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March 2017 – upcoming gigs – Richard Barbieri and Grice’s brief English tour with Duncan Chave and Lisen Rylander Love (16th, 26th, 28th); plus ’80s synthpop heaven at Birmingham’s Seventh Wave Festival with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Test Dept. and more… (23rd-26th)

26 Feb

Richard Barbieri + Grice on tour, March 2017In mid-March, Richard Barbieri heads out on a five-date English tour supporting his new album ‘Planets & Persona’: on all but one of the dates he’ll be sharing the bill with art-pop singer-songwriter Grice.

Over a five-decade career as a keyboard player, Richard has exemplified a precise balance between pop and the avant-garde. Initially compared to both Brian Eno and Karlheinz Stockhausen, his work anticipated the likes of Aphex Twin and a host of shrouded twenty-first century electronica artists. Initially finding fame as the keyboard player in art-pop band Japan, his approach reached its first apogee in the chimes-and-sibilance atmospherics of their 1982 single Ghosts: unwilling to be restricted by the glamour-punk through which he’d entered music (yet unsuited to either roots playing or the formal technicalities of progressive rock) he’d concentrated instead on developing electrophonic timbre and immaculately-planned textural arrangements, allied to subtle pop tunefulness.

Richard went on to refine his techniques in the post-Japan realignment projects Rain Tree Crow and Jansen Barbieri Karn, to work with left-field instrumentalists and bands (including Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Percy Jones, No-Man and The Bays), and to become an experimental sonic foil for singer-songwriters (Steve Hogarth, Tim Bowness, his own wife Suzanne on ambient folk project Indigo Falls). For seventeen years he was a member of Porcupine Tree, helping to shape the texture of the band’s music as it shifted from psychedelic space rock through prog to metallic adult rock, while simultaneous honing his own skills with more conventional keyboard playing on organ, clavinet and Mellotron. Richard’s recent string of solo albums – including ‘Planets & Persona’ – marry his past experiences with further inspirations from contemporary dance, electronica and left-field progressives.


 

One of the singer-songwriters who’ve benefited from Richard’s textural input, Grice is a more recent art-rock emergent. London-born but now Devon-based, he began as an early ‘90s arty Britpopper with the bands Laugh Like A Madman and The Burning Martyrs before refining his work with the successor project hungersleep. Since 2012 he’s been a solo artist.The subsequent ‘Propeller’ and ‘Alexandrine’ albums – plus last year’s ‘Refractions’ EP – have explored Grice’s drive towards dramatic and emotive songcraft. Blending his ballad-singer openness and the feathered strength-and-vulnerability of his high, breathy voice with a wide range of acoustic and electronic ingredients (brass-band and acoustic guitar, Uillean pipes and violins, touchstyle instrumentation and electronic glitch) they’ve rewarded him with acclaim in art-pop and progressive rock circles, plus the opportunity to collaborate on his own terms with instrumental and production luminaries such as BJ Cole, Markus Reuter, Raphael Ravenscroft, Lee Fletcher, Hossam Ramzy and Steve Jansen.


 

Dates:

  • Vibraphonic Festival @ Exeter Phoenix, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street, Exeter, EX4 3LS, England, Thursday 16th March 2017, 8.00pminformation
  • Seventh Wave Festival of Electronic Music @ The Blue Orange Theatre, 118 Great Hampton Street, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, B18 6AD, England, Sunday 26th March 2017, 1.30pminformation
  • Seventh Wave Festival of Electronic Music @ The Blue Orange Theatre, 118 Great Hampton Street, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, B18 6AD, England, Sunday 26th March 2017, 6.30pminformation
  • Hoxton Hall, 130 Hoxton Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6SH, England, Tuesday 28th March 2017, 7.00pminformation

On all dates, GRICE will be performing with his collaborator Duncan Chave, a Devon-based theatre composer and sound designer who (in addition to handling loops and programming) plays the Eigenharp, an intriguing breath/strip/finger-flex MIDI controller. In Exeter, they’ll also be joined by the rest of GRICE’s band (Jo Breban on drums, Al Swainger on bass and pedals).

In contrast, Richard Barbieri performs solo at Exeter, but at the Birmingham theatre shows and the London date will be performing with Swedish singer/saxophonist/electronics player Lisen Rylander Löve, formerly half of experimental pop/jazztronica duo Midaircondo and one of the major guest contributors to ‘Planets & Persona’.

* * * * * * * *

While I’m here, a little more on the other events in the Seventh Wave Festival in Birmingham (for more information on Exeter’s Vibraphonic event, go browsing, since they don’t seem to have put a website together this year…) Put together by the people behind the local electronica radio show of the same name, Seventh Wave Festival expands the show’s sideline of putting on electronica, synthpop, post-punk, Goth and New Wave music nights in Birmingham.

Seventh Wave Festival of Electronic Music 2, March 2017This particular concert series has a strong late-’70s/early-’80s focus, calling in some big names from the first synthpop wave. Visage mainstay and onetime ‘Blitz’ club DJ Rusty Egan will be performing material from his new album ‘Welcome to the Dancefloor’, as well as providing DJ slots and talks. Rusty’s ‘Fade to Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne (who also worked with Dramatis and Dead or Alive, as well as spending a decade in Gary Numan’s band) will be showing up with a brief resurrection of his early ‘80s post-Numan project Electronic Circus – for more on that, have a read of his recent interview with ‘The Electricity Club’. There’ll also be appearances by Richard Barbieri and by Human League/Heaven 17/British Electric Foundation’s Martyn Ware.

Although late ’80s dance-poppers Scarlet Fantastic (of ‘No Memory’ fame) have had to pull out, they’ve been replaced by Peter Coyle of the revived The Lotus Eaters; his fellow New Wavers Blue Zoo are also in place. At the more experimental end, two members of electro-experimentalists Test Dept (Graham Cunnington and Paul Jamrozy) will be on hand with “an electronic remix preview of upcoming Test Dept album material” complete with audio-visual mix.

Also contributing are representatives of newer takes on the electronic approach – Salford’s expansive Gnod collective, Ade Bordicott’s drone project Mutate, the vintage synthpop movie soundtrack-inspired Agents Of Evolution and Tony Adamo’s Ten:Ten project.

  • Test Dept:Redux (Graham Cunnington/Paul Jamrozy) + Gnod + Mutate – The Flapper, Cambian Wharf, Kingston Row, Ladywood, Birmingham, B1 2NU, England, Thursday 23rd March 2017, 7.00pminformation
  • Chris Payne’s Electronic Circus (Gary Numan/Visage) + DJ Rusty Egan + Peter Coyle (Lotus Eaters) + Ten:Ten – The Flapper, Cambian Wharf, Kingston Row, Ladywood, Birmingham, B1 2NU, England, Friday 24th March 2017, 7.00pminformation
  • A Morning with… Richard Barbieri – Birmingham and Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, City Centre Core, Birmingham B3 3BS, England, Saturday 25th March 2017, 9.00 aminformation
  • Electronic Music Conference (featuring Martyn Ware, Chris Payne, Richard Barbieri & Rusty Egan) – Birmingham and Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, City Centre Core, Birmingham B3 3BS, England, Saturday 25th March 2017, 12.00pminformation
  • Rusty Egan (with Chris Payne) + DJ Martyn Ware + Blue Zoo + Agents Of Evolution – The Flapper, Cambian Wharf, Kingston Row, Ladywood, Birmingham, B1 2NU, England, Saturday 25th March 2017, 7.00 pminformation
  • (see also the Birmingham Richard Barbieri/Grice dates above…)

 

March to September 2017 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra out and about in England and Wales (sometimes with Crayola Lectern or William D. Drake)

23 Feb

Having bowed, hummed and carolled their way back into action with last September’s ‘Dronne’ album, plus a few end-of-the-year gigs, art-pop-touched chamber ensemble North Sea Radio Orchestra are casting a garland of assorted luminous live dates across England and Wales this year – starting in March, and continuing through April, July and September.

In keeping with their liking for ecclesiastical reverb, which suits their churchy acousti-tech sound (described recently as “sitting in a special place somewhere between Neu! and Arvo Pärt”), most of these gigs are taking place in current or former places of worship, some converted into community centres or arts spaces or (in the case of the Cardiff show) into acoustic recording studios.


 

  • St Paul’s Church, 55b Chapel Road, Worthing, BN11 1EE, England, Saturday 11th March 2017, 1.30pm (with Crayola Lectern) – information here and here
  • Gresham Centre @ St Anne & St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, Friday April 28th 2017, 7.30pm (with William D. Drake) – information here and here
  • Assembly Rooms @ Frome Memorial Theatre, Christchurch Street West, Frome, BA11 1EB England, Sunday 9th July 2017 (part of the Frome Festival – further details t.b.c.)
  • Sacred Trinity Church, Chapel Street, Salford, M3 5DW, England, Saturday 15th July 2017, 4.30pm (with William D. Drake) – information here and here
  • Acapela Studio @ Capel Horeb, Heol Y Pentre, Pentyrch, Cardiff, CF15 9QD, Wales, Saturday 23rd September 2017, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

The Worthing show (a fundraiser for MIND) features a support slot for Chris Anderson’s rumpled, brass-dabbed domestic/psychedelic song project Crayola Lectern, while the London and Salford dates have William D. Drake in tow (playing a solo piano set, which may or may not focus on the kind of instrumental studies collected on his ‘Yews Paw’ album).



 

There’s another Drake solo show taking place mid-tour in Greenwich, London – another solo piano set (details below). For news of Bill’s concurrent song tour – much of it a two-hander with another singer-songwriter friend, Stephen EvEns – check back on my earlier blog post from the 15th.

William D Drake – The Prince Of Greenwich, 72 Royal Hill, Greenwich, London, SE10 8RT, England, Friday 17th March 2017time & further information t.b.c.
 

February/March 2017 – upcoming gigs – Bob Drake, William D. Drake, Stephen EvEns and friends scramble up and down Britain (19th February – 24th March, variously)

15 Feb

During February and March, three tours sprawl across the country from London to Preston to Tyneside, Brighton to Birmingham, Glasgow to Cardiff and points elsewhere.Occasionally they intermesh, like a trio of amiably warped combs. I’ve been trying to keep track of their plans for the last few weeks, but they keep getting excited and running off to snag in more dates and further musicians (both the like-minded and a set of relatively innocent bystanders.)

One of the three tourers is bear-suit-wearing avant-prog polymath Bob Drake, who enjoyed his one-man-one-guitar “Nameless” British tour last November so much that he’s immediately repeating it, bringing his continually morphing musical tales of strange beasts and weird events for another spin around the island. Another is Stephen Gilchrist: indie-rock journeyman who’s drummed behind Graham Coxon and The Scaramanga Six and led art-garage popsters stuffy/the fuses, but most recently has been trading as solo singer-songwriter Stephen EvEns, peddling a craftily embittered set of finely-honed art-pop songs in the Kinks tradition. The third is ‘Misfit City’ favourite William D. Drake – keyboard virtuoso, former Cardiac and (increasingly) the architect of a charming antiquarian pop styling which moves ever closer to a particular unity of classical, folk and the psychedelic.

Video samples below, followed by a slew of gig details and support act info/noises for the curious and for the unconvinced…




 
Stephen Evens’ Cardiff show on 19th February is probably the straightest show of the lot, with him sitting in the middle of an indie-slanted bill with hooky, cheekily-named Chester girlpop trio Peaness (“for fans of Belly, Letters To Cleo and indie pop songs about George Osbourne”) and Rhondda Valley emergents The Vega Bodegas (who provide a blessed fuzzy-pop escape for post-hardcore refugee and former Future Of The Left guitarist Jimmy Watkins).



 
At Bob Drake’s Harrison show on 24th February (which features a Stephen Evens support slot) there are a few more familiar names – Kavus Torabi brings another of his recent string of solo sets, belting out songs he wrote for Knifeworld and The Monsoon Bassoon on an acoustic guitar; and Arch Garrison play their delicate, summery mediaeval-tinged pop, full of pilgrimages, parenthood and psychogeography.



 

Heading up to Preston on 25th February, Bob’s playing on a bill with a gang of Fylde Coast kindred spirits: sunny, doo-wop skronker schizophonics Condor Moments, whom he helped record their 2007 debut album vigorous, bursting Burnley art-rockers All Hail Hyena, plus the dubious Bonanza Tungsten Ladies. (Allegedly, the last are a trio of stranded Preston-based Peruvian exchange students who move between sofa-surfing and eking out a precarious existence in a haunted train tunnel. I suspect lies, and probably treachery.)



 

Back down in Brighton on the 26th, Bob’s playing a pay-what-you-like show with support by T. House, frontman of ominous surreal post-punkers, Sweet Williams. T.’s songs are subtly alarming. I dare you not to put any money in the hat.


 
Bob’s Glasgow gig on 2nd March seems to have brought out support opportunities for half of the undersung freaks in an art-rock town’s artiest corners. Luminous Monsters bring us the gift of “ersatz fuzz-ragas and igneous doom from beyond the ragged veil of terror” (though I’d’ve settled for a badly-carved figurine.) Presenting themselves as “reptilian” Southside doom-droners, they’re a cut or two above the usual arrant sludge-mongering, since there’s more than a touch of flamenco to leaven the grinding distortions and the Mogwai cascades – presumably those are the “freeform ecstasies” and “ersatz arabesques” mentioned further down the parchment. (Aye, ftagn, caramba.) Herbert Powell claim to offer “twisted evil-doings of mental brainwrongs influenced by the likes of Captain Beefheart, This Heat and Aleister Crowley” ; Glasgow blog ‘Blues Bunny’ laconically tags them as “contrived angularity”, “Postcard guitar pop” and “the check-shirted sound of the street”. Come along and see who’s telling the truth – their Bandcamp page is a yawning void, but I did manage to locate a retina-frying live video.



 
Also on the Glasgow bill, faux-masculinist avant-rock bastards Bloke Music are rooted in other local heroes-of-obscurity such as Elastic Leg Party, Bo Deadly, Super Adventure Club and Gastric Band. They’ve just put out a debut EP packaged with a trowel, riddle their press-sheets with Homebase jargon, deliberately confuse DIY music with handyman work, and grunt out song titles like Mortise And Tenon or It’s Yer Ballcock’s Gone Hen. In person, they’re actually a lot feyer, lampshading nods to prog, contemporary classical and (allegedly) Michael McDonald while coughing up part-digested fragments of lounge jazz and ice-cream van. Singer Chris Flynn carols and quavers his way over his bandmates’ knotty guitar fletchings like an avant-pop Jimmy Scott (or rants like a Glaswegian fraternal twin of Joeyfat’s M. Edward Cole). The group’s flakey nerviness and hints of teatime haunted-house shows suggest dEUS or Pavement reworking a soundtrack for ‘Scooby Doo’, or Beefheart getting a gig with ‘The Munsters’. Should be promising, as long as they don’t drop a hammer and smash their own kneecaps.


 
In Birmingham on 3rd March, Bob reunites with two lightly lysergic sets of local gigmates from last year’s tour for a sweet spring shower of a show. Quizzical, pranky cutepop trio Kate Goes recall Victoria Wood heading up a girl gang with an ever-shifting nature (first West Coast beat-poppers; then The Slits; then The Ronettes, with a sideways dash into jaunty Cardiacs territory) but also the quirky sunshine folk-pop of The Bush The Tree & Me. The Nature Centre innocently cite Syd Barrett and “fololoppy pop” as pointers (you can add XTC and Cardiacs to the list, if they hadn’t been implied already), but underneath their sprightly, jouncing banjo/keyboard tunes the band are conducting little philosophical investigations both cute and serious (the comedy of telepathic entanglements on We Are All Friends Of The Master Brain, but a semi-occult tale of madness and misogyny on Amongst The Shielings).



 
Bob’s second London show – at The Others on 5th March – is his last tour date for now. It’s also a Depresstival date at which he’ll be joined by haughty, theatrical pop tyrant and multi-media demagogue Bing Selfish, plus a host of Others-friendly acts including cowpunk trio Lonesome Cowboys From Hell, the Sanshin Sisters, dada musical comedy trio Consignia, Takeru Brady, Birthday Bread Man, Laminate Everything and Alain Man. It’s tough to keep track of all of these people, but for now here’s two sides of the Bing…



 
Stephen EvEns and Bill Drake, however, continue a two-man waltz for four more gigs together. For Stephen’s London album launch gig on March 9th, they’re joined by various friends from Onamatopoeia Records. The Gasman’s DJ set will presumably provide a window into the thinking behind his odd hyperactive electronica, but voice-and-upright-piano duo Rolf & Sam are a bit of a mystery (or possibly a prank – all I know is that one of them is Stephen’s piano tuner). Barringtone are more of a known quality – driving art pop from former Clor-ster Barry Dobbin which flies the route between XTC’s Swindon and Neu’s Dusseldorf. I know that they’ve got enough material to play full sets. I’ve even heard that they’ve recorded some more of it. Please could someone ask them put it out, so that I’m no longer posting and reposting the same two songs from several years ago? Here’s one of them again…


 
Up under the Gateshead railway arches on 12th March, Stephen and Bill will be joined by another affectionate dramatist of the constrained and absurd – Tyneside urban folk veteran: songwriter and 12-string guitarist Nev Clay, who’s been toting his tragicomic songs of fumbled ambitions, criminal families and hard lines around the area for two decades. At their rather posher Leatherhead gig on the 22nd (look, a Victorian private school chapel!), they’re reunited with Arch Garrison. This should be tremendously genteel and cultured, with everyone’s cordial Englishness brought to a simmer. Stephen will probably feel obliged to lower the tone – and quite right too, since chapels are always improved by a public glower or two. Ask any Calvinist.


 
When Stephen plays Brighton on 23rd March, he’ll be minus Bill but topping a Club Stramonium bill featuring other three psych-tinged sets of performers – hedge-magick Cornish folkie Emily Jones, the dark whisper-pop project M U M M Y (featuring Bic Hayes and Jo Spratley), and what seems to be an unexpected reappearance of Jo’s Spratleys Japs revival (a Cardiacs spin-off who played three ecstatically-received comeback gigs on either side of the New Year, giving a new lease of life to a batch of undersung Tim Smith work). People who followed those shows at the time will note that this is pretty much a reshuffled version of the playing order at the first of the SJ Brighton shows, with the intriguing twist that Spratleys Japs themselves will be playing acoustically. (UPDATE, 1st March 2017 – sadly, this show appears to have been cancelled, but here’s a taste of what might have been, starting with one of Emily’s tracks…)




 
Finally, on 24th March, Stephen plays Oxford – minus Bill, but plus Ally Craig, his once-and-current bandmate in Bug Prentice (the Oxford avant-punk trio whose influences range from American hardcore to British psycheccentricity to arty ’50s jazz, and whose lineup’s rounded out by up-and-coming jazz bassist Ruth Goller).


 
There’s a smattering of other Bill or Stephen shows this spring, but I’ll cover those in the next few posts, since this one’s bursting at the seams.

Here’s the basic tour details:

  • Peaness + Stephen EvEns + The Vega Bodegas – Clwb Ifor Bach, 11 Womanby Street, CF10 1BR, Cardiff, Wales, Sunday 19th February 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Bob Drake + Arch Garrison + Stephen EvEns + Kavus Torabi – The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England, Friday 24th February 2017, 7.00pminformation
  • Condor Moments + Bob Drake + All Hail Hyena + Bonanza Tungsten Ladies – The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England, Saturday 25th February 2017, 8.00pminformation
  • Bob Drake + T House – The Caxton Arms, 36 North Gardens, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 3LB, England, Sunday 26th February 2017, 8.00pminformation (free event with collection on door)
  • Bob Drake + Bloke Music + Herbert Powell + Luminous Monsters – Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday 2nd March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Bob Drake + Kate Goes + The Nature Centre – ORT Cafe, 500-504 Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham, B12 9AH, England, Friday 3rd March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Bob Drake + Bing Selfish + Lonesome Cowboys From Hell + Sanshin Sisters + Consignia + Takeru Brady + Birthday Bread Man + Laminate Everything + Alain Man + others – The Others, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 5SA, England , Sunday 5th March 2017, 7.00pminformation
  • Stephen EvEns (full band show) + Barrington + William D. Drake + Rolf & Sam + The Gasman (DJ set) – The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Thursday 9th March 2017, 8.00pminformation
  • William D. Drake + Stephen EvEns – The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England, Saturday 11th March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • William D. Drake + Stephen EvEns – Prohibition Bar, Arch 3, Brandling Street, Gateshead, NE8 2BA, England, Sunday 12th March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • William D. Drake + Stephen EvEns + Arch Garrison – Old Chapel @ St Johns School, Epsom Road, Leatherhead, KT22 8SP, England, Wednesday 22nd March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Stephen EvEns (full band show) + M U M M Y + Emily Jones + Tesla Girls DJs – The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England, Thursday 23rd March 2017, 7:30pm – information here and here (CANCELLED)
  • Stephen EvEns + Ally Craig (Bug Prentice) – The Albion Beatnik Bookstore, 34 Walton Street, Oxford, OX2 6AA, England, Friday 24th March 2017, 7.45pm – more information t.b.c.

 

January 2017 – upcoming London gigs – Society of Imaginary Friends soiree with Swifty Lazarre, Millie George, I Am Her, Cian Binchy & Nighmar Ascouski (6th); Tom O.C Wilson and Beetles play Café Oto (11th)

3 Jan

Another year comes around, and it’s back to the small rooms and the hidden wonders…

Soif Soiree , 6th January 2016

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
‘New Year Soif Soiree’: Society of Imaginary Friends + The Right Reverend Swifty Lazarre + Millie George + I Am Her + Cian Binchey + Nighmar Askouski
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London N22 6UJ, England
Friday 6th December 2017, 8:00pm
– free entry – information

Kicking off a new year, Society Of Imaginary Friends have another of their left-field, mixed-art, performance’n’protest soirees rolling up in Wood Green this Friday.

As hosts, the Society have previously offered grand Kate Bush-styled prog-pop, transfigured folk, and even miniature rock operas about the speaking clock. This time, they’re unveiling “a sad blues for this ecstatic blue jewel that we ride across the Universe.” There’ll also be soiree regulars performing – two actor-performers (autism-positive Cian Binchy and sometime dark poet Nighmar Ascouski) offer a kind of cross-set dialogue, the one providing “a glimpse of a better world, a Utopian vision of every one stopping messing about and just kind of sorting it out” and the other “a glimpse of what to expect if we don’t.” Julie D. Riley is also returning with her singer-songwriter project I Am Her in order to “fill our hearts with punk fury at the crass stupidity of it all.”


 
In keeping with their taste for statements of resistance and community voicing (and, fresh for 2017, that sense of impending dread), the Society have announced that “the theme for our January Soiree is ‘lets stop climate disaster in 2017’. Sir David Hempleman-Adams has just completed a circumnavigation of the Arctic Polar region in a sailing boat. A journey that would have in the past taken three years because of the ice and pack-ice has just taken him four months. He saw very little ice. The infamous North West Passage was virtually ice-free…

“What are we going to do to meet the challenge we all face? Please give it some thought over the next few days and bring your ideas to the Soiree to be aired. We are hoping to have a video link-up with a genuine climate activist speaking from a secret location… briefing us on the current state of affairs so that we can all work towards a solution to avoid this global catastrophe as the evening progresses.”

Also on hand to entertain and provoke are slide guitar blues preacher and alleged Devil’s poker buddy The Right Reverend Swifty Le Zarre – here to represent “an extremely disconcerted deity” while dipping into a stack of pre- and post-war blues classics – and activist performance-poet Millie George, who’s been compared to both Angela Davis and Sylvia Plath and is representing “the very unhappy youth who are watching us fiddle as the world burns…”


 
Other than that, the usual SOIF circumstances applies – the free entry, the communal atmosphere, the top-notch vegan food; the general likelihood of them pulling some unknown/obscure/future star onstage for you.

* * * * * * * *

Tom O.C. Wilson (photo by James Birtwistle)

Tom O.C Wilson + Beetles
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Wednesday 11 January 2017, 8.00pminformation

A few days later, Tom O.C. Wilson gets to take over the art shack at Café Oto for an evening. Tom was last seen in December, supporting Bob Drake on the latter’s joyful, loose cannon art-rock swings through London. On that occasion he brought along Beetles, his alt.pop duo with Laila Woozeer which he’ll be bringing to this gig too (as well as headlining with his own four-piece band featuring drummer James Ashdown, bass player Steve Haynes and keyboard player Steve Troughton).

Leaner and less cutely baroque than his earlier work as Freeze Puppy, Tom’s more recent solo work on Soundcloud shows how he’s pushing his idiosyncratic and elliptical songwriting voice forwards. Though the half-spoken, half-conversationally-sung vocals are familiar from Puppy Time (as are the clambering, almost-jazzy melodies) the dusty synth trumpets replacing the cute keyboard tones suggest a growing interest in natural timbres. More significantly, he’s shedding some of his previous, precocious preciousness and becoming more literary while at the same time managing to become more compelling a listen: a neat trick to pull off.


 
Itchy and unnerving, swaying between a surprising number of key shifts across its three-and-a-half minutes, The Wagon is a self-proclaimed “song of struggle”, ostensibly about quitting cigarettes; but as the lines and distractions unfold, it could as much be about quitting a person, or jabbing around the edges of artistic compulsion in search of the route to an aim. If you were to pick a comparison, it would have to be a narrative wrangled between Stephen Malkmus at his most effusive and the looping literary embroideries of Stars In Battledress – a delightfully skewed and verbose transatlantic mixture which mirrors Tom’s own mixed English and American roots.

Beetles (photo by Paul @ bitoclass)

Beetles (photo by Paul @ bitoclass)


Beetles – lo-fi unwinders of “intricate, skeletal pop songs” – have a scrappier and almost-unplugged approach, with their instrumentation limited to Tom’s slippery, feathery electric guitar and to the deceptively loose twining of Tom and Laila’s voices. The sparse pair of tracks they put up on Soundcloud this past autumn tease through ideas as if working on stubborn, resistant knots in the hair. Tom and Laila offer thoughtful pop song perspectives from the losing sides of open relationships, from in and around deceptions; stories-in-process from (or about) unreliable people, or people who might have bitten off more than they can chew. They cite Regina Spektor, Nirvana and the other Beatles (the one with the “a”) as inspiration: for me, though, I keep imagining an alternate Sonny and Cher, immured in a thin-walled apartment for months on end, toning down the carolling and coming up with increasingly fractured songs as they start to forget which of them is whom.



 

November 2016 – upcoming gigs – iamthemorning’s two shows with Tim Bowness in London and Ulft (12th, 14th) and three more in the Netherlands (16th-18th)

10 Nov

iamthemorning, November 2016 tourOriginally hailing from Saint Petersburg, iamthemorning is the partnership of self-taught, progressive-rock-inspired singer Marjana Semkina and meticulously-taught classical pianist Gleb Kolyadin; it’s also what happens when their conflicting backgrounds and sympathetic musicalities merge. Using pick-up ensembles of classical and rock musicians, they stage their music in multi-media chamber shows; swelling out to small orchestral arrangements, efflorescent electric guitar and tape inserts. Whenever this isn’t possible, they’ll strip themselves back to a string-augmented quartet. When that‘s not possible either, they’ll revert to the original duo, trusting in Gleb’s virtuosic St. Petersburg Conservatory piano skills to cover (or at least intimate) the orchestral role behind the lustrous drama of Marjana’s voice.

Marjana and Gleb’s burnished, budded musicality shows a clear affinity with the British literary mythoscape. Their burgeoning pre-autumnal songs certainly possess, amongst other things, tints of English and Breton-Celtic folk and a certain pre-Raphaelite glow; recalling, on a surface level, that billowing school of female-fronted prog-folk which includes Renaissance or Mostly Autumn (or, on the arresting death-lays which bookend this year’s ‘Lighthouse’ album, the glimmering Celtic feytronica of Caroline Lavelle). All of this probably had a lot to do with ‘Lighthouse’ scooping up ‘Prog’ magazine’s Album of the Year award for 2016.


 
Chamber-prog is the term the band themselves choose, and the one that’s usually applied to them. Tagging them with the prog label, however (complete with all of the blowsy, blustering AOR associations which got gummed to it during the 1980s), seems a little reductive. iamthemorning‘s meticulous immersion in advanced harmony and arrangement puts them square into the tradition of florid electro-acoustic neoromantics – the densely skilled ones who own a strong affinity to the tail-end of Romantic music but arrive several generations too late; the ones who often fall into prog by default, through a love of rock amplification and of what happens when song meets electric surge). Consider the dogged grand orchestralism thundered out by Robert John Godfrey in The Enid. Consider Kerry Minnear, slipping his haunting yet sophisticated quiet-man ballads through the busy humour of Gentle Giant (referencing romanticism and modernism as he did so: deeper rills through the romping). Consider the late Keith Emerson and how (behind ELP’s circus vulgarities and rollicks through baroque, Bach and barrelhouse) he too maintained a fascination for the rich harmonic and melodic upheaval where romanticism meets modernism; capturing it in his brash adaptations of Ginastera and Rodrigo, and listening towards the eastern European strains of Mussorgsky, Janáček and Bartók.


 
This last, in turn, brings us to Gleb and his own deep immersion in the likes of Stravinsky (there are videos of him playing ‘The Rite Of Spring’ and clearly adoring it); one of the reasons why, however much an iamthemorning song may slip along like a scented bath, there’s always more shading and detail in its depths. The other reason is Marjana’s growing determination to back the petal-sheened sonic prettiness and concert-hall glamour with more profound psychological resonance, turning the ‘Lighthouse’ concept into a diary of mental illness and the struggles to survive it. The band might still be in the early stages of establishing a lyrical and conceptual maturity to match the breadth of their musicality, but there’s plenty of space and opportunity to do this. The currents of invention under the lush surface slickness, and the clear willingness of Gleb and Marjana to challenge each other and to grow together, make iamthemorning a band to watch.

iamthemorning & Tim Bowness, 12th-18th November 2016Tim Bowness, on the other hand, has been through much of this already, having persistently edged and developed his visions from the turbulent romantic moodism of his earlier work to his current, exquisitely-honed portraits of human vulnerability. Forced in part by increasingly long gaps in the open musical marriage of his main band no-man, he’s been demonstrating himself, step by step, to not be merely a band singer blessed with a rich, poignant whisper of a voice and a sharp sense of understated lyrical drama, but a formidable solo artist with a mind for matching and fusing together diverse sounds and musical elements.

Erstwhile/ongoing no-man partner Steven Wilson may get more of the plaudits these days, but Tim’s growing list of solo albums are every bit as good. Bridging Mark Hollis with Mark Eitzel, Robert Wyatt with David Sylvian and Peter Gabriel with Morrissey, they work off a confidently-expanding sonic palette of spiky caressing art-rock guitar, luxuriant keyboard and drum work, strings and atmospherics. As ever with Tim, the subject matter is tender and bleak – including thwarted ambitions, the shaping and stripping of love by time and mortality, and (increasingly) shades of the north-western landscapes and dilemmas to which Tim owes his own initial artistic formation.


 

While he’s currently brewing a welter of projects (including a long-overdue second duo album with Peter Chilvers, the resurrection of his angsty 1980s Mersey art-pop quartet Plenty, and assorted work with Banco de Gaia, contemporary classical composer Andrew Keeling and Happy The Man’s Kit Watkins), Tim’s main focus is his still-in-progress fourth solo album, ‘Third Monster On The Left’. This is sounding like his most ambitious project to date: a conceptual musical memoir centring on the backstage thoughts of a fictional, fading classic-rock musician, awash in the garden and graveyard of talent that was the 1970s. For ‘Third Monster On The Left’, Tim promises (as part of the context-appropriate crafting) a more explicit version of the progginess that’s always fed into his art pop since the beginning: specifically, “the harmonic richness and romanticism of 1970s Genesis, and the Mellotron-drenched majesty of early King Crimson.”

All of this makes the declared prospect of a Bowness/iamthemorning set of collaborative “shared bill, shared songs” concerts an interesting one. There’s already a connection via Colin Edwin, who’s played bass for both of them. On this occasion, Tim will be bringing along band regulars Michael Bearpark (guitar), Stephen Bennett (keyboards) and Andrew Booker (electronic drums) plus returning cohorts Steve Bingham (violin, loops) and Pete Morgan (bass). Some or all of these will be pulling double duty backing iamthemorning, alongside whoever Gleb and Marjana brings along. What’s most intriguing, though, is what this hand-in-hand teamup is going to bring out in both parties. Beyond the luxuriant tones, there’s useful artistic tinder in their differences, their similarities, and their internal contradictions alike.

At its best, there ought to be push-and-pull. Tim’s austere taste for unvarnished modernism and stark realism is ever compromised by a sensual greed for the textures of romance: Gleb and Marjana swim in an ocean of effusive orchestral indulgence, but now want to grap stone and dirt. He’ll give them an exquisitely pained art-pop ballad, pared clean of fairytale delusions and as slender as a greyhound; they’ll polish and expand it back into dreamscape. They’ll give him a perfumed Edwardian garden: he’ll slouch in, with his Beckett and Kelman paperbacks, to lay a grit path. He’ll bring out their darker, less-resolved deep chords. They’ll bring out his blushes.

The odds are fair that they’ll make a collective attempt at the title track from ‘Lighthouse’ (though they’ll probably not risk a medley with the no-man epic of the same name). I’m also hoping for a Gram-and-Emmylou-shaded prog harmony on Tim’s heart-breaking Know That You Were Loved; or perhaps a morningification of Dancing For You. We’ll see…




 
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iamthemorning with Tim Bowness:

  • IO Pages Festival @ Poppodium DRU Cultuurfabriek, Hutteweg 24a, 7071 MB Ulft, Netherlands, Saturday 12th November 2016, 2.30pm (with Gazpacho + Anekdoten + Lesoir + Marcel Singor + A Liquid Landscape + Anneke van Giersbergen) – information here and here
  • Bush Hall, 310 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London, W12 7LJ, England, Monday 14th November 2016 – information here and here

Immediately after the Bowness shows, iamthemorning embark on three more shows on their own in the Netherlands – details below. Depending on which one you attend, you could see the band in any one of its three main playing configurations.

  • Hedon, Burg Drijbersingel 7, 8021 DA Zwolle, The Netherlands, Wednesday 16th November 2016, 8.00pm (chamber gig with violin & cello)information
  • De Pul, Kapelstraat 13, 5401 EC Uden, The Netherlands, Thursday 17th November 2016, 9.00pm (duo gig)information
  • Patronaat, Zijlsingel 2, 2013 DN Haarlem, The Netherlands, Friday 18th November 2016, 7.30pm (full band gig)information

 

November 2016 – upcoming London gigs – Society Of Imaginary Friends’ ‘Time Saturated Soiree’ with The Astronauts, Taktylos, Beth Jones, Marius French and Nighmar Ascousky (4th); Revere, Alasdair Maclean and Colm Mac Con Iomair play Daylight Music (5th)

30 Oct

Those frowning former commercial and light industrial blocks in Wood Green have been enjoying a change of function in recent years as the area gradually, awkwardly morphs into a London art hub (while rents and avaricious developments continue to push the city artists and shoestring events out of the near-east-and-centre). I’m guessing that this will only accelerate, with the artier spaces around the backstreets near the library and the old gasometers acquiring glossier licks of gentrification as the money follows. At the moment, it’s hovering in the grey area between pop-up and plush: for now, slightly outré things can still happen.

One such thing has been happening for a few years now, with the astonishingly assured art-pop quartet Society Of Imaginary Friends running musical soirees at the high-rep vegan eaterie Karamel Café (as they do in other venues dotted around London – Soho, Clerkenwell, Kingston – and occasionally in the Orkney Islands). It’s taken me a while to catch up with them.

Time Saturated Soif Soiree, 4th November 2016

Society Of Imaginary Friends presents:
‘Time Saturated Soiree’: The Astronauts + Taktylos + Society Of Imaginary Friends + Beth Jones + Marius French + Nighmar Ascousky + Onjdrew DJ set
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 4th November 2016, 8.00pm – free entry – information

Frequently tinged with some degree of rebel rhetoric and counterculture spirit (albeit dappled, in turn, by outright theatricality), on this occasion the Soiree makes a tongue-in-cheek grab for the occult aspects of British daylight saving. “As the clocks go back, we celebrate together the extraordinary gift of an extra hour of life from the God Chronos. Of course this means that not only do we have an extra hour in bed on Sunday but an extra hour is also available to enjoy our Time Saturated Soiree on 4th November. We will feature artists abundant in time and time signatures of the non linear variety.”

Society Of Imaginary Friends are curating from somewhere in the middle of the bill. I’m surprised that I haven’t found out about them before, since they’re right up my alley – dramatic song stories and glam-chanson-prog-folk operas which can be as smooth as mountain lakes or tossed around like cartoon galleons (that is, when they’ve not turned inwards and intimate, for creepy journeys into the shadowy nooks of the house or the cupboard under the stairs).

Orkney-born singer Louise Kleboe, (who recently wowed an audience at Organ Reframed in a teamup with William D. Drake) serves as powerful female voice and figurehead. The music (drawing on Orcadian lays and Balkan jags as much as it does English art pop and psychedelic folk) is underpinned by a constantly flexible electro-acoustic palette of piano, accordion, guitar and violin; plus sundry keyboard samplers which cough up sleight-of-eardrum aural tricks and tinkles to take us deeper into the band’s conceptual toybox. Kate Bush would be an obvious comparison; so, too, would a braver Goldfrapp; you could also stir in the Gothic intimations of Danielle Dax (if not so much of the thorny racket) and add shades of the overt theatrical danger which Holly Penfield has brought to both her singer-songwriter work and her cabaret shows.

Below are two Society songs – the smoothly rhapsodic The Moors (something to draw in and caress the New Agers) and The Easy Way (to grab them by the lapels and flip them over for a shakedown). The fact that the latter can slip into a video cut from footage of Elem Klimov’s harrowing war film ‘Come and See’ – and thrive there – speaks volumes about its own strident power.



 
In line with the soiree theme, the Society will be presenting a miniature new temporal project of their own. “The briefest of rock operas – ‘On The Third Stroke’, based on the life and times of Ethel Jane Cain, the very first speaking clock, (‘glamorous and exact, the living embodiment of precision… she sat between the tick and the tock… swinging in the hammock strung between the Sun and the Moon…’, as ‘The Idler Magazine’ put it.” No preview samples are available, unfortunately, but here’s that original clock with that original voice…


 
Society guitarist Brian O’Lenehan puts in double duty on this concert, since he also plays in skeletal-spacey instrumental fusion band Taktylos. The Society hail them as “live from the event horizon”: a little more helpfully, the ‘Guardian’ describes them as “Philip Glass meets Soft Machine”.

It’s a fair description of a band in which a collection of London musicians – the others being journeying drummer Tom Cambata, wind-synther Rod Arran, German keyboard player Chris Bihlmaier and bass guitarist David Rees – seem to gingerly and painstakingly align their ingredients (squishy late-‘70s fusion tootles, pared-back guitar shapes, mathematical percussion arrangements) into place as if they were jellied blocks of unstable explosive, rather than chunks of musical conversation. I’m not sure whether the resulting minimalist leanings are the results of being tentative or of attempting to dab a tune into shape with the fewest and most economical strokes (like a Japanese ink drawing). Still, assuming that Taktylos don’t go roaring off down more standard bulked-up jazz-fusion lines in the future, they’ve got themselves a potentially interesting niche.



 
Topping the bill (I think) are the most recent iteration of The Astronauts – longstanding post-punk absurdists spun off from onetime new town Welwyn. Formed in 1981 (and, despite langours, never quite gone since then), they’ve sometimes had to singlehandedly hold up the town’s early ‘80s anarcho-punk reputation, standing defiant and crooked to the “affluent deadzone” qualities into which the place has sleepwalked. It’s kind of de rigeur to include ‘Rock & Reel’s description of front man/last man standing Mark Astronaut as “the post-punk Dylan of Welwyn Garden City” and add that certain people also risk a Prestwich verbal maiming by mentioning him in the same breath as Mark E. Smith.

He’s actually much more straightforward than either (perhaps “a kitchen-sink Robert Calvert” might be a better description). As for the band, while they never quite match the driving, morphing truculence of The Fall they’re accomplished post-punk chameleons – flicking between West Coast punks or hippies within the same few bars, suddenly huddling in dank subways with the young Paul Weller, or morphing into a studiously awkward Zombies as they back Mark’s singular satellite-town vision.



 
This particular evening may be bolstered with actor, autism ambassador and mordant performance poet Cian Binchy dropping by for a return appearance; meanwhile, Nighmar Ascousky (hyperactive polymath, Soiree evening regular, fantasy geek and friendly Laveyan Satanist) will be taking time out from his acting, modelling, painting, film-making and singing work in order to deliver some “shock and awe” poetry (and perhaps just take the opportunity to sit down for a while). Beyond that the evening starts to rampage further into the astrological and mystical, with returning “fabulously, beautiful, talented, rising star singer/songwriter Beth Jones representing the sun, and “supremely talented multi-instrumentalist Marius French covering the same task for the moon. There’s a chance of further off-the-list performers; and there’s a DJ set until the early morning.

Regarding Beth and Marius – they might be gigantic talents, or even catalysts for sympathetic magic; but I can’t find more information on either of them anywhere. Those glowing references could all be hype, or the Society could be lining up a genuinely impressive bill. The chances are that it’ll be the latter, since the roll-call of previous Soiree performers is a delightful array of present-and-correct, past-blasts and future shinings. Just to give a partial picture, past shows have included music contributions from William D. Drake (the endearing grand-and-gawky ex-Cardiac keyboard wizard); harpsinger Sheila Moyan; Virginia Plain (a.k.a Nick Watkinson, cross-dressing ex-frontman of late-’70s power-pop heroes The Jags); psychedelic keyboards warrior Kosmic Troubadour; Kirsten Morrison (rising folk-baroque queen and Lene Lovich ally); and woodwind player William Summers (who’s had Circulus, The Loki Broken Consort and Princes In The Tower in his bagful of bands). The same run of shows have had recitation, chats and rants from (among others) Camden rapper Lid Lid, poets Keleigh Wolf, Ernie Burns and Gabriel Moreno, and ‘New Internationalist’ artivist/activist/commentator Jamie Kelsey Fry.

Best to enjoy this kind of thing while it lasts. Who knows – it might not be long before occasions like this are pushed out by encroaching cash and a tidal wave of karaoke salsa; but even if that turns out to be so, I don’t think the Society will take it lying down. They’re irrepressible. We’d see them pop up somewhere else, soiree in tow; somewhere where they were least expected.

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Meanwhile, showing no signs of slowing down (and still in residence in long-gentrified central Islington), Daylight Music returns after its half-term break.

Daylight Music 237, 5th November 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 237: Revere + Alasdair Maclean + Colm Mac Con Iomaire
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 5th November 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

Slightly tweaked press release:

“When it comes to influences, Revere has had a firmly open-door policy over their fifteen years of existence, incorporating chamber pop, dance music, post rock and progressive elements into their trademark wall of sound, garnering a great live reputation for their multi-layered wall of sound. After fifteen years, two albums, nine EPs and a clutch of singles (and with around fifty musicians having passed through the band), they’re amicably calling it quits, with the current and final six-piece choosing to play their last British show at Daylight Music.

(For fans of occasion, the actual last ever Revere show is a Dutch farewell at Vessel 11 in Rotterdam on 3rd December).



 
“In the middle of the bill is a set by Alasdair Maclean, singer, songwriter and guitarist for legendary band The Clientele, who formed a long time ago in the backwoods of suburban Hampshire (initially playing together as kids at school, later rehearsing in a thatched cottage remote from any kind of music scene but hypnotized by the magical strangeness of Galaxie 500 and Felt and the psych pop of Love and the Zombies). Alasdair still recalls a pub conversation where the band collectively voted that it was OK to be influenced by surrealist poetry but not OK to have any shouting or blues guitar solos. From that moment on, they put their stamp on a kind of eerie, distanced pure pop, stripped to its essentials and recorded quickly to four-track analogue tape.

Instantly identifiable, The Clientele sound like no one else, although they are cited as an influence by bands as diverse as Spoon, Panda Bear, The War on Drugs and the Fleet Foxes. It’s been said that the greatest bands always create their own individual sound; The Clientele have gone one further and created their own world.


 
“In a crowded field of outstanding Irish fiddle players and interpreters of traditional music Colm Mac Con Iomaire is unique. From school trad band Kila and street busking to wildly popular days playing fiddle with The Frames, his voice is unmistakably his own and his music bears distinctive creative hallmarks which have as much to do with his personality and character as with his impressive technical mastery, musical authority and exquisitely expressive playing. Almost twenty years ago Colm struggled to describe his early attempts at composition and made a distinction between
‘tunes’ and ‘music’. With his father’s people coming from the Irish-speaking Conamara Gaeltacht, Colm learned ‘tunes’ (the dance music which makes up much of the instrumental repertoire in Irish traditional music) and sean nós unaccompanied singing; on his mother’s side there was classical instrumental ‘music’ on the violin and piano. The creative tension between these two notions produced a player, composer and film score arranger who seems always to have been aware and inspired by the dualities in his musical and cultural world.


 
“During the late nineties Irish broadcaster TG4 offered Colm opportunities to write scores for film, allowing him to allowed him to progress and mature as an orchestrator of his own compositions. The compositions Colm made for these productions came from an interior place whose deep roots lay in traditional Irish music but also in an older way of life and thought, consciously mediated through his personal life lived out in the contemporary space. The title for Colm’s first solo album ‘The Hare’s Corner/Cúinne an Ghiorria’ signified not only an acknowledgement of the importance of that old culture but also an urgent plea for
‘the hare’s corner’ in contemporary culture… a still place where space and time are set aside for something beautiful for its own sake. The title of his second, ‘And Now the Weather’, refers to the introduction to the final item on radio and tv news bulletins, viewed as a means of keeping the distress of reality at bay: it is a title riven with irony.”

 

September/October 2016 – upcoming gigs – Jane Siberry on tour in Britain and Ireland (9th Sep – 7th Oct) with The Blackheart Orchestra, Balsamo Deighton, Ruth, Delilah Montagu, LeeSun and Carol Laula

5 Sep

This week, Jane Siberry embarks on her first tour of the British Isles for a good while.

  • Whelan’s, 25 Wexford Street, Dublin 2, Ireland, Friday 9th September 2016, 8.00pm (with Ruth) – information
  • The Queens Hall, 85-89 Clerk Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9JG, Scotland, Friday 16th September 2016, 7.30pm (with Carol Laula) – information
  • The Convent, Convent Lane, South Woodchester, Stroud, GL5 5HS, England, Sunday 18th September 2016, 9.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Henry Tudor House, Barracks Passage, Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, SY1 1XA, England, Monday 19th September 2016, 8.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Trades Club, Holme Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 8EE, England, Thursday 22nd September 2016, 8.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Friday 23rd September 2016, 7.30pm (with Delilah Montagu) – information
  • Kitchen Garden Café, 17 York Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7SA, England, Sunday 25th September 2016, 7.30pm (withThe Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • St John’s Church, St John’s Street, Farncombe, Godalming, GU7 3EJ, England, Wednesday 28th September 2016, 7.45pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Stables, Stockwell Lane, Wavendon, Milton Keynes, MK17 8LU, England, Thursday 29th September 2016, 8.45pm (with LeeSun) – information
  • Brighton Unitarian Church, New Road, Brighton, BN1 1UF, England, Friday 30th September 2016, 7.30pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Chapel Arts Centre, St Oaks Memorial Hall, Lower Borough Walls, Bath, BA1 1QR, England, Sunday 2nd October 2016, 8.00pm (with Balsamo Deighton) – information
  • St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, Westminster, London, SW1E 5JA, England, Monday 3rd October 2016, 7.15pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Stromness Town Hall, Church Road, Stromness, Orkney, KW16 3BA, Scotland, Friday 7th October 2016, 7.30pm (solo show) – information (note – this date is listed on some places but not currently on Jane’s own site, so check before committing)

Sometimes, to her chagrin, Jane’s been tagged as “the Canadian Kate Bush” – a tag which is at least as constrictive as it is helpful. Unfair as it might be, the comparison holds true and is a good place to start. Early musical developers, women of a similar age and independent-mindedness, Jane and Kate both realised their full powers and creative approaches during a boomtime of studio-bound 1980s art pop. Pioneering later self-propelled female studio auteurs, both kept absolute control of their songwriting and mastered enough of the necessary technology to dictate form as well as content, working as meticulous musical painters, dramatists and refractors. Both have favoured carefully-chosen instrumentation, sonorities and song structures, neither of which necessarily follow common practise or expectations (and neither of which they’ve felt obliged to stick to, preferring to change formulae whenever inspiration and craft took them there). Most crucially, both of them have a sweeping emotional effect on listeners, transcending both genre and gender.

The differences, though, are as significant and illustrative as the similarities. Genius notwithstanding, Kate’s creativity was cosseted in an indulgent arts-and-crafts family background, and the recording and development deal she’d gained by her mid-teens ensured that she didn’t have to slog her way up with hard gigging in parallel with grinding dayjobs. This, plus the overwhelming commercial success which came from her first single onwards, ensured the shape and circumstances of her work to come. Hers was a unfettered imagination fuelled by spliff and arts and cocooned in recording studios, voraciously processing mythology and literature to spin out detailed and immersive storydramas in pop form, all contained within a wary privacy she’s maintained to this day. In some respects Kate’s never left the book-lined bedrooms of her childhood: she’s simply extended them, and grown within the bigger space she made there.



 
Jane’s, on the other hand, has been a less charmed or settled road. An uneasy family life and childhood led to a voyage into a university degree which soon morphed, dissatisfied, from music to microbiology, then work as a waitress in order to self-fund a tightly-budgeted debut record. Perhaps it’s these elements which have inspired the elements of research quirk and observational stillness in parts of her songcraft, from the twinkling electronic dissections of beachlife on her first hit (Mimi On The Beach) to the moments, when in otherwise warm and involved musical landscapes she appears to pull back, tilting her gaze askance, casting a cool bright birdlike eye on the matter: not necessarily making conclusions, but grabbing a quick and open assessment of what’s going on, whether or not details have fallen into a conclusive pattern.


 
Certainly her songcraft reflects an edgier, more marginal, creative life; intelligent and existential, but fully in touch with the irrational and perverse. While Kate’s catalogue dramatizes odd states and situation, Jane’s songbook seems more of a recounting. She has, in moments of straightforward generosity or acceptance, delivered art-pop singalongs such as The Life Is The Red Wagon or the rapturous k.d. lang duet Calling All Angels; in bouncier times, she’s delivered songs about dogs and people or childhood hockey games. When certain moods have taken her, she’s carved out monumental, borderline-impenetrable audio-literary mysteries such as The Bird In The Gravel.



 
Yet she’ll also touch uneasily, obliquely, but always openly on subjects such as alcoholism and mental disturbance which might or might not be first-hand, and in ways which tide the listener into the heart of the situation – the compulsive, brittle, confessional dream-suite Oh My My which swallows up the second half of 1989’s ‘Maria’; the title track to ‘The Walking (and Constantly)’, which casts a heartbreaking light on the trudge and hysteria of grieving; or the disturbingly open-ended half-story of The Lobby (a incomplete, displaced female narrative with a chillingly sad tune, which might be about dementia, bereavement, social defiance or a mixture of all three).


 
Over thirty-five years Jane’s music has flowed and curved from her early folk-and-synths period to the grand studio-as-instrument art-pop shapings of ‘The Walking’ and ‘When I Was A Boy’ to the embracing of tones from Canadian country, big-band soul and Celtic fusion. In more recent years, you can hear her conceptual thumbprint (if only in the shape of an elusive transmitted meme and method) in the work of a newer crop of independent female songwriters such as Jenny Hval. Her latest record, the crowd-funded ‘Ulysses’ Purse’, takes elements of all of these strands only to strain and diffuse them into gentle atmospherics around a core of some of Jane’s finest songs to date.

As with form, so with content. As Jane turns sixty, the focus of her songcraft has turned towards the significant but under-explored passage out of middle-age, in which neither work or life is over and done yet, but old disagreements must be put to rest and the scattered aspects of personhood and affection allowed to settle into the character you’ll need to take you through the next stage. Perhaps committed to communicating the album’s simplicity in action as well as concept (and perhaps transforming her budget restrictions into a broadening of the message), Jane’s been touring it low-budget and solo, with the minimum of instruments. For the British gig, she’s even laid some troubadour plans to make the journey between gigs on foot (when possible), accompanied only by her dog.


 

* * * * * * * *

The range of Jane’s tour guests – straightforward, but telling in tone – suggest that she’s put active thought and choice into the arrangements.

In the studio, The Blackheart Orchestra‘s Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington sometimes make the mistake of corraling multi-instrumental skills into recordings which over-egg and over-slick the substance of their songs. Live, however, is where to catch them and where everything works: with Richard carrying out carefully-timed and layered instrumental changes under Chrissy’s storyteller guitar and full, mesmeric voice, their compelling, atmospheric storytelling pop comes into focus. They’re with Jane for around half of the tour dates, an arrangement and environment which seems set to bring out the best in them: maybe not so much a learning environment as one which might convince them to bring their leaner, more spontaneous live strengths fully back into their recordings.


 
In place for the Bath date, Balsamo Deighton (a spinoff duo from late Brit-country band The Storys, featuring sometime theatre-musical star Steve Balsamo and former Deighton Family singer Rosalie Deighton) have a confident, Gram-and-Emmylou/Alison Krauss-inspired West Coast sound, nicely reflecting Jane’s own rootsier country leanings (as well as providing a more traditional songwriting style for her to kick off from).


 
For the Edinburgh show, Jane’s scored a coup by enticing her friend Carol Laula into a support slot. Carol’s one of those adult pop artists – thoroughly successful in their own sphere – who can slip clear away from the radar of younger, more experimentally-inclined listeners only to rush back in unexpectedly, a welcome gust of fresh air and vision. Noted for the warmth, engagement and humility of her gigs, Carol is another tourmate choice reflecting a past and current aspect of Jane – this time, the rapport with an audience through melodic and personal openness, the dedication to dynamiting preciousness in favour of rapport.


 
Kerry-based popster Ruth (who opens the first show of the tour at Whelan’s in Dublin) is less of an established quality, having only begun making a name for herself this year/ That said, her debut single Who Are You Living For? has already revealed prodigious depth and subtlety. Exploring anger, hurt, sympathy, reproach and concern in a single package, tied together with rapier-sharp insight: one to add to the list of big-hearted/let-down woman songs. While I suspect that Ruth might be turning up to the Siberry gig with minimal instrumentation, it also shows that she can flush a current dancetronic wallpaper-of-sound production style with the vivid intelligent personality of the expert singer-songwriter, moving from probing Wurlitzer-chime verses to explode into a grand CCM pop chorus. Ruth’s next single, out this month, is called Queen Of The Con. Clearly I’ll need to pay careful attention.


 
Similarly fresh on the scene but much, much more elusive is Delilah Montagu, who’s supporting at Sheffield and who keeps a bizarrely low media profile, with nary a song or a picture to be found to help build a profile. Apparently a gifted Joni Mitchell/Laura Marling-inspired singer and guitarist, she’s another early starter (first song written at eight, work being performed by choir and orchestra by the time she was eleven), and while she’s apparently been making a small, solid splash at selected regional folk festivals this year, her highest profile one seems to have been supporting similarly obscure art-folk trio Paradisia in a Stoke Newington pub cellar.

It seems as if this new support slot’s a jump up for Delilah… or maybe not. Despite the radio silence, she already comes garlanded with industry praise (from the likes of Simon Climie), and a little digging does reveal that she’s a scion of the eye-wateringly costly liberal-arts school Bedales, who’ve already rolled out pop alumni such as Marika Hackman, Lily Allen, baritone moodist Gabriel Bruce and blues-rocker Leah Mason – plus Cara Delevingne – and for whom she scored the school musical ‘Sound of The Night Feather’ before graduating). Everything about Delilah seems to mutter “carefully groomed for stealth success”, but, as ever, you can’t fake that kind of a thing in front of a cult audience like Jane’s; so I’m assuming that whoever picked her (and it could well be Jane herself) knows what they’re doing.

Amongst the tour guests, maybe the closest to Jane in terms of spirit is LeeSun, who’s supporting her at Milton Keynes. Korea-born, Canada-raised and now Leeds-based, Lee originally comes from witty, deceptively whimsical jazz-pop (if her Calgary-recorded, Wurlitzer-chiming 2011 debut, ‘Prime’, is anything to go by – check it out, since it’s a secret gem, and in line with Jane’s own lighter, perkier musings). Since then, changes in life and perspective have led her towards stretched-out, semi-spiritual chamber pop ballads which explore from the creche to the cosmos: swaddled but epic, tinted with rocking lullaby rhythms and touches of sleepy string jazz. I’m not sure what she’ll bring to the party at this point – hopefully some of the brave, open fragility of her recent singles, some of the Blossom Dearie wit of ‘Prime’, and some of the cool, defiant, musing commentary that’s evident from her podcasts in which she questions the way in which a patriarchal Western world distorts her situation (single mother, south-east Asian roots, self-possessed singleton) into that of some kind of resident alien.




 

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