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May 2019 – upcoming gigs – theatrical rock and weirdtronica from Major Parkinson, Alwanzatar and Army Of Moths in London (2nd, 3rd); simmering avant-rock angles from Thumpermonkey and A Formal Horse in Southampton (2nd); eclectic music From My Octopus Mind and Daniel Inzani in Bristol plus a dance video premiere by Bethany Stenning (2nd)

23 Apr

Major Parkinson + Alwantazar + Army Of Moths, 2nd & 3rd May 2019The last time that Bergen rock dramatists Major Parkinson came to England, they amazed and were amazed – bringing an evening of dark-tinged theatrical music, and leaving grateful and a little thunderstruck at the attention they’d received and the energy and loyalty they’d stirred up. It had something to do with the fact that they’d unexpectedly tapped into the interests of Cardiacs fans, known for their family loyalty and their generally un-English zest for manic expressiveness and musical complexity. A perfect match, really. Fronted by Jon Ivar Kollbotn and massing up an armoury of violins, guitars and keyboards, Major Parkinson are a Jägerbomb of a band. Rich, heady, a little reminiscent of Cardiacs’ turbulent complexity, but with plenty of other things in the brew – a dash of Nick Cave’s Gothic cabaret, the huge dark orchestral-pop airs of Cousteau, the shipwreck timbers of black metal, the ambitions that come from staring at a shelfload of out-there music while still pawing over your childhood copy of ‘Sgt. Pepper’.

They’re back in England at the beginning of next month to play a London double – an official show at Tufnell Park’s Dome, plus (for Dome ticket holders) a pre-Dome warm-up at a secret location. No idea where the latter is. They’re selling it as some kind of thieves’ kitchen or secret cupboard, in which you’ll come as an audience member but helplessly spill onto the stage, presumably becoming one of the characters in a Parkinson tale. It’s all a mystery. Pick up a Dome ticket and be prepared to make an early weekend of it.



 
At the Dome show, there’s support from Alwanzatar, a solo “extraterrestrial world music” project from Krizla (who plays with Norwegian prog-psych-folkers Tusmørke). Founded around electronics, flute, synth gloop and incantations, it sounds a little like a reanimated Popul Vuh, raised up by dark rites and dragged into the world of bedroom electronica. Also on hand are Army Of Moths: usually a similarly theatre’lectrical racket to Major Parkinson themselves, playing an unhinged kind of power pop (great brick arches of song with a definite Cardiacs-y clamberosity involved, plus vocals scurrying around them like woozy wayward ivy or clamouring like a young Bowie). This time they’re playing in acoustic format.




 
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It’s going to be a busy Thursday for this kind of tuneful, extravagant fringe rock. Also on the 2nd – balefully powerful London avant-prog band Thumpermonkey up sticks for an evening and roll their dark laughter, their constantly shapeshifting compositions and their baffling, brainiac-surreal perspective out of London, taking the road down to Southampton to play for the determined diehards at Solent Area Prog.

Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse, 2nd May 2019Like Major Parkinson, Thumpermonkey are a heady brew of ideas and drama. In their way, they’re one of Britain’s most ambitious rock bands, deftly striding and shifting between different musical kernels from prog, dark pop or experimental metal to a kind of science-fiction cabaret, languidly licking up and stirring in any intriguing nugget or story fragment they birth or encounter. Unpacking their decade-plus back catalogue of recordings is like getting trapped in one of those clever-dick contemporary polymath novels written about everything and anything, stitched together with a little magic and mystique – they’ve sung about computer games, Nigerian fraudsters, Mexican acid westerns and strange diseases and made it sound as if it were all part of the same complex semi-submerged story. Their most recent album, ‘Make Me Young, etc.’ is a surprisingly sober banking-down of the usual playful creative fires: a crepuscular meditation on the end of the world as observed through dreams, portents, reality and intimations.



 
Once a concoction of pointy elbows and sudden shifts, Southampton avant-rockers A Formal Horse (playing in support) are growing up, out and a little away from their post-prog beginnings, powered by Hayley McDonnell’s strong carolling tones. More recent songs (like 2018’s Bird) yearn toward a kind of florid dream-folk, even as the drumming nails mozaics into the floor and the guitar describes steely math-rock machinery forms. A couple of years ago, I described them as “a bounding conceptual glitterball”. In some respects, they’ve calmed down a little since then, but only in order to apply more considered forms of straining at their genre. At the moment, they’re like a muscle developing – over-straining, gently tearing, but with the intention and ability to rebuild and go further.



 
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In contrast to the journeys being carried out by Major Parkinson and Thumpermonkey next week, My Octopus Mind are staying happily at home in Bristol for their own 2nd May gig. Following their jaunt around the country back in February (and a brief vigorous five-date sizzle through France and Belgium earlier this month) this time they’re choosing to draw the wider world over to themselves.

Here’s what I wrote about them last time, which they’ve liked enough to quote themselves, and which I might as well requote myself – “My Octopus Mind occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them. There’s a jazzy rattle, predominantly via the gloriously noisy effected double bass of Izy Ellis (a growling, punchy, conversational art-box; upfront timber and raw electronic treatments). The whole band’s informed by post-Radiohead/Mars Volta art rock and by the mating of contrasts implicit in assorted culture collisions (such the Hindustani-classical meets New-York-loft-music teaming achieved in one particular favourite, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s ‘Passages’). Frontman singer and guitarist Liam O’Connell cites the sonic and psychological crescendos of Jeff Buckley and Josh Homme’s mix of heaviness and irony, but also the restraint of Jose Gonzales. Ex-Lambhorneer Oliver Cocup adds refreshed drum bounce, and racing through the whole thing is a rivulet – or, more accurately, an unstoppable jet of skittish Balkan folk.”

While going out on tour, My Octopus Mind are a trio. On home turf, they’re a sextet. They’ve had an extra pair of plug-in string players for a while, but the sixth member remains a mystery for the moment. The other thing they’ll be unveiling at this gig is their second video release: a “magical” piece of stop-motion animation by Roos Mattaar, part of Bristol’s crop of world-class animators, and the woman previously responsible for most of the video for Father John Misty’s Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution.


 
More music visuals come from Bethany Stenning, whose “tender genderless, measureless, dimensionless” Stanlæy project has migrated between Paris, Ireland and Bristol in various shapes and forms since 2016 (with Bethany constantly at the core of the catherine wheel, throwing off strands of violin, piano, guitar, voice, synth and found sound). As musician and multi-instrumentalist, Bethany starts from a perspective of “ethereal gypsy punk-pop” and moves outwards from there into the kind of neverland/neverwas experimental folk music that we used to hear from Joanna Newsom; with her fey, unusual, offbeat-beautiful voice and lyrics exploring “human life in the modern world…our ancient relationships to nature… contemplations about consciousness and free will” while nestling in sparse yet evocative post-classical, free-sounding arrangements.

Stanlæy’s current incarnation (a spacious acoustic quartet) would fit right into the night’s gig lineup; but instead we’re getting a look at Bethany’s broader artistic concerns and abilities. Her involvement tonight has more to do with her visual art side and her passion for painting, illustrating, observing and questioning the human body via story and dance. In collaboration with cinematographer Rob Ellis, she scripts and directs video art, something which first came substantially together in 2017’s ‘The Human Project’ (“seven elements embodied within seven sonic visuals… seven hues, revealing the body as a canvas to represent natural elements as a metaphor for cognitive states of mind, and the evolution of the body. The human body transforms itself into a real life canvas.”) On this occasion, she’s presenting ‘Wear The Line’, a twenty -minute short film that’s “a thought-provoking and uncannily realised representation of the current climate of gender roles and their ambiguity. Set in a universe much like our own where one word or concept can have as many meanings as there are people, the film explores the formula of femininity. It features lead performances by Flora Whitmarsh, Taylor Young and Phoebe Hopwood.” Bethany also provided the music for the film – from what I’ve heard, a hypnotic and open-ended chamber-classical ambience.



 
Also on board for the evening is Daniel Inzani, playing a mid-bill set of piano pieces. Though he’s perhaps best known at the moment for the classical/jazz/folk chamber fusion music (simultaneously luxuriant, ghostly and sprightly) which he composes for his Spindle Ensemble quartet, Daniel’s work has also embraced vigorously visual Ethopian jazz fusion with his Tezeta octet; the performance of ska, rocksteady and Mahavishnu Orchestra music; and support work in a pair of Bristolian psychedelic assemblages (Graeme Smith’s blues-reggae-meets-lounge project Dubi Dolczek and Conrad Singh’s buzz/drone Americana folk-pop array Cloudshoes). His piano solos catch up and rework bits of his own compositions, rearrangements for different spaces.


 
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Dates:

Major Parkinson:

  • (secret location, London) – Thursday 2nd May 2019, time t.b.c. – special warm-up gig available to ticketholders for the Dome show
  • The Dome, 2a Dartmouth Park Hill, Tufnell Park, London, NW5 1HL, England – Friday 3rd May 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here

Solent Area Prog presents:
Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse
The Joiners, 141 St Mary Street, Southampton, SO14 1NS, England
Thursday 2nd May 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

My Octopus Mind + Daniel Inzani + Bethany Stenning’s ‘Wear The Line’ (video premiere)
Cube Microplex, 4 Princess Row, Bristol, BS2 8NQ, England
Thursday 2nd May 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

February/March 2019 – upcoming British folk/experimental gigs – Bell Lungs on tour with Raiments (20th February to 2nd March, various) with appearances by Despicable Zee, Michael Clark, The Nature Centre, Halcyon Jane, Tara Clerkin Trio and various DJs. Plus sundry other Bell Lungs shows in March including a København evening with Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen, a show with David Toop and Rashad Becker, a date with Gaze Is Ghost.

16 Feb

Working with a multi-instrumental, device-heavy palette which includes guitar, harmonium, Omnichord, electric violin, lyre, bouzouki, saz, voice and a host of effects pedals, avant-folk singer/writer/sometime promoter Ceylan Hay (a.k.a. Bell Lungs) sits at the middle of a host of possible routes. Her sound incorporates post-folk and drone, dream pop, noise and free improv, psychedelia and site-specific realisations, while her psychohistorian subject matter takes in the ancient, the near-ancient and the presently numinous: probing prehistoric spaces, the ghosts of the industrial age, day-to-day feelings and the slide into a new virtual existence space via online culture.

Reflecting these overlaid levels (and what might be, at different perspective points, either shockingly near or completely occluded), her vocal delivery steps between ornamental trad-folk crenellations, feathery ambient warbles and horrific screams. You can never quite tell whether she’s going to lull you or scare you, but you know she cares about what she’s ferrying across to you.

With a new EP, the wintry ‘Wolves Behind Us‘, to promote (apparently it’s a return to folk and landscapes after recent science fiction/site-specific digressions, and is “Joan Aiken’s ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’, Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’, caravan living in the Highlands and the ancient cosmology idea of dividing the year into two halves; the opening and closing of the wolf’s mouth”), Bell’s embarking on five weeks of touring (primarily alongside Raiments) through Scotland, England, Wales, followed up by other Raiments-less shows in Scotland, England and Denmark. (She’ll also be playing in Wales next month, but more on that later…)




 
Before taking a look at the tour, let’s take a look at her tourmates. Formed on the Berlin avant-garde scene, Raiments are fronted by sing-murmurer/left-field guitarist Mano Camatsos, and they sound like a soft-stepping muttering blend of Lou Reed and Momus fronting a band that mixes lurking dark-jazz styling (hardwood clarinet burr and groove-pattering trashdrums) with the DIY rattle of Pram and the dark throb of Morphine. Mano’s wildcard guitar is a clinking noisemaker and pulse generator taking note of hip hop, of avant-garde classical extended techniques and of mysterious instruments and methods gleaned from ethnological recordings. His songwriting voice is a oddball surreal instinct leading inexorably towards songs about ants or baffling seductions.



 
Tracing their upcoming footsteps on the tour is a joy, like following a plough which turns up small treasures as it reveals what’s in the earth. It’s partly the succession of intriguing off-the-beaten-path venues – squatty art-pubs, recovered eighteenth-century coal basins, pocket cinemas and art centres, diehard folk rooms and out-of-the-way sipperys – but also the revealing of similarly off-the-wall musical talents and enthusiasts they join up with en route.

In Edinburgh, Bell and Raiments are playing with Claquer – previously three-piece improvisers Claque until they spun off their American drummer an unspecified time ago. Now it’s just the Edinburgh contingent: free/experimental guitarist Jer Reid and viola player/speaker Lisa Fannen. They deal in lo-fi clangs, loopings and scrapes and spoken word: momentary moment-music.


 
In Newcastle, the main support comes from the soft melody murmurs and drowsy, cushioned keens of ambient/improv folk duo Halcyon Jane, a Tyneside/Humberside teamup. Upfront with the voice, guitar and devices is Newcastle performance art polymath Jayne Dent, better known via her own electronic/noisy folk project Me Lost Me, in which she buffers and buffets her singing with concertinas and samplers: when she played Hull back in December, support came from local ambient electronic beatsman Halcyon Neumann, who’s worked with The Body Farmers and with Sarah Shiels and who carries out sonic explorations of “the technological vs. the archaic/the spiritual vs. the scientific/the supernatural vs. the psychological.” Together they tease out a semi-improvised border music, part weird electro-folk and part post-shoegaze wisp.

Also playing is Michael Clark, providing slurred, wise, trepidatious and crepuscular folk music with fogrolls of noise behind an acoustic guitar. Despite being a Londoner, he sounds more like a moor-dweller; or like someone who lives in the kind of port city London used to be, one in which strange tales and intimation billow up the streets with the dock mist: this time out, his strange tales are backed up by a full band.

 
I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before. Headlining the Club Integral-hosted Birmingham show above Bell Lung and Raiments, they’re an affable rural/suburban pop quartet like a four-person one-man band, sprouting banjos and clarinets and found percussion alongside their drum kit and guitars. Drawn to playing at weirder gigs, they’ve shared bills with people like Bob Drake and have their own batchful of three-minute pop songs avidly reflecting the off-kilter visions of previous English songwriter eccentrics (the Syd Barretts, Robyn Hitchcocks and Tim Smiths). Handling the in-between-bands slot is someone new to me but not new to Brum’s vinyl-istas: Moseley Folk Festival’s house DJ and Moseley Record Fair co-organiser DJ Rome, promising his own selection of crate-dug oddities and inspirations.


 
In Bristol, the DJ backup comes from “bleary-eyed staggerer” Siegfried Translator of the Grey Area radio show (another haven for intriguingly weird music from all over the globe), but the gig predominantly features the Tara Clerkin Trio: the DIY musical brainchild of a ceramicist who also seems to have a yen for gamelan/minimalist-sounding pattern tinkling sprinkled with voiceloops, friendly saxophonic intrusions and other pitch-ins from whichever musical friends she can rope in for the occasion. (At other times, she creates her own slumberous take on experimental countrified pop.)

 
The Oxford show (promoted by Divine Schism) is primarily a launch event for the second EP by Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani, a.k.a. Despicable Zee – a live-looper, improviser and conscious patterner of fifteen years standing, mixed Anglo/Irish/Iranian heritage, and a history of drumming in Oxford bands since her teens. Now the drums (plus loopstations and recordings) are used to create live solo tracks in which Zee employs a lo-fi, lo-technique approach to overlapping rhythm garlands and triggered conversations. As an artist (as well as an educator and mother), Zee’s increasingly conscious of the female lines she carries within her: the patched-in samples which wobble her current project along feature the voices of her mother and grandmother, mingling with Zee’s own sing-speak-raps as if they’ve dropped by for some kind of experimental music cross-cultural kaffee klatsch.


 
The London show (at Paper Dress Vintage) is an evening of music and spoken word put together by promoters Spilt Milk in order to raise money and awareness for North London Action for the Homeless. Shapeshifter experimental pop poet Alabaster dePlume comperes: also in the corner is Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, who showed up in ‘Misfit City’ a little over a year ago.

Jenny’s another artist whose field extends from the visual and situational into action and music: the Mystic Business involves pulling together friends and strangers into a collective performance event that’s part communal clapalong choir, part percussion workshop and good-natured culture-jamming protest (with food). Guileless and charming, but nonetheless political and détournementational, it’s an attempt to get collective conscience back into the body, containing and encouraging a cheerful but insistent protest.



 
The Conventry and Brighton gigs appear to feature just Bell Lungs and Raiments on their own, but news just coming in re. the Liverpool date (at dockside art-pub Drop the Dumbulls) says that support there comes from Merseyside “synthwhisperer” and outsider synthpopper Claire Welles. She’s been rolling out her contrary songs for over a decade now, singing increasingly unsettling lyrics in a deep deadpan tone with a sarcastic medicated edge, while the backings deliquesce from elegant ageless Europop into something a little misshapen. It all becomes something like those conversations during which you wake up a third of the way in, not quite sure how you got into them, not quite believing that you’re stuck in there and will just have to ride it out.



 
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Following the Raiments tour, Bell heads off separately for other shows. A mid-March showing at Manchester’s Peer Hat is a solo gig, but there’s also an Argyll event (in the enchanting recording-studio-as-art-nook surroundings of St Marys Space) at which she’s supporting baroque poptronic project Gaze Is Ghost: itinerant Northern Irish singer/songwriter/post-classical composer Laura McGarrigle, noted for “spectral vocals and impressionist piano playing” as well as drifts into harmonium and ambient atmospherics. In recent years Laura’s let Zed Penguin drummer/artist Casey Miller into the project and (following a number of pre-Casey singles), Gaze Is Ghost are finally readying a debut album as a duo.

 
A return to Glasgow on 28th March sees Bell performing on a talk’n’play bill with musicologist and audio culturer David Toop and Berlin sonicist Rashad Becker (who, having polished over a thousand records by other people spanning noise to techno, has begun stepping out into music creation of his own with the resonant faux-ethnological synthwork of ‘Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. I’).

On the 30th she’s back in Edinburgh to support another experimental folker, looper and performance artist: David Thomas Broughton, whose brilliantly wayward path has included looping his own heckles, blurring the line between song performance and experimental theatre. Along the way he’s released eight albums of accessible, tremulous, oddly haunting alt.folk delivered in an arresting genderless vocal tone a little reminiscent of Anthony/Anohni, and won the respect and collaborative contributions of (among others) Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, and Aidan Moffat. David will be in the early stages of his own tour, which I really should cover on its own.





 
Before any of these, though, she’s crossing the North Sea to perform at an experimental folk event in København. Part of the city’s Fanø Free Folk Festival, it’s hosted by local label Dendron Records, specializers in “small runs of abstract electronics, ghostly folk songs and surprisingly hummable tunes.” The concert will also feature two København-based British emigres Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen. Hugh’s been operating for years under various names including The Weave And The Weft and Taiga Taiga, creating shadowy understated mostly-acoustic songs with a literary bent, and he regularly helps out with David Folkmann Drost’s homemade folk project Moongazing Hare. Previously known as a radical electric guitarist in Vinyl Dog Joy, Amstrong and Distortion Girls, Tanja recently struck out on her own with a solo debut, ‘Feeling Love’ in which she embraces and deconstructs pop songs, writing them acoustically before bringing assorted damaged amplification and effects-pedal interference to bear on them, resulting in songscapes covering a field from heavy-lidded noise-folk to cataclysmic “drone-metal disco”.




 
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Dates:

Bell Lungs & Raiments tour:

  • Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16A Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8BJ – Wednesday 20th February 2019, 7.00pm (with Claquer) – information here
  • Cobalt Studios, 10-16 Boyd Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1AP, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.00pm(with Michael Clark + Halcyon Jane) – information here
  • The Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0QH, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 8.00pm (with The Nature Centre + DJ Rome) – information here and here
  • Cube Cinema, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 24th February 2019, 8.00pm(with Tara Clerkin Trio + The Grey Area DJs) – information here and here
  • Fusion Arts, 44b Princes Street, Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1DD, England – Monday 25th February 2019, 7.30pm(with Despicable Zee) – information here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019. 7.30pm (with Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business + Alabaster dePlume) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill Tavern, 70-71 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 4JL, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Tin @ The Coal Vaults, Unit 1-4 Coventry Canal Basin, St. Nicholas Street, Coventry, CV1 4LY, England – Friday 1st March 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Drop the Dumbulls @ The Bull, 2 Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England – Saturday 2nd March 2019, 7.00pm (with Claire Welles) – information here

Bell Lungs standalone dates with various others (tbc):

  • Fanø Free Folk Festival @ Alice, Norre Alle 7, DK-2200 København N, Norway – Monday 4th March 2019, 7.00pm(with Hugh Tweedie + Tanja Vesterbye Jessen) – information here
  • St Marys Space, Fasnacloich, Argyll, Scotland, PA38 4BJ – Saturday 9th March 2019, 7.00pm(supporting Gaze Is Ghost) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester M1 1BE – Thursday 14th March 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Stereo/The Old Hairdressers, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 5AR, Scotland – Thursday 28th March 2019, 7.00pm (with David Toop + Rashad Becker) – information here and here
  • The Waverley, 3-5 St. Mary’s Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TA, Scotland – Saturday 30th March 2019, 9.00pm (supporting David Thomas Broughton) – information here

February 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Lost Crowns, Ham Legion and Wryneck (8th February)

1 Feb

Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck, 8th February 2019

I guess it’s a thorn in Richard Larcombe’s side that whenever he launches one of his complex poly-referential music projects some reductive oaf like myself strolls up, latches onto those polished, extremely upper-middle-class English vocals, and then starts comparing him to the cuddly Canterbury end of Anglo-prog – Hatfield & The North, Caravan and so on.

This is what you get, I suppose, when you’re musically versed in everything from the Copper Family to English bell-ringing patterns to mid-period Zappa to ‘90s American math rock – and when you can prove it – but when you’re also compelled to ice your lyrical cake with such floating, whimsical humorous concoctions. Almost from the start (when he was banging out strangely Donne-ian Britpop with Magnilda twenty-odd years ago) Richard has sounded as if he’s quipping and musing from an Oxbridge punt floating down ever more complicated river systems. It’s too easy to visualize him eating strawberries dipped in lysergic cream, keeping the witty punchlines coming while the landscape around him gets ever more mozaic-ed and fractalized.

It’s a little unfair to say things like that. Richard’s raised-eyebrow/bell-clear diction might make him sound smug to some ears in these resentful times, but his humour and the content of his songs are far richer, more intricate and upfront than what’s suggested by those Cantabrian comparisons. Lyrically, he’s a driven, glittering absurdist – more interested in extrapolation and unravelling substance than he is in reducing everything to fluff. Rather than offering lazy-lidded Kevin Ayers dreams (or, indeed, weightless Hatfield-ish souffles and toilet jokes), he takes snipes about synaesthesia and develops them until they collapse. He reframes and bricolages ancient bits of mythology as knockabout British arthouse films; or serenade his wife with borderline-ludicrous, self-aware stack-ups of flowery tributes. All of which gives us an anchoring point for listening: if he is icing his work with gags, it’s partially because something so musically demanding needs a little judicious sugaring.

The freshly-released debut album by Richard’s Lost Crowns project is being hailed as his best work yet. It’s certainly his most unrestrained: a barrage of word-dense songs overflowing with full-on prismatic structures and outright rock drive, as if Lewis Carroll and Flann O’Brien had called on the massed forces of Henry Cow to help them hijack Battles. While Lost Crowns sound like few bands in mainstream British rock history, current or past, they take a longer more meandering path along which you can imagine them laying some loving snags on various left-field rockers as they travel. XTC, Field Music and The Monochrome Set to These New Puritans; Gentle Giant, Knifeworld and the Art Bears. Comparisons generally water bands down, but for this one they work more as a health warning. Imagine a cocktail which didn’t dilute as you built it up, but instead made all of its ingredients stronger, brighter and brasher…



 
You can see Lost Crowns in action again – with Richard backed by a dream team of underground music crack-shots from Gong, Scritti Politti, Knifeworld and NSRO – next week at the Slaughtered Lamb. Having made their debut at an Alphabet Business Convention several years ago, they’re proud members of the sprawling and joyous musical family that runs in barking loops around the feet of Cardiacs. Consequently, you can expect to see a batch of the usual Cardiacs-ish faces in the audience. You’ll also get to see some on stage, since Ham Legion are playing support.

Longtime Cardiacs disciples, the Legion started out years ago as the perma-bubbling Little Trophy but following a drawn-out process of shedding fripperies and members, they’re now down to a power trio. All too often, they’re the extra filling in someone else’s gig sandwich. For the first time in a long while, though, they’re coming out armed with an imminent new single, Georgie Porgie. Time, perhaps to reassess them and their grunged-up take on complicated post-Cardiacs songs. A cavalcade of mood-switches and charges in and out of the unknown; a puckish delving into the traditions of English pop eccentricity, but one that’s smeared by tarry black coffee-sludge and amp crunch.


 
A surprise addition to the bill is Wryneck. To find out about them, you’d need to dig even deeper: back to the 1980s when a band with the gonkish name of Zag & The Coloured Beads romped intermittently around London’s free festival scene, playing “complicated tunes in a ragged/bluesy style” fed through the same scene’s omnivorous, hyperactive-hippy mindset. Taking a British post-punk filter, they used it to strain Zappa/Beefheart weird-juice, with memories of trad jazz and kid’s television also cavalcading through. They usually sounded like a drunken race between a squad of seven-legged camels: there was a bit of math to it, for sure (they enjoyed their shabby Brit-squat takes on the New York minimalist pulse, and their five- and seven-time signatures) but it was probably best not to take that too seriously either. After all, the songs had utterly clownish sketchpad titles like Sweaty Thing and Bernard Crapshit, which usually fitted perfectly.

(Gives the critics hives, y’know. Whether you’re aiming for analytical authority or ineffable cool, embracing a certain level of outright and intentional silliness is a bit like cuddling a hand grenade; and Dada just don’t do-do…)

Anyhow… Wryneck was what was left when various Beads dropped off the string in 1989, once keystoner Paul Howard ran dry and ran out of interest and keyboard person Robert White headed on to better-known, less squirrely things with Levitation and The Milk and Honey Band. The remainder (led by guitarist/singer/songfitter Steve Arthur), tried to get serious and to get taken seriously. Duly recast, they dumped the comedy and pulled in and lashed down the ramblings: they took fresh notes from the flourishing noise-pop of My Bloody Valentine and the ringing drive of Levitation and The Belltower, and they acted upon them. Over time, they also factored in a post-James Brown/Zeppelin sense of dirty groove. They produced a few cassettes (and those in the know remember the band as “master tunesmiths”) but, like the Beads, they never rose beyond a backroom cult. After four years – and despite no-one actually turning into a casualty – Wryneck too was missing in action. Musically, everyone kept busy with something or other, but it was only when Steve, Paul and guitar/bass mainstay Mik Tubb resurrected the Beads for more intermittent shows about a decade ago that the old chemistry came back.

These days, it seems as if Beadery and the staggered musical family around it (everyone was always overcommitted to multiple bands) is somewhat like Cardiacs culture – a big attic trunk full of oddments and puzzles which people regularly pull out and reconfigure at while. Joining Steve and Mik (and whoever else they’ve managed to persuade into this micro-revival) is Paul, who might never have been a Wrynecker before, but who seems to be one now.

Sadly the shortage of Wryneck sonic memorabilia online means that there’s nothing I can post up as an illustration of the noise they’re going to make. Lost Crowns are describing them (with tongue in cheek) as “like Mud, but fancier’. Alternatively, you could draw a few clues from the clutch of Beads tangles I’ve crammed in below. If unconvinced, you could consider Wryneck’s presence as a pop-up indulgence and reward for those grizzled old ‘80s festi-veterans in Cardiacs fandom who stayed their course and kept the faith. If you’re any less cynical, you could try saluting them as (even with the post-Beads musical streamlinings) part of a strand of English musical playfulness that’s gone uncredited for too long.




 
Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Friday 8th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming English rock gigs – Francis Dunnery’s ‘Big Lad In The Windmill’ mini-tour (18th to 20th January)

12 Jan

Next week, gloriously wayward singer-songwriter Francis Dunnery revisits his past with It Bites – in solo format – as he takes music from their 1986 debut album ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ out on an English micro-tour.

Francis Dunnery, 11th and 18th to 20th January 2019

When pompous would-be music tastemakers like myself roll out their list of great pop and rock albums of the 1980s, ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ generally isn’t on there. That’s unsurprising. As a decade, the ‘80s sprawled into outspoken ideological polarisation, during which it sometimes seemed as if everyone in popular music was a purist poseur of some kind or other; whether they were swanning about on yachts sporting terrifying ozone-threatening hairstyles, acting out grimly righteous/reductionist salt-of-the-earth positionings, haute-couture megaphoning about The Future or (rather more constructively) hurtling around America in vans trying to build an alternative economy. Perhaps that’s over-simplifying, but it’s certainly true that it was an age of vivid stances, and that some terrible and reductive snobberies developed as a side-effect of said stances and manifestos. In such a time and in such a milieu, ‘The Big Lad’ was the kind of album that wasn’t supposed to happen… and many people seemed (and still seem) to think it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.

It Bites: 'The Big Lad In The Windmill'

It Bites: ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’

Admittedly on spec it was also a little preposterous. A shotgun marriage of glutinous, glittery ‘80s pop with hard rock snorts and cartwheeling prog stunts, it was recorded by four self-confessed working-class hicks from England’s gorgeous, isolated Lake District, who also happened to be unfashionably virtuosic as musicians. Possessing a keen ear for pastiche and adaptation, they’d had a prehistory back home as a badly-behaved covers band. Plying the tough Cumbrian circuit of nightclubs and working men’s clubs, they’d mastered reams of contemporary pop hits (Level 42, Police, Haircut 100 and so on) while simultanously nursing a profound love for the 70’s complexity and flourishes of Genesis and Yes, UK and Weather Report. All of which showed by the time they came to write their own stuff. By the mid-‘80s (abetted by resident keyboard popinjay and arrangements genius John Beck), Dunnery was putting together original songs which played on both sets of preoccupations.

Some smartarse once tagged It Bites as “bubblegum prog”, which isn’t too bad a label. It encapsulates the band’s mastery of the kind of throwaway immediate pop tunes which prove to have a tenacious, sticky life of their own: it also takes into account their taste for florid illustrative musical passages. In addition, their playing had a layer of fantasy-funk and soul itch (due to admixtures of Steve Arrington and Prince, plus Dick Nolan’s stalking, slippery bass grooves), and some hard rock crunch (staunch, sturdy drummer Bob Dalton was a Led Zeppelin guy at heart). Collectively, It Bites aspired to the well-drilled, muscular “follow-this” ethic of a black showband; which seemed to be judged as less of a virtue when coming from a white British rock band of the times, where restrictive amateurism or beefy stiffness was the order of the day.

Bear in mind that this was years before white-boy eclecticism inveigled its way back into mainstream rock and pop. Ween were still only releasing home-made cassettes; Jellyfish wouldn’t show up for another three years, and while Frank Zappa stubbornly flew the flag for stylistic fluidity, he was an elder statesman turned cult artiste in a niche of his own. Even Queen had calmed down a bit. Had they slipped into a more parodic approach lyrical approach, It Bites might have suddenly woken up to find that their nearest British equivalents were The Barron Knights. Fortunately, they took themselves a little more seriously: there was silliness in their playful approach, but it was matched by an earnest bravado which won them affection from audiences even as it drew critical disdain.


 
Once signed by Virgin and given a shot at making a record, It Bites treated it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to throw everything they had into the effort and stir it up like crazy. Throughout ‘The Big Lad’ they’re coltish and restless, latching onto impeccable mainstream pop-rock stylings only to suddenly career off into wildly played, cunningly constructed breaks. Turn Me Loose and I Got You Eating Out Of My Hand mercilessly run straightforward pop songs through a mill of transformational time and mood changes. Almost anything goes – heavy metal, jazz-fusion arrhythmia, Al di Meola flamenco, even the drum machine and Bontempi drone of a narcotized lounge act – although the band backtrack and flawlessly reconstruct the songs at the end.

Producer Alan Shacklock entered into the spirit of things with a vengeance. He kept a “riot track” free in the mix to capture the band’s raucous in-studio jabbering; he delivered a gleefully glittering plastic sound which revelled in every Japanese-digital synth chime, every start/stop noise-gate interruption and every over-exaggerated bit of sound-panning. He also accidentally sped up the master tape, resulting in the band sounding (according to Francis) “like Pinky and Perky.” The result was – and is – a record which feels like a sudden soda pop binge after months away from the stuff.

‘The Big Lad’ is generally remembered for a surprise Top Ten single. Cantering toytown hit Calling All The Heroes married the band’s musical deftness to old Republic serials, rocking cradles and boyhood cowboy games, fuelled by an earworm chorus and some sneaky false endings. (Presumably the Wild West schtick struck a chord with Shacklock – his own early ‘70s prog band Babe Ruth had recorded The Mexican, an Alamo-themed story with which Calling All The Heroes shares a number of passing musical similarities). For many people, this song is where It Bites have been permanently stuck: pegged to a couple of fanfaring pop hooks remembered by almost every Briton who lived through mid-‘80s chart pop. In the video a bleached’n’styled, cutesied-up Dunnery and co. bob nervously, like a loopier Go West, presaging the marketing problems which would plague them for the rest of their existence. Live, they’d pull out the full prog trickbag.


 
It’s a shame that the album’s glossy, hyperactive surfaces and loop-the-loop stunting make it easy to ignore the substance beneath. Fair enough: something like Wanna Shout mostly exists in order to run demented macho-guitar heroics over stuttering go-go synths, and All In Red does little more than throb like a fourteen-year-old boy’s heat dream of Zeppelin colliding with Level 42. This isn’t the kind of record you put on to remember angry alienation in pre-punk-era Manchester, or to recapture political struggles, or even to remember belonging to anything much (unless it was being part of the crowd which understood the band’s straightforward musical verve and the down-to-earth Cumbrian personalities which bedrocked it).

Yet elsewhere on ‘The Big Lad’, genuine stories about real people emerge from beneath Beck’s thunderous keyboard chimes and Dunnery’s barrel-roll guitar playing. The band’s follow-up single Whole New World is mostly forgotten. It’s actually a fine, agonised pop song, whose horn-assisted contortions marry dashes of dumped-bloke Motown and Memphis under the Christmas-tree synths. On first impressions, Cold Tired And Hungry might be a screamingly uncool rock-snortin’ melodrama, but on a second look its histrionics run parallel to the naked, hurt-boy stances Prince was trying on at the time (although it sounds more like Steve Marriott locked into a sobbing death spiral with Brian May).

Best, though, are a couple of tracks which embrace genuine personal memories rather than generic pop tropes. Under the bravado, Screaming On The Beaches is a flipside take on Calling All The Heroes’ daydream battles. Based on Dunnery’s teasing-out of traumatic wartime memories from his dad (who’d served as a soldier in the Burma Campaign), it’s tech-laden and roaring, screwing its disorientating picture of ordinary men coming apart under fire into a party mixture of twisted pop-metal riffing, jazz-funk cat pounces and Beck’s wailing keytar. Over the next few years, the band would polish it up into a stompingly danceable live highlight, demonstrating that they had almost as much in common with Trouble Funk as they did with Genesis. Conversely, You’ll Never Go To Heaven is one of the 1980s’ great lost lighters-aloft anthems. A heart-wringing Catholic-guilt ballad (capped with Philip Glass pulse-synths and angel choirs), it features a desperate, spiralling outro solo from Dunnery that sounds like Allan Holdsworth giving vent to a primal scream.



 
* * * * * * * *

Francis Dunnery’s come a long way from the nervous, bullish twenty-three-year-old he was when he recorded ‘The Big Lad’. Four years and two albums after its release, his restless nature (plus a much-confessed dip into a serious drink problem) split him away from his more stolid bandmates. While It Bites have gone on to have a belated second life without him, he’s spent the intervening time following a solo career demonstrating that he’s a rough diamond who decided that he prefers to stay a little rough.

At the time, the necessary polish and consistency required to play the pop game wasn’t right for him. It still isn’t, but he’s managed to turn it to his advantage. Now entirely independent, he follows his own particular muse, popping out records as and when it suits him, and building a relationship with his listeners which has the same mixture of generosity, conversationality and occasional cantankerousness as a genuine friendship. At fifty-six, Francis resembles that old lag with delightful hidden depths whom you might meet during stints on a building site: the one who retains his working-class saltiness, cracks wicked jokes and is still handy in a fist-fight, but likes to sit you down during lunchbreaks and talk about Jung, history and esoterica.

His records have run a similar lane-swapping gamut – the kind of tasteful fingerpicked adult pop which gives the genre a good name; acoustic meditations on life and wounds and healing; fanbase-bewildering dips into laptop R&B; reconstructive tributes to the gothic Cumbrian jazz-metal written by his late brother Barry, and so on. Psychology, astronomy, metaphysics, bite-backs and broad jokes litter his songs. Freed from the standard album-tour-album treadmill, a typical Dunnery gig is now a mixture of friendly encounter group and surreal pub talent night. As well as playing songs, he’ll be telling his audience stories, teasing them about prog cliches or dwarf porn, gleefully upending a performance with comedy and spontaneous competitions, or spicing things up with unexpected guest appearances from his capacious address book (could be a musical friend like Robert Plant, Theo Travis or Steve Hackett; could be an actual fucking pantomime horse…)

While they’ve kept much of the musicality, recent Francis reworkings of the ‘Big Lad’ songs (on his ‘Vampires‘ album) are a touch more sedate and patient – breezier, and partially shorn of their pyrotechnic plastic-synth fizz. In truth, while he’s still more than capable of wringing out the dazzling guitar flash and the singing, the years do make something of a difference: mostly because when set against later Dunnery work (with its accounts of mid-life bereavement, parenthood and the battles fought between a person’s ever-resistant roots and the idea of who they’re trying to be) ‘The Big Lad’ is a bit too callow and fizzy. It’ll always be a young man’s album – drunk on possibilities and grappling with the spirit of discovery while working out some of that immediate post-childhood angst; over-aware of its own muscles and energy; distractedly trying to jigsaw together a sense of history, background and its own place within it via song and allusion. Perhaps that’s part of the thinking behind retaining Francis’ onetime protégé Luke Machin (a former teen guitar prodigy-turned-twentysomething jazz/prog/metal ace) in a crack, hand-picked live band also including Tiger Moth Tales’ Peter Jones and Freak Kitchen drummer Björn Fryklund (plus fretless bassist Paul Brown, holding down the ever-underrated Dick Nolan role).

Regardless of this, even if ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ is two parts kiddie sherbet to one part brilliance – and even if you want to clobber it over the head as an example of undeniable ’80s excess – it still stands up. Looking back, it’s still recognisably Dunnery music, a handful of rough adolescent prisms through which his younger, fearful self blinks from underneath the dazzle. Catholic-rooted, disaster-prone but unstoppable; heartfelt and playful; naïve and wise; soft and noisy, driven and impulsive. The man Francis would become – the man he is now – is still waiting in those songs; waiting to be knocked into shape via further adventures, further bumps and arguments along the way. I bet that there are plenty of ’80s pop refugees who wish they’d written juvenilia like this: songs with heart, flash and legs.

Dates:

  • The Slade Rooms, 32-40 Broad Street, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, WV1 1HP, England, Friday 18th January 2019, 7. 00pm – information here, here and here
  • Manchester Academy, University Of Manchester Students’ Union, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PR, England, Saturday 19th January 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Bush Hall, 310 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London, W12 7LJ, England, Sunday 20th January 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here

 

October/November 2018 – upcoming English rock’n’rap gigs – Collapsed Lung, The Scaramanga Six and Sleepy People (variously 12th, 13th and 19th October; 2nd, 3rd, 16th, 17th and 30th November)

9 Oct

I wasn’t sure whether to title this post “’90s survivors” – partially since it’s such a cliché (bringing up images of my era’s university bands entertaining my greying classmates at nostalgia festivals around the country) but also because it suggests musicians who’ve grimly plugged away for ages trying to tongue up the last scraps of glitter from a twenty-five-year-old hit. A survivor doesn’t have to be someone who never left their band; nor does it have to mean a band which just never went away. In many respects, a survivor is someone – or some group – that simply didn’t let their experiences burn them beyond all recognition and all enthusiasm.

Essex rap-rockers Collapsed Lung fit the latter definition nicely. Formed in 1992, they had a busy four-year lifespan, but chose to wind down in 1996 barely six months after cracking the Top 20 with ‘Eat My Goal’ (record label skulduggery having painted them into a corner). In their case, the derailment seems to have been more of a choice to get back control over their own lives and satisfaction rather than allow themselves to have become a novelty act at the mercy of scamsters. Artistically, it’s done them a world of good. Having first tested the reunion waters in 2010, they made a fuller comeback in 2014 and have been resurfacing periodically ever since, playing alongside contemporaries and sympathetic spirits like Senser and Jesus Jones.


 
This year, however, they’ve finally put together a new Bandcamp-hosted album, ‘Zero Hours Band‘, full of “rhymes about what’s “real” to us. These days – middle aged ennui, social mores, feeling utterly out of touch.” They might be selling themselves as a grizzled old joke, but the record is anything but: it’s a clangorous and argumentative pub lock-in of a record, full of waspish English sarcasm, hilarious bellyaching and bang-on-the-nose caricature. By opting out, they stayed themselves: they’re a band devoid of posturing, and a far more honest representation of their wave of British hip hop than they would be had they either allowed themselves to be imprisoned by their hit or ricocheted back off it into faux-American rap swagger.



 
Their upcoming scatter of British dates from Huddersfield and London to Brighton and Minehead should see Collapsed Lung at their vinegary, middle-aged best: old dogs that can still raise a bark. They’ll probably play the hit, but why not – the brassy ring of newer songs like New Song Old Band and Golf People demonstrate that they’ve earned the right to do what they want. For what it;’s worth, the Minehead performance is part of the Shiiine Weekender, with dozens of other ‘90s or ‘90s-friendly acts: hopefully some of their attitude will rub off on their billmates.

* * * * * * * *
Crossing paths with Collapsed Lung for their Huddersfield date are The Scaramanga Six. It’s tempting to call them ‘90s survivors too; but it wouldn’t be accurate since (a) the Scaramangas only just scraped into the tail end of the ‘90s with their live-in-a-room debut ‘The Liar, The Bitch And Her Wardrobe’ and (b) they’ve never really gone away since, since they’re not so much survivor/revivers as cottage-industry thrivers. Plugging away across nine vibrant self-propelled, self-released studio albums, they’ve been a model of wilful yet canny independence over the course of two decades, with nary a sniff of major-label involvement.

The beefy panache of the Scaramangas’ records belies their cottage-industry model. There’s nothing lo-fi about their arresting, dramatic rock songs which take an American Gothic template and apply it to the simmering discontent of small town England, in the tones of West Country hoodlums with an armoury of loud guitar, snorting brass, Wasp synthesizers and orchestral percussion (and plenty of self-aggrandising, self-aware melodrama on the part of the band).

It’s easy to see the band’s current release – the double album ‘Chronica’ – as a Brexit metaphor. Billed as “an abstract story roughly hewn from a concept of a dystopian island society”, it takes their existing preoccupation with glowering, violent, self-destructive buffoonery and expands it out into a map of “a place where everything has fallen into ruin, yet people still seem to have the same preoccupation with the trivial crap they had before. The population trudge through a chaotic existence on top of each other with absolutely no hope of a better life. Society is reduced to its base behaviour yet people still crave superficial fixes. The human condition carries on regardless. There is no outcome, no lessons to be learned. Familiar?” Yet there’s also a hefty dose of the band’s manic theatre involved; digressions into sinister homebound nightmares (like David Lynch hitting the Yorkshire rentals circuit) suggesting that – no matter what the direct politics – the Scaramangas will always be most interested in the monstrosities which we bud by ourselves, within ourselves.


 
* * * * * * * *

The Scaramangas are playing three more dates during November, including a couple of one-band-only gigs in Bristol and London. Joining them for a second Huddersfield appearance in mid-November, however, are Northumbrian oddballs Sleepy People. They’re another band that you might judiciously paste into that ‘90s survivors category, were it not for the fact that they’re more like some kind of Wacky Races jalopy; one of the ones fuelled by wayward stubbornness and which keeps full-tilt crashing in flames, makes surprisingly effective repairs from unlikely bolt-ons, disappears from the race for ages and then comes roaring back onto the course from an unexpected angle while acting as if it had never left.

The full Sleepies history’s a frustratingly complicated revolving door of a story, with plenty of caught feet and snagged umbrellas. Suffice it to say that, after a lengthy time-out, they returned last year complete with original frontman Tiny Wood: he who also sings righteous freak-flaggery with Ultrasound. Here, he intones songwriter Paul Hope’s tales of sinister orphanages, malls and retirement homes, of wild bestial metamorphoses or hatching turtles, of tumbling sympathetic oddballs caught between their own peculiar daydreams and the unforgiving summary of newspaper pages. As a band Sleepy People are a conscious continuation of a particular kind of serious English whimsy – the kind that simmers and zigzags through Cardiacs, Syd Barrett, Gong, early Genesis.

In the Sleepies’ case, though, the flutes, arcane keyboard twinkles and glissando guitars are beefed up by proletarian disco drive, bullish Jam post-punk and a pumping sugar-rush art-punk ferocity more akin to Bis than any psych or prog act. Sometime frustratingly slow on promotion, there’s not enough of them on the internet, but here’s a slightly scrappy look at them rehearsing one of their off-the-wall epics last year (plus a mix-and-match rehearsal/performance shot at another one from their appearance at WWW2 in Preston earlier this year).



 
The latest tag they’re toting for themselves is “psychedelic elevator music made by hyperintelligent pre-schoolers”, which captures some of their wide-eyed enthusiasm but not so much of their oblique serious intent. There’s a diffuse swirl of rebellion running through their music – often touching on people’s freedom to think and express in their own way, and on the misunderstandings, deliberate dismissal and persecutions they’re met with. Another common theme is that of rippling the skin of reality to apprehend the mysterious processes running underneath. For those of us who’ve been following them since the ’90s, it would be good to see them recording a new album which somehow pulled all of their wandering strands together, magicalising their North-Eastern home in all of its history and its metaphysical implications. Til then, though, it’s certainly nice to have them back.

As well as the show with The Scaramanga Six, Sleepy People have their own show in their Newcastle hometown at the end of November. Next February, they’ll also be playing support in Sheffield with another of their hero bands and influences, The Monochrome Set, but more on that nearer to the time.

All dates for everyone:

  • Collapsed Lung + The Scaramanga Six + tbc – The Parish, 28 Kirkgate, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, HD1 1QQ, England, Friday 12th October 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • Collapsed Lung – The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England, Saturday 13th Oct 2018, 7.30pm – information here
  • Collapsed Lung – The Prince Albert, 48 Trafalgar Street, Brighton, BN1 4ED, England, Friday 19th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • The Scaramanga Six – Rough Trade, Nelson Street, Bristol, BS1 2QD, England, Friday 2nd November 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Scaramanga Six – Wonderbar, 877 High Road, Leytonstone, London, E11 1HR, England, Saturday 3rd November 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Collapsed Lung – Shiiine On Weekender @ Butlin’s – Minehead, Warren Road, Minehead, Somerset, TA24 5SH, England, Friday 16th November 2018 (with too many others to list) – information here
  • The Scaramanga Six + Sleepy People – Small Seeds, 120 New Street, Castlegate, Huddersfield, HD1 2UD, West Yorkshire, England, Saturday 17th November 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Sleepy People – The Cumberland Arms, James Place Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE6 1LD , England, Friday 30th November 2018, 7.00pm – information here

 

September 2018 – upcoming rock gigs – Rumour Cubes, Agathe Max and Dream Logic in London (14th September); Major Parkinson’s European autumn tour (various dates, 26th September to 6th October)

9 Sep

Rumour Cubes + Agathe Max + Dream Logic, 14th September 2018

Like progressive rock before it, post-rock ended up disappointingly short of genuinely inspiring exponents. The blueprint was all very well: retaining rock’s technology and what remained of its countercultural drive while dissolving its rigid methods, its predictable narratives and textures and its conservative exclusions In practise, few could reach (or be bothered to reach) the heights of the movement’s most inspired figures and their new paths: such as Tortoise’s integration of jazz, dub and electronica; Slint’s taut, grinding refusals; Godspeed’s sprawling/brooding scapes of punk-cinema-versus-conservatoire-grandeur; Talk Talk’s mendicant, increasingly hermetic passage from synth-pop to a dissolution of blues, prog and folk into distressed noise and silence; Moonshake’s abrasive post-everything groove and careening samples; Disco Inferno’s angst-ridden music concrete and social challenge. Most post-rockers, then and now, have stuck with a glowering reduction, a boiling-out of rock posturing leaving a glum muted residue of passive riffs and patterns… actually, more of an opt-out than a boil-out; in which say, the impact of Talk Talk’s ‘Spirit Of Eden’ is much-cited but rarely remembered in terms of how it can inform and colour the music, much less for the intimations it can throw up.

Though they’re not overturners – at least, not in the tradition of the bands I’ve cited above – third-generation London post-rockers Rumour Cubes are a welcome exception to the procession of drab refuseniks that make up the bulk of the post-rock movement. It’s probably partly because they’re proud and self-confessed “counter-revolution(aries)”, founded from the start around violin, guitar and electronics and obtaining their rock instrumentation later rather than using and rebelling against it from the start. Their origins, too, stick in post-rock’s teeth. Violinist Hannah Morgan lied about her knowledge of the genre in order to bluff her way into the starting lineup, while guitarist/main composer Adam Stark and drummer Omar Rahwangi were already impatient with its dour restrictions. In an interview with Chaos Theory, Adam’s stated that “as a band we are painfully aware of how boring post-rock can be… what we are trying to do is take what we find amazing about those bands that have influenced us and that are part of our community, and do something new with it.”

What Rumour Cubes have done is in as much in the in the lines of good prog rock as good post-rock – opening the gates to a variety of ingredients and described as a “luminous re-imagining of very many constituent parts” by ‘Louder than War’. As with underrated Aussie unit Apricot Rail, the toned-down interweave of guitars and the Krautrock groove bass often aim for a slow-building pastoral ecstasy while the band seeks a sweet spot that’s more country and roots than graphs and laboratory. The dancing interplay, in particular, between Hannah and viola player Terry Murphy ducks lemony-minimal string textures in favour of something that’s more country hoedown or folk fiddle. Rumour Cubes often hit their own delightful merge-point between the rustic and the highly technological, performing on bowed banjo and (the ubiquitous) post-rock glockenspiel in addition to the guitars, strings, keyboards and percussion, adding brass and harps where they can, and regularly bringing in instruments like the gestural technology of mi.mu gloves, new uses for joystick controllers, software-synchronised video displays and a battery of custom effects pedals to create new textures. Their gigs are, in consequence, joyous and open-ended experiences: collaborations, on and offstage with poets and filmmakers result in the music never stagnating.

Following two years of silence, and four without new music, Rumour Cubes return to live work via a gig at the Underdog Gallery near London Bridge, in order to premiere a batch of new music (including upcoming single ¡No Pasarán!, which will be out in a few week’s time). Meanwhile, here are some previous bits of Cubery to whet the appetite.



 
A couple of other acts are joining the show – firstly, amplified French acoustic violinist Agathe Max, who fled classical music around twenty years ago in favour of improvised sonic textural music and electrically-enhanced string-drones. Currently playing with Kuro and Mésange, she’s appearing alone on this occasion in order to offer a set of solo violin works. Secondly, Dream Logic: the recent solo project from Adam Fulford (previously known as the guitarist for Bristolian post-rockers This Is My Normal State) It’s pealing, cool-busting stuff which sees Adam all but drowning his own plagent piano lines, guitars and basses in eager tides of yearning orchestral strings and feverish noise clutter, bringing him comparisons to Nils Frahm and to A Winged Victory for the Sullen. This is Dream Logic’s third show (following previous support slots for Orchestra of the Age of Enlightment’s rulebreaking alter-ego the Night Shift and for rebranded ambient post duo VLMV (previously ALMA) and live arrangements usually involve a string quartet: let’s hope he comes up with the goods on this occasion, too.





 
Echoes And Dust presents:
Rumour Cubes + Agathe Max + Dream Logic
The Underdog Gallery, Arch 6, Crucifix Lane, Southwark, London, SE1 3JW, England
Friday 14th September 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

A little later in the month, jumpy and unpredictable Norwegian art-rockers Major Parkinson are dipping into England as part of an autumn European tour presenting their new ‘Blackbox’ album (and which also includes Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands). A jaggedly muscular alternative pop proposition, Major Parkinson’s music recalls a host of eclectic forebears such as The Monochrome Set and Faith No More: most notably, they’ve become a hit with the sometimes partisan (and often hard-to-impress) Cardiacs fanbase, who appreciate unrestrained complex melodicism and truckloads of energy, and have been up and yelping about this band for a while now.

I can’t really top this for an intro…

“Major Parkinson write tunes. But with influences from across the rock and classical genres (from The Beatles to Cardiacs) and a warped vision of the musical world, their tunes are like no other. You may hear a snippet of an East European folk song, a nursery rhyme, a stage musical, even a rock anthem, all played out on a range of instruments that a symphony orchestra couldn’t muster – synths, strings, old typewriters, brass and reputedly a decommissioned jet fighter engine. The musical scores behind their songs are both monumental and breathtaking – explosive synth and guitar sections that pound at your heart and then instantly make it melt with beautiful choral harmonies, and then drawn in you will dance and sing along as if centre-stage in a West End show.

“With songs too that cover subjects as diverse as Pavlovian hounds to ducks in the pond, the sheer scale and absurdity of the Norwegian band’s extraordinary musical world can only be truly appreciated by seeing their seven-piece stage performances live.”



 
All of the upcoming shows appear to be solo flights for the Major, other than London, Berlin and St Gallen. No news yet on the Berlin guest, but in London support comes (bizarrely, but delightfully) from Sterbus, the quirky Anglophile Italian art-popper similarly beloved of Cardiacs fans and who’s sitting on what promises to be one of 2018’s sunniest and most enjoyable rock albums: he’ll be playing with a band including longterm woodwind-and-vocal sidekick Dominique D’Avanzo, Pocket Gods’ keyboard wizard Noel Storey and Cardiacs drummer Bob Leith. In St Gallen, the gig’s being opened by bouzouki-toting Dutch psych-exotica rockers Komodo, whose music also draws on raga, hip hop, desert blues, rumba and ’60s harmony pop and surf rock.



 
Full dates:

  • The Hare & Hounds, 106 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ, England, Wednesday 26th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Thursday 27th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • The Water Rats, 328 Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8BZ, England, Friday 28th September 2018 7.30pm (with Sterbus) – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England, Saturday 29th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Hafenklang, Große Elbstrasse 84, 22767 Hamburg, Germany, Monday 1st October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Cassiopeia, Revaler Str. 99, 10245 Berlin, Germany, Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.30pm (with support t.b.c) – information here, here and here
  • Backstage München, Reitknechtstr. 6, 80639 München, Germany, Wednesday 3rd October 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • Grabenhalle, Unterer Graben 17, 9000 St.Gallen, Switzerland, Thursday 4th October 2018, 7.30pm (with Komodo) – information here, here and here
  • Orange Peel, Kaiserstraße 39, 60329 Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Friday 5th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • ProgPower Europe 2018 @ Jongerencentrum Sjiwa, Hoogstraat 1a, 5991 XC Baarlo, Netherlands, Saturday 6th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here


 

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