Crimson had the capacity to engage with the violence that maintained that idyll, to relate it to modern-day realities so effectively, or to represent in music the confusing threads of history that made up that picture.

In the band’s sound you can hear the haughty, ghostly artificiality of Mellotron orchestras, the angry saxophone protest of Civil Rights jazz, and the squall of avant-garde chaos. However, it draws equally on hotel dance-bands from the wilderness of ’50s England and from the stormy wildness of Stravinsky, Bartok and the troubled classicism of the Eastern Frontier, with all the elements bound together by the expansive rock sensibility ruling the revolutionary roost at the time. And although Peter Sinfield‘s words are chock-a-block with excessively mannered Gothic metaphor and allusion, at their best they evoke plenty of the monstrosities that hung over the late ’60s. Spectres of Vietnam war trauma, twisted agriculture, political manipulation and malignant science all dance alongside his tarot-card shuffles of yellow jesters and purple pipers.

Although it’s guitar strategist Robert Fripp who’s forever seen as the boss of King Crimson, it was Ian McDonald who was the major player at this point. He’s the only musician listed on every single song credit, and he who left the band within a year because he felt (amongst other things) that Fripp was butchering his music. Standing between classical formality and jazz passion, he could leap readily into either with the intelligence to know just what to use. His fiery saxophones, elegant flutes and assured keyboards shaped King Crimson into the full-soundtrack monster they were, even now putting the lie to the idea that prog’s ornamentations were a flabby irrelevance. Michael Giles’s jazzy drumming is a masterclass in compressed percussive thinking: and as for Fripp, even this early glimpse of his playing displays a unique balance between cerebral focus and emotional demands – at least as intent as it is intense, from the humming wail of his electric solos to the spidery precision of his hooded acoustics.


 
The music itself has sustained pretty well across the album and across history. Perhaps its claws seem fussily manicured compared to the raw filth’n’fury The Stooges would unleash a few years later, and which would ultimately leave a stronger mark on today’s underground. But then again, the Stooges never flung their ideas as wide as Crimson did. 21st Century Schizoid Man remains among the most accurate and nasty rock pieces ever laid down on tape, as ferocious as any punk body-blow. McDonald’s brass-knuckled horn attack and the ugly strands of distortion add a raucous streetfighter’s edge, Sinfield contributes a tearing sketch of distress and conflict, and the entire band roar off across a delicious violent staccato charge like a murderous hunt closing in on the prey.

In contrast, Epitaph is a theatrical, lushly orchestrated anthem of doubt and foreboding – mannered by the standards of the bombast that’s followed (from Yes to Oasis), but universal enough for any era of coming trouble. Mellotron strings and kettle drums lumber into the darkness like the Flying Dutchman. While the young Greg Lake’s impeccably enunciated singing (still a year or two away from his ringmaster swagger with Emerson, Lake & Palmer) might’ve always been too formal, too educated to make him a real rock’n’roller, the apprehensive angst of his delivery here is perfect – “If we make it we can all sit back and laugh / But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying…”


 
Perhaps it was inevitable that ‘…Court…’ would be touched by the flower-strewn, Anglo-Celtic folk impressions that were also sweeping through pop music at the time – and this is possibly the album’s Achilles’ heel. I Talk to the Wind (midway between McCartney and Donovan, dominated by McDonald’s dusky flutes) ultimately proved universal enough to be reinvented for the ’90s dance crowd by Opus III, and the original still sounds as lovely today, a more melancholy existential take on Fool On The Hill. But Moonchild risks sending new Crimson initiates away snarling. Only Fripp’s eldritch vacuum-draining howl of guitar raises any question of a world outside this bubble of mediaeval English hippydom, winsomely sucking in its cheeks and playing at courtly love; its talk of silver wands and milk-white gowns only a whisker away from a simper.


 
And the excessively muted free improv that follows – broken whispers, pings and shuffles between guitar, drums and vibraphone – is guaranteed to piss off anyone who was fired up by Schizoid Man’s driven nerve or Epitaph’s towering romantic majesty. If you listen hard, though, the remaster reveals in full the telepathy of the Fripp/Giles/McDonald interplay, allowing you almost to hear the thoughts that kick out each nimble, abbreviated scurry of sub-audible notes… But you’ll need to listen. Even then, King Crimson could be uncompromising about the value of all of their music; and however much perspective thirty-odd years may have given us on their intentions, the consequent imbalances on their debut remain as frustrating to the floating musical voter as they ever did.


 
The title track of ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ – also the finale – sets the seal on the album. For good or ill, it leaves us with another slab of McDonald/Sinfield orchestral folk balladry, closing the record with a mediaeval flavour (tootling pipe organs, choirs of monks, thunderheads of Early Music strings) and without a hint of the alchemical rock momentum to counterweight Sinfield’s Gothic metaphors of palaces and fire-witches.


 
‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ is an indisputable classic, but one which sits uncomfortably in the role: forever pulling at the seamless stylistic joins that hold it together, as if to test them to destruction. It’s one that forever splits the voters. As they watch the music pounce from peak to dissimilar peak, many realise that it suffers from the way it never entirely resolves the band’s magnificent talents for more than nine minutes at any one time.

King Crimson: 'In the Wake of Poseidon'

King Crimson: ‘In the Wake of Poseidon’

It’s odd to find that King Crimson’s second album ‘In The Wake Of Poseidon’ – recorded with a depleted band and a floating pool of guests, and usually seen as the debut’s feebler brother – should solve many of these problems. But solve them it does. Remastering, like the cleaning of an oil painting, has restored plenty of the innate presence of an album which always seemed to suffer from the whispers in between the shouts. It’s subdued compared to the brazen ambition of ‘…Court…’, with the recurring acoustic Peace theme sounding apologetic compared to former roarings.


 
There is, admittedly, a sense of people arranging things tidily before they leave. Ian McDonald – then seen as King Crimson’s heart – had already vanished by that point, off to fashion a lighter, more summery pastoral prog elsewhere. Mike Giles would shortly be off to join him, but – drumming on ‘…Poseidon…’ as a goodbye favour – he turns in a tremendously sympathetic farewell performance of subtlety and fire, far outshining his work on ‘…Court…’. Greg Lake, too, has his own hand on the doorknob, waiting to depart to the ‘Top Gun’ frolics of ELP (meaning that Gordon Haskell‘s soft bumblebee tones take over lead vocals for ‘Cadence And Cascade’). Only Fripp and Sinfield – guitar and lyrics’n’lights respectively – would still be travelling in Crimson once the tape reels stopped moving.

 
Whatever the weaknesses of a splitting band, though, they are countered by the strengths of the guest players. Peter Giles (the remaining part of the pre-Crimson Giles, Giles & Fripp trio) provides rich, intuitive bass playing. Mel Collins‘ saxophones and flutes are bold and assured in interpretation; and while most of the expansive ensemble keyboards on ‘…Court…’ departed with McDonald, the inspired British jazz pianist Keith Tippett provides perfect contributions wherever needed (with Fripp picking gamely up on Mellotron and celeste).

Ironically, King Crimson as enforced studio project recorded more convincingly on album than King Crimson as gigging band. The textures are fuller, the dynamics subtler and more secretive (check out Fripp’s near-inaudible fretboard sighs on the midsection of Pictures of a City). And although McDonald’s absence is felt, and his musical imprint haunts ‘…Poseidon…’ from beginning to end, King Crimson were learning more about consistent balance.


 
They were also learning about how to reconcile their taste for baroque fantasy with a closer reflection of reality. Pictures of a City, rejoicing in a delectably nasty jazz-horn vamp and razor-wire Fripp guitar, reinvents New York as an overground circle of Dante’s Inferno in which Sinfield runs wild with information overload (“bright light, scream, beam, brake and squeal / Red, white, green, white, neon wheel”). Cadence and Cascade’s sleepy song of groupie courtship sees Tippett and Fripp trading glimmers of piano and celeste beyond an atypically gentle acoustic guitar, anticipating Nick Drake’s riverside reveries by several years. And even if the huge title song’s laden with yet more layers of Mellotron and Edgar Allen Poe imagery (harlequins, hags, midnight queens, chains and madmen all jostled together), Greg Lake – in a last burst of empathy – cuts right through to the heart of Sinfield’s overwrought symbolism, and delivers it as a magnificently poignant galactic swan song.


 
The first half of ‘…Poseidon…’ might mirror that of the previous album (matching the violent/pastoral/symphonic alternation of Schizoid Man, I Talk to the Wind and Epitaph) but the second half is a very different story. There’s Cat Food, for instance – one of the few Crimson singles, and as tuneful and as cheeky as anything on ‘The White Album’. This pulls out all the stops so far left untouched. In one lateral-thinker’s spring, Tippett advances from sensitive accompanist to aggressive frontline collaborator, hammering out explosive scrambles of piano notes and barrelhouse staccato. Lake hollers an absurdist Sinfield supermarket tale, Fripp toots and yelps jazzily and the Giles brothers jump in and out of each others’ syncopated footprints. It winds down in an animated mixture of excited jazz stutter and beautiful Debussian piano flourish, having blown apart King Crimson’s po-faced reputation for a few minutes. At the same time, it’s given them access to pop’s wonderful holy-fool zone, where playful silliness cracks open a reservoir of sheer joyous inspiration.

 
Matters turn far more serious when Fripp – whose musical responsibilities were doubled and weighed heavy on him after McDonald’s departure – takes over the remainder of the album. For The Devil’s Triangle he’s left pretty much to his own devices, putting his guitar aside to lean heavily on occult Mellotron and keyboard textures. Although the initial results draw heavily on Crimson’s infamous live interpretation of Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’, they go far beyond it and into the dark shadows of avant-garde sound-sculpting and musique concrète.

Dark, trapped minor-key harmonies hover on the edge of terrifying dissonance, a constantly pitched battle march is suddenly hideously yanked up in pitch as Fripp assaults the tape speed, and found sounds (bits of orchestra, samples from the previous album) glint in the fog. Tippett contributes butcher’s piano, like a sledgehammer through glassware. At one point, hot wind scours the studio of all other sounds save that of an interrupted metronome. The full band return for an unresolved finale, surrounded by shrieks, whistles and a baroque circus melody on a tinny keyboard playing scratchily over the top of them, before Mel Collins’ cloud of flutes cast down the tension and bring it to a close as the Peace theme returns for a hushed (if ultimately unresolved) finale.


 
If the mark of a classic is tight conceptual continuity, then ‘In the Wake of Poseidon’ fares little better than ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’. But in a quieter way, it achieves its ambitions with greater consistency, taking on King Crimson’s multi-levelled world view and presenting it with less arriviste flash and a more mature grip on its latent chaos – something which Fripp and Sinfield would pursue further on the next album.

Beyond that, both albums still remain as another high-water mark (flaws notwithstanding) in rock’s assimilation of other musical forms. Held together, they’re a fascinating (if frequently stiff) European counterpart to the multi-media explorations of The Velvet Underground or Miles Davis’ polychromatic meltdown music on ‘Bitches’ Brew’. This music still sounds mythic, enrobed, and somehow atavistic; as if it was made for Old English giants to knock down the world’s cities to.

King Crimson: ‘In the Court of the Crimson King”
Virgin Records Ltd., CDVKCX1 (7243 8 48099 2 8)
King Crimson: ‘In the Wake of Poseidon”
Virgin Records Ltd., CDVKCX2 (7243 8 48948 2 5)
CD-only reissue albums
Released:
14th September 1999
Get them from: (2020 update) Both records have now been superseded by 40th Anniversary Editions with new remastering and additional tracks. Current or former versions can be obtained from the King Crimson stores at Burning Shed and the Schizoid Shop.
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August 1999 – EP reviews – The Rob Beadle Triangle Band’s ‘A Different Kettle of Fish’ (“embarrassment, misadventures and eccentric desires “)

2 Aug

The Rob Beadle Triangle Band: 'A Different Kettle of Fish'

The Rob Beadle Triangle Band: ‘A Different Kettle of Fish’

Duck past the appalling name and the two obvious sub-Goodies joke tracks on here, and you’ll find there’s more to The Rob Beadle Triangle Band than their comedy-schtick image.

Yes, they’re student types from the University of Bath, laden down with flash gear and a taste for laddish zaniness that’s very British, very ’70s. No, that’s not all. Like Barenaked Ladies, the Bonzos and Frank Zappa (or Prince, if he’d had slapstick leanings), they’re musically skilled and canny enough to leap seamlessly between pop styles and come up with songs which can exist both as piss-takes and as serious efforts; regardless of the goofy laughter which comes with them.


 
If you picked key comparisons, they’d be the “belly-laughs, angst-quirks, ‘n’ serious playing” ethic of the long-lost 64 Spoons, or 10cc’s keen and unerring collective ear for tunes and parody filtered through studiedly cheesy wit – hence the near-perfect Bee Gees disco pastiche on The Face. Embarrassment, misadventures and eccentric desires are the Beadle boys’ main obsession. Nude gardening, suddenly finding your mum’s the star player in the porn film your friends are watching – that sort of thing.


 
The Bitch Grated My Thumb jumps between Jeff Lynne wussiness and panicky thrash; a tale of picking up a deranged bag-lady (“come to me, picture of beauty – lying in the gutter’s no place to be”) and of subsequently suffering assault by kitchenware. She Had No Teeth kicks off with ‘Mission Impossible’ kettledrums and rampaging funk-wah guitar, and deals with the horror of waking up next to the woman you’ve pulled and discovering her gums are as bare as Patrick Stewart’s scalp. As the band clatter on, whooping away on their Theremin synths, glassy jazz-funk organ riffs and Funkadelic party racket, a girl-group chorus airily sings “Things were different last night – she looked like a siren, he had his beer-goggles on” – while an anguished muffled voice yelps “Why me? Why me?”.


 
It’s all delivered with crisp production and flashes of superb musicianship (Hendrix/Hazel/Isleys-styled guitar, expert polyrhythmic drumming and keyboard swirls, Kristian Wood’s crucially light touch on voice and bass), and taking care not to let the silliness derail the winning flutter of pop. Thankfully, they’re closer to Space or Poisoned Electrick Head than to Barron Knights. The wiggly You Are Confusing Me sounds like the young Julian Cope spouting gibberish Gong lyrics, giggling his socks off in front of OMD synth overload.


 
And something better is hinted at by the quite lovely Strawberries and Cream. With flowing Spanish guitar, dancing flute lines and puffs of tremulous falsetto harmonies, it sounds like pastoral-period XTC and – in mischievous Andy Partridge tradition – is a lyrical love-song for food-fetishists, Kristian delicately murmuring “you, you’re the sweetest thing I’ve seen – / let me cover you with cream (and strawberries). / We could find new ways of keeping clean, / let me lick you til you gleam (and sparkle).”

A pocket 10cc, then, with an even more warped sense of humour, writing songs for a cleaned-up ‘Viz’.

The Rob Beadle Triangle Band; ‘A Different Kettle of Fish’
Teeth Records, RBTB 9901 (Barcode)
CD-only EP
Released:
2nd August 1999
Get it from: (2020 update) Original EP best obtained second-hand; stream via Spotify
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December 1995 – live reviews – Gordon Haskell @ The Unplugged Club, Bloomsbury, London, 7th December (“he takes his stand against the hostility of the world with a disarming, cunning humour, one mockingly rolled eye peering out to capture the madness and to look out for an escape route”)

9 Dec

Not even a minute into the show, and we hear it. He looks thoughtfully out at the mixed crowd and speaks. “I can usually tell whether an audience is going to be good or bad.” A pause. “Good night!” And then he lets it rip. That laugh – an untrammelled, hiccupping whoop of unbalanced joy, teetering on the edge of losing it. You may have heard in on King Crimson‘s ‘Lizard’, twitched into hysteria by studio electronics, a lone human voice in the sick, surreal circus. Twenty-five years on, in this intimate little acoustic club, it sounds like the redemptive, rueful peal of a free man, acknowledging the potholes of disaster that dog our footsteps in this world and cause some of us to drop into madness.

Strange to think that this grizzled and animated figure, eyes twinkling benevolently beneath a battered hat that’s the last word in Bohemian chic, is Gordon Haskell – singer with King Crimson for nine studio-bound months back in 1970. At an age where most ex-proggies are still squeezing themselves into the glad-rags and going through ever-more lifeless motions in small theatres, Haskell is donning comfortable clothes, picking up his acoustic guitar, playing tiny little places anywhere and enjoying himself. To tell the truth, the Crimson connection is misleading. All of that was a long time ago now. Gordon’s profile may have been lower than a bug’s belly since then, but now he’s swinging back into action with a vengeance… and he’s in better artistic shape than most of his more financially successful contemporaries.

Not only does he possess a brilliantly gutsy guitar style and a voice so rich and earthy that you could grow potatoes on it. but he has a bagful of excellent songs to offer. He now writes and plays like a combination of John Martyn and Leon Redbone, with a huge measure of the rawer joys of John Lee Hooker and Richard Thompson. He takes the vibrancy and gleeful survivor’s power of deep blues and blends it with an irreverent, eccentric, classically English strain of absurdism. Like the young Peter Gabriel, he takes his stand against the hostility of the world with a disarming, cunning humour, one mockingly rolled eye peering out to capture the madness and to look out for an escape route. It’s all as warm as a closely-held candle on a winter’s night… and as liable to suddenly scorch your fingers.

Thinking back to ‘Lizard’, one wonders what kind of more lively, organic record would have emerged had Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield given Gordon a crack at the songwriting rather than just dovetailing his voice into their meisterwerk. There’s a vague hint of Sinfield’s verbal adventurousness in Haskell’s songs, although thankfully none of the attendant pretensions. The Hooker-like Wang Bang World captures life’s grim tendency to overrun us, but revels in a tumble of savagery and joking; conversely, Pelican Pie could be just a blur of absurdist imagery were it not for the beady-eyed thread of social critique running through it.

Haskell’s between-song banter may be a mixture of oddball wisdom and Eddie Izzard goofiness (“may you be blessed with many goats!”) but the humour in the songs is by no means pointless, pretentious silliness. Rather, Haskell’s a knowing jester holding his own and laughing in the face of life’s terrifying chaos. Hanging By a Thread (dedicated, tonight, to Fred West) is a mordantly hilarious parade of murderous, fatalistic comedy: “Gentle Jim got life for chopping up his wife / – said he needed warmth for the winter.”

The lack of preciousness is what really makes him great, though – he’s not out to prove to us what a clever musician he is. Sure, each song has enough teeth and gold to make us think about it, but it’s Gordon’s sheeer verve and ecstatic gutsiness that wins the audience over, captured in the luxuriant salaciousness of Chilli Chilli, the throbbing jungly blues of Test-Drive or the voodoo swamp-stomp of Alligator Man, a roaring clapalong portrait of the ruthless predatory wheeler-dealer, the sheepskin-coated hoodlum-salesman who’s becoming a spectre of the times.

Like those old bluesmen, Haskell knows how life and death, humour and horror walk side-by-side and share the same streets, and his work is not short of tenderness as well as carnality. The love song All My Life rasps like Louis Armstrong, and I Don’t Remember It Like This shows an Ian Anderson verve as it examines the misleading, misframed photos in the history of love: “whatever love is, it’s in the thrill of your kiss / and I don’t remember it like this.” There’s a real feel to the soulful sorrow of Tortured Heart and in the wry shrug of Mail Order Love, which mixes an organic bluesy swing with a handful of dissatisfied plastic metaphors, romance gone synthetic. The philosophical break-up song Go Tell Sarah is part goodbye, part lie, part promise.

In a dash of sheer music-hall, he tips his hat and beams at us with real pleasure, inviting us in to share both the fear and the laughter on his perspective on life. The return of Gordon Haskell is going to offer the scene a welcome dose of warmth, and 1996 could well be his year. A lost star is returning to dispense a special kind of mischievous twinkle.

Gordon Haskell online:
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