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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 The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken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.


 
* * * * * * * *
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.


 
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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.

 
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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.

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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
 

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